So today Bioware released the Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3, and I have to say…I’m impressed. Given the horrific mess that were the original endings, Bioware has done an excellent job making these Extended Cut endings both thematically consistent and emotionally satisfying. In a previous post I said I thought this Extended Cut would be like trying to put a new coat of paint on the smoldering ruins of a car, but Bioware has instead performed a magic trick; using smoke and mirrors to make the endings something that can be enjoyed by drawing our attention away from the flaws. Those smoke and mirrors are some excellent writing and a firm grasp of storytelling basics, something I thought Bioware had lost given the absolutely broken original endings. Whoever was responsible for the catastrophe of Mass Effect 3’s original ending clearly had nothing to do with the Extended Cut DLC.
Two of the biggest issues I had with the original endings was the lack of resolution and the core themes of the game being abandoned for pure nihilism, and Bioware has managed to fix both of these. And 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
3. Lack of Resolution – FIXED!
Yes, I’m very happy to report that the new endings do give the audience a feeling of accomplishment and resolution. You no longer get a stupid 15 second clip of your team crashing on a planet and fading to black to spare you the sight of your friends slowly cannibalizing each other. Instead you get a rather touching moment in which your crew hangs your name (Commander Shepard) on the memorial plaque onboard the Normandy, right alongside all the others who fought and died alongside you, including Anderson. This is an important moment because it shows us the characters we’ve all grown to love sharing a moment to mourn the death of their friends, and for us, we can mourn with them because this represents the end of our journey together. Their story is over, and our time with them is done. That was the moment we needed, the moment we were all denied in the original endings.
Equally important is that we get some closure on the universe we’ve lived in for five years. Each concluding video gives a great narration by one of three characters, depending on which ending you pick, who give their unique view on the situation. Not only do these narrations give us some closure on what happens in the Mass Effect universe after the defeat of the Reapers, but also expand on what is happening in the endings themselves, helping to solve the next huge issue on my original list.
2. Abandoning of Established Themes and Characters – Fixed!
This was the biggest issue for me. All three of the original endings were so thematically different from the entire series that they felt like the endings to a totally different game. Now, however, thanks to the expanded endings reveal what the hell is going on in these endings.
Of all three endings, Control was the one that really confused me. Yes, the Reapers flew off after Shepard took control but what the hell happens after that? It didn’t make any sense to me because what was happening wasn’t really explained aside from “yeah, you’ll control the reapers, just trust me.” Do the Reapers just fly off back into Dark Space? Do a little song and dance on Mars? What?
However, now, I think the Extended Cut Control ending is my favorite ending to the game:
Narrated by Shepard, or rather the collective consciousness born of Shepard’s personality merging with the Reapers, he explains what’s happening and why. The great thing about his narration is that, it not only gives us closure as to Shepard’s fate, but makes the control ending fit thematically with the rest of the series. All of the original endings featured Shepard dying for no real apparent reason. It was sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. It didn’t fit because Shepard, while always willing to sacrifice, didn’t simply do so just for the heck of it. In this video though, we see what his sacrifice allowed for:
I will rebuild what the many have lost. I will create a future with limitless possibilities. I will protect and sustain. I will act as guardian for many.
So basically its Shepard doing what he was always doing, only this time his personality is superimposed on the Reapers, turning them into a fleet of invulnerable Shepards. I can live with that.
Similarly, the other big theme that was abandoned by the original endings was the Strength through Diversity theme. This was why I had such a huge issue with the Synthesis ending, because it seemed like the solution in this case was basically “make everyone the same so they don’t fight!” which is a horrible idea. However, the new Synthesis ending suggests that this merging doesn’t make everyone the same so much as it grants everyone a new perspective. With both organic and synthetic beings woven together, they each gain an understanding of the other’s view point. That’s something I can respect, and it could be argued that it’s perhaps the best ending. I still have an issue with the idea of forcing such a radical change on a galaxy of billions without their consent, but the ending doesn’t have that same undertone of racial hygiene as the original ending, so that alone makes this whole DLC worthwhile.
Strength through Diversity is a theme further reinforced by the new cutscenes, where we actually get to see Krogan, Turian and Asari celebrating as the Reapers fall silent across the galaxy. Finally we get to see something other than just humans triumphing in this conflict. The new Destroy Ending features Admiral Hackett saying that the victory wasn’t won by a single species or on a single world, but through the collective strength of all of them. Finally, good to see everyone else getting some credit.
1. Introduction of New Elements and Characters – Not Fixed
The bottom line, however, is that at the end of the day this still isn’t the ending that Mass Effect deserved. It’s infinitely better that the originals, and the Extended Cut endings are even pretty good in their own right. Had these been the endings that came out with the game originally, Bioware wouldn’t have had to deal with a month of outraged fans pouring hate onto their forums. I think there would have been some mild disappointment, but I can live with these new endings. They’ve fixed 2 out of the 3 crippling problems of the originals, and honestly, that’s good enough for me.
Yes, we still have the stupid God A.I. retroactively screwing the plot of the original Mass Effect and the added dialogue doesn’t do anything to make this section any less horrible. They could make the God A.I.’s explanations ten thousand words long, but at the end of the day, the explanations and logic are still flawed, overwrought and stupid. Adding more explanations to a wrong answer doesn’t make the answer any less wrong. Similarly, the new Refuse ending seems a little half-assed to me as well; I’m glad they chose to add a refuse option but it definitely doesn’t feel like they put any kind of effort into it. You get a small 20 second clip of Liara’s time capsule and that’s it. I would have hoped for a cinematic detailing the last stand of Sword Fleet, as everyone desperately fights to the last man.
Still, like I said, these endings are good. Thematically and emotionally they’re very satisfying. They aren’t the epic endings to a massive saga that I would have liked to have seen, but these at least I can live with. I can now play Mass Effect 3 without feeling like there’s a guillotine hanging over my head, and when I finally finish my second run-through now, I know I’ll have a worthwhile ending waiting for me.
So yes, the new endings are a bit of magic trick. Underneath it all, the ending is still fundamentally broken due to the inclusion of the God A.I., but as Michael Caine said in The Prestige, the thing about a magic trick is that “you want to be fooled.”
Damn right I do, especially when the trick is this good.
I’ve got something in my eye again…