Right. You knew it was coming, so let’s just get it over with. Obviously, spoilers for good old Mass Effect 3 and the Extended Cut endings, after the jump.
So, when I first saw the “traditional ending,” I wrote in this space about how the ending had a few holes and a few elements I didn’t like, but I was satisfied with it. I also mentioned in the comments to that post that I increasingly felt the “Synthesis” ending was the “right” choice (I went “Destroy”, for reasons listed in the post). Well, friends, having now played the Extended Cut, I can tell you that each of those opinions basically were reversed by the new content: I really didn’t like the new ending at all but can tolerate a few things, and despite the game pushing the Synthesis ending hard, I found it to be the most obnoxiously saccharine nonsense possible.
I bet you’re wondering, what are the ‘new’ things? I don’t know for 100% sure, because damned if I was replaying the entire endgame a second time (from the raid on Chronos Station onward); I started at the beam of light and went from there. But here are the things I observed as being ‘new’ —
- Cut-ins complete with short FMVs explain more of what’s going on outside the Citadel and out of Shepard’s POV. So now we know, what happened to my squad? (Shepard calls in a Normandy evac), why was the Normandy flying away? (Hackett gave a retreat order when the Crucible spins up), etc.
- Dialogue options with the Catalyst expand. Shepard can now ask for more information about each choice, including the consequences and benefits of each. The Catalyst also, in these dialogue options, has more of an opinion about what the “right” choice is than it did in the original.
- In the closing FMVs, the mass relays aren’t destroyed — a big change — and are instead merely heavily damaged. It becomes clear that the Normandy crashes because the blast wave from the Crucible is steadily eating away its mass effect field mid-jump, so it’s pulled out into space at some random point.
- Each of the three main endings — Control, Synthesis, Destroy — has a long slideshow with narration after the closing FMVs that explains what happens to the galaxy after the events of Mass Effect 3‘s endgame.
- Finally, there’s a new, brief fourth ending — Refuse — that I think is actually quite neat:
I’ll leave it to you to trawl YouTube for the rest of the endings, if you’d like to watch them.
So, what did I think of all the changes? Well, here’s the things I did like —
- The little scenes that filled in plot holes were good. They were also the smallest part of the ending, and I think they filled in the only things I really wanted from the “original” ending: making explicit connections that were theoretical in my head. I also like that certain things theory wonks glommed onto — the difference between a relay exploding and merely being disabled — got at least canonized if not properly explained.
- I actually enjoy the “Refusal” ending. I think it’s the wrong choice — it shouldn’t be the ‘canon’ choice — but it is thematically consistent from top to bottom. I can imagine a person not wanting to make the decision Shepard’s asked to make (though I think my Shepard would choose), and I think the result makes sense. I also think the change to the Stargazer part of that ending, where the child is talking to what I believe is an asari (!), is interesting.
And what did I NOT like? —
- The slideshows. What a bunch of tell-don’t-show nonsense. Unlike the little FMVs and scenes, these don’t actually explain anything. Mass relays repaired? By whom? With what? And using what bloody knowhow, for that matter? All of the slideshows are also a little too Disney happy ending for me, especially the Synthesis ending (we’ll get to that in a second). Even the one that recognizes loss most — the Destroy ending, interestingly enough — is pretty ‘upbeat’ in that way.
- The extra dialogue options with the Catalyst. They rarely shared any information with the player that wasn’t already reasonably deducible from content in the original. In fact, it was yet more tell-don’t-show, a lot of pointless talking where the Catalyst slowly and carefully explains Every Last Possible Freaking Thing That Might Happen for each option. In my opinion it takes the teeth out of every possibility for the endings, except perhaps for the Refusal ending which hilariously enough is the natural consequence of Too Much Goddamned Information.
Here is what really gets me about the extended cut: people were uncomfortable with ambiguity in the original ending, and so Bioware removed ambiguity entirely as a result. Everything is painstakingly explained, and that gets on my nerves. Look, I have a problem with ambiguous endings too, to an extent; I hate them when they’re a cop-out, when they’re a 10 second “YAY WE DID IT! CREDITS NOW” FMV at the end of an 80 hour trek through a story and universe I love. But I don’t think the original ME3 endings were copouts. They were merely ambiguous, leaving some space for the player to wrap things up in their head.
I mean, check out this chunk of the Destroy ending slideshow —
I’ve been told people wanted “to know what happens to the crew afterwards.” Well, here you go: still shots that prove the crew are just how you left them. Samara lounges with her daughter! Exciting. Kasumi broods over Kenji. Exciting! Man, I love those two characters, and neither of those things are meaningful to me. The Samara thing in particular; she and her Ardat-Yakshi-inclined daughter are standing on Thessia. How did THAT happen? What changed the asari’s collective minds? I don’t know! But I’m supposed to accept that this is a meaningful way to wrap up that story for me? And hell, even that is miles better than “Zaeed Masani is old, and likes to fish on this pier.” What the ever-loving hell!
That ambiguity in the original ending was useful to me. I tried to imagine the stories that weren’t told, that could be told yet and weren’t. That excited me! And it seemed like a great window for Bioware to build the ME universe, which is one of my primary joys in playing the series. Now? Now it’s a series of postcards.
And don’t even get me started on the Synthesis ending. What nonsense. For starters, the Catalyst’s new dialogue intensely implies that the Synthesis ending is the “right” choice. And before, I actually kind of agreed with that, but that was back when we didn’t really know what might happen. Now?
Isn’t that just super? You get all the benefits of the Control ending (the Reapers are now docile/helpful) and all the benefits of the Destroy ending (the Reapers are no longer a threat) and all it takes is the same cost (Shepard gets sacrificed).
What in gay hell is this shit.
I’m not necessarily against the happy ending. Destroy and Control are also happy endings, in their own way, but they’re happy endings that are built on some sort of meaningful loss or issue that makes them worthwhile. The Destroy ending’s happy ending was bought with the sacrifice of a massive amount of people. The Control ending’s happy ending might not be happy forever; it has a decidedly sinister overtone in some spots (and there is the tragedy of Shepard, now all but a god, who stands lonely vigil over a world she can no longer be a part of).
But the Synthesis ending doesn’t address the one thing about it that make it interesting: the actual melding of synthetic and organic, and how an entire galaxy of lifeforms suddenly adjusts to this new paradigm. That’s all glossed over, smoothed out. We’re assured people have just adjusted and everything’s hunky-dory, and because of that, a new golden age will arise, ten times better than before. This is, in a word, pathetic. You can’t just rewrite the fundamentals of life itself for untold billions and then just go “Welp, everyone seemed okay with it.” This is especially problematic because the avatar of the Synthesis ending is EDI, a fantastically multi-layered character whose journey from subservient AI to actual living being by the end of ME3 is one of the best stories of its kind, in games or otherwise. Why don’t we see any of her struggle, her incredible effort to bridge the gap, reflected in the ending for which she speaks? That’s nonsense.
I mean, we’ll just skip over the artistic laziness that is “glowy green eyes + holo circuit board overlay = SYNTHORGANIC!”
I’m not saying that there couldn’t be a strong Synthesis ending. But it’s not about everything becoming hunky dory. It’s about adjusting to a new paradigm, it’s about making the actual leap that the ending (and the Catalyst’s “yeah yeah pick this ending!”) suggests should be made. It’s about doing what’s narratively interesting, not about the wrap-up musical number.
Hilariously, my problem with the extended Synthesis ending (and somewhat the other extended endings) is the problem that people seemed to have with the original ending. There’s irony here, I’m sure of it.
Anyhow, final verdict: I think the original endings, plus a few plot hole-correcting cutscenes and the Refusal ending, would make a pretty strong package. But the whole “It’s A Small Galaxy After All” slideshow we get at the end — including the bizarre inclusion of Shepard’s now-even-more-likely but weirdly unused and unexplained survival in the Destroy ending — is silly, and the Catalyst’s sudden downshift from “mysterious entity” to “Wikipedia terminal” is kind of insulting to my intelligence. You kind of hit the mark, Bioware, but it’s clear to me that the real problem with the original endings wasn’t the game. It was the fans.