So I played the Extended Cut. Overall, I’m satisfied, but that’s not too much of a surprise since I was satisfied with the original ending as well. All the additions are definite improvements, there’s no room for debating that. Several occurrences that were previously open to interpretation are now properly spelled out or dramatized, and the options available to the player are expanded to include an additional final choice.
I’ll do a quick blow-by-blow over the advertised features:
The Extended Cut expands on the endings of Mass Effect 3 through additional scenes and epilogue sequences.
That it does. I can’t say I counted, but there are at least four or five new cutscenes, an additional conversation with the crew, more dialog options related to the final choices, and a slideshow-style epilogue.
It provides more of the answers and closure that players have been asking for.
It does give more answers, and leaves fewer things open for speculation. But there’s nothing new there. At least not for me. I was hard pressed to even register some of the closure-things as additions because, in my mind, it was painfully obvious that that’s exactly what happened. More about that in the spoilers section.
It gives a sense of what the future holds as a result of the decisions made throughout the series.
This is a little… over-optimistic. The added cutscenes, and especially the slideshow, do give a more definite glimpse into the future, but the only thing this future is based on, is the final choice. The ‘decisions made throughout the series’ have as much – or as little – effect on this as they had in the original.
And it shows greater detail in the successes or failures based on how players achieved their endings.
No… it doesn’t. Or if it does, I didn’t get to see any of it. There’s a chance that people who play radically renegade games, or who are so lazy as to barely cross the Effective Military Strength (EMS) threshold, get to see some sort of detailed failure, but that’s not Bioware’s MO. It would mean rewarding causal play while punishing completionist play, and I don’t see that happening. In fact, the conditions for various ‘rewards’, all based on EMS, are significantly lowered in the EC. I used two characters from my previous plays: a completionist male Shepard who had about 3800 EMS, and a lazy female Shepard who had about 2700 EMS, and both had the full spectrum of options and rewards available. So… no. This bit is just wishful thinking.
It does not fundamentally change the endings, but rather it expands on the meaning of the original endings, and reveals greater detail on the impact of player decisions.
As for the first part – yes. The main questions I had about the EC were: “Does it change the facts? Would the summary be different?” – and the answer to those questions is no. Like I said above, the additional glimpses into the future do clarify some things and remove them from the murky realm of speculation, but they are so completely aligned with my expectations that I have to consciously make myself think of them as revelations.
As for the second part – it’s more of the same from the point above. The impact of player decisions prior to the very finale is minimal, cosmetic, and nothing has changed in that respect between the original and the EC.
What follows is laden with SPOILERS.
I followed the advice on the Mass Effect site, and replayed the ending from the attack on Cerberus Base. While I wouldn’t call it false advertising, this advice did give me a lot of false hope. I kept expecting to see something new through hours of play leading up to the finale itself. In truth, there’s no new content before the run for the Conduit.
The first additional scene explains how Shepard’s squad ended up on the Normandy. Don’t think there’s any way to prove it, but I was entirely sure that the Normandy simply landed to pick them up after things got too hot with the Harbinger shooting everyone down. And that’s more or less what’s shown in the EC. Shepard calls the Normandy down to evacuate the two squaddies after they are trampled by an exploding tank. The final goodbyes with Kaidan and Garrus (for my male and female game, respectively) were well done and more than a little heartbreaking, so I’m grateful for the inclusion of this scene, even though it’s one of those things that I’m having a hard time seeing as ‘new’.
Many of the changes are centered on the conversation with the entity I’ll call The Kid (TK). In my opinion, the greatest improvement the EC brings is the clarification of what each final option means, making the choice an informed decision instead of taking a blind shot. The player now gets to ask a series of new questions, and as far as I’m concerned, they are answered in a satisfying manner.
Revelations about the true nature of the Reapers were… good to hear, I suppose, but definitely in the ‘nothing new’ category. All these things: that they are each a nation, housing the cumulative experiences, memories and achievements of each harvested race; that their purpose is to preserve both organic and synthetic life before they annihilate each other; that the first Reapers were made in the likeness of their creators; that they see the harvest, the making of a new Reaper, as an act of ascension – all these things have been either explicitly mentioned or strongly hinted at before. Mind you: I’m not complaining. Sometimes it’s good to have things spelled out and set firmly in canon.
I suppose that the inclusion of a new final option – labeled Refusal by the fandom – is well worth a mention, though I don’t see its appeal. The player may choose to do nothing, to refuse using the Crucible, in which case the cycle continues. Maybe this was one of the things the fandom asked for – I am still very much out of touch with what the majority of players thought and wanted. The way I see it, this is essentially a glorified “Game Over” ending, the final fall of Shepard, distilled in the inability to make a drastic move and bear the responsibility for it. I’d say it’s a lame way to finish anything, but it might be a matter of taste, so I’ll leave it at that.
The immediate consequences of using the Curcible remain mostly the same as in the original. There’s an additional cutscene where Hackett orders the fleets to run and meet at the rendezvous point, showing also how the crew of the Normandy is coping with having to leave Shepard behind.
I can’t recall if the destruction of the mass relays was imminent and indisputable in the original; I think TK even mentioned it as one of those immediate consequences. If that’s so, than I have to retract the statement that the summary didn’t change. In the EC, the mass relays are ‘severely damaged’ but not in a way that would spell doom for interstellar travel forever. Come to think of it, this might be the most substantial point of divergence from the original. But again, it didn’t have the kind of impact on me that it likely had on all the people who were genuinely depressed by the prospect of a future without the relays. While I didn’t think that simply repairing them would be an option, I never doubted that interstellar travel would resume in some other form.
Various characters, such as Wrex, Jack, Jacob and so on, are shown in the slideshow, taking part in rebuilding. The details vary only slightly from ending to ending; though it was interesting, and perhaps even foreboding, to hear Shepard speak about the future after the Control ending. Spooky in a good way, painting the ‘blue choice’ in a slightly more sinister shade.
In the end, the crew of the Normandy commemorates the fallen Commander by placing the name-plate on the memorial wall. I found the Synthesis scene the most touching, with a sad, sad EDI giving a comforting hug to a brokenhearted Kaidan. The last additional scene shows the Normandy taking flight again and leaving the jungle-planet. Which is another one of those things I was completely sure would happen. In fact, I had a plan for a fanfic detailing exactly that moment. I might still write it.
All in all, it’s good. It’s more polished, more complete, it makes more sense and it gives more hope. And even though most of my reactions to new content ranged from “I knew it” to “well, doh“, I enjoyed playing it very much. Now, if I had been disgruntled with the original as much as some of the other fans, I don’t think the EC would have answered my hopes and wishes; other than a slightly more positive outlook on the future of the setting, there are no real changes. But I’m not a model player, and I probably shouldn’t speak about things I don’t understand. A very cursory glance at the topics and tones over at Bioware forums gave me the impression that the atmosphere in the fandom is still toxic, and that people are still angry. And I still don’t get it. For me, ME3 was and remains a fantastic game that delivered on – and in many places surpassed – all my expectations.