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Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut

            Of all the film series, video game series, book series, or show series finales out there, I don’t think any of them have spawned as much outrage and controversy as the ending to Mass Effect 3.  To call it a disappointment would be an understatement to a lot of people, as it damn near destroyed BioWare’s credibility due to various things, including a huge number of plot holes, a limit of three alternate endings that were essentially the same with only a few slight differences that were hardly noticeable, and an entire advertising campaign that effectively said this wasn’t going to happen.  This immediately launched thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of angry letters, pissed off videos on YouTube, complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and an entire community movement dedicated to getting a new ending to the game that actually made more sense.  This organization sent emails, had people record videos, and sent BioWare red, green and blue cupcakes to show their anger towards the game’s ending and even raised money for charities and even created a new one in the process. 
What exactly happened between those promises and the release date, we can only speculate.  Some people think that BioWare just got greedy and was trying to make the most open ended ending they could for DLC.  Other’s think that E.A. got their claws into it and forced Casey Huston’s, (lead developer of the game) hand while others think it was just bad writing and others thought it was part of something grander known as the Indoctrination Theory, (although in my opinion that whole thing was just fans overanalyzing the games in an attempt to find something better than what they got). 
But after about a month of this all the hate mail, angry videos and conspiracy theories, BioWare officially announced the Extended Cut, which they promised would bring more closure to Shepard’s story at no cost to the fans.  Like a lot of other fans, I was skeptical.  It’s very rare that you’ll find a company in the entertainment business admit that they’ve made a mistake, much less one that is part of the evil empire of game developers.  It also didn’t help that they firmly stated that they weren’t going to change the ending so much as “expand” on it with no new alternate endings.  But I waited in eager anticipation all the same, keeping a hold of my copy of Mass Effect 3, hoping against hope that this “expanded” ending would be worth the 100+ hours I put into this trilogy.   And just the other day, the Extended Cut was released and that is our subject for the day.  Needless to say, this post will contain spoilers for the game as well as a few for the Extended Cut if you care.  So does the Extended Cut magically fix all the problems the ending had, re-open an old would and pour salt on it, or does it fall somewhere in between?  Well, here is my opinion on it.    
Now, this extended cut does have problems and I would be lying if I said they didn’t bother me but starting with what they got right, they knocked it out of the park.  In this extended cut most, (if not all), of the underlying problems and major plot holes are gone.  Here, the Mass Relays are only partly damaged, (not destroyed), and the galaxy hasn’t been thrown into a dark age the way they implied it would in the original ending and this eliminates so many questions fans had after the original credits rolled and to a certain extent that alone makes the extended cut worth playing though.  But that’s not all.  They actually give a good explanation as to why the Normandy was making a Relay jump when the Crucible was going off.  The explanation as to why Shepard was alone in his final push to the Citadel was more than a little half-assed and way too convenient but I’ll take it and it’s better than what they had before, (nothing).
Unfortunately, they still have the StarChild and his…less than mind blowing explanation for the Reapers’ existence but I expected that.  However he does better explain how he and the Reapers came to be, and the actual explanation seems to imply that he was an AI that made…shall we say...a very disturbing decision concerning the problem of organics and synthetics which I actually thought was pretty clever.  He also gives better explanations as to what the final decisions entail; what exactly will happen and how it will affect the galaxy, which brings me to my next point, the choices. 
Now, BioWare said from the beginning that additional ending would not be included in this cut so I didn’t expect them and we didn’t get them.  What we did get, however, were radically improved versions.  I mean, they took these endings that were essentially nothing and made them into something and, in this regard, gave more than I ever expected, specifically with “Control” and “Synthesis” endings.  The “Control” ending was just badass and is really just a joy to watch.  It’s almost as if Shepard has become the unofficial lord of the galaxy with his control over the Reapers declaring himself the Guardian of the Masses and is just such a delight to watch.  I don’t know why but something about it just brings a massive grin to my face. 
Then we have the “Synthesis” ending.  Now from the beginning, (and I know I’m probably a minority on this), I actually thought the Synthesis idea was really cool.  Yea people have complained that it is kind of a betrayal of the characters’ moralities but, in my opinion, this is an idea kind of transcends that.  I mean, we’re talking about the final evolution of all life in the galaxy and not over whether or not to use your enemy’s technology for your own benefit.  But that’s an argument I’ll have privately with other fanboys another time.  As far as the ending itself goes, it’s clear that this was the ending BioWare put the most effort into and one could easily make the argument that this is the best of the endings.  It shows the galaxy essentially entering a kind of Pax Romana with all kinds great things happening and even greater things promising to come.  But it also really tugs on the heart strings and makes you feel the full loss of all that was sacrificed and to me that is the essence of what a good ending is.
Each ending also gives us an Epilogue of sorts essentially telling us what became of the galaxy after the final decision was made that.  Unfortunately most of this consists of still images of things like Wrex holding his new born baby or Zaeed chilling on a beach.  While this is better than what we had before and do change depending on your actions throughout the game, I was honestly hoping for something more along the lines of what we got in the Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition Epilogue.  But it is still better than what we had before, (again, nothing).
But as I said before, the ending still has some glaring problems.  For starters, the Destroy Option comes off as really weak, especially compared to the other two.  The Star Child thing just makes it so clear that there will be major consequences for this course of action and they don’t really expand on it in the Epilogue, other than not showing the Geth and EDI in it.  It basically takes the Halo/Gears 3 rout and says we won, they lost and our hero is still alive.  Very underwhelming and it’s clear that the developers probably didn’t care that much about this ending. 
Speaking of which their actually is a fourth ending where you shoot at the Star Child, (essentially telling him to go fuck himself), which results in the cycle continuing, (the Reapers win), but again this is something that they don’t really expand on.  They don’t show all of your friends and loved ones being wiped out by the Reapers which would have been awesome.  Instead, it’s just implied that the next cycle succeeded where you failed and was just a waist of a fourth option in my opinion. 
            We also have that all too convenient arrival of the Normandy and Harbinger doesn’t shoot at it for some reason, (they really wrote themselves into a corner on that one), which is something that I know every fan will bring up.  And again, the Epilogue could have been a lot better.  And of course we still have the two major problems of the ending; the limited number of choices and the explanation that the Star Child gives.  Even though the Star Child better explains his and the Reapers’ existence it’s still pretty underwhelming and they could have come up with something so much better.  Heck, I’ve even heard fan theories regarding it that were better and in the process explained why the Mass Relays had to be destroyed.  But it is what it is.  And again, the number of choices you have were b.s., and it still pisses me off that BioWare promised that we would get more choices in all their promotion of the game before it was released.

            So, has the Extended Cut magically fixed everything?  No.  Has it opened up a new wound and poured salt in it?  No.  I think that this one has kind of reached some kind of middle ground.  Fan reaction thus far seems to be kind of mixed, with some people satisfied with what they got and other still hating it and that’s the way it will probably always be.  As I’ve said many times, finales inevitably disappoint and unless BioWare made endings that catered to everyone’s wishes the current reaction was going to be the best case scenario.
            Personally, I really like the Extended Cut.  Does it have problems?  Yes.  But for me the good outweighs the bad.  The galaxy is no longer in a stupid dark age and most of the plot holes have been filled and we do have some idea of what will happen to this universe after the credits roll.  And in all honesty, that’s all I was asking for and all I expected to get.  But the way they expanded on the “Control” and “Synthesis” endings blew my expectations out of the water.  The Control ending was like a more badass version of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey novel and it just fills me with glee.  The Synthesis ending I just love and feel that it’s a prime example of how endings should go; something that has several notes of triumph and victory but still knows how to pull on the heart strings with tragedy and sorrow.  But that’s just my opinion and if yours differs you free to have it and that’s all I have to say on the matter.

But despite what other people may think of the ending, at the very least this proves that fans do have some measure of control over the franchises that they love.  The existence of this cut alone proves that BioWare does care about its fans and is willing to address what they consider to be wrong.  Will this completely restore BioWare’s reputation?  No.  It will probably take a great Dragon Age game for that to happen.  But at the very least this has restored a great deal of my faith in the company and hope that they haven’t completely become part of E.A. Games.  To BioWare I say keep fighting those guys and make sure that the old BioWare stays alive and thank you for showing that you cared enough about us to give us this Extended Cut.  Now if only we could get George Lucas to stop screwing with the original Star Wars Trilogy, get a better writer and director to remake the prequels, keep Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles away from Michael Bay, and get Capcom to stop their day one DLC and disk locked content practices, all will be well in the universe.  So until next time this is the Illusive One signing off.

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