Today, the 9th of March, marks the two-year anniversary of the launch of Mass Effect 3, the day i also started the game for the first time. Incidentally today is also the day that i have completed it again, two years after i was left bewildered and broken over the infamous ending.
I mean, what gamer doesn't know the scandal of Mass Effect 3's ending?
No matter who you ask, most will have varied opinions on what should have been done with it and how it should have been handled. Hell, gamers made up a complete head-canon option to ignore the entire game ending, one of the original writers offered a completely different take and a fan even wrote a HUGE hundred-paged book on his view on fixing it. In any case, the point was that most people that got their Shepard to the end felt disappointed.
I was one of them. I was there, on the front lines. From the beginning where face importing was bugged if you didn't edit your face in Mass Effect 2 and had to manually edit it using tools and websites, all the way to the outrage with the colored endings and the rise of the Marauder Shields meme as a weird sort of proxy to the anguish gamers felt. It took me days to get over it and a few good weeks to stop thinking about it. And they tell me games are not art and should only entertain...
When i decided a month ago to purchase all the DLCs for Mass Effect, since i'd missed them the first time around due to a case of poor-student, it was mostly a spur of the moment thing, but i fell down the nostalgia hole and said 'why not' and took to resurrecting my Shepard to save the galaxy again. I knew what the DLCs added, but i still managed to be left conflicted on their use. The new characters added in ME2 were just more water to the already hugely-saturated pool of personalities that was the game, though Javik was welcomed in ME3's all too empty Normandy, and i'd wished there were more DLC like Lair of the Shadow Broker, Project Overlord and Omega. DLC that was just filling in pieces instead of increasing the size of the puzzle. What really annoyed me was when they charge you for complete smaller puzzles that form a large chunk of the original puzzle that you always thought was missing.
I'm talking here about Arrival in Mass Effect 2 and Leviathan in Mass Effect 3 mostly. While some additions to the story can be hand waved, see Lair of the Shadow Broker which was easily patched in ME3 if you didn't play it in 2, the explanation and interaction with the creators of the Reapers and their reasoning, as well as the main reason Shepard was even held in custody at the beginning of Mass Effect 3 really appear like they should have been part of the original story, or at least free like the Extended Ending. Coming now from playing them, i really can't see how the vanilla games could be played without them. They add vital context and proper foreshadowing of events to come and enhance the story in ways that should have been part of the original games. Also the appearance of Harbinger in Mass Effect 2's Arrival helps refocus the game more on the Reapers and less like a side-distraction stopping another menace, the collectors, that is left feeling like padding. In any case, the biggest changes post-launch in terms of the feel of the game have got to be the Citadel DLC and the Extended Ending.
I've heard of the fanservice the Citadel DLC was charged of, and while i was expecting panty-shots and memes, it was oddly well done. I have to say the DLC broke the pacing quite a bit, the fact that it's basically split in three different sections with all being large swathes of content does crush the pressure and rush the original game had. Still, i don't know if i'd have it any other way. Having your entire crew fighting through a complex really did put a smile on my face. And later, treating them to a party to rekindle and refresh your relationships with them is just a cherry on top. The Armax Arena also gives plenty challenge for even the most deft Mass Effect player and offers hours of time to play and get credits. If only the DLC activated later in the game or at least in waves and less like a one-off large distraction, one also right in the middle of the game where you already have dozens of missions to do, it would have improved the flow of Mass Effect 3 greatly.
But eventually it all leads to the same place: The same dreaded ending, now apparently Extended enough to have its own DLC instead of a more common patch, but this time free. The run to the beam was still there, though broken up by a new sequence, the Illusive Man was still there, as was the end-game dialogue-battle, the Star Child was still there, maybe less weird now that we knew of his existence before smacking ourselves face to face with him, and there was still a color attached to the ending, though this as well was a lot less noticeable. But it was all different. Better.
I understand not wanting to fundamentally change the ending. I respect a proper artistic vision, and i did respect ME3's. My problem relied on its execution. And that's what the Extended Ending fixes. Aside from giving the extra Refusal ending, i appreciated the closing of the plot holes. Your crew's escape, if a bit weird seeing the Normandy perform an evac next to a Reaper when a shuttle would have sufficed, the extra still imagery, the varied narrations to underline and show what happened to the universe we poured so much time and passion into.. it was what i needed from the ending. The added context of the Leviathans, the farewells thrown in the Citadel DLC and the extra touches put on the ending sequence itself finally made my Mass Effect experience come together and allowed me to put my Shepard to rest with a proper farewell. For some it felt insignificant, but i found those were also the people that also wanted Shepard to survive victoriously surfing on Reapers and drinking mohitos on the beach with all the crew. That was never Bioware's Mass Effect, and i would have felt cheated if they turned it into such. What we got was re-mastering of the ending, not a re-writing. And for me atleast, it was enough.
It might have taken me a few years to put it out of my mind to be able come back to it fresh and with a clear head, but i'm glad i did. A wound has been closed, i finally got closure and can lose the indoctrination head-canon i fervishly held on to. And most of all, i'm glad the people that will pick up Mass Effect now will get the best experience possible.
I await stories of new Shepards roaming the galaxy, each as unique as the people playing them, pleased with the knowledge that when they finally complete their journey they won't be disappointed or confused as i was. They will have just experienced probably the best gaming trilogy ever made.
Goodbye Neon Shepard, i will now forever remember you fondly.