The ending decision is one, gigantic conversation option, with the Blue Paragon to the upper right, the Red Renegade to the lower right, and the Green Neutral option to the center.
Hackett often stated "We're sending in a team to hold the area", specifically when you complete the various side missions.. Seems to be a throwaway official line, until you play Multiplayer for a while. Turns out, you are the ones holding the areas that Shepard has cleaned up!
In fact all of the missions where this happens take place on one of the initial set of multiplayer maps.
The final mission in Mass Effect 3 is gathering all your allies and invading the Reaper-held Earth, (spoiler?) making the Battle of London the second Normandy invasion. Just like the first D-Day Normandy invasion in World War II, the battle for Earth is the largest joint invasion force in recorded history and is composed of numerous different groups of people. There are many parallels between the two Normandy invasions.
The Reapers are the Nazi Germans. They are technologically superior to the other powers, obsessed with a form of organic purity, and commit genocide on a massive scale. They conquer almost all the other powers' homelands and are defeated when they push all their enemies together and underestimate them.
The salarians are the Americans. A relatively small army, focusing more on technology and innovative strategies and special forces instead of brute strength. Like the salarians, the US homeland was relatively untouched by the Germans/Reapers in the war, though for different reasons.
Mordin describes the genophage in detail: it essentially rewires glands in the bodies of krogan females that control fetal growth, causing deformities that are lethal to 999/1000 of the resulting offspring - the genetic equivalent of teratogenesis I.E. thalidomide babies. That seems a pretty sick thing for a matriarchal society to do to someone, until you think hard about salarian civilization; males compete for the right to sire progeny on females, and females barter breeding rights as the source of their authority - just like post-genophage krogan. Salarian females aren'tMama Bears. Given the rarity of salarian females and how salarians consider science their most potent weapon, wouldn't a Dalatrass screwing up a rival female's ability to bear offspring be the equivalent of America nuking Hiroshima?
The turians are the USSR. A powerful militaristic empire ruled by a hierarchical "dictator" of sorts with a large and powerful military. Both the turians and the Russians have their homeland under siege for extremely long durations, only holding out through sheer stubbornness and force of will. Like the Russians, the turians refuse to provide aid to the Allied forces until their homeland is helped first.
The humans are the French. Their homeland is conquered early on in the war, leaving only resistance fighters who use guerrilla warfare and sabotage tactics to harass the invaders. Though unable to provide large-scale military help, their intel on enemy movements prove to be invaluable to the war effort and the tide of the war is turned when their homeland is re-invaded by the Allied forces.
The asari partly resemble the British, especially early on in World War II. The asari were once the most advanced race, with large colonies spread throughout the galaxy. Early on in the war, the asari adopted an isolationist policy towards the invaders, until direct attacks forced them to change their viewpoint and join in the fight. Like the British, the asari are not focused on land forces but have some of the most powerful warships in the Allied navy.
The batarians are the Polish. Knocked out of the fight the moment the war began, their military forces are under-powered and their government too slow to react to the invasion. The batarians provide almost nothing in the war and are effectively erased from the map.
Cerberus can be argued to be the Italians. Previously a friend to the Allied forces (Italy supported the Allied forces in World War I), they have now semi-joined the invaders (Italy's Axis alliance with Germany). The leader of Cerberus is a man who is considered to be a hero by some and a monster by others. He believes that what he is doing is of his choosing but in reality, he is a puppet to the main invaders (Reapers/Germany). When his nation/base is conquered by the Allied forces, he flees but is ultimately caught and killed by who used to be his followers. (If ex-Cerberus Shepard pulled the trigger on him).
The geth can also be argued to be the Italians. The geth idealize the Reapers, though the Reapers only allied with the geth through convenience, not necessity. However, due to blunders and mishaps, the geth end up setting back the Reaper's plans (Sovereign being destroyed and setting back the galactic invasion/ Italy's failed invasion of Greece which delayed the German invasion of the USSR). When the geth are defeated, they join the Allied forces and fight back against the Reapers (If you chose that path).
The krogan are Jewish! ...sort of. Overpopulation, aggression, rebellions, and large armies aside. Krogans were seen negatively by most people and had confrontations with the turians, similar to the Russian pogroms targeting Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. Like the Krogan, Jews were denied lands for expansion (though for obviously different reasons) and many wandered from the homeland to make a living elsewhere however they could. After much suffering and partial genocide, the krogans were given new hope for their future and their homeland back (if you cured the genophage), and krogans from all over the galaxy returned to rebuild their homeland, though hinted to still have unease and conflict in the future. Like the modern IDF (Israel Defense Forces), the krogans are one of the most capable and efficient military forces.
Since salarian females are rare and salarians consider science their most potent weapon, any Salarian screwing up a rival species' ability to bear offspring be the equivalent of America nuking Hiroshima.
The Krogan were uplifted by the American-analogue Salarians, just as Japan was close trading partners with pre-WWII America, but their culture was severely devastated by the deployment of devastating scientific weapons by the former ally, who unleashes on them a weapon that is both deadly and causes massive birth defects and death generations after the conflict.
The Quarians are much more clearly Jewish, and those who want to retake Rannoch are Zionists. They finally have a homeland within reach, but the group that is now living in the area claims that it is their land, and there is a conflict between the people whose land it was centuries ago and the people currently living there.
The Migrant Fleet, which is always getting turned away from anywhere that they wish to stop and is given limited supplies before being turned away is a direct reference to the MS St. Louis.
While they are not on the front lines of the war, they are fighting to take back their homeland, and they are seen negatively, with the stereotypes of both Jews and Romani by most people and are hated and driven away everywhere, similar to the Russian pogroms targeting Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Like the Quarians, Jews were denied lands for expansion (though for obviously different reasons) and there is a political movement to reclaim the homeland. After much suffering and partial genocide, the Quarians were given new hope for their future and their homeland back (if you side with them or make peace between them and the Geth), and settle in their sacred homeland, though hinted to still have discomfort and conflict with the other inhabitants in the future.
And just to round it off, the various other races (i.e. Hanar, Volus, Elcor, Drell, etc.) are the various Allied nations that didn't provide as much direct military aid as the main powers, but still supported the Allied forces in their own way.
It could be argued that the Protheans were the ancient Romans, with their powerful military, an empire that covered most of the known world/galaxy, adoption of lesser species into the empire, and the Citadel as the capital of their empire (All roads/mass relays lead to Rome/the Citadel). Like the Romans, the Protheans' inability to adapt and change led to their destruction (West Rome anyways). And who ultimately destroyed the Western Roman Empire? The Goths, cultural and ethnic ancestors to the Germans!
People have pointed out that the dream sequences seem weird and loopy. However, aren't most dreams supposed to be strange? Its seems terrifying asleep, but explain it to a friend and notice that the flying spaghetti monster doesn't seem intimidating to him/her.
"You must destroy all synthetic life" as a result of using the crucible. It seems weird at first. But by that point in the game, all synthetic life was using Reaper based AI. The geth had a Reaper based AI upload (If they still existed) due to Legion. EDI has reaper bits in her code (As well as bits of the AI from Luna which is not reaper based, but was upgraded with reaper code). It's the reaper code that makes them targets! Would also explain why Shepard could potentially survive that ending; he does have synthetics, but they might not be Reaper-based.
Why do the Reapers never just blast the Normandy out of the sky whenever they have the chance? Why take out two shuttles full of civilians when the most advanced warship in the Alliance fleet and the Reapers deadliest enemy is just hovering there? Why is Joker able to extract Shepard's team in full view of Harbinger without the Reapers blowing them to pieces? It's simple - they can't. The Normandy has a Reaper IFF installed, thanks to the events of Mass Effect 2. EDI's dialogue indicates that she is constantly tweaking the Reaper IFF, so this is probably a case of various factors, including the ship's stealth systems, the Reaper IFF sending off false flags, and of course the wide spread chaos of the Reaper invasion. Even the Reapers must be having a hard time keeping track of everything going on in all of that (especially since the Prothean sabotage of the Citadel forced them to toss the usual game plan out the window), and the Normandy just slips through their gaps in focus. It does raise questions about whether the Reapers see the same way humans do. Perhaps their visible range of light falls deeper into the Infrared, meaning that the thermal-masking stealth used by the Normandy renders them effectively cloaked? Or the Reapers just don't utilize windows.
In a similar vein, this is why the Normandy goes through the Mass Relay ahead of the rest of the fleet. In the backstory, the larger the mass being sent along the relay, the more likely the destination will drift from the destination relay. However, the Reaper IFF program contains functions to access much more precise navigation on the relay network (which is why it's needed in Mass Effect 2 to access the Collector Base), which explains how such a large fleet is able to emerge right next to the relay instead of potentially inside a planet.
Sanctuary. Thinking about it, it's one of the biggest sources of horror in the whole game. And not just for the in-universe reasons. How does anyone know what a realistic extermination camp looks like - including all the little details, like ways to make sure people won't panic until the last second? Because they have already existed.
In reality, lots of people figured out what the Nazi "work camps" were for, and resisted. The camps were just a capstone on a years-long campaign of oppression intended to demoralize Die Juden. Cerberus, by contrast, was just taking advantage of exigent circumstances. Question is, how long had they been planning it?
In the Grissom Academy mission Jack will talk to you even if you had gotten to the point where she won't talk to you in ME2. Why? At first it could seem just that Bioware didn't factor that in, however it shows how forgiving she has become after taking the job, trusting Shepard now that he is working against Cerberus and even if he had alienated her during the last game, that Punch she gives you is essentially all the pay back she wanted from you showing that she is no longer as blood-thirsty as she was in Mass Effect 2, that and killing your most trustworthy ally during a fight would not be a very good Idea.
At first I was confused as to why the Turian and the Krogan, both races who focus on martial prowess (but in different ways) would have the Sentinel class in multiplayer since it is the class with the least focus on weaponry. Then it occurred to me, the Sentinel is the most defensive class in the game and having a race who evolved from a harsh environment would be the logical choice for the Sentinel since it makes an already hard to kill Krogan nearly impossible to kill. As for the Turian, the Turian Sentinel you are playing as is part of the Cabal, a group of biotic specialists in the Turian military.
The Reapers invade the Batarian homeworld first, which would explain why the first hybrids we see are Human/Batarian hybrid husks (the Cannibals).
Certain missions like the Grissom Academy mission become unavailable if you wait too long. Then I realized that it ties into a main theme in the game — that you can't save everyone, and gives the player the same feeling Shepard has of feeling weak and ineffective if you can't do it in time.
The Grand Finale takes a lot of flak, but given enough thought, the entire series has been leading up to those Three Possible Endings. The Reapers are believed to be a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere, but the Catalyst points out that to its knowledge, every civilization falls apart due to failed Singularities; "The Created Destroys The Creator." In the previous cycle, the Protheans had the "Metacore War", and the current cycle has managed to do it twice; not only the quarians and the geth, but also the turians/salarians and the krogan(uplifting a species to fight their battles for them and sterilizing them once they rebelled is no different ideologically from creating servants who refused to be turned off - creating life then throwing it away once it becomes troublesome). These wars destroy biospheres, preventing future species from evolving. When Harbinger spoke of being "salvation through destruction", he was right From a Certain Point of View; they preserve civilizations as data, they preserve worlds from Robot Wars. Once organics became capable of interacting with the Catalyst, that cycle became inherently flawed; the Reapers' network was no longer secure, and would eventually fall, destroying everything the Reapers had preserved. Hence it is left to Shepard what the new solution should be: preventing synthetic life from ever evolving again (by means of making technology impossible), subduing synthetic life so they cannot harm organics, or merging with synthetic life with the hope that interaction would defeat fear.
Contemplating on the ending, I couldn't help but feel a little guilty that I chose the third option instead of the one where Shep might survive, since that'd leave Tali alone. But, thinking about it, the Normandy crash-landed who knows how far away in the galaxy, and the Mass Relays are destroyed. So, essentially, Tali has no idea that Shep is dead, since they would have had to leave before the Citadel exploded. Chances are they won't see a resurgence of Mass Relay-level tech in her life-time. It's really a form of Cruel Mercy, that she'll never have to deal with that he's dead.
Considering what we learned about its translation, Shepard's pointed use of "keelah se'lai" ("by the homeworld I hope to see someday") to punctuate his/her attempt to convince the quarians to stand down near the end of the Rannoch mission is not just a case of appealing to them by using a phrase important to their culture, or even a reminder that they're right at the threshold of the homeworld it refers to. It's also a very pointed reminder to the quarians that Shepard, too, is now in a position of having to hope that s/he will get the chance to see his/her homeworld again someday.
The Synthesis ending seems to be presented as the best one. This struck me as odd, as it is essentially forcing bodily change on every living thing in the galaxy, something that is almost akin to rape in its sheer violation of individuality and bodily autonomy. Then, I realized several important things...
One: the template for this transformation is Commander Shepard him/herself, because they are partially synthetic thanks to the Lazarus Project. What was the purpose of the Lazarus Project? To recreate Commander Shepard exactly as he/she was, with no changes to his or her personality. So the change would exclusively apply to their bodies— the personalities, memories, and individual identities of the new beings would not be altered at all, making the change much more palatable.
Two: because the Mass Relays are destroyed in every ending, the Synthesis ending may be the only way to subvert the Fridge Horror of the endings listed below. Turians and Quarians wouldn't necessarily have to worry about starving to death if their 'synthesis' upgrades allowed them to process the same kind of foods as the other species. Joker's brittle bone disease might be cured, or at least in the process of being cured, by the time he crash-lands. Joker is the only character we see the actual effects of the Synthesis on; his eyes glow, as do his veins, possibly implying nanomachines in his bloodstream. Whatever is happening, it's clear that the transformation is doing SOMETHING for him.
Three, and this could just be speculation, but: depending on how it works, the synthetic 'framework' given to the races might well allow them to communicate with each other on an unprecedented level. Not just talk to each other; they might well be able to engage in a form of telepathy, using their synthetic pieces to convert their thoughts into raw data and send them to each other. They could communicate as individuals, or link up to form a geth-style consensus. At the very least, it gives everyone something to bond over.That is why the Synthesis ending is presented as the best. In all three endings, something old (the Relays, and in one, the Reapers) is destroyed. The Synthesis ending is the only one where something new is created in exchange. We don't know exactly what it will entail, but its potential is nearly limitless.
Four synthesis may only be possible given what Legion does at the end of Act II, the Quarian-Geth conflict, sacrificing himself to give all Geth individuality. In the extended cut, the Catalyst says that it was tried before, but resisted. We don't know who exactly resisted it, organics or synthetics.
Kind of related to the Mass Relay thing, but Vigil mentions in the first game that in the Prothean cycle, the Reapers used the Citadel to control the Mass Relays and isolate the different star systems from each other. So perhaps, because the Citadel is part of the Crucible, this is why the Crucible can use the relays to transmit energy everywhere, and destroy them without having them explode like they did in Arrival. If it's the master control center for the Relays, maybe it can somehow shut the Relays down less violently? It also sheds a bit of light on the nature of the Crucible-Catalyst as a whole. Of course the Crucible wouldn't work without the Catalyst - the Catalyst is the Citadel, which is also a great big Mass Relay. Perhaps that's where the power to shoot the magical ending beam would come from?
Marauders look...familiar. In fact, they look disturbingly like a certain turian Spectre after being augmented....
There's plenty of hidden brilliance to the ending, but you really have to dig through layers of symbolism, foreshadowing and other implication to find it.
Consider for a moment the definitions of the words crucible and "catalyst''
A crucible is typically defined as a container used to heat materials to a very high temperature [often used in metallurgy] OR there's the figurative definition, which is a severe, searching test or trial.
Then there's "catalyst" - we can once again ignore the scientific definition and focus on the sociological ones:
something that causes activity between two or more persons or forces without itself being affected
a person or thing that precipitates an event or change
Viewed through these lenses, it becomes clear that the Crucible was something originally designed not by the Protheans [as Vendetta admits] nor by any of the species that dominated previous cycles [though they did tweak the design], but originally conceived by the Catalyst itself. Why? As a test/trial by which to measure organics - not versus synthetics, but versus himself. This becomes abundantly clear when you think about where the Catalyst resides - the sealed-off core of the Citadel which is not accessible to anyone save [maybe] the Keepers. Shepard becomes the first organic ever to meet it, which means that none of the species of the prior cycles could have known about it. In other words, the Catalyst gives away the game by making itself part of the Crucible's design.
The Catalyst views himself as the highest form of life in the galaxy [and rightfully so], and is likely the culmination of synthetic evolution. He views organics as inferior, but purely from a logical perspective. He values organic life to the extent that he deems it worthy of being 'preserved' but does not trust it to act in its own best interests - thus, 'chaos', to which he posits Reapers as the solution. But the problem with creatures of pure logic is that they can never have full certainty in matters of probability - in other words, he sees a potential situation in which he is proven wrong [incidentally, this is foreshadowed during Mordin's loyalty mission in ME2 where he points out that simulations were run that showed the krogan going into full-scale war against the turians without the genophage - simulations that, through Shepards intervention, can be proven wrong], so he creates a test for organics, and if they pass this test, they can override him. Thus the Crucible is conceived.
The created, in the Catalyst's own words, always rebel against their creators. But in this cycle, thanks to Shepard's actions, peace was made [in the ideal resolution to that arc] not only between the geth and quarians, but also between the krogan [which were 'uplifted' by the salarians and turians, and thus in many ways shaped by them] and the rest of the galaxy. This was the 'chaos' that the Catalyst describes, and which the Reapers were its means of ending; it's the chaos that Shepard manages to put an end to. The plans for the Crucible have existed throughout these cycles, and, by implication, discovered in many of them, by intent of the Catalyst as a means of testing whether organic life was capable of putting an end to the chaos not just of technological singularity, but also of internecine warfare and other seemingly inexorable traits of organic life that prevented it from 'ascending' [i.e. reaching its full potential]. If organics [and synthetics] could not put their differences aside and focus on building the Crucible, they were doomed to extinction - the Reapers would harvest them and force their "ascension" by their own means to make way for the next cycle.
The dominant race[s] of every other cycle had failed at this task, not because they weren't sufficiently advanced [after all, the plans for the Crucible were described in the game as being "elegant but simple", suggesting that it did not require an unusually high level of technological sophistication to complete], but because they were unable to make peace and cooperate with one another well enough to complete the test laid before them.
The Protheans came close, but as we learn from Javik, their methods of maintaining order in the galaxy were flawed in that they were harsh and imperialistic, and their meddling with less advanced species [most notably the asari] suggested that they would ultimately fall in a war of rebellion at the hands of one or more of the races they had subjugated.
Incidentally, this also explains why it makes perfect symbolic sense that the batarians were the first species to be effectively wiped out by the Reapers. They refused to cooperate with anybody.
Now contrast this with what Shepard is able to accomplish in a very narrow time frame, and the way in which the war assets mechanic is set up. Shepard gains war assets largely through mediating conflict resolution - in other words, he brings order to the chaos of the galaxy, and the more successful he is in doing this, the better the endgame is by virtue of the Catalyst being convinced that his 'solution' is obsolete. This is also why the more war assets you collect, the more autonomy you have during the ending. After all, the Catalyst is a godlike being that's roughly a billion years old [the oldest Reaper found in the game is said to be that age] - he is still fully capable of exercising his own authority over the puny organic encroaching on his turf, but in seeing a Shepard who has succeeded in fully uniting the galaxy and finding a better solution to the problem of chaos, he concedes that Shepard, and by extension, his cycle, have passed the test and steps aside, giving us the ability to forge our own future.
This is why even the 'control' ending is viewed as positive because Shepard, by virtue of his/her actions, has ascended to a level above the Catalyst, and thus becomes the new Catalyst - he has changed the equation. Whereas if Shepard ignores or fails to adequately address certain instances of chaos in the galaxy, the Catalyst views this as a failure and narrows our choices [or, if we did badly enough, outright pulls the rug out from under us by using the Crucible to wipe out all organic life, likely out of despair that we came so close yet could not achieve what we were supposed to.
Even Shepard's name is symbolic if you view things like this. After all, it's another version of "shepherd", and what is a shepherd but a guide?
As for the mass relays being destroyed - consider what we've seen throughout the series. The Protheans were able to create their own prototype mass relay, which still exists on Ilos. We can't know for sure, but logic dictates that at some point after its discovery, it was thoroughly studied by top scientific minds to figure out how it worked. Galactic society and commerce is in shambles, yes, but then you recall that not long before the events of these games, quantum entanglement communication was invented, which allowed users to bypass the use of mass relays for long-distance communications. This suggests that even though it'll likely take years or decades, the framework of galactic society will ultimately be rebuilt without Reaper technology.
Assuming any single system somehow manages to find a few hundred TONS of element zero within sublight speed range to power a new relay...
There's also the fact that in two out of three endings the Reapers are still around, and lack any motivation to continue the harvesting, and even the last one has their corpses intact, inert and harmless. It shouldn't be all that difficult to put them to work on a new Relay Network since they built it in the first place, can communicate with each other without the Comm Buoys, and owe a massive debt to the galaxy, or to study their remains and pull out all the tech and eezo required for new Mass Relays in a few years.
The united fleets of space are all within the Sol system, which means there's plenty of Eezo to utilize. Furthermore, all the greatest engineering minds of the galaxy are gathered in the Sol system, which means studying the Reapers is far from a mere dream. And, as has been shown, the Reapers used their own FTL systems, independent of the mass relays, made it from dark space back to the galaxy in a year—from so far away that the galaxy actually looks like a galaxy. It seems unlikely the galaxy would remain divided for long just because the relays were destroyed.
Regarding the endings, specifically Shepard being forced to take one of two Renegade interrupts to shoot the Illusive Man before he kills Shepard, if he can't be talked down - Stoping TIM from killing Anderson & Shepard would be Paragon interrupts throughout the rest of the series, but here it's a Renegade choice because it represents that Shepard is still willing to fight.
Probably some of the the greatest examples in the Synthesis ending that make it a Golden Ending if you look at in a certain way:
First due to the nature of the ending the cycle is broken and now all living beings have "advanced" to the next step.
Secondly, with all the collected knowledge of Mass Relays and Reapers and now the ability to interface with what use to be just machines on a personal level, it's possible that they could create a network of living mass relays.
Third, Medical technology will be almost overnight revolutionized due to all species being techno-organic.
Optionally, depending on what you did during the game: Fourth due to the fusion Geth and Quarians would be able understand each other better, bringing "racial" tensions to a peaceful resolution quickly.
All in all, this all everything can be better then it was before.
Also, the Catalyst says that the only reason it wasn't done before was because they tried it and it was resisted, but not who resisted Synthesis. If Synthetics were the ones resisting, then Legion's sacrifice may be the sign that Synthetics are now ready for Synthesis, allowing Shepard to choose it.
For all the vitriol the destruction of the Mass Relays has caused in the fanbase, thematically it's hard to imagine a more appropriate ending to the trilogy. The Relay Network represents a trap, a hidden system of control that confines that galactic civilization to predetermined paths, and technological and cultural stagnation. The destruction of the Network represents breaking off these chains for good, and forging a new path to a future that is uncertain, but free. And it's not like the Relays can't be rebuilt, for a better purpose, with better understanding.
After you cure the genophage, one of the characters remarks how a Krogan-Turian working together is something even the Reapers would consider scary. What did you have to fight through to summon the maw and cure the genophage? Brutes, Krogan-Turian hybrids.
Javik's particle beam rifle is quite useful for someone who constantly runs out of heat sinks, and in fact, has much more in common with the weaponry from the first game. The brilliance here? It was developed long before the Geth's heatsink technology from ME2 and ME3. Of course it doesn't use nor is compatible with them.
It's also very similar to the Collector Particle Beam from ME2 with the exception that it doesn't use ammo the way the Collector Beam does. Which makes sense since the Collector's are basically Prothean husks, in other words the beam weapons the Collectors used in ME2 aren't Reaper tech, they're modified Prothean tech.
Why does the Catalyst simply allow Shepard to waltz in and destroy the entire thirty-seven-million-year Reaper cycle? Because in arriving at the core of the Citadel with the Crucible,, Shepard proved that its entire logic was wrong. If an organic civilization could construct and deliver a weapons system capable of totally destroying the Reapers to the Citadel, then they're capable of surviving a war with synthetic life, which was what the whole cycle was started to avoid in the first place. So once Shepard demonstrates that the catalyst's logic is wrong, it allows Shepard to stop the invasion.
Not only that. Shepard is the first person in all of those Cycles to unite synthetic and organic life. Even before, in the last cycle, the Protheans destroyed the Zha'Til, their version of Geth. Shepard is the only person so far in untold Cycles who both honestly believes both can co-exist in harmony and actually was capable of proving it.
Why doesn't Ashley make mention of breaking military regulations against fraternisation in the third game? Because she is now the same rank as Shepard, but not actually under Shepard's direct command at this point, thus it would not be technically against the rules for the two of them to be in a relationship. Later, when she is a member of Shepard's crew, she has become a Spectre, which like Shepard technically means she no longer falls under Alliance jurisdiction.
Gain enough War Assets and the Big Ben Clocktower survives with very few scratches. Coincidentally, the famous chimes of Big Ben actually come from a musical phrase in Handel's Messiah.
The destroy ending. Shepard is walking towards what s\he is shooting at. See above, but also take into account what Shepard might have said after Thane died. How he won't be alone for long. Also picture how Shepard was feeling when Hackett radioed. It's quite possible that Shepard had a death wish at this point, s/he just wanted peace and to not have to have the galaxy resting on his\her shoulders. Especially poignant for a paragon with Chronic Hero Syndrome, s/he'd finally had enough.
Another ending moment. The red ending shows a picture of Anderson; the blue shows a picture of the Illusive Man. Where's the picture for the green ending? The green ending involves stepping into a giant vertical beam of light to fuse synthetics and organics. When did you last see a giant vertical beam of light? A few minutes ago... and standing in front of it was an indoctrinated Turian. The green ending is what Saren would have done.
"The relationship is symbiotic. Organic and machine; the strengths of both, the weaknesses of neither."
A clever bit of foreshadowing is present just before you return to the Citadel to investigate Udina's activities. The latest message on Liara's laptop notes recent mass relay activity across the galaxy, with the Widow relay (where the Citadel is) receiving a 95% increase in traffic. Naturally, because there's an increasing number of refugees fleeing their home planets from the Reapers, right? Nope. Cerberus has just sent their forces in to take over the Citadel.
Joker says at one point in Mass Effect 3 that people generally dance like idiots when they have more important things to worry about. Look at how Shepard dances in Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2. S/he just kind of stands there swaying. In Mass Effect 3, s/he swings his/her arms wildly. Joker's remark is about how "forget your problems" dancing is "all in the arms."
When Liara shares her memories with Shepherd, what we see is a black background that's bisected by white light that slowly grows wider until it fills the screen. This is Liara's first memory, of being born.
The geth on Rannoch: They face a race, the quarians, that intends to completely exterminate them, and whom they cannot defeat alone, or beg, barter, or appease away. So, faced with extinction, they make a deal with their past enemies, the Reapers, to stave off imminent extinction - running the risk that they will those allies will revert to form and destroy them. Not only is that the exact reasoning a computer would make (0.0% chance of survival vs. 0.000001%), but it parallels Paragon Shepard's story. S/he, faced with a similar existential threat, flies around the galaxy making deals with Rachni, Krogan, and the Geth - trading current risk for future risk.
After Mordin cures the genophage, if Eve and Wrex live, Wrex suggests naming one of their daughters after him. At first it seems like a joke (and it still is), but given how valuable and influential future krogan females are likely to be, it's also a great honor. Which Mordin completely deserves.
In Mass Effect 3, one of the alien war assets that you can collect is the Citadel Defense Force. But since by the end game, the Citadel was captured by the Reapers and moved to Earth, you might wonder how come it still contributes to the final battle. Then you realized that the military strength point of CDF represents the amount of damage that the defenders were able to inflict upon the Reaper forces before they were eventually overwhelmed.
Jacob's situation on Arrae is the exact opposite of how his father ended up after the Gernsback crashed. Ronald put himself at the top of the food chain and relied on the toxic food to render everyone else mentally incapable of resisting. Jaocb, by contrast, becomes an actual leader to the Cerberus defectors, risking life and limb for them and their families and ensuring they can do make the most of their intelligence.
The Refusal ending actually makes a lot of sense when you realize that organics were losing the war to begin with and the Alliance were relying on the Crucible to win the war. Since they didn't use the Crucible in the end, they pretty much just wasted all their resources and thus, the Reapers were able to curb stomp everyone on Earth and galactic civilization was annihilated. However, thanks to the efforts of a direct confrontation and Liara's effective time capsules, The next cycle has a considerably easier time of it ("They fought a terrible war so we didn't have to.") and are able to defeat the reapers themselves.
A couple of themes in the ME3 soundtrack have parts of Saren's Theme embedded in the melody, particularly those that involve Cerberus. It's a not-so-subtle clue that The Illusive Man has effectively taken Saren's place as the Reapers' indoctrinated figurehead.
The entire series is actually a story told by someone else, no matter which ending you choose. In the original three endings, the Stargazer has been telling the story of the Reaper war to the kid from the beginning, and "another story" will be DLC for Mass Effect 3, while in Refusal the series is the video records that Liara left for the next cycle to help fight the next wave of Reapers.
In the Synthesis ending Shepard does what Legion did with his consciousness on a much greater scale.
In Control Shepard does what Mordin did. Taking control of and removing a massive threat to life in the galaxy.
In Destroy Shepard does what Anderson did. Attempts to sacrifice himself to activate the galaxy's greatest weapon. (Shepard/ The Crucible)
In Refusal Shepard does what Emily Wong did, only on a galactic scale. "You want to see how a cycle dies? At ramming speed."
A lot of people have wondered why, during the Rannoch mission, saving only the geth is considered a Paragon option, while saving only the quarians is Renegade. Debates over who-shot-who-first aside, what many people miss is that there are actually pro-geth and pro-quarian responses for both alignments; it's just that some of them have the added benefit of saving the other side as well. The best Paragon option involves Shepard allowing Legion to upload the Reaper code, but then warning the Migrant Fleet about it in an attempt to get them to stop firing. (Paragon, pro-quarian) The best Renegade option has Shepard tell the Migrant Fleet to screw off, and that s/he is done with saving them. (Renegade, pro-geth)
A bit of fridge brilliance regarding Morinth: If you picked Morinth over Samara in the Mass Effect 2 Samara loyalty mission, Samara says, "You will regret your choice" right before Morinth kills her. Well, come Mass Effect 3, If you saved Morinth, you just get a few e-mails and Morinth is turned into a banshee, you don't even get a War Asset and Morinth has no role in the Ardat-Yakshi mission like Samara does. Cue the fans screaming about how much this sucked...well, Samara said you would regret your choice, and now you do!
Kai Leng is said to be the last traditional boss of the game, but the true final boss is the final choice the Catalyst gives you. Mass Effect has always been about the choices you make. Some easy and clear, some difficult and gray. They make no bones about the fact that you can never defeat the Reapers in a straight fight. Even the combined military of the galaxy isn't enough by a lightyear. They were clear about that from the first game on. You were never going to beat them with force. You were always going to beat them with a choice. So they gave you the hardest choice in the series. None of them are perfect. All have real moral reasons not to choose them. At the very least, Shepard will die, but may also live at the cost of EDI and the Geth. That's a big part of it. To be killed is one thing, but to be forced to possibly choose death is something completely different. So it's natural that many people don't like any of the choices they are given. If they did, it wouldn't be a truly difficult choice to make.
The endings may come out of nowhere, but they're thematically appropriate. The stated theme of 3 is victory through sacrifice. Throughout the game, getting forces on your side requires deaths and pissing people off. That's all endings but particularly Destroy. The unstated Paragon theme is trusting that once people have been given some breathing room and been convinced, they will honor their promises; that ancient feuds with loads of justification on both sides can be put aside despite being unresolved, that those who have agreed are trustworthy. That's only betrayed a handful of time in the series, and that's seen in Synthesis. Control is a little similar, but also brings up the idea that someone like Shepard needs to be able to butt in and tell people to knock it off, reminding them to work for the future and not avenge the past. As for Refusal? Refusal is Principles Before Reason, which might have cut it in less dire circumstances but not anymore; all of the Virtual Intelligences simply functioned as programmed and couldn't tell when a situation had gone beyond that, Samara would have killed herself rather than waiting and finding another way, if EDI had remained shackled Joker would have been caught with the rest.
Why doesn't the Rachni queen, if spared twice, send her children as troops when obviously they're good at it? They are exceptionally vulnerable to the "sour yellow note" of the Reapers; it might not really affect her but her children have no resistance to it, so if she doesn't keep them away from all that they will just turn. It would still make more sense if her War Asset increased throughout the game as she continued having children and sending more than that first group. Especially if after a point some of the other Crucible War Assets rose a little with a note about other species getting used to rachni and becoming better able to work with them.
Possibly the least subtle Meaningful Name in the whole series: when you're trying to recruit the Eclipse mercenary faction for Aria, you can decide not to release their leader Jona Sederis on the basis that she's homicidally deranged. Your better alternative is to go through her second-in-command...who is Sayn.
Each of the three characters advocating the three options for the Crucible at the end of Mass Effect 3 have different reasons for their choice. Anderson wants the Reapers destroyed once and for all. The Illusive Man wants to control the Reapers to elevate humanity's position in the galaxy. The Catalyst wants to avoid organic/synthetic conflict. Stopping the Reapers, humanity's place in galatic civilization, organic and synthetic relations—all of these are recurring major themes throughout the series. All three of these characters appear in the ending as a reminder of these themes, to give you food for thought when you consider which option you will take.
The release of the Leviathan DLC actually gives some Fridge Brilliance to The Intelligence, aka The Catalyst. The Catalyst is functionally nothing more than a glorified Virtual Intelligence! This is why, after millions of years, it still hasn't come up with any better method of carrying out its duties other than the Reaper cycle; it simply isn't capable of thinking outside the boundaries of its programming limits — even the Leviathans themselves confess that they didn't begrudge the Catalyst when it turned on them because they had to acknowledge it was still functioning within the parameters they'd set for it — and even if it does come up with alternative options, it still needs a controller to authorise the change in program. This is why it only offers the Destroy/Control/Synthesis endings — these are the only outcomes it can acknowledge or conceive of, the only way it can see to stop the cycle but still fulfill its prime directive — and why Shepherd doesn't bother arguing with it except to Refuse its options; it's incapable of going against its program or thinking outside the box. Ultimately, the Catalyst is less sophisticated then either EDI or Legion; it lacks the "soul" that the former has and the Geth have sought to discern if they have. Or, in short, everyone who argued that trying to debate philosophy with the Catalyst was more or less equivalent to trying to convince a bullet that the gun should be constructed differently, has effectively been vindicated by canon.
Why did Shepard had the most guilt over the child? Because of all of the tragedies, this one did not have an answer until the end of the road. Colonist background? Helped deal with a young colonist girl and possibly saved her or at least accepted her fate. Colonists turned to a human reaper? Blew that base up in a ball of radioactive fire. The child that died in the Reaper attack? Nothing they could do but walk away. They had failed to convince the council, the Alliance or anyone till that moment when it all fell apart.
I've seen complaints about how Legion making the geth all fully evolved AIs runs counter to their portrayal in the previous game, of wanting to house the entire consensus within a Dyson Sphere and never being lonely. But they'd been in the process of doing just that when the quarians attacked and destroyed the sphere. Which means that the geth realized that consolidating their intelligence in one place could render them either extinct or down to such a limited number of programs that they'd lose their sentience. The quarian attack forced them to reprioritize, look to their own survival before what they wanted for themselves. Which is what the whole game is about - survival, but at what cost?
The Citadel DLC is built around the idea that Shepard is nothing without his crew. This doesn't just apply to Shepard being saved by his squad whilst Brooks refuses to do the same for the clone, but the entire mission - Shepard would've died if Wrex & Shep's closest friend in the squad didn't find him/her on the Wards; and every single time they come across another hurdle, it's not resolved by Shepard, but by something brought to to the table by the crew, who Brooks & the clone failed to take into consideration.
Citadel also presents the exact reason why Cerberus needed the real Shepard so desperately that TIM even vetoed the control chip. Fake Shepard isn't just not good enough, s/he's not Shepard enough to complete his/her mission. Suicide mission could be not just suicide, it wery well could be complete failure!
Citadel DLC: After helping Brooks with supposedly Alliance work, she is revealed to be a traitor. But in retrospect, there were clues. For instance, her accent wasn't consistent, and then there was the fact that she always deterred Shepard from calling C-Sec because "it'll put her contact in danger". And prior to the Elijah's party, she describes the security detections the infiltrator will have to avoid and "accidentally" slips her skills that make her perfect for that job. Near the end of the infiltration run, Brooks will report that she's through, but can't let them in from her side. While Shepard and squadmember struggle with bypassing security incognito, Brooks killed Elijah and wiped the data Shepard needed from his terminal!
Here is an interesting factoid. During one of your conversations with Javik, he tells you that you can't trust synthetics because they are more alien than anything else in the galaxy. Now this could just be written off as bias based on the wars where the Protheans fought against synthetics, but think about this. In Mass Effect 3, we find out that the Protheans have a natural empathic ability that allows them to read emotions and memories from the pheromones and DNA of other species. Now take a look at synthetics, they have no pheromones or DNA to read. To a Prothean, who would most likely consider that all life should give off these genetic markers, a synthetic being would be so alien that it would be preposterous to even consider it alive let alone sentient.
This would be even more extreme with the Leviathans. They wouldn't have been able to directly communicate with their tralls' creations at all. Which would probably be why the felt the need to create their own synthetic to deal with the problem.
Throughout Mass Effect 3, I was kinda weirded out by how jolly Wrex was. It was a far cry from the cynical, grouchy old Krogan I knew from Mass Effect 1. But then I remembered why Wrex was so cynical and bitter in ME1; the genophage. The Krogan were slowly dying out, and even worse, they didn't seem to care. By ME1, Wrex had basically given up on the notion that his species could be saved. Fast-forward to ME3, and you'll find a significantly happier Wrex. Why? Because circumstances have changed to the point where not only is a genophage cure plausible, but the Krogan race is finally ready to cut the tribalistic crap and actually fight for something that's legitimately worth fighting for; a future. That's why Wrex is so much cheerier in ME3 than he was in ME1; by the third game, he had something that he never thought he'd have again; a future that he could genuinely look forward to.
Not to mention he gets to blow tons of shit up, and that always brightens Wrex's day.
And don't forget all the sex. The man has had to climb out of his bathroom window to get away from all the ladies.
Much has been made about EDI's romance with Joker and her apparent anatomical correctness (i.e. camel toe). But think about what she was designed to be - an infiltration unit, a spy! And if we've learned anything from James Bond, seduction is one of the most important tools at a spy's disposal. Dr. Eva had to be ready at any moment to be able to take an Alliance researcher to bed in order to get access to important information, so The Illusive Man designed her to be able to do just that, and do so convincingly.
Not to mention TIM's character concept as being a macho, somewhat sexist man. Odd how the only clearly female Cerberus units have no voices (with the exception of Phantom Jack) and skintight outfits.
Garrus' default outfits in Mass Effect 3 have him wearing a helmet, a departure from previous entries. Given how he wasn't wearing a helmet in Mass Effect 2 when he got shot up and scarred, he's taken that particular lesson to heart.
A thought about the CAT-5 mercenaries fought in Citadel: It seems a little convenient for an ex-Cerberus analyst and an ex-Cerberus experiment to fall in with a group of mercenaries that echo Cerberus's own methods so thoroughly. Not only are the CAT-5 troops oddly similar in how they operate to Cerberus Centurions, Nemeses, and Guardians, they share a similar penchant for hiring up dishonorably discharged Alliance soldiers (hence the name) and other rejects. It seems likely that Brooks, and possibly Clone!Shepard founded CAT-5 shortly after leaving Cerberus, intentionally using familiar methods and tactics to create a micro-Cerberus that wasn't tainted by alien or Reaper influence.
The Shore Leave Shepard takes for the Citadel DLC may seem completely out of the blue, but it's important to note that every visit to the Citadel is considered shore leave. It can make even more sense if you plan it out with other DLC: having Tuchanka, the Cerberus coup, siege on Omega, the Ardat-Yakshi Monastary and Leviathan search all after each other would be understandably stressful on Shepard, warranting Anderson giving him/her a lavish apartment as a place to "unwind, clear your head". A stressful Shepard would be much more liable to make mistakes, and considering that Shepard is behind the fate of an entire galaxy, a mistake could be extremely costly.
And as mentioned by Joker after Thessia, Anderson is actively worried about how Shepard is coping with the war. Giving them the Apartment is another way he's looking out for them, much like how he asked Joker to keep an eye on them.
Another one about Citadel, kind of an insight into developer brains, if you will. If the DLC is going to have a major villain, it has to be something impressive - like the deranged AI in Overlord or the Spectre, Tela Vasir, and then the Shadow Broker in Lair of the Shadow Broker. As the series has gone on the villains have become more and more intimidating. Consider the DLC revealed prior to this, Leviathan, which deals with the species on which the Reapers were based. So once Mass Effect 3 is over, the Reapers are beaten (possibly), the Leviathan has been dealt with, and nearly every other awesome thing in the galaxy has been defeated. What's the one thing left in the galaxy that's considered Badass enough to be an upgrade over those villains? Commander Shepard! This is also addressed in the combat simulator, who are the hardest enemies? Shepard.
This also ties into how the characters treat the idea of someone coming after Shepard. All the jokes, all the lack of seriousness, it's Shepard. S/he makes the Reapers go Oh, Crap.
Why are there no salarian husks? Because, as Harbinger puts in in ME2, salarians are unsuitable for harvesting due to their "fragile" genome. They can't be made into new Reapers, and by extension seem unsuitable for being fodder for new husks. Which goes a long way to explaining why the Reapers never attack salarian space until near the war's climax: it's not due to the location of salarian space at all, but rather that war against the salarians would be a resource sinkhole. The Reapers would tie up capital ships constantly ferrying in fresh troops because they couldn't harvest the locals, and in the end the Reapers gain nothing out of such a war besides the destruction of the salarians.
One thing that bugged me throughout Mass Effect 3 was how except for Tali and Garrus, none of the Mass Effect 2 squadmates ever returned to my team. Then I realised something: Throughout Mass Effect 2, the team Shepard assembled were somewhat passive and reactive: they were recruited by a leader and followed his orders. In Mass Effect 3, all of them are making active efforts against the Reapers. They can't rejoin Shepard's team because they're now leaders in their own right, with their own responsibilities. Shepard inspired his team and turned them from passive followers into proactive doers.
If Clone Shepard and Brooks are like Shepard and Miranda, then it is highly likely (especially if you're playing a Male Shepard who romanced her) the two are actually in a romantic relationship. Taking things in this light throws Brooks' comments to Shepard at the end of the Normandy mission(especially the "You know you'll miss me") come across more flirtatiously.
Only once in the whole series do you hear an elcor talk to a non-elcor and not prefix its speech. When asked how many civilians they managed to get off their homeworld prior to the Reapers taking it out, it pauses and goes, "Not enough." It's quite obvious that no prefix was needed. If you listen really closely, there is no prefix required because the elcor's grief is so great it actually shows!
Sanctuary takes place where you first fought the Collectors. Cerberus had made it a Nazi concentration camp. Think about that for a moment: if they hadn't before this puts them well over the Moral Event...Horizon.
All throughout the series, geth weapons have magically done way more damage and been way more accurate in the hands of enemies for no real reason. They could also seemingly track you no matter where you went on the map, even if it made no sense. Mass Effect 3's multiplayer actually gives a reason: all of that is part of one of their combat powers, Hunter Mode. And the game lets us use it now, when playing as a geth, essentially canonizing The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard.
Another reason for CAT6's name: "6" looks a lot like a capital G. They're employed by a clone - a duplicate created from your DNA - and the DNA bases are Cytosine, Adenine, Thymine and Guanine - CATG.
EDI is a talented enough hacker to beat Cerberus; why doesn't she have AI Hacking, even though Legion did? Three reasons (four if you count the Doylist explanation that it would be redundant with Tali). One: Legion has more than a thousand runtimes, so it can dedicate some to hacking, while EDI - for all her intelligence - doesn't have the same gift for parallel processing, especially since she has to reserve some attention for looking after the Normandy. Two: EDI is more susceptible to viruses and hacking than Legion, since geth systems include a ton of specialised anti-tampering mechanisms; she'd clearly prefer not to risk succumbing to some horrible virus Cerberus packaged into that turret, especially after the Overlord DLC. Three: as an unshackled AI who has strong moral opinions about synthetic rights, it makes sense that she'd be reluctant to use what amounts to mind control on other synthetics.
The Blood Pack, Eclipse, and Blue Suns don't have as big an impact on the galaxy in 3 as they did in 2. In 2, they were each an effective N.G.O. Superpower, with huge influence over the Terminus Systems, and while Aria pulls them together into an impressive fighting force, they don't quite have the power one would expect. The reason? Shepard. You spent the majority of your time in the second game shooting up Blood Pack, Eclipse, and Blue Sun mercs. You tear apart multiple operations they're carrying out. You end up annihilating their presence on Omega by killing their leaders. You end up wiping out a huge chunk of their operations on Illium as well as killing one of their biggest backers. You then kill one of the Blood Pack's biggest supporters on Tuchunka while going after Maelon. And depending on how you end Zaeed's loyalty mission, you either kill another Blue Suns leader or send him fleeing in terror on the Blue Suns' own home base planet. The once-mighty mercenary armies and navies have reached a point where Aria can seize control of them because Shepard spent two-thirds of the second game wrecking their shit.
When you talk to Thane at the hospital, he mentions the doctor who gave him the best estimate on his lifetime said he had "three months to live" but that was nine months ago. If you look at the timeline, though, Mass Effect 3 takes place six months after Mass Effect 2. Compare them, and note that Thane was on a suicide mission of his own when trying to assassinate Nassana Dantius, mentions how he is dying when you recruit him, and is willing to join Shepard's suicide mission. The prognosis that he had only three months to live came before he was recruited, which means that said prognosis was why Thane was willing to try to kill Nassana and go on Shepard's suicide mission to begin with.
The trailer shows eight Reapers in London. Just London. How many are actually on Earth?
That number probably just the death toll in London. Who knows how much Earth's total is.
Regardless of which ending you get in Mass Effect 3, the destruction of the Mass Relays means galactic civilization is over, any colony that relies on trade or transport for survival is screwed, and every Turian, Krogan, Asari, Salarian, Quarian and Geth who joined your fleet is pretty much stuck in the Sol system. For most of these races, it wouldn't be that bad; they likely brought soldiers of both gender (where applicable) into the fight, and can probably sustain a population. However, it's unlikely that the Krogans brought any fertile females with them (aside from Eve, if she survived), so despite their long lives, they're ultimately doomed.
The Protheans were able to create their own prototype mass relay, which still exists on Ilos. We can't know for sure, but logic dictates that at some point after its discovery, it was thoroughly studied by top scientific minds to figure out how it worked. Galactic society and commerce is in shambles, yes, but then you recall that not long before the events of these games, quantum entanglement communication was invented, which allowed users to bypass the use of mass relays for long-distance communications. This suggests that even though it'll likely take years or decades, the framework of galactic society will ultimately be rebuilt without Reaper technology.
The Turian and Quarian is in trouble because of their dependency on dextro food, something that isn't naturally found in the Sol system.
Not necessarily. Quarians require a hermetically sealed environment and Mass Effect 2 had you on a garden ship. They likely grow their own food aboard the vessels, which can be shared with the Turians.
Oh, and Jacob's never going to see his daughter. Cheers!
Either Tali and Garrus will starve to death because they can't eat the same food as the rest of the crew, or the rest of the crew will starve, leaving them alone. And Javik will never get to mark the graves of his team and lay them to rest, and will probably just end up killing himself.
There aren't much hope for the humans either; Joker probably won't last long with his disease, and the crew aren't even remotely large enough to uphold a genetically diverse population. Even if the homosexual crew members were forced to procreate too, it will only be a few generations before their descendants will have to resort to interbreeding.
BUT, If you chose the Synthesis ending, a lot of that may be a non-issue. After all, EDI doesn't need to eat, and if everyone is now essentially singularitized, merging the the best of machine and organic, Joker may not even HAVE Vrolik syndrome anymore, since, when have you ever heard of a machine having brittle bones?
Spoilers for Extended Cut. The Extended Cut versions of the endings essentially remove most of this Fridge Horror, particularly in the Synthesis ending, where the Reapers remain, "...helping to rebuild. Where once they threatened us with extinction, they now bring the collective knowledge of the cultures that came before." In Control, Shepard-Reaper promises to use the Reapers to guard life and help it grow, under its watchful eye. But even in Destroy, things are largely hopeful. Admiral Hackett explains that though they suffered heavy losses and that the relays are "severely damaged", they have won. He claims they can rebuild all they have lost, even showing an image of the Citadel rebuilt. Also, in all the High EMS endings (except for the new "Refusal" ending) there are images of all the various surviving species, living and thriving on their own worlds, confirming, if not exactly explaining how, that they all return home. And lastly, the Normandy is also shown leaving the garden world, apparently after repairing the ship. All the surviving crew members are alive and healthy looking. Have a low EMS however and things start to go very wrong very fast.
Every organic species is affected by synthesis, which would mean that animals and even plant life would be affected, meaning that our entire food supply is now partially synthetic. Another point is that even some of what we breath is synthetic.
While trying to get the Krogan to aid the Turians, you can overhear a Turian and Asari couple talking about his deployment in the docking bay. Very heartfelt and sweet... until the very end of their conversation, when he urges her to take herself and their daughters to Sanctuary. Cut to the events on Horizon...
This is made even more horrific when you count the number of Banshees you face on Horizon...
In addition to this, if you listen to what the Turian husband tells his wife about what he's going to be doing while his wife and kids are away—repairing engineering equipment on one of Palaven's moons (remember that this is BEFORE the "Miracle at Palaven" happens) so chances are he was either killed by the Husks or turned into a Marauder.
In Mass Effect 3, a conversation between two asari, one a shell-shocked commando, can be heard. Repeated visits reveal the commando to have been a survivor of a Reaper attack on a farm on a planet called Tiptree. She had been escaping husks and other Reaper-converted monsters with a fifteen year-old girl named Hillary in tow. Eventually, Hillary became injured and would not stop crying, endangering them both. Unable to silence her, the commando, in desperation, ultimately shot the girl. This is pretty bad in itself... and you later learn that Joker has family on Tiptree. He hasn't heard from his father, but he's pretty sure that his fifteen year-old sister, Hillary, made it off safely.
In the same vein as the above two, in the Citadel Embassies you can overhear a human woman who's about to be deployed into combat arguing with an asari embassy worker. The human is married to an asari commando who's already been deployed to combat; they have a daughter together and she's trying to get her sent to Thessia to her wife's family so she won't be alone while both of her parents are out fighting. She can't send the girl to her own family because they've disowned her for marrying an alien. Later, the embassy worker surprises the woman with the great news that her daughter's transfer has been approved; she stayed up nights and pulled a lot of favors to make it happen, but the little girl will be safe on Thessia now. Then the reapers set Thessia on fire.
Biggest one of all, really; Towards the end, the reapers capture the Citadel and bring it to earth to use as a reaper factory for the humans they're reaping down on Earth. Presumably, everyone on the citadel at the time was horrendously killed. Everyone you performed menial jobs for, everyone you helped. Everyone who's sad stories you overheard. All of them, dead.
You can see cars moving around inside the wards, and the wards seem otherwise undamaged. The Reapers probably just took the immediate control systems and left the rest of the Citadel's population alone rather than waste resources taking the entire Citadel when they knew they'd be fighting the combined armies and navies of the entire galaxy.
It has also been stated by one of the developers on Twitter that some of the population managed to escape the Citadel before the arms closed.
Just in case you needed any more proof that TIM is a bastard, listen to this: Dr. Eva (the robot EDI takes the body of in the third game) from is named after another character of the same name from the expanded universe, and it’s implied that TIM was interested in her romantically. So he made a robot that he gave the same name, and designed her to be completely loyal to him and not be able to think for herself. Ew. The one comforting this is that EDI seems to indicate that her body wasn't designed to be able to do anything sexual, but still.
Whichever way you slice them, each of the endings qualify especially when you take into account the destruction of the Mass Relays. Mass Effect tech in general isn't destroyed if the Crucible is built and defended properly, so everyone probably still has FTL. The problem is that without the Mass Relays, there's no fast way to cross the galaxy. Everyone who came to aid you in the final battle, if they weren't killed, are now facing a decades-long trip back home at the very least. More likely, they're trapped in the Orion Arm, as those big gaps you see on the galaxy map are much further than any ship can make without a drive discharge. And no other species has a homeworld in the arm. The same goes for the krogan left to deal with remaining Reaper forces on Palaven. Hell, most homeworlds have almost NO planets within drive range. Goddamn you, Bioware.
Worse still, with all options for Shepard inevitably leading to this nightmarish scenario, this leads to one unthinkable conclusion: for all of Cerberus' crimes against humanity, all the liquefied and husked humans, all the massacred innocents... the Illusive Man was RIGHT. He had the ONLY viable solution, and Shepard KILLED HIM. Once all that despair sinks in, all this hopeless struggle suddenly surfacing inside your mind for what it is... the most horrible options suddenly seem a small price to pay for a fighting chance. Is this what indoctrination feels like? Is that what Saren felt all those years ago when he joined the Geth, killed Nilus and went rogue?
Even worse are the implications from just who is left behind(assuming you got the optimum from your choices in-game). The Quarians just regained their homeworld (possibly peacefully with the Geth) and now have no way to get back to it. If you talk to Tali, it makes it worse when you learn that the Geth are helping them climate back to Rannoch's atmosphere and now have no way to get back. Almost all the Turians and most of the Asari now have no way to repair their ailing homeworlds. Arguably the Krogan get off the best because even though Wrex is stuck on Earth, "Eve" is still on Tuchanka (assuming she survives). Plus, on a personal note, Tali, who was so happy to finally be back on Rannoch, is stuck on another planet (I think, clear me up with this if the ending implies the Normandy is back on Earth) that doesn't even have civilization to give the hope of intergallactic space travel in the future. What the hell, BioWare!?
The Extended Cut retcons this so that the relays were just damaged, not destroyed, and can be repaired.
It's also explained late in 3 that Cerberus went through the Omega-4 relay after the suicide mission to pick up the pieces of the base, and were apparently able to recover almost all of the reaper larva. So blowing up the base was was meaningless outside of giving TIM a massive middle finger.
Take a look at the paths the Catalyst offers Shepard at the very end, then imagine a bird's-eye-view. You're standing on a massive dialogue wheel.
In ME2 during Tali's mission on the Alarei, there is a log of a quarian's last few seconds before she's killed by the geth. She says, "Jona, if you get this, be strong for Daddy." Cut to Rannoch in ME3 as the quarians attempt to retake their home. A dying male quarian leaves a final message: "My son, tell him...tell Jona his father made it to the homeworld."
What happens to Jack and the Grissom Academy students if you don't do the mission in time. It's bad enough on the surface—having to listen to Jack, tied down, tortured, in the hands of sadistic Cerberus scientists again. It's worse because you can literally hear the pleasure in the voice of the "scientist" torturing her; he's almost purring with satisfaction while she desperately tries to cling to her recently-regained humanity by refusing to let him get away with calling her "Subject Zero" again. (Which takes the horror Up to Eleven when you meet her as a Banshee; she'd just been starting to feel human again, and to turn her into that...) But the worst part is that it soon becomes clear that they were hurting her for no reason. They didn't bother indoctrinating her, they weren't even asking her any questions. Cerberus was torturing her because they could, right when she'd finally found people who loved and respected her and made her feel safe.
Remember all those sweet, kinda-nervous teenagers? The ones who looked up to Jack like she was a goddess, who stayed behind to train so they could help with the war effort? The ones who made tentative date plans, who had been flagged as having excellent leadership skills, who begged not to have to seek cover because their sister was still in danger? Rodriguez, who was always scared of Cerberus but flourished under Jack's careful attention and encouragement? Yeah. Cerburus captured and experimented on them, and then turned them into husks.
Even that may not be the worst of it. As has been mentioned, Jack was just barely starting to form normal relationships—friendships or even romances with Shepard and the crew of the Normandy, a genuine camaraderie with Kahlee Sanders, even a peace of sorts with Miranda of all people. But more than anything, she loved her students with the fire of a thousand burning suns. She was the only instructor who was both willing and able to rip her way through Cerberus troops with sheer willpower, gather the surviving students together, and fight to the death to keep them safe. If you don't save Grissom, she watched every single one of those students dragged off by the same people who tortured her for years at Pragia.
Think for a moment about how Jack reacted when she thought she was going to be captured by Cerberus again in ME 2; it was the only real time we've ever seen her terrified; she was almost crying. And that was when she was still full of nothing but anger and rage and hatred, and believed that everyone in the galaxy was ulimately greedy and cruel. Now imagine the look on her face when, having finally found somewhere she belongs and feels loved and worthwhile, she realized she wasn't going to be able to keep sadistic Cerberus operatives away from her kids. Imagine her reaction when they dragged them away screaming like the students you see in the Grissom mission proper and she couldn't save them. Yeah.
Her connection to her kids is obvious enough that the Cerberus bastards taunt her about them, just to watch her break.
When you look at Aria's War Assets, it turns out the Council was not kidding about war with the Terminus systems. Adding some Terminus assets in Council Space, this would have indeed gotten extremely messy and would have fallen into the Reaper's plans by dividing both political entities. Saren hoped they would start a war in hopes of weakening both sides even more. In other words, it was a Xanatos Gambit by Saren, do nothing and the Reapers invade, do something and both sides will be too worn out to resist the Reapers.
A blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit in Mass Effect 3. At one point, Dr Chakwas and Engineer Adams are arguing over whether artificial intelligences can truly be considered "alive". While pointing out that nature can be pretty brutal, Adams says "Lions ate their prey alive". Ate, in the past tense, implying that lions do not exist any more (or at least, only exist in zoos where they would be provided with already-dead food). And if something as major as lions (which you'd assume would attract a lot of conservation efforts,) have been allowed to go extinct, what the hell has happened to the rest of Earth's animals?
If Shepard does not stop the indoctrinated hanar from shutting down the defense systems of its homeworld on one of the side-quests, you read that the Reapers pretty much completely destroy their homeworld...that also had all of the drell survivors from Rakhana living on it!
After the Cerberus attack on the Citadel, two Alliance Marines are standing in the waiting area of the docking bay discussing deployment orders and battle tactics against Cerberus troops. One of the Marines, Private Telavi, begs the other, who is her squad leader, to be reassigned to fight Reaper Husks instead. Telavi explains that her little brother recently joined Cerberus out of spite for her and the Alliance. At a certain point in the game, you encounter a Cerberus troop who's name is Telavi....
The end of Ardat-Yakshi Monastery mission in Mass Effect 3. If Shepard does not stop Samara, then Shepard has the choice of either leaving Falere (who just lost both her sister and her mother) alone at the monastery with her vow that she won't be turned into the a Banshee when the Reapers return (meaning she would kill herself), or killing her personally to keep the same thing from happening...
The debris surrounding Rannoch were probably the remains of the Geth Dyson Sphere which the Geth had started to upload themselves to so they could happily exist as one meaning that the Quarian fleet effectively destroyed everything the geth had hoped and aspired to do. A bit of Fridge Brilliance as it shows why the Geth were willing to turn to the reapers. .
The alliance news network gives a interview with a Batarian soldier which mentions the fact that they are not warned when a banshee is near them. This invokes horror because of what banshees can do and because of what the batarians did and were like in order to justify not warning them when what could only be described as a walking mind rape with claws is behind them
The Shepard VI is a amusing scene that reacts based on your paragon\renegade score. It is also a little guide to Shepard in the ending, whether s\he'll be guiding or ruthless in Control for example.
A bit of Garrus/Shepard related Fridge Brilliance mixed with Fridge Sadness from the Citadel DLC. During the "quiet" version of the party at Shepard's place, there's a running little subplot with Garrus and Zaeed conspiring to booby trap Shepard's apartment to guard her against future attacks. The whole scene is played for laughs, and it's very funny, but there's a very good reason reason for Garrus' somewhat uncharacteristic overprotective boyfriend routine: his experiences of being trapped in his apartment on Omega, fighting off the merc gangs assault. He's hiding that paranoia and fear for Shepard's safety beneath the very typical Garrus Crazy-Prepared snark and bluster.
Another case of romance related Fridge Horror from the DLC is a Fem!Shep who romanced Thane encountering his ghost after the party before she boards the Normandy. Now it's established in the Mass Effect universe that ghosts don't exist, which means that Shepard, otherwise known as the galaxy's only hope to fight against the Reapers, is hallucinating and talking to the imaginary phantom of her dead lover. Yeah, great news to know that the hero of the galaxy is in such good mental condition.
Another bit from the Citadel DLC that branches into Fridge Sadness territory; if the player romanced Tali, she serenades Shepard with a number from the Fleet & Flotilla musical during their date night. "Let the moon's shining light / hide two lovers with its rays / though I know that dawn will set / us on course for separate ways". Depending on when the cutscene is triggered (and considering just what awaits them on Earth), the song couldn't be more appropriate.
In the Citadel DLC, Brooks is called the Miranda to the clone's Shepard. However, she's also the Ashley to the clone's Shepard - her armor resembles one of Ashley's sets, and she has a similarity to the criticisms of Ashley's character, namely her attitude towards aliens, being a human-centric xenophobe (this being what drove her away from Cerberus, that the Illusive Man had Shepard put together a group of aliens). This is mind, her name might even be a shout-out to Ashley's voice actor, Kimberly Brooks.
There's a small detail for a loading screen when aboard the Normandy that show Shepard's Private Terminal in his/her quarters◊; on a stack of files is what appears to be a Cerberus storage device, which Shepard presumably took with them after giving the Illusive Man the metaphorical bird at the end of 2. It has a striking similarity to the coffins seen early in the Overlord DLC and at the end of the game for any dead squadmates. Either Cerberus based their coffin designs from their flash drives, or they provide flash drives that look like their coffins.
This also brings up the realization that dead squadmates who hated Cerberus such as Tali are buried in Cerberus-branded coffins.
Even worse, Cerberus raids the Collector base during the six months between the second and third game regardless of how intact you left it. Anyone you left behind will end up in a Cerberus lab being dissected.
Seeing Liara meet her father for the first time can be heartwarming at first, until they mention that she didn't know Benezia was innocent and ended up dying as a hero, meaning that she, and all of the other innocent people indoctrinated, have been remembered as evil. Made even worse by the fact that Saren, (who while not evil still had no regard for innocent lives) gets a gold statue of himself after his death, and no-one thinks it's offensive.
The people at that party were all involved in organized crime, they also thought what they did was for the 'Greater good'. A person like Saren who kills people indiscriminately to achieve his goal was probably a hero to them.
Citadel DLC related; Clone Shep and Brooks along with their minions have boarded the Normandy, shut down EDI's A.I. core, and started tearing shit up inside and are planning on making off with the ship. If you bring EDI along, she's furious at the disrespect being shown to her "body" and states her clear intention to kill everyone responsible. If EDI truly considers the Normandy to be her body, then Clone Shep and the CAT-6 mercs are, for all intents and purposes, raping her as part of their evil plan.
Banshees are horrifying enough already, both in-universe and in real life, but they get worse with a moment's thought. Banshees are the Husks of Ardat-Yakshis. Ardat-Yakshis instantly kill anyone with whom they mate. Banshees have a One-Hit Kill attack. Remember all those times you used the phrase "getting raped" to describe a video-game Curb-Stomp Battle? Yeah, you probably won't be doing that anymore.
In the beginning, we can see a Systems Alliance Dreadnought hovering just a few hundred meters off the ground getting blown up by a Reaper. Considering the likely size of its Element Zero core and what codex-savvy players already know about the effects of prenatal eezo exposure, the battles over the skies of Earth may cause more damage and anguish than immediately obvious.
The Catalyst describes Synthesis as 'combining organic and synthetic life, with the strengths of both and the weaknesses of neither.' Who else said that? Saren? Yes, if you chose synthesis, then all the work you did for the past three years was in vain: you just accomplished the Reaper's goals for them within the space of a few seconds.
But that is also what Legion died or died trying, depending on your choices about Rannnoch to do.
This bit of fridge horror hit me recently about the Destroy ending. It is established in ME 2 that a Reaper doesn't stop indoctrinating people and trying to further its agenda just because it is dead. The reaper corpse that was being researched had been dead for how many thousands of years and yet it only took it days to invade, warp, and take over the minds of the research team. At least some of whom had to voluntarily subject themselves to becoming husks. As one NPC put it "Even dead Gods can dream". Now...fast forward to the Destroy ending. The Alliance has won the day. The Reapers are destroyed, tumbling to the ground in lifeless piles. For the first time in years the collective peoples of the galaxy give out a triumphant cry and a sigh of relief and turn from war to focusing on rebuilding. All the while on every single colonized planet in the galaxy, right in the midst of the very population centers the victors are going to be working rebuilding, literally hundreds if not thousands of dead Gods lay...dreaming. Makes one wonder what effect that will have on the rebuilding of the various societies, and if maybe the Destroy part of that ending wasn't actually talking about the synthetics and the reapers...
Much has been said about how the Catalyst has more in common with a VI than a true AI like EDI or the Geth, in that it can't override its own programming, no matter how insane or demented it is. The thing is, Real Life AI research could very well come up with an Almighty Idiot intelligence like the Catalyst long before we get to true AI moral enough to reject genocidal orders. The story of the Catalyst isn't a warning about what happens when you give machines intelligence and free will, but what happens if you don't (or at least, don't do it correctly).