We’re one week removed from the release of the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC. People have had their opportunity to rant or rave about the new endings and put things into perspective. Even I needed to take a couple of days to unwind after powering through the final three hours of the game as I tried to reconcile what I saw and what I expected with what needed to be done and what BioWare could do.
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 analysing the updated endings from the Extended Cut DLC, the new content will be spoiled. In fact, the whole post is pretty much only spoilers.
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 Coats is blind plot hole depending on how much weight you put on that extra bit of black screen (I originally wrote this as eliminating the plot hole). The problem of how Hackett knows you’re on the Citadel is solved by the Admiral getting “reports” that someone made it up to the Citadel.
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 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 TSC 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 making the Normandy the last ship to leave. On Earth, a scene is added with a pair of Alliance marines fighting husks. They disappear 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 tagging along 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 memorial wall where they put Shepard’s ending 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 Synthesis ending:
With the summary out of the way, the question is if the Extended Cut is worth the wait. It does fill in some of the biggest plot holes and complaints about the original endings. We find out how our squadmates end up on the Normandy despite being with Shepard on the run down the hill. The plot hole about the Normandy’s run from Earth is taken care of and BioWare even manages to redeem Joker by having him be the last to leave the battle (though he likely caused the Normandy crash in doing so). We got the added dialogue in the Catalyst scene that serves as additional context for our final decision.
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” 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 add to 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 two 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. The other way to trigger the ending is to shoot the Star Child, like I did to unintentionally choose this option (I’ve really grown that fond of that incorporeal lying piece of shit).
In all three 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 in declaring that “the cycle continues” as he storms off. The Crucible shuts down, the screen fades to black as Shepard slumps his shoulders dejectedly and come back we 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, showing how they made no sense in the thematic context of the game, who 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 the Angry Joe Show’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 fact that we have to choose 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, fuck 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 that the Star Child presented us being thematically broken. The irony is that everyone who wanted closure for their version of the galaxy, their crewmates and, for those who got the Destroy Perfect ending, their Shepard would have gotten that closure from the Refusal ending. But I’ll have more on closure in a minute.
When I first read that everyone hated the ending, I assumed that 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 companies to cash in with Mass Effect 4 onward as a new cycle attempted to stop the Reapers. Who would have thought that would be the ending that the fans were (indirectly) asking for?
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, 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 pretty much land on Earth (twice, if you include the prologue) 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 an apparent 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, this time is not an automatic conversation 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 small flash so you almost wouldn’t 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 crashes when hit by the Crucible shockwave. 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 mean shit. 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 while pinned down by Ravagers or a half-dozen Brutes taken out by a team of Geth and Quarian troops or a Banshee face down a squad of Asari commandos. At least the decisions you make will change which slides you will and won’t see in the epilogue.
It was pointed out by many that BioWare and the Star Child presented the 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, 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.
And if there was one complaint I think you could legitimately make about extra content 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 Indoctrination Theory Redux
For all those dissatisfied with the original endings and choices presented, the Indoctrination Theory was our last and best hope. The idea that all this was a dream forced upon Shepard by the Reapers in order to indoctrinate him meant that there was still hope for a better ending. Without hope, we might as well be machines. When both your original and new endings were written by corporate drones, however…
The question is can the Indoctrination Theory still exist in this clarified 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 too (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.
As for the Theory itself, Julian Kluk, the man behind the feature-length Indoctrination Theory documentaries, says that all hope is not lost for IT. I can see where he’s coming from. Some of the original IT evidence still exists and backs up the theory like Anderson and the Illusive Man’s appearances on the Citadel, attempts to control/synthesize with the Reapers being Reaper indoctrination ploys, the dream sequence fades, Shepard’s mysterious abdomen wound, indoctrinated eyes and many more. The Destroy ending is also the only one that allows Shepard to live as was part of the evidence for the Indoctrination Theory.
Without something official from BioWare, the Indoctrination Theory can’t be declared canon. We can imagine that the theory is correct but it’s not so much a theory as a hypothesis without some sort of indication that Shepard wakes up from his Indoctrination attempt induced hallucination. The new endings which BioWare gave us to add all the clarity and closure that you could want are supposed to be the definitive endings. If that’s the case, we have been prevented from using our imagination and filling in any blanks we have in the ending. Sorry, Indoctrination Theorists. I want us to win this battle but I think if we tell BioWare that the evidence is still there, they’ll growl “So be it. The Cycle continues.” as they storm away from us.
On the upside, the unquestioned master of the Indoctrination Theory Julian Kluk says that Indoctrination Theory: A Documentary Part 3 based on Extended Cut will be released, though we’re several weeks from production. (Scroll down a bit in that last link to the linked comment below the description.) He has found four new pieces of evidence from EC to back up the theory. Well, we know the Child adopting a Reaper-esque voice will be one piece. If you’re interested, Kluk briefly goes over some of the new evidence in a brief, informal analysis video.
BioWare really hates the Destroy option
For 120 or so hours of the Mass Effect trilogy, Shepard and his crew endeavour 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.
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 former Reaper allies 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 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. I suppose that it’s not surprising that the kid is still a lying little bastard.
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 or EA hustling BioWare into getting it done fast 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?
I don’t mean in terms of multiplayer or single-player DLC. I mean in terms of the future of the Mass Effect franchise. BioWare had indicated that they want to continue the story of Mass Effect galaxy beyond these three games telling the story of Commander Shepard. That would result in a massive logistical issue for BioWare in terms of development. With four endings and thousands of choices (some bigger than others) leading to those endings, there will be hundreds of very different permutations of the galaxy.
With the Mass Effect series being about the player’s choices affecting the universe in which he/she plays, I wonder if we’ve seen the end of Mass Effect. It just doesn’t seem feasible to set Mass Effect 4 close to the events of ME3 where the Reapers are destroyed or protecting the galaxy or wiping out everyone in Shepard’s cycle. BioWare has selected specific choices for official canon for their novels and comics. However, those decisions are usually relatively minor in the grand scheme of the galaxy like whether Udina or Anderson is the human councillor on the Citadel. They’ve never made a specific call about something as massive as the final decision of ME3. It’s not a minor decision that BioWare would be making as every game, novel and comic set after the Reaper War would play out differently depending on the selected ending.
The reason why official canon is so important is as a result of the fact that we probably won’t see a Mass Effect 4 for at least another couple of years. With the next generation of PlayStation and XBox coming out as soon as next fall, it would make sense for ME4 to be developed on the next console generation. One of the complaints with ME3 was that people who bought a new console could only access their saved games for import on the console the save was originally created on (ME2 saves transferred to the new console didn’t work). So if ME4 is on a new console, only PC players would be able to import the results of a previously saved game and it wouldn’t make sense to create a game where past decisions would benefit players on only one console. Therefore, BioWare has to give us as close to a fresh start as possible with ME4. If the galaxy was screwed and the cycle continued no matter what you chose, this would be pretty easy. However, the four very different endings could force BioWare into four very different experiences for gamers in ME4 (if we ever get ME4).
Regardless of whether you preferred the original endings or the new endings, were happy paying $10 for the From Ashes DLC or not, will be happy paying for the upcoming Leviathan DLC or any one of the other of the dozens of points of contention about ME3, we can all agree on one thing: The only thing that will bring us all closure on Mass Effect 3 is moving on to a new game. BioWare, gamers and the media can get closure on ME3 with the announcement of ME4. With the focus taken off new DLCs and new endings for Mass Effect 3, we can move on to something else and leave the lessons learned here for developers to remember in the future. Most of us can probably only accept that the story of Shepard and friends is done when we accept that BioWare has finished telling the story.
By the way, BioWare, before you get started on Mass Effect 4 or a Garrus Effect spin-off (please call it “Garrus Effect” or something with Garrus’ name in the title) or whatever you’re planning next for the franchise (a First Contact War game would be a nice way to bide some time before ME4 by filling in the game’s back story), I have one recommendation. There’s a writer out there by the name of Drew Karpyshyn. You guys might have heard of him. He wrote SW:KOTOR, ME1 and ME2 before leaving the company after writing SW: The Old Republic and being pulled off ME3. There’s no other writer in the world who is more qualified to write a Mass Effect game that will be universally loved. Taking this one step back to pick up Karpyshyn will definitely let Mass Effect move two steps forward.
Does releasing the Extended Cut mean BioWare wins the battle with their consumers?
In the ongoing 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 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 about ME3. Hell, that’s pretty much the two camps you can divide the gaming media into as well.
Now that BioWare has released the Extended Cut, has BioWare effectively put up a kinetic barrier to any further criticism of the ending? It would seem as though Casey Hudson, Mac Walter and the rest of the BioWare brigade could say that EC 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 aren’t excessively 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.