Achtung: This is a review of the extended ending for Mass Effect 3… therefore, this is nothing but pure spoiler for those who have not completed the game. Please don’t ruin a great experience by spoiling yourself… really… I care about you… don’t deny yourself the joy of being surprised. That said… on with the post…
In my original review of Mass Effect 3 I discussed my feelings about the ending and mentioned that Bioware was in fact working on the Extended Cut which would hopefully quell the dissatisfaction felt by many fans. When I wrote that review I was under the impression that the new ending would be released in August or so and I was in the middle of my second play-through of the game. Oddly enough, after finishing the second to last mission in my game, the Extended Cut was released and I was able to wait a few days and complete it with the new ending.
Now… the answer to the main question… did the new ending clarify and/or add anything new to the previous ending? Yes, very much so. Although the “choices” given at the end aren’t too different, a number of plot gaps are filled in with an extended epilogue explaining how your decision changed the galaxy and gives a great glimpse into the future.
Bioware tells players to begin from just before you attack the Illusive Man’s base in order to get the new ending. From what I could tell, there was no difference with this mission at all. The only reason I can imagine they would tell you to start from there is that once you complete the game you are brought back (from the dead?) to the Normandy just before that mission. Although there is a save file from the point you are on the field having had Harbinger blow you away, there is some new material just before that moment that is key to the new ending.
In the original ending, one of the biggest complaints was how it was the Normandy was flying through the mass relay with members of your squad that were on the ground in London with you. A cut scene is now added to when you are beginning that run into hell when a transport gets hit and injures your squad. In my case I had Liara (my paramour) and Javik with me. Once they are injured you call the Normandy in for an evacuation and your squad is taken out of danger and I shared a few “I love you’s” with Liara. A very moving moment if I say so myself. My daughter who was playing female Shepard had a relationship with Garrus… their farewell is basically the same.
From this point the game remains the same until you reach the catalyst. Now you can actually grill the creepy star child about what the catalyst is specifically and how the Citadel factors into everything. Much of the confusion regarding that creepy little ghost kid are resolved… but you have to ask it the questions, otherwise you will learn nothing new.
Now things begin to get interesting… the catalyst will still lay out the two, or three, depending on your score, options for you to choose… destroy the Reapers, control the Reapers, or choose the synthesis option. You now also have a fourth option… you can reject the three original option and get something entirely different. The first time I played through the new ending, I inadvertently chose the fourth ending.
Inadvertently? How could I accidentally make a choice you ask? Every review I read regarding the original ending talked about how people were annoyed with the star child/catalyst and tried shooting it. I did the same thing the first time through… I tried shooting the little fucker. Originally, nothing would happen. Now, you can shoot him and it basically says, “so be it, the cycle continues” and the game is over. You will get a completely new cut scene (posted below) of Liara’s hologram telling whoever finds it that there is still hope for future generations but our generation lost the fight. Also, there is a new post credit scene. Instead of Buzz Aldrin talking about the “legend” of the “Shepard”, now there is an Asari like woman talking to a child about how thanks to Shepard’s actions the galaxy is now at peace after the next cycle defeated the Reapers. Instead of a legend, there are “records” of “Shepard”. He (or she) goes from being a legend to an outright hero.
Although this is, on the surface, the most bleak ending possible, I found myself thinking this may have been the best outcome. Something about having a record of your actions as opposed to a mythology about your actions seems more concrete and, to borrow a Sheenism, “winning”.
What about the other three endings? I believe there are a few extra little bits added to each, but overall the multi-colored explosions of either red (destroy), blue (control), or green (synthesis) still play out in much the same way. Where the differences now occur is that Joker no longer frantically tries to escape, he’s a bit calmer, and the mass relays are not completely destroyed.
Where things take a major left turn is after the immediate effects of your choice are shown. There is now a voice over from Admiral Hackett where he explains how everything has been affected and we see a number of cut scenes of how each world has dealt with the aftermath… either rebuilding or destroyed. You will also see a small homage to each person who has died from you squad over the course of the series. In my game for instance, I lied to the Krogen in order to get both the Krogen and the Salarian scientists. Yes, I shot Mordin in the back (I’m still sorry about that). The result at the end was that Eve looked very sad and Tuchunka was still a wasteland. Life was still bad for the Krogen. In my daughters game Eve has a baby and Tuchunka is being rebuilt.
Shepard’s fate remains very much the same. If your score was low, he dies in basically every situation. If you had a high enough of an Effective Military Strength and you brought most of the war assets to the battle, you will still get the final breathing scene. That was the crux of why I played through a second time. I wanted those two seconds of seeing whether or not Shepard lived. Added to that scene is now a brief moment on-board the Normandy… all your squad is standing around the memorial wall and your paramour is holding your name. If you died, he or she will place your name above Admiral Anderson’s name… if you live, he or she will hold your nameplate and give a slight smile, never putting your name on the wall. I got the living end, my daughter got the dead end.
In addition to seeing the Normandy pick up your squadmates, you will still have the scene where they crash on that jungle planet. The difference now is that you will see the Normandy blast off back into space… unless, as in my daughters game, your score isn’t what it could have been (low) and we saw the Normandy take a beating with all sorts of holes and burn marks all over the thing. She didn’t see the Normandy take off, only being covered in scaffolding as they set about repairing it. Minor differences, but ones that make quite a difference in the overall feel of the completeness of the game.
One last change that I’ll mention that addressed whether or not everyone is now trapped in the Sol System… the mass relays were not destroyed, just damaged, therefore nobody is trapped and the galaxy will continue on as before.
Was the Extended Cut an improvement? Absolutely. The amount of extra material was enough to fill in a number of the confusing plot holes as well as give some sense of closure as to the fate of the rest of the galaxy. It was a bit crappy not knowing what happened after everything you’ve gone through… now you will know. I found the emotional impact of everything after the Citadel to be just as strong as everything that came before and hits you with a much harder wallop once you know the whole story.
If you played Mass Effect 3 before and were unsatisfied with the ending, you owe it to yourself to play through this updated Extended Cut… it is a completely rewarding experience. As for what this means for game developers in the future and what constitutes a real ending versus an eventually DLC… I’ll save that for another post.
Of course… if you are pressed for time, feel free to watch all the various endings here… (some results may vary):
Every breath you take… every move you make…
Cornelius J. Blahg