Secret Project: The Ascent To Transcendence

“No longer mere earthbeings and planetbeings are we, but bright children of the stars! And together we shall dance in and out of ten billion years, celebrating the gift of consciousness until the stars themselves grow cold and weary, and our thoughts turn again to the beginning.”

— Lady Deirdre Skye, “Conversations with Planet”

The Ascent to Transcendence marks the end of the game. If the player sees this video, he has won. Which means that Reynolds has to deliver a satisfying conclusion to the entire gameplay experience. To accomplish this, it needs to serve as a fitting coda to the human era. But it must also be a happy ending. The player just triumphed; there’s no way Reynolds can end on a dark note.

That’s worthy of comment given that the canonical game was shaping up to end much like the player was told Earth ended. The technological level was higher, of course. But Reynolds went out of his way to sow the same the same sense of fear, economic dislocation, growing strife, and impending ecological collapse that we saw in the first half of the introductory video all throughout the last third of the game.

So this ending video begins with what appears to be some sort of religious ritual. Seven figures are each standing in a circle located in a barren plain. It’s critically important that there are exactly seven brought together in united effort now, as the game opened with the image of humanity fracturing into the seven disparate colony pods. We know that in canon these cannot all be the seven original faction leaders. But, here, these seven represent all the threads of humanity coming back together into a unified whole.

Each figure is on their own small, raised platform and facing a strange sphere. It rises up into the air before them and hovers momentarily before exploding in a white-blue flash. This causes a rapid bloom of xenofungus to radiate out of the circular ritual structure in all directions. The camera shifts to show that this fungal bloom sweep over entire continents before shifting again to show a side view of the bloom racing over the plains, spreading as fast as the bolt of lightning that’s skimming just above the surface. The fungus, which the player knows is the stuff of the Planetmind, has been spurred to cover every inch of the planet’s surface.

Then we see that same lightning arcing into tall skyscrapers and domes, where the humans live. Lines of lightning draw straight lines between buildings in a city before the camera zooms out and shows similar lines radiating out between points at a continental scale. These link the bases together, psychically, just as the individual people had been linked within the cities. Meanwhile, the fungus in the background finishes covering the planet.

The camera then cuts to encompass the entire planet as it glows brightly with this blue-white aura. Then the quote goes silent. The player is then left to contemplate what has just happens as he regards the last twenty seconds of footage. These echo the image of space that opened the game. But this time, instead of the story of the expulsion from Eden, these images of space just have a minimal instrumental accompaniment intended to evoke a feeling of profound awe at the possibilities inherent in transcendence.

The quote explains what, exactly, is happening here. All of humanity has abandoned their remaining attachment to their physical form and their individual existence. Instead, they’ve joined together with each other and with the Planetmind to become a brand-new entity. It’s presumably similar to Planet’s previous existence, but the combination takes place at the psychic level rather than a physical one, using the newly dense fungal relays as the computational substrate.

In canon, I presume that the Gaians won the race. Deirdre has always had the closest relationship to Planet. We know that the Gaians were a Great Power. And the quote is generally attributed to Deirdre’s collected “Conversations With Planet” because it’s spoken with the Planet’s voice in the same vein as the others, though that is omitted from the final video.

But that leaves one last question. Why was there the great race at the end, anyway? Winning the game doesn’t mean living forever. Nor does it mean transcending. It looks like everyone who makes it to the ritual is welcome in the new collective consciousness.

No, the reason why there’s a race is because it matters whose values get written most deeply into the heart of the new godlike being. And thus the physical universe. Not to mention whatever might come after when the stars burn out. Literally everything was at stake. Because in the end, the real legacy of the human era, the only one that could possibly still matter to the transcended post-humans millennia from now, is our set of values: the seven distinct philosophies.

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8 thoughts on “Secret Project: The Ascent To Transcendence

  1. Axel

    It’s… hard to put a finger on what I felt exactly, but that last sentence gave me similar feelings as the project itself, when I first completed it.

    I hope it felt good to write! You deserve it.

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  2. northstar1989Blake

    The final Interludes for different victory conditions tell a somewhat different story than your interpretation (particularly the Interlude you get if somebody *else* wins the race to Transcendance). Canonically, and this is deprived of all possible uncertainty in one of the Interludes, not *all* humans abandon their physical form (and, as an earlier Interlude reveals, while some humans had already transcended to exist as consciousnesses within the fungal neural net, the vast majority had not until this point…) The vast majority of people do Transcend, but a small minority of humans feel attached enough to their physical forms and humanity that they launch themselves into orbit in stasis-pods or remain in small “refuges” planetside where larger stasis-fields prevent a handful of humans from being integrated into the Transcendance, and later return to Planet after the Transcendance is complete to re-establish cities and such on the surface (which were presumably wiped out by the massive fungal bloom- an idea supported by other Interludes where fungus growth threatens to overwhelm bases). Additionally, some humans who joined the Planet-mind later re-take human form and travel to other planets and star systems to help spread the collective consciousness- including, as a consolation-prize if the player loses the race to Transcendance- Earth…

    I find this intriguing- and wonder what factions would be more likely to have had more members retain human form… The Peacekeepers? (who likely still exist at the end of the game) as they might feel most attached to their humanity? (I *strongly* disagree with your earlier interpretations of what the Peacekeepers stand for- the game’s description of Lal as “The Humanitarian” and the official backstory released by Firaxis describe it best- Lal and the Peacekeepers are fundamentally pro-humanity despite all its apparent flaws in a very deep sense- and some would likely by loathe to give up their physical forms as such…) The Spartans, as retaining human form gives them new worlds to conquer? (the Fall of Sparta does not necessarily mean a handful of smaller bases might not have remained- rather it seems to me that it refers to the breaking of Sparta’s political and military might by the destruction/conquest of all their largest and most important bases, including the capital itself…) Or perhaps the Believers (who might not embrace an “Alien God” so kindly)- if any of them are still left after Miriam’s apparent mass-suicide… (historically, there were always some individuals who did not “drink the Kool-Aid” when there was a mass suicide of religious believers- yet in some cases still held to their religious beliefs afterwards…)

    I personally strongly identify as a real-world humanitarian (and would have beyond a doubt joined the Peacekeepers if I were on the Unity), and I would likely have been one of the individuals to retain human-form, as I believe it is a fundamental part of what it means to be human, for all the body’s many flaws…

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  3. Anonymous

    I’ve always felt that in the canon, Yang ultimately won, although his faction may have been no more. I interpret the Ascent to Transcendence as closest to his vision of an ideal humanity than that of any of the other leaders’.

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  4. CCC

    So, in this canonical timeline that you’ve pieced together:

    Chairman Yang was eliminated, eventually.
    Col. Santiago was trampled by the expanding Gaian side.
    Sister Miriam stepped through a gate to nowhere.

    CEO Morgan was well on his way to total economic victory, but was beaten to the post. He was probably on good terms with all surviving factions.
    Academician Zhakarov tried a desperate last-ditch effort to turn Planet aside from its self-destructive cycle
    Lady Diedre managed to ascend to transcendence, writing her values at the core of the new being that Planet became.

    …what happened to Brother Lal? I think I may have missed something.

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    1. Nick Stipanovich Post author

      My best guess is that Lal latched on to Deirdre as her second banana, ending up on the winning side of the Gaian/U.N.-Sparta/Hive war. The quote for the Centauri Preserve is the biggest clue in this regard.

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  5. zarpaulus

    One thing, if a rival faction manages to Transcend before the player faction, you see a 20-second cinematic from the perspective of a random colonist walking along whistling, then he comes up a hill and sees the circle ritual starting off in the distance. The wave comes at him and the cinematic ends.

    How do you interpret that?

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    1. Nick Stipanovich Post author

      I always figured that it was supposed to represent the end of the human era from the other side. The random colonist is going along happily, thinking that everything’s all good, and then his world just ends out from under him.

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