The planned conclusion to Mass Effect 3 looked very different from the ending that made it into the final game, bearing little resemblance to the much-maligned finale.
Speaking about Mass Effect and other BioWare games in a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) thread, writer Drew Karpshyn shared a few details about the series’ original ending. Karpyshyn worked as lead writer on Mass Effect and the co-lead on Mass Effect 2, and was asked how they would have concluded the series had they stayed on for the third game.
“We [had] some very rough ideas planned out,” they said. “Basically, it involved luring the Reapers through the Mass Relays then detonating the entire network to wipe them out... but also destroying/damaging the relays and isolating every galactic community from the others.
“But we still had to figure out a lot of the details, and there were some issues with that option... like what we would do in the next series of games.”
A better ending?
That’s starkly different from the ending in Mass Effect 3’s final version. The Mass Relays (the intergalactic transportation system that allows spaceships to instantly hop across space) aren’t blown up, and the Reapers aren’t lured to their deaths. Warning, spoilers ahead.
Instead, Commander Shepard encounters the child-like Catalyst and is faced with three discrete choices: destroy the Reapers and all synthetic life across the universe in a final destructive blast; merge himself with the Reapers in a final sacrifice; or jump into 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 that the series was loved for, presenting the player with three, plainly discrete options that had little bearing on their past decisions. While the scope of destruction and the number of squadmates that survived the finale depended on how much “total military strength” you amassed before the final mission, the largest and most meaningful choices you’d made up to that point appeared irrelevant.
The ending that Karpshyn outlines sounds more directed, with players inevitably destroying the Reapers using the Mass Relays. But even that may have provided greater room for player agency to shine through, as players’ past choices impact the final state of the game's universe, after it’s fractured into isolated chunks by the destruction of the Mass Relays.
This isn’t the first prototype Mass Effect ending that’s floated onto the internet. Former BioWare animation director Dave Wilkinson told People Make Games last year that Mass Effect 3’s ending was at one 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 those of the final release.
Maybe Mass Effect 5 will finally give us the option to blow up the Mass Relays.