on Jan 14, 2016
I’ve spent most of this series complaining about aspects of Mass Effect 2 that a majority of fansCompletely anecdotal. I have no idea what the “real” consensus is out there. don’t see is a problem. So let me briefly be a contrarian in the other direction and defend something everyone complains about: I think the Suicide Mission was a really interesting idea. I think it was a thematically appropriate way to wrap up a game that focused so much on preparation and team-building. It was the first time the series really did anything with the concept of Shepard being a military commander aside from him always leading 3-person teams into gunfights. It justified the large team size and it gave you an in-game reward for doing all those loyalty missions.
Sure, there are problems with how the suicide mission plays out. But unlike the problems with the plot, premise, and dialog, these aren’t baffling failures at basic tasks. The suicide mission was a new idea not just to BioWare but to AAA RPGs in general. It was challenging, it was different, and so its shortcomings are a lot more understandable in a game design sense.
The Suicide Mission
BUT WHAT DO THEY EAT? I`m joking. I don`t care.
The Normandy goes through the Omega-4 relay to the collector base. There’s a little space battle that reacts to the decisions you’ve made regarding your ship. If you’ve been doing the research, talking to allies, gathering resources, and paying for the upgrades, then the characters will respond. “Gosh! Good thing we upgraded the anti-decombobulator!” If you haven’t, then the bad guys blow holes in the Normandy and maybe some squad members might die.
After that the Normandy lands on the Collector base and you get to divide your people into teams and tasks. If a job calls for someone with technical skills, then you can select anyone with any technical knowledge. This, combined with whether or not you did their loyalty mission, determines if they survive performing the task.
I think the major cause of complaints here is that the cutscenes don’t connect the cause and effect. At one point Garrus gets shot in the chest. If he’s loyal, he just staggers for a second and recovers. If he isn’t, he drops dead. You can try to justify this by saying, “Well, Garrus was distracted, and so during the previous off-screen fights he took more hits, which depleted his shields. Which means that shot to the chest went all the way through.”
That works as an after-the-fact excuse, but it doesn’t really make the moment work in a dramatic sense. When Garrus drops dead it feels random, and not a consequence of his unresolved grudge against Sidonus or your failure to properly lead him. From within the story, you can’t see the cause and effect. If you put in the work and your team survives, then it feels like the game is rewarding you. But if you skip some of the sidequests, then the failures don’t really feel like proper thematic consequences, and they usually don’t work as a story. It feels like a major character died the death of a Star Trek redshirt.
Like I said above, this isn’t some horrible failure. It’s just something that understandably bugged a lot of people. I think the suicide mission was a solid concept, and it would be worth iterating on itNot just Mass Effect, but any developer / franchise. to see how these problems could be solved or mitigated. I think it would be worth trying it again and looking for different ways to make the failures and deaths more understandable and acceptable to the audience. I suppose the holy grail of this idea would be for a mission where each character realizes the conclusion of their character arc, either through survival or death. That would be a really ambitious blend of gameplay and story, and I’m not suggesting Mass Effect 2 needed to do that. But it’s a fun idea to play with, and something worth considering for future RPG’s with teams of companions.
Having said all that: It’s a shame the suicide mission idea was used here, because it’s actually better suited for the end of the third game than the end of the second.
Mating Call of Cthulhu
Does anyone remember where we parked?
Shepard and company blast their way to the heart of the Collector base. EDI scans their databanks. We see the Collectors turning kidnapped colonists into grey goo, which is then fed through pipes, building a giant robotic humanoid with three(?) glowing red eyes and a mouth-laser. Shepard comes to the horrible conclusion that they’re building… “A human Reaper!” EDI agrees, and suggests that this is how Reapers reproduce.
As I’ve said before, there’s a certain tension in the story of Mass Effect. On the Cthulhu side we want the Reapers to remain mysterious and terrifying. On the sci-fi side we want the Reapers to have some interesting explanation that represents an answer to a problem or idea posed in the story itself. If the writer wants to favor the Cthulhu idea, then they shouldn’t explain anything. If the writer wants to favor the sci-fi idea, then the Reaper mystery needs to be resolved in a final reveal. Sooner or later, the writer was going to have to choose which of these two masters they were going to serve.
But the Mass Effect 2 ending manages to fail both. When faced with the choice of preserving or resolving the mystery, their solution was to introduce a new mystery that’s too on-the-nose to work for Cthulhu and too action schlock to work for sci-fi, and which contradicts ideas presented in the first game. You could argue that it’s replacing the Cthulhu idea with more of an H. R. Giger style story of bio-mechanical body horror, but that’s completely ruined by the unintentional comedy of a MOUTH LASERShooting a Baby Reaper Robot in its test tubes to make it fall down is also kind of slapstick.. The sense of mystery is gone, but we’re also denied having a satisfying explanation for their actions because the story doesn’t really give you a proper sci-fi styled explanation.
So now the writer has painted themselves into an even smaller corner. Not only does Mass Effect 3 need to explain why Reapers kill everyone every 50k years, but now they also need to explain why the Reapers would do… this. So the writer has killed both the Cthulhu and sci-fi aspects of the story, while simultaneously burning all the bridges to Mass Effect 3 so that no future installment could ever make sense of this. The Reapers can’t be a mystery, but they also can’t build to some final reveal where everything falls into place.
This will never not look hilarious.
Why would you need grey organic goo to build a metal robot? Why would the resulting robot have three eyes? Is that a mistake? What caused it to have a mouth-laser? What could possibly connect this Reaper to the others we’ve seen? And how could building this thing right now possibly advance their cause of conquering the galaxy? Even if this new Reaper was mature, how would it help them? Fine, they’ll have a Reaper. That would take us back to the start of Mass Effect 1, where there was a lone Reaper and a galaxy of people that didn’t believe in it.
It’s not that you can’t come up with answers to these questions, it’s that the story seems to create these questions without realizing it. This is supposed to be the moment of big revelation, and it just introduces a bunch of head-scratching nonsense. Worse, our main characters don’t seem to notice how goofy this is. In fact, they seem to think this is a brilliant twist that makes sense.
Shepard: A human Reaper!
They also don’t seem to notice that this doesn’t mesh with existing lore. Vigil never mentioned this. We see at the end of the game that all the other Reapers look like Robo-Cthulhu, so there’s no explanation for why this particular one would look like a personI know there’s an explanation somewhere that this robot would climb inside a Reaper-ship. That question really needed to be addressed / acknowledged in this conversation.. It doesn’t fit with what Sovereign said in Mass Effect 1, and it doesn’t flow from the visions. “Sovereign could have been lying” is the handy excuse, although that effectively negates one of the big reveals and central questions of Mass Effect 1. It’s bad enough the writer capped off Mass Effect 2 with a Big Dumb Reveal, but they’re ruining some of the best scenes of Mass Effect 1 to do it.
There’s not even a line of lampshading dialog from Shepard like, “Everything we thought we knew about Reaper behavior was wrong. So why did Sovereign feel the need to lie to us?” Instead the Sovereign and Vigil conversations are basically dismissed as a side-effect of this new reveal, and the writer didn’t even seem to notice.
The writer’s job had three parts:
- Build naturally and seamlessly on what came before.
- Come up with an interesting story for now.
- Set up the groundwork for later.
I understand that doing all three of those is tough, and I might be more forgiving if they had sacrificed one to benefit the other two. Sure, retcon the Sovereign conversation so it’s all a bunch of dumb lies from a neurotic space monster. As long as the resulting story is satisfying, then people will tend to go along with it. Or if Mass Effect 2 suffered because the writer spent lots of time laying groundwork to build a bridge between Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 3, that might be understandable.
But the writer failed at all three. They took the small number of established facts about the Reapers and swept them away. Then they used the resulting freedom to tell a dumb story that went nowhere. Then they burned any possible bridges that might be useful in Mass Effect 3.
And for what? A boss fight?
So EDI, what does the Mass Effect Wiki say about this?
Note that all of this is revealed in a dialog with EDI. This is the closest thing we get to the talk with Vigil at the end of Mass Effect 1. This is supposed to be where the questions are answered and mysteries are solved. Only instead of answers from an authoritative source, we have EDI scanning the Collectors with space magic and extrapolating. Even if this wasn’t drivel, it wouldn’t be satisfying because it’s all guesswork. I’m sure she’s right and what she’s saying really is how the author has decided it works, but it still feels lame and directionless. Imagine if the Vigil VI had been removed from Mass Effect 1 and instead Garrus and Liara had just sat down at a Prothean computer and took turns guessing at what they were seeing. That lacks a certain revelatory punch.
It’s crap. It’s stupid, infantile, lazy, sophomoric crap. This is exactly how we got the ending of Mass Effect 3: The writer explained something that didn’t need to be explained, and their explanation was so mind-numbingly stupid that it launched people back into the Primary World and slammed the door behind them. It’s not like the writer failed to make this hold together; they didn’t even try. The writer couldn’t see any further than their immediate goal of “Make a boss fight” and didn’t think it needed to mesh with existing information or leave a path open for the future.
There wasn’t an uproarOr at least, not a large one. Journalists weren’t writing think-pieces about it and it didn’t seem to impact reviews. over the end of Mass Effect 2, so there was never any reason for the writer to question their desultory approach to storytelling. If the peasants will praise you for serving them shit, why bake them a soufflé?
Next week: The conclusion to Mass Effect 2!
 Completely anecdotal. I have no idea what the “real” consensus is out there.
 Not just Mass Effect, but any developer / franchise.
 Shooting a Baby Reaper Robot in its test tubes to make it fall down is also kind of slapstick.
 I know there’s an explanation somewhere that this robot would climb inside a Reaper-ship. That question really needed to be addressed / acknowledged in this conversation.
 Or at least, not a large one. Journalists weren’t writing think-pieces about it and it didn’t seem to impact reviews.