Mass Effect 3 Ending choices: all endings & how to get the best ending

For better or worse, the ending of Mass Effect 3 is pretty infamous. Or rather, we should say, endings - there's a couple of them. Contrary to popular belief, there's more than three endings, too - though they're variations of a theme. On this page, we detail every ending in Mass Effect 3 and how to get all endings - including the best ending, or endings... depending on how you look at it.

Naturally, this page will contain spoilers for Mass Effect 3's story and ending, but we will also try to keep it as vague as we possibly can for the purposes of those trying to figure out what ending to choose.

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How Effective or Total Military Strength & War Assets change the Mass Effect 3 Ending

As you fight your way through the various battles that make up the brutal war you end up taking part in throughout Mass Effect 3, the game will be constantly giving you a stream of resources that are known in-game as War Assets. You can check in on where you're at with these on the Normandy , and basically every War Asset you have contributes to your Total Military Strength - which is a score that estimates your overall fighting force that'll be used to try to save the galaxy in the final battle against the Reaper forces.

It can't be overstated enough: War Assets & Military Strength is everywhere in Mass Effect 3. Major choices and consequences from previous games often result in War Assets; somebody you helped rather than killed might provide a war asset that adds to your military strength, for instance. A powerful warrior that survived the encounter on Virmire in ME1 or the suicide mission in ME2 might be a war asset, leading troops in a valiant charge.

Naturally, choices you make throughout Mass Effect 3 will determine how supported you are by the forces of the galaxy - and for maximizing that, our suggested ME3 mission order comes in handy for avoiding any timed-out mission disasters. The entire system gets a bit confusing, however, because it differes significantly across different versions of the game. For all intents and purposes, there are now three versions of ME3 available, each with slightly different requirements:

  • In the original release of Mass Effect 3, the requirements to get the best ending are more stringent. In addition, your Total Military Strength is subject to a modifier, your Readiness Rating, which adjusts your strength down to an Effective Military Strength. This is a percentage; so for example, at 50% readiness, 5000 Total Military Strength translates to 2500 Effective Military Strength, or EMS. The EMS score is what calculates your options and certain events towards the end of the game. Readiness can be raised through multiplayer and other side activities outside ME3 proper. In this version, you'll need at least around 4000 EMS to unlock the best ending.
  • In Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, the requirements for the best ending are significantly lowered. However the Readiness and EMS system remains in place, and so you still have to spend time in multiplayer or spin-off apps in order to slightly improve your score. In this version around 3100 EMS is sufficient to unlock the best ending.
  • In Mass Effect 3 inside the Legendary Edition trilogy remaster, the entire War Assets and Military Strength system has been rebalanced. The spin-off apps no longer exist and multiplayer isn't included, so Effective Military Strength has been removed entirely. In ME3 Legendary Edition, you have one score: Total Military Strength. Your Total Military Strength is how the events and Shepard's options at the end of the game are determined. Because your War Assets are no longer getting effectively halved by your readiness, the threshold at which you unlock the game's better endings is much higher: you'll need somewhere in the region of 7600-7800 Total Military Strength from War Assets to unlock the best ending. You'll need to be a completionist to do this, but not absolutely - the maximum military strength you can get in Legendary Edition is around 8600. 

Now, a little more on the ending choice itself:

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ME3 Ending Choices: Destroy, Control, or Synthesis - which is the best?

The next question is pretty obvious; which option should you choose when offered it in the Mass Effect 3 Ending? Shepard can be given the choice between up to three options - Destroy, Control, and Synthesis - but what do they do? Allow us to explain... but first, a caveat.

To be clear, there is totally no best ending in Mass Effect 3. Each ending is designed to have its own pros and cons - and though the Synthesis ending is obviously the one with the most broad and obvious upsides, it's also an ending with drawbacks and narrative choices that aren't for everyone. You should go with your gut - but we also wanted to explain the endings here so you know exactly what to expect from each ending and don't, for instance, accidentally kill your favorite character.

  • Destroy (Red): Destroy allows Shepard to make the choice to eradicate all synthetic life. This is a terrible act of genocide in a sense, as it will not just wipe out the Reapers, but also the Geth, burgeoning artificial intelligence, and even EDI. At low EMS scores, Destroy is also the ending that does the most collateral damage to the rest of the galaxy, and it always significantly damages the Citadel and Mass Relays. More on that in the next section. In almost all versions of the Destroy ending, Shepard dies - but in one variant, they are teased to survive. The ending is narrated by Commander Hackett.
  • Control (Blue): The Control Ending sees Shepard sacrifice themselves in order to take control of the Reaper fleet. Shepard then uses the Reapers to repair the damage the ending does to the Mass Relays and help repair the galaxy. The Commander is gone, but they live on through the Reapers, which continue to do their will. Shepard narrates this ending, and their tone is slightly different depending on if you were more Paragon or Renegade.
  • Synthesis (Green): Shepard sacrifices themselves by throwing themselves into the Crucible, using their DNA to set a new 'synthesized' status quo where synthetic and organic life merges together - which in turn makes the Reapers entirely unnecessary. The Reapers become an ally, and help to rebuild the damage done to the galaxy. Appropriately, EDI narrates this ending.
  • Refuse (Dialogue): A hidden ending option of sorts, by talking to the Catalyst further, Shepard can reject making a choice between the three options laid before them. If they do this, The Reapers continue their path of destruction, and wipe out all higher functioning life forms in the galaxy as they'd planned. You can also trigger this ending by shooting at the Catalyst. In an epilogue, alien races of the next cycle thousands of years later discover a time capsule recorded by Liara that warns them of the impending Reaper threat. This technically is a game over, not an ending.

Keep in mind that not all options will be open to you for certain - which options you have is determined by your EMS. With that said, you'd have to play an exceptionally botched storyline to end up in a situation where you don't even have a choice and only have one option at your disposal - but that can happen.

Beyond this choice, the exact specifics of the ending will vary in an epilogue, with many of your choices throughout the trilogy referenced visually. 

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How the ME3 endings change based on Military Strength

As previously mentioned, your Effective Military Strength or Total Military Strength (depending on if you're in the original game or Legendary Edition) will greatly influence which endings you have access to in Mass Effect 3 - and also what those endings might look like.

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Here, we just break this down. All the EMS values reflected here are those as in the Extended Cut version of the game; they differ and are generally harsher in the original release. These numbers are based on the Extended Cut of the original version of the game.

In the Legendary Edition Remaster, these values are different but equivalent, with Effective Strength and Readiness both removed in favor of one, larger Total Military Strength score. While the Legendary Edition values are much higher, they are roughly equivalent to the original game, and it's actually possible to obtain the very best ending options even without an ME1 & 2 save import. It gets easier still with a full trilogy import, assuming you haven't made a bunch of self-destructive choices.

  • If you have under 1749 EMS: you will only have one ending option, with which determined by if you chose to Keep or Destroy the Collector Base in ME2.
    • If you kept the base, you can choose Control.
    • If you Destroyed the base, you can choose Destroy. The suggestion is that the crew of the Normandy do not survive.
    • Regardless of which you choose, at this EMS level the events of the ending deal massive collateral damage to the entire galaxy and almost wipes out the entire population of Earth.
  • If you have 1750 - 2349 EMS: Shepard can choose between either Control or Destroy. The damage done to the galaxy will be less severe, but still bad. The Normandy crew survives, but might be stranded on an alien world.
  • If you have 2350 - 2649 EMS: the choice is given between Control & Destroy again. 
    • At this level, Control no longer does any significant collateral damage to the galaxy.
    • Destroy, however, still causes much damage.
  • If you have 2650 - 2799 EMS: Shepard can choose either Control or Destroy, and both do not do significant damage beyond their intended effect. The Normandy crew survives, and the ship can be repaired.
  • If you have 2800 - 3099 EMS: At this level Synthesis can be chosen as well as Control or Destroy, and all three leave the galaxy largely intact.
    • If Synthesis is picked, EDI and Joker are seen together exiting the Normandy.
  • If you have 3100 EMS or more (7800 or more in Legendary Edition): At this level, all three endings are available, but if you choose Destroy, a stinger tease will suggest Shepard survived the blast. 

Is there a Canon Ending to Mass Effect 3?

The short answer to this question is no - though we can begin to piece things together thanks to that first announcement teaser trailer for 'the next Mass Effect' - which appears to be set hundreds of years later, and is shooting to be a sequel to both Andromeda and the original Trilogy.

In the trailer, we see a visibly older Liara (remember, Asari live for hundreds or thousands of years) - and she doesn't appear to be part-synthetic in the way the synthesis ending suggests. And there are no Reapers guarding the skies. So...

If you're really insistent on the best ending, or which might be canon to lead to a Mass Effect 4 - we'd suggest that Destroy is the one. At high enough Military Strength values, it's also only ending in which Shepard is teased to have survived (under certain conditions, explained above), and also the only ending where the galaxy is not significantly changed from the original vision of the ME universe that people love.

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