Whether or not it was the feeling of a majority of those who played through Mass Effect 3 and felt the ending was lacking in plenty of ways, BioWare felt that enough were upset to warrant some further development. Those solutions came in the form of Mass Effect 3‘s Extended Cut DLC, fleshing out Commander Shepard’s fate and granting several glimpses at how the player’s final decisions impacted the greater galaxy.
The release isn’t likely to bring those who felt the ending was a complete letdown and those who felt it was fine as it was together in a happy medium. But that doesn’t mean that the developers didn’t answer plenty of fan demands, and even show some of the inspired storytelling and greater fiction that fans initially fell in love with.
There may have been too many changes to notice them all, but it doesn’t seem right to let the good be overlooked altogether. Here are a few of the changes and nods brought with the Extended Cut DLC, along with a few questions we’d still like answered. BioWare may not have shown all of the cards we would like them to have, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be addressed at some point down the road. And if they’re thinking of what games in the Mass Effect universe to make next, we’ve got plenty of ideas already.
If there was one aspect of the original endings that felt completely out of place, it was the sudden backseat that most of the crew took to Shepard’s choice. While most of the last two games was spent recruiting talent from across the galaxy only to be disbanded, then… re-banded, Shepard ended up having to go into battle all alone. Even though Mass Effect 2‘s final boss battle went over like a lead balloon, the chance to take the entire squad into the final fight made all the time seem worthwhile.
Luckily, it seemed that BioWare realized an extended ending was an opportunity to show a bit more of how Shepard’s friends and loved ones stood beside him or her, even if they weren’t able to physically do so. Seeing a victorious Wrex, or Jack tending to her student soldiers depending on the decisions made showed that they weren’t completely forgotten. Shepard’s final assault may have been one that had to be taken alone, but discounting the existence of the surrounding characters didn’t make any sense.
Not that these moments were delivered in a cheesy, over-the-top manner, even if some parts of the concept art slideshow at the game’s conclusion seemed a bit cliché. It was the ones that showed the true nature of each character, like Joker refusing to leave the battle for Earth; refusing to leave Shepard stranded on the Crucible with no ride home that resonated. Even a moment as potentially on-the-nose as the assembled crew adding Shepard’s name to the Normandy’s memorial was delivered without any dialogue or drawn out message. Shepard meant something to them, and a moment of remembrance would absolutely take place.
It seems out of this same love for the various squad members, past and present, that also brought Normandy a brand new fate. The original ending had seen the crew (what was left of them) crashed on a mysterious world with no way home – an effective cliffhanger and ‘what if?’ moment, but also silently condemned them to a terrible end, regardless of how ‘successful’ the player’s campaign was. Thanks to the new ending, the crew that fought and won is awarded with victory, albeit tinged with the loss of their commanding officer.
Who knows, maybe the developers wanted to think that rag-tag band of spacefarers went on to enjoy all new adventures the whole time. At least now they aren’t destined to starve to death on some random planet. Seriously, how was that the original ending?
What We Hoped For:
All that fan service and justice being paid to the characters aside, we didn’t get to see all the character moments we had hoped for. Did Tali – provided she lived – actually succeed in building her home on Rannoch, with a special place for Shepard’s keepsake stone? Did Ashley or Kaidan assume command and take the crew on as their own? Did Liara return to her role as the Shadow Broker in a remote location, or continue to be among her human friends?
These are obviously questions that were going to haunt us regardless of the ending, and aren’t intended to be shots at the Extended Cut at all. If anything, it goes to show just how important all these characters were to the player when all was said or done. Hopefully ‘Admiral Alenko’ or ‘Matriarch Liara’ will reappear in the future.
The increased emphasis on the player’s relationship with their chosen romance option can’t be missed, and deserves specific mention. It was one aspect that the developers never gave any indication they were looking to address, and surprisingly, their additions worked beautifully. Taking a love interest into the final assault resulted in a heartbreaking farewell on the battlefield that was short, to the point, and rang true. Regardless of gender or specific romance options, the scene gave Shepard a last goodbye that brought closure to those players who were genuinely invested in the game’s romantic relationships.
What We Hoped For:
Depending on which characters were selected, saved, and romanced throughout the series, Shepard’s love story could have gone from simple to The Bachelor-level chaos. Given that massive variability, the relatively straightforward results shown in Mass Effect 3 were somewhat of a letdown.
For those who chose to pair with Ashley Williams from the first game, and remain monogamous, it took more than half of the ME3 campaign to even warm up to one another again. The relationship ultimately did result in both a physical and emotional connection between the two, but given how much time was spent learning about the intricacies of Asari coupling, the Williams sisters, or side effects of faulty biotic implants, every time a love interest was out of dialogue options in ME3, it couldn’t help but sting.
That would have been too extensive an expansion to release this late in the game, do the final farewell and tribute at the Normandy’s memorial will have to do. At least Joker and EDI found love…maybe.
More than just humanity had a place in the final battle, even if the original ending failed to show anything but Earth. Alien allies brought their military to back up the attack on the Crucible, but the full campaign showed that the war had many fronts, with Turians, Krogan, Asari and countless other races embroiled in battle as Shepard’s crew mounted their offensive. Thanks to added scenes depicting defeated or retreating Reapers on Tuchanka, victorious Asari commandos, Rachni enjoying open plains, and the first Krogan family units, the scale of that final attack is, retroactively, increased.
The claim that the entire galaxy was under attack by Reapers failed to connect with the lack of urgency in the game’s campaign, but that seems unavoidable. It’s hard to imagine that every species wouldn’t have been burnt to cinders by the time Shepard’s team was assembled, but the destroyed state of most civilizations glimpsed in the new conclusion shows that wasn’t far from the truth. Still, a glimpse of the greatness that the Krogan might one day reclaim, and the promise of a bond between Geth and Quarian certainly added to the weight of the player’s decisions.
What We Hoped For:
Honestly, a closer look at the Geth and the Quarians, and how Shepard’s final decision may have impacted even a previously peaceful resolution between the two warring races. The rise of machines against their creators is nothing new – just ask the Reaper holo-child – but the lack of true evil in the Geth added something new to the mix. Overall the relationship and quarrel between the two never plunged as deep as it could have, but the possible resolutions to the conflict had us expecting truly tough consequences or grey areas, especially if Shepard chose to eliminate the Reapers for good.
If Shepard had chosen to eliminate synthetic life forms altogether, does that mean the Quarians will be relieved, or enraged at having the possible fruits of their alliance stripped away? Does the accelerated immunity the Geth were engineering for Rannoch’s inhabitants continue after their death? Choosing to wipe out the Geth would be difficult for any player who achieved peace on Rannoch, but failing to show the grisly results of their choices removes a lot of moral examination.
The same goes for the Krogan, shown to be pursuing progress and rebuilding their civilization with only the best and most honorable intentions. We’re happy to see that the Krogan aren’t the savages everyone seemed to think they were, but the risk of saving an alien races that could one day conquer the galaxy was one we were always happy to flirt with.
Control & Synthesis
Out of all the changes made with the Extended Cut DLC, the ones we were absolutely not expecting were the fate of Shepard/humanity flat out confirmed by the developers’ new epilogues. No longer would fans worry about whether or not Shepard really did achieve his goal of putting an end to the cycle of death and life that the Reapers had upheld. And as for the Indoctrination Theory, well it’s downright impossible to justify believing that, now that the story’s writers went and showed that Shepard really was choosing the fate of galactic life.
And all in all, his decisions turned out for the better. Sure he wasn’t able to see the future that he made possible – not in his current form of existence, anyway – but the advancements and betterment of all that came as a result more than justifies the loss of any one man or woman. As the guiding force behind the Reaper consciousness, the army of machines was tasked with defending and protecting the sanctity of sentient life – a new breed of Shepard-controlled terminators, if you will.
As for synthesis, well considering that the result of merging synthetic and organic life was the recovery and height of Krogan society, infinite knowledge granted to any who sought it, and the manpower necessary to do away with war and rebuild the galactic community, that’s a good trade. It also makes the love affair between Joker and EDI far less disturbing. Okay, a little less. Whichever of the two were chosen, Shepard was now able to not just sacrifice his life to preserve and enrich it for all eternity, but the player could see the terrific impacts his sacrifice really had. A more satisfying ending in terms of player impacts there is not.
What We Hoped For:
It’s hard to say if conclusive proof that Shepard really did make the right call is what fans really wanted. If it really is the case that four out of the five possible endings showed that the player won the day and all lived happily ever after, one could make the case that all endings are equally meaningless. We’re not making the case that there should be more opportunity to fail, since seeing our previous decisions justified was a major weight off our shoulders.
But perhaps we didn’t realize just how important the element of doubt was in the mystique of Mass Effect 3‘s ending. Obviously we didn’t want our Shepard to have been tricked into thinking he could control or advance the Reapers, only to play right into the enemy’s hands. But not knowing for sure was… well, better than a science fiction, fairy tale ending. But it’s not the fact that Shepard was right that bugs us, but who else was as well.
Quite simply, the Control and Synthesis endings both prove that the Illusive Man and, to a lesser extent, Saren were completely right. After the first game had Shepard up against a madman corrupted by the thought that life could learn from what the Reapers had to teach, it turns out he wasn’t so crazy after all. And after two games of fervently denying the Illusive Man’s claims that the Reapers could be controlled, it turns out he was right all along as well. By extension, the showdown that had Anderson and the Illusive Man killed was completely pointless. Anderson died to keep humanity sacred, when joining the two life forms worked out better for everybody.
BioWare did answer most of the questions about Shepard’s fate, even explaining that his amalgamation with the Reaper consciousness spawned a new entity, led by his former self’s morality and will. But exactly what the change meant for organic life and synthetic is never explained in anything more than shallow pseudo-scientific references. The only real justification given is that ‘people use technology for everything,’ and ‘machines have never known what it is to be alive.’ That motivation, and a conclusion showing that both sides can get along is all that’s ever provided.
Exactly what organic and synthetic beings would grapple with when combined seems like a theme the developers of Mass Effect would at one time have been all too happy to explore. As it stand though, that will have to be done elsewhere. And for that, we can’t help but disappointed for the missed opportunity.
In the most surprising twist added with Mass Effect 3‘s Extended Cut DLC, the developers at BioWare didn’t just adjust the endings shipped with the game, but introduced not one, but two new conclusions designed to grant players the ability to make the ultimate sacrifice. The right to refuse all options given by the Reaper holo-child and doom all sentient life to annihilation wasn’t exactly demanded, but the developers nevertheless created the choice with an ending that is, oddly enough, completely in keeping with the tone and mythology.
It’s safe to say that a large number of players really did long to knock that smug little brat around aboard the Crucible, but would players really do it if the price was all of mankind? Apparently so, and the fact that BioWare was willing to play ball is appreciated. It’s not difficult to imagine a version of Commander Shepard that would go all ‘Morpheus’ and refuse to play ball with the machines, opting instead to take his chances with the galactic alliance he had assembled. All that remains, in that case, is the holo-recording of events that Liara was seen constructing earlier in the game (bet you didn’t think that would be coming back, did you?).
Not only did the developers finally deliver an ending in which Shepard really can, unequivocally, fail in saving humanity, but modify the original endings to encompass a brand new destiny for galactic civilization.
We speak, of course, of the ‘secret’ Refusal ending depicting a non-human pair of stargazers telling the tale of Earth’s defense. The aliens united against the Reapers did fail, but Liara’s project was successful in giving future civilization the information and history that allowed them to once and for all eliminate the Reaper threat. The ending was pitch perfect: somber, contemplative, hopeful, and a legacy if there ever was one. Add in the fact that the ending is triggered by firing a bullet right into that holo-smart alec, and it’s hard to think of a better finale.
What We Hoped For:
Honestly, the ability to have that Reaper ghost-child know just how much we hated his guts. So… we’re covered.
That’s our take on the good, bad, and ugly of Mass Effect 3‘s new Extended Cut DLC. Be sure to tell us which nods or subtle touches surprised you the most, and what questions you wouldn’t mind seeing answered in the future.
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