Mass Effect 3 Extended Edition: Putting Lipstick On A Frog?
Before getting bogged down, please let me speed things up for those of you who have only one question that needs answering. Does the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut fix the things that are wrong with the infamously divisive conclusion to Mass Effect 3?
The ending remains problematic; full of plot holes, contradictory of critical series concepts, and retaining the literal deus ex machina that caused so many headaches the first time around. Despite this, it manages to do something I certainly didn’t expect: make these things almost palatable. For most of us, it won’t be enough to salvage the clunky mess BioWare made of their signature epic, but it might have managed, barely, to save Mass Effect 3′s replay value. Think of the Mass Effect Extended Edition like a shot of morphine to ease the passage of a terminally ill patient. It would have been better to get a real cure, but at least the end doesn’t seem so bleak.
Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut DLC: PC, Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: June 26, 2012
So, what works? Surprisingly, more than I expected. I didn’t really talk about this in our previous discussion of the Mass Effect 3 ending, but it bears noting that in the original state, it looked ridiculously cheap. Each ending clearly used recycled assets; why else would the same explosion rock the Mass Relays no matter your choice? But what made it worse is that they appeared to be barely-completed assets, poorly rendered, grainy, and with botched perspective. These problems were clumsily disguised by putting a green, blue, or red wash on them, and adding some trippy visual effects. The obvious conclusion, as I saw it, is that Electronic Arts cut off the flow of cash, forcing BioWare to make due with whatever assets they had already completed. That, at least as much as the terrible writing, contributed to the original endings’ failures.
The Extended Edition, if it does nothing else, fixes this. Yes, certain cutscenes still make use of recycled assets; the spread of galactic space energy throughout the mass relay network is still distinguished only by red, blue, and green. But new animations produced for the Extended Edition appear to have actually been funded. The scenes unique to each ending (which, it must be noted, are very few) look produced. There is now an actual sense of ending, of completion absent from the original build. Even the stills are lavishly painted. It’s no substitute for a true fix to Mass Effect 3′s unfortunate, last-minute narrative flaws, but the ending no longer looks as brazenly half-assed as it did in the release version of the game.
Likewise, as Phil Hornshaw noted in his review, the Extended Edition finally offers actual closure to disappointed fans. While I have been quite frustrated by Casey Hudson’s obtuse unwillingness to even acknowledge that the fans had several rather well articulated problems with the ending aside from closure, it is indeed true that the abruptness was a serious problem. And it is now gone. Each ending, though retaining some of the similarities that marred the original launch, contains unique moments that actually give you a sense of what, precisely, your choices meant.
If you choose ‘destroy’, the future is uncertain but the human (sentient being?) spirit continues, even if you had to pretty much kill every cuddly robot in the galaxy to make it happen. If you select ‘synthesis’, well, it still doesn’t make any goddamned sense but at least you see how it plays out. If you select ‘Control’, you now see that Shepard resembles Elaine Belloc from Lucifer (look it up, you won’t be sorry). BioWare even went ahead and included the ending we all wanted, the ability to refuse the choices offered to us in the end of the game (though trust me, fans will not like how they went about it; I know I didn’t).
BioWare managed the most unlikely trick of making the ending bearable enough that I actually kind of want to replay. And honestly, I found some moments to be genuinely touching. It really works surprisingly well… but only as long as it’s considered solely in context of the instant you experience each ending.