June 27th, 2012 at 2:59 pm
The Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut is out, and by now a majority of gamers (at least those owning an Xbox 360) have loaded their prior saves and experienced the additional content. As one of the most anticipated DLC releases this year, does the new content deliver on expectations? The answer to this is a matter of perspective.
Fan reaction to the ending of Mass Effect 3 has been an example of one of the most passionate responses to the ending of a video games series in recent memory. There has not been a response from fans so fervent, so earnest and so all-encompassing than that which was seen proceeding the release of Mass Effect 3. Disparate views abounded, reflecting polar opposite points of view regarding the end scenes of the final game, and what they meant to Commander Shepard and to the galaxy as a whole. For every fan who came forward to voice their approval of the endings, there seemed to be five who attacked them, expressing their disgust that Bioware had, in their opinion, ruined the series. Fan-driven moments focusing on the disappointment felt were soon all anyone could report on. A false advertising complaint was brought against Bioware claiming the company misreprsented the content within the final game, and that the game did not deliver on the ‘choices matter’ selling point of the series as marketed to buyers. The now infamous cupcake scandal was the result of fan disgust with the three endings originally included in the game – the endings which disappointed fans argued reflected none of the choices they made throughout the three games in the series. Regardless of ending chosen – Destroy, Control or Synthesis – the only thing that changed was the colour was the mantra of these fans.
In the days following the game’s release, passionate debate raged in the forums of the Bioware Social Network, the company’s official social site. The widely known ‘Indoctrination Theory’ was proffered by fans as an explanation for all the inconsistencies and unanswered questions left in the wake of the official endings. There was mass outrage at how Bioware had left the series, with fans upset not only with how they believed the galaxy fared as a result of the endings they were offered, but also with the lack of information provided regarding the fate of loved squadmates. Perhaps most importantly, fans were upset with the treatment of the ending of Commander Shepard’s story. They were outraged at the ‘no-win’ choices they were given, or disappointed that the endings didn’t provide the conclusion they wanted for their Shepard. The Bioware Social Network was, for the most part, a very hostile and unforgiving place for Bioware employees, with angered fans voicing their opinions with little self-censorship.
It was inevitable, then, given such passionate fan feedback, that Bioware would address fan concerns publically. An extended cut DLC package was announced – content that would be provided free of charge. This content would include extra information in the form of an epilogue outlining the state of the galaxy following Shepard’s decision, in addition to providing information regarding squadmates and their status following the events of the final game. This was a bold decision by Bioware, not simply because they were setting a precedent in terms of developing content in response to fan outcry, but also because the company was very clear in what it was providing to fans: additional information to expand on original endings- NOT entire new endings or retcons of old ones. Given a majority of the fan outcry was centred around how ‘disappointing’ the endings were, the decision to keep these endings intact, and create new content around them was a very brave one. But was it a good one? Have Bioware, in the content they included in Extended Cut, managed to both soothe disappointed fans’ outcries and maintain the creative freedom to keep their vision for the series intact? The answer, in my opinion, is yes.
Some backstory to provide perspective before I begin: I consider myself a fan of the Mass Effect series. It is the series of games I point to when someone asks ‘why are you a gamer?’. I have been with the series since it began, and during the years spanning game releases I have collected more Mass Effect themed memorabilia than I will openly admit to strangers. I have a model of the Normandy at work on my desk. The Mass Effect series is, to be completely honest, the video game series that is closest to my heart, and the most beloved game in my collection. In short, I’m a fan.
Within the series, I play the default Male Shepard – John – using the Spacer background and the Sole Survivor psychological profile. My John Shepard makes paragon choices almost exclusively, is dedicated and loyal to his crew, and is madly in love with Ashley Williams. He has been loyal to her for the entirety of the series, and has never even entertained the thought of straying. In the final scene of Mass Effect 3, my Commander Shepard chose the destory option, sacrificing the lives of synthetics to enable a world free of Reaper influence. He lived through the decimation of the Citadel.
After choosing the destroy ending, seeing my Shepard draw breath amidst the wreckage of the Citadel, and sitting through the credits, I needed to take several minutes. The intensity of the experience I had just been a part of was too much. I was awash with emotions. I was feeling so much, experiencing so much, thinking so much, that I needed a time-out. When I finally collected my thoughts and reflected on what had just happened, I was….disappointed. I understood the ending, I believed it made sense and fit the universe. And I believe it was a choice that my Shepard, as I had conceptualized him, would have made. But I was disappointed at the lack of information regarding what my Shepard’s choice meant – what effect did it have on the galaxy? On the lives of those he knew and loved? On his own apparent survival? I wanted to know more details surrounding the consequences of the decision my Shepard made – I wanted more depth of content. And, to be honest, I wanted to know what happened to my Shepard’s love interest, and whether there was hope that he and Ashley would have a future together. As a result, I did not dislike the ending, rather I felt that it was incomplete. I am happy to say that the content included in the Extended Cut DLC solved this issue completely and provided closure for my Shepard’s story in a superbly crafted way.
The Extended Cut DLC is exactly what Bioware has advertised it as: extra content which expands on, rather than changes, the endings. Those secretly hoping the endigs have been changed or that there is a better, new ending which offers everything they’ve wanted (there is another ending, but it is definitely not a ‘good’ ending), will be disappointed. But in terms of what the Extended Cut promised, and what it delivered – Bioware have done a fantastic job in providing additional information which expands on the existing endings and answers many of the questions fans were asking. All three endings – Destroy, Control and Synthesis – now have depth to them that they were missing in the original release. The epilogues included (voiced by different characters depending on the ending chosen) now provide the information regarding the state of the galaxy and those living in it. They now show the effects of Shepard’s choice on the lives of those surviving the war. They answer the questions fans had in regards to what choosing each of the endings meant. Bioware has given fans the clarity and the closure they sought. And they have delivered it in a spectacularly amazing way.
Each of the epilogue endings manage to provide exactly what many fans were seeking – they show how the galaxy and those living in it are changed as a result of Shepard’s decision. There are clear and marked differences regarding the state of the galaxy (and those surviving) for each of the endings. Impacts of Shepard’s decision on major races are shown. The impact of the decision on the galaxy as a whole – with regards to what happened to mass relays and Reaper tech, and how the rebuilding effort is progressing – is shown. Depending on your choice of ending you will see different impacts and different characters. And yet, regardless of which ending you experience, there is a sense of life continuing on – that survivors of the war are actively working to rebuild – and that there is hope for the future. This is one of the additions I was most happy to see included. Bioware have provided a sense of hope, a sense that whilst things might be bad, those left can rebuild and forge a future amongst the stars. The worry that the galaxy is in ruins and those surviving face a slow, painful death because of inability to access other systems via mass relays, is completely dismissed. The Reaper threat is over, civilisation can, and will be rebuilt, and survivors have hope for the future.
Bioware does make a point of highlighting that this future was hard won, and that the hope for those who survived was won by the deaths of millions of brave souls. Squadmates who made the ultimate sacrifice are shown, and the voice over dialogue accompanying their images is so superbly well-written and aptly fitting that I admit to tearing up upon hearing it. This series is Bioware’s own – it’s their labour of love – and this passion for the Mass Effect world and the characters within it is clear to see to anyone playing Extended Cut. The whole DLC has been crafted by people who love this world, who love the characters, and the reverence with which they treat them and the story is a beautiful thing to experience.
It’s been said that the Extended Cut DLC was a way for Bioware to appease angry fans – that it was their scramble to ‘put things right’ and calm the mass amounts of fan outrage following the release of Mass Effect 3. Having played the content – I don’t see it that way at all. To me, Extended Cut is Bioware’s way of telling fans ‘Guys, we love this world just as much as you do. We love these characters like you love them, and we want to show you how we envisoned the ending. We got this – these characters, this world is safe with us. Just take a look. You’ll see.’ And if you do take a look, you’ll see how true this is.
Following the wake of the endings furor, many fans felt that Bioware had ruined the series. That they had taken something amazing, and through their actions with the endings, destroyed everything they’d spent years building. A play through of Extended Cut will dispell any such beliefs. Bioware didn’t ruin or cheapen the series by shipping the game with the original endings, they simply misjudged the amount of depth of content they needed to include for fans to understand and follow their vision.
If you were disappointed with the original endings because of lack of closure or content, I implore you to download and play Extended Cut. If you were angry at the endings and wanted something different – I also ask the same. Bioware was never going to appease every gamer or fan upset with the endings by providing Extended Cut – but I believe that was never the purpose. Extended Cut is Bioware’s attempt to provide closure to Shepard’s story. To enable questions surrounding the state of the galaxy, and the status of characters, to be answered. To show the effects of Shepard’s choice, and to re-affirm that there is hope for the future. This is what Extended Cut offers, and it is beautifully well-done.
And that hope for a reunion with my Shepard’s love interest? Via the ending my Shepard chose – Extended Cut gives me that hope.
In the end, hope is exactly what Extended Cut delivers.