|As earth burns...|
The Reapers have laid waste to the homeworlds of Citadel space. Rannoch, the Quarian homeworld, through the Geth; Palaven, home of the Turians; Sur'Kesh, inhabited by the Salarians; and Thessia, the crown jewel and home of the Asari have all been annihilated by Reaper forces. These races must make the ultimate choice of sacrificing their own planets to obliterate the Reapers forever in the Battle for Earth.
But all the little choices and decisions made from the first two games never amount to much, because the ending simply comes down to one decision: whether to control or destroy the Reapers, or turn everyone into synthetics to curtail disaster. Each choice leads to the same conclusion. Shepard dies, but I've heard it's possible our protagonist lives through the events if your "Galactic Readiness" level is high enough. This is a measure of your collective force's resources, and this can be affected by playing through the multiplayer.
There is a scene of Joker's valiant attempt at escaping the blast inside the Normandy, only to be swallowed up and crash on an unknown planet. The only aspect changed with this scene is the colour of the blast (red for control, blue for destroy, green for synthesis).
Otherwise, depending on who you took with you, those people are likely gone. But some have been complaining how discrepancies, like characters appearing in this cutscene who were brought into the final encounter. Though, this is all just speculative.
There's also a brief scene after the credits roll (below) with a mysterious figure and his daughter (I'm assuming, the voice acting isn't the greatest) showing everything was just a grandfather retelling the story to the next generation. Soon after, the child asks if the figure can tell her "another story about the Shepard", and he slyly replies: "One more story." This has caused rampant speculation about the future of the franchise, and whether Mass Effect, the story of Commander Shepard, will be continuing in some fashion. (I imagine it will, but not in the traditional form. Perhaps an MMO or something. But that's another post.)
Moreover, many have voiced their displeasure over the uncertainty of their actions, and what happened. After the credits, that scene is shown and a message pops up encourage players to continue the adventure through DLC, though this was inevitable given EA's recent track record. Likely further pieces of content will cover the aftereffects of Shepard's decision, with multiplayer expansions and optional missions to boot.
The Mass Effect trilogy ended as BioWare intended: this was Shepard's story and his/her part is finished. But given the wealth of decision making and actually witnessing the consequences of those choices, the ending is bittersweet. Fans are accustomed to getting the full brunt, and the series of endings didn't do enough to accomplish that feat.
In March, we've already had two major releases spoiled by uncertain endings left to downloadable content. Final Fantasy XIII-2 being the other, with the devastating phrase "To be continued" written on screen. Let's hope this doesn't turn into a trend, or an industry standard, where remarkable culminations are developed strictly for the digital space. We could be embarking on a dangerous road trip, my friends. Jeff out.
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