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Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut DLC Review
It's no secret that fans were unhappy with the ending the Bioware penned for their trilogy of sci-fi epics. Mass Effect 3 was, for the most part, a tremendous build, but towards what? A series that absorbed dozens upon dozens of hours of its most dedicated fan's lives, a series whose fiction was rich and detailed enough to spawn several offshoot novels, comic books, and action figure lines, ended with a resounding whimper rather than a bang. Devestated, the game's most passionate fans took to Twitter and the Bioware forums to demand change. And in an unprecedented move, Bioware actually agreed to alter the ending of the game. But is this move really a victory for the fans?
This probably goes without saying, but Mass Effect 3 spoilers lie dead ahead. Those who wish to avoid the spoilers can skip to the bold text at the end, where a spoiler-free summary of the DLC awaits.
The changes made to Mass Effect 3's ending actually take effect long before the end. Beginning in the London mission, you will hear new pieces of dialogue and see additional snippets in cutscenes. When you have one last chance to speak with your squad in London's military outpost, you will want to take it even if you think that you've already heard everything they have to say. After cycling through the new dialogue, you will have to fight your way through the final mission again. This process will consume about an hour, give or take depending on which difficulty you've been playing on.
Towards the end of the mission, right before you assault the Citadel Beam, you will see a very brief additional scene of a Reaper sending a destroyed vehicle flying towards your squad, who will of course dodge it. Shepard will run to their aid and call in a transport vehicle and order your allies out of the area. You will have to make an additional dialogue choice here, which will conform to the Paragon/Renegade dynamic that most conversations in the series have followed, but strangely enough neither response will actually reward you with affiliation points. It seems like a missed opporunity to get in one last choice before confronting the Illusive Man, but it's nothing major. Either way, it'll be just Sheperd against the Reapers now. This brief scene explains a few of the inconsistancies found in the original ending, in which Sheperd's allies appeared in a seemingly random location after last being seen in the heat of battle.
Once you step into the Citadel Beam, you will see another very brief scene involving the Crucible. Major Hackett will command every available ship to break combat and protect the Crucible as it makes its way into the Citadel. You will now be left to find Anderson and confront the Illusive Man, an encounter that remains entirely unchanged by the altered ending. We were wholly satisfied with this resolution to the Illusive Man arc, so it's no skin off our backs.
Of course, every Mass Effect fan knows that it's after the encounter with the Illusive Man that things start getting... weird. Yes, Sheperd still takes the elevator up to the heretofore undiscovered chamber in the Citadel, and yes, the strange AI-God-child-thing still makes an appearance. At the beginning of the conversation, you will have three new conversation options allowing you to probe for more information regarding the Crucible, the Reapers, and the Catalyst. You can cycle through each in search of answers, and yes, it's nice to have the option, but we were still left with the feeling that the writers at Bioware didn't actually understand the ending that they had created. One of the major complaints with Mass Effect 3's original ending was that it bucked trends established earlier in the franchise without any justification. The dialogue here serves to fill in few of the gaping holes that stood out in the original ending.
Following this choice, you can ask about the boy's origins, confirming that yes, he is an AI and not some sort of spectral projection as a few people had gotten confused with. The answer is a vague "You would not know them." Thanks for that one, guys. Really helpful. Thankfully, you will have the option to delve deeper and demand a few more details. Hardcore fans of the franchise will appreciate this, and while I won't go into too much detail so as not to spoil the whole thing, it at least provides a vague sense of closure as to the AI boy's origins. That said, the whole conversation feels rather dry. It's like the dialogue was copied out of a design doc somewhere, and it kind of crushes any momentum that the ending had going for it up to this point.
Following your conversation with the AI boy, a few new scenes will show off the fighting happening on Thessia and Tuchanka. These scenes serve no purpose other than to expand the scale of the conflict, but they are appreciated nonetheless. After all, the original ending felt a little too confined, as you only saw action on a few street corners in London.
Bioware saved the biggest alteration for last, though, and when the credits normally roll you will get to see one additional cutscene comprised of a few static shots. Mordin (provided he survived, of course) can be seen doing a few calculations, the Reapers turn tail and flee from Earth, the Citadel floats in pieces through space, etcetera. It's sort of reminiscent of the ending of Fallout 3, in which your choices are summarized in a series of static images. The irony is that many fans complained about Fallout 3's ending, too. A slideshow of a few images will never be as satisfying a resolution as a full-on cutscene, but it's better than nothing.
What's nice about the ending is that it features a bit of narration that gives a little more closure to the story. If you chose to turn Sheperd into a Reaper, for example, he/she will narrate the events referring to his old human form as his "past form," implying the changes that have taken place in his mind. Choosing the other ending will result in more unique dialogue.
Following this, Sheperd's name will be pinned on the wall of the Normandy's deceased and a final, ultimately inconsequential scene will play out behind the credits.
So that's the Extended Cut DLC, in a nutshell. There is nothing in the way of new gameplay, although for a free addition perhaps that was to be expected. New dialogue with the AI boy is appreciated if dry, and a few of the additional scenes do tie up some of the more minor complaints with the original ending. Having said that, the problems with Mass Effect 3's conclusion were, in many cases, more than minor. If you were disappointed with the original ending because your choices in previous games had little to no effect on how everything played out, you will be displeased to find that this is still the case. This and many other small flaws still plague the ending of the game, which frankly still feels poorly thought-out.
There's no question that the Extended Cut DLC is an improvement on Mass Effect 3's original ending, but it's hard not to be disappointed that more wasn't changed. Perhaps that's an unrealistic expectation, but it then begs further questions. Why bother doing a DLC such as this in the first place if you're only going to clean up a few of the issues, and leave others untouched? The answer is that Mass Effect 3's ending is fundamentally flawed, and without a complete rewrite there will always be those unsatisfied with it. Extended Cut patches a few of the holes, but it can't stop the ship from capsizing.
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.