I know the last two entries distracted from the main plot of the game to talk about Cerberus. This is fitting, since Cerberus is itself a distraction from the main plot of the game.
But now it’s time to pick up where we left off:
A Bloodless Coup
Cerberus has invaded the Citadel, shot all the civiliansBecause otherwise how would we know they’re the bad guys? and are trying to kill the Galactic Council. Kai Leng shows up and does some ninja flips, Shepard acts like a dumbass in several consecutive cutscenes, and at the end you end up in a standoff with Kashley, having yet another argument about trust.
I know everyone wants to pounce on Kai Leng and talk about him, but let’s put him off for now, because there are a lot of other things going on in these cutscenes.
If the Kashley debates had been any good, this might be a great character moment. But they’ve been angst-ridden cliches, so this isn’t a payoff or a conclusion to an ongoing exchange. It’s just more of the same “Trust me / I don’t trust people who work for Cerberus / But no seriously trust me / But Cerberus tho” dialog.
The big reveal here is that Udina betrayed the council. So a Human betrayed the council to other humans but then a Human saved them. And then C-sec showed up – they’re all human now too, by the way – to wrap up the scene and assure Kashley that Shepard is fighting Cerberus, not working for them. The Asari and the Turian council members are also in this scene, but they’re basically scenery. They get a couple of lines, but the Humans drive the story.
The writer is so pro-human I’m starting to think they’re working for Cerberus.
Again, this might be an interesting twist if Cerberus was about something, or if this was a payoff of some kind. Or if this had been foreshadowed at all. (Remember how vigorously the writer foreshadowed the twists and betrayals in KOTOR and Jade Empire?) But no. This is more stuff that just sort of happens with no build-up.
What was Udina’s plan here? Cerberus would kill the rest of the council, and then what? Did he think he would become king of the galaxy? The Wiki says he wanted to stage a “bloodless coup” to “arrest the Council and force them to grant him the emergency power necessary to order all Citadel forces to Earth”. Except, that’s not how any marginally developed governing body works. If one supreme court justice assassinated the other eight, he wouldn’t become Judge Supreme. Lines of succession exist to prevent this very thing. I have to imagine that advanced species like the Salarians, Asari, and Turians are familiar with the pitfalls of primitive power struggles. This idiot coup reveals a child-level view of politics.
Even if Udina did somehow wind up the only person on the council, did he think the entire Asari military would abandon their homeworld and start obeying him just because he took over? And even if all of those unlikely things are true, did he really think Cerberus was the one to solve this problem for him?
Like Jacob, Miranda, and Joker, Udina seems to have a completely unrealistic view of Cerberus that’s divorced from anything we’re shown in the game.
This twist wasn’t properly set up, it wasn’t foreshadowed, and then once it happened the writer didn’t put in any of the work needed to support it. Udina did something idiotic and destructive not because it fit with his personality or advanced his goals, but because the writer had an idea for an “awesome” section where we fight Cerberus on the Citadel, and they decided to use the Udina character to excuse it.
Udina was a pragmatist and had no love for the other races. This made him an interesting ideological foil for a alien-loving paragon Shepard. But the Mass Effect 3 writer doesn’t understand subtlety, so in their cartoon version of Mass Effect you’re either a saint or a super villain.
Udina’s actions aren’t explained well enough to make this twist interesting. Even if we’re willing to entertain the preposterous notion that an independent terrorist organization can invade the galactic seat of powerAnd a sci-fi story could totally make that work, provided the author is willing to explain how it’s possible. Which this one wasn’t., Cerberus has nothing to gain by doing so. If Kai Leng is an assassin then why didn’t he, you know, assassinate these people in an ambush instead of charging in with the Space Marines?
Everything is so beautifully wrong. Every character is out of character. This is wrong in terms of character motivations. It’s wrong in terms of what should be possible given the rules of the universe. Every conversation is packed with jarring oddities. Every battle is preposterous and every cutscene has Shepard negating the player’s victory through brazen cutscene incompetence. None of this fits with what came before and it doesn’t establish a payoff for later.
This is one of the reasons Mass Effect 2 and 3 are so bewildering, and why I began this series. The game has these stark shifts in quality from one moment to the next. Hitman: Absolution is objectively a dumber game than Mass Effect 3. But Absolution doesn’t have these wonderful flashes of vibrant creativity and depth. It’s mostly uniform lowbrow crap. But Mass Effect 3 does these abrupt slam-cuts between brilliance and bullshit. One minute we’re discussing the moral implications of using a synthetic plague to prevent a war that would kill billions, and in the next we’re having a swordfight(!?!) with Kai Leng as he leads the forces of Blue Laser on a mission to gun down all the human civilians on the Citadel in the name of Human Supremacy Or Whatever. It’s like having bits of I, Robot interleaved with bits of Eye of Argon.
In a strange way I think the moments of quality actually make the game feel worse. The fun side-missions – filled with smart dialogBy the standards of the supposed action-adventure tone this game seems to be aiming for. I’m not claiming this is Asimov or anything. and attention to detail – hang around just long enough for us to get used to them before they’re rudely yanked away again. It’s like someone alternating between giving me ice cream and punches to the face. I don’t know what to make of this experience. This isn’t something you usually see in fiction. It happened sometimes in Star Trek, but the shifts were usually between episodes, seasons, or even shows. You didn’t usually see the quality oscillate from scene to scene the way we do in Mass Effect 3.
Once cornered, Udina breaks character yet again and pulls out a… gun? And not to defend himself, but to try and brazenly murder the Asari councilor in front of everyone? Maybe? I have no idea what he thinks he’s doing. Is he planning to shoot his way through Shepard’s squad and all of C-sec to cover up his crime?
He’s killed in the resulting standoff, which nicely ends the scene without putting the writer into a position where they might be obligated to justify this mess.
Kai Leng retreats, and I guess all the Cerberus guys teleport away.
Shepard finds a remote outpost of ex-Cerberus scientists who have left the organization and are on the run. Jacob is helping them escape, and of course Cerberus is sending waves and waves of space marines to murder them all. TIM has decided that in the name of Human superiority, he needs to kill all these valuable, highly trained human scientistsAnd also their spouses and children! rather than allow them to go elsewhere and perform research that didn’t kill humans.
During the conversation about Cerberus Jacob muses, “You ever wonder where it all went wrong? I mean… was I blind?”
I dunno Jacob. You never gave an adequate reason for joining up with them in the first place. Then again, the dialog wheel never let me ask you – or tell you – about their crimes. I honestly can’t tell if you were blind because the writer never allowed us to have a conversation where I could understand your point of view. Did you even have one?
A few paragraphs I mentioned how good the non-Cerberus sidequests are. Here’s a good example:
Before I talk about Lessus I have to say: Thanks to whoever wrote the descriptions of all these planets. They’re wonderfulExcept for the one earlier in the game that claimed the size of the planet and orbital distance were “classified”. That one was silly.. Every planet in the game has one. They’re full of history, cultural notes, and little scientific details. I’m glad someone at BioWare still enjoys worldbuilding.
The entry on Lesuss explains why you’d have this seemingly uninhabited yet habitable planet in a universe with so many crowding problems. It’s the planetary equivalent of a swamp: Nobody wants to live there because it’s uncomfortable. I love details like this that manage to head off questions before I even think to ask them. It makes the universe feel more real.
I love this section of the game. We’re visiting a monastery for Ardat-Yakshi. They’re Asari with a defect that causes them to destroy their partner’s brain during mating instead of melding with them harmoniously. Imagine Mr. Spock doing a mind meld. Now imagine Mr. Spock is also a Siren. And also a mind flayer. That should give you an idea of what we’re talking about here. It’s a medical condition with no cure. These Asari are simultaneously prisoners and patients. The concern is that if they were allowed to roam free, then sooner or later they’d get horny and melt some poor sod’s brain.
If Samara is alive then you bump into her here and meet a couple of her daughters, and get some additional (if heart-wrenching) closure to her story.
Mechanically, the mission is used to introduce the banshee monster type. Every major race has a corresponding “husk” style monster in the Reaper forces, and this is what you get when you husk an Asari. They’re probably the most dangerousI’m sure this varies by difficulty mode. I’ve never entertained playing the game on hard (much less insanity) and I gather it’s a very different experience. ground forces in the game, if only for their insta-kill attack that happens if you get too close.
I do enjoy the idea that all of the other races turn into these awesome badass monsters when enslaved by the Reapers, but humans just turn into cannon fodder zombies. It’s nice to find some small corner of the game where humans aren’t the Most Important People.
 Because otherwise how would we know they’re the bad guys?
 And a sci-fi story could totally make that work, provided the author is willing to explain how it’s possible. Which this one wasn’t.
 By the standards of the supposed action-adventure tone this game seems to be aiming for. I’m not claiming this is Asimov or anything.
 And also their spouses and children!
 Except for the one earlier in the game that claimed the size of the planet and orbital distance were “classified”. That one was silly.
 I’m sure this varies by difficulty mode. I’ve never entertained playing the game on hard (much less insanity) and I gather it’s a very different experience.
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