The planned conclusion to Mass Effect 3 looked very different from the ending that made it to the final game, bearing little resemblance to the much-maligned ending.
Talking about Mass Effect and other BioWare games in one Reddit AMA (opens in new tab) (ask me anything), writer Drew Karpshyn shared some details about the original series finale. Karpyshyn worked as head writer on Mass Effect and co-lead on Mass Effect 2, and was asked how they would have completed the series had they stayed for the third game.
“We [had] some very rough ideas planned,” they said. “Basically it involved luring the Reapers through the Mass Relays and then detonating the entire network to eliminate them… but also destroying/damaging the relays and isolating all galactic communities from each other.
“But we still had a lot of details to figure out, and there were some issues with that option… like what we would do in the next series of games.”
A better ending?
This is entirely different from the ending of the final version of Mass Effect 3. The Mass Relays (the intergalactic transport system that allows spaceships to instantly jump through space) are not blown up, and the Reapers are not drawn to their death. Warning, spoilers ahead.
Instead, Commander Shepard encounters the infant Catalyst and is faced with three distinct choices: destroy the Reapers and all synthetic life across the universe in one final destructive blast; merge with the Reapers in a final sacrifice; or hop on a big green beam to combine all organic and synthetic life, leaving the universe in harmony.
The ending has been a source of consternation among fans since Mass Effect 3 was released over a decade ago. It removed much of the player agency the series was loved for, presenting the player with three clearly unobtrusive options that had little bearing on their previous decisions. While the scope of destruction and the number of squadmates that survived the end depended on how much “total military strength” you’d amassed before the final mission, the bigger and more meaningful choices you’d made up to that point seemed irrelevant.
The ending Karpshyn describes feels more targeted, with players inevitably destroying the Reapers using Mass Relays. But even that may have given more room for player agency to shine, as previous player choices impact the final state of the game’s universe after it is fractured into isolated pieces by the destruction of the Mass Relays.
This isn’t the first prototype Mass Effect ending that has floated on the internet. Former director of animation at BioWare, Dave Wilkinson, said people play games last year that the ending of Mass Effect 3 was at a point directly tied to the game’s Paragon-Renegade morality system. Even then, however, it was split into three distinct versions that were similar to the final version.
Perhaps Mass Effect 5 will finally give us the option to blow up Mass Relays.