Saturday, 7 November 2015

Mass Effect 3 (PC) - Part 4: Extended Cut


Around four months after release, Mass Effect 3 received an alternate ending DLC, with a price of absolutely nothing. The Extended Cut replaces the original ending, but not by default; it needs to be downloaded and installed separately. Unless you’ve got the Wii U version that is, then you’re stuck with the new content.

I actually think it’s great that the original ending’s still there for people to experience first hand, as we should be preserving content like this. Plus developers shouldn’t be able to edit our copies of a game to change the story without permission anyway!

Is it a good thing that BioWare ‘caved’ to their fans at all though? Does it set the medium back as an art form when customers can demand changes when a story doesn’t match their expectations? And does it actually fix anything?


Well look at all the other DLC packs you can get for the game, like ‘Leviathan’, ‘Omega’ and ‘Citadel’, designed to slot into the middle of the story and extend it. This isn't a TV show or a book, it's not exactly unprecedented for BioWare to alter their own story after the fact with new content. Plus surely their very existence proves that BioWare didn't hit the tone they were intending to. They're saying 'buy more content to expand the story' while the ending's saying 'anything you achieve in the DLC will be pointless', so clearly something's gone wrong here.
“Help Aria T'Loak retake Omega station so that she can be stuck there in deep space with dwindling food reserves after the mass relay network explodes!”
There's nothing wrong with a story that ends with inevitable and overwhelming tragedy, if it suits the tone. But overwhelming tragedy isn't what the average player wants from their fun sci-fi adventure, and Mass Effect fans haven't much interest in inevitability either.

I don't believe that developers should feel compelled to give into demands to change their game's ending if they're satisfied with it and it delivers everything they promised. But I do believe that if they're counting on fans to buy extra DLC and sequels, then it's very much in their interest to give players a universe they actually want to revisit.

Anyway, here's what's actually different about the game's Extended Cut ending:

This is the first change I've noticed, taking place during the desperate run to the teleportation beam. This time Harbinger got a bit more into flipping Makos with his laser, and my squad were too close when one of them exploded.

Shepard stopped and called for an evac, so Joker flew the whole bloody Normandy down from orbit to save them! Seriously, he brought the ship right into the Reaper's face and hovered there long enough to have a staring contest with the thing, before flying into space again. Not a single laser fired the whole time.

Also the crew of the ship, some of which have been dying to grab a gun and get back to Earth so that they can shoot some Reapers and not have to admit to their kids that they spent the whole war guarding a door… stay exactly where they are. This is the last chance for the galaxy to save themselves from utter annihilation, and not one single person walks out of the hangar doors to join Shepard in the run to the beam.

With her team safe, Shepard starts sprinting towards the teleportation beam alone and things play out pretty much as they did before. Shepard gets blasted, kills Marauder Shields, stumbles into the beam, appears on the Citadel, chats with the Illusive Man, and gets brought up to meet the hologram child.

But this time I’ve got dialogue options!

I asked the Reaper child to explain why he believes robogeddon is a sure thing and here's his explanation: organics create synthetics to improve their own existence, but those improvements have limits. To exceed those limits, synthetics must be allowed to evolve and surpass their creators, and this leads to bad feelings and genocide. Uh huh.

It still won't let me use the events of the game as a counter argument to talk him around though, which leaves this last second dilemma feeling as disconnected and unearned as ever. If the story so far is irrelevant to the ending, then the ending is irrelevant to the story so far!

At least I get to chat about the different solutions this time around.

Still blows up all synthetic life and some technology, though now I’m told that the survivors can easily repair the damage. This is a pretty massive difference, seeing as it leaves the mass relay network intact.

I might actually have enough War Asset points now with this DLC installed for Shepard to survive this, meaning that it’s the lowest personal sacrifice with the highest collateral damage.

The child makes it clear that Shepard’s mind and memories will be copied into the Reaper’s computer network, so she’ll be a machine god actively ordering them around. Also nothing much explodes.

Shepard loses her body but still survives in a new form, so a non-trivial amount of personal sacrifice there.

The hologram kid seems really hyped for this option this time, calling it the ideal solution. Organics seek perfection through technology, synthetics seek perfection through understanding, so this alters the matrix of life to… shove technology and understanding into people. The kind that makes you perfect. This means the Reapers have no excuse to keep Reaping and they’ll go leave us alone. And nothing much explodes.

Poor Shepard gets utterly obliterated by this one, taking the kid’s warnings about the upcoming robot war seriously, and making the ultimate sacrifice to ensure Skynet never nukes the galaxy.

Plus there’s the refuse option and its new variant: ‘Shoot the hologram kid in the face’.

This kind of annoys him a bit, then the Citadel is destroyed and all hope is lost. Though there’s a new scene afterwards set thousands of years later, showing another race discovering information about the Reapers in a beacon we left behind, just like how Shepard found the Prothean beacon at the beginning of Mass Effect. Pretty cool for a ‘bad’ ending actually, I like it.


I picked synthesis again and look, a new scene! This time Admiral Hackett orders all ships to disengage and head to ‘the rendezvous point’. So now we get to see what the Normandy was up to while Commander Shepard was having fun adventures on the Crucible, and why it was ‘running away’. In fact Joker really doesn’t want to leave without Shepard and has to be talked into it EDI.

I’m actually really surprised at how many voice actors BioWare brought back for this. It seems like Admiral Hackett, the hologram child, Joker, and my entire squad all have new lines. They must have spent a fair bit of cash on this free DLC, and the new content fits in seamlessly.

Another new scene! Now I get to see organics and machines reacting to their transformation, as the Reaper husks attacking the human forces on Earth suddenly gain a new awareness and stop. The two groups come together and look up to see the clouds parting to reveal sunshine and blue skies. All that's missing is a rainbow!

I say ‘machines’, the husks are actually the cybernetically reanimated corpses of dead humans, or something like that... so now that I think about it they were already hybrids before the beam hit. Either way these guys get to enjoy the perfected existence of being a robot zombie. Could be worse though, you should see what the alien robot zombies are like.

Cut to Palavan and Tuchunka to show the turians and krogan being transformed as well… and looking really goofy with their glowing green eyes and glowing circuit board skin patterns. Wait, that’s their armour glowing, not their skin. Plot twist: it turns out that the krogans were secretly sapient outfits wearing iguana masks the whole time.

Either that or the dumb energy wave must have thought their clothes were synthetic life and transformed them too. Now the krogan have a deeper understanding and empathy with their pants.

You know, I’m pretty certain now that there's no way that ‘synthesis’ is going to be considered any kind of canon ending going forwards, no matter how ‘ideal’ the kid thinks it is, as if Mass Effect: Andromeda put glowing eyes on its space heroes it's going to end up looking dumb.

And now they've added a series of Fallout-style painted slides, giving a glimpse of what happened next to the people I met and the planets I visited, while EDI gives her perspective on synthesis in narration.

I know some people aren't a fan of ending cards, but these do a fine job of showing the state of the galaxy without straight up telling you that Zaeed and his favourite rifle got married, or that Joker and EDI gave birth to a smart-ass toaster etc. (it helps that the art looks great). Even seeing that the fleets made it back home and were able to rebuild really helps. It puts the pieces back to where they were before the assault on Earth.

And the Normandy crew gather to put the final name up on their monument to those who died fighting the Reapers: ‘Commander Shepard’. Oh c’mon, I get why my crew can’t say my character’s first name, but there’s nothing stopping them from writing it down. I spent forever thinking up the name ‘Kate’, and I don’t even get to see it in text.

EDI gives comm officer Traynor a hug (presumably because she’s the closest thing Shep had to love interest in my game) and then the very much intact Normandy flies away from the jungle planet to have new adventures, under the command of… Ashley I guess, seeing as she’s a Spectre now and needs her own ship. The end.

Well okay there’s still that scene with the Stargazer and his kid in the creepy forest (who definitely aren't Normandy descendants now). But after that it’s the end.

Of course I got the ultra-happy outcome here because I made the ultra-happy choices. Well relatively speaking, seeing as countless millions died and Shepard got her face burned off, there's always horrible consequences in the brightest of resolutions. But the use of ending slides means there are now different ways things can play out, and I could've left the galaxy in a very different place.

There’s even a scene with an alternate alien Stargazer talking to an alternate alien kid after the credits if you screw up enough to wipe out humanity, which is a nice touch.

And here's that updated ending text I mentioned earlier. They've taken out the mention of DLC and put in a message of thanks from the Mass Effect team. Oh, plus they’ve added the word ‘congratulations’, which is... interesting.

It's just reminded me of an old Mega64 sketch, which took the piss out of unhappy fans wanting EA and BioWare to fix the ending. In the sketch, the fans were demanding a proper recognition of their accomplishment for beating it, so BioWare ended up sending all of them a trophy with "You did it" written on.

And I just got my very own virtual congratulations message from BioWare in real life! I did it!

Hang on... I never wanted any extra reward for my accomplishments. I've already got trophy cabinet full of them!

It's interesting to go back through old articles and comments to read about people's reactions to the Mass Effect 3 backlash, as a lot of people didn't quite get why fans were so emotional about it.

Some thought that players were upset about Shepard dying at the end, instead of getting married to Tali and going drinking with Garrus (or vice versa). Some were under the impression that players were after more appreciation for beating the Reapers. Some were convinced that it was actually the lack of reactivity that was the problem, with the entire last chapter being more or less the same for every player etc.

The truth is, different players were pissed off for a thousand different reasons of their own. Like I said before, the original ending fails on so many levels simultaneously that you can't single out any one flaw in it as being the thing that got everyone so mad.

Personally though I just wanted an ending that made any kind of sense, and that didn’t blow up space travel and strand the characters on a jungle planet for no good reason. And they fixed that, so I'm happy.


The Extended Cut was promised to clarify the existing ending without altering the events in it, and thankfully that's not really the case. Sure it does explain things better (and they really did need explaining) but it also fills in plot holes and changes the Crucible's multi-coloured space magic bullshit beam to be far less apocalyptic in its effect. BioWare chose not to half-ass it and put the extra time and money in to present their insanity in a much more satisfying way and left the original ending intact for those who liked it fine the way it was! I'd call that a happy resolution.

To be honest, the original ending kind of retroactively ruined the other games for me for a while, similar to how 'Alien 3' put me off the 'Alien' films. It's hard to enjoy the ride when you know you're headed off a cliff. But when I replayed the trilogy this time after seeing the Extended Cut I found I enjoyed the games as much as I ever did. The extended ending undoes a lot of the damage (literally), and gives the story some proper closure… or not, if you’d rather just wreck everything. I still don’t like the synthesis magic, but I can live with it.

I wouldn't say that I'm a suspicious person, and I never took the Indoctrination Theory seriously for a second, but there’s too much wit and heart in the rest of the game for me to see the original ending as anything other than a cunning and elaborate scheme by BioWare writers to get fans to send them 402 cupcakes. It was only when they received the delicious confections and saw they came in three colours that all tasted the same that they realised how far they’d strayed from the original goal of the Mass Effect franchise: to make me happy. They shunned the cupcakes, sending them to a local youth shelter and decided to put the real ending in. What they came up with second time around might not be a perfect conclusion, but what game has one of them anyway?

I’m hyped for Mass Effect: Andromeda, so mission accomplished.

Don't worry, I'm not going to make a habit of writing 4 page articles like this. It's just Mass Effect 3, it makes everyone a little crazy. You can leave your own spoilery thoughts and opinions on the ending in the comments below if you want. Try not to give away the whole story in the first 100 characters though or else it'll show up in the 'Recent Comments' box on the right.


  1. The one complaint I never understood when this game came out was that the ending made the choices over three games "not matter". You did a great job of explaining it with "everyone is stranded and dies slowly", but the rest of the complain falls flat to me. Our choices absolutely did change the game's ending, and in fact, most of ME3 was about how our choices changed things, from Ashley/theotherguy/Wrex living, to how Mordin reacts, to who survived all mattered and influenced the ending. Just seemed like something to complain about for many. ME3 was a great game, with a crap ending that got better.

  2. I'm also surprised that there's so many red phone boxes still around in 2186.

    Well, how would we know it's London otherwise?

    It’s not like the ending of Mass Effect 1 where the invasion of the Citadel left few visible casualties, I'm seeing corridors lined with the dead.

    But it does look like some handy Reaper cleaner has cleared a path through the corpses for you. Either that or everyone crawled over to the sides of the corridor before dying.

    I can't say anything about the ending. Haven't played it.

    1. Yep there's handy Reaper cleaners scurrying around the hallways that stack the corpses up. BioWare think of everything!

  3. I played this at launch, which I rarely do for any game. I was just that stoked for it, since I liked the first two so much. Well...this game felt like a massive step down from the others, far more shooter than RPG.

    As for the didn't bother me. Yeah, it was kinda lame having it be devoid of choices, with a weird star child, but I play these games because I have fun with the journey. If the final moments are underwhelming, to me, that doesn't ruin the previous 90 hours. I understand why some people feel like it does (which you did a good job explaining here) but overall I felt like the internet went WAY overboard to the whining about it. I was part of the "backlash to the backlash" and wanted everyone to just shut up about it after a while.

    1. Yeah, that's one of the reasons I waited three years to write anything. The internet had gotten thoroughly sick of the game and anyone still talking about it.


Semi-Random Game Box