Mass Effect 3's original ending is going to go down as one of the most controversial stories in the last few years of gaming. It was so controversial, in fact, that developer BioWare decided to release an "extended cut" of the ending, hoping to make players happier with their sci-fi trilogy. This extended cut came out for free last week. On top of recording a special podcast devoted to the matter, I asked a few of our editors to share some written words about the extended cut. They will contain spoilers. Enjoy!
The biggest problem with BioWare releasing the new epilogue is that a considerable amount of time has passed since I initially completed the game. Other games and stories have come and gone and as such, I didn’t experience a high, emotional reaction to the epilogue. Naturally, if the new content was included at launch, it would have been a different story. As it stands, the epilogue was more of a curiosity than a compelling piece of storytelling.
While it was bittersweet to see how the universe and those that survived lived on happily ever after (I chose the Green ending), it had the negative effect of turning my back on any future single player content. The original ending, short as it was, already had an air of finality to it. Taking the new epilogue into consideration, the series - as it pertains to Shepard - is well and truly over. Cut, print, that’s a wrap.
As for how the ending made me feel about the decisions made throughout the trilogy, I didn’t get the sense that the epilogue wanted to address that. The underlying purpose of Mass Effect 3, as I see it, was to tie up the loose ends my decisions in the last two games made. Wrex was spared from being killed, which led him to lead the Krogan and help Shepard save Earth. Shepard chose to spare Legion, who helped Tali reclaim her homeworld. Mordin collected the data from his associate and used it to cure the Genophage. The game’s new epilogue serves only one purpose: to address what life was like for the surviving heroes post-Shepard, nothing more.
I have poured about as many hours as I’ve invested in playing this whole series as I have in writing about its conclusion. As an avowed supporter of the original ending I was given in March, I have lashed out at what I believed to be misguided fan outcry, and reflected on my personal experience with the story for The Escapist. Now, having played two different versions of the Extended Cut, it’s hard for me to muster a mere 500 words on the subject. I feel like I should either be given a novel’s length, or nothing at all.
I’ll say this: I welcome the Extended Cut. Even before I played it, and now after I’ve played it, I suspected that it wasn’t entirely necessary. This is primarily because the Extended Cut fills in the gaps that I had already filled in my head after finishing it the first time. As I reminded ending-haters many times over back in March, not everything unexplained is a plot hole, but an opportunity to intuit the missing pieces of the story based on how you know the characters. The Extended Cut removes all of that ambiguity, but yes, I admit that it is quite well done. If it adds one thing of true substance it’s “The Wall,” a brief moment in which the surviving crew of the Normandy gather around the casualty plaque on the command deck and add Shepard’s name to the list. Mass Effect 3 was only the third game ever to make me cry, but now it has done so twice.
Of course, I only focused on the Destruction ending. I still have other Shepards in the mix, and depending on who’s left standing at the end of their stories, the tone and impact of choosing Synthesis or Control could be quite different; however, I did take time to stumble upon the much called-for “Rejection” option. If you’ll recall, one of the loudest complaints fired at BioWare was for the inclusion of a way for Shepard to say “screw these options, I’m not taking any of them.” Well, BioWare happily obliged, and it leads to something darkly hilarious, which will no doubt make those who demanded such an option all the more angry. I’ve come to refer to it as “the bitch ending.”
My main issue with Mass Effect 3's ending was the same exact issue as with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. By presenting you, the player, with a discrete set of choices (four, to be exact, in both DX:HR and ME3:EC), allowing you to pick your primary one, and letting you to reload and relatively quickly see the other endings, both studios lessened the significance of each choice. I would prefer the Heavy Rain model or an algorithm which made the decision for you based on your decisions prior. No sense in letting you choose to control the Reapers if you've told the Illusive Man he's wrong 5 minutes earlier. That didn’t change in Extended Cut.
Of course, that was BioWare's creative decision to make and I respect it regardless of how I feel about the individual endings or the execution. I still chose the same Synthesis (Green) ending as I had originally and I think they expanded on it, but I frankly just didn't care anymore.
What's missing? Around 30-40 hours of gameplay, nights when I'd stay up until 2am to finish a specific mission, and all the emotional momentum. Loading into that moment just before Shepard enters the Citadel beam and then having the same conversation with the Illusive Man, confronting the awful Starchild (a talking, sentient cloud of energy would have been preferable) was an emotionally empty experience. It's the equivalent of having broken up with someone years ago over something they did. You meet to catch up and they're unhappy with how the relationship ended. "Wait, that's not how I wanted that night to be like," they say. They reenact the whole thing sans the mistake, but time has passed, you've moved on and don't love them anymore.
It's interesting and rather neat that they (BioWare, the hypothetical ex) decided to do that. It's just really weird and awkward. Play through the extended cut on your first playthrough of Mass Effect 3, but beware of returning to Earth if you've already finished the game.
I was not one of the thousands who hated the endings to Mass Effect 3. It was underwhelming, yes, but it ended how it ended and you can’t change that. Oh wait?!
I began by setting the difficulty down to narrative, making the gameplay a boring breeze. Replaying parts that were initially interesting on my original play through, now frustrated me as I tried desperately to zoom towards the ending. My patience wore thin as I grew close to the end and finally, I meet the Star Child and accidentally told him to go do one. Oops. Replaying the section again, I accidentally made the exact same choice, this was due to being bored, walking slowly towards the ending choices, shooting Star Child to keep myself entertained, rather stupid. By this time I was so wound up that I had lost all care for what had changed, I just wanted to see them all and get it all over with.
After making my way to the Crucible/Catalyst/Citidel for the third time, I made my way towards the Control ending (which was what I had chosen for my actual play through). I was greeted by Shepard getting fried as usual, then a cutscene. I felt guilty the first time through, as I felt that I hadn’t made the correct choice, however this time around with the extended cut, I felt much better about what I had done. Shepard was now the guardian of the universe, no one got crazy biotics forcibly combined in them and no Synthetics like the Geth had to die so Organics could live. The Reapers were now helping rebuild what had been destroyed by them, including the Mass Relays and everything seemed good.
Overall, my outcome felt like it had been better explained, giving a more rounded sense of closure that wasn’t there before. It just feels too late. The endings should have been this way from the start. Coming back after 3 months, away from a universe that you were so invested in, playing only the ending, leaves you not connecting with the universe the way you did the first time. It just feels bitter sweet.
Jonathan I didn’t have any problems with how Mass Effect 3 ended. The ending of ME3 is not just its final sequence but the entirety of the game. It’s the ending to the Mass Effect trilogy. So the fact that the actual final sequence of the game wasn’t the best didn’t bother me. Yes, the video that plays at the end is similar across the three different endings. And yes, that final sequence does not feel as personal as the end of Mass Effect 2. But despite my satisfaction with the ending, I wanted to see this new Extended Cut. But there’s a problem. What it addresses aren’t really problems and how it addresses them eliminates one of my favorite parts of the ending.
The new ending does fill the plot holes that most players complained about. We now know exactly where the Normandy went and how our squad mates got aboard it. But that’s trivial compared to other plot holes. How is the Citadel a key component to the Crucible, a multicivilitation-designed super weapon if no civilization ever actually learned how to use it? Why, if a being has the intellect and resources to create the Reapers, can’t it devise a better plan than to kill all advanced organic life in the galaxy to keep organic life from being wiped out? How does anyone stand against hundreds and thousands of Reapers if one almost decimated a fleet of Turians, Humans and the Council at the end of the first game? None of the above issues are touched in the new ending.
Nor should they be. This is the story that BioWare built. We accept it warts and all. But by altering the end, I feel BioWare has invited this sort of criticism. And in lieu of real fixes, we get a final sequence that merely expounds upon the consequences of your actions with addition voice overs and such. There are still definitely commonalities between then, but the endings are more unique and the effects of your choice are made clearer, and as a result, more personal.
But I think it’s absurd to say the end is not personal. I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve spent some 500 hours with the series. I know these characters. I’ve listened to their stories and helped them through hard times. I’ve seen them change. I’ve seen them die. The ending is personal because the entirety of Mass Effect 3 is the end. The scene where Mordin gives his life for the Krogans is part of the end. The shooting contest where I let Garrus win is part of the end. The moment that I bought a Tennyson collection because I knew Ashley would like them. Part of the end. Watching as Thane kicked the crap out of Kei Lang despite being deathly ill. Part of the end. And obviously, Anderson telling me he’s proud of me…the end.
Mass Effect 3 has issues but none of them stop me from loving the game. The changes, in turn, are rather superfluous. It’s not any better and in some ways it’s worse because the additional clarity eliminates indoctrination theory as a viable reading of the game. Now, I don’t ascribe to indoctrination reading, but I love the fact that it exists because I don’t believe there is one correct way to interpret art. But with the EC, I think overall strength of the game is weakened by limiting the way it’s audience can read into it.
For most people, I don’t think the new endings will make much of a difference. It’s not inherently bad but it doesn’t make the game any better. I view it as more of an alternate ending. It’s not the default one. And personally, I like my Mass Effect to be so vast that it can’t help but have plot holes and multiple correct ways to read into it. Mass Effect is too big and tries to encompass too much thematically to appease everyone. It’s its own thing. It’s divisive and always has been. Why should that stop now?