Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"...And Life Goes On" My Review of Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut

As most people who follow me on twitter and read my blog posts are well aware of, I was one of many people who found Mass Effect 3's ending to be unsatisfactory. I called it depressing, insulting, and a betrayal to not just the established lore of the series but to the fans who devoted much of their attention and care into it. I jumped on the Bioware Bashing Bandwagon calling the developers "lazy" "uninspired" and a host of other horrible names and curses that I, at present, cannot write on this entry.

I had lost faith in the developer's skill at designing the best games I know of, and as such decided to cut ties to them indefinitely. To call myself angry is an understatement. I felt, for all intents and purposes, betrayed. I had followed Bioware for many years, and devoted a lot of my time and money into their products. There was a level of quality I came to expect from them, an expectation and trust I only reserve for those who have proven they are deserving of it (Pixar is another such example of a studio who has earned that trust). To then have that trust be betrayed like it was when I witnessed the ending to Mass Effect 3 resulted in some of the darkest days of my life.

To say I loved the Mass Effect series is like saying I love my wife. To me, and many others like me, it is more than just a game, it was a part of my personal and social life. I forged friendships through this game, not just the crew of the Normandy but actual real living people here in the real world, and I have Mass Effect to thank for that. I say this because I seemingly cannot stress this point whenever I discuss Mass Effect. I must get across what these games meant to me in order for those who don't feel as I do to understand why myself and others were so affected by the ending.

It is the reason why I was dreading June 26th, a day I normally welcome because it is my birthday, because that day would be the most important day to everyone who ever cared about Mass Effect. For June 26th was the day that Bioware released the Extended Cut DLC, their answer to the outcries over the ending.  And today, June 26th, 2012, has finally come, and I have seen the Extended Cut for myself, not only on Youtube but actually in person. So, what is my reaction to the new endings Bioware has produced for us?

In short, these are the endings that should have been in the game upon release. These are the endings, for better or worse, that we the fans deserved to see because they are undoubtedly better than what we received.

To start I must note that I initially wanted to hate the extended cut. In my mind, I wanted to hate them because I couldn't see any way for Bioware to fix the mess the original ending made. I must also point out that ever since the ending controversy began I have always referred to the endings of Mass Effect 3 as singular, ending. This is because, as it stood then, whatever choice you made be it control, synthesis, or destroy, you pretty much got the same ending. So for the more eagle eyed readers out there you may have noticed I just referred to the Extended Cut endings as plural. That is because these do, in fact, feel like multiple endings.

While the end result is inevitably the same: the reaper threat is resolved, the additions to the decisions presented in Mass Effect 3 do truly feel like they vary. This was a primary complaint among many who felt the endings didn't vary enough. Well, in the case of the Extended Cut, that isn't an issue. The variation between endings is, surprisingly, astounding considering what we had with the original ending. The game takes into account your paragon/renegade score and that truly effects the outcome of the endings. An example of this can be seen if you choose to control the reapers. Your Shepard's personality is downloaded into the reaper collective and, depending on whether your Shepard was Paragon or Renegade, he/she either uses the reapers to help rebuild galactic civilization and maintain peace or uses the reapers to create a seemingly totalitarian system of control where Shepard rules with an iron fist/reaper tentacle.

This is what I wanted to see in the original endings. Our choices and decisions playing out and effecting how the endings turned out.

So what about all the nagging issues such as the massive plot holes and seemingly world ending events that transpire during the original endings? Well, for the most part, Bioware did the smart thing and either removed them or downplayed most of them. The Extended Cut explains why your entire squad is back on the Normandy even though you last saw them all on Earth. It explains why Joker took the Normandy away from the battle, and it made logical sense and Joker clearly didn't want to leave Shepard behind. It works. Sure, some of the explanations may seem hamfisted but it works and doesn't leave a huge plot hole you can fly a reaper through.

The destruction of the mass relay network is now either completely omitted from the endings or strongly downplayed. This was a major issue I had with the games because, as I have said before, destroying the mass relays is like blowing up every single stargate in the Stargate franchise, it breaks the fiction. Now, when you see the mass relays go up it is implied that the damage was superficial or that they were easily rebuilt. This was a smart move by Bioware because, even though I can see the thematic significance of the destruction of the relays (they are reaper tech designed as part of their trap after all), the game's codex specifically notes the relays are the crux of galactic civilization (again like the stargates in Stargate).

The crashing of the Normandy is also strongly downplayed in this version of the endings. We don't see the Normandy's engines blowing up as it tries to outrun the crucible shockwave. The damage to the exterior of the ship when you see it on the nameless Eden planet has been removed and we eventually see the ship fly once more before cutting to the credits. Instead, as the new scenes provided imply, it appears that this strange planet is most likely the rendezvous point the fleet was supposed to reach when the Crucible was armed. This is obviously meant to make it clear that the Normandy crew isn't stranded like the original ending seemed to suggest.

To put it simply: the doom and gloom that the original endings seemed to imply has been replaced by a much more welcome victorious feeling.

There are now epilogue scenes that also hint at what the future of the Mass Effect universe may be based upon your choices. Whether you chose control, synthesis, or destroy, you are now given a sense of closure that was lacking in the original ending. You see the galaxy rebuild, and depending on your choices there are variations on how that is accomplished and where the galaxy will go from there. It is what I, personally, expected when I first played the game.

There are also new dialogue options when you speak to the "Star Child" Catalyst. This was one of the things I severely hated about the original endings because dialogue has been the primary gameplay function in the Mass Effect series (despite what more action oriented players say) and to see that not in the original ending hinted that the developers either had no time or simply didn't care. Here, you do get to ask questions and argue with the Star Child about the choices he gives you. The Star Child doesn't really come off as malevolent than he did in the original ending and, instead, comes off as simply an AI designed to control the reapers. While some may find this to be unacceptable at this point there is no way to completely remove him, like Jar Jar Binks in Episode I he is an important part of the plot which cannot be removed. He, however, does give us more information than we had before, even if he still won't give us truly clear answers due to there "being little time."

Hell, if that doesn't please you, Bioware even gave us a new alternate ending. This was one I really wanted to see in the original game and was glad they included it: refusing the choices presented. Of course, this results in the Reapers winning but I expected this to be a possibility in the original game, especially considering the time capsule Liara made seemed like a serious hint at this possibility. Of course, this plot point finally gets the pay off it deserves and I loved the ways you could initiate it (either vocally refuse the choices the Catalyst gives you or simply shoot the kid in the head. Gotta give points for Bioware having a sense of humor.)

To sum it up: the extended cut of the endings is how the game should've ended from the beginning. Had this been the endings presented to us when the game was released I would've been pleased at how Bioware managed to pull it off. As it stands now, Bioware managed to pull their asses out of a huge fire (and without the help of a portal gun! GLaDOS would be impressed!)

Which brings me to  Bioware.

Throughout all of this I repeatedly stated my desire for Bioware to explain their decision and elaborate on why the chose to end the game as they did. I didn't want them to change the ending, I didn't even want them to clarify the ending. I wanted to understand why they wanted the game to end like it did. I wanted them to be honest and explain what happened that resulted in the ending I saw upon my first playthrough. I wanted them to accept responsibility for the mistakes they made and apologize.

Well, it seems I'm the one who should be apologizing.

So, I'd like to say that, like many, I have been a selfish, petty, and deluded human being. I made attacks and verbal accusations against a company I had come to respect and trust. While I can't say, at the time, that those actions weren't unwarranted. I can say that I am fully sorry for the way I have acted. Professionally, it was uncalled for. All I can hope to do now is let the folks at Bioware know that, as it stands right now, they have managed to regain the trust I had in them. They have regained me as a, albeit more cautious, customer and I hope to share more experiences with them and their products in the future.

I'd also like to thank them for giving me probably one of the best birthday gifts I could hope for: a reason to play their games once more.


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