The Internet has been abuzz, over the past few weeks, with controversy over the unimaginative and ambiguous end to the final installment of the critically acclaimed Mass Effect trilogy of video games.
The concluding part of the RPG trilogy has drawn speculation and debate over how the game evolved, with Shepard's transformation from an ambitious leader to a spectre driven to make sacrificial choices at every step.
To the dismay of fans worldwide, game-changing moments and decisions that featured in previous installments failed to appear in this final game. The developers do have a DLC coming in April, which will contain the "real" ending.
There are several theories as to what exactly went wrong with the endings. Did we miss the all-conclusive part or did we falter somewhere along the way?
The problem with the ending is not just it being inconclusive but also inconsistent with the plot, themes and storylines developed until the concluding mission.
Mass Effect Trilogy: The Story so Far - Synopsis
The game is set in a futuristic era - roughly 175 years ahead of our time. Mankind unearths a device at the edge of the solar system on a satellite called Charon (Pluto's moon) that acts as a mass relay transmitter for instant travel to distant star clusters in the galaxy.
A Citadel is established to govern conflicts and regulate interstellar trade and diplomacy. The mass relay acts as the communication device to unite a number of inter-galactic alien races to form the Citadel council.
Meanwhile, Earth is on a diplomatic mission for a more important role at the Council but fails at convincing the other members. Shepard makes his entrance at this stage and tries to unite the council while securing the first human spectre position in a bid to take command of the furore and unrest among the divided alien races.
The rest of the first installment revolves around Shepard's ascension in the role of spectre, as he dynamically builds a team of aliens fighting for the greater cause of eliminating Reapers and all those who stand in their way of regaining peace across the galaxy including Earth.
Saren, a rogue Turian spectre (who is actually controlled by an unknown alien spacecraft called Sovereign) is Shepard's first nemesis. Sovereign reveals itself as a sentient intelligence, a member of a race of entities known as the Reapers, as Shepherd tries to decipher the truth behind the Reaper invasions.
Reaper invasions are, in turn, orchestrated by an unknown entity - Catalyst - which we will encounter later in the concluding part of Mass Effect 3. Reapers have been assigned the task of sweeping through the Milky Way, annihilating sophisticated, space-faring civilisations, throwing everything into chaos and leaving other races untouched in a cycle that repeats every 50,000 years.
Shepard later realises the Citadel itself is an inter-galactic mass relay, attracting the Reapers and allowing them to throw lesser races into oblivion. Reapers are found to use a strange process called "Indoctrination" to bring allies and minions under their total control. The victims then see strange things that aren't there, have odd dreams, hear whispers and voices and ultimately start behaving strangely.
This brings us to Mass Effect 2 where the Reaper invasion is imminent even as Shepard raises alarm. However, all his warnings fall on deaf ears, as a new alien race - Collectors (servants of Reapers) take over the world's Terminus systems. Shepherd's Normandy ship is destroyed in a battle against the Collectors and the game's chief protagonist is presumed dead.
Cerberus, an outlawed but formidably rich organisation, puts humanity's cause and Earth's safety ahead of the other races. The organisation resurrects Shepard using Reaper technology - he undergoes synthetic enhancements to transform into a cyborg.
Meanwhile, the boss of Cerberus, President Bartlet, assumes charge of repulsing the Reapers and assigns Shepard the task of taking the fight to the Collectors and their home base in the Galactic Core, eventually eliminating the threat (the player can choose to capture the base or destroy it, which has ramifications going into Mass Effect 3).
The subsequent events lead Shepard into destroying the mass relay on the galactic rim, as the Reapers try to invade in full force. Although he is successful in achieving the task, the asteroid impact targeted on the relay eventually destroys the Batarian colony inhabited by over 300,000 colonists.
The concluding part - Mass Effect 3 - opens with Shepard held captive for trial over alleged war crimes and the wiping out of the Batarian colony. The trial is cut short by a Reaper invasion and the whole planet is captured in a matter of few minutes.
Shepard is then rescued by the Normandy and his former Commanding Officer - Admiral Anderson - stays put to organise a resistance. The rest of the story revolves around predictable lines, as Shepard rallies alien races of the Galaxy to defeat the Reapers through sheer force and numbers.
Throughout the series, there is a mention of a special device - Crucible - being developed by humans and other races that could wipe out the Reapers altogether. Unfortunately, the ancient weapon designed by an ancestral race called Protheans, involves a missing component - the Catalyst. The quest to find this missing component of unknown origin and location forms the crux of the nail-biting climax.
Shepard has to destroy Cerberus in order to uncover the location of the Catalyst: it's on, or part of, the Citadel. The Illusive Man of Mass Effect 2 fame is already at the scene and the Reapers aware of the Citadel's secret capture it and move it into Earth orbit, deploying the bulk of their fleet to defend it.
The third game is characterised by Shepard's massive stress levels and depression, triggered by bouts of hallucinations and/or recurring dreams. One such recurring dream reveals a young boy (whom he saw killed on Earth at the start of the game) and tries to help him, only to see him consumed by flames. During this recurring dream Shepard hears voices of dead allies and other deceased characters speaking to him.
The Controversial Ending - Is This Real or a Dream?
In the grand finale of the game's trilogy, Shepard uncovers the truth behind the Reaper invasion at the Citadel. However, whether this is the real ending or part of Shepard's never-ending hallucination is the biggest unanswered question yet.
Going by the indoctrination theory, Shepherd's mind may be manipulated by the Reapers into behaving in a certain way or to experience hallucinations. In his final assault against the Reapers, the game'd protagonist is badly wounded but still manages to teleport to the Citadel using the transportation beam at the Reaper base in London.
Unfortunately, the Citadel now resembles a graveyard with corpses strewn all around. Amid the gloomy atmosphere, Shepard makes his way into the control room to find the hidden part of the Citadel - apparently a part of the central command-and-control tower of the Citadel.
Shepard is now confronted by the Illusive Man and Admiral Andersen, even as he ponders the best decision to make among the available choices. The Illusive Man hints at controlling the Reapers, while Anderson advises for Reaper destruction.
Depending on the choices you make, the Illusive Man will either kill Andersen or can kill both Anderson and Shepard (which will obviously trigger the game over sequence and forcing a reload). The third option allows Shepard to shoot the Illusive Man.
Unfortunately, in any case, both Shepard and Anderson are destined to die, as gun shots are cross-fired in the lead up to the climax. Shepard, still suffering from the earlier wound, passes out whilst trying to figure out how to make the Crucible work. At this moment, the area of the floor Shepard is lying on suddenly levitates and flies through the ceiling onto the top of the Citadel, where the Crucible's tip has docked.
The succeeding event unravels a glowing blue entity, taking the form of a young human child (same one from Shepard's dreams), which claims to be the Catalyst (created by the Reapers millions of years ago). Shepard is now presented with three critical choices to make, as the Catalyst bestows the power of deciding the universe's fate in his hands.
How to Get the Best Possible Ending?
The first choice will destroy the Reapers forever, as Anderson wanted. But, without them another synthetic race will rise and annihilate the other galactic races.
The second choice permits the control of the Reapers, as the Illusive Man wanted. The Reapers then leave the Earth and galaxy unharmed... but for how long?
The final choice is synthesis: it allows Shepard to merge synthetic and organic DNA, effectively transforming all life forms in the Galaxy into cyborgs.
The only logical way to save the game's protagonist seems to be option 1 - destroy the Reapers, which is consistent with most of the series' theme and Shepard's top priority.
If you choose destroy and an insanely high 'military-preparation' score earlier in the game, the brief cut-scene with obscured face (apparently Shepard), will appear lying amid some debris suddenly taking a deep breath. This little tidbit clearly hints that the game protagonist has still a good chance to live.
This scene then triggers post-credits sequence revealing an old man telling his grandson stories about 'The Shepard' and how he saved the Galaxy (arguably in all three endings you do neutralise the Reaper threat successfully).