Review: Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut
- — 05 July, 2012 15:04
SPOILER FREE: This review talks in general terms about the ending of Mass Effect 3, but does not reveal plot points or 'spoil' the ending. The same can't be said for the comments at the bottom of the page!
Science-fiction role playing game Mass Effect premiered on the Xbox in 2007. At the time, it was lifted from obscurity by controversy around the inclusion of a human/alien lesbian love scene. The game flourished amid that controversy, spawning two successful sequels: Mass Effect 2 in 2010, and Mass Effect 3 earlier this year.
Despite meeting critical acclaim, with 89/100 on review score-aggregator site Metacritic, Mass Effect 3 was dogged by a totally different and far less beneficial form of controversy. Many players were unsatisfied with the trilogy's ending, with a particularly vocal minority demanding it be retroactively changed by the game's developers, BioWare.
In response to the criticism, BioWare on 27 June released Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut: free a downloadable content (DLC) package for all owners of the game on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Extended Cut is not advertised as a change to the ending, but as an additional package of in-game cinematics and epilogue content to clarify the game's ending and provide closure to players who found it lacking.
I loaded up a saved game from my review playthrough of Mass Effect 3, made three hours before the end of the game, and replayed from there with Extended Cut installed.
Without throwing any spoilers out there, the ending controversy can be broken down into four categories: plot holes introduced in the game's final sequence, a lack of closure/feeling the ending was too abrupt, a lack of difference between each of the potential endings, and dissatisfaction with the story itself. Here's how Extended Cut does, or doesn't, handle those issues.
Some things that happen at the very end of Mass Effect 3 just don't make sense, however you look at them. Most notably characters that are seen, very definitely, to be in one place, pop up in a completely different place with no conceivable explanation.
This is not really surprising -- in a game with a player-influenced story as complex as Mass Effect, where you choose which of several teammates accompany you on missions, it would be easy for such oversights to occur. Accounting for every possibility is necessary, to keep the plot together, but a daunting and difficult task for developers.
These issues are not a matter of taste -- they're simply bugs in the game, just as a weapon that fails to reload or an upgrade that can't be collected is. The plot is a story, yes, but the system that strings it all together based on the player's influence is a piece of code like any other, and is just as likely to be bugged as any other part of the game. Demanding a fix for these issues is not 'player entitlement', and more so than demands for other bug fixes.
BioWare really came through here -- every such bug I noticed in my original playthrough has been 'fixed' in the Extended Cut, through the addition of cutscenes which explain the previously inexplicable. It's a nice way of doing it -- the plot holes are closed, without changing the game's canonical ending.
If, like me, your primary concerns with the ending were the flow-breaking plot bugs, consider them solved and breathe a sigh of relief.
Lack of closure:
After five years of cutscene and dialogue-heavy gaming in a hugely open world, any ending is going to seem abrupt to the emotionally-invested player. I have personally clocked up over five hundred hours in the Mass Effect universe, and the game's end was always going to be tinged with the same sadness I feel at the end of a brilliant novel.
It was particularly hard to see the game end with little or no indication of what became of your friends, teammates, or the entire galaxy for that matter. Hard, but no less valid an ending than any other.
BioWare didn't have to do anything here, but they stepped up to the plate and knocked out a series of epilogues (one for each ending) that go into a fair amount of detail, both at the personal and galactic level. By the end, you now know what your choices in the game all came to, in a very Fallout-style slideshow with voiceover.
Differentiation between endings:
Mass Effect is a trilogy influenced heavily by player actions -- it has been from the very start. Mass Effect 2 allowed you to import saved games from the original Mass Effect, and all the decisions your character made in the first game carried into the second. Likewise, saved games and thus the sum of your decisions to date could be carried from Mass Effect 2 into Mass Effect 3.
This is undoubtedly why many players found it so very disappointing that the various endings offered by Mass Effect were all essentially the same, with a different colour filter slapped over the top. You could pretty much experience them all by finishing the game once, and toggling the colour settings of your monitor as you watched the ending.
Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh, but I've seen far hasher sentiments expressed on forums, in comments and elsewhere in the Mass Effect fan community. Critical Miss gaming web-comic creators Cory Rydell and Grey Carter summed it up brilliantly, though to quote them on it would be to spoil the game's end somewhat. If you know how it goes, check out the relevant strip at escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/comics/critical-miss/9611-Wise-Counsel (contains mild adult themes and language).
This is one thing Extended Cut does not really address. The addition of detailed epilogue scenes does make the existing endings each feel much more unique. However, when playing each ending -- one after the other, for the sake of review-science -- many parts of them were still remarkably similar. Perhaps this is because despite my final choice in the game, all endings came from the same playthrough.
I'm working on a second playthrough of the full trilogy at the moment, and will update this piece if it makes a difference. However, I really don't get the feeling that it would.
If you're expecting Extended Cut to add entirely new endings, or story branches, it does not. It's exactly what its name says: an 'extended cut' of the game's existing story, with more detail.
Dissatisfaction with the story:
At the end of the day -- or of the game, as it is -- some players just didn't like the way the story concluded. Not due to the aforementioned 'bugs' in the plot, or a lack of closure, but because it ended in a way they did not approve of.
There has been a great deal of discussion around the plot's conclusion, potential plot holes (some of which are addressed with additional dialogue in the extended cut), and the meaning behind it all. This is one area where I side entirely with the game's designers: players have great influence over the story of the Mass Effect trilogy, but it is created and controlled by BioWare and that, really, is that.
This is the category of complaints that drove rebuttals about 'artistic integrity', and calls of 'gamer entitlement' -- along with the common comparison to literature. If you don't like the end of a novel, you don't write to the author and ask them to change it, no matter how many days, weeks, months or even years you spent reading it. It's just not done.
As far as I understand, and certainly in my own case, the majority of complaints fell into the previous three categories. I like the ending of Mass Effect 3, but even if I didn't, it's still the ending for better or worse. The above issues made it harder to enjoy, but those are largely issues of game design and execution: not of the core plot.
If you didn't like any of the endings available in Mass Effect 3, Extended Cut does not fundamentally change them. You may find yourself satisfied with the additional epilogue content -- I certainly was. It may help you see the old endings in a new light. Certainly, it's worth a free download and two or three hours of replay time to find out.
Didn't like the ending of Mass Effect 3, for whatever reason? Give the Extended Cut a chance. It won't solve all the world's problems, raise ME3's score to a perfect 100%, and cause free money to eject from your DVD drive. It will, however, fix a few story issues, plug a few holes and provide some valuable closure.
For fans on the other side of the debate: BioWare did not 'sell out' here, and have delivered the Extended Cut with their artistic integrity intact. The game's ending has not been rewritten, and while the story has been expanded on, that's exactly what DLC is intended to do.
Even if you loved the ending of ME3, download Extended Edition -- I'll be incredibly surprised if it disappoints.