Yeah I played the Extended Cut, and I thought that might have something to do with it because some of the plot holes people mentioned (like how your crew gets to the normandy after rushing to the beam) weren't plot holes at all to me.
I also think that Leviathan, even though it was the shortest and worse of the DLCs (still good, just not as good as Citadel), makes a huge, fucking tremendous
difference in how you react to the Catalyst. I would've thought that was ridiculous if not for Leviathan, because the actual foundation of the conflict and proper explanation of things is there, not during the ending.
Drunk Tali was great, Garrus overall is hilarious, Traynor was pretty funny this game, Joker has his moments, but AIs stole the humour show for me this game. Glyph and EDI had me in tears of laughter so many times I can't even remember most of them. Something about the dry, "I'm a computer I don't really mean this" way they deliver cracks me up.
I think your points about the theme changing are valid, but I also think it was handled properly. It's not like it came out of the blue. They addressed something that worried me (the fact that Shepard apparently had no feelings and reacted in no way to the atrocities he had seen), made him human and, in doing so, elevated his relationship with the crew to a whole other level. They still admire him, he's still Shepard, but he's also human. And in ME 3 he leans on them a whole lot more than in any other game of the series. Which is also fitting, because look at scale: 1 was about fighting ONE reaper. Two was about fighting the Collectors, and again, ONE reaper (two if you count the humanoid thing and Harbinger), and two was a SUICIDE MISSION. And now we're fighting 3000000000000000000 reapers? Look at how much of a big deal it is dealing with Tuchanka, and dealing with the one in Tali's homeworld. That's two. There are THOUSANDS of them. They explicitly say there are more reapers than alliance (and by alliance I mean the alliance of all races, not Alliance) ships. And one ship is infinitely inferior to one reaper, even the normandy. What I'm saying is, I would have thought it pretty weird if they kept the overall tone of "whatever happens, we've got this" as strong as they did in 1 and 2. It's still there - it's one of my favorite things about ME, it never leaves. There's always that hope, that "Ooo-rah friendship and ideals!" feeling. But to ignore the fact that this game had to be darker, grimmer, and less hopeful would have been a bad decision, in my opinion. I actually thought Bioware handled it quite well and, more importantly, quite honestly. No cop-outs. No "yeah fuck Reapers are huge and terrible but now that we're fighting them it's gonna okay". They are bad. They are huge. And they probably can't be beaten without huge losses. We knew that. The whole hope recurring theme is still there: it's the only reason you can beat them in the first place.
And I get the whole thing about
wanting Shepard to survive. I really do. I was tremendously attached to Shepard. But I don't think anyone in their right mind can say that his death, if it happens, isn't fitting. He'd be the first to make that sacrifice. He knew the odds. He knew what was at stake. And he's not fighting for himself. That's the whole defining trait of Shepard, what makes him him. He's fighting for something bigger, something better. And he'll die for it. Yeah it fucking hurts, but it's also fitting, and it's also good storytelling as far as I'm concerned.
The synthesis option provides an option for both organic and synthetics to live, but that's at the cost of Shepard. I'm okay with that.
To be honest, I fully, whole-heartedly understand why you would need that ending to be happy. But ask yourself: would that ending fit? Not only because of what I said above about theme. Would "kill reapers, save synthetics, save Shepard" make sense? The reapers are synthetics. Why not save them? They're not even bad, not ruled by morality, they're a product of the Catalyst, which in turn is a product of organic mismanagement. I honestly don't even think they're true AIs, they're more like geth in a way. I buy the whole "if you kill reapers it's by killing synthetics" thing not because it's the only way, but because it's a way
. And I think Bioware did an amazing job of making every one of the 3 choices plausible and believable and come down to your ideals, your moral code.
What I personally would have liked, and the only way the ending would have been better for me, was if you could kill synthetics but
let true AIs survive. Those are alive. Those are just as bit as important as organics. If those kill us, it's natural evolution. And I'm not ashamed to say that the fact that EDI was gonna die nearly made me not chose the destroy option. And it hit me fucking hard that EDI was gone, really fucking hard. She even knew. "If it comes down to saving me or saving Jeff, you'll save him. I guess the geth aren't really the only ones who'd rather turn to something familiar".
Now, maybe they could have done better. Maybe they could've written an happy ending and make it believable. Maybe it was feasible. But going from there to "the endings are bad" is a loooong way. I guess what I'm trying to say is maybe there could have been other
endings, and I would have also liked an ending like what you mentioned because fuck, I'm human and I want shepard to be alive and everything to be alright, but I do think that the endings that do
exist are good, and fitting and well-written. They're not bad because we're missing that other ending. And considering what I said about theme above, I can buy that other ending not being there, as much as I wanted it to.
I do think it sucks you can't save true AIs. The Geth were dead in my playthrough by that point because I'm a softy and I could never, ever, EVER betray Tali (hell if she asked me to jump off a cliff I probably would) and fuck Legion, but man, EDI...
Oh and for the record I don't know If I have the best ending, or if I could have done something better. I didn't watch the other endings yet. What I got was: Earth saved, reapers + synthetics destroyed, EDI only crewmember dead, Garrus wounded running to the beam but okay, Miranda romanced and alive, geth dead, some relays destroyed, killed the Illusive Man, Anderson died watching the view with me, Shepard lives (he breathes after all the cutscenes are done). Best or not, I was pretty damn happy with it. Even if they don't ever touch Shepard again, the hope is there. He breathed. Even if he died, I would have dealt with it, but hey, maybe he didn't. I'd like to believe he found Miranda and they were both awkwardly normal together.
As a side note, the last time you talk to each crewmember during the operations base sequence... fuck did that hit me hard. Liara especially with the space vision, but also Garrus, Tali, Ashley and Miranda. This is exactly what DA never had for me.
and while Synthesis and Control are cool, here's why I still feel like Destroy is the right option for me.
Control is not worth it for obvious reasons. My Shepard would never sacrifice his ideals for power, even if that power could be used for good. By choosing control, you effectively turn into the Illusive Man, without the indoctrination part. What bothers me the most is how you're doing exactly what you (at least I did) berate the Illusive Man for doing: playing with a power you can't understand, taking chances you can't fully comprehend. You become a reaper to stop the reapers. You become what you're fighting to win a war. Even if you do so to change them, you end up changing Shepard as well. That's the one thing that defines my Shepard: he's true to himself, to his ideals, to his humanity. He would NOT want to "become something greater", he would like to be the best human he can possibly be. That's what he always wanted.
Synthesis is a bit trickier, and I sort of like it. But the basis on which I don't think it is the right choice is that: 1, you're playing God again, and that just doesn't go well with the Shepard I played. He's wise enough not to play God, even with marvelous possibilities presenting themselves if he does. The one thing Shepard is so proud of, so defined by, is his tremendous humanity. To chose that option would be to go against his character, against his humbleness, against what he stands for. 2, I take issue with the idea of changing both beings to create peace. Making synthetics and organics just one race does not seem like the answer to me, it seems like a cop out. Synthetics and organics should be able to live peacefully because they want to, because they need to, and because they've grown enough to do so. Imposing uniformity, besides posing huge evolutionary problems (evolution and variety go hand in hand) also feels like saying "you're all the same now, so stop killing each other. If you were different, that'd be okay, but you know, you aren't." Killing the individuality, what makes each species distinct, what separates organics and synthetics... it just doesn't feel right to me.
And let us not speak of the Rejection ending. That one's just dumb.
All in all, I'm glad I chose destroy. But god damn it do I wish EDI could live. She was by far my favorite companion during 3.From one of my conversations with Assassini
Man I get how it would bother you if you had the Geth live. I wasn't even sure that was possible. I was trigger happy, didn't wait for paragon / renegade options, first chance I had I stopped legion, because my reasoning was "well Tali's people are alive, Geth might become alive (true AIs) but they're not there yet. I can't risk an entire sentient people for a non-sentient race". It still bothered me somehow that Shepard believed the Catalyst so easily, but I forgave that with a "hmm it's a bit of bad exposition, they wanna give you the options instead of having shepard argue against them". Like fuck, thinking about it, if you saved the Geth, the endings get a whole lot worse because it's literally a case of "you can't do this" and the game not acknowledging that you actually did that a while back in that same game's storyline. I get why you're pissed then.
Anderson didn't hit me very hard because I thought it was one of the sloppiest storylines. Everyone knows Udina is bad. I hated that guy since game 1. I put Anderson as councilor. And now he leaves Udina as councilor when he goes to Earth? Like, what the fuck? Literally anyone would have been a better choice, and Anderson knows that! I didn't even get why he kept him as an assistant except as some "rub it in your face" bullshit that was completely out of character for him. I guess they needed someone to go rogue for the Cerberus attack, but I always felt like it was one of those "it's a video game you don't have 100% control" things in that I would've killed / fired Udina a looong time ago, and so should Anderson. Which sucks, because Mass Effect as a whole is very good at immersion and that was one of the few immersion breaking moments for me (the other being Thane's fight against Kai'Leng. Seriously? The deadliest assassin ever that jumps into a group of soldiers and kills the target with her own weapons can't 1v1 a bionic dude? And Shepard + Crew are 5 steps away just standing there, watching them fight the whole time? Okay then.)
See, my Shepard would never pick Synthesis because it's somewhat the same as control, in that it's an egocentric decision. It's "I have the power, and I'll decide" instead of "I'll give you the tools through which you can survive." I can definitely see the Illusive Man choosing Synthesis as well, and my Shepard would instantly go "fuck no, that's playing God." I get why you chose it and I'm not trying to say it's a bad choice, it just personally seemed like so uncharacteristic for me that I didn't ever consider it a viable choice - the same happened with control. The Catalyst stopped talking and I instantly went "yup, destroy, everything else is dumb."
The goodbyes were really hard. Especially because they definitely felt like foreshadowing, and halfway through I was thinking: "Fuck. I'm gonna die." Liara's vision, Garrus' and EDI's goodbye ("only now have I felt truly alive"), plus Miranda's goodbye through the comm, hit like a fucking truck. And I know the scene you're talking about and fuck, Liara has some sort of Clementine factor to her in that she's a shit ton older than you but you still don't want her to see bad things, you still feel very protective towards her (Miranda feels... tougher somewhat, you still care for her but you know she's gonna go through. I can't really put it into words but yeah, Clementine factor. Liara is innocent and sweet - even though she's not - and nothing bad should ever happen to her.)