Trilogies really are big in the nerd kingdom, aren't they? Maybe it's due to Schoolhouse Rock's magnificent "3 is a Magic Number" song, or the original Star Wars trilogy (before they left Lucas to his own devices and he kept changing it to come in line with his own cartoonish ideas), but trilogies are very important to the geek and gamer subculture. Trilogies are also the easiest way to make a titanic fuckup these days. I don't even need to do more than mention the colossal atrocity that was the Star Wars prequel trilogy, so let's look at some others.
While I've never been a fan of first-person shooters, I greatly enjoyed the Modern Warfare series. The first and second told a gritty and believable alternate-history war story. WW3 was a bit hard to imagine, but the story had a firm enough setting that it was forgivable. Modern Warfare 3 dropped the ball, killing off fan-favorite Soap MacTavish and going insane with the first-person "crippled cutscenes" wherein the player's revered tough-as-nails veteran character falls down and has to be carried away again and again and again. The story became too bloated and bizarre, with the villains somehow overcoming the entire Russian government and establishing military dictatorships in existing nations.
The Matrix trilogy is another major disappointment, trying to tell some sort of twisted existential nonsense instead of a legitimate story. And considering that the Revolutions tie-in game had the Wachowsky Brothers actually step in during a cutscene and insult fans for not liking the third movie's ending, well...
These failures in storytelling, however, pale in comparison to the big daddy of narrative buttfuckery known as Mass Effect 3. For those not "in the know," the Extended Cut DLC was released today, with several minutes of new footage to pad out the almost transcendentally horrendous original ending. Fan anger at the original ending was greater than almost anything the gaming world has ever seen. This game was made by BioWare, the company known for their storytelling above all else. Even in games with poor controls and unbalanced gameplay, fans didn't care because the story was strong enough. Me? I say meh. I enjoyed the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, but I always thought BioWare's character development was better than their storytelling. Even with that said, however, the original ending was an abhorrent sore.
I could go on for fucking pages about how shit the ending was, but you can just google the ending and find entire forums dedicated to picking apart and analyzing that fuckheap. Suffice to say, it was bad. It was very, very, very...bad. Throwing in an eleventh-hour character, subverting the entire theme of the series up until that point, and completely invalidating one of the most lauded aspects of the Mass Effect series - that is, player choice making a difference not only in one game, but in all games to follow - the ending would have been horrible enough without the creative director building up hype about how many different permutations to the ending there would be, how this was THE END of a titanic series and how this would change the gaming world as we know it. Casey Hudson even said, "You won't be able to say you got ending A, B or C." Well guess the fuck what? The only endings available were A, B and C. No permutations in the ending, no real impact from all the war assets and hours of one-mode multiplayer consumers were ordered to play in order to receive the so-called "best endings," no nothing. Player choice meant NOTHING. Less than nothing, in fact, since if you didn't do everything in the game and play hours of multiplayer there was a good chance you wouldn't be given a choice. If you saved Wrex or the Rachni Queen in the first game? Doesn't fucking matter. You helped save Tali's home world? Doesn't fucking matter. I had my first inklings of this even as I was playing the game, where you can accidentally doom an entire planet to extinction and nobody even mentions it again. Two whole races wiped out, and nobody bats an eye. The developers didn't care.
So now we get the Extended Cut, a free downloadable add-on that brings in a few extra lines of dialogue and cut scenes to "better explain" the ending. This is the equivalent of finding a rat in your Taco Bell and the manager adding some parsley to it. You still paid for your meal, and there's still a dead sewer animal in it, but this might make it a bit more palatable. Oh, they included a new ending - a half-assed "Refusal Ending" one-fifth the length of the other endings that has the cycle continuing a la Matrix 3, where it turns out instead of Buzz Aldrin's voice recounting stories of "The Shepard" to a kid and creepily calling the boy 'my sweet,' the entire Mass Effect series has been a recording from a holographic Liara telling the next group of species how Shepard failed.
To me, this is the ultimate slap in the face. You already get a sad enough ending, with Shepard either completely compromising his/her moral code and the entire theme of the trilogy at the drop of a hat, or exterminating entire synthetic races to destroy the Reapers. Now we get an even sadder ending where everyone dies because the fans had the audacity to want to have a choice in the matter, to have Shepard continue along with his morals. War assets still make no difference; there's only a single tiny cutscene where we see the victory fleet being destroyed. There's no chance to save people with the new option. It's just BioWare and Electronic Arts spitting in their customers' faces, saying "Here's your fucking new ending. You killed everyone we made you care about. That's what you get for wanting a satisfying conclusion to your game, schmuck!"
Every developer seems to have the urge to "go against the trend" these days and give a downer ending or an unsatisfying one, but over a goddamn decade that has become the new trend. At least when Fallout 3 did it the ending was in line with the Biblical theme of self-sacrifice that had been established from the game's start. At least Lemony Snicket's books were internally consistent, having warned readers from the beginning that the ending would leave them disappointed.
Unlike many others I actually really enjoyed Dragon Age 2. I thought it helped to establish the series as being about the entire world instead of a war against the darkspawn or anything as pedantic and overdone as that. However, I will not be purchasing any more games from BioWare after this last insult to their consumers, the people without whom they cannot exist. Nor will I be purchasing from Electronic Arts, who have now killed two of my favorite game companies, Westwood Studios and BioWare.