Mass Effect 3 EP33: Burst Vanguard

By Shamus Posted Thursday Nov 8, 2012

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 194 comments

Link (YouTube)

I don’t know what to think of Horizon / Sanctuary. Did they install a gun out in the boonies, away from a population center in Mass Effect 2? Was that area the ONLY rural area? Or did the collectors invade the only rural area with a huge space-gun? Or was this new massive population center / Cerberus base built in the few months since the events of ME2? Or was this an existing Alliance base that Cerberus took over so they could build a secret underwater husk factory?

If Horizon had been built around characters the way Zhu’s hope had been, I might have felt like there was an emotional stake in this place. But at the end of Mass Effect 2, we don’t even know what happened to the colonists. Did we rescue them? Did any live? Did some escape? Going by what was shown us, it seems reasonable to assume everyone was turned into Reaper slush. But then why is this place so much bigger?

It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. It’s not connected, nobody thought about it, nobody cared enough to give a name to a single person on Horizon. The writers just re-used the name of the place without bothering to explain what happened here. Re-using the name just serves to make the galaxy feel smaller without taking advantage of that smallness to build characters, relationships, or stories.

Well, we got Miranda’s sister. There’s that.

Behold, the nunchuck gun!


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194 thoughts on “Mass Effect 3 EP33: Burst Vanguard

  1. Tvtim says:

    I was under the impression that the whole colony was a cover for Cerberus to try to actually Indoctrinate (or otherwise control) reapers and their minions (husks, etc.). I never got the feeling that they were trying to stop or otherwise fix Indoctrination, just control the indoctrinated and the Reapers themselves.

    As to your ammo “falling off” as it were: all ammo types will de-activate from guns when you go to the swap screen as you did when you acquired that random SMG.

    1. IFS says:

      Of course its a stupid idea to try and control reapers by studying husks, it’d be like trying to reverse engineer a TV to get buttons on a remote to push themselves. The husks don’t participate in mutual control with the reapers they are just the robot zombies the reapers control.

      1. Tvtim says:

        I’m not saying it was a good or bad idea (didn’t think I had to as it sounds rather stupid on it’s own), but I could swear that through reading/listening to logs found along the way it was all to figure out control not cure.

        1. IFS says:

          Yeah I remember that being the goal of the facility as well, although I think they’re supposed to have built the facility after the events of me2.

        2. ehlijen says:

          Actually, it’s more like trying to build a remote from scratch for the same TV that other remote accesses. Having that TV available for testing helps.

          But just capturing some husks should have done the trick. Killing random people for it is just to meet TIM’s dietary requirement for Vitamin Evil.

          1. guy says:

            But what makes them think that the Reapers even have a remote control? Also, why would it be the same kind of control signal? Reapers are incredibly more complicated than even normal organics, much less the lobotomized husks.

            Incidentally, they also completely failed to develop a control system for Husks. There are no Reapers present, but the Husks overran the Cerberus forces.

            1. ehlijen says:

              One could theorise that without a control system, the reapers wouldn’t be able to coordinate anything. Whether it’s hard control or just a communication system with a very loyal to each other user base doesn’t matter so much.

              Even if you can just get into their comms signals and plant false data, you could achieve something.

              Maybe taking control of husks requires a dedicated signal for each? Or only works on human husks (because the pro human organistation refuses to experiment on non-humans…) and so the base was overrun by other husks which destroyed the human husk control gizmos?

              But killing refugees for the lulz just doesn’t help. In fact, I’d want as few civilians as possible near such a facility…

            2. Jakale says:

              If there’s one thing we can concretely take away from all of Cerberus’ actions, it’s that they are the Umbrella Corporation of the ME universe.

              1. ehlijen says:

                Nah, Umbrella wishes people wouldn’t turn such blind eyes to their atrocities.

          2. newdarkcloud says:

            Actually, I think it’s even worse than that. It’s like trying to build a remote FOR THE REMOTE of a TV you have access to. Like, you push a button to get the remote to push a button.

            Oh, and you don’t have access to the remote you’re trying to remote control.

            1. Keeshhound says:

              I’d say it’s more like trying to build a remote control for the person holding the remote of the TV that you captured.

              1. newdarkcloud says:

                Basically, no matter how you look at it, it’s stupid.

            2. Fleaman says:

              As a software engineer working with a whole lot of legacy code? That sounds basically like my entire job.

              1. Asimech (Sumanai) says:

                Isn’t this more like “everything is in binary and you don’t know anything about the instruction set for the processor and don’t have the compiler”?

      2. Brandon says:

        I don’t think that’s the best analogy. Network security can sometimes be exploited in a similar way to what they are hinting at in ME3:

        1) Use a client to get data from the server to analyze how it sends the data and how the client interacts with it.

        2) Build your own client and see if you can get the same interactions with the server to produce the same results in your custom client

        3) Start sending back unexpected stuff to the server and see if you can get it to behave in ways that it isn’t supposed to.

        Reapers are the servers, Husks are the clients. Of course the Husks don’t control the reapers at all, but they must send some kind of signal back so that the Reapers know where they are and what they are doing. Maybe you can’t CONTROL the Reapers with this information, but you might be able to influence their behaviour.

        For instance, if a settlement is under attack by Reaper ground units, if you can hijack their signals to tell the Reaper controlling them that they have successfully wiped out the settlement, the Reaper might move on rather than continue to send in reinforcements. Depends on how much the Reapers trust those signals I guess.

        1. guy says:

          They’re explicitly trying to control the Reapers through this. And there’s really no reason to expect that to work. I mean, prior to the very end of the game there was no reason to think that Reapers responded to any sort of exterior control signal. Besides, the husk signal is probably connected to Indoctrination, and the Reapers sure aren’t subject to that or they’d all be passively waiting for orders from people waiting for orders from them. Even if they were trying to hack the Reapers instead of accessing a preexisting control system, well, trying to hack the Reapers.

          1. Brandon says:

            Well, we could debate all day about the what-ifs of the situation, I was just pointing out that the method they used isn’t actually a bad idea for finding exploits in machine communications. Whether or not it could lead to controlling the Reapers is kind of a wasteful argument, because Reapers aren’t real and we don’t have enough information about how they are built.

            Although yes, the story definitely does suggest that it would be very hard to accomplish, them being an ultimate race of sentient AIs and such. Why anyone would assume that they could be controlled at all is beyond me. But then again, that’s how experiments work. Why anyone ever thought we could travel to the moon is beyond me too, but they did and we did.

            In any case, even if there was no reason to believe that the Reapers didn’t have a built-in control scheme, there’s no reason to believe you couldn’t potentially inject a control scheme in the form of some kind of virus. Even if such a thing is practically impossible to do, it would be worth trying right?

            1. Mike S. says:

              And since we know that Cerberus got one or more pieces of Sovereign (hi, EDI!), may have gotten some information out of the dead Reaper before communications ceased, and had been working on husks since ME1, we could hypothesize that something from all that pointed in a useful direction that Horizon was building on.

              Or at least in a way that looked plausible to someone who was, after all, indoctrinated during much or all of the planning process. (See also Saren “I’ll save us by offering our services to the Reapers” Arterius.)

            2. Fleaman says:

              We don’t have any idea what the Reapers are thinking at this point. When we call them they just say “THIS HURTS YOU” over and over, and they seem to think that liquifying people and feeding them to a Contra boss is a good idea. That’s why our plans have been “fight or die” and “hey I found this Crucible between the seat cushions and it has this big flashing button, let’s push it”; it’s because we still don’t understand the Reapers in any meaningful way. Any project that might let us peek at their e-mails can only help us right now.

          2. StashAugustine says:

            “And there's really no reason to expect that to work.”
            Well obviously. If it would work Cerberus wouldn’t do it.

      3. I think you hit the actual thought process behind this when you said the z-word:

        “Husks are like zombies, right?”
        “So… Cerberus could, like, catch a bunch to study them.”
        “You just bought the Resident Evil Blu-Ray box set, didn’t you?”
        “I don’t see why that’s relevant. So anyway, I was thinking, what if… wait for it… the zombies– er, I mean, husks GOT LOOSE?”
        “Isn’t that just a lazy rip off of countless movies, bad novels, and other video games?”
        “We’ll call it an homage.”

        Any further explanation is just an attempt to rationalize the padding.

  2. kanodin says:

    Hey Shamus you seem to have put up episode 33 instead of 32. For a second I thought Kai Leng had made you all so angry you refused to give him screentime.

    1. Dave B says:

      It looks like 32 is up, but tagged as “random.”

    2. anaphysik says:

      Episode 32 was mistakenly filed under the ‘Random’ category.

      At least, we assume that that was mistaken…

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        It was the episode where our host shamelessly trolled everyone.

  3. Amnestic says:

    ” But at the end of Mass Effect 2, we don't even know what happened to the colonists.”

    Been a while since I played ME2 but I’m fairly certain the ‘example’ character given showing the slushification process on the Collector Base was one of the Colonists and since you then only rescued your crew after that, it stands to reason they were all slushified or killed in the subsequent purging/base explosion.

    There was one surviving guy who didn’t get taken. Old cranky dude. Never find out what happened to him though. My guess is that he retired to a private planet to live out the rest of his days with a harem of Asari and nothing bad ever happened to him.

    1. ehlijen says:

      Did ME2 actually specify that you only saved your crew?

      1. Amnestic says:

        It was heavily implied since the ones you saved on the base had to be escorted back by a squad member, and the people you could see were only Normandy Crew Members – no colonists. It may have been more explicit than that, but that’s how I remember it.

        Hell, if you’re too slow then I think the only surviving crew member is Chakwas, the rest get slushified.

        1. newdarkcloud says:

          Yeah, no matter what you do, the abducted Horizon colonists die. It’s unavoidable.

          1. krellen says:

            You’re the one that kills them, even; you killed the proto-Reaper their consciousnesses were distilled into.

    2. Mike S. says:

      I think we may have another example of buy-in and interest affecting attention and perceptions here since it seems that this wasn’t widely remembered, but we’re told in the mission summary that the Collectors made off with a third of the colony. So by implication, Shepard’s interrupting the collection process saved the other two-thirds.

      (As others have noted, all the colonists they took did die, with the last one going just as you show up if you’re in time to save your crew. But all the frozen people you pass while fighting the Collectors live to be unfrozen.)

      That leaves a population of between four and five hundred thousand before the whole Sanctuary thing. You even get an email– which I found affecting, though I know a lot of people hated the ME2 emails– from a Horizon survivor who lost her son and brother, begging you to do something. (Which did give me something of an emotional stake in the place, though mileage obviously varies.)

      Horizon/Sanctuary develops in the background of ME3. But is it really that implausible that Cerberus would be able to throw up a refugee complex on an empty planet with a population in the mid-six figures? (Either via a shell corporation or under its own name– whatever anyone else might think of them, they did save that particular colony.)

      They’d likely acquiesce, and if they didn’t, even a realistic Cerberus can probably grab and hold some land on a sparsely settled planet. The Alliance Navy sent one guy to deal with the Collector threat to Horizon back when they weren’t involved in a war for survival.

      While I don’t believe in their logistics extending to major operations against the galactic capital, a bunch of indoctrinated troops and refugees can surely manage to throw together an evil research complex/murder factory. Especially given that it generates its own new personnel. (Other than the research scientists that TIM was pulling an Adrian Veidt on over in Jacob’s sidequest.)

      1. Lame Duck says:

        “But is it really that implausible that Cerberus would be able to throw up a refugee complex on an empty planet with a population in the mid-six figures?”

        Perhaps not, but this is definetly a case of our trust in the storyteller being broken. After everything we’ve seen of Cerberus thus far, it’s natural to assume that this is a completely absurd and unfeasable place that the writer just magicked into existence. Certainly, after everything else they’ve done, they shouldn’t have enough resources left to build a cardboard box.

      2. anaphysik says:

        I liked the Han Olar e-mail in ME2.

        Dear hypothetical viewer only getting to see ME1 through the Spoiler Warning reruns: Han Olar was a neat NPC at Peak 15 that you didn’t get to see because Randy was a pseudo-speedrunning bastard who skipped an enormous chunk of dialogue and content on Noveria.

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          I like his email too, and it gives me funny ideas.

          Like, maybe Shepard was critically wounded when that bit of Sovereign hit the Citadel tower, and the rest of the series is actually a morphine induced fever dream.

          If Shepard is a Sole Survivor, it would explain why she just can’t stop dreaming about Cerberus at the expense of everything else. Kai Leng is probably an negative agent of her subconscious, and his cut scene powers are a manifestation of the helplessness she felt as she watched her squad die.

          1. Mike S. says:

            While I didn’t go quite that far, I certainly demoted the Catalyst child to exhaustion-induced hallucination when I rewrote the ME3 ending to something I could live with.

            (Ditto shooting something to activate the system, which had Shepard ruefully acknowledging that Legion had been right: it was a natural metaphor for her to fall into. :-) )

  4. IFS says:

    I take it back I like the challenge from last episode now, after all it allowed the existence of that opening monologue.

  5. Deadpool says:

    I like how the Shotgun bayonet improves the damage of your Biotic Falcon Punch… Somehow…

    Also, Swordchucks beat nunchuck guns…

    1. IFS says:

      I like how you can apply ammo mods to guns that shoot plasma, electricity, or even biotic energy. Example I have put drill rounds on the arc pistol in multiplayer, and incindiary, or worse cryo, rounds on a gun that shoots plasma, which is superheated gas, is about as ridiculous as me making electric drills that go through walls.

      1. Mike S. says:

        I don’t know that the ammo mods– and even more, the ammo powers– make all that much sense for the material ammunition. (Especially cryo, whose effect makes no physical sense.) But I grant that the ante is upped for some of the more exotic guns.

    2. Cody211282 says:

      It also improves the holoknife thing and the engies flaming pimp slap.

      It’s nice to know that they not only removed logic and common sense from the story but from the game mechanics as well.

    3. Ofermod says:

      Personally, I’m a fan of those old flintlock pistols that have axes strapped to the muzzles.

  6. Lame Duck says:

    I finally understand why Shepard is so torn up about seeing that kid die; that was humanity’s last child. It explains why there are no other children in the Mass Effect series.

    Also, when Rutskarn asked if you were done recording for the week, I was expecting him to break into song so much.

    1. False Prophet says:

      Chris is dead on about there being next to no old people in Mass Effect either–and asari Matriarchs with the bodies of 24-year-old strippers don’t count. Not one of the members of the Defence Committee at the beginning of this game looks older than 45. So either de-aging treatments are common and plentiful in the future (although Hackett and Admiral Kahoku look older), or the staff officers of the System Alliance military are ignorant children. Wait a minute…

      1. Irridium says:

        It is noted in the codex for ME1 that states humans live up to 150 years old. So it’d make sense for what we consider old to still be rather young in the ME universe.

        1. Mike S. says:

          And depending how fast it developed and whether there’s a point past which it could be applied, you could have a situation where one generation died of old age and another hasn’t had much chance to grow old yet.

          (Say everyone born in 2050 lived about a century give or take and is gone, everyone born in 2100 or later looks middle-aged at most, with a gradient such that you only have a a thin layer of actual surviving but old-looking people in between.)

          Of course, this sort of handwave would be a lot easier to maintain if they hadn’t established that Anderson was 49, and Hackett was 52. :-)

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            In the books, the female protagonist is explicitly stated to be in her 40s, but have the appearance and fitness level of somebody in their 20s because medical science has evolved so much after discovering the Mass Relays.

            1. Being rebuilt after re-entry probably allowed them to sand off a few of the rough spots. Since it was Cerberus, I’d almost figure they re-grew Shep’s organics from melted-down orphans, but had that been the case, we would have seen a mission to a rogue cell’s base that was overrun with hulk-sized toddlers that ate human brains and could melt steel with their plasma-beam eyes.

        2. Deadpool says:

          That makes less sense though, doesn’t it? If life expectancy is 150 instead of 80, then seeing a 70 year old in ME universe should be about as common as a 40 year old today.

          Higher life expectancy makes old people MORE likely, not less.

          1. Lame Duck says:

            I think the idea being suggested is that humanity has developed methods to retard the ageing process, so people are actually older than they look.

            1. anaphysik says:

              They should just chalk it up to ‘cultural changes’ and say that in the future, everyone wears space-makeup to make themselves look younger.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Tim is trying to combat indoctrination,by becoming indoctrinated.Logic!

    1. ehlijen says:

      Maybe synthetic life can stop exterminating organic life in order to save organic life if organic life learns how to exterminate itself?

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        We learn how to die or we die!

      2. Mike S. says:

        That reminds me of my favorite scene ever from the 80s West Coast Avengers comic: The East Coast (i.e., real) Avengers have all been suddenly killed. So the West Coast team decides to go after them… by taking poison. Naturally. (And not just any poison, but the most powerful poison in the universe, verified by an immortal cosmic being who has reason to know about such things.)

        I always imagine every supervillain from Dr. Doom to Baron Zemo staring in disbelief, and wondering why they’d never thought of suggesting that.

    2. Dasick says:

      Poison resistances are build up by ingesting poison over time. Biology!

      Honestly, how do you know how to combat indoctrination, if you have no idea what it does? It’s a solid idea, too bad it was buried, as custom dictates, under fanfic and fanservice.

  8. Starkos says:

    Shamus, I haven’t spent that much time on homestar runner. So when you mentioned a nunchuck gun my brain brewed up an image of two guns chained to each other allowing for point blank, explosive, bullet ridden, pistol whipping combo attacks.

    Now I feel like playing Dynasty Warriors.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Being a kid in mass effect is extremely dangerous.Mortality rate for kids is 100%.

  10. Bryan says:

    …Anybody got a peanut?


    1. Shamus says:

      THANK YOU.

      I’ve been waiting four days for someone to follow up on that.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      I thought it was “Anybody want a peanut?”
      And, while we’re on topic, this whole series is ripe for an infusion of “Inconceivable!”

      1. Bryan says:

        Oooo, crap, you’re right. Time to go watch Princess Bride again; I’m forgetting the lines. :-(

        You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  11. ryath says:

    Oh, I’ve been wondering how this mission will play out if Miranda’s dead. I was never able to lose her on the suicide mission, try as I might). Did anyone else feel, though, that she turns out to be a way more sympathetic character in ME3? When she got killed by Kai Leng, I almost felt bad for blowing her off earlier in the game.

    1. StashAugustine says:

      I talked to her only on pure metagame- I knew meeting her would lead to some reward or other at some point.

      1. SleepingDragon says:

        Worse still, I knew being NICE to her and giving her alliance stuff for no apparent reason other than she asks for it would lead to some reward… stupid transparent game morality…

        1. Mike S. says:

          Though the reward is merely that she lives rather than dying. So it’s something that only matters to the extent you like the character.

          (Well, and war assets. But 25 points isn’t likely to make or break anything, even for players who really care which endings they have access to.)

          1. Ofermod says:

            But… but numbers! Those 25 points add to your numbers, which makes your numbers bigger! And bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers!

          2. SleepingDragon says:

            Technically true, but during your first playthrough you have no idea how the whole war assets thing is going to work.

    2. newdarkcloud says:

      I actually liked the development she was given.

      I mean, Cerberus and the mission they have at Horizon is still goofy, but at least they now have established that Miranda actually has talent. If you warn her that Kai Leng is coming after her, she takes steps and countermeasures to stop him. And, building on her betrayal of Cerberus at the end of ME2, she disavows them completely.

      1. Keeshhound says:

        Does she actually give good (in-story, in-character) reasons for disavowing them, or is it just “I was 100% behind Cerberus and then Space Jes-I mean Shepherd told me I was wrong so now I think they’re bad!”?

        1. Amnestic says:

          Apparently it was meant to be a gradual thing over the course of ME2 where she slowly began to doubt Cerberus/TIM due to what she saw (like TIM’s collector ship trap thing).

          Honestly, I never saw such steady development. She seemed pretty damn Cerberus loyal until the end. If you bring her in your squad for the last boss fight, TIM tries to get Miranda to stop Shepard and she’s all “consider this my resignation!” which was really cheesy.

          Might be that I’ve got a selective memory playing up again, but it really does appear to just be “Shepard is awesomes and TIM is suck, I <3 Shepard!"

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            If you talk to her after her loyalty mission, she’ll mention that she thinks that you’re awesome and that Cerberus might be going too far. Then she’ll say that what they did to Jack was wrong.

            Which is why the Miranda/Jack thing particularly pisses me off! Jack says “She won’t admit what Cerberus did to me was wrong!” I was like “Da fuck are you talking about!? SHE JUST GOT THROUGH TELLING ME THAT!!!”

            It’s not as bad as Tali/Legion, but it’s annoying nonetheless.

            1. anaphysik says:

              I’m confused. Tali/Legion was alright. Jack/Miranda was laughably lopsided and dumb.

              The main problem with Tali/Legion other than the fact that writing it like that is making fanfic’ers either squeal or squeam <_< is that it’s shallowly handled; there’s *so* much more you could pull out of that conflict and discuss, but it basically just boils down to loyalty checks.

              1. newdarkcloud says:

                That’s what I hated about it. I can understand Tali’s misgivings, but Legion is a fully rationale AI and should have known better. He should have known the problems with hacking Tali’s omni-tool.

                So it requires someone to act out of character in order to allow for a pointless reputation check.

                1. anaphysik says:

                  You really think it’s out of character to gather information and return it to the collective? Because that’s half of Legion’s job right there. (Particularly when that information directly concerns organics’ treatment of the geth.) Recall that geth do not withhold information from each other.

                  This could have been a great opportunity to tackle a subject like ‘how the geth collective seems constantly to view the quarians as a collective’ (some quarians performed experiments on geth platforms/programs, some quarians decided to end the geth, etc.).

                  Anyway, interesting point in that section: how would Legion send the info without Shepard’s permission anyway? On prior occasions EDI’s popped up with a ‘Legion is attempting to get through our firewalls, shall I let it proceed?’ (To get the Widow specifications, and to access the ‘does this unit have a soul?’ recording.) I guess my point is that it’s weird to frame it as a standoff when it could have simply been Legion coming to you for to ask permission. But then I guess we wouldn’t get to see crazy!racist!Tali.

                  EDIT: when we play TF2, we need to spend more time having these fun discussions. I mean, we already know them rob’ts are gonna beat us, so we may as well spend our breath elsewhere ;)

                  1. newdarkcloud says:

                    Hey. We don’t ALWAYS get our ass handed to us.

  12. zob says:

    I didn’t want to hit on this before because it felt petty to be honest. Here is the thing, when you follow a tv series or a comic or any established franchise you notice something.

    When some hack writer/showrunner/some_other_title_guy take over a successful and or critically acclaimed franchise he add something to it not entirely unlike a dog marking his territory. Cerberus, more importantly TIM is this piss. Mass Effect wasn’t theirs but new Cerberus was, so everything in the universe is jobbing to show how awesometaculartastic Cerberus and TIM is. It’s even in the ending. Shepard says “TIM was right” in the ending. I do get the artistic integrity. No I really do. They want to own this stuff. Ok, they do own it. It’s crap. Kudos you wasted a great potential by constantly praising your author insert and killed all the goodwill around your brand. It’s just sad.

    I decided not to accept ME2 and ME3 as sequels to ME1. For me they are gaiden series. Mass Effect was a one off game sadly discontinued.

    PS: Take a lesson from this and don’t buy Dead Space 3. DS1 was nice and interesting. DS2 was kinda crap. Now they are introducing forced co-op gameplay and more action. Similarities are obvious.

    1. Cody211282 says:

      I was bit to hopeful coming into ME3, I was certain the writers knew what they were doing. I mean if the collectors were not important at all why make assaulting their base and taking it/destroying it the big choice in the 2nd game. Surly they wouldn’t make you go through an entire game of rounding up a crack squad and turning them completely loyal to you just to have them scatter like frat boys after the beer is gone. And Ceburus wouldn’t have played such a huge part(and retconed straight to hell) if they weren’t going to be an power that Shepard could call on for help(like having a “human first” shadow broker in your pocket).

      Looking back I gave the second game way more credit then I should have.

    2. Jingleman says:

      I always get a little confused when it comes to creative control of this series. There was a total hand-off somewhere, clearly, and ME3 was written by different folks than ME1. But the consensus (at least on this site) seems to be that the series went off the rails in ME2, which lists Drew Karpyshyn as a lead writer, just as in the first ME game (and three ME novels, too). What happened there?

      1. Cody211282 says:

        Hey got transferred to TOR about halfway though I believe.

      2. anaphysik says:

        Designing around a gimmick mechanic (the Suicide Mission).
        Designing around gimmick marketing (Shepard dies at the beginning).
        De-emphasization of Karpyshyn, who was being phased over to TOR.
        Even Karpyshyn was getting infected with the Cerberus bug (his novels, apparently).
        De-emphasization of L’Etoile (the guy who wrote all the codex entries). Legion, probably the best part of ME2 despite my gripes about the narrative cop-out involved, is a result of L’Etoile.
        The false conceit that a ‘darker’ tone automatically makes a story more engaging. Typically per knock-offs of Empire Strikes Back, natch.

        I could go on and on, but I’m really fucking tired right now, and also blehhhhhhhhhhhh.

        1. Dasick says:

          “Gimmick” is a feature that doesn’t tie into the core of the game. The suicide mission in Mass Effect 2 was the core of the story and the interactive fiction portion of the game, so it is not a gimmick, not by this definition anyways.

          Or did you mean something else?

          1. Keeshhound says:

            It only shows up once though. There’s no real indication that you’re going to be choosing squad members for certain tasks until they ask you to choose the tube-diver. It would have felt less gimmicky if they’d had earlier missions where you had to send someone off to accomplish other goals while you shot everything. Would have justified the huge team, too.

            1. Lame Duck says:

              I wish they would do something like that in all their games. It really grates on me that you can have a team of like 9 people but you’re only allowed to take 2 or 3 of them with you for absolutely no reason.

              1. Dasick says:

                Mass Effect 1 did that with Kaiden and Ashley during the assault of the Krogan Cloning Facility, so there’s that precedent. I too wish the entire team had their uses, not just the guys you bring along. Preferably outside of heavily scripted, static cutscenes, but you know, baby steps.

                Actually, I would totally trust the team behind ME3 multiplayer to do it right.

            2. Dasick says:

              Playing the game I somehow got the feeling that the entire team would be important later on, like the game was building up to it.

              Of course I was also led to believe during his recruitment mission that Garrus was a total badass. What a rude awakening it was, having him on my team for the first time…

              1. Mike S. says:

                Garrus nothing. I want the Jack who can take out three heavy mechs by her lonesome right after regaining consciousness.

                1. Keeshhound says:

                  Everyone gets bullshit superpowers that they only use in cut scenes. If you could command Thane to do mid battle assassinations ala:

                  “Thane, kill that guy.”
                  “Right away.”
                  [Thane vanishes, and a split second later appears behind the someone next to the target, kills them and steals their gun and magic gut-shots the target, killing them instantly before reappearing at your side.]

                  I doubt he’d have been left on the ship during the ME 2 playthrough.

                  1. Luhrsen says:

                    Of course then you have Kasumi who can actually do that in gameplay making her a better assassin than Thane.

                    1. Mike S. says:

                      Though in gameplay she in turn lacks her leap-onto-gunship-and-sabotage-it power. :-)

                    2. anaphysik says:

                      @Mike: Which would’ve been real handy on Garrus’ recruitment ;)

                  2. Mike S. says:

                    @anaphysik And with her and one of Garrus’s impenetrable couches, we could have easily taken out Kai Leng on Thessia.

                    1. anaphysik says:

                      “we could have easily taken out screw Kai Leng on Thessia.”

                      I noticed a typo so I fixed it for you ^_^d

          2. anaphysik says:

            The ‘core’ of Mass Effect 2 *should* have been ‘continue the story started in Mass Effect.’

            The Suicide Mission is meant to be flashy and exciting, but in no way does it contribute to the Mass Effect narrative. The fact that the rest of the game is devoted to collecting people for it merely increases the opportunity cost.

            I used gimmick more like ‘something with no intrinsic value; something whose primary purpose is to be flashy.’ In the context of the Mass Effect series, the Suicide Mission is purely flash. The fact that they devoted (most of) the rest of the game to it merely shows that it was one of the first design decisions made. (It was also a frankly moronic design decision, since Mass Effect 2 would obviously *also* have a sequel, yet in the Suicide Mission anyone can die *facepalm*. But that’s not really relevant.)

            Now, something like the Suicide Mission would be a reasonable thing to design a stand-alone game around. It would still be a gimmick unless its contents were directly informed in a greater way than checking the team’s loyalty flags, but it would at least be a *reasonable* gimmick. But in the context of a sequel to Mass Effect – no, absofuckinglutely not.

            1. Dasick says:

              Yeah, I see your point.

      3. krellen says:

        He was sole lead writer in ME1, and shared the credit with someone else in ME2. That tells you all you need to know.

  13. guy says:

    So, Sanctuary itself confuses me. Not just what Cerberus is up to, though it bears repeating they were trying to control kilometer-long superintelligent and apparently independent AI starships with a signal used by those guys to control mindless drone humanoids.

    Aside from that, I was also confused by the cover story. This place is allegedly a refuge from the Reapers where civilians are fleeing to. Yet apparently people know where it is, and people are fleeing from the Citadel to Sanctuary. It lacks the protection of any kind of massive battlefleet and its location is not secret, even if they jam communications like a place that’s actually relying on concealment for protection. How’s it supposed to be safer than the Citadel? Just not being a strategic target, even though the Reapers deliberately target large concentrations of people simply for having a lot of people in them?

    1. Amnestic says:

      I was willing to let that go, since during a time of Reaper attacks people suspend their logic and will grasp onto ANYTHING which offers them even a sliver of hope for survival. Looking at it from the outside it clearly makes no sense, but from the perspective of someone on the Citadel? Especially after the Cerberus attack? Hearing about a truly safe place, a last bastion of hope, is all it takes.

      One of the ambient conversations on the Presidium Commons has someone talking about planning to go to sanctuary. I think it was an Asari and a Volus, with the Volus pointing out all the problems and how it was probably a load of old tosh. I’m guessing that was put there deliberately to help show players how some of those in-universe might’ve been lead on by Sanctuary’s message, while others saw through it (or at least, partially).

      1. Cody211282 says:

        They actually lampshaded Sanctuary rather well. Though I would have liked to hear of Hacket setting up something like Ilos as a backup plan and mention how absurd Sanctuary really is.

      2. Ofermod says:

        I did like the Volus’s remark of “Wish I’d thought of it first. They must be making a mint.”

        1. Mike S. says:

          We also see nonhumans planning to go there (answering a question raised a couple of times in the video)– e.g., a turian tells his asari wife to promise to take their daughters there, so he knows they’ll be safe.

          (The game uses that “they’re saved! just kidding” dynamic a lot: the much-reviled kid getting on the shuttle at the beginning, the widowed human soldier shipping out who convinces an asari bureaucrat to get her asari daughter to safety… on Thessia, etc.)

          1. Ofermod says:

            Joker’s sister, if you finish her plot arc…

            I guess they were trying to make a comment on the futility and despair of attempting to fight some all-powerful enemy like the Reapers, but at the same time…

    2. newdarkcloud says:

      That’s what bugged me that whole mission. The Citadel had always been the safest part of the entire galaxy and I have never even HEARD on Sanctuary until this point, therefore it should be obviously suspect and should not have gotten anywhere near the number of refugees it did. It was baffling to me.

  14. Spammy says:

    So… you know what woulda been cool, had Bioware actually planned out their trilogy? If you get to the Turian Husks in this game and they look like the Saren Husk from the end of Mass Effect 1. And maybe they could have Benezia turn into a proto-Banshee at the end of her boss fight.

  15. Gruhunchously says:

    I’ve been waiting all season for somebody to accidentally call the Reapers ‘Reavers’. I have now been satisfied.

    1. Tohron says:

      It should be a compliment to confuse the reapers with a foe that made sense and remained threatening, even after you found out its origin.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Weeeellll….I love the reavers,they are awesome,and remained threatening till the end,but make sense?Eeeeehhhhh….Kind of,maybe…

        1. gyfrmabrd says:

          Yeah, the Reavers stopped making sense when the race of mindless cannibals mustered a giant space fleet and subsequently got defeated by a 90lb girl doing interpretive dance

          edit: ah, so that’s how do i editt comment!

      2. Luhrsen says:

        I don’t know about threatening. Once I found out they were merely insane normal humans instead of biologically changed monsters they just became another average threat foe to me. Being insane only makes them slightly more unpredictable, but not inherently more dangerous than someone who is trying to kill you on purpose. The phsycological effect of, “Oh no they will eat us after capturing us”, didn’t mean much to me personally knowing that most of the other threats in that ‘verse are going to torture you for even longer.

  16. Ofermod says:

    Mentioning having been to Horizon before… am I the only one who kind of wishes you could revisit more places from old games? Such as return to Noveria or Feros and talk to the people there, see how your actions in the previous game affected everyone? Maybe take a visit to Ilos and take the proper time to pay your respects to the Protheans who died to save everyone? Go to Ilium from game 2 and see how that planet is coping with the Reaper invasion?

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      Go to Illos so that you can use the Conduit to access the Citadel and bypass all the nonsense on Earth?

      I mean, I could understand if the writers didn’t want you to do that and threw in a line about the Reapers taking Illos and destroying the Conduit or something, but the fact that they never did gives me the impression that they just forgot it was there.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Or the Reapers taking the Conduit, and using it as their back door into the Citadel.

      2. Alexander The 1st says:

        “but the fact that they never did gives me the impression that they just forgot it was there.”

        They didn’t forget that it existed though. The name of the beam into the Citadel at the end is named “Conduit”, IIRC.

        1. anaphysik says:

          That’s double-mega-extra-forgetting about it. They forget it so hard they broke their own One Steve Limit.

          1. Mike S. says:

            Or they were planning to use a transplanted or duplicated Conduit to do what the beam is doing, changed their minds because they preferred the beam as a visual (or didn’t want to do the necessary plot steps to make it so), and forgot to fix one of the script references.

            (Pure speculation, of course, and probably wrong. But functionally they’re the same thing, aren’t they? A narrow gateway that teleports anything that goes through it to the interior of the Citadel.)

            1. anaphysik says:

              Oh yeah, that explains why instead of it going to the presidium, it goes somewhere you don’t even recogniz- oh wait, no it freaking doesn’t. But it does explain why they moved the Citadel instead of just surreptitiously moving the Ilos end to Eart- oh wait, no it freaking doesn’t.

              I’m just being cheeky with you :) I assume you’re being a bit tongue-in-cheek yourself.

              Although I will admit that ‘we wanted to make some narrative point, but then we realized that what we really wanted was the shiny’ wouldn’t be too far out-of-character :P

  17. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    At this late time, I finally appreciate the choice of music for this season. I thought “No Good Layabout” seemed like fair too small and lazy a song for a game this epic.

    Now I see that the irony is entirely appropriate. The song is exactly as small as the game, and so it is perfect.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    8:23 – Cant wait for the Josh’s reaction in next mission.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The problem with that dingy colony suddenly becoming this huge center is with how mass effect (mis)handles the flow of time.Basically,you never know how much time has passed between your missions.It could be days,weeks,hours,months,you have no idea.

    1. Jingleman says:

      This is a fair point, but I never had a problem buying the idea that people who fly through space faster than lightspeed can throw up a concrete building overnight. The implication from the lab stuff is that this research has been going on a while, but it doesn’t say whether it’s always been in that facility – but I’d buy it either way. I can believe that Cerberus decided to build a welcome center over its pre-existing secret underground lab when it saw a sudden opportunity to get huge numbers of test subjects. Or they might have moved in the research from somewhere else. Point is, I have a hard time questioning the capabilities of advanced sci-fi civilizations, even though in this series they seem to have chosen a more modular style of building elsewhere.

    2. newdarkcloud says:

      Well, we know that the Sheppard was under lockdown for about six months. That may be enough time to build this facility.

    3. Raygereio says:

      The problem with that dingy colony suddenly becoming this huge center is with how mass effect (mis)handles the flow of time.

      I don’t know. I think the bigger issue is that Bioware really loves to use callbacks and cameos.
      Take Dragon Age 2. Leliana could pop up in an utterly pointless cameo (ignoring her potential death in DA1). Her presence served absolutely no point other then allowing Bioware to go “Look at our awesome character. WEE!”.

      I feel like Horizon is similar. Why is Sanctuary on Horizon? What purpose did it serve? None whatsoever. It only allowed Bioware to make a callback to ME2. That and make Kaiden/Ashley look yet again like a dick with their “You were the only Cerberus there”-line.

  20. Jingleman says:

    I think Sanctuary is all about establishing or reinforcing the notion that TIM is indoctrinated. If one were inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to ME3, one might use the idea that TIM has been indoctrinated for some time to help rationalize or justify the Cerberus bits. The Sanctuary mission shows the sort of research they were doing with Reaper tech, which inevitably leads to indoctrination for all involved. This mission is among the more explicit references to Cerberus being unduly influenced by Reapers, but it is a pervasive idea. Thus, anytime Cerberus does anything counterproductive, incompetent, or in opposition to its stated goals, it is possible to blame it on Reaper influence, causing Cerberus to screw up everything for everyone else, and themselves.

    Not that I’m willing to give ME3 the benefit of the doubt.

    1. SleepingDragon says:

      This. Sanctuary could open a debate on how much of TIM’s plans is indoctrination (even at the end he’s obviously not indoctrinated into the state of a mindless drone). There is some nice irony in there that his plan to control the reapers would probably set him on the path to the kind of technological solutions employed in the crucible.

      However, at this point the damage is long done. Yes, some stuff can be justified with a bit of mental gymnastics, some of it would even make for cool discussions afterwards, but I was already so annoyed with so many things in the game my trust in it wasn’t so much broken as ground into fine powder by angry krogans stomping on it for hours.

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        Doesn’t it mention at one point that the Reapers were beginning to get antsy about TIM and started engaging him though. Apparently the Reapers can’t keep their pawns in check.

        1. StashAugustine says:

          So the Illusive Man is part of a Reaper rouge cell?

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            Exactly. Cerberus is a rouge cell of the Reapers.

            1. Ofermod says:

              A rogue cell within a rogue cell? Rogue Cellception?

              Yo dawg, I heard you liked rogue cells, so I put a rogue cell in your rogue cell so you can slaughter civilians while you slaughter civilians?

              1. newdarkcloud says:

                I’ll one up you: You dawg, so I heard you like rouge cells, so I put a rouge cell in your rouge cell so you can kill Reapers for a pro-Reaper agenda while you kill humans for a pro-human agenda.

        2. Indy says:

          Yeah, the game never really says what actions are Cerberus’ own initiative and which are the actions of an indoctrination. This is the reason I don’t buy the ‘But they’re indoctrinated!’ defense for attacking the Citadel or Sur’kesh.

          1. Indy says:

            Dammit! I meant ‘indoctrinated agent’ on the second line.

          2. SleepingDragon says:

            Personally I believe that all the Cerberus actions in the game are ordered by TIM, except that the way I understand it throughout the game he isn’t under direct control of the reapers since he was never really in the presence of one. However studying all this reaper tech, especially the corpse of the “reaper larvae” (which he seems to get whether or not you destroy the collector base) has been slowly chipping away at his perspective and altering his priorities. Again, if the game managed to keep me emotionally invested it would make for a really cool subject to discuss.

            It pains me to make this comparison but TIM was obviously written as a sort of tragic figure parallel to Saren. Both are convinced they’re saving the galaxy, both operate under the presumption that they’re overarching goal is worth the sacrifices they make along the way, both are unaware of just how strong the alien influence on them is, the action of both would ultimately doom what they’re trying to protect, when challenged about it they even both have similar defenses of “I’m not indoctrinated! I’m saving the galaxy!” If the failings of the game (as I perceived them) and the experiences in 2 didn’t make TIM so annoying to me I’d risk saying their overall arcs are too similar.

            1. anaphysik says:

              There’s nothing wrong with making such a comparison. Especially since TIM at the end of ME3 is very definitely a Saren knock-off. The only problem comes when someone claims that TIM is a *good* Saren knock-off ;)

            2. Jingleman says:

              Yes, I think that this is the only way an “Indoctrinated TIM” defense of Cerberus comes close to working, the idea being that the degree or type of indoctrination can vary based on the importance of the person to the Reapers or the goals they have for him. It’s similar to the explanation in ME2 for why Cerberus didn’t implant Shepard with mind control chips or the like; the Reapers don’t necessarily dominate or control every mind, if they want what’s special about the person to remain intact. Some people are simply influenced, and their judgement deteriorates, and their goals are shaped and eroded gradually to align with the Reapers, resulting in some erratic behavior in the process.

              I think that there is enough foundation there for such an interpretation that if one’s “trust” in the narrative (to borrow Shamus’s pet term) is intact, it’s possible to rationalize Cerberus in this way. I make no claim as to the quality of the work or plausibility of any such interpretation.

  21. Mike S. says:

    Another random question I think of every time I get to her in the game: Oriana was taken from her father as an infant, and brought up by completely different parents. (Probably on Illium.)

    Why does she have the same accent as Miranda? (Back in ME2, they carefully avoided the question by never having Oriana talk.)

    Not that it’s impossible– though even if Miranda carefully picked Australian foster parents, kids tend to absorb accents from where they actually live. But it’d be a much more effective way of distinguishing them as characters than hairstyle.

    I don’t know how Strahovski is at accents, but I’m told she does a good American accent, and since her parents were from Poland odds seem decent that she could manage that as well.

    1. Jingleman says:

      I’m a little curious about why any of the characters have different accents. The codex and novels made a big deal about how homogeneous humanity is getting, such that racial indicators are only supposed to be vaguely indicated rather than obvious, and Earth is supposed to be covered in mega-metropolises or some such, which I would think tends to blur regional dialects.

      Plus, there’s a whole thing with a universal translator at play, too, though I don’t know how that would affect people speaking the same language from different dialects. It does, however, make very little sense to have different accents among speakers of foreign languages and aliens, if the translator is changing it to Shepard’s preferred dialect, anyway.

      Incidentally, the universal translator is why I accepted certain “too human” idioms that the hosts of Spoiler Warning tended to criticize. I don’t remember if it was explained in the first codex or a novel, but it supposedly works like a central database that is important enough to everyone that even species that have cut diplomatic ties to the Citadel will take care to ensure that it’s still updated with their most current linguistic trends. I just assume that when Wrex said, “Women…” before, that was just the translator giving us the closest human cliche to whatever bit of Krogan sexual politics he expressed.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        If I remember correctly the translator gives everyone accents.Why it does so with other humans though,I have no idea.

        1. Mike S. says:

          It’d be sort of funny if Oriana was actually speaking an asari language from growing up on Illium, and the translator gave her Miranda’s intonations because that was the English speech dataset it found on the extranet that most closely matched her natural voice timbre.

        2. Jingleman says:

          If it is the case that the translator gives everyone accents, it wasn’t mentioned in the codex entry I was referencing, which was apparently part of the “Bring Down the Sky” DLC. Nonetheless, aliens do have accents, so the translator must be doing that. For some reason.

          1. I’d love to think that you could tell the translator to give someone whatever accent you wanted, like assigning someone’s phone number a specific ringtone.

            1. Mike S. says:

              Or it could go further than that:

              “…Are you Luthor the Earthling technician?”

              “I prefer the term Terran, actually. Earthling always sounded kind of sappy to me.”

              “Non sequitur. Are Earthlings not Earthlings?”

              …”I believe the subject does not realize he is hearing the intentional translator over his head. When any of us refers to your racial ancestry it is translated in you perception into whatever word you expect to hear.”

              “You mean I hear you saying Earthling but if I wanted to I could hear you say Terran?”

              “Non sequitur,” the bug-thing said again.

              “I know, I know. They sound like the same word to you.” Luthor was very pleased. He’d learned something new. “What’s my race now, bug-eyes?”

              “As I referred to you before, you are a Terran. I am a bug-head. The creature who just addressed you is a vulture-face. We will ask all further questions.”

              Luthor wondered if any of his interrogators could fathom the reason for his wide grin, or if they knew what a grin was. Here he was, twenty-six light-years from home, locked in some crazy room in his birthday suit listening to his jailers insult themselves. He hadn’t enjoyed being locked up this much in years.
              –Elliot S. Maggin, Superman: Last Son of Krypton (1978)

      2. ehlijen says:

        The idiom thing seems to only work into humanish though, not back into turian/asari:

        When defending the wall on palaven’s moon Vega will yell “like shooting fish in a barrel” and no matter what other companion you have, they will act confused and ask what that means.

        On the other hand, no matter who else you bring to Eden Prime to get prothy, they will make a dinosaur joke to Liara…

        1. Jingleman says:

          I chalk that up to relative degrees of completion of the database, but it’s a fair point.

        2. anaphysik says:

          Lorik Qui’in on Noveria also specifically finds amusement in using human (i.e. English, obviously although to be fair Noveria does also have a human NPC who seems to be speaking Japanese through a translator) idioms. Although I suppose he technically could actually be speaking English rather than a turian language through a translator.

          And, of course, this topic does bring up the matter of idiom translation in general; there’s several times when literal translations are used (example from the top of my head: Wrex on nathak tails).

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Cant wait for someone to equip a bfg with a lightsaber chainsaw,so that the world can finally explode from the sheer ridiculous awesomeness.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      … that shoots other swords.

      1. Ofermod says:

        It’s a gun, Frank. A gun that shoots swords.

      2. IFS says:

        No it has to shoot sword-chucks, preferably flaming sword-chucks.

        1. ehlijen says:

          Flaming chainsword-chucks dipped in poison that will make your blood explode.

          1. newdarkcloud says:

            Flaming chainsword-chucks dipped in poison that will make your blood explode with a cute cat keychain on the end.

  23. Dragmire says:

    I was hoping Josh would check his email from “asari military command”.

    I want to hear his thoughts on that, hopefully he’ll see it without it being spoiled for him.

    1. Ofermod says:

      Oh goodness yes. Strongly in favour of.

  24. Guildenstern says:

    While Chakwas may or may not be a real Earth surname, it is however an anagram for “hacksaw”.

    I actually kinda liked that, as it was sort of a throwback to Dr. McCoy’s nickname from TOS (“Bones” being short for “sawbones”, an old civil war nickname for field doctors). Man, remember when this series referenced classic sci-fi instead of Michael Bay movies?

  25. Hal says:

    Oh Shamus, you might be the only other person I know making Strong Bad references anymore. I miss that guy.

    Hm . . . maybe I need to go replay Strong Bad’s games. Those were awesome.

  26. Dasick says:

    I find it slightly grating that no one has yet mentioned the significance of Zhu’s Hope to the Mass Effect series. Specifically, the section where you either save or kill the colonists.

    That mission right there? About as close Bioware has gotten not only to a true Paragon/Renegade(P/R) choice, but also to non-binary morality choices.

    PS Hey Shamus, have you ever thought about a sidebar thing for the blog to keep track of the latest posts? Would help keeping older discussions alive. Always a shame to be a little bit late for an interesting discussion (why yes, I did post a comment in a dead thread. How did you know?

    1. Ofermod says:

      True Paragon/Renegade in terms of “Paragon is the idealist, Renegade the pragmatist?” Yeah, that was a pretty good section, especially since the gameplay fit with the choices (and yet, it didn’t affect the *rewards*, which would induce metagaming).

    2. Mike S. says:

      I think Bioware has come closer to non-binary morality choices in the Dragon Age series than in Mass Effect. There’s no clear right answer to the dispute over the Dwarf throne, nor is there a really comfortable solution to the ongoing Mage Problem.

      Not that I really need or want every game to be full of gray, unsatisfying choices. I have real life for intractable problems, and sometimes I’d like a nice space opera in which you get to be the hero and stop the bad guy. I think the conflicts surrounding the krogan and the geth/quarian conflict are really interesting. But I’m just as glad the game at least offers the option of finding a decent, non-tragic solution, even if it comes at a price.

      Re the linked essay in that post, I suspect the author and I have almost orthogonal interest in games given his “Games Hurt Stories, Stories Hurt Games” premise. I’m not sure I’m ever even tempted to play any games without stories these days. Even back in the Golden Age (which, as SF fandom long ago established, is twelve) I would make up plots for the repetitive, Sisyphean activities in the arcade and 8-bit classics.

      I respect clever game design for its own sake, but it doesn’t grab me. (When I tried playing the online Flash 2-D version of Portal, I thought it was really clever, But without GlaDOS and the unfolding of Aperture and Chell’s situation, I got bored and never went back.) If game design in general followed his lead, I’d personally have to find a new hobby.

      1. Jingleman says:

        Seconded. I generally only play games for the storytelling. I like longer-form media. Novels and movies are on the short side for me; I like to be able to live with the characters and settings for a long time. Games provide that, or can. I’m constantly baffled that people spend so much time with casual games that have no story to tell. What a waste. It’s like the reality TV of videogames. Same goes for multiplayer, too, unless one is spending time with friends online.

        Gameplay mechanics and storytelling don’t have to get in one another’s way. I think the real trouble in RPG games that emphasize choice is that the limitations of the medium make branching narratives difficult to sell. ME2 spent all that time building characters, the undisputed highlight of the game, but because they all could have died at the end, they are mostly limited to brief cameos and modular functions that can be handled by generic replacements in ME3. Even in Deus Ex: HR, when I got to the part where you decide Malik’s fate, I had a sneaking suspicion that it didn’t matter, that she’d be out of the rest of the story anyway, and so it was. Maybe that’s what the above-referenced critic was getting at: when the mechanics of the RPG require choice, but the limits of the medium dilute consequence, the narrative component of the game falls flat.

        1. TSi says:

          True but some players still manage to build emotional bonds with these characters and seeing them later makes them feel happy even though it’s only through a generic cutscene or a comlink chat. ( I was happy to save Malik on the 3rd atempt for instance).

          I didn’t expect much more from these games. I don’t see what the devs could have done to make them better in this aspect. Maybe you do and can give examples ?

          1. Jingleman says:

            I think that’s my point. I don’t expect much more from the devs because the medium is limited. It would be tough, for example, to have a continuing story develop with Malik after that point, because the devs would have to account for the players who didn’t save her so that they didn’t feel shortchanged by missing it, and resources are limited in the dev process. So, even though you and I preferred to save her because we liked the character and had some emotional or sentimental attachment to her, and even though we were happy when she lived, it’s still the default in that situation to assume that it’s a goodbye to the character, live or die. Maybe that’s enough, for now. My hope is that technology will eventually get to a point where developing these games is an easier, less expensive proposition, without limits on disc space and the like, such that it becomes feasible to produce a game where choices made early on would result in entirely different experiences going forward, rather than cosmetic changes to the same basic plot.

            The Kaidan/Ashley characters in Mass Effect 2 and 3, where one doesn’t even exist because of player choice, is probably the closest to that concept I’ve ever seen attempted, but the change is still more or less cosmetic. My sample size may be too small to say if that’s really the best attempt out there, and I would love to hear about other games that give that kind of real branching story a shot.

        2. Dasick says:

          What a waste. It's like the reality TV of videogames.

          Ouch, man, that’s really uncalled for.

          What if I told you, that playing a good game requires decision-making* and creativity, and being good at a game is a journey of mastery? In a way, playing a game is an art form in itself. What more validation does it need?

          *Make no mistake. Certain “casual games with no story” like Tetris offer more hard, ambiguous, irreversible decisions to make in 5 minutes of gameplay than the entire Mass Effect series put together.

          Gameplay mechanics and storytelling don't have to get in one another's way.

          Yeah, I agree, but it depends on the kind of storytelling you use. Linear narratives, such as ones found in books and film don’t work that well for games. Personally, I think that games need their own storytelling format, kind of like what Bethesda do with their environments, the tape recordings, the heart in dishonored: make the story part of the game, and allow the player to discover the different elements that make up the story at their own pace.

          1. ThomasWa says:

            Counter argument: Linear narratives can absolutely work in video games, as far as Silent Hill 2 is concerned.

            1. Dasick says:

              Hmm. Haven’t played that one – never had a console. But the idea behind why linear narratives and games don’t play well is discussed below.

              Is there anything about the way Silent hill approaches it’s story that’s different? I heard there are a couple of different endings… how does that work?

          2. Jingleman says:

            I stand by the reality TV analogy. I am making a value judgement about games that follows from the premise that the primary value of videogames is as a storytelling medium. Other premises might be adopted, like that “fun” gameplay mechanics are most valuable, or challenge, or a journey to mastery, or spectacular graphics. I reject those premises. I find them akin to those characteristics of reality TV that so many people find appealing, like the voyeurism, schadenfreude, and competition, all of which should be secondary at best to the most valuable thing that entertainment television has to offer: storytelling delivered by professional writing, acting, and directing talent.

            So yes, it is possible to say that people enjoy other aspects of casual games, but I find that irrelevant. To advance such a claim is to support a quality I consider less important than storytelling, just as one would have to do in defending reality TV. It’s not that I don’t recognize that there are other good things out there, I just consider it wasteful not to place story front and center, with everything else as a supplement. It’s not contempt for casual games, simply rejection.

            And there is nothing sacred about an “art form” that immunizes it from criticism. I’m sure that there is an art to shoveling out the elephant pen at the circus, but I still don’t want to be that guy.

            On linear storytelling: I find linear storytelling (by which I mean non-branching, not necessarily a fixed order) generally is the best (that is, most likely to be successful) narrative form for videogames, because it is less hampered by limitations of the medium than nonlinear storytelling. Developers can construct more powerful stories, and especially more powerful endings, when they can be certain of the player’s experience leading up to the final act. Silent Hill 2 is just one example. There are tons of others that bear mentioning: Portal, Half-Life 2 (most shooters function this way), Red Dead Redemption, Alan Wake (which I liked in spite of SW), and so on. A linear story that falls flat is the result of poor writing, not a good writer hampered by the need to wrap up multiple branches with limited resources to do so, as is sometimes the case with nonlinear storytelling.

            1. Dasick says:

              “Reality TV” wasn’t always a bad word, and still isn’t in case of the Discovery Planet (various cultures and animals shows) and MythBusters. What about documentaries then, which are confined by hard, cold facts and thus have a limit on how well you can apply “professional writing, acting, and directing talent”? What about instigative journalism, and shows like Errant Signal and Zero Punctuation? Are they somehow less valuable and wasteful because they’re not focusing on telling stories?

              It's not contempt for casual games, simply rejection.

              Don’t see the difference. What I hear you saying about Reality TV is that it is anti-intelligence and a waste of everyone’s time. As far as games go, that is not true.

              I'm sure that there is an art to shoveling out the elephant pen at the circus, but I still don't want to be that guy.

              It can still be an art form. And if you’re treating it as an art, then not only will you be more efficient, you will enjoy your job a lot more. Might even start looking forward to it.

              And there is nothing sacred about an “art form” that immunizes it from criticism.

              The only criticism I’ve heard so far is that it’s not a different art form. So, what is so sacred about storytelling that puts it above everything else?

              Developers can construct more powerful stories, and especially more powerful endings, when they can be certain of the player's experience leading up to the final act.

              Yeah I agree. That’s where the critic is going. Any form of interactivity creates uncertainty about the player’s experience. Simple things like camera controls for example, can mean that the player has not seen a key part of the narrative. The ability of the player to advance or to stick around a while longer really screws up all your pacing.

              So.. where exactly do you limit the audience’s interactivity? Should the audience be even allowed to interact with a powerful, well-crafted story?

              There are tons of others that bear mentioning: Portal, Half-Life 2

              It’s also worth mentioning that Valve storytelling relies on giving player the illusion of choice, the illusion that they matter. I can appreciate the art that is their sleigh of hand, but “game” has always implied the ability to make decisions that affect the game world, be it painstakingly modeled by a team of artists, or if it’s “just” a Go board.

              1. Jingleman says:

                As I said, I’m making a subjective value judgment that storytelling is more important than secondary characteristics of a game. Thus, I reject story-less games for the same (well, similar) subjective reasons that I reject reality TV. Thus the analogy. Also, I made a distinction above by qualifying “reality TV” with the word “entertainment,” to distinguish it from educational or news television, which are different media in which storytelling holds a different place for me. I do not consider storytelling “sacred,” but I do find it to be more compelling and intellectually stimulating than the other qualities of games that people (including myself) enjoy. I consider time spent without some narrative in a game to be wasted time. I have made no claim that these activities which I consider to be wasteful should be prohibited, or that people who disagree about the primacy of storytelling as a value in this medium are stupid or some such contemptuous idea. I’m simply sharing with you, internet friends, what subjective value judgement I’ve made, a philosophical “Theory of Worth,” if you will, and the standard that I consider in evaluating games, which is what we do in this site, right?

                I do not consider classification as “art” or “not art” to be of any value to this kind of discussion, because those terms are so nebulous anyway, and it’s just an attempt to lend some external authority to a concept that should be evaluated on its own merits. I.e., I like storytelling best. Maybe somebody else likes a challenge best. Why does the status of either of those things as art or not art matter? We’re talking about how we evaluate games. That’s why you have not seen, nor will you ever see, me arguing that something is more or less valuable because it is or is not an “art form.”

                On how stories are told in videogames, we seem to be agreed on principle, and at odds only in vocabulary. I’m using linearity to describe a story in which the plot isn’t changed by the player in a meaningful way (granted, there are some fuzzy words even there, but we’re getting closer to coming together). When I mentioned the player’s “experience,” I meant in terms of the major plot points, not the minor, miss-able story notes that are often available to players who pay attention. There’s always a baseline experience (unless the design failed somewhere), and a linear one can’t be changed by the player. Thus, I consider stories that give the illusion of choice or agency without meaningful plot divergence to be linear, which is what Valve tends to do so well. I disagree with the critic in question in that I think that developers should continue to attempt branching stories, and that player agency is a good thing, whether real or illusory. I merely recognize that limiting player agency is a valid approach that is easier to pull off well for most developers. The degree of player agency should always be a result of what the developer is trying to achieve, and the best developers understand how far they can push it given the type of game they’re making and the type of story they’re telling.

                1. Dasick says:

                  Good games create systems that generate unique situations, and give the player a choice to make, a choice that drastically alters the playing space, without the player having full knowledge of the outcome, but without it being a complete guess either. A good game puts the player on the razor’s edge of what she can and cannot understand, and tasks her to expand her comprehension. What is it about stories that make them “more compelling and intellectually stimulating than the other qualities of games”?

                  “Player agency is a good thing, whether real or illusory.” Why? If you want to tell a linear story, why give your audience any agency, real or imaginary?

                  1. Jingleman says:

                    I’m glad to hear that you think that. But I don’t see how that is relevant to my value judgement that I find storytelling subjectively more important, engaging, compelling, intellectually stimulating, fun, and so on, than the things you seem to value most. That’s what we’re talking about here. I like storytelling most in this medium, to the point that I feel like I’m wasting time if I’m playing a game without story, just like I feel like I’m wasting time if I’m watching Jersey Shore instead of The West Wing or Friends or something. You seem to have a problem with that value judgment for some reason. Why do you find choice or interactivity more important than narrative? Who cares why somebody likes one feature more than others? You’re acting like there’s some objective standard by which a “good” game is measured. That’s not the case. There are only subjective value judgments that we make about what we think is most important to us, and how much more important that is than everything else. Mine is that storytelling is primary, everything else is secondary, and some kind of story is a required deal-breaker.

                    On player agency, again, a value judgment. I find that player agency, that is, choice and interactivity, which you seem to be defending (though I haven’t attacked them) makes a game more engaging. More compelling. More interesting. I like it better. Sure, stories can be told without it, and when they’re completely devoid of interactivity, they’re called “movies.” But as I said, the degree of interactivity that is optimal depends on what the dev is trying to achieve. Indigo Prophecy, for example, was trying to achieve an “interactive drama” kind of thing, rather than the usual “game” label, and the interactivity reflected that. Skyrim goes the opposite way. It just depends on the game, and every dev executes its vision differently, and with varying degrees of success.

                    1. Dasick says:

                      But I don't see how that is relevant to my value judgement that I find storytelling subjectively more important, engaging, compelling, intellectually stimulating, fun, and so on, than the things you seem to value most.

                      I was offering the opinion that well made games are just as important, engaging, compelling, intellectually stimulating, fun and so on. I also offered the reasoning behind my opinion.

                      I still don’t know why you think stories offer those things, or even why you think they’re better at it.

                      On player agency, if you’re trying to tell a powerful, linear narrative, how does player agency benefit that goal? There are tons of ways it can screw you over. I don’t know any instance where it actually helped the powerful linear narrative.

    3. Lame Duck says:

      You know, I hadn’t really thought about it like that, but you’re right that it is probably the closest the game comes to actually implementing a choice that matches what renegade is stated to be and it is a non-binary choice. However, I still maintain that it was a terrible choice because the mechanics fail to support it. It was completely trivial to save all of the colonists, so the renegade choice of murdering them just comes across as bloodthirsty and pointless. Plus, the persuade/intimidate system so heavily encourages min/maxing paragon or renegade points that the non-binary choice becomes a binary choice again.

      1. Dasick says:

        The execution wasn’t the best, but that section alone justifies having an action-rpg hybrid. It really makes 0 sense to create hybrids, and games-within-games unless you somehow make the elements of one bleed into another. Otherwise, there’s no point in making RPG fans sit through t the action, and action fans sit through the RPG bits.

        Sigh… I really wanted to see that idea being developed further in the sequels.

        1. Jingleman says:

          Surely there is value in hybrids as a bridge between the genres, right? They can serve to introduce players to types of games they wouldn’t have considered before. An RPG player who enjoyed the action in Mass Effect might give Gears of War a shot, and a CoD fan who enjoyed the branching story or character development might consider the Elder Scrolls or Fallout (I guess those are kind of hybrids now, too, but you get the point). That’s a good thing, right?

          1. Dasick says:

            Can’t tell if you’re trolling me or not.. but here goes:

            Plain and simple it’s false advertisement and contempt for the consumer’s time (and money). If I buy a game advertised as a shooter, I want to sit down and play a shooter; I should be playing a shooter as soon as possible. I paid good money for it, and it’s really disrespectful when the developers force me to stop playing a shooter and try to shove RPG bits down my throat. I’m an adult and I have the right to choose what’s in my best interest.

            If you want to attract people to try different genres… why not put out a free demo? Maybe even make a deal with shooter publisher so that their CDs carry demos for your RPGs and your CDs carry demos of their shooter. Humble Indie Bundle introduces many people to many different games and genres in a similar fashion.

            1. Jingleman says:

              It’s not false advertising. Devs always go into detail about the features and mechanics in the game during the marketing push before release. If you didn’t know that Mass Effect is different than CoD, then that’s on you. There are plenty of straight up shooters out there, and none of them say “action RPG” anywhere on the packaging, reviews, press releases, trailers, or any other marketing materials. It’s not like they’re trying to sneak it in. They’re trying to get the word out and attract as many kinds of gamers as possible.

              Then, people who choose to play hybridized titles get exposed to elements that they might want to explore in a more genre-specific game later on. That’s a good thing. Contempt for the consumer would be refusing to make available any game that pushed the boundaries of preconceived notions of genre if there is a market of open-minded consumers who continue to enjoy those products. Contempt for consumers would be putting everyone in a shooter or RPG or RTS or MMO box, and refusing to believe that someone might like more than one style of game. Giving us options? That’s a good thing.

              It’s not like players are under any obligation to spend their money on hybrid titles, but they might have a responsibility as consumers to do some minimal research about what they choose to buy. “False advertising” is a strong allegation, akin to fraud. That’s just flat-out not going on here.

              1. Dasick says:

                If there is no bleed-through between the different genres, they’re not one game, they’re just two games living together. They aren’t part of a bigger game, and selling the two as one is misleading* and it erodes the trust for future hybrid games, which is a problem: one of the paths to innovation is taking two existing elements and combining them together.

                *You’re right about the “false advertisement” claim. I went overboard.

                1. Jingleman says:

                  What’s misleading about it if they tell you how it works beforehand, which was the case with Mass Effect, and all the other hybrid games I can remember? It’s not like they’re saying “action-RPG!!” and then keeping secret what they mean by that. I happen to like the injection of RPG elements like dialogue trees and leveling into shooters, but I’ve never seen a game that sprang it on me unexpectedly, at least not when I’d seen any of the marketing materials or press coverage. Maybe I just don’t get it. If people like the mash-up of the two, and the devs tell everyone how the game works before anybody buys it, then how is it a bad thing? Even if you tried it and didn’t like it, isn’t that good, too? You now know not to buy those kinds of hybrids, so you won’t be voting for them with your dollars, and if there are enough consumers who think like you, then the market will follow. That’s all good from where I’m sitting. I’m intrigued by this, though, so if you think I’m still missing something, I’m willing to give it another look.

                  1. Dasick says:

                    If people like the mash-up of the two

                    There’s no problem with a mash-up, or as I call it, the bleed-through effect (should call it mash-up… less typing).

                    However, unless the two game systems are a mash-up, ie the RPG elements significantly affect the shooting and the shooting significantly affects the RPG, they’re not one single game. They’re two games that exist side by side, and oftentimes they’re connected by a really slow and inefficient ‘interface’ because the developers failed to realize that they made two games instead of one.

                    The misleading part is when they’re selling these two separate games as one.

      2. Jingleman says:

        I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a game with this kind of morality metering gameplay where the rewards for the different choices are significantly different, though my sample size may be too small. It seems to me that it is hard to accommodate both Paragon and Renegade types of players such that they both feel like their choices are significant, yet neither of them is shortchanged or punished for their chosen play style in the long run. I wonder what the best execution of that idea has been?

        For the record, I preferred the Elder Scrolls model, where there are a number of ways to play as a good or evil character, but the game doesn’t bother to count morality points (at least that it shows you). There’s so much more freedom that way.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Though the Elder Scrolls model presents the problem that the PC can be thanked for their worldsaving and scolded for their light fingers in successive lines by the same guard. Paragon and renegade may be arbitrary, but at least they point towards some persistence and consistency in the way the world responds to the protagonist.

          1. Jingleman says:

            Quite true. You make a good point, though I’m not sure that the morality component was the big problem there. Skyrim pretty much failed on all points at acknowledging player actions as far as I was concerned. Maybe that’s too harsh. But I saved the world from being devoured by an ancient evil, and nobody seemed to care very much. Then, I ended a civil war, and nobody seemed to care about that too much, either. All I’m saying is that I would like to see a system that acknowledges the way you play and the things you accomplish without making it into a binary good/evil or paragon/renegade thing.

            I was always a little miffed, for example, in Fable 2 when I was given impurity points for eating meat, a value I do not share with Lionhead Studios, apparently. I’ll happily trade the persistence and consistency for freedom to play according to my own conscience, rather than being subjected to a dev’s ideas about morality. Generally speaking, of course.

  27. Irridium says:

    Speaking of Origin and streaming, it seems Origin will soon be integrated with twitchTV, meaning you could be playing a game on Origin, a friend clicks your name, and is watching you play.

    Might make streaming a bit easier. Maybe.

    1. anaphysik says:

      Sounds useful for LP’s, I guess?
      Because for normal play that just sounds creeeeepy… <_<

    2. Indy says:

      But of course, it’s only for EA games. Since this season will end in a couple of weeks, it doesn’t seem like the cast will get a use out of it.

      1. Irridium says:

        Not quite, just for any game that’s on Origin. This includes games not on Origin that you’ve added yourself, kind of like Steam’s “add non-steam game” option. Origin’s getting this as well when streaming is added.

        So it could be for any game, really. And it provides a reason to use Origin, even if you aren’t going to buy anything from it. Pretty smart move for EA. Sure, not everyone is in to streaming, but it’s something.

  28. Jen says:

    FYI.. Henry Lawson is a famous Australian poet. Which could explain the Australian accent in the video replay.

    Henry Lawson is on the 10 Dollar note in Australia.

    1. Jingleman says:

      Neat! That’s probably where the name came from (I wonder if that was planned from ME2), but I think the accent was probably Australian just to accommodate Yvonne Strahovski as the voice of Miranda.

  29. TSi says:

    EA is releasing ME3 enhanced on wii U … No, it’s not a joke…

    1. Deadpool says:

      Why would it be a joke?

      1. anaphysik says:

        I’m still expecting the ‘Wii U’ to be a joke.

        1. On the one hand, the Wii made shedloads of money for Nintendo.

          On the other, the worst games on it were ones that used the Wiimote as a gimmick (most of them) or were ones shoehorned onto the platform from other systems, requiring either simplified/redone control systems that didn’t really fit or “dumbing down” of the game itself (like Dead Rising, which couldn’t handle hordes of zombies on the Wii).

          Nintendo and its developers need to realize that the console either needs some kind of “standard control mode” that lets you use something like a non-motion controller, or they need to just concentrate on making games that actually fit the controls/setup they’ve built for their hardware.

  30. Jakale says:

    Am I the only one that saw Miranda’s dad and was immediately reminded of a terrible scientist dad from another game?
    More than that, even. Miranda is a motherless child whose abilities, appearance, and probably gender were completely customized to preference, much like a character from another game. Something weird is going on here.

    1. ehlijen says:

      Trust cerberus to find a way to make a waterfilter explode with the force of a nuke…

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        That would explain why I was railroaded into fixing Dad’s broken dehumidifier.

  31. Johan says:

    The thing about Origin bombing your immersion with “This Dude” is now online

    That is one of my biggest complaints about Steam too :/

  32. RCN says:

    Frankly, I didn’t even remember Horizon by the time I got to the Sanctuary.

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