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Before you read any further, be warned this article will feature full spoilers for the Mass Effect 3 ending.
Today, Bioware announced on their blog that they are releasing an Extended Cut to the Mass Effect 3 ending, totally free of charge, this summer. The Extended Cut will include additional cutscenes and epilogue scenes, but will not change any of the endings, choices, or affects of the endings in order to maintain the "team's artistic vision." I consider this news genuinely disastrous, as a huge fan of the franchise and someone grossly opposed to the ending on every level. I'm going to break down what the problems with the ending are, and why Bioware's "solution" won't satisfy anyone at all, and even crushes the hopes of indoctrination theory supporters.
The Mass Effect 3 Ending Disaster(s):
In case you’re coming into this article thinking the outrage by the fans is misplaced, I’ll spend a bit of time breaking down the major issues with the ending. The major issues fall into the categories of plot holes, thematic inconsistencies, player choice, and resolution.
What would Shepard be doing if he knew that all his world-shifting political machinations would boil down to mass genocide?
There are a number of obvious plot holes in Mass Effect 3’s endings. They begin as soon as Shepard boards the Citadel through the beam of light. Anderson somehow entered behind him, even though there was no one else anywhere near when Shepard entered the ship, and then further ends up on a different path to the center chamber. This plothole is expanded by the fact that Anderson ended up ahead of him, and somehow entered the chamber from a different path even though there was only one entrance. The Illusive Man also seemingly teleports in, and somehow Hackett knows Shepard is on the station even though it was established earlier that the Alliance believed no one made it through Harbinger’s attack.
When you meet the Star Child things only get worse. Why does he look like the child from the beginning of the game? There is no explanation offered. Why does the Citadel have these three options just built in, waiting for some random human to use? If the Reapers were the solution, why would they have these ridiculous back-ups, already designed to work with human DNA? Then you make your choice, and suddenly things get much worse. Your crew teleported magically back onto the ship which is fleeing for no reason. The Mass Relays all blow up which would basically wipe out the universe and at least wipe out all the major solar systems (including Sol, which Shepard and the entire military might of the universe is currently in). Space Magic takes place to varying degrees depending on your ending selection. If you pick the “best” ending Shepard’s DNA magically mixes everyone in the universe’s DNA as well as the synthetic creatures.
This whole thing is going to end pretty badly for you no matter what, Geth.
The whole purpose behind the repeated destruction of the advanced organic races is to prevent them from being destroyed by the synthetics they inevitably create. This is bad on many levels. The obvious skin-deep level is that this solution is totally stupid and cruel. The less-obvious one is that it simply doesn’t fit with what we’ve been told about synthetics thus far. The Geth did everything they could to avoid fighting the Quarians, and depending on your choices eventually reconciled with them. EDI developed a soul and wanted nothing more than to be with and help humans. And why is synthesis, removing the individuality that makes these groups unique, considered a good option in a game with heavy themes of diversity?
This issue is compounded by the fact that Shepard isn’t allowed to TELL the child this. You can’t explain “no, you’re wrong, we have learned to understand each other.” The Shepard we played through these games with would not have accepted such horrible options. He would have argued, and we should have been given the chance to do that, which brings me to the next major issue.
You never knew this, but printer ink cartridges represent all the chocie that matters in the universe.
You are given almost no dialog options with the Star Child. All of your ending options are horrible, and result in what is for all intents and purposes the destruction of the entire universe and everything you’ve worked for. Your choices are all bad. I’m not saying we needed a sunshine and daisies option, or even one where Shepard lives (as he seems to at the end of the Destruction choice), but how about at least one option where all the decisions we made, the alliances we forged, the people we saved, don’t cease to exist? The cutscenes are of course all nearly identical, with different colored lights.
I touched on this above, but the biggest issue of all is the actual resolution. I don’t think many people realistically expected Bioware to change the scenes for every tiny detail of choice you made, but they did expect their choices to change the future. None of them do. Even if there is some explanation for why the Space Magic explosions of the Mass Relays didn’t wipe everyone out, the races are now all stranded and dying. All the alliances you forged are useless. All the changes and decisions you made are rendered invalid in this one scene. This is the end of the universe, and everything you ever did meant nothing.
Bioware’s Extended Cut Solution:
We hear you don't like being killed by synthetics so we're here to kill you (and your friendly synthetics).
Bioware’s response is to give us free DLC (yay!) that will expand on and clarify the endings (wait a minute...). You can read the full version on Bioware Blog, linked above, but the quick version is a lot of talk about “preserving the artistic vision” and providing “clarity” and “expansion.” This is accompanied by an explicit statement that there will be no additional endings or changes to the existing endings and their themes and designs. They talk about adding context to the end of Commander Shepard’s story.
For those of you who follow the indoctrination theory (some of you) or those of you who want to believe it’s true (most of us), this is the most disastrous way they could possibly announce the DLC. If you aren’t familiar with the theory, you can learn about it in-detail in a 20 minute youtube video. So why does this damn that (frankly pretty brilliant) theory? Well the indoctrination theory exists on the idea that the game isn’t over at the end. Shepard wakes up (if you “resisted”), but the war must still be won. Shepard’s story isn’t over in the indoctrination theory, but Bioware is very clear here that these endings represent the end of it. Epilogue and expansion scenes aren’t going to change that, and Bioware is committed to trying to fix something that’s utterly unsalvageable. So what does “expansion and clarification” fix?
Should have spent more time writing a coherent conclusion and less time modeling Chobot's cleavage.
They can repair some of these, but any sort of Space Magic is still going to look like Space Magic. They can probably make characters teleport less, which would help a bit, but the Mass Relay destruction will still look wildly out of place with the physics of the universe.
It should go without saying, but expansion and clarification, without changing the actual choices, will not clear this up in any way. The entire ending will still be predicated on something which is wholly inconsistent with the progression of the story up to this point. The AI are not destined to destroy us. We’ve learned to understand one-another. This is entirely stupid, and I have trouble believing they’re going to stick by it.
Again, without actually changing the choices and letting us fight against this silly Star Child and his ridiculous reasoning, we’re left with no real options. Maybe they’ll change the colors further in the cutscenes, but all the choices will still have the same result: the destruction of our universe.
If the Mass Relays are gone at the end of the game, the resolution will never satisfy 90% of players. Bioware does not seem to understand this, which confuses me so much because the entire rest of the game was about bringing this universe together, and they end it by ripping it apart. This will not satisfy anyone. Bioware’s “expansions” and “clarifications” can be as detailed as they want, but if my choices were meaningless I really won’t care at all.
Bioware: You’re Doing It Wrong
I understand being concerned about how your work will be viewed as art if you’re willing to change something as significant as the ending, but your ending as it currently exists does far more damage to that than admitting there’s a problem ever could. Look, Bioware, people have changed the endings of many great pieces of fiction throughout history. Sherlock Holmes was brought back to life. Dickens gave Great Expectations a happy ending. Movies frequently edit their endings in new cuts, alternate cuts, or extended cuts and these can pretty drastically change their affect (see: Blade Runner).
I’m pleading with you Bioware. Please recognize that what exists right now is bad. Please use the indoctrination theory, or rewrite things entirely. Don’t try to justify this. It’s not justifiable. People make mistakes, and we’d all love to forgive you for those, but the more you push this down our throat the more forgettable your world will become... the less people will care about Mass Effect in the future. Bring back my universe. Let me sleep peacefully knowing all I did mattered, and those races will have a brighter future because of it. Otherwise, I think it’s time for us to part ways.