It already seems ages ago that masses of angry gamers took to blogs, forums, and social media to express their frustration and hatred over the trilogy's conclusion in Mass Effect 3. BioWare aimed to calm the vocal majority by listening to the criticism expressed and offer more closure through a free add-on titled the Extended Cut. Nathaniel and I each sat down to explore the additional content and discover its effects on the game's conclusion.
I think I made it pretty clear in my "Why you're wrong about Mass Effect 3's ending"
rant from several months ago that the main reason I had no problem with Mass Effect 3's original endings was because they play on classic science fiction tropes that have been fundamental to the genre since its beginning. All my favorite science fiction, except for Star Wars, ends with the heroes having to cede control of the situation to being infinitely more powerful. What I've always taken from this, and what I take away from Mass Effect 3's ending is that the galaxy is so old and complex that any one race is utterly insignificant and so are their problems; except when those problems draw the attention of more important beings usually because our hero threatens some underlying mechanism that has been at work for so long we literally can't comprehend it.
In Mass Effect 3, the Cycle is that underlying mechanism, and the Catalyst is that infinitely more powerful being.
There is a certain reflective tone in these kinds of endings that I've always liked. I really enjoy the idea that we are just some tiny blip on the galactic radar that threatened to pass through the annals of time without leaving so much as a whisper for anyone else to hear, barely deserving of one single line in "Galacti-pedia." Until, some hero or heroes stepped forward during some great crisis they didn't fully understand and did enough that they were granted a peek at the incomprehensible depths of galactic history. In a way, Mass Effect has always centered around humanity learning about and coming to terms with the great complex organism that is the Milky Way galaxy. Humans went from "Are we alone?" to "Holy ****, there were aliens on Mars 50,000 years ago." to "OMG, INTERSTELLAR WAR AGAINST RAPTOR-PEOPLE!" to finally "Not only are we not alone, but there's been a whole galactic government whose capital is only a few mass relays away filled with perfectly civil aliens this whole time."
The new content doesn't really change what I feel is the overall "message" of the ending, or what I liked about. All it really does is flesh out the timeline's nuts and bolts. Now we know exactly why the Normandy came to be filled with teammates and running away from Earth; we have an extra handful of hard facts about the Reapers and the Catalyst, and we have some sense of the trilogy's lasting impact on the galaxy.
If someone were to ask me, "Was the time and effort it took to put the Extended Cut together worth it?" I would have to answer yes. Because, while I was mostly fine with the original ending, the Extended Cut is a significant improvement. Honestly, had I been able to see into the future and see the difference between the original endings and the Extended Cut endings, I would have been greatly disappointed. The Extended Cut is the ending the game should have had all along. It won't change anyone's mind that rejected the endings on a thematic level, but if you were only disappointed that there wasn't more, you should be happy.
It's as if BioWare played a cruel joke with all the Mass Effect fans around the world. Just as fans started to repress memories of the misery and failure that was the ending to Mass Effect 3, BioWare released an Extended Cut that introduces additional cinematic and epilogue scenes that supposedly provide further insight into choices made during the narrative. The original ending ignored nearly all of the decisions made prior to both the events in the game itself and past titles in the trilogy. Closure with companions, civilizations, and the universe itself was apparently deemed not important to include in the game's closing moments. Lastly, the choices given to players during the end scenes were completely out of context with nearly everything that had occurred throughout the trilogy.
The Extended Cut's additional cinematic and epilogue scenes were successful at providing some further closure before and after the credits rolled. However, the additional content still wasn't able to solve the disappointing and incoherent ending to Mass Effect 3. BioWare did state that the actual ending wouldn't be changed, but only expanded upon. There is one added ending referred to as the refusal route that acts as Shepard's choice to ignore the three BioWare approved conclusions to the trilogy. Upon selection of the refusal option, the game ends near immediately with a brief cinematic that functions to tell players that they picked the wrong option.
Put simply, the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut is a waste of bandwidth and time for anyone that loathed the original ending. The additional content is nothing more than filler for the absences of narrative closure and reason. It's unfortunate because the majority of Mass Effect 3 offers a wonderful experience for gamers, but no amount of added cinematic or epilogue scenes will be enough to solve the numerous issues with the trilogy's disappointing conclusion.
Be sure to tell us your reactions to the Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut in the comments.
The Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut is now available as a free download to all owners of the game on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Windows PC.