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Welp, It's finally here. The Extended Cut the fans have long waited for, and the ending to a trilogy more than five years in the making is finally here. Question is, does the Extended Cut give us the conclusion the Mass Effect series deserved? Since you're here reading this, I assume you want to hear my opinion. Well....
What It Did Right
Like the ending provided by the Extended Cut, I'll try to start off right, and then hit you smack in the face with sheer disappointment. In my last blog, I set high hopes for our first piece of single player DLC. We all met the Extended Cut with a mix of hope and trepidation; BioWare did screw us sure, but we desperately wanted a proper ending to a story we loved. Here's what the Extended Cut did right:
It made some bloody sense. If there's one thing the Extended Cut did right, it was clarification. I cannot even describe the relief I felt when I first saw the investigation options on the dialogue wheel during my conversation with the God Child. Simply being able to say "Can you run that by me one more time?" when I'm about to commit genocide makes the ending ten times better. The same can be said of Synthesis, thematic issues aside. With some of the nagging questions addressed, maybe now I can remember Joker as a hero instead of a coward who crashes his ship.
Dialogue and Details
It felt less rushed. The extra scenes definitely improved the overall experience, without detracting from the vanilla storyline. Even the scenes that didn't need as much improvement, such as the race to Harbinger's beam, were much more emotional. At the very least, I could have a final goodbye with my love interest. At first, I couldn't stand the thought of prolonging my talk with the Catalyst. Now however, I realise that more dialogue is exactly what we needed.
Another great thing the ending did was to clear up some of it's plot holes. By simply showing us a short scene of the Normandy taking off, along with the relays repaired, we were left at ease. At the very least, I can safely assume Garrus and my girl aren't going to get it on shortly before dying of starvation/malaria on an uncharted backwater planet. That, and we won't have to wonder if the entire galaxy was destroyed, or whether everybody starves to death in the end.
Of course, that doesn't detract from the fact that this redact is cracked (sorry). More dialogue may make the mistakes more manageable, but they still hold Mass Effect back.
It debunked the Indoctrination Theory. I'm not saying there ever was a good argument for it, but the very fact that you lose the war with the Reapers by resisting them shows that Shepard was never indoctrinated. Now please, let's just drop it.
If ever there was an example of laziness, it would be this. Seeing a quarian's face was something the fans wanted, and reasonably expected. Naturally, I was a little upset when my romance ended with this. However, I realised they were only teasing me in anticipation for the sequel. So patiently, I waited. When the romance scene came and went, however, the camera had already done a cut-away twice, with the romance scene being thrice. With the Extended Cut however....
Just Say No
It at least gave us the option to say no. One common complaint was that we were forced into three options, all of which destroy the mass relays. Of course, the Refusal ending wasn't perfect, but then none of the endings are. If there was a clear-cut "right" decision, what would be the point of even making one? A "none of the above option" fits in perfectly here, and it was well implemented, if a little underdone. Originally, we were promised an ending in which the Reapers won, despite our valiant efforts. With this ending, peace is made and the relays remain intact, but humanity and the other species of the current cycle are sacrificed to achieve that peace. This is an interesting comprimise that coincides well with the original plans set up by Drew. Most of all, I love that Liara's project (Glyph's message to the next cycle) was finally used. That conversation with Liara was one of the best moments in the trilogy, and I'm glad to see her plan come to fruition, even if it was just on YouTube.
Choice and Consequence
It showed us the effects of our actions. As I've said, I would be perfectly alright if a lot of this was shown through a slideshow, which they did. The slideshow itself was well done, and it gave us a sense of hope for the universe. The ending slideshow (narrated by Hackett, Shepard, EDI, or Liara in the Destroy, Control, Synthesis, and Refusal endings respectively) was welcome, as were the additional clips of the Reaper's defeat. I appreciated the little changes as well. I chose destroy, so instead of showing me an image of Liara for some odd reason, I was shown Anderson, Tali (my love interest) and EDI, who died in order to stop the Reapers. Even more so, I really loved the part of the slideshow when Hackett mentions those who lost their lives. Much to my surprise, the last still was of my favourite scientist salarian. I even shed a tear.
What It Didn't Do
Despite all the Extended Cut does to improve the ending, I believe it ultimately falls short of what the Mass Effect trilogy deserved. By the time the credits rolled, I was actually left a little disappointed there wasn't more. Sounds whiny sure, but this isn't DLC made out of the Milk of human kindness. In criticising the Extended Cut, am I looking a gift horse in the mouth? I don't think so. This add-on was meant to fix the mess that BioWare created.
As was expected, the Extended Cut ended up only addressing half of the issues with the ending. There are some major issues that could have more or less been easily rectified, much like the problems it did solve.
The Elephant in the Room
All the above improvements are welcome additions to the ending, but the Extended Cut beats around the bush. As I've said many times, the ending is broken. With the Extended cut we have an ending, but not one worthy of Mass Effect. The major issues with the ending remain, but that doesn't surprise anyone. In order to preserve BioWare's precious "artistic integrity" they have stated they won't be fundamentally changing the ending in any way. For once, I was hoping that BioWare was lying again. Sadly, BioWare stayed true to their word, and the Extended Cuts merely elaborates on the original muddled message they were trying to convey with the original product. It would seem that they didn't listen to MrBTongue.
The biggest glaring issue here is that the God Child is still introduced. Extra lines of dialogue that further explain it's creation and and purpose are certainly mitigating factors, but ultimately it isn't enough to forgive a very literal dues ex machina. For those of you who do not know, introducing anything new in the last ten minutes is a bad idea, which is to say nothing at all about a nigh omnipotent character that supersedes Shepard in importance. Instead of truly fixing the problem, BioWare has decided to go the easier route by simply patching it up, and making it as bearable as possible.
The expanded dialogue betwixt it and our protagonist flesh out the Catalyst as a powerful, but limited villain. It is clear in it's purpose, but it shows weakness in recognising Shepard's accomplishments. The Star Child almost seems defeated, saying it doesn't look forward to being replaced by Shepard, but would be forced to allow it. That's great, but something still feels off. Shep seems to have the upper hand here, but the Catalyst can, at any time, render the Crucible incapable of firing. With this kind of power over the fate of humanity, it seems odd that it would even allow Shepard any options at all. I suppose it's not as clear as it could be, but it's dramatically better than the original ending, thought that isn't saying much.
For any long-time fan of the Mass Effect franchise, the abandonment of the story's major themes in the ending are palpable. The final moments of Mass Effect 3 atop the Citadel felt disconnected, like a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit. The final options seem to betray the overall motifs that have pervaded the trilogy throughout. Of the many themes the trilogy has tackled, personally, I would say the most important are:
- Unity through diversity
- Perseverance and resolve in the face of overwhelming and insurmountable odds
- Alliances formed to fight a common enemy
- Ambition vs. righteousness
I'd like to elaborate a bit. Throughout the series, we've encountered a very familiar and relatable conflict: Racism. The Mass Effect universe is populated by an eclectic range of denizens, each with their own culture, and history. Despite their differences however, they have to come together in order to stop a common threat: The Reapers. The "Ambition vs. righteousness" theme is often presented as a split decision, a gamble. Take for example the rachni and krogan. Both are dangerous species with a history marked by violence. Dooming them to extinction would be the safer bet, because that prevents history from repeating itself. On the other hand, sparing them could provide you with a powerful asset later on, provided you can handle it. Like I said, it's a gamble.
The Illusive Man, a person who would do anything for the betterment of humanity, exemplifies this struggle. He is the very epitome of ambition. His ultimate goal in Mass Effect 2 is preserving the Collector Base so it can then be turned against the Reapers. In Mass Effect 3, he adamantly believes the Reapers must be controlled; the benefits they can provide to humanity outweighs the risk, he believes. This is opposed by Shepard and Anderson from the start of course, and unlike Mass Effect 2, you cannot align yourself with his ideals.
As to my first point, one might think Synthesis resounds this theme perfectly, but in actuality, it does not. I and others have pointed out this distinction but for those who do not know: Synthesis is not unity, but rather homogenisation. So much of the story was vested in showing that vast differences between these different people, and how those differences were important. Javik supports this theme as well, attributing the fall of the Prothean people to the homogenised nature of their empire.
Instead of helping synthetics and organics get along in spite of their differences, you simply bring change to the galaxy by force. Which, as it so happens, is kind of the Reapers' shtick.
So, what does all this talk about themes have to do with the ending to Mass Effect 3? Nothing really. That's the whole point.
Whilst I am glad the option to refuse the Catalyst's options was included, it is extremely underdone compared to the other endings. Indeed, I did expect an ending in which the Reapers win, but not before the races of the galaxy go out in a blaze of glory.
In the rejection ending however, all we got was an anticlimax. No final goodbyes, no moment to shine, nothing. The God Child simply tells you everything you've done is moot, leaving Shepard to stand on top of the Citadel. It then immediately cuts to the message left behind by Liara. Unlike the other endings, there is no slideshow, presumably because nothing you ever did really mattered. This ending could have been far more viable if it wasn't utterly underdone. Because seemingly so little effort went to the Rejection ending, it's little more than a glorified game over screen.
Overall, this was the biggest problem I had with the Extended Cut. The slideshows, as I've said, are a great way to easily explain the effects of the player's actions. Alone however, it will certainly fall short of providing the proper closure needed for a cinematic storytelling experience such as Mass Effect. I've done this segue before, so I'll keep it short. Dragon Age: Orings did implement a slideshow, but you did get a final bit of goodbye dialogue with the characters (provided you survived), so as to leave the game on a high note. Is it so wrong to walk away from a story feeling good?
Needless to say, I was more than a little upset to see the "Shepard breath" scene remain unchanged. Not only was the cliffhanger clip underdone and confusing, it was the very last we got to see of our story. When I said my goodbyes with Tali (but not Garrus, sadly), I pressed on in the mindset that I would either sacrifice myself, and Tali would mourn me, or I would survive and be reunited with her.
The extra dialogue with Tali gave the resolve I needed to press on, but it was all for naught. I am instead left with a sad scene showing Tali about to put my name amongst the other fallen heroes go gave their lives for Normandy. (Kudos if you get the reference) As much as I would love to be with Mordin, she is clearly hesitant about putting my plaque on the memorial wall, as if she somehow knew I was really alive. Nothing comes of that however. No house on Rannoch, no bottle of brandy with Doctor Chakwas, and no little blue babies. Despite the Extended Cut being intended to provide closure, it doesn't necessarily do that. It provides closure in regards to the galaxy, but not Shepard. This being Shepard's story and all, one would expect Shepard's fate to be elaborated upon somewhat. However, the EC does nothing to provide any sense of closure for Shepard, the character. In both the core experience and the Extended Cut, Shepard is either dead, or probably alive in a pile of rubble somewhere. We never truly learn what becomes of "The Shepard". Despite being the most important person in the history of the galaxy, I find it odd that their first name, gender, and fate went unrecorded.
All of this would be a great set-up for a sequel reunion...except there won't be one. Mass Effect 3 is (hopefully) the end of Shepard's story. Why then, would BioWare decide to leave on such a sour note? Tali and my crew is shown being really sad, and Shepard is shown really far away, presumably alive. This of course, applies to all Romance options, and in my case it was Tali.
Again however, the lack of content leaves more questions than answers. Who's to say that breath wasn't Shep's last? For all we know, it well could be.
What BioWare should have done instead, in the event Shepard survives, was a simple reunion scene. Remember the last scene on-board the Normandy in Mass Effect 2? If any squadmates died, you got a brief solemn moment of mourning, which was followed by a shot of the survivors, along with Joker, readying themselves for the coming tribulations. It was a great way to end the game because it hit more than one note, and accomplished what a sequel's resolution is meant to do: ready you for the next instalment. The last part of a trilogy then, should leave no doubt in your mind, and give you a sense of closure. My main issue here is that whilst we learn about the fate of the galaxy's civilisations, we don't hear as much about the individual characters themselves. The most we got was a possible picture of a few characters, and even then it's not much to infer on. What I wanted to see from the Extended Cut was full-length cutscenes. I wanted a personal goodbye with each of my squadmates and especially my LI. With the current ending, there's no definitive "goodbye" moment for these characters. Looking back, the ending was abrupt, and a short scene of Shepard taking a gasping breath isn't enough. This ending instead leaves something to be desired, and that's the sure mark of failure for any ending.
If there was any kind of reunion scene with Shepard's squad, I think the ending would have at least been somewhat satisfactory, instead of simply being "bad instead of worse". I went through a lot, for what? Again, we are met with an anticlimax. They did this with the terribly underdone romance scenes, and now they've done it with the entire ending. As soon as I finished the Extended Cut, I still had no desire to play, because I was completely bummed out. This could have been rectified with a simple 5-minute clip, but instead, we're left with an eternity of anticlimax. It's like the human heart: it's small and seemingly insignificant, but is vital to our survival. Because the ending could neither leave on a high note (be that note happy or sad) nor entice me to return to the universe, it simply failed.
Is It Enough?
I think we all knew from the start that the Extended Cut wouldn't fix the ending entirely. However, do these additional scenes make the endings salvageable? Personally, I think a simply reunion scene would have made that a definite yes, but as it stands...I don't know. At the moment, I have no desire to play Mass Effect, knowing I'll still end up in the same unhappy place.
What do you guys think? Is it too much, too little, too late to try again with BioWare?
Is That It?
I don't have much hope for anything else post-campaign, but it's not too late to save Mass Effect 3. Like I said earlier, a short scene would suffice; why not reward the fans? I think we would all like to see Liara's little blue babies, Tali's house on Rannoch, Jack getting laid, Garrus drinking beer on the beach, and Mordin running tests on seashells. Since we've yet to see even the first real single player DLC, is it too much to ask that we have a little closure first? I'm not going to be as enthusiastic about retaking Omega if I still end up in a pile or rubble, far away from Tali'Zorah. That's not how this love story was meant to end.
Just remember: forgive, but never forget. No amount of DLC can take back lying to your fan base. Trust is earned, not downloaded.