Mass Effect EP19: Exposition Surge

By Shamus
on Dec 16, 2012
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

At five minutes into the episode, Josh and I both deliberately keep quiet while an NPC talks? At length? Who are these people? These impostors aren’t the Spoiler Warning crew I know!

This is my favorite part of the game. The meeting with Vigil is pretty much the heart of the Mass Effect 1 experience for me. I think most people cite the meeting with Sovereign as the big turning point in the game, but this meeting with Vigil is the part where the game really hooked me.

What would it be like for a newcomer to play the games in reverse order, I wonder? Both the first and last games have an encounter with an “oracle” of sorts, and both moments use the same musical cues. Here at the end of the reverse-playthrough we have a meeting with Vigil the shapeless construct, missing his Jamaican accent, who doesn’t seem to know anything about the catalyst, and is surrounded by statues of clearly non-Prothean beings. And where the hell is Cerberus? Nobody even mentions TIM at all! Why is Liara such a child all of a sudden? Why don’t my guns need bullets now? THIS GAME SUCKS!

Actually, if the comments I see are any indication, the backwards player won’t ever reach this point: They’ll be driven off by the mushy combat mechanics before they ever assume direct control of the Normandy from Anderson.

Anyway, great moment. Loved the voice work of David Shaughnessy as Vigil.

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2020202012There are now 92 comments. Almost a hundred!

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  1. Basekid says:

    Wow, I forgot how good this part of the game was.

    ME1 really was/is a better game than ME2 and ME3 in terms of storytelling and emotional involvement.

    • Zombie says:

      To be fair though, ME2 and 3 had the better combat. For what little good it did the series.

      • Ciennas says:

        So. I keep reading this comment over and over again. How hard would it be to rerelease ME1 with the improved combat engine?

        Call it special edition, make loads of moolah, and maybe add a couple of missions that actually perform the prerequisite foreshadowing.

        (Not to suggest performing rewrites are any good, from what I keep hearing, but would the series have gone over better if 1 had at least mentioned the coming major players? Do they?)

        • Mattias42 says:

          I don’t think so, a space god child, all your choices reduced to numbers and 3 different colors of explosion…

          Seriously, it sounds like a bad joke!

          Personally I don’t see how foreshadowing could have saved that.

        • IFS says:

          I actually prefer ME1’s combat in a lot of ways compared to ME2, I don’t think it would need to be updated to have a new combat engine, just work on refining and balancing what they have.

          • StashAugustine says:

            Even though I still insist ME3 had far-and-away the best combat in the series, I do miss the feel of biotics in ME1. I wish they;d just confined all the damage/debuff to tech powers and biotics were basically ragdoll city.

            • Aldowyn says:

              You still have push and singularity and stuff, although they aren’t really worth anything until their defenses are stripped, making them so much less awesome :/

              • StashAugustine says:

                The game becomes about damage and biotic explosions rather than sending people flying through the air. Ragdolls are just a fun bonus than your entire strategy.

                • Thomas says:

                  But you have to wait 30-40 seconds (with may upgrades) before you can start ragdolling. Compared to 3 seconds. Also before this site taught me that you can detonate with pull or shockwave I used pull and throw for ragdolling all the time. Compared to ME1 where they were available for such a short amount of time, once per battle ish, I considered it a waste if they didn’t kill whatever I aimed at.

            • swenson says:

              ME1 did have immensely entertaining biotics. I still marvel over the fact that maxed-out Lift can pull geth colossi off their feet. Bases? Whatever they’re called.

              Now if we could’ve had entertaining ragdoll physics PLUS biotic explosions…

          • drkeiscool says:

            I played ME1 on easy as a Soldier. It was somewhere between fun boring in the later parts when I had exploding bullets in my prototype rifle, and didn’t even need to take cover.

            For all the faults of ME1’s combat, I miss third person shooters that didn’t have or need a Gears of War cover system.

  2. ? says:

    And you doubted that Reaper plan was beyond mortal comprehension!

  3. newdarkcloud says:

    “The meeting with Vigil is pretty much the heart of the Effect Effect 1 experience for me.”

    Should be Mass Effect 1.

  4. Mogatrat says:

    I don’t know, I dug the Prothean African (not Jamaican) accents. Someone suggested it’s a nice throwback to how humanity originated in Africa, and I like the idea. That said, Vigil’s voice work IS awesome, so I dunno.

    • Otters34 says:

      I liked the accent too, mostly because it was new and clashed with the expectations of what the Protheans would sound like. Why’s every philosopher race got to sound British?

      But then there were all the OTHER revelations about the Protheans, which…were less enjoyable to me.

      • el_b says:

        The protheans Were not philosophers they were Conquering assholes.

        I much prefer this game’s view on them though because it showed forthought beyond ‘let’s seal this guy up and then in 50,000 years he can come back and maybe punch one of them before being laserbeamed to death!’. they actually tried to hide a large enough group of scientists and soldiers to repopulate their race and make sure the cycle ends. they just didn’t realize how long it would take for the reapers to leave and ran out of power, Meaning that all they could end up doing was delaying your cycle, giving their lives so you can have a chance. it’s a much more tragic tale than javiks gears of war story.
        I can imagine that’s if this story was done in the same way as this in the third game, with much higher production values it would have been a major highlight of that game. then again they’d probably find some way to ruin it.

        I could have talked to vigil all day, was disappointed to learn that he just decided to off himself as soon as you left despite still being functional and Being a major piece of evidence that the council would have a hard time ignoring.

        • ehlijen says:

          Javik was not the only one they sealed up in that vault. Didn’t they say in the cutscene that the idea was to store a million protheans in that bunker, but that plan had to be scaled back to a single guy because the reapers found the place and demolished most of the stasis pods and power supplies?

          Javik was the only survivor, but they tried to save far more than that.

          Though honestly, if reaper ground troops are at your doorstep when you seal it, how did they not kill everyone inside over the next hundred years? That neutron bombardment couldn’t have set them back more than a few days (and if that neutron blast was able to take out reaper destroyers so easily, why wasn’t there anything about that weapon in the prothean data instead of that crucible thing? Or is that where the cain came from?)

          • False Prophet says:

            Was it Reapers directly, or was it just indoctrinated among the ranks of the cryogenic group? I thought it was the latter but I don’t remember.

            Also, Vigil’s charges were the scientists. I thought Javik’s colony were a battalion whose mission was to take leadership of the races of the next cycle and forge them into a weapon of vengeance against the Reapers.

            • ehlijen says:

              No, it was the reapers directly. In the flashback cutscenes you see Javik order troops around to oversee sealing all the vault doors before they begin the stasis preprations while under full attack. Each of those flashback cutscenes starts with a reaper destroyer stalking through a city.

              Hint: if your secret base is being attacked all out, sending everyone to sleep and hoping the enemy forgets about you isn’t going to work. Even if you then set off a nuke on top of yourself.

              But I got the impression that it was meant to be a fullblown attempt to revive the prothean empire with new subjugate races after the reapers. The plan was changed to vengeance only after most of the pods failed to survive the battle + selfnuking.

        • Otters34 says:

          “The protheans Were not philosophers they were Conquering assholes.”

          Point, I keep forgetting that part. But in ME1 we didn’t know that yet!
          And agreed on how sad the story of the Ilios protheans is, it’s one of the better minor parts of the universe, where aliens willingly went and did the Mt. Doom run on the off-chance they could save future generations.

        • Nick says:

          “The Protheans were not philosophers they were conquering assholes”

          Ah, that’s why they’re voiced by the British then :P

          (And I say that as an Englishman…)

    • LunaticFringe says:

      Pretty sure the accent is Nigerian. Saying ‘African’ accent is like saying ‘European’ accent. I know people from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Uganda, they all have different accents (ethnographic regionalism and colonialism leads to a lot of variety).

  5. Otters34 says:

    “…but this meeting with Vigil is the part where the game really hooked me.”

    Ouch. Anyway, totally agreed on the quiet wonder of speaking with Vigil. It’s always nice when writers give you enough answers to explain what’s going on, but not too many that it removes all mystery.

    I was hooked way before this point, largely because my own standards back then were…somewhat lower. It was the first time you go to the Citadel that did it for me, because for years every science-fiction game I played seemed to take place in either ruins of past glory or else was a strategy game, and thus a little more abstract about its awe moments.

    I still don’t see how Mass Effect‘s combat was so terrible, though.

    • Aldowyn says:

      It wasn’t terrible, but it definitely had its issues (not that ME2 and even 3 doesn’t).

      It was less based on player skill and more on stats, for sure, and some fights were just unfair, especially if you ran into them at low levels.

      • James says:

        fighting anything with rockets (especially rocket drones) on higher levels was a pain, they one shot you and you have a maby 4 second window between attacks to shoot them, and they always have friends, so as a VG you’d Barrier, Marksman and spam bullets then once you OH spam grenades until everything is dead

      • lurkey says:

        You know, for some of us “stats > player’s twitch skills” isn’t a bad thing really. :-) I cannot recall any unfairly hard bits either (on normal difficulty at least) either, unless you choose to ignore all those tech and biotic skills in favour of pure shooting.

        I also loved how ME1 allowed you to just stand behind the wall/crate/other obstacle instead of automatically sticking you to it like a magnet to a fridge that 2 and 3 did.

    • Khizan says:

      It was a shooter without what I consider to be the basics of a good shooter. I can’t tank the shots, so I’ve got to either dodge them or use cover. A ton of the weapons are hitscan, though, so I can’t really dodge. So I’ve got to use cover, which is clumsy and clunky.

      And I’m playing a biotic, which is pretty cool the one time each minute where I can use my biotic powers. But the rest of the time I stand behind cover of some sort and awkwardly edge around to plink at dudes with my pistol.

      And then Wrex kills everybody while I’m doing that, and I realize that I’m not actually having any fun in the gameplay section. Combine it with the game immediately throwing you into Marathon Simulator 3010: Citadel Style, and you end up with ME1 earning the prestigious title of “The Best Game I Absolutely Hate Playing.”

  6. Galad says:

    “The meeting with Vigil is pretty much the heart of the Effect Effect 1 experience for me”

    It’s either a mind typo, or a clever pun I’m not grasping, I guess..?

  7. Bryan says:

    “I think they lost a bit more than you, Tali.”

    …Well, up until the third game anyway…

  8. Awetugiw says:

    I actually did quit the game before taking command of the Normandy the first time I played it. It just wasn’t the combat that put me off the game, it was the utter incompetence and stupidity of Udine, Anderson and Shepard when they try to convince the council Saren has gone rogue.

    It’s kind of weird really that a game that is often considered to have mediocre shooty bits and very good talky bits starts with such an awful talky bit.

    I didn’t touch the game again until I watched part of the spoiler warning season and saw the game gets better later on. (Thanks, by the way.)

    • Thomas says:

      I feel you there. Worst beginning as far as plot and talking goes in almost any game I’ve played. (the beginning still had a new brand new world sense of wonder and the citadel looked absolutely beautiful though and for me that more than made up for the actual talking and plot being bad)

      • Aldowyn says:

        The Normandy and Eden Prime were really cool, I think, and parts of the Citadel, but it just took so long… Bioware’s had issues with introductions dragging on in the past (*cough* Taris *cough*)

        • Ofermod says:

          Yeah. Being able to skip that opening cutscene would be AMAZING, especially on replays.

          • Thomas says:

            All the environments were cool and the settings were incredible and the mission wasn’t bad. But every single cutscene and half the dialogue before you hit Noveria/Feros is terrible and often pretty painful to watch. The overall game feels good because the setting is fun and exploring the citadel is fun.

            …okay maybe the Normandy before you hit Eden Prime is pretty good, if ridiculously exposition heavy. But when you replay and have the foreknowledge of Jenkin’s ridiculous depth it makes 25% of conversations on the Normandy stupid too. Even before I knew that I was already 1)not enjoying Jenkin’s telegraphing and 2) felt there was no way he should have been allowed on this ship. And then you choose to take him on a mission?.

            Eden Prime itself is five cutscenes, one is Jenkins which is cringe awful. One is Ashley which is Convenient Replacement bad. Then you have the convo with the scientists which is okay. Then you have Nihlus doing the ridiculously clunky turning his back thing (it didn’t even make sense to move like that!) and then you have the conversation with the smuggler which is the kickstart of the stupid council stuff

    • lurkey says:

      Still beats the unskippable beginning of ME2, when first you suffer through two idiot assholes having a long ass conversation about how Shepard is, like, so awesome and totally badass and awesome and stuff, then through stupid crash with the tribute to KOTOR’s underwater section, and then that surgery thing. Ugh.

  9. LunaticFringe says:

    I think that it’s somewhat dependent on who went back to play this game after playing the other two. Some of the more ‘old school’ RPG elements could honestly turn some of Bioware’s current audience off of it. Like it or not Bioware has been constantly trying to make their format more ‘accessible’ to new players and have stripped out a lot of the bells and whistles (I recall one of the developers on the second game admitting that they had ‘no idea’ what half the leveling mechanics in the first game did).

    Also you just know that there would be people who would complain about not being able to romance Tali or Garrus from square one.

    • Thomas says:

      ? It had pretty much the exact same mechanics as ME2,3 except you have lot of mini steps before an upgrade. Are you sure he wasn’t talking about not knowing what a 1% increased weapon accuracy or .1m increased radius meant in terms of actual gameplay? As in he was critiquing the first system as useless

      Because I don’t believe anyone would be employed by a company to stupid to understand the ME1 levelling system. My 12 year old sisters could understand it (I mean they make Little Big Planet levels and thats infinitely more complex) and I’d trust it to anyone up to maybe the age of 7, because the ones that gave a boost to three abilities might be confusing for someone that age, particularly since the upgrade line for each ability isn’t always called that abilities name. And a 7 year old would probably miss the fact that increases to encryption also allow you to attempt hacks on higher lever things.

      I mean it wasn’t exactly more complex than Pokemon. In fact it didn’t come close to the complexity of Pokemon. I refuse to believe a grown man couldn’t understand it, unless he was being hyperbolic and calling it obtuse and non-meaningful

      • StashAugustine says:

        Yeah, the issue with ME1’s system was that during endgame you’d kill a hundred geth and you’d get a 2% boost in shotgun damage out of it. 2 was way too small- not enough powers and not enough choice, but 3 did a really good job of it. Only thing I miss are prestige classes.

      • LunaticFringe says:

        My mistake, comes with reading a quote a couple years ago and having no memory of the context. It was one of the minor writers on the Dragon Age series, Sheryl Chee, and she just vaguely mentioned it in one of the developer posts when discussing Dragon Age 2’s leveling mechanic. Probably has more to do with the ‘just random numbers going up’ factor rather then the actual system, as you mentioned. A Something Awful thread about Jennifer Hepler’s 2006 interview blew the quote out of proportion just after Dragon Age 2 came out.

        • Raygereio says:

          Mass Effect 1’s levelling system was hilariously bloated. But it did not hide information, you knew you were increasing your weapon damage with a whopping 2%.

          Dragon Age: Origins had the rather odd design choice of hiding the numbers from the player. If you picked talents like Shield Bash or Pummel, you had no idea what it actually did beyond the general “attacking the enemy”.
          I’m not suprised that some of the developers also had no idea what did what. After all, you had to use the DA Toolset in order to see the numbers and no sane person would want to use that thing.

          One of the few good things DA2 did was show you the numbers so that you knew what your powers actually did.

          • LunaticFringe says:

            She was actually referring to a question about whether Dragon Age 2’s leveling system would be more complex with powers gradually being upgraded, similar to Mass Effect’s. Her response definitely comes off like she felt it was too bloated, which I actually agree with. I thought Dragon Age 2’s leveling was actually pretty good as well.

          • Aldowyn says:

            :/ Shield Bash is a stun, and pummel.. I forget, it’s been a while. I definitely knew what they did though, although probably not the exact damage numbers.

            DA:O was a long time ago.

            • Raygereio says:

              Here’s the ingame description of Shield Bash:

              The character shield-bashes a target, dealing normal damage as well as knocking the target off its feet unless it passes a physical resistance check. Shield Mastery adds an additional attack with the shield.

              And here’s that of Pummel:

              The character follows up an attack with two hits from the shield, dealing normal damage with each attack. If the target fails a physical resistance check, it is stunned. Shield Mastery adds an additional attack with the shield.

              Okay. Both are abilities that attack the enemy. Check. But what do they do? For example: How long is the stun duration? Or what about that resistance check? What’s that? Is the check the same for each or are they different – meaning that one can be useless to some targets while the other talent isn’t. Never clarified.

              Compare that to the description of Shield Bash from DA2:

              The warrior’s shield arcs out, striking foes like a battering ram.
              Physical damage: 1.7x
              Physical force: 12x

              Aha! Numbers! You can compare it to other abilities to know which one is usefull and which one isn’t.
              Mind you, in practice DA2’s combat design is terrible, so you’ll just end up spamming abilities mindlessly. But dammit, at least you know exactly what it does.

              • LunaticFringe says:

                There is a bit of fun to be had playing a Mage and yelling “LIGHTNING BOLT! LIGHTNING BOLT!” over and over again though.

              • ehlijen says:

                I honestly had no problem with not knowing the numbers. It’s computer game. The computer is supposed to take care of all the number crunching for me. The first hits the enemy once and then maybe takes it out of the fight for a short bit, the second hits the enemy twice and then maybe takes it out of the fight for a short bit while triggering a ‘sneakattable’ state for any rogues you might have.

                That’s enough to know which is better when for me. I don’t care whether the stun duration is 2.4 or 3.2 seconds or if the physical resistance is 60% or 45% (you get multiple hits in the same time as one attack, that’s good enough to do this while waiting for whatever else you’ve got to recharge). You pretty much ended up taking all the powers from your favourite weapon tree anyway.

  10. 4th Dimension says:

    While ME combat was okay, and I never hated MAKO (I even enjoyed driving it, I think), this part where you rush to the conduit drove me insane. I probably attempted it a dozen of times before making it.

    Also, maybe Saren couldn’t simply flip a switch, because up until Eden Prime Sovereign and were still piecing together what happened with the Keepers, and putting in place other plans, like sneaking Sovereign and his Geth escort flotilla one jump away from Citadel.

    • some random dood says:

      That’s pretty much how I fanfic the “race to the Conduit” thing. The reaper’s goal was never the conduit, but the tale in the middle of Vigil’s dialogue that players may even be able to skip over and miss entirely.
      “I have sent the signal to the Citadel, but it is not responding. I have woken up too late, and there are species with enough firepower that I cannot force my own way to the controls. I have sent agents, but they have not been able to discover what was done to lock out Citadel’s systems. I need to find out what the Protheans have done!
      So the whole Ilos thing is actually about discovering what the Protheans had done to the Citadel, and working out a counter. That there now existed a back-door making the job easier to infiltrate the Citadel via the Conduit was just good fortune.
      (Though I will admit there are too many areas in ME1 where this type of hand-waving over poorly thought out plot points does not work – “This evidence is incontrovertible!” has me spluttering renegade thoughts on even my most paragon playthrough…)

  11. Aldowyn says:

    Starting with Virmire, the entire sequence through to the end was incredible, and still is every time you play. It’s past all the problems of the early part of the game where the combat feels almost unfair, and the game finally lets loose with the plot and everything. In the space of a few hours, we have the confrontation with Wrex, Sovereign, Saren, choosing Ashley or Kaidan, Vigil, and then the final level on the Citadel. It’s just a spectacular finish.

  12. zob says:

    This might sound heartless but I’m kinda glad that Bioware is dying. My only complaint is that it’s not dying fast enough.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Unfortunately it will now NEVER die. It has been assimilated by the Geth/EA, and they will procede to “upgrade” it untill only a shambling husk remains, cruelly mocking our memories of better times.

  13. Thomas says:

    I played ME2, ME3 then ME1. I feel like it was the best way to play the series really. Not having TIM wasn’t an issue but suddenly seeing that Cerberus were more Mad Scientists than IRA helped me understand why other people had such a strong dislike of them.

    But in contrast there were a lot of things I didn’t like in ME1 probably brought on by ME2, ME3. Cinematography, combat, sidequests, character interaction and most things about the ending. There were expectations about the level of depth I’d get to learn about the crew and how much I would talk that weren’t met be ME1. But generally it holds up a lot more than ME2 or ME3 would have the other way round. Some of it was probably less the expectations of ME2 and ME3, but hearing you guys talk about how ME1 did x better. I probably wouldn’t have completely hated the Saren bossfight for that.

    Also my picture of Shepard from ME2 had him more knowledgable and aware of the universe than going around asking what a Solarian was. KotoR was awful at this too

    The sidequests might have made me ragequit the game though. Those were awful in every way imaginable. Luckily the main quest line seems pretty short.

    I really wish you’d visited an alien culture in ME1, it would have been by far the best game in the series to explore. World design was so much better and the mini hub system was vital. But it seemed to be saving the aliens for the sequels :(

    • drkeiscool says:

      You know, I think ME2 is one of Bioware’s best games if taken alone. I’d even rank it after KotOR (I haven’t played Baldur’s Gate, so no opinion on those two). Plotwise, its irrelevance really hurt it, unfortunately.

      But the characters felt complex and fleshed out, and most went through character arcs. The combat and RPG mechanics may have been shallow, but I still enjoyed them.

      I started at least seven games with both KotOR and ME2, and finished about four or five of them each. The only game I have played more is Alpha Protocol.

      The biggest problem with ME2 is that it’s the middle of trilogy, and instead of being the rising action, it just takes us nowhere. But that never really bothered me when I played it. I just enjoyed it too much.

      • Aldowyn says:

        That last part, definitely. I mean it IS pretty much irrelevant to the series’ plot, but dang if it wasn’t fun.

      • swenson says:

        I was about to say “but ME2 has no plot!”, and then I realized you did say that. So we’re quite in agreement!

        I don’t know anymore if I have a favorite of the three. There are aspects of each that I like, and aspects I dislike. I vastly prefer ME3’s leveling system, for example (more streamlined and sensible than ME1’s, infinitely more interesting than ME2’s). But I love the characters from ME2. And I like ME1’s story most of all because it hangs together pretty well (if you ignore everything that comes after it). I love ME2’s side planets and the fact that there’s more than one hub world… I love ME1’s Citadel… I love the emotional payoff of certain characters’ stories in ME3 (Tuchanka, for both Wrex and Mordin; I genuinely liked Rannoch when I first played through it and liked it for both Legion and Tali).

        I suppose if I was forced to choose one, it’d be ME2 as well. I prefer aspects of ME1 and ME3, but ME2 was a good game. Just the story was… nonexistent. It is literally “Hey, the Reapers are stealing people. Oh look, now we have confirmation the Reapers are stealing people. Oh look, now we have to go through and kill them all.” ME1 and ME3, there’s a real sense of plot progression and each major mission leading into the others. ME2, there’s just… not much there. As much as I love the character missions, they’re really only there to pad out the game because there is nothing else in the main story.

        • drkeiscool says:

          One of the reason’s ME2 is my favorite is because it was the second Bioware game I had ever played; KotOR was the first. That’s why the plot doesn’t really bother me.

          I’ve never been a stickler for gameplay. As long as it’s functional, I can usually find fun in it (and sometimes, even when it’s not). A well-presented story is critical, though.

          If you can mentally divorce ME2 from the rest of the trilogy, I think its story is actually the best; not the Reaper-Collector thing, but gathering the ragtag bunch of misfits, learning who they are as people, gaining their loyalty, and saving the galaxy in a suicide mission from an enemy that wants to liquefy humanity.

        • Aldowyn says:

          That’s why ME3 is STILL my favorite. The gameplay is so much better than ME2, IMO, it actually HAS a plot, and we get to see the culmination of all these series-standard plotlines like the Genophage and the Geth-Quarian conflict, while all the characters still have their moments.

        • Kian says:

          I can never forgive ME2 for killing Shepard in such a pointless way.

          You should never kill the main character of a series, unless you know very well what you are doing and you want to make a point about something.

          You should especially never kill a character, any character, and then bring them back. If you still do it, it should matter. It should be central to the plot, and have a huge impact on the character.

          If you are going to kill a character, and then bring him back, for god’s sake, leave time for the death to affect the player! Some amount of mourning. Don’t kill him in the teaser and bring him back at the end of the opening credits!

          ME2 broke every imaginable rule for death in a story. Shepard has only a couple of throwaway lines at the end of ME3 about it, that’s how irrelevant to everything his death was! It feels like the marketing team wanted an awesome KIA poster for the trailer, and the story writers did the least possible with it out of spite or something.

          The unskippable cinematic at the beginning of ME1 might be annoying, but it was also pretty good. Frankly, after playing all three games, ME1 is the only one with a sensible beginning.

          You are the top operative of the Alliance, being enlisted to join the ranks of the most shady, powerful and prestigious organization in Council space and are appointed a mentor to watch over you until you are deemed ready. On the way to your first assignment, something goes wrong and the mentor dies. Classic stuff — interesting too that Bioware likes to have fun with this beginning, and between Jade Empire, KotOR and ME1 they managed to keep it fresh.

          In 2, you die, a terrorist organization retrieves your remains and brings you back.

          In 3, and this was the most offensive to me personally, Shepard becomes mentally challenged and needs to be told, while multiple Reapers descend on the Earth, that they need the Galaxy working together more than they need one more body on the ground.

          So, as far as the beginning is concerned, ME1 wins hands down.

          Combat wise, ME1 got stale after a while. But then, I played ME1 several times, completionist on the highest difficulty (wanted to have a good start on ME2) as an infiltrator. Enemies had so much HP! It didn’t make combat more engaging, just more tiresome.

          ME2 and 3 are tied in my mind. I can’t think of any of the skills in 3 that would feel misplaced in 2. I only played 3 once (I’ll talk about the ending later), and 2 multiple times. I feel 3 was a bit more polished, but considering the jump from 1 to 2, 2 gets ahead in my mind.

          The side missions in 1 were terrible. As much as I loved the MAKO, they should have made sure those planets were at least navigable. And made the jets help you, rather than just push you straight up. The prefab bases grew stale pretty quickly, although the missions themselves were interesting normally. Yeah, a few were ‘go in and wipe everything out’, but some others could have different approaches.

          ME2 takes a different approach. Frankly, there are just so many missions between recruitment and loyalty for everyone that the opportunity to wade through a hundred identical bases is not missed. They also included more interesting enemies. Again, 3 follows 2 very closely in this regard. The most generic missions they have are the introductory missions for the multiplayer maps, and they were decent (and surprisingly fun in multiplayer, too!)

          As far as missions are concerned, I’ll give 3 the win here. You are no longer working for Cerberus, which is a big plus, and you are wrapping things up with different characters, which feels very good. I think the high point of all my playthroughs has to be reuniting the Geth and the Quarians (got it in one try, no spoilers). The Tali romance was very sweet too, if you had that going on on top of everything.

          Endings… I’ll give it a tie between 1 and 2. The last mission, walking along the outside of the presidium tower with Sovereing looming all around was awesome (though it felt a bit too long at times, blame the combat system for that). Finally confronting Saren, making him kill himself, then bringing in the cavalry to save the Council was pretty awesome. The fight with the resucitated Saren was a bit corny, especially how killing him weakens the ship form, but I was willing to cut them some slack. Players expect to be the ones to personally stab the big bad through the heart, I guess, and this was the only way to kill a kilometer long spaceship in one on three combat.

          The suicide mission on the other hand is awesome, from beginning to end. Again, I got it right on the first try (full loyalty and picked the choices that seemed most reasonable for each part). Rescued my crew even, since as a completionist I had no missions left to dawdle aside from Legion’s loyalty one. But then it ends on the reveal for the whole game, the baby reaper and all, and it’s just so STUPID. The fight with Saren was video gamey, but it made sense. Sovereing HAD to get at those controls, and Shep was all that was in his path. It was a Hail Mary plan that didn’t work. The baby reaper ruined everything that the death and resurrection of Shep had left unsullied.

          And the less said about ME3’s ending, the better.

          Plotwise, ME1 wins hands down. I doubt the writing of either 2 or 3 could have sparked a following to fund three games. It was the rich universe the first game envisioned that drove the game forward. And I’m pretty sure the ME1 characters (Wrex, Tali, Garrus) are the most popular still. Mordin comes close, too.

          2 is irrelevant to the whole deal, since you don’t even manage to convince anyone, and 3 has you wanting to make everyone abandon their homeworlds and trust a device no one knows anything about (even though they are building it) just so they can save yours. Again, “Take Earth back!” might make for some engaging marketing, but it sucks as military strategy when trying to save a galaxy.

          So, after this analysis, I have to say my favorite game of the series remains ME1. Not because ME2 and 3 are bad games, mechanically they are in fact superior, but because 2 and 3 weren’t up to the task when asked to deliver on the promises of 1. And because they were so stupid about it(two different points, they could have failed without being stupid, and then they’d probably have outshined me1 in my eyes).

    • Wedge says:

      The sidequests were the worst of any game I can think of right now. They were tedious, monotonous, and for many of them you get exactly NOTHING for completing them. I played through the game 4 or 5 times, and I did not bother with the sidequests at all after the first one, and it improved the game substantially (though it cut it down to about 10 hours).

  14. Nick P. says:

    One of the things that stuck with me is the Ilos music.

    Perfect eerie soundtrack for a dead world…

  15. Christhegamer says:

    I just realized that Mass Effect is a game series that actually gets worse as a whole as each new entry is released. Not only did the story go completely down the drain, but all the gameplay-improvements of the sequels make it very hard for me to play the first game. The more I look at it the more I think Mass Effect is a huge mess that is still so interesting I can’t look away.

  16. Deadyawn says:

    I think the whole thing with Sovreign bothering to get Saren to find the conduit was simply a precaution. Yeah, Sovreign knew that his ultimate goal was to gain access to the citadel but the conduit was an unknown and presumably he didn’t want it interfering. Once they’d discovered it and what it did it simply became a convinient way to get back to the citadel. Makes sense to me.

  17. the backwards player won’t ever reach this point: They’ll be driven off by the mushy combat mechanics before they ever assume direct control of the Normandy from Anderson.

    Don’t forget the inventory.

  18. Tom says:

    I loved ME1 & 2, but have absolutely no intention of buying 3, based on what I’ve seen of it.

    I would, however, pay good money, possibly even full price all over again, just for a direct port of ME1 to the ME2 or ME3 engine. Keep the original voice files, the original movies, the original character models and levels, the original plot, and just update the combat mechanics, controls, weapons upgrades and inventory system to what they have now. It would be a serious value-add to record more dialogue and have more character interaction for some of the lesser side-quests that currently resort to text-boxes and prefab dungeons filled with standard mook NPCs, but not essential. You could probably do the bulk of the work just by writing some conversion scripts to import files from the old engine to the new.

    Bioware/EA could probably do this with their pocket change at this point and, I’d wager, make a solid profit on it, but it’ll never happen – it’s way too far outside the standard, comfortable, unimaginative, take-no-risks-and-change-nothing-once-it’s-done business model of cranking out endless sequels with constantly improving graphics and gameplay and constantly deteriorating writing, and never, ever looking back.

    • Tom says:

      Failing that, I’d like to see new games in the ME universe which aren’t quite so focused on humanity – I want to play as a young quarian starting on their pilgrimage, or a turian trying to manoeuvre within the complex hierarchy of Palaven. I want to feel the dilemma faced by a Krogan tempted to abandon his planet and become a bounty hunter. Humans are, for obvious reasons, the least interesting specie in the whole ME universe; why would I want to only ever play as one? I’d rather dive into the rich, alternative cultures so tantalisingly hinted at by the codex, and see the universe through different eyes.

      • Otters34 says:

        And why stop with just the ‘good guy’ races?

        How do the batarians see their all-encompassing xenophobia, and are there people with dissenting views on it, some who want them to be more open and those who want to be less? How do they justify it to themselves, could they be persuaded to take a brighter view?

        Is there more at work among them than just being total bastards who don’t see other races as people?

        Hey, you could even do some stuff with the elcor, hanar or volus, or those people in that Matrix-thing that throwaway news story had.

        There is great stuff to work with in the universe! It’s just been side-stepped because of the blasted metaplot with the Reapers.

        • Thomas says:

          I want this so much. There was just too much human in every one of the ME’s. In some ways I’m hopeful, they said your next character might not even be a soldier, so they’re thinking.

          If they’re worried an alien would put to many people off, then I want to be a human, who by freak of nature, ended up growing up on a Quarian ship. Or something like that. Keep the epic low, focus on showing off one of the races. (The Krogan would be the least interesting, they’re the only race that we got to really learn about, but every other race (okay they’d also have to radicalise things to make the Asari work) has so much opportunity. It would play to their strengths, world building and character interaction.

          • Tom says:

            Heck, how about a mixed-specie character? Star Trek got a lot of mileage out of that aspect of B’Elanna Torres, for example, and they certainly don’t have many qualms about cross-specie relationships in ME. The levo & dextro DNA thing might restrict certain combinations, I suppose, or a certain amount of scientific assistance might be necessary – but that’s just an excuse to bring a conflicted, medical genius character like Mordin back to fix it, and everybody loves that guy.

        • Tom says:

          It may also have been sidestepped because of a general “renegade” shift in the games’ writing. The first game is balanced and defaults to a more or less neutral position, and you can nudge in the direction of “paragon” (all species are just people, treat them even-handedly) or “renegade” (humans come first, humans should be in charge, humans are special) as you prefer or see fit. In the second game, by forcing you to work with Cerberus towards Cerberus goals, you’re railroaded into walking an overridingly renegade path, even if individual actions and interrupts along that path may veer in the paragon direction. At best, you can make a few token efforts to show the universe you’re a paragon with no choice but to currently act as a renegade (and that’s not necessarily bad writing, but it would have been much nicer if they’d actually had some effect on the game-world, e.g. if other NPCs had actually responded to some of them by tempering their “you’re with Cerberus, how could you?” conversations a bit). In the third, it seems you can pay lip service to the other species if you pick the paragon options but, ultimately, the whole thing is still pervaded by a “humans are what’s really important” vibe, from the final battle on earth, humans taking all the initiative, right down to the damn advertising spiel about “taking back Earth.” Even if you play a paragon Shepard, that only really seems to manifest locally, within missions; the overall plot seems to be written firmly in renegade mode.

          It’s as if the writers’ opinion of their audience’s imagination and capacity to empathise with non-human characters has steadily declined; the first game thinks nothing of presenting an entire galaxy in peril and expecting you to care about everyone in it, without marking out humans as anything special. The second scales that scope down a whole lot and really only cares about human colonies. The third is focused squarely on earth, and that damn kid that died.

          Suppose, now, that the kid at the beginning had been written to be, say, Turian. Perhaps Shepard is on Palaven on some mission and taking the time to engage in the local culture, perhaps this is the first time we’ve seen a Turian child, and we give the player a chance to interact with this kid, “Hey, sport, whatcha doin'” kind of thing. Maybe a little of “I’m wary of you, human, my grandfather told me about the war,” maybe leading into something like “Hey, your people tell a story about the stars a lot like ours!” (remember the Shepard and Garrus storming heaven thing? Remember how *good* that felt to hear?) Then, just as you’re making a bit of progress in cross-cultural relations, the reaper schtick happens.

          Granted, this is as horribly cliched as anything the ME writers have thrown at us, but I think it would be just as powerful as the extant scene with a human kid, a heck of a lot more interesting, and maybe just a bit less predictable and a bit less in the “renegade is what we really wanted you to pick, humans always come first” vein.

          • Otters34 says:

            An excellent idea, maybe even go even further for the whole ‘turians are all about that sweet, sweet self-sacrifice’ thing with the boy and Shepard trying to escape, and the turian deciding along the way that they’re slowing Shepard down, and willingly dying so the experienced and beloved soldier can escape.

            Makes it far more meaningful and likely to impress itself on Shepard’s heart than just sorrow that SOME KID DIED!!!
            (of course, in the aftermath of the recent attacks on schools in America and China that does sound a bit callous)

            • Keeshhound says:

              If there’s anything callous about “some kid died” it’s that the writers saw it as an empathy button, rather than an actual tragedy. The fact that people rejected such a blatant attempt at emotional manipulation only serves to highlight how contemptible that approach to storytelling is.

  19. Paul Spooner says:

    I’ve never played any of these games, but listening to this episode really pulled it together for me. All the big bones of the story arc are right here. Of course, it kind of falls apart later, but you can see where it was headed. Very cool.

  20. anaphysik says:

    Sovereign’s first words: “You are not Saren.”
    Vigil’s first words: “You are not Prothean.”

    Intentional?

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