Thursday, July 5, 2012

Mass Effect 3's Extended Cut - Not a Perfect Fix



Warning: This post contains spoilers about the Mass Effect series.

If you happen to be a fan of role playing games or gaming in general, it is likely that you heard about the uproar this past March in regard to Mass Effect 3's endings.

Simply put, many players were put off by how Bioware handled the series' final moments. Most of the complaints centered around the idea that the trilogy's main antagonists, the Reapers, were made to look impotent.

Essentially, after building up the Reapers to be the main threat in the Mass Effect universe throughout the series, Bioware decided to, at the last minute, turn them into simple tools for another antagonist, known as the catalyst.

This catalyst character gives the player a brief monologue about how the Reapers are actually the Galaxy's saviors due to their role in preventing what is known as a technological singularity, or the creation of A.I.'s which exceed the intelligence of their organic creators.

He then provides the player with three choices which all center around utilizing the crucible (a super weapon of sorts) to either destroy the Reapers, control them, or synthesize your DNA within he weapon's energy in order to fundamentally change every organic and synthetic creature in the galaxy.

Does that last option sound confusing? It should. Essentially, through some form of space magic, the crucible (using your DNA) would emit energy that would merge organics with synthetics and create an entirely new organism that is "perfect," according to the catalyst.

Apparently, this new race of hybrid organic/synthetics would get along with the Reapers and they'd form a nice little utopia in the Milky Way where everyone always gets along and conflict is a thing of the past (at least until this hybrid utopia becomes bored and decides to invade the nearest galaxy).

Bioware really tries to push you into picking Synthesis, not only through having the catalyst paint such a pretty picture of it but because it only becomes available if you pick all of the right options in the game up to that point. Personally, I felt that it offered too creepy and ambiguous of a solution and instead chose to destroy the Reapers, as that is what I've been freaking waiting for since 2007!

Many people seem to agree with me, not only for the previously stated reason but because destroy is the only ending where Shepard actually (possibly) survives!

Phew. Well that's how the original ending went down. After all the complaints, Bioware decided to make a free DLC called the "extended cut" which would expand upon the original endings in order to provide clarity. It would not however, provide any truly fundamental changes (such as getting rid of the catalyst completely).

After playing through it a couple times on Tuesday, I have to say that I am more pleased with this ending than I was with the original. The main difference between the extended cut and the original ending is that the catalyst is given significantly more dialogue, which is used to better explain its role, the origin of the Reapers, and the nature of the crucible (though we still aren't told exactly how it works its space magic).

It also fleshed out the catalyst's descriptions of the three ending options, and surprisingly added a fourth option: refusal. This isn't really a true ending though in comparison to the others. It seems instead more like a jab from Bioware to its player base for rejecting their artistic vision, as if you decide to refuse the catalyst's three options, everyone you know ends up dying, you die, your fleets fail, and the Reapers aren't defeated for another 50,000 years (which is portrayed through a very brief -- at least compared to the other three -- ending cinematic).

Though the refusal ending left a bad taste in my mouth, the new five or so minute long cinematic for the destroy option was very well done. It provided the sense of hope and accomplishment that was missing from the original, and tied up a lot of the plot holes and loose ends which had me scratching my head the first time I completed the game back in March.

Is it the type of ending that a fantastic trilogy like Mass Effect deserves? No, I'd still say that it falls short of that. Though the endings provided were fleshed out greatly, some of the same underlying issues remain.

For one, there are still only three real endings, which is pretty pathetic for a trilogy spanning half a decade and whose sole focus lied in story telling and making difficult decisions which were supposed to have a major impact.

Secondly, all three endings are still rather melancholy. No matter what, Anderson dies, the Illusive Man becomes indoctrinated, Thane dies, Mordin dies, you have to deal with the catalyst, and your character dies (unless you chose destroy, and even then it's debatable whether or not that is Shepard at the end).

For a series like Mass Effect, where the player's choice is supposed to matter, the fact that so many of these story points are set in stone is disappointing.

How amazing would it have been if you could convince the Illusive Man to join you? How spectacular would it be to reject the catalyst and be able to fight the Reapers conventionally -- and win?

If you put in the hard work over these five years to make the best Shepard you could, how fantastic would it have been to see that culminate in your character living to see the Reapers destroyed?

Then, the game could have shown a cinematic of you celebrating with all of your companions, and perhaps might have portrayed a scene of you directing the galaxy-wide rebuilding process, before finally closing with an inspirational speech by Shepard which you could control through the dialogue wheel. How epic would that have been!

Unfortunately, many of these potential endings or branches to the story were nixed in favor of Bioware's "artistic vision" for the trilogy's conclusion, which took a decidedly melancholy turn and removed the player from much of the decision making process.

That being said, I believe that the extended cut itself was a great gesture by Bioware to its fans, and greatly enhanced the endings that came pre-packaged with the game.

In closing, I still feel that the end to this series is lacking even with the extended cut, and in my mind, Bioware truly missed an opportunity to do something special.

2 comments:

  1. I have thought a lot about how they could have made the ending more satisfying. I was not upset about the ending, but it fizzled for me more than I would have liked. Considering the technical limitations that come with a branching story it makes sense why they brought it down to four maintainable endings (probably a product of scope reduction).

    That being said I think Bioware could have executed the ending better. They could have had the same choices, but spread them around through out the ending level. Instead of giving them to you all at once along with an exposition dump as earth is burns in the background. This way you would be also be in the dark about what exactly would happen when you make a your choice. It might not be clear that you will have another opportunity to end the conflict until that next chance presents itself.

    An Example:

    Destroy = Crucible works... but something else will happen that would be bad (earth explodes?). Needs of the many vs need of the few choice.

    Control = Work with the illusive man to control the Reapers, knowing that he is compromised by indoctrination. A matter of trust and risk, this would also let whatever relationship the player had with the illusive man have more influence.

    Synthesis = This would be tricky, it might be best as is and involve the Star Child, which would tie up that loose end. This is a choice of one person's decision to change the fundamental existence of all life in the galaxy forever.

    You Fail = You let all your chances slip away and watch as the reapers destroy everything you know and love.

    These are all the same choices and endings. Presented in a different way they could have had much greater and differentiated meaning that would be much more apparent to the player.

    This approach would have also been more appropriate for the game as a whole. Making the best choice you can, with limited information as to how it will impact the future is how the story had been built up until the end.

    All this is easy to say in hindsight.

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  2. I agree that presenting the 4 options organically would have been far better than the tricolor exposition fest we were actually given. I especially like it because it gives TIM more of a purpose besides being a last minute reaper puppet/plot device to kill Anderson. He deserved better than that, especially if you think of ME2 as the best game in the series (which I do).

    I'm wondering if with Mass Effect 4, if it takes place after, Bioware will just go with failure being canon. And your quest is to find all the Shepard/Liara archives. Maybe you can still even play humans too because some colony survived a la Ilos (eye-los).

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