Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut: An End, Once And For All?
The immediate aftermath of the release of Mass Effect 3 was an absolute PR disaster for BioWare and EA. The original ending to Mass Effect 3 caused a massive sh*tstorm of unprecedented proportions among gamers. Many gamers put hundreds of hours into one Commander Shepard and some had thousands of hours and well over $200 invested in the series overall and were given an inconclusive ending that left gamers confused rather than feeling anything else. In order to save face, BioWare spent the next three months scrambling together an alternate ending, called Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, to fix the problems people had with the final twenty minutes of ME3.
Today, I examine the new scenes that BioWare has added to Mass Effect 3 in the Extended Cut to determine if they have solved the problems most had with the original ending.
SPOILER ALERT: In analyzing the updated endings from the Extended Cut DLC, the new content will be spoiled. In fact, the whole post is pretty much only spoilers and is written for people who have played Mass Effect 3.
What has been added and extended in Extended Cut?
The additions don’t really start until you’ve completed the final mission on Earth and blown up the Reaper guarding the Conduit. They’ve quasi-fixed the plot hole regarding getting your squadmates back onto the Normandy but opened up a new one with their solution. After you’re shot with Harbinger’s death ray, the screen goes black until Major Coats finishes his spiel about everyone being shot by Harbinger and orders a retreat which might eliminate the Major Coats is blind plot hole depending on how much weight you put on his original monologue playing through Shepard regaining consciousness. The problem of how Admiral Hackett knows you’re on the Citadel is solved by the Admiral getting “reports” that someone made it up to the Citadel. So I guess Coats did notice that not everyone was killed by Harbinger.
When you get up to the Catalyst floor on the Citadel, you have new dialogue with the Star Child (God Child, Guardian AI, whatever you want to call it) that explains more of the back story of the Reapers and their relationship with the Catalyst. The Star Child also has more detailed descriptions of the consequences of each of your choices. In other words, the conversation with the Star Child is more like the rest of the game’s conversations rather than it talking to you and Shepard going “mmm hmm.”
As for the endings themselves, there’s a short scene where Hackett orders everyone to fall back before the Crucible fires to explain why the Normandy was so far from the battle in the original ending. BioWare also answered the “Joker turns coward in the final two minutes of the game” criticism by making Joker reluctant to bail on Shepard and showing the Normandy as the last ship to leave the battle. On Earth, a scene is added with a pair of Alliance marines fighting husks. They are vaporized in the destroy ending and run away in the control and synthesis endings. It doesn’t add much but I suppose that would qualify as extending the ending. You also get to see two short scenes of celebrations by alien soldiers on their homeworlds (Tuchanka for all three choices, Thessia for Destroy and Control and Palaven for Synthesis only). The crash scene itself has been changed so Joker doesn’t look to be running from the shockwave but flying along only to be caught by the Crucible wave and crash unexpectedly. The crash plays out roughly the same way as the original ending’s scene if you get a low EMS ending. Best of all, this all happens to an updated soundtrack composed by Sam Hulick which was my highlight of Extended Cut.
After the crash is when the real extension of the Extended Cut happens. For each of your three choices, you get a different epilogue in which a character gives a monologue about what has happened or is happening in the wake of defeat of the Reapers. The monologue is played over a slideshow showing the galaxy being rebuilt and where your former squadmates (the ME1 and ME2 ones who aren’t on the Normandy this time) are and what they’re up to. If you didn’t destroy the Reapers, there is a short scene of them helping the rebuilding effort. Your crew has a short scene in front of the Normandy memorial wall where they put Shepard’s name on the wall before a repaired Normandy flies away (or is still getting repaired in the low EMS endings). And, yes, if you choose destroy and have a high enough EMS, Shepard lives.
First, here’s the new Control Good ending:
Rather than stretch the column out with videos, here’s a link to the Control Bad ending.
And here’s the new Synthesis ending:
The new endings are definitely better. We aren’t left hanging with as many plot holes as before and the ones we do have aren’t as narrative-breaking as before. Some of the endings are slightly “happier” (if that’s really the right word) and some questions about the rest of Shepard’s friends, your friends, are answered. However, the new endings aren’t perfect. I’ll get to that in a short while.
But wait! There’s more!
It wasn’t enough for BioWare to simply update and extend the scenes for the original three ending choices from ME3. They added one more ending that is referred to as the “Refusal” ending. I’ve read that there are three ways to trigger the new ending. There is a dialogue option in which you reject the three options presented by the catalyst and Shepard says that he’ll fight the Reapers on his own terms. I’ve read that you will trigger the ending if you take too long to make your choice after talking to the Star Child. The final way to trigger the ending is to shoot the Star Child, like I did to unintentionally choose this option.
In all instances, the Star Child bellows “so be it” in a very Reaper-sounding voice before reverting to the combination of a kid, Fem Shep and Bro Shep’s voices to declare that “the cycle continues” as he storms off. The Crucible shuts down, the screen fades to black as Shepard slumps his shoulders dejectedly and we come back to see Liara’s version of a beacon which contains a record of what happened and plans to defeat the Reapers. After the credits, Buzz Aldrin is gone and replaced by an Asari-looking woman who talks about stories of The Shepard that were found in the archives.
There are a couple of ways of thinking about the Refusal ending. It does confirm the fact that BioWare has been reading the forums and watching YouTube. When I first triggered the ending with a bullet to the Star Child’s face, I was immediately reminded of the college professor who dissected the endings, explained how they made no sense in the thematic context of the game and defiantly proclaimed said that he would empty his unlimited ammo into the Star Child if the same final options returned in EC. The option to refuse action reminded me of a line in Angry Joe’s look at the original ending in which Joe says he wanted his Shepard to reject the Star Child’s options and let his forces fight the Reapers, only making a decision if they’ll be defeated. (Joe also wanted to shoot the Star Child. That says something about the ending when so many people want to pull the trigger and blow the little bastard away.)
Despite BioWare giving us an option where we lose or the cycle continues, the result of choosing it does feel like BioWare mercilessly trolling gamers in a petty fashion. It screams of Casey Hudson saying, “You don’t like the ending choices I’ve given you? Well, f*ck you! Either pick red, green or blue like I wrote the first time or everyone dies.” Of course, if the editing and review process had been followed the first time, maybe people wouldn’t have needed a Refusal ending as a result of the original three choices presented to us being thematically broken. The irony is that everyone who wanted closure for their version of the galaxy, their crewmates and Shepard would have gotten that closure from the Refusal ending.
Before I played the game, I assumed that everyone hated the ending because the cycle would continue regardless of what the player did. BioWare and EA would have been able to have a poignant ending of the Reapers being impossible to defeat, even with a superweapon and the collective armed forces of the galaxy, while still allowing the developer and publisher to cash in with Mass Effect 4 as a new cycle attempted to stop the Reapers. Sure, people would have been mad but it would have been a compelling artistic statement about the futility of fighting against the inevitable. Even though the whole trilogy was about Shepard fighting against forces far greater than his, it still would have been a thematically appropriate tragic ending to see the galaxy fall at the final confrontation.
So that’s it. Problem solved, right?
Not quite. BioWare has hit some of the big points that people complained about from the original ending. The issues with Joker, the Normandy and the survival of your squad are solved. That’s about all that BioWare did in terms of “clarifying” the ending. Most of the focus in Extended Cut was on providing closure rather than clarity.
There are still some plot holes. Despite the fact that BioWare solved the issue with how your squadmates get onto the Normandy from Earth, they managed to open a second one up. Joker is able to instantly break away from the orbital battle to land in front of Harbinger to pick up your squad. I don’t know much about the Reaper thought process but if the most advanced ship in the Alliance Navy was flying toward me, I’d probably try to shoot it down. Instead, Harbinger holds fire from when the Normandy swoops in for pick up to when it leaves. Of course, the whole reason why the Normandy has a shuttle is because it’s too big to land on a planet. Somehow, it can land on Earth to rescue people. It’s a minor gripe but why is Earth the only planet the Normandy SR-2 can land on?
Almost all of the questions people had about the Citadel scenes remain. The keepers are still typing into thin air. The creepy Kaiden and Ashley bodies are still there. Anderson some how beats you to the control room without having a visible path to the control room. The Illusive Man materializes in the control room out of nowhere and still has mysterious powers over you and Anderson. Speaking of which, you still have that inexplicable wound in your left abdomen where you shot Anderson.
The Star Child is still there and still looks like the kid from Earth who terrorizes Shepard in his nightmares. The kid’s voice is also a combination of a child as well as Jennifer Hale and Mark Meer. As mentioned above, at least Extended Cut doesn’t feature a Star Child monologue with no dialogue wheel interjection.
The crash still doesn’t work. While I mentioned that it doesn’t look like Joker is running from the shockwave specifically, the shockwave catches the Normandy and causes it to crash. Now, the damage happens off-screen as the shockwave catches the Normandy off-screen to the right as evidenced by a flash so small that you might not realize the Normandy was about to crash unless you played the original ending. The Normandy still appears to be only ship in the galaxy that actually crashes when hit by the Crucible shockwave. In the Destroy endings, other ships are wounded but not to the extent that the Normandy was. As noted above, low EMS endings feature the same crash scene as the original ending but carefully edited around the parts where Joker looks in the non-existent rear window. When your crewmates step off the ship, Joker is still fine and not snapped clean in two like you’d expect he would with brittle bone disease (keep in mind that he claimed to have broken his ribs in the ME2 crash landing). Speaking of fine, if the crewmate who was injured on Earth steps off the Normandy, he’s absolutely fine despite needing to be dragged off Earth about 20 minutes earlier.
Your war assets still don’t matter. You never see Geth or Quarian ships in the actual space battle, just on the approach. In fact, Geth and Quarians don’t make appearances in the cut scenes during the Earth battle. You never actually interact with any of the War Assets. It would have been nice to see a Krogan squad bail you out of a big wave or a team of Geth and/or Quarian troops face down Reaper forces or a Banshee face down a squad of Asari commandos. The decisions you made will change which slides you will and won’t see in the epilogue if you consider that of importance but that’s the rare time that the impact of your decisions are shown.
It was pointed out by many that BioWare and their non-corporeal proxy, the Star Child, presented the ending options with a definite preference. It seemed as though the Synthesis option was the desired outcome for the writers while all efforts are made to dissuade you from selecting Destroy. The extended endings also favour that preferred hierarchy of choice. For those who chose Control, Shepard effectively died but speaks about how he watches over and protects the galaxy and his friends as the new Catalyst (the new controller of the Reapers). The Synthesis ending features EDI waxing poetic about the benefits of the newly organic-synthetic hybrid people that Shepard created and demonstrating how she has become more self-actualized and more human than she was before. In both instances, these are bittersweet endings that almost border on happy endings. The Destroy ending is so wonderful that I’m giving it its own section.
That being said, I felt synthesis was an abomination the first time I was presented the choice by the Star Child and had that feeling confirmed by the original ending scene. That original ending video was positively tame compared to the updated synthesis ending. Seeing everyone in the galaxy, from friends and allies to the soldiers and citizens of the galaxy, with glowing green eyes and glowing green circuitry running along their skin was down right unnerving. Watching it on YouTube made me glad that I was never tempted to jump in the green Catalyst beam of death.
Of course, the problem with synthesis is that it goes against the theme of unity presented in this game. Mass Effect showed races from across the galaxy co-existing and working together. The game celebrated the differences between species but that preferred Synthesis ending homogenizes everyone, organic and synthetic. It struck me that the people of the galaxy weren’t individuals but something dangerously close to Star Trek’s the Borg, a homogeneous collective working together, when Mass Effect wanted something a little closer to the Federation, a collection of races from across the galaxy working towards the greater good.
If there is one complaint that I think no one could argue about in Extended Cut, it’s that the slideshow is very repetitive. Yes, there are some unique slides based on whether you save the Geth, Quarians or both and whether or not you cured the genophage. The Jacob and Miranda slides are different based on the selected ending. If your love interest isn’t on the Normandy, he/she gets a unique slide you wouldn’t otherwise get as well as a quick video snippet before the Crucible fires. (See all of the crewmate slideshow clips here.) The slideshow pictures are the only thing that reflect the choices you made. Basically, if you didn’t like the original endings, you won’t like this one. It’s better that the original ending but I wouldn’t call it “closure.” It’s more like “here’s a vague idea of what happened in an unspecified order over an indeterminate period of time as a result of your decisions.”
The slideshow was an okay idea in concept but didn’t translate to reality as well as BioWare thought it might. The problem is that it’s a hasty solution to a problem that they should have foreseen before going gold on the original ending. In his interview about the EC, Casey Hudson implies that fans should have been able to imagine how the galaxy plays out after your final choice. When we failed to imagine things the way BioWare wanted us to (in that everyone lives happily ever after regardless of your choice), we got the Extended Cut ending to make sure we had little to no wiggle room in interpreting the ending hence a slideshow where most people are alive.
BioWare really hates the Destroy option
For 120 or so hours of the Mass Effect trilogy, Shepard and his crew endeavor to stop and/or defeat the Reapers. The goal of the trilogy is repeatedly summed up as stop the Reapers to save all life in the galaxy. So why, at the climax of the final game of the trilogy, are we presented with two other options that had previously been championed by villains? Not to sound like an Indoctrination Theorist but The Illusive Man wanted to control the Reapers while Saren sought perfection through the combination of man and machine (or Synthesis). The destruction of the Reapers is the goal of Shepard and his allies from the start of his mission in Mass Effect 1.
So why are we presented with or even allowed to consider the Synthesis and Control options at the end of the game? Even with the Indoctrination Theory effectively killed by the extended endings, the possibility that we could choose the preferred option of the Reapers and those they had indoctrinated doesn’t make sense. Shepard rallied armies, destroyed Reapers, toppled Cerberus and charged to the Citadel with one goal in mind: To stop the Reapers. Yes, there were multiple ways to stop the Reapers once we reached the Catalyst but until that point stopping the Reapers meant their destruction. Why should Shepard consider a previously unknown alternative presented and have all of two minutes to consider it before choosing the fate of the galaxy?
The only plausible explanation for why BioWare uses the Star Child’s explanations and the “happier” endings to promote the Control and Synthesis endings is to convince you to choose those options. The original endings didn’t do much to convince you to choose anything but Destroy. After all, in each of the original endings, the results were Shepard dies, Normandy crashes and Mass Relays explode. There wasn’t much incentive to choose one ending over the other. Considering that Destroy’s epilogue takes on a militaristic tone in Hackett’s monologue while the Control and Synthesis endings edge toward the sweet side of bittersweet. In other words, if you want your happy ending, you won’t be choosing Destroy unless one of your criteria for a happy ending is being alive.
It turns out that BioWare loves the Destroy ending so much that everyone lies to us about it. Originally, EDI getting off the Normandy after the crash in the Destroy ending wasn’t a glitch. Since Jessica Merizan, then working as a PR agent for BioWare, deleted the original tweet about EDI getting off the Normandy, it’s safe to assume that BioWare’s new official position is that it was a glitch. Despite the fact that the Star Child says that all destroyed technology can be easily repaired, the memorial wall scene shows EDI’s name on the wall and the geth are nowhere to be found in the epilogue slideshow. So either the Catalyst is a liar or BioWare really wants to make you feel bad for choosing destroy.
As for that epilogue slideshow, the order of the ending scenes in the Destroy epilogue doesn’t make much sense. While I can forgive the fact that the Normandy memorial scene is post-Hackett monologue, it doesn’t make sense that we get the Normandy memorial scene where they think Shepard is still dead. (Though some interpret that scene differently than I do.) If you pick Destroy and have a high EMS, Shepard lives. You’d think that someone would have found Shepard in the rubble while rebuilding London or the Citadel or wherever Shepard landed and mentioned that fact to someone. Even if it was just a couple of slides, it would have been a nice payoff (dare I say closure) for Shepard to be reunited with his crew and love interest in a final slide or scene rather than end on that breath scene.
Was it so hard for BioWare to do this the first time?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think many companies would be willing to release an updated ending which serves as a de facto admission of screwing up the ending the first time. While we may never get the official story as to who was properly at fault for the original ending, be it Casey Hudson and Mac Walters going it alone on their own prerogative (as was a story from a forum post by writer Patrick Weekes that was subsequently claimed to be a hack by Weekes and BioWare) or EA hustling BioWare to get the game finished too quickly which forced a circumvention of the review process, we do a have a new ending.
The thing is, though, if BioWare was given the time and money by EA (or put the ending through a functioning editing/review process) to produce the ending they gave us last week upon release of the game, we probably wouldn’t need the Extended Cut. People would have been happy with the ending because they got closure to some extent and some fallout shown from the decisions you made during the game. If a rushed timeline from EA caused the original ending issues, there wasn’t much that BioWare could do and the real villain was EA (though a current BioWare employee could never say such for fear of EA’s wrath). If Hudson and Walters circumvented the usual review process for the sake of doing it themselves without any pressure from ownership, BioWare shot itself in the foot for no good reason.
What happens now?
When I originally wrote this column, it was before Mass Effect 4 was officially announced as Mass Effect: Andromeda and revealed to be isolated from Shepard’s decisions. Originally, I wondered how BioWare could make a Mass Effect 4 with the ME3 endings being so different from each other. It would have made continuing from the conclusion of the original trilogy nearly impossible unless an event occurred to effectively reset all four endings to the same place so the game had one central narrative.
The question now becomes where does BioWare go after Andromeda. They clearly realized that carrying on directly from Mass Effect 3 would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible before considering that console players would be out of luck in using old saves. The original trilogy is so loved that some continuation in the Milky Way galaxy would be an inevitability if BioWare could figure out a way to integrate your choices into a new game. After all, Mass Effect was built on your decisions creating a unique universe and one would hope that they let that continue from your original story.
Much like the case after Mass Effect 3, we don’t know what BioWare’s plans are after Andromeda. If ME:A is commercially and critically successful, there will be a fifth Mass Effect game. I’d imagine there will be one unless Andromeda generates a massive loss for EA. One almost expects BioWare to make an Andromeda sequel rather than going back to the Milky Way just because it would be easier. Granted, if they create an interesting enough galaxy, people will want to go back for more adventures in Andromeda.
But is more Mass Effect a good idea? Is Andromeda a good idea? It almost seems as if this is purely a commercially driven idea. ME:A feels like one last attempt by EA to cash-in on Mass Effect. BioWare told the story that it wanted to in the original Mass Effect trilogy and now they’re onto something completely different. Sure, this new game can feel mechanically similar to Mass Effect but will it retain the same spirit without feeling like a carbon copy of Shepard’s story? I hope that it does but I can’t help but worry that it will be missing a little of that magic of the original trilogy as you explored a galaxy that was new to you. Sure, Andromeda sounds just like that on paper but Mass Effect was very much like Star Wars in that this was a galaxy steeped in history. Andromeda isn’t so discovery might be a little on the nose for a Mass Effect game.
Does releasing the Extended Cut mean BioWare wins the battle with their consumers?
In the debate over the original ME3 ending, you could divide people into two camps. There were people who didn’t like the original ending (regardless of whether their reasons included plot holes or they just wanted a happy ending) and people who thought those who didn’t like the ending were whiners. That might be oversimplifying things but those are really the two camps you’ll find in the comments of any blog post or YouTube video about ME3. Hell, that’s pretty much the two camps you can divide the gaming media into to this day.
Now that BioWare has released the Extended Cut, has BioWare effectively put up a kinetic barrier to any further criticism of the ending? The folks at EA and BioWare could certainly say that Extended Cut is proof that they listened to the fans. If fans complain further, they’ll pull out the new video games industry standard lines of “you can’t satisfy gamers” and “you can’t make everyone happy.” The media will back them up by calling fans “whiners.”
The problem is that people who haven’t spent $200 on the games and DLC and over 100 hours per playthrough don’t have the same emotional investment in the characters and the story. If you don’t care about the game or characters, it’s an uninformed position to take to immediately dismiss people who don’t like the ending as whiners. Nobody can expect perfection from a video game but I don’t think the issues I’ve mentioned in this column are not difficult to notice and should have been fixed if adequate care was taken in writing and editing EC. Not cramming code for the next DLC into EC would have given BioWare more room to expand on the above noted issues. Mind you, those problems shouldn’t have even existed in the first place. It’s just too bad that anybody who still finds fault with the ending will be labelled a whiner.