It’s fair to say that the ending of Mass Effect 3, and so BioWare’s entire Mass Effect trilogy, remains divisive to this day – and that’s in large part due to the child-like Catalyst. The Mass Effect 3 original ending, however, featured a god-like Reaper Queen instead – and a possibly straight Paragon or Renegade choice.
Mass Effect 3’s current ending features players having to make a choice between three possibilities – Destroy, Synthesis, and Control – as orchestrated with the consciousness of the Reaper architect, the Catalyst. Destroy wipes out the Reapers, all synthetic life, and possibly Earth. Control sees Shepard merges and controlling the Reapers. Synthesis fuses organic and synthetic life galaxy-wide.
According to former BioWare animation director Dave Wilkinson in an interview with YouTube channel People Make Games (via GamingBible), it wasn’t always like this. Originally, Shepard – who was supposed to become a Deus Ex-like augment – plugged himself into the Citadel and had a conversation in virtual space with “the god of the Reapers” or a Reaper Queen.
Apparently, this Queen wanted the Reapers to evolve but thought they were “incapable of evolution because of the limitations of our AI”, who then “locked her away inside the Citadel” because the Reapers didn’t like what she was proposing. The Queen then offered a chance for Shepard to let the Reapers evolve.
The choices in this original ending became:
- Renegade: Shepard refuses, attacks, “causes the Citadel to detonate”, wipes out the Earth, but destroys the Reapers and allows the rest of the galaxy to survive.
- Paragon: Shepard becomes the “big king Reaper” and takes control of the Reapers “to be a power for good”.
- Synthesis: The Queen uses “space magic” to combine herself and Shepard and mix biological and synthetic beings. Wilkinson describes a mother and daughter on a hill – “Asaris who are a little bit different” – where there’s a green circuit sheen on everything, and the mother is “telling the story of how Shepard made everything better and saved everybody from the Reapers”.
These endings are certainly similar to the final ones in Mass Effect 3 but with more direct Paragon and Renegade options – and the Reaper Queen may have chimed with players more than the Catalyst. Regardless, it wasn’t to be, and everyone from mod makers to the creator of The Expanse seems to have strong opinions of Mass Effect 3’s ending. Hopefully BioWare will sort the ending thing with Mass Effect 5 instead.