Disclaimer: The opinions and viewpoints expressed by the various authors (including me) do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Neoseeker.
Today is Tuesday, meaning BioWare's long-awaited Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut is out -- at least for some platforms -- and we're finally going to see some closure for Shepard. Well, sort of, and that really depends on who you ask.
Many have already completed the two-hour replay and seen all the additional content Extended Cut offers, and the verdict from gamers is understandably mixed. Many are still left unsatisfied, saying BioWare still hasn't done enough to rectify what they did. Do I agree? Somewhat, because the add-on doesn't actually contribute anything of substance to the existing ending, in that we never get a clear explanation for why all of this is happening or what the Catalyst's deal is.
What Extended Cut does do, at least, is bolster the ending cutscenes for each of Shepard's decisions, fill minor plot holes (How did your crew escape?), and provide a better idea of how Shep's actions throughout the game affected a few of the races.
For those of you who are ignoring the DLC or can't wait for it to hit Origin, we'll give a brief rundown of what the free add-on entails. Mind the spoilers. If you haven't beaten Mass Effect 3 at all yet, kindly avert your gaze.
To experience the additional content, BioWare tells players they must load up a save file prior to the assault on Cerberus headquarters. This does puzzle me, because none of the stuff here seemed any different from before, and I know that I'm not the only one confused by this. During my playthrough, I didn't actually see new content until after the return to Earth. You're still going have the same half-arsed conversation with (some of) your crew, give them a Shepardy speech, then go off and defend some missiles. Then you'll notice the changes rolling in.
The Battle for Earth
When Harbinger lands and proceeds to blow everything to kingdom come, your squad will wind up hit with debris, which leaves them severely injured. The Normandy is called in, and they're evacuated. Since I romanced Garrus and had him along, I did get a brief dialogue exchange with the turian, consisting mostly of "I won't leave you," "You have to," "Like hell I do," "I love you," and "I love you too."
With that, Javik hauls his scrawny butt onto the ship, and they pretty much leave you to your business. Okay, so now we know how your crew got away when you were stuck on Earth, though this explanation did garner more complaints, namely how the Normandy managed to just fly in and hang out a few minutes without being struck down by Harbinger who, up until this point, has been sniping every person, tank, and gunship with that unreasonably huge laser beam.
From there, Shepard keeps running, gets hit by the laser, goes into bullet time, shoots a lone Marauder, and makes it to the Citadel. You know the drill by now. Here, BioWare inserts a new cutscene that returns to the fight in space, and Hackett is informed that "someone" has made it to the Citadel after all, where before, everyone was freaking out about the plan failing. Quietly, the admiral says, "Holy shit, she made it."
On the Citadel
Most of the Citadel sequence is still the same, including the showdown with the Illusive Man and Anderson's inevitable demise. Nothing new here, and the Star Child -- the Catalyst -- is still a major fixture in the plot. No additional explanation is given to justify its existence, other than the Catalyst's own nebulous preachings about organics and synthetics and the unseen "creators" who crafted the Reapers in their likeness.
A few extra lines of dialogue attempts to shed light on the three paths Shepard can take, a little handholding that tries to add some sense to the situation. A decent effort on BioWare's part, but no amount of explaining is going to justify the Child's presence in Mass Effect 3.
How it Ends
Now the cutscenes after Shepard's decision get more interesting, but recycling is still an issue here. As the Citadel begins to activate, Hackett orders the fleets to withdraw, and we see a brief scene aboard the Normandy where Joker refuses to leave without Shepard until Liara convinces him it's time to go. Gee, thanks, Liara. Thought you had my back.
On the bright side, we no longer see the Normandy fleeing from a colored shockwave and Joker freaking out for absolutely no reason. A similar scene replaces it, in which our pilot just goes about his business moving windows around on the ship's display. Additional scenes depicting the soldiers on Earth and other planets have been inserted to better illustrate the effect your decision has on the warring sides. Rather than seeing Reapers float off in the Synthesis ending, for example,
The mystery planet scene still happens, but before that, we're treated to Fallout style slides of various races and characters to see how Shepard's actions have affected the greater galaxy. Who narrates depends on your decision.
The mass relays don't blow up randomly anymore, as Hackett describes them as "damaged" in one ending. Either way, no one is stuck in the Sol system, since he also states the damage can be repaired. Slides will show the situation on Tuchanka and how well the quarians are faring in their own recovery. At least one ending will show the quarians' faces, and they actually look... like purple humans.
As for your squad, those who weren't actually a part of your immediate crew will get slides of their own, though who you see does vary depending on which ending you choose. Go with one, and you may see Zaeed lounging by a pool (in armor) rather than Jack instructing her students. One decision may lead to a scene of Kasumi looking very depressed in her room, while another shows her conversing with a ghost of her dead lover. Yeah, neither of these make a whole lot of sense, but... sure, I guess.
Your immediate crew doesn't get a follow-up in this manner. Instead, the game goes back to show them on the mystery planet, which they do manage to leave after some very quick repairs. We also have a scene where they're gathered around the memorial display onboard, while your love interest or some other significant character is holding Shepard's name plaque. If you chose to destroy the Reapers, they never put the plaque on the wall, as if somehow aware that you may not be dead. Cue brief "Shepard takes a breath" scene. For the others, they'll stick the plaque up then, well, mourn your death. Credits, old man with child, end.
Could be Worse, Could be Much Better
The endings not radically different on their own and dependent on your decisions through the game (series), but there is a lot more variety here than before. In the Synthesis ending, for instance, we see Reapers participating in the long recovery process of rebuilding. The most disappointing part of the Extended Cut is the lack of any proper explanation for the Child or any of the Reaper-related lore.
What the DLC does manage to do is show -- to some extent -- the impact Shepard's actions have on the galaxy. Previously, we had no idea what happened to any of the races following the Earth battle, which was just odd given the series is built on this idea that our actions, as players, can shape the entire plot. The slides might not be enough to appease everyone, however, and the narrator doesn't actually explain any of what we see in great detail. In Fallout, every character has a voiceover for their slide, telling us exactly what happens to that individual or faction. That's not the case with Mass Effect 3.
Images leave us with a vague idea of whether a person or race is doing well or poorly, and our immediate crew members like Garrus, Tali, Liara, EDI, and so forth aren't granted the same treatment. We see krogans coddling their young, quarians rebuilding their homeworld, and confirmation that old friends have survived; yet your closest allies, the ones who served aboard the Normandy, are largely ignored. We see their immediate reactions to Shepard's apparent death, the strange crash landing scene, but no insight into what happens to them after. Excluding the squad in this manner seems really odd to me, especially because this was such a major issue for the community.
I will say this: the new cutscenes were a huge improvement over what we originally got. On the flip side, none of the new content offers up solid closure or concrete explanations. It's a lot of flash without much substance, even taking into account the super-Renegade Extinction ending. And at risk of stating the obvious, I will also say that this feels like the ending(s) we should've seen to begin with, because the original doesn't even bother with any of Shepard's decisions and had so many little gaps (i.e. Why is Joker running from the shockwave? Where did your squad go?) you had to wonder what happened to BioWare's writing staff.
Sure, the Extended Cut leaves something to be desired, but it's notably better than what we had. If these had been a part of the core game, I've no doubt the community would've been, you know, significantly less upset.
For those who are refusing to play through the DLC in protest, you're really not missing out on much. For everyone else? Well, it is free until April 2014.