“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.