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ANALYSIS - A Look at Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut

Posted July 30th 2012 by Adam Grayson.

Over the past couple of weeks, BioWare has responded to fan criticism by releasing free Extended Cut DLC, content that would expand the hotly debated endings to Mass Effect 3. Since then, fans have had a lot to say on the matter. We sat down to analyze the endings, discuss our thoughts on how the epic conclusion was handled, and if BioWare actually "fixed" the problems fans had been screaming about for months.

Be warned: Major Mass Effect 3 spoilers ahead!

Anthony DiPalma

So, Adam, what were your initial complaints, if any, to the ending of Mass Effect 3?

Adam Grayson

Well, Anthony, apparently I'm in the minority because I really didn't have that much of a problem with the original endings. In fact, dare I say, I liked them. That said, I do understand many of the fans' complaints (which we'll get to in a bit). What about you? Did you detest the original three endings as much as the vast majority of the Mass Effect fan base?

Anthony DiPalma

I didn't hate the endings. I liked the ambiguity and thought it was a huge risk for BioWare, but there were some things that annoyed me, such as the lack of control the player has towards the end. The angry fans had some great points, but I initially thought the idea of "changing" the ending was too much. Sure there were some plot holes, but I was able to overlook that and appreciate the 100+ hours I invested in the series.

When BioWare released the Extended Cut, were there any particular moments you were hoping to see cleared up?

Adam Grayson

Really just the same things others were wondering about.

"How did your crew members go from charging Harbinger to magically being on the Normandy?"

"Why was the Normandy going through a Relay at the time of the explosion? Why was Joker running? Why did they leave Shepard?"

"What happens to all of the races orbiting Earth? What about my crew members whom I've come to love?"

"What happens now?"

And, of course, with Shepard taking that last breath in the Destroy ending, part of me was anxious to see if they would dive any deeper into that.

I also wondered if they were going to give us any more detail or explanation about the Catalyst because, really, that just kind of came out of nowhere.

And, like you, these were all points I purposely overlooked. I just took everything at face value, and enjoyed what BioWare did show me.

Anthony DiPalma

Exactly. Granted, it's tough to ignore the shortcomings of a series like Mass Effect, but the unanswered questions were still there. Luckily the Extended Cut takes care of many of these issues. Extended dialogue with the Catalyst certainly helped clear the air with "OK, what the hell happened with controlling the Reapers? Sure they left, but holy crap you can't just take over the Reapers." Especially because, in the books, nobody was able to control the Reapers. People became mentally and physically crippled by just trying to communicate with them, never mind trying to control them directly.

So yeah, I appreciate the ambiguity, but truly knowing Shepard's fate should he/she choose to control the Reapers was satisfying.

Adam Grayson

That's actually something I can't really decide on though. I do like that nothing was explicitly changed with the Extended Cut and that scenes were only added. The story didn't need to be changed; we just needed a little more detail. But with that added detail, especially the last cinematics with the moving images and the different narrators, it did, like you said, take away a lot of the ambiguity that I kind of liked. With the Extended Cut, things very clearly ended on a happier note than they did in the original, more ambiguous endings. And while part of me naturally likes to see happy endings, especially with characters with whom I've spent an absurd amount of time getting to know and coming to love, I liked the more depressing mood of the original endings; it seemed fitting. And I really respected BioWare for not caving to the pressure of creating a happy ending. In other media, the creator(s) builds this great, depressing story, but we see far too many overly convenient happy endings simply because the creator(s) feels pressured into pleasing the audience, so it was refreshing not to have that option here.

So like I said, I have mixed feelings on that issue.

Anthony DiPalma

Well yeah, but at least the seemingly pointless questions were answered (such as Joker and the surviving crew members). Plus, having a more detailed discussion with the Catalyst certainly helped make your choices clearer.

Adam Grayson

Agreed, but there were other additions that were just as important.

Anthony DiPalma

Oh absolutely.  To start, we can discuss our love interest putting up the commemorative plaque for Shepard. Unless you picked Synthesis and your love interest turned into a robo-paramour, which would be slightly creepy...

Adam Grayson

Well not if you're Joker, lol.

But yeah, that was a nice, touching moment. That's actually a scene that didn't really need to be added. That is, it didn't address any of the questions left by the original endings. It truly was an addition to the story, and a welcome one at that. It was moving to share that last moment of emotion with Shepard's, or rather, my love interest. It showed us that their love truly... transcends time, space, and even death *sniff*

Anthony DiPalma

And Tali looks good in her suit. YEEEOOWWW!

Adam Grayson

You don't have to tell me twice.

So how about the scenes that did address fans' questions? For starters, telling us how the hell our crew mates got magically beamed to the Enterpri-, I mean, the Normandy.

Anthony DiPalma

I thought those were needed, honestly.

Adam Grayson

Why?

Anthony DiPalma

Well, as a writer, I like to make sure everything at least makes sense. It's kind of cheap to just say, "Oh, and Liara/Tali/Wrex/Boromir went on the spaceship in the 10 minutes Shepard was on the Citadel because they just went."

Adam Grayson

Sure. I think more of the issue is, at least for this example, that there was no evidence or hint that would lead the player to come to the conclusion that the Normandy came down out of orbit and picked up the two crew members who were severely wounded (at least one of them was) but left Shepard because he was willing and able to continue.

I mean, there were just no reasons, visible or otherwise, that would explain how and why our crew members left Shepard for the Normandy.

In fact, without the added scene, the evidence pointed to our crew members still being with Shepard during the final charge toward Harbinger. Then, since we hear over the intercom that the "entire force was decimated" and see that Shepard was horribly injured, it seems logical to conclude that our crew members died in the blast along with everyone else.

Which sucked because I had Tali (my love interest) with me at the time xD

Anthony DiPalma

I always took Tali with me. Nothing can separate us, not even the risk of hypodermic infections.

Adam Grayson

Nor, apparently, a giant red laser beam of death.

Anthony DiPalma

I'd have liked to talk to Harbinger at least once. Maybe say, "ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL... of your pansy ass!"

Adam Grayson

Hahaha.

Anthony DiPalma

But really, a discussion with the leader of the Reapers would have been cool. My favorite part of the first game was directly communicating with Sovereign.

Adam Grayson

Well... we do talk to the leader of the Reapers...

But before we get to that...

The next added scene seemed like it tried to answer the question about Anderson being on the Citadel along with Shepard.

We see the Normandy go back into orbit, then it cuts to Hackett's ship, showing him realizing that Shepard made it to the Citadel.

Actually, I suppose that may have been included to negate the Indoctrination Theory, showing us that Shepard really does make it, and that it's not just a dream.

Anthony DiPalma

I loved that scene with Anderson and Shepard. Reminded me of the Big Boss/Solid Snake discussion in Metal Gear Solid 4.

Adam Grayson

I really liked it too, but that scene was kind of left with some questions, even after the Extended Cut. Questions such as how Anderson got there (and did so ahead of Shepard), and how the Illusive Man got there.

Anthony DiPalma

Besides that, I know that one of the writers explained at PAX East that the Indoctrination Theory, while it was a well-thought-out theory, was wrong from the get-go.

Adam Grayson

Interesting.

Anthony DiPalma

Yeah.  In an interview with lead writer Mac Walters, it was confirmed that the relays were not destroyed to the point of disrepair, and that the events on the Crucible actually did happen.

Though, unless I forgot (which I tend to do), did they explain how the Illusive Man got on the Crucible?

Adam Grayson

They did not.

And that's actually a good point. Even with the Extended Cut, we're still left with the question of how Anderson got on to the Citadel (and did so ahead of Shepard even though he, we assume, went in after him), and how the Illusive Man got there.

Anthony DiPalma

But yeah, those little things irked me, but not enough to flip out like a raging batarian.

Adam Grayson

Right. Like you said a while back, these shortcomings were not enough to ruin the unprecedented fantastic experience I had with the series.

Anthony DiPalma

However, in all fairness, the Illusive Man is supposed to be a "behind the scenes" kind of string-puller who shows up when you least suspect it.

Adam Grayson

Right, that was my explanation for it. But do you think that's something they should have answered?

About both Anderson and the Illusive Man?

Anthony DiPalma

Anderson should have been explained. The Illusive Man, I felt, should have remained... Dare I say, illusive?

Adam Grayson

Sure. My rationale was that Anderson managed to make it to the beam after Shepard, but he was just teleported slightly ahead of Shepard. Again, just taking things at face value.

I will say though, that the whole issue with Shepard suddenly holding himself in the same spot where Anderson gets shot seemed to be a liiiiiiiiittle too coincidental...

Originally I just thought that Shepard was hurt there in the first place, and the only reason they showed a close-up of it was to show the fact that he was badly wounded (not to show specifically his side was wounded).

Anthony DiPalma

I'll leave that to the conspiracy theorists.

Adam Grayson

Lol. It's a mighty good point is all I'm saying.

So next we have the conversation with the Catalyst with the added 15 freaking minutes of dialog trees.

Anthony DiPalma

Oh, that crazy Catalyst.

Adam Grayson

Earlier it sounded like you enjoyed this extra conversation?

Or maybe not the conversation itself, but rather the information it added.

Anthony DiPalma

I did, yeah. I liked how he provided more answers about the impacts of our choices.

Even if, at the end, the three (or four) options were the only decisions, at least we had a better understanding of everything, including who the Reapers actually are. In fact, I'd even go as far as to say the Reapers were made out to be slightly sympathetic. Slightly.

Adam Grayson

Yeah, I think I'd agree with that. The extra information was nice to have, both in considering which decision to make and just to know more about the Mass Effect universe's lore.

HOWEVER!

Anthony DiPalma

...

Adam Grayson

While I did appreciate the Catalyst's backstory in terms of lore, I did feel it made him less of an interesting character.

Originally, one question in my mind was: "Where did the Catalyst originally come from?"

I eventually decided that it was basically God.

It always existed.

Always had, always would.

And that helped me understand the question: "Why would this hyper-advanced AI want to protect organic life?"

Anthony DiPalma

I suppose you could take that viewpoint. I think it was from the very first civilization billions of years ago.

And it ended up taking in knowledge from other harvested life forms.

Adam Grayson

Well.

The Extended Cut confirmed that.

Anthony DiPalma

I don't know, I just never wanted religion to be a part of Mass Effect.

Adam Grayson

Dude, every main character ever is Jesus.

Simple fact of life.

Anthony DiPalma

True, true. Except maybe Kratos.

Adam Grayson

The way he fell on the ground dead after the Illusive Man bit, the way he rose to the heavens on a beam of light, the way he spoke to this God-like being, and the way he sacrificed himself to save all others.

C'mon.

Oh!

And "The Shepard."

*slap in the face*

Thanks, BioWare. I didn't get the metaphor the first dozen times.

Anthony DiPalma

Well yeah, and they quote the Bible throughout the series.

BUT STILL!

Adam Grayson

Lol.

So yeah, originally I thought the Catalyst was God.

But then...

THEN....

Came the Extended Cut.

And it confirmed what you said just a moment ago (which others actually thought originally).

But then, with that confirmation, comes more questions about the reasoning behind the cycle.

Mostly "Why?"

And there is a line in the new dialog tree that can potentially explain it, but let's leave that out for a second.

Anthony DiPalma

I thought it was explained that all life would die from synthetics. The Reapers only harvested intelligent species. In the "From Ashes" DLC, the character Javik says that salarians were once lizards that ate flies, and humans were smelly cave-dwellers during the last cycle.

Adam Grayson

Well yes, the Catalyst explained that "the created will always rebel against their creators," but who says that's true?

And even if it is true, how could it be proven?

If the Catalyst wipes out all life before the synthetics of that cycle destroy the organics, how could it know that that was the outcome for certain?

Not really a reason, but a potential thought could be that that's simply what it's programmed to do.

And I think that thought, at least in my mind, stood out more in the Extended Cut, particularly because of those few lines of dialog I mentioned a moment ago.

The Catalyst was created by an advanced organic civilization however many billions/trillions of years ago.

For whatever reason, this civilization thought that synthetics would destroy organics, and it created the Catalyst (a synthetic...) to prevent this from happening.

Specifically in the new dialog, it sounded to me like the Catalyst had an I, Robot moment wherein the AI concluded that the only way to save the organics that created it was to destroy them and "preserve" them in the Reapers.

But that line of thought took away a lot of the all-powerful personality that the Catalyst seemed to have before the Extended Cut.

It also made it seem, to put it simply, dumber.

Rather than being this all-knowing, all-powerful entity whose intelligence had ascended past any other AI ever (which made it seem like more than just a programmed AI), it turned into just a computer program that was simply following its coding.

"PREVENT SYNTHETICS FROM DESTROYING ORGANICS"

Anthony DiPalma

I can see that. But I think that for the billions of years that the Catalyst had been harvesting life, it had also been harvesting the intelligence of those civilizations.

We're talking about a program that has, literally, billions of years of software.

Adam Grayson

Right.

I think that was the intention.

Of BioWare.

Anthony DiPalma

Exactly.

Adam Grayson

But overall, I liked the extra information except for the fact that it took forever to get through, which only bugged me because, after beating it once, I immediately went back and played the other three endings. So I suppose it's not a real complaint.

So immediately after our conversation with the Catalyst, we encounter, I think, what is the only change to the original three endings that the Extended Cut brought.

When we choose our ending, we see flashbacks of three characters.

Originally it was always Joker, Anderson, and Liara. Though, from my understanding, this was a glitch or an oversight or something; it was not meant to always be these three.

The Extended Cut changed it so that it would show different people dependent on the ending you chose and (I believe) on the choices you made during the games as well as your love interest.

Not a big change at all, but it was nice. Especially seeing your love interest since, you know... you're about to die and whatnot.

Anthony DiPalma

I liked seeing Thane and Mordin, the two characters whom I didn't want to die. At least they were given proper respects.

Adam Grayson

Absolutely.

Next were a few additions to the scenes of the Crucible's expulsion of colored space juice.

And, I think, these were some of the most important additions.

Anthony DiPalma

You mean the scenes where the husk would either run away, die, or become synthesized?

Adam Grayson

That's one of them, yes.

We see the different ships in orbit of Earth jumping into FTL to "head to the rendezvous point;" we see Cortez and another soldier fighting (and losing) on Earth until the blast hits and saves their lives; we see the Relays being much less damaged upon expulsion; we see the energy from the Crucible impacting other planets; and we see a slightly different cinematic of the Normandy losing its space race with the blast.

So some of the most important questions were answered. Namely, "What happens to the other races orbiting Earth," "Why did Joker leave Shepard," and "Doesn't destroying the Relays prevent galaxy to galaxy travel from ever being possible again?"

So now we know for sure that the turians and quarians won't die of starvation in Sol, a system with no eatable (for them) sustenance; Joker's not a no-good traitor; and the entire premise of the series isn't suddenly ruined.

Anthony DiPalma

Which is a good thing, right?

Adam Grayson

Hahaha, I suppose that's arguable.

But yes, I'd say it's a good thing.

Then we have the scene with Shepard's plaque (which we already mentioned). Finally, we have the slideshow with different narrators dependent on the ending. I know you mentioned that you liked the Control ending's extra explanation, but what did you think about the other endings' explanations?

Anthony DiPalma

Synthesis was probably the most unique, I'd say. Humanity (and organics in general) reached the apex of evolution, and it was all because of Shepard.

Adam Grayson

*tear*

Anthony DiPalma

In addition, the Destroy ending was basically what I had originally thought. Never wanted to refuse, though. Losing Mordin was bad enough, but losing Mordin and Liara? I couldn't deal with it.

Adam Grayson

Hahaha. I actually got the Refusal ending by accident. During my original playthrough, I fired my gun randomly just to pass the time as I slowly crawled toward my decision. This time, though, shooting stuff, particularly the Catalyst, has some pretty dire consequences xD

Anthony DiPalma

You shot a kid (sort of), and that basically breaks all the rules of gaming.

Adam Grayson

Apparently.

But yeah, along with the added Refusal ending came the different Stargazer scene with the female Stargazer and some slightly different (and in my opinion better) lines from Starchild.

What did you think about the addition of another ending?

Anthony DiPalma

Didn't bother me too much, but I felt that, prior to the Extended Cut release, BioWare was caving into the vocal minority who screamed and cried about their ending not being perfect.

Adam Grayson

What do you mean?

Anthony DiPalma

As soon as the disgustingly annoying "Retake Mass Effect" movement started, a fraction of the millions who bought Mass Effect 3 were outraged at the ending. So outraged that they petitioned to change the ending. I personally don't like this because it challenges the artistic integrity of BioWare. Obviously it was not perfect, but the endings were written the way the artists intended. Changing that would be ridiculous.

What BioWare did however, was great. Rather than straight up change the endings (which would have taken months and tons of rewriting throughout the game), they opted to explain things better for the player. I'm okay with that, because it shows that they are a developer who will listen to their fans and deliver accordingly.

Remember when fans barked, "WE WANT MULTIPLAYER!" awhile back? Then BioWare announced, "Hey guys, we've got multiplayer!" The entire BioFanbase went berserk.

You can't entirely blame the developer for the indecisiveness of the fans, and I give them plenty of credit for delivering what they promised, all while dealing with an angry horde of pissed off fans.

Adam Grayson

I agree. The original endings were what they were. Whether they were the endings that were originally intended at the beginning of the series all those years ago, if they were a result of writers changing and rushed release deadlines, or if they were any combination of these things, they were what we got—they were canon. But to change the canon of that universe because the fans didn't like it seemed absurd. Sure, you love this universe, but it's not yours to tamper with!

So yes, I completely agree that BioWare went about this in the right way. Instead of ignoring the fans' pleas and sticking to the "It's ours, not yours" mentality, they very graciously listened to their fans and put in a lot of extra work to give us a free extended ending, and they did so in a very graceful way. They answered many of the questions without actually changing the story. It was a very impressive, and quite frankly flattering, feat. To have this company care enough about its fans' feelings to change their story for free is pretty astounding.

At the same time, the insane consumer reaction to the ending was very impressive as well. To see that many people so passionate about the conclusion to a story in a video game was really quite amazing, and it says a lot about this universe that BioWare has created.

As additional proof to that passion, you can find unbelievably well written and well-thought-out fan fiction endings and theories. I mean, some of these required a tremendous attention to detail throughout the entire series to come up with. They make perfect sense, are a pleasure to read, and are top-quality pieces of writing. For example, we brought up the Indoctrination Theory a while back... That theory took all of these details from the series and interpreted them into something that makes perfect sense. Then I showed you the Marauder Shields web comic last week, and that combines fantastic writing and an alternate ending with art that looks like it's straight out of the game (in fact, I suspect some of it might be).

But the (mass) effect this series had on people is undeniable, and to see that kind of mass (effect) reaction to the endings from the consumers as well as the humble grace of the developer not only reveals the huge impact this series had on gamers, but also the unique care BioWare put into the series.

Anthony DiPalma

In the end, I guess it really shows that BioWare is one of the few developers that can gather a new fanbase without diluting the gameplay, and in addition, keep that fanbase by delivering where they had initially failed.

Unfortunately there is so, so, so much more to discuss about the Mass Effect universe and its impact, but fear not: We've got more Mass Effect spoiler-ific discussions in the near future!

Adam Grayson

Yay! This is actually the second (very long) Mass Effect conversation Anthony and I have had. The first one began much like this one, but we ended up getting off track very quickly, talking about much more than just the Extended Cut. We're eager to talk more about it, and so that's exactly what we're doing!

Anthony DiPalma

While Adam and I are obviously very big Mass Effect fans, we are but a few of the many.  Let us know what you thought about the Extended Cut in the comments below, and keep an eye out for our ongoing Mass Effect discussions.

Tags: BioWare, Reapers, Shepard, Commander Shepard, DLC, Extended Cut, Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, Mass Effect 3, Catalyst, Starchild, Citadel, Refuse, Synthesis, Destroy, Control, Crucible, Captain Anderson, Illusive Man, Mass Effect

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