So, we all hate the ending of Mass Effect 3. But, how should it have ended? Given a choice, how would you conclude the story? The obvious way to fix this entire mess is to get rid of the star child, and the color coded ending animation of course. If I was a Bioware writer here is how I would improve the ending in the hypothetical upcoming DLC:
Firstly, we keep everything up to the point when Anderson dies. Perhaps it would be nice if we added a bit where we could Paragon-check the illusive man into shaking off the indoctrination, sparing Anderson and activating the crucible for us. But I’m fine if we play it as it is, until the star child reveal. Then we axe everything after that. Then we have a long cut scene playing up the war assets you collected – you see snippets of all the factions you befriended fighting in the war. If your assets are low, then you see your side taking horrible losses – some of your squad mates can die here like in the Suicide Mission from ME2. If your assets were close to max, you see them winning. Eventually crucible activates and Reapers go dormant.
Cue epilogue scene – the newly appointed council eats a crow, and says how Sheppard was right all along. All the races that participated in the final push get council seats – this includes Quarians, Geth, Krogan and etc. Citadel is now in Sol system, making Earth one of the most important worlds in Galaxy and Sheppard can make a speech to reflect on humanities new role as a guide and ally who is going to help out the new citadel races, etc.. Then you get to talk to all your surviving team mates and ask them what they are planning to do next (just like in the Dragon Age: Origins finale). The last person you talk to is your romantic interest, and we fade to black as you hold hands or whatnot. Then the Codex narrator gives you some information about what happens next, how was the galaxy changed by these events, etc… You get to find out what happened to the Hannar, Elcor, Vollus and all the other minor races. Hell maybe even close with a photo of Sheppard and Garrus sitting on a beach, drinking some of these ridiculous cocktails with umbrellas in them.
Is this cliché? Yes it is. Does it explain what the Reapers were all about? Nope, not really. Would I bitch about them not explaining things? Sure, I would. So what? Tell me you would not prefer this to how the game ended? Cliché and slightly cheesy cop-out ending is much more preferable than the massive clusterfuck of fail we got instead.
Hell, I would even take the “sad” ending Ludvikas proposed in another thread: everyone dies, Reapers win, some alien race opens up Liara’s time capsule and learns about Sheppard and friends. Yeah, I would probably be tad annoyed it ended like that, but it would be infinitely better than what we got.
But let’s say you want to explain the Reapers. Let’s say you want this thing to make sense. Here is how I would re-write this story. And no, this is not a fanfic. This is just me bouncing around ideas of how the story could have been improved. I think the biggest problem with the way Bioware handled the Reaper story is that they were aiming too low. They trapped themselves in the Space Opera genre, and did not have enough foresight to reach out and grab some hard SF ideas to improve their story.
If I was allowed to rewrite the entire game, I would completely retcon all the bullshit about liquefying people and making human shaped starship from ME2, because that’s just stupid. Instead I would use one of these two ideas:
Evolutionary Cul de Sac
We make Reapers into a post-singularity distributed intelligence. They are kinda like Geth (which explains the Geth affinity for the “Elder Machines”) in that they can cluster and network to become smarter. Unfortunately, they have run into a problem: they got stuck. Their civilization has reached it’s pinnacle and the Moore’s law no longer applies for them. They can’t speed up their CPU’s anymore because they are up against hard law of physics – ones that can’t be violated with generous application of Ezo magic. They can’t parallelize more because they are already massively distributed, and they already abuse Quantum entanglement – you can’t go faster than “instantaneous”. They just can’t figure out any way to improve themselves, but they are suffering because of it. They art, culture and society is at a standstill and stagnating. They want to go further, but they just can’t get over that last hurdle.
At some point, millennia ago they have figured out a possible way of of this dead end is to scrap everything they know about technology, and re-design. Basically start from scratch – go back to stone age, and build up to singularity all over again. So they seed planets with life, build Mass Relay network, and set conditions for massive galactic civilizations. They have new sentient races evolve, build, innovate and re-create technology from scratch. They watch them, take notes, incorporate new ideas into their own setup (perhaps gaining few percent of efficiency here and there) and etc. And when the Galaxy is on the cusp of singularity, they send in the cleaning crew, wipe the slate clean and start over from scratch.
Why? Because they don’t want competition. As it is right now, most of the interstellar medium that is inaccessible to the pre-singularity Ezo propelled biologicals and synthetics is essentially Reaper computronium. They don’t need another post-singularity civilization barging in on their territory. For Reapers the sentient races they herd are essentially lab rats – animals they experiment on. They are not really keen on having these rats suddenly become their equals. So they reap, and start over.
Granted, not all Reapers are ok with this. There is a faction within the Reapers equivalent to our PETA that hates the reap cycle, and wants to stop it at all cost. Just like our environmental extremists, these Reaper loonies are essentially terrorists that are willing to hurt their own people for their cause. So they drop down plans for the crucible on us. It is essentially a clarktech device – more complex than we can comprehend, but they break it down for us – they show us how to construct it in the way we can understand it.
How does it work? Well, it is essentially an internet kill switch. It is some kind of crazy quantum disruptor that when fired, will knock the entire Reaper network off-line. This basically will wreck their society, and kill the Reaper consensus mind commonwealth (or whatever). Surviving Reapers will probably be driven crazy by the separation from the network, and/or too shell shocked to be any threat to the fledgling civilizations. The sentient ships they use to Reap are not “true Reapers” but just remote clean-up drones, so they will go down, as soon as the network is gone.
In the finale, you get to talk to one of the “Good Guy Reapers” (or by their standards, crazy environmentalist terrorist) who gives you a heads up: “You were being reaped because you were at the cusp of singularity. You will now grow and develop in unprecedented ways, but sooner or later you will hit the same wall as we did – you will get stuck. Don’t repeat our mistake. Don’t become Reapers yourself.”
Boom – nice, open ended, high concept SF explanation that works with *most* of the lore (except the banal stupidities of ME2). It even makes the speech delivered by the Ranoch Reaper make perfect sense. The reason they are wiping all sentient life is to avoid a post-singularity war between two super-advanced races that could potentially rip the galaxy apart. Yes, it’s fucked up, but it makes sense from their point of view.
Not to mention this probably counts as bittersweet ending since you paid for your survival by destroying the most advanced race in the universe. The game could really make that a focal point, showing you the artifacts left after the true Reapers – their art, their philosophy, their technology (peace time stuff – not giant murder ships). If done right, you could make the player wonder whether or not the whole thing was worth it. It would also ask very poignant questions that would make Orson Scot Card pee his pants (and then probably sue for infringement or something): is it ok to genocide a sentient species in self defense?
Once upon a time, there was a Galactic civilization that reached singularity and ascended to some other plane of existence. You know, Vernor Vinge style – their technology got so advanced that they vanished from the physical universe and went somewhere else. They left the galaxy littered with their technology – like the Mass Effect Relays and etc. Few centuries later, another civilization found their toys, and used them to bootstrap their own singularity – and they went to the same extra-dimensional new reality as their predecessors. Or more accurately, they barged in uninvited and the elder race was not particularly happy. Especially since the newcomers nearly ripped the entire realm apart upon entry, and then proceeded to wreck things – mostly due to ineptitude and ignorance. There was likely a great war in the heavens – with both sides likely brandishing weapons so immensely powerful, they could annihilate entire universes. Eventually one side won, or they made peace – who knows. The point is that they figured out that they should not leave that ascendancy door open. Neither side of the conflict wanted any more uninvited guests. Not that they were opposed to new races arriving at their place in general – they just did not want massive assholes barging in, and trying to take over the place.
So they figured out that they give the fledgling new races a task: build the crucible. It is sufficiently advanced to illustrate the new races are sufficiently advanced to ascend. It also is a bitch to construct, unless you actually pull together all the available resources in the galaxy. It was specifically designed to be a monumental effort, forcing entire civilizations to pitch in to build it. If they can pull it off, it means these races are mature enough to work together for a common goal and maintain peace.
Once the crucible is built, it opens a conduit to the realm beyond, and the ascended ones can talk you through the rest of the process, give you tips on improving your technology, resolving your social issues and etc.. If you can’t build the crucible in say 500,000 years (which they calculated is a generous amount of time) a cleanup routine is activated. The reapers are essentially the Galxy’s immune system that is supposed to cull the asshole races when they get too advanced, but fail to establish the communication with the elder races.
Originally the Reapers were supposed to wake up, observe, analyze and then make an educated decision as to where the newest batch of races is worthy of extra time, or if they should be wiped out. When unable to make that assessment they were supposed to deffer to their bosses. But something happened – perhaps their conduit broke, and now they are cut off. Or perhaps the elder races ascended again, receding further into some unimaginable realities leaving everything behind. Or perhaps they just got bored with policing the physical galaxy and Reapers have been running on auto-pilot for millennia. Or maybe it’s a software bug – kinda like Robot Santa from Futurama. There is a buffer overflow in their programming that causes them to judge every civilization as naughty. The point is, Reapers are not functioning the way they should – or they are overreaching.
Fortunately there is a fail-safe mechanism for this. Activating the crucible will automatically shut off Reaper clean-up routine and set them to dormant mode, until reset. So even if there is no one watching on the other side, an industrious civilization can still prevent their own annihilation by building the thing and running it.
When you activate it at the end of the game, it does exactly that – it switches off all the Reapers, and it opens a way into a new, bigger and stranger universe with different laws of physics. But it’s empty – whoever lived there has moved on. But they left all kinds of artifacts, constructs, monuments and worlds teeming with life behind. Now that new universe is yours. And who else can explore this new realm better than Commander Sheppard?
Once again, happy ending, no crazy star children and mostly in-line with existing lore. This one is even closer to the canon ending because it involves some super-advanced protector entities that built the Reapers. But this explanation does not involve any of that circular logic about building synthetic murder minions to prevent you from building synthetic murder minions of your own.
What is your theory?
Do you have your own pet theory? What did you think Reapers would end up being at the end of ME1? How would you explain their existence, their purpose and their mystery?