Mass Effect Retrospective 34: We Fight Then We Die

By Shamus
on Feb 11, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

312 comments

The Alliance calls Shepard to some sort of hearing. This hearing (or whatever this is, they don’t follow any sort of protocol) would have been a great chance to pave over the plot holes of Mass Effect 2 and give us some context for what happened between “I’m going to find some way to beat the Reapers” and “I’m going to sit in this room doing nothing until I’m sent for”.

Maybe show that the Alliance was really, really wrapped up in some secondary problems or conflict that seemed really important to them at the time, which is why they seemed so inert in the last game. Maybe show a political struggle that explains or partly justifies their seemingly odd behavior. Maybe show that they were indeed working on the Reaper threat, but were afraid to tell you because of the whole Cerberus thing. Maybe this is all just an inquiry, so Shepard can explain (to both the Alliance and the players who missed Mass Effect 2) what happened at the Collector base.

As it stands, we know more about what happened in the Rachni wars two thousand years ago than we know what our protagonist has been up to since the end of the last game. This writer must hate worldbuilding.

Ideas? Anyone?

At least there aren`t any Selkath here.

At least there aren`t any Selkath here.

The writer put the Alliance behind a stage curtain last game. At the start of this game they were free to claim whatever they liked about what the Alliance was doing. And they chose to reveal that the Alliance was doing… nothing.

Just to drive the point home, the writers have the Alliance ask Shepard what they should do about the approaching Reaper fleet. This is really annoying, since Shepard doesn’t actually have anything useful to say and answering that question was supposed to be the plot of the previous game. Not only were they not doing anything, but they still aren’t doing anything. They have no plans, no ideas, no initiative.

Mass Effect 3 decided to focus on Earth, and then refused to make Earth an interesting place. None of these people have names, personalities, or agendas. They just look at Shepard like dumb kids who forgot to study the night before an exam. The player is being asked to struggle to save a planet of apathetic people who can’t think for themselves. Make us care about these people before you blow them up, so we can have some sort of tangible motivation for saving Earth.

And of course there’s the infamous trailer-bait line where Shepard proclaims, “We fight or we die!” I feel like everyone has already dog-piled on this, but for the sake of completeness:

Yes, that line is flat-out dumb beyond parody. It’s not an answer to their question. (I’m pretty sure they were asking how you fight the Reapers, not if you fight the Reapers.) It’s not a terribly inspirational or interesting thing to say. (Compare this clunky one-liner to Shepard’s speech just after taking command of the Normandy in Mass Effect 1.) It’s monumentally bad advice, bordering on sabotage. (If you’re attacked by an invulnerable foe, you don’t fight them. You run. You hide. You don’t gather into a fleet to be killed en masse, you scatter like cockroaches so they have to chase you down and kill you in detail.) And it’s 100% wrong by way of being a false dichotomy. Just ask the Protheans. You don’t choose between fighting and dying. You do both.

And the writer thought this idiotic line of dialog was so awesome they don’t bother to give you a dialog wheel for it, because otherwise you might ruin their scene by not choosing to say it.

The writer then ends the conversation by having the Reapers come down out of the clouds and kill everyone that isn’t a named character with a single well-placed laser beam. I guess that’s one way to avoid having to write dialog or characterize people.

THE END

Obviously I`m supposed to be shooting him in the weak spot, but I don`t see any glowy red bits. And where is his HP bar?

Obviously I`m supposed to be shooting him in the weak spot, but I don`t see any glowy red bits. And where is his HP bar?

As far as I’m concerned, the story of Mass Effect should have ended here. The first game sold us on the idea that the Reapers were indomitable foes with vastly superior technology. The battle against Sovereign showed that even if the galaxy united, we wouldn’t have a fraction of the strength required to hold them off. The fact that they’re invading Earth now means that Shepard’s quest has essentially failed.

But note how this also damages the previous two stories. In Mass Effect 1 we were left with the impression that the Reapers were all trapped in dark space. That was why Sovereign was daring to expose himself for an audacious run for the Citadel. He wanted to turn on the mass relay in the Citadel and let his Reaper buddies in. In Mass Effect 2 the Collectors were trying to brew up a baby Reaper by attacking colonies. It was a dumb plan, but we understand it was a backup plan.

But now we learn that the Reapers were so close that they could arrive in… how long? A few months? A year? The game doesn’t say for sure, but it’s not long. What was the point of those other two plans if the Reapers could just show up whenever they wanted? This makes both Sovereign and Harbinger come off as hasty and foolish. Not only was Shepard wasting his time fighting the Collectors in Mass Effect 2, but the Reapers were also wasting their time by simply not invading when apparently that option was always open to them. A couple of years is nothing to them.

At the End of Mass Effect 2 we saw all the Reapers “wake up”. What woke them up? Could that have happened sooner? Did Harbinger do that? These questions are central to the mystery presented by the first game, and here the writer brushes them aside without resolving or explaining them. “Yeah, the idea that they were trapped in dark space? That’s not a thing anymore.”

Damn it, you condescending ass of a videogame. Let me put my gun away so I can take some proper screenshots.

Damn it, you condescending ass of a videogame. Let me put my gun away so I can take some proper screenshots.

They have now handled the Reapers exactly backwards. For the story to work we needed to know how their invasion process worked so that we could stop it. To keep them mysterious, their motivations and origins needed to remain a secret. But at the end the writer will tell us everything about their now-idiotic motivations, but they never explained to us the basic mechanics of how the trip from dark space happened or how this important obstacle was overcome. This isn’t “drama over details”, this is “drama only, to hell with the details”. This was the thing that the Reapers needed to find out how to do, and what Shepard needed to prevent. This isn’t some nitpicky side-story objection. This is the core obstacle that drove the conflict and questions of the entire series. And it was skipped over without explanation. The characters don’t even lampshade this with speculation. It’s like the writer didn’t realize this was important. It’s like the writer didn’t know the plot of the story they were supposed to be writing.

Part of the problem here is that the Mass Effect 3 writer either never understood or never respected the whole “Elder Gods” angle the first game set up. Sovereign had a very particular voiceTo be clear, I’m talking about a stylistic voice, not “voice acting”. Yoda, Gandalf, and Dr. Doom are all examples of distinct stylistic voices. and attitude with regards to organics, and we never hear that voice again after the first game. The Cthulhu idea was abandoned. The Reapers are reduced from gods to bullies.
This is why the whole “quest for knowledge” idea was important. You can’t beat gods with guns. You need to find the secret to close the gate, break the spell, placate the gods, or otherwise avoid or forestall your doom. (Even beating them with a superweapon feels sort of lame and ill-fitting.) The change in Shepard’s quest necessitated a change in the villain (or perhaps the other way around) and as a result both have been diminished and the story has been filled with cracks and ugly seams.

But… fine. This writer didn’t like the elder gods idea and they just wanted to make a bombastic action adventure where you fight space-monsters. That makes lore-nerds like me all butthurt, but if that was the only crime then at least we’d end up with a serviceable action romp at the end. Over the next 16 weeks I’m going to try and make the case that – after changing the tone, a bunch of lore, the story focus, and many of the characters – the writer couldn’t even make the story succeed at the basic level of simple dumb action movie.

The first of the writer’s staggering blunders is that they tried to build the emotional core of the game around the moment where…

Some Kid Died

SYMBOLISMS! I think. I mean, the kid is playing with a toy spaceship like the kind Shepard commands. That`s how symbolism works, right?

SYMBOLISMS! I think. I mean, the kid is playing with a toy spaceship like the kind Shepard commands. That`s how symbolism works, right?

So the writer wants to have someone act as a symbol for humanity and to haunt Shepard in his dreams. They want something to drive home just how alone he is and how much weight he’s bearing. Someone that could be used as the abstract symbol of the entire human race, and which can then be co-opted by the bad guys at the very end for the big exposition dump.

Our writer has two major problems here:

1) They don’t want to build on what came before.
2) They don’t want to pay for the new stuff they’re adding.

They could have used the voice of whichever squaddie died on Virmire. Or even Jenkins. I mean, Shepard at least KNEW Jenkins. Or have Anderson perish in the opening and use him. But instead the writer introduces a child who gets less than a minute of screen time. No name, no personality, no relationship to the rest of the gameworld. He’s just there because – aside from kittens and puppies – children are the most direct and expedient means of telling the audience “You care about this thing”. It’s the problem with assumed empathy again.

This character might work if the author was willing to build up some kind of bond between the audience and the kid, but the writer just wants to get this dialog over with and get back to the shooting. The kid gets two lines of dialog, and neither one rings particularly true. Neither one is a particularly kid thing to say, and neither one humanizes him.

You can`t help me. If you did, then at the end of the game Hologram Kid would need to be replaced with Hologram Guy Who Sold You Weapons In Mass Effect 1.

You can`t help me. If you did, then at the end of the game Hologram Kid would need to be replaced with Hologram Guy Who Sold You Weapons In Mass Effect 1.

The kid’s big “gotcha” line to Shepard is, “You can’t help me.” That’s not the sort of thing terrified children say, but let’s ignore that and just assume the writer is trying to imbue this exchange with some capital-M Meaning. It’s true that you can’t help the kid, but only because he won’t let you. Based on what we see, Shepard could have taken this kid with him to the Normandy and he would have lived at least as long as everyone else on the ship.

I’m not saying that’s what should happen, I’m saying that in all their heavy-handed groping for messages, the author is telling us one thing and showing us another. This kid isn’t a symbol for all the people Shepard wants to save but can’t because the Reapers are Too Strong, he’s a symbol for all the people Shepard wants to save but they won’t allow him because They’re Too Dumb And Obstinate. Shepard’s struggle isn’t against the Reapers, but against a galaxy that stubbornly refuses to let him save it.

At the end of the intro the kid is killed by a Reaper, and the writer hasn’t invested enough to get the payoff they need. It sucks when the kid dies, sure. It makes for some quick brute-force pathos. But this moment doesn’t have enough kick to begin to justify what the writer is trying to do here. In this character-based game, the writer is trying to build the emotional core around someone that you can only care about in the most abstract way.

Now Leaving Earth

The Reapers sportingly ignore the Normandy while it hovers here for a long time, even though there`s a Reaper basically right off-screen from this. It`s like if something isn`t on screen the writer forgets it exists.

The Reapers sportingly ignore the Normandy while it hovers here for a long time, even though there`s a Reaper basically right off-screen from this. It`s like if something isn`t on screen the writer forgets it exists.

The Normandy appears. The Alliance grounded Joker for basically no explained reason in Mass Effect 2, but now that he’s gone AWOL and joined up with terrorists, they’ve given him back his previous rank and reinstated him as a pilot?

And the rest of the ship’s crew was nearby? And the Normandy hasn’t been assigned to a new commander and put to use? Instead it was fueled upIt was actually in the middle of a retrofit, which makes it even more implausible that they got it space-worthy inside of five minutes. and waiting for Shepard to return?

I agree with the writer: Having the Normandy swoop in and save Shepard is a great dramatic moment and a good way to get the story moving. But they spent the entire last game and the intro to this one smashing the setup that would have made this moment natural instead of a massive contrivance.

Anderson and Shepard reach the Normandy and argue about who is going to stay on Earth. This is an idiotic conversation that requires both characters to forget everything they know about the Reapers. Shepard is talking about going to get help, and Anderson is talking about staying to fight.

The Protheans were objectively more technologically advanced than the galaxy we see in these games, and the Reapers mopped the floor with them. The first game showed that it required a bulk of the military might of the galaxy just to kill one distracted Reaper, and we see a half dozen Reapers on the horizon. Assuming the invasion is global and not focused on this one city, we can infer there are hundreds or thousands of Reapers attacking Earth alone. The idea of “getting help” is ridiculous, only surpassed by the staggeringly preposterous notion of staying behind to fight.

Two and a half minutes of screen time. That`s how long the Normandy hovers in front of this Reaper while it blows up rubble and shipping containers. (And also Some Kid.)

Two and a half minutes of screen time. That`s how long the Normandy hovers in front of this Reaper while it blows up rubble and shipping containers. (And also Some Kid.)

Even if Earth was the only planet under attack and even if every single other race in the galaxy magically aligned under Shepard’s banner, and even if they gathered every single space-worthy ship in Earth orbit to fight, it would not be enough to save a single continent. We know this. The previous games made it clear this battle couldn’t be won through force of arms, and now the plot of this game is rounding up those armaments that the story has repeatedly insisted couldn’t save us.

The writer clearly wants machismo and heroic dialog more than they want to adhere to the rules of the universe. Running away and leaving the Earth to fend for itself wouldn’t be “badass”. It would be the only correct thing to do, but it wouldn’t be badass. And the writer wants these two to come off as badass.

It’s like the writer is at war with themselves here. If you want Shepard to act like an action hero, then don’t start the game with an invasion of indomitable space-gods. The Reaper invasion is wrong for this story. Shepard’s quest is wrong for a plot about an ongoing Reaper invasion. And Shepard’s heroic dialog is wrong for both.

Everything is wrong. Every single writing decision here is wrong, jarring, dissonant, stupid, contradictory, confusing, lame, implausible, or frustrating. None of this works. Mass Effect 2 didn’t fit as a sequel to Mass Effect 1, but Mass Effect 3 doesn’t work as a sequel to either of them. Neither does it work on its own terms.

This opening is just as much of a sophomoric disaster as the ending. The only difference is that here we have beloved characters like Anderson and Joker to maintain our connection to the universe, and we have the false hope that maybe the writer can still untangle all of this.

But whatever. Shepard jumps on the Normandy to fly off and find some allies. Luckily(?) Admiral Hackett phones up and sends Shepard to Mars.

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Footnotes:

[1] To be clear, I’m talking about a stylistic voice, not “voice acting”. Yoda, Gandalf, and Dr. Doom are all examples of distinct stylistic voices.

[2] It was actually in the middle of a retrofit, which makes it even more implausible that they got it space-worthy inside of five minutes.



A Hundred!A Hundred!A Hundred!12312 comments? What, did somebody start a flame war or something?

From the Archives:

  1. Lame Duck says:

    “As far as I’m concerned, the story of Mass Effect should have ended here.”

    I actually think there’s a very cool and interesting story that could come after the beginning of ME3: you find a non-Mass Effect Relay way of sending a limited amount of people on a one-way trip to another galaxy and ME3 is all about gathering the resources required to survive in an unknown galaxy and deciding who to send, without tipping off the Reapers to your escape plan. It establishes a reason for you to do a tour of all the important species in the galaxy, it’s an easy set-up for all the “difficult” binary decisions the writers could possibly want to include and allows them to maintain their beloved paragon/renegade dichotomy with a meta decision of “save enough of each species to allow them to survive in the new galaxy” versus “save enough of humanity to allow them to be the dominant species in the new galaxy”.

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      If I was to take a drink every time someone suggested a better idea for a Mass Effect game in these comments, I’d be dead in minutes.

    • Henson says:

      This is intriguing, but there’s no way they would have gone with this idea. ME2 was all about punching dudes and being a badass in a team of badasses. To have ME3 be about running away in a desperate attempt to merely survive would be such a tonal shift, the audience would be pissed. We’ve got to save that tonal shift until the very end, of course!

      • Lame Duck says:

        I actually think the suicide mission at the end would have made a decent tonal bridge between ME2 and my theoretical Mass Effect 3 if it was changed so that it was impossible to save absolutely everyone.

        • Henson says:

          I agree. In my own hypothetical ME2, Shepard & Co. try to stop the Reapers from finding a way into our galaxy, and FAIL. They learn some crucial things on the way that can lead to stopping the Reapers (presumably better than the ME3 solution), but that failure could certainly colour the mood for the remainder of the series.

      • Tom says:

        Not true. You can still punch dudes in a badass way while you’re running away from Space Cthulhu. It could be to get them out of your way, or to stop them betraying you and flagging your location to your pursuer, or for their own good because they’re too dumb to come along with you voluntarily… there you go, three at least halfway plausible motives in 30 seconds. How long did ME3 take to write?

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      I really like this idea. It would have been a better fit and it would have allowed for some actual scifi in their scifi franchise. I could even see them having conflicts with other species but they establish some friends when a Reaper makes it through and the survivors share their expertise with native species to help them repel the Reaper.

    • TheCheerfulPessimist says:

      So, like… Mass Effect Andromeda?

    • Lame Duck says:

      I think it also provides a much better context for conflict between the species. In ME3 they’re short-sighted and petty to the point that they almost seem to lack the basic desire for self-preservation, but in a situation where every member of another species that is saved is one less space for your own species it makes a lot more sense for a lot of disagreement and back-stabbing. The Krogan, for example, absolutely need a cure for the Genophage now, because the amount of individuals that they can take won’t be enough to sustain their population otherwise and the other races don’t want to help because they’re terrified that the Krogan will quickly take over this new galaxy if they have their natural rate of reproduction.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not to mention that this wouldve worked almost with entirety of the game as it is now.You cure genophage?You get krogans coming with you.You make peace between geth and quarians?Both of those come with you.Etc,etc.

    • MrFob says:

      Oh, I don’t think this would have gone down well either. Making a story about basically loosing and running from the enemy in a third part of a trilogy – while a gutsy move – would almost certainly have created just as much as an uproar as the actual game did.

      I probably would have laughed about it as it would have perfectly exposed the issues ME2 created but I wouldn’t have called it a good story for ME3.

      Whatever a better story for ME3 would have been, I think the confrontation with the reapers was needed and not having it would have been massively anticlimactic.

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      That reminds me of Homeworld: Cataclysm, where the Bentusi decided to just skedaddle out of the galaxy because they were so scared of The Beast. They even got a few ships off through their intergalactic portal before the player showed up and got the Somtaaw to kick their butts until they helped.

      • Phantos says:

        Is that the game where if you screwed up so bad, the antagonists just leave the universe and wish you good luck, while an even worse enemy comes and ruins everything?

        I remember reading an article about a game like that, with a space-exploration theme, but for the life of me I can’t remember any specific names.

  2. kunedog says:

    You posted the entire entry to the front page, instead of a summary. I don’t think it was intentional, but you’ve done it at least once before.

  3. Radkatsu says:

    They had a prime opportunity to do something effectively unprecedented with the ending of ME3. It would’ve pissed off a whole lot of people, and wouldn’t have worked with the whole ‘your choices matter!’ (even when in the end they really don’t) approach, but it would’ve been damn neat.

    Let’s say the story is more linear with the choices you make being important on more of a personal and squad level, not so much to do with the big overarching Reaper plot. That fixes the issue there. Then, in game 3, you have the player build their super weapon. They gather materials, pieces, members, scientists, whatever, work hard to build it.

    We send it in with the fleets, weapon deploys… and it’s destroyed by the Reapers immediately. You lost, the weapon was pointless, game over. Completely subvert the very idea that a super weapon is capable of defeating Space Cthulu.

    Of course this wouldn’t work with a AAA mass(oho)ive game like Mass Effect (which I’d argue is part of why AAA is so broken). Expecting today’s whiny gamers to accept an ending like that? lolno. Maybe you could have it as a bad end I guess, and have a different storyline where the player is intended to do something else (also unlikely given budgetary issues with something like that, again a problem with AAA), but it’d probably work pretty well as the ending to an indie title where expectations can be held to a different and more reasonable level.

    • Matt says:

      Having the whole game be a build up to a superweapon that the Reapers immediately destroy would have been even more of a slap in the face. ME3 seemed like the writers didn’t respect the lore they had built, but they at least cared enough about the audience to attempt some kind of gravitas. Having the whole story wiped away in as nihilistic a fashion as you suggest would be mean-spirited: “Haha, the joke’s on you for caring about this universe and these characters – they were doomed from the start.”

      Cthulhu stories prime the audience to accept the hopelessness and inevitability of the protagonist’s defeat/demise/insanity. ME1 suggested that while the Reapers were invulnerable in any conventional sense, they could still be beaten. The odds were long, but Shepard and crew were never totally hopeless.

    • MrGuy says:

      “Sup, mortal? I really appreciate you making the effort to come all the way up here and vanquish me and all. But, I’m kinda indestructible. Yeah, I can’t be killed. I’m surprised nobody mentioned that to you.”

    • MichaelGC says:

      It would’ve pissed off a whole lot of people

      Aye right. Close call there; phew.

      :D

    • Corpital says:

      This superweapon idea would fit quite nicely with what we learned last game. The weapon technology salvaged from Souvereign was apparently not only ridiculously powerful, but also not too hard to built and retrofit existing ships with, so upscaling it into a massive cannon to just blast every Reaper in a straight line should be possible.

      On the other hand, that little eye-drone-thing near the Collector’s base had no problem just smashing a big hole into your cargo hold, even with the best hull and shields available installed.

      It beats building an artificial moon and glueing it to the Citadel, anyway.

    • Falterfire says:

      The problem with this is that it gets into the problem Shamus keeps talking about where the player is forced to do stupid things because the writer won’t let them do anything else.

      There is no reason to expect the Crucible to work. It’s never been tested, it was apparently designed by a bunch of different species, none of whom had any contact with each other, and even the final builders of it in ME3 are more or less clueless about what it’s supposed to do. On top of that, we know the Reapers are crazy advanced nearly-unkillable murderbots.

      It would be incredibly cruel for the writer to say “Here, spend all your effort building this nonsense toy, it’ll save you” and then turn around and say “haha! You MORON, why would you ever think building a nonsense toy would save the galaxy! What an IDIOT!”

      At that point the game starts by undoing all your efforts in Mass Effect 1 in an unexplained manner (since the Reapers are still here) and then continues by punishing you for trying to do the only thing it will let you do. The only reason I won’t outright say that’s worse writing is that having the weapon backfire is effectively what actually happens.

    • ehlijen says:

      It has nothing to do with AAA vs indie or gamers being modern and whiny, what you’re describing is a bad story.

      Unless the theme of futility and pointlessness are built into a story from the start (which neither ME1 nor 2 did, outside a very meta way of not being able to escape the rails), ‘and then the heros fail’ isn’t an ending. It’s a cruel joke on the audience.

      It’d be the writing equivalent of the joke about the black and white knight on the black and white horse (to those who don’t know, the point of the joke is to be really long to tell and not have a punchline, wasting the listeners time).

      If you ask an audience to invest emotionally in characters, give those characters and the viewers actual hope (‘this superweapon will save you!’) and then arbitrarily snatch that hope away and cut to credits (‘You lost, the weapon was pointless, game over’), you’ve basically spat in their face. You didn’t give them a story, as that’d have meant giving an ending with closure.

      A story needs exposition, growing conflict, a climax and then a conclusion. An ending is more than the writer just not typing anymore.

      The reason this isn’t done much is because that’s not how stories work. Even the ME3 writing team understood that. It has nothing to do with unreasonable expectations.
      The Trogdor RPG did it, yes, but for two reasons:
      -as a joke, for it was a comedy game
      -to deliberately waste your time, again as a joke
      It didn’t try to offer a compelling story.

      Could be I read you wrong and you were talking about a more call of cthullu style story, but your phrasing suggested something more deceptive towards the player than that. And unless you have a really well delivered message (which your proposal didn’t include), players don’t like to be deceived about the nature of the game they’re playing.

      • jawlz says:

        I haven’t heard about the black and white knight before. Time for google. I can only hope that this joke is as good as the one with Nate the talking snake.

        • ehlijen says:

          The joke goes something like:

          The black and white knight on the black and white horse arrives at the city.
          The gate guard asks: “Who are you and what do you want?”
          The black and white knight on the black and white horse answers: “I’m the black and white knight on the black and white horse, and I’m here to ask the King for his daughter’s hand in marriage!”
          (repeat for keep guard, royal guard and then king)
          To which the King replies: “But first you must prove yourself worthy! Do (insert quest)!”
          (Repeat all of the above for however many quests you can come up with, at least three, each more epic than the last).
          Finally the King smiles and says: “You are worthy, you may marry my daughter.”

          And that’s it. If you’ve done it right, you’ve wasted at least 5 minutes of someone’s live and should probably run for your life now.
          It’s the ultimate build up that doesn’t go anywhere, as this proposed failure weapon would be.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            There’s a version of that in Germany that centers on a series of of amusingly named characters exploring a magical forest, where you repeat the same setup like nine times, “Funny named so and so, come explore this magic forest with me!” “Okay!” “And so the [list everybody who has already joined in] go deeper into the magic forest.”

            “Then they fall in a hole and die.”

            That’s the part where you run.

      • pdk1359 says:

        The quick fix for telling a we built this superweapon and it failed horribly story idea is do not have the protagonist fully supporting the idiot plot. Weird, I know.

        Place the hero as the only sane man that snarks the other ‘leaders’ who are insistent that the actually really stupid plan ‘will save us all’, let the protagonist make them look like idiots.

        Going that route could either be comedic or tragic; mouthy hero surrounded by idiots or the one guy who gets how bad things really are is the least heeded. Personally I’d rather go the tragic route, as befits elder gods; Yes you (and the protagonist) are railing against a stupid plan, but it doesn’t work, and then the last act vindicates you and you flee/hide or however things go, taking the only reasonable path once the ‘save us all’ plan crashes and burns.

        Now, I’d never have the thing end with the superweapon fails, everyone dies. You’re right; it’s one thing to throw that together for a joke game, but if things are supposed to follow any real story, that can’t be the end.
        However; superweapon fails, most people die and then the handful of survivors do SOMETHING that isn’t as dumb as ‘last ditch superweapon’, that’d be alright.

        And don’t forget; this would appeal to a wide variety of people, in the same way zombie apocalypse bs does. I don’t think it’s be hard to sell a ‘We’re awesome and especially humans are awesome’ plot to an executive. A bit of ‘we’re the only smart/capable people in the world’ and have everyone else act dumb, well that would act out the ‘I’m a chosen one‘ need that a lot of people have and look for in power fantasies. Done well, the story could run reference some historical/recent situation where a loud majority screwed things for the whole (I’m just referencing basic tropes, not actually pointing at an issue here, sorry if I sound like it).

        • ehlijen says:

          What you’ve described so far, though, has the supposed protagonist as a mere observer to the plot.

          If the player character isn’t for building the megagun, doesn’t help with it and has to do something else after it inevitably fails…then the megagun isn’t the plot. What is the story really about? What is the protagonist actually doing all that time? What are they trying to achieve, and what obstacles are in their path?

          What you’re describing is a setting in which real plots an happen, not a plot in and of itself.

      • Tom says:

        There is another way to do something a bit like that and not piss people off. The final sequence of the legendary sci-fi novel Roadside Picnic is a superb example of it done right. Of course, the trick there is that you never actually resolve the mcguffin plot at all; you use the lack of (or, more specifcially, the unknown outcome to) the mcguffin’s plot resolution as a means to resolve the protagonist’s journey instead.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I recommend you read one of Shamus’ initial pieces on the ME3 ending controversy. Especially the part about why making the central message of your 60+ hour video game trilogy “life sucks, then you die” is a massively dick move.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      I disagree that replacing the hopeful development of the story with pure nihilism would be “better.” In fact, I posit that would be “complete shit.”

    • Tektotherriggen says:

      I know at least one story that does the “collaborate on a project across civilisation-ending disasters” thing well: Stephen Baxter’s novel Space.

      Major Spoilers

      Civilisations have been teaming up to build a machine that can prevent neutron stars colliding. Someone in the distant past realised that the reason that the galaxy isn’t chock-full of life, is that neutron-star collisions lead to gamma-ray bursts. These are just about frequent enough to exterminate all species throughout the galaxy, just as they’re reaching the space travel stage. They work out that stopping just one of these explosions, will give technology enough time to advance enough to resist all future events. Like in Mass Effect, there’s a persistent network of (light-speed only) transport relays.

      The main character assists in “our” stage of the construction, but realises that it won’t actually stop the next extinction event. Humanity will be wiped out, but the NEXT cycle will survive. He is granted the privilege of being in-transit during the next gamma burst, so he survives to see the plan eventually succeed.

      That might have been an interesting bittersweet ending to Mass Effect, if it hadn’t been done already. The only way to stop the Reapers is to kill everything, but Shephard (and the rest of the Normandy crew) can only trigger the weapon from inside the crucible – which has the side effect of freezing them in stasis for a few thousand years. Then there’s a perfect sequel hook for the next trilogy, allowing players to keep the characters they love while needing no other continuity. The plot would still need a lot of other changes to make it good, of course, but it would keep the Reapers’ terrifying reputation from the first game.

  4. MrGuy says:

    Over the next 16 weeks…

    OK, place your bets, place your bets.

    It took Shamus 33 episodes of this series to cover ME 1 and 2. He’s claiming he’ll cover ME3 in 17 episodes (this one plus 16 more), so it will get about the same number of episodes as the other two games did.

    I’m taking the over on that. Yes, we’ve touched on “Some Kid Died” already (though there’s clearly more to say), but we haven’t even approached Kai Lang or (dear god) the ending. I don’t see Shamus bringing this game home nearly as quickly.

    My prediction is 24 more episodes (i.e. 25 total to cover ME3). What’s yours?

  5. PhoenixUltima says:

    I only ever played Mass Effect 1, mostly because the game just didn’t interest me enough to make me run out and buy the sequels.

    This series has made it clear that I missed nothing important.

  6. Flip says:

    When I first saw the kid, I thought it was going to be an audience surrogate character for new players. I thought Shepard would rescue it and it would end up on the Normandy and ask Shepard questions like “Who are the Reapers?”, “Why do they want to kill us?” or “Why do you have to fight so much?”. And then, I thought, they would kill the kid off later to motivate Shepard.

    But alas, action and pathos it is. :-(

    • Zekiel says:

      Some Kid annoys me beyond measure. The only reason I can see for not replacing him with Kashley (or even Jenkins, though frankly I’d struggle to recognise him) is the usual spiel that “this game is intended to be accessible to people who haven’t played the earlier installments”. So to make it accessible to all players, they throw away a perfectly good opportunity and make the story worse for *all players*.

      And all they’d need to do is have some dialogue between Shepard and the Virmire survivor at the beginning in order to introduce the Virmire Sacrifice to new players. You’d even be able to save on the costs of Some Kid’s character model!

      • Jokerman says:

        Considering how little you get to connect with the kid, new players are only be taking a sideways step if they just replace the kid with another character they didn’t know (Ashley, Kaiden, Anderson, Jenkins) Its not like the kid got any build up anyway.

        If you are getting into a series for the first time at game 3, you probably expect to not have much investment in characters anyway.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        I never understood the stupid argument of “we want to make it accessible to new players”.If you want to do it,then dont make a direct sequel.Do a final fantasy and start from scratch every time.But if you want to use the same people as the last time,screw the new players,let them read a wiki or something.Dont shit on your old audience.

        • ehlijen says:

          Or use your exposition and world building skills to bring everyone up to speed nice and quick.

          That’s how you introduced everyone in the first game, no reason you couldn’t introduce them again in each sequel.

        • Raygereio says:

          “we want to make it accessible to new players”

          I’m normally the one arguing that EA isn’t the source of all evil and that devs are perfectly capable of screwing up themselves. But I will buy a hat and eat it with mustard and mayonaise if this wasn’t mandated by a corporate suit who waved some market research around.

          It’s especially stupid considering that a selling point of the ME trilogy has been the save file transfer. Then again: Until they came up with the DA Keep, Bioware has been very half-assed about their save file import/export system.

          • Mattias42 says:

            Say what you want about Dead Space 3 otherwise, but they made a real effort to let new-comers actually get what was going on.

            Big, shiny button at the start: ‘Do you want to watch a recap of the story so far?’ Like a tutorial pop-up, but starts a short, mostly spoiler-free trailer instead.

            I mean, heck, wasn’t that sort of thing the codex was made for in the first place? Giving the players curious about the fine details more of it, while letting the more twitchy folk move on?

            Simple. Direct. Actually treats your audience as if they have brains.

            Obviously… we can’t have [i]that[/i].

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          Nnnnnnn.n…. None of these problems are particularly problems that are solving “new player uptake”. They’re essentially just changing stuff that didn’t need changing because … hell if I know. It’s almost like the writers never even read through the earlier works, and were instead working from two-paragraph summaries and descriptions. New players need answering “who is this?” “what’s going on?” “why do I care?” kinds of questions. And what IS there not only doesn’t answer those things for new players, it ends up making prior players ask the same darned questions. And that’s just kind of tragic.

  7. NotOJ says:

    This has been annoying me whilst you write this because most of your arguments are very good, but you keep mentioning how “The Reapers just turning up negates ME1&2 and makes Soveriegn and the Collectors stupid”. This is wrong.

    It was never stated that the Reapers couldn’t just fly back to the the Milky way through Dark space. Standard FTL exists (I think up to 40c) in Mass Effect and considering how powerful the Mass Effect Drives on Reapers are (The dead Reaper still being powered up several millions years after “dying”) it isn’t a stretch that they can just fly into the Galaxy. The reason for the Citadel trap was so that species in the galaxy would eventually form a government around it and this would allow the Reapers to jump in and:

    A) Take out Galactic Government in one strike

    B) Turn off all Mass Relays so that only Reapers can use them, isolating the enemys ships/planets and stopping any large resistance.

    Obviously ships can travel FTL without Mass Relays but it’s much slower and there’s the added confusion of not knowing why the Mass Relays suddenly turned off. This is all information from ME1 and it is never contradicted. It allows for a harvest with minimal casualties on the Reaper side (Which lines up with their motives, they want to preserve the species) with no all out war.

    The fact the Reapers can enter the Milky Way from Dark Space in no way contradicts the lore in ME1 or ME2.

    Both Sovereign and the Human Reaper were attempts to activate the Citadel Mass Relay in order to achieve maximum efficiency during the Harvest (Human Reaper idea is dumb as Sovereign already failed, but my point is that it was not made dumb by the Reapers suddenly turning up, it was already dumb).

    The REAL lore butchering comes from the fact the Reapers don’t immediately attack the Citadel, or in fact even try until the end of the game when they:

    A) Capture the Citadel for some unexplained reason (We can’t use the “Turn off all Mass Relays” reason as they would have captured it sooner if that were the case and because of point C of this list)

    B) Move it to Earth for some unexplained reason

    C) They then DON’T FUCKING TURN OFF THE MASS RELAYS

    Shamus, loving this series but please take note, the Reapers arriving without the help of the Citadel is not something that contradicts any lore or invalidates previous motivations. What does contradict the lore and invalidate any previous motivations is the fact that the Citadel isn’t the Reapers first point of attack and the fact that the Reapers can turn off the Mass Relays from the Citadel BUT DON’T FOR NO FUCKING REASON.

    Goddamn you’ve got me all worked up about Mass Effect again…

    • Henson says:

      I think the consternation comes from Vigil’s use of the word ‘trapped’ in ME1. If the Reapers are ‘trapped’ in Dark Space, doesn’t that mean that they can’t get out through conventional means? The fact that the area is called ‘Dark Space’ rather than just ‘space’ is an indication on its own that they are located in a special area with special properties, and not just some regular area of space far, far away. It would help to know exactly what ‘Dark Space’ is, but ME1 makes some pretty strong implications about the Reapers’ ability to get to our galaxy without the Citadel signal.

      • Zekiel says:

        I think Dark Space is just supposed to mean “the space between galaxies” where there aren’t (m)any stars, hence its dark.

        I had forgotten Vigil said that, so “trapped” does rather imply they need the Citadel relay (or some other special transportation) to get out. Course, Vigil could just be mistaken.

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          And it would be just like Bioware to retcon their lore by claiming the guy you heard the previous lore from was mistaken. A big pet peeve of mine. Sure its realistic but stakes are based in part on your understanding of how the setting works. Breaking those rules in this fashion undermines my investment.

          Now there are ways to inject dubious lore* but Vigil was ‘characterized’ as a factual archive and there was no indication of a biased history theme or anything like that.

          *Jennifer Snow has made me self conscious about making absolute statements about tropes in writing.

          • guy says:

            I’d say there’s no reason to believe Virgil was lying, but it’s also pretty clear he’s not omniscient. Him saying they’re trapped means either that the Protheans weren’t aware of any way for them to get back, or at least aren’t aware of any way other than “accelerate to .3C, spend a very long time listening to hold music”, which is close enough to trapped for government work. There is no sign that he’s lying, but he could just be outright wrong. All ME1 really necessitates is that there’s some reason Sovereign spent over a thousand years on his own trying to find a way to open the Citadel; it could be that their other plans are impractical or that they’re out of standard communications range and Sovereign couldn’t fly out to them on his own.

            • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

              I wish I could articulate this better even just for my own understanding but I just don’t feel like Bioware knows how to do that properly.

              Maybe it just goes back to Shamus’s piece about plot collapse. We don’t trust Bioware so when they go back on themselves, “unreliable narrator” comes off as a cop out. They haven’t earned it.

              • Mike S. says:

                I think it comes back to trust. There are ways of signaling an unreliable narrator, and the writers of Mass Effect 1 didn’t do that. As of Mass Effect 1, it was possible that Vigil’s information might be incomplete in some way, but it was clearly intended to be taken at face value.

                But it’s also possible to do a retcon and carry it off. And while it’s great if it turns out the details necessary to make it work are already there, it’s not a dealbreaker for it to be somewhat clumsy. If there’s anyone who’s bothered by the fact that Tolkien flat-out contradicted what the omniscient narrator told readers about how Bilbo got the Ring in The Hobbit (interposing the idea that it was Bilbo’s own lie in the Red Book of Westmarch) they’re probably dead by now. And most of us have probably seen the videos juxtaposing “I am your father” with what Obi-Wan actually told Luke about his father in “Star Wars”.

                Lois McMaster Bujold has a line about those sorts of contradictions: “The author had a better idea”. If it really is a better idea, and the author hasn’t lost the audience, then they’ll forgive the inconsistency and may even help shore it up.

                But if the audience has lost that connection, then everything that contradicts the earlier, “good” work just adds insult to injury.

                • guy says:

                  In this case, I think it would be as simple as presenting a reason the Protheans wouldn’t know about it. A backup relay deliberately located somewhere that the network doesn’t go so that no one can stumble over it would do it.

                  Bioware definitely did signal that Vigil didn’t know everything, so they could add any new information that Vigil wouldn’t be aware of.

        • MrFob says:

          One has to keep in mind though, that Vigil himself (itself actually, I guess) didn’t have a lot of information on the reapers. He even says so in his conversation and admits that a lot of the exposition he gves you is speculation on the part of Illos’ prothean scientists who were already very much isolated as soon as the reapers invaded.

          So whatever Vigil say, you always had to take it with a grain of salt and I wouldn’t say that using the word “trapped” breaks the back of the plot as such.

          No, the problem with the reapers just flying in is – just like so many things in the ME series- not so much a plot hole per se but just very sloppy, very inelegant writing. It doesn’t necessarily contradict Sovereign’s and Harbinger’s plans but it makes them much less crucial and therefore makes Shepard’s/the player’s accomplishments in ME1/2 much less critical to the story over all.

          • wswordsmen says:

            The problem with the Reapers fly in isn’t that it doesn’t work as a solution. It is the time it takes to execute the solution. For the Reapers to go from lets do this insane plan to enter the galaxy to here anyway in 2.5 years when the cycle length is measured in at least 10000s of years is stupid. That is .025% or less the length of a cycle (used 10k years for calculation). That is stupid and making your villain that stupid is a contradiction to the idea your villain is a threat at all what-so-ever.

      • NotOJ says:

        I’ve never thought of the word choice of “trapped”…. That does imply they can’t leave….

        Dark Space is just the space between galaxies, nothing too special about it. I believe this is mentioned in ME1 by Virgil…

        In that case, it’s said they are trapped in Dark Space with no explanation as to why (I remember thinking that they were inert and only activated when the Citadel was).

        • Ninety-Three says:

          My impression was always that they were very, very far out in dark space, as in, “it will take them millenia to arrive if they don’t have a relay for speedy FTL”. I mean, the galaxy is 100,000 ly wide (the nearest galaxy that isn’t a dwarf satellite of us is millions of ly away), so it feels like a pretty generous use of the term “Dark Space” to put the Reapers less than 100,000 ly away from the galaxy. So, what, they’ve been traveling here at 100 ly/day ever since Sovereign got blown up? That’s orders of magnitude faster than unassisted FTL has been established to work, it doesn’t make sense that they’d just show up. Sure the Reapers have advanced technology, but they never demonstrated special FTL capabilities (not even in ME3, unless the completely unexplained “showing up” counts), and the writing never even speculates about “Hey maybe the Reapers have faster FTL”.

          The writer set up in previous games that the Reapers were far away and that unassisted FTL was slow, and then the writer has the Reapers just show up from very far away. So yes, it does contradict the lore.

          • Poncho says:

            This is the problem with it. The writers never even lampshade the problem. No one says, “They’re here! Already? How!?” No one speculates or guesses or even questions it. They just show up and we’re supposed to accept that as a premise to the game.

            It raises questions because this was previously implied to be impossible as others have pointed out.

          • guy says:

            Honestly I’d be willing to accept anything beyond standard FTL range of the outermost galactic stars being called Dark Space, but I assumed they were at least decades out.

            I feel compelled to point out that the logistics of setting up the Mass Relay network does mean the Reapers must have better FTL than everyone else, but it is not clear just how much better.

            • Mike S. says:

              Not necessarily. Given the timescale, they could be moving the relays sublight between areas where lack of places to discharge makes FTL impractical. (100,000 light years is really big, but a billion years is a long time.)

              • guy says:

                True, I guess it isn’t explicitly stated that they did it via FTL travel, but I took it as implied; I sort of got the sense they put everything in its present configuration pretty much right at the start. Anyways the Reapers are generically more technologically advanced and it is unsurprising to me that they have better FTL.

                • 4th Dimension says:

                  Or that first race that built the reapers in the first place built the first mass efect relay network and Reapers simply coopted it.

                • HowImineforfish? says:

                  It’s generally taken as a given that the reapers have superior technology (including FTL). The problem, though, is that the reapers would need FTL drives that allow them to go more than a couple thousand times faster than the citadel races.

                  And, even then, it would take the reapers roughly a decade to reach the galaxy if the were reasonably far away from the galaxy. Which the certainly seemed to be, given the last shot of ME2. You could see pretty much the entire milky way from that shot. That’s not “just barely past the galaxy’s border”. That’s “way out in the middle of nowhere”.

                  • Mike S. says:

                    If I really wanted to justify it, I’d say that the drives’ top speed depends on the density of the interstellar medium, and permit going much faster in intergalactic space. (Something of only theoretical utility to the Citadel species until they can get past their need for planets to discharge at every few light years.)

                    That would also serve as a nice setup for Andromeda– they get a one-use means of dealing with the discharge problem (maybe a Reaper lobotomized by a lucky shot?) and can get a last-ditch colony to Andromeda within a semi-reasonable flight time instead of between six hundred years and forever.

                    • guy says:

                      Honestly if I’d wanted to justify a direct flight from an extremely long distance over a short period I’d go back to Sovereign’s speech about the Mass Relays shaping development. I always took that as implying that non-Relay fast FTL with different capabilities and limitations was at least theoretically possible and the Reapers could potentially have kept it to themselves; giving people the Relays means they’re not as strongly incentivized to look into alternate FTL methods.

                      It could also be that the Reapers didn’t know about other kinds of FTL but consider it possible organic life might surprise them.

        • guy says:

          My impression from ME1 was that the Reapers were just very far away. Theoretically they could actually be unable to produce sufficent delta-V to fly to the galaxy, but that would strike me as dumb and unsatisfying. I figured they were just far enough away that Sovereign couldn’t reasonably call them up and say that the Citadel plan had gone sideways and they should just fly in directly. The Citadel is a pretty major advantage but not so big that they’d rather let the galaxy have over a thousand extra years to get set up past the ideal strike time instead of arriving in six months and doing things the hard way, or alternately they could send in a couple dozen and do the Citadel assault sans Geth. I sort of assumed that they’d have some alternate method of showing up but also a reasonably persuasive reason for not having already used it. Actually I’d assumed that the Citadel battle sent them the wakeup signal, either when Sovereign was priming it or automatically triggered when he died (the Citadel hack having shut off his capacity to do that intentionally) and they’d be showing up via plan B at some point in the future.

    • Zekiel says:

      Yeah that all seems valid. Apart from the fact that you seem to know how the Human Reaper was going to help the Reapers harvest the galaxy more efficiently, and I don’t know why (I never really understood ANYTHING about the stupid Human Reaper).

      • NotOJ says:

        Hope this will help in understanding what the Collectors were trying to build (Yes, it would essentially fly butt first).

        I assumed the Collectors would build the Human Reaper, then try attacking the Citadel again. As I said, this would be a dumb plan as they already tried and failed, but it’s literally the only explanation I can come up with.

        • Zekiel says:

          Thanks for the image, although I don’t think it helps me understand what Bioware were thinking!!

          Your explanation does make sense (in the sense that its the best explanation, not that its actually a sensible plan). Presumably the Reapers thought that the Human Reaper would win based on the fact that a human (Shepard) had beaten Sovereign so the best way to beat the human was… with… a… Human… Reaper?

          (I think my brain’s just exploded from the stupidity)

        • Mokap says:

          While incredibly stupid, the fact that it failed before doesn’t mean that it will again – Shepard was dead for most of the human reaper building process, and the fleets were damaged severely by Sovereign, so it could work. But, then again, it’s established the Collectors can make super viruses, so I don’t know why they didn’t just use that.

          • guy says:

            I can accept that; the disease is vicious but Omega’s healthcare infastructure is pretty threadbare and it gets cured by a single ex-STG member with limited facilities. It would probably be pretty ineffectual against the Citadel members.

        • 4ier says:

          So… Reapers are just dudes in giant interstellar bobsleds?
          …I can no longer take Reapers seriously ever.

    • Lame Duck says:

      It still undermines the prior antagonists though. Sovereign’s attack on the Citadel seems ludicrously hasty in the context that the Reapers will show up in a few years anyway; it risked getting itself killed and alerting the galaxy to the existence of Reapers just so its friends wouldn’t have to resort to plan B?

      • Ninety-Three says:

        People like to point out that Sovereign’s attack was on the Citadel to disable government so it wasn’t hasty, but Sovereign lost and he had reinforcements just a few years away. His attack was ludicrously hasty because if he had reinforcements nearby, he could have just waited and then had the reinforcements attack the Citadel for certain victory.

        • Poncho says:

          What’s more, is that Vigil says outright “Sovereign must be getting desperate to reveal himself at this critical hour.”

          Maybe the Geth that Sovereign recruited are starting to rebel against him and threatening to reveal the Reaper plot to the citadel races. By recruiting agents, Sovereign was endangering himself and his buddies in dark space, so he had to open the door before it was too late.

          The writers had free reign, from that comment, to come up with a clever time bomb that Sovereign was fighting against. Instead, they reversed it, and made his actions that much more idiotic.

    • Gethsemani says:

      The problem still is that if the Reapers can just take a year or so, tops, to reach the galaxy in force they can also show up in force at the Citadel, kill everything there and simultaneously launch attacks on other parts of the galaxy. Why even bother with the whole backdoor thing if you can enter the galaxy in a time span that’s inconsequential to you (the delay is something like 1/500-1/1000 of a cycle) in a way that gives you much more strategic, operational and tactical mobility? As opposed to everyone showing up at the same place, using a device that can be negated.

      It makes Sovereign look stupid, because he should just have called in reinforcements and wiped out everyone around the Citadel the moment he realized the backdoor was not working (why did he need that again?), instead of making up some convoluted plan to use Saren and the Geth to do the same thing that Sovereign and a handful of his Reaper buddies could have accomplished much more easily.

      It makes Harbinger look stupid, because why is he even preparing a proto-Reaper when he could have called in all his buddies and have had them in the galaxy doing their murder thing in less then half the time it takes to build the Human-Reaper (which has supposedly been in construction for all the time that Shepard was technically dead) and with a much higher chance of success?

      It might not “invalidate” ME1 and ME2 per se, but the way Mass Effect 3 portrays and treat the Reaper invasion creates a bunch of retroactive plot holes in ME1/2 and cheapens the antagonists of those games. As far as storytelling goes, it is an incredibly stupid way to tell the story and it needlessly pushes away old fans who are invested in the story. The saddest part of it is that the writers could simply have had a side-mission where you find some hidden Relay or whatever that was the Reaper “back up” all along and it would have made the sudden Reaper invasion much more palatable to old time fans.

    • Mike S. says:

      Nit: standard FTL is a bit over 4000c for the Citadel species – twelve light years per day. But they couldn’t travel to intergalactic space that way even if they were immortal, because they need fuel and planets where they can discharge static charge buildup. Once planetary systems start to get thin, they’re done.

      If the Reapers had similar limitations, then a mass relay would be the only way to get from dark space to the galaxy even given their faster drives (30 ly/day, or about 11,000c) and effective immortality. But this game accounts for that, saying they appear not to need fuel or to discharge static.

      And if the game had actually had an exchange where one person points out that Vigil said they were trapped, and someone else says “That’s because we thought it wasn’t possible to travel further than X dozen light years without discharging static”, then they’d have a handwave that could work, more or less. Still a retcon, but acknowledging “Vigil said this, but that’s because it and we were reasoning from what we knew.”

      Giving Sovereign an extra millennium-plus to attempt plan B could even be chalked up to preternatural patience and the desire to maintain the massive advantage surprise and control of the Citadel gives them. But the failure to go for the Citadel, or to try to use it to disrupt relay travel when they did, remains a huge problem.

      (My headcanon, unsupported by the text, is that the Reapers didn’t in fact get full control over the interior of the Citadel, and the defending forces were besieged in the Presidium Tower where those controls were. The people involved in that holding action– who would of course include most of the people Shepard had met on the Citadel– would be the unsung heroes of the Reaper War.)

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Where does the game say that Reapers appear not to discharge static? Because in ME1, isn’t Sovereign’s first arrival surrounded by clouds of ominous red lightning that are presumably his static discharge? Are they just openly retconning that?

        • Poncho says:

          The static discharges, but it doesn’t hurt the Reaper for it to build up (as an aside, this isn’t how electricity works, but whatever, they want to establish limitations to their FTL, most people aren’t going to realize this anyway).

          Sovereign sparkles red because the static is still there and discharges when he’s close enough to a grounding source. It happens again when he charges into the Citadel’s closing arms.

          • Mike S. says:

            While it doesn’t come up, it would be an interesting potential limit if the Reapers themselves had no problem flying nonstop, but they did have to discharge static if they wanted to carry husks or indoctrinated servitors along for the ride.

        • INH5 says:

          The ME3 Codex has a line saying something like, “the Reapers don’t appear to suffer from [the FTL discharge requirement], though there have been reports of massive static discharges as the Reapers enter planetary atmospheres.”

      • swenson says:

        Depending on your interpretation, they could potentially travel much faster than that. The 12 ly/day figure is only from Ashley in ME1, IIRC, who makes a comment about some distance being 12 lightyears, or “a day’s cruise”. If you interpret her “day” to be a shorter period than 24 hours (maybe she meant 12 hours or something), then they could travel at over 8000 c.

        Furthermore, nobody ever specifies whether that’s the speed all FTL ships travel at, or if the FTL speed depends on the type of engine/ship–it’s plausible that she meant a normal passenger vessel, and some types of ships could travel even faster.

        The 30 ly/day figure comes from the ME3 Codex, though, right? I guess that one’s a solid figure, then, as far as the Reapers go…

        • Mike S. says:

          Some variation would make sense, with ship mass and engine power and fuel consumption being possible factors. But it seems like a fair guess that the max isn’t much higher than 12, since 30 is presumably supposed to be noticeably faster than usual.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Milky way is big.Its huge.And for something to be outside of it,it needs to be EXTREMELY away from it.Our own sun basically can influence stuff almost a light year away.A single star.So even if reapers could fly 100 ly in a day,they would still require years,or more likely decades,to reach the nearest mass relay.True,that doesnt mean they wouldnt be able to do it,but it does mean they wouldnt be able to do it while shepard is relevant.

      • Mintskittle says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it in the early design docs that Shepard wasn’t supposed to be the protagonist for all three games? If the PC for ME2 was supposed to replace Shepard when he retired, and the PC for ME replacing the ME2 PC, it could easily put ME3 20-40 years down the line before the reapers finally show up, having taken the scenic route.

      • Mike S. says:

        Yeah, three years of nonstop flight at 30 ly/day is only a bit over 30,000 light years, which isn’t terribly dark. (It’s about the distance of the nearest dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way.) I’d expect “dark space” to be at least halfway to the Magellanic Clouds (80-100,000 ly) if not Andromeda (over a million). That said, it’s a vague term, probably deliberately, and chosen for drama rather than precision.

        The real problem isn’t the specific distance; the creators could as easily say the Reapers can travel a hundred light years a day, or a thousand, or that they can travel much faster in areas with negligible stellar populations than they can inside the galaxy. It’s the ambiguity between “so far away that the Citadel is the only practical way to get there in a human lifetime” (the strong implication of most of ME1, contradicted by the last bit where they all suddenly decide that “the Reapers are coming!” and we have to prepare) and “close enough that they can return on a scale of months or years” (the implication of those last lines of ME1 and the end of ME2, made explicit by Arrival and ME3).

    • ehlijen says:

      It may not ever be stated by an omniscient source that the reapers can’t just fly in without a relay, but the tone of ME1 and Arrival, as well as all the behaviour of the reapers that we do get to see strongly imply that that is the case.

      Both ME1 and Arrival are about keeping the gates of hell shut at all costs. Everyone acts as though Sovereign’s and Harbinger’s plans to accelerate the arrival are of great importance. Arrival was also written to immediately precede ME3. Then ME3 reveals that while the gate held strong, the tissue paper walls around it didn’t, and no one acknowledges this in the story!

      Do you regret blowing up that colony for basically nothing, shepard?
      -Huh? Sorry, I’m busy fighting or dying.

      If the plot twist was supposed to be that every character who suggested that the reapers need mass relays to get here this generation are actually wrong, it doesn’t actually work as a twist if neither the story nor the character tell the audience that it’s a twist. Since no one questions it even off hand, the impression given is that what happens is what everyone who actually believes in the reapers expected. Which means Shepard knowingly blew up a populated world for very little gain, which is also not commented on, and that Sovereign knowingly exposed the Conduit and its ability to get into the citadel too soon without actual need.

      Whether deliberately or accidentally, it’s a badly implemented change to the presented protagonist assumptions.

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      It doesn’t technically contradict the lore, but it contradicts things in a dramatic sense. The gist of the last games was that the Reapers needed to do something fancy to attack the galaxy, as opposed to just finding out a way to keep busy while they’re taking a really long and boring road trip.

      Just like how it theoretically makes sense that Sovereign might’ve been bigger and stronger than the rest of the Reapers so maybe the Reapers can’t attack the citadel directly to take a hold of it, but it seems wrong from the way ME1 went, where the full military force of the entire galaxy could barely stand up to one space squid.

    • tremor3258 says:

      I agree – the fact after Sovereign’s plan failed they didn’t start taking the Slower Path seems to indicate a few centuries delay of waiting around in Dark Space for Sovereign to activate the Citadel was better/faster than the ‘start FTLing to the edge of the galaxy’ plan, since presumably they hadn’t built multiple relays every, say, twenty light years or so in case the Citadel opened up.

      But there’s nothing indicating they couldn’t arrive (the Alpha Relay bit would indicate they in fact, DID build a series of ‘bus stations’) but the fact the Reapers don’t go with their usual Decapitation Strike and shut everything down is absolutely bizarre.

    • Couscous says:

      But if they can get there in like two years, there is no reason to really be desperate about Plan B that happens in Mass Effect 1. They can just get to the galaxy two years later, hitch a ride on one of the Mass Effect relays there, and take over the Citadel quickly. Two years should be nothing to them.

      There are in dark space and relying on a mass effect relay. The space between galaxies is huge. Very, very huge. I thought the point of it was that it was so huge that they would take extremely many years to get here assuming they didn’t have a Mass Effect relay. Dealing with this wouldn’t have been hard. Just say they had a Plan C they didn’t want to use for reasons because of course they would have plans upon plans.

      “It doesn’t technically violate any lore” is always weak to me because whether there is some potential explanation matters less to me than whether there is an explanation that actually fits well, makes sense given the information before hand, and is commented on or not commented on as appropriate in the setting. The last one is important. I can understand if the characters wouldn’t comment on it or try to figure it out. If they would do that then I have a problem accepting even the most perfectly sensible explanation.

  8. Xedo says:

    I actually came away from the first Mass Effect with a completely different idea about the Reaper’s strength. They’re portrayed as needing to indoctrinate spies, cut off transportation and communication, and even with that they took centuries to wipe out the Protheans – long enough that almost all the survivors at Ilos die anyway from power running out. Sovereign talked a good talk but needed Saren and the geth running a distraction inside the Citadel when he made his assault. That makes the Reapers feel less like all-powerful gods and more like manipulative weaklings, to be honest. They need a deck stacked fully in their favor and a massive surprise advantage to wipe out the galaxy.

    Random question, is there a reason why Joker isn’t hailed as the hero of the galaxy for shooting down Sovereign at the finale of ME1? I mean, it’s not like Shepherd had an audience or a broadcast proving that his fight with Saren/Sovereign is why its shields turned off…

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      That isn’t about need, its about efficiency. The Reapers have been doing this for millions of years. They’ve gotten very good at it.

      Its like a farm. Sure I could go out and hunt for wild chickens but if I pen them, breed them for their meat, feed them and so forth, I can minimize the effort. My decision to do so is not proof of my inability to overpower a chicken.

      Now, none of the above overrides your interpretation until we get to the Sovereign battle at the end of the first game where one Reaper is enough to take on the entire combined fleet. Considering the damage it did, there’s no reason for us to believe we could overcome hundreds of them with conventional arms.

      • Zekiel says:

        True. Although… up to cutscene at the end of ME2 I can’t think of anything to contradict the idea that there might only be a handful of Reapers in total?

        • Poncho says:

          Vigil says “Reaper fleets” multiple times, and Sovereign says “We are legion. Our numbers will darken the skies of every world.”

          • Mike S. says:

            Given the ability to shut down relays, “darken the skies of every world” could be done sequentially rather than all at once. (“Your planet is important to us. Please continue to hold, isolated from interstellar travel beyond standard FTL rates, and our attack fleet will be with you shortly.”)

            So it would be possible to have set up the situation with a large enough number of Reapers to defeat any great power’s fleet (especially since the indoctrinated remnants of the last victim could be used as shock troops against the next), but not all fleets combined, scaled up in advance of the attack, and armed with the technology salvaged from Sovereign’s defeat. That’s a direction they chose not to take the story, but it could have been done while remaining consistent with the first game and permitting a hard-fought but winnable war.

            • Poncho says:

              It would even allow the developers to cordon off sections of the galaxy in a way that is explained by the plot and setting. The Reapers have “Skillian Verge” cut off and are currently reaping it, so the player can’t go there and has to find help in these other systems.

              ME3 gets really railroady very fast. We get told to go to Mars, so we go there. Then we get told to go to Palaven, so we go there. We get told to meet with the Council, so we go there. etc.

              If the Reapers are just in one system at a time, it would be a lot more believable to restrict the player. Hell, you could even let the player try to warp in with their fancy Reaper IFF and get wrecked by a bunch of Reapers, only to re-load the autosave from right before that point.

          • Zekiel says:

            Good point. I probably shouldn’t take part in these discussions given that I can’t really recall any details from ME1 and also can’t be bothered to look them up!

        • RCN says:

          Heck, in ME3 they even have to introduce a “new” Reaper, the “destroyer” reaper or some such, that is literally just a weaker Reaper they added just so you could destroy them directly and undermine the power of the reapers even more.

          But other than that, they never really gave the impression there were only a few reapers. And the reason they take hundreds of years to finish up mopping up the galaxy is the thing I liked the most about the original Mass Effect. THAT’S hard sci-fi, acknowledging that the Galaxy is really, really big. There are hundreds of billions of Stars. It takes a looooooong while to make sure there’s no more living advanced organics hiding out there. Especially if our more recent planet count estimations are right. Even for a kilometric reaper a Planet is a very, very big thing to search.

          • guy says:

            I really don’t mind the destroyer Reaper nearly as much as most people seem to. If you’re wondering which Reapers are destroyers and which aren’t, destroyers are the size of buildings, Sovereign-class Reapers are the size of mountains.

            Anyways, it makes sense to me that the super-heavy dreadnought Reapers would be supported by swarms of lighter units in the actual invasion, though ME2 raises some logistical questions about how they’re made. But if the Reapers were just robots built normally, I would see nothing untoward about the destroyer Reapers.

            • swenson says:

              Yeah. Prior to ME3, we’d seen literally two Reapers (plus a bunch of blurry shapes at the end of ME2)–Sovereign and the horrible baby thing. There was no real reason to assume that ALL of the Reapers looked like Sovereign, and in fact up until ME3, a lot of people still thought that different Reapers would look different based on what species/cycle they came from. And it makes sense that the Reapers would have different types of units for different purposes. Combined arms are a pretty integral part of a military force.

              So complaining about how the destroyers aren’t the same as the big guys… it feels to me like people are complaining for the sake of complaining, frankly.

              • RCN says:

                No, I’m complaining that the destroyers were introduced as a strictly inferior reaper just so the player could destroy one directly for a power fantasy.

                • swenson says:

                  Okay, but… what in ME prior to that point indicated that there WEREN’T smaller Reapers? I’m There’s nothing implying ALL Reapers are these huge unbeatable monstrosities, especially considering that, well, the only Reaper we met in the flesh so far in the series was… y’know… beatable (just not easily beatable). I mean, for crying out loud, all of the destroyers encountered took considerable effort to destroy… it’s not like ME3 came along and Reapers were suddenly pushovers.

                  And, um, yes. Yes, the Mass Effect series is, in fact, a power fantasy. Most videogames are.

      • Christopher says:

        The reason I think you’re wrong is that we do in fact beat it. I got the same impression as Xedo. So what if one reaper did some damage with a surprise attack? It just lost, and according to what we were told, the only reason they did win those other times was because they cheated. This time we’re winning because the guys they beat last time around managed to tell us their trick, and we have years to prepare.

        That’s why the unprepared galaxy is so frustrating to me. If the reapers actually were gods, then everyone can just lie down on the ground and wait for death. Preparing wouldn’t help. But they aren’t. Not at all. We just shot one of them to death with our regular human guns, and the reason things are fucked now is that nobody got ready for the invasion even with at least a two-year warning.

        Reapers are a frustrating antagonist anyway, though. I don’t think this has come up in the articles so far, but having spaceships as the main villains was never going to be easy for a third person shooter that takes itself seriously and doesn’t have any space battles. Maybe Bioware were thinking of having Reaper boss battles in the style of the top-down shooter segments from Jade Empire. Maybe they felt it would kill the mood.

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          We beat it with heavy casualties to the fleet. If we don’t specifically help the Destiny Ascension, the most powerful ship in the fleet, its toast.

          The damage one ship does points to the danger of having to face their fleet of thousands. They’ve structured the galaxy against us, they’re smarter, tougher, have bigger guns, can turn our soldiers into husks and other ground troops to send back at us, can indoctrinate us. And the previous civilization which was more technologically advanced than ours couldn’t beat them, nor could any of the prior ones.

          And to top it all off, with two years warning we stuck our heads in the sand. It shouldn’t even be close the way this was originally presented.

          • GranForte says:

            Sovereign didn’t inflict heavy damage on the human fleet, though, the Geth fleet did. The paragon choice was to save the Destiny Ascension from the Geth, not from Sovereign. Sovereign was inside the closed Citadel at the time of Admiral Hackett’s arrival if you save the Destiny Ascension so it couldn’t attack.

            If you go renegade then the human fleets are at full strength, which implies that Sovereign really didn’t do that much damage.

            • Sleeping Dragon says:

              Deliberation on the exact military power of the Reapers or a Reaper is somewhat moot for one simple reason.

              The Reapers win, it’s a fact of the third game. Without the crucible there is no scenario where they don’t. They may be facing a cycle where uplifted Asari changed the usual balance of power and they win. They may arrive later than they’d like to (if I remember correctly it’s been years between when Sovereign realized it can’t turn the Citadel relay on and the events of the first game begin) and they win. They may be facing the entire galaxy including whatever forces Geth, Quarians and even Rachni can throw at them and they win. They may not be using (for whatever dumb reason) their trump card of shutting down the mass relay network and they win. On top of that they presumably win with enough forces to continue the cycle.

              • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                As proven in the Refusal Ending.

                All the differences of this cycle aren’t enough.

                But even before that Vigil’s account is sufficient to establish their power. This couldn’t be won by a clearly technologically superior culture that dominated the galaxy in it’s cycle (and thus that technological superiority was clearly manifest as military superiority.)

                The Reapers are supposed to be a superior intelligence as well and they had two years to set up Plan B.

                • Mike S. says:

                  The difference between us and the Protheans could have been the surprise attack through the Citadel relay and the subsequent defeat in detail. That’s not how it worked out, and certainly by ME3 it’s all “victory cannot be achieved by force of arms”. But from ME1 it’s a direction they could have chosen.

                  • guy says:

                    The one I’d been betting was a combination of that and “So the Reapers have extremely powerful shields. They also have extremely powerful weapons. Also, we are now the proud owners of a Reaper corpse.” Heck, ME2 actually gives you the Thanix cannon, which is literally a scaled-down version of Sovereign’s main gun and completely awesome. The Codex writers actually go with it having become standard issue, but that’s not true in the cutscenes; the Thanix cannon is extremely distinctive.

              • Zekiel says:

                Which is why its utterly asinine that if you achieve a high enough War Readiness Rating (or whatever its called) you get the summary message that “alliance forces are pushing the Reaper forces back everywhere”. Sure, you still lose without the Crucible, but the message implies that, given enough time, you’d actually win through conventional means. How idiotic.

          • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            With heavy damage to one fleet -2 if you count the Citadel Defense Fleet. Humans alone have 5, and they have the smallest navy of the Citadel Races. There are, at minimum what, 9 Turian fleets and 7 each of the Asari and the Salarians (I think that was the ratio on dreadnaughts in the codex).

            And human strategic doctrine is to let the enemy have the planet, mass the fleets and hammer-blow them to take it back, and then disperse.

            So, we let the reapers take a planet, mass the fleets, hammer-blow the reaper to death, rinse and repeat. There’s even a need for a scout frigate with an elite ground team to slip in and assess the defenses, maybe raise some hell on the ground, in advance of that hammer-blow.

            That’s what frustrates me about ME3 -that is a straightline projection from the codex in ME1, and is far better than what they gave us.

            Doubly frustrating, some of it does show up in the codex. The turians discover that the reapers lose their power in gravity wells (having to redirect power to engines from kinetic barriers). You want “victory through sacrifice?” Lure the reapers into a gravity well and then ask the fleet to bombard them -knowing that any shot that misses is going to ruin the day of someone on the planet below.

            • Mike S. says:

              Better if you can figure out a strategy for luring them into the much more powerful gravity well of a gas giant or dwarf star– more disabling for the Reaper, no risk of collateral damage.

              (How do you do that? I imagine it will require the Reaper IFF, an old Prothean installation that only Shepard can read the docs for, and various specific items you’ll have to travel to a number of different systems to talk to and shoot various people to acquire…)

              • guy says:

                Eh, that would be a bit problematic; the reason Reapers lose their power in gravity wells is actually also set up in the first game. Not even in the Codex, I’m pretty sure Benezia spells it out for you in dialogue. No spaceship of that size is actually structurally stable sitting on a planetary surface, and the Reapers are no exception. Sovereign can land on a planet because he has a very powerful Mass Effect drive; if a large ship from the Council Races tried to go near an area that forces Reapers to lower their shields it would be torn apart.

                I’d actually be a bit dubious of an orbital bombardment strategy in general; the Reapers can lift off pretty fast and are unlikely to be caught on the ground by a fleet unexpectedly. But that’s if anything even better plotwise; when landed they’re vulnerable to a surprise ground attack with sufficiently heavy weapons, much lighter than what it takes to kill them in space.

      • Phill says:

        I do now have a mental image of you failing in a contest of raw strength in the overpowering of a chicken. WaN pinned to the ground, submissive beneath the might fowl. Which is, of course, crowing.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Also,imagine if your house was infested with ants,and you want to clear them all out by squishing them.You could do it theoretically,but it will take you years,even if you isolate them so that they couldnt run out or get help from the outside.Does that mean regular ants are comparatively strong as humans?No,it just means that going into every nook and cranny to hunt for them is a looong process.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Random question, is there a reason why Joker isn’t hailed as the hero of the galaxy for shooting down Sovereign at the finale of ME1?

      The cutscene was really dumb in showing only Joker firing on Sovereign, but the cutscenes are really dumb about space combat in general (the Codex is full of crunchy hard sci-fi space combat stuff, and then the cutscenes are Star Wars). So I suspect Sovereign’s defeat was supposed to be a combined effort, and they don’t give special credit to whoever got in the last shot.

      • Poncho says:

        I believe there is a codex entry about the controversy of who fired the killing blow on Sovereign.

        • Xedo says:

          What I really want is a remake of Mass Effect 2 where Cerberus and the Collectors go crazy about Joker, thinking he’s a hero, a bloody icon, for killing a Reaper.

          Hi-jinks ensue.

      • guy says:

        Joker gets in the kill shot, but that’s after the barrier drops, which is the primary defense for starships. It’s implied that destroying husk-Saren caused nasty feedback and sort of stunned Sovereign, but presumably the fleet would have chewed through his barriers at some point not too far into the future or Sovereign would kill them first rather than put everything on a risky throw of the dice.

    • guy says:

      See, my impression is sort of in between. I don’t think the Reapers are presented as gods or weaklings. Sovereign is unquestionably the most powerful warship in that battle, but at the same time he finds it necessary to bring along an enormous Geth fleet, presumably because the combined firepower of the strongest single armada in the galaxy could take him out. So the implication I got was that the Reapers were extremely powerful and technologically advanced, but not unstoppably so. If they didn’t cut the Relay network apart they’d still have good odds of winning but they’d much rather avoid a slugging match on equal terms. If they fought fair, some of them might die, and they’d prefer to cheat and all survive.

  9. RCN says:

    Mars. UUUUUUUUUUuuugh.

    That’s the point I almost gave up on 3.

    In 2 it was the whole “you’ll work for cerberus and you will LITERALLY like it because we won’t allow you to be angry about it”.

    But here is the “The Deus Ex Machina was with you all along! And it can be literally built from the ground up in a matter of days/weeks! Even though it is much larger than a dreadnaught and these take YEARS to build.”

    If this game had any pretense at all to actually follow up on the premise of the first game, the Crucible would be yet another Reaper trap or red herring. I mean, the thing literally has to connect with the Citadel, something ONLY the protheans even figured out was a Reaper weapon… and only TOO LATE to actually assess it on any way or study it properly. By the end of the game I was actually hoping it was a Reaper trap and that was the reason everyone hated the ending.

    • Poncho says:

      I think this is the plot to “Marauder Shields” comic. The Reapers just ignore the Crucible and Hackett figures it’s some sort of trap, the Reapers must know what’s up, so everyone pulls out.

  10. Darren says:

    One big problem with assumed empathy is that, besides potentially not working, it might make the audience less sympathetic to the characters. That kid sounds obnoxious, and just looking at that screenshot my reaction is, “Well, fuck you, kid, I want to save the species, and if you don’t want to be a part of that then the survivors will be better off for it.”

  11. Jokerman says:

    “And the writer thought this idiotic line of dialog was so awesome they don’t bother to give you a dialog wheel for it, because otherwise you might ruin their scene by not choosing to say it.”

    Its nice when a writer some confidence in the player, In The Walking dead season 2, Clementine has a that awesome “Still Not Bitten” line that they let you not say… if you don’t choose it. Legitimate 11 yr old badass if you do choose it though.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Heck, in The Walking Dead, just the fact that they let you choose makes things feel better. I’d bet money that >90% of people chose to high-five Duck, but I got a giggly thrill from actually pushing a button to high five the kid, and I wouldn’t have cared half as much if my character did it automatically in a cutscene.

  12. Poncho says:

    I get that the writers wanted us to be frustrated with the galaxy at large in order to make the protagonist easier to relate to, but holy shit is it annoying.

    I’d rather the Alliance, the Council, the STG, the Quarians, the Geth, SOMEONE doing something proactive and failing instead of suddenly reacting to an invasion.

    • RCN says:

      Technically the STG are literally the ONLY ones actually doing something to prepare for the Reapers (besides Cerberus… but I don’t count Cerberus’s “help”): The Stealth Dreadnoughts that the Codex says the Salarians developed PRECISELY because the STG was trying to do something about the Reaper threat. It is even said that the stealth Dreadnoughts took the Reapers by surprise.

      But yeah, other than the Salarians, who are established as the paranoid always-have-a-plan race, no-one really did a goddamn thing. And even the Salarians only did this as a Codex entry… which almost doesn’t count.

      • Rob says:

        Weren’t the ship upgrades in Mass Effect 2 based on tech salvaged from Sovereign? I know at least the Thanix cannon is a scaled-down version of Sovereign’s main gun, and it’s able to punch through the nigh-invincible Collector ship like it’s made of paper.

        Bioware could have easily used this to explain why the galaxy is able to fight back against the Reapers in ME3: they had examples of the absolute pinnacle of technology to reverse engineer plus a few years of peace to upgrade their fleets with it. But of course it never comes up again.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        The Turians gave Garrus a token “anti-Reaper task force” with which he made small things happen. But yeah, a lot of no help going on in the ME galaxy.

  13. Mr Compassionate says:

    As soon as the opening of ME2 had the writer purge all the potential and coherency that the first game set up I greatly suspected the Mass Effect series was going to go downhill fast. At the end of ME2 when you fight a giant lazer mouth terminator in space my suspicions were confirmed so I didn’t buy Mass Effect 3. Somehow Mass Effect 3 exceeds even my worst concerns, I’m so relieved I didn’t buy it.

    Some EA suits obviously decided ‘this series is like Star Trek, right? But Star Trek is a boring thing for nerds, too niche appeal for my liking. What we need is something like Gears of War. We’ll shoot for the teenage boy demographic and focus the narrative on assembling a badass crew. You can take characters from the first one if you want, just make them seem really cool. You’ll have to work around all that “Reaper” s**t because that’ll just make the player feel useless. Sell the game on the idea of Fighting for Earth. Finish the Fight. Fight the Earth Battles. Save the Earth or Die. Save Her. Fight. Battles. Home.’

  14. Henson says:

    I probably mentioned this during the Spoiler Warning playthrough, but one of my favorite parts of this opening is when, right after Shepard details her plan, or rather lack thereof, for fighting the Reapers, one of the Alliance head honchos says:

    “That’s it? That’s our plan?”

    This is a wonderfully ludicrous bit of reverse lampshading here; let’s call it ‘spotlighting’. Shepard’s plan is simplistic and vague and, well, kinda dumb. And rather than trying to explain this away, the writer’s have highlighted it by having this Alliance member point out just how insufficient this plan is. It takes a plot problem [edit: actually, it’s more of a simple writing problem] and makes sure everyone knows about it.

    Now I get it, the writers were probably trying to do a desperate, ‘I can hardly believe that’s all we can do’, sobering moment where the characters realize just how bad the situation is. But the way it comes off, it doesn’t work like that. At all.

    • Dilandau3000 says:

      Not to mention that Shepard’s obvious response to that line should be: “I spent most of the last 2.5 years either dead or in prison, and what little remained I spent dealing with the Collector threat which you all chose to ignore. I didn’t exactly have time to come up with something better. Whereas you, who were warned about this threat the same time I was, were alive and not in prison but simply chose to do nothing.

      So tell me again, whose fault is it that ‘that’s our plan?'”

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Maybe show that they were indeed working on the Reaper threat, but were afraid to tell you because of the whole Cerberus thing.

    The worst thing is that they use it as a sort of lapshade later on,when joker says “I thought they were planning something,but didnt tell us because of cerberus.But nah,they were just idiots.”.So the writers here acknowledge that they knew how to make their characters actually smart,but decided to make them stupid instead.Because thats what we want,stupid characters to interact with.

  16. Mike S. says:

    The Normandy appears. The Alliance grounded Joker for basically no explained reason in Mass Effect 2, but now that he’s gone AWOL and joined up with terrorists, they’ve given him back his previous rank and reinstated him as a pilot?

    And the rest of the ship’s crew was nearby? And the Normandy hasn’t been assigned to a new commander and put to use? Instead it was fueled up[2] and waiting for Shepard to return?

    I’m pretty sure it’s stated shortly afterward that the Normandy was going to be Anderson’s flagship, the crew onboard were there to oversee the refit rather than being part of its regular complement (Traynor was never supposed to see space duty, Vega’s picked up with Shepard, Garrus has to oversee the guns). Joker was onboard, as a prisoner, because EDI pretended to be a VI programmed to respond only to him. (Engineer Adams knew she was an AI, but kept his mouth shut rather than provoke her. Traynor didn’t suspect till she was told.) If the ship was finishing up its refit and wasn’t going to leave at least till Anderson was done with Shepard’s trial, it’s plausible that Joker is the only pilot on board, and is allowed at the controls when the alternative is to be destroyed on the ground.

    (While we don’t really know the ship’s speed in atmosphere, it’s plausible that “nearby” only needs to mean “on Earth/in Earth orbit”, and that it came to Vancouver because its commander, Anderson, was there.)

    It does strain plausibility that they’d have been far enough along to repaint, fuel, and partially crew the ship without either extracting EDI from the system or getting Joker to open the “VI” up to other users.

    • SharpeRifle says:

      Most refits in real life maintain a skeleton crew of people who are actually the crew of the ship so they can have crewmembers who are familiar with the changes to the ship. Especially in areas where major modifications are made.

      Adams kinda implies that EDI responds…negatively to attempts to extract her so with him trusting Joker I can see EDI still being onboard between him and Anderson probably downplaying the obvious problems.

      • Mike S. says:

        Yeah, I think we have to assume that Adams and Anderson are in on it, at least, and managed to somehow convince fleet operations that they weren’t prepping a ship that was entirely dependent upon a single disgraced piloting officer with health problems.

        (“Whoops, Joker tripped over a paint can and cracked his skull. I guess there’s nothing to do but salvage the SR-2 for scrap.”)

        • SharpeRifle says:

          Ahh they really don’t have to convince Ops of anything really….far as I can tell the Fleet is pretty much in on the entire thing at least at the top levels by three. The problem is it of course doesn’t mesh with why Joker was grounded in two. Course they never actually tell us why he was grounded do they? And he and Dr. Chakwas might still be on active duty in 2 like Shepard technically is… I know the Doc mentions a Leave of Absence not resigning or retirement so she was still active Joker might have been the same so all Anderson would have to say is “He was my spy onboard.” It would have been nice to have a slower intro with more exposition though rather than “AGGGGH REAPERS ON MY FACE!” so they could maybe explain some of the questionable things….Heh “We tried to get EarthGov to put us on a full war footing Shepard…but they said that they had ‘dismissed those claims’ and we’d have to make due with a 10% budgetary increase only.” Riveting stuff…8-P

          • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            For what it’s worth, I never got the impression that Joker was grounded, grounded, just that with the loss of the SR1, he had no ship to fly. Joker was recruited long before Shepard was fully revived, so he may only have been without a ship for 6 months (that doesn’t seem unreasonable -it’s not like they’re going to boot someone from the helm of another ship just to give it to Joker), but for him, that’s interminable. Then Cerberus offered him a chance to fly. Of course, if they’d really needed to convince him, they’d have shown him the SR2, but we know they didn’t need to because he was only shown the Normandy the day before Shepard was.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The writer then ends the conversation by having the Reapers come down out of the clouds and kill everyone that isn’t a named character with a single well-placed laser beam.

    And why does it do that anyway?In fact,why do the reapers shoot anything at all?Didnt they invade earth so they could scoop up millions in order to slurry up a new reaper?So why are they wrecking buildings and shooting down unarmed transports,thus killing defenseless civilians en mase,while the military isnt even anywhere near them.Wouldnt snatching shuttles from the sky make more sense?Wouldnt picking up entire buildings to process them slowly be more effective AND more terrifying,seeing how we saw what they are doing to people they catch alive in the last game.

    But no,just firing thair lazors left and right.Because it looks cool(no it doesnt).

    • Poncho says:

      The dreadnought that blows up like a nuke is kind of cool. Until you see the puppeteer’s strings with it taking an infinite number of Reaper shots before it conveniently explodes in frame.

    • Jokerman says:

      All the tech was in the collector base that you might’ve blown up… Possibly…

      Not sure why they use tiny laser anyway, its like killing ants with a magnifying glass, if the collectors are just breaking stuff for no reason, why not use something… bigger. I know they want to capture, but that beam did not look like it was doing much capturing.

    • Mike S. says:

      To be fair, inefficient weapons of terror have been the Reapers’ trademark since we first saw husks on Eden Prime.

    • Corpital says:

      Yep, they could have just sat on the surface for a few days and broadcast their indoctrination signal at full strength. Would have resulted in a planet of drooling meatbags, but it’s not as if that would affect their Soylent Grey production.

      • Mike S. says:

        Indoctrination has always seemed to be pretty short range. I think given what we see in the games, it’s safe to conclude that blanketing a planet with it isn’t within the Reapers’ capability.

        • guy says:

          Eh, short-ish range. Given the Virmire facility I would not find it overly surprising to learn that the field extends enough to cover a city from a Reaper landing in the center, and various smallish object indoctrinate people in previous incidents. Getting a whole planet would be pretty time-consuming, but they don’t seem to have a motive for just blasting civilian structures.

    • Otters34 says:

      Not even scooping them up. Just mind-controlling the entire city in segments to walk aboard up giant ramps or chutes or something extending into the sky. So much more frightening, so much more alien and such a more unique display of power. Anyone can shoot space-lasers.

  18. Bubble181 says:

    Nitpick: in the footnote, Yoda, Gandalf and Dr Doom are “both” examples. Either remove one, or say “all three”…

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You can’t beat gods with guns. You need to find the secret to close the gate, break the spell, placate the gods, or otherwise avoid or forestall your doom.

    The thing is,someone on the team understood this.Thats the whole point of the crucible.Its not a weapon that will repel the reapers,its reaper tech as well(thats why starchild is head reaper,or something).Its kind of a test they made for organics to see if they are advanced enough to use it.Its a stupid test for sure,and the resolution is idiotic,but at least theres a kernel of understanding somewhere in the base of it.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      I mean, we assume it’s Reaper tech because it interfaces with the Citadel which is Reaper tech, therefore the only thing that makes sense is for it to also be Reaper tech, but the entire ending is gibberish, so the axiom of “things make sense” has been thrown out and no valid conclusions can be reached. As far as the game tells us, it’s Prothean tech (how did the Protheans design but not build it? Whatever). The game doesn’t even tell us what it does, we just turn it on and Starchild offers us his unconditional surrender.

      • Mike S. says:

        The game tells us that it’s a cross-time collaboration of multiple civilizations down through the Cycles, with the Protheans completing the design too late to use it.

        As you and Damien note, the fact that it does nothing on its own, and interfaces directly to three devices the king of the Reapers has lying around, points to it actually being Reaper tech. But you’re right that the game is basically too incoherent about that to draw conclusions. (Including the fact that it concludes that you’ve passed some threshold despite failing to actually figure out how to use the Crucible, or to make it to the Chamber of the Three Colors without help.) And no one in-game seems to worry about it being another reaper tech trap.

      • guy says:

        I don’t find the Crucible-Citadel link at all inexplicable. The Crucible is a superweapon intended to kill all the Reapers in the galaxy, the Citadel controls the FTL network that spans the galaxy. The Protheans needed a way to deploy their superweapon, so they designed it to interface with the Citadel. Then they deliberately left that bit out of the blueprints in case the Reapers read them and smuggled the information to their pick for top species next cycle. There’s no reason to think the Protheans don’t know exactly what it’s supposed to do, though they apparently got some part of the interface to the Citadel wrong and weren’t able to override its systems.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Over the next 16 weeks

    You will stop at 50?But why when you are so close to a full year?You have to reach at least entry 52.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It was actually in the middle of a retrofit, which makes it even more implausible that they got it space-worthy inside of five minutes.

    Not to mention that said retrofit somehow made it able to land on a planet,something it couldnt do in me2 because it was too large to endure the stress.So they strengthened its entire hull in ~6 months.This (doubly) experimental ship that initially required the help of turrians was now just improved by humans who until recently didnt even know it existed.I think those engineers are the real heroes,bloody icons.

  22. Deager says:

    Good entry Shamus. The 2 things even I noticed on my first trip through ME3 was

    1) Some Kid I’m supposed to care about who doesn’t do great with really clunky lines.

    2) The Reaper invasion. Thinking in terms of even 200 years is typically difficult to fathom but try to go to 500, 700, 1,000, 2,000….now 50,000. There really would be no reason for the Reapers to ever do the plan in ME1 with what ME3 just showed us. At the very least, it makes more sense to wait to send the signal to the Citadel right when the legion of Reapers are right at the front door. Waiting a few years is something like 0.00006% of 50,000. This way, if Sovereign sends the signal and it fails, it’s not as big of a deal. EDIT: I suppose it could be argued the Reapers don’t have enough energy to do the FTL method every time but at least point that out in the game please. /EDIT Sure, they can’t pour into the Citadel relay and make their job super easy but at the same time, with a legion of Reapers apparently able to just mop everyone up, that also doesn’t matter too much. There’s a little attempt to show that the Reapers have a few worlds they attack first and leave others alone but quite quickly they’re all over the place and by the end they are preparing to finish harvesting humans.

    So the points about how ME3 could have done things like shut down the relay network, or at least shut down areas because the Reapers really are not as infallible as they proclaim, could have been really cool. Tons of good ideas have been stated and there are probably plenty more to come.

    Thanks again Shamus. I’m enjoying this. And yet, I still play the series for reasons almost unknown.

    • Daimbert says:

      Actually, it would have made sense to say that they CAN use this method, but it drains a lot of their energy and so leaves them weaker than they’d be otherwise. This not only explains why they wouldn’t want to do it but also why, when they did it, that you can actually have a shot at destroying them when otherwise it’d be and out-and-out curb stomp. And it also makes what you did in ME2 and in Arrival actually have a point; you only have a shot because you forced them to take the long way around.

      • Deager says:

        I think I’ve used that subconsciously in my mind for years now without realizing it, plus probably this series of ideas.

        Protheans foil plan, Sovereign attempts work-around and gets stuffed.
        Collectors (or something like them) are standard backup plan to produce another “Sovereign” to do the same thing slowly over centuries or millennia, but this too fails.
        Final plan, burn energy using FTL, ME3 starts. Theoretically they’re “weakened” somehow from doing this so this cycle has a chance.

        Not really solid in just about any way given how much potential was built up in ME1 and all the great details that could have been, but I think that’s how I’ve viewed it. It’s not something I’m trying to defend or say is a good idea, but it kind of dawned on me now that I’ve been using this idea for a long time.

        I will say, for details over drama, I sure am enjoying Kerbal Space Program. Not being a rocket scientist myself means it all seems really cool.

      • Bas L. says:

        Imagine that they manage to make it to the Milky Way but need to rest and recharge their energy reserves. So first they’re just a presence on the galaxy map (like the Quarian fleet) and they may send a few initial attacks to Earth (smaller scale opening of what we currently have, including Shepard escaping).

        That gives Shepard & co the chance to unite the races and gradually, during the course of the game, the Reapers will recharge their energy and be able to deal more damage.

        • Deager says:

          That concept of most or all of the Reapers just “hanging out” had me writing two paragraphs before I realized my post would never end. I like that idea. Nothing we can do about for modding but dang, I like that idea. It relates well to what I’ve learned in Kerbal about escaping gravitational forces of a planet and also lonnnnng distance travel in space and how much energy all of that takes.

          • Bas L. says:

            Hah funny that you mention Kerbal since that’s pretty much the only game I play nowadays.

            Yeah it makes sense that even beings as powerful as the Reapers have to follow the laws of physics and consume (a lot of) energy. Their Citadel trap plan allows them instant teleportation so logically their normal FTL trip should drain them of energy and put them at a disadvantage (they can reach the milky way but will warn all the races and give them some time to prepare / adapt).

  23. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So which some kid was worse?This one,or modern warfare 3 one?Yeah,this one appears more often,but mw3 kid doesnt influence the plot of that game at all.

  24. Adam Haase says:

    I was so disgusted with ME2 that I never even finished the game.

    The moment I saw the commercial for the ME3 on TV with Earth being decimated and Shepherd “the hero” arriving, I knew I would NEVER put down money for it, ever.

  25. Raygereio says:

    And the writer thought this idiotic line of dialog was so awesome they don’t bother to give you a dialog wheel for it, because otherwise you might ruin their scene by not choosing to say it.

    Well, let’s be fair. If it has been ME1, we would have gotten to choose between three dialogue options, and all three would have had Shep say this line.

    Damn it, you condescending ass of a videogame. Let me put my gun away so I can take some proper screenshots.

    Blame the memory budget. Apparently Bioware couldn’t fit the equip/unequip animation in there. Which given that the game was released on the PS3 is a believable excuse.

    Part of the problem here is that the Mass Effect 3 writer either never understood or never respected the whole “Elder Gods” angle the first game set up.

    Did ME1 really set that up? I had the impression that the writers were still hedging their bets on that. In Sovereign’s scenes in ME1, you can easily interpret him as just a childish prick who is throwing a tantrum because this puny organic interrupted his plans and talked back to him.
    Thinking back on it, I think only ME2 actually tried to go for the “Elder Gods” angle. And then only in the IFF mission, before it turned into a husk-shooting gallery.

    The Normandy appears. The Alliance grounded Joker for basically no explained reason in Mass Effect 2, but now that he’s gone AWOL and joined up with terrorists, they’ve given him back his previous rank and reinstated him as a pilot?
    And the rest of the ship’s crew was nearby? And the Normandy hasn’t been assigned to a new commander and put to use? Instead it was fueled up[2] and waiting for Shepard to return?

    Shep turned the Normandy 2 over to the Alliance. The Alliance began work on retrofitting the ship to Alliance standards (which apparently includes ripping out the lights, seriously it always bugged me that only the Cerberus ship had well lit rooms). The crew – Traynor, Adams, etc – were the people working on the retrofit.
    EDI pretended to be a basic VI, programmed to only respond to Joker. So he was brought in under guard to help with the retrofit. It was still around on earth because the retrofit wasn’t 100% done yet, but complete enough for it to fly around.

    That’s all covered by in game dialogue, mostly from Joker & EDI and a little bit from Anderson. Whether you’re okay with it is another, but it’s there. The only thing that isn’t covered is how the Normandy was fueled up, but I feel even competent writers would have glossed over that.

    • Deager says:

      Your line about ME1 dialogue wheels really cracked me up. That is something that has driven me a little nuts as I keep playing it.

    • MrFob says:

      Agree with you on the Normandy issues, that was actually well explained later and it was one of the few things in the prologue that I actually didn’t have a problem with.

      As for ME1’s dialogue wheel, I feel you are a bit harsh on it. Yes, there were a couple of instances where different options did result in the same line but they were mainly in side quests or instances where it really didn’t matter (such as Shep acknowledging that s/he can read Joker on the comm-link).
      Even when it happened in the side quests, I still found it not without use because
      a) you only notice on your second or third run that you didn’t have a choice, so at least on the first run, you still make one
      and b) even if the spoken line is the same, having chosen it from a different paraphrase can change one’s interpretation of it (i.e. you said the same but meant it differently).
      I am not saying that using this trick was particularly great or that they should do it again but I think it wasn’t entirely without it’s up-sides because let-s face it, given a finite budged, the only alternative would have been auto-dialogue.

      • Raygereio says:

        I recall there being several “all dialogue options do the same thing” instances throughout ME1’s main quest.
        Also I don’t think I was being harsh at all, just poking fun at it. As much as Bioware likes to pat themselves on the back about the whole “player choice” thing, the reality is that their shtick is giving the player the illusion of choice while said player is unaware they’re following the railroad (which in and of itself is not a bad thing).
        And Bioware executed this pretty well in ME1, I think. You’re only going to really notice that the choice of certain dialogue options are meaningless, if you do a lot of reloading or play the game repeatedly back to back. Which I don’t think is something that a lot of the playerbase will do.

        given a finite budged, the only alternative would have been auto-dialogue.

        I like me some Jennifer Hale as much as the next guy, but you can have no/limited PC-VA (or no/limited VA in general for that matter).

        • MrFob says:

          Fair enough but:

          their shtick is giving the player the illusion of choice while said player is unaware they’re following the railroad.

          (EDIT: Thanks for the tip on quoting!)
          This is the case in any pre-programmed video game. I’d say it’s even the case with most DMs of p&p RPGs (they do want the gang to play through the plot they so carefully laid out after all).
          The question is just how wide you set the boundaries and that is something where everyone has their own level of comfort. I for example like the voiced protagonist and the cinematic feel one gets from it a lot and I am ready to sacrifice some branching for it, especially if those sacrifices are cleverly disguised as ME1 did it (most of the time).

          • Raygereio says:

            You can quote with the “blockquote” tag.

            I agree by the way, but I do think Bioware was the first devstudio to really try and hide the fact that the player is being railroaded through the plot and make player choice a selling point.
            Then again, my memory is fuzzy when it comes to older cRPGs, so I could be wrong.

            • MrFob says:

              Yea, that might be true, can’t remember either but I think most cRPGs before tried mostly to offer the illusion of freedom in space (i.e. large open worlds), not so much in story progression. Might be wrong as well though, the 80s/90s were a long time ago. :)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Did ME1 really set that up? I had the impression that the writers were still hedging their bets on that. In Sovereign’s scenes in ME1, you can easily interpret him as just a childish prick who is throwing a tantrum because this puny organic interrupted his plans and talked back to him.

      On its own,that can be an interpretation.But combined with other scenes,nope.It doesnt just taunt you,and then send some more mooks after you.It taunts you,and then does something impossible.And thats impossible both as commented by npcs,and as seen by the player.

      • Raygereio says:

        You’re referring to the scene where Sovereign starts racing towards Saren’s base after Shep insults it? That had Joker commenting “Wow, none of our ships could do that!”
        What’s Elder God about that? I can’t say it pictured “incomprehensible being from beyond the stars” in my mind. I just saw a demonstration that Sovereign has a tech advantage.
        That and it establishes that Sovereign is hardly “above us puny organics” as it claimed. It came across as it throwing a tantrum because Shep called it just a machine.

        If there are scenes in ME1 that do try to establish the Elder God vibe for the reapers, then please share. Because I can’t remember them.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          It goes through multiple alliance ships without even slowing down.Thats pretty godlike.

          • Raygereio says:

            Or it has superior shielding.
            Which apparently runs on a rather inferior OS that BSoD’ed when Shep violently unplugged the Saren device. You’d think that if they were gods, the Reapers could have fixed that bug.

            • Mike S. says:

              [Reaper tech support]”Why don’t they just not unplug it during critical operations? (Jeez, how hard is this?) Look, just turn it off and on, and if that doesn’t work reinstall ReaperOS. And if you could, please answer a short survey to let us know how we did.”[/Reaper tech support]

        • Gruhunchously says:

          The whole bit about Sovereign coming to get you on Virmire is a bit odd, because he never shows up. You never even see him – in fact, outside of that one line from Joker, there’s no indication that he’s anywhere near the system.

          • ehlijen says:

            I didn’t even get the impression that sovereign was coming for you. I thought at first that sovereign had decided that since security had obviously been compromised it was time to depart.

            Though I guess sovereign coming to pick up Saren makes more sense.

  26. Bubble181 says:

    Completely unrelated, but congratulations on getting to walk down the aisle again soon. Also congrats to the two young people involved. :)

  27. MrFob says:

    I am not sure what to think.

    On the one hand, I agree with pretty much everything you say in the article and I am also of the opinion that – next to the ending – the start of ME3 is the weakest part of the game.

    BUT: I wasn’t surprised at this at all. IMO, they didn’t have much of a choice than to get going in this super rushed and heavy handed way.
    I am not sure if you would agree but I would say the reaper invasion ahd to happen within this trilogy, having Shepard stop it before it began and not bring this conflict to a massive scale, not to involve all the other races and just have Shepard beat the reapers “in secret” before they could actually do anything would have meant not to capitalize on all the world building that did happen in ME1. It would also have meant that Sovereign would have been the pinnacle of our direct involvement with the reapers. So IMO, no way to avoid the invasion – even before Arrival. But after Arrival (which is part of ME2, at least for some), there really was no turning back from this.

    Now, If you are going to have the invasion, this would be the major thing that would basically change everything in the setting as we know. Doing this in the middle of the game (or just before the end) would not allow for enough exposure on these new circumstances and also make this very difficult to develop. Having it in the beginning of ME3, not later was a valid narrative choice IMO.

    Now you need a setting where Shepard could witness this event. You need a place that the player would somehow care about, that would be familiar in some way and that immediately gives you some connection. Ideally, you use a previous hub world for this. Problem: Can’t use the Citadel because it’s established that as soon as the reapers have it, they win instantly and also, it would make ME1 even more pointless. All the other hubs from previous game (Novaria, Feros, Omega, Illium, Tuchanka) are either fairly unimportant in the grad scheme or shady places, the player was not set up to actually care about that much.
    So what do you do, you chose the one place in the galaxy that the player does have a connection to in the real world, and you can justify Shep having a connection to in universe as well: Earth.

    Now, you a whole bunch of story to cover because you were too lazy to get going in the previous game. With all that catching up, you have a very limited amount of time to pull of the introduction, so what do you do: You put everything that would have taken hours to set up properly into 5 lines and make them look badass to gloss over it and this way you force your way into the story.

    It’s ME2 all over again but this time, I’d say they wrote themselves into a corner long before these scenes actually happened this way. Could it have been handled better? Yes, some of the most horrible issue (“we fight or we die”) could have been avoided regardless but in general, I think this crappy beginning and also the next big issue to come up – the “Mars Archive contrivances” – were at least partially necessitated by the horrible state the ME2 left things in.

    • Deager says:

      Stupid ME2. Had that been the seeking of more knowledge, heck, make the climax of ME2 finding the Crucible plans, then start off ME3 with them starting work on the thing when the Reapers pour in, it could have been not too shabby.

      I agree that the intro to ME3 is going all-out drama and glossing, skipping, tin-foil hatting a ton of things so that the “details first” people get a slap to the face.

      This is where nitpicking and retrospectives get tricky. I still contend that if we try hard enough we can look at something in real life and still pick it apart and make it seem like it’s not possible. Like, NASA so never landed on the moon!

      • Syal says:

        I’m trying to find that World War 2 review that talks about how the writers messed up all the worldbuilding and character development WW1 established.

        • Mike S. says:

          I don’t know if this is it, but it’s along the same lines:

          The sequel betrays many of the themes of the first – about the inherent evil of man and the fragile nature of society as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, the theme of evil is still pervasive and applies to Nazi death camps as well as fire bombings.

          But overall I feel like it was more of an Us vs. Them or Good vs. Evil vibe. This is often the case with sequels as the subtleties of the original are sometimes lost. What was intriguing about the original was it’s all-encompassing aura of madness and senseless suffering. I gotta admit that some of the Pacific battles were pretty intense and the war scenes were more interesting to watch (less trenches) but it wasn’t the artistic achievement that it’s predecessor was.

          Gotta give big ups to Hitler though, great casting and a great performance. Kind of unrealistic how evil he is though, would have preferred more character development.

          Also a complaint about the unsatisfying ending. “France and England declared war on Germany to save Poland, and then in the end, they just give Poland up to the Soviet Union? What’s up with that?”

          Thread at: http://forum.rottentomatoes.com/topic/show/581555

    • MrFob says:

      Hahaha, I just realized that the acronym for “Mars Archive Contrivances” is MAC. ;)

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I think the idea that the Reaper invasion had to happen comes from a kind of “we have to top that” mentality but it didn’t necessarily have to be case. The game kind of forces you into that train of thought when it goes down the road of an action piece focused on spectacle but it could have very well gone down the path of thoughtful SF or even character arc.

      I wonder if the series wouldn’t be better paced if it ended with Sovereign’s destruction as a whole rather than have it happen in part one. Depending on what the grand agenda of the Reapers would actually be (at this point it’s fairly obvious to everyone that the idea changed during the series) perhaps the destruction of one would be enough for them to decide to go look for a different galaxy to pester, or to delay their arrival from dark space enough for future generations to possibly catch up to them technologically and be able to put up some actual resistance.

      • MrFob says:

        Yea but it went down the action spectacle road pretty much from the very beginning. I agree with Shamus’ analysis on how the “drama vs. details” ration change over the course of the series but let’s face it, it never really was the “thoughtful scifi” sort of story.

        At the very least, as you say, at the end of ME1, things were set. I agree that one could have done the series in a manner so that the Sovereign confrontation could have been the climax of the trilogy but that would require restructuring the entire thing.

        Above, I was talking about what was a necessity for the ME3 writing team after ME2 already happened and I maintain that the invasion could not be avoided at this point.
        So again, a lot of the issues in ME3 do originate in ME2’s shortcomings to set up the final part properly.

  28. John Law says:

    I said a little while ago; I like Mass Effect 3, I think it’s extremely underrated, especially compared to ME2, and I will almost certainly have my disagreements with Shamus down the line.

    That said, I’m with him 100% on the beginning. It’s absolute garbage, poorly explained and clearly set up to provide trailer fodder without any thought for consistency or planning. The stuff with the kid is unforgivable, especially given the way the game keeps ineptly calling back to it right up until the end.

    That being said, I don’t quite agree with Shamus’ take on it being impossible for the Reapers to reach the Milky Way without the Citadel relay. They’re sentient starships, and apparently perpetual motion machines, they can’t exactly be “trapped” in space, and it’s never specified how far out in dark space they are. The reason the Citadel relay was so important was because it gave them an instant advantage; losing that means they have to invade the hard way, (which as it turns out is not that much harder at all for them), but they are still within their power to FTL to Earth.

    • Mike S. says:

      With what we knew from the earlier games, the Reapers might have needed to do static discharge, and they might have needed fuel. (The idea that they hibernate out in dark space suggests a need to conserve energy, after all.) And the distance to “dark space” was unknown but presumed long. Any or all of those could have combined for it to be actually impossible to fly back to the Milky Way, or else for it to take so long that it’s not a concern for this generation (even including asari and krogan).

      This raises the question of how they got a relay out to where they are. But that’s one of those things that could either remain a mystery or be established as impractical to repeat en masse. (If the Reapers have really been around for a billion years, it might even have just been flown out at barely-sublight speeds. At near-c you could have done 200 round trips to Andromeda in that kind of time.)

    • Bas L. says:

      There are two problems with this.
      First, Vigil states that the Reapers are exactly that, trapped in dark space. It doesn’t make much sense that the Reapers would create this trap for themselves but of course they expected the Keepers to work and perhaps hubris could’ve caused this.
      Secondly, why do they attack Earth? Why don’t they attack the Citadel in ME3? There’s literally zero reason why, apart from ME3’s marketing campaign. Had they attacked the Citadel then the entire plot of ME3 would’ve been impossible. Earth is a symbol and an economic powerhouse, sure, but its strategic value pales in comparison to the Citadel.

      The Reapers should’ve attacked halfway or near the end of ME3. And not by “just arriving from Dark Space” but think of some reason how the Citadel relay works after all. Then have the Reapers wipe out the Citadel, attack Earth and that’s where the endgame with a desperate counterattack begins (I would make it end with a desperate struggle to kill Harbinger, their leader, instead of introducing some kind of DEM).

      Also, as others have stated, even with insanely fast FTL speeds the galaxy is just so unbelievably large that it should’ve taken the Reapers decades, not a few months / 2 years. The way it’s currently implemented in ME3, with the Reaper’s perception of time, it would be equal to you walking to your neighbour’s house. It is simply such a ridiculously short time for them that it makes no sense to even attempt the Sovereign or Collector plan.

      • Mike S. says:

        The answer to “why didn’t they attack the Citadel?” should have been that they couldn’t. The Citadel’s invulnerability to attack with the Ward Arms closed is its fundamental reason for being the galactic capital, after all, and the entire reason for the chase around the galaxy to the Conduit in the first game. And using the Reaper’s trap to help withstand them is poetic. It could eventually fall to a siege, but not to direct outside assault without someone inside to throw the gates open.

        But, of course, there’s the problem that the Citadel is taken towards the end of ME3. If there’d been an explanation– betrayed from within via indoctrination, some sort of Trojan Horse gambit, etc.– then we’d be able to say why they didn’t do it earlier. As it is, the question remains, in both directions: how did the Reapers manage to conquer the Citadel, and why did they fail to do that sooner?

        • MrFob says:

          Well, they tried and failed with Udina, so I assume this was the plan. My head cannon is that somehow they finally got TIM’s indoctrination far enough to have him go to the Citadel himself and “somehow” (maybe with the help of other indoctrinated agents) sabotage the controls for closing the station. Of course, none of this is covered in the game at all, it’s just what I tell myself to keep my sanity while playing the game. :)

        • guy says:

          Strictly speaking the Citadel is not actually invincible when the arms are closed. Sustained bombardment by an attacking fleet can breach it over a period of days. What this effectively means is that taking the Citadel requires laying siege to it for considerably longer than it will take for reinforcements to arrive. Also, logistically speaking the reason it’s the galactic capital is because it’s effectively at the center of the Relay network, All Roads Lead To Rome style. If you have your galactic capital anywhere else, traffic to the capital from a large portion of the galaxy will pass by the Citadel. Between being centrally located, relatively defensible (as a practical matter anyone who can storm the Citadel can invade your capital wherever you put it), and generally being already built for you and quite swanky it’s a clear ideal choice for your capital.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          The Illusive Man is at least one step ahead of Shepard from Thessia on (since Leng steals the data from you). So when Shepard is wondering how to stop TIM, Leng is arriving at the Cerberus base with the data. When Shepard finds that base, TIM has already left and headed for the Citadel. Fully indoctrinated, TIM somehow sets up the takeover of the Citadel (perhaps he is given something to use on the Keepers?).

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        First, Vigil states that the Reapers are exactly that, trapped in dark space.

        Vigil shouldnt be quoted as the ultimate arbiter however.It new a bunch of things,yes,but it new them from second hand observation.It didnt know the exact nature of reapers,if they had any backup plans,what if anything they are doing between cycles,why they are doing all of it,etc.It only new what they do when a cycle goes according to plan.

        If reapers had any contingencies,vigil would know nothing about them.If reapers were going from galaxy to galaxy doing this thing in every one of them,vigil would know nothing about it.Etc.

    • Syal says:

      There is a statement made in-game that the Reapers can only get here through the Citadel, and no provided explanation to allow the Reapers to get to the galaxy in another way so quickly. There are ways around it (The Collectors set another entrance up in ME2, there’s a way in from a different galaxy they had to detour through, etc.) but the writers didn’t take them, so we have one statement saying it’s impossible for them and zero statements saying it isn’t. In story terms that means it’s impossible.

  29. Grudgeal says:

    I know this is basically spitting in a bucket at this point (or in the Atlantic more like it), but on top of everything I’m upset by the extremely inefficient and silly method of attacking planets the Reapers do.

    I mean, come on, going straight for the Citadel and turning off the Mass Relays aside, you land physically on the planet? If it were me, I’d beat up the orbital facilities, drop a nice meteor onto the surface (doesn’t need to be a terribly big one — just a dinosaur-killer size will do), boom. Planet is having a nuclear winter for the next hundred years or so, infrastructure will go to heck, and the population will be too busy just trying to avoid starvation to build any industry from it or refuel any fleets. You can then just move on at your leisure and come back and Reap it in a decade or two.

    I mean, you’re an immortal space god. You’ve got time. This slapdash ‘attack planets at random OMG’ lack of tactics just irks me.

    • Mike S. says:

      The dinosaur-killer killed off something like three fourths of Earth’s species (and pretty much everything remotely large). The Reapers supposedly don’t want to completely destroy the sapient species, or the planets’ ecosystems.

      (Mostly– they do sideswipe smaller colonies that they don’t care about with asteroids.)

      They want to harvest the sapients, but leave the ecosystems mostly intact to be colony worlds or homeworlds for the next crop of sapients. Killing billions from orbit means fewer people to harvest, and risks the planet not being suitable for the next few cycles until it’s recovered. (Or forever, if they calibrate badly enough.)

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Of course killing civilians with death rays also means less people to harvest, but that’s not stopping them. I think “What do the Reapers want?” is one of those questions like “Is Cerberus competent?” where the plot is too badly-written and contradictory to pull out pieces like “The Reapers want to harvest people” and start trying to reach logical conclusions from there.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The thing is,reapers arent just killing people,they are collecting them to either turn into husks or into new reapers.

      However,they are doing this inefficiently as well.They are killing unarmed civilians left and right,for no reason.Instead of gobbling up whole buildings to process them internally.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Their tactics seem to be a mostly new version of their old hit (Destroy the Government and then pick off groups at leisure Sonata). Since they weren’t able to hit the Citadel first, they arrive on each planet with a sort of shock and awe strategy. First Look how powerful and terrifying we are! They then zap targets of opportunity, like the government office on Earth. Then they launch a ground assault of corrupted Reaper troops to a) upset everyone even further and b ) wipe out entrenched defenses. Finally, they use indoctrinated leaders to convince people to give up without a fight, who they then goop up for their evil smoothie purposes. They are DEFINITELY operating on the omelet strategy, not too worried about breaking individual eggs as long as they can conquer the planet in the end.

  30. el_b says:

    really you can justify the reapers being weaker this cycle to three things.
    1. the cycle has been delayed centuries, the keepers didnt do their job so sovereign turned the rachni into his weapons do get where he needed, when that failed he worked on the geth and eventually got saren. in that time another major race joined the culling list and military tech got a lot more advanced.

    2. we knew they were coming, they couldnt just jump out of nowhere and divide us this time, we had a chance to prepare and while it was mostly wasted there were connections made that allowed us to unite in time.

    3. they couldnt take the citadel, from what i remember they could only cut off all the relays through it, meaning they had to spread out, before they could take centuries, using their whole army one planet at a time. they were thinned out, i think this is part of the reason why they landed, outside of looking ‘cinematic’. they have the ability to indoctrinate by proximity afterall, and apparently that BWUUUUUUUUUU noise has a boosted version of it.

    its still a shit ending, but it wasnt ALL half assed.

    • Mike S. says:

      That’s one thing that’s a little odd: our Cycle is probably at least two millennia longer than it was supposed to have been. (Assuming the rachni were provoked into attacking after Sovereign failed to activate the Keepers.) Yet we’re still substantially behind the Protheans in both tech and extent of settlement. And the first starfaring species didn’t emerge till close to fifty thousand years after the Protheans were destroyed.

      Yet if all had gone according to plan, the asari and salarians would have been hit, and maybe the uplifted krogan. (Assuming the salarians gave them tech to help fight the Reapers instead of the rachni.) And then the turians, batarians, humans, and a bunch of other species would have found the relays within a millennium or two after that.

      Which suggests that we were headed for a really short cycle (maybe the Reapers come back not much later than they did, after two or three thousand years instead of fifty) Or the post-Prothean interregnum was a really long one, and the asari-led civilization that followed it quite the underachiever despite having lots of extra time and Prothean tutelage.

      • el_b says:

        i always had a feeling the asari were purposely holding everyone back so they didnt lose their own place to the other races, they even had their own secret beacon. they ended up making something similar to a caste system as well, so you werent getting the best out of every race. you had a turian military, salarian scientists, sleazy space je- i mean volus moneymen…humanity seemed to be shaking things up just by having variation.

        the protheans were a military empire, and they were probably more based on merit. plus they were in a war against their ai, tech always advances way faster during wars. it may have been part cause of species too, werent protheans telepathic? they built that into their tech and uplifted the asari, possibly giving a weaker version to them.

      • Poncho says:

        It’s probably fair to say that the vast majority of other cycles went a little differently in regards to the dominant species. In other cycles, you’d find the dominant race:

        1. Subjugating the technologically inferior races (like the Protheans did).

        2. Destroying those races.

        3. Assimilating them into your society such that you’re indistinguishable, save for the whole different species thing.

        The Asari were a little different, and their extremely long lifespans are probably pretty rare, contributing to the stretched out nature of the current cycle.

        We should also remember that the Asari had a head start relative to what we might expect in other cycles. Their beacon, and thus their source of civilization, didn’t get destroyed by the Reapers, and the Protheans set them up to have a massive advantage.

        • Mike S. says:

          That makes the asari look even worse, if anything. We took around ten thousand years to get from inventing agriculture to opening the Charon relay. The asari were given agriculture (and a bunch of other stuff) fifty thousand years ago, along with an archive full of “how to boostrap your civilization” instructional videos… and in all that time didn’t even catch up to their mentor species, let alone surpass it.

          (Worse, if anything. They defined need to know about their inheritance so narrowly that a well-connected Prothean archeologist turned Shadow Broker couldn’t pick up a hint of it. There’s proper compartmentalization, and there’s setting security so high that even your own side doesn’t benefit.)

          Obviously, I appreciate their not doing the imperialism bit so hard. But maybe a better balance could have been struck for long term survival.

          • guy says:

            I sort of get the sense that everyone has a very hard time making their technology better at that tech level; everyone was apparently handed eezo on a silver platter. The Protheans were apparently the most advanced species in the entire history of the cycles; they built their own relay. And it’s not really clear how much information the Asari actually managed to extract from their Beacon; apparently they did not manage to wake the VI.

            • Poncho says:

              The Asari are on that tech level. Liara’s “dad” was a matriarch and suggested the construction of their own relay network, independent of the existing one, because the engineering and technology was feasible to them. The Asari at large shut this idea down because it was democratizing in a sense and couldn’t be used to better Asari economic power.

              The Asari also had medi-gel long before the humans came along, but once human scientists started to publicize their findings that they were getting close to unlocking this wonder-drug, the Asari released and patented their version.

              Apparently, things like this have been happening for a while. The Asari have a bunch of tech lying around in secret, but they hang on to it because it gives them an advantage politically and economically. This might explain why the Reapers show up, thinking the galaxy is totally ready for a reaping, when it’s really just the Asari that are ready and haven’t shared their toys despite welcoming other races into the galactic community.

              • Mike S. says:

                Where’s the detail about the asari and medi-gel from? My recollection was that it came from the human Sirta Foundation, and the wiki seems to confirm.

                • Decus says:

                  Probably Asari background chatter and minor quests. I can’t recall where it was either, but I do recall hearing a bunch of Asari “we were first to patent” stories. Not sure if it was explained entirely, in terms of them already having the tech, or if they just stole stuff.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The problem is,this should make them strategically weaker,but still immensely strong individually.What we see however is them spreading through every system and dominating,cutting off almost every homeworld from the rest of the galaxy,yet being able to be destroyed by single bullets or large animals.So they are strategically just as strong,but individually much weaker than in the first game.

  31. guy says:

    I don’t really agree that Mass Effect presented the Reapers as space Elder Gods. What it portrays them as is ancient monsters who think they’re gods. As far as I’m concerned the natural story arc ends with them brought low by their own hubris and the mortals who they contemptuously disregarded as beneath them proving that these “gods” can die like anything else. That’s not really even a new way for this sort of story to end, A Fire Upon The Deep starts with a malevolent godlike being beyond our comprehension watching a tiny freighter jump to warp and disregarding it as a threat, and it ends when an ancient superweapon the crew of that ship stole from under the Blight’s nose kills it, almost literally dragging it from the heavens to the earth by rendering superhuman intelligence impossible in the entire area it controlled.

    • Mike S. says:

      Though there it’s not so much mortals beating gods as mortals serving as the instruments of battling divinities. The Blight is one (operating through the pursuing fleets and more subtle means), while Pham is essentially an avatar of the dead Old One (his mind stuffed beyond its capacity with its remnant) attempting to reach the Countermeasure, a weapon beyond mortal ken.

      IIRC, they didn’t even really know what it would do– not unlike the Crucible here. They just knew they had to get Pham (bearing Old One’s knowledge) to the ship from High Lab (containing the Countermeasure he needed to activate). Human (and other sapient) ingenuity was necessary, but ultimately as a means to give the superhuman the ability to act.

      (The result of Countermeasure was an apocalypse in the Beyond and Transcend arguably worse than anything projected from the Mass Effect endings. Better than the alternative, to be sure.)

      • guy says:

        True, but the humans at the station (well, more specifically their branch-AI selves) do successfully identify Countermeasure as a weapon against the Blight and successfully swipe it and smuggle it away and succeed in part because of the Blight’s sheer contempt for them; they nearly get away clean before it even realizes they’ve tricked it, and while it destroys their military ship using a low-power communications laser it completely disregards the freighter as a possible threat. It ultimately lost because it didn’t really believe humans could be a true threat to it until too late.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      They still are immensely strong,and it takes both being sabotaged by the strongest race in the previous cycle,and being ganged up on by everyone in this cycle in order to take out just a single one of them.

      Yet in me3,we see them die left and right in increasingly stupider ways.

      To use my ant analogy from before,there are ants that can completely annihilate humans.But it takes a special breed of them AND zillions of them swarming you whole,with every one of them taking a small chunk,until you are gone.Now imagine if suddenly your regular house ant crawls onto you,bites you,and you die because of it.Thats the progression of reapers from me1 to me3.

      • guy says:

        Killing Sovereign really, really does not take being ganged up on by everyone in this cycle. He’s supported by an immense battlefleet. He’s largely a non-participant in the fight outside the Citadel and the attacking fleet still tears the defending force to ribbons. He’s clearly stronger than any single defending ship but there is no compelling reason to think he could win a sustained confrontation with five dreadnoughts.

        • el_b says:

          thats why he hid, and i love that. he is this unknowable ancient thing thats eaten entire galaxies, surrounded by killer ants…he disregards them all as beneath him and its their destiny to die to him, but he knows he has to be careful about it.
          imo sovereign was the best reaper, his voice ruled, his speech ruled and he didnt die like a bitch to you 20 times a level like harbinger. his speech was really all the development the reapers needed. you dont know us, you cant know us, were coming to get you.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Once the arms open,sovereign does survive quite a prolonged bombardment by a whole fleet.Not to mention that before the confrontation it rams through that same fleet obliterating a bunch of them without a dent to itself.

          • guy says:

            Yes. But there are no dreadnought kills credited to him; the ships he rammed through were cruiser-sized. The period between the fleet beginning to fire on him and his destruction is extremely brief and in any case the force attacking him is mostly made up of one-fifth of the fourth-strongest military in the galaxy. He lasts longer than a single dreadnought in that scenario would be expected to but in no way proves that he could beat a fleet several times larger than the one that cannot kill him over a period of maybe ten minutes at most.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Werent those things it fought in the end dreadnoughts?The ones it sliced with its laser?

              And the battle did last a few minutes.The cutscenes were short,but they were happening while you were fighting sarenhusk,which does last for a couple of minutes on average.

              Not to mention that it didnt really focus on fighting at any point,but rather in reaching the citadels penis and engulfing it.

              • guy says:

                Definitely cruisers. That is more ships than there are Alliance dreadnoughts.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Theres definitely one dreadnought in the fifth fleet,and its probably the one we see exiting the relay first.But Im not sure which ship was cut by the laser(which pretty much ignores the shields,I might add).

                  Also,Ive rechecked the thing about saren and such,and its this fight that caused sovereigns shields to fail.So thing is,sovereign was practically invulnerable before that point,and even after that point it took a bunch of shots to take it down.That makes it orders of magnitude more powerful than any dreadnought.

                  Which is definitely not the case for reapers in me3,which can be overpowered by a single large animal.

                  • guy says:

                    There’s at least eight ships in there the same size as the ones that get cut. Also, Sovereign’s weapon isn’t actually a laser; it’s the same as the Thanix cannon. It shoots a stream of molten metal that looks kind of like a laser but is stopped by barriers.

                    Anyways, Sovereign’s shields go down because the Saren husk is killed, but his behavior indicates that he could not in fact have won that fight or he’d have won it before taking a risk like that.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Yes,the battle is chaotic.We dont see the carriers either,even though we saw them coming out of the relay.

                      I know its not really a laser.But it does cut through a ship in a single shot,meaning it bypasses the barriers of that ship completely(or they didnt have them up for some reason,which would be stupid on their part).

                      As for its behavior,it was rushing the citadel to do its thing quickly,before someone inside the citadel could do anything about it.It focused on what was inside the citadel waay more than the outside.

                    • guy says:

                      It’s a Reaper-tech anti-dreadnought weapon, of course it can chop up cruisers. Barriers go down and the shot continues on to slice through the hull underneath. Sovereign manifestly did not go up against the entire Citadel fleet solo, and he also manifestly did not defeat Fifth Fleet. We cannot conclude from what did happen that he could have, and the fact that he risked backlash dropping his shields and letting the fleet destroy him rather than destroying the fleet and then handling the situation on the Citadel in perfect safety strongly implies he could not have destroyed the entire fleet.

                      And since he did bring a fleet so powerful it nearly destroyed the Citadel fleet without a significant contribution from him, it appears likely that if he’d just had Saren keep it locked open while he flew in the fleet would have just killed him before he could dock.

                  • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                    Recall, the shields are the whole magic Mass Effect thing. But in 1, the Rachni attack THROUGH your shields and do direct health damage. So it might be that the shields are irrelevant for Thresher Maw melee slams.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      My recollection is that thresher maw venom went through shields in ME1 too. (And physical attacks by the thresher maw were instakills, though it’s hard to know if they ignored shields or just overwhelmed them.)

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Shields are irrelevant here.This is a huge structure that can sustain multiple g forces without even buckling.No animal,alive or imaginary,can reproduce such force.

                      Furthermore,this huge structure can alter its mass AND has enough force to propel itself out of a gravitational well of a star.There is no way an animal can weigh it down significantly so that it cannot just lift off.

                      My recollection is that thresher maw venom went through shields in ME1 too. (And physical attacks by the thresher maw were instakills, though it’s hard to know if they ignored shields or just overwhelmed them.)

                      And if said animal was so much larger than the reaper as it is than a human,this wouldnt be problematic.However,here we have the equivalent of an elephant trying to ram a tank.

                    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      @Daemian, interesting analogy considering a smaller Thresher Maw can easily ram and kill your tank in ME1. We don’t really know the exact capabilities of Destroyer Reapers in any case. Did they have to lose some of the nicer Reaper bullet point capabilities in order for speed or (whatever advantage they have that caused them to be created)?

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Except that said tank in me1 is several sizes smaller than that thresher maw.I deliberately said “elephant and tank” and not “whale and tank”,or “elephant and car”.

  32. Decius says:

    Presumably the Reapers had more than one plan in effect that would hasten their arrival. Shepard stopped one of them, but not all of them.

    I don’t know why the last arc of me2 wasn’t Shepard narrowly failing to prevent the next one, putting a solid arrival time into the narrative.

    • Poncho says:

      Technically, “Arrival” is meant to be this, but it is so brain-dead stupidly written and uninteresting. If the “Firewalker” DLC where you fly around on that hovercar was a series of missions to find and secure away Reaper artifacts or indoctrinated cultists, it could have served a nice middle of the story, but it was just a dumb mini-game.

  33. el_b says:

    the fact that the reapers push everyone down the mass effect tech tree really makes me want to see a deathmatch between them and other fictional races or just single overpowered ships like the fortress macross or the uncn yamato.

  34. SlothfulCobra says:

    The reason why Earth isn’t interesting is because the writers basically want to use it to delve into one specific thing, and to hell with everything else. The most consistent theme throughout all of Mass Effect is that every source of authority is horrible and incompetent. The Citadel Council absolutely refuses to accept the threat of the Reapers, both before and after Sovereign’s attack. Cerberus is a terrorist organization that just can’t keep track of its subordinates, and I think that ME2 was intentionally weak when asserting they weren’t terrorists as a little wink to the player, but I might be reading a bit too much into things there. It’s ME3 now, and Shepard needs a new boss, and with that new boss comes a need to demonstrate that they are horrible and incompetent. It’s just the Alliance’s turn in the stupid seat.

    The whole “a kid died” thing is dumb, but I appreciate that the writers were at least trying for something, even if it failed abysmally.

    • Mike S. says:

      The military hierarchy is generally an exception. Anderson and Hackett are trustworthy and doing what they can (even if it’s less than it seems as if they should be able to), and in ME3 the turian generals seem pretty reliable.

      Exception: the quarian Admiralty is a wretched hive of scum and villainy (or at least recklessness and smarminess).

      • ehlijen says:

        Admiral ‘let’s wage a guerilla war against an invulnerable enemy with no supply chain who are here for extermination, not occupation’ Anderson? And ‘I don’t think killing civilians is Cerberus’ MO’ Hackett?

        They are presented as sympathetic to the player character, and that’s a welcome change over the council and TIM, but while the writers clearly meant for them to appear competent, they really weren’t. They complete their relevant off screen tasks, sure, but only against all reason and logic.

      • Poncho says:

        The quarians in ME2 were painted as wonderfully complex characters in the face of very large problems. You have a race of people who are distrusted by the galaxy at large, have to deal with the mistakes of their ancestors, don’t have a homeworld but desperately want and NEED one, because their whole race has lost the ability to produce a strong enough immune system. Their political and cultural structure makes sense, the admirals appear rational (I love how the one admiral that the player is meant to disagree with in the Tali trial is actually the one guy who is vehemently against starting a war with the geth), and their attitudes toward the Geth range from philosophical to practical.

        Then, in ME3, they are just cardboard cutouts and everyone is the extreme version of themselves, complete bumbling idiots until Shepard shows up and slaps them into shape.

        • Natureguy85 says:

          They also completely missed an opportunity to properly frame the three ending options with three Admirals. We do keep Garrel, who would represent Destroy, and Korris, who would represent Synthesis with a little more dialogue. And then they would just need to keep Xen just as important as those two with her plan to CONTROL the Geth that she mentions in Mass Effect 2.

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Xen is the main reason for the Geth war in that her weapon completely works as an anti-Geth EMP. The massive Geth casualties (that made them dumber and thus willing to work with the Reapers) were caused by that weapon. So I think it’s still in there?

            • natureguy85 says:

              Xen is still in there but her desire to bring the Geth back under Quarian control is not. She is the Admiral in charge of special projects and comes up with this weapon. It is supposedly made from Rael’Zorah’s research though.

  35. Joshua says:

    “The first game showed that it required a bulk of the military might of the galaxy just to kill one distracted Reaper, and we see a half dozen Reapers on the horizon. Assuming the invasion is global and not focused on this one city, we can infer there are hundreds or thousands of Reapers attacking Earth alone. The idea of “getting help” is ridiculous, only surpassed by the staggeringly preposterous notion of staying behind to fight. ”

    Reminds me of the final Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Seven. They spend two episodes building up a nemesis that is *barely* beaten in a brutal fight, then a later reveal shows that there are *thousands* more of them waiting to attack. Of course, when they finally arrive they’re mowed down like mooks by moderately experienced regular humans.

    • Mike S. says:

      It’s a fairly common pattern. See also Trek and the Borg.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        At least with the borg its not a direct continuation,but a new show handled by different people.Its easy to point why that went to shit.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        Also: The Daleks in New Who. In the beginning just one of them was able to wipe out two-hundred strong security force, but when armies of them started showing up, they became much easier to defeat individually.

        Old Who sort of did the opposite, having the Daleks explicitly be at their weakest in their first appearance, and then having them grow more dangerous as they acquired new technology (but since their first appearance was also their [first] final defeat, all of that acquisition took place in their chronological past, because time travel, and then their whole history got retconned so none of it mattered anyway and…yeah). But it stop them from getting constantly blown up in increasing hilarious ways.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Those werent regular humans,those were awakened slayers.I dont remember if xander got to fight them,and he is the only regular human in the group.

      • ehlijen says:

        But even in dealing with just the first one, the show went from ‘it cleans buffy’s clock without trouble’ in one episode to ‘it’s a tough fight but the still badly wounded buffy defeats it alone eventually’ in the very next one.

        It’s like these things have a competence half life measured in scenes. Season 7 really felt like every time a character declared ‘something must change’ the writers simply obeyed and made it change for no reason.

        • Joshua says:

          Well, the only issue I have with that second episode where she wins is the reveal that she, Willow, and Xander staged the fight with the vampire to prove a point to the Potentials. Which is absolutely ridiculous because there’s no reason they should think that was a reasonable idea because of how easily the vampire had kicked Buffy’s butt in the first episode. Oh, and also add Buffy’s new out of the blue ability to start sending telepathic thoughts to Willow and Xander too, and the ass pull writing just keeps getting worse.

      • Joshua says:

        I was referring to people like Dawn and Anya.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Did anya get turned back into human in season 7?But even if she did,she was still an accomplished magician.

          As for dawn.Eh,screw it,I have no excuse for her.She was turned into a regular human with no protection.

          • Dork Angel says:

            It’s the law of inverse ninja. One Ninja is a badass, an army of them are crap. It’s as if there is a set amount of Ninja energy in the universe. One ninja gets it all. If more show up they have to share the energy making them all weaker. A bit like a reverse version of Jet Li’s ‘The One’.

  36. CliveHowlitzer says:

    Am I an evil person in that every time a child is killed on screen in basically anything. I just roll my eyes. I can feel the writer trying to manipulate me to feel a certain way and it almost always has the opposite effect. You can make me feel but you have to put in the work and those kind of things always have the total opposite effect on me.

    My girlfriend just started Mass Effect 3 and I am watching her play it right around the same time as reading you covering it again so I am right in sync again. It is kind of painful!

    As an aside, as you’ve illustrated very well in this series so far. It is insane how often a single line or two of dialogue would salvage enough of it to suit its big dumb action movie ambitions and yet somehow…failed.

  37. AJax says:

    I’ve been really enjoying this series of analysis. Still have to go back and read the ME1 entries though!

    It is absolutely fascinating to see a game like ME3 fail on so many levels yet I still managed to walk away from it with overall positive feelings. Oh don’t get me wrong, I did my share of complaining and tore it a new one back when it was released for its many, many failures yet I still can’t bring myself to hate it.

    Oh yeah, that “Some Kid Died” scene is still as awful and poorly written as I remember it. Would love to read what the writers think of it looking back or any post mortem from the developers.

    • Poncho says:

      I think it’s telling, based on the fact that we’re still discussing and rationalizing these stories, that they made a tremendous impact when they were released. Everyone loved these games for different reasons, or loved to hate them for others, but they are incredibly influential pieces of art and their deep and numerous flaws are exposed, largely in part, due to the fact that we need some sort of catharsis when thinking about these games.

      When I finished ME3, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I felt so betrayed, because the introductory game was so amazingly unique in so many ways, but still felt familiar and accessible, and the latter games slowly broke my heart over and over. It’s the first love, the one you think you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, only to slowly drift apart and he/she tries to murder you when you break up.

      • Natureguy85 says:

        It’s because of the “what could have been great” effect. Failure to live up to potential feels so much worse than having no potential. If Mass Effect was total crap, we’d never remember it except as a joke.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          I kind of touched that sentiment on the forums where I mentioned supernatural.Ive watched that show for 10 years,and then just quit.Not because I was pissed of by it,or bored,or anything.It left literally no impact on me,and it was just pure chance that I got reminded of it a few days ago.

          But with mass effect,a mere five years series still make my blood boil because of how it concluded.Its a stark contrast between a thing that merely exists,and a thing that emotionally touches you,in either good way or bad.

  38. Mephane says:

    This character might work if the author was willing to build up some kind of bond between the audience and the kid, but the writer just wants to get this dialog over with and get back to the shooting. The kid gets two lines of dialog, and neither one rings particularly true. Neither one is a particularly kid thing to say, and neither one humanizes him.

    They didn’t even bother giving him a name. The subtitle just gives us a generic “Child”. /facepalm

  39. Zaxares says:

    I had an idea for how the writers could have salvaged the whole “Let’s turn ME3 into a big climatic space battle!” while still preserving the “Reapers are far too powerful and far too many to defeat conventionally” line of logic. The idea is this:

    Yes, the Reapers COULD awaken themselves in dark space and then travel back to the galaxy, but they had to make HUGE sacrifices to do this. Namely, what they did was that they cannibalized hundreds, maybe thousands, of other Reapers (acquiring the mind-bogglingly huge amounts of Element Zero required) to build a makeshift Mass Relay out in dark space, and then linked that relay to the Alpha Relay in batarian space. (The writer could come up with any number of reasons why they picked that relay. Maybe it was an older mass relay and thus their crude, sloppily put together mass relay can only communicate with that one. Maybe batarian space is right on the edge of the galaxy and thus it was the closest one.)

    Thus, by the time the Reapers are on their way to Earth, at least half or maybe 3/4 of their force is gone. THEN, Shepard blows up the Alpha Relay, immediately shunting the travelling Reapers back into real time. They know that time is of the essence now and have to hustle using their conventional FTL drives, but doing this burns up yet more precious energy resources the Reapers now barely have. A lot of the smaller Reaper destroyers (which comprises the bulk of the Reaper invasion force) don’t make it, further helping to balance the scales against the Council Races.

    Thus, by the time the Reapers arrive back in the galaxy, they’re actually a pale shadow of the vast, unstoppable force they once were. Yet even so, the initial engagements show that the Reapers are still so much more technologically advanced than the Council races that beating them in a head-on fight is impossible. And that’s finally where the Crucible comes in.

    • Gethsemani says:

      There are many ways to justify the Reapers coming back so quickly. Perhaps they have a dozen hidden relays all over the place which they can use in case the Citadel-gambit failed. Perhaps they used relays that had been deactivated by the council races. Maybe they had yet another back-up plan apart from the Collectors and the Alpha relay that Shepard never found out about and used that. That’s not really the problem.

      The problem is that the writers never even address this issue, which turns it into a series-wide plot hole. They staked their entire plot credibility on that the player would be so awed and emotionally swept up in the “OMG END OF THE WORLD!”-scenario that the player wouldn’t start thinking about how ME3’s plot gelled with the plot of its’ predecessors.

      • Natureguy85 says:

        But then why wouldn’t the Reapers just use those alternate options when Sovereign’s signal didn’t work and not bother with the whole Saren attempt?

        • guy says:

          There are many reasons why they potentially might not have. The writers did not put any in the game, but they could have. For theoretical alternative ME3 I’m inclined towards using the explanation that the Reapers had backup plans but did not quite anticipate the exact scenario that happened, and the Citadel assault tripped their backup plan for Sovereign being destroyed prior to activating the Citadel.

    • Syal says:

      But that only works if the races will pose a danger to them if not reaped quickly, meaning they aren’t so invincible anyway, or if they’re straight-up murder-hungry zealots. Otherwise they’d just take the scenic route, or wait for some bumbling galaxian to open the gate by accident.

    • Dork Angel says:

      I’d been thinking something similar but that actually fills in the gaps I had. Reapers head into Dark Space and shut down to conserve power (they have a long wait ahead). The Citadel is meant to signal “wake up” but is sabotaged by the Protheans. As a failsafe one Reaper awakens every x years to check. (maybe the races have been wiped out by a natural disaster, maybe they have taken longer to evolve this time and aren’t ready. Could be a perfectly innocent explanation). Sovereign wakes tries to contact the Citadel and gets no reply. Tries to jump and nothing happens. Grumpily he heads back the long way. When he eventually arrives he finds out what happened, tries to get to the Citadel and fails.

      X years pass and Harbinger awakens (note, depending on the time it takes at normal speed, Sovereign may not have even arrived in the Galaxy yet). Same thing, no signal, no jump. Perhaps Sovereign left a note, perhaps he sent a message back that took as long as it did for him to travel there. Rather than head back himself, Harbinger goes to plan B and activates the Collectors. The plan, build a new Reaper-like ship (not an actual Reaper which is why it looked so stupid, I mean, different) and try again for the Citadel. Plan fails, ship sabotaged by Shepard.

      Harbinger then starts (or has already started) waking everyone else up manually and we join your explanation…

  40. RTBones says:

    Its interesting you mention the kid. The first time Shep met the kid and the kid said, “you cant help me,” – I remember wondering if this was some sort of dream sequence we were seeing/playing. The line simply didnt seem to be something a scared kid would say. At the time, I half expected that – once the Reaper had done its business and the kid died – the scene would change to Joker standing over you, in a hospital bed, where he wakes Shep up in a cold sweat and says, “Commander, we gotta go. I’ll explain on the way, but we gotta go now,” as Shep wakes up grogily to a hospital falling to bits as the Reapers attack. We’d then spend several hours of game trying to figure out what the dream kid represented, and why Shep was in the hospital in the first place – at which point we would start to get a feel as to what was actually going on AROUND Shep.

    • Zekiel says:

      I was absolutely convinced that the kid was just a hallucination or vision – the fact that only Shepard sees him, the artificiality of his statements. But no, he’s just poorly written. Facepalm.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Well the kid being a hallucination ties into Indoctrination Theory. The devs admitted that the plan at one point was for Shep to be indoctrinated, but they cut that partway through development, so we see little clues towards it scattered throughout the plot (like Shep’s dreams containing Reaper thrums) because they didn’t have time to cut all the content. I’m convinced that some of the terrible writing, like everything involving the kid (why is Starchild taking the form of the kid!?!?!?) is terrible because it’s a remnant of a cut plot.

        • Natureguy85 says:

          Do you have a link to that statement? I would love to read and share that. When I debunk IT, the supporters think they have me if I can only debunk 90% of it.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            It’s from Mass Effect 3: Final Hours, the developer commentary thing they released. Here’s the relevant quote:

            “And even in November the gameplay team was still experimenting with an endgame sequence where players would suddenly lose control of Shepard’s movement and fall under full reaper control. (This sequence was dropped because the gameplay mechanic proved too troublesome to implement alongside dialogue choices).”

            To be clear, they never say that the game still contains partially cut clues to Indoctrination Theory, that part was my speculation, but they do openly confirm that Indoctrination was the plan right up until the end.

            • Ninety-Three says:

              If you’re looking to disprove Indoctrination Theory, there’s a lot of stuff in Final Hours that points pretty conclusively to “Everything that’s happening is real”, I recommend you pick it up if you’re very invested in having those arguments.

      • Natureguy85 says:

        I really think he is a hallucination, but a plain, ordinary, stress induced hallucination, not the result of any Indoctrination.

  41. tremor3258 says:

    Doesn’t Joker say at some point he figured the Council was planning counter-Reaper strategies, they just didn’t tell our hero, since, y’know, Cereberus?

    Except they weren’t, because…. reasons.

    But what about salvaging Sovereign – clearly different construction than the Geth, with the advanced weapons being deployed?

    Reasons.

  42. Dreadjaws says:

    This is the kind of thing that makes me groan and roll my eyes whenever someone says “Mass Effect 3 was a fantastic game right until the ending!”. No, no it wasn’t you nitwit! It was a terrible game all along, with a few moments of brilliance here and there.

    Those people make me think how easy it’d be to sell them a feces cake if I just sprinkled some sugar on it. Because clearly that’s enough for them to like crap.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well to be fair,the gameplay still got improved in me3.And your shipmates started moving around the ship.It built up on what me2 did,and if you managed to ignore the stupid in that one,its not that hard to ignore it here.

      I think Shamus had a list somewhere about where mass effect story failed for people,and there are plenty of places where you could be finally yanked out,thinking that everything before it was stellar.The problem with the ending,however,is that no one thought that was anything but shit.

  43. Break says:

    Something I haven’t seen mentioned, so I thought I would: one thing that I’m glad made it into all 3 games, big-picture-wise, is the focus on children. Not like That One Kid Who Died, but children in general.

    On the macro scale, the Genophage is about children. So is the Quarian-Geth War, where one race created the other and where the other refers to them only as “the Creators”. And of course we have the Leviathans and the Reapers, and the organic-synthetic relationship.

    On the micro scale, we have the following:
    Tali meeting you while proving to her community that she is no longer a child, then having her father’s crimes dumped onto her
    Liara’s mother working for the villain, and meeting her “father”
    Ashley’s views on galactic politics being largely colored by things her father went through, and her relationship with him dominating your deepest conversations with her
    Grunt needing to have a family of his own and getting adopted by Wrex
    Thane wanting his son to not grow up to be just like his old man
    Jack having her childhood stolen from her
    Miranda having her childhood stolen from her in her own way, and her relationship with her twin and father
    Samara feeling like she had failed her children by giving birth to them knowing they were likely to be ardat-yakshi
    Jacob growing up essentially fatherless

  44. Guile says:

    I know it never would have happened, it might not even have fit the space opera overtones – but I’d really have liked Shepard to get a decade before the Reapers show up. ME2 could be him trying all these different leads, and not having a lot of luck at any of it. Maybe he could try to climb the ranks in the Alliance military with Kashley, maybe he could get feelers extended to him by Cerberus. Maybe if he spent a decade working as a Spectre with an exemplary record would be believed more easily about the machine monsters. In that same timeline, Garrus has returned as an attache to the Turian Hierarchy, Tali is on the cusp of becoming an Admiral, Wrex is practically the leader of the Krogan, Anderson is doing his own thing, etc. etc.

    And then ME3 would start with Shepard basically being a politician. He’s finally got the clout he needs to make people listen about his personal boogeyman, and he’s got contacts everywhere. Buuuut the Reapers have been sighted on the edges of known space, the Batarians are finally humbling themselves to beg for aid, and shit is getting real. The game itself plays out more like a war sim, funneling troops and tech around to limit damage. If you need to wedge some shooting in there, give Shepard a protege or two for boots on the ground while Shepard acts the general.

    No real endgame planned, but I’d enjoy the heck out of something like that.

    • el_b says:

      that could have been awesome, you play as as shepard for the non combat stuff and other teams in combat, a little like xcom. then for the finale shepard can get back into the fight and kick ass.

  45. Natureguy85 says:

    Another excellent piece. I love this series and this one made me laugh a lot, particularly the picture texts. My favorite part is where you describe how the writer made the wrong decision to describe motivation over methods. I do want to point out two things though;

    1) With the possible exception of the first sighting where he is playing on the roof, the kid is a hallucination. I am not pushing Indoctrination Theory here, as it doesn’t fit the description of Indoctrination. It’s simply Shepard’s mind cracking from all the pressure. He couldn’t get up there from where he was, he makes no sound when leaving, and nobody seems to notice him at the shuttle.

    2) While you’re right that the Protheans were generally more advanced, this cycle had dead Sovereign and things like EDI and the Thanix cannon. Actually killing a Reaper is a big deal and most cycles probably didn’t do it. This may be the first cycle to get Reaper technology to use or reverse engineer. That could have, and probably should have, made a huge difference, possibly allowing us to fight Reapers.

    • Guile says:

      Weren’t the Protheans at war with the Reapers for hundreds of years, using the resources of hundreds of planets?

      I find it essentially impossible that they couldn’t take down a reaper or two.

      • natureguy85 says:

        Potentially, but were they able to capture the remains, study them, and reverse engineer technology? I think it’s more likely that if they did kill any Reapers, the Reaper ended up like the derelict from ME2.

  46. Dork Angel says:

    The “Some Kid” was strange for me. I could why Shepard might care but I didn’t. I could see why Shepard might be haunted by it but I wasn’t. Mind you, depending on how ME2 went, Shepard could have seen half his crew being dissolved into Reaper Goo which I think he would have found much more traumatising than this. The whole thing, dream sequences included, kind of threw me back into third person where I was watching the game rather than being part of the game. Luckily so many other great moments dragged me back in.

  47. Jeff says:

    “It sucks when the kid dies, sure.”

    Funny, I loved that moment. Stupid little punk casting aspersions upon my badass self? I can’t shoot your stupid face like Fallout/Skyrim all over again, but HAH, SUCK IT!

  48. Roger says:

    You know what’s funny? I never had a problem with reapers showing up at the beginning of ME3 just like that. I mean, it’s rather obvious that they had to have a plan B, C, D…

    In fact, us NOT knowing about their alt plans fits nicely into their cthulu-like mythos. If anything, I was annoyed by The Arrival and how we got to slam another door for the reapers. It would have been more interesting if we had no idea about when and how are they gonna come.

    (Also I’m taking the whole ME2 plot out of the equation completely. Collectors and baby reapers make no sense and I’m not gonna accept them.)

  49. Shengar says:

    As it stands, we know more about what happened in the Rachni wars two thousand years ago than we know what our protagonist has been up to since the end of the last game. This writer must hate worldbuilding

    Yeah, the writer really, really hates worldbuilding, Not just ME1 in particular but worldbuilding in general as well. This is exemplifies by the fact that the writer abandoned or retconning many technical aspect of the lore, like how it’s only possible for smaller ships to enter atmoshpere of a planet. Larger one like dreadnought wouldn’t be able to unless they able to generate mass effect field big enough to sustain their weight. This is why Sovereign is so advanced because the first time you saw it, it was landing inside an atmosphere of a planet. It needs to be said that Sovereign was much bigger than any most advanced Turian and Asari dreadnought, two whom regarded as the most advanced race in the Citadel races. This lore tidbit is become the backbone of reasoning behind why Normandy needs Mako to drop off Shepard to the planet surface by swooping, not hovering. In fact, they continue to stand by this in ME2 by giving Normandy 2 a small vessel that mostly been used for landing on a planet because Normandy 2 is much bigger than its predecessor, therefore rendering it impossible to even enter the atmosphere.

    But then here we are, the Normandy 2 was seen to hover inside the atmosphere of earth. What even more ridiculous is that we’re seeing a Dreadnought, the biggest and most advanced class of warship inside the earth atmosphere just to demonstrate The Reapers power without no attention to the lore.

    ME3 is a big pile of worldbuilding mess, if there’s any worldbuilding attempt at all.

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