'Mass Effect 3' Extended Cut DLC offers Shepard closure

Spoiler alert: If you haven't played the Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3 and want to experience BioWare's changes for yourself, save this column until after you've given it a try. I do know how you gamers can get upset.

Are you happy now?

BioWare has given you its pound of flesh. It's worked over the multiple finales of its sci-fi opus Mass Effect. It's listened to all the whiners and complainers and raging fanboys dissatisfied with the ending of Mass Effect 3 and called it a day.

And after playing through every version of that ending, I say it's time gamers do the same.

Almost four months after the initial outcry over the lackluster culmination of 100-plus hours of gameplay and multiple choices — anger was so high in England that the Advertising Standards Authority investigated whether Electronic Arts was guilty of false advertising over gamer choice factoring into the climax of the story (they weren't) — the free Extended Cut DLC arrived Tuesday. EA and BioWare weren't going to change the endings, they said, but they're were going to explain things a little better.

The result is a resounding, eh, that's a little more like it.

To be sure, there's no cut-and-dried happy ending to be had, which I never complained about in the first place. The story of Commander Shepard is so thick with messianic subtext I expected BioWare to crucify the character aboard the Citadel. In only one ending is it codified that Shepard may have lived, and in others he still sacrifices himself for the greater good. It is as a hero's death should be.

What is different is how rich and textured the storytelling has been made. It's not perfect, because there are still plot holes and nonsensical continuity errors, but it provides the one thing the original conclusions lacked: closure.

Fans are now treated to the same conclusions, but presented in a way that doesn't insult their intelligence. Shepard still destroys the reapers, or controls them, or merges all organic and synthetic life in the galaxy, and that is that. You can like it or lump it.

What's different is added cutscenes and extended voicework from Jennifer Hale, Mark Meer, Tricia Helfer and Lance Henriksen — sorry, no extra Martin Sheen outtakes here. A discussion with the Catalyst that explains what you're about to do in a way we can understand (please stop asking why he's in the form of the little boy and familiarize yourself with Carl Sagan's Contact). A static montage that, while looking a bit cheap and harried (because it was most likely done on the cheap and definitely harried), doesn't leave you thinking the crew of the Normandy was left marooned on an uncharted planet. There's a sense that what you've done had repercussions, changing the course of all life forever.

See, was that so hard?

I'm not one for drawn-out epilogues. I don't need everything explained to me, and I can detect the symbolism in a narrative as easily as the next person, Ridley Scott's Prometheus notwithstanding. But what I didn't like about the original version of events was the dour, ruinous feeling it left me with. I didn't like the only choices being implied robotic holocaust, deus ex machina selflessness or happy, shiny Lite Brite people.

There was no depth there, no resolution that made me feel any of the choices I'd agonized over mattered before I arrived on the Citadel at game's end. The fact that my two party members from London casually stepped off the Normandy unexplained as the credits rolled wasn't a bonus, either — they've remedied that, as well, albeit in a somewhat head-scratching fashion, as you wonder why Harbinger didn't attack the Normandy while it evacuated your squad.

This has all largely been corrected, and even includes a sly middle finger to the haters in the form of a "refusal" choice that is short and to the point, allowing Shepard to fail utterly. The endings now all seem to be a little more different, a little more direct, a little more in character, as if the red and blue lights over the "destroy" and "control" options weren't renegade and paragon enough for you. Best of all, they don't fundamentally change what BioWare was trying to do in the first place. Sigh. If only they had done it in the first place.

"Would now be a good time to talk about how we're doing more DLC in the future?" producer Mike Gamble hinted on Twitter this week. "That was a trick question. We'll save the future DLC for future chats. Don't worry though … there's much more."

That would be a nice change of pace, as the creative team is probably quite tired of bowing to the pressure of its disgruntled fans. BioWare and EA are now under pressure to follow up with some real DLC, and already there are glimpses of moving on.

Eurogamer.net has written that some fans have found clues in the Extended Cut code referring to the Leviathan of Dis, a footnote from the first game about an inactive living starship found in a distant system. According to Eurogamer, that starship is a reaper named Leviathan that rebelled against his kin, and has been happily indoctrinating Batarians for the last 10 years.

This may be part of future DLC or not, but it would be a chapter adding to the game's lore, a cornerstone of the series that would galvanize devotees. Whether it takes place before or after the assault on London is anyone's guess, but it's time to put the Extended Cut away and let the Normandy fly on.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and celebrity news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

'Mass Effect 3' Extended Cut DLC offers Shepard closure 06/27/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 1:12pm]

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