Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut is a Watershed Moment in Videogame Narrative
(Note: Just to be clear, there are some light spoilers regarding the ending of Mass Effect 3. If you haven’t played through it, I recommend going through and experiencing the “disappointing” ending before Tuesday so you can know what all the hullabaloo is about.)
The controversial ending to the Mass Effect trilogy has left many gamers with a bad taste in their mouths. The reasons are varied and vast, but most stem from the lack of closure and how there is no real sense that what you accomplished through three games really even mattered at the end of the experience. To hopefully begin to rectify this for their fans, Bioware announced an “extended cut” to hopefully tie up some loose ends and an epilogue to their epic space opera.
Soon after the announcement, an interview went up on the Mass Effect YouTube account between Jessica Merizan, Casey Hudson, and Mac Walters discussing, among other things, what we could expect from this free DLC. The ten minute interview is divided almost right down the middle between information on the game and a sort of defensive mea culpa from the devs, letting us know that they care about the series just as much as the fans, which remains another central critique from the community that the people at Bioware have less of a vested interest in their property than us fans who consume it.
The message they seem to want to get across throughout the interview is that they understand why people are so upset, but also that the original ending wasn’t just some weird fluke. The original ending is not going to be changed, but only expounded upon through “some extra scenes and an epilogue,” which comes in just under the Xbox update limit of 2GB.
This seems to me to be a sort of watershed moment for AAA games storytelling, namely by whether or not we will see a clear and concise denouement in Shepard’s story. The first ending was something that seemed largely at loggerheads with the rest of the story’s message and theme, almost as if the developers seemed unwilling to put a definitive end to the plot they had been forming for the last eight years. One way to look at this is how Casey Hudson framed it in the interview with Merizan that even the devs weren’t ready to let go of the story, but a much more critical eye would say that the vague ending keeps avenues open for milking more money out of their player base.
While I am looking forward to the extended cut, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t at least some amount of apprehension. At the end of Mass Effect 3, I felt as though the ending fit my mindset well. It was a moment void of catharsis, almost as if I was simply lying down to go to sleep. It was a sensation that felt, honestly, a bit how I imagine saving the universe would actually feel like. It wouldn’t end with a parade or a with Leah giving you a medal while Ewoks danced to janky tintinnabulatory diddies. It would end in silence.
With that said, had they just left it at that, there wouldn’t be as many issues, but instead what we get is a handful of your comrades blasting off into some great unknown and landing on an unknown alien planet apropos of nothing. Even if you believe that Bioware has the best intentions for their series and fans, you would be hard pressed to not see this as an obvious avenue towards downloadable content.
I feel for this extended cut to be successful is to complete the story — not to give us open ends. People who have played all three games are looking for closure to Mass Effect, not a new way to explore the universe. I hope they do extend the series in other, future games, but there needs to be closure in this one first, and if the extended cut fails in this regard, grim premonitions on the future of AAA development will be even more meritorious.
Whether or not anyone is willing to say it, this remains a moment of truth for AAA narratives and their distribution model. The direction that Bioware/EA takes could set a precedent on how future narratives are distributed. In short, this release on Tuesday matters far beyond just this one game. Indeed, the future is in BioWare’s hands.
On Tuesday, we’ll find out if they chose Paragon or Renegade.