Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut has been released.
Having seen all endings and the rest of the supplemental stuff, I’m still not really sure what to think.
Previously on Bidula’s Blog, I wrote 2700 words contributing to the Great ME3 Ending Debate. I cited my burgeoning belief in what has come to be called the Indoctrination Theory (I will link a video to one of the better proponent videos of this theory once I get to a more proper outlet). Over the three months since release and completion, I had come to place my full faith and belief in this interpretation of the ending and found it an intense and awesome way to end an epic sci-fi trilogy which is based largely on your decisions. It was an excellent twist, the way that Indoctrination Theory is interpreted, and fits the mold of the recently popular hanging chad-style endings of sci-fi. The will-they-won’t-they sequel hitch, the is-it-real-or-not Inception-style spinning top ending incited by the Shepherd Breath offered in one possible ending, the sheer vastness of questions left unanswered after all was said and done.
I had come to terms with it. It took that entire time to be ok with it. To grow to appreciate it. Now, the much-anticipated Extended Cut – the balm promised by BioWare for all those who felt burnt by the original ending – tosses every well thought out fan theory, every clue, every interesting tidbit out the window in favor of possibly the most literal interpretation of everything.
BioWare defended itself and, for a moment, I almost rallied with the Marauder Shields crowd: people who believed that the last shootable bad guy before the real endgame was trying to save us all from the crappy endings. My kneejerk reaction was harsh at first, but mellowed with time.
BioWare stated in a press release (paraphrasing) that they didn’t want to compromise the artistic integrity of the ending. That the story was written and ended as intended. Before I caught on to indoctrination theory, I didn’t believe it. There were too many holes. Too much left unsaid or undone. But, the more I researched it, the more I saw Indoctrination Theory as something the writers were probably working with since Mass Effect 1.
Could we have been making false and stretched connections? Could we, indeed, have indoctrinated ourselves with the theory as a coping mechanism for the lack of explanation?
Looking at the endings we have been given by BioWare in the Extended Cut, I can’t be so sure that these additional scenes are truly wanted any longer.
The one plot hole, pre-ending, which I thought was left has been filled. They now explain how your squad mates, after charging toward the beam and certain death by your side, wound up on the Normandy in space as the Crucible was activated. Good. Glad for that. I didn’t lose much sleep over it, but it helps.
The rest of it completely throws Indoctrination Theory out the window and decides to show the ultra-mega-happy endings for which so many clamored. Those who required absolute closure now receive it. Those of us who were into the story enough to take the ending for what it was (or could have been) are left disappointed.
You can’t please everyone. BioWare said in a more recent press release that this would not be salvation for everyone, but it did offer more closure.
Closure we got.
The choices made for the original “three-flavored” endings still exist and each turns out a different set of circumstances rather than just allowing you to choose the color of your Citadel Death Beam.
Each ending shows markedly different progression after the Catalyst Event. All of them essentially result in a pleasant outcome for the galaxy at large, the promise that the Mass Relays will be rebuilt and interstellar commerce will resume, and the salvation of the Normandy as it simply lifts off and flies away from the planet on which it was previously believed to have irreparably crashed. People died, they will be remembered, blah blah war is hell, etc. etc., we will rebuild, roll credits.
The interesting addition to the Extended Cut is another flavor of ending; a non-flavor. You can now choose not to choose. You essentially tell the Catalyst (the child) to go fuck himself when he tells you to pick from red, blue, and green. You can do this through dialogue, which is much more interesting than the alternative – shooting at the Catalyst after he sets you loose to stagger toward your favorite color. This is an interesting ending and I suggest everyone tries it (or at least watches the results on YouTube).
Surprisingly, much of the Extended Cut turned out how I thought the end would be based on my original 2700 words. The only difference being, that was when I wanted more closure. I know, it’s sour grapes, and I try my best not to contradict myself when it comes to these types of things, but I was indoctrinated. I was indoctrinated by Indoctrination Theory and I have come to appreciate Mass Effect as a whole for the genius it was.
The whole “despair within Shepherd’s psyche” angle of the Indoctrination Theory gave the game a wonderfully dark interpretation and left the player unsure if they had, actually, done the right thing in a series which consistently drew lines between Paragon and Renegade.
From the beginning of the series, you were roleplaying as Shepherd, whether you want to admit it or not. Your first run-throughs were comprised of decisions you yourself would have probably made in those situations. Shit got real personal at points. The moral challenge of this series was always just as, if not more, important than the actual physical play. Sure, you probably ran through going full Paragon or Renegade at some point, but that was never considered your “main character”. That was your GoodShep/BadShep. That was your backup just to make sure you saw every dialogue option in action. You did this because the game drew you in. It gave you possibilities and you had to see each one through to the end, if you were truly obsessed.
Indoctrination Theory played far more into that obsessive good vs. evil conflict, not just within the game, but within the player. Did you trust the Illusive Man? Did you hold out like Anderson suggested? Did you go your own way? Were you influenced by any other characters? All this mattered in the end, whether you saw the direct results of your choices or not, because in the end you knew, you KNEW, what your version of Shepherd would think. You KNEW what your version of Shepherd would think was right because, after playing through three very emotionally gripping games as the main character, you KNEW your Shepherd. You became your Shepherd. It was the ultimate role-playing experience in video game history and no one even bothered to notice.
Fans were more worried they didn’t see enough of the results of their choices in the past when, really, they could be written off in a paragraph-long in-game e-mail from the NPCs involved. They were blinded by the minutia and missed the point: When BioWare said that all of your choices from all of the past games would shape the ending, they didn’t mean that because you chose to do something that it would automatically contribute in some significant way to the ending, maybe even getting its own little beat in the epilogue. They meant that the choices, the things you had done, the psychological mindset of the player while they were playing Shepherd based on how they played him previously, would shape the ending you would ultimately choose, even if it did just boil down to three different shades of doom.
Indoctrination Theory worked perfect for this philosophy of the game. The rest of the stuff in the EC endings was just fan service, plain and simple. They’re not terrible, but they are candy-coated and far from what I believe was the original intent. However it was really supposed to end, BioWare did not ruin my experience and I still believe Mass Effect is one of the greatest franchises in gaming history.
Of course, it helps that EC also leaves the Mass Effect Universe restored and ready to rock when they decide to develop ME4. I’m betting Spring 2015.
Keep fighting the good fight.