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Toward the end of Mass Effect 3, Shepard encounters a Prothean VI called Vendetta. This VI has something very interesting to say about the nature of the universe:

Vendetta: Our studies of past ages led us to believe that time is cyclical. Many patterns repeat.

Shepard: Like the Reaper attacks.

Vendetta: And beyond. The same peaks of evolution, the same valleys of dissolution. The same conflicts are expressed in every cycle, but in a different manner. The repetition is too prevalent to be merely chance.

Liara: We assumed the Reapers were responsible for the pattern.

Vendetta: Perhaps. Though I believe the Reapers are only servants of the pattern. They are not its master.

Now, some of these repetitions obviously are the product of the Reapers. For example, the "Cereberus effect", where the anti-Reaper resistance is betrayed in each cycle by an indoctrinated splinter group, is clearly another aspect of Reaper manipulation.

However, Vendetta knew this, and he still seems quite convinced that there's something bigger going on. Vendetta is very clear: he's not just talking about the Reaper cycle.

At first I thought this was meant to foreshadow the sentient Catalyst, and its guiding influence over the cycle. However, that doesn't make sense: the Catalyst seems focused simply on continuing the cycle, but not manipulating what happens within each instance of it. The Catalyst guides certain things, encouraging new species to follow Reaper-based tech like the Mass Relays, but Vendetta seems to be describing similarities in how each instance of the cycle plays out, not just similarities in the harvest that brings that instance to a close.

Another sign of a "pattern" that predates the Reaper cycle is what the Leviathan tells Shepard, about the very reason that the Reapers were created in the first place:

Leviathan: We could not protect [the Leviathans' thrall species] from themselves. Over time, the species built machines that then destroyed them.

Of course, this is exactly what happens to the Leviathans themselves when they build the Reapers. So it would seem that at least one "pattern" existed before the Catalyst: that of the inevitable Reaper/Zha'til/Geth relationship with their creators. (This fits well with Vendetta's comment about "the same conflicts" being expressed in every cycle.)

Is this "pattern" ever elaborated upon, in the Mass Effect franchise? Was this meant to foreshadow the Catalyst's manipulation of mid-cycle events, or is there a larger "fate" or "destiny" phenomenon being described here?

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From where I see it: the master is, in fact, the Catalyst. The AI that was created by the Leviathans. The AI was programmed to save organic life from synthetic life, since the conflict between organic and synthethic seem to be an unavoidable outcome. To preserve that life, the AI was programmed. To prevent the extinction from happening. But what the Leviathans fail to realize is, that they seem to be part of the problem itself. Simply because they, in the end, create machines as well to improve their quality of life. (This - what Leviathan explains to you - is the reason for creating synthetics.)

The similarities that Vendetta seems to be describing are in my opinion 100% guided by the Catalyst. In Mass Effect one, during the conversation with Sovereign, you are told that everything that happens concerning technological development and suchlike is guided by them. This includes as well things that happen before the harvest itself.

"Your civilization is based on the technology of the mass relays. Our technology. By using it, your society develops along the paths we desire. "

http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0270806/quotes

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but I don't think this problem is elaborated in any of the other Mass Effect stuff at all (e.g.books). Sadly.

What I don't quite understand here is your reference to destiny and fate. Can you explain that a little more?

  • "i dont think this problem is elaborated in any of the other Mass Effect stuff at all (e.g.books)" - In Redemption, the (reaper-controlled) collectors are shown trying to get Shepard's body, and it is mentioned in both ME2 and said comic that the collectors had been operating to a limited extent prior to the events of ME2. We also have the reaper artifact in Arrival and another in Evolution (though Evolution does have a number of plot and lore issues), both of which show indoctrinatory tendencies. – Kevin Jul 6 '15 at 20:37
  • ...since Evolution takes place during and immediately after the first-contact war, this is significant evidence of "early" reaper activity. – Kevin Jul 6 '15 at 20:40
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'The pattern' is a reference to causality, as in causal determinism (a mathematical destiny). The pattern of cause and effect (the cosmic currents of the universe) only change when Shepard "alters the variables" by connecting the Crucible with the Catalyst. The Intelligence now has new options to solving it task (overcoming causal determinism), provided Shepard chooses to act. In a way the endings are about free-will (or agency) versus the destiny of causality.

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