Mass Effect Retrospective 42: A Thoughtless Coup

By Shamus
on Apr 7, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

160 comments

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

You know how some people play Hitman WRONG? Like, they just load up on guns and wander around shooting everyone, hoping sooner or later they`ll come across their target? Apparently that`s how Cerberus does assassinations.

You know how some people play Hitman WRONG? Like, they just load up on guns and wander around shooting everyone, hoping sooner or later they`ll come across their target? Apparently that`s how Cerberus does assassinations.

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.

This is a good idea for a scene. Too bad the writer didn`t build a foundation of motivations and rules to make it work.

This is a good idea for a scene. Too bad the writer didn`t build a foundation of motivations and rules to make it work.

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?

Is this a reference to Mass Effect 1? Because in ME1, Udina made unsupported accuasions against Saren, and Shepard is the one who got the proof to back it up. This is the most wrong person to deliver this line of dialog, particularly when the rest of the council is standing nearby.

Is this a reference to Mass Effect 1? Because in ME1, Udina made unsupported accuasions against Saren, and Shepard is the one who got the proof to back it up. This is the most wrong person to deliver this line of dialog, particularly when the rest of the council is standing nearby.

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.

CLEARLY the best way to stage a bloodless coup is to send in mechanized infantry and Emo Nightwing with a katana.

CLEARLY the best way to stage a bloodless coup is to send in mechanized infantry and Emo Nightwing with a katana.

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.

Gellix

I dunno Jacob. I suspect it`s for the same reason we in the audience never got to see the GOOD: This writer has no idea how their universe works or what motivates people.

I dunno Jacob. I suspect it`s for the same reason we in the audience never got to see the GOOD: This writer has no idea how their universe works or what motivates people.

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:

Lesuss

I like how the climate of this planet shaped its development. More thought was put into the history of Lesuss than was put into the entire colony of Horizon in Mass Effect 2.

I like how the climate of this planet shaped its development. More thought was put into the history of Lesuss than was put into the entire colony of Horizon in Mass Effect 2.

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 the writer wanted a `bittersweet` resolution to Mass Effect 3, they should have consulted this story. It nails the feeling of a victory won through personal, character-based sacrifice.

If the writer wanted a `bittersweet` resolution to Mass Effect 3, they should have consulted this story. It nails the feeling of a victory won through personal, character-based sacrifice.

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.

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Footnotes:

[1] Because otherwise how would we know they’re the bad guys?

[2] 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.

[3] 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.

[4] And also their spouses and children!

[5] Except for the one earlier in the game that claimed the size of the planet and orbital distance were “classified”. That one was silly.

[6] 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.



A Hundred!202020Many comments. 160, if you're a stickler

From the Archives:

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Main plot of the game?Ha!Thats a good one.

  2. Ira says:

    Nitpick: there are nine supreme court justices in the US, not seven.

    I’m not sure I’d have picked Asimov as my example of smart dialogue either? Asimov had very smart ideas, but I remember his dialogue usually being lacklustre.

    Incidentally, I’m a bit surprised you didn’t link Josh’s old comments on Udina and the coup. The potential to use the set-up for both character and world building – showing Udina’s desperation to get more troops to Earth not only characterises Udina, it fleshes out the situation on Earth and helps communicate its seriousness to the player – ultimately makes the mission more disappointing than it would have been otherwise.

    • Shamus says:

      1. Whoops. Forgot to account for inflation. Fixed.

      2. That was actually a nitpick shield so people wouldn’t harangue me for saying the dialog was “smart” and having them throw “we fight or we die” back in my face. It’s all relative, anyway. If you don’t like Asimov, substitute whoever. If we haggle over the individual building blocks of analogies of footnotes used to make supporting arguments we’ll all be sentenced to meta-hell.

      3. I’d totally forgotten about that. (I remember stuff I write better than the stuff other people write, which is terrifying since I barely remember the stuff I write.)

      • Ira says:

        Fair enough. I’m not trying to dump on Asimov, for what it’s worth. Asimov is actually a fantastic example of really well done ideas-first science fiction. I just think he tends to go a bit lighter on drama or character.

        • Mersadeon says:

          And for good reason. I remember reading the Foundation trilogy and being engrossed whenever he explained broad cultural and political changes and feeling pretty let-down whenever the only average character dialogue tried to make it more personal.

          • I’ve found that this is INCREDIBLY common with male authors–the ideas are cool, the characters are basically vehicles for shuttling ideas around. Female authors often but not always go the other way–the characters are intriguing, the ideas are nonexistent.

            The former leads to having a cool book that has basically no plot action, just a series of things that happen one after another (because you need character motivations to have real plot action and conflict). The second leads to real plot action, but it’s basically cookie-cutter stuff you’ve seen a billion times before.

            Btw if you’re looking around for a very cool ideas science fiction novel, I recommend Fragment by Warren Fahy. http://www.amazon.com/Fragment-Novel-Warren-Fahy/dp/0553592459/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1460064016&sr=8-1&keywords=Fragment

            • guy says:

              The former leads to having a cool book that has basically no plot action, just a series of things that happen one after another (because you need character motivations to have real plot action and conflict).

              I think that’s overstating it, especially with Asimov. Though I’d actually say putting it like that plays into the theme of the Foundation trilogy.

              The way I’d put it is that it (if done well) results in a plot that isn’t focused on the characters; it’s focused on the world. The characters are simply how we perceive a conflict between their ideologies and how technology impacts that conflict. They can be described in a handful of adjectives because ultimately that’s what matters to the billions of people their actions impact. That’s an outright theme of the Foundation series; in one of the stories where the Foundation encounters the remant of the Empire, there’s a confrontation with a powerful general who boasts that he’ll defeat the Foundation and their claims that the inevitable march of history will allow them to triumph.

              Then the Foundation merchant wins without lifting a finger and the story ends with him explaining the historical pattern that doomed any campaign against them; it’s pretty much lifted straight from Byzantine history. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how good the general is or what he thinks about the Foundation; a successful campaign is impossible. If there’s a strong general under a weak emperor, he’ll probably overthrow the emperor and if he doesn’t the empire won’t be able to support a major offensive. If there’s a strong emperor, he’ll try to keep his generals from getting too powerful. If a strong emperor is also a strong general, that would be trouble, but he can’t spend too much time leading his armies in the field or he’ll be undermined by palace politics. The worst-case scenario is a strong emperor and a trusted and loyal strong general, but that won’t last too long. And those pressures are what matters; the men themselves are just puppets dancing on the strings of inevitability, and they don’t even see it.

              Anyways, as far as I’m concerned you don’t need individual motivations for a plot; you need a thread connecting the events. A reason why those events happened in that order. Whether that’s a satisfying story is of course a matter of personal taste, but the Rachi Wars to Genophage story has a plot even though we don’t know any of the characters.

              • I take plot to mean more than “a bunch of stuff that happens”. If you take that as your definition, something like “I went to the store, then I got my hair done, then I took a shower” is a “plot”.

                A plot is *purposeful* action directed toward a *goal*. And you can’t have purpose without people, who must have motivations, otherwise who cares. Novels without real characterization may have a story, but they have no plot.

                Problems with giving characters compelling motivations are also the reason why villains are often so much more compelling than heroes–the villain is the only one who has any purpose. The hero’s only purpose is “stop that guy”.

              • Bryan says:

                That’s actually pretty silly. It implies that an Empire cannot conquer anything, whereas empires do in fact conquer things and kill political rivals on a regular basis. Saying that this general could not conquer the foundation because imperial politics are inherently unstable is insane, because the byzantine empire lasted for a thousand years and conquered-and killed- many opponents. If you want to argue that he was saying that the empire could not last forever, that would be true, but it would have no bearing on his ability to conquer the Foundation right then.

                • guy says:

                  At that point in time the Foundation was reasonably big and could survive a multi-year offensive until one of those things ended the campaign. They’d potentially lose considerable ground, but any war would end well before Terminus fell, and they’d regroup and retake their lost territory within the century.

                  It’s a pretty good fit for the Byzantine empire; more than a few times campaigns ended because the Emperor was getting worried about the general leading it getting too strong, major offensives happened when the Emperor led them in person, and many emperors rose from the military via a coup. The specific story was based off Justinian and Belisarius, the emperor and general who came close to retaking Italy, but Justinian kept canceling campaigns and calling Belisarius home because he was doing too well and looked like a threat.

                  He had another general who had been castrated and therefore wasn’t considered a candidate for the throne, who led a later phase of the campaign.

                • ehlijen says:

                  I think you might be conflating empire with emperor. Just because an emperor is supplanted by one of his generals doesn’t mean the empire fell.

                  Hari’s computations weren’t 100% specific, but they were more specific than ‘an empire can’t conquer anything’. It was more along the lines of ‘a decaying empire culturally based on millenniums of maintaining the status quo and desperate to avoid collapse is not stable or mentally prepared enough to return to an expansion stance’.

                  The idea was that no one in the entire imperial leadership was still capable of thinking in the way necessary to avoid collapse. Empires can conquer. This particular empire was too decayed to do so.

            • JakeyKakey says:

              Bit generalised, but I don’t really disagree. Seems to be a classic extension of the two genders leaning towards analytical/emotional respectively, and that particular 50’s/60’s era of Sci-Fi was very heavily driven by ‘big ideas’.

              Saying that though, Asimov is rather famously dry and direct even by the standards of his contemporaries.

              • Oddly l find that many of his murder mysteries (yes, Asimov wrote murder mysteries) were better in this regard because if you’re going to have a murder you really can’t function without some kind of coherent motive, even if it’s rather cerebral.

              • Also I don’t think it’s analytical/emotional so much as that women, I think, tend to be more interested in personal motivations than men do. Women are HIGHLY analytical (ask any guy who’s ever been cross-examined by an irritated gf or spouse). We’re just stereotypically more conscious of social relations.

                • Wide And Nerdy says:

                  I’m curious what you think of New Vegas then. Its kind of my high watermark for writing in a game (at least ones I’ve played so far.) In particular, you the hero are allowed to have a motive beyond “stop that guy.” Its a world built on people pursuing goals for reasons.

                  But I’d be open to hearing criticism on that. People talk about how Obsidian doesn’t have the strongest characters (though I think they’re comparing Obsidian companions to Bioware ones when they say that.)

                  I guess Undertale is pretty good too. Harder to tell with video games because the plot often tries to accommodate the player.

                  (Don’t worry about offending me. I respect you and I know its a warty game.)

                  • Poncho says:

                    For me, New Vegas’ strong suit was the very clever decision matrix that accounted for nearly any type of playstyle, wherein that particular style was meant to have a unique path to success in several major quests. It doesn’t do “Fun” characters like quirky, feel-good moments of machismo or emotional depth in the way Bioware does them, it does very good “rational” characters in that no matter the path the player takes to succeed, they always get an appropriately in-character response. Obsidian knows how to write a table-top experience.

                    Your cannibal will have a very different path to success in certain quests than a paragon-of-light goody two-shoes and still different from the straight up bullet-monger, or the seducing succubus, or the straight-talking charismatic jerk. The game’s biggest strong suit is pathing those decisions, if that makes sense.

                    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                      Oh I see that wholeheartedly. I just wanted to know if the game met Snow’s standard of having enough character development for a good plot.

                • LassLisa says:

                  It’s an interesting point – I notice it not so much with authors’ genders but it does mesh nicely with the arguments I have with my partner about SF authors. E.g., Rudy Rucker tends to make me go “Ahhh! This is terrible! No woman in the world has ever acted this way! These characters are just a series of plot actions with no plausible motive!” But he thinks, “oh, this is such an interesting concept of hyperspace!” (me, I read physics books for that).

                  It’s not entirely political, either – e.g. Gene Wolfe we both like, because even though sometimes I get annoyed at his narrators’ essentialist gender statements/views, the actual *characters* are fleshed out and I find them believable. But my interest in SF comes from the ways that society is shown responding to technological changes; if the people aren’t believable, then I can’t trust the author’s understanding of human nature and so their projections of societal changes aren’t believable either.

            • Mersadeon says:

              I admit I have exactly this problem – partially, I am sure, because of my love for this classical “light on good character dialogue”-science-fiction, and partially because at heart, I am a DM that loves to create worlds. This always leads to my stories being heavy on worldbuilding but with somewhat uninteresting characters.

              Thanks for the recommendation!

            • John David Bryce Hughes says:

              The God’s War series by Kameron Hurley is, to my mind, one of the best series’ for getting both. The characters are incredible, the setting is super interesting, and they both mesh perfectly.

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          Asimov has an ability to write pretty engaging stuff about what’s happened off-stage and is only relevant from consequence, but that’s really important because pretty much ALL of the important stuff that happens in Asimov stories has happened off-stage and is already over by the time the reader learns about it. There’s more nail-biting action in a Niven chapter about greeting diplomats than there is in an entire Asimov novel.

      • Trix2000 says:

        Is meta-hell like real hell only with people drowning in technicalities?

      • Sleepyfoo says:

        Technically, if the other 8 Supreme Court Judges died all at once, the last Judge would in fact be The Court and able to decide cases however she wanted. So she kinda does become Judge Supreme, at least for a bit.

        Presumably the Justice wouldn’t decide much, and replacement Justices would be appointed quick, but there’s nothing illegal about that.

        Except, of course, the assassinations necessary to bring about that particular circumstance. And it’s really hard to think of a way for that to happen naturally.

        Peace : )

        • Guile says:

          Would they be appointed quickly? Maybe Mitch McConnell would block new appointments to spite Obama and we’d get to keep the Judge Supreme for 8 months.

          Ooh, topical!

          • Sleepyfoo says:

            No! Bad! No Real Life Politics! *Wags Finger*

            More seriously, assuming the Government functions as intended (or at least as legally set up) The Judge Supreme could declare the necessity for re-trials and only decide on the truly time sensitive stuff (assuming there is any). In the not suspected of assassination case away.

            With even a hint of foul play, the Law enforcement portion of the Executive Branch, most notably the Justice Department, would in various ways prevent the Judge Supreme from working, at least so long as they were a suspect or potential target. Presumably, such an investigation would be long enough for the appointment process to go through. Because even if it wasn’t them directly setting themselves up as Judge Supreme, someone was perverting the system to their own ends with that idea, and that is not Acceptable.

            So, while Legally, and Technically, they would be Judge Supreme, the rest of the government has the means and obligation to minimize that potential abuse of power.

            Peace : )

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      There are seven justices of the High Court of Australia. Why do you have to dump on my one chance to pretend that an American is acknowledging my country? :P

      (Also, every state of Australia has a Supreme Court, but the High Court operates at a federal level and is higher than all of the Supreme Courts. Yes, it’s stupid. Comes from all of those Supreme Courts being established back when the states were separate colonies and nobody bothering to change the names since.)

  3. Coming_Second says:

    Technically, banshees are just what you get if you huskify ardat-yakshi. The fact Bioware didn’t answer the question of what regular asari husks were like is just one more way they bugged the hell out of me with this game.

    • Shamus says:

      I should have brought this up.

      I know the game CLAIMS this is where Banshees come from, but my mind simply refuses to accept it. It’s too insane. Ardat-yakshi are supposedly this rare, exotic condition. And at the end of this section Samara’s daughter destroys most of them with a bomb.

      But we fight tons of banshees in this game. We fight enough to re-fill the monastery, and we have to assume that Shepard isn’t the only one to encounter them.

      • Ayegill says:

        Actually, didn’t Samara say in ME2 that there were only three Ardat-Yakshi in the entire galaxy(her daughters)? Was that just retconned or am I imagining things?

        • Henson says:

          According to the Mass Effect Wiki, Samara did say that there are only three of them (I remember this too), but that “less severe cases are supposedly more common.” In other words, yes, it’s a retcon. And a clumsy one, at that.

          • Flip says:

            How does a less severe case even look like? Does your partner fall into a coma after sex?

          • Deager says:

            Technically Samara said,

            “Three. And three Ardat-Yakshi are in existence today. It is as it sounds.”

            but she she didn’t say

            “There are only three in existence.”

            I actually never took the meaning in ME2 to be that only 3 existed at all. That didn’t make much sense to me given millions of Asari and then no follow-up dialogue from Shepard to ask how is it Samara and her partner or partners were the only ones to produce Ardat-Yakshi. Others have pointed that out down the comments here as well with regards to the numbers of Asari and such.

            • Henson says:

              While the first statement doesn’t technically say ‘only’, it is probably the most horrendous wording I could imagine for ‘all three of my children are Ardat-Yakshi, of which there are many’. Someone reprimand that writer.

              • Deager says:

                EDIT: In short Henson, I agree with you. /EDIT

                For sure. I was running out to an appointment when I wrote that comment and was later thinking I should have pointed out how terrible that phrasing was. I probably used the word “technically” because I’m pretty much saying, “Yeah, it was crap but The Writer can sort-of get away with it.” But not really.

                I found the entire codex entry here from the tlk file too for ME2. I’m with Shamus. A player shouldn’t have to go into the codex to confirm or learn something. Samara’s statement pretty much does imply “only three exist today” despite…yeah, it was bad. I probably had read the codex on my first run so that may have changed my view and it would be easy for someone to hear Samara make that statement and not assume The Writer would let Shepard ask the obvious questions since ME2 had already proven to be lacking in that department at times.

                Ardat-Yakshi (“demon of the night winds”) are asari suffering from a genetic disorder preventing conventional melding of nervous systems during mating. Instead, Ardat-Yakshi electro-chemically ravage their partners’ nervous systems, in extreme cases leaving victims as vegetative invalids or corpses. Asari psychologists regard this incapacity for mental fusion as preventing the development of empathy, leading to psychopathy. There is no known cure.

                The disorder generally begins in infancy, reaching full pathology during Maiden adolescent sexual development. While seductive and sexually-driven as other asari, Ardat-Yakshi are congenitally sterile.

                Ancient asari mythology held Ardat-Yakshi as gods of destruction, depicting them as villains of countless legends and as the anti-heroes of numerous asari epics.

                Contrary to popular belief, Ardat-Yakshi are neither extremely rare (around one per cent of asari dwell on the AY spectrum), nor are they all murderers. Most cultivate and discard countless exploitative or abusive relationships during their legally marginal lives. Despite rumors of Ardat-Yakshi syndicates, by nature Ardat-Yakshi are incapable of long-term cooperation.

                As a disproportionately wealthy species, asari employ their economic reach and media ownership to hide the AY pathology from the galactic community, placing most Ardat-Yakshi in monitored work programs or seclusion. Only the most aggressive cases are sentenced to sanitaria and prisons or to the execution lists of justicars.

              • Ayegill says:

                Maybe “you can’t communicate clearly” is part of the Justicar codex?

                • Deager says:

                  LOL. You’re probably right.

                • RCN says:

                  Lawful stupid and stupidly proud? That sounds just like the Justicars to me. Samara always rubbed me the complete wrong way.

                  Or maybe it was because the cold from having that huge cleavage makes her literally forgets the fine details of the things she’s supposed to hold out and carry out without questioning. So she can’t really remember Asari history, law and culture all that well, but she still has to kill without question anyone who breaks these and anyone who she perceives as being in her way. Would it hurt her to be slightly less dumb?

                  • Staff Cdr Alenko says:

                    The confusion between the Codex entry and the Samara conversation should have been the perfect excuse to just stay the hell away from the subject and instead have the Reapers transform normal asari — essentially producing “asari husks”. They still could look terrifying and have biotic attacks. Instead they just couldn’t resist going full Michael Bay on them, insta-kill attacks and everything, and ended up with even more confusion. This is what I love about this game, it basically shoots itself in the foot every chance it gets, doing everything it can to bring its problems to the attention of the audience. It doesn’t need poking, it falls apart on its own.

                    • Poncho says:

                      This is what I thought was happening in my first run of ME3. Then I realized in this mission that they imply that Banshees only come from Ardat-Yakshi, which is even more confusing.

        • Artur CalDazar says:

          I cannot recall if the game addresses it directly but given it does say that there is a government conspiracy to hide all evidence that Ardat-yakshi exist, so the idea that somebody was lied to is an easy one to accept. However to my memory the game never gives an explanation so it’s not a smooth change.

          The codex does say that Asari with latent Ardat-yakshi-ism can become Banshees so its not needed for them to be an outrageous number in the location.

          • Slothfulcobra says:

            Except for that one artisinally made Ardat Yakshi marinade that you can hear about in Zajera Ward. Gotta love writers working at cross purposes.

            • guy says:

              I don’t think it’s supposed to be outright secret; the sense I got from the Codex entry is that it just doesn’t make the news, journal articles on the condition are sort of tucked out of the way, and prevalence statistics don’t get published. It’s not a secret that some Ardat Yakshi exist and get sent to monasteries; what’s secret is where the monastery is and how many don’t get sent to monastaries, and that’s not so much “classified” as “not talked about.”

          • Corpital says:

            I vagely remember some codex entry stating about one percent of the whole Asari population having this genetic defect.

            For me, that makes sense. At least more sense than, for example, a planet with 10billion Asari on it and every single one with a child wish finding some non-Asari to mate.

            • Ninety-Three says:

              That makes so much less sense. One percent of the population have an invisible defect that makes them kill people with sex? It must be impossible to screen for it, because if there was genetic screening and the defect was common, all Asari would be screened, but Samara managed to have two kids with it then decide to have a third kid so they clearly weren’t screened. That’s not the kind of thing you can cover up! Even a perfect government conspiracy couldn’t possibly hide that, at the very least Asari would become infamous for having an astoundingly high rate at which they murdered their first lovers.

              • guy says:

                It’s of varying degrees of severity. Only the most extreme cases are actually fatal; one of the ambiant conversations is an Asari commando with an Ardat-Yakshi lover who got turned into a banshee. I got the impression that only the few dozen confined to the monostary actually killed people.

                • Poncho says:

                  This makes ME2’s Samara storyline way less interesting. They played up the Ardat-Yakshi and made them a super huge deal. When you talk to Aria, she’s all “wow you’re going to have a tough time with that,” “what, you aren’t going to deal with her?” “Why should I? She hasn’t tried to seduce me, yet.”

                  I mean they’re called “Demon of the Night Winds.” This isn’t some autistic spectrum here, it’s a genetic disease that causes death by snoo snoo. You don’t give something an awesome name and a huge cultural aversion just to undercut it in ME3 to give us cool banshees to fight.

                  • guy says:

                    The Codex entry was in ME2 to begin with. It is implied that only the ones confined to monasteries or hunted down are called Ardat-Yakshi, while it’s only used when discussing others in a scientific context.

                  • Mephane says:

                    You don’t give something an awesome name and a huge cultural aversion just to undercut it in ME3 to give us cool banshees to fight.

                    Well if this series has shown us one thing, it is that the ME writers are willing to undercut absolutely anything established in a previous game.

              • Corpital says:

                I didn’t even think about having to cover that up, I just wanted to say it makes sense in regard to the sheer number of AY/banshees you encounter in the game. You’re absolutely correct and I should have phrased that better.

        • Orillion says:

          Samara said a lot of things. There’s nothing about her that suggests she’s the high authority on Ardat-Yakshi. It’s perfectly logical to suppose she might not even know there are more until she sees the monastery for herself.

          • Poncho says:

            1. She’s a Justicar. I’m going to trust the space paladin whose been hunting a space demon for 400 years on their knowledge of space demons.

            2. She’s almost 1000 years old.

            3. She sent her kids to the monastery – Morinth didn’t go / escaped which is why she’s hunted down in ME2.

      • Coming_Second says:

        Yeah, I think I rationalised it similarly when I was playing it – it wasn’t like I hadn’t had to basically ignore what I was being told to make anything make sense before then. The game does remember its own logic though, because if you let Morinth survive over Samara she turns up as one.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Still,keep in mind that asari live for thousands of years,and are pretty populous.So if we disregard the retcon others mention,even a rare genetic defect in such a race would yield thousands of live individuals.

      • krellen says:

        Am I wrong in remembering something somewhere saying Ardat-Yakshi can only result from Asari/Asari pairings, thus implying that the cultural imperative against “pure bloods” was, in part, an attempt to curtail the A-Y problem?

        • Mersadeon says:

          I remember this, too, so I’m inclined to say it’s true. I remember asking myself at the time if the anti-purebred sentiment was deliberately sown by the government (since Asari really care about how other races perceive them, and being perceived as “Russian Roulette of Sex” is pretty bad) or if it had come about naturally – since Asari, once the galaxy had opened up for them and inter-species melding became a not-rare experience, probably figured out “hey, no-one who did it with an alien ever got an Ardat-Yakshi, that’s way better”.

      • paercebal says:

        With more time/resources, Bioware could have done something that would have been awesome:

        – common husks of every species (e.g. the human husks we see in Eden Prime, in ME1), created from bodies impaled on the dragonteeth, used for shock/horror/infantry purposes

        – rare husks, created from rare specimens or rare combination (e.g. the Banshee from asari with latent, recessive or declared Ardat-Yakshi gene, the Brute which is basically a husked Krogan with a turian brain, etc.), created in “factories” or whatever

        The first being the infantry zombies, the second being the artillery frankensteins.

        Too bad the common husks lost their horror fast…

        • Kavonde says:

          I strongly agree, a more diverse set of Reaper ground forces to fight would have been really appreciated. Shame they didn’t have more resources to devote to making the Reaper troops more interesting. I can’t think of anything they might have cut or reduced to clear the space for that. Not a single nonsensical, mostly-new faction full of brand new models, animations, sound effects, voicework, and AI routines, all of which could have been better used to make the supposed core threat of the series more interesting and engaging. Ah well.

          • Gruhunchously says:

            I know right? They really should have just ditched the Genophage arc. Maybe some of the ship conversations as well. It would have allowed them time to work on the important stuff, and perhaps work in a few extra scenes with Kai Leng.

  4. Dovius says:

    I quite like the idea behind the Ardat-Yakshi.

    It’s easy to just call them space vampires and leave them at that, but I feel it’s got an interesting flavour due to it being intrinsically connected to unique aspects of Asari biology (All of them are natural Biotics with no weird Eezo exposure necessary, and they’re the only known species able to produce viable offspring with species significantly different from their own), and a large part of how the galaxy sees them (“Dem Asari sure bang a lotta people, now don’t they?”). It gives additional credence to the Matriarchs hiding them away besides the standard ‘This is our problem and responsibility’ because if it became widespread knowledge that there’s Asari that can kill you by attempting sex, that could take a turn down Shitcreek Ave. real damn quick in terms of social contacts and such.

    It also adds an extra facet to the Asari government in general when looking at how they handle the issue. It’d be easy for them to just shoot anyone that they find that turns out to be an Ardat-Yakshi, and for all we know genetic screening has advanced to the point where they might be able to detect it at a pre-natal state, but instead they’re separated from normal society and allowed to live out their lives. Given that we’re shown a direct example of an Ardat-Yakshi that didn’t do that and instead became an insane psychopath addicted to the murder-sex, it’s a surprisingly humane solution to such an issue that they’re treated in such a relatively normal way.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      It’s easy to just call them space vampires and leave them at that

      That was pretty much what I did. The Asari already strain plausibility with their blatantly fanservicey nature as an all-female race of hot bisexual aliens with a cultural imperative for interspecies sex (which they’re somehow physically capable of). Introducing the Ardat-Yakshi as sex vampires felt like we were jumping into fanfiction territory. Suddenly they have mind control powers which the game never bothers to explain, and are only used for sex.

      The whole thing is creepy, and I don’t mean creepy like a horror story, but creepy like an anime body-pillow.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I always found the fanservicey nature of Asari regrettable, the “you perceive them that way because it’s part of their abilities developed to make friends better” lampshading notwithstanding (at least they don’t breathe through their skin…). They’d be much more interesting if they were something repulsive or at the very least alien (by humanoid standards) but managed to get into a position of power primarily with their diplomatic skills. Even keeping the “mating” thing (the mechanics of it aside) would still stress their abilities in socializing and manipulation on an individual level.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    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.

    A thought occurs:
    There is a very simple way in which most of the plot holes in both me2 and me3 couldve been solved AND have them be foreshadowed in me1.And that way is to make cerberus into robots.

    Hear me out.We had foreshadowing about humans dabbling with ai in the first game.And we had that stupid resurrection of shepard in the second one,coupled with even stupider sudden influx of mooks in the third.So what if somewhere near the half of me3 we found out that tim is actually a replica of the original tim,the one who founded cerberus,and the one we never met.This tim took over once it was created,and then decided to take matters into its own hands and stick it to the rest of the galaxy.

    A robotic cerberus could solve the problem of how shepard was resurrected easily(shepard is also a replica),how so many mooks and ships spawned from practically nowhere(self replicating robots solve a bunch of logistical problems,though admittedly not all),and most importantly,why the star child keeps babbling about synthetics waring with organics.Some plot holes would remain,but not as many as there are now.

    • Henson says:

      I feel like we’re heading in the direction of some version of the alternate FF8 story interpretation, where Shepard is actually dead and the last two games are a fever dream as he floats through space.

  6. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    Good Robot is still on the front page of Steam. Checked in multiple browsers on different machines to make sure Steam wasn’t just showing me what I wanted to see. So cool.

    Sorry, I hope this is an acceptable instance of breaking topic.

    • MichaelGC says:

      It’s impressive, isn’t it! Only just now down to 5th as my list has it, and that’s only due to the arrival of three bits of Train Simulator DLC. South Wales Coast Edition must I guess be the new hotness as that seems to be listed twice.

      In fact if we limit it to standalone games that you pay for it’s still actually first! :D

  7. Raygereio says:

    Re: Lesuss mission.
    One thing really annoyed me in that mission and it’s on the screenshot you posted of it.
    Why did Shep need to be the one to drag Falere to the elevator? Rila says she’s going to sacrifice herself and Samara just walks off. Doesn’t even nod or whatever.
    I get that Shep is the hero of the story and all. But I think all players would have survived having Shep’s spotlight be stolen by Samara for just a few moments.

    I dunno Jacob. You never gave an adequate reason for joining up with them in the first place.

    I assume this is joke about how forgettable Jason was? Because you could ask why he joined Cerberus. He didn’t have a good or well thought-out reason, but it was there.
    Thinking back on it, that conversation with Jacob in ME2 almost made it look like he had a mid-life crisis and Jason joined Cerberus just to do something different.

    Except for the one earlier in the game that claimed the size of the planet and orbital distance were “classified”. That one was silly.

    It’s silly but I thought it was believable. Militaries & intelligence agencies can classify the most stupid things in my experience. I worked for company that did some work for the US military a while back.
    The Pentagon send us documents for a project related to the A-10 airplane. In said documents they blacked out information that’s freely available on the damned wiki page.

    • Sarachim says:

      Sure, but who classified it? The Turians, presumably. But the Alliance has its own intelligence section that hopefully has access to telescopes, so you’d expect them to calculate this stuff on their own and then distribute the information to their officers. The humans and Turians fought a war within living memory, so figuring out the orbital details of the fortress-moon orbiting the Turian homeworld is something the Alliance would have done decades ago.

      • Raygereio says:

        Sure, but who classified it?

        The Alliance classified the info themselves during the First Contact war and it has never been declassified?
        Or maybe the Turians classified it and after becomming a Council race the Alliance had to raise the clearance level required for that info, despite it being common knowledge since the invention of the telescope?

        Who knows. My point was that stuff being classified for no logical reason whatsoever is a thing that actually happens in the real world. And no, generally it doesn’t make any sense in the real world either.
        Basically one man’s “This is silly and stupid” is another man’s “Yeah, I could see this being a thing’.

        • Nixitur says:

          That’s a good point, but bear in mind that most audience members have no experience with classified information. “Believable” and “could happen in real life” are often very different. And I think making it believable to most people is much more important.
          So, yes, ridiculous classified information is a real thing, but it will still seem odd to anyone who has no knowledge of such things.

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            But it would only seem odd to someone who understands physics and how such things are measured. People who aren’t interested in that will probably breeze over the stats without reading them and go right to the text part (note: this is what I did). So “a thing that seems odd to space nerds but would seem normal to people who also have military experience” is a bit of a niche problem, right?

          • guy says:

            Honestly, “someone could calculate this via telescope at 10K light-years but it is somewhat difficult” strikes me as a reasonably compelling reason to classify it. Extends the timeframe for planning an attack.

            I would also note that any of the information that they do release could easily be falsified.

            • wswordsmen says:

              Except in the ME universe there is negligible risk of sending a ship in to observe it. The only problem would be getting through the Mass Relay, but it would still only be a few months. Plus any trading ship could be paid off to give the information, because it is so easy calculate from public information it wouldn’t even seem suspicious to ask for.

              • ehlijen says:

                Wouldn’t trading ships need to be told the orbital distance of the thing, or otherwise run the risk of running into it because they basically wouldn’t know where it is?

                • Syal says:

                  You could avoid that by making a station far away and hooking up a tug to take them there.

                • guy says:

                  “Do not deviate from your assigned course or you will be fired upon”

                  I mean, going to considerable lengths to conceal or falsify all information about their fortress moon around their homeworld does seem in character for the Turian’s general militarism.

                  • ehlijen says:

                    True, and now I picture the moon holding up a black piece of canvas with white spots to hide behind…

                    Forget the moon landings, the moon itself is a hoax!

  8. Darren says:

    I’ve always been more interested in non-human creatures in my entertainment: dwarves, dragons, aliens, monsters, whatever. I interact with humans every day, so I don’t see any reason my fantastical past-times should focus so narrowly on them.

    But my brief tenure as a teacher showed me that most people have no interest in subject matter that doesn’t directly speak to their own experiences. While they might enjoy a work about something outside of their comfort zone, they do not seek out pop culture that doesn’t feature people who look like them doing things that they do in a way they agree with, and they have little interest in arguments that stepping outside their own perspective has any benefit. This means watered-down sci-fi that eschews the truly alien, but it also means people who don’t particularly feel anything about, say, Elie Wiesel’s Night, or who can only appreciate Henry V by likening France and England to the Bloods and Crips.

    It’s sad that a company that supposedly prides itself on its writing would hand over the reigns to someone with a limited perspective, but it’s not an uncommon failure of imagination.

    • Robyrt says:

      And even if the writer were interested in exploring non-human angles, remember they’re working from an existing set of scenes. There is a fight between the human council and the human Cerberus on the Citadel, and the writer has to figure out some way to make that work.

    • Vermander says:

      I prefer to experience fantastic or alien events through the eyes of a human protagonist, it makes the events seem more amazing when the main character is as surprised as I am. If elves/dwarves/dragons/aliens have to be present I prefer that they be used sparingly so that they remain mysterious and “otherworldly”. I don’t mind the occasional dragon or vampire showing up, but I think knowing what’s going on inside their head robs them of their mystique.

  9. Mattias42 says:

    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.

    Actually, I think the implication is that the human victims are ‘bleed dry,’ so to speak, for the sake of long term building the next reaper giving more bio-material while leaving weaker husks, while the ‘unimportant’ species are left ‘moister’ and thus short-term more useful as shock-troops.

    So… In a way, humans are still the most important husks from a plot perspective.

    A chilling concept and interesting idea to analyze… if still annoyingly human centered in a setting that was fresh because humans were the snot-faced brats on the block just barely starting to make a name for themselves.

    • Sartharina says:

      Another one is “Humans are so new and WEIRD on the scene, the Reapers haven’t figured out how to properly utilize them yet” Also making humans special.

  10. Corpital says:

    Yesterday, I thought about the Cerberus Network thing in ME2. You remember it? The start screen with that laptop thingy with the little newsticker on it?

    I think they ran that newsticker for a while with quite a few clever news on it. And also a lot of pretty weird stuff. The one thing I remembered yesterday was from a second playthrough in preparation of ME3. Over the course of several days, the news talked about a human scientist making breakthoughs in cloning.

    He cloned himself several times and the news were quite positive about it, until it came out he did this basically to have a harem full of copies of himself in different stages of his life. The clones were into it, I want to add.

  11. nerdpride says:

    Now I just want to read the Eye of Argon.

  12. djw says:

    For what its worth, I did find the Banshees to be the most difficult “regular” opponents in my insanity play through as an adept. May vary by class as well.

    • Orillion says:

      I was an Infiltrator playing Hardcore and had a lot of trouble with them. The fact is, if you’re a long-range class they can just teleport to you and insta-kill, and if you’re a short-range class you’re often already in insta-killing range for them. Bitches are tough

      • guy says:

        And they have a lot of hitpoints, and none of those are red bar hitpoints so they’re shielded against some of the best powers at all times, and their ranged attacks are pretty vicious.

      • Khizan says:

        Get a big boy sniper rifle like the Black Widow/Javelin/Widow/Mantis and drop cloaked headshots into them, they’ll go down pretty fast, especially if you’re using AP ammo as your loyalty power.

        Alternatively you can get a shotgun like the Claymore and drop cloaked headshots into them from close range for much the same effect.

        Infiltrator really all comes down to how good you are at headshots. If you’re good at it everything you fight will just die instantly. If you’re not so good at it things will be more of a slog, especially if you’re packing a sniper rifle and missing with it frequently.

        • guy says:

          While high-end sniper rifle headshots are the infiltrator way to go, they’re neverthless unreasonably resistant to them. Even on normal, I got cloaked Widow headshots and they conspicuously did not drop instantly like pretty much anything else did.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      Vanguard here.

      They actually get relatively easier as the difficulty levels go up.

      They’re one of about 2 things in the game that can actually kill you on Casual, the other being literally standing in a Rachni Acid puddle for about 15 seconds. (Yes. Yes, I did test this. Yes, I DID break out into hysterical laughter when I died.)

      On Insanity, they drop down to third or fourth hardest enemy, after turrets, primes, and some magic numbers that make certain enemies *just* tough enough to survive a Charge/Shotgun/Nova combo, at which point you’re IN RANGE of them and will possibly die and/or just tough enough to start damaging your health with their attack. (I recall Marauders in particular being annoying).

      That’s not to say that they’re easy by any means, but they stop being “AHHHHH” and go to just another thing to keep an eye on.

      Their budget Charge knock-off is slightly better on higher levels, but get a Paladin (aka: The budget sniper rifle that still lets you get to 200% recharge bonus) and you can whittle away at their health until they’re dead enough. If you’re JUST facing a Banshee, you’re gonna have problems. If they bring along mooks, leave the mooks alive so you can use them as Charge targets for repositioning, keep using the Paladin and Biotic blasts and you’re good.

      By the end of my last Insanity playthrough, I had charging them down to a science where I could repeatedly charge them without dying. Throw on some biotic blasts and yeah… they’re dead.

      /Disclaimer: I also recall finding Insanity easier than Hardcore, because on Insanity, you could Charge/Nova certain mooks, shotgun their neighbor, and the original target’s flying body will still be a valid Charge target, which was great for getting out of the middle of the giant group of the enemies that you have just teleported into the middle of.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Key Banshee fighting tip: they (and all other enemy types) CANNOT do their one hit kill move on a sloped surface. They need to be able to get you on a flat surface. So you can take that problem out entirely by kiting them to a ramp and killing them there.

  13. Dreadjaws says:

    Hey, Shamus, have you read this?: http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-2172-no-trans-characters-6-realities-writing-video-games.html

    It’s quite an interesting read on AAA videogame writing, coming from the writers themselves. It probably doesn’t say much that you haven’t already imagined, but it’s still a good read.

    Edit: also, pay no attention to the URL. The article says literally nothing about “no trans characters”, as the comments section will notably point out.

    • guy says:

      Think about anytime you’ve played a game and an enemy shouted something that actually gave you a piece of information you could react to.

      Half-Life 2 was reasonably decent at that.

    • King Marth says:

      “No line is worth a scene, no scene worth a script.” Mark Rosewater (Magic: The Gathering designer) keeps repeating this screenwriting advice when talking about how no card design is worth compromising a set by inclusion, especially since there will be more Magic sets where a good card design will eventually see print. It’s amusing how many of those game writing anecdotes come about from directly ignoring this principle and forcing in everything that is individually shiny despite how it sidetracks or detracts from the whole.

      It also makes a lot more sense now that half the plot twists in Spec Ops were due to the writer’s spite towards management demands.

    • ehlijen says:

      I don’t really buy point 2, though.

      Actually declaring that after ‘spy and space marine’ there are few options left for shooter protagonists is quite defeatist. Half Life had you play a lab assistant. New Order had you play a resistance fighter. Duke3D had you play a moron vigilante. Tomb Raider had you play an archeologist.
      It’s a writer’s job to bring something new to the table. Yes, there’s the inevitable burnout, but saying there are no other options is going too far.

      And just because graphics are better and human enemies look more realistic doesn’t mean we have to find new ways to massmurder AIs. There’s plenty of room for robot, zombie and ghost enemies.

      Fair point on the fact that each game needs to be part tutorial, though. That is a real constraint, but one other mediums aren’t too unfamiliar with. Sure a reader or a viewer doesn’t need to learn the game mechanics, but each book and movie still should have it’s own introduction establishing who everyone is.

  14. RTBones says:

    Short version: Shamus, I agree.

    Slightly longer version: Cerberus is invading and shooting anything that moves while muttering, “Heeeeeerrreeeee Council Council Council…”, as well as having (or maybe bringing? Did Cerberus even know he was coming, or did he just turn up because *reasons*?) Kai “I’m Too Sexy For Your Bullets” Leng along to flip about annoyingly and not assassinate anybody even though that is what he is supposed to, you know, *do*, and Udina wants a *bloodless* coup.

    Can I buy a vowel yet?

    We have no rationale for Cerberus’s actions, Kai “I’m Still Too Sexy For Your Bullets” Leng is still bouncing around stupidly, and in the end Udina pulls a gun, because this whole bloodless thing Just. Isnt. Working. Out. and he may as well join in the mayhem. We know he didnt *plan* it because if he did, there might be some sense to be had, somewhere, in all of this. What was Udina going to do if (when) things went pear-shaped? What did he expect, given we’re fighting the Reap…Cerberus at every turn (which, side note: why are we doing that again? I missed that memo.) – had the coup been bloodless was the Council just supposed to kiss him and give him control of the galaxy and a lollipop – or should Cerberus just let him have control had they accomplished whatever aim they dont seem to have defined? For that matter, why is Cerberus there at all if killing the Council is *actually* their aim when they have the Magic-Beans-In-My-Sexy-Pants Kai Leng hanging about? Couldnt he have just assassinated everyone between back-flips and modeling his eyeware? Oh, also – why the hell is Cerberus killing, you know, everybody? What does that accomplish?

    Pat Sajak: Sorry, we’re right out of vowels

    Right. Rocks fall, everybody dies.

  15. Gruhunchously says:

    There’s the tragedy of Mass Effect 3. They do a half decent job of incorporating you’re past choices and actions into key scenes in the story…and then make every permutation of events as utterly nonsensical as possible.

    Thane lives? Awesome, he dies hilariously.
    Kirrahe lives? Awesome, he dies even more hilariously.
    Your relationship with Kashley? All gets resolved in a standoff that’s as stupid in concept as ot is in execution, no matter which way it goes. You all end up pointing your guns at each other under the most contrived circumstances, with Kashley defending Udina against Shepard and potentially Liara and Garrus as well.

    Not that Shepard has any reason to accuse Udina other than the fact that the Salarian Councilor told her, and Udina’s a dick, which by this point in the series automatically means he’s evil.

  16. Taellosse says:

    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.

    Of course, this is a reflection of how the writing for these games was actually done (I know we’re pretending, to avoid arguments about specific people, that “the writer” is a singular, nameless being, but since that wasn’t the case, this comment makes it seem like a deep mystery when it isn’t) – major quest lines were divvied up between the various members of the writing staff. The good quests were handled by good writers, and the bad ones (including everything to do with the main quest) were handled by bad writers.

    There are often a mixture of writing talents on the staff of TV shows, of course (and when they last any length of time, the members of that staff often change), but typically any given episode or major arc is handled primarily by a single writer or pair of writers working closely together, with polish done by the rest of the staff. This actually isn’t that different from how the work is divided in a big game like Mass Effect – it’s just that instead of an entire season of TV released episodically over time, it’s a single game with a bunch of different subplots all playing out in semi-parallel. It seems like the good and bad are all jumbled together in a game because you’re experiencing them all in tandem, instead of in strict sequence.

    • MrGuy says:

      The difference, for me, is that with a television program, you can rarely see the seams between the various writers. In Mass Effect, it couldn’t be more obvious.

      • Taellosse says:

        Right – because the writer(s) in a TV show are consistent within a given episode. So unless you’re binge-watching a show on Netflix or disc, you’re unlikely to be watching more than one at a time, so even when there is a sharp change in quality from one to the next, the impact is blunted.

        But when you’re playing a game, how long you play at a time, and which parts of it you experience in immediate sequence, is far more in your own control. So you’re much more likely to go from a mission written by one writer to a different one within the same play session, and the contrasts end up feeling more abrupt and sharp. This is particularly true when, for whatever reason, the Creative Director and/or Lead Writer are not doing the most important part of their job well – keeping the complete narrative in mind and making adjustments for the sake of consistency.

    • Coming_Second says:

      The issue then becomes why things were so seamless in ME1, and so horribly evident and jarring in the subsequent games. Either way, the question is still “Who was directing this mess and why did it go so badly wrong? Why was it impossible to marry the slick visuals of the latter games with the smart storytelling of the former?”

      • Staff Cdr Alenko says:

        I can’t be the only one who diskliked ME3 visuals. The animations were wooden, the textures were sub-standard, there was no polish. Maybe it’s bias, but the game really felt quickly hashed together and I think it showed in the graphics as much as in the storytelling. Default male Shepard has been rendered with more stubble for some reason (probably added along with generic survivor guilt out of nowhere) and it looked dreadful. The character faces were bloody terrible. Maybe it’s that sort of “graphical improvement” that moves the characters way too close to uncanny valley. Dunno. The whole game looked fake, plastic. ME1 was much better in that regard, maybe because the designers actually knew how to use lighting effectively. Hell, ME1 actually looks quite good with maxed out settings, even today. With film grain it’s really good. ME3 didn’t even have film grain, which actually says a lot.

        • Gruhunchously says:

          The graphical quality of ME3 is about as inconsistent as it’s story quality. Some textures and character models look great, while others look horrendous for some reason. That’s not even getting into the characters from previous games that look completely different.

          I would say it’s the uncanny valley of the high res textures and the older, reused animation, but having recently played ME1 with the High Resolution Textures mod active, I don’t even think it’s that. Most of the animations in ME1 still look better, even with the textures bumped up a few years. Whereas everyone in ME3 moves and talks like they’ve all had heavy botox surgery.

      • Taellosse says:

        I suspect that’s an artifact, in large part, of who was running the show in terms of writing, and how much time was given for development. ME1 had a significantly longer development cycle than either of the sequels (ME2 in particular), and it was the only one in the series where the Lead Writer had prior experience AS a Lead Writer before Mass Effect.

        It doesn’t help that there was such a dramatic shift in authorial interest and focus, as Shamus has detailed. Many of the problems that developed in ME2 were the result of the dramatically different styles of their respective lead writers, as the new tried to change course from the old in mid-series.

  17. Ringwraith says:

    Udina’s weird plot here also undermines the neat little turnaround his character gets in 3, as the normally-obstructive bureaucrat is suddenly very helpful, fitting for his character always been out for himself, but good at backstage politicking. So now everyone’s at a very real risk, he’s doing all he can to coordinate some sort of unified front.
    It probably makes this coup make even less sense.

  18. Khizan says:

    I’m gonna avoid the whole storyline/plot discussion and instead talk about Banshees and why they’re dangerous.

    Banshees on their own are not that dangerous in most circumstances. You can avoid their melee attacks easily, and you can block their seeking energy blasts with heavy cover or just by circling them and blocking them with terrain. Shep versus Banshee is a pretty easy matchup.

    The dangerous thing about the Banshee is that it’s a powerful cover-buster. It’s tanky, it teleports rapidly, and it has a melee instantkill. It closes in on you and flushes you out of cover and exposes you to the Marauders and the Cannibals. You end up having to scramble in tight quarters in an effort to keep out of the line of fire while also remaining out of the Banshee’s melee range. Their ability to force you out of position is usually what gets people killed. Phantoms do a similar thing for Cerberus.

    • guy says:

      Eh, my take is that they’re not unstoppable or anything but they’re definitely the most dangerous single non-bossfight enemy by a fair bit. They hit hard at range, they’re tough, they’ve got the instakill, and they move around a bunch. None of the other enemy types have that full combination, and it’s a nasty one. With phantoms, it’s much easier to hunker down in cover and just shoot them as they close. With other powerful ranged attackers, they don’t tend to work around your cover and several are vulnerable up close. With brutes, you just have to keep your distance.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        The thing that makes Phantoms more dangerous than Banshees (imo), is that Banshees LOUDLY announce their presence as they enter the battlefield. You’ll never be like “whaaaat, there were Banshees around??” Meanwhile, the way you discover Phantoms are attacking is often “oh I am being stabbed from behind my enemy facing cover” or “my shield just broke and I didn’t hear a gunshot”. If you have the right equipment, you can ragdoll a Phantom, but if you happen to be playing a different build, the solution is basically to run for your life and hope they don’t end you with their VERY powerful (and literal) hand cannon.

  19. Mike S. says:

    At least it’s consistent: Udina thought killing the Council and taking control of the Citadel was sufficient to run the galaxy at the end of Mass Effect 1, and evidently he still thinks so in Mass Effect 3.

    And in both cases, he’s able to carry along people who you’d think would know better. (Shepard and Anderson in ME1, TIM here.)

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      There’s a Council codex entry that explains how the whole thing runs on intergalactic dibs. In short, whoever enters the Council chamber first, calls “DIBS!”, and locks the door is now the Council for life. Considering how long Asari and Turians can live, this was quite the important call some hundreds of years ago. If the Council happens to die for any reason, getting to the room and calling “DIBS” could establish the new council (aka ME1 Renegade ending).

      This is not true, but it is how the game seems to work.

    • guy says:

      I still say that the ME1 version was a semi-plausible thing to attempt; holding the Citadel is rather strategically valuable and with the heavy losses the Council Races’ fleets had taken with the annihilation of their ships loaned to the Citadel Fleet the Alliance was in a pretty strong position, relatively speaking. Not strong enough to actually win a galactic war, but strong enough to present a human-dominated council as a fiat accompli and have it work out. Temporarily; ME2 quite plausibly indicates that the Turians are already prepping to undo it. But it could quite plausibly last two years. As for becoming permanent, eh. Basically that would only actually happen if for the next century or so the Turians said “Once we’ve dealt with the Geth/the Reapers/the Batarians/the new Rachni/the rise of the Urdnot Republic/whatever we’ll get around to kicking the humans out,” the Asari said “we’ll put ‘restore the old council’ on our list of demands as a negotiating tactic to get what we actually want right now,” and the Salarians said “Why bother with the responsibilities of having a Council seat when we can get the humans to do what we want?” If that went on long enough it would become an “Asari matriarch yelling at cloud” issue.

      Anyways, I could see the Alliance trying that in ME1 and working out the way it does in ME2 and ME3; it holds a couple years but soon effectively reverts to the status quo.

    • ehlijen says:

      It wasn’t so much killing the council leading to humans ruling the galaxy, but a situation where the alliance could dictate a lot of what the new council would look like.

      The game, potentially, ended with a human fleet surrounding the citadel and the standing council fleets destroyed. That means the alliance had full control over who gets to come and go until the other races pushed them out again. No one wanted that to happen through conflict, but that, plus shepard having been vindicated and defeated saren’s attack, meant that the alliance could make a lot of very real progress in exchange for relinquishing that control, such as:
      -a human taking over C–sec, putting the only armed force inside the citadel under alliance influence
      -a human on the council (overtaking the volus and elcor in that regard, which is a big deal)
      -getting a say in the appointment of new spectres, including more humans

      It wasn’t ‘we rule the galaxy now’, it was ‘we went from begging to be let in to dictating the terms under which it will happen’.

      Udina’s coup in ME3 wouldn’t have worked the same way. It would have undermined the human position on the citadel (by wiping out C-sec) rather than strengthen it, and unless cerberus was going to play the part of the human fleet in ME1, there was no position of strength for Udina to bargain from after the act.
      And if the cerberus fleet had stuck around, the other council races would likely have pounced on them like a ton of bricks. Unlike the Alliance saving the day at the end of ME1, cerberus was the aggressor. No one likes them. They pissed off the Krogan and Salarians by trying to abduct Eve, and they proved themselves a threat the turians can’t ignore by trying to use the bomb on tuchanka.
      If cerberus planted their flag, finally giving everyone else a target, they would have been shot to pieces.

      The only possible way the coup could have worked for Udina was if everyone was too busy with the reapers to appoint replacement councillors, leaving him the only active council member, but we’ve already seen how serious at least the Turians take lines of succession. So there was no way that was going to work for Udina.

      • Sartharina says:

        I’m wondering if the game’s original design initially had Udina’s coup be a mission Shepard would have led (Leading the Cerberus assault on the Citadel), with the game, instead of making Cerberus into complete clowns (again) into actually tying the faction together into a solid, iconic “Renegade” faction to contrast with the System Alliance/Citadel “Paragon”. After all – who the hell didn’t want to shoot the stupid council in their stupid faces and take direct control after every interaction with them in ME3?

        It could have been cool having the-ruthless-but-effective Cerberus (And by effective, I mean “Remember all that data from Subject Zero’s experiments? We have ways to improve the power of our biotics. Also – that thresher maw that may have killed your squad has given us a lot of information, and we can deploy Thresher Maws in the field to fight Reapers. Oh yeah, and you’re now all but immune to them. Oh yeah, and depending on whether or not you busted our experimental army up in the first two game, we may or may not have expendable shock troopers (Notably queenless Rachni, non-collective Firestorm Geth units, and Thorian Creepers of our own) to fight the Reapers with. And that operation on Horizon? The deaths of all those colonists (could have) given us tremendous anti-indoctrination countermeasures, as well as means of disrupting reaper control over their husks.”

        TIM: “Shepard – we need your help. A serendipitous data leak indicates the Salarians are moving a fertile Krogan female to Tunchanka to secure Krogan support for the Council – which, the council will inevitably waffle around with and waste. If you intercept the female in transit, we can secure the Krogan’s loyalty for Earth.” (Might even be framed as a rescue mission

        TIM: “Thessia is almost fallen to the Reapers, but there is critical data in [this point] that we can use to [greatly enhance war effort]. The area’s under heavy reaper assault, and we need you to get in there, get the data, and get out before it’s too late”

        TIM: “Shepard – The council’s is threatening to leave Humanity and Earth for dead to try and save their own asses. Udina has contacted us with a plan to help them get their priorities straight, but we need your force to pull it off effectively” (Actually turning it into a bloodless coup, and leading to a much more meaningful showdown with Kashley. While refusing has Cerberus send in the bloodbath instead.)

        … the problem with this approach is that it turns the game into two different games, which nobody has the development resources for.

  20. MrGuy says:

    I can’t wait for the next entry. Surely, surely we’re about to start in on Kai Lang.

  21. MrFob says:

    Just on a side note, apparently the coup was originally planned to take place after the Thessia mission. This could have made Udina’s decision at least a little bit more sensical since he would have just found out that the Asari basically not only boycotted but willfully hindered the war effort by not sharing the beacon, which might have pushed him over the edge or something. It still wouldn’t really make much sense but it might have fit a little better than where the coup is not in the plot.

    When I play the game not, I just chalk it up to him being somewhat indoctrinated and doing the reaper’s work. A lame excuse, I know but the best one I can come up with.

    • Poncho says:

      The whole series is much more bearable when you can apply all the idiot moments to “indoctrination.”

      There’s a somewhat supported rumor that the entire third game was supposed to be a lead up to Shepard’s final struggle with indoctrination, which would have the ending make a hell of a lot more sense (even if it would piss off an equal number of fans). For some reason they backed down from a bold, if flawed, ending that might have given Bioware an excuse for a lot of their shoddy work throughout this series.

      Just look at something like Fight Club. Not the greatest book, or the greatest movie, but the post-modern storytelling technique elevated the film to somewhere far beyond the individual elements. There’s an instant excuse for any flaw that crop up.

  22. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    Its all coming together.

    The Webcomics to engender goodwill. The novels to develop your writing and literary criticism. The Blog to win audience. Alpha Worlds to develop technical skills so you could make Good Robot . . .

    . . . Then release Good Robot during the series to establish your credibility. The Spoiler Warning series so that you could do all three games and release the KOTOR season concurrent with this series for comparison.

    Your entire career has been a part of your master plan to complain about Mass Effect.

    This is your finest hour Shamus Young.

  23. Guile says:

    Poor Jacob. Stuck with the ‘boring’ job of being the normie on a ship full of interesting, oddball charcters in ME2, and then his one appearance in ME3 was also completely unremarkable plus he’s married now for some reason.

    At least his ME2 loyalty mission was kind of interesting, and tried to interject a little of the philosphical conundrums that made Legion and Mordin’s so interesting. It was just overshadowed by Jack’s and Mordin’s and Grunt’s and… uh… well, it was better than Miranda’s?

    Before the tragedy of Thane and Kirrahe, Jacob was the guy I feel like got shafted the most. He ran with some kind of goddamn space privateer paramilitary outfit named The Corsairs, then he was The Only Sane Man In Cerberus. That’s cool, damn it! He could have been a Zaeed of interesting stories about the good and the bad of the Alliance military and working for Cerberus, the way Zaeed was for mercenary life. He could have had stories about back and forths with Miranda as the head of security and head of medicine for Cerberus’s insane Lazarus project, even!

    I guess he got some okay bits in the comic books. Put him in a street level story about Batarian slavers and gangs and stuff, and he does pretty well. But it was too little too late, you know?

    • Coming_Second says:

      He was the requisite Bioware straight guy first recruit, so was obliged to be dull. As mentioned earlier, part of his purpose should have been to make a strong argument in favour of Cerberus; explain why, exactly, a straight-as-an-arrow soldier like him thought he had to join up with them, beyond meaningless platitudes. This would have provided him with the arc ME3 seems to think it had given him, but categorically didn’t. You wind up with even less emotional connection to him than Kaiden or Carth.

      Still, let’s give him some credit. Best. Romance. Ever.

  24. Caryl says:

    It’s C-Sec’s leadership that’s all human – there are still C-Sec turians around the Citadel, like the two complaining about Bailey putting them on guard duty outside Purgatory, the ones who need Cerberus code ciphers and target jamming tech, the one at the cafe who wants their security footage, and the one in the docks keeping an eye on the human refugee teen who’s waiting for her parents. There’s certainly a new lack of named and significant C-Sec aliens, and no more visible C-Sec asari or salarians that I can remember off-hand.

  25. Michael says:

    On the topic of planet descriptions, I would like you to compare the Mass Effect 1 and 3 ones of Klencory.
    Never mind the plain content and all its implications, I felt insulted by the wording of the one in 3. It feels like some preschool-bully neener-neener.

    • Jeremy says:

      It certainly feels like a writer making damn sure that an idea or plot hook has been firmly stamped on because their awesome idea is soooooo much better.

      It’s another example of how they clearly had some road map but somehow one idea took root and no one objected, or were just ignored in favour of a “gritty” element…

    • Staff Cdr Alenko says:

      YES THANK YOU!

      I’m glad someone else noticed this. It’s like the planet descriptions were written by someone going “You liked those little hooks and oddities in ME1? Well, here’s a big middle finger for you!”.

      Compare and contrast this even to ME2, where Legion talks about putting an image of a salarian goddess in the stars near a planet in a remote system.

      Well, here’s a planet desc for Trelyn back in ME1:

      Trelyn is a lifeless rock with a trace atmosphere of nitrogen and xenon. Its surface contains large amounts of iron and magnesium silicates. Due to the heavy cratered terrain, starships are discouraged form landing. A salarian religious cult claims that a certain pattern of overlapping craters in the southern hemisphere resembles their goddess.

      • anaphysik says:

        To note, Legion (ME2 only) was written by Chris L’Etoile, who also wrote all of the ME1 planet descriptions (and some of the ME2 ones), so it’s fitting that that connection would exist.

        (For reference (even though I know Shamus is avoiding this sort of thing), L’Etoile also wrote all of ME1’s codex, all of Noveria, Ashley (ME1 only), Thane (ME2 only), EDI (ME2 dialogues only), and some ME1 sidequests.)

        I /hated/ the ME3 ‘shit-over-everything’ planet descriptions.

  26. JohnTheSavage says:

    “In a strange way I think the moments of quality actually make the game feel worse.”

    I had this exact reaction about a month ago when I went to go see “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”. Matt Smith was wonderful; he was a lightning rod to every scene he was in, and that was a problem, because before he showed up, I hadn’t realized how dull and lifeless the rest of the movie was. If he had a larger role, he might have improved the film, but it’s not like they could shoehorn more scenes for his character to be in: he played Collins, who could almost be written out of the movie if his proposal to Lizzie wasn’t such a crucial moment. He was the best part of the movie, and when Collins is the most lovable character in your adaptation, something has gone very, very wrong. Matt Smith was literally TOO GOOD for that movie, and I say that without a hint of Doctor Who fanboyism.

  27. Staff Cdr Alenko says:

    Shamus, the Ardat Yakshi monastery has been envisioned by someone in the writing team as far back as ME2. The name is dropped in a throw-away comment by the krogan Patriarch on Omega. You have to stick around for a while to hear it. Maybe the planet desc for Lessus (I can’t help but call it Lexus because I’m a car man) has been written by somebody who knew what he (or she) was doing back in the day, and then just copy-pasted into ME3. It would be fitting, given how the game seems to usually despise world-building, and instead resorts to the opposite. I call it “world-destroying”. Most planet descriptions are barely existent or consist mostly of how Reapers showed up and fucked everything up, before the player is even given a chance to prevent it or do anything about it at all. It’s like the game was written by someone who despised the universe.

  28. Arilou says:

    Thank, you, thank you for this.

    I’ve been feeling Bioware has “gone wrong” since about Mass Effect 1/DAO. A lot of these things are things I noticed myself, but some of them are things that I never quite noticed.

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