Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut: The Review: This Time It's Personal(er)

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Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut: The Review: This Time It’s Personal(er)

By Rob Payne | Miscellaneous | July 6, 2012 | Comments ()


So, after 120 hours of gameplay and three months of speculation, we finally have a real ending to BioWare's epic Mass Effect video game series. Or, more accurately, we have three real endings and one more that is unmistakably losing the game. In my original review, I said the Green Ending (Synthesis) was the only satisfying conclusion at the time, which was mainly due to it being the only one that actually withstood all that ambiguity. Later, in my discussion of the controversial ending(s), I backtracked and stated that the Red Ending (Destruction) could be the only true climax as it meant successfully completing the mission Commander Shepard began way back in the first Mass Effect. Both times, several readers commented that, for them, the Blue Ending (Control) was the only one that made sense for them or their avatar.

I think that much discombobulated thinking, where, really, all the endings could either be right or wrong with no sense of any difference made, pretty much sums up why the initial ending(s) for Mass Effect 3 instigated mostly shrugs, arched eyebrows, or vitriol spewing and relatively few cheers. There were just too many questions, too many loose threads left dangling, and not nearly enough closure for an entertainment that so many people were legitimately affected by over the years. Judging by the responses from BioWare after the negative feedback started pouring in -- despite all their analytics about what players want -- even more people than they realized. So for die hard fans of the series, the Extended Cut is absolutely necessary. For anyone new to the series with the third game and wanted more than overly enigmatic epilogues with discreet alterations, it's worth checking out. After all, it's free. The sad part is that the Extended Cut itself shouldn't exist. Everything that can take place in those extra 1.8+ gigabytes should have been in the final game at release.

The additional material does provide context to where there was only mystery before by explicating the impact of your decisions throughout all three games, as focused through the energy beams of your Commander Shepard's final solution. Yes, nearly all of your choices or actions are referenced in some fashion, though usually through still shots of familiar characters in the aftermath rather than animated cut scenes. Jennifer Hale, Mark Meer, Lance Henriksen, Tricia Helfer, and Ali Hillis as Liara all return to provide narration detailing the significance of the Commander's variable choices, but perhaps it was too late in the game, or too costly, to get the rest of the cast back for what would amount to less-than-a-minute cameos for each. The glimpses of the series' supporting cast are little more than brief check-ins to assure the player of their fates, and across my seven different ending scenarios, played out through two Commanders Shepard, the differences between your choices are microscopic in scale compared to the fate of the galaxy.

Assuming your favorite character is still alive, most everyone gets a happy-ish ending. The moments themselves don't amount to much dramatically, and they belie the extremely rushed and unprepared nature of the Extended Cut, but that's because most of the drama had been settled before the last stand on Earth. That isn't to say anything looks bad, because like everything else in Mass Effect 3 it's beautiful. It's also obviously a short cut due to lack of time. There is, however, one completely new ending possibility -- the aforementioned seventh -- that totally and irrevocably alters the conclusion of ME3 and the series, and in its own way is quite brilliant. But first there's the six (or, really, three) endings players got in the game's original iteration that now make much more sense than they did before.

Don't be mistaken. Those original endings haven't changed, so if you were unimpressed before there's a better than decent chance you won't be impressed now. But as I said in my reivew, I found the possibilities tantalizing, even if I thought only one ending could be the "real" or "correct" one. After getting a far clearer idea on how those possibilities could play out, they still offer tantalizing prospects. Except I'm now thoroughly convinced that all of the three choices were right, depending on you and your Shepard's point of view. None of the endings are wrong because Shepard is special, she/he is a savior, and so as the Commander says earlier in the game: Every decision they make is the right one. (At least, in terms of "beating" the game.) This also means that both of your earlier enemies, Saren and the Illusive Man, were also right. The difference lies in the fact that Shepard, either as Paragon, Renegade, or a mixture of the two, is the hero. If that sounds a little like BioWare turned the Commander into a Mary Sue, well, it was true in the first two games and it didn't bother fans or critics then. The only difference now is, Commander Shepard isn't necessarily around to be scolded by anyone when it's all said and done.

The point is: Whether you like them or not, the endings work. Maybe having everything come down to one last choice isn't as grand as a final, seemingly impossible fight against a Reaper like Harbinger. Maybe the Indoctrination Theory or the scrapped original ending about Dark Energy would have been equally interesting. But the Green, Blue, and Red endings do amount to more than simple different-colored explosions, though that is, admittedly, still the easiest way to denote them without getting too spoilerific. I'd love to see three forthcoming DLCs that expand upon the new natures of the galaxy, with a Green Game that continues after organics and synthetics merge, a Blue Game that follows the rebuilding efforts with the Reapers under control, and a Red Game that posits a future without Artificial Intelligence but the possibility that Commander Shepard may yet live (regardless of whether you engaged the multiplayer or not). Those DLCs aren't needed for a sufficient end, but I'm curious to see what BioWare will do next.

Even if you're happy with the ending you chose, I'd recommend watching them all play out just to force yourself to ponder all the questions they raise. I don't think there's a right or wrong, but I could always be mistaken. I'm not convinced the newest ending is necessarily "wrong" or "bad," either, but it does answer one burning fan question: What if I don't think my Commander Shepard would listen to the Catalyst and would find another way to stop the harvesting Cycle?

Short answer: You lose.

Much longer answer: Commander Shepard has no other options, because the ground assault team on Earth was practically decimated and the fleet in space is every last ship in the galaxy, and even every species in the galaxy can't win a straight up battle against the Reapers. The whole plan was to use the Crucible to defeat the Reapers, and the Catalyst does indeed give you that option, it just comes at a cost that might be too high for you and your Shepard to pay. In that case, there are two more options available that don't come at the cost of lives, but at the cost of admitting your enemies may not have been seeking the wrong ends, even if they pursued the wrong means. If that is still too much to bear, then, yes, your Shepard now has a new path, which is to lose the game and let the Reapers win to harvest the galaxy again in another 50,000 years. Because, seriously, what else can the Commander possibly do at this point? Still, making that choice, as abrupt as it seems, isn't necessarily unsatisfying. This ending's epilogue has a nice little cameo by Liara in the form of a V.I. not unlike the one Shepard encountered on Ilos in the first game. So all hope is not lost, assuming the savior of the next cycle isn't as stubborn as you and your Shepard were. Like I said, fairly brilliant.

But as much of a kick as I got out of that much deserved slap in the face to all the most obnoxious fans out there, and as intriguing and edifying as most of the expanded conclusion is if you're willing to meet the gamemakers on their terms, the Extended Cut is basically underwhelming. As an "extended cut" it was always going to be. Because nothing here should have been excised the fist time around. Quite a bit of the new material is elegant in how it answers the seemingly inexplicable moments witnessed earlier, like how the Normandy was randomly jumping through a Mass Relay instead of participating in the battle, but it's that elegance that also proves how much better the game might have been received had they been there all along. The story really is much better with the necessary holes filled in, and there is more hope for the series and BioWare now than there was in March. For far too many gamers, however, it could justifiably be too little too late.

Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here (if you're into that sort of thing). He still thinks the weakest link in all of Mass Effect is Dude-Bro Shepard.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • blorft

    The Extended Cut improved things, even if I still don't buy the entire premise that organics and synthetics will never be able to get along. Organics and organics have a longer and more storied history of killing one another! The Geth were the only synthetics in any kind of conflict until the reapers came. It just doesn't make sense.

    Still, the endings were more satisfying this way. At least it was clear what you actually chose, and what some of those consequences are. The "green" ending is still my least favorite, because won't hybrid species also end up killing each other someday? I felt slightly better destroying everything, although I was surprised that there was no reaction from Joker regarding EDI in that ending. The control one was surprisingly satisfying as well.

    But yeah, it's just a band-aid, and it's sad to have to let go of the franchise with such a disappointing ending.

  • Jezzer

    I think Bioware's decline in quality can be directly traced to their acquisition by EA. The multiplayer component of ME3 was an EA mandate, and one of EA's spokespeople defended it in an interview by saying single-player games are becoming obsolete and that online multiplayer functionality should be a core component of every game. Because really, everybody loves bland, samey shooters, right?

  • googergieger

    To be fair nobody really had a problem with the multiplayer though(I just never played it myself). One could make an argument the story/dialogue/ending took a hit because time was wasted on the multiplayer but really how the hell don't you have an end game in mind for a trilogy you announced after the first game?! I'm not defending EA cause I hate them as much as the next guy. But I wish people would stop giving Bioware a free pass and putting all the blame on EA. Hudson and Walters still deserve more hate than anybody involved I reckon. Especially after the extended cut podcast.

  • Jezzer

    I wouldn't give a shit about the multiplayer if it were completely optional, but the only way to see the "best" endings is to have a decently high effective military strength going into the last mission. And the only way to bring up your military strength is to increase your readiness percentage by participating in multiplayer. And your readiness percentage declines a little bit every day you go without playing multiplayer, so you can't just get it to the level you need and leave it there. Making multiplayer a core feature of a traditionally story-based and single player game? Fuck you, EA.

  • googergieger

    Well I sold the game back within the week I got it, but majority of people that play it now said thanks to patches and the new extended cut they made it so you actually don't have to play multiplayer. Not to mention that is such a noncomplaint. Even if you did need to play multiplayer to see the "best" ending, that'd be the equivalent of complaining you'd have rather stepped on dog shit than horse shit. It's still shit. Again stop giving Bioware and Mass Effect 3 a free pass. Mass Effect 2 was great. Mass Effect 3 made it rather pointless but it was still great.

  • Jezzer

    No, it's an actual complaint. I know it is because it's a statement I made while complaining. We are talking about an entirely subjective experience here, so quit stating your opinions like they are established facts and telling people how they should feel about things.

  • googergieger

    See this is the thing, you don't need multiplayer for the "best" possible ending anymore. The one extra cut scene or other. You don't need multiplayer for that anymore. If you want to jump on the fact I pointed it out it was a stupid complaint even before the update that allowed you to play single player only to get high EMS, well grats on that. But again, you don't need to play multiplayer anymore. Mass Effect 2 was made under EA.Hudson, Walters, and their underlings came out right up until the release date promising what turned out to be blatant lies, and after the ending backlash proceeded to talk down and ignore the valid actual complaints people had. Which again I fail to see how one could blame EA on all that and give Bioware/Mass Effect a free pass on it. Then again some people think for themselves, and other people jump on bandwagons and anti-bandwagons without investigating beyond the talking points.

  • Jezzer

    And some people come across as a snotty, condescending, eye-rolling teenager with every fucking post. AT THE TIME OF RELEASE AND UNTIL VERY RECENTLY, multiplayer was required to see every ending. This is a big deal for someone who only wants to play the single player campaign. This is an even bigger deal for people who live out in the sticks and have no access to high-speed internet and can't play a multiplayer game, much less download an enormous patch to make multiplayer a moot point.

    Yes, those people exist. I know as a conservative (or libertarian, or Log Cabiner, or whatever it is that drives you to log on to a predominately liberal website and be as obnoxious as possible as often as possible) you're conditioned not to care about them, but there are a lot more of them out there than people think.

  • googergieger

    I think you think that makes sense. Suffice to say your original "point" was Bioware is and has been bad since EA acquired them. In order to prove this, let me point out EA made Bioware add multiplayer to Mass Effect 3. I pointed out there was no real problem with the multiplayer and that blaming EA is giving Bioware and Mass Effect a free pass by putting all the blame or even some of the blame on EA. You then said you wouldn't have a problem with it if you didn't need to play it in order to unlock the one extra cut scene. I pointed out you no longer need to and even so does that one extra cut scene matter that much? Especially in a game like Mass Effect 3 that had so many other problems?

    As far as sticks on slow internet go, people could always download a long patch while reading up and posting on Pajiba. Anywhoots, the eff does any of this have to do with conservatives, libertarians, or any such thing? As far as I know I am liberal more often than not. Then again maybe pointing out all of the above makes one whatever it is you say I am. Maybe I should hold off on voting until I'm sure.

  • Gregory Allen

    Underwhelming felt like an understatement for the ending.These games dominated my imagination for years. I no longer daydreamed about me and '90s-era Lori Petty in a romantic mountain retreat. I daydreamed about adventuring with Garrus and Tali, and then going back to Tuchanka for a drunken bro-fight with Wrex. I beat ME1 and ME2 multiple times and will probably play them even more in the future. Even though I loved the games, I knew they had to end (instead of the typical video game why of dragging things out until they become bland). These days, I mostly forget that the games existed until I hear that more DLC is coming.

    As much as I want to believe otherwise, I don't think anyone loved the endings. Maybe most hyper-positivity comes out of seeing the child-like braying of the most vocal of the disenfranchised. I can honestly understand it. People who had probably never read some kind of classic literature now knew about "good writing" and it got irritating to listen to, when in actuality most of them just wanted Shepard to live and have a happy ending. While their opinions on how it didn't deliver were usually, for lack of a better term, "stupid", their feelings of many endings being a poor conclusion weren't rendered completely invalid. The idea of introducing something completely new and interesting expanded the universe beyond just our conception of Organics and Synthetics that would have been fun in future games, but made me completely forget about the task at hand. Instead of the big reveal it could have been, it just ended up being a quick "story fix" delivered by a bad child voice actor with no real clear explanations on what the endings truly meant (and they didn't really matter in the end anyway, since the cutscenes were practically identical).

  • googergieger

    Oh and let us not forget the codex entries specifically say conventional victory IS possible. Hell Javik himself says we have a snowballs chance because of our diversity. The game itself or really whoever came up with the ending seems to think otherwise though. I wouldn't be surprised if after the ending Hudson and Walters made the writing team go back and throw in some dead horse beating dialogue of conventional victory not being possible. Despite the codex saying otherwise. Despite the previous two games being about conventional victory. Well to be fair Mass Effect 1 was the set up. Two though? The eff is that? An incredibly long and expensive dlc for Mass Effect 1?

  • googergieger

    Alright at this point you Mass Effect 3 "fans" just seem to be going through the battered wife syndrome(or are still in the denial stage in the stages of grief?). Endings are still bad. Complete? Well, I guess. In the same way any ending "solving" The Reaper(catalyst) "threat" would be complete.

    I'm still wondering what they tried to accomplish with the extended cut though. I mean it did very little to appease those angry/disappointing with the ending. The few left that were happy with the ending compromised mostly of the IT supporters. Extended cut puts a squash to that. It seems they want to fail. Either that or see how many times they can stick it in your ear before you do something about it. By which I mean Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 3, then the dickish responses following the justified backlash.

    Anyways, this

  • annoyingmouse

    I honestly believe we'll get some paid-for DLC from Bioware/EA come Fall/Winter that will include the Indoctrination Theory. Seeing Shepard gasp in England rubble at the end of the Destroy option, it's the only real option that makes sense after so many hours and so much build up. I think it was planned all along that there would be Paid DLC for all fans who wanted "a more satisfying ending."

  • lowercase_ryan

    Stay away from my fuckin percocets and do you have any fuckin percocets??

  • Erik N.

    The anger was always about how after hundreds of hours of choices that mattered, we were given three that didn't. Like the hilarious cupcake protest delivered to Bioware's offices; red, blue and green frosting...all the same flavor.

    Now that most of the forehead-smacking plotholes have been filled, my Shep's journey feels...satisfying and complete.

  • James

    I loved the lack of closure since it allowed me to create a much better ending than what Bioware provided.

    Especially the horrible heavy handed hamfisted approach to appease all the people who hated the ambiguity to how the squad mates got back on the Normandy. That is worse than anything in the originally released endings.

  • Erik N

    *Spoilers for 'The Grey'*

    Ambiguity is a tough beast to handle with endings. Done well, it can make a killer ending (no pun) like in the 'The Grey'. The story arc is that of Liam's suicidal character eventually deciding to live. Regardless if he wins against the alpha wolf or not, he has chosen to fight for his life. That's the character arc.

    I question that the ambiguity was so well handled in the original ending. Maybe the new content swings too far in the other direction. But I would suggest the plot holes overwhelmed any value of the ambiguity when my wife wants to know why I'm yelling at a computer game.

  • Fredo

    It provides closure which is what an ending should do. Not leave you with a sense of "Huh??"

    For me, this does raise questions as to Bioware's current model. They spent the first decade doing no wrong and now seem to do few things right -- between Dragon Age 2 and ME3, I got fears for Bioware.

  • poguemahone

    Good review. I agree with the assertion that, had the game been released with these endings, there would have been little-to-no controversy. I'm excited for the next game Bioware makes, so long as it isn't another damn MMORPG.

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