Editor’s Note: What follows are thoughts on the ending of Mass Effect 3, both before and after the newly released Extended Cut DLC. Needless to say, there will be spoilers. If you haven’t finished Mass Effect 3 yet, you should probably stop reading now.
I loved the Mass Effect 3 ending the way it was two weeks ago. It’s a shame that many Mass Effect 3 fans didn’t feel the same way.
My Commander Shepard fought to the Citadel and, after talking to the Catalyst, I spent an agonizing time — 10 minutes? 15? An eternity? — making my decision. As much as I wanted to destroy the Reapers, I finally settled on the Control ending because the idea of self-sacrifice and turning the giant war machines to a greater good appealed to me.
Sure, I had questions about the fate of the individual races I’d united to fight against the malevolent synthetics. But, if I learned anything over the course of playing through 180 some-odd hours over three games, it was that humans, Asari, Salarians and other races in the Mass Effect universe would figure out their own fates one way or another. Yeah, they needed me, but only so much. The series lore excelled at establishing the idea that these cultures had existed long before Shepard burst onto the cosmic scene. They’d probably continue in the same way. I liked not knowing whether the Krogan would try to subjugate the galaxy again and wondered at the hazy maybes of future Quarian/Geth relations.
But then the Extended Cut came.
The whole reason the Extended Cut exists is because a very vocal group of Mass Effect 3 players felt like they didn’t get enough. Not enough closure, not enough explanation and, probably, not enough emotion. Bioware listened to them and went to work on an expansion to Mass Effect 3‘s finale.
The Extended Cut doesn’t spell everything out, mind you. But it does spell out too much. If you hated the Catalyst’s Space Child persona, you’re going to hate it even more after he keeps on just talking and talking. And if you liked his slightly petulant dismissiveness — like I did — then you’re also going to hate him more. Making the Catalyst explain things brings him down to earth, the last thing a machine god needs to have happen to him.
Now, I have my own personal feelings about each ending thread. For me, the Destroy decision is reductive and jingoistic. It turns Shepard into a hero for only organic life and leaves the cruelest fate for EDI and the other artificial sentient lifeforms that once fought by his/her side.
Control is the most Christ-like, reminiscent of the assumptions and ascensions from classical mythologies. The human form is left behind for something more celestial and a higher ideal gets achieved for the good of those still bound to earth. And Synthesis shines as a beacon of co-operation where a true peace gets formed out of formerly incompatible ways of life find a way to combine. Refusal is just… ornery.
It’s those meanings — the metaphorical ones that stand apart from the game’s plot points and story logic — matter most to me. And the power of those metaphors is exactly what gets lessened by all the explication in the Extended Cut. I already understood all of that imagery from the game’s three different endings. And anything that I still had questions about, I could answer myself. If that wasn’t enough, I could talk to friends and co-workers. Or, I could just live with having some questions unanswered. The universe is like that sometimes.
I didn’t need to explicitly see my Shepard’s tearful parting with his love interest Liara. I already knew they loved each other. Destiny tears them apart and that’s tragic enough. The new goodbye scene works but it isn’t necessary. Likewise for the Shepard narration in the Control ending. I felt like my ME3 avatar was more godlike and unknowable in that scenario before I got the skinny on his post-corporeal existence. I knew that the consciousness of Evan Shepard was doing good after taking control. That was the way I played him, after all.
To me, the Mass Effect games form an allegory about societal change. BioWare’s triptych of titles explores what happens when different civilizations encounter, ally and subjugate each other. Taken all together, Mass Effect1, 2 and 3 act as a fable about culture clash, how much we matter to each other and how those relations impact the universe. And, as befits a symbolic story, there’s tons of room for players to interpret and imagine the little side stories and divergences in a fictional construct. The Extended Cut crowds out some of that ideaspace with a bunch of detail that, I’d argue, the game never needed.
All the elucidation undercuts Mass Effect‘s best theme, too. The idea of cosmicism — that we exist in a universe that’s essentially indifferent to us — comes across better in the original ending. There, the Catalyst speaks to Shepard as if he doesn’t care whether your character understands or not. This cycle is as it always has been and now that you’ve broken it, you have a choice to make. That’s all you really need to know.
Look at how the expansion’s extra dialogue also chips away at the shock, wonderment and awe of encountering the Catalyst. Before I felt like I was meeting a god. Now, I’m meeting a construct, built somewhere by someone at some time. It’s the same thing but all the explaining changes the context, making it more knowable and less thrilling.
I can’t help but feel that other players forced this diluted ending on me. They didn’t get what they wanted and now I get something that I don’t want. Before, I had an ending that felt like its creators respected my intelligence enough to trust me to fill in the blanks. Now, it’s swollen with info dumps. As the Catalyst says in Mass Effect 3‘s endgame, “it is now in your power to destroy us.” Now, an ending that, for me, felt just a little lyrical and poetic comes across as unnecessarily bloated and just a little bit destroyed. Who needs a slideshow when the scenes in your head are probably so much better?