Does Mass Effect 3’s Extended Cut damn or redeem it?

Was it worth the wait?

Warning: Here be spoilers. I go into a lot of detail about the new stuff in the DLC compared to the original endings, so if you haven’t completed either I advise you do so before you continue reading.

After three months with nary flicker of its familiar icon on Xbox Live it seemed everyone I know was re-playing Mass Effect 3 yesterday. I was one of that desperate, hopeful number, though only after a whopping 1.9gb download that I had to stop and resume several times until it finally stuck. As I watched the download bar crawl to 100% with the speed of a heavily wounded Commander Shepard I took a while to reflect on what had brought us all to this point. For while Mass Effect 3 was not without some flaws they were motes of cosmic dust compared to the supermassive black hole of pure suck that was its lazy, incoherent, rushed, nonsensical pseudo-intellectual travesty of an ending.

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut was BioWare’s last best hope for peace with its alienated fanbase, a chance to put right what had gone so very wrong in the last ten minutes of its sci-fi RPG epic. A lot of games journalists were outraged BioWare even entertained the notion claiming it would destroy videogames’ chances of ever being considered Art. “Books and films don’t change their endings after release!” they whined, oblivious to things like second printings and director’s cuts which sometimes do exactly that.  For people whose job it is to champion a young, bold and exciting medium – unconstrained by many of the rules governing more traditional ones – their attitude was tragically traditionalist. The term “artistic integrity” was thrown around more often than ping-pong balls at a LARP.

But you don’t care about any of that old nonsense. You just want to know if the Extended Cut fixes Mass Effect 3’s crappy excuse for an ending, am I right? The answer to that is a resounding and confident “well yes and no, kinda, sort of, mostly”.

Although you won’t see anything new until the action moves to earth I echo BioWare’s recommendation that you load a save right before the final assault on Cerberus’ HQ. Doing this locks-in your Effective Military Strength (EMS) score of course, but BioWare have kindly lowered the requirements to unlock all the endings from 5000-odd points to a more modest 3100. What this means you can now get all the EMS you need purely in single-player like BioWare originally promised, so don’t worry about busting a gut in multiplayer before jumping into the DLC. Unless you really want to that is: it is a fun little game mode.

Pre-rendered cinematics of the battle for Earth comprise the lion’s share of the DLC’s whopping file-size. Considering a lot of people probably haven’t re-played the end of Mass Effect 3 a lot they’re easily-missed, so keep an ear out for the new dialogue from Lance “Hack it out” Henriksen that accompanies most of them. As far as I could tell everything else up to the final charge on the beam that teleports you to the Citadel remained unchanged so you’ll have to endure that hellish Brute and Banshee clusterfuck all over again.

The first big addition you’ll notice is the arrival of the Normandy part-way during the charge to pick up your two team-mates after they’re critically wounded, while an indifferent Harbinger looks on with nary a shrug. I guess perfect immortal machines get tunnel vision when they’re incinerating humans like ants under a magnifying glass. It would’ve made more sense for the Normandy to come in cannons blazing, even if it only stuns Harbinger long enough to make the pickup and leave. As-is it feels a bit silly but it’s nothing to really rage about. If your Shepard has a love interest then bring them along for the beam rush or you’ll miss out on a short but sweet little final goodbye, where you can be mushy as the mushiest mush or quite the opposite.

After limping into the beam there’s another new cutscene of the Normandy rejoining the main fleet in the battle around the Citadel to establish Joker and co are well away from Earth or something. After that there’s an in-engine cutscene of Shepard getting flung out the other end of the beam into the Citadel itself, which I presume is a nice nod to the Mako’s arrival via the conduit near the end of ME1. Things proceed as before up-to-and-including the encounter with The Illusive Man, Anderson sitting down for the last time, Hackett telling Shepard the Crucible isn’t firing and Shepard ascending to his or her final decision.

Anybody hoping Casper the Irritating Space Ghost would be cut out completely or replaced by Harbinger had best kiss those hopes goodbye, since they get blasted out of an airlock into the cold vacuum of space quicker than you can say “open the pod bay doors, HAL”. Ghost Boy is still here and annoying as ever, and you’ll quickly find that familiar sour taste creeping into your mouth all over again again. Thankfully there are now more dialogue options available that allow you to actually question the little bastard’s sanctimonious bullshit. His reasons and motivations are still deeply flawed but at least we’re able to do more than be talked down to. Whereas originally the boy’s pronouncements were portrayed as the all-knowing voice of God, the Extended Cut gives his words a more  pronounced and much-needed unreliability.

You’re also able to ask more about each ending choice you’re presented with (“Control”, “Destroy” and “Badly ripped-off from Deus Ex” respectively) and Casper does his best to elaborate on them. It’s not perfect but you do get a better idea of the consequences of each choice, and they don’t all lead to the “Endor Holocaust” scenario fans had assumed. The purpose of EMS is finally revealed (or rather crowbarred-in) to determine how badly damaged the Crucible gets before it docks with the Citadel. If your EMS is too low you’ll only have one option – Destroy – and Space Ghost claims the results will be devastating for the galactic races and Reapers alike, although it turns out to not be quite as bad as all that. Needless to say the explanation for the bloody stupid Synthesis ending is a load of cock-and-bollocks technobabble, so dumb it would make a person with even half a brain want to smash their head it against a wall to stop it hurting.

If after talking to the Catalyst you still reject BioWare’s three options then you’re given the opportunity to say as such (or pick another and then try to shoot Star Boy), leading to a new fourth ending where everybody dies. I’m not kidding. Ghost Boy says “So be it!” in an uncanny impression of Harbinger then leaves, proclaiming “the cycle continues.” It then cuts to a scene of Liara’s time capsule message speaking to an unseen audience of aliens far, far, far in the future explaining how we all got killed by the Reapers. Not long after that it’s confirmed the next cycle learned how to be badass enough to finish off the Reapers for good. It’s the sort of bittersweet “Reapers win but hope endures” ending I hoped would be in the original game, though far more abrupt than the three main endings. Some might also consider it a passive-aggressive middle finger from Mac Walters and Casey Hudson. “Reject our endings? Fine! The next cycle’s Shepard analogue will recognise our creative genius.”

As for the rest of the endings I won’t elaborate on them much further. Synthesis is still the deformed byblow of watching the Matrix Trilogy after playing Deus Ex whilst trying to imitate Grant Morrison and Alan Moore, only now it’s got a bit of makeup on and is taking some night classes. It’s not as stupid as it was before and it meshes better with the themes of the Mass Effect series but it’s still pretty bloody stupid. Destroy, the de-facto choice for many players fas the only one in which Shepard could survive, takes a modest second place ahead of the new Reject ending. It’s consequences for synthetic lifeforms stated in the original ending are reinforced in the Extended Cut however, so be prepared to possibly sacrifice a species and a crewmate if you want your Shepard to carry on breathing.

The pick of the bunch for me personally is the formerly dubious Control ending which becomes even more dubious in the Extended Cut, albeit in a deliciously moral sense. I won’t spoil it except to say it’s very “God-Emperor of Dune”. All three extended endings are accompanied by a Fallout-style slideshow depicting what happens to some of the characters and species of the Mass Effect universe that vary depending on your choices throughout the game. While not a huge addition they do provide players some much needed context and closure as well as an incentive to replay the game, something the original endings threw into a dumpster full of broken glass, barbed wire and faeces.

The Extended Cut is not the revolution some players might have been hoping for but then it was never intended to be. BioWare said they were sticking to their original endings and aside from the addition of the Rejection ending they’ve done just that, meaning some of the original ending’s flaws and plot holes persist. Aside from the Synthesis one I consider the new extended endings to be satisfactory resolutions to the Mass Effect saga. Not amazing or astounding ones admittedly though not gods-awful or atrocious either. BioWare could never make endings that would please absolutely everybody and to be honest I never wanted them to. All I wanted as a fan of the Mass Effect series was something that made sense and gave me a sense of closure. The original endings gave me neither of those things.

So to answer the question posed in the title of this article: redeem, for the most part. I’m positive none of the drama, outrage or cupcakes would have happened Had these been the endings we got six months ago. I’d even go as far to say they would have been universally praised. Sadly the damage has been done and BioWare will have to work hard to regain the trust of its loyal fanbase. Many fans who would have pre-ordered Dragon Age 3 without hesitation will instead now have some reservations, or opt to wait until the first reviews to come out instead. The Extended Cut won’t heal this rift on its own but it’s an important first step in a process BioWare look to be taking seriously, going by the final change implemented by this DLC. Instead of the obnoxious “Buy more DLC” message we had previously the Extended Cut ends with a short, sincere message of thanks from the Mass Effect team to all the players who accompanied them on Commander Shepard’s five year journey.

Whether or not you choose to believe BioWare have done right by the fans is up to you. I personally think they did a decent job of it with the time and resources they had available. The Extended Cut is by no means perfect, it won’t satisfy everyone and is still flawed, but you can say the same for countless other videogame endings. BioWare can do better and I sincerely hope they’ve learned lessons from this that they’ll carry into future projects. In the meantime they have finally managed to give me a measure of the resolution and closure I wanted months ago. Best of all they did it without destroying the entire gaming industry like some doom-mongers had proselytised. Who’d have thunk it, huh?

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.