Review: Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut

Spoilers, probably best not to read if you haven’t played it.  For the record, I liked it.

I adore Mass Effect.  The universe BioWare built, the story, the characters.  Everything about it, even the parts that are ripped off from other sci-fi that seemingly has exhausted every trope imaginable.  But I’ll make no bones about it.  I HATED the original ending of Mass Effect 3.  It was shoddy, rushed, ill-thought-out, and in general a poor conclusion to an otherwise stunning and award-winning game series.  Frankly, I was shocked that BioWare had let it see the light of day in the condition it was in.  In my mind, the ending was so bad it poisoned any chance of a future for the Mass Effect franchise and retroactively affected the existing games to the point that I (and many other gamers) didn’t even want to replay the game.  I called it a ‘Franchise Killer‘.

I was close to uninstalling the game when news broke that BioWare had heard our outrage and intended to provide an Extended Cut to the ending that was supposed to make everything all right.  Needless to say, I was skeptical.  Especially, when their spokespeople announced that the ‘new’ ending wouldn’t actually change anything that happened.  That was kind of a major problem for me.  But I held out hope.  After all, I have a lot of N7 gear, hoodies, shirts, hats, etc… and I’d like to be able to wear them with some kind of geek cred without having to make excuses that yes, Mass Effect did indeed rule, except for the last five minutes of the third installment, which were so horridly bad it ruined everything.  I mean it’s almost as bad as finding out all the characters are in some non-denominational purgatory or discovering that characters that have known each other for years and grew old together, somehow missed the fact that one of them was a Cylon.  (Also, as a quick aside, StarChild tropes like the Catalyst, tend not to work out too well, writers should stay away from that unless they happen to be  Arthur C. Clarke.)

So the Extended Cut launched.  I downloaded it, fired up Mass Effect 3, and loaded my last saved game outside the Illusive Man’s base.  But then I sat there staring at the galaxy map display on the Normandy and I couldn’t play.  I couldn’t bring myself to experience that crushing disappointment again.  So I exited out and just let it sit.  I read mixed reviews about the ending, some folks loved it, others hated it because it didn’t change anything.  I still couldn’t bring myself to play it.

Last night, after rebuilding my galactic readiness rating to 100% (thanks to the lovely Datapad app on the iPad), I launched back into Commander Shepard’s boots and re-entered the universe of Mass Effect 3.  I started by attacking The Illusive Man’s base and lost myself immediately in how much fun this game is.  I’d forgotten.  Then came the dreaded assault on earth.  I went through the motions and did everything I did the first time.  Then came the assault on the beam.  And here there were a few new surprises that I won’t talk about here.  Some necessary story points  that helped plug up some of the larger plot holes from the original ending.  It was a nice touch.   Then I got to the controversial ending part where Shepard enters the beam and goes up to the Citadel.  Much of this was pretty much the same and I went through the encounters as I had the first time.

Then it was the moment of truth, the meeting with the smug little brat who called himself the Catalyst.  Most of what he had to say didn’t make any sense, just like it didn’t the first time.  Sure you could ask him more questions this time, but that didn’t really matter.  He still gave you the same three choices as in the original crappy ending.  I began to feel a sense of dread.  It looked like BioWare hadn’t changed a thing.  Two of the choices the kid gives you essentially made Shepard a villain in my mind.  The three choices you’re given are you can try and control the Reapers, you can integrate all of sythentic and organic life and thus end the purpose for the Reapers (which is patently nonsensical, but given the Catalyst is an alien created AI, maybe it makes some kind of logic to an alien mind), or you can destroy the Reapers which will result in the simultaneous destruction of all synthetic life.

Here is my problem with these choices.  Controlling the Reapers, well, that’s The Illusive Man’s idea.  He turns out to be a villain in the third game.  Symbiosis of all synthetic and organic life?  That was Saren’s plan.  He was the villain in the first game.  So pardon me for paying attention to your story BioWare, but these two choices seem to say that the villains from previous portions of the game were essentially right.  That doesn’t sit well with me for some big reasons.  First, they were the villains!  Second, when Shepard pointed out the flaws in their reasoning, they were so appalled with their near success that, if Shepard said the right things, he talked both of them into committing suicide.  So that seems rather silly that Shepard would then make the exact same decisions that the villains shot themselves in order to prevent!

Check this out.  This is a video of Shepard confronting Saren about his plan to join all organic and synthetic life.  HEAVY SPOILERS if you haven’t played Mass Effect 1.

And here’s the final encounter with The Illusive Man, where he realized that controlling the Reapers is foolish and that he’s hurt the human cause by trying to pursue that goal.  Yeah, HEAVY SPOILERS.

So yeah, then given the same choices, Shepard is going to do what the villains just killed themselves to prevent?  It doesn’t make any sense.  To use another analogy, it would be like having Batman defeat Ra’s Al Ghul in the first film in order to prevent him from destroying Gotham.  Then having Batman defeat the Joker in the second film and have him go on to defeat Bane in the third film, only to have him realize that Ra’s Al Ghul was right and then having Batman destroy Gotham (in order to save it)?  That’s how much sense the Catalyst’s choices make.  So anyway, I picked the only viable choice and chose to destroy the Reapers.  I reasoned that we could rebuild EDI and the Geth, but not if all the organics were dead.  So taking up my trusty pistol I let the conduit have it and braced myself for the same crappy ending I had experienced before.

But then something happened.  The Extended Cut kicked in and it was GOOD!  Yeah, things didn’t change all that much, but they changed enough that the galaxy had a future, things made sense.  A lot of plot holes were filled in.  It wasn’t great. It wasn’t fantastic.  It wasn’t the mind-bendingly incredible twist that the Indoctrination Theory would have provided.  But it was good enough.  It made me want to play some new DLC.  It made me want to replay the trilogy again from Mass Effect 1 on.  It lets me wear my N7 hoodie and shirt without having to make excuses for the franchise.  I can like the Mass Effect universe for its strengths and not have to acknowledge its failings.

To carry on that Batman analogy…

BioWare didn’t give us the ending we deserved, but they gave us the ending we needed.

The only thing I can’t figure out now, is why wasn’t that the original ending to begin with?

Anyway,  Thanks BioWare.  You did us a solid.  And you can count on me for the next one.  Keelah se’lai.

5 Dec 2012:

Additional reflections.

Well, it’s been a few months since I played the ending.  Originally, I wrote this article when I had just finished it.  I still stand by most of the stuff I wrote here.  But you know, I didn’t get any of the new DLC.  I never played multiplayer again.  I stopped playing altogether and recently, coming to the conclusion that I would never play it again, I uninstalled the game.  I wanted to uninstall the game out of rage and frustration with the original ending.  This wasn’t the case this time.  I just had no need to play.  The Story — Shepard’s Story — My Story is over.  As time has put some distance there, I just realized I had no further interest in the Mass Effect universe.  It’s too bad too, because I really enjoyed it.  But it’s like an old D&D module now, like “The Ghost Tower of Inverness”.  That was completely fun to play back in the day, but I don’t think I’ll ever play it ever again and if Wizards (or whoever is doing D&D now) suddenly put out a sequel, I’m not suddenly going to run to my closet and dust off all my old D&D stuff just to play it.  I’ll just look at it and go, “Huh, they put out a sequel to Ghost Tower of Inverness.  Man, I loved that module.” Then I’ll move on and play another game.

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