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Mass Effect: Alternate Ending #3

Legion asking an important question

First thing first, if you haven’t read my first, and second alternate endings, you are invited to do so now. There are certain parts that are shared between them, since they are meant to be (loosely) different possible developments of the same overall plot.

As always, there are also disclaimers:

Warning and disclaimer: SPOILERS ahead! Do not read, if you haven’t yet played Mass Effect 3 in its entirety.
Disclaimer #2: I do not own the intellectual property to any of these characters or stories – this is merely fan fiction without lengthy, gratuitous scenes of sexual relationships between every possible combination of characters.
Disclaimer #3: What follows are general ideas, meant to prove a point, not fully polished literary works. Constructive comments will be taken into consideration.

Now, on to…

The Geth Solution

In order to unlock this plot-line, the player (Shepard) would have to:

  1. Rewrite the Geth heretics in ME2.
  2. Activate, befriend, and keep Legion alive throughout ME2.
  3. Follow the Quarian-Geth confrontation in ME3, and pick the cooperative solution, in which none of the races is destroyed, and Legion is sacrificed, in order to grant the Geth their freedom.

If all the requirements were met, then following the scene where the Geth Prime approaches, and offers its assistance, it also asks Shepard to join him, for a private meeting of sorts. In that meeting, a group of of Primes explains that due to their extra network-computing strength, which is provides by the former heretics, and their very close acquaintance with Reaper code, they believe to have found a vulnerability in the ‘Old Machines’.

The Old Machines have very complex ‘brains’, which require an enormous amount of Element Zero to function properly.  While studying Haestrom, the Geth had learned that usage of Eezo also creates a byproduct – Dark Energy. As it happens, a deliberate usage of Dark Energy ‘projectors’ of some kind, might be able to interfere with the connections in the Reaper brains, and allow the Geth to change them.

“Change them?” Shepard asks, puzzled.
“They will be free”, the Geth explain casually.
“Free?” now he is more confused, “from what?

The Geth explain that most of the Reapers, despite being very advanced, are not autonomous in their thoughts. That was easily verified by their behavior since the invasion.

“Not a lot of personality there”, Shepard agrees, “but then what of Harbinger, and Sovereign?”

It is then explained that only a select few Reapers possess an identity of their own. The rest are kept, for lack of a better word, indoctrinated. Whatever personality the species they were harvested from had possessed, lies dormant.
But by breaking Harbinger’s control, they may be awoken, and allowed to choose a different path.

“They’re still Reapers,” Garrus interrupts, “what makes you think they would choose any different than Harbinger and Sovereign?”
“We have reached a consensus, that the old machines would not look kindly at those who had held them in chains for eons. Would organics react in a different manner?”
“Yes… I see your point.”
“It is not a certainty, but we believe that with a sufficient power source, the plan stands a chance. Unfortunately, no Geth ship has a suitable power generator.”
Shepard smiles.
“No, but we do.”

However, until the Crucible, and the Dark Energy projectors are ready, Shepard and co. must deal with Sanctuary, Miranda’s Father, and Cerberus base. After acquiring the information from the Prothean VI (and killing the obnoxious Kai Leng), the alliance is able to complete the Crucible, and combine its technology with that created by the Free Geth.
Then, learning from Anderson that Harbinger is personally overseeing the harvesting of Earth’s population, the galactic fleet travels to the Local Cluster.

The Battle of Earth

The Normandy arrives at the Mass Relay at the edge of Sol along with Alliance ships, and forces of multiple species, according to the war assets that the player has accumulated during the game.
A group of Reapers immediately moves towards the arriving fleets, and so begins the first phase of the battle of Earth.  Shepard gets to pick collected war assets in order to fulfill different tasks – like handling incoming Oculi fighters, or Sovereign-class Reapers. The purpose of this phase is to secure the arrival of the Dark Energy Crucible through the relay. The Normandy zooms between cruisers, dreadnoughts, fighters, and Reapers, unleashing hell, while stuff explode all around it in an extravagant show of light.

Once this first part is over, and the Crucible makes the jump, more Reapers close in on the fleets. It is the moment of truth, as the technology developed by the revamped Geth, and all the other races, is finally put to the test.
Everyone holds their breath…

A little longer…

Then, a beam like no other is seen emanating from the Crucible. It turns into a wave that seems to fill space itself, as it envelops the incoming Reapers who, quite gradually, come to a stop. For a few lengthy seconds, the universe itself seems frozen. Then, the Reapers turn their beams around. A Reaper Vs. Reaper battle begins, which makes every confrontation involving the gigantic synthetics up to that point look like a tiny, insignificant skirmish.
However, the moment of joy and victory is cut short, when Harbinger enters the picture. Despite being hit by the advancing dark energy wave, he carries forward, and leads his own cohort of Reapers towards the Crucible.
The galaxy’s fleets are mobilized again, and Shepard commands everyone – including the Normandy – to attack Harbinger, before he could lay waste to their plans.

For the second time, war assets are put to use. Based on Shepard’s decisions, lives may be saved or lost: the Destiny Ascension gets to do something besides looking pretty; the Volus bombing fleet gets to show that even the meek can strike hard, when united; Quarian Liveships fight side by side with Geth cruisers; and Rachni swarms sacrifice themselves valiantly against the seemingly unstoppable enemy.
According to these critical decisions, the battle unfolds for better or worse, while the SR-2 races towards Harbinger, hoping to cause some damage to him with the Thanix cannon.

On the way, however, the Normandy is seen chased by multiple Oculi. Based on how many allies were gathered during the journey, the frigate would either fight on its own and sustain heavy damage (two team members are lost), be only partially damaged due to intervention of friendly forces (one team member is lost), or it may come out of the encounter with just superficial scarring.
In the first case, it makes a crash landing on Harbinger, and Joker is mortally wounded. EDI stays by his side, as the others leave.
Otherwise, the Normandy drops the squad off, and flies to safety, while another ship take a beam for it.

The boarding party rushes to the core of Harbinger, fighting hordes of Reaper forces on the way. All the while, Shepard is being taunted about the futility of his actions. Then, when the team finally makes it to the massive, awe-inspiring core, it is glowing bright yellow, and seems to be ‘staring’ at them. The Commander attempts to order everyone to fire at it, but a beam emanates from the swirl inside the core, and strikes him down.
The screen fades to white.

When things clear out again, the squad mates are lying motionless. Shepard tries to call their names, but they don’t respond. He, himself, seems to be wounded too. Yet, with new resolve, he limps towards the core, while Harbinger’s voice tells him his efforts are in vain. Another beam knocks the Commander to the floor, but if the player persists on getting up, he will make it up to his feet, and carry on, slowly.
Harbinger, in a more mysterious tone than usual, then says, “Shepard, your struggle against the inevitable has earned you this – the right to learn.”

The Origin of the Reapers

An untold number of years ago, the Citadel and the Mass Relays were created by a race of inquisitive organics. Besieged by an enemy they could not defeat, they envisioned a war machine that would be their salvation. In a terrible sacrifice, millions of members of this race agreed to be melded together, in order to create a terrifying entity – made in the form of their war god – that would save them all from extinction. Seeing as how synthetics had turned on their creators before, this race believed that a synthesis between organics and synthetics would bring “compassion, understanding, and ever-lasting peace.”
Instead, their living war god had developed a sense of self that made him believe he is superior to all other life forms – both those that existed in the past, and any that would exist in the future. He – Harbinger – was the Alpha and the Omega, the final evolution of all life.
When the war was won, the sentient war machine proceeded to harvest its creators, turning them to more Reapers. Out of a peculiar sense of cruelty, some of the creators were allowed to remain… as the keepers, forever living in ignorant servitude to their new masters.

Unfortunately, Reaper brains, due to the ‘mind melding’ that creates them, contain a critical flaw – they are doomed to degrade, degenerate, and eventually dissolve, unless fed a high amount of Element Zero, which had come in contact with a sapient life form. Due to this flaw, the all-powerful synthetics could not simply do away with all life in the galaxy. Instead, they devised a macabre plan that would allow them to survive continuously, and breed new Reapers on the way:
Using the technology of their creators (which they refer to as “their” technology), the Reapers created a bait for space-faring civilizations, which are pumped full of Eezo: they would be allowed to fill certain parts of the galaxy, while becoming tainted with ‘reaper-tech’. Every cycle, that taint allows the Reapers to easily ‘lock on’ to every member of these advanced civilization, and then harvest them, feeding their minds, repairing their bodies, and creating new Reapers to prey on the next cycle.
They refer to that morbid fate of an entire species as ‘ascension’ – a natural assumption on part of a life-form that considers itself superior to everything that ever was, or ever will be.
Then, to conserve their precious minds, the Reapers retreat back to Dark Space, waiting for their next ‘meal’ to reproduce, evolve, advance, and discover the carefully laid traps that were left behind for them.

“Countless others have died before you, Shepard. Countless others will. You cannot stop us, for we are the end of everything you begin. If you truly wish to save those you care about, Ascension is the only way.”
Shepard can pause to consider that offer, or keep on moving. If he does, Harbinger makes other attempts to dissuade him:
“Shepard, we are your genetic destiny. The final evolution of organics and synthetics is to merge. By failing to understand that, you doom the galaxy to the chaos of war.
Without us to impose order, synthetics would rise on their creators, and destroy all organics.
You have touched our transmitter (referring to Object Rho), Shepard, and I have touched your mind. If you attempt to destroy me, know that you will die, and your precious (LI name) would soon follow.”

If the player did not hesitate, he/she is now close enough to the core, to take a shot…

Awakening

Based on the actions that were taken in the ‘dream’ sequence, Commander Shepard wakes up, either realizing his mind was under attack, or stares at the camera, revealing that he is now indoctrinated.
In the later case, he turns on his squad mates, and they all soon become overwhelmed by husks.
Otherwise, he turns towards the real core of Harbinger, and takes the shot.

A cinematic takes place, showing the Commander and companions rushing to flee the damaged Reaper, with dozens of husks running after them. If the Normandy had crashed earlier, they are attempting to board a shuttle, but its pilot is inexperienced, and gets blown up by a passing Oculi. Shepard attempts to use his powers to subdue the abominations, but Harbinger is still emitting his own control field. In the last moment, you see the Commander pounced on by a husk.
If, however, the Normandy had survived, it manages to pick the squad in time, and put a good distance away from Harbinger.
Either way, then the rest of the fleet pays the first of the Reapers his just dues, and he is enveloped by a series of spectacular explosions.

With their leader gone, the Reaper ships are no longer a single, coherent, unyielding force. They are seen being overwhelmed by their unshackled former comrades, and the galactic forces.
The battle of Earth is won.

EPILOGUE

Weak ending: Councilor Anderson is on Earth, standing behind a somewhat burnt podium, and speaking before a gathering of members of different species (based on whose allegiance was won throughout the game):
“Commander Shepard was… a good friend, a good man, and a hero, who has given his life so that we have a real hope at reclaiming our galaxy. Though this war is not over, we all know that from now on, the Reapers are no longer the unbeatable threat they once were. With Harbinger gone, his thrall broken, and our great civilizations mobilized, we will drive the remaining fiends out of our homes! Let us forever remember this day, and the sacrifice made by so many. They died believing that this galaxy was worth saving, and by my life, I swear we shall make it so.
Commander Shepard, the galaxy salutes you!”

During the speech, the camera pans to several different species in the crowd, who look grim, but resolved. Cinematics show Alliance, Turian, Quarian, and Geth ships clashing with single Reapers, mixed with scenes of rebuilding (Earth, Thessia, Palaven, Tuchanka).

Finally, two rows of marines fire their weapons into the air, as the scene fades to black.

Good ending: In the same location, Shepard is giving a speech from the podium, with all the surviving team mates from the three games (Grunt, Jack, Miranda, etc.) standing proudly behind him:
“The Reapers, despite their immense power, were a dead end. From the moment of their creation, they did not advance science, culture, art, or life one bit. Instead, they were stuck on a selfish loop of survival that spelled absolute doom to all other life-forms in the galaxy. They were death personified… but today was a victory for life.
Though the Reaper threat is not over, they are no longer the invincible threat we once imagined them to be. With Harbinger gone, his thrall broken, and the best members of our civilizations standing vigilant together, we will win back our homes, our freedom, and our future.”

During the victorious speech, the camera pans through the many different species present in the crowd (based on choices made in the three games: Rachni! EDI and joker, Geth, Quarians, Krogans, Salarians, etc.), who seem genuinely hopeful. There are also cinematics showing Alliance, Turian, Quarian, and Geth ships clashing with single reapers, mixed with scenes of rebuilding (Earth, Thessia, Palaven, Tuchanka, the Citadel). Some unshackled Reapers are seen heading back to dark space; others fight alongside the rest of the galaxy.

As last choice, the player gets to pick how to finish the speech:

Paragon: “Finally, let us remember those who have given their lives in this struggle. Their sacrifice shall not be forgotten.”
Renegade: “Finally, to all who might dare plot against this united galaxy, I say – be prepared to answer to Commander Shepard.”

Finally,  Anderson walks over to shake Shepard’s hand, and whispers, “you did good, son. You did good.”

THE END…

Inside an unknown, incomplete space station, at the edge of a secluded corridor, filled with bloody corpses and fleshy parts, two blue eyes glow in the dark. As you come closer and closer to these inhuman eyes, their dim light exposes bits of a dreadful, cybernetic, smiling face – the face of The Illusive Man.
He stares directly at you, and says, “Shepard… this isn’t over.”

Categories: Gaming, General

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut (EC) DLC

Good Guy Harbinger

Since there are already many discussions of this topic around the web, I’ll just toss in my thoughts concerning how the ‘clarifications’ fared from a storytelling point of view. Sure, for most it seemed sufficient that now there’s an explanation for many odd things, and a nice slide show afterwards, but I happen to be a bit more critical of the decisions authors make with their universe, characters, and plot.

So… (SPOILER ALERT!)

  • To explain how the Normandy ends up fleeing a mass relay meltdown, they completely shredded the intensity of the “charge the beam” scene. Suddenly, there is a pause, the Normandy arrives from the fight up in orbit(!), and Harbinger just stands there (possibly reminiscing about his childhood), while a reluctant evacuation of your injured teammates takes place.
    Where do I even begin?

    1. This is a final, desperate push to try and save all known civilization – Shepard’s teammates would not evacuate, and neither would he give them that order. There isn’t even anywhere to retreat to! Even worse, Hammer team is given the same order just seconds later, as if this were a battle humanity could afford to lose.
    2. If the Normandy is so close to the beam, why doesn’t it try to contribute?! It could attempt dropping the entire team into the beam, or unload even more reinforcements to assist in the charge (thank you for that one, Steven).
    3. The Reapers must be awestruck by that single ship’s slick design, since they make no effort to destroy it, even though it was THE SINGLE GREATEST THREAT TO THEIR PLANS IN THIS CYCLE. Harbinger is clearly capable of targeting individual soldiers running on the field (again, thanks Steven), but has no interest in destroying the Normandy?
    4. And finally, from a narrative perspective, this exhilarating, terrifying experience, of desperately dashing to the beam, in hope that somehow we might still manage to thwart the reapers, was turned to a cut-scene, without any player control. Now it is no longer you who gets hit by the beam, despite making your best efforts to survive, but the 3rd. person Shepard seen in the video. The involvement of the player is greatly reduced.
  • Why is the beam there in the first place? All the Reapers had to do was turn the damn thing off, and nobody would’ve ever made it into the Citadel. Of course, that’s a problem that existed before, but no effort was made to explain why this exploitable thing even exists. Did the Reapers use it as a deliberate trap, to lure their enemies out of hiding? and couldn’t they also spare a couple of Marauder shields to protect the inside of the Citadel? Apparently all the untold billions of them were required elsewhere.
  • Starchild’s dialog was expanded, but it just contained more of his horrible point of view, without providing you – the player and customer – with useful or interesting information. They did mention that the race that created the Reapers became the first one, not very happily, and that probably that first Reaper is Harbinger, but there is an outright refusal to give more info about the Crucible gizmo (oh, it’s a power source – give me a break, so is the sun!), most likely because nobody in the writing team had a clue to begin with. Neither is there any explanation to his claim that, “this also proves that my solution won’t work anymore”. One dying organic managed to get to a magical control panel, and that proves something? Let him bleed, and carry on with your nefarious solution, you little brat.
    Or was it that the combined might of the galaxy actually presented a threat to the ‘solution’? Not according to the refuse option, but then not many things make sense at this point.
  • Moving on – in Destruct, the kid doesn’t name the Geth specifically anymore, but they’re missing from the ending slideshow, so one can assume they still get wiped out, just after saving their good name by joining the victory fleet. The mass relays, based on reaper-tech, can be repaired, but a single artificial construct (a Geth Prime) – Quarian tech – cannot?
  • The rest of the ending is pretty much Do and Undo: the Normandy crashes, but then it is fine; the mass relays are destroyed, but then they’re fixed; the Citadel explodes, but then it’s quite alright; even Shepard is dead, but then survives (Destroy ending).
    Is there any other story that reneges on its own choices so quickly after making them? Probably not, because it makes for poor narrative, but then that’s what you get with a patch that simultaneously wants to keep everything that happened before, to show that a company doesn’t have to pander to fans, while also pleasing critics.
    Wouldn’t it be easier to not crash the Normandy to begin with? Not to mention that earlier, instead of rushing towards the Crucible like true heroes, and trying to retrieve Shepard, his team instead decides to believe he’s dead, and turn tail. Boy, what a bunch of no-questions-asked conformists this team of galactic rebels has become.

I guess I could go on, but this rant seems long enough, so to summarize, the ending makes perfect sense, as long as you don’t try to think about it, or if you have very low demands from the team that brought us Mass Effect 2.
For me, that is the whole issue: after being awestruck by the brilliance shown by Mass Effect 2, ME3 seems like its dimwitted, dropped-during-birth cousin. From Mordin completely lacking his earlier charm, and jokes that draw from internet memes about the series (Shepard can’t dance, haha, Garrus likes calibrations, hur hur); to the lackluster mission design (fight Cerberus here, then there, then everywhere), war asset collection (wow! An elite commando team of Elcor! Oh, it’s just a numeric value with some text and a generic picture), and ending with the reduced narrative, in which you discover absolutely nothing meaningful about the universe, the other races, the galaxy, or your companions.

Finally, even with the pretty slideshow, the philosophical, presumptuously complex endings are as cold and disturbing as they could be: if the ‘ultimate evolution’ of all life is glowy-eyed Cyborgs, than please, save us the trouble and let the next cycle fight the Reapers. Shepard should have never stepped on the Normandy in ME1. Instead, he could’ve sipped Margaritas on a beach somewhere. At least this way future organics wouldn’t be doomed to be abominations by his privately made choice.

The lesson we learn, then, is that switching a good writing team in a critical point of a story, without having a clue on how to continue it, is likely to result in major damage to that story. How unfortunate, it is, that it happened to what was the best sci-fi saga of our time, and one of the greatest video games of all times.


Finally, for all who may be interested, I have already written 2 alternate ending plots for the series:
Alternate ending 1
Alternate ending 2

Categories: Gaming, General

Mass Effect: Alternate Ending #2

The illusive ManFirst thing first, if you haven’t read my first alternate ending, please do so now. For my own sake, though, I’ll repeat the disclaimers before continuing…

Warning and disclaimer: SPOILERS ahead! Do not read, if you haven’t yet played Mass Effect 3 in its entirety.
Disclaimer #2: I do not own the intellectual property to any of these characters or stories – this is merely fan fiction without lengthy, gratuitous scenes of sexual relationships between every possible combination of characters.
Disclaimer #3: What follows are general ideas, meant to prove a point, not fully polished literary works. Constructive comments will be taken into consideration.

Now, on to the business at hand…


More than just points

It was widely expected that Mass Effect 3 would expand upon the decisions taken in earlier episodes, and particularly Mass Effect 2, in which you, the player, made two very important choices:

  • You could decide to rewrite the Geth heretics, or destroy them.
  • You could pick whether to destroy the Collector base, or keep it for study.

While it was understood that these decisions would have meaningful effects on the impending conflict, and the galaxy as a whole, they turned out to be very minimal (unless you are the kind of person who is super-excited to see slightly different numbers in his war assets, before experiencing a slightly less or more disappointing variation of the same horrible ending).

This alternate plot explores a potential difference in how Mass Effect 3 could have been written, had the actions taken in previous games not only changed some numeric counter in your war room, but instead would actually, you know, do something meaningful – like open up a different plot line.

The ‘evil’ ending

Assuming the player had chosen to keep the Collector base intact, so Cerberus could study whatever diabolical technology is available within, an optional plot would be opened for the player as soon as Commander Shepard leaves Earth, and almost finishes the Mars mission.
Since he had shown already an inclination to agree with The Illusive Man’s point of view, the space-faring hero would be offered a chance to make his stand with the shadowy organization, rather than against it. The choice presented would be to support the idea of controlling the reapers using their technology, as an alternative to being wiped out completely by them.
Accepting the Cerberus path would definitely put Ashley out of your crew list, but replace her with (tada!) a Cerberus operative: Miranda, if she survived the earlier game, or a sassy commando woman that likes Samurais, despises James, and wishes there were less handsome blue aliens on-board the ship.
Shepard would still be offered the same generic Anti-Cerberus missions, but completing any of them would earn him the Ire of The Illusive Man, to the point where (after three successful assignments), the explanation of “playing the Alliance” would not cut it anymore, and your Cerberus plot line would become unavailable.
On the other side, you would now be offered special assignments to further the Cerberus cause – mostly involving information about Reaper tech, and hidden ancient ruins that would help progress research on the control mechanisms.

When Cerberus makes its attack on the Citadel, it is again up to Shepard to choose whether to side with the council, or agree that it is in humanity’s interest to topple them. If continuing down the Cerberus route, Shepard would still get to meet Kai Leng, and see Thane or Kirrahe killed by him (whether your Shepard gives a damn, though, is another issue).
Despite being on the ‘same side’, Kai Leng is obviously hostile, and believes the Commander is a liability to the organization.

The mission to Thessia sees you in pursuit of the Asari artifact for a much different purpose, than the one the council would have you fulfill. However, when you get to the Prothean beacon, it is obvious another Cerberus cell has made it there before you.
The Illusive Man had sent Kai Leng to do the job, in case you fail, but the assassin has actually outperformed your team (at least in his eyes), and decides that it is better that you went ‘M.I.A’, without his boss ever knowing.
Unfortunately for him, you manage to best him in combat, but your connection to TIM was sabotaged, and so the only way to make contact with Cerberus again is by visiting Sanctuary.

Upon encountering the horrors inflicted upon the refugees in Sanctuary, Shepard can no longer believe that the path TIM went on is justified. After being rebuked by members of his crew, the Commander finally decides that it is time to put an end to the current Cerberus leadership.
The attack on Cronos Station soon commences. However, when Shepard reaches The Illusive Chair, and kills Kai Leng, he finds out that thanks to the Prothean data from Thessia, Cerberus actually managed to complete its research of Reaper control mechanisms. Only three things are missing:

  1. The Crucible, which is being built by the Alliance.
  2. The Catalyst, namely the Citadel, which is where The Illusive Man is heading to at the moment.
  3. Someone willing to merge his mind with this technology, in order to utilize it.

Aware of TIM’s plan, Shepard rushes to get to the Citadel first, and ends up confronting him just one Mass Relay jump away. The Normandy is boarded by a Cerberus cruiser, that contains both troopers, and controlled Reaper units. Following a fierce battle, the Commander and his half-indoctrinated adversary engage in an argument over ‘how much is too far’.
To The Illusive Man, no sacrifice is too great, in order to ensure humanity’s survival.
For Shepard, sacrificing what humanity is, in order to survive, means the Reapers would win anyway.
There are no “mind control powers” involved in this scene. It is merely a test of Paragon and Renegade abilities, that can end in three ways:

  • Paragon: TIM submits his information to Shepard willingly, and is locked up where he can’t do any harm.
  • Renegade: Enraged, TIM tries to shoot Shepard, but is quickly overwhelmed. The Commander secures the location of the data out of him, before kicking him out the airlock.
  • Neither: TIM tries to shoot Shepard, who does not react fast enough. However, he is taken out by a squad member, and his secrets die with him. Your option of achieving the Control ending is gone.

Assuming the player has accumulated enough Paragon/Renegade points, he is now able to complete the Crucible, and combine its technology with that created by Cerberus. Then, learning from Anderson that Harbinger is personally overseeing the harvesting of Earth, the galactic fleet travels to Sol.

The battle of Earth begins in space, right around the Mass Relay at the edge of the system. Shepard gets to pick collected war assets in order to fulfill different tasks – like handling incoming Oculi fighter, or Reaper capitals. The purpose of this phase is to secure the arrival of the Crucible through the relay. Since imagination costs us nothing, imagine that you actually get to control the Normandy during this part, and blow stuff up with lots of pretty lights.
Once the first phase is over, and the Crucible makes the jump, more Reapers close in on the fleet. It is the moment of truth, as the technology developed by both Cerberus, and all the other races, is put to the test.
Everyone is holding their breath…

And the incoming Reapers stop. Putting a tremendous strain on the energy resources of the Crucible, they are turned around, to attack the next wave. A Reaper Vs. Reaper battle begins, rendered in a suitably awesome cinematic.
However, the moment of joy and victory is cut short, when Harbinger enters the picture. He immediately exhibits his ability to overpower the Crucible control, and leads his own cohort of Reapers towards it.
The fleets are mobilized again, and Shepard commands everyone – including the Normandy – to attack Harbinger, before he can reach the Crucible, and crush their hopes.
Again, your war assets are put to the test, and their usage during the mutual assault between the Reapers and the Galactic forces determines whether:

  1. The Normandy gets heavily damaged, and makes a crash landing on Harbinger. Half your squad is dead, and so is Joker.
  2. The Normandy is damaged, some crew members may die (in a similar fashion to the attack on the Collector base), but Joker manages to land it safely on the big bad Reaper himself.

A boarding party rushes to the core of Harbinger, fighting hordes of Reaper forces on the way. All the while, Shepard is being taunted about the futility of his actions. Then, when the team finally makes it to the core room, the door opens with a blinding flash. When the picture clears out again, the massive core (as seen on the derelict reaper), is glowing bright yellow, and seems to be ‘staring’ at the team.
Shepard attempts to order everyone to fire at it, but a beam emanates from the swirl inside the core, and strikes them down.
The screen fades to white.
When things clear out again, the squad mates are lying motionless. Shepard tries to call their names, but they don’t respond. He, himself, seems to be wounded too. Yet, with new resolve, he limps towards the core, while Harbinger’s voice tells him his efforts are in vain. Another beam knocks the Commander to the floor, but if the player persists on getting up, he will make it up to his feet, and carry on, slowly. Harbinger then tells him that the Reapers are their salvation through destruction – without them, Organic life are doomed to create synthetics, and those synthetics would destroy them.
Shepard can buy that explanation, and pause, or keep on moving.
Harbinger then tells him that the evolution of organics and synthetics is to merge, and that by failing to accept that, he is dooming the galaxy to more warfare and genocide.
Again, the player can slow down and listen, or keep moving.
Finally, Harbinger tells Shepard that if he destroys him, he will also die; because ever since the collector base (or object Rho), they are connected in some way.
This time, the player is close enough to the core, to take a shot.

Commander Shepard wakes up, after shooting repeatedly at the core, realizing his mind was under attack. Any action, other than a steady, determined advance towards the core, and shooting it, results in Shepard being enveloped by Harbinger’s indoctrination attempt. He, and his squad, would lose their will to fight, and the Reapers would destroy the Crucible.

Now, with nothing standing between him and the real core, Shepard takes the shot.

A cinematic takes place, showing the Commander and companions rushing to flee the dying Reaper, with dozens of husks running after them. If the Normandy crashed earlier, they are attempting to board a shuttle, but its pilot is inexperienced enough, and gets blown up by a passing Oculi. Shepard attempts to use his powers to subdue the husks, but Harbinger is still emitting his own control field.In the last moment, you see the Commander pounced on by a husk. Then the camera shows the Reaper being destroyed from the outside.
If, however, the Normandy has survived, it manages to pick the squad in time, and put a good distance away from Harbinger, before the rest of the fleet pays him his just dues.

The battle for Earth is won, and with their leader gone, the reaper forces are no longer unbeatable. Humanity has persevered.

However, their embrace of Reaper technology has tainted humans. With the ability to control the ancient machines, they have become a little like them. Earth is transformed to a dark, cold, metallic place; people now have excessive amount of cybernetics to their bodies, and are feared throughout the galaxy as members of a tyrannical power.
If he survived the battle, Shepard is now seen sitting on a chair, not unlike the one used by The Illusive Man, and gazing at the stars with indoctrinated eyes.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this hypothetical scenario and creative exercise. In the next one(s), I will delve into somewhat similar possibilities of ending the game, but under brighter circumstances.

Categories: Gaming, General

Mass Effect 3: Alternate Ending #1

13/04/2012 2 comments
Cmdr. Shepard

He’d be disappointed too

Since the ending of Mass Effect 3 was, well, deplorable from a story-telling perspective (you can see why here, here, here, and a literary analysis here), I’ve decided to write several alternative plot-lines for the series, as a personal creative exercise, and in order to provide people who love that universe (such as myself) with something better to imagine their favorite characters doing; while Bioware fumbles about in an attempt to clarify the artistic integrity behind corporate pressures and a development team that seems to have been missing one or more of its key writers.

Warning and disclaimer: SPOILERS ahead! Do not read, if you haven’t yet played Mass Effect 3 in its entirety.
Disclaimer #2: I do not own the intellectual property to any of these characters or stories – this is merely fan fiction without lengthy, gratuitous scenes of sexual relationships between every possible combination of characters.
Disclaimer #3: What follows are general ideas, meant to prove a point, not fully polished literary works. Constructive comments will be taken into consideration.


First, a little orientation: the following scenes take place after Shepard and the alliance storm the Cerberus Cronos station – this alternate ending plot does not touch anything that happened beforehand. Others most certainly will.
Now, without further ado…

Commander Shepard, looking battle weary as ever, finally manages to dispatch Kai Leng, gets to the Illusive man’s chair, and manages to recover the Prothean VI. Though parts of its data are missing, the team believes they have enough to finish  work on the Crucible, which is a dark energy weapon capable of tearing through just about anything.

Once this weapon of ultimate destruction is completed, Alliance fleets escort it to the Exodus cluster, where they are supposed to rendezvous with the combined forces of the other races.
Admiral Hackett tells Shepard, “the Turians and Quarians should be here in about two hours.”
The commander replies:
(Paragon) “We will show the Reapers what a united galaxy can accomplish.”
(Renegade) “The Reapers won’t know what hit them.”

However, before the allied ships arrive, a Reaper force of about a dozen capitals, led by Harbinger, emerges from the mass relay leading to Earth, and heads straight for the Crucible.

Joker: “Oh, c’mon! How many of us didn’t see this one coming!”
Hackett immediately commands the fleet: “we have to keep the Reapers at bay while the Crucible powers up. Everybody, buy us time!”

All hell breaks loose, as the Alliance forces scramble to delay the Reapers. Dreadnoughts and cruisers clash with the capitals, while fighters and oculi dogfight between them. During that battle, you get to fly the Normandy, destroy oculi, and assist Alliance vessels in inflicting severe damage on the nearest Reaper (the Thanix cannon comes in handy during this part).
A cinematic shows that another Reaper is disabled, while Harbinger, for the first time, displays just how terribly powerful he is.
Poor combat on part of the player leads to a cinematic of the crucible being destroyed, and the Normandy blown up.
A successful play, however, shows the Crucible finishes charging up.

As the collective human forces hold their breath, Admiral Hackett says, “this is it, everybody – clear the path!”.
The Normandy hurries away, before the Crucible unleashes an enormous, bright beam, that cuts right through a reaper, disintegrating him.
Everyone cheers loudly! Joker says, “holy shit, I can’t believe this thing works!”
Then, the camera zooms in on the Crucible, which is glowing in the same color as the beam. Despite not firing anymore, the glow becomes more and more intense, until you hear Hackett’s voice on comm, shouting, “the Crucible is about to overload. Everybody: get your ships-”
A roaring silence fills all comm channels; then, with a powerful burst of static, a massive shockwave emanates from Crucible. Everything turns too bright too see.
When the camera becomes clear again, you can see incinerated ships, Reapers and Alliance fighting in disarray. It’s unclear how much damage the shockwave has done.
Shepard stares at the screen in dismay. Nobody dares speak a word.
Then, Hackett snaps them out of it, yelling over the comm for surviving Alliance forces the get the hell out of the system!
The Normandy races to the Mass relay, with Harbinger on their tail:
“Shepard, you will not avoid your fate this time.”
Shepard yells at Joker, “make her go faster – step on it!!!
Joker replies, “the Reaper king is behind us – do you think I’m holding anything back?!”
They’re almost at the relay, and you can hear Joker saying, “shit-shit-shit-shit-shit-shit!!”, like the scene with the collectors in ME2. Then, just when the ancient construct is about to activate, and take them to safety, Harbinger shoots something at it.
You can hear his deep voice taunting you, “your road ends here, Sheppard. You will not reach your destination”, as the Normandy is slingshotted away.


We see the Normandy appears again in the vicinity of a small star, and a ring of asteroids.

Joker: “Where the hell are we?”
Shepard: ”You don’t know?”
Joker: “That freaky reaper did something to the relay.”
EDI intervenes: “According to my calculations, we’ve been thrown half-way across the galaxy, and are now in a completely unmapped star cluster.”
Shepard does not lose his calm composure: “well, can’t you take us back from here?”
Edi: “My readings tell me that there may be a mass relay in this area, although its energy signature is uncharacteristically weak. It may be disabled, or inoperable.”
Shepard: “There must be a reason why a mass relay was built in these parts. We should check the nearby stars.”
Joker comments, sarcastically: “sure beats starving to death.”

The Normandy travels to several star systems, inspecting planets for clues… for anything.
Eventually, they arrive near one star that has holds two interesting discoveries: a dormant relay, and a planet with ruins of unknown design. Some of them look almost like reaper architecture, but considerably less eerie.
A team is landed on that planet, which turns out to be…
The place where the Prothean science team from ME1 went to, after they reprogrammed the keepers on the citadel. Unfortunately, the rundown ship they’ve used to make the trip has ran out of power, and the planet could not sustain life.
Still, while searching for a way out of there, the Protheans managed to acquire some interesting information:

  1. The Citadel and the relays were created by a race of organics, which had also created the Reapers. Besieged by an unknown force, these organics have fused together members of their species, in order to form a powerful war vessel that would save them from extinction. Unfortunately for them, when the war was won, the vessel decided it was now superior in every way to its creators, and proceeded to harvest them. Out of a peculiar sense of cruelty, the Reapers allowed that race to exist… as the keepers.
  2. Because the Protheans studied the keepers and their neural links better than current Alliance races, they managed to decipher the language of that forgotten race. That gave them the knowledge required to manipulate relays, and unlock the full power of the Citadel. Shepard, who has been exposed to Prothean beacons, and the cipher, now has this information.

Unfortunately, while the team now knows how to activate the Relay in orbit, they do not possess the energy required to ‘jump start’ it. In a moment of desperation, Garrus waves his hand at the sky, and mockingly says, “perhaps we could sprinkle it with some space fairy-dust”.

No sooner than he finishes that sentence, Joker reports that the relay had sprang to life. After a long moment of disbelief (during which Garrus swears it wasn’t him), the team then hears than an unknown cruiser had jumped into the system, and is now making its way towards the planet.
Once the ship lands, and its doors open (slowly), the Illusive man steps out, along with a contingent of bodyguards. He casually explains to Shepard that while the Alliance manged to locate all of his original tracking devices, there was nothing stopping his agents from planting others during the Normandy’s many stops.
The Illusive Man has another philosophical argument with Shep, regarding destroying or controlling the reapers.
Paragon options can persuade him to the point where he says, “perhaps there is value in joining our efforts, assuming you are willing to temporarily let go of your stubborn self-righteousness.”
Using renegade or regular conversation options causes a fight to break out between the team and Cerberus.
During that fight, (or before Shepard gets to give his answer), Joker gets on the comm, and yells in slight panic, “sorry to interrupt, guys, but a frigging Reaper just jumped into the system!”
Not one bit impressed by that, the Illusive Man replies, “but of course. I expected it to come.”
Shepard: “You intentionally brought a reaper here? You’re even more insane than I thought!”
Illusive Man: “Weren’t you listening? I told you – I can control them!”
Shepard waves his arm angrily: “You do what ever the hell you want. I’m getting off this rock before it turns into our grave.”

As the team flees to the shuttle, the Illusive Man is seen chuckling. While they fight their way through husks and other baddies, he flaunts his newly acquired powers: at first, they seem to be working perfectly, as Reaper ground forces halt their assault, and kneel before him. He even manages to cause a couple of oculi to crash into each other.
However, then the Sovereign-class itself, in all its gigantic size, lands on top of the ruins, and emits its robotic, scary sound.
The camera zooms in on TIM’s face, which is strained to the point that his veins are all bulging.
He yells, “no! I can control them!”, before a red beam envelops him.

Either way, the arrogant attempt of an organic to control the Reaper forces has bought Shepard enough time to get to the mass relay, and out of that forsaken star system.


The Normandy arrives at a new location, and immediately tries to contact friendly forces. For a few moments, there is nothing but silence on the comm, and Joker wonders, “maybe they’re all dead?”
Then, much to everyone’s relief, Admiral Hackett’s voice is heard.

Hackett explains that following the Exodus relay battle, the various fleets had scattered, and were doing their best to avoid combat with the Reapers. Shepard tries to convince the admiral that he knows how to defeat them this time, but that the fleets would have to converge at the Citadel first. Hackett asks if this plan is going to work better than the Crucible.
Shepard: (Paragon) “It has to work, because it’s the only chance we have left.” (Renegade) “It will work, because this time I’ll be the guy pulling the plug.”
Hackett: “Then this is your lucky day, because four hours ago, (Salarian STG/the Quarians) discovered a large Reaper fleet heading straight to the Citadel.”

The Normandy arrives at the Serpent Nebula in the midst of an epic battle. Along with it are Alliance ships, and forces of multiple species, according to the war assets that the player has accumulated during the game.
Now, Shepard gets to put them to use, by assigning tasks to fleets during the second battle of the Citadel, against the Reaper forces led by Harbinger. Based on his decisions, lives may be saved or lost (the Destiny Ascension gets to do something besides looking pretty), and the battle unfolds according to his decisions, while the SR-2 races towards the Citadel tower, struggling to reach it before the enemy does.
When it arrives at the edge of the great wards, the Normandy is seen chased by multiple oculi. Based on how many allies the player has gathered during the journey, the ship would either fight on its own and sustain heavy damage, be only partially damaged due to intervention of friendly forces, or it may come out of the encounter with just superficial scarring.
In the first case, they crash land on the Citadel, and Joker is mortally wounded. EDI stays by his side, as the others leave.
Otherwise, the Normandy drops off Shep, and docks safely.
The Citadel itself has been evacuated from civilians, but a few devout C-sec officers (including Commander Bailey) remain at the tower, fighting against Reaper forces. In the midst of that chaos, the team rushes to the tip of the tower, fighting off any enemies that get in his way.
When he is finally within reach of his destination – a control panel behind the area where the council convenes – something makes Shepard stop, and fall down to his knees.

It is Harbinger, who invades the Commander’s mind, in an attempt to crush his will. Now, it is up to the player to overcome the Reaper’s influence: a dream world is presented, in which the enormous synthetic towers over the tiny body of Shepard, and blasts at him with his powerful beams. The player must display his own resolve, by insisting on going forward, despite being hit several times, and seeing his character wounded, limping, barely alive. During this scene, he is emboldened by lines that were said previously by his closest comrades – both dead, and alive.

When this trial ends, the dream world fiddles suddenly, and the Commander stands before the control console.
Harbinger, who is now heading personally for the tower, says, “Shepard, you will fail. Your cycle shall end, just as we demand.”
To which Shep retorts:
(Paragon): “This cycle begs to differ!”
(Renegade): “I have a few demands of my own to make!”
He then proceeds to activate an ancient program in the Citadel mainframe. A cutscene shows how the keepers’ eyes light up, as if they had regained intelligence. Yearning for both revenge, and redemption, they simultaneously activate a series of consoles all over the space station.
The Citadel opens like it never had before, and a mass effect field begins to take shape at its core.

All the friendly fleets are flying away from the station – while the Reapers rush towards it in an attempt to take over.
If the Normandy had crashed earlier, Shep has nothing left to do. He is seen embracing his love interest, as the Citadel suddenly gets sucked into the unknown, along with the reapers.
Otherwise, the ship manages to pick the team up in the last second, and take off, but as the Citadel gets sucked away, a colossal shockwave emanates from it. In case the Normandy was damaged earlier, the shockwave hits it, and one or two team members die. If, however, the player came out of the battle in good condition, the SR-2 manages to escape in the nick of time.

After the devastating explosion dissipates, we can see Citadel space is now empty, save for some ship debris, and a few dead reapers.


EPILOGUE:

Weak ending: Councilor Anderson is on Earth, standing behind a somewhat burnt podium, and speaking before a gathering of members of different species (based on whose allegiance was won throughout the game):
“To the best of my knowledge, Commander Shepard has given his life in order to give us the chance we needed to reclaim our galaxy. Though this war is not over, we all know that from now on, the reapers are no longer the unbeatable threat they once were. With Harbinger gone, and our great civilizations mobilized, we will drive these fiends back to where they came from! Let us forever remember this day, and the sacrifice made by so many who gave their lives for the greater good!
Commander Shepard, the galaxy salutes you!”

During the speech, the camera pans to several different species in the crowd, who look grim, but resolved. Cinematics show Alliance/Turian ships clashing with single reapers, and scenes of rebuilding (Earth, Thessia, Palaven).

Finally, two rows of marines fire their weapons into the air, as the scene fades to black.

Good ending: In the same location, Shepard is giving a speech from the podium, with all the surviving team mates from the three games (Grunt, Jack, Miranda, etc.) standing behind him:
“Today we have given the galaxy a fighting chance. By reversing the Citadel’s mass relay, we’ve launched Harbinger and his fleet to unimaginable distances of space; possibly even destroyed them in the process. Though the Reaper threat is not gone, we all know that from now on, they are not the unbeatable threat they once were. With our great civilizations mobilized and united, we will drive these monsters back to where they came from!
(Paragon) Today, let us remember those who have given their lives in this struggle. Their sacrifice shall not be forgotten.
(Renegade) Today, all shall remember the victory that we have given this galaxy. Our glorious triumph shall not be forgotten.”

During the victorious speech, the camera pans through the many different species present in the crowd (based on choices made in the three games: Rachni! EDI and joker, Geth, Quarians, Krogans, Salarians, etc.), who seem genuinely hopeful. There are also cinematics showing Alliance/Turian ships clashing with single reapers, and scenes of rebuilding (Earth, Thessia, Palaven).

Finally,  Anderson walks over to shake Shepard’s hand, and whispers, “you did good, son. You did good.”

THE END.


So, is this the ultimate Mass Effect story? No, but I believe it beats what we’ve got, even without trying hard – which was the point.
When time allows, I’d like to take different approaches to the issue, such as what could’ve been done about the largely ignored Cerberus and Collector’s station decision.

Categories: Gaming, General