Editorial / Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut & Beyond

In response to Mass Effect 3’s ending controversy, BioWare has announced two free to download DLC packs. Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut aims to rectify the lacklustre conclusion to the epic space trilogy in reaction to significant fan demand for additional content and/or a completely new ending, whereas the newly announced multiplayer centric Resurgence Pack looks to expand the multiplayer portion of the game through additional maps, classes and weaponry.

Instead of yet another rant on how the ending sucked I thought I would take this opportunity to consider how BioWare can improve upon their already established ending through both the upcoming Extended Cut and subsequent DLC, and what I hope and expect to see in the following months as a long-time fan of the series.

Liara – “This is it. Isn’t it?”

Here’s what we know so far: Extended Cut will add additional cinematic sequences and epilogue scenes in a way that doesn’t compromise the team’s artistic vision. As Jennifer Hale hasn’t recorded any new dialogue for Shepard we can safely assume that the content won’t alter the original ending, but instead will focus on expanding and explaining the already established conclusion, whilst addressing unanswered fan queries and filling major plot holes.

Coming through the Sol Relay for the final time brought every single choice you had ever made across the three titles, your progress in multiplayer and even the iOS games into account, and yet for me it felt weak. I was hoping for an epic space battle highlighting the different races fleet’s actions above Earth but what we got was a generic Alliance-centric cut scene. I don’t even remember seeing the Geth come through the Sol Relay. Turns out if you side with either the Geth or the Quarians you see their respective fleet, but fans that manage to broker peace aren’t rewarded with seeing both fleets in action. Even the mandatory Turian and Asari fleets aren’t awarded much screen time. We saw the Quarian, Geth and Turian fleets in action above their respective home worlds so why in the culmination of the game do we get arguably the shortest space battle of them all? We know from games dating back to Dragon Age: Origins that BioWare are capable of creating and implementing a multitude of dynamic scenes for factions that did or didn’t make it into the endgame so why are they absent here?

Overall I was disappointed with the way BioWare handled War Assets. I was expecting to be more closely tied to the choices I had made across the three titles and thought BioWare missed a huge opportunity when they failed to implement short video summaries of War Assets being deployed across the galaxy at the end of each story arc. Witnessing Jack and her Grissom Academy biotic squad in action,  Grunt’s reluctant recovery and the reunion of former squad mates at the Cruicible project are but a few of the developments that are referenced, but never shown. These summaries could have kept the minor races that aren’t given a lot of screen time relevant, and remind you that you completed those side missions for a reason. As a long-time fan, the idea of watching the Rachni arrive at the Crucible project, the uneasy cooperation between the Alliance and Aria’s mercenary fleets and seeing the Elcor trudge into battle with their back mounted artillery cannons first hand engages me so much more than hearing Anderson casually mention these things in passing. We saw mission summaries in ME2 and all the character models mentioned above were already in use, so it seems incredibly lazy for Bioware not to implement a system that actively rewards players for their efforts across three titles and over a hundred hours of gameplay.

James – “So I guess this is it. One more push, one last fight”

Another disappointing of the ending was the way in which BioWare dealt with the final conversations with prior squad mates. Whilst I the final interactions with present squad mates felt emotional and conclusive, the video calls between Shepard and his former team felt extremely underwhelming by BioWare standards, failed to resonate on a personal level. I understand that BioWare pour a lot of resources into characters that may not carry over into ME3, but the majority of long-time ME fans are likely to have almost all the prior squad mates present at the final battle, either in that play through or a subsequent one. I refuse to believe that BioWare couldn’t have folded the actions of your squad mates, both past and present, into the ending cinemas. It feels extremely half-baked for BioWare to use such a dated mechanic when long-time fans have invested countless hours into these relationships, and it left me wanting more.

If BioWare intended to leave the ending open to interpretation, then they’ve certainly succeeded.  From Indoctrination Theory to taking the plot on face value, fans have been attempting to piece together the ending of ME3 the world over. The problem is that long-time fans have invested over a hundred hours into Shepard and they want closure. However, my biggest concern is that by giving fans a closed ending BioWare will stifle the creative discussion that comes from an open ending.

I think what fans really want from BioWare is clarification: How did my squad end up marooned on this garden world? Why is Joker fleeing in the Normandy? Shouldn’t he be participating in the final battle? How does he know when to flee? Doesn’t the destruction of a relay destroy the system? Can the relays be repaired? What about the combined fleet, are they stranded? If Turians and Quarians can’t eat human food will they starve? Is Earth too ravaged to sustain life? Is the Citadel damaged beyond repair? What exactly is the Child? What does Synthesis, Destruction and Control mean for the future of the galaxy? If BioWare can implement the answers to these questions without damaging their creative license then I think they’ve made the right decision to go back and offer players ME3: EC.

Commander Shepard – “This is Shepard. Civilians have been evacuated, Special Forces can take it from here”

ME3‘s first multiplayer DLC, the Resurgence Pack, confirms rumors from all the way back in March and is set to hit European stores on the 11th April. The pack will be completely free to download and includes two new maps, six new characters, (including new races Batarian and Geth), and three new weapons. As all of the subsequent DLC for ME3 has to occur before Priority: Cerberus Headquarters, I thought that the majority of DLC would be multiplayer centric. However, I also thought that BioWare would bring new N7 missions to the single player and then add their respective maps to multiplayer. Each new N7 mission would allow Shepard access to additional weapons, upgrades, armour sets and War Assets in single player, and new modes, characters, classes and armour customisation options in multiplayer. Each new DLC could come with a weekend launch event offering double XP and a chance to unlock unique weapons and classes in the same fashion that BioWare have implemented over the past few weeks. Whilst I think BioWare have missed an opportunity in denying players Shepard’s single player outings, I imagine few people will miss them as the N7 missions were some of the least engaging parts of the game.

Aria T’Loak – “Cerberus stole Omega from me. The Illusive Man is squarely at the top of my shit list. He will pay for every second I’ve spent in this bureaucratic hellhole”

BioWare have already set up the premise for retaking Omega in their Mass Effect: Invasion comic series. In ME3 Aria shows a clear desire to retake Omega and asks Shepard to unite the different mercenary bands under her leadership. I can see BioWare implementing this mission in a similar way to the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC in ME2. Just as Shepard approached Liara on Illium, Shepard could reach out to Aria on the Citadel, offering to utilise her forces in mission to retake Omega. This makes strategic sense as it gives Shepard a foothold in the Terminus Systems whilst simultaneously delivering a powerful blow to Cerberus. I can’t imagine Aria would simply sit by and allow Shepard to retake Omega without her, which is a great opportunity for BioWare to implement Aria as a temporary squad mate in the same way that Liara temporarily joined you in ME2.

On the path to retaking Omega, Shepard would encounter new enemy types, new weapons, new armour sets, additional upgrades and maybe even another encounter with Kai Leng or the Illusive Man. The choices you make on Omega would give you a variety of increases in terms of War Assets and would provide additional maps and weapons for the multiplayer portion of the game. Holding Omega in single player could also provide a permanent increase to Galactic Readiness in multiplayer, rewarding players for purchasing and completing the DLC. Very little came of uniting the Blue Suns, Blood Pack and Eclipse under Aria’s control in ME3, and this would be a great way of concluding the Omega/Aria storyline that was established in ME2.

Commander Shepard – “There’s a lot of people back on Earth dying while we gather our strength. They’re wondering if we’re ever coming back; friends, family, parents and children. This isn’t their fight, but they’re buying us time with their lives”

Anderson constantly updates Shepard on the situation of Earth but we never get to experience its destruction first hand. Taking control of Anderson and Major Coats during the occupation and resistance of Earth allows the player to retain their emotional connection to Earth independent to Shepard’s efforts elsewhere. This DLC could take place over a number of critical missions, highlighting the Alliance’s inability to withstand the Reaper threat, utilising the time between missions to focus on the human elements of loss and desperation. I can see BioWare implementing this DLC in the coming months as Anderson already appears in ME3 as a temporary squad mate complete with his unique power tree, Major Coats could be Anderson’s second, with a third interchangeable squad mate providing a variety of roles.  Covering missions up to and including Shepard’s assault on the Conduit, this DLC offers players an emotional anchor for Shepard’s efforts in ME3, and could be used further explaining what happens in the Sol system during and after Shepard makes it to the Conduit.  BioWare implemented additional episodes in Dragon Age: Origins which supported the main lore, yet rewarded the player with unique weapons and armour for use in the main campaign so I’m sure they could easily do so again two and a half years later.

Commander Shepard – “Times like these you know who your real friends are; they’re not the ones running around looking for an escape route, they’re the ones who stand at your side through the worst of it, who never give up on you”

Although it would be especially challenging to implement in a game where almost any of the supporting characters can die in the previous two titles, character specific missions could allow the player to explore the actions of Shepard’s squad mates both during the six months that Shepard spent under Alliance arrest and during the events of ME3; Ashley/Kaiden’s actions for the Alliance, Liara and Feron’s battle with Cerberus aboard the Shadow Broker vessel, Grunt’s missions as leader of Aralakh Company, Jack’s teaching position at Grissom Academy, Tali and Legion’s respective efforts in the war for Rannoch and Miranda and Jacob’s post-Cerberus activities all pose interesting areas. BioWare could assign each squad member their own episode of an hour or two of content, and bundle them at release for discounts. Again, BioWare could lift areas from these episodes straight into multiplayer maps, and actions completed in the episodes could yield further War Assets, weapons, and armour sets for Shepard to utilise in ME3.

Elcor Ambassador – “Urgently: Human I must speak to you on behalf of my people”

After providing players with an expansive universe in which to immerse ourselves in, I found myself unimpressed the continued underuse of the supporting races in ME3. We saw a lot more of the non-Council races in ME2, but I think a lot of long-time fans felt hard done by when they found the only way they could interact with their favourite races was through fetch quests. DLC offers BioWare the opportunity to have Shepard directly interact with these races, influencing their respective war efforts. Want to provide fire support for the slow paced but incredibly armed Elcor? Interested in immersing yourself in the political balance of the Drell and Hanar? Want to see Shepard deal with his guilt over his actions in the Arrival DLC by aiding in the extraction of Batarian colonists? So do I.

Garrus – “Can you believe this damn gun still needs calibrating?”

My main disappointment with ME3’s mission structure was that I was really hoping to see BioWare implement some of the mechanics we saw in ME2’s Suicide Mission into the regular gameplay of ME3; allowing additional squad mates to support you through specific auxiliary roles depending on their abilities. With the entire galaxy at stake I could never understand why the squad mates you didn’t bring with you on a mission sat around on the Normandy awaiting your return, and why the Normandy doesn’t offer long range fire support more often when we spent so much time upgrading her in ME2. BioWare showed their ability to implement auxiliary roles in ME2 and we saw the Normandy provide support roles in Prologue: Earth and Priority: Rannoch, so why are these elements absent in other areas?

BioWare introduced the world to Crew Skills in The Old Republic, which I think could have been implemented into ME3. Each squad mate you leave on the ship whilst on a mission could work on a number of fields relevant to their areas of expertise, and this could reward players who switch up their squad without punishing those who don’t; leaving Liara to secure weapons and upgrades on the black market and finally feeling the benefits of Garrus’ weapon calibrations are but some of the ideas BioWare could have implemented into the main campaign. However unlikely it may be, BioWare may yet surprise us by utilising similar mechanics in one of the subsequent DLC packages.

Javik – “Stand in the ashes of a trillion dead souls, and ask the ghosts if honour matters. The silence is your answer”

I applaud BioWare for the way they have handled themselves throughout this controversy. Deciding to supplement and expand upon the original ending for free shows their unwillingness to compromise their artistic vision, and so they should be. For me, the Mass Effect series stands alone in terms of its scope, and has every right not to bow to the pressure of upset fans. No other game series out there offers players the same expansive universe which is theirs to mould into your own experience. BioWare have shown such creativity and care for their franchise, it’s just a shame they failed to deliver on the ending many were hoping for. Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut shows that BioWare was listening after all, and have now shown their hand. I look forward to seeing what BioWare has in store for us over the coming months, and hope Extended Cut is everything long-time Mass Effect fans have been waiting for and more – your move BioWare.