Mass Effect 3 Extended Edition: Putting Lipstick On A Frog?
I dreaded BioWare’s promise to provide ‘clarification’ with the new ending – for good reason as it turns out. Ultimately, clarification and closure ended up being excuses to avoid dealing with fundamental problems. The new content confirms that BioWare has decided the main problem people had with the ending is that they didn’t understand it. That’s only kind of true; the Star Child comes out of nowhere, his motivations were never adequately explained, and the endings suggested galaxy-wide holocaust no matter what you did. But people weren’t actually confused by what happened. They were perfectly capable of telling you. But if you must, then it’s true that the extended endings answer some of the more puzzling questions left by the obviously incomplete original version. But not all of them.
Some of the dumber moments of the ending remain stupidly intact. Further, you may rest assured that though cursory explanations have been inserted into the conversation between the Star Child and Shepard, it never really makes any more sense than it did before (and don’t even ask about the Illusive Man. Still a total WTF moment). However, more importantly, the content of the endings was never as important as the fact that each ending ultimately robbed the player of the central mechanic of the series: Choice. And that has still not changed.
Yes, you are allowed to select one of 3 (now 4) options. Granted, the options come with expanded dialogue that feel… petty. Don’t believe me? The new option which allows you to act in the way Shepard has been portrayed throughout the entire series – rejecting the three choices outright – is the worst possible option, causing the loss of the entire galaxy to the reapers. It’s also worded to feel specifically insulting to people who requested this option. That’s classless.
It’s also true that each option results inevitably in the death of your character. Now don’t misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that the problem is a lack of a happy ending. Bad outcomes were always possible, and demanded by the story. But no matter what you do, at the end the player is simply removed from the game. After 100+ hours of making the player an active agent in their own story, it forces them into a passive, helpless role. Heroic sacrifice or not, ‘you die no matter what’ isn’t even remotely close to the wildly divergent endings promised by endless official copy. That in and of itself doesn’t make for bad storytelling, but it’s a jarring transition, and central to the fanbase’s discontent. Combine that lack of choice with the seriously silly, contradicting, or just plain dumb moments in the ending that aren’t fixed by the Extended Edition, and what you have is a bad outcome regardless of how much closure you now get.
Honestly, the Extended Edition’s quality is kind of reminiscent of the excellence of Mass Effect 3 overall. It contains closure, honest (instead of slipshod) production values, and offers genuinely touching moments. But in the end, it is still connected to the main game by a seriously flawed resolution that feels as hamfisted and ill-thought-out as it did when the endings were cheap, identical messes. Frankly, it’s a delicious candy shell on the same old rotting cake. You might find yourself playing the series again, but you’ll probably not care about returning to the galaxy for future installments. I certainly don’t.