Note: This is part 4 of a series on the Mass Effect 3 ending. This segment contains spoilers. You can view the other parts here: 1 2 3 4 5 6

One of the common defenses of the Mass Effect 3 ending is that the story is about sacrificing for the greater good. My problem with that theory, however, is that the canonical ending has no greater good. But first, let me tell you a story about sacrifice.

Commander Shephard is an elite soldier that stumbles upon evidence of genocidal robots, The Reapers, that intend to kill all sentient life. The Reapers already are somewhat like the boogeymen of the galaxy, so almost no one believes him. As the story progresses and Shephard sets out with a trusted group of friends to stop the attacks, his life as he knows it ends. In one plot twist, he dies only to be resurrected. In another, after saving all the galaxy’s colonies from being kidnapped one by one, he’s imprisoned. Time and time again, the powers that be use him as a weapon and then downplay his epic contributions.

Despite all that, Shephard continues to fight. In the last installment, it becomes his responsibility to gather the galaxy’s fleets into one united armed force while discovering information about a super weapon. And, as I describe in another post, he ultimately suffers a mortal wound while attempting to deploy that weapon. “What do you need me to do?” are the words he spoke in what he thought were his final moments. Sacrificing everything, right until the very end, for a cause that he believed in. Stopping the Reapers. Saving the galaxy as he knew it.

"I think we'd rather keep our own form." -- Shephard

Instead, the end given to him by The Architect The Catalyst is one very similar to the finale of Battlestar Galatica. The characters we’ve bonded with over the years simply give it all up so that some future generation can have a chance. And, like the allusions in BSG, we get the sense that war between robots and living creatures is inevitable so, all in all, this sacrifice just delayed it.

To be more specific, all of the choices that end Mass Effect 3 destroy the Mass Relays and crash the Normandy on a garden planet. In the final moments, we’re shown an unknown father and son talking about “The Shephard” and how the son can go to the stars one day. The obvious implication is that enough time has passed that Commander Shephard has become a mythical figure.

Why didn’t anyone rescue the crew of the Normandy before they started a new society based on their hero Command Shephard? Without the Mass Relays, the galaxy that Shephard sought to protect is no more. Sure, faster than light engines exist, but the same trips would take years or decades. In the final battle, the ships of every species are at Earth. How are those species supposed to rebuild their wounded worlds? Returning home would take forever and that doesn’t begin to cover gathering supplies that were previously available on the intergalactic level.

The Catalyst, the boss of the Reapers, told us that he eliminates the dominate species and lets the fledgling ones survive until it’s their turn to be culled. Regardless of which ending is chosen, humanity is instead effectively reduced to a fledgling species. I don’t think that’s the outcome Shephard thought he was sacrificing for.

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