[Warning, this includes spoilers for the Mass Effect trilogy]
I’m not here to talk about the ending of Mass Effect 3. The subject has been bled to death and I have no intention on talking about the controversies of Mass Effect 3‘s ending, or how stupid the Indoctrination Theory really is. But I am here to talk about the ending to Mass Effect’s stories.
Mass Effect is a series about choice. It’s about how Shepard is used as a blank slate, a vehicle for the player to interact with and experience a rich sci-fi world. It’s about understanding nothing is as clear as black and white. It’s about accepting change and breaking the status quo. It’s about being better than what everyone thought you could be. It’s about you.
Everyone makes hard choices in their lives, but it’s how we live with these choices that define who we are. In Mass Effect 3, all the choices you’ve made as Commander Shepard reveal their consequences and you put an end to the troubles of the galaxy in order to save it. Choosing who lives or who dies is a difficult thing, especially when you’ve grown to know and understand each side of the argument.
You make many different branching decisions throughout the Mass Effect series. In Mass Effect 3, all of those branches are compiled and you’re faced with the consequences. You turn the tide of the cycle of events and shape the galaxy into something that you hope will be a better place for future generations.
None of those choices were more damaging or impactful for me than when I decided to kill Mordin Solus.
Remember that time you’re going to help the Krogan cure the genophage, but not really because the Salarians told you why the genophage existed and you’re just going to double-cross the Krogan anyway? Not many people do, because not many people are complete assholes like my Shepard. The way I shaped Shepard was for him to be cold and calculating. His allegiances with his friends were very important for him, but saving the galaxy will come at a cost. The ramifications for curing the genophage were too high for the future generations for my Shepard to allow. And so I went into that mission with the intent of fooling the Krogans into thinking the genophage was cured, but siding with the Salarians in not curing it, thus gaining both allegiances.
This was all well and good until an old friend showed up. Mordin Solus, a fast talking genius who wants to right the wrongs he made in his past. “Mordin, you’re not going up,” I told him. I tried to talk him down, but he wouldn’t listen. Mordin then shouts, “I made a mistake!” and suddenly I understood the only option before me. I would have to shoot one of my best friends. I held Mordin at gunpoint and told him one last time to stand down or I would have to do something I never thought I would. But Mordin insisted, “Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.” He turned his back to me and walked towards that elevator.
Time slowed down. A lone option presented itself to me. Pull the trigger and kill Mordin Solus. I sat there staring at the screen wondering if this was actually happening. I couldn’t believe it. But I had to do what I thought was right. Mordin Solus didn’t cure the genophage. He rode to the top of that elevator with a bullet hole in his chest, gasping for air the entire time. Mordin crawled his way to the console in an attempt to use his final moments to right the wrongs of his life. He was a foot away from realizing that dream before collapsing to the ground.
And I have to live with that. I can attribute it to a casualty of war and attempt to qualify my horrible action with whatever I want, but that doesn’t change the fact that I murdered someone close to me. And for what, some money and a few soldiers?
This moment haunts me. It is one of the most striking moral dilemmas I’ve experienced in a video game. I made one choice after another that led to me being on Tuchanka holding a gun at Mordin. Saving Wrex on Virmire, helping Mordin secure the cure data, having Dalatrass get in my head: all of these choices had consequences. Even shooting Mordin had consequence when Wrex tried to kill me on the Citadel for lying to him. I shot him too. I had to make that choice again. And I had to live with all of those consequences in Mass Effect 3 to save the galaxy. The choices I made were what I thought was right and what I thought would be the best thing to stop the Reapers. I made mistakes, but I save the galaxy in the end.
It had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.
Mass Effect 3 doesn’t have just one ending where you choose a different color (if we’re being reductive), it has a series of endings to stories that, for the past five years, you’ve experienced and defined. So what if there isn’t an Animal House montage at the end explaining where the different characters lives are after you save the galaxy from the Reaper threat. Mass Effect has been about shaping a character that shapes the world. The endings to these stories culminate into one final battle for the fate of every race in the galaxy. That fate isn’t decided by a color, but by your interactions and choices with many different issues over three games.