Mass Effect Retrospective 36: Argument Clinic

By Shamus
on Feb 25, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

At the start of Mars, Kashley joins you and gives you a hard time about working for Cerberus. She or he pouts about not trusting you and traps you in dialogs where all of your answers come off as lame excuses. It’s largely a repeat of the frustrating conversation on Horizon, which is perplexing since lots of people said that was one of the most irritating parts of Mass Effect 2.

Arguments in Fiction


Link (YouTube)

Fiction thrives on conflict. When an author wants a couple of their characters to disagree, they can do it through dialog that reveals their values as a character and allows their personalities to drive the scene, or the writer can just have them gainsay each other in an angry voice. This is very much the latter.

In a character-driven argument, disagreement arises from differing viewpoints. Each person has a different view of the world and they each try to convince the other that their view is correct. We get tension in the story because these viewpoints reveal or highlight the personalities of the participants. It’s drama, but also two-way character development. Good stuff.

But here at the ass-end of Mass Effect, people argue and say mean things because the author needs them to be at odds. One or both parties needs to be an obstinate butthead and ignore what the other is saying. The author effectively hands one of the characters the idiot ball so the argument can take place.

Dialog from my playthrough of the game, just as Ashley and Shepard are entering the Mars installation:

ASHLEY:
I need a straight answer, Shepard.

SHEPARD:
About what?

ASHLEY:
Do you know anything about this? What is Cerberus doing here?

SHEPARD:
What makes you think I know what they're up to?
(This question makes Shepard look dumb. YOU KNOW PERFECTLY WELL WHY SHE'S ASKING THIS. WHY NOT ACT LIKE THE MAIN CHARACTER INSTEAD OF PUSSYFOOTING AROUND?)

ASHLEY:
You've worked for them. How am I supposed to believe you've cut all ties?

SHEPARD: (Paragon)
We joined forces to take down the Collectors. That's it.
(Note how he doesn't say why. He doesn't mention that The Alliance refused to help him, or the death toll the Collectors inflicted, or anything else that might help Ashley understand his decision.)

ASHLEY:
They rebuilt you from scratch. They gave you a ship, resources…
(Let's just set aside the fact that it's not clear how she knows just how extensive Shepard's injuries were or what the revival process looked like. The important thing is that she doesn't articulate why she dislikes Cerberus.)

SHEPARD:
Let me be clear. I've had no contact with Cerberus since I destroyed the Collector base. And I have no idea why they're here or what they want.
(This is the first worthwhile line in the discussion. It does the important job of telling us what happened after Shepard blew up the Collector base.)

ASHLEY:
Sorry Shepard, I just…

SHEPARD: (Renegade)
You wanna hate Cerberus, fine. But I'm done explaining myself to you.
(Why is Shepard defending Cerberus here? Also, this is a dumb line because Shepard has yet to explain himself.)

You think I`m hating on Cerberus NOW, Shepard? Just wait until part 41.

You think I`m hating on Cerberus NOW, Shepard? Just wait until part 41.

This conversation is doubly frustrating for people who already hated the working-for-Cerberus plot of Mass Effect 2. Ashley is criticizing you for something you didn’t want to do, and which seemed like a stupid, poorly-justified action to begin with. And you’re forced to disagree with her. Not only that, but you’re forced to disagree with her in the most lame, cowardly, or ineffectual way. Mass Effect 2 gave you reasons why you had to join Cerberus. Sure they were dumb and mostly based on circular logic, but you can’t use those reasons here to convince Ashley. You can gainsay her or pull rank, but you’re not allowed to actually make the case for a position you’re being forced to advocate!

If you told me to create a frustrating and immersion-breaking conversation on purpose, I doubt I could do much better than this. The lengths the writer is willing to go to in an effort to do the wrong thing is almost heroic.

These two people aren’t really arguing. They’re just stating their differing opinions again and again. Here, let me write an example of a real argument:


DIALOG WRITTEN BY SHAMUS

SHEPARD:
The Collectors had taken thousands of lives, Ashley. Thousands. And the Alliance wouldn't lift a finger. You saw what the Collectors did on Horizon. Would you have stood back and let that happen if you had a way to stop it?

ASHLEY:
But Cerberus, Shepard? They've probably killed almost as many people as the Collectors. Working with them is treason.

SHEPARD:
You remember what the Geth did to Eden Prime. To your unit. Would you commit treason to stop that, or would you stay true to the Alliance and let it happen? Because those were my options.

If the writer wants Shepard to win, then Ashley could then lose the argument with a weak, “I don’t know”. If not, she could reaffirm her loyalty to the Alliance and point how Cerberus is now staging this attack, just proving how foolish it was to work with them. In either case, that’s how you make an argument about something. The player might agree or disagree with Ashley, but at least she would have a viewpoint they could appraise and think about.

This wishy-washy “I can’t trust you” argument in the game is like the Carth dialog in KOTOR, except without the dramatic irony, the personal tragedy, character relevance, angsty backstory, or final payoff. And I should point out that even with all of those things, people still found Carth really annoying.

Let’s Play a Cutscene!

It`s really bad for vanguards, who can charge her over and over to no effect. Also, she can hop over obstacles while Shepard has to slide into cover and THEN vault over. It feels awkward and makes Shepard look dumb. Basically, the mechanics aren`t designed for a chase like this.

It`s really bad for vanguards, who can charge her over and over to no effect. Also, she can hop over obstacles while Shepard has to slide into cover and THEN vault over. It feels awkward and makes Shepard look dumb. Basically, the mechanics aren`t designed for a chase like this.

Next we have an obnoxious chase scene. Dr. Coré steals the data and runs off. During the chase she’s invulnerable to your weapons and powers until the very end, when you can kill her with a pistol. Once again I have to remind game developers: Do not make me play through your static cutscenes where my input doesn’t matter and I have no control over the outcome.

From the Wiki:

“There will come a final moment when the only way to kill her is using weapon fire as she is immune to biotic attacks. If you are playing a biotic make sure you resist the urge to use biotic abilities during the slow motion cut scene and just use the pistol to shoot and finish her off.”

Keep in mind that before this point, she’s been immune to everything. And now she’s going to die to a pistol shot, because that’s how the writer has decided it will go. Poor writer. Those dirty players keep ruining your brilliant cutscenes with dumb bullshit like “gameplay” and “agency”.

Dr. Coré is defeated, but Kashley is critically wounded in the fight. So now you have a broken robot and an injured squad member. So it’s off to the Citadel to put Kashley in the hospital and ask the rest of the galaxy to come save Earth. What follows is over six minutes of cutscene and exposition with no meaningful dialog interactions. The dialog wheel pops up twice, but it’s just a nudge to remind you you’re playing a game. There aren’t any dialogs to explore and your responses don’t matter.

Say Something Nice

Someone needs to stage an intervention with whoever is in charge of the color filters at BioWare. Color filters are like salt: Adding some can make things stand out, too much can ruin it, and a little goes a long way.

Someone needs to stage an intervention with whoever is in charge of the color filters at BioWare. Color filters are like salt: Adding some can make things stand out, too much can ruin it, and a little goes a long way.

I’ve hammered on the failings of Mass Effect 3 for about five weeks now. So let’s stop and say something nice:

I really enjoy Mark Meer’s performance as Shepard this time around. The stiff reading of the first game is gone and male Shepard now feels like a character instead of someone reading me his script newscaster-style.

The Citadel is gorgeous. Really, it’s wonderful. There are green gardens. Animated car traffic. The cities on the arms are finally depicted in a cutscene, giving a really good sense of scale and splendor. The Keepers walk around, the crowds are denser, and in general it feels like a living place. This is the Citadel they obviously wanted to give us in Mass Effect 1, but couldn’t due to budget and technology.

Dr. Chakwas is hereAssuming you didn’t get her killed in Mass Effect 2. Slacker. and her dialog is pretty good. She’s busy with her own life, not orbiting Shepard’s. They even have an excuse / hand wave for why she isn’t in trouble for joining your crew in Mass Effect 2 and why she’s back with the Alliance again. Sure, you can nitpick it, but I’m grateful someone noticed this was a concern and took the time to acknowledge this in dialog.

I like this conversation, although... does this look awkward? It looks awkward to me for some reason.

I like this conversation, although... does this look awkward? It looks awkward to me for some reason.

I’m surprised the writer decided to take Kashley out of the story with a life-threatening injury. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy these scenes. (Except for the bit where they repeat the go-nowhere Cerberus argument yet again.) This story has some nice character moments and it (finally!) resolves the conflict between Kashley and Shepard. It’s just an odd design choice. The Mass Effect 3 story is already bursting at the seams with too many plot threads in an attempt to make up for the lack of progress in Mass Effect 2. Everything is happening at once, everywhere. And now we’re going to have a side-plot where Kashley is in the hospital for a couple of chapters? I don’t know why they decided to put it in the game, but I’m not going to complain about the chance for some quiet moments, introspection, and character resolution.

It’s nice to have the plot finally cut the player loose. We’re probably a couple of hours into the game, and this is the first time you’re free to walk around somewhere that isn’t a linear battlefield. This is our first chance to soak in some environmental storytelling and get a feel for how the rest of the galaxy is doing. In particular, there’s an Asari in the hospital who has a harrowing story to tellWhich you can only hear through eavesdropping and not direct conversation, sadly.. Having said that, we’re a long way from the flexibility of Mass Effect 1. In the first game, you could walk up to someone and ask them tons of questions. You could ask them in any order, and you could bail whenever you’d had your fill. It wasn’t until this point at the two-hour mark that we finally encounter an optional conversation. The writer so far has very little to say, and when they do decide to engage in some storytelling it’s usually a brute-force linear exposition dump.

Asking the Council for Help

Everything you can spare. Better yet, just send everything. Better yet, screw your homeworlds. HUMANS RULE, ALIENS DROOL!

Everything you can spare. Better yet, just send everything. Better yet, screw your homeworlds. HUMANS RULE, ALIENS DROOL!

This scene is so silly it’s almost a farce. Shepard goes to the Galactic Council to ask for fleets to help liberate Earth. Everyone is being invaded by Reapers, and Shepard’s argument is that everyone should abandon their homeworlds and help Earth because Earth has it the worst? This is after we’ve already had a couple of conversations where Shepard himself admits that we can’t win this with conventional warfare. He’s asking for something which he has already stated can’t solve the problem, which is distracting him from the more important job of finding an actual solution to the problem, and which the other races have no reason to give him.

You could make the case that Shepard is thinking backwards and what we really need is some sort of planetary triage: Since Earth is bearing the brunt of the attack, Earth is clearly a lost cause. Therefore the Alliance should give up their unsalvageable homeworld and help defend one of the other, stronger worlds. Maybe the Alliance should go save Thessia, since it has more people, more advanced technology, and more infrastructure. While it’s still just as doomed as the rest of the galaxy, it’s slightly less closer to its doom that Earth and therefore a better place to spend our limited resources.

Or maybe Shepard could take up the position that we should help Earth because 98% of humanity lives there. The other species have spread out and could survive losing their homeworld, but the Human newcomers don’t have that luxury.

That would be an interesting debate, but the game isn’t interested in exploring those ideas, because – like I’ve said before – this writer has no idea how to make an argument about something. Again, people just mindlessly gainsay each other instead of having a proper debate. Shepard swaggers in, asks for something completely outrageous, and then says the council is “blind” because they refuse to help him. Shepard’s view of the Reapers seems to change from scene to scene and I’m not even sure if the writer themselves had any idea what he was thinking. Shepard, you know you can’t beat the Reapers with fleets. So why are you demanding people give you fleets that you KNOW they can’t spare?

Still, this does seem in keeping with the tropes of the Mass Effect universe where Shepard brazenly demands absurd things Council and then he (or Udina) insinuates the council is racist for refusing. It’s dumb, but at least it’s… consistently dumb?

It doesn’t matter anyway. Everyone in the room has forgotten, but the galaxy is screwed. Deciding where the fleets go is simply picking which planet will receive the wreckage of the fleets. There’s nothing to be gained. If any of these people were rational they would be discussing contingency plans, escape, or hiding. The Protheans managed to hide from the Reapers, so we know it’s a semi-viable strategy.

This scene might work better if it telegraphed that these leaders were overwhelmed, out of their depth, lost, or going through the stages of grief. If we got the sense that these politicians had no head for warfare and no understanding of the scale of the threat, then we could maybe hand-wave some of their foolishnessAlthough not Shepard’s. Shepard, of all people, really should know better. in this scene. Instead everyone seems level-headed and calm as they make terrible plans that can only hasten their doom. It’s like a group of people with no food arguing over which one of them gets the toaster. The player is forced to sit through a cutscene where they make no decisions and make no meaningful input, where their character is railroaded into being an obstinate jerk, and which doesn’t advance the player’s goals.

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Footnotes:

[1] Assuming you didn’t get her killed in Mass Effect 2. Slacker.

[2] Which you can only hear through eavesdropping and not direct conversation, sadly.

[3] Although not Shepard’s. Shepard, of all people, really should know better.


A Hundred!20202013Many comments. 173, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. Joey245 says:

    All of my good memories of Mass Effect 3 are the time where I just walked around the Citadel, drinking in the sights.

    All of the bad memories of Mass Effect 3 are when the plot happened.

    Thanks again for doing this, Shamus.

    • swenson says:

      While I enjoyed how all the Citadel locations in ME1 were connected so you could walk around to them at foot, ME3’s Citadel is totally my favorite. It has so many interesting things in it! And it’s one of the places where the environmental storytelling worked very well. It even has, dare I say it, subtlety! You’ve got tons of people with different backgrounds, different perspectives on the war, different ways they’ve been affected by it… it all adds up to make it feel real.

      Plus, it’s pretty. And has that Blasto advertisement, which is probably the best thing on the Citadel.

    • Richard says:

      I never got to Mass Effect 3. My 360 red-ringed before I got to the end of Mass Effect 2, just a few weeks before Mass Effect 3 came out. Having never bothered to replace the 360, I decided to buy the Mass Effect trilogy for PS3 when it was on sale for $12 a few weeks ago, but reading these makes me wonder if I really want to move onto Mass Effect 2 and 3 after I finish Mass Effect 1 again. All I really know is that Mass Effect 1 is awesome, and I’m sad its story will never see a resolution…

      • galacticplumber says:

        Just go to fanfiction.net I guarantee you that you’ll almost certainly find continuations with orders of magnitude better writing quality than the actual series. I know that doesn’t sound like much but I’m sure some of them are even GOOD!

        • Theminimanx says:

          You’re way overestimating the writing quality on ffnet. Most Mass Effect stories have an alternate history of how humanity makes to space, which almost always turns the entire species into gigantic Mary Sues. Or they’re set during ME2, with all the Cerberus bullshit still intact.

          I mean, if there is a story on there that’s purely a continuation of ME1 that ignores all the nonsense invented by the later games, I’d love to read it. But I have yet to find a single story with that premise.

          • Poncho says:

            I’m currently writing one that is just a continuation of ME1, but it’s going to be massive (by my current outline, I think it’s going to end up around 350,000 words). It’s called “Subreption” if you’re curious but there’s only 2 chapters published right now.

            Here are some of main points:

            1. Shepard doesn’t get murdered by the collectors in the opening scene because that would be dumb.
            2. Shepard actually goes to the Terminus systems to explore a couple possibilities: the Terminus mercenary groups (Eclipse, Blue Suns, and Blood Pack) are getting really powerful and consolidating power, which is making the Council nervous (remember, they’re rebuilding after Sovereign’s attack), and the Alliance wants Shepard to explore the possibility of the Reapers using the Terminus as a staging ground for an invasion.
            3. The Rachni are way more important to the plot (I thought they were criminally underrepresented in ME given their pretty awesome biology).
            4. Cerberus isn’t a mustache twirling supervillain group — they’re much more the shadowy Alliance splinter group they are set up to be and their EVUL! experiments aren’t all hilariously stupid failures.
            5. People actually believe Shepard about the Reapers, for the most part, but everyone disagrees on *how* to go about stopping them.
            6. No romantic sub-plots, at least not until way later in the story when it might make sense for two characters to hook up. A military officer isn’t going to fraternize with the crew.

            Of course, the ending to the whole thing will be wildly different than what happens in ME3.

            I would highly recommend one called, “Interstitium” in the mean time, it’s a really good ME2 companion fic that expands on the characters and shores up some of the dumber plot points if ME2.

            • Joey245 says:

              I’ve only read the first scene of the first chapter so far, and…yeah, this is exactly what I was looking for. A Mass Effect fic that fits the tone of the first game while culling a lot of the stupid stuff. Very nice, you’ve just earned a reader!

              • Poncho says:

                Thanks. I’m not the best writer, yet, but I’m using this story to give myself experience and basically force myself to write. Also, I really can’t get Mass Effect out of my head and this is kind of like catharsis for me (maybe similar reasons why Shamus is writing this series of reviews).

                Hopefully I can keep you as a reader as things go forward :)

          • 4th Dimension says:

            I remember reading a crossover with Warhammer 40k in which a Tunderhawk of Space Marines (Ultramarines I think) gets sucked into ME universe post Shepard’s death. Since now they have access to a group of SMs, Cerberus never goes along with rebuilding Shepard. Also Imperium’s doctrine on alliens is a lot closer to Cerberus’s and them teaming up with them is less stupid than Shepard doing so. And it wasn’t half bad although it did follow the similar chain of events as ME2.

          • TheVictorian says:

            Some time ago I felt to begin my own Mass Effect story that was similar to what you describe. Of course, I don’t claim to be a great writer, and my take on the story is likely to have limited appeal (judging by the pitiful number of visitors it has received, I’d say this is likely the case). Basically, I took various elements from the second and third games (Kai Leng in particular) and made them every bit as absurd as they seemed to me.

            Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to parody ME3 when the game itself is already dangerously close to self-parody as it is. I mean, what else can you say about a game that offers up lines like “I love you , but I know you! Don’t make me an anchor!” as “emotional, dramatic” dialogue?

        • Parkhorse says:

          how about Psi-Effect, an XCOM/Mass Effect crossover https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8861606/1/XCOM-Second-Contact

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        As long as you know that the story of me1 is not the same as in me2 & 3, and you want to experience better gameplay and better characters, you definitely should play at least me2.

  2. Daimbert says:

    I think this is a side-effect of what you complained about in the previous post: the writer assumes that we — and everyone — will care about Earth and think of it as the most important thing and the thing that needs to be saved, and so anyone who doesn’t drop everything to go to its aid is just blind. Unfortunately, the writer didn’t do anything to establish Earth’s importance at any point in the story, so it falls flat.

    That being said, my interpretation of the story was that Shepard, rightly, wanted help for Earth and that everyone else said “We have our own problems”, as each of them then retreated into thinking only of protecting themselves and not uniting against the bigger threat. Thus, the secondary plot of this overarching plot is to bring everyone together to work against the Reapers as a whole, not only protecting their own. Which means, then, in line with the above if Thessia isn’t under as much of a threat they ought to send some forces to help planets that are under more of a threat and are doing worse, like Earth.

    This does lead to some of the more interesting plot interactions, with asking the Turians to help and having them say that they would but they can’t abandon their own people, with the result being that if you can get the Krogans to help them then they’ll have the resources to help Earth. I pretty much considered the whole debate here pretty much the starting point of that, except that the Council was less “We can’t help until we settle our own issues” but was more “We’re going to retreat and protect only ourselves and that’ll … do something good. We’re not sure what”. That’s why dealing directly with the individual governments works out better for you; the Council is, in fact, a bit blind, especially considering that their role should be “Let’s all work together on this”, and they never act that way as far as I can recall.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      IMHO, it’s all pretty much of a piece. Pretty much everything that is seriously wrong with 2 & 3 could be easily fixed (or at least made better/unseriously wrong) simply by writing new dialog and cuts to make the story more self-consistent. There’s even room for making MULTIPLE versions of the storyline that end up with entirely different interim goals and conversation tracks so that Shepard and Ashley have the same basic conversation that builds conflict at this point, but how each approach it through dialog ends up completely different depending on how other conversations went. In some playthroughs, Cerberus could be outright evil and need to be stopped because they’re using the invasion as a way to destroy non-human groups. In others, they could be incompetent idiots and their operations get out of control and need fixing, without ways to actually communicate that to the operation in question. In still others, they’re sacrificing pawns to gain queens with actual goals in mind but there’s no time to debate about the sacrifices that need to be made so they need to operate below Alliance radar. And if any of the thread branches end up getting written into too deep a corner, reveal something that switches into one of the other tracks.

      The problem is a development one. It’s fairly easy to write this kind of stuff early, and not terribly complicated or expensive to do it when you have the voice talent and recording time ready to go. But it’s hard and expensive to retrofit, and you HAVE to have commitment to use all the parts, in the original order. You can’t playtest and have a section left out because its not fun for the player, or because some assets aren’t finished in time for a date, because EVERYTHING serves to drive the narrative.

  3. The Rocketeer says:

    ASHLEY:
    “Do you know anything about this? What is Cerberus doing here?”

    Of course, when Kashley says this, a totally justifiable response would be:

    SHEPARD:
    “What the
    fuck did you just say to me?! *points over shoulder* Get out. Go. Back to the ship. I’m tagging in Vegas or Vargas or whatever his name was.”

    Of course, the game deliberately arranges the party so the rest of the events can happen the way they do, so if you did that, Kashley wouldn’t have their face mashed in, Mighty Mouse wouldn’t have crashed the shuttle due to ‘roid rage, and we wouldn’t have had a creepy sexbot to leave in our AI Core for EDI to take over…

    So, I guess I can’t think of any downsides.

    I figured the writers hospitalized Kashley as part of their efforts to upset the status quo and mess with the player’s emotions; having one of your squaddies get critically injured seems a natural way to do that, and using Kashley specifically lets them kill two birds with one stone: it also let them remove the character from play for a few missions, cutting down on the dialog and ship interactions they otherwise would have needed to write for two separate characters.

  4. Henson says:

    I’ve not played ME3, but I feel like the above Kashley/Shepard dialogue would have worked if it didn’t have any player input, and was fully scripted. Yes, they’re not having a real argument, but that kinda shows the emotional tension between these two people; that they’re so frustrated with each other that they can’t think clearly when exchanging words. That they want conversation to be as terse as possible, because everything between them is now uncomfortable.

    But with player dialogue choices, I’m sure the conversation is just disappointing. You want to do one thing, and the game won’t let you.

    • Raygereio says:

      The problem here isn’t that the illusion of the player’s agency is breaking down.
      If there were no dialogue options, people would have complained about the lack of agency in a character-dynamic-establishing conversation.

      The actual problem is that the dialogue itself and Shep’s & Kaiden/Ashley’s characterization is bad.
      It’s a similar problem to the kid in the intro. When he died, the writers were jumping up and down and screaming “Cry for this child! Shed tears for our Hackneyed symbol of mankind’s doom!”. And why some of their audience obediently became sad, others met that demand with apathy because “Why do I care about this kid? Heck, why do I care about this Earth? I’ve only seen the place for a few minutes.” The writers expected you to feel sad, despite them not having gone through any effort to actually make you feel sad.
      Here, the writers want there to be this tension between Shep & her old comrade, despite them not having gone through any effort to actually establish why this tension exist and how it grew into this confrontation.

      • Mortuorum says:

        The Kaiden/Ashley characterization isn’t just bad, it’s inconsistent with what we already know about the characters from ME1, particularly Kaiden. And, to Shamus’ point, the canned responses Shepard can provide are so horrendous, they can only leave the player (at best) frustrated. I remember it as an immersion-breaking WTF that caused me to turn off the game (when I eventually got to someplace I could save) just so I could clear my head from this amazingly stupid BS I just experienced. And, to top it off, the entire conversation becomes moot the next time you see Kashley, because all is forgiven; it’s like the writer was embarrassed about the earlier scene but… somehow couldn’t change/remove it?

        It still didn’t fill me with the sense of white-hot rage caused by literally everything about Kai Leng. And to be clear, that was rage directed against the game (bad) and not rage directed against the character (which would have been good). I can’t wait to see what Shamus has to say about that mess.

        • Ben says:

          Oh god, “Kai Leng and his Magical Plot Armor.” Worst musical EVER!

          Seriously, though, the amount of ludo-narrative dissonance that arises *every* *single* *time* he turns up…it would almost be funny, if I wasn’t so busy screaming at my monitor.

          This is a problem in so many games; the writers want to make the player hate some enemy, but they cause so much ludo-narrative dissonance to do it that player hates the *writers* instead.

  5. Ninety-Three says:

    Given how much time the game spends taking the “Let’s fight the Reapers with military might” idea completely seriously, I’m starting to wonder if the Reapers got hit with the same invisible retcon as Cerberus. Completely unexplained, Cerberus goes from bumbling terrorists to a supposedly competent well-equipped organization to an infinite resources supervillain, and similarly the Reapers go from Cthulhu to some ordinary space badasses who are just a challenge for us to out-space-badass. ME3 makes a lot more sense if you assume the writer never played ME1 and is working with a different conception of the Reaper threat.

    • Abnaxis says:

      I was thinking the same thing about humanity in ME3 as I read the article. I never played ME after the first one, but in the first one humanity just wasn’t that big of a deal. They were the young upstarts of the galactic stage–rising in power at a fast clip, but still nowhere near as important as their established alien peers.

      Then ME3 comes around, and all of a sudden everybody in the galaxy should care what happens to the humans because they’re the linchpins of the Alliance or something? Either the ME3 writer never played ME1, or humans got hit with the invisible recon bat as well.

      • Zekiel says:

        Mmmmm…. humans were actually pretty important in ME1, they just weren’t as important as the Council races. They had a very impressive military in comparison to any of the non-Council races and the Volus were really annoyed that they seemed to be being fast-tracked towards Council race status.

        But yeah, they definitely weren’t the centre of the galaxy – that was one of the things about ME1 that was really refreshing.

        • Mike S. says:

          They were on their way, though. At the end of Mass Effect 1 they can take over the galaxy. (ME2 sensibly walked this back.) At worst they went from discovering the mass effect to one of the four leading species in a generation.

          Unless that curve is expected to suddenly flatten out, that’s a pretty clear signal that humanity is on course to overshadow their elders unless something changes. We’re the species equivalent of Luke Skywalker– at the end of Star Wars, he’s “just” a highly decorated rookie pilot, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s not General Dodonna who’s going to be the important figure going forward.

      • Raygereio says:

        The “Humanity is special!!”-thing certainly reached new and absurd heights in ME3. But it wasn’t a new thing.

        In ME1 humanity may not have been sitting at the big kids’ table yet, but humanity is presented as “growing” a lot faster then anyone else. And also to have certain superior traits over the other species, for example inventiveness and the stubborn drive to reach their goals. It was very subdued compared to ME3, but it was there.
        Off course then ME2 came along and subtlety was shot. The obvious example is how the Collectors are focused on humans and are building a human reaper. But there were also other smaller things like how everyone in the galaxy was using the human designed Kodiak shuttle. Or how Mordin during his quest mentioned casually how humans are more genetic diverse then any other species in the galaxy (*).

        *: I’m normally the first to go “don’t apply real world science to fictional settings”, but this one always did manage to bug me. The fact that humans are more genetic diverse is silly enough. But Mordin claimed that this somehow makes humans a good testsubject when researching a cure to a Krogan genetic condition. In case anyone is unaware as to why this is silly, imagine using a goldfish as a test subject for finding a cure against red hair in humans.
        I could accept it if it wasn’t pointless, but it’s only there as a justification for why there’s a human corpse present. Which in turn is only there so that Shep can be all indignant “They’ve killed a human, now they’ve gone too far!”.
        It’s such a weird thing to include for no reason.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          The fact that humans are more genetic diverse is silly enough.

          Man, humans aren’t even very genetically diverse in comparison to other lifeforms on Earth. There’s like 8,000 different species of beetle.

          • Ben says:

            Incredibly, this is actually a massive underestimate! There are currently ~400,000 known species of beetle (which is ~25% of all known species of life). Estimates for the total number start at ~1 million, and go up from there. (see wikipedia)

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      Honestly, it wouldn’t even be so bad if there was at least a consistent retcon about the reapers. As it is, the writers seem split on whether the Reapers are a horrible unstoppable force that kills millions every day or if they’re just some standard dudes that can be shot at and fight like a standard military.

      • ehlijen says:

        See also Anderson’s stupid guerrilla campaign.

        Guerrilla warfare is about hiding from an enemy who can’t afford the resources to flush you out (either because you’re too well hidden or because collateral damage would be too great) and waiting for opportunities to strike at weak points.

        First off, the reapers have the resources and are fully committed to exterminating all humans on earth. No guerrilla force will be able to survive long against that. Vigil and sovereign told us that the reapers are willing to commit thousands of reapers (the kind that almost went toe to toe with one of the more powerful fleets in the galaxy singlehandedly while tethered in place) and centuries to the task. If the guerrillas hide in terrain or the civilian population, the reapers will just slag the whole place or turn on the indoctrination fields.

        Second off, the reapers have no strategic weak points we’re told off. That’s why conventional warfare won’t work on them. We never learn anything about them having supply lines, weaker CnC ships, production facilities etc. They plonk down their ships-of-the-line on planets and start shooting. Soon after, the indoctrinated victims will huskify themselves with glee.
        There is nothing an insurgence force can do to the reapers except isolate one, at which point they’ll still need a battle fleet. The reapers cannot be isolated down to less than one megawarship according to everything we’ve been told.

        Anderson is a moron for thinking an insurgency can achieve anything given the intel he has. The writers are incompetent for then telling us Anderson is in fact at least partially successful without explaining how this is possible.

        Sure, maybe the reapers do have a supply train no one knew about for Anderson to hit. But that:
        -would make nonsense out of any declaration that conventional warfare doesn’t work against reapers (because now it does)
        -is a huge change that needs to be shown and explained, not just assumed with a handwave
        -still goes against everything Anderson should have known at the time he made that decision, leaving it as a risky, if not insane one.

        More likely thought: The writes have no clue about military strategy and threw in buzz phrases to make Anderson sound badass, not caring about how they damaged their own lore.

        Handwaving the details of something a writer isn’t good at isn’t a bad move per se. You’ll never see an international trade negotiation written out in full in any novel either, for example; the author likely isn’t an international negotiator and it’d probably be filled with longwinded dreariness. So if the story has such a negotiator in it, we’re likely to just hear about how others think he did a great job. It’s not ideal, but it works most of the time.
        But the writer still needs to understand the limits of what’s possible and at least have a vague idea what the buzzwords they’re using mean.

        Guerrilla warfare is often described as unconventional or asymmetric warfare. The ME3 writers likely heard that and concluded that since reapers can’t be defeated conventionally, that this should work. But the way the reapers have been set up, it doesn’t. Guerrilla warfare is less conventional than ‘conventional’ warfare, sure, but it’s not magic. The reapers are magic, being apparent perpetuum mobile machines; their battleships never appear to need resupply. To defeat something that space magicky, the solution must overcome that space magic. Guerrilla warfare depends on this particular space magic not being in place, and is therefore a not the solution.

        • 4th Dimension says:

          “More likely thought: The writes have no clue about military strategy and threw in buzz phrases to make Anderson sound badass, not caring about how they damaged their own lore.”
          ^
          ||
          This. Always assume this. As we have previously seen in basically EVERY piece of multimedia (games, movies etc.) creative types are REALLY bad at understanding and presenting anything about the military from the most common and trivial like saluting, chain of command and such to most esoteric like strategy, doctrine and tactics. Basically any time almost any game (that is not a sim or a simmy RTS) starts talking about anything military I have to engage class 10 suspension of disbelief or I’ll start chewing on something.

          The only saving grace Anderson might have in his situation might be the fact that Reapers wouldn’t go whole hog on mass destruction since they still need to capture enough humans and turn them into slurry in order to create the next generation of Reapers. So only type of mission he might be doing to harm them is to attack the concentration/huskification camps Reapers set up in order to deny them the matiiel they need to make new Reapers.
          But that is unlikely to actually impact the Reaper ability to wage war. It will diminish the numbers the next generation of sophonts ave to face, but it won’t help this one.

          Also even if they free these civvies, where will they go. And how are you going to escape the notice of someone that is in complete control of the orbit and the skies, and posseses Space Cuthullu level of tech, and as such can see every blade of grass on the surface.
          But that again falls under the previously stated stipulation “don’t think of military or you will go mad”.

    • Matt Downie says:

      Maybe they should have said “earth scientists have been able to copy the technology of the bad guys you defeated in the previous games, to make weapons that might be able to fight off the Reapers”. Would that reduce the disconnect?

      • Poncho says:

        They sort of do this in ME2: the Thanix cannon is a weaker version of a Reaper weapon, the enhanced shields and the Asari diamond plating armor or whatever were new technologies people developed between ME1 and ME3.

        It should still not matter in a toe-to-toe engagement with a Reaper, though. Maybe they give you the opportunity to escape instead get ravaged in an opening salvo.

  6. Purple_Dingler says:

    I think the reason Kashley gets taken out of the squad so early is simply a leftover of the rotating squad idea.
    In a lot of Casey Hudson’s early interviews about ME3, he talked about how he wanted to implement a rotating squad that would constantly shuffle your companions from the previous two games in and out. For example, Mordin and Wrex would have been in your squad for the Tuchanka arc (maybe Grunt too) before rotating out to make space for Tali and Legion with Rannoch.
    It seems like the concept was abandoned pretty early into development, but it does show that there was a point where they didn’t plan to toss your entire ME2-only squad under the bus.

    Moving on to the stupid non-arguments you discuss, I wish you’d mentioned the sheer horribleness that is every “debate” with the Illusive Man. There’s absolutely no reason given as to why controlling the Reapers is a bad idea. Sure, you can argue that TIM controlling them is a bad idea, but the basic idea of control is not unsound. It should at least be kept on the table as a potential avenue to stop the Reapers in case the Hail Mary that is the Crucible doesn’t work out.

    • Daimbert says:

      If this had stayed more as the “Ancient One” type of thing, there would have been a built in excuse that was hinted at (I think): Are you sure you’re controlling them and they aren’t controlling you?

      Tying back to Saren, he clearly at least tried to delude himself into thinking that he could maintain control. He was wrong. TIM, at the end, thought that he was still in control. He was wrong. Trying to control the Reapers sounds much more like a way for you to become controlled, instead of the other way around.

      • Purple_Dingler says:

        A fair argument, had the end not invalidated it anyway.

        But a really interesting way they could have gone about with the Control storyline would be to contrast TIM’s hubris that a human mind could control the Reapers by having Shepard consider a Reaper-like mind dominating the other Reapers. I’m of course talking about EDI, who was built with the remnants of Sovereign’s neural network. This would, however, require going down a radically different path for her character development, and would necessitate the loss of the deep literary masterpiece that is the sexbot.

      • guy says:

        I always figured that the best objection to raise when TIM suggested controlling the Reapers is that there’s no real reason to think it’s even possible.

        • ehlijen says:

          How about this:

          The crucible is a trap: Every cycle, the reapers deliberately left it in place to be found. It appears to be able to control the reapers, so someone inevitably turns it on.
          But what it actually does is draw the minds of those that try into a new reaper being built.

          The reaping, the fighting…all that is just to push someone into turning the crucible on. Whoever does is deemed most worthy of becoming a new reaper.

          Shepards story is then of discovering this trap and preventing it from being sprung (giving them actual agency in this arc). It ends with the crucible being changed to not control but a choice:
          -blow the reapers up (this would damage, maybe destroy planets with too many of them on it)
          -deactivate them (leaving the risk some will reactivate later, or that they still passively indoctrinate reckless salvagers, restarting the cycle)
          -trick them into believing they’re done and send them away (postponing the problem to the next cycle)

          Hm, not sure, but I think that could have maybe worked?

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      Well really, the main argument against controlling the Reapers is that there’s no evidence that it’s even possible. Everybody who has even tried to study or work with the reapers has been indoctrinated. Saren and Benezia tried and failed. Saren’s scientists all went mad from indoctrination, even the one that you have the option to spare (twice!) eventually goes mad from indoctrination in a footnote in ME3. The Cerberus scientists studying the dead Reaper went mad. In Arrival, the Alliance scientists get totally indoctrinated from an artifact. The Geth may have initially agreed of their own accord to follow the Reapers, but after that, they still get indoctrinated. There’s more vignettes out there about indoctrination that I can’t even remember.

      The fact that any attempt to muss around with Reaper tech will lead to indoctrination is more certain than the fact that any Cerberus experiment will inevitably backfire and kill everybody involved.

  7. Attercap says:

    In my first ME3 playthrough, I also had Ashley as the survivor. I was so frustrated with that conversation on Mars (as well as some of the latter arguments) that when the option for her to re-join the Normandy finally came, I didn’t even hesitate in sending her to Hackett. (And got me 25 of those sweet, sweet war points.)

    • Daimbert says:

      In my playthrough, I was trying to maximize War Assets to try to get the “survives” ending — which was a waste — and so I sent pretty much everyone I could to Hackett to help out. So, while that idea SOUNDED good by giving choice, the hook up with the multiplayer parts really made it annoying.

      Which is consistent, since their exploration system is exactly like that, too …

  8. Raygereio says:

    From the Wiki:

    There’s something else there worth quoting:
    “Do not use the following pistols as they will not kill Eva in time: Paladin, Scorpion, Acolyte, Executioner Pistol. Switch to other pistols when you find the weapon bench, or, at the final opportunity to do so, the menu that pops up when you get the M-15 Vindicator before the door to the Archives.”

    Bioware was all “we brought new game+ back because a lot of fans requested it!” and then apparently didn’t do the bare minimum of playtesting on it.
    I also find it highly amusing that in a game series that during cutscenes is very fond of putting weapons in the player’s hands that they didn’t have during gameplay. They neglected to do so the one time when it could have been of actual use during a gameplay bit that – as Shamus pointed out – is essentially just a cutscene.

  9. Nixorbo says:

    Come on, Kashley, this is clearly just a rogue cell.

  10. Darren says:

    Geez, that last bit about Shepherd and Udina brings up a kind of ugly idea that I hadn’t noticed until now. The writers are basically suggesting that, to be in the right in an argument (or to seem so to an audience), the characters need only make the matter an issue of race.

  11. Benjamin Hilton says:

    Part of the reason the “human-centric” turn the series took always annoyed me, is that in the first game it was stated that the fact the galaxy developed with so many differing species on this cycle was by far not the norm. In the last cycle the Protheans were far and away the only dominant species. It was heavily implied that this cycle’s diversity could be a linchpin for things to go a different way. Then that is all abandoned “lol humanz rool”.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Right, the stage was set to go full-on Council of Elrond: “We need to put aside our petty disagreements with each other to save the galaxy! Our diversity can be a strength, not a weakness!” Instead, Shepard’s not too far from the Cerberus party line.

  12. silver Harloe says:

    I was really tempted to reply to every single thread above with “no it isn’t!”

  13. Ninety-Three says:

    Shamus, now that you’re talking about Ashley, are you going to touch on her dramatic visual redesign? Aside from tying in with an overall trend of ME2-3 being oversexualized (cough, EDI cameltoe, cough), it leads to silly bullshit like her trash-talking Miranda with the line “I wear armour not a swimsuit” when she has moved from wearing actual bulky armour in ME1 to some kind of blue space jacket she leaves skin-baringly-unzipped.

  14. Deager says:

    Hey, Shamus. I was hoping you’d take a break, at least for a bit, to point out something worthwhile in ME3 and I’m glad to see you did. Hopefully you can get some actual enjoyment and not just cathartic enjoyment from this series.

    Spot on with the Kashley dialogue and the Council/Earth dialogue. Like so many people here, I was just getting frustrated with how these conversations made no sense. Bioware, please allow me to make a rational dialogue wheel choice for Shepard. Please! And at this point, rational was starting to feel like a paragon response would be to tell Kashley to shut up and a renegade option would be shooting Kashley in the foot.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      I loved the Citadel and the way it changes as the war goes on. I did not love the ambient dialogue. Or, rather, I loved it. I hated that I had to keep leaving and re-entering the scene in order to get it. There is not enough unique reasons to go to the hospital to hear the Asari’s tale in the entirety before the Coup, after which you can’t hear the rest of it.

  15. swenson says:

    Ughhhhh the Eva Core “chase” is the worst. Vanguard’s my favorite class, so of course I went with vanguard my first time around… and did exactly what you said, tried to charge her and got so annoyed when I realized it didn’t work. I probably should’ve taken that as a sign.

    It’s like the people who wrote the cutscenes (I concur that section qualifies as a cutscene) don’t even know how the basic game mechanics work. When literally the class-specific power for one of the character classes is “instantly close the gap between you and someone else”, chase scenes don’t exactly work. I mean, at the very least, put her too far away from Shepard for the Charge to work, or on the other side of a glass window, or something.

    Other times the games ignore Shepard can be a biotic are really annoying too, but that was the most egregious.

    What makes it perhaps even worse is that there’s a similar situation in ME2, where having the charge dramatically changes how a sequence plays out–the Tela Vasir fight in the Shadow Broker DLC. She’s a Vanguard who charges around, making it a difficult fight because she moves so quickly–but not if you’re a vanguard, who chases her around at the same speed. So Bioware theoretically should already have had realized this, that having a character who runs away from Shepard doesn’t work if Shepard’s a Vanguard! (or, rather, it does work, so long as you’re OK with it working out in a totally different way than a non-Vanguard Shepard)

    • silver Harloe says:

      Contrast original Deus Ex where this exists a boss fight I’ve literally never fought in over a dozen playthroughs because it’s just so easy to snipe her in the head and ignore the “content” of her possibly (but probably not) witty rejoinders.

      • Matt K says:

        Or you could just place a prox mine where she enters. Which is what I did the second time after I didn’t like what she said on the plane.

        Similarly I loved how right before you switch sides, you can move around a bunch of environmental objects to block the path for the AI, making the fight a bit easier.

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        Wait, you can snipe Anna Navarre? How? Where? I’ve always metagamed it and laid a proximity mine for her (well, the first time I managed to win the firefight, but Lebedev died in the crossfire).

    • Bas L. says:

      “in a totally different way”, for me, was charging her off the building (but somehow she still respawned on the balcony anyway). The entire fight essentially becomes a joke. Tela Vasir will be constantly staggered by your and your (squad’s) biotic powers so you only have to fight the henchmen/drones.
      Now that would’ve been fun if only the fight would actually end quicker than for non-Vanguard classes, but no let’s make her respawn at the balcony again and again.

  16. SlothfulCobra says:

    This game really loves its rigged cutscene fights, and Dr. Coré is only the beginning. Of course, I could understand the ol’ “immune until I hit the required setpiece” trick, since that happens in a lot of games. It’s dumb, but pretty normal. What really got to me was the fact that Kashley (Kaiden in my game) gets roughed up a little, and now all of a sudden he’s got life-threatening injuries that take him out of the game for a while. He’s taken multiple rockets to the face in ME1, and he got up the same after a good medi-gel scrubbing. Garrus was ready to fight again after a quick little cutscene to bandage up his helicopter-destroyed face, but now all of a sudden we’re keeping track of a little blunt-force trauma like it’s more dangerous than bullets.

    Really, the scene is there to give you a “proper” introduction to Brock Buffchest. He has his one moment of glory taking out the invincible robot with the shuttle, and now you have to use him in your squad. Admit how cool this character is, player! Play with the toys we give you!

  17. Vermander says:

    This whole argument scenario reminds me why Garrus was my favorite squad mate in ME 2 and 3. Out of all the characters he’s the one who seemed the most consistently loyal and helpful. Any time you needed him to help he would.

    While he’d definitely “seen some sh*t” by the second game, he didn’t let his personal baggage interfere with his assignments and he wasn’t constantly bitching about his own problems in the middle of a dangerous mission. Heck, in the second game a bunch of his friends die and he gets a third of his face burned off and he mostly shrugs it off. Yet despite the lack of angst or wacky, eccentric personality traits I also never thought of him as the “boring” squad mate.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its not just garrus.All of your non human allies from me1 remain loyal to you in me2.Tali is like “You work with cerberus?They are evil and did horrible things to my people!….But…I trust you shepard.You must have a good reason for it.”.Wrex is like “Shepard”,and then shepard is like “Wrex”.Liara doesnt care at all,and immediately jumps to hug/kiss you.

      Kashley is the only one who immediately labels you a traitor,and keeps holding that grudge*.Which is made even worse if you actively work to undermine cerberus from within with every sidequest data you collect.

      *And lets not even mention the idiotic “So what if you were dead?You still shouldve called!”

      • Dreadjaws says:

        It’s actually worse than that, only Kashley reacts this way. Your non-playable allies from ME1 also remain loyal in ME2. Joker, Chakwas, Anderson. Hell, I’d say even Udina is more understanding than Kashley. Sure, he gives you crap, but that’s pretty much all he knows how to do with everyone.

        It’s really just that the writers wanted to have conflict between these characters, but had no idea how to do it, so they resorted to not giving you the option to argue.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        To be fair, Liara would be an insane person to be angry at Shepard for working with Cerberus since she handed over Shepard’s casket TO Cerberus on the premise that they may be able to help him. Expecting him to have no ties to Cerberus after that would be a lot silly.

  18. tremor3258 says:

    The whole situation with the Council just feels badly handled in both ME2 and ME3. I don’t know if they were just trying to avoid it because it’s the ‘big’ option at the end of ME1 or what.

    • Bas L. says:

      They pretty much retconned that entire decision anyway though.

      Oh, you picked Anderson as Councilor? Well, too bad, Udina magically replaced him between ME2 and ME3.

      Oh, you chose an all-human council in ME1? Well, too bad, in ME2 and ME3 we put aliens on the council because we felt like it.

      • Mike S. says:

        The all-human Council was a misstep to begin with. Having a war-damaged fleet at the Citadel and the Council dead probably isn’t enough to securely take over the Citadel against C-Sec and a restive population. It certainly isn’t enough to convince three independent and undamaged powers (give or take the asari losing one major ship) to follow humanity’s lead. They’d reconvene the new Council somewhere else, and use diplomacy or war to press the Alliance to disgorge the Citadel.

        I’d rather have seen a more organic transition. (“Udina overstepped himself with that. The Alliance recalled him, made some face-saving gestures, but followed through his idea of using the victory to negotiate a powerful place on the Council for the human representative.”) But that’s one instance where the sequels made more sense than the first game.

        • tremor3258 says:

          I’m generally a Paragon so I keep the Council in place – given the relative sizes of the galaxy, all-human Council sounded like a *really* terrible idea for most of humanity.

  19. Flip says:

    Before you get to the Citadel there is this one scene where Hackett says something along the lines of: “I need a fleet. The bigger the fleet the better our chances of getting through will be!”

    Hey Hackett, did you read the script? How do you know that we’ll need to get through to somewhere?

    Also I love how Kashley gets hurt in a cutscene where it seems like you could’ve saved him if anybody was allowed to act sensibly.

    Shepard and Liara should have shot Coré after she turns around to smash Kashley against the shuttle.
    Kashley should have kicked or punched Coré like Shepard did with Saren on Virmire. At least knock her off balance.
    Shepard and Vega should have checked out the wreckage instead of standing around. You guys did crash Coré’s shuttle to get the data, remember?

    And why did Kashley’s face get bruised? Coré smashed his back against the shuttle, not the face. And would getting smashed against the shuttle like that really be life threatening, even if we assume that Coré has robotic superstrenght? I mean, Shepard survives worse even in cutscenes.

    Scenes like these are just disgusting. First they suspend all rules in the chase scene and then they make everybody stupid in the cutscene. That’s not fun. That’s the writer and game designer being incompetent because they can’t think of a way to get to the desired result without cheating.

  20. modus0 says:

    I just realized, that ME3 tagline of “take back the Earth” is utterly retarded.

    The Reapers aren’t here for the planet, and care nothing about the planet. All they care about is the living beings on the planet.

    If there were a significant human colony on Mars, they’d be attacking there as well.

    Doesn’t matter where the humans are, the Reapers are going to go there, and not to plunder the resources of said planet.

    There’s no reason to take back Earth, because Earth isn’t the Reaper’s objective or goal.

  21. I think that some of the egregious writing failures here and the “arguments that are never about something” stem from something that people actually complain about in fairly large numbers on the Bioware forums–namely the “MY Shepard wouldn’t care about that” syndrome.

    See, to have an argument be ABOUT something, your character has, at some point, to express SOME kind of viewpoint. And no matter how much effort you put into it, SOMEONE will always respond by saying “that’s a stupid viewpoint, MY Shepard would NEVER say anything like that, YOU ARE MESSING UP MY CHARACTER.” And then they throw a giant snit on the forums and go sulk about how Bioware can’t write a proper “RPG” these days and all they do is force you to play a pre-made character waah waah waah.

    I’m not saying this is definitely why, but a lot of their writing for a long time did seem to be focused around this idea of never making a definite statement about anything. Hence why the protagonist just blindly yells and emotes instead of saying anything substantial. When you have an unvoiced protagonist you can get away with this sort of thing because the protagonist’s dialog is delivered MUCH differently than the dialog of everyone else in the game and it’s also easy to give the protagonist a lot of *apparent* options that actually don’t mean very much. But when the protagonist is voiced you need to make them say something of actual substance at the same time that it becomes prohibitively more expensive to give the player a lot of OPTIONS about what they say. Add in the fact that this game series straddles the changeover between “old Bioware” and “new Bioware” and this particular writing botch was probably inevitable.

    • Mike S. says:

      And no matter how much effort you put into it, SOMEONE will always respond by saying “that’s a stupid viewpoint, MY Shepard would NEVER say anything like that, YOU ARE MESSING UP MY CHARACTER.”

      Case in point: the frequently-voiced resentment that Shepard would especially care about the planet 99% of humans live on, after joining and becoming a much-decorated elite officer of its military. If that can’t be assumed as a baseline for a character like Shepard, there isn’t really much that can.

      • There are literally loud, vocal, OBNOXIOUS people on the Bioware forums who protest, vehemently, if a protagonist in a game says ANYTHING to indicate that they aren’t a hermaphrodite space hamster from the Forgotten Realms who was abandoned as a baby and raised by wolves then became a dimension-hopping wizard who was transformed into a god by Selune . . .

        You get the point. :P But they really do exist, and they are unceasing in their complaints that ANY indication that the protagonist has an actual background means it’s “not really an RPG because it’s not MY character”.

        Which is absolutely stupid, particularly in the context of any game with a voiced protagonist, because a voiced protagonist basically has no choice but to inhabit the world in some form, which means there’s going to be a certain amount of background and pre-selected stuff. In fact, it can be really cool to have–there are stories you just can’t do if the protagonist is a completely blank slate cipher.

        • Decus says:

          I’m not so sure that bioware writes their dialogue to cater to those sentiments though or, at the very least, I’d very much doubt that they’re listening to an obnoxiously vocal minority on their forums of all places; if you’re on a bioware forum you’re probably already going to keep buying bioware products anyway. Such official forums don’t exist for the developers to get a read on their fans but rather to glue their fans to other fans in the hopes of making series severance harder, no matter what missteps they make.

          Even regardless of motivation, I’m not really seeing that writing trend with modern bioware games–so much of the dialogue all over the place does have shepard or the inquisitor or whatever set PC holding very clear-cut, unchangeable personality traits or opinions/beliefs/backgrounds/etc. that it’d be silly for them to even try to write vague arguments/exchanges like you’re suggesting. I mean, I can see some instances where what you’re saying fits for sure, but to guess that they’re writing from that motivation while also ignoring it elsewher–

          On the other hand, arguing that a writer who is largely incompetent is not doing something largely incompetent is about the same as arguing that a known liar is somehow not lying–it’s easier to just leave it all at incompetence and lies for either case.

      • galacticplumber says:

        Which would mean something if literally ANY work had gone into making the earth a remotely interesting place. Similarly even fiction written entirely within a city, I still won’t care about the place itself unless work is put into it even if it’s my home city. Familiarity is a nice base for the building of attachment in a story, not a substitute.

        • Mike S. says:

          I think the idea that a career soldier would react with indifference to the loss of an existential war and the likely destruction of the territory they were sworn to defend along with the effective extinction of their species, unless specific extra reasons were given that they should care, kind of underscores the point.

          (FBI counterterrorism Agent protagonist is told that a terrorist has hidden a nuke in Lincoln, Nebraska. “Okay, but do I know anyone in Lincoln? Is there anything distinctive about it? Maybe I’d rather finish my crossword puzzle instead.”)

          If that’s not something that can be assumed, then is there anything about a protagonist character that can be?

          • It’s not that caring about earth is unreasonable, given shepard’s background, it’s that the amount of emphasis he places on helping it at the expense of everywhere else is kind at odds with the players’ perspective – that is, we’ve got more personal, visceral investment in the fates of OTHER places.

            When asked to consider what the destruction of Tuchanka, or Ilium, or the Citadel costs, we have stories and characters like Wrex, or Grunt, or the Asari-Krogan couple, or Conrad Verner, or Captain Bailey to provide context to the idea that the Reapers are killing people en masse in these locations. For earth, they give us… Some kid.

            Please understand, this is not saying that Empathy for earth is inconsistent characterization, it’s just that suddenly prizing earth above the worlds the player has actually seen puts character and player motivations unnecessarily at odds. Even if the game doesn’t sell Earth to us at a gameplay level, they need to at least show Shepard’s care for Earth with a bit more care than the dream sequences where SOME KID DIES.

            • Poncho says:

              Exactly. There’s a disconnect between the characters’ intentions and the player’s priorities.

              Also, 90% of the game takes place in locations NOT on Earth. It would be like The Lord of the Rings being about taking back The Shire from Sauron’s forces, and the characters run around all these other places in order to raise an army to kill the orcs in Hobbiton.

              • Mike S. says:

                The heart wants what the heart wants– nothing’s going to persuade anyone to adopt a game goal that doesn’t do it for them. Still: suppose I’m playing a game about an OSS agent in WWII Europe. Most of the game is deciding whether to romance the French resistance fighter or the British infiltrator while saving Alsatian villages and blowing up troop trains. I might never hear from another American, except via coded messages and dead drops.

                But when we find the two secret transatlantic bombers with prototype atom bombs and flight plans labeled “Washington” and “New York”, that seems as if it would be a natural priority. I wouldn’t expect to have to be given specific reasons that blowing them up is a important because my character is from Des Moines, because all my companions are European, or because all the game’s action has taken place thousands of miles from either city. But different players are different.

                (I would, on the other hand, expect to have to come up with reasons for Marie and Vera and Thierry to risk their own lives and goals to help with it. And it is true ME3 often isn’t great at explaining why Earth should be a priority for anyone who isn’t human.)

                • Poncho says:

                  True, but your example, we already have a real world connection to 1940s America. The audience has built in tension regarding a plot to nuke New York or Washington, because those are familiar places to the audience. The character priorities line up with the audience priority. We can believe that the character wants to save those places because we would probably do the same thing in their shoes.

                  Mass Effect happens in the future, and we don’t really know what Earth is like except for the two scenes we get in Toronto and later on in a ravaged London. The Codex doesn’t even help us. Those two cities could be replaced with my home town, and I still wouldn’t feel anything because this isn’t 2016, it’s 2185. I’m dead, my kids are probably dead, so why is it important? Where’s the connection? Give me something to feel for future Earth.

                  My whole time first playing ME3 I was thinking, “Why Earth? Why are the Reapers so focused on Earth? Why don’t we just drop an asteroid on it, or something, and take out a huge chunk of enemy forces? Why are trying to take it back?”

                  I thought there was going to be a huge reveal, like some Prothean AI that got buried in the Earth’s core, powered by volcanism, that can activate the Crucible or something. I thought the Earth was going to be important for setting reasons. The Reapers really want that AI core because it could destroy them, but if they are the ones to activate it, they win. Something to justify the focus on humanity and Earth. Nothing ever happened with that, though, and the characters never considered abandoning Earth to save the rest of the galaxy. I mean the Asari can mate with humans, so bunking up with them wouldn’t be too bad if it meant at least surviving as a species.

                  • Mike S. says:

                    With our species population down that far, having asari around probably makes our survival less likely, insofar as hot alien space babes are more interesting than PTSD refugees, and their kids with humans are asari with no human DNA.

                    Wrex was openly willing to let the galaxy burn if his species wasn’t given a chance to thrive. So was Tali. Same message, implicitly, from the turians (“no krogan, we’re fighting at Palaven and nowhere else”). The asari and salarians didn’t even bother to suggest they’d risk forces against the galactic invasion while it stayed off their doorstep.

                    So it would be sort of an odd hard-to-justify writing choice to have humanity uniquely willing to let the entire species (less 1% or so, imagining that every one of the colonies could all be protected somehow by letting Earth fall) take one for the team. Particularly someone who’d taken an oath to protect the Earth Alliance from all enemies, foreign and domestic, or words to that effect.

                    Even if Shepard were prepared to make the suggestion, why would Hackett or the Normandy’s Alliance crew go along with sacrificing their species that way, any more than the krogan, quarians, or turians would? Even the Protheans may have been such a sacrifice, but it was never their intention or choice to be so. They were fighting for their own survival till the last pod went dark on Ilos.

                    A choice like that would have to be justified as the climax of an entire game, not a suggestion to be adopted as a war strategy. And I really doubt even so that it could be justified well enough to sell it to a majority of players.

                    (Which is one reason I’m pretty sure the Dark Energy Ending, at least as common rumor describes it, would have been no better received than what we got.)

                    • SPCTRE says:

                      You know, that is actually a choice I had hoped since the first game we would get to make at some point – sacrifice (all of or most of) humanity for the good of the galaxy or don’t and face some sort of dire ramifications.

                    • guy says:

                      Honestly I suspect that the Turians, at the least, would have agreed to take one for the team if they thought their sacrifice would guarantee victory. But I don’t think that there’s really a good reason to prioritize anything else over Palaven that would be persuasive to anyone except the people being prioritized. Palaven is heavily populated, strategically valuable, and tactically about as good as it gets at the moment. The Turian fleet is entirely committed to battle and it seems to be a stalemate. Frankly, a unified galactic command would be entirely justified in ordering the remaining human fleets to reinforce Palaven. Shepard arguing that everyone should focus on facing the Reapers together rather than looking after their own interests would be a lot more persuasive if the Alliance actually contributed to the defense of the others.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      Ash: “Gosh, Shepard, I remember an analogy I made that got me branded a space racist for three games– um, I mean years. And here we are being thrown to the bear after all– as no one could possibly have predicted. Commander.”

                      (If they’d gone that route, Ash should definitely be the one leading the mutiny to stop it from happening.)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You can have a premade character that will still react differently based on the player.Case in point:Geralt.You can have him react to a bunch of situations in a bunch of different manners,but he is still geralt,douchebag extraordinare in all of those branches.Shepard,on the other hand,is just a brick.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Right, because total freedom doesn’t aid good storytelling. There has to be some restraint, because my Warden in Dragon Age: Origins has to follow the main plot of recruiting allies with the Grey Warden treaties and stop the Blight, even if for 4 of the 6 character origins I didn’t really see a good reason why your character wouldn’t just immediately run away after anyone with direct authority over you dies at Ostagar.

      • Oh sure, they didn’t do a bad job with the Inquisitor in Inquisition, for instance (although that’s not the same studio). I just think that this mindset, which was prevalent in earlier games, was part of the reason for how weird some of the writing in the Mass Effect series is, because they hadn’t yet completely thrown off that old mindset of “we can’t give the character a personality”.

        So they made Shepard an IDIOT instead, which is why I couldn’t bring myself to play any of the games after the first one. Shepard is kinda a dolt in the first one, but it’s not TOO bad, but I couldn’t stomach the character after that.

        • Poncho says:

          One of the hallmarks of poor writing is if the plot relies on characters being dumb. Everyone carries the idiot ball here in ME3 at some point.

        • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I suppose botching a deliberate attempt at blandness is a possible explanation. I’m not sure it’s better than my original evaluation: “someone read, and clearly didn’t understand, Hegel, and thought ‘hey, I’ll put this in a videogame…'”

    • Deager says:

      Spot on. And certainly we cannot all be pleased with the limited options they can give us. But at least give us something logical within the limited options. That Kashley thing on Mars; I think for a spectre and a soon-to-be spectre, it shouldn’t be too hard to discuss, get over, and move on. I don’t know too many marines who have emotional baggage which they can’t succinctly get over and move on; not top level ones anyway.

  22. Alex says:

    “ASHLEY:
    You’ve worked for them. How am I supposed to believe you’ve cut all ties?”

    Is there any chance that she has to say this because the player, having skipped ME2, might not know?

    • Mike S. says:

      Even if you played ME2, you might have given the Collector base to TIM and been on reasonable terms with him at the end. If that’s the case, it’s not clear why he’s suddenly implacably hostile here.

    • Dreadjaws says:

      Well, that’s a silly reason. Why would people go straight to 3 without having played the previous games? True, you can make the case that ME2 doesn’t advance the story, so you can skip it, but you wouldn’t know unless you’ve played it.

      And yes, I’m aware that the Wii U has ME3 and not the other two. But even if Wii U gamers had only played that game, there’d be a lot of dialogue the game would have to repeat for those who skipped the previous two, and the game doesn’t do that.

      • Gethsemani says:

        It happens all the time for a bunch of reasons. Maybe people were too young to appreciate ME1/2 but had reached an age when ME3 was released where they could appreciate that sort of game? Maybe they are strapped for cash/time and want to enjoy the latest game in an acclaimed series? Maybe they were pulled in by all the commercials telling us how ME3 was the next big thing?

        The latter in particular affected ME3 a lot, since it was the only ME game to receive a substantial, widespread ad-campaign, including TV spots. Saying “People who missed the first two parts need to know this” isn’t silly, it is pragmatical. While you can leave a lot of things to be inferred or glossed over, the fact that Shepard worked for Cerberus in ME2 is kind of a big deal, which is why it must be brought up… It could have been brought up much better though.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        Because ME3 is a great entry point for new players!

      • ehlijen says:

        It’s as simple as the fact that the games are sold separately. There is no requirement to have played 1 and 2 to get 3, therefore there will be players who start with 3, therefore some considerations should me made how to handle that.

        It’s like programs handling bad input. No sane person is likely to put 1.5923hgi into a numbers field, but that doesn’t excuse the programmer from checking the input for validity before processing it.

      • Mike S. says:

        According to the stats they released back in 2013, at least half of the players of ME3 were new.

        (39.8% got the Long Service Medal, reflecting either importing a save or playing an ME3 New Game Plus, so a bit more than 60% didn’t. Some who didn’t had presumably switched consoles or otherwise lost their old saves. But it’s a fair bet that most of them just didn’t play the earlier games.)

      • Slothfulcobra says:

        The best reason I can think of is that the player’s might be hopping from one platform to another.

  23. Dev Null says:

    “does this look awkward? It looks awkward to me for some reason.”

    I think it’s the fact that they’re standing 10 feet apart in a barren, empty room that’s kind of huge.

  24. I think that pic looks awkward because Shepard and the doc are standing too far apart. Generally people are closer to each other when talking than that, especially if they’re friendly.

    • NotSteve says:

      Their body language is also really weird for two people having a conversation. They’ve got their arms dangling limply at their sides, which is a really unusual position for anyone to have their arms in while speaking. (But is a really easy default pose for drawing and probably for animating as well.)

      If you’re comfortable and relaxed, your hands tend to be in front of you as you “talk” more with them. If you’re feeling withdrawn or reserved, your hands tend to be much less free; you cross your arms, you put your hands in your pockets, you clasp them behind your back. The only real situation I can think of where you’d commonly have your hands at your sides like that is if you’re standing to attention, and even then you’d have your arms pressed to your sides instead of dangling.

      (Try having a conversation while keeping your arms in that pose. At least to me, even the thought feels weird.)

      And that’s not even getting into their stance. Both of them again have very neutral stances, facing each other head on. No one is showing any emotional cues, say by angling themselves towards or away from the conversation. It really does look awkward.

      • They look like they were both walking down a hallway in opposite directions and suddenly met and stopped.

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        All BioWare blocking looks terrible. They should really add a few new poses or animations to every game to improve the library over time.

        Mass Effect has a bad case of the “only four gestures,” but Inquisition has it worse -“only one posture, and it isn’t a natural looking one.” Seriously, Leliana’s shoulder looks like it’s permanently out of joint. No one stands like that -legs apart, toes in, shoulders forward and arms angled in. What, are you holding the invisible stone?

        • The feet should be closer together but it’s a common “somewhat tense conversation” pose to hunch forward slightly and grip your hands together. IMO Cullen does it the best because he doesn’t stand with his feet way far apart like the female figures do for some reason.

  25. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Which you can only hear through eavesdropping and not direct conversation, sadly.

    Relevant.

  26. Dreadjaws says:

    “Next we have an obnoxious chase scene. Dr. Coré steals the data and runs off. During the chase she’s invulnerable to your weapons and powers until the very end, when you can kill her with a pistol. Once again I have to remind game developers: Do not make me play through your static cutscenes where my input doesn’t matter and I have no control over the outcome.

    This is one of the main reason I could never get into the GTA games until GTAV. This kind of crap happened every other mission. They forced you into a chase full of scripted obstacles where you couldn’t choose what vehicle to take, you couldn’t harm whomever you’re pursuing and you basically couldn’t control the outcome until the writer decided the chase should stop.

    The series loves to sell itself on freedom, but the stories are strictly linear, never actually giving any of that freedom they pretend to have. This has fortunately changed with the last game. If there was an enemy that was invincible until the scripted end of the chase, I never noticed it.

    But this is, unfortunately, not even close to the last time this kind of BS will happen in ME3. Look, if you don’t want the player to have any saying on the outcome, then make it a cutscene, don’t make it faux gameplay.

    • Matt Downie says:

      Shamus has complained about GTA scripted missions in the past. “Do It Again Stupid”

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      I really like the idea of chase scenes in videogames, but so much of the time, they are absolutely drowned in setpieces so anything you, the player try, that isn’t specifically accounted for by the writers will destroy everything.

      • galacticplumber says:

        This is why I liked incredible hulk ultimate destruction so much. Well… One of the reasons anyway. For the most part, when they gave you an objective of chasing and murdering something how quickly you managed it was entirely up to you. They would make this difficult by sprinkling enemies on the chase path or making the runner fly, but you could still accomplish things damned quickly if you were good.

    • Alex says:

      One of my favourite moments in Saints Row 2 is a bit where I accidentally broke a mission in glorious fashion.

      The intended method:
      Get in your car, drive to the Brotherhood hideout, climb up through the building to the roof, have a boss fight with the leader of the Brotherhood on foot.

      My method:
      Get in my attack helicopter, land on the roof, climb down through the building to the mission waypoint on the ground level, climb up through the building to the roof, have a boss fight with the leader of the Brotherhood while piloting an attack helicopter.

      • Dreadjaws says:

        That’s why I’ve always preferred the Saints Row games. They let you do the missions your way. They let the player have fun as they want to, rather than force them to play as the writers intend.

  27. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    I’ve been arguing against Shamus a lot in these comments, so let me just say this. Yeah, you’re exactly right. The start of ME3 is boneheaded. Repeatedly. The part where Shepard’s suggested strategy to the Alliance is “we should fight the Reapers” is infuriating. It would have been AWESOME if they player could suggest something based on their save file. Like “we should team up with Cerberus, I just gave them a Collector base with advanced technology!” or maybe “I have a lead on the Rachni. I saved their race, so now they owe us and should be willing to help us now.” Anything like that.

    The bit where Shepard fights over staying on Earth is idiotic. I’m choosing which thing to say that I disagree with at that point.

    The bit on Mars is fine as a combat intro though. Certainly better than the combat intros of 1 and 2 (as noticed by how it’s less painful to playthrough on repeat plays). There’s color in how evil Cerberus is being and it’s satisfying and empowering to jump those guys in retaliation for the nasty shit they pulled. It is annoying that they force you to do the WHOLE chase. It would have made sense to allow the player to decrease her health during the chase and smash cut to a cut scene that gets you to the end of the level if you just DESTROY her earlier in the chase. This design problem comes to a head in the Kai Leng boss battle though, so just save the meanest things to say for that part…

    Finally, yeah, Shepard is forced to be a moron in this conversation. Thankfully, this is the end of the “bring your kid to work and let him write the dialogue” day. I felt like I was roleplaying my Shepard from this point forward basically.

    • Mike S. says:

      There’s color in how evil Cerberus is being and it’s satisfying and empowering to jump those guys in retaliation for the nasty shit they pulled.

      Though retrospectively kind of horrible when it becomes clear that the mooks are all indoctrinated slaves who can’t choose to resign or surrender.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        I mean… they’re corpses. It’s not like there’s a method to free them from what was done (outside of the Synthesis ending, which is insane for like 30 reasons, so I don’t want to get into it yet). Therefore, since they’re gleefully talking about how fun it was to murder innocent scientists, I don’t feel any distress at putting an end to them.

        • Gruhunchously says:

          Cerberus Trooper: “I’ve killed twelve dumb-ass scientist and not one of ’em fought back. This sucks!”

        • Mike S. says:

          From Benezia’s discussion of Indoctrination, you’re still there, helpless, inside. There’s nothing to be done about it– they have to be killed. But it makes the process more of a grim necessity than satisfying.

          The ones on Mars, at least, are probably people who joined Cerberus willingly, and so presumptively unpleasant. (Though it may depend on how you felt about the crew on the SR2 in the last game.) By late game, they’re presumably Sanctuary refugees who had no idea what they were getting into..

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      The introduction in me1 wouldve been better,if the combat in me1 was better.But the choices you get along the way,the slow introduction to enemies,its much better than this.

      As it stands,the beginning of me2 is the best one.There are no scripted fights where you have to USE WUN UND ONLY WUN method to go through it.You always have complete freedom to do whatever with the class youve picked.

      • SlothfulCobra says:

        You have to demonstrate that you can use squad abilities, but otherwise, it’s still the quickest start.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        ME2’s opening bothers me because it is more suitable for some classes than others. Vanguard without Shotgun is just… wrong for what I want to be doing. Plus you’re not allowed to launch at the guys Jacob is doing a power demo for. While the cutscenes at the beginning of 3 may be silly, they really let you do what you want pretty fast. You can hang back and peck at the Reaper ground forces or launch into the center of them from Earth on.

  28. Knul says:

    I don’t get why people were so upset with ME3’s ending when the story of ME2 and ME3 were already so bad. There are almost no criticisms about there stories while Shamus rightfully pokes a thousand holes in the plot, characters and (lack of) world building.

    Are the sidemissions/side characters that amazing that people just forget about all that?

    • Gethsemani says:

      I think it mostly has to do with the fact that both ME2 and ME3 manage to present themselves like decent action flicks. On first glance or a superficial viewing the plots
      tie the set pieces together and you get some resolution as the player, add to this the colorful cast that goes with you and most people will be content with what they get. It is when you start looking deeper that you quickly realize how ramshackle the main stories of ME2 and ME3 are.

      More succintly: ME2/3 are great at building willing suspension of disbelief.

    • Falterfire says:

      People are willing to forgive a lot of story issues as long as the stuff happening looks cool enough and the characters they care about make it out okay. Especially with how drawn out video games are, it’s easy for a lot of people to just get sucked into the gameplay itself and sort of zone out from what is actually going on or what they’re trying to accomplish.

      That was probably THE cardinal sin of ME3’s ending, the one that guaranteed the explosion that followed: Not only did it make no sense, it ruined everything everybody loved about the universe while doing it. Worse than that, it featured three different directions to twist the knife and forced the player to pick which one they wanted.

      Had Mass Effect 3 always ended with the Reapers all going boom and everybody living happily ever after, the story would still have been dumb, but everybody’s characters and the worlds they were from would still have been intact. Hell, they could probably even have killed Shepard or one or two of the other popular characters and been fine. Most people don’t really look for plot holes while they’re happy with the general direction of things.

      But instead they made you pick which way everything you had worked for over the series was rendered pointless and so everybody was mad.

    • galacticplumber says:

      A combination of that and the good old cognitive dissonance. People who have invested a lot of time/effort/money into anything are more likely to attempt to find reasons to justify it any way they can, rather than admitting that something crappy has happened and move on. Kinda scary actually. Think about that the next time you find yourself defending something you’ve invested heavily in.

    • ehlijen says:

      The short answer is: the ME3 ending was really so dumb and jarring that it tore even the most forgiving players out of it.

      -starchild out of nowhere.
      -essentially no gameplay past the thanix missiles
      -nonsense about inevitability (How many Matrix Architects does it take to make more sense than the starchild? Divide by zero error)
      -What colour would you like to blow up the galaxy in? (The extended ending still doesn’t explain why these relay explosions are different from the arrival one)
      -metaphysical ‘deep’ BS choice. Synthesis? What does that even mean other than that the writer looked up ‘compromise’ in a thesaurus?

      It yanked everyone out of a game that, if they’d played that far, they’re likely to have learned to tolerate, and threw them into a bizarro world that had nothing to do with anything that came before it, literally. Sure, the starchild might be referring to things and people and events in the game, but none of what it says match the experience Shepard’s had.
      Organics always build synthetics that will destroy them?
      No. The quarians built the geth who were going to leave everyone alone until sovereign turned on their kill switch.

      The reapers are the problem. Make them go away, make them stop guiding everyone’s technological advancement through left relics if they don’t like where that advancement leads. Make them not sponsor robot uprisings. Make them not kill organics if preserving organics is their goal. In fact, just shut them off. Done.

      Wow, sorry. This rant wasn’t meant to happen :(

      • swenson says:

        Two other reasons:
        – up until the actual ending, you could still hope that the ending would tie everything up neatly and explain some of the plothole and general weird stuff. The ending was ME3’s last chance to fix the mistakes of earlier in the game, but it blew it.
        – people tend to remember the end of things more than the middle. If the ending had been serviceable, people would be more likely to remember the whole thing as being serviceable. But when the ending itself is terrible, that’s what you think about, and you might even forget the good bits of the game and think of the whole thing as awful.

        • Poncho says:

          It’s about convergence, really. Everyone played the ending and experienced the SAME ending, and there’s no other way to experience that ending. You can experience Tuchanka or Rannoch or the Citadel fights differently, colored by your experience throughout the games. The ending is a big shit sandwich that the game forces you to eat, no matter what you’ve done in the past. There’s no combat to make it distracting or fun, either, it’s just story happening and it’s a shit story.

        • Alex says:

          “– up until the actual ending, you could still hope that the ending would tie everything up neatly and explain some of the plothole and general weird stuff. The ending was ME3’s last chance to fix the mistakes of earlier in the game, but it blew it.”

          So… Ponzi storytelling again? Not just stupid in its own right, but also that moment when you realise all the mythos checks the series was writing just bounced?

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Shamoose explained that long back when he talked about “the point where this story breaks down for you”.As long as you can suspend your disbelief,the story can be pretty poor and sparse,and youll just ignore it.For me,the point of no return was kashley talk in me2.But for most people,it was the ending of me3.

    • SlothfulCobra says:

      The overall structure of ME2’s story was kind of weak, but the flavor of ME2 was absolutely great. The characters were fun, the atmosphere was nice, and there were even a bunch of incidental bits that turned out really well. It’s almost enough to make you buy into the goofy skeleton at the end.

      Then ME3 trundles along with an even more garbage main story, and far less in the way of characters, atmosphere, or vignettes.

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        I’d even say that the side missions and story of ME3 aren’t all that bad, at least through Ranoch (and Thessia to the end can be barreled through pretty well). Our host has made the point that, though he’s nitpicking, the issue is that there are a lot of nits to pick -to the point that the story is basically all nits. And that’s a fair criticism. But, had the ending delivered, I think a lot of people, even our host, would have continued to think of the nits as just nits around a good war movie and character game.

        It’s only the complete collapse of the story at the end that retroactively renders the game actually nits with some good war movie and character moments.

  29. MrFob says:

    Wait a second, it’s been a while since I played the game so maybe I remember it wrong but at the time of that council meeting the other homeworlds are not yet under attack. IIRC, the batarians have been all but wiped out and earth is under attack. When we first see the galaxy map after leaving the Citadel, we see that the reapers are mainly active in the Attican Traverse, Alliance Space and some Terminus systems.
    Therefore, I would argue that Shepard’s argument to send everyone to earth is not quite as dumb since really s/he doesn’t ask them to abandon their own worlds to the reapers.
    Furthermore (and more importantly), Shep doesn’t ask them to send their fleets to earth and start shooting at the reapers there. The plan is to hold the reapers off while constructing the crucible (Liara even shows the plans to the council). Udina, Shep and Liara are proposing to join forces against the reapers for everyone, it’s just that earth is the only council homeworld currently already overrun
    Actually, while writing this comment, I just re-watched the meeting on youtube and I don’t quite see how you missed this. Granted, it’s all said in a bit of an awkward way but it’s all there:

    Udina: We must fight the enemy together.
    Salarian guy: And so you just expect us to follow you to earth? (so he thinks they mean what you thought)
    Turian guy: Even if we were to unite our fleets do you really believe we could defeat the reapers? (he has the same concern you’ve got)
    Shepard: I don’t expect you to follow me without a plan.
    Liara (shows hologram plans): Starts explaining about the crucible

    From this point on, they discuss if and how to build the crucible and the whole discussion is about them either working together or not to do it.
    If anything, I’d say the council is – yet again – very distrusting of Shep and his crazy as hell ideas (and it is a crazy idea). Still, Shepard’s argument is not as dumb as you make it out in the article. In fact, it’s probably one of the first times in ME3 that Shep does make a sensible argument. Building the crucible seems like a better option that having all the races sit on their own worlds and waiting to be destroyed one by one. You can still say that it’s not exactly a super intelligent conversation (or plot) but not for the reasons you state.

    BTW, I completely agree on the Kashley-Shepard-Cerberus issue, that really was handled badly.

    • guy says:

      At this point in time, fighting in Palaven’s orbit is ongoing and it’s sustaining orbital bombardment. The other two Council homeworlds aren’t yet under attack but the Reapers have begun putting pressure on their frontiers. And while collaborating on the Crucible makes sense, Shepard repeatedly talks about help for Earth specifically in a way that implies he isn’t just talking about winning the war all at once and saving Earth in the process

      • MrFob says:

        At the time of the meeting, Shepard has no clue about the Situation on Palaven and the turian councilor doesn’t say anything until after the meeting so there is no way for Shep to take that into account.

        Shep may over-stress the fact that the crucible will be good for earth, yes (especially on Menae when talking to General Victus) but that’s a bunch of dialogue lines throughout the game that are jarring. The actual story is that Shep wants the galaxy to work together on the crucible.

        The “earth lines” are probably there because somebody in EA decided that “Take Earth Back!!!!” was going to be the marketing tag line of the game so they over-stressed it. Still, the council meeting is what it is and it’s not – as Shamus presents it – about sending all fleets to earth immediately to shoot reapers. Because he’s right that would be dumb.

        As I said in a comment on an earlier article in this series, I think you have to be very careful when dissecting the ME3 story. There were many influences that gave it a bad starting point (the fact that marketing > story was a mantra, the “best place to start’ thing, the ME2 issues it had to deal with, etc.). Of course in the end, the story is just bad but I think it’s unfair not to take such difficulties into account or even mention them when criticizing. After all, the point of criticizing should be that similar mistakes can be avoided in the future so illuminating the underlying cause is important. I still maintain that the ME3 script writers did not do too badly given all the constraints they had to work with/around.

      • Deager says:

        This is where nitpicking reviews get a little weird. I just watched the video a second time and really, I take it as a relatively reasonable back and forth between Shepard and the council. The Crucible is brought up, the Catalyst is brought up as the “we don’t know what it is” and that’s why it didn’t work for the Protheans. I don’t know, it didn’t seem that bad to me really, now that I re-watched it.

        In general, I’ll have to do a little more research before commenting. It’s not like I don’t have enough save game files with just about any combo to cross-reference to see how scenes play out. ;)

    • Deager says:

      Oh that’s right. I had forgotten that Earth was the only one being attacked at that moment…although, shoot. When does Palavan get attacked? Wait, I think I have it, it’s when you’re heading off to get the primarch. That’s when the cutscene kicks in with the reapers attacking in space. Granted, it could be yet another skirmish since we see Reapers on the moon of Palavan as well.

      But I agree, the crucible is brought up during that conversation. However, the Reapers are apparently pressing on asari borders it looks like. Ironically, they’re the last to get attacked in the game but that’s not necessarily a plot hole problem, it just means the Reapers were pressing on their borders and they’re pretty wide spread.

      They also get into the fact that the crucible didn’t work before but that something called the catalyst is needed.

      In the end, the council basically plans to sacrifice earth to protect themselves.

      So yeah, after watching it again, that conversation isn’t that bad. The Mars stuff is still crazy frustrating but the council exchange isn’t as ridiculous as it may seem. Granted, I watched the video with the original council. I’m not sure if the dialogue changes with the “b squad” council.

      • MrFob says:

        Yea, I probably wouldn’t call it a marvelous piece of literature but when criticizing it on an unfair basis as done in this article, it weakens the criticism more than the original work IMO. That’s why I think one has to be careful with dealing out counterpoints.

  30. Sean Riley says:

    Just on your tiny aside…

    Mark Meer improved by leaps and bounds every game; it was kind of remarkable. Game one was one of the flattest, most boring performances I’ve ever heard. It’s clear he understood the challenge: Deliver your lines in ways that make them coherent with both the Hardass Renegade lines and the Brave but Hopeful Paragon ones. But he had no understanding of how to make an interesting performance in the middle and he reverted to flat neutrality. Hale, by contrast, had a range of clever tricks to keep her performance more interesting.

    And it’s really clear Meer understood he was outmatched in that first game, because in the second he lifted his performance tremendously, to the point where I’d say he was as good as Hale. And in the third, shit, I’d say he was better. It’s close and I’d respect anyone taking Hale over Meer, but both sold the shit out of their lines. The lines are still stupid as hell, but they fought the stupid like crazy.

    • MrFob says:

      True, I think it wasn’t only Mark Meer himself though. I remember an interview where he said that he was asked by the voice director to read lines in a more neutral tone in ME1 because they didn’t want it to sound to jarring when the player switched from paragon to renegade within a conversation.
      Apparently BW improved their handling of the system (or one could also argue that the reduction in dialogue choices and increase in auto dialogue allowed for a bit more freedom with the VO).

      • Somniorum says:

        That explanation wouldn’t surprise me at all, that it could’ve been due to poor voice-direction. I’ve seen Mark Meer perform live improv comedy (I live in Edmonton – Bioware City, in other words. Meer lives here, and shows up in various things often enough. One thing he did last year, he spontaneously listed dozens of creatures from DnD, and various pallette-swaps of slimes in Final Fantasy as part of the show), and he’s really capable of a good bit of range and dynamism. Ever since I’ve seen him live, I’ve always felt disappointed to hear Mass Effect fans act as if he’s just a bad actor, as I know this isn’t true.

        Also of note: He played Mordin in ME 3. The fellow who played him in #2 didn’t come back, I’m not sure why.

        • MrFob says:

          Haha, that sounds pretty cool. Meer also voices the hanar and the vorcha in the ME games, so I am not surprised he can pull off quite a range. :)

          Are you sure about Mordin though? IMDB has William Salyers listed for the character in ME3. In ME2 it was Michael Beattie, who did a wonderful job IMO. I was surprised they didn’t ask him to come back.

          • Somniorum says:

            Whoops… well I’ll be damned, you’re right. I’m not sure where I got him as Mordin from, then! I’d love to hope that I read a source that was incorrect, rather than that my brain is malfunctioning ^^;

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      While Meer’s performance DID certainly improve game to game, I still feel like the criticism of 1 gets overblown. It feels like the (accurate) criticisms of how Bioware treated the female model as a second class priority made people treat the dual VAs as competitors instead of teammates in creating the character. I don’t think either Meer or Hale would be happy to hear someone cut down the other as a way to puff up their own performance.

      Speaking more specifically of Meer in 1, his reading of “Because it’s a STUPID JELLYFISH” is my favorite line reading from the entire series. Clearly Bioware agreed because the line gets a HUGE callback in 3.

  31. ehlijen says:

    One more problem with Kashley (signified by that merged name even existing) is that they were two different people once, but the writers stopped treating them as such since from ME2 onwards.

    They are given essentially the same dialogue for everything, seeing as programming wise, they are interchangeable. The player has one or the other still in the story. They can be put in the same memory space.
    And then the programmer told the writer that trick. Kashley is one person now, with dialogue that fit neither original character well. They do all the same stuff no matter which of the two it is and they have to offer the same dialogue content (and I think that’s why they’re in a coma for half the game and don’t say much after, to cut down on that nonsense; I guess there was no budget to actually fix it?).
    There is no way either of the two could be written consistently with ME1 in all that. That should have been a clue to not treat them this way, but well. The clue was missed.

  32. Smiley_Face says:

    Regarding the fleets point, I’m not sure you’re right (although you should be). Fleets shouldn’t make a difference, because, as already established, the Reapers en masse should be far beyond defeat by conventional weapons. But that’s no longer the case in Mass Effect 3; the entirety of the game, until you hit Thessia, is about getting all the fleets of the galaxy on side, first destroying the Reaper fleets attacking their worlds, then joining together to attack the Reaper fleet at Earth. The attack on earth might be established as a lost cause without the crucible, but the whole point of the Tuchanka arc is to get the Krogan/Salarians to pitch in on Palaven, winning that fight and freeing up the Turian forces. The whole point of the Rannoch arc is to get the Geth/Quarian/both fleets.

    So Shepard asking for fleets actually does make sense in that it will work, but doesn’t make sense in that he’s giving no reason for the councilors to put Earth above their own worlds and people, and that the fleets shouldn’t work. And immediately after that meeting, the Turian councilor takes Shepard aside and tells him what he has to do to get the fleet, which starts you on the next mission.

  33. Disc says:

    Reading this, it sort of dawned on me how much I’ve either actively ignored or just not given a shit about when it comes to the plot. It’s all obvious as day when you stop to think about it, but I guess it was Mass Effect 2 that drove it home for me, that it’s better to just try rolling with things, even if you’re not sure it makes sense. I do remember at some point developing the sense that I don’t really feel that much connection to Shepard as a character and that the choices I make are more often just me dictating how I’d prefer the story go as opposed to feeling actually immersed and roleplaying.

    Part of me still hopes that maybe one day there’s a remake that invalidates ME2 and 3, and tells a new story without all this goddamn nonsense. It’d be worth it to just get rid of TIM and Kai Motherfucking Leng.

  34. Aaron says:

    chakwas and shepard met to duel with pistols at dawn, but they both forgot their dueling pistols. they really seem to be too far apart for a chat between close friends meeting after a long time

    and ever since mass effect 2 it seems the writers were trying their hardest to paint themselves in a corner with the reapers being unbeatable. they managed it and realized they then had to come up with a way to beat the unbeatable enemy they created

  35. byter says:

    I really quite liked the idea of listening in to people’s stories. It gave the game a chance to tell the story of the common man (again) and in some ways it allowed for better storytelling than interrogating one poor pleb with the dialogue wheel. Even if you didn’t deliberately eavesdrop on them, they added to the rustle and bustle of the non-combat areas.

    All told I would say that these background stories was one of my favorite parts of Mass Effect 3, it was one of the few things in that game that ‘humanized’ the setting, it along with the refugee camp is a dramatic improvement over ME2, where we were only ‘told’ to care for the common man (who we otherwise saw little to nothing of).

    • ehlijen says:

      Some worked just fine. But others were…awkwardly implemented.

      Why is the PTSD asari being coaxed to admit her murder in the open lounge, as opposed to a private room?
      Why does no one bat an eye when someone sprints through the hospital offices listening in on patient treatment discussions? Is patient confidentiality not a thing?

      I liked the salarian merc who was too blind to see his GF had sold her car to secretly get him better armour. That was a conversation that fit its surroundings.

      • byter says:

        Hmm.. It’s been a long time since I played the game, so I don’t really remember those ones (memory (probably) remembers the good, forgets the bad).

        I don’t pretend that the background conversations were perfect.. but I think they were overall a nice addition to the game.

        It can be a little silly that you can listen in to all of these conversations (it’s also a little silly that you can keep asking people the same question and they never change their responses or get tired of you).. but I’ll take a bit of artistic licence if it means we get a bit more world building (and overall I thought the bg convos were a nice addition and not as stupid as anything in the main plot).

        My personal favorite was the senile old lady who was asking about her son in the Citadel Embassies. I passed it many times and it loops much like the rest but because she’s so forgetful it make a degree of sense and was rather tragic…

      • Zekiel says:

        I broadly thought these conversations were great. Its easier to parse than using the dialogue wheel (which isn’t very interesting if you just want to hear a story); they make the Citadel feel more alive; they’re generally well-written; and they give you something to do while you’re revisiting areas on a mission. I basically loved them.

        • Deager says:

          I’m in ME1 right now and ambient dialogue is around more than I remembered. A lot of them you can choose to go up and then have a dialogue wheel interaction but I’m finding the conversations you just hear make more sense. For example, because I could, I would often go up and chat with Michael and Rebekah about her child. But on the other hand, can you imagine just walking by someone and jumping into that argument?

          The overhearing of talking to get missions in the journal entry was maybe a little weird but overall, I like the ambient dialogue in ME3.

      • Deager says:

        Yeah, I liked that salarian. He did figure it out at the very end but yeah, it took him a while. It was, for lack of a better word, cute.

      • guy says:

        Under the conditions, it’s fairly reasonable that conversations which would ordinarily be strictly private are getting pushed into open areas and people aren’t making too much of an effort to maintain privacy due to the sheer number of people needing help.

    • Slothfulcobra says:

      It can be a little annoying to listen to them, since you need to constantly revisit them to hear the next bit, and more than once I missed bits because of background noises while trying to find the source of the conversation.

      On the other hand, they were the main thing keeping me interested in the Citadel in between missions.

  36. Neko says:

    Just a random thought:

    So obviously Kashley needs to be hospitalised and out of the action because they’re one of the killable characters from waaay back in ME1 and we’re sick of doing all this dialogue where 50% of it is guaranteed to not be seen. We can’t just get rid of the character entirely, because they’re an iconic character and people will wonder why they’re not around.

    I thought that the way I’d handle it is to have them “around” in-universe but rarely, if at all, on-screen. Get them to be doing Alliance front-line mission stuff, and they communicate with Shepard via occasional emails. Give the player the sense that other stuff is happening in the world, possibly with someone they care about, do extra world building, and best of all – do it without requiring everything to be voice acted!

    Seriously! It’s crippling the writing that every line that gets written will ultimately have to be spoken by someone. Everything gets condensed because of it and you just can’t have the poor xbox players get bored sitting through 30 minutes of conversation with someone. So a lot of interesting background material just can’t be exposed via dialogue and gets cut or shoved into codex entries.

    Hell, make a Facebook parody that all your old buddies from the former games use, have them post status updates that suggest other people are getting stuff done too.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      They do have that last, it’s your in-game email.

      • Mike S. says:

        The iOS app they had for the first year or so also got little tweet-sized updates from your companions commenting on the missions as you completed them, which was fun. Unfortunately, it stopped working for me after a while, and then they discontinued the app.

        (They moved the minigame for grinding War Readiness to the web, so that now everyone has an alternative to multiplayer for that instead of just iOS users. But as far as I know they dropped the mission tweets entirely.)

  37. Taellosse says:

    If any of these people were rational they would be discussing contingency plans, escape, or hiding.

    As far as I know, nothing’s actually been announced in this regard, but I’m betting that the premise for the new Mass Effect game is going to retcon some of this into the story. We know that the new game is going to take place in a completely different galaxy, and we can infer that they’ve come up with some way to dodge around the way(s) ME3 ends (and how all 3 main endings, even if they look really stupidly similar in the ending cutscene, actually have vastly different long-term implications).

    I think their solution, at least for the time being, is going to be that your player character, and any companions from familiar species, are either themselves – or the descendants of – a group of colonists who were sent out of the Milky Way to escape the Reaper invasion, and ensure the Council races survived in some fashion, even if they couldn’t in their home galaxy. As such, they’d all be exempt from the effects of what the Crucible does at the end of ME3, since they were beyond its range. I’m betting there’ll even be a scene at the beginning with the Council and/or Shepard giving a pep talk to the departing colonists, to tie the two series together.

  38. Zak McKracken says:

    Shamus, you really should have turned that conversation into a Stolen Pixels thing.

    Kashley: So what about Cerberus and you?

    Shephard: Yeah, that was terrible, Sorry. I tried as hard as I could not to work with them but they gave me no choice. There was just no other option.

    Kashley: Do you actually believe if you had not done it the reapers would have won in some strange way? I don’t get it.

    Shephard: No, it was more like … I opened my mouth to tell them to buzz of but then I always said something nice, do you know that feeling?

    Kashley: oh, yeah that’s awkward…

    …actually there must be a really good pun in there somewhere but I can’t find the dialogue option that will produce it, dammit!

  39. Metheos says:

    The main problem with the Council scene is one that plagues the game as a whole: there is no attempt to distinguish “War Assets” that help build the Crucible (scientists, engineers, building materials, translations) from assets that are only relevant to warfare (soldiers, warships, gun technology). IMO, much of the seeming stupidity of the conversation with the Council comes from the fact that Shepard is asking for military assets instead of scientific/engineering help. The idea may have been that they need military force to protect the Crucible, but that doesn’t fit to me: the key with the Crucible was secrecy, because if the Reapers find out about it and attack, it’s unlikely that any amount of military strength would save it. Of course it ultimately turns out that Cerberus / the Reapers get the Catalyst and having a strong military fleet is necessary to get the it back, but there’s no way Shepard could have known that would happen. This issue recurs throughout the game, since you alternate between collecting engineering assets that have a clear purpose (build the Crucible) and collecting military assets for the sake of a vaguely described ‘attack’ in the future against a foe that can’t be beaten by conventional warfare.

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