Review: Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut
We review in-depth the free 'Extended Cut' downloadable content for Mass Effect, released on 27 June in response to negative player-feedback. NO SPOILERS
Harley Ogier | Wednesday, July 04 2012 | 6 Comments
Platform: PC; PS3; Xbox 360
Test Platform: PC
Developer: BioWare; Publisher: Electronic Arts
A worthwhile extension to the game's ending, but by no means a game-changer.
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.
I'm leaving the comments open, 'cause of course all y'all will want to discuss this, but that means there can be (and already are) all manner of spoilers. If you don't want to know anything specific about the game's end, stop reading here!
-- Your friendly neighbourhood Commander Shepard (okay, yeah, we're ALL Commander Shepard, but give me this one...)
Except... It is.
Take Green, the prequel/conclusion in an epic 'circular' saga, "The Books of History Chronicles" by Ted Dekker. Like ME, fans had invested dozens, if not hundreds of hours over the 16 book series.
Fans didn't like the ending, for many of the same reasons fans didn't like ME3's ending#plot holes, out of character actions, a significant change of pace, tone and motivation in the final chapters.
But instead of moaning about "artistic integrity", the author acknowledged the fans deserved better, and rewrote the ending.
He did it in such a way which both endings to remain canonical (as ME3 could have done if they had used the excellent Indoctrination Theory), and the fans remained fans of the work, not jaded former fans let down by the writer(s).
I would agree with the artistic integrity argument if the story was more linear, BioWare didn't put so much emphasis on personal choice, or had written an ending which honoured the rest of the story they were trying to tell, but this ending still doesn't.
Firstly, all of my choices to that point are still basically moot, and my final choice remains "So... do you want a red, green or a blue flash."
All choices are still out of character MY Shepherd, it still introduces completely new ideas out of nowhere in the final minutes of the game, and still abandons the major narrative of the series#through cooperation we can overcome adversity together#in favor of a single act of space magic.
To me, the ending still feels like the ego trip of a single writer, not the balanced, considered story of a team we got up to that point.
To refuse to consider really rewriting or fundamentally changing the ending of the game in the name of "artistic integrity" is nonsense. It's the ultimate act of babyish entitlement by the writers themselves.
After all, To quote Joss Whedon
"All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn't your pet -- it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you."
Posted by Luke at 3:23:31 on July 6, 2012
It's a twist ending. Yes. It's not a good ending though. It is not art. Not the ending. It goes from being so heart wrenching and well made to feeling rushed and... just well.. wrong.
Posted by Taylor G. at 12:39:19 on July 4, 2012
It's not that it's sad, the demise of the protagonist was acceptable. But I didn't feel the same feeling as I do when I finish a great book series or watch a season finale. In the hours leading up to the end of any good story telling device there's a moment when you realize it's coming to a close. These are the last few experiences you will have in this fictional universe. I felt that with Mass Effect 3.
Posted by Taylor G. at 12:43:17 on July 4, 2012
The ending of Mass Effect 3 was so broken in many ways. Plot holes, lack of closure, false advertising were just some of the things that plagued the ending. The deux ex machina failed to make any sense and the lack of challenging dialogue was my biggest issue. The Extended Cut fixes some of this.
But it's still broken.
There's a reason the additions don't add a line about the quarian and the geth. It's because the whole premise that this deux ex character builds upon is broken when considering this new peace between synthetics and organics.
Posted by Taylor G. at 12:36:43 on July 4, 2012
I'm sorry, but where did you get the idea it was a minority that did not like the ending, from everything I have read and seen, It was a vocal Majority of fans who either disliked or outright hated the ending.
Posted by Samantha at 11:48:27 on July 4, 2012
Most users seemed to be calling for the ending to be clarified, things that made no sense like characters seemingly 'teleporting' from one place to another (or coming back from the dead, in one case), to be fixed, etc.
I might be wrong -- that's my take on it. I'll correct myself if someone comes out with some kind of research breaking down who wanted what done to the ending =)
Posted by Harley Ogier, PCW at 16:08:00 on July 4, 2012
Your gadgets could be harming the environment - and you
NAS vs cloud
Save yourself cash with network storage
Get fit with tech kit
The different ways technology can help you get fit