[ME3] What I Want to See from Bioware

Yeah, yeah, I thought I was ready to move on too.

The two things that have really been getting my goat, though, are the Ending Apologists and the Art is Inviolate camps. In truth, they are two sides of the same coin, neither of which seem capable of acknowledging the possibility of ME3’s ending(s) being half-assed. So, I feel compelled to offer counter-rebuttals to their rebuttals, in the form of massive spoilers after the following unbearably cute picture I have bastardized for my purposes.

So, stop reading and start finishing Mass Effect 3, dammit.

Spoilers below this line!

Before I get started in earnest, whenever I use the term “plot hole,” I am referring to the definition provided via Wikipedia:

A plot hole, or plothole, is a gap or inconsistency in a storyline that goes against the flow of logic established by the story’s plot, or constitutes a blatant omission of relevant information regarding the plot. These include such things as unlikely behavior or actions of characters, illogical or impossible events, events happening for no apparent reason, or statements/events that contradict earlier events in the storyline.

The Normandy Scene

What. The. Fuck.

Exhibit A.

More than anything else in the game, the Normandy sequence at the end almost completely and totally ruined the game for me. There is no logical, thematic, or even artistic reasoning for what occurred.

Okay, let me back up. There are two things that this sequence accomplishes:

  1. Establishes Implies that there is no escape from the Red/Blue/Green explosion. As in, no corner of the galaxy is safe, there won’t be pockets of Reapers hanging out, etc.
  2. It looks cool.

The thing that I want to note though, is that up until this point – beginning from when Shepard stands up post-laser – I had it in my mind that I was going to have to replay the final mission again. Why? Because I had taken EDI and Liara with me, my two favorite characters, and I presumed they were dead. They had to be… otherwise, where were they?

So imagine my surprise when I see this:

Exhibit B.

The Normandy sequence is the very definition of plot hole. Why was Joker flying away? How did he know to fly away? How did crew that was with you at the beam suddenly appear on the Normandy?

There have been various (tortured) “explanations” I have seen. For example:

Q: How did Normandy end up caught up in the Mass Relay explosion with the people who were on earth?
A: There are clearly some parts of the ending scene that the player doesn’t see. There’s two segments where Shepard blacks out between first running for the beam and his final choice. There’s also a clearly defined scene skip between him rising on the platform and ending up where he meets the ghost child thing. These skips give room for an arbitrarily long period of time for Normandy to escape. Given that Normandy made it that far it seems that this is a reasonable series of events:
1. Somehow off camera(Shepard doesn’t see this happen) the two squadmates you choose get separated during the run for the beam.
2. Everyone gets blasted by the Reaper on the way to the beam.
3. The radio calls go out saying Shepard, along with the rest of the Hammer team is dead, that nobody made it to the Citadel
4. The Alliance fleet calls for a retreat, intending to regroup somewhere else.
5. Normandy picks up the crew still on Earth, then flies out to the Mass Relay, takes it
6. The Crucible, along with the slower ships in the fleet see the Citadel arms open and figure(correctly), that this means Shepard actually survived and opened it.
7. The Crucible docks.

First of all, the necessity of any explanation is proof of a plot hole – who sees the Normandy sequence and goes “yeah, I expected that to happen”? Nobody. Secondly, it has never been established that Shepard is the only person who can open the arms of the Citadel. What that means is that even if the crew “gets separated” or assumes that Shepard is dead, they still should have continued their own individual attempts to make it to the teleport beam.

But, fine, let us assume that the other two crew members were knocked out, and woke up only after Shepard got up and teleported. Why did they not make their way towards the beam then? If the Normandy was capable of making a safe landing to pick up the crew members, whether said crew members were conscious at that point or no, the Normandy could have dropped off additional troops at the beam. Indeed, if the Normandy picked up the crew before Shepard woke up, we would expect them to drop off more troops at the beam (if not search for Shepard’s body). The only excuse explanation I can see for why none of this occurs is an assumption that Shepard woke up first and the beam turned off after Shepard took it (but not before Anderson “followed”).

For now, let us assume that the Normandy had sufficient time and opportunity to pick up the crew members on Earth between the time Shepard opens the Citadel arms and when the Crucible is fired. The fact that the Citadel arms opened and the direct communication with Admiral Hackett proves that the Alliance knew Shepard was both alive and on-board; this disabuses the notion that the Normandy was fleeing to regroup, or for any rational reason. If anything, I would assume that Joker and crew would be waiting around to pick Shepard up, having the only ship capable of doing so.

“If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.”
– Albert Einstein

Incidentally, unlike many others, I am not actually assuming that the Normandy was taking a Mass Relay in that final sequence. It seems to me that the visuals would have looked the same if the Normandy had engaged its normal FTL drives – the explosion only looks like a “beam” because of the Doppler effect of FTL travel. In other words, I can imagine that the sequence itself would have occurred if Joker was trying to avoid either the initial energy explosion from the Citadel, or the secondary explosion from the Mass Relay.

That does not explain why Joker was trying to avoid it, nor whether the damage the Normandy took was because of engine stress or whether all spaceships took similar damage off-screen (e.g. possibly wiping out the space fleet).

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best Case: an explanation of how the crew (EDI and Liara, in my case) got back on-board the Normandy, what the Normandy was doing while I was on the Citadel, if they knew/suspected Shepard was alive or dead, and why they were running away.
  • Worst Case: ensure that the crew with you on the final mission don’t show up in the final scene.

To be honest, it wouldn’t make more sense to see the other crew members, given that everyone was on Earth and fighting to the death. However, it is that much more plausible to see others exiting the Normandy rather than the very people at your side.

Kill the Indoctrination Theory

First off, I want to make it clear that I find the Indoctrination Theory extremely convincing. Indeed, it “solves” a lot of the problems I have with the end of the game, and makes a certain amount of lore sense.

At the same time, it also proves the Bioware writers are terrible.

I get it now! Shepard was Master Chief all along!

That notion might not be immediately obvious, but it can be summed up by this quote by Shamus, in the Mass Effect Ending Deconstruction article:

And no, I’m not a believer in the “indoctrination theory“. I think that would be better than the ending we got, but I don’t think it it was ever intended by the writers. This theory involves an incredible level of subtle symbolism, which goes against just how ham-fisted the rest of the story is. To wit: If these writers thought Shepard was indoctrinated in the last stage of the game, we would know it.

Milady also has a recent article on the same subject, entitled The Intentional Fallacy:

[…] To me, the theory is disproved due to a fault in consistency. The unreliable-narrator hermeneutics is not supported by the work’s tone and structure. Mass Effect had until then never attempted any plot exposition that was not direct (like showing videos of the Cerberus scientists at various locations degenerating because of indoctrination, instead of silencing the facts and allow for the player to draw her conclusions based on the environment; that simply had never been done), and surely Mass Effect had not had any dream-like sequences, any instance of unreality, ambiguity. Shepard’s dreams are merely dreams, by what we gather from our previous experience of the game.

In other words, if Bioware intentionally had Indoctrination in mind (har har), they would have wrote it into the story more. I understand that that sounds like a backhanded dismissal of the very evidence brought up in support of the Indoctrination Theory, but I get where Milady and Shamus et tal are coming from. Remember the TV show Lost? Do you honestly believe the writers set out to make a sickeningly cliche religious allegory starting in Season 1? Of course not. In fact, it was pretty clear they were making shit up as they went along until the end of Season 3, when they announced that there would only be six seasons total.

There is also the fact that Indoctrination negates the last half hour of the game. In other words, Commander Shepard starts breathing in the rubble, gets up, and… what? Heads back towards the beam, gets teleported, and still has to open the Citadel so the Crucible (still orbiting Earth) can dock? Or do you suppose that while Shepard was “dreaming” the ending, the Catalyst actually opened the Citadel arms and fired the Crucible with Shepard’s remote orders? I don’t see why he would.

And then you start seeing conspiracies everywhere.

Personally, Indoctrination actually makes the ending worse for me. When I was presented all three choices, I actually chose Synthesis. While many Indoctrination supporters list that as being “what the Reapers were after all along,” that is not really the case. The Reapers were trying to preserve the existence of organic life in the face of an inevitably synthetic-only future – synthesis allows both organic and synthetics to coexist, by removing the difference between them. There is no creator to rebel against.

Even if we assume that Reapers are examples of said synthesis… so what? If everyone is able to keep their own form, as implied both with the ending and the very existence of Shepard (has he/she not already been synthesized?), what is the problem? The Reaper method was bad because you were killed, liquified, and otherwise extinguished as an individual. If you were capable of retaining individuality and agency… what are the downsides?

Oh, right. The downside is that Bioware put in that goddamn “breath scene” only in the Destroy ending, making it a choice between beating the Reapers and living, or doing the right thing (IMO) and dying.

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best case: Settle the Indoctrination debate once and for all. If Indoctrination is real, include a true final battle scene, potentially followed by the same sort of choices.
  • Worst case: Remove the breath scene.

Pave Over the Other Plot Holes

This is really kind of a catch-all category.

What happened to the people aboard the Citadel when it was captured by the Reapers? How did the Reapers gain control of the Citadel? If the Reapers were capable of capturing the Citadel, why didn’t they do it earlier? I mean, Christ, if the entire Reaper modus operandi was to warp to the Citadel to decapitate the galactic leadership… err, why did they change their plans this time around? Just because they couldn’t warp right there doesn’t mean the galaxy is that much less screwed when the Reaper armada shows up manually. Hell, Reapers show up at Earth, Shepard heads to the Citadel to get help, and then finds that the Reapers are already there. Game over.

Of course, this rabbit hole is probably bottomless.

After all, if the Catalyst is in the Citadel the entire time, why does he need the Keepers to do anything? Why not just turn the Citadel radio dial to WRPR 106.1, Reaper FM? How is it possible that the plans for the Crucible have escaped Reaper attention across countless millennia? How is it that countless different species even knew what they were making? As Shamus later states:

Case in point: The crucible is the ultimate weapon, derived from Prothean ruins, yet it was never mentioned or hinted at in any of the previous games. None of the beacons talked about it. Vigil didn’t bring it up, and I’m willing to bet the Prothean squadmate (a DLC character) doesn’t mention it either. This is because it wasn’t planned at the outset. It’s a late-story asspull done by writers who never had a plan.

It is one thing to leave story hooks for future titles; it is quite another to leave plot holes so big you could fly a whole new trilogy through them.

What I want to see from Bioware:

  • Best case: Shore up these plot holes via Codex entries, FAQs, or at least acknowledge they exist.
  • Worst case: leave everything vague and unsettled.


I do want to make one thing abundantly clear: I still love the Mass Effect series overall.

I just think it should be acknowledged that “artistic integrity” does not mean that the ending was not half-assed, or shouldn’t be changed based on (fan) feedback. If it was Bioware’s story when they wrote it, it will still be Bioware’s story when they rewrite it, regardless of the reasoning behind the revision.

Is there something you would like to see in the DLC? Would you prefer Indoctrination Theory debunked, proven, or left ambiguous? Would you even be interested in DLC set before the final battle, e.g. taking back Omega, etc?

Posted on March 26, 2012, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Do you honestly think Bioware cares? The whole thing doesn’t make sense – just like 99% of all successful movies don’t make sense (let alone Sci-Fi movies). So what?


  2. I agree the Normandy leaving is a plot hole. But per the definition it can be fixed easily. In another post I said this is what they need to add. While on TIM’s base you come across a database that is encrypted. Then as you attack the beam you are hit. A quick screenshot shows someone ordering a retreat (there is Harbinger right there after all). If your EMS is high enough your squadmates retreat. So this goes against your argument that they go to the beam. It’s suicide, and they can easily retreat. The Normandy doesn’t land there. The rest of the squad retreat on foot or in the vehicles that Anderson arrived in. Remember them? They go back to the staging base and take a shuttle from there.

    I agree with you and am against the indoctrination theory. As for the breath for one of the destroy endings so what? It means nothing in regard to the relays, reapers, other AI etc. For me the best case scenario is the synergy ending keeps the relays intact. Now that presents a real choice. Your potential life or all life? And yes I now people hate a Jesus type ending.

    Shamus hasn’t payed much attention to the game I take it. Javik says that he was not aware of the Crucible. He wasn’t aware of everything that went on at Illos either. The Crucible is a device that was passed down over many cycles. The god-ai-kid knew of it but admitted that he wasn’t sure if it would ever be created. And since it was it CHANGED the catalyst and the the options. Really how hard is it to believe that some parts of a government don’t know what other parts are doing, especially during war when communications were fractured? This is a very weak argument.

    TLDR: the ending did have plot holes and needs to be fleshed out. But I wouldn’t change the 3 choices or go indoctrination. I would just add logical and plausible explanations along with two major changes. Keep the relays intact in synergy and in other endings don’t have the relays explode but instead shut them off.

    BTW did you know they can die with a low war score? Now after TIM’s death he drops a datapad that contains the passwords. The crucible isn’t doing anything remembr? So Shepard tells Hacket and he orders the Normandy back to TIM’s base to get the encrypted data. No more plot hole.


    • Yes, Bioware could close the plot hole any number of ways. I don’t find the “we missed something at Cerberus HQ!” example particularly compelling, but then again I don’t think I could come up with any scenario in which it made sense; any scenario in which Shepard himself/herself didn’t order Normandy away would be a conscious abandonment on the part of Joker and the rest of the team. Them believing Shepard to be dead doesn’t make it better.

      By the way, Anderson’s vehicle is out of commission. There is (perhaps) an implication of other vehicles being there given the number of faceless mooks who get zapped before Shepard, but once again we must assume things outside the purview of the camera.

      I am aware of the “everyone dies” ending.

      The problem with the Crucible was that it was not foreshadowed at all, which means it was not “built” until the writers got to ME3. And even if the Catalyst didn’t think it would be built – which is hard enough to swallow given that he resides on the Citadel the whole time – it is an awkward failure on the part of the Reapers, who had hitherto been capable of being so thorough about erasing all evidence of themselves after harvesting. As Shamas states, it would be a rather brilliant (and easy) plot twist if the Catalyst had wanted the Crucible to be built the whole time, but been unable to do so himself (due to restraints in programming or whatever).

      I’m personally able to hand-wave that sort of thing away in the name of suspension of disbelief, but that doesn’t make it less of a plot hole.


      • There were at elast 4 or 5 vehicles destroyed in the race to the beam. And there were 2 or 3 gunships destoyed as well. When Anderson first arrives you see 2 or 3 vehicles int eh short cutscene. Remember that Anderson ordered all remaining units of Hammer to the beam after Shepard killed the reaper. So that means many tanks, soldiers and gunships. More than enough to evaculate any casualties.

        So my sequence would be:
        1) They charge the beam.
        2) Harbinger and other reapers land and start killing them. Remember that a single destroyer reaper guarded it before and now you have 1-4 BIG reapers there.
        3) Shepard and the lead elements are hit.
        4) Without Shepard and Anderson the remaining troops panic and retreat. This includes your squadmates. They go back to the forward base to regroup.
        5) Shepard fight TIM and his personal datapad drops with vital info about the reapers at the base. Remember that TIM was really good at the science stuff and came across things no one ever did before.
        6) Shepard orders the Normandy back to TIM’s base to get it as he opens up the Citadel.

        What IS a problem is Harbinger lifts off and seems to move away after Shepard is hit by the beam. So that ahs to change to show Harbinger chasing the retreating forces.

        I like the Catalyst actually wanting the Crucible to be built line. And since the Catalyst controlled the reapers that would explain much of their actions. Like the prothien computer that reveals what the Catalyst is it could also have felt this cycle was too late in doing it. Once a harvesting starts it must be finished but since Shepard was the first organic to see the Catalyst it changed the equation.

        As for endings I still like synergy over destruction. Much of the game is spent learning that the geth and EDI are conscious beings and have a soul etc. So if you went down that path synergy is the only option. Now if you destroyed the geth, told EDI that she was just a machine etc, then destroy is the right option for you. I think many people missed this point or got so distracted by the endings that they never payed it much thought.


  3. I’ve never played the game and have no opinion on the ending but I would like to congratulate you on an excellent piece of writing. You made me chuckle.


  4. “I can paint a fake Picasso as well as anyone else.” – Picasso

    And that’s what the ending was, in my eyes – fake Bioware storytelling.

    I know that they could show us the long-term consequences of our narrative choices, because I’ve played Dragon Age: Origins. I know that they could pull off a dramatic reveal that completely reverses everything we’ve been told up to that point and still make it believable, because I’ve played Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic. I know that they could create a wonderful bittersweet ending that would perfectly fit the mood and theme of the rest of the game, because I’ve played Planescape: Torment.

    I know what good Bioware storytelling looks like and that was not it.


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