Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut Review: Salvation for the series?

SPOILER ALERT: If you wish to experience the Extended Cut afresh, it's probably best you didn't read this.

It should be abundantly clear to anyone who has paid any attention to the gaming community recently that there is no shortage of dissatisfaction to be found regarding the ending of Mass Effect 3, the conclusion to the very well regarded trilogy. Suffice it to say that many, many, many problems were outlined and described and ranted about in nauseating detail. With today's release of the Extended Cut DLC (which for what it's worth, costed nothing), the question I'm sure most are wondering is whether BioWare's last ditch effort to appease its fans has truly salvaged the game and the series.

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"There was nothing wrong with the original endings anyways."

In the interest of the everyone's sanity, I'll forgo a point-by-point breakdown of the plot holes and narrative inconsistencies that seemed to dot the original edit. What seems to irk fans the most however is that while plot holes generally tend to be incredibly pedantic in nature, Mass Effect 3's ending suffered holes big enough to drive a semi-trailer through. Even if you vehemently disagree with this assertion, at the very least, to actually think that BioWare left nothing unanswered that ought to have been addressed reveals that you either did not play game properly or that following narratives has never been your strong suit anyways.

To have a coherent plot is an absolute baseline in any artistic enterprise with a narrative element; no one should be showering writers who put together workable stories with accolades of any sort. There is certainly nothing unfair about this. Yet the Mass Effect 3 ending failed, at least for myself, on an entirely different level. The last minutes of Mass Effect 3 don't just serve to conclude the game itself, but rather mark the end of an entire epic franchise. To do so properly is admittedly no small task, but is it unreasonable to expect something that is truly emotionally stirring, something that befits the series?

We've invested so much into the characters, the universe, and the lore of the game that anything else would be a sore disappointment. Sadly, it seemed we were not given such a fulfilling ending with Mass Effect 3 – and this to me was the even more egregious error on the part of BioWare in the construction of the original ending, more so than the plot problems. These, I can chalk up to mistakes or even just lazy writing/editing. The lack of a satisfying end to the journey however, suggests a total lack of vision.

We then arrive at the crux of the matter, the Extended Cut DLC. Before even delving into the content however, I do feel compelled to commend BioWare for even bothering with creating this. The cynic in me suggests that they only did so in order to soothe their fan base, in that a discontent community isn't one that will gladly gobble up the inevitable future (paid) DLCs. Yet one has to hand it to them for at the very least recognizing that their fans do indeed exist and attempting to heal their grievances. Whether they have managed to do so however, is an entirely different animal.

A quick run-through of the additional cut-scenes and dialogue options (there is no new gameplay) reveals that BioWare did indeed heed most of the complaints about serious issues with the story. The Normandy's mystifying crash on the vegetated planet in the original has been modified with an explanation on why it even left Earth during the final assault in the first place with your entire squad onboard, as well as the satisfying change that it is no longer damaged and is in fact shown leaving near the end. The Catalyst's explanations of his motives and methods have been tweaked and expanded upon, though unfortunately not to the degree many were hoping for. The implications of your final decision are more fully fleshed out. No not every question was answered, but on the whole the plot was arguably quite salvaged.

More importantly for me though, is that the developers actually attempted to address the aforementioned emotional aspect of the conclusion. The stirring scene of Commander Shepherd's name being added to a memorial along with the names of the dozens of others who died during the fight, or the variation in the renegade ending of your love interest's hesitation to do so with a teary yet unmistakably hopeful complexion, hinting that it is believed you are still alive, at least for this humble gamer struck all the right emotional chords the original never did. The tremendous re-orchestration of the ending moments, expertly combining the previous dreary, melancholy score with a decidedly triumphant and rousing one was a pleasant surprise as well.

"[The ending] is not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, or C."

Even still, it's hard not to remain slightly disappointed. Yes they added an ending D, yet the overall effect is a far cry from the impression that we were going to receive wildly diverging stories. The new option, which essentially consists of Shepherd telling the Catalyst to get lost and mind his own business, is definitely thematically interesting. Unfortunately for us however, it is also the least developed of the bunch. This then is what perhaps best epitomizes the Extended Cut – it is absolutely interesting and provides a real semblance of closure, but really is just not all the way there.

In the end it's safe to say that BioWare has managed to win over this Mass Effect fan. What was once a convoluted mess now seems to be a palatable coda to a franchise I still consider to be one of the all time greats, both in terms of the story line and the entire ride itself.