No Choice, No Change: BioWare’s Extended Edition Interview Disappoints
So now, BioWare is faced with the unenviable task of trying to save face and fix a mess they could have avoided. Can it even be done? BioWare has been long been cagey about what the new content actually contains, aside from “Additional cinematic sequences and epilogue scenes”, but Casey Hudson provided a few clues. “I think one aspect [of the reaction to the ending] is that it’s tough to let go of a storyline and characters that you enjoy, and the endings didn’t really leave a lot of time to say goodbye to the experience, so a lot of people just wanted more closure. Players developed a bond to these characters, they made some big decisions, they feel more of a need to get a sense of what the future holds for the Mass Effect series.”
This is certainly true. The famous brevity of the ending did rob the player of anything close to real closure. Of course, the brevity was only part of the overall complaint with the ending, something Hudson seems reluctant to admit. When he mentioned that fans seemed to believe the galaxy was left in ruins no matter what players did, he failed to make reference to any of the numerous complaints of plot holes, framing complaints firmly within the context of closure. “You know, people actually wanted to see how their decisions resulted in consequences to the future of the Mass Effect universe,” he said. “So players made a lot of big decisions throughout Mass Effect 3, leaving the story with literally millions of different permutations on the final state of the galaxy.”
You’ll note that Hudson continues to insist that the ending, at least as it exists in his and Walter’s imaginations, contains vast amounts of diversity. If they don’t see the problem, one wonders how they intend to get those who do see it to agree with them. It certainly won’t be by removing the widely ridiculed Catalyst. When asked to explain what precisely the Extended Cut is, Hudson confirmed that we’re still almost certainly going to have the same three choices. “[It] is not a set of different endings,” he said, “but rather it’s an expansion of the original story.” Translation: The Star Child is here to stay. So if the Star Child will still show up to grind the game’s momentum to a halt, are we looking at nothing more than a cosmetic fix? A potentially promising clue comes from a hint at how much of the game is actually being altered by the new content.
My assumption, and I assume it’s the same for all of you reading this, was that the Extended Cut would be a simple matter of loading a save close to the end of the game, and seeing how things play out. In reality, players who want to experience the new ending will have to restart considerably earlier. Hudson specifically advised players to “start with a save game that’s somewhere before the sequence in the end where you attack the Cerberus base.” That’s at least a full hour before the final attack on Reaper forces in London.
Intriguing stuff to be sure, but here’s the problem: the main complaints about the ending weren’t the lack of closure, the inability to see what happened to your characters, or even some of the more maddening plot holes. They have to do with the fact that the primary feature of the Mass Effect series has always been choice. It’s so critical that the official website’s blurb still says “EXPERIENCE THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE, AND END OF AN EMOTIONAL STORY UNLIKE ANY OTHER, WHERE THE DECISIONS YOU MAKE COMPLETELY SHAPE YOUR EXPERIENCE AND OUTCOME.” And the endings of Mass Effect 3 are aesthetically indistinct and functionally almost identical. (Adding to this, no one was upset because Shepard died; they were upset because no matter what you did, he died. In other words, the outcome was the same.) This, and not the fact that we have no idea whether or not Liara had Shep babies, is the issue.
BioWare has never once actively acknowledged that particular complaint. Even this interview, in which Hudson said “we’re trying to put on the screen what we imagined was implied by the original ending, and address a lot of the feedback, the questions we’ve received.” (emphasis mine) the implication is that they delivered on the series’ fundamental promise. That is simply not true, and failure to admit this suggests that it is not going to be resolved by the new content. This is confirmed by the constant references made by Hudson and Walters to the “constructive” feedback and positive reviews they’ve consulted. They’ve clearly been very selective about who they’re listening to, which almost certainly indicates very small changes to the game. Whatever else the new ending has, it’s most likely going to be cosmetic at best.
Yes, I’d love to be wrong. Like most of you reading this, I’ll be downloading the Extended Cut as soon as it becomes available. I hope it does indeed give more closure and greater context for some of the nonsensical stuff introduced at the last moment. But I’d also like to see different endings that are actually, you know, different, and the fact that the complaint made most loudly, and most often, has been ignored entirely suggests that at best, we’re getting a band-aid on a gaping wound.
I guess if worse comes to worse, I can always just use my imagination to create an ending that doesn’t suck.