I dutifully woke up at 5 AM to download this latest offering from BioWare. Here's my response.
It all basically boils down to this: the new content should have been on the disc on day one. My suspension of disbelief stretches pretty far, and probably would have covered the material presented in the EC with little trouble. I would have been content, saying "sure, that wasn't the best (or most original) thing I've ever seen, but it was an odd little twist that threw me for a loop, and the endings at least had a satisfactory amount of closure.
Before I get a lot of aggro (I know plenty of people are very unhappy with the EC and I don't blame them for a second), let me just say that I'm not giving it approval. Just the fact that this wasn't on the disc is enough to bother me. A lot. The fact that the retail ending was so eye-openingly awful, so thematically jarring, and so ridden with plot holes makes it impossible for me to give a courtesy pat-on-the-back (figuratively) to the BioWare team.
I suppose I'll break down the new stuff and respond individually to each part.
Normandy Squadmate Evacuation
I actually laughed out loud during this scene. Had it been part of the original game, I probably wouldn't have thought twice about Shepard calling for the Normandy to evac the wounded squadmates (as I said, my suspension of disbelief is generous, at least the first time I see something). Fridge logic would have eventually snuck up on me, and left me with the exact same questions, which I asked knowing that this scene was specifically added to cover a plot hole.
If Joker was available to evac squadmates, why didn't he just fly everyone to the conduit?
If the situation is so desperate, why didn't Joker try to distract Harbinger so ground troops could reach the beam?
Why didn't the Normandy fire its Thannix cannons at Harbinger?
Why didn't Harbinger shoot the Normandy down?
I get it, this is solely there to answer the question of how squad mates magically appeared on the ship during the final cutscene. It was poorly executed and, as I said, laughable. Joker is still out of character; he would have volunteered to dance around Harbinger to allow people to slip through, or charge and fire (he did something similar to Sovereign in ME1). One plot hole covered...but at least four reasonable questions raised.
For some reason, Marauder Shields' eponymous Shields were only at about 25%. I'm not sure why. I played the final mission on the "Narrative" difficulty, but I've done that a few times already (pre-EC). His shields were always full. I have to assume this was changed for some strange reason. I assume it's BioWare's little Easter egg response to this meme.
They added a nice little bit of animation showing Shepard flying out of the Conduit and on to the Citadel. I didn't think this was totally necessary, but it was kind of nifty anyway. It stood out to me as one of the few ways they suggested IT was false; by showing Shepard physically deposited on the Citadel, it removes the ambiguity of Shepard fading in and out of consciousness.
Anderson's Cut Dialogue (that wasn't added back in)
Okay, this is actually something that WASN'T in the EC, but should have been. After some reflection, I realize that I probably would have been disappointed to hear Anderson talk about Shepard being a good father/mother only to see Shepard die at the end. Even so, I thought this was very poignant and fitting for Anderson's final conversation. This is Shepard's mentor and father-figure through the series; it only makes sense for him to discuss how he believes Shepard would in turn make a good parent and mentor someday. I was quite surprised this was still left out.
The Magic Elevator
After seeing the added Conduit animation, I was kind of surprised that they didn't address the magic elevator better. The heavenly beam of light was gone (another subtle anti-IT clue), but the destination of the elevator is still obscured, and there's no real reason why it should even exist there in the first place. Minor, but worth mentioning.
This blew me away. I have to say I was actually impressed with this scene, although again it should have been on the original disc. Mind you, I still think the sudden thematic shift and the introduction of a new character were two awful things to do this close to the end, but this was a lot more palatable by far.
First, it was possible to actually engage the Catalyst in a more traditional Mass Effect conversation. I could complain that the "investigate" options were somewhat heavy-handed, but realistically the other games had conversations that were equally odd in structure because of the presence of "investigate" dialogue. It's never really flowed all that well, but the important thing is the information present. The information was there, so that placates me to an acceptable degree. I'll admit that the first time I saw the new dialogue wheel I laughed, but it's a lot easier to find things funny when you know they're a direct result of fan complaints regarding lack of dialogue options.
Second, the introduction of the choices was handled much better. They were explained more fully, and I felt I had a better grasp of what exactly the Crucible's function was. It was also noteworthy that the Catalyst's lines were altered pretty drastically; instead of the antagonistic "I know you've thought about destroying us," or the ambiguous "Do you think you can control us?" we got a set of lines that sounded much more detached and calculated. They sounded more like an AI stating the results of the choice than a Reaper trying to trick Shepard into doing what it wants. This is, I believe, another change made to suggest that IT is not true and that the Catalyst is who it says it is.
Third, there was an option to refuse the Catalyst. I frankly thought this option was tacked-on and lame, as it is the only choice that fails to account for EMS at all. While I did think there should be an ending where the Reapers win outright and the Cycle continues, I don't think this was properly handled. It seems much more like this was added on to quiet the fans who wanted a "fourth option," while at the same time smugly demonstrating that the Catalyst's (and the game designer's) choices are the only "right" ones. In other words, I found it to be quite immersion-breaking and kind of insulting, even though I like the basic premise of allowing the cycle to continue. At least Liara's time capsule got a proper mention.
I think there should have been a way to defeat the Reapers without using the Crucible at all (albeit with incredibly heavy cost to the galaxy). The fact that there isn't such an option sells the series short, and frankly there is no real reward for the people who painstakingly completed every game and every available quest, plus multiplayer. Don't get me wrong, I think the fact that the best endings were locked out for people who didn't want to play multiplayer was unfair; on the opposite end of the scale, having amassed 8,000+ EMS and gaining virtually nothing for it is a bit disappointing. Defeating the Reapers without the Crucible would have been a neat "secret" or bonus ending for this kind of effort.
There was one very blatant ret-con involving the Catalyst that was more than simply rephrasing its dialogue: this time around, the Catalyst explicitly states that the Reapers harvest organic and synthetic life, not just synthetic. This, unfortunately, introduces another plot hole, as it is mentioned in ME2 that the Geth are not fit for harvesting. This is a poor attempt to cover the question "why not simply destroy synthetic life each cycle?" Unfortunately, while this is a clear ret-con, there's no indication that in past cycles the synthetics weren't harvested, so they can probably get away with this one.
Overall, while I dislike the Catalyst and what it represents (the general narrative-breaking of the original ending), I feel that it was handled much better.
As I mentioned, the way the Catalyst framed the choices was much better. I also think their execution was also significantly improved. As I mentioned above, the "refuse" option was pretty weak, so I won't go into that again. Instead I'll talk about the "real" choices, the ones that were meant to be taken.
I still found only indirect evidence that the Geth and EDI would actually die, but at least it was stronger evidence this time. The Catalyst's dialogue is a better indicator that it is telling the truth, the final cutscene shows EDI's portrait, EDI does not step off the Normandy, and none of the slides featuring the Geth are shown. That makes this clearly the Renegade choice (as opposed to before, where I considered it to be the only choice).
I personally think this was the most lacking ending originally, and subsequently the most improved of the three choices. This time around, it's explicitly stated that Shepard can and does take control of the Reapers. He transcends his old human self while maintaining his identity, memories, goals, etc. There are still some sinister shades to this ending, but in role-playing my Paragon Shepard, it seems like a pretty good Paragon option. I suppose that's open to a lot of interpretation though, which is perfectly fair.
Synthesis was always shaky as it implied that homogeneity was the solution to conflict, in contradiction to some major themes in the Mass Effect series. I'm still not really sold on this choice, although some of the flaws were alleviated. It's more clear what exactly Synthesis does: organics gain the knowledge and capability of synthetics, and synthetics gain the understanding and empathy of organics. Additionally, the knowledge and culture stored in the Reapers would become available to everyone. The hand-wave was at least improved, getting more than just a single line of dialogue that didn't really explain much.
And again, since the Catalyst seems a little more reliable, I have an easier time swallowing his claim that Synthesis is the next stage of evolution. This eases my mind a bit about the galactic-scale rape/molestation thing, because at least now we can assume that Synthesis is a "natural" course that would happen inevitably, and not some sudden change forced upon all life. Now instead of "they didn't ask for this change, you can't just do that," it falls more into the boundaries of "well, you can't really choose how you want to evolve." There's a lot more weird philosophy and stuff playing in here that I don't want to get into (it's a good topic for discussion though).
The Cut Scenes
There were a few things that were noticeably different about the final scenes, and several of them were clear ret-cons of the old scenes made to specifically clarify some of the more idiotic things about the original endings.
Flight of the Normandy
This was, in my opinion, one of the more absurd plot holes in the original endings. Now, we understand two things about the Normandy. First, the Normandy was fleeing because Admiral Hackett ordered all ships to flee. This isn't an unreasonable order, because no one knows exactly what the Crucible will do. Hackett is just attempting to keep the fleets safe. Second, the Normandy was probably caught in the blast because Joker hesitated. He didn't want to leave Shepard behind, and so the Normandy was unable to outrace the Crucible blast completely. I consider this to be a fairly smooth filling for the plot hole, but it's definitely not perfect.
The Normandy Crash
Of note, the Normandy's engines are not destroyed. The ship looks to be in much better repair on the planet, and it takes off some time fairly soon after crash landing. This is well and good, but this particular ret-con sort of makes the whole crash pointless. There's no tension or suspense, they just kind of crash for a little while and then leave. As bizarre as this may sound, the Normandy crash actually made more sense in the original ending, where it was implied that they were pretty much stranded.
The Citadel and Relays
It's pretty clear that they forgot to take "Arrival" into account when making the original endings, and that's because in the new scenes it's very obvious that the mass relays do not rupture or explode. That's kind of sad, but at least they fixed this aspect. The explosions on the Citadel appear to also be significantly more subdued, leaving the structure in several pieces but not destroyed completely (or flung into the Earth). The fact that one of the endings shows the Citadel/relays being rebuilt (and the other two suggest that they will be soon) indicates also that no one will starve to death. So there's a couple more plot holes covered. Again, not perfect, but workable.
I'm thoroughly glad there is a narrated epilogue for each different ending, and that they are distinct. This solves the massive problem of ending uniformity and actually gives the final choice some weight. It's pretty amazing what can be accomplished by showing the outcomes of such a drastic event, rather than leaving it up to "speculation from everyone!" (/sarcasm) This is good, but it should have been on the disc. It makes me happy to see it, but at the same time makes me mad that I had to wait this long.
Shepard's Breath Scene
I know Jessica Merizan tweeted at some point in the recent past that it would definitely be possible for Shepard to survive and reunite with the crew. Unfortunately, my initial attempts to find this tweet have been unsuccessful. I will append this blog with the link should I find it, but I know it exists.
As it turns out, this is a "BioWare truth" (similar to a "Jedi truth"), as even the Extended Cut only implies that Shepard survives. The breath scene from the original destroy ending is intact, and it's left up to our imaginations whether Shepard reunites with the Normandy crew. I find this to be very cheap. True, not everyone's reunion would be the same, but this doesn't preclude a very simple scene showing Shepard breathing or rising from the rubble and being spotted by the squadmates, and the ending the scene there. It could play exactly like Shepard's survival at the end of ME1 and be perfectly fine. I frankly can't imagine why there wouldn't be an explicit "Shepard survives and gets to see everyone again, definitely, no doubt whatsoever" ending. It would have been so easy, and I know a lot of people wanted it (I among them).
I will grudgingly admit that the Extended Cut did an admirable job correcting many of the flaws in the original ending. It would be impossible for me to say I didn’t enjoy it. It may just be that it’s a slightly more acceptable ending to Mass Effect than the one that disappointed me so much back in March.
But no matter how well the Extended Cut performed in its own little universe, there is still a massive problem.
The original ending to Mass Effect 3 sucked harder than any fiction I have yet experience. I can at least give Twilight credit for being consistently awful. This 11th hour curveball courtesy of Casey Hudson and Mac Walters is so damaging that I doubt I’ll ever be truly satisfied with Mass Effect 3. I don’t know if I’ll ever get the full story on how this came to be, but I do know this: Mass Effect’s ending was wrought from over-inflated ego and pride. It’s why they wouldn’t change it outright, instead committing to “polishing a turd” (which is actually possible according to Mythbusters—and the EC, if you ask me—though it’s still a turd). They made a bad ending better, but I can’t call it truly good.
So I have mixed emotions. I will accept the Extended Cut. It functions, at least. I don’t love it, and I don’t hate it. But I no longer can trust in the story-telling abilities of BioWare. It’s a shame, but I’ll move on. There are lots of good storytellers out there, many of whom have yet to be discovered. Will I play Mass Effect 4? Probably, but not on launch day.
For anyone who has read through this leviathan of verbiage, thank you for your time and I welcome your thoughts and comments.
Mass Effect Extended Cut (SPOILERS)
Blog entry posted by calvinocious, Jun 26, 2012.