Okay, so maybe "love" is a strong word for my feelings on the Extended Cut, but it fit with the Dr. Strangelove-style title I was going for.
But, did I "like" it? Yeah. I did. Shockingly enough.
I joined this movement because I felt Mass Effect deserved better. It deserved a better conclusion and resolution. It deserved better than the ending it got: we shouldn't have been left with destroyed relays, stranded fleets, and a marooned crew. How BioWare thought at all in their minds we would extrapolate anything good from what we saw, I will never know. They should have known better than that.
When the Extended Cut was announced, I did the collective facepalm like everyone here probably did. "It's not going to be enough," I told myself. We needed more than clarification on endings that were absolutely awful in their moral and emotional implications. The closure on such a thing can only be awful. The themes in the ending were botched: the only way to fix that was through true change, not clarity.
A week ago to the day, BioWare announced that the Extended Cut would release Monday morning. I'd heard the rumor EC was already finished, but the announcement admittedly caught me off guard. I was fearing the worst, because it seemed like it was too soon. I honestly wasn't expecting an announcement until Comic Con, at the earliest. I was afraid it would be yet another rush job. My expectations became even lower than they were.
Despite that, though, I decided to download and play Extended Cut as soon as I could. (Though, I was determined NOT to do it sober. Lol!) I also decided that even though my expectations were low, I wouldn't judge the Extended Cut for what I thought it should be. For what I thought it should be and what I wanted it to be, yeah, of course it was going to suck! No doubt about it. Instead, I decided to judge it for what it is, not what I wanted it to be, what it should have been, or anything like that. How else could I make a fair judgment? I knew it wasn't going to give us any new choices, I knew it wasn't going to change the endings or what they were, I knew we were still going to have awful StarChild logic. Okay, fine. All I expected the Extended Cut to do was take some of the bad taste out of my mouth, maybe show my crew being happy stranded on the stupid jungle planet even though I'd never see them again. I didn't expect it to meet my minimum "requirements" for me to be able to live with the endings, certainly. But...what harm could there be in giving it a try? It's not like I could hate the endings any more.
So, after a night of drunken multiplayer, I downloaded the DLC at 0230 in the morning. I had a save to finish up at Sanctuary, so it was a good long while until I actually got to the new EC content. When I did, I noticed and immediate improvement: a plot hole was closed. You call in the Normandy to evac your squad, and I was deathly afraid they would die (in "ME3 The Final Hours" it's revealed that there was a cutscene where the two squaddies you brought with you died in the beam run), but they didn't. I was glad I brought Kaidan, my LI, along for the ride, because that final goodbye scene was so heart-wrenching. Kaidan watched me leave looking like a kicked puppy, and it totally tugged at the heartstrings. The rest of that moment was so well done I could overlook Harbinger just chilling there and letting the Normandy evac survivors. (Maybe Harby figured he could get the Normandy later? Lol. "Ah, you humans...you think you can save everyone! I'll let you have your moment, just this once.") But I made a mental note of it just in case I had to rip on the EC for creating more, bigger plotholes than it filled.
The transition to getting hit with Harbinger's beam was a lot better, because it was done seamlessly with that goodbye cutscene. The Normandy leaves, you see Shepard running, dodging...then BOOM. After that, it plays out exactly the same with the Three Huskateers and Marauder Shields (though, for the first time ever he killed me because I was too hungover to aim properly XD), and then Shepard goes into the beam and actually gets spit out into that room with all the dead bodies on the Citadel. I appreciated that there were little things like that added in there, and my first thought was that BioWare must have run out of time on the first go-round, because everything looked crisper, sounded better, and I felt like some of these things went beyond just clarity. These were things I really felt like should have been in the vanilla game, little things that add another level of polish those last 10 minutes were severely lacking. Unfortunately, I felt like these little things pretty much invalidated the Indoctrination Theory. I honestly didn't expect BioWare to do anything to invalidate it, because they had expressed it was pretty ingenious, but they did. In the end, I guess it was a good thing, because it allowed them to be a lot more specific and a lot less vague with what they gave us in our "extended" ending. Vagueness was probably the Achilles heel of the endings as they stood (ignoring other thematic factors).
Everything from that point forward until Shepard meets the StarChild is the same. What's nice about the new StarChild scene is you can question him more, and you can ask more about each choice. Granted, Synthesis is still space magic and the explanation still makes little scientific sense, but it's there. For Control, it's a much better explanation - the Catalyst actually explains that you would become the new Catalyst (as it was explained in the leaked script), and even goes on to say he doesn't like the idea. Destroy is presented in a bit of a better light; the Catalyst no longer pinpoints the geth as something that will also be destroyed, but says all synthetics, and possibly technology depending on how well the Crucible was built. He even says something to the effect that you could rebuild everything that gets destroyed, but emphasizes the cycle will still continue. StarChild does go into more detail about his motivations, which re-affirms (at least to me) that he's a flawed AI, not so much a god-like being. He even goes into his origins, but ultimately blows off the question. (Which is a bit annoying in the way it's worded...I've got all the time in the world if it means I get to find out more about your goofy space ghost butt!)
Shockingly enough, you can choose to reject StarChild's choices outright, and you're treated to a nice, honorable (if a bit rebellious) speech made by Shepard. Then, StarChild shows you his true colors: his deep, Reaper bellow says, "SO BE IT. THE CYCLE CONTINUES." and the next thing you see is Liara's time capsule device playing her recording. We lost the war. I took this option my first time playing through the EC, bewildered that we could actually stand up the StarChild. I was thoroughly taken aback that I had no control beyond the point where I made my speech and StarChild told me the cycle would continue. I was thinking, "Hey! YOU! Come back here!" the entire time...and I was pissed. Really pissed. Almost furious. No matter what I did...if I refused to take the StarChild's options, I'd automatically lose.
Fuming, I went to go take a shower as it was already 8 in the morning by the time I finally finished the game. I was ready to rip EC a new one, because...even though I was mad over that refusal ending, I thought it was way better than the previous options. There was at least a bit of hope for the next cycle. How could the others be any better, even with the Extended Cut? How much more grim would the other choices be? I was almost afraid to find out. Almost.
I knew I could never judge the Extended Cut until I saw what the "proper" choices had in store. So...I booted up a save just before the beam with the intent of going with my system-standard Destroy ending. That ended in me shooting the StarChild out of spite (the first time I ever did so)...and I got the same damned "SO BE IT" line. I actually laughed, and thought it was rather cheeky and funny, even though I was severely annoyed I had to go through the Illusive Man's and StarChild's song and dance again.
Finally, I got to my Destroy ending. I was treated to a heart-wrenching scene where Joker didn't want to leave me, but had no choice. I was treated to new cinematics where the relays merely overloaded, and the Normandy was outrunning the shockwave, but was just in front of it and didn't sustain any damage. I was really hoping not to see the Normandy crashed and stranded again, but it's what we got. But...it looked like the Normandy wasn't as damaged as before, which gave me hope. Hackett's narration with the slides gave me more hope for the future of the galaxy than I imagined I ever could have. I even had hope that given time, we could rebuild the geth and EDI. Though, what got me into fits of tears wasn't all that...it was seeing the Normandy lift off the jungle planet. I never realized how important it was to me that not only the crew survive, but the Normandy, too, until that moment. That, coupled with the scene where Kaidan refused to put my name on the memorial wall, had me in a tailspin of emotions I thought I never would experience with the Extended Cut. Then...I realized something.
I could live with this.
If this was all we were going to get from BioWare for the endings...I could live with it. More importantly, I felt like I could enjoy the trilogy again, something I couldn't say the day before. There was hope for the future, and that was much more than I thought the EC would give me. I'm not sure why...but I thought for sure the endings were too negative with the fleets and my crew being stranded, the relays being blown up and the possible collateral damage. I got completely the opposite, and more than I was honestly expecting. For that...I am so grateful. To understand why I'm grateful, you have to understand that the sense of complete hopelessness in the original endings was my #1 issue. I didn't care if BioWare said that wasn't their intent...they didn't give us anything to go on at all. If you read my previous blog entry, you'll have some understanding for why hope in the series is so important to me.
In short, the Extended Cut isn't what I wanted, it isn't what I felt like the endings needed to be truly "fixed," but it was way more than I was expecting.
So, how can I actually like the Extended Cut when I don't think it's what was needed to fix the ending, even after seeing it? Well, that's pretty simple, really. For what it is, it's very good. I do have my issues with it, the foremost being there is no actual reunion between living Shepard and crew - all we still get is that breath scene. However, it did a lot more than many people were expecting, or even hoping. But that's the key: you have to look at it for what it is, not what it should be...as I decided to do before I even downloaded it. We knew going into this thing it wasn't going to give us anything new (even though it did, but that's a topic I plan to explore in a separate blog post), we knew the StarChild would still be there, and we knew it wouldn't give us what we truly wanted. I honestly don't understand why people expected it to be any of that, or decided prematurely that the EC would suck if it didn't include any of that...it never was going to! Even trying to consider what it "could have been" is moot, because it was never up to us what it could have been.
In retrospect, a complete re-do of the ending was totally unreasonable to expect; I always thought so, but I understand it even more now. It would have been nice if we got more options that actually reflected our choices...I think that would have been the best compromise, anyway. However, that also would have been difficult for BioWare to achieve without doing some heavy re-working of the storyline. It's unfortunate, but it is the way it is. ME3 is fundamentally broken as a story, and just tacking on a new ending wouldn't change that. This Extended Cut is much more than a lot of us expected, and is a much better compromise than I ever could have imagined actually happening. Because of that alone, I don't expect BioWare will give us any more content. They're attached to the story they wanted to tell...and though I might not agree, I respect it now that we actually get to see something besides three nearly identical cutscenes. There's too much that needs to be addressed in this game to make it perfect, or even close to being perfect. For that reason, it is futile to try and push for more. For that reason, Extended Cut is a major win, and we should all feel accomplished - it wouldn't exist if it weren't for us. It even took direct fan feedback into account, and it shows. Is there room for improvement? Sure. There always is. But is the ending now a lot better as it stands because of Extended Cut? Definitely.
I think the most recent HTL podcast regarding the Extended Cut is spot-on regarding many issues. I think these guys have the right idea on Extended Cut, what it means, and how it has positively affected the endings and is a major victory and step forward for gamer-developer relations as a whole. As for my views on the subject, I will post my own analysis of every ending in a later blog.
So that, my friends, is how I learned to love the Extended Cut. It was really only a matter of attitude and learning to celebrate all victories...no matter how small.
Here's to small victories.
Small Victories (or How I Learned to Love the Extended Cut)
Blog entry posted by SkyShep, Jul 2, 2012.
About the Author
I am a Professional Aeronautics major with a concentration on Aviation Safety, and minors in Weather and Business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. My interests beyond aviation and aerospace include writing, science fiction, video games, community service, the military and nerd culture. Most of the time, my blogs will be about aforementioned topics, but not always! I speak a fair bit of French and a little bit of Chinese, so don't be surprised if you see either of these languages. 懂了吗？