So I've just finished ME3. For those of you that haven't, be warned: This post will contain a lot of spoilers for the whole damn thing.
Let me re-iterate. SPOILERS ABOUND. Do not read further if you plan to play the game.
Last chance. SPOILERS.
Right. For the two of you that have finished the game (and the dozen or so who don't intend to play), here's the skinny:
The ending doesn't work.
It not only doesn't work a little. It doesn't work a lot. In fact, it seems to go against everything we've established over the 90+ hours of gameplay that precede it.
I'm going to argue that this is deliberate. Bear with me.
So for the previous 90+ hours, the game has had one overarching theme. There are a couple of others, but this is the biggie:
Your decisions have consequences.
Again and again, you make choices which are reflected in what happens later. Very early in the first game, one of your squadmates dies. They will stay dead.
In the second game, a suicide mission is assembled. Odds are, most of your team won't make it. Who dies is dependent on the decisions you take.
Throughout the series, there are callbacks to decisions that you made.
And then, after the beam hits you, there are almost no decisions except for one: do you destroy the Reapers (dooming yourself and most likely characters you care for), attempt to take control of them, or synthesize a new synthetic/organic leap to a higher plane of consciousness?
That's a big choice. Right there. And all the gameplay up to this moment has allowed you to take time, think, ask questions. But this time round, the question is barely asked before you have to choose.
You don't get a chance to even re-ask the question. Like, which option is blue and which red, again?
And when you move into position at one of the choice points - you can't move away again. So you can't almost-get-there, then change your mind.
And then whichever choice you make, all of the Mass Relays explode throughout the galaxy.
A choice which leads to exactly the same ending.
A choice which is no choice.
Now, it's possible that the writers, after having spent so much care crafting a game with the theme of choice suddenly took that away from you for the final ten minutes of the game.
But that seems a trifle odd.
Let's investigate further.
Throughout ME3, Commander Shepard has been haunted by bad dreams. A boy you were unable to save. You appear in a snowy forest, filled with whispering shadows, trying to chase down the child. But you can't move properly. All of your actions are in slow motion. And there are no choices to make - if you try and run away, the child will re-appear in front of you.
In other words, the child that you couldn't rescue, slow motion, and the lack of choice signify dreams.
After you are hit by the Reaper beam, you're hurt. You fall unconscious. And when you come to:
You can only move in slow motion.
You can make no choice in your weapons - you simply have a pistol. With unlimited ammunition.
Making it to the conduit puts you in an area piled with bodies. (Why? What were they being used for? They just exist in that corridor... and nowhere else)
The Illusive Man is there before you. (How? How did one man sneak into London and make it through the Reapers?)
Admiral Anderson is there before you. (He even states over comms that he followed you up - but appears ahead of you.)
You meet something that claims to be the catalyst, the last piece of the puzzle. It looks like the child from your dreams.
It claims that it created the Reapers to stop synthetics from destroying organic life. A claim which makes no sense, as helpfully illustrated below.
So, to sum up:
The ending makes no sense given the text of the game.
The ending makes no sense given the themes of the game.
There are strong clues within the text that this is unreal.
Can we chase this down any further? After the game finishes, you get the following text:
"Commander Shepard has become a legend by ending the Reaper threat. Now you can continue to build that legend by further gameplay and DLC."
Note that last: Further gameplay.
Now that I'm the God of all Reapers (option 1)? Seems unlikely.
Now that I'm living in a synthetic/organic higher plane (option 2)? Also unlikely.
Now that I'm dead (option 3)? Well, that didn't stop me before... but I'm still calling a no on this.
So we know that Shepard's story continues... but it can't, in any of the available endings that we played.
In fact, we can't even hit Resume Game to finish off those side-quests. All you get is a replay of the ending.
And then, let's look at the post-credits scene. A man speaking to a child in a snowy forest (now, where have we seen a snowy forest before?).
"Tell me another story about the shepherd."
"It's getting late, but OK. One more story."
To me, this leads to one inescapable conclusion:
That's not the real ending. And was never intended to be.