Mass Effect 3 Ending Post-Mortem: Fans Are Still Right
4. It is Confusing and Under-Developed
Here’s a place where the Extended Cut has both helped and harmed the ending of Mass Effect 3 altogether. Certainly, “under-developed” is a trait that has been aided by adding more context and information to the endings of the game. Now, upon meeting the Catalyst, Shepard is able to learn a lot more about the situation, and that helps make the decision clearer. The longer ending epilogue scenes help to explain not only the factual aftermath of the situation, but also the thematic implications of the decision and how it will affect the galaxy. That they’ll all leave things in a hunky-dorey state is somewhat regrettable, but there’s no further damage done.
Confusion, however, remains pretty palpable regardless of the ending version, as all the endings leave players struggling to parse through the details, even with the addition of more context. The Catalyst, for example, offers more detail about his reasoning behind the options offered to Shepard, but it remains as confusing as ever. He talks about the Synthesis option a bit more, and while it explains the “how” of that choice somewhat, it fails to really make clear the more important details of “why” — as in, why would this be an effective way of solving the Reaper crisis?
Further, along with the much-needed clarifications, BioWare managed to further muddy the narrative waters with the decision to leave in the last gasp of breath taken by what looks like Shepard in the wreckage of something, available only in the Destroy ending. Is Shepard alive, as many fans assumed? an official statement made by BioWare over the weekend confirms it: “The final scene reveals they are correct.” The last gasp was confusing enough on its own, but with this reveal, we learn yet again crucial story details have been omitted; once again, vagueness is a substitute for depth.
That’s to say nothing of the idea that the Destroy ending has more positive elements for the player than any other, suggesting that if one ending is canon, it likely is that one. And it ends not with the squad mourning Shepard’s passing, but setting out to find him (or her). We know BioWare has more games and DLC planned, and this just further confuses the conclusion of the story by suggesting or implying that there’s more to come. The choice of endings is available, but the “best” ending is the one that seems to be the worst, all things considered.
In short, while more content has certainly helped improve the conclusion of Mass Effect 3, the endings’ major problems — the massive deviations in tone and theme, the left-field addition of a new character at the end of the game — remain.
3. Lore Errors, Plot Holes
Interestingly, this is where BioWare almost acquitted itself most fully; the only problem is that in fixing so many of the problems it inadvertently created with the previous endings, it added a couple of new ones. And the Catalyst, or Star Child as many refer to him, is still in the game.
We’ve previously noted that taken in context only with itself, the new content in the Extended Cut is pretty good. But that’s not entirely fair. After all, in the new endings, the following problems have been retconned out of existence:
- Mass Effect Relays: only damaged, totally repairable.
- Universal inferred holocaust: averted, largely thanks to point one.
- Your squad back on the Normandy: Turns out, Shepard had them evacuated during the final battle.
- Joker’s apparent cowardly escape: Actually, he waited until the last possible moment to fall back “to the rendevous point,” which is why he was barely ahead of the ball of space magic that caused the Normandy to crash.
- Shepard acting out of character: The Refusal Ending restores the ability to actually act independently.
Better, the endings now imply the possibility of the story continuing in some fashion. We don’t mean this in terms of new DLC or future games (which BioWare has strongly hinted are coming and about which we are decidedly skeptical), but in the sense that the player no longer feels, ahem, Shepblocked by the way things seem to have stopped just as they were getting good. They connect well with themes and emotional moments from the vast majority of Mass Effect 3, and generally deliver on sorely missed closure.
Unfortunately, these fixes open up a few annoying issues of their own. Most of them are admittedly small, but they merit mention if only to laugh: How did Anderson beat Shep up to the Catalyst (there’s still only one way into the final room)? Why did the Illusive Man go to the Citadel after the Reapers tried to destroy Cerberus? How could the crew of the Normandy repair the ship using only jungle planet resources? Why is Garrus’ armor displaying the same blinky lights as everyone else’s bodies in the synthesis ending? (Probably he merged with his suit. Oops!)
More seriously, the Extended Cut fails to address the real problems with the ending, all of which center around the moments between Shepard’s beaming up to the Citadel, and the beginning of the new cutscenes.