EDIT 12/29/12: I have since revised my opinion of the new Extended Cut ending of ME3. While I still hold true nearly everything I say below, I no longer can say that I think that the ending is, even incompletely, saved. The fact of the matter is that anyone who plays a Paragon Shepard--and let's face it, Renegade Shepard is fun and all, but Paragon is the only real Shepard--is forced by the ending to either invalidate the beliefs that Shepard holds true and sticks by no matter what, or lose. Control is a violation of one of the most important and powerful themes of the entire Mass Effect series, the danger of advancing your technology beyond what your species is mentally ready for, not to mention the hazard of playing with power beyond your ken. The series shows us that this is a bad thing through the history of the Krogan, the corruption of The Illusive Man, and the simple fact that the entire Reaper trap depends on sentient organics using the technologies the Reapers leave behind and thus developing their sciences along the paths the Reapers want--Sovereign himself says this. Synthesis is everything Control is, and worse, as it violates the right of every individual in the galaxy to make decisions for their own body, and depends on the utterly absurd reassurance that everyone in the universe is "ready" for a melding of organic and synthetic life (proven wrong multiple times over with all the anti-Geth prejudice seen many times from many people in the series). Refuse stays true to Shepard's principles, but ends in failure. Finally, Destroy requires the sacrifice of an entire species of life (and a personal friend of Shepard's) to occur, and it's shown many, many times in Mass Effect to be against Shepard's code to sacrifice the innocent to achieve his ends. Whether the Geth and EDI would consent to this sacrifice is irrelevant--they're not informed of it, not given the option to do so, and so the sacrifice is unacceptable to a Paragon Shepard. So, since anyone who looks at Shepard as a hero cannot win the game without destroying that very heroism, I conclude that the Extended Cut does not, in fact, save ME3. It's a vast improvement over what Bioware gave us originally, but it is not enough to make the ending minimally acceptable.
Anyway, for what it's worth, the actual rant is still below.
Well, 2 days ago it happened. Bioware released the Extended Cut, a free DLC package for Mass Effect 3 that modified the ending of the game to pacify the rage of the vast majority of its fanbase whose reactions were measurable. I, like so many others, spoke about why I hated the game’s ending so passionately, a rant which you can find here fairly easily. And as I did when Fallout 3’s ending was amended, I’m here today to pay penance for my words.
Or am I?
Well, maybe I am, and maybe I’m not. Let’s look at my complaints and see if Bioware actually has earned my apology (not to mention my future business). Let’s list’em out and see how the new ending material does. I’m going to assume that you read the rant on ME3’s ending’s problems, so here I’m not going to explain out the problems I wrote about in that rant, just restate them and consider whether they were addressed.
Additionally, the following basically assumes the best possible scenario of each ending (AKA, that the player has a high enough EMS rating at the game’s end to access the best version of the ending).
And because I’m tired of doing so, I’m just going to stop referring to Shepard as he/she here. My Shepard is a guy, and it makes slightly more sense for him to be (see another previous rant). You want a female Shepard, that’s fine, I’m happy you like inferior vocal work, but the inconvenience of writing it out all the time is annoying me, so you’ll just have to deal with my preferences for my rant.
And finally, as last time, major spoiler alert here. Should be obvious, really, but...
The Small Stuff
- Shepard Dies
Well, this hasn’t really changed all that much. Shepard’s death remains the same in the Synthesis ending. His consciousness DOES live on in the new version of the Control ending, which is actually not so bad, I suppose, but I’m not sure I can really count it, because...well, living on as the Reapers isn’t exactly the living I think most of us would have wanted for Shepard. I was kinda thinking more along the lines of him settling down with his love interest, retiring to the beach Garrus spoke of, meeting Jacob and Kasumi and several other friends for victory drinks, leading reconstruction efforts, and so on. And the Destroy option’s ending has the same thing as before, just the stupid second of Shepard breathing--the only difference is that his crew seems to have some idea that he’s not dead in that one, as the game doesn’t actually show them putting Shepard’s name on the memorial plaque. But there’s nothing more substantial there than before. So in the end, this issue has been made very, very slightly better, but not enough that it’s solved.
- Shepard’s Destroy Ending “Death” Doesn’t Make Sense
Unaddressed. No more information is given than before to explain why the Reaper-destroying energy will also target Shepard as a potential synthetic being.
- The Catalyst Hologram Kid Feels Out of the Game’s Context
The extra options for explanation of the situation with the Catalyst helps a little to make it seem less random, but ultimately, this entire thing still feels like it’s from a completely different science fiction story. The Catalyst, the truth of the Reapers, the choices offered, it all still feels like someone very ineptly attempting to force some Isaac Asimov into their Star Wars.
- The Normandy’s Escape
Completely and adequately addressed now. Admiral Hackett gives the order for them to pull out, the Normandy’s not the only ship escaping, and it can leave the planet it lands on, so if Destroy Ending Shepard does live and all, he can potentially reunite with his crew. Why Hackett orders a retreat right then is somewhat questionable, I guess, but not so much that it’s a plot hole, so this one is fixed.
About time something was.
- Magic Green Space Energy Makes No Goddamn Sense
Yeah, the Synthesis ending still is silly and stupid. Oh, the new ending content adds an extra line or 2 and a visual trying to give it some meaning, but it fails, and the whole thing still makes absolutely no sense and is entirely unbelievable still.
- Synthesis is a Dick Move on Shepard’s Part
This is sort of better now and sort of not. Shepard is still intimately violating an entire universe of life by forcefully changing their bodies without their consent or foreknowledge. The line of dialogue the Catalyst says about organic life being ready for it now should be disregarded as meaningless tripe, as we’ve not seen any indication that the people of the Mass Effect universe are any more intellectually enlightened than people of our own time, and thus we can quite safely assume that a huge number of people in the ME universe would NOT want to be an inexplicable mix of organic and synthetic since a huge number of people from our own reality would not want it. I wouldn’t even buy that “ready for it” explanation if we were using an intellectually enlightened future culture like how humanity is portrayed in Star Trek, and that’s not the case with the populace of Mass Effect.
On the other hand, the new ending content makes it very clear that the people of the galaxy do benefit from the Synthesis ending option, using the accumulated culture and knowledge of all cycles’ species to usher in a new golden age of the galaxy. Everyone seems plenty pleased about it from what we can see. So...I don’t know. I guess I have to let this one go now. I still think it’s wrong to have one person make a decision like this without the consent of the people affected forever, but the smiling, happy pictures and words afterwards say it was good, so...guess Bioware successfully sidestepped this one.
Alright, so we’ve had a few improvements to the minor issues here, but most of them are still as problematic as ever. But hey, these ARE the minor problems. So long as all the big stuff’s taken care of, this is easily forgiven.
But WERE the major issues addressed?
- Incorrect Colors Associated with Control and Destroy
Yeah, this one wasn’t fixed at all. I really don’t care how nice and happy everything with Control is in the end. You don’t associate the option the villain, The Illusive Man, chooses with the color symbolic of virtue in Mass Effect. And you don’t associate the option chosen by Anderson, the perpetually heroic supporter of Shepard, with the color symbolic of being a Machiavellian jerkwad in Mass Effect. I understand that the Control ending is now shown to actually, really be a good and safe option, but you know what? It’s STILL what the Illusive Man would have chosen, it STILL correlates with previous choices in the ME series given the red Renegade color, IT STILL SHOULD BE RED.
- The Destroy Ending, Which Regardless of Color is Most in Accordance with Paragon Principles, Kills EDI and the Geth
Well...the Destroy ending still is said to kill EDI and the Geth. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that now, thanks to the Extended Cut’s content showing what happens after Shepard’s choice is made, we can see that the Control ending really ends up being a viable option for a Paragon player. We’re given solid evidence that it works as intended, and that everyone benefits from Shepard’s control of the Reapers, without having to resort to ridiculous, idiotic Synthesis Space Magic* OR killing the Geth and EDI. So, since I think Paragon players now have a halfway viable ending alternative to the Destroy ending, I’ll let this one go.
- EDI and the Geth Prove the Catalyst Wrong
Bioware TRIES to address this with the new content. They come up with this cockamamie explanation that the evolution of organic culture and synthetic consciousness inevitably leads them to conflict as those paths clash with one another. It’s one of the more ridiculous piles of rubbish I’ve heard in my time, and while it attempts to engulf the actions and personalities of EDI and the Geth in its explanation, ultimately it still fails to address the fact that for all intents and purposes, the peace between the Geth and the Quarians, and the strong emotional attachment EDI feels toward her crew, Joker in particular, proves that peaceful coexistence between synthetic and organic life is possible. Is it possible that conflict will arise at a later date between them? Certainly, but then, that’s a possibility between ALL thinking, free-willed peoples, now isn’t it? The important thing is that EDI and the Geth prove that peace IS possible, and so long as it is a possibility, the Catalyst’s belief that conflict between organics and synthetics is inevitable and permanent is, simply and emphatically, WRONG.
- The Cast and Events of the Game Are Not Adequately Depicted
This one is mostly addressed. I mean, a lot of the major war assets gathered during the game still aren’t properly depicted (STILL we see NOTHING of the Rachni, for example), but there is a bit more to the ending content now that does show scenes of the major characters of the series, and some of the major races and their battle against the Reapers, as well as how things go (at least a little) for several of the major characters of the series. Could’ve been a lot more and a lot better, but it’s there now, at least This one’s taken care of.
- Beating Saren was Pointless
Well, I suppose on the technical level, this one actually was subtly addressed. The Catalyst does make a comment that he’d tried previously to merge synthetic and organic life, but it never worked out, and was now an option only because of the Crucible and Shepard’s presence. I suppose this means that even if Saren’s dream of doing so had been something the Reapers would be down for (and it’s always been implied that it was just their way of dangling a carrot in front of his indoctrinated nose), they couldn’t have until now anyway, so defeating him was still necessary. From a thematic point of view, though, this is still just as big a problem as ever. If Shepard chooses Synthesis, it’s still basically saying that Saren’s belief, goal, and dream, at least, were acceptable and apparently, in Shepard’s opinion, right. Which still makes resisting Saren in the first game pointless. This one’s still a problem.
- Synthesis Doesn’t Actually Solve the Catalyst’s Problem
Still completely unaddressed. Unless the Green Space Magic also turns every atom of metal in the galaxy part organic, there’s still nothing to stop the new organic-synthetic hybrid life from creating fully synthetic life all over again, and to stop that life from going down the developmental path that the Catalyst says leads to conflict.
Uh...okay...a couple of the major flaws with the ending are fixed now...but most of the ones I listed above are still open, festering wounds in the game’s story. Not good. Still...we haven’t gotten to the biggest problems yet. Even with as many problems remain in the ending that I’ve listed, they only make it a bad ending, not an intolerable, godawful mess. If the following issues, the biggest ones, are solved by the new ending content, I can at least accept ME3’s endings, tolerate them, even though they’re bad. Let’s move on to the most important stuff.
Inspire Nigh-Universal Disappointment and Rage Problems
- The Ending Goes Against Everything Shepard Stands For
Mostly addressed. Unfortunately, Shepard does not argue properly against the Catalyst (he should have mentioned a lot of the stuff you’ve read above), but he at least is asking questions now, at least is able to argue a little with the Catalyst thanks to the new content. And more importantly, a fourth option was added: the option to refuse the Catalyst’s choices. Shepard can refuse to take the options presented by the Catalyst (or even attempt to shoot him), insisting that he and the races of the galaxy will fight the Catalyst on their own terms, and if necessary, die free rather than compromise. Sadly, this WILL be the doom of all the current major intelligent species of the galaxy--but the important thing is that there’s at least the option for Shepard to refuse. I do hate to give Bioware the point on this one because the Refusal ending SHOULD have had a possibility of defeating the Reapers (that’s the POINT, that Shepard can fight on his own terms and WIN), but...the basics are there, the option to throw the Catalyst’s stupid choices back in his face and have Shepard give a speech. And even in the defeat, there’s victory of sorts, for it’s shown after the credits for the Refusal ending that though humanity and its allies failed to beat the Reapers, the information they left for the next cycle’s species allowed THEM to defeat the Reapers once and for all. I have to admit, I’m way more okay with the idea of the galaxy’s people going the way of the Protheans, saving those of the future even though they could not save themselves, than I am with the foolish, inherently racist, and absolutely ridiculous concepts behind the Synthesis ending. Hilariously, Refusal, the ending that Bioware clearly considers the worst option, the “Bad Ending,” is STILL far superior to the ending that Bioware wants so hard to convince us is the best one.
But anyways, yes. This issue has been addressed adequately, if not in the way I would have preferred.
- The Endings are Basically the Same and Thus Player Choice Means Nothing
Addressed. While the endings (besides Refusal) are almost all still fairly similar, sharing structure and several cinematics, there are enough differences to them now that you can feel that you did, in fact, get a significantly different ending for each ending option. This is accomplished mostly through the narrative of Hackett, Shepard, or EDI (depending on which ending was chosen), but there’s nonetheless a goodly amount of differences in the FMV and presented cinematics that it’s no longer just 1 ending in 3 different colors. And hey, Refusal may be the short “Bad Ending,” but it’s nonetheless very different than the other endings, so the variety is there. In addition, smaller player choices are also reflected more adequately in the endings, with many small differences shown depending on who Shepard’s love interest is, who died in the course of the game, decisions made with party members throughout the series, and how Shepard handled the major plot events of the Genophage and war for Rannoch. I think that player choice has been adequately represented with the new content.
- The Ending Says That Differences Inevitably Result in Conflict
Well, it’s sort of addressed, but sort of not. By going into more detail about why, exactly, synthetics are supposedly fated to rise against their creators, the Catalyst actually makes it out less to be a case of differences inherently leading to conflict, and more to be a case of the general psychological development of synthetics inherently leading to conflict. While I wouldn’t say that’s any less illogical and silly than before, it at least is less easily turned into an argument for destroying those who are different. On the other hand, the Synthesis ending is still presented to be the ideal solution to this problem. So it’s still basically saying that the best way to avoid conflict is to make everyone the same. Still...still, I suppose the major problem I had here was that the conflict itself seemed rooted in the idea that physical and cultural differences between 2 individuals makes peace impossible (and the idea that Shepard wouldn’t speak up against this foolishness), and that much has been addressed by refining the problem to a question of how synthetic life desires to evolve. The new question is, again, somewhat illogical and silly, but it’s not thematically repulsive any longer, so...I guess I’ll let Bioware have this one.
- The Mass Relays are Destroyed
Addressed. Destroy, Control, or Synthesis, all say or show that the Mass Relays can and will be repaired, and so, galactic society and Shepard’s works are preserved. Probably some people will still have died before the relays are repaired (particularly in the Destroy ending), but all in all, this complaint, the biggest I had, is completely corrected.
Hm. Well, thankfully, we had some better luck with this round. While not always doing so wonderfully, Bioware did manage to fix all of these tremendously important points with their new content.
So, in the end, is it enough? Does the Extended Cut save Mass Effect 3’s ending?
Yes, with reservations. Most of the small and large problems I had with ME3’s ending were not corrected with this content. The ones that were, usually could have been fixed much better. There are still SO many plot holes that I haven’t even mentioned, and a few new ones with the new content. No matter what, the endings are bizarrely unlike the entire series leading up to them, an entirely different form of storytelling violently jammed into the tale’s last 5 minutes. Though no longer the thematic antithesis to the game, the endings are still largely irrelevant to the most important themes and ideas of the Mass Effect series. As it stands now, Mass Effect 3 has 4 endings of various levels of bad quality, and no good one.
But 4 bad endings is better than a single, tri-colored ending that is thematically repulsive and completely intolerable. The endings dreamt of by fans in the Indoctrination Theory and the Marauder Shields comic series (found here: http://koobismo.deviantart.com/gallery ) are inestimably superior to what we now have, and it’s rather sad to see just how greatly the fans have outdone Bioware this day. But I nonetheless now have a finale that is only bad, not awful beyond comprehension, and a bad finale is something that I can (very unhappily) accept. And I can appreciate that Bioware did take the time to make this, even if I have the feeling that a lot of it was driven by a hope to win back the potential DLC customers who were leaving in droves. So I won’t cut my ties to Bioware as I have with SquareEnix. I’ll be a much wiser customer now, to be sure--no more pre-orders for Bioware no matter what the product is, and I’ll wait to know about the product’s quality before I commit to a purchase. But the important thing is that I will still be a customer. They’ve won back that much, at least.
But Bioware is on thin ground with me now, and it won’t take many more Day 1 Paid DLC packages, outright dishonest advertisements,** inept and insulting PR statements, or awful misunderstandings of their own products for me to leave the company behind for good.
* Admittedly, Control is kind of implausible, as well, and could also be ridiculed as Space Magic. But it’s still SO much less absurdly stupid than Synthesis.
** You want a laugh some time, find the interview in Game Informer Issue 217 (May 2011) with Casey Hudson, main writer for Mass Effect 3, and see what he had to say about what ME3 would be like. The one where he insists that the plot of ME3 won’t be dictated by finding “some long-lost Reaper “off” button,” and that Shepard getting to live in the saved ME universe was an important goal for the conclusion. If ME3 were any other product than a video game, its creators would be legally punishable for false advertising and selling a defective product. As it is, though, unethical and often illegal business practices are a daily routine in the video game industry. If game testers can regularly work unpaid overtime without breaks every day of the week, official gaming news outlets can be bribed into giving better reviews, and virtually unplayable products can be regularly rushed out the door to meet arbitrarily set deadlines, I shouldn’t be too surprised that a game developer can be allowed to tell you that you’re getting the exact opposite of what you’re actually purchasing.