So I’ve spent the last few days thoroughly chewing on Bioware’s Extended Cut, and now it’s time to spit out the masticated remains and pick through them. We’re going to see where the Extended Cut went right, where it went wrong, and where it somehow managed to make things even worse.
While overall I was very impressed with the new endings, I was impressed in the same way that morticians impress me by making corpses look like healthy sleeping people. The Extended Cut doesn’t bring Mass Effect 3’s ending back from the dead, but makes it presentable enough that we can mourn over the coffin and remember better days.
Let’s look at what the Extended Cut tried to fix and see where it worked and where it didn’t.
It’s Good Because…
We actually get some character resolution this time around. The cardinal sin of the original endings was leaving the players with absolutely no resolution for the characters we had grown to love, and in the face of that horrific fact, any resolution at all seems like a godsend.
The Memorial Wall scene was very well done; it was somber without being depressing, and emotional without being overly sentimental. It was the simple act of hanging Shepard’s name under Anderson’s that really let me decompress, and say goodbye to a character I’ve helped shape over three games. In addition, the inclusion of a slideshow showing us our companions returning to their homes and loved ones was a nice touch.
They could have, and should have, done so much more. For instance we never get to see any of the characters from Mass Effect 1 or 2, and it wouldn’t have been all that difficult to integrate that into the new endings. I mean for some strange reason Bioware decided to give us a new scene of two nameless dudes struggling against a horde of husks, would it really have been so difficult for it to be Miranda and Jack fighting here? Or Wrex and Grunt fighting back to back, how epic would that be? All of these characters are already on the planet, you get to talk to them before the final fight, and would have added a lot of emotional impact to the scene. It really baffles me that Bioware instead opted to stick two generic NPCs into that scene because it doesn’t seem like it would have been that hard to simply replace those models with those of known characters.
I also find it interesting that Bioware even kept the whole Normandy Crashing scene in the extended cuts, it was only a ten second clip, hardly a huge loss to simply write that off as the stupid and unnecessary scene that it was. There is no real reason to show Normandy crashing on some alien planet somewhere, and in fact it detracts from the overall goal of the game, which was to save Earth. In my opinion it would have been a much better ending had Normandy simply crash landed on Earth following the firing of the Crucible. The crew would step out to see the devastated remains of their home, and for a brief moment it would feel like it was all for nothing, but then you’d see someone emerge from the rubble. And then another. Until the Normandy is being swarmed by the celebrating survivors of Hammer group and even refugees who have been hiding since the invasion began.
This would also allow the characters from Mass Effect 1 and 2 to be present at the Memorial Wall Scene, since they’re still on Earth. We get to see the characters of all three games come together to mourn their common loss. None of this was beyond doing, and wouldn’t have changed the endings thematically, but instead simply made them deeper and more satisfying. The whole plot of the game revolved around getting help for Earth, the tagline for Mass Effect 3 was “Take Earth Back”. Yet as it stands now, neither the Extended Cut nor Original endings, ever really show us Earth being saved. The last time we see Earth is in the charred remains of London. Had they gone with the Normandy crashing on Earth, instead of Normandy taking off from some unknown planet for a final scene, we’d have the Normandy taking off from Earth while below them huge cranes and other heavy machinery begin the slow process of rebuilding their home. And they could have even taken it a step further and actually showed the Normandy returning our alien companions to their various homeworlds. Rather than a slide show we’d see the Normandy flying through the atmosphere of the many planets we’d visited over the years: Tuchanka, Paloven, Thessia…
Yes, this would have required a lot more effort and time, but frankly I think they should have made the effort. A truly cathartic ending would have done a lot to diffuse the horrific conclusion to the plot of Mass Effect…
As I said in my original review, the plot of Mass Effect was always a secondary attraction for me, it was the characters that truly sparked my imagination and captured my heart. That said, however, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to accept a horrific plot resolution like the one presented in the Extended Cut. At least, not without complaint:
It’s Good Because…
The expanded endings do help resolve the plot by simple virtue of actually explaining what’s going on. As I said last week, Control was always the ending that evaded my understanding because the game never bothered to give us an explanation as to the specifics of what was happening. It was also the Illusive Man’s plan and I’ll be damned if I’m going to do anything he suggests…
I’ve seen a lot of reviews of the Extended Cut stating that the new endings do a good job of tying up loose ends and plugging holes. I’m forced to disagree. Part of the reason I liked the Extended Cut endings so much is that they all focused on the characters, Joker’s reluctance to leave, the crew’s memorial for Shepard, and the narrations by various characters. These were all top priority for me, and the fact that they’re now fixed is what made the Extended Cut such a success for me. However, what the Extended Cut didn’t address were the various inconsistencies in the plot and loose ends left waving in the wind.
For instance, remember on Horizon where we find out that Cerberus has managed to disrupt Reaper signals on the ground? The new endings don’t do anything to address this critical plot point, it’s simply dropped and never referred to again. Which is a shame because it wouldn’t have been that hard to integrate it into the ending, and given us a believable reason for why your crew manages to get away.
Instead of having a stupid impromptu pause right in the middle of a desperate charge for the citadel beam, we could have a brief bit of dialogue stating that more Reaper infantry are closing in on the flanks of Hammer group and if someone doesn’t stop them, Hammer won’t be able to charge for the beam. Then we get one of our teammates spouting some technobabble about using the interference signal to hold off the Reapers. We make the charge alone, and our teammates extract via the Normandy afterward.
And speaking of that suicidal charge to the Citadel Beam, the new evacuation scene just adds more plotholes into an ending that already resembles a chain-link fence. For those who haven’t seen it:
I originally praised this scene because it felt visceral, desperate and real. That suicidal charge to the beam was one of the most intense moments that I can remember in a video game and was a brilliant final flourish before the ending unraveled before my eyes. Unfortunately the new Extended Cut ruins this scene completely and in the process opens up a huge new plothole:
Why the fuck are we charging across open ground to the citadel beam when the Normandy can apparently just swoop right in?
The whole reason that we fought this costly urban battle, which probably claimed thousands of lives in mere hours, was because getting to the citadel beam via the air was supposed to be impossible. The suicidal charge further illustrated that point as Harbinger’s beams knocked gunships out of the air during our final dash. Now we’re treated to a scene of our team desperately charging across the field, Harbinger laying waste to everything in his line of sight and incinerating soldiers by the dozens and then…time out!
Hold up a sec, big guy, we gotta evac these characters and allow for a cheesy final romance scene! Just…just hold up on the slaughter for one sec.
Harbinger gracefully allows the Normandy to depart before restarting his unstoppable rampage of destruction. Man, is Harbinger a good sport or what?
This whole scene completely undermines the desperation and despair that the original scene imparted so perfectly. That alone makes this addition terrible, but the gigantic plot hole left over is even worse. You think the Normandy could have at least dropped Shepard off at the citadel beam, they practically fly right past it!
I Still Like the Extended Cut
But it’s okay if you don’t…
So a lot of you wrote in and said you still weren’t happy with the endings, and you know what? That’s okay. No really, it is. After five years and 180 dollars invested in this series, not being satisfied with this patched up ending is perfectly understandable. As I said last wednesday, I’m allowing myself to be fooled by the endings. I want to like the endings, so I just choose to bury all the flaws in the back of my mind. I’m making a concious choice to ignore all the errors because at least now I have that choice, since Bioware has done a good enough job patching the ending into something where I can find something good to hang onto. However I don’t think anyone out there should feel obligated to like these endings, nor do I think you’re “entitled” for not liking them.
We all deserved something better. This series deserved something better. The characters deserved something better.
But the fact is that this is all we’re going to get, so I choose to make the best of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to. In fact I think we should all keep bitching about Mass Effect 3’s ending until EA inevitably kills Bioware, like it does with all of its properties. I think Bioware should keep this disaster at the front of their mind so that they don’t repeat this mistake with any other franchise…