Mass Effect 3 Point of no Return: the beginning of the end
Like the other games in the series, Mass Effect 3 is an open-ended experience that lets you tackle some of its story missions in a relatively free-form order - but it also features a hard stop, a point of no return that anyone trying to maximize their experience should be aware of.
The ME3 point of no return follows on more clearly from the point in ME1 rather than the more obtuse point in ME2 - that is to say, it's more clear-cut and obvious when you're coming to the end of the story. With that said, we know that some of you will want to know exactly where it is ahead of time - so read on to have the ME3 point of no return explained.
Mass Effect 3 Point of no Return
Like we said, things are a little more clear-cut in Mass Effect 3 than in the second game. In its direct predecessor, there was a hard point of no return (the Omega 4 relay), but also a soft point of no return (the Reaper IFF mission) which would put a countdown on being able to obtain the best outcome in the game's finale. ME3 is different, as simply has one, hard, defined point of no return - more like ME1.
To be specific, the point of no return in Mass Effect 3 is when you begin Priority: Cerberus Headquarters. While you would imagine that the point of no return would in fact be heading back to Earth, it isn't - the Cerberus HQ mission will then begin a rollercoaster ride to the end of the game, including a trip to attempt to take Earth back. Basically, you've got quite a bit of game left even after you pass the point of no return.
Before you begin Priority: Cerberus Headquarters, you should endeavor to complete as much side content as possible. Your romance scene will trigger before the Cerberus HQ mission too, if your Shepard has a romantic partner.
Our ME3 mission order has a suggestion for how to approach the rest of the game, but the point is that once you begin the Cerberus HQ mission your war effort will largely be locked in - and this will determine your ME3 ending choices.
The ending you get of Mass Effect 3 is largely determined by your War Assets and Total Military Strength - and you'll be defining this all game by the choices you make in both main and side missions, plus through consequences to choices made in previous games. So make sure that you have a number of War Assets you're happy with before you head to the Cerberus HQ.
If you want to try for a different ending, or just save some content for after seeing credits roll, ME3 will allow you to load a post-game save that puts you back at the moment right before you activate the Cerberus HQ mission. A lot of people like to do the Citadel DLC as a post-game coda this way. But for the canonical story, the Cerberus HQ assault is the beginning of the end.
Other, smaller Point of no Return moments in ME3
It's also worth noting, if you're earlier on in the game, that there's a couple of smaller, less critical point of no return moments scattered throughout Mass Effect 3. Specifically:
- In the first 'batch' of missions, you'll want to complete absolutely everything you can before starting Priority: Tuchanka. After this story planet, your next visit to the Citadel will be story focused - and after that mission, the status quo on the Citadel will change somewhat, locking you out of many side quests that were active before Tuchanka.
- The same applies, though to a lesser degree, for Priority: Rannoch. This is a major state-change mission in ME3 - the end of an act, almost - and once you've completed it, the Citadel - and the side quests assocaited with it - will change a little.