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Well, It Was a Great Game Until You Reached the End [Updated for Extended Cut]
on March 11, 2012
[EXTENDED CUT UPDATE; ACTUAL REVIEW FOLLOWS]
(There are no spoilers in this entire, way too long, review)
Short, short version: Does the Extended Cut "fix" the ending? Kind of, but still not quite. Despite how it lacks and how we still have the same endings, the overall conclusion has been improved. So if you are on the fence about buying the game just because of the ending, don't worry about it. Just buy the game already and download the completely free DLC.
There were many problems with the ending of Mass Effect 3. In my original review, which is below this section, I talked about 5 issues I had with it. This excluded some problems that involved spoilers. On a larger level, one problem I had with ME3's ending which I didn't talk about was it killed my interest in Mass Effect's story. It was not only disappointing, but I had absolutely no interest in exploring the game's alternative events and dialogue exchanges. With such a straight forward, forced, and limited number of endings, which pretty much didn't matter how you played, or if you played, the other games with certain decisions, what's the point in experimentation? No matter what you did with different Shepards, you're still going to get that ending. I haven't touched the game since I wrote this review over 3 months ago. In comparison, I beat Mass Effect 2 twice in one month. There was zero motivation and reason to go back to the game, which is otherwise a really good game, just because of that ending.
So now we have the Extended Cut, and it's exactly what it sounds like. It is an expansion not a revision. However, some of that expansion feels like BioWare putting band-aids on plot holes. Again, I won't say what happens in the ending, but it should be noted that the game does have plot holes. It also has some confusing moments. Not everyone will notice or think about it, but others, myself included, thought, "Wait, when did this happen?" or "Wait, why is <CHARACTER #1> doing this?" Well some of those issues have been fixed. One of the fixes is still confusing, but it's confusing for a different reason.
Another wound that BioWare patched included the ending cinematic. I haven't seen every possible ending in the Extended Cut, but for mine, the ending my Shepard originally received at launch, BioWare changed the cinematic. Partially because of the lack of closure, partially because of what happens, the ending cinematic basically let a lot of people (like me) run wild with worst case scenarios which destroyed the ending even further. It was just one more crippling aspect of the ending. Well, BioWare changed it, so nobody has to worry about that. And with the actual ending extended, nobody has to imagine those worst case scenarios, since we know what happens after the events of Mass Effect 3.
The last major change I noticed to already existing content involved the decision at the end of the game. When it came to making this decision, people were frustrated, because they believed it should have been something their Shepard should be able to do. Well, BioWare agreed. When I saw the option available, I took it just to do it. Right after I selected that option, I thought, "Wow...That was pretty awesome." Even if you know all of the endings to Mass Effect 3, I still wouldn't want to spoil what they added, but I will say it is smart in the context of the series and should have been included when the game originally launched.
So far I've only talked about what they altered. It took a little while for me, but I eventually got to the true extending ending. While this is going to sound really negative, it is the best way to summarize my thoughts: It's better than nothing. It is good to see the aftermath of the war and getting a glimpse at what lies ahead for this character or this alien race. Also, the extended ending talked about the impact you ultimately had in the final moments of Mass Effect 3. The reflection could have been longer, but when you factor in resources and pacing, it is a good way to add some closure to the series, while avoiding an ending (like Metal Gear Solid 4 or Return of the King) that goes on for way too long, for some people. (Again, for some people. Personally, I don't mind the never-ending ending if it is well done)
So, is everything alright in the universe? For me, not really. Don't get me wrong, it is an improvement over the original ending. To be honest, I don't know how I would have reacted if the Extended Cut was the original ending. Would I have liked it or would I be just as upset? My guess is I would still be disappointed, but not nearly as much.
I guess I'll end by looking over my five points in my original review and see if the Extended Cut fixes those issues:
#1) The game just...ended: Now it doesn't just end. So that's better.
#2) Nobody reacts to anything: It's more of a reflection now. You see some of the reactions, but it could have, and in some cases probably deserves to be more than what was offered. Eventually you get into an argument over delivery versus the amount of material. It's better, but it's still lacking for me.
#3) In the end, none of my relationships and conversation decisions mattered: The Extended Cut appears to change based on who survived all three Mass Effect games and it looks like the larger plot points in the series does play out. Now I want to see other Extended Cuts to see if huge changes are reflected. So this is a decent improvement when you consider I didn't want to touch let alone replay ME3.
#4) The ending made me feel like none of my preparations, side quests, and decisions in the game mattered: Still a problem, in my opinion. From my understanding, more options and possible endings open up when you have a higher readiness and more military resources. I still don't think this is the best way to end the series. For an individual game, it's fine. But if you played the other games, it's still disappointing.
#5) That stupid thing that appeared at the end: Yep! Still there!
Overall, it's a hit and miss for me. The hits have to do with the expansion and some of the revision BioWare did. It's the same ending(s), but BioWare did change the ending a little and for the better. The misses still deal with the problem with how the series ends. The experimentation aspect is invigorated a little by the Extended Cut, but it's not as high as it was for ME2. I still believe the ending to the Mass Effect trilogy should have been handled similarly to how Heavy Rain ended. That game had seventeen total endings, divided up between the four main characters. The variables and choices throughout the game and the climax made me wonder "What happens if I did this?" just so I could see how the last third of the game changes or in order to see all of the possible endings for a character.
That game had organic endings based on choice and gameplay. Mass Effect 3 had a limited number of directed endings, based on a few individuals choices at the last minute. It should have been done differently, but for what it's worth the Extended Cut is better and appears to actually change based on how you played the other games. I don't think BioWare should have completely revised the last 30 or so minutes of the game and rewrote an entirely, radically different ending. However, I still wish they had a more open and free approach to the ending.
[ORIGINAL, SLIGHTLY TRIMMED, REVIEW]
Mass Effect 3 is a great game, with some problems. There are graphical hiccups here and there, sometimes your squad mate's AI isn't the best, paragon and renegade interruptions take a back seat, the music isn't as noticeable and recycles about half the tracks from 2, and the cover system, with the new rolling and jumping from cover to cover mechanics, either works great or does some unintentional things at the worst possible time. In the end, these points aren't enough for me criticize Mass Effect 3 too much. The game would of course be better if these weren't issues, but it still has a lot of the elements that made ME2 a great game for me.
There isn't too much of an improvement graphics wise between 2 and 3 (on the PS3 at least), but the game runs smoothly and the occasional pre-rendered cut scenes look fantastic. Even though the AI and cover system isn't perfect, the fighting and squad mechanics are just as good as they were in ME2. In some respects, the shooting and abilities are better than what they were in 2. The missions and character interactions are great and the story has some more meat to it compared to ME2. Not that this makes 2 inferior and 3 superior. This aspect mainly compliments ME3's war torn setting.
So, while the game isn't perfect, Mass Effect 3 is exceptional, especially when it comes to cinematic gaming, writing, dialogue, character development and blah, blah, blah, blah.
And here comes the "But..."
But, there is a major problem with Mass Effect 3. It's not with the premise, the conflict, the missions or the climax. In fact, the problem I have with Mass Effect 3 is at the 99% mark. I'm talking about the very ending of the game. The last 15 minutes of game that took me about 40 hours to play through. Of course Mass Effect 3 has multiple endings, and I've only experienced two of them (after I finished the game, I immediately loaded a previous save and tried to get a different ending). I hated my ending. I hated my ending so much. I didn't hate it because it was a sad ending. I hated it because of how it was handled.
I'm not going to say exactly what happened, but I will try to outline all of the problems with it. And so I don't go on for the next three hours, I'll just make a list:
#1) The game just...ended: Putting aside whether that was a good or bad way to end the Mass Effect trilogy (side note: it was a bad way), I'm just going to focus on what happened after the end of the conflict. Almost nothing. Remember how Mass Effect 2 ended? That two or three minute cut scene after the suicide mission? That cliffhanger ending to an unfinished story had more closure than my ending to Mass Effect 3. It felt like the entire game and the last big struggle, the final showdown, had no importance. And this is partially because...
#2) Nobody reacts to anything: Of course there's no golden rule on how to write an ending to a video game, but typically it is a good idea to have an extended ending after the conflict is resolved to wrap up the characters. You can do this in a couple minutes (as with Portal 2) or an hour (as with Metal Gear Solid 4), it really depends on what type of game you have. With Mass Effect 3, there was no reaction. People didn't say anything, people didn't talk to each other, I didn't even get a montage or a slideshow or where are they now movie. So after spending about 35 hours recruiting everyone for the suicide mission in ME2, being introduced to characters from ME1, then expanding on those relationships for an additional 40 hours with ME3, and even taking the time to talk to people on the Citadel and catch up with people on board the Normandy after I finished an important mission, the resolution I got was absolutely nothing. I don't know how this planet is doing, how this alien race is adapting, if this race is even around anymore, if this side character, like a turian or quarian admiral, is still alive, and, perhaps most importantly, what my crew and friends think of what just happened. Regardless of what ending people got, whether nobody died or everything, everywhere died, there should be some reaction. Because of this, it feels as if nothing mattered. Not only that, the ending made me feel like...
#3) In the end, none of my relationships and conversation decisions mattered: This was perhaps my favorite thing about Mass Effect 2. If I had to summarize ME2 in one sentence, it would probably be something along the lines of "Saving the galaxy and having some really interesting conversations with really interesting people." By not wrapping up and providing closure to all of the characters, it feels kind of pointless. I wanted Garrus, Tali, Legion, Grunt, Mordin, Thane, Kasumi, Samara, Jack and everyone else to survive Mass Effect 2. Their presence in ME3 enhances the experience, but it is incredibly disappointing every single story, character, and subplot just ends. This strips away the consequences and the dynamic and interactive story elements which made Mass Effect famous, and I bet people care a lot more about this than combat. This leads on to the next number.
#4) The ending made me feel like none of my preparations, side quests, and decisions in the game mattered: When the credits rolled, I sat down and looked at my TV thinking about the impact I had. Doing this deal with someone, or saving this person's life, or deciding not to kill this person, or running off to this star cluster, to fetch this book, and bring it back to somebody on the Citadel didn't feel like it mattered. This goes a little farther back than the game's last 15 minutes, but it undoubtedly still applies to the game's ending. When I was doing the last set of missions, I didn't feel like everything I built up was having an impact. It was as if my readiness meter was there only for me to look at, but had no affect on the story. In comparison, with the suicide mission in ME2, people talked about the Normandy's status, characters talked to each other (like people didn't trust Miranda, or Miranda disagreed with Shepard if he picked someone she didn't like for a job), and the success of the mission depended on your decisions and getting people loyal. If you picked the wrong person to do something, somebody died. If a person wasn't loyal to you, they were likely to die. If you didn't follow someone's advice about the mission, the crew, or the ship, more people died. It felt like your actions mattered. Even if somebody simply says, "Good thing you did X" it still mattered. With 3, I didn't feel that at all when the game ended. Did doing X make the last set of missions any more or less successful? I have no idea and I shouldn't have to look at the game's programming, or read a strategy guide cover to cover, or play through the game 5 different times to realize how all of these variables work in the end. The decisions I made with the digital comic included with the PS3 version of Mass Effect 2 which summarized ME1, the decisions I made in ME2, and most of my decisions I made in ME3 didn't matter. In ME2, I created a second character (Male Shep, renegade) who handled situations differently, who picked the opposite key decisions, and purposely killed certain people during the suicide mission to see how my story in ME3 will be different. So granted, I will see some of the differences when I play the game with that character. However, after playing through 3, my guess is all of those differences will likely appear in the first 90% of the game. And besides that, I shouldn't have to play the game 2 or 3 times to understand the impact I had on it the first time.
I know at this point I'm beating a dead horse, so I'm just going to move on. Unfortunately, there are still more problems with the ending, but some of the problems get into story details. So I'll just talk about one problem in extremely vague and unhelpful terms. So, finally...
#5) That stupid thing that appeared at the end: I don't want to say what that "stupid thing" actually is. Oh well. BioWare decided to include something in Mass Effect 3. Whenever this something appears, it is either unintentionally funny in how bad or stupid it is or it is painfully annoying. This something would not go away, and I started to hate this something, not only for how it was used, but how BioWare keeps forcing this something into the story. Ok, I'm going to stop here, since I can't actually talk about it unless I say what it is. So I'm just going to wrap this up.
Mass Effect 3 is an exceptional sequel to Mass Effect 2, but the game is ultimately undermined by it's horrible ending. When you include the mythos, the characters, and the dozens of plots and subplots, the ending goes from bad to devastatingly bad. Honestly, it is one of the worst endings I have encountered in a video game. (NOTE: I'm not saying ME3 has the worst ending in a video game ever. I'm just saying it has one of the worst endings I have played through and have seen with my own eyes).
It feels like BioWare abandoned what they established with the previous games to throw in an ending that seems rushed. Because I don't feel the impact I had before and after the last 15 minutes, the ending feels too simple and one size fits all. It also isn't well thought out, because there was some continuity and logistics issues. After I finished the game, I loaded a previous save, and made two different decisions to try and get a better ending (as in more satisfactory, not necessarily a happier/sadder ending). The only difference was literally a cosmetic one. And since the player doesn't see the impact of these endings, it doesn't matter.
What makes this so frustrating is that all of these game crippling problems happen right at the very end. We are talking about a span of 5-15 minutes. The other 2,385 minutes I invested in this game alone were really good or great (if you exclude that "stupid thing" I talked about in #5). If the other 99% of the game wasn't good to great, then I would have given this game 1 or 2 stars. Since I don't feel like writing off the overall experience, I feel like averaging my scores out.