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Mass Effect 3 DLC: Extended Cut [2012 -- Bioware]

Started by Starfox, Mar 24, 2023, 12:24 AM

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Originally published on July 31, 2013

Note: The following is a review of a DownLoaded Content for the game Mass Effect 3

SPOILERS WARNING: this review assumes that you played at least the vanilla Mass Effect 3 game so don't read if you didn't. The spoilers contained hereafter are very, I repeat VERY, HEAVY!

The Extended Cut DLC was not in the original Bioware plans and is a reaction to the massive wave of complaints coming from the fans following the Mass Effect 3 ending. Unfortunately, Bioware took the minimalist complaints "we didn't get enough closure" and choose to purely ignore the truly vital issues like "this ending does not even make sense".

And so The Extended Cut gives more closure but still insists on the original flawed ending that most people were complaining about and especially the "starchild" (AKA officially the "Catalyst") part. "Too little, too late". Too little because none of the real story issues are addressed, too late because what was done right in the Extended Cut -- giving more closure -- should have been part of the Vanilla game anyway and we had to wait several months to see it included which is a shame.

But let me be clear because the whole thing is much more than the mere global "ending sucks" that was issued by people; countless persons from the simple teenager fan of the series, up to professors of literature, passing by professional writers explained in several very well constructed criticisms why the end wasn't good. But no matter the amount of constructive criticism issued, EA and Bioware preferred to call those persons "entitled whiners" and to simply dismiss the whole complaint, retreating behind "artistic integrity" which is very lame because when you write a story it's for other people to enjoy, when most people enjoy your story but don't enjoy your ending, that means you failed your ending no matter how your "artistic integrity" feels about it.

Something similar happened with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes. When he decided to kill Holmes, most fans (including his own mother) were pretty pissed, so pissed that he had no other choice than to bring the famous detective back. And that was a lot of fuss over a rather simple issue. It was Doyle's choice to kill Holmes, it was his character and nobody should have denied him that right (after all killing a character, even the hero, that's an author's prerogative). But the problem with Mass Effect 3 ending goes far beyond the mere choice of killing a hero or not. It so fundamentally undermines the whole thematic of the series that it makes for a blurry mess that fans cannot even figure out. "What is this blueish thing? Where does it come from? Why does it talk to me like I'm a moron? And why the F... does it want me to make one of three choices, each more absurd than the others?".

So yes, Shepard dies, in all of the three endings but one (although it isn't stated they survived as the short video could have just been their dying breath for all we know), and that was used by some people to say that gamers who didn't like the ending were just pissed because it wasn't all "sunshine and bunnies" but seriously I don't think that many fans expected Shepard to survive (gamers truly used to Bioware work know better than that -- because they mainly develop RPGs they give you options to make a good ending but if you left them to it, everyone would die -- Mass Effect "canon" story by Bioware as seen when you start a game without importing a save is rather on the grim side) and even though many fans may not be happy about it, because everyone likes to see the hero save the day and live to talk about it, the death of Shepard is definitely not what triggered the anger.

No, the real problem is that in three games we've been taught to think about some things, to interrogate ourselves via the characters on issues like accepting the differences (the many different races in the Galaxy), the nature of life and self-awareness (with Legion and EDI -- and even Reapers on a broader scale), the ethics (or lack of) of biological warfare and the responsibility of scientists with Mordin and the Genophage... In many occasions and especially Mass Effect 3 itself, the series ask "why can't we all work together? Live together? Accept each other? Love each other?". Those questions and themes (as well as others) are completely negated by the Catalyst, its idiotic "I kill all sentient life form every 50K years to protect life against AI" explanation that doesn't make sense and the three choices, not a single one of them corresponding to a choice that Shepard could truly make in good conscience whatever his/her karma is (renegade or paragon) and all of them contradicting one or several of the series core themes.

The Extended Cut was the occasion for Bioware to change things and to make an end that was truly befitting the series. Fans even show them a way to make things so that they could even keep their vanilla ending while remaining faithful to the series and expand upon it (what's called the famous "indoctrination theory") which in the end would have made them look pretty good and clever because it would have seemed like if they had planned all this from the start. This was a "one in a lifetime" occasion -- they couldn't do that with Dragon Age 2 so fundamentally plaguing the problems were on this title; and because of that no one asked them to do it anyway; the whole game was the problem and the only way to rectify it was to rewrite it almost entirely.

But for ME3 it was just about the end. Unfortunately, Bioware (possibly under EA's pressure of deadline/money combination) decided to stick with their nonsensical ending even if that meant to sink with the ship (the two coming years will tell us about that) and so the Extended Cut DLC while providing more closure did not provide anything susceptible to truly rejoice their fans.

Credit where credit is due, the Extended Cut provides explanations for a couple of things that were completely illogical. For those of you who didn't play the original ending, here are some of the main differences:

Vanilla: (London) While Shepard is running with his/her teammates toward the beam leading to the Citadel,  Harbinger attacks with its super "death ray" and despite avoiding it a dozen times, Shepard appears to be finally struck by it. Problem is, after that point no one ever explains what happened to your teammates. A voice says that everyone in the assault force is dead so you conclude naturally that your teammates are dead too until just before the end credits when you discover that your teammates are safe aboard the Normandy (one of them get out of her). You never fully understand why the hell your teammates left you to die on Earth or when and how they managed to board the Normandy. Puzzled does not even begin to described how I felt on that one.

Extended Cut: Harbinger's death ray hits near Shepard's group and makes a "Mako" fly toward them. Shepard manages to evade it but his/her teammates are wounded in the event and so Shepard calls the Normandy to retrieve them and continue alone (if your Shepard's love interest is there the scene may be moving and it's the first time you actually get a hint that your Shepard is not going to make it).

Vanilla: (After firing the Crucible) the Crucible death (?) ray hits Charon Mass Relay and quickly propagates through all the mass relays in the Galaxy blowing each and every one of them. One sees the Normandy closely followed by the shock wave of an explosion (possibly of the Charon Mass Relay but who really knows?) and Joker on the bridge, fighting to keep the ship in one piece. From that you understand that Joker is a deserter who quit the battle without any order whatsoever and without even checking Shepard status. The fact that he managed to apparently get Shepard's teammates aboard before fleeing only further confused the whole thing. Puzzled... again.

Extended Cut: (Just before firing the Crucible) Admiral Hackett announces that the Crucible is about to fire and orders what remains of the combined fleet to retreat beyond the Charon Relay. Joker is seen on the Normandy bridge with a couple of other squad members (chosen among those who weren't on the final assault team). He tries to contact Shepard again and again but receives no answer. Then one of the squad (Ash in my case) quietly tells him that they have to go. Painfully, Joker finally complies. Then the vanilla scene occurs.

Then there are the cut scenes following the three different endings, none of them making actual sense in the vanilla version of the ending. Too short and nondescript for that. The new endings are significantly longer and fully voiced but do not solve any of the plot holes. One ending (the "control" or "blue" one) is the only one that shows the mass relays being rebuilt and with a good explanation: the Reapers build the first mass relays so they can do it again and Shepard (or the entity that Shepard became) now controls them. In the synthesis ending one can imagine that in the freaking wake of the "we're all a big family" thing, the Reapers rebuild the relays because they choose too. In the last ending one has to assume that the mass relays are truly gone as nobody has a single clue as to how to build one. And that's the best case scenario... because a little DLC called "Arrival" told us that the explosion of a mass relay entirely annihilates the whole solar system in which it is placed. So good to know that Shepard probably killed a gazillion of people in a matter of minutes... That's something...

The Extended Cut also adds the "memorial" scene in which the names of Shepard and Anderson join the ones of the Normandy crewmen that were KIA during the 3 games. This is in truth a very well done scene to bring closure to the death of Shepard and is one of the three or four things that the Extended Cut does right. Unfortunately it is polluted by the rest.

And of course there are the whole "discussion" between the Catalyst and Shepard that has been significantly extended, the problem being that the goal of the extension in this case is to hammer the previously flawed Vanilla ending so that a cube might finally enter a spherical hole of the same size, with the success one might expect.

I waited for Shepard to ask the Catalyst: "So, OK, the Citadel is your home. That means you were already there 3 years ago when Sovereign attempted its little trick... So tell me exactly; why did you need it to hack the Citadel and open the way for the other Reapers since you already were on the Citadel and had control of the whole of the Reapers fleet? Why was Saren even involved? Are you not even able to hack the pitiful Citadel computers without the help of a puny organic? Because let me tell you man, if this is the case... you suck! Big time, should I add! I'm not even sure why I'm still talking to you so laughable you are."

Sadly, that never came... Too bad because the above is exactly the kind of unexplained galaxy-sized plot hole that completely kills Mass Effect 3 ending and the Catalyst at the same time. Because either you accept the Catalyst and so the events in Mass Effect 1 never happened because they had no reason to happen in the first place. Or the events in Mass Effect 1 really did have a reason to happen and hence the Catalyst has no reason to exist, especially not as a permanent "omniscient" resident of the Citadel... because well yeah, the Catalyst sucks. If it didn't suck the Reapers invasion would have occurred 3 years prior the events in ME3.

So the few changes that were well done does not change the fact that the end is screwed up. In fact the whole thing is contained in one of the new exchanged lines between Shepard and the Catalyst:

Shepard: "I don't believe you."
Catalyst: "Your belief is not required."

And that sums it up. The end is so screwed that it is plainly unbelievable but no one at the other end of the line really cares. Talking to the Catalyst is like talking to a wall. No, strike that... a wall would be more agreeable...

And by the way... how comes that the Catalyst image resembles the little child that was annihilated by the Reapers early in the game? Is that supposed to make us feel bad? Because this is just lame. In fact it even goes in reverse. Because of the profoundly stupid nature of the Catalyst when I replayed the game I began to devalue the death of the child and Shepard's dream sequences because to me the child was not the child any longer but the idiotic Catalyst.

Anyway, also of note is the addition of a fourth final option that was required by fans; the possibility to tell the Catalyst/Starchild to f...k the hell off, hence to reject all of the possibilities presented. This rejection also triggers if one fires on the Starchild which was included because a lot of people really did try to take down the damn thing in the vanilla game when they were confronted to the idiotic choices and gigantic plot holes (I know I did); the starchild was just that huge offense they wanted to erase -- unfortunately in the vanilla game one could fire a gazillion rounds at the starchild (the endgame pistol does have infinite ammo), it didn't change anything; so now it does trigger the 4th option. If you opt for this fourth option, Shepard dies, all the sentient races of the Galaxy die, the Reapers win... But the final message and Reaper's data preserved in the little "blackbox" Liara conceived allow the next cycle to defeat the Reapers. I choose that one because in the context of the series none of the other options make any sense and I prefer that my Shepard dies fighting rather than sacrificing for a bunch of options that does not make any sense in the series context.

Blue one: control of the Reapers. So you put and end to the war by enslaving another species (the Reapers may be the enemy aiming to destroy all lifeform, they are still a species according to what you learned with Legion and EDI)... Does that sound like anything that Mass Effect taught us in three games? Enslaving is a viable option to achieve a goal? Really? Well, that sends us back some... Not to mention that the Illusive Man just died trying the exact same thing and the only assurance that Shepard will succeed where the IM failed is the word of the Catalyst... yeah, right!

Red one: destroy the Reapers BUT also destroy the Geth and EDI in the process. What does that tell about Shepard. That he/she is a dimwit asshole and racist that goes and deliberately obliterate an entire species (the Geth) just after having elevated them through spiritual guidance of Legion to the rank of a true sentient species? A species that immediately decided willfully  to follow him/her to war no matter the risks? Not to mention killing a friend (EDI) that placed her trust in him/her to show her the way to humanity... If that's who Shepard truly is then about his/her death I'd say... good riddance.

And then the last option, the green one: synthesis... probably the most idiotic of all. Instead of a diversity of species (and as anyone knows, Nature loves diversity); Shepard goes ahead and reduces everyone to a common denominator with common thoughts and no sense of individuality; essentially they become the Reapers hence Shepard is a downright tool doing the Catalyst bidding. And he/she does that without even asking for opinions first. He/she just became that godlike creature that decides for everyone because the will of a god cannot be wrong. According to everything Mass Effect showed us through three games... that sucks. Not to mention that it's just a copy/pasting of Deus Ex. In fact even the choosing process is a copy/pasting of Deus Ex (first and third ones). Except that while there is the matter to a real debate in Deus Ex because the whole franchise thematic is the merging of Man and of the Machine, there's no real point to do that in Mass Effect because it's about understanding each other, not merging with each other. Bioware definitely showed us better than that in the past.

What "Artistic Integrity" truly is, is preserving the integrity of your story, making it coherent and well structured so it is definitely entirely believable from  A to Z even when the premises are not (and God knows that Mass Effect premises -- in the form of the mass effect technology as presented in ME1 -- is particularly unbelievable; but you don't care as long as the story evolving from those premises is coherent and well structured). Unfortunately "Artistic Integrity" definition following Bioware -- as far as it concerns ME3 at least -- seems to be "blow the hell out of your story structure and coherence when you're writing the end."

More to the point, Bioware always argued through the whole event that their ending was the only one and that they were very satisfied with it... I cannot believe that, not one second. No one with the talent -- and it takes true talent -- to write a story as magnificent and complex as Mass Effect can be satisfied with Mass Effect 3 ending, that's purely impossible. And there I speak from an author point of view, if I had participated in the writing of Mass Effect and if I was forced to write the sorry excuse for an ending that is Mass Effect 3 ending, I'd need hundreds of hours of therapy after that lest I shoot myself in the gums with a shotgun... truly. Mass Effect 3 ending is that far away from the excellence of the rest of the series. It's like happily flying at 60,000 feet then suddenly slamming into the ground at full speed. No self-respecting author could ever be happy with that. It's like the guys writing the ending were completely different -- and singularly less talented -- than the guys who wrote the rest of the series.

Of course Bioware can say "Hey, only 68,000 people voted on our forum that the ending sucks. Several hundreds of thousands bought the game and 1500 even told us that they liked the end". Sure but let's look at it another way. 68,000 that was the vocal minority; in fact they are the friendly guys, the ones that tell you that something is wrong so that you can think about correcting it. The real danger are all those who say nothing, all those who bought Dragon Age 2, said to themselves "Well that sucked!" and threw away the disc then bought Mass Effect 3 and said to themselves "Well the end sucks!" and uninstalled the game.

Those people won't complain because they don't care enough to or because they don't have time to spend in complaining and prefer to go play another game instead but they still form the majority of consumers out there. They are the guys that may not want to spend that many bucks on future EA/Bioware endeavors. They don't vocally complain because their wallets will speak for them when the time comes... And when that happens, unsurprisingly enough, companies like EA blame that on piracy... how convenient. Piracy can be a blessing some times, huh? Better than saying: "we screwed up so we lost consumers".

Real good point of the Extended Cut DLC though? It's free so making your wallet speak is not an option.

Guess what it means!