For months, players have been debating the controversial conclusion to the Commander Shephard Mass Effect trilogy. Despite a mostly positive critical response (read our Mass Effect 3 review), over the days and weeks following the game’s release the fan community expressed significant disappointment over the, arguably underwhelming and convoluted, endings options – which left the fate of key characters up in the air and failed to show how the player’s choices actually impacted the final story beats.
In response, BioWare announced the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut DLC – which, according to the developer, would be a non-playable add-on that addressed a number of fan complaints by offering greater insight into the impact of Shephard’s final encounter with the Catalyst as well as what happens to a number of fan-favorite characters. However, given that executive producer Casey Hudson has already stated that the Extended Cut won’t satisfy everyone, is it actually worth replaying the final three hours of Mass Effect 3 (with only minor pre-catalyst tweaks) just to see their personalized outcome or would gamers be better off just watching all the endings online?
As previously covered in our article, What Mass Effect 3′s New Endings Actually Changed, the Extended Cut DLC does add a number of new cutscenes (not to mention a hidden “fourth choice”) that flesh out certain plot holes in the launch build – resulting in a set of endings that would have been significantly less controversial the first time around. That said, since players are required to replay the final three hours of the game (starting with the attack on the Cerberus base – assuming you don’t have a manuel “Priority Earth” save) in order to see all of the new content, some gamers may feel that seeing their final customized ending may not be worth the time invested.
The majority of the attention was clearly spent adding story filler that connects the previously convoluted non-Shepard scenes – so anyone hoping for a lot of post-gameplay exposition showing the effects of the player’s various decisions or the individual fates of fan-favorite characters may still be somewhat underwhelmed. In general, choice-related story beats are pretty hit and miss – especially romances. Depending on party member choices as well as romanced characters, players could be presented with an emotional mid-battle exchange, reflective post-Catalyst cutscene, or little more than a static image of their beloved safe and sound during the epilogue. The Mass Effect series has always been about choice, so it’s okay that players must live with the consequences of their actions – but, even in the Extended Cut, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the outcomes of some decisions weren’t given as much attention as others.
As mentioned, the non-Shepard story filler definitely fleshes out the cinematic finale segments and adds a ton of much needed context for a number of scenes that didn’t make any sense in the original version. As a result, while not every supporting character is featured and not every question is answered, the actual plot progression of the galactic resistance as well as the Normandy crew is much easier to follow this round – and even addresses future events that are far-removed from the core Catalyst aftermath. As a result, there’s a much greater sense of Shepard’s impact on the future – not to mention the people he or she fought alongside.
The Catalyst choices and aftermath are significantly more impactful this round – as Shepard’s fate is spelled out very clearly in each of the (now) four choices. New dialogue and contextual visuals have been added to help clarify the effect of each choice – before the final decision is actually made. Additionally, following the standard color-swap cutscene, the Extended Cut also adds-in further on-the-ground as well as off-planet effects of Shepard’s choice – not to mention a three-to-four minute epilogue that actually details, as mentioned, the Commander’s fate as well as the state of the galaxy months later. Elements of the various epilogue sequences are underwhelming (such as motion comic-like slides that are only slightly tweaked for each choice) but, overall, the four core ending experiences are interesting – and serve as fitting (and surprisingly nuanced) conclusions to each of the available choices.
Complicating matters, the Extended Cut gameplay is causing problems for a large percentage of players. A number of errors and glitches have set off a new round of fan outrage including game freezes, extended mid-battle loading, and (worst of all) install failures - failures that, in a few cases, weren’t even discovered until players complete the game (only to be greeted by the original endings). Few of the errors result in full on crashes but it’s certainly unnerving to wait on a black screen for forty five seconds while reloading a checkpoint.
Ultimately, the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut content could have probably prevented a lot of the post-launch controversy had it been attached to the release build. It offers a significantly more satisfying conclusion for Mass Effect fans. However, in terms of replaying the game in order to experience the content first hand, some gamers will no doubt feel as if the Extended Cut is too little, too late. There are some fun (and challenging) moments in the final two missions but replaying some of the less successful sequences (such as the Kai Leng boss fight) can be pretty tedious. Additionally, there are very few pre-Catalyst story tweaks (though there are a few worthwhile ones) – so it’s hard to directly recommend that gamers take the time to play the Extended Cut sequence if they’re not, at the very least, somewhat interested in revisiting previously seen territory. That said, for die-hard completionists or players who want to see their own customized ending (not to mention anyone who just enjoys Mass Effect combat), the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut definitely ends the trilogy on a much more satisfying note.
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The Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut is available now on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360.