Mass Effect 3’s Original Ending (& How It’s Different) Explained

Mass Effect 3’s original ending was vastly divisive, resulting in a DLC to retcon the ending and increase the impact of player’s choices.

Mass Effect 3 was the final installment of the original Mass Effect trilogy by BioWare, but it didn’t really provide the satisfying conclusion fans wanted. Released back in 2012 (and recently remastered as a Legendary Edition bundle), Mass Effect stood as one of the studio’s most popular series. Players explored a vast galaxy through the eyes of Commander Shepard, the first human to join an elite special task force known as the Spectres. The Mass Effect series built an epic conflict between civilized interstellar species and the monstrous Reapers intent on violent assimilation. A colorful cast of crewmates accompanies Shepard aboard the SSV Normandy in their adventures across the galaxy.

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Unfortunately, Mass Effect 3 was released with a less-than-stellar ending. Players were left disappointed at the lack of impact choices throughout the games made at the final confrontation with the Reapers. The ending to ME3 sees Shepard facing off against the Catalyst, the ancient AI who controls the Reapers. The Catalyst explains that the Reapers function as an equalizing factor to prevent organics from being destroyed by their creations. Criticized as unfulfilling and downright confusing, the original ending was so hotly debated that BioWare opted to release the Extended Cut DLC. This free DLC proceeded to rewrite scenes and details of ME3’s ending to align more with each player’s choices throughout the trilogy.

Related: Mass Effect 3: How to Increase Galactic Readiness

In Mass Effect 3’s original ending, players are given three possible options to deal with the Reaper threat. The first choice is to Destroy the Reapers and all synthetic life in the galaxy (this includes the Geth and EDI). Depending on the player’s Effective Military Strategy (EMS), Mass Effect’s mass relays, which connect the entire galaxy, are either heavily damaged or destroyed completely. The second choice is to Control the Reapers, with Shepard sacrificing their body to become the new dominant mind in the Reaper systems. The Reapers are then put to work repairing the galaxy and defending the masses. Depending on whether the player took a Paragon or Renegade route, how Shepard “protects the many” shifts accordingly. The third choice in Mass Effect 3’s original ending is to Synthesize with the Reapers, leading Shepard to leap into the Citadel’s energy beam which absorbs their body instantly. Life in the galaxy is transformed into a hybrid of synthetic and organic life, leading to an interconnected reconstruction of the galaxy and its societies. Should the player fail to make a choice or attack the Catalyst, the Reapers claim victory and destroy civilization.

ME3’s Extended Cut DLC Changed Some Key Details

No matter what choices were selected for the original ending of ME3, some key events were left unchanged no matter the player’s previous choices. Whether players cured the Krogan genophage becomes irrelevant, as Tuchanka (the Krogan home planet) and Sur’Kesh (the Salarian homeworld) are both destroyed. The outcome of the war between the Geth and the Quarian also becomes irrelevant, as the Geth can be destroyed along with Rannoch (the Quarian home planet). Even Earth is mostly beyond saving, as its infrastructure and much of its surface are left decimated by the conflict with the Reapers. Additionally, the Renegade or Paragon status of the player’s Shepard held no weight in the ending, as Shepard’s legacy was completely dependent on the player’s ending choice.

The Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3 not only added the survival of Shepard upon destroying the Reapers but fixed some of the flashback scenes which accompanied the destruction showed in the original ending. Shepard’s EMS granted players the ability to save members of the Normandy’s crew and spare civilizations from annihilation. The flashbacks experienced as Shepard makes the Destroy, Control, or Synthesis choices now featured characters with more weight. Mass Effect characters who had died throughout the trilogy replaced Joker’s cutscene. Whomever Shepard had decided to romance then replaced the flashback scenes of Kaiden, Ashley, or Liara. The aftermath of various species (Geth, Krogan, Quarians, and Humans) was no longer left to speculation, as each society receives a short cutscene following Shepard’s choice. The fates of Shepard’s crew are also shown in a cutscene, as they honor their lost (or dead) Commander.

Thankfully the Mass Effect Legendary Edition will not feature the original ending of Mass Effect 3. While there are still many details about the game which have been patched, updated, and improved, it seems the Extended Cut DLC is one change that is staying permanently.

Next: Is Mass Effect Legendary Edition’s ME3 Ending Setting Up Mass Effect 4

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