Mass Effect Retrospective 16: Re-entry

By Shamus
on Oct 1, 2015
Filed under:
Mass Effect

265 comments

I’ve found that retrospectives like this one can be very therapeutic, both for the author and the audience. If we find ourselves annoyed and frustrated at the way the story has failed us, we can’t very well do anything to fix it besides compose ever-more convoluted headcanon to try and patch over the holes. But even though we can’t fix the story, there’s a certain satisfaction to be gained in enumerating and organizing the problems as a way to give them a sense of finality and closure.

The opening of Mass Effect 2 is doubly painful. Not only is it packed with retcons, but it’s also exposition-heavy and clumsy. This is painful because the first game had already paid off the expositional overhead. With the Mass Effect 1 setup, the second game would have been free to jump right into the action without the need for an extended series of setup scenes. By breaking from the existing status quo, the writer obliged themselves to twist the world in knots to make the new setup work, and then they executed the transition in the most desultory way possible.

Re-Entry

The effect is hard to spot in still frames like this, but it`s pretty obvious in motion.

The effect is hard to spot in still frames like this, but it`s pretty obvious in motion.

At the opening of Mass Effect 2, the Normandy is flying around the Terminus Systems looking for Geth. A strange ship (the Collector ship) pops in, spots the Normandy despite their stealth driveI’m not going to cry foul over this one. Someone mentions it, so it’s not an oversight. I’m okay with them being able to spot the Normandy, given the handy excuse of “Reaper Tech”. It’s lampshaded. No foul. and attacks. Shepard runs around, gets seemingly “everyone” to the escape pods, and is then blown out into space. We see Shepard flailing, his suit leaking atmosphere, vanishing into the distance. As we fade out, we see what appear to be “re-entry” particle effects around him as he drifts towards the planet below.

Somber music plays, and we transition to the “bringing Shepard back from the dead” opening credits montage.

Some people insist Shepard didn’t really enter the atmosphere, simply because that is too stupid to believe.

Case against: Shepard only floats a hundred meters or so. Was the Normandy really hugging the atmosphere of this planet? If Shepard really fell through the atmosphere, then he either turned into a wet crater on the surface, or (more likely) was totally incinerated. I mean, atmospheric deceleration is extreme enough that it routinely disintegrates rocks, which is why we don’t have to hide in underground bunkers during a meteor shower. In either case, if Shepard had fallen into the planet there shouldn’t be enough of him left to fill a shot glass. He’s not just dead, he’s stopped existing. This scenario is so preposterous that we simply can’t entertain it.

Case for: What else was the author trying to say here? The Normandy and Shepard were moving together, and the Normandy crashed on the planet. Therefore, Shepard falling into the atmosphere was an inevitability of physics. The “re-entry” lines get stronger as Shepard moves away from the camera and closer to the planet, which suggests that the author really was trying to imply that Shepard’s body did in fact pancake on the planet. No other outcome is possible. Yes, that’s ludicrous for any number of reasons, which is probably why people look at this scene and think, “No. That’s not actually what I’m seeing. It’s just… stylized. Or something.”

CAUTION: METAL FLOORS AND WALLS MAY BE FLAMMABLE SOMEHOW.

CAUTION: METAL FLOORS AND WALLS MAY BE FLAMMABLE SOMEHOW.

So right in the middle of upending the status quo, the writer throws in this sequence that’s either artistically inept or scientifically illiterate. Either way, it’s incredibly jarring. It’s yet one more thing to yank the viewer out of the story and encourage them to start questioning everything.

(There was a comic released to fill in the two-year gap between Shepard’s death and resurrection. The wiki has a plot synopsis, but it doesn’t seem to clear this issue up. Shepard’s body is recovered off-screen and put into a stasis pod, without explaining where the body was found.)

Shepard is then brought back to life in the opening credits and the tutorial mission involves him escaping the facility and teaming up with Jacob and Miranda. From there he’s taken to see The Illusive Man. There’s another short mission, and then it’s revealed that Cerberus has built a new Normandy and many surviving members of the old Normandy crew have left the Alliance and joined up with Cerberus. We’ll go over all of that in much more detail later in the series.

Drama vs. Details

SHEPARD: Is that supposed to be a LITERAL SUN outside a LITERAL WINDOW, or is it just a big hologram screen?  THE ILLUSIVE MAN: I know, right? So awesome.

SHEPARD: Is that supposed to be a LITERAL SUN outside a LITERAL WINDOW, or is it just a big hologram screen? THE ILLUSIVE MAN: I know, right? So awesome.

This ineptitude with regards to establishing the new setup is a little easier to understand if we view this huge mess as the wreckage of shifting from “Details First” to “Drama First”. I’m not suggesting this change was deliberate. It’s just that this second game was (seemingly) written by a different writer who had different passions and sensibilities, and that writer either did not understand or did not value the contributions of the first.

There’s a lot of speculation on who wrote which parts of the series, given that the Mass Effect 1 writers appear in the Mass Effect 2 credits, along with some new names and the EA logo. There was a bunch of politics going on at BioWare while this series was being produced. The company was bought by EA during the development of the first game, and development resources were being poured into The Old Republic at the same time.

I often find myself examining individual parts of Mass Effect 2, looking at the tone and trying to figure out who wrote it. I have my own theories about Who Wrote What, but I don’t have anything to back them up and I think they would be a distraction from our efforts to examine the game as a whole. It’s all speculation and gossip and guesswork, and I don’t think there’s anything useful to learn.

Naming authors would be an exercise in assigning blame, and that’s not why I began this series. I’m trying really hard to keep this focused on the art and not the artists. I’ll leave the “who ruined Mass Effect?” argument to others.

So I’m going to continue talking about the “Mass Effect 1 writer” and the “Mass Effect 2 writer” like they’re different individuals, even though both games were written by overlapping but slightly different teams. This is simply for convenience on my part and to avoid cluttering up this entire series with footnotes and speculation.

Anyway, getting back to “details vs. drama”…

Those are all really good questions, Shepard. But let me answer those questions with another question: WHO LIKES SHOOTING DUDES FROM BEHIND COVER?

Those are all really good questions, Shepard. But let me answer those questions with another question: WHO LIKES SHOOTING DUDES FROM BEHIND COVER?

Yes, the details say it makes the most sense for our hero to be at the center of the action because of his relationship with the beacons, the Protheans, Vigil, and Liara, but it’s more dramatic if he’s central to the story because he’s a famous badass superspy who came back from the dead to Save Us All.

Yes, the details say that we should be working for the council, but it’s more dramatic to have us working for a mystery man with glowing robot eyes and a hidden agenda who has a crazy space-throne room that would strike Palpatine as “perhaps overdoing it a bit”.

Yes, the details say that improvements to the Normandy should be part of an in-between game retrofit, and that Cerberus as presented in the first game is barely able to run a lemonade stand much less act as a galaxy-spanning superpower, but it’s more dramatic to have the ship blown up in the opening and replaced by this shadow organization.

Yes, the details state that saving the entire galaxy from the Reapers should be our priority, but it’s more dramatic to fight against bug-faced collectors who are threatening humans, and kidnapping your friends.

Yes, it’s ridiculous that Joker and Dr. Chakwas would leave their highly respected positions with the Alliance and sign on with an actual terrorist organization with the blood of hundreds on their hands, and who may be personally responsible for the worst thing that ever happened to Shepard, but the story is so much more dramatic if our friends come along!

Yes, the details (and common sense) dictate that people ought to stay dead, but it’s so expedient to establish our new villain by having them kill the main character.

(You can put sarcastic scare quotes over the word “dramatic” in the previous paragraphs if you need to. It’s okay. I understand.)

I`m just going to ignore that question and play with this cigarette for ten seconds of screen time before changing the subject.

I`m just going to ignore that question and play with this cigarette for ten seconds of screen time before changing the subject.

So much of the debate here centers around whether or not these events “made sense”And to be clear: They really don’t.. How did a generic terrorist organization – one with no narrative build-up in the first game – bring someone back from the dead? How did they build this ship? Why did your loyal Alliance crew abandon their lifelong careers to work for this terrorist organization that was blatantly behind some atrocities that Shepard dealt with in the first game?

But these questions are a dead end. You end up arguing over codex entries, which are maybe kinda supported by other codex entries, and this one thing that guy says if you pick the right question on the dialog wheel. And if you do an item-fetch sidequest then Chakwas gives you a new excuse that’s slightly less implausible than the excuse she initially offers. And then there’s a link to some forum where some guy has constructed twenty paragraphs of fan-cannon that “explains everything”.

We act like this would be an acceptable way to start act 2 of a story and the only problem is that the writers forgot to properly fill out the right codex paperwork. But this approach to establishing a new status quo is brutal hack job with no sense of pacing, build-up, pay-off, or structure.

In the first game, the codex was a reward, a place where lore-hounds could go to get a deeper understanding of the world. In the second game, it was where they stuffed all their retcons and excuses for whiners who didn’t like working for terrorists instead of trying to save the galaxy.

Switching Genres is Dangerous

I sense something. A presence I`ve not felt since the prequel trilogy.

I sense something. A presence I`ve not felt since the prequel trilogy.

This shift in genres (or at least, in tone) cuts both ways. Moving from a world of details to one of drama will destroy the rules that grounded the original, but going the other way is just as bad. In Star Wars, the Force is a nebulous thing controlled by feelings, relationships, and destiny. Darth Vader didn’t pull out some scanner to detect Obi Wan on the Death Star, he supernaturally sensed the presence of this powerful rival and former friend.

So it drove fans crazy when this drama-based element was reduced to technical details with “midichlorians”. Suddenly the Force wasn’t about sensing auras or seeing visions, or feeling strong emotions. It was about having a blood test and looking at the readout on the gizmo. Drama was reduced to details, and it was awful.

The death and abrupt resurrection of Shepard, the abrupt destruction and rebuilding of the Normandy, the sudden shift in the nature of Cerberus, and the removal of key characters from the first game – all of these changes eat up screen time, they’re incredibly jarring and off-putting to returning fans, and none of them are required to make this story work. Without an in-world or out-of-world explanation, they come off as sloppy. Perhaps even petulant.

When I criticize the plot failings of Mass Effect 2, people defend the game in terms of the gameplay and characters. And it’s true: The gameplay is better and the characters are fantastic. Yes, even Jacob, even though I make fun of him all the time. (I’ll talk about the characters later.)

But this creates a false dichotomy. It assumes we can’t have good game feel unless we upend the story. It assumes we can’t have Mordin Solus without working for Cerberus. It assumes we can’t have drama unless we get rid of all those icky boring details.

But whatever. The stage is set: Shepard is back from the dead and working for Cerberus. This setup either works for you or it doesn’t, but we’re done bellyaching about it for now. Much later in the series we’ll come back and look at this sequence in more detail, but for now we’re going to move on and talk about the gameplay.

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Footnotes:

[1] I’m not going to cry foul over this one. Someone mentions it, so it’s not an oversight. I’m okay with them being able to spot the Normandy, given the handy excuse of “Reaper Tech”. It’s lampshaded. No foul.

[2] And to be clear: They really don’t.



A Hundred!A Hundred!2020205265. There are now n+1 comments, where n is a big-ish sort of number.

From the Archives:

  1. Da Mage says:

    Compare the start of this game with the start of the first.

    Both begin with a long cutscene, followed by an ‘action’ part where the shooty-mans mechanics are explained….then the first one cuts to an area with very little fighting in order to world build. (I don’t know if the second does too, since i gave up about an hour in during the escape).

    However in the first one the cutscene gives some cues on the factions in play (Alliance, Alien spector, Shepard and Saren) and follows it up with a mystery of who the Geth. This mystery is quickly started to be solved right away in the first mission as you meet geth and see what they are doing. And the visuals of the first mission is a landscape romp going from cliffsides, forest, excavation and space port.

    The second game opens with questions, dialogue trees that answer nothing and then samey corridor shooting. Nothing makes sense, the cover shooting is SOOO dull and the characters are downright frustrating about what they will share.

    You are told they are Cerberus and instead of Shepard refusing to help them and trying to leave to get back to the Alliance, he just goes along with everything they say. This is the complete opposite to how he treated in the previous game, where he tried to destroy them completely. The dialogue trees feel forced and choices don’t matter…..which is the exast opposite of the first game.

    In the end (or rather beginning) I felt like I didn’t know what was going on, and had so little context that I didn’t feel like finding out more. As far as I’m concerned, Shepard stops the Geth in the first game and they forever stay asleep out in the void.

    • 4th Dimension says:

      ME1 in my eyes is helped by the fact that the beginning is extremely good at building the world and introducing the factions. And I LOVE the competent world building. I remember being sucked into the world and wanting to know MORE.

      Second lacks all of it and is more about AWESOME DUDE being AWESOME. Did you see that AWESOME effect. And Normandy now totally AWESOME. And so on which leaves me bored.

  2. Thomas says:

    Mass Effect 2 is the Rambo First Blood Part II, Step Up 2, Saw II to Mass Effect 1’s Rambo First Blood, Step Up 1, Saw I

    • Volvagia says:

      I’d actually change that Saw number from II to IV or V.

      • Thomas says:

        I’m not very knowledgable on my Saw stuff, is that when they began to get super gory and with a really different tone to the surprisingly quiet original or when they became not very good?

        • Nicholas Hayes says:

          Saw IV saw (heh) the departure of the original villain and with that they changed in tone and upped the gore factor. Saw II actually (IMHO) may be the best one in the series – yes, it didn’t have the art-house focus of the first one, but it was still interesting and mostly focused on twists and psychological exploration.

          But yeah, arguing over Saw vs Saw II is quite similar to arguing over Portal vs Portal 2 – they both have merits and appeal more to different groups of people

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Saw 3 is the one were they went full gore,but it still had some interesting ideas.4,not so much.2 was awesome.Saw 1 and saw 2 are like alien and aliens.

          • Thomas says:

            Alien and Aliens are really the same kind of thing though. I was thinking about including it, but Alien 3 was closer to Alien than Aliens and Alien 4 was who knows that. So it’s a franchise that flip flops everywhere instead of just becoming the trailer version of the first thing in the franchise.

            • Joe Informatico says:

              No, one’s a haunted house thriller IN SPACE and the other is a Vietnam War film and commentary on 1980s amoral capitalism IN SPACE. But none of the early Alien films were that invested in creating a cohesive continuity. That wasn’t very common in the pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation era. For every J.R.R. Tolkien or Frank Herbert, there were dozens of guys like Isaac Asimov, Michael Moorcock, the Star Trek writers, the Doctor Who writers, George Lucas, Gary Gygax, etc., who just built on to the stories they’d written without much of a plan.

              Same with the Alien franchise. Each director took the central premises of the setting (horrific unstoppable invasive predator; amoral corporate hierarchy; female empowerment; distrust of technology) and explored their own interests with. It’s expanded universe cruft, especially the Dark Horse comic books, that built a rigid setting that later Alien (and Predator) movies and games became slavishly devoted to over time.

  3. Henson says:

    I suppose you could explain away the re-entry problems by saying that the planet that Shepard is hurtling towards both a) has a weak gravity and b) has a weak atmosphere (I don’t know if these are actually the case or not, but it could be done). But like you say, it doesn’t address the real problem, which is introducing too many questions at once and providing far too few answers. I personally didn’t question the Shepard re-entry issue, but there were plenty of other things that did give me pause.

    • Matt Downie says:

      I don’t think physics says those would help.

      You might be able to reduce the atmosphere in an attempt to remove the entry burn, but the atmosphere is the only thing that slows your fall. So he’d hit the ground even harder. And reducing the gravity doesn’t help slow you down that much, because that means you’re falling for longer, which gives you more time to accelerate. Reduce gravity by 99% (in a vacuum) and it only reduces final collision speed by 90%.

      “Super space armor” might work better as an explanation?

      • WWWebb says:

        “Super space armor” that can be punctured in an explosion. That is a very specific amount of super….

        Maybe they just assumed that their target audience all remembered the beginning of Halo 3.

        • Thomas says:

          Miranda says that Shepard brain damage through ‘long exposure to the vacuum of space’ which suggests floating in space, but that never made any sense to me because you see Shepard reentry right? And it’s not like it looks like he was in stable orbit.

          A good indicator that even the writers probably didn’t know :p

          • Kian says:

            Also, YOU FIND YOUR HELMET IN THE CRASH SITE.

          • SKD says:

            If I remember my limited knowledge of orbital mechanics and fluid dynamics, it is plausible that Shepard was expelled from the Normandy with enough force to give him/her the necessary speed to “skip” off the upper atmosphere and enter a stable, or at least elliptical, orbit that would allow the body to be recovered at some point in the next few months…

            But as the preceding responder pointed out, you can recover your helmet at the Normandy crash site which indicates that your body came down on the planet. You might be able to make the case that the helmet was constructed of resistant enough materials and came in on an angle sufficient to protect the contents but the head contained therein would still be turned into a puddle of goo by the impact and if it wasn’t then at best their only course of action to restore Shepard would have been to transplant the brain into a supporting cyborg/android body or a cloned body.

      • djw says:

        Reducing gravity does help. As shepard falls through the potential well of the planet (s)he loses potential energy and gains kinetic energy. A lower mass planet with a smaller gravitational field would have a smaller potential well for him/her to fall through, and the end result would be less kinetic energy at impact.

        That said, the gravity on the surface seems pretty normal when you go back to visit later.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Thats only true when there is no atmosphere.With atmosphere,you eventually reach terminal velocity and gravity doesnt matter much when you are falling from orbit.

          • Thomas says:

            Gravity changes your terminal velocity though I think.

            • Mike S. says:

              The formula for terminal velocity includes both gravity and atmospheric density, and the depth of the atmosphere will also affect much time there is for the process to act on the object before it hits the ground. (If something falls quickly enough, it can hit at much more than terminal velocity because there isn’t enough time for it to decelerate.)

              Of course Shepard’s real problem is that the energy of the deceleration process shows up as heat. (That being what makes meteor showers worth watching.) So going from orbital velocity or higher to atmospheric terminal velocity just means trading a smaller or nonexistent crater for being cooked or vaporized– not helpful in providing a good-looking (or revivifiable) corpse.

            • djw says:

              Yes. Terminal velocity is the speed at which air friction matches gravitational force. With lower gravitational force air friction (which is proportional to either velocity or velocity squared depending on the density and viscosity of the air and the size of the object) will match gravity at lower speeds.

              The real problem here is angular momentum. Shepard was in orbit before all this started so (s)he has a substantial amount of angular momentum which is NOT going to go away without some sort of torque acting on him/her. Air friction would do the trick, but I suppose its possible that a third object (a moon for instance) could cause the orbits to slowly decay and eventually crash into the planet. This might be the best explanation, because it gets the Normandy debris to the planet (eventually) but not immediately, and gives Shepard plenty of time to be picked up in orbit.

              • wswordsmen says:

                What you are saying about angular momentum doesn’t seem to make sense. If you are saying reentry can’t remove it than how do real spacecraft return?

                If you are not an expert, I say you are wrong. If you are could you explain it to me.

                • djw says:

                  Angular momentum is a conserved quantity (just like linear momentum and energy). A spacecraft absolutely must reduce its angular momentum with respect to the planet it wants to land on before it can land.

                  It can do this by firing its rockets to reduce its orbital speed. Alternatively, it could use a gravitational assist from a third object to accomplish the same goal. Anything that can create a force perpendicular to the line between the spacecraft and the center of the planet will exert a torque that can increase or decrease the angular momentum. (torque = distance times force).

                  I’m not specifically an expert in orbital mechanics (or even close) but I do have a ph.d in physics, and I can assure you that angular momentum does have a very large roll to play in any plans to establish or de-establish an orbit.

                  • wswordsmen says:

                    My whole post was a misreading of your original. I thought you said air friction couldn’t do it, which is laughable. That is why I thought you were wrong.

                    Thanks for the in depth explanation though.

                • djw says:

                  Angular momentum is often denoted with the letter L in equations (I don’t know why).

                  L = m*v_perp*r (where r is the distance from the center of the planet and v_perp is the component of the velocity perpendicular to it). This is a conserved quantity, and in the absence of external torques it will remain the same indefinitely. (This is why the moon crashing into the earth is not a thing that can happen).

                  The force of gravity between the spacecraft and the planet that it is orbiting is along the line between the two, so it cannot reduce the angular momentum of the spacecraft. So in a two body problem the only way you can get the spacecraft to land is by firing rockets opposite the orbital velocity *or* via the atmosphere of the planet.

                  If a third object is available you can pick an orbit that allows the third object to exert a braking force on you so as to reduce or (eliminate?) the need for firing rockets. However, it would be entirely possible to be stuck in orbit “out of gas” and never be able to reach the surface.

                  • Piflik says:

                    While I agree that gravity would do nothing to reduce tangential velocity, this has nothing to do with angular momentum. Orbiting bodies don’t have angular momentum with regards to the planet’s center of gravity. This is just relative velocity. Angular momentum is a property of the bodies mass distribution in regards to its own center of mass.

                    • djw says:

                      The angular momentum that you are referring to is just part of the total. To see how this MUST be true imagine a stationary merry-go-round at a play ground. Since it is stationary it has no angular momentum. Now imagine a child runs up to it and jumps onto the merry-go-round along a tangent. The merry-go-round will begin to rotate, and that means that it will have angular momentum. It is a conserved quantity, so that angular momentum came from somewhere.

                      The source of the angular momentum is the motion of the child. L=m(r cross v). The cross product is awkward to calculate sometimes, but it simplifies to the tangential velocity of the child times the distance of closest approach. Without including that angular momentum you would have to conclude that angular momentum is not conserved.

                      In any case, here is the wikipedia page, go ahead and read up on the definition if you don’t believe me: wikipedia link (scroll down to the “collections of particles” bit midway down the page for the definition that I used above in a much nicer looking math font).

                    • Piflik says:

                      Yes, the decelerating body converts some of its kinetic energy into angular momentum for the planet via friction in the atmosphere, but that is firstly negligible and secondly not relevant to the point you were making.

                      A body can orbit another one without having any angular momentum and it can have an angular momentum without orbiting, these two are not connected. The angular momentum of an object is connected to its rotation around its own center of mass, not its orbit around the center of mass of a separate object.

                      You can use a force to generate or remove angular momentum using the formula you helpfully stated, but hiting a merry-go-round running does not inherently change the angular momentum of the child. It can (theoretically) hit the merry-go-round with its own center of mass along the collision-normal, imparting an angular momentum to the merry-go-round, but keeping its own completely unchanged. And if the child wore shoes with peculiar properties, i.e. the soles do have friction when moving along an axis, but not if they are rotating, then the child jumping on the merry-go-round would make it turn, but the child would keep its orientation, causing it to turn relatively to the merry-go-round’s local coordinate system. (other gedankenexperiments are available at the low price of admitting my superiority XD)

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      The angular momentum of an object is connected to its rotation around its own center of mass

                      Um,not true.The axis of rotation can pass through the center of mass of the body,but it doesnt have to.A body still has angular momentum if it rotates around a different axis,its just that this differs from the one it would have if it were rotating around its center of mass.

                    • djw says:

                      I apologize if this sounds rude, but your thought experiment was gibberish.

                      I have been teaching introductory physics at the college level (at a good college) for 15 years now and I have noted that many really smart people struggle with the concept of angular momentum. I am going to assume that you are in that category.

                      I don’t really want to do my day job on a web forum that does not support easy equation editing, so I am just going to recommend that you grab a physics textbook and read about the topic yourself.

                    • Piflik says:

                      A body still has angular momentum if it rotates around a different axis,its just that this differs from the one it would have if it were rotating around its center of mass.

                      Sure, but a rotation around an arbitrary axis can be split into two kinds of movement: a rotation around the objects own center of mass and an orbiting movement around said axis. The first part determines the angular momentum.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Gravity also changes the density of the atmosphere.The ratio is not 1:1,but for a human there isnt much difference between how splattered one gets.

      • Nope. How would it cushion the fall? No matter what is done, either it will splatter armour and body into the planet or the body will splatter inside the armor by sheer deceleration. Either the armour doesn’t deform and therefore it absorbs no energy from the impact, making the body suffer all the effects of the deceleration or it needs to deform to absorb that much energy and that would mean the side that hits the land first would crush the body against the other side. Otherwise his armour would need to be bigger than the Normandy.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          As suggested below, Shepard’s force field works on mass effect. I could be that the suit could generate an emergency mass effect field (possibly burning out the suit’s power supply in the process.) Since it decreases mass but not volume, terminal velocity would be survivable. Maybe it cuts out at some point which is why Shepard is dead, but not so ridiculously dead that he can’t be put back together.

      • I vaguely remember spending some time on orbital re-entry in my Analytical Mechanics class (right after the most recent shuttle disaster). Mostly what I recall is the discussion of which death we prefered: a short hot death with some likely moments of panic beforehand or a slow death from oxygen deprivation and cold.

        Of course, if future space engineers have the budget, they might have programmed in a failsafe into the suit Shepard’s wearing. If death is certain, freeze the brain as fast as possible, and surround with maximum mass effect shields. In theory, you preserve the brain, you preserve the person, to be brought back, or at least buried with the family knowing death was quick?

      • Bryan says:

        Whee, that m*v*v/2 is a killer, since it’s equal to G*M*m/r. Multiplying M by some factor (less than 1, to reduce the mass) only multiplies the maximum attainable velocity (v) by the square root of that factor. It’s still less than 1, but it’s much bigger than the factor on the planet’s mass.

        Removing 99% of the mass multiplies it by 0.01; square root of that is 0.1, so the max velocity only goes to 0.1 times what it was — that’s down by 90%, as you said.

        And yeah, Shepard is dead.

    • ? says:

      I would rather explain it as space suit having some emergency mass effect based parachute built into it, reducing weight to that of a feather combined with kinetic barrier doing it’s best to keep Shepard intact.

      • Mike S. says:

        Though it really seems like such a barrier should be designed to be airtight, doesn’t it?

        • ? says:

          I meant the kinetic barrier or shield you use in combat blocking atmosphere from hitting you at high velocity, protecting you from friction and therefore extreme temperatures, possibly slowing you down by the way. Problem with confirming whether this hypothetical solution could work is that mass effect is made up. Reentry we are all familiar with is like that because this is most fuel efficient way of slowing down from orbital speed using our rocket technology. It’s hard to find answers to “what if high tech gizmo turned you into human shaped helium balloon that is still as durable as human body in armored space suit?”

      • Wide And Nerdy says:

        I suggested as much below. Its also possible that a trickle of omnigel from the suit’s reserve could help preserve or stabilize a few key organs just in case someone can get to the body fast enough (lets say it was designed for a less severe situation but helped mitigate the problem). These two things might have put Shepard within reach of cutting edge future medical science.

        • Andrew says:

          Shepard was dead. Dead-dead. Total cessation of all bodily functions dead. And they only found the crash site after at least a few weeks. But the only thing that Cerberus actually needed to rebuild and restart you was your brain (the rest they can clone), which 1. was protected from the fall by your helmet/remaining mass effect shields, and 2. was protected from like 99% of the decomposition by the cold.
          I interpret it that it’s a very cold planet with weak gravity, which combined with whatever parts of your suit still worked, made it so your brain arrived planetside frozen, but still intact. Then they spend 2 years and the GDP of a small country to rebuild you.

          • djw says:

            Or… they never recovered the body at all and “Shepard” is a replicant programmed to *think* they are Shepard… Where is Rick Deckard when you need him?

            • Mike S. says:

              That replaces the problem with a nearly equally difficult problem, given that there’s no evidence that the technology exists to create adult duplicates who think they’re other people, consistently enough to fool themselves, all identification tech, and everyone they’ve met. And we have to ignore or reinterpret the medical sequences during the opening credits.

              • djw says:

                I wasn’t really being serious. But… you could throw pretty much any bullshit explanation at the opening and it would be about as consistent as what they claim actually happened.

              • Otters34 says:

                They have a literal evil clone of Commander Shepard show up in the Citadel add-on pack. Yes, it’s a joke, but that’s effectively meaningless considering all the silly stuff(like the asari) that’s introduced which isn’t.

                • Mike S. says:

                  But the thrust of the DLC story was that the clone couldn’t be Shepard well enough to fool him/herself, or anyone who actually knew the Commander more than momentarily.

    • wswordsmen says:

      But we visit that planet in DLC and can see it clearly has ~1G of gravity.

    • Mephane says:

      Forget about the questions how Shepard may have reached the surface of the planet without being either burned to ashes or vaporized on impact. You can indeed explain any of that away with some emergency tech built into the suit. *shrug*

      My problem is, why should Shepard fall in the first place? One does not simply fall down from orbit. Unless the game either protraits the Normandy to not be in an orbit at all, but somehow “hovering” under main engine power. That is theoretically possible, but completely impractical, utterly wasteful, and completely wrecking any notion of heat-based stealth. So I assume it must have been in orbit.

      But yes, if the orbit is low enough to still be immersed in the thinnest outer reaches of the atmosphere, it would slowly decay without the help of correction burns now and then, so eventually, a person floating in a suit would be decelerated enough to enter the atmosphere. That would mean, however, that Shepard would not immediately begin reentry, but probably after many orbits – at least days but possibly years later. Plus, the fall would never be straight towards the surface, but an extremely long arc where lateral velocity is shed while height is lost simultaneously, over a distance of hundreds to thousands of kilometers. Most of the reentry heat comes from the kinetic energy at orbital velocity, not potential energy due to the height; that’s why it is fairly easy to send a small rocket into space temporarily, but requires a massive rocket to bring a payload to orbital velocity in order to not simply fall back. (Velocity is also what makes asteroids so deadly fast; they are not just rocks dropping from a great height, they are rocks crossing a planet’s path at velocities measured in kilometers per second (1 km/s = ~Mach 3). Gravity plays a significant role if it alters a course from a near collision to an actual collision, but only contributes a minor part to the impact energy.)

      • Alex says:

        “My problem is, why should Shepard fall in the first place? One does not simply fall down from orbit. Unless the game either protraits the Normandy to not be in an orbit at all, but somehow “hovering” under main engine power. That is theoretically possible, but completely impractical, utterly wasteful, and completely wrecking any notion of heat-based stealth. So I assume it must have been in orbit.”

        A ship in space only needs to be in a stable orbit if it is going to remain on a constant course. IIRC, the Normandy was not simply holding a constant course, it was maneuvering in an effort not to get shot. That its maneuvers might put it on a course that would eventually intersect the planet is irrelevant unless they lost the ability to change course to enter a new stable orbit once the fight was over.

  4. Mersadeon says:

    Honestly, if I had been allowed to play Shephard the way I wanted, I would have thrown Miranda and any other Cerberus loyalists overboard the second I set sail and would have ditched the Illusive Man.

    And the end of game decision? What a false binary. I wanted to say “screw you, TIM, I’ll call the Council so they get all of this, and if you show up to take it, I’ll fight you”. Instead I got either “give Cerberus everything they could dream of” or “blow it all up”.

    • Henson says:

      This sort of touches on an unavoidable problem for the sequel. In ME1, we are learning about Shepard as we go and creating a character as we go; therefore, we’re more willing to look over odd characterization or choices that the game forces on us. However, in ME2, we are starting with a character that has been defined, and done so largely by the player. It’s much harder for the developer to railroad character and choices without causing friction with the player. We now have a firmer sense of who Shepard is, and will be more resistant to changes that go against that characterization.

      This is part of why I think a Cerberus-focused game would have been easier to execute with a player character who isn’t Shepard. We’d be back to learning who the main character is, and be more willing to accept questionable decisions. Not to say that Shepard was necessarily a bad choice, but it was a choice that necessitated more care and forethought into how the story would progress.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Even if we skip everything from the character creation in me1 until the very end,there is still the huge problem that one of the backstories for shepard is centered around cerberus killing her whole squad.

        • Thomas says:

          It’s weird how often they remind you of that in ME2 too. Like every ME1 companion’s dialogue goes “What are you doing with Cerberus Shepard, don’t you remember they feed people to thresher maws?”

          I’d appreciate it if they at least tried to sweep their gaping plot holes under the rug instead of poking you with it constantly.

        • Zombie says:

          It is left a little nebulous if you don’t do that mission on what cause all those Thresher Maws to destroy the colony.

          Side-note: building a colony on a planet full of thresher maws, not a great idea.

    • Xilizhra says:

      The Omega-4 relay is in the Terminus Systems. It was hammered into your head over and over and over again in ME1 that the Council cannot go there in force without starting a war.

      • Zombie says:

        Plus, the only reason the Normandy even stays alive/doesn’t get all its crew members killed is by essentially spending a lot of resources to upgrade the weapons, shields and armor to be the best anyone can get. And having a really good pilot who can dodge decades worth of debris.

        • Mersadeon says:

          So, Cerberus can get there without detection and use all of that, but the Council can’t? That’s silly. If the Council can’t send in ships with pilots and shields good enough, then Cerberus can’t, either – after all, they only had the Normandy to do it, which had to be upgraded out of your own pocket.

        • Sartharina says:

          A bigger ship with stronger kinetic barriers than the Normandy could probably just effortlessly crash through the debris, now that there aren’t any Collector vessels that will wreck ships that aren’t shredded by the black holes.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        But why can Cerberus run around freely in the Terminus Systems then? Cerberus are notoriously hostile to anything non-human: why would the Batarians, who don’t like any humans, tolerate them over the Systems Alliance?

        • Xilizhra says:

          Batarian space is nowhere near the Terminus; the batarians are in the galactic southeast, quite close to Earth (which is why humans and batarians competed for colony space), while the Terminus Systems are in the galactic north. All the batarians you see in the Terminus are criminals, exiles, or the descendants thereof.

      • Mersadeon says:

        I think they can go there because IT’S LITERALLY a superweapon base for the taking.

    • RCN says:

      You’re forgetting the best part. Even if you do destroy the reaper carcass, Cerberus still somehow reverse-engineer all reaper tech in ME3. It doesn’t even make the slightest of dents into TIM’s plans.

      That coupled with the Rachni choice also not mattering one iota, really says everything there is to know about the writing in these games. The SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT CHOICE you make in both ME1 and ME2 are railroaded into irrelevance because “F*** you player for daring to want agency”.

      • Thomas says:

        It’s probably implied that TIM got given Reaper tech by the Reapers. They’re using him as a puppet all through ME3. It just yet another example of them not having a way/bothering to cash into the things promised by the concept of the trilogy.

    • Sartharina says:

      My problem with the ending is… How the hell are Non-Normandy ships getting through the Omega Relay?

  5. BenD says:

    “Petulant” is exactly the right word for the state I assigned the ME2 writer in my head while I played the game for the first time a few weeks ago. I felt like someone was vaguely angry that they had to follow ME1 and, bitter at the person or people who did that work, decided to undo it all at any cost for no reason but their own grumpiness and desire for their brilliance to ‘stand on its own.’

    Shamus (also) proposes a more charitable explanation (in addition to petulance) – this writer is a Drama First kind of person so they had to set up a world based in drama. ME2 is most disappointing to me because I suspect a writer (team) less bogged down by something (such as resentment of the previous work) might have been able to write their way into a drama-first story without a massive angry retcon.

  6. Ilseroth says:

    I think a lot of the issue comes from the simple fact that a lot of people *started* with ME2, as opposed to the other way around. For those people going back to ME1 is going from drama to details.

    Personally I started with 1, then skipped 2 and 3 when I heard they were focusing on the shooting of the gameplay. I had a feeling something was up, and decided not to play the game. While I sort of regret not being able to meet the characters, the plot and focus of the game was way off base from what I loved of the first game.

  7. Thomas says:

    I started replaying ME1 since you started this series, and I was particularly thinking about the “Shepard is seeking knowledge/Shepard is a badass soldier” thing . After some though, I reckon the “Shepard succeeded because he was a badass soldier” is a perfectly valid interpretation on what the writers were trying to achieve in ME1, equal with the “trying to acquire knowledge”.

    At the start of the game, you’re on the mission because you’re humanities best soldier and the one so good you might be the first ever human Spectre. They plaster your armour in N7 logos and have a codex detailing how ridiculously good N7 people are at soldiering (specifically that a _N1_ soldier is ridiculously badass). You encounter the beacon by accident on the way.

    Then after that, you don’t get sent after Saren because of the beacon, you get sent after him because the council thinks you’re a qualified enough soldier to be a Spectre capable of dealing with Saren and you’re motivated to do it because a smuggler told you ‘Saren woz wat did it’.

    Whilst chasing down Saren, you accomplish Spectre missions for the Council and the Alliance, specifically hunting through an R&D base Saren was involved in, assaulting and blowing up Saren’s production facilities and saving a Theros colony being assaulted by Saren’s troops.

    In each one you encounter the beacon/knowledge (except Theros) through coincidence entirely incidentally to the mission you were sent on. Saren just happens to have a Prothean Beacon in his Krogan Baby-Making machine, the Rachni Queen just gives you a coordinate list that Saren had been trying to track down (At the R&D facility he’s supported and partially owned for years?).

    Then the council don’t believe you about the Reaper threat, so Anderson breaks you out and sends you to Ilos, not because your Beacon knowledge is useful, but because you’re the only capable soldier who believes Reapers are real and has a ship capable of going to the Terminus system without starting a war.

    On Ilos, completely coincidentally, whilst chasing Saren you stumble on an AI which only happens to be able to talk to you because you happened to stumble on some beacons, except actually the AI speaks Galactic Standard after 3 minutes of watching you speak Galactic Standard to your friends so it wouldn’t have mattered if you’d never touched the beacons in the first place.

    And then you run back to the Citadel because Shepard can kill Saren and repel half an army of Geth single-handedly because he’s that good of a soldier.

    You never actually aim to seek out Prothean knowledge in any of your missions (except Theros and recruiting Liara), and you never actually use any of it to achieve any of your objectives. It’s just there to tell you why you should be shooting Saren even more than you were before

    • Infinitron says:

      …Feros.

      • King Marth says:

        But what about the side mission where Shepherd is given a divine ordeal by Thassa to earn knowledge by beating back the otherworldly beasts attacking the polis Meletis, bringing him into conflict with the mad Garruk whose Prothean Hulk was gunned down only to bring forth a giant Reaper from the Abyss?

        Must’ve been DLC.

        • Warstrike says:

          I get that this is a reference to 2 Magic blocks ago, but I feel like I’m missing the joke.

          • Thomas says:

            =D That’s actually where my typo comes from too I guess. I do a ton of Magic stalking and I loved Theros block.

          • King Marth says:

            That reference was the extent of the joke, yeah. I also misspelled Protean Hulk to Prothean, and had it pull a six-cost creature with Reaper in the name. I considered mentioning that the hypothetical DLC could hardly be called pay-to-win if all it gained Shepherd was three +1/+1 counters and two cards, which is the end payoff for attacking with a creature enchanted by Thassa’s Ordeal, which might have helped cement it as a Magic: The Gathering reference.

            I stopped playing after finishing ME1, so I can’t make a cleaner parallel to any of the side missions in ME2, or that Prothean crewmember DLC I heard about. Sorry.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I also think the first game justifies “Shepard is a hero, a bloody icon.” Certainly from the perspective of the human-centric Cerberus. Being the first human Spectre alone should be enough to warrant that description. He/she was pivotal to humanity earning their seat at the big kids’ table. Of course either Anderson or Udina should also be icons, but maybe politics has compromised the warm glow they started with, whereas Shepard continued being a hero till he/she died.

      I can also think of a way Shepard could have been in a state for Cerberus to salvage. The armor has mass effect fields to stop bullets. The suits could have been designed to detect acceleration and do a one time burn out generation of a special force field with a large surface area for lower terminal velocity, and/or a mass effect field to help slow reentry (if you lower the mass enough, Shepard could drift to the ground like a balloon.) Maybe its not quite enough to get him to the ground but humans have survived falls from thousands of feet so it could be enough to leave his body only battered. From there, the suit might have a protocol to trickle omnigel to a couple of key organs (mainly the brain) to help preserve it to give it some kind of chance.

      The body could still be so badly battered as to be beyond conventional hope of repair but still within reach of some mad cutting edge future medical science/cybernetics.

      But it doesn’t matter because Bioware didn’t bother.

      • Sartharina says:

        Or maybe cerberus picked Shepard up (sans helmet) shortly after everything ended?

        I think a lot of the choices were due to ‘necessity’, with drama layered on. They could have put off ‘Nobody believes in Reapers anymore” as something that happened over two years without any sign of Reapers.

        They wanted to let the player explore the OTHER half of the galaxy – the one the Council couldn’t go to, so Shepard needed a new sponsor. So they recycled Cerberus from the first game instead of pull something ENTIRELY new out of their ass… and even had the entire experiment go wrong at the end!

        They did drop the ball in not letting Shepard argue with Cerberus, but… well, they gave him his life back, his crew back, and pointed him at the reapers. He couldn’t really refuse that kind of offer. Unfortunately, the point of the second game was learning the motive of the Reapers, and a lot of people missed it, or declared it bullshit, leaving them taking another crack at it in ME3.

        I think Joker’s “Cerberus Recruitment” dialogue went something like:
        Cerberus: Hey Jeff, you should join us.
        Joker: No, I’m loyal to the Alliance.
        Cerberus: Oh? What are you serving on? A disposable frigate? Or a cruiser with nine other pilots? We have better ships.
        Joker: You’re terrorists. No.
        Cerberus: … We’ll let you fly the Normandy.
        Joker: What?! Okay, sign me on!

    • Jakob says:

      Sure, that is a valid way to look at things. But what Shamus perhaps argues is that by the end of Mass Effect 1, Shepard is in a unique position to deal with the reaper threat.

      Shepard commands a stealth ships, which allows him to slip into territories no one else can.

      He has the cipher, which means he can understand ancient prothean rather easily. He can perhaps quickly explore prothean ruins since has the cultural and language background to understand things more easily.

      He knows Liara, so he can bring an expert along for the stuff he doesn’t know.

      He is a badass super soldier, so once things gets dicey, he can always shoot his way out.

      Now, with regards to your other stuff: Shepard doesn’t randomly stumble upon these things. He is told to pursue Saren, and Saren is looking for stuff to help him find Ilos and the conduit. So it is only natural that Shepard finds the rachni queen, the cipher, Liara and the second beacon, since they are on the path that Saren walked.

      • Thomas says:

        Yeah, but what I mean by stumble on them is, Shepard never looks for them and even in the missions he isn’t looking for them. He doesn’t seek out the beacon on Virmire, and finding it doesn’t affect the completeness of his mission an iota. It’s not a goal, it doesn’t progress his goal, he’s just chasing Saren and because Saren litters the ground with prothean technology that means Shepard stumbles onto it. And then doesn’t actually use it for anything. Feros is the one time in the game Shepard actually says “Saren was looking for this secret tech, I should probably find his secret too”.

        Heck the beacon on Virmire is just the suggestion of a random Asari assistant who’s trying to think of something she can bribe Shepard with so that he doesn’t shoot her. If the Asari had tried to bribe Shepard with money instead Shepard would even know Sovereign existed.

        I think they almost seem to have forgotten about the Cipher by the end of the game, because it’s not relevant to everything. It’s as if like anyone can get to Ilos, anyone can go through the portal, anyone can stop Saren, because he’s already done the work. The only thing needed is for someone to put a bullet through his head.

  8. Mattias42 says:

    I will admit that ME2 is a bit of a mess, especially with how little of it actually mattered in the end…

    But dammit all, if the Lazarus project bit of the opening doesn’t still send a chill down my spine. In the good way, I mean.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK86-0o2sE4

    I don’t think the central idea of Cerberus suddenly being the only sane, but still xenophobic, people in the galaxy was a bad one. With how little we saw of them in #1, those thrasher-maw experiments could really have been done by a rouge cell.

    It ‘just’ needed more payoff. Have your actions actually lead the organization back to the light… or into the type of damned by good but desperate intentions that actually happened in #3.

    And… well, to be diplomatic, that didn’t quite happen.

    • Thomas says:

      I think the emotions and visuals of the beginning are great. I love the shot of Shepard reentering and becoming lost against the backdrop of a planet against the sun. And ‘we can rebuild him’ gets chills in whatever work it gets used in when they build it up into this fantastic endeavour.

      It just doesn’t make much sense to think about. Which is the opposite kind of thrills that the background tech and codex entries of ME1 gave (the actual plot of ME1 doesn’t exactly stand up to much better scrutiny).

      You should always open as you intend to go on, but maybe that’s not such a good idea when you intend to go on trampling over the spirit of the original.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I think there was a better way to do that, though. Make the TIM-character the leader of Terra Firma, the “humans first” political party of the Systems Alliance. But either exchange TIM for Charles Saracino, the leader of TF you can encounter in ME1, or if you really want Martin Sheen’s voice acting in your game, give TIM a less-stupid name and make him the current leader of TF–an evil version of President Bartlet, maybe.

      Then you say Cerberus is the militant wing of Terra Firma, who’ve been officially denounced by TF and considered a terrorist group by the Alliance, but both organizations might still have ties between them, even if their respective leaderships disavow them. Both organizations pursue a humans-first policy, and want the Systems Alliance to stop licking the Council’s boots, but TF prefers to work within the political system. Now you have a political plot where TF wants Earth to isolate itself from the Council, but Shepard knows all the Citadel Space members together might not be able to stand against the Reaper threat, but lone worlds are certainly going to be picked off one by one. The TF strategy is a losing strategy, but they have political power in the Alliance and Shepard might have to deal with them non-violently, no matter how distasteful it is (like Udina).

    • Sartharina says:

      I have no trouble believing that Cerberus was entirely behind all their “Rogue Cells” – They care about results, and denounce cells that fail to perform… but they should have given data from the Thresher Maw experiments – Sole Survivor background characters could have been given weapons and armor that made the last stage of Grunt’s Loyalty Mission significantly easier, as a “Thank you and Toombs and the other Marines for giving us the data we needed to make this stuff possible”

      Had Cerberus not been indoctrinated, the Akuze experiment could have facilitated creating guns that shoot threshermaws at Reapers in ME3.

      If I remember, a lot of the more ethical data results gathered from Pragia was later distributed to other Biotic schools.

  9. Raygereio says:

    See those round holographic interface thingies behind TIM? Half the time the cinematography has those form a halo around his head.

    Symbolism!

    Thing that annoyed me the most about ME2’s main plot was how often the dialogue choices just straight up lie to you and give you false hope you might have a say in the story.
    “I’ll never work for you!” when chosen, has Shep go “Whelp. Time to work for Cerberus.”
    And it would reasonable to think that the dialogue option “No more colonies get hit!” after TIM admitted to luring the Collectors to Horizon would mean you furiously demand TIM wouldn’t put lives at risk like that again. Instead you get a “We must make sure they don’t attack other colonies”. Seriously?
    Having a boxed canyon style story where the player has no input is fine. But unless you’re actually capable of doing so, don’t attempt to pretend you’re writing anything else.

    terrorist organization – one with no narrative build-up in the first game

    The whole Cerberus thing in ME1 had the feel of cut content to it. The Armistan Banes plot thread is dropped immediately and Kahoku is killed of abruptly. I’ve wondered if Cerberus was supposed to be build up in ME1, but this got cut for some reason and the ME2 team just went ahead with their Cerberus plot anyway.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      The false dialog choices rank pretty high on my list of sins. Hey director, can we get an insert shot so we can see Shep has crossed fingers?

      • Thomas says:

        False dialogue choices are a staple of the series though. Just ME1 chose to make the “Hello” prompts or “Can I help you?” complete lies instead of the plot critical ones.

        I was mentioning on the forums, but I believe a lot of the dialogue choices in ME1 are literal lies, in that there is no choice. There’s one line of dialogue recorded and all the options you choose will just have Shepard speaking it. It happens in ME2 and ME3 too, but there it’s more often that one choice will lead to recorded line A and B and the second choice will just lead to B. Or as someone pointed out, in ME3 they just won’t pretend to give you a choice and Shepard will talk without any input on your part.

        • TMC_Sherpa says:

          I’m OK with the same dialog if it makes sense. If the choice was “Do you work for Cerberus? Yes/Well….” rather than yes or no I would be angry about the lack of character agency but I wouldn’t be yelling at the screen.

  10. John the Savage says:

    How often does Cerberus actually show up in ME1? I don’t think they appear at all in the main quest, and the only side quest I remember them in was the Lone Survivor origin quest, since that’s the origin I always pick. Do they show up in other origin quests, or any other side quests? It seems really weird to me that the ME2 writer gives such import to an organization that ME1 players could conceivably have never encountered. Especially with the points Shamus highlighted, why wouldn’t the writer just make up a new organization that we have no preconceptions about? Or just turn TIM into the Shadow Broker?

    • Victor McKnight says:

      I might be misremembering myself, but they do show up more than once, but it is always on side quests. Yes, there is the thresher maw quest, which happens if you are a survivor or not. They also have a base with some Rachnnai babies and Thorian Creepers at some point. If I am leaving any out, I am sure someone else can chime in.

      The important point is they are always messing with dangerous stuff in kind of stupid ways. Their real purpose, from a writing perspective, is to provide some context for having human mooks to shoot and not care about in side missions. Basically, they area to ME1 what the Blue Suns are to ME2, just a lot less prominent because ME1 could have Geth for you to shoot in most main missions.

    • Trix2000 says:

      I think I’ve run into them ONCE in all of my playthroughs, and I honestly don’t remember any details from it. So I’m blessed without the feeling that they’re inherently terrible by not having that experience.

      …But it honestly doesn’t improve ME2 that much, since it’s still a little weird you’d sign up with them anyways without a REALLY good reason. I think the writers intended for “stopping the Collectors from abducting humans” to be that reason, but that’s ignoring the possibility that other groups (Alliance? maybe even council?) might be concerned.

      Sure, fighting the Collectors might be important, but there’s still not a compelling enough reason you have to do it with Cerberus.

      • Thomas says:

        I don’t think Cerberus could ever have fully worked as Cerberus, but one of the weird things is that they make Shepard sign up with them before he’s explored any other alternatives. They could at least make the council and alliance turn you down first so Shepard really doesn’t have other places to turn to.

        @Victor McKnight, I think they also sell out a set of research bases to the Geth and you get there and everyone’s been turned into husks.

        • Sartharina says:

          It’s kind of a Leonine Choice. Work for Cerberus, get your ship, crew, and funding back. Don’t work for Cerberus… well, have a seat, and watch the reapers come eat everything, because you’re stuck on a rock with no way off.

  11. Deager says:

    Excellent recap of the beginning of ME2, Shamus. While I found the ME2 intro interesting and I am a Star Wars IV kind of fan, I knew I would have to completely check all logic at the door to accept the game. I’m not a details type of player but ME1 did it right and yet still had the drama too. More old-school RPG which I typically don’t like but when done in a way I like, I really like.

    So yeah, I agree. ME2 is just insane how they played it out. Since I did check all logic at the door, I was able to enjoy the characters and just focus on the drama of the moments in the story, but it is something that is overall quite laughable when you dig into it.

    Keep up this series. I’m loving it! Testing a mod for giftfish right now in ME3 and I love the dichotomy of enjoying the game while also reading about the massive pitfalls it has.

  12. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Yes, the details state that saving the entire galaxy from the Reapers should be our priority, but it’s more dramatic to fight against bug-faced collectors who are threatening humans, and kidnapping your friends.

    Im not so sure about that one.I mean,threatening humans and kidnapping your friends part is more dramatic,but some random bug race instead of space cthulhu?That is in no way more dramatic.

    • Darren says:

      But as was pointed out during the ME1 retrospective, the Reapers are located out in deep space and, based on what we are told in ME1, have no fast way to enter the system. It makes perfect sense to put anything related to the Reapers on the back burner to address an immediate threat.

      Then there are the facts that the disappearances only happened after Shepherd was killed–in a manner that shouldn’t have been possible, given the stealth drive–and that Shepherd was the only one pushing for substantial action against the Reaper threat. Now it seems plausible that the disappearances (which are kind of like “reaping” to boot) are connected to the Reapers. That they in fact are connected to the Reapers–the Collectors work for the Reapers, remember?–is just narrative efficiency.

      Of all the issues with ME2’s plot, this isn’t one of them.

      • Naota says:

        I think the biggest issue here is that ME2’s Collectors only serve to pad out the middle of the story to no narrative gains whatsoever. If the goal of the middle act in a three-act story structure (something which is held up far too often as an excuse, given that stories need not have a three-act structure) is to get all of the ducks in a row for a final, definitive conflict, then ME2 completely fails. Everything comes crashing down when ME3 has to do two acts’ worth of heavy lifting in one game – forcing Shepard to make all of his allies over again, re-identify his enemies, and then finally set the two on a course for a definitive battle.

        In any sane world, the first game would be spent establishing the impending threat of the Reapers, the second would be about Shepard’s attempts to prove his case and unify the galaxy against them before it was too late, and the third would be the final conflict when the Reapers arrive in force and the bonds forged in the second game are tested against this incredible strain.

        But this is not a sane world. This is a world where ME2 is spent “building a team” that immediately disbands, to fight a proxy foe only relevant in this portion of the story, to save a few humans rather than a galaxy. It’s a game that puts the main plot on pause so that it can tell a smaller, weaker, less satisfying version of the same story in the mean time. It’s a game where nothing is accomplished that matters the moment ME3 starts. One that renders Shepard a stooge – a galactic hero with years of forewarning who runs in circles and come doomsday finds himself exactly where he started.

        • INH5 says:

          In any sane world, the first game would be spent establishing the impending threat of the Reapers, the second would be about Shepard’s attempts to prove his case and unify the galaxy against them before it was too late, and the third would be the final conflict when the Reapers arrive in force and the bonds forged in the second game are tested against this incredible strain.

          That would never work, because the fact that the Reapers are giant robot spaceships would mean that the third game would entirely consist of a non-interactive cutscene.

          This is leaving aside the fact that the first game does not in any sense function as a “first act.” What kind of a first act kills off every named antagonist?

          • Mike S. says:

            that would never work, because the fact that the Reapers are giant robot spaceships would mean that the third game would entirely consist of a non-interactive cutscene.

            Not if it turned out that, unbeknownst to anyone, the Cipher gave Shepard the power to grow to two kilometers in height!!!

            (It’s even foreshadowed by that Prothean sphere you can pick up on an ME2 sidequest, that goes from huge to bowling ball sized!)

            Now you can really punch out Cthulhu. (Or Charge him. Or stab him with your omniblade…)

          • Naota says:

            Well, the giant spaceships could always produce a conspicuous army of man-sized, cover-shooting-fightable ground troops that mill about doing nothing useful while the big ships lance the planet’s surface with giant lasers…

            More seriously though, I’d expect the final game to be about Shepard’s hard-won allies (that is to say governments and races, not just his “team”) doing whatever it is they need to do to survive the arrival of the Reapers.

            There are millions of plots which could come out of this with things to do for a small squad of people: indoctrinated saboteurs, races who took a page out of Saren’s book and threw their lot in with the Reapers, traitors and opportunists, coups d’etat, imperiled key scientists or political leaders in need of rescue, a plot to lure the Reapers into an elaborate trap somewhere. It’s a war, and a very asymmetric one. That’s some of the most fertile ground for interesting stories that one can find. It doesn’t matter that Shepard can’t wrestle with or shoot his antagonist directly on account of being a tiny human.

            Moreover, not all of the universe’s problems have to be solved by this point – just some of them. The Quarians and the Geth, the Genophage, Cerberus, the Rachni, the Citadel’s ineffective and obstructionist council, finding humanity’s place among the other races of the galaxy, the fact that nobody believes in the Reapers, the mystery of the Protheans and the last cycle. None of this gets resolved in the second game, and all of it is piled into the third without a thought for the details. There’s no time to examine any of the consequences of these plot points before ME3 has to jump over to the next. Mass Effect 2, meanwhile, feels almost aggressive in doing absolutely nothing to advance the greater plot, opting instead to re-establish and do everything over again.

            • INH5 says:

              So either you have Shepard and by extension the player do side stuff that is totally irrelevant to the outcome of the war, or you introduce something akin to the Crucible to allow Shepard to fight a smaller proxy war that the game can actually handle which does somehow determine the fate of the galaxy. Obviously ME3 ended up doing the latter, but I don’t think it matters. The very nature of the game ensures that something as big as a galactic war against the Reapers can never be anything more than set dressing.

              Complaining that ME3 had too many plot points from previous games to resolve is missing the point. ME3 has several missions that have nothing to do with resolving pre-established plot points and instead focus on fighting Cerberus for Crucible information. If the game had less plot points to carry over, that would only mean that even more missions would have to be devoted to this proxy war. Instead of 4 missions to resolve the Geth-Quarian conflict, we’d get 4 more missions of chasing after Kai Leng. Somehow I doubt many people would consider this an improvement.

              • Naota says:

                I’m not seeing an argument for what makes fighting the Reapers “set dressing” that isn’t just their size. Was destroying the Death Star set dressing? Was stopping Sovereign? Both of these involve lots of action and intrigue and the shooting of (and talking to) man-sized targets. Why would fighting the rest of the Reapers not follow suit?

                Yes, it helps to have a singular, identifiable villain to act as the face of the opposition – Darth Vader or Saren respectively – but it’s a moot point. ME2’s main villain was barely extant and ME3 has its own in TIM. I’d assume that if it needed one, a good third act set around the conflict would come with a sufficiently good “face” of its own to represent the Reapers.

                Complaining that ME3 had too many plot points from previous games to resolve is missing the point. ME3 has several missions that have nothing to do with resolving pre-established plot points and instead focus on fighting Cerberus for Crucible information. If the game had less plot points to carry over, that would only mean that even more missions would have to be devoted to this proxy war. Instead of 4 missions to resolve the Geth-Quarian conflict, we’d get 4 more missions of chasing after Kai Leng. Somehow I doubt many people would consider this an improvement.

                One thing doesn’t prove the other. ME3 has several missions that have nothing to do with resolving prior plot points, and also rushes and fumbles with the ones it carries over from the earlier games. It needs to conclude dangling plot threads from ME1 that went untouched by ME2, the new ones that ME2 built up in its re-configuring of the premise and expansion of the cast, and also has to plot out a way to end the whole storyline which satisfies both. It’s only clear that Bioware did not have a plan to tell a cohesive story over three games.

                Many writers worked on ME3. With less on their plate to cram into one game, it’s impossible to say where the extra time and effort would have gone. Nothing indicates that would be more Kai Leng, or that the plotline involving Cerberus and the Crucible would resemble itself at all if the series was planned more firmly as a trilogy from the get-go. My only assertion is that better planning and more focus would improve things.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not necessarily.If in the second game,or the start of the first,we found a way to fight indoctrination,the finale of me3 couldve been you doing stuff inside a reaper.

    • Shamus says:

      Yes, but it is more “dramatic”.

      • Sartharina says:

        Yes. Having the protagonist chase the one lead on the Reapers (In a manner he can actually fight, without recycling the Geth again) and actually learn how Reapers are made and what they do to the species they reap, while exploring a section of space he couldn’t visit in the first game IS more dramatic than puttering about on wild goose chases after scaring the Reapers out of Council Space when he killed Sovereign until they mount an overwhelming surprise attack.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Who says that hunting for more info on the reapers means retreading old ground and never learning how they were made?Its a false dichotomy to assume that without the collectors none of that would be possible.

  13. Darren says:

    What irks me is that they could’ve done the whole “Shepherd is resurrected” thing more plausibly by having Shepherd get to an escape pod which is then damaged and falls into the icy planet below. Resurrecting an intact, frozen body is a lot more believable, and Cerberus’ dismissive attitude towards the process would make more sense if they didn’t so much reverse death as apply existing medical technologies and techniques, at great expense, towards something that they barely lucked into pulling off, largely thanks to the context.

  14. INH5 says:

    I’ll have more to say in a bit, but on the subject of re-entry: one of Miranda’s audio diary entries in the first mission lists Shepard’s injuries, which include shrapnel wounds from the explosion as well as “long term vacuum exposure.” Presumably, if Shepard had fallen into the planet, there would at a minimum be more injuries, and the vacuum exposure wouldn’t have been “long term.”

    Most likely this was a result of miscommunication between the art and writing teams, which isn’t a new thing for the series. Apparently when they made ME1’s ending space battle cutscene, the people making it took the largest Alliance ship model they were given and used it a whole bunch of times. It wasn’t until they showed it to the writers that anyone realized that that model was supposed to be the Alliance dreadnought, and that the cutscene showed way more of them than the Codex said existed. So they had to redesignate the model as an “Alliance Cruiser.”

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Codex and dialogue: Space combat works according to Newtonian physics. Other details suggesting a “hard SF” take on space opera, a la Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet novels. If you fire a projectile and miss, it never stops.

      Cutscene animation: Star Wars-style dogfighting, motherfuckers! We dodge and weave our thousand-tonne ship in a vacuum like it’s a P-51 Mustang divebombing a Japanese carrier circa 1943! Fuck physics! Yee-haw!

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But these questions are a dead end.

    Agree.But I have some other questions that show how flimsy this opening is.Im going by your premise that this game focuses on drama more than details and science.So,with that in mind:

    1)Why did shepard die?
    Being resurrected with the power of money is lame,and makes her less unique.Its also not very dramatic because the resurrection happens minutes after death.Wouldnt it be better if the collectors captured her,and then after a few years of prison and torture,shepard either escaped,or was rescued.This would make her unique because she has the knowledge of this new threat others dont have,gives her a big grudge,and can be used for various flashbacks,fears and challenges.

    2)Why was normandy destroyed?
    Again,being rebuilt with the power of money is lame,and makes the ship less unique.In me1,it was a one of a kind,built by an impossible alliance,and not just wads of space cash.So why wasnt the new normandy and improvement of the old,or better yet,built from the wreckage of the old one?(we found the core intact,and used it to blah blah)Furthermore,why not have the first mission be to find a guy that can tweak the core to make this new bigger ship invisible,because the old core is not powerful enough to do so.

    3)Why does tim flat out tell you he is cerberus?
    Yes yes,working for the enemy,blah blah.However,a much more dramatic thing is to work for someone you think is a friend,only to discover them to be one of your enemies,and a terrorist no less.Then you get actually put in the tough situation where you have to choose your morality and pride or the fate of the galaxy once you find out who these guys are.

    4)Why is joker immediately on board before you arrive?
    Getting tali and garrus is far more satisfying,because you have to work for it,and because its not instantaneous.So why wasnt the first mission to get your hands on the best damn pilot,and convince him to leave the alliance.Far more engaging,far more dramatic.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I can answer number three easily enough. Jacob tells you because he’s got a conscience and Miranda confirms it. Its out of TIM’s hands.

      • Thomas says:

        He’d probably tell you straight away anyway. TIM gets kicks from thinking that Shepard, Saviour of Humanity is working for him and wants to believe that Shepard can be persuaded to do it happily. That’s why half his mission reports always talk Shepard up even when Shepard was trying to spit in his face. “Great idea with helping that Quarian Shepard, novel but it gets results”

        In the original art direction the new Normandy was meant to look a lot rougher and less polished than the alliance one, but they decided to go the other way in the end (I guess because they figured the player would want to have a nice space as their ‘home’. Which they would. It feels nice that SR-2 is so luxurious)

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        That doesnt really answer the question.It just shifts it from “why tim flat out tells you” to “why was jacob introduced so early”.

        • Thomas says:

          On a different level, I’m curious why it’s yet another example of Bioware introducing you to your most ‘boring’ companions first. In worlds with colourful aliens, your first companions always seem to be middle-of-the-road humans. Dragon Age, KotoR, ME1, ME2, DA2(?). DA3 isn’t a lot better, Solas isn’t exactly the most dynamic thing in the world, but he’s not human and Cassandra has actual personality.

          • Supahewok says:

            Well, I can think of a couple of reasons.

            1) Any sort of fantastical setting is going to have a transition period as the player/reader/viewer adjusts to the rules and premises of the setting that don’t mesh with reality. Introducing something “normal” early on makes the transition smoother than dumping everything at once. Sometimes the creators will dump something super weird right off the bat for shock or to establish tone, but its something to be done with care.

            2) It guarantees you talk to these companions at least once, thus justifying their existence. After all, if they are the most boring companions, where’s the incentive to use them if you already have more interesting ones?

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          I mean, I agree that could be an interesting twist. I just thought you were going for plot logic.

          Jacob was introduced so early because Bioware likes to have an action based opening with a tutorial built in. Jacob and Miranda are with the project and are your first squadmates. It would take a lot of shifting around not to introduce them first. And since Jacob’s character is “principled but fed up with government inaction” its probably extra important to him to be above board where he can be (since he’s working outside the law).

          That brings me to Jacob. I think Jacob feels like he was forced into his current position because it was the right thing to do but he doesn’t like operating outside the law so its super important to him to have as much of a morality and code as he can and to stick firmly to it to balance out what he’s done.

        • Sartharina says:

          Simple – to get you on Cerberus’ side by proving they’re not ALL bad.

          Anyway:
          1. So you can fix your face to use the new face-rendering engine. Might as well rebuild the whole body.
          2. To give you a better, more functional ship. But I dislike all the loading screens on the new Normandy. Blowing up and rebuilding the ship you previously used is more dramatic than merely ‘retrofitting’ it or assigning you a new ship.
          3. No betrayals. Cerberus has too much riding on your success, and you taught them the hard way the consequences of earning your ire. And they have a snazzy logo.
          4. Because Cerberus beat you to the punch by building a new Normandy for Joker to fly, and it’s Joker recruiting Shepard for Cerberus.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Simple – to get you on Cerberus’ side by proving they’re not ALL bad.

            Which couldve been done without telling you they are cerberus immediately.

            1)No reason to give an in game explanation for this.Most players who have continued from me1 just recreated their old face anyway,and those that started with me2 didnt care anyway.

            2)Even if completely destroying the old one instead of just capturing it is more dramatic(which I doubt):”or better yet,built from the wreckage of the old one?(we found the core intact,and used it to blah blah)”.No reason to just use the power of money and stupid to build it from scratch.

            3)And yet tim still betrays you.Multiple times.So why do it in the stupid way when a smart way was available?

            4)Still more stupid,still less satisfying,still less dramatic.

    • swenson says:

      On #3, I agree it would’ve been more dramatic had we only found out later in the game we were actually working with Cerberus (although, realistically speaking–how could we/the Alliance not figure it out earlier?), but I started replaying ME2 because of this series, and I had an interesting thought.

      What if instead of having the attack on Lazarus Station be as a result of Dr. Wilson turning traitor (out of jealousy over Daddy Tim loving Miranda more, I guess?), they had it be a setup by TIM? The whole thing is rather convenient. You’re woken up very abruptly, in a dangerous situation where you don’t have a lot of time to ask questions and figure out what’s going on. And the very first person you meet is Jacob, who from an in-universe perspective is about the most trustworthy person Cerberus has. He’s ex-Alliance (just like Shepard), he’s honest, he appears to be a decent person, etc. He’s a very convenient person to convince Shepard that Cerberus is on the up-and-up now.

      Plus, it’s really, really convenient that everybody else on the entire station dies, except for Miranda and Jacob, leaving nobody who knows how Shepard was resurrected (or even that she was resurrected at all). And if they’d done this, they’d also set up TIM as a legitimate manipulative bastard, as opposed to just… I dunno, randomly evil.

      Also, then the first sequence of the game might actually tie into anything else in the game… as is, there’s literally nothing from Lazarus Station that has any effect on stuff later. It’s basically never mentioned again.

    • mewse says:

      As a practical matter:

      1. Because killed-and-then-comes-back-to-life makes Shepard into Badass Space Jesus, here to save the human race. Which is pretty much what the writers were going for in this game, thematically. It’s too late to introduce the whole “immaculate conception” thing, so they had to go with was-dead-but-now-lives-again. (Note: this is true in all modern western media. Anyone who dies but then lives again is automatically Jesus-by-fiat. The “immaculate conception” thing works the same way. So yes, Darth Vader is also Space Jesus.)

      2. Presumably somebody in production wanted to “spruce up” the Normandy model, and bearing in mind that we want Shepard to be Badass Space Jesus which requires him to die (see #1), blowing up the old Normandy with Shepard aboard and then creating a new ship is probably the simplest way to accomplish both goals with a single plot point. (I actually agree with this choice; canon gets complicated quickly if you start allowing fan-known vessel hulls to be substantially modified after their construction. Much easier to maintain fan interest/understanding if you just introduce a new replacement ship instead of ever modifying the silhouette of the old one. With that said, I would have much preferred the vessel being destroyed midway through the game instead of right at the start. In fact, if they were really dead-set on the whole Badass Space Jesus thing, I’d have preferred for Shepard to have died during a climactic moment somewhere a little over midway through the game. You’d then have one or two missions where you played as one of the other crew members before Shepard returned. (Miranda seems most likely; would give Bioware even more opportunity to make sure the player was staring at her butt. (If Badass Space Jesus was their Design Goal #1, then Look At Miranda’s Butt was clearly not far behind in the #2 spot. (Uh, so to speak. That wasn’t intentional. (Also, I seem to be dangerously nesting these parentheticals. Hold on…))))). Ah, that’s better. Sorry, won’t happen again.

      3. There’s a psychological trick going on here. The core idea of the game, from the outset, is that the Council has their collective head in the sand, so Badass Space Jesus is going to be forced to work with Cerberus (who had been painted as a bad guy in the previous game, and is still pretty dodgy, ethically speaking, but at least isn’t completely blind to the threat being faced). We (by which I mean Bioware) can’t afford to make two separate main story lines; particularly when they’ve got Martin Sheen as a voice actor for TIM, so this is the one that’s going to happen. And we/they want to make the player buy into the story that they’re telling. The way that you do that is by offering the player dialog options which look like they’re giving an option to not work with Cerberus. (The whole “I’d never work for you!” option). But if we can make that option look ridiculous and strident enough, then most players won’t pick it, and will instead pick something that sounds a little more mature and less petulant. And so when the option the player chooses plays out, people rationalise that they chose to side with Cerberus, and just go with it without complaint. That’s basic cognitive dissonance at work. Of course, the whole thing fails utterly if people actually choose the “absurd over-reaction” option; people weren’t supposed to actually choose that one — it was there to try to make the other options look more sensible by comparison. And this whole problem happens no matter when the “TIM is Cerberus” conversation happens, whether it’s at the start, or whether it’s at a mid-game face-heel-turn. So might as well get it out of the way during the exposition-dump that happens at the start, anyhow.

      4. Joker wasn’t a fan-favourite at the time, which is why he wouldn’t have been considered for a recruitment mission. Arguably, he still isn’t a fan-favourite, when compared against Tali or Mordin or Garrus or Rex or etc. We can only afford to make a certain number of missions, and wouldn’t we rather spend them on the characters that the fans are already excited about?

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Lapsed-Catholic nitpicking here, but for #1, you mean “virgin birth”. “Immaculate Conception” refers to the Catholic doctrine that Mary, mother of Jesus, was born free of original sin, but she was still conceived by and born to a human mother and father. “Virgin birth” is a doctrine shared by almost all Christian denominations and sects* that Jesus was born of Mary through the Holy Spirit/God, without a human father. But your confusion is understandable: most Catholics get this wrong too.

        *Some other non-Christian faiths and cultures have a version of the virgin birth as well, but they’re rarely alluded to in modern Western fiction.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        #1 That doesnt really work when it happens in the span of 5 minutes,and through the power of money.If shepard died at the end of me1,or if resurrecting her required some weird relic(cannibalizing some tech you found on ilos,for example),then this wouldve worked.

        #2 What makes normandy unique is her stealth,not her hull.You can still make a new ship,but stick old normandys core in it,or something like that.Finding the old normandy just for cash is the stupidest thing they couldve done.Finding it couldve been the very first mission of the game.Or the opening.

        #3

        And this whole problem happens no matter when the “TIM is Cerberus” conversation happens, whether it’s at the start, or whether it’s at a mid-game face-heel-turn.

        Actually the problem is far worse if it happens at the start.We only have the knowledge from the previous game,so we have no reason to think cerberus are in any way the good guys and that the council abandoned the idea of reapers completely.The opening text is pretty weak justification for that.And we also have no reason to do something drastic and desperate like joining cerberus.

        But,if it happens mid game,when we know collectors are reapers puppets,and are doing something massive,and that the council literally doesnt care,yet this shadowy organization has helped us in the past,its much easier to swallow that shepard would do something so drastic as continue working with cerberus for the greater good.

        #4 There already are numerous superfluous missions,so having one of those replaced by a couple of better opening missions,like convincing joker to join you,wouldve only improved the game.It didnt have to be long,or complex,maybe without shooting at all(I know,blasphemy!).But having joker just go “yeah,Im with cerberus now” is extremely weak.

        • Sartharina says:

          1. Yes it does, especially since the game was released during the whole “Kill the protagonist in the opening scene” bandwagon in gaming. It also lets you rebuild your face with the new engine in a somewhat believable manner.
          2. You never see the Normandy’s stealth. You do see its hull, though. It’s iconic.
          3. Sure we have a reason for joining Cerberus: They’ve got your ship and crew! And information to keep you pointed at the Reapers. They make it VERY clear you’re fighting agents of the reapers in the same scene you’re in a position to negotiate your working with Cerberus.
          4. They built him a new Normandy.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            1)No it doesnt.Just because “everyone is doing it” doesnt mean its good.And its in no way a believable thing to explain new engine in game.Like Ive said in the other response “Most players who have continued from me1 just recreated their old face anyway,and those that started with me2 didnt care anyway.”

            2)Yes you do see normandies special engine quite often.Especially if you care about talking with tali.

            3)

            They’ve got your ship and crew!

            Which just shifts the question to “how the hell do they have the resources and persuasive power to have that?”,which is just as nonsensical.

            And information to keep you pointed at the Reapers.

            No,they have information to keep you pointed at collectors.Only later do we learn for sure that the two are connected.

            They make it VERY clear you’re fighting agents of the reapers in the same scene you’re in a position to negotiate your working with Cerberus.

            No,they TELL you they are fighting the collectors and that your agendas are the same.Nothing makes it so that you should either believe them,or that you should think the council wouldnt help you at all.And only the second part of that becomes true later,because cerberus still (predictably) betrays you anyway.

            There is absolutely zero reason why knowing who cerberus is from the start is better than having to learn who they really are in the middle of the game.

            4)Because he was shown to be such an unloyal guy that would flip at a drop of a coin just to get better toys?Never mind the whole stupidity of cerberus using the power of money to rebuild a new(bigger)normandy from scratch.

  16. Kylroy says:

    Yes, it’s nitpicking, but I have to say it: headcanon, not headcannon.

    https://xkcd.com/1401/

    • krellen says:

      I too was going to say this.

      Try to remember that a cannon shoots things, while a canon is scripture. This verbiage has religious roots.

      • Mike S. says:

        Though amusingly we got both from French, which spells them the same. Even though one comes from a Greek word for “rule” and the other from an Italian word for cane or reed.

        (To be clear, I’m not disagreeing– keep fighting the good fight. I just find it interesting that the difference in spelling is our language’s innovation, rather than original.)

      • Syal says:

        Think of it like a book, that you can set a can on. Can-non is not a book, and is not suitable for use as shelving.

      • JAB says:

        I want it to be headcannon, with the idea that I’m creating ideas that I’m going to shoot from my head to yours.

        Ideas that are canon only inside my head are much less interesting.

  17. Xilizhra says:

    Damn it.

    Firstly, no, the “details” do not say anything of the nature that you claim them to. You’re talking about the type of drama you prefer. Details don’t say anything, they’re just details.

    1. You already extracted all of the relevant Prothean information in the last game. And no matter how you try to spin it, Shepard is a supreme badass for being able to, well, pull off all the crap she did in the last game, leading a three-person commando team against much larger forces and taking zero casualties.

    2. The details say that TIM got Shepard to work for him in part to make the Council stop trusting her.

    3. “Retrofitting” the Normandy would require building a completely new frame and a shitload of other components, to the point that building a new one is barely more resource-intensive. And Cerberus only screwed up once in ME1, with the rachni.

    4. The Collectors are the Reapers’ hands in this galaxy, something revealed quite early on.

    5. The Alliance screwed both of them over, or at least Joker.

    The details might not be ones that you like, and maybe they weren’t sufficiently presented, but saying that the details could not support this plot is just… incorrect. I won’t say the transition was necessarily handled well, because everything that I just mentioned should have been explained better, but that doesn’t mean that the plot is valueless.

    • Shamus says:

      1. I covered this in EXTENSIVE detail in entries #13 and #14.

      2. You’re just moving the stupid from one part of the story to another. You can do this forever. Invent some new nonsense to explain the old nonsense, and then new nonsense to explain that. It’s still a lazy contrivance.

      3. A retrofit is still less ridiculous than a secret private organization building a better version of an experimental prototype that previously required two major governments.

      4. The collectors were never mentioned in ME1. Moreover, if they are the Reaper’s hands, then why weren’t they involved in that game? Why did Sovereign show up with only half of his army? They could easily have turned the tide of that battle.

      5. “Screwed over” isn’t NEARLY enough to justify TREASON. With TERRORISTS.

      “but that doesn’t mean that the plot is valueless.”

      No, it’s just lazy, tone-deaf, full of contrivances, and way dumber than it needed to be.

      If you’re pissed now, I have no idea how you’re going to get through the rest of this series.

      • ? says:

        Re:4. Also a single Collector should be able to decipher Prothean beacons in an instant (since they are Protheans), meaning Saren could go straight to Ilos and attack Citadel while Shepard is still giving her testimony in front of the Council.

        • INH5 says:

          Collectors are not really Prothean any more, and it could be argued that the various biological changes and technological augmentations ended up destroying whatever aspects of the Prothean nature that the Cipher captures. Especially given Mordin’s “no soul, replaced by tech” speech.

          Not that it really matters, since ME1’s “the Reapers are still coming even though I stopped Sovereign from reactivating the Citadel Relay” sequel hook makes ME1’s story entirely pointless, and the sequels never even attempt to fix that problem.

          • Naota says:

            The way I see it, the accomplishment of ME1 was identifying the threat and buying enough time to meet it.

            It’s firmly established that nobody has ever stood a chance against the Reapers in the past, and this cycle as it stands is just as doomed. What’s the one thing Shepard’s generation has that none of the others could manage? It knows in advance that the Reapers exist, and it has the time to prepare.

            …a notion which is then balled up and thrown in the trash, as Shepard manages to accomplish exactly nothing on this front until literally the day the Reapears arrive, catching the galaxy completely off-guard.

            • Mike S. says:

              The Reapers still don’t have the Citadel, which messes with their standard strategy.

              (Until they do, and there’s no explanation as to why this doesn’t allow them to shut down the relays and defeat everyone in detail.)

            • INH5 says:

              No, until the literal last minute ME1 is about stopping the Reapers once and for all by preventing Sovereign from re-opening the Citadel relay and keeping them trapped in dark space (at least until a new bad guy tries to release them again in a sequel). Then at the end, you’re suddenly told that no, actually nothing you did mattered, the Reapers are somehow still coming, and Shepard somehow knows this, without even an attempt at an explanation.

              If you’re confused by any of this, see my 3 week old comment about it.

              • Naota says:

                In that case, according to the last minute of ME1, the accomplishment of the game was identifying the threat and buying enough time to meet it. Personally I played the whole thing and never got the concrete, definite sense that I was supposed to be stopping the Reapers for good. They’re clearly based on Lovecraftian elder gods – infinite, immortal, and always threatening to wake.

                Either way though, ME1 clearly and deliberately ends on the note that you’ve saved everyone – for now – and bought an uncertain amount of time to get ready for some great future conflict which needs all of the galaxy’s power unified behind it to be survived. That can’t just go ignored for an entire game. ME2 picks up this over-arching plot thread, sans retcon, and does nothing with it. It didn’t have to be about the Reapers at all; it didn’t have to be a direct sequel or try to continue telling the same story, but it was and it did.

                Mass Effect is a trilogy that tries to tell an over-arching story. As a trilogy its three parts have no cohesion, bad structure, and awful, awful pacing. That merits criticism.

      • Xilizhra says:

        Easily. I enjoy reading things I disagree with; I find the mindsets of others fascinating to explore.

        1. I can understand if you’d prefer this kind of thing to happen, but I don’t see how it can be disputed that Shepard is an amazing combatant.

        2. We may need to agree to disagree here.

        3. The engineering is the hardest part and the thing that required multiple governments; the Alliance could easily manufacture the Normandy on its own, and Cerberus could build its own version provided it has the Normandy’s plans, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t.

        4. The Collectors aren’t supposed to make their links with the Reapers known; their role is to experiment on the various species of the galaxy to determine their viability as Reaper material, not to be frontline fighters.

        5. They already committed mutiny (I think stealing the Normandy was labeled as such) once before, when the bureaucracy was doing nothing about the Reaper threat.

        • Spacewreck says:

          1. I can understand if you’d prefer this kind of thing to happen, but I don’t see how it can be disputed that Shepard is an amazing combatant

          That’s not what’s being disputed, if I understand Shamus’s argument correctly. It’s not that the ME2 story is making Shepard out to be a great fighter when he wasn’t previously, it’s that it’s acting as if Shepard’s combat ability is the primary reason he’s respected when there were more compelling reasons that were also considered.

          IOW, the argument AFAICT is that ME2 paints Shepard as being famous solely for kicking ass while ME1 suggested he was respected for reasons beyond that.

          2. The details say that TIM got Shepard to work for him in part to make the Council stop trusting her.

          TIM felt the need to step in because the Council wasn’t doing anything about the colonists’ abductions. Making the Council more distrustful actually works against his overall goal to stop the Collectors, as the association between Shepard and Cerberus disinclines them to take his evidence about the Collectors seriously and thus they provide less help than they might have otherwise.

          5. They already committed mutiny (I think stealing the Normandy was labeled as such) once before, when the bureaucracy was doing nothing about the Reaper threat.

          There’s a huge difference between “We’re going to continue this mission to save the galaxy despite politically-motivated orders to stand down because we trust our commander and the wealth of evidence he’s uncovered” versus “We’re going to resign and join up with a terrorist group several of whose crimes against humanity we’ve personally witnessed because we’ll get to fly a cool ship (Joker’s given reason) and go on adventures again (Chakwas’s stated motivation).”

      • Sartharina says:

        1. Meh.

        2. The council has no power in the Terminus Systems. Shepard needed a new sponsor if he wanted to fight the Reapers. Might as well recycle one from the previous game than pull a new one out of nowhere.

        3. Eh… it’s cheaper once you already have the design notes. Cerberus let the two governments foot the R&D bill for the Normandy. And Cerberus, IIRC in a detail from the first game, were the Alliance’s R&D department in the first place before they went rogue.

        4. Collectors showing up in the Council Space would have caused a lot more problems for the reapers than using the Quarian-created Geth, and a Spectre. The Collectors are mostly just the spies of the reapers, checking to see when the galaxy was ready for Reaperfest. Except the destruction of Sovereign, at the hands of Shepard and the Alliance Fleet scared the shit out of the Reapers, and they needed more information on humans (So began mass-harvesting them), and needed Shepard to be destroyed immediately.

        5. But giving Joker the chance to fly the Normandy again, under a resurrected Commander Shepard, does.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          2)Even if we accept that the council wouldnt let a specter covertly go wherever they please and that you absolutely needed a new sponsor,why not the shadow broker?It would make more sense for shepard to trust him.

          3)No,it really isnt.If you give some isis the plans to build a nuclear sub right now,along with a few guys who worked on building one before,I sincerely doubt that they would be able to build the biggest and the bestest nuclear sub in the world in just a couple of years.

          4)Because having just one extremely weird ship capable of huge destruction was less suspicious than having two extremely weird ships capable of huge destruction that the extra firepower wasnt worth it.Also,youve opened another question:
          If destruction of shepard was so important,why didnt the collector ship snuff out normandy during the ambush phase,when shepard was on their ship?

          5)Because as everyone knows,military guys are so easily swayed to commit TREASON by just being offered to play with new toys(resurrected shepard was a secret revealed to him only much later).

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Firstly, no, the “details” do not say anything of the nature that you claim them to. You’re talking about the type of drama you prefer. Details don’t say anything, they’re just details.

      Shamoose isnt talking about details not being there,he is talking about what was the focus of the story:The details,or the drama.It doesnt say anything about which was better,but which one was the foundation.

      You already extracted all of the relevant Prothean information in the last game.

      Not according to me2 and me3,where you learn first that protheans are now collectors and second that they had this crucible thingy not mentioned before.

      And no matter how you try to spin it, Shepard is a supreme badass for being able to, well, pull off all the crap she did in the last game, leading a three-person commando team against much larger forces and taking zero casualties.

      Except me2 establishes that your whole team consisted of badasses(except for ashley),and all of them become even more fearsome and more well known while shepard was dead.Recruiting any one of them wouldve been easier,and just as(if not more)effective.

      The details say that TIM got Shepard to work for him in part to make the Council stop trusting her.

      Still doesnt explain how.Especially if shepard was the sole survivor of a cerberus experiment.So drama first,details later.

      “Retrofitting” the Normandy would require building a completely new frame and a shitload of other components, to the point that building a new one is barely more resource-intensive.

      Considering how the most expensive component of normandy was its stealth drive and not the frame around it,thats highly doubtful.Not to mention that it was also unique.

      And Cerberus only screwed up once in ME1, with the rachni.

      And the husks.And the creepers.So out of three of their bases you break into,three have been wiped out by their experiments.I call that a 100% blunder rate.

      The Collectors are the Reapers’ hands in this galaxy, something revealed quite early on.

      Its not established,its mentioned by a man who has illusive in his name,and is a leader of a terrorist group.Only much later do you confirm his words.Again,drama first,details later.

      The Alliance screwed both of them over, or at least Joker.

      Which was crafted later to support why you would have them on your ship again,so details later.

      • Spacewreck says:

        And Cerberus only screwed up once in ME1, with the rachni.

        And the husks.And the creepers.So out of three of their bases you break into,three have been wiped out by their experiments.I call that a 100% blunder rate.

        And ME2 even throws another shrimp on that barbie with Jack’s background as another Cerberus experiment that backfired on them.

        And going on to #5, it’s not just the blunders, there’s also luring Alliance troopers into thresher maw attacks not just at Akuze but during ME1 as well, keeping some of the survivors for experimental purposes for years (though to be fair you only find the latter out if you have the Sole Survivor background), and murdering Alliance officers in failed attempts to cover up their involvement.

        Members of the Normandy crew proudly signing up to wear the symbol of a group that has just in the few incidents you personally witnessed caused the deaths of dozens (if not more) of your fellow troops through incompetence and/or callousness should require a bit more incentive than flying a fancier version of your favorite ship or missing the excitement of serving on that ship (which are the reasons Joker and Chakwas offer up).

        This does bring to mind something else. As far as rebuilding or retrofitting the Normandy, why bother? Its one distinguishing trait was a stealth system that proved to be ineffective against the one foe that the ship is being sent after by Cerberus. If retrofitting instead of rebuilding is so ridiculously difficult, why is retrofitting something that the crew does as a matter of routine throughout ME2? But just getting a bigger, better version of your iconic ship is more dramatic.

  18. Bropocalypse says:

    Sheppard died for good when the Normandy was attacked, and the rest of the game and its sequel are a slowed down sequence of events occuring inside his/her oxygen-deprived dying brain.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I am really really tired of theories like this one in any media.

      Regarding this and the Indoctrination theory, if you want the second two games to have not happened that badly, all you have to do is declare ME1 the only game in your headcanon. Its simpler and more elegant.

      I don’t know about you, but the idea that the games I didn’t like in a franchise are only a fantasy or a dream is much less satisfying than simply saying they didn’t happen at all. I did this with Superman when New 52 came out.

      • krellen says:

        It’s not even a particularly untrue statement to claim that Mass Effect never got a sequel, because the gulf between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 is huge; ME 2 and 3 are effectively in a different series altogether (as evidenced by the existence of approximately equal numbers people whom started with ME2 and cannot stand ME1 as the reverse.)

      • Shamus says:

        While I can’t speak for Bropocalypse, when people propose theories like this, I usually assume they’re not seriously saying it’s what happened. I take it more as:

        “Isn’t this idea shallow, silly, and unsatisfying? And yet it’s still better than what the writers gave us!”

        It’s not intended to build a new story so much as mock the existing story.

        On the other hand, a lot of people did seem to treat Indoctrination Theory as canon and vigorously defend it as such. On the other, OTHER hand, they were claiming authorial intent, so that debate is a little different.

        • John the Savage says:

          I think it varies from one work to another, and what evidence the work presents. There’s an interpretation of Spec Ops: The Line that Walker and his squad all died in the helicopter crash at the cold open, and the rest of the game is him being forced to relive his atrocities in hell. I don’t subscribe to it, myself, because I prefer to think of Walker’s actions and the things that happen to Delta Squad after the crash taking place in the real world (seen through the lens of Walker’s ever-eroding sanity, of course). I think that Delta Squad dying in the crash denies us the chance to see how low Walker and his squadmates will sink to try to keep a clear conscience, and raises the question about whether Conrad was even dead, since the big reveal would have happened after Walker died. However, I can’t deny that there is some compelling evidence throughout the game to support the afterlife theory, and even the game’s director has conceded that this interpretation is a valid one.

          Ultimately, I think what it boils down to is, “Has the work given us any reason to question the reliability of the narrator or narrative?” Walker’s sanity is clearly brought into question, even, subtly, at the beginning before his actions supposedly cause his sanity to slip (as he rappels down the building at the start, there is a brief moment where his reflection in the window is clearly not his own). In Mass Effect, we are never given a reason to question what we are seeing, other than just plain old hack-writing. Even in ME3, the dream sequences are CLEARLY just dreams, happening to Shepard in his sleep; he never sees visions of the dead kid while he’s awake.

          • guy says:

            I think it’s a potentially valid interpretation in some cases, but it’s only really an interesting one if you have some indication of what actually happened in the setting. Even if the work includes extremely strong reasons to believe that the viewpoint character is hallucinating, that’s still a dead end unless you have some idea of what everyone else sees. Otherwise the madness is at most a frame story.

        • Steve C says:

          I’m pretty sure Bropocalypse is making specific reference to Gravity. Which could very well be what happened in that movie when someone deconstructs the story.

          In some (very rare) stories “it was all a dream” can hold up. The entire premise behind Total Recall is that there was no way to know if events were happening or not. That was by design. The author of Total Recall was schizophrenic and had great difficulty determining what was real and what not in his real life.

          I agree with Shamus that Bropocalypse was making a joke. I just wanted to explain that joke in detail to beat to death any possible humor left in it.

        • Dreadjaws says:

          You’d be surprised how many people actually like to think that is what actually happened, even when it makes no sense (such as the ending of The Dark Knight Rises being a hallucination Alfred is having).

          The real problem I have with these theories is that even if what you say is true and they’re using them to mock the existing theory, they don’t qualify as better, since “it was all a dream” is literally one of the most overused cliches in storytelling. It’s like trying to say “No, see, this is not a crap the dog took on the table, it’s actually vomit asbestos cake, that looks like that from all the mold”. It’s replacing one bad thing with one equally as bad if not worse.

          Scratch that, the real real problem I have with these theories is websites dedicating entire articles to them, usually with titles like CHECK OUT THIS AMAZING THEORY ABOUT THIS FILM.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Different people have different ways for coping.Whats true for you does not have to be true for everyone.

        That is,when theories like that are serious.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          I guess what I don’t like about it is that you can say that about any fiction. The first time the person goes to sleep, gets punched, whatever, the rest of the story could be a dream. You could craft this theory about anything.

          There are cases where it can be satisfying in a way. There’s the Garfield Halloween storyline from 1989 where he wakes up in an abandoned version of his house. That storyline gave me serious chills as a kid. When I recently stumbled across it again, I saw a fan theory that when Garfield willed Odie and Jon back, he was really plunging himself into a delusion and that the entire series since has him been slowly starving to death. That works because it brings back the chills and because the story actually puts Garfield in that state at one point.

          • Mike S. says:

            Yeah, it’s sort of like solipsism. You can’t disprove it, but there’s also nowhere to go from there, and nothing really interesting to do with it.

            Which can make it frustrating when something like the Indoctrination Theory gets popular, because it feels like the equivalent of different people continually suggesting that “maybe you’re just a brain in a jar being fed spurious sensory data!”, drowning out conversations that might go somewhere. Okay, sure, it’s possible. And?

            • MichaelGC says:

              Aye – I mean, such things can be useful for what they can tell us* about certitude and suchlike, but I guess that’s not how vat-brain stuff and solipsimiliar tend to get used. (They’re often instead the philosophical equivalent of jamming your fingers in your ears whilst humming loudly.)

              *Or rather suggest to us. Circumspectly.

      • djw says:

        This is how I deal with midichlorians.

        • Mephane says:

          Yepp, I simply pretend that part never happened. Qui-Gon did a blood test for medical reasons; it’s very plausible that a Jedi has some basic medical training and equipment. He also, independently of that, sensed the force being unusually strong in Anakin and talked to Obi-Wan about that. And the scene where Anakin asks Qui-Gon what midichlorians are also simply did not happen.

  19. John the Savage says:

    “And it’s true: The gameplay [in Mass Effect 2] is better” (I don’t know how to do that fancy quote thingy)

    Is it? I know Shamus is going to talk about gameplay in the next entry, but this is a claim that I hear people make all the time, and I find it debatable. Yes, ME2 removes the dice-rolling aspect of shooting, and makes sure that bullets hit where you point your gun instead of spraying around randomly at lower levels, but it also introduces “thermal clips”. I actually appreciated the way the guns worked in ME1: unlimited ammo, but prone to overheating with too much use, and once you put enough skill points into the weapons, you only had to fire most weapons in an enemies general direction for the bullets to home in. ME1 basically trades the time wasted waiting for your weapon to cool down with time wasted scrounging for ammo, and forces you to focus much more on each individual enemy one at a time by removing the homing feature (whereas you used to be able to just hold down the trigger and mow down a room full of baddies with an AR).

    Yes, the cover system was drastically improved from ME1, but that’s honestly not saying much, and it was still not that great in ME2. Furthermore, the way the game forces you to use cover by swarming you with enemy fire and cutting through your shields like tissue paper is annoying, and the higher difficulties are borderline unbeatable without the right builds. I’ve beaten Gears of War on Insane, but in my Insanity playthrough of ME2 I’ve never been able to get past Horizon. I’ve spent hours trying, even given up and come back to try again days, weeks or months later, and I always get to a point where I’m forced into the open, flanked by enemy fire, warding off charging husks, and constantly having to revive downed companions, going up against enemies who all have shields and/or armor that make them resistant to the bullets I’m firing and immune to the biotics or tech abilities of my companions. Even after exploiting the XP glitch and coming into the fight at max level, I still couldn’t beat it. In ME1, you could build up your shields to the point that you never had to worry about getting flanked or taking cover; you could run straight into a room with enemies on all sides and STILL mow them down.

    I find it supremely disappointing, because a merger of these two gameplay styles would have been perfect: make players use cover at lower levels and give them the option to level up their shields to the point where cover becomes less important. Make bullets hit where you point the gun at low levels, but home in as you put more points in the weapon skills. Make thermal clips optional, so that you had unlimited ammunition but a limited pool of clips that would let you circumvent waiting for your weapon to cool down. It would create a fun and interesting kind of gameplay that I don’t think I’ve ever seen another game do, and it would have been perfectly justifiable and appropriate within the established rules and lore of the series. Unfortunately, ME2 decided to be just another Gears of War ripoff with some space-magic thrown in, and ME3 just cleaned up the broken mechanics. To be clear, I love the gameplay of ME3, and spent TONS of time in the multiplayer, but I still would love to see a version of the game that doesn’t completely abandon the mechanics of ME1.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The redesign of powers is what makes the second game so much more satisfying.Cant say about relying too much on weapons,but the powers are what got me to replay the game I was so disappointed by on insanity.

      • John the Savage says:

        I agree, the powers were, for the most part, much better in ME2. But they’re rendered borderline useless on Insanity! Singularity, for example, is a fantastic crowd-control ability on Normal (and sets up a combo with Warp that creates a huge explosion) but it can’t affect enemies with shields or armor, which, on Insanity, is all of them!

        They’re even better in ME3, where power combos are much easier to pull off, and can be done with both Biotics and Tech.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          On insanity the powers you simply must have in your team are incinerate and overload,or their ammunitions counterparts.Which was great for me,since I love the infiltrator class,and he has both disruptor ammo and incinerate.Plus the awesome snipers which can cut even the heaviest mooks with 2-3 hits.And hacking for when you get to fight turn robots against each other.

          • Mike S. says:

            Sentinel is great on Insanity– tech armor is the next best thing to invulnerability. (It even let me get through all five waves in Arrival.)

            • Thomas says:

              I recommend that anyone who is struggling going from combat in ME1 to ME2 play Sentinel. As a class it’s about as cover based as ME1 and without the insanity that is Vanguard.

          • John the Savage says:

            Fair enough. I found the tech powers in ME1 nearly useless, so maybe I never gave them their due course in ME2. I usually either went soldier or adept in my playthroughs.

            Although, wouldn’t you say that relying on ammo modifiers kind of defeats the purpose of ME2’s improved powers? All they really do is make your guns more effective, they don’t change the game in any meaningful way like most of the other powers do.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Well infiltrator was great because of snipers in 1.Snipers are still cool in 2,only with the disadvantage of clips.

              And ammo modifiers are usually more useful for your teammates than yourself.Insanity mostly requires you to combine yours and theirs attacks in order to strip down all three bars.

        • Mike S. says:

          Yeah– Adept went from lots of fun in the first game to “underpowered soldier” in the second on higher difficulties, since most of the entertaining abilities didn’t work through defenses. (Warp did, IIRC, but Warp is boring except when it’s used to detonate a combo.) I became sorry that my original (and favorite) Shepard was one, though ME3 redeemed it somewhat.

          It does get better after Lair of the Shadow Broker reintroduces Stasis. There are few things more fun than Stasising a Scion on one of those floating platforms as it approaches, having the platform travel on without it, and then seeing it do a Wile E. Coyote when Stasis wears off and there’s nothing holding it up. Cheap? Maybe. But for me it never got old.

          • RCN says:

            Adept felt all but useless on ME2. For the longest time I just thought that ME2 had completely screwed the balance and power mechanics. Then I saw Josh mowing everything in his way as Vanguard and it downed to me that they just shat all over Adept because… they hate CC type classes?

            • Raygereio says:

              that they just shat all over Adept because…

              I’m pretty sure it’s because Bioware was still trying to balance ME2’s classes and just didn’t manage to get it right in time.
              If you set ShieldsBlockPowers to False in coalesced.ini, the Adept basically goes from “Man, I’m useless” to “I AM A BIOTIC GOD!”

              • Thomas says:

                If you have both your companions maxed out on shield destroying, adept is still great in ME2. Biotic explosions are too much fun.

                • djw says:

                  Yeah, I played adept on nightmare. I won’t say I facerolled (because I did NOT) but I did not find it to be super frustrating, and I did finish. I actually liked the gameplay, in fact (although I agree with the story complaints, for the most part).

          • John the Savage says:

            Ah, Stasis. A power that would be so useful and fun to use, if only you could damage frozen enemies. It seems like such a bizarre design choice, and one that kept me from ever using it. I’ve been told that it’s still incredibly useful, but I could never see the point in investing points in it when it seemed like they would be much better spent elsewhere, especially in ME2 when levels were so hard to come by.

            • Mike S. says:

              In ME1 you could damage enemies in Stasis if you took the Bastion evolution, which made it one of my go-to powers. (Its loss was my Adept’s biggest grudge against TIM and Miranda.) And in ME2 there was its use with the aforementioned Scions on platforms.

              I admit I didn’t find Stasis very useful in ME3.

              • INH5 says:

                In ME3 multiplayer at least, Stasis is absolutely indispensable when you’re fighting Phantoms. It helps that ME3 Stasis does actually let you damage enemies, so you can freeze a Phantom that was about to sync-kill you, then walk right up to her and shoot her in the head a bunch of times to kill her.

            • guy says:

              When fighting multiple enemies, making one of them go away for a while is fairly handy.

            • Shoeboxjeddy says:

              Protip for the use of Stasis (which is, in fact, the strongest Biotic Power in Mass Effect 2).

              Once you hit an enemy with Stasis, they are invulnerable, as the description states. Use this time to either kill other pressing enemies or to prepare for what you need to do next.

              The MOMENT the enemy loses the Stasis field and begins to drop to the ground, all of their fancy damage mitigation stat drops to nothing. With a shotgun, you can take out 50-75% of the health off a Geth Prime on Insanity difficulty when you fire at this moment. If you do a Youtube search, you can easily find videos of people abusing this to absolutely demolish big boss enemies in a single clip of ammo. It’s not quite as strong in 3, but still rather great.

          • swenson says:

            Adept was crazy OP at high levels in ME1, I think they were trying to tone it down but just went way too far the opposite direction by making shielded/barrier-ed enemies immune to most biotic powers. (especially on Insanity, where every enemy has some form of shield/barrier/armor)

            Some toning down of Adept was necessary… not that much though.

      • swenson says:

        Yessss…

        Not only are the non-biotic powers IMO much more interesting, but giving each class a signature power was a fantastic way to differentiate the classes. In ME1, the classes can all feel a bit same-y, you’ve got the same like six powers remixed in various ways. In ME2, though, there’s actual appreciable differences between how each class works.

        I guess some people might prefer the ME1 system because they feel they can sort of build their own version of the class, but ME2’s is just so much more interesting to me.

        …although tbh I might just be saying this because I’m a diehard Vanguard and Vanguard didn’t really exist until ME2. CHARGE ALL THE THINGS. ESPECIALLY ON INSANITY. Insanity Vanguard is the best way to play. :P

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          ME2 actually begins the process of making each class distinct, something that 3 perfects. I would prefer if you could bring in MP builds into the campaign once you’ve beaten it, there’s room for a robust New Game + that didn’t happen because of the ending controversy most likely. Not that I blame the community for revolting because the ending as originally released was… well, revolting.

      • Blake says:

        My play through had the opposite, I was some engineer class and all the skills I used in the first game either didn’t exist or weren’t as fun/effective in the second.
        Third game fixed this somewhat.

    • Trix2000 says:

      In terms of gameplay, you also have to consider the feel and feedback channels of the gunplay. ME2 did a lot better job on this, both in making enemies more responsive to getting hit (they react to fire, and actually I think it’s easier to see them… plus their health bar is bigger and has more obvious movement) and making the guns have more weight/impact. Also, the fact that there was more variety in the different weapons helped vary the experience more (ie: going from single-shot powerhouse Mantis to the less powerful but multi-shot Viper).

      As said above, powers had more focus and for the most part had more obvious effects. They moved from being ‘something you can do occasionally’ to ‘key component of your combat style’, which better distinguishes the different classes.

      Cover and movement were improved, though they still had their flaws (running still felt slow for me). I like to think having quickly regenerating health/shields really helped the defensive game, though perhaps with a bit too much leeway and lack of more permanent damage (which ME3 kind-of improved with the segmented health bar). At the very least, not having medkit on cooldown was a plus for me – it always annoyed me in ME1 that you theoretically had limited medical resources, but for the most part you couldn’t use them fast enough to actually run into that limit.

      Running around for thermal clips always felt weird, and I’ll agree that it wasn’t the best choice. But the concept of having distinct clips and ammo counts I think helped the experience in some ways, if nothing else because having a distinct “reload” action adds a certain something to gunplay. I’ve always wondered if the system would have been better served by letting your used thermal clips regenerate over time – still encouraging managing weapons and their shots, but without the need to scrounge for ammo all the time (and it’s not like ammo shortages were an important thing in ME anyways).

      All in all, I see ME2’s combat as being better overall than ME1, but like many things still needing iteration/improvement.

      • Victor McKnight says:

        Another change they made in ME2 and doubled down on in ME3 was making weapons distinct. In ME1, there are just two models of each weapon type, except for the shotgun, where I think there is only one. After that, they are just swapping colors. They all have different stats, but in terms of how it “feels” to shoot them, they are all basically the same.

        Upgrading to newer, better weapons has never been so boring.

        ME2 and ME3 gave weapons all different models, different fire rates, different sounds. It was a much more satisfying shooting experience. Even if they had held fast to skill dice over player skill, it would have been better.

        So that plus stuff other people have mentioned all added together to make ME2’s combat better than ME1. There may be less RPG in the RPG/Shooter hybrid mechanics, and I understand some people will like that less as a matter of valid personal preference (hell, I feel torn about it myself), but generally speaking, yes, combat was improved.

    • krellen says:

      COMPLETELY OFF-TOPIC:

      The “fancy quote thingy” is using the blockquote tags.

  20. Incunabulum says:

    Yes, even Jacob, even though I make fun of him all the time.

    Stop making fun of Jacob. He’s the one of only two characters I *liked* and the only Human on board who’s an actual *professional.

    • Mike S. says:

      I like Jacob too, at least at the beginning. But after that interactions with him get awkward (his offputting responses to initial conversation attempts until you get far enough for him to be willing to talk to you), he’s got the least interesting loyalty quest (“turns out my dad is a monster who set up a rape camp, but that’s got nothing to do with me even though I made a huge deal about making the detour”), and his evident professionalism goes against his choice to join Cerberus.

      And I’m glad I never did his romance, especially given how it was disposed of in ME3.

      • Thomas says:

        I kind of like the double twist on his quest. 1) That his Dad actually is just a genuine monster. In most versions of this story (heck most Bioware quests full stop), there’d be a hint of redemption or he’d be a tragic villain. Instead the quest keeps dangling the idea in front of you to reveal that nope, he’s an even bigger dick than you thought.

        And
        2) Jacob _won’t_ kill him without your input and he’ll remain level headed afterwards. There’s a bajillion examples of you having to persuade someone not to kill someone else. Jacob might be actually the only example of it going the other way.

      • Zaxares says:

        The worst thing about Jacob’s romance is that it very much feels like a one-sided affair. Jacob genuinely doesn’t seem to have any interest in Shepard at all, and it’s only Shepard’s relentless hounding of him that gets the romance going. And considering that Shepard’s Jacob’s superior, it has all the hallmarks of an abusive relationship by one person in a superior position of authority over another. If the genders were flipped, and it was a MaleShep badgering his female employee until she gave in (because she doesn’t want to lose her job OR how do you say no to the closest thing the galaxy has to a superhero OR if I say no will he just murder me on the next mission and blame it on the Reapers?) and slept with him, you can bet there’d be a massive uproar over it.

        Everything else about Jacob’s personality (he’s honestly the best grounded and most stable member of the team) and loyalty mission was great. His romance was just a half-assed effort at best.

        • Gruhunchously says:

          It’s kind of odd that all of FemShep’s romances require her to make the first move, whereas all of MaleShep’s romances have the love interest first posing the question, sometimes in rather cryptic ways.

          • I can understand why they might have done it that way. Isn’t it generally considered a common fantasy for the woman to pursue the man instead of the other way round? If that is the case, or if Bioware thought that’s what their target audience would prefer, then it makes sense to give it to them.

            • Mike S. says:

              And conversely, the reverse is more likely to be seen as harassing or threatening– especially in the case where male Shepard is going after subordinates.

          • ehlijen says:

            All except for Traynor, though whether that truly is an exception is debateable, as it could just as easily be sherpard being her romance option.

            When did the term ‘romance option’ become a thing, btw? Maybe I’m slow but just as I typed it above I couldn’t help see it as disturbingly one sided.

  21. Mike S. says:

    The visuals strongly imply that Shepard is reentering, and I nonetheless headcanon that not happening for suspension of disbelief reasons.

    In addition to the issues mentioned, as Shamus notes, Shepard’s motion is the Normandy’s. Under what possible circumstances would it make sense for Joker, the best pilot in the Alliance, to give the ship a path that will shortly intersect Alchera’s surface? That’s just our terrestrial Aristotelian experience (flying vehicles that lose power will fall and crash, ships that are holed will sink) overcoming Newton.

    (Sure, it might just happen that the evasive maneuvers put the Normandy on a reentry course for a second, which then became permanent when the engines were disabled. But at plausible starship combat maneuvering speeds, a gentle decay like that is wildly unlikely. Either they’d be pointing at the planet and rapidly hit, or they’d be pointing away with better than escape speed and miss.)

    I still like the Normandy Crash Site DLC for emotional reasons. But nothing about it makes physical sense, from the relatively intact and close-spaced wreckage to half the crew’s storing their dogtags in crates for some reason.

    That said, what we’re willing to swallow depends on our initial buy-in. The beginning of the first game asks quite a bit too, after all: Nihlus is there specifically to watch and evaluate Shepard for Spectre status, then immediately leaves because “I move faster on my own.” Um?

    Saren, a Council Spectre with plenary powers, figures the best way to get the Prothean beacon is not to simply seize it, but to attack an entire colony with his heretofore secret geth army and secret superdreadnought– trusting that he can eliminate every possible witness or distress call. Even after meeting Nihlus, which tells him that there’s a spaceship in the system that he hasn’t accounted for, that might not be in blast range.

    Then the best Spectre in the galaxy can’t even set his nuclear booby trap correctly with multiple bombs available to him plus an army of geth– none of whom have apparently heard of a dead-man switch. (By contrast, on Virmire the Salarians do better with only a single, improvised bomb with one defender.)

    Shepard doesn’t bring the one eyewitness who can identify Saren and testify that he murdered Nihlus to the Citadel. The Council might not believe him, but it certainly raises questions. (Especially compared to relying, as he did, on “audio file of dubious provenance that randomly dropped into my lap”, whose existence and retrieval is itself an astronomical coincidence.) Someone killed Nihlus, and either the humans are outright lying for some reason– in which case how can they make Shepard a Spectre?– or it was at least a turian that Nihlus recognized who was capable of overcoming a Spectre, and how many of those are there?

    None of these are game-breaking, but without the charity we extend stories we like I suspect they’d be harder to get past.

    Conversely, once a story has lost that buy-in, charity disappears, and the holes, conveniences, logical flaws and physical impossibilities just become impossible to ignore.

    • Trix2000 says:

      To be fair to Nihlus, his original plan to observe may have been compromised when they learned of the attack. So he instead decided it was better to investigate himself (via his usual MO) rather than tie himself down to the original mission (working alongside/observing Shepard). It’s at least semi-plausible, even if going alone is perhaps… not the best plan (and didn’t really work out for him).

      The rest is still pretty silly when you think about it too hard.

      • Thomas says:

        I read it as this. Although that then means that the original plan was to start seeing if Shepard was good enough to be a Spectre by sending him to a planet where they didn’t believe there was any real trouble at all.

        “Excellent job waving to the docking welcome committee Shepard, that’s the kind of muster we want in a Citadel Spectre.”

        • 4th Dimension says:

          Well Spectres aren’t solders only. They are spies and diplomats. So they would be testing how he liaises with the locals, does he take necessary precautions and generally working in Citadel space semi independently under the orders of the council. The Eden prime wouldn’t have been his graduation ceremony but BEGGINING entrance exam.

          Also Nihlus (or the Council) might have already decided that Shepard will be the next Spectre so they were giving him an easy mission that has a lot of prestige and would carry favor with the Salarians. Presumably Turians are already backing the humans since they recognize them as a VERY useful future military ally, which is why they even built the Normandy with them.

          But all this is speculation and it’s probable there never was an actuall answer.

          • guy says:

            The mission was supposed to be a milk run; it was the Normandy’s shakedown cruise in peacetime. That calls for an easy mission so the crew can get used to working together and iron out any little issues in the systems. The goal was to securely and presumably discreetly transport the Beacon without it getting stolen, and Nihlus would evaluate how well Shepard went about doing that. It’s stated that it’s only supposed to be the first of many missions Nihlus is along for, and presumably later ones would be more difficult. The Beacon is important enough they wouldn’t have sent Shepard if they thought there was a realistic chance he’d actually fail.

  22. Raygereio says:

    We see Shepard flailing, his suit leaking atmosphere, vanishing into the distance. As we fade out, we see what appear to be “re-entry” particle effects around him as he drifts towards the planet below.
    [snip]
    So right in the middle of upending the status quo, the writer throws in this sequence that’s either artistically inept or scientifically illiterate.

    Mass Effect does seem to have a proud tradition of cutscenes making little sense. From people acquiring weapons out of nowwhere,or holding a pistol with a rifle animation, to stuff like space combat being completely at odds with how it’s described by the writers.
    Given how large AAA games’ devteams can be I wouldn’t be surprised if the problem here is the various different departments not talking to each other. So the cutscene makers just got a quick summary from the writers about what the scene should be and then the former just did their own thing with it.

    It would also explain the problem of gameplay, leveldesign, etc, feeling very much separated from the story in these games. I mean you have a cutscene or dialogue where story happens, then shooting gameplay where no story is present at all, then another story bit with a cutscene or dialogue, etc.

    That said: Despite hilarious claims from some that ME is hard sci-fi, there are some truly absurd bits of “science” in here. Probably my favorite one was when Mordin claimed humans are a good testsubject when developing a cure against the genophage. Because you know: That wouldn’t be at all like using goldfish as testsubjects when developing a cure against red hair.
    So the writers just really being that scientific illiterate that they didn’t know how what atmospheric entry does is plausible I’d say.

    • INH5 says:

      It’s very clear from many behind the scenes statements that the Mass Effect series had a huge problem with too many cooks in the kitchen who didn’t talk to each other enough. It isn’t just the cutscenes: contrast Chris L’Etoile’s forum posts on how the Geth are totally emotionless with video interviews with the character and audio designers who talk about how they gave Legion’s model various features to allow him to express emotions, and how they calibrated the vocal effects to preserve the nuances of DC Douglas’s performance.

      With regards to this cutscene specifically, one of Miranda’s audio logs says that Shepard’s injuries consisted of shrapnel from the explosion and “long term vacuum exposure.” The fact that these are the only injuries mentioned and that the vacuum exposure was “long term” suggests to me that the writer’s intent was for Shepard’s body to be left in orbit until it was recovered, but something got lost in the memos to the art team and we ended up with a cutscene that sort of implies that something else happened.

      • Mike S. says:

        If it’s a story I’m interested in salvaging, my general policy when faced with a contradiction is to choose the one that makes more sense. (Which isn’t the same as rewriting the story. Though I’ve been known to do that for fun or out of desperation, as in the ME3 ending.)

        So if the visuals show a telling but inconclusive reentry effect, and the script says that Shepard left an intact body that was exposed to vacuum long term, I vote for going with the script and assuming that Shepard was picked up in orbit. The glow we saw was sunlight reflecting off Shepard’s suit, and the particle effects are ice crystals formed when the suit’s water supply ruptured. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

        • RCN says:

          Hmm… this got me thinking. Would it be possible for Shepard to have “bounced off” from the atmosphere, if the reentry angle was too wide? Not implying that’s what was planned (because obviously no-one involved seems to know what was supposed to happen), but it might be a head-cannon possibility.

  23. INH5 says:

    Yes, the details say it makes the most sense for our hero to be at the center of the action because of his relationship with the beacons, the Protheans, Vigil, and Liara, but it’s more dramatic if he’s central to the story because he’s a famous badass superspy who came back from the dead to Save Us All.

    Yes, the details say that we should be working for the council, but it’s more dramatic to have us working for a mystery man with glowing robot eyes and a hidden agenda who has a crazy space-throne room that would strike Palpatine as “perhaps overdoing it a bit”.

    Yes, the details say that improvements to the Normandy should be part of an in-between game retrofit, and that Cerberus as presented in the first game is barely able to run a lemonade stand much less act as a galaxy-spanning superpower, but it’s more dramatic to have the ship blown up in the opening and replaced by this shadow organization.

    Yes, the details state that saving the entire galaxy from the Reapers should be our priority, but it’s more dramatic to fight against bug-faced collectors who are threatening humans, and kidnapping your friends.

    I don’t want to keep harping on the the problems with ME1’s sequel hook, so I’ll leave aside the reasons why the details actually don’t say most of these things, and instead say something along the lines of “virtually nothing that Shepard says and does from the last minute of ME1 onward makes any sense.” But I still disagree with this:

    The opening of Mass Effect 2 is doubly painful. Not only is it packed with retcons, but it’s also exposition-heavy and clumsy. This is painful because the first game had already paid off the expositional overhead. With the Mass Effect 1 setup, the second game would have been free to jump right into the action without the need for an extended series of setup scenes. By breaking from the existing status quo, the writer obliged themselves to twist the world in knots to make the new setup work, and then they executed the transition in the most desultory way possible.

    ME2 absolutely needed to start with some in-depth setup scenes. Even if you ignore all of the logic and storytelling problems with ME1’s sequel hook, it didn’t actually set up any specific plot. It only suggested that the conflict with the Reapers wasn’t over. It was the equivalent a monster movie having the monster die at the end, then cutting away to one of the monster’s eggs hatching right before the credits. It sets up a basic premise for the sequel and nothing else.

    No matter what, ME2 was not going to be “Act 2” of anything, it was going to be a sequel story, and to do that it had to clearly establish at the start what the stakes were (and no, “the Reapers are coming” does not establish any stakes, because it doesn’t provide even a vague timeframe for when they are going to show up), what Shepard and co. knew, and what they planned to do about it. Instead it throws a bunch of explosions and action scenes at the audience seemingly in an attempt to distract them from the fact that there is no coherent story here.

    This isn’t only bad for returning players. I can say in hindsight that it was also bad for players like me who started with ME2. I spent much of the first level in a state of confusion. I understood at a basic level what was happening, but I didn’t get how any of this related to the text crawl about the Reapers or the opening scene with the poor man’s Cigarette Smoking Man. Things cleared up a bit for me when we got to Freedom’s Progress and the story set up a new conflict, but until then I spent most of my time just kind of going through the motions wondering, “why is any of this happening and why should I care?”

    —-

    As for Cerberus, I said it before and I’ll say it again, ME2’s Cerberus should have been given a new name and made into a completely different organization from ME1’s Cerberus. They don’t have anything in common besides the fact that, like everyone else in the Mass Effect universe, they like conducting Mad Science experiments. So what’s the point of reusing the name?

    Making them a new organization that Shepard hadn’t heard of before also would have helped with players like me who hadn’t played the first game as well as players who either skipped the Cerberus sidequests in ME1 or had forgotten them after 2 years. Throughout much of the first mission I was thinking, “who are these Cerberus people and why does the game act like I should care?”

    • Mike S. says:

      Reusing the name was clearly to set up tension because Shepard, personally, had reason to be antagonistic to them. (Especially Sole Survivor Shepard.) But they never really had a coherent arc for that– neither making it plausible to work with them if you’re mad about your squad or Admiral Kahoku, or having to fight a million billion rachni, nor allowing a believable Renegade decision to throw in with them. (It should have been possible to buy into Cerberus’s ideology at least until some breaking point. Instead, the Illusive Man is more smarmy than seductive, and Miranda and Jacob barely try to talk you around.)

      • INH5 says:

        It seems to me that a better way to do this would be to introduce it as, say Awesomeus, then have a reveal midway through the game that Cerberus is a division of Awesomeus, which you could then confront TIM about. After all, it’s supposedly a secret organization, so there’s no reason why different parts of it couldn’t have different names, and if you’re trying to get Shepard on board it makes perfect sense to pretend to be a different group from the one that Shepard spent much of the first game fighting.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Pretty much what Ive been saying since forever.It baffles me how they decided to flat out tells you from the start “Yeah this is cerberus,you work for them now”.

          • To justify Renegade options, which were largely contradictory to the frankly cartoonishly sanitized setting in the original Mass Effect. Having the game start with you working along side Cerberus covers a lot of bases for facilitating Renegade actions. Right off the bat, you have a reason to disregard their authority and being a terrorist group, their connections are largely going to be illicit, so you can expect a lot of the settings to have a criminal element where again, acting Renegade makes sense. This is confirmed when the very first mission has you going to that universe’s Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy. As far as I can see, the intent was clear.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              But renegade would be the one who would be working with cerberus,not the one who would usurp their authority.Its paragon that would never work with them in the first place.The whole paragade thing is flipped because of that stupid decision.

              • Then you don’t understand how the system works. P/R are only P/R in the context of the moments they take place in because they’re exclusively in reference to Shepard’s state of mind in, not the plot he’s been tied to. That’s why they were able to change them to QTE’s for the sequel and it still worked as a P/R system. Complaining that P/R conflicts with anything beyond the scope of the individual moments they take place in (i.e. the plot device of working for Cerberus) is completely missing the point of what that system is and what it’s for.

  24. Lalaland says:

    Perfect analogy in your citing of the Star Wars canon Shamus. There was no need for the force to ever be more than magic and by turning it into science they retroactively made everyone in the later series a forgetful idiot.

    Admiral Motti: “Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels’ hidden fortress…”
    (Vader makes a choking motion with his hand)
    Darth Vader: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”……..“After all here’s my medical it quite clearly shows my high midichlorian count”

    I too have little love for suddenly being asked to fight for Cerberus but I do wonder how much of that was linked to ME2 debuting on the new Xbox360 and the desire to quickly onboard new fans. Rather than explaining who Reapers are, the Galactic Council et al they end run around it with this new simpler plot to quickly get the new far larger console audience onboard (given the relative failure of the original Xbox outside the US).

    • John the Savage says:

      …I am completely lost on your xbox 360 point. It sounds like you think that ME2 was supposed to be a killer app for the 360, or that it was the series’ first foray into the console market, or that the xbox 360 was even remotely new when ME2 launched. I really hope that I am just misreading a strangely worded statement, because none of those things are true.

    • INH5 says:

      I’m pretty sure ME2 being released on the Xbox 360 had nothing to do with anything, because the first game was also released on the Xbox 360. In fact, the first game was released on the Xbox 360 more than 6 months before it was released on the PC.

      • Thomas says:

        ME2 was the series debut on the PS3 and until very recently there was no way for PS3 fans to play ME1, so that at least could have persuaded them that a lot of recap was necessary and that the setting needed to be explained again.

        Although tbh, I feel like they didn’t really do that, which I liked. It was fun working out what everyone’s past histories with you was.

        • INH5 says:

          1). The PS2 release of ME2 was more than a year after the PC and Xbox 360 release.

          2). The PS2 release included an intro interactive motion comic that recapped the events of the first game, which was later released as a DLC for the PC named Mass Effect Genesis.

          So no, I don’t think they had this in mind when they wrote ME2.

  25. GTB says:

    I didn’t like anything about the second game. I disagree that the gameplay was better. I MUCH preferred the slower pace of the first game. ME1 was an rpg that I loved with some man-shoot that I put up with to advance the story. ME2 was a man-shoot with some rpg stapled on its ass as a nod to the people like me who liked the first game. Equipment was “streamlined” (read: gutted) and I didn’t see any benefit to the class changes. It was an awful pile of shit the whole way around. I felt a brief but powerful wave of rage and contempt when I saw the “Thermal Clip” screenshot above, because suddenly adding an ammo mechanic to a game that didn’t previously have or need one sums up the whole experience pretty well. It’s clear that technology has somehow devolved from the first game, since our guns suddenly require clips that are conveniently left on the ground throughout the world.

    I hate-played the second game the whole way through because I had purchased the damn thing, and then I lit the poor, mutilated corpse of my favorite franchise on fire and cried while it burned. I didn’t bother with the third game, I just tried to remember the good times.

    God, I hate this fucking game. I hate it the most for disappointing me after the first game was so amazing. I hate it for being the beginning of the EAing of the franchise, and I hate it for making me wary of any BioEAware games after that, when before I could always at least assume a certain level of quality for a bioware title.

    It’s like your favorite family member showed up to your door and they’re carrying a hot-fudge sundae and tickets to the concert you’ve been wanting to see but are too poor to go to, and you rush out and give them a big hug and then you realize its just an axe murderer wearing your favorite family member’s skin like a suit and the fudge is actually shit, and the tickets are for a Coldplay concert.

    • RCN says:

      Ah, the Thermal Clips. The addition whose only purpose was making the game more familiar to the Dudebros who wanted manshoots, at the cost of killing one of the most unique facets of the original game’s shooting mechanics and any semblance of logic or reason within the game.

      The thermal clips raises so, so many questions all by itself. Heck, they could have have introduced the thermal clips without killing the heatsink aspect of the weapons. It does seem like something useful to offset what was the only downside of the guns from ME1, which was that they could have lengthy cool-off timers. But making ammo completely linked to your thermal clips capacity? Heck, it doesn’t even behave like the game’s lore suggests it should behave, all it does is behave like a normal weapon magazine despite there having no way it could ever behave like one.

      Previously the firearms had essentially infinite ammo. Shepard could essentially kill an endless wave of Geth without ever leaving cover. Then they downgraded from that for a slightly faster cooldown time that leaves you always short on ammo. It bogles the mind.

      First question, why the hell is the clip being spent if I’m pacing my shots? Shouldn’t the clip only be spent when the gun overheats? If I’m only taking a couple of shots every five seconds, the weapon should stay cool and the clip unnecessary. But no, the clips somehow made it impossible for the weapons to lose heat unless it is jettisoned away in the thermal clip… and then incapable of even firing a single shot until another thermal clip is placed in to accumulate heat again.

      Second question, now your weapons have a built-in liability that shouldn’t, in any way, last throughout a mission. You need thermal clips to advance, but some enemies don’t carry thermal clips with them. Heck, the only reason you can advance throughout the Collectors’ ship is because they SOMEHOW have a bunch of thermal clips scattered within. It makes negative sense. The only thing they needed to trap Shepard was to make sure there are no thermal clips at their ship, and the only reason they HAVE thermal clips at their ships is because they presumably dumped them there for Shepard to have them. Take it away and Shepard’s left with biotic powers that don’t work on 100% of the shielded collectors.

      Third question, what happened with the old thermal-clipless guns? In the universe they set-up, these were obviously superior in almost every way. In fact, now they’d be highly sought after. The Thermal Clips are like if modern military suddenly decided that having automatic weapons jam every now and then was too much of a hassle and downgraded everyone down to Imperial Era barrel-loaded muskets. They might not jam anymore, but any and all soldiers would do everything they could to get their weapons on the “inferior” automatic rifles.

      It is idiocy compounded by lunacy that only shows how “helpful” EA was to the franchise…

      • Naota says:

        Thermal clips are a blight, even by normal game design standards. I think it’s pretty universally agreed that the idea behind ammo mechanics is to force players to aim more carefully and be economic with their shooting, by tying shooting to an expendable resource. This rewards pre-planning and smart play; if a player stocks up on ammunition and aims well, they won’t run out in a time of need.

        …but thermal clips are not expendable, and can’t be planned around. The damnable things are scripted not to appear unless the player is already low on ammo, and magically poof into the surrounding environment. Thanks to the small capacity for spares, they’re needed constantly.

        So… the only time you can find more bullets is after you’ve run out of them, and must flail around awkwardly in the midst of battle looking for environmental cues. You cannot go exploring to stock up ahead of time. But rationing your shots is pointless, because once you’re spent the clips will reappear infinitely. We wouldn’t want you to actually run out of bullets, after all – just to experience the same annoyance over and over with no way to mitigate it.

        This is a system designed specifically to capture the biggest downside of ammo-based shooting mechanics (having to dumpster-dive for bullets halfway through a boss battle), while eliminating all of the upsides with precision that borders on the immaculate.

        Game design is part of my job. I’ve built a competitive FPS. I could not make a more horrible mechanical framework if I tried my hardest. Thermal clips are a true marvel.

  26. Thomas says:

    Well I did some research and it turns out if you park a kerbal spaceship at 70000m at 0 m/s surface relative velocity and let the kerbal fall, he will live (until he splats from no parachute). I think the handwave they gave was that they came out of warp and were more or less stationary, not at orbital velocity.

    Orbital velocity he’s toast.

    • But does Kerbal Space Program take heat into account? Never played it (own it, keep meaning to, keep getting distracted), so I honestly don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t fault them for leaving it out, that’s a big extra complication to deal with when building a space program.

      • Thomas says:

        They do, though earlier versions didn’t. Also the world of KSP is smaller than the real solar system, so 70000m is not out of the atmosphere on Earth.

        • Falcon02 says:

          KSP still doesn’t have the most accurate model for reentry. Also, 70,000m is just barely out of the Kerbin Atmosphere. Higher altitudes would have different results (not sure how high you’d need to be though; 100 km? 500 km?).

          That said… you’re still right the real contribution to reentry heating is typically the orbital velocity. The direct acceleration from gravity isn’t a major factor unless you are coming down from further up.

          Another thing is even in the real world, anything in Low Earth Orbit is still “in the atmosphere” it’s just MUCH thinner up there. ISS is in “Space” (above the 100 km Kármán line) but they’re still in the upper atmosphere (Thermosphere) which gradually slows them down, if the ISS didn’t boost their orbit for a few months or years (not sure the exact timeframe) it would fall back to Earth like Skylab and MIR before it.

          It’s kinda like being in Kerbal and orbiting just barely below the threshold for being in the Kerbin Atmosphere (say 69,000m). You’re technically in the atmosphere as far as the game is concerned but you should still be able to make at least a few complete orbits before drag slows you down enough you fall the rest of the way down. I’ve always been a bit disappointed KSP didn’t model the typical Low Orbit Drag seen over months/years in real life, still awesome though.

  27. Cilvre says:

    there were too many comments for me to hit each of them before having to leave for a bit, but if Cerberus could resurrect Shepard, couldn’t they have made more of him?

  28. Hector says:

    After 137 comments I suspect Shamus won’t catch this one – but if you do, please make a mention of Wilson!

    I bring this up for a few reasons. First, he is a party member. But more than that, your interactions with them, and the “logic” (or lack thereof) behind his supposed actions and how he exits the story perfectly exemplifies the Mass Effect 2 method. People do weird things for obscure reasons which don’t make any sense, until other people complete the story by doing weird things for obscure reasons which don’t make any sense. Apparently some DLC was required to make any logic out of it, but even that didn’t really help – it just raises further questions.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      And the way Wilson is written out is also great indication of where the writing is going this time around. Miranda shoots him in the chest with a quip in order to introduce her in the most badass way possible, all while ensuring that any questions regarding his betrayal will never be answered. And the whole thing is dropped and never brought up again; every time Shepard asks someone about it, all they get is “Wilson was a traitor, shut up he was.”

    • swenson says:

      I mentioned this in another comment above, but I think it would’ve made a lot more sense if there’d been hints that TIM was actually the one who orchestrated the attack–even if he let Wilson think it was his idea. Consider the following:

      1. Shepard is woken up abruptly in a very dangerous situation, where she has no chance to examine her surroundings, ask in-depth questions, or really get a feel for what was going on in the facility and who these people are around her.

      2. The first person Shepard meets is Jacob, about the only trustworthy person working for Cerberus, who is ex-Alliance (just like Shepard!), honest even when it means going against the wishes of TIM and Miranda, and appears to be trustworthy. Especially once you meet Miranda, Jacob really starts feeling like the good guy (even though he’s working for a crazy human supremacist terrorist organization).

      3. Even though there must have been dozens of other people on the station, CONVENIENTLY every single one of them dies except TIM’s right-hand woman and your new best friend Jacob, thus leaving no one who knows how Shepard was resurrected, or even that she was resurrected at all.

      Plus it’d be another piece of evidence that TIM is legitimately a clever, manipulative man, not a guy who does evil stuff For Science that only seems to work out because everyone else in the galaxy is too dumb to realize he’s doing it.

  29. ehlijen says:

    I think the survival of Regina Shepthbert is perfectly logical: she charged the planet, which fully restored her barriers. She didn’t actually die until the rogue part of cerberus’ rescue mission accidently turned into thorian thresher husks and attacked her just to see what would happen.

  30. Christopher says:

    “When I criticize the plot failings of Mass Effect 2, people defend the game in terms of the gameplay and characters. And it’s true: The gameplay is better and the characters are fantastic. Yes, even Jacob, even though I make fun of him all the time. (I’ll talk about the characters later.)

    But this creates a false dichotomy. It assumes we can’t have good game feel unless we upend the story.”

    This bit at the end stood out to me. It reminds me of that interview Hideki Kamiya once gave where he explained that his mentor, Keiji Inafune, had given him the mantra of focusing on his strengths rather than try to minimize his weaknesses. You can make this same defense about Mass Effect 1, just switch the “plot” with “gameplay and characters”. But ME1 did what it did well enough that you like that game much more than I would think if someone weighed up what it did well compared what was boring and bad.

    It’s not that it wouldn’t be nice if a game managed to nail everything, but it almost never happens. It’s unreasonable to expect it to. Rather, the expectation is that it will have a good story or fun gameplay, and hopefully will spend its efforts at showcasing what it does best. I think ME2 comes way closer than most, by focusing so much on the characters and gameplay and having them both be good, and hiding the main stupid plot in the background. I don’t think that’s people saying you can’t have both, it’s people saying “I liked 90% of this game, so I don’t care what you have to say about the supposed main plot that’s like three missions long”.

    Anyway, all I’m really trying to say is that I’m pretty sure every Bioware RPG would be improved by making them visual novels/dating sims rather than action RPGs.

    • Chauzuvoy says:

      The problem with looking at ME2 trough that lens is that they don’t do a particularly good job putting the main plot aside. In Skyrim, for example, you can tell the main plot to get bent and spend 50 hours just dungeon-diving and side-questing. In ME2, the main plot forces its way into your game at set points. If memory serves, you’re forced to go investigate the derelict reaper and “abandoned” collector ship when TIM tells you about them. And when the suicide mission rolls around, you CAN choose to put it off, if you want to see your crew get liquified. It forces you to deal with the worst parts of its writing on its terms, and forces you to stop the part of the game you’re enjoying for it.

      I hate getting the yearly flu shot, but at least I can choose to do it when it’s convenient or easy for me. ME2’s main story is more like just getting the flu: it sucks and it forces you to deal with it instead of the thing you were just enjoying doing.

      • Christopher says:

        Yes, you you have to do the first missions when the game begins and theres one in the middle and the end. I get if you’re less forgiving of it because you’re forced to do them(sometimes on a timer, no less), but I think that’s a small enough part of that game to still say that they focused on the characters and their recruitment and loyalty quests. It’s a far cry from, say, how Dragon Age Inquisition is always focused on the rifts and villain, even though it is more of an open world game.

        • Thomas says:

          Yeah I think 7 out of 11 main missions are just about your companions, not the collectors. And then you have 10 optional loyalty missions plus all the other optional stuff

    • Blake says:

      Focusing on strengths instead of minimizing weaknesses is all well and good, but one of the problems with that approach for ME2 was the fact that it was a sequel to a very story heavy game.

      This meant a lot of the fans were let down when the things they loved most in the first game were ignored or brushed aside so the writers could focus on their different strengths.

      ME2s writing was better for individual scenes and the characters were much more interesting, but the big picture stuff simply did not work.

  31. Neko says:

    In my headcanon, ME2 and 3 are movies set within ME1’s universe to “tell the story of Commander Shepard” but, you know, Hollywoodified.

  32. Shamus, I think you need to start putting money aside for you and the rest of the cast to visit Santa Clara, CA. You’ll need to do a few Spoiler Warning episodes critiquing the Mass Effect theme park ride.

  33. Slothfulcobra says:

    Mass Effect 2 is unique from the other games in that the actual plot of the game takes a backseat to all the characters. The vast majority of a playthrough is going to be recruitment and loyalty missions, and there’s only about three missions between the opening and the finale that only deal with the main plot.

    • Spacewreck says:

      That’s why I ended up enjoying ME2 overall. Its main plot is wretched nonsense and the final boss evoked laughter rather than awe, but most of the playtime centered around the characters which I generally liked quite a bit. I ended up thinking of the main storyline as little more than a MacGuffin linking the character arcs, which kept it’s flaws from bothering me more than they would have otherwise.

  34. Reach says:

    ME2’s opening is like if Avengers 2 had started with the team being forcibly disbanded by a new government force, then introduced a whole slew of new characters immediately supplanting the previous cast. Then the first thirty minutes would establish who the new enemy was and who the new characters were.

    Since it was written competently, it instead drops us right into the action, with the heroes we know fighting a previously established villain. It uses what we learned in the previous Marvel films to build on, and things follow logically. I can’t think of a single moment where I thought “X did that?!? But they would never do that”. Liara’s new situation comes to mind. What happened between games that totally robbed her of her passion for the Prothean civilization? Why does she feel obligated, as a researcher, to be in this role?

  35. Jesus, could that details/drama section be any more condescending?

  36. Phantos says:

    I think one’s enjoyment of Mass Effect 2 depends on how readily and how quickly they are able to accept the retconning of Cerberus. From EXP mooks to Shadowy Badguy Corporation Thing.

    It probably helps that I started this series with the second game, so I didn’t have any context for Cerberus. I have no loyalty to the first game, so I didn’t feel stupidly betrayed by BioWare’s writers yet. To me, being bullet-fodder in the first game is just “what they were before the devs changed their minds”.

    That said, I think you’ve finally put into words I can understand why the setup for this game is such a mess. I didn’t really “get it” during the Spoiler Warning season, but that might just be me being stubborn.

  37. natureguy85 says:

    I don’t know if you realize how brilliant your use of a Star Wars picture and comment about the Prequels for the bit about changing genres is.

    What you describe as a switch from drama to details, I see as a switch from fantasy to science fiction. It goes beyond that one point though, to the prequel trilogy as a whole. One of the biggest reasons the Prequels feel so wrong is that they changed genres or styles, if you prefer. The original Trilogy were Adventure. The Prequels are Action movies.

    I felt the gut-punch from the Normandy’s destruction and Shepard’s death. However, getting them back immediately rather than after time or a long quest killed all of that. And as much as I liked the actual reveal, the Normandy is just a ship without the stealth, so why should I even care about that at all?

    Your picture text about the sun outside the window being real or not made me realize something; Mass Effect 3 shows that it is a literal sun outside a literal window. I’ve thought about a particular codex detail in other contexts but not in this one;

    Kinetic Barriers don’t protect against heat and radiation! That base would probably have some issues with that being that close to even a “cool” star.

  38. Max Nitric says:

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  39. Yes! Finally something about HEXENES.

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