When Mass Effect: Andromeda was announced, BioWare made it clear that the game's protagonist would not be Commander Shepard, and that their story wrapped up with the end of the original Mass Effect trilogy. After Andromeda's disappointing reception, however, the trailer for Mass Effect 4 released at the Game Awards 2020 hinted heavily at Shepard's survival and potential return as the series' player character.
Although many fans would be pleased to see Shepard return, there are some reasons this may not be a good idea. Despite criticisms of Mass Effect 3's ending, Shepard's return in Mass Effect 4 has the potential to undermine both the third game and the entire original trilogy. Not only that, but it could undermine trust in many of the decisions players are asked to make in Mass Effect going forward.
The ending of Mass Effect 3 was not well-received by many critics or fans of the franchise. There was one main reason for this. Like many RPGs, the original Mass Effect trilogy prided itself on the diversity of the choices presented to the player and the cascading consequences they could have on the rest of the story.
In Mass Effect 1, the player's actions could lead to the deaths of every member of the Citadel Council, and several key Mass Effect companions. In Mass Effect 2 there was not a single squad member who couldn't be killed during the game's famous final suicide mission, and even Shepard could die in the end.
The final moment of Mass Effect 3, however, didn't take the huge number of choices the player could have made by that point into account. Instead of feeling like the culmination of each player's personal story, the game presented the same final choice to every player. That choice alone would determine which of three main possible endings the player would see in a subsequent cutscene.
Shepard could destroy the Reapers, all synthetic life across the galaxy, and the Mass Relays — this was known as the Destroy Ending. Shepard could choose to become an AI themselves and take over the Reapers for benevolent purposes - the Control Ending. Finally, Shepard could merge all synthetic and organic life — the Synthesis Ending.
Many fans of the franchise felt like this was a massive simplification of events and choices thus far. Some also took issue with the fact that the following cutscenes had many of the same shots in them, with the only difference being the color of the energy blast released from the Crucible. The criticism was so great, in fact, that BioWare released an "Extended Cut" primarily to add more diversity to each of the three endings.
Because of this, many fans aren't particularly attached to the ending of Mass Effect 3. The trailer for Mass Effect 4 showed a dead Reaper and artwork released by BioWare shows a Mass Relay being rebuilt in a style resembling human ships in the series. These details both point to the Destroy Ending being made canon. If the player had a high enough Effective Military Strength, the Destroy Ending was the only option that hinted at Shepard's survival. Liara's discovery of a piece of N7 armor in the trailer also seems to suggest Shephard's survival as well.
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