Beware ye who enter of spoilers for the Mass Effect series.
I know I said I would do this 2 weeks ago; but between the sheer frustration this whole thing causes and back pain that made it an utter pain to type anything, so here it is.
On Tuesday June 26th, Bioware released their damage control DLC, officially known as the Extended Cut. For those who somehow missed this back in March, Mass Effect 3 was released to much fanfare and within 48 hours of its release, fans were greeting it widespread disgust. Sales dropped enormously after the first week and the internet basically got consumed in one really big flamewar. There are two things that caused it to die down. One, Bioware announced that they were releasing an extended cut to ‘clarify’ the ending and two, it ran out of fuel. What I’m not going to do, is break down the endings and my many, many problems with them. Mainly because it’s been done, repeatedly and it’s not worth the frustration of typing it all up. I’m also going to be approaching the actual content of the Extended Cut with a somewhat broad brush instead of getting caught up in every single detail.
What the extended cut primarily did was revise the final part of the game, where Shepard is talking to the Catalyst a.k.a. TSH(tiny space hitler) a.k.a Starchild a.k.a a bunch of different names. As well as new ending cinematics. As well as add a new ending. It also made minor changes to Earth that also warrant discussion.
In chronological order, the new stuff on Earth is first, during the final run up to the transporter beam, your squadmates get medevaced and you get a nice touching scene. Except the scene makes no sense, how did the Normandy get down without being shot? being the biggest one. It’s a set piece that does not make sense but is designed to elicit emotions. But it does address the point of how did my squad on Earth get up to the Normandy? So we can check that off.
Now we get to the meat of it, talking with TSH wherein its possible to talk to him and get more of his nonsense. The idea that the Reapers exist in response to organics and synthetics always fighting was to create a synthetic race of killers that harvest organics every 50k years or so. In response to people saying that’s stupid, the writers decided to…make that explanation more detailed. They also decided to allude to the Zeroeth Law, as if it validates an ideal that is empirically false. It doesn’t, poor reproduction of other stories does not make yours good, it’s like the guy who wants to run a tabletop game based off of this awesome book he read or show he watched.
He does establish what the Crucible does…sort of. It’s basically a piece of technology that has forced TSH to do…something different. Which doesn’t make any sense. When they looked at the plans I don’t think these scientists thought that they were doing anything of the sort. Which begs the question of why they built it. Regardless this is an actual explanation of some sorts.
The three choices are given more of an explanation and most notably the relays aren’t destroyed as an effect of this. After choosing you’re treated to a nice cinematic that actually establish some differences that aren’t based on purely extrapolation. Also, EDI is definitely dead in the Destroy ending instead of it glitching her to live. On one hand this goes a long way towards making the endings less bad, if nothing else. On the other hand, they still have problems, the Normandy crashing does nothing and should had been cut for example. The stinger with Buzz Aldrin is tonally very different than the rest of the ending now and doesn’t seem like it should be there. If these had been the endings that shipped with the game then the response would have been, well not as vitriol, as what happened. The endings still have problems, and that wasn’t going to be changed, and all of the problems have been well documented already. It also did what planned to, clarify the endings and produce new “speculation from everybody”. And by “speculation” I mean new flamewars, old flamewars, and a lot of giving up when you realize that the clarified endings are still poorly defined. And part of the clarification was pushing the mass relays out of the ending aside from being the source of space magic.
Speaking of the mass relays, this raises the question of why they felt the need to retcon that point. In the post release panic to try to salvage whatever they could, Bioware had stated that all of the scientists in Sol meant that fixing the problem of the relays being gone was easily feasible. Leaving aside the issues with that explanation, it did contribute to their hamfisted idea of the Reapers are a part of the past and this allows the younger species to grow outside of the cycle. Maybe they realized it was too dumb and just excising the bit was easier.
All in all, this shows that the development cycle for ME3 was rushed and given more time then they would have produced something better, in form if nothing else. Yet the content feels like a check list of what people complained about and then went about ‘fixing’ it. The feeling I get is that its rather blunt in implementation. That being said, the ending is still stupid but-oh right I’m not done. They added a new ending, Refusal, which warrants its own discussion.
One of the biggest complaints was that you’re handed the options on a platter by the AI that created the Reapers. The things that you’ve spent the past three games fighting against now wants you to meekly choose the ending; despite the fact that his logic is nonexistent and the Reapers being established as malevolent. Naturally this idea was repulsive to a great many people and wanted an option where you told TSH to die and then the War Assets you accumulated would destroy the Reapers. Well part of this happened, in that you could choose to not go along with these options…and then TSH decides to go Harbinger on you and everyone dies. Jump ahead to the next cycle and there’s Liara’s capsule telling them not to make the same mistake. The mistake of not trusting TSH. Again, I’m not going to explore most of the textual problems of this, but rather focus on the metatextual. Giving TSH Harbinger’s voice implies that Shepard is talking to Harbinger, who was established as a firmly malevolent entity and there’s no reason to trust him; yet that’s required for the various “good” endings.
Having gotten the main textual issue that’s not an inevitable retread of issues raised when the game was first released, let’s look at the metatextual. Casey Hudson and Mac Walters thought that the original ending was good, in a cerebral sort of way. And then there was the ME3 post-release where the ending is hated by most of the fans. So they add in a new ending along with the rest of the Extended Cut that amounts to a petty insult of author/DM fiat as ‘rocks fall everyone dies’. It’s petty, insulting and unprofessional. Or the other explanation is that they don’t understand and thought this is what people wanted. Either way, it really doesn’t help the situation, at all.
So my honest and full opinion of the Extended Cut? Refusal leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the other three endings are ‘acceptable’ in presentation if nothing else. Given the need for damage control in order to make paid DLC appealing again, it works, but then I come back to Refusal and I get that bad taste again. We’ll see what happens, but right now I’m just done with ME3; I can’t or won’t bring myself to care since it’s a hopeless cause.
Edit: So we have details of the Leviathan DLC, and it doesn’t sound interesting. The Reapers have an origin story, contradicting that only makes the ending worse. Gaining him as a war asset is meaningless, so the only thing left is that it might provide some kind of cool set piece? I honestly don’t see what you do with this premise, but wait and see.