Shepard continues his tour of the galaxy, selling dubious hope in exchange for direct military support from people who are really going to need those military units in the near future. Today he’s giving his sales pitch to the Quarians.
The Quarians became space-nomads centuries ago when they built robots that eventually became “self-aware”. Worried of a robot uprising, they tried to destroy the robots. This led to a robot uprising, and they got their asses kicked off their own homeworld. Since then they’ve been flying around the galaxy in a huge fleet of ramshackle patchwork ships, dreaming of the day when they could retake their homeworld. It’s a good story that adds some interesting historical context to the universe, and has ramifications throughout the world of Mass Effect.
The Quarian fleet is broken into sections. Some ships are military, but most are simply homes and places to grow food for the Quarian people: The “live ships”That’s “live” as in “live wire”, not “live long”. English is annoying sometimes.. A lot of their ships are old and in a perpetual state of being refurbished.
Admiral Han’Gerrel is our villain in this story. He’s stuck guns on the Live Ships and launched an attack on the Quarian homeworld. He was doing okay until the Geth teamed up with the Reapers. Now the Reapers are giving the Geth some sort of mental upgrade via a broadcasted signalJust go with it. and it’s making them more dangerous opponents. The Geth have now pinned the Quarian fleets – basically 99% of every Quarian alive right now – and are going to overwhelm and destroy them if we don’t do something soon.
The problem is that now is a terrible time to have a homeworld. The Migrant Fleet might have some slim hope of scattering or running and hiding from the Reapers. We in the audience know that plan would eventually be doomed, but with their fleet the Quarians could be set up to outlast the rest of the galaxy. But if they give up their ships and settle on the homeworld, they would probably be the first of the races to go extinct. A population of just 17 million isn’t going to last very long.
On my first trip through Mass Effect 3, I was annoyed with this story. During our Mass Effect 3 LP, I ranted against this section because Han’Gerrel is being an idiot, and I was just so tired of idiot plots by this point. Everyone is stupid, nobody can plan ahead, nothing makes sense, and nobody seems to notice.
But in real life you do sometimes end up with foolish or short-sighted leaders and they sometimes do enact destructive policies. It’s not even particularly rare. It’s actually a nice touch to have flawed, fallible, occasionally vain people running things. Perhaps we can refer to this as “interesting stupid”, in contrast to “regular stupid”.
The problem is that in a story where nearly everyone is “regular stupid”, the actions of the “interesting stupid” people get lost in the noise. Instead of seeing interesting conflict arising from a tragic character flaw, it looks like another dum-dum enslaved by the writer.
But on subsequent trips through the game I’ve warmed up to Han’Gerrel and his scheming. I think he’s a pretty good short-term villain, and I don’t think he deserves to be lumped in with lunkheads like Hackett, Udina, Anderson, and everyone who has ever worked for (or with) Cerberus.
- He has a goal. Unlike Cerberus, who are sometimes “pro human” and sometimes “take over the galaxy” and sometimes “KILL CIVILIANS LOLOL”, Han’Gerrel has a clear goal and a plan for making it happen. He wants to re-take the Quarian homeworld, which his people have been dreaming about for centuries.
- His mistakes are foolish, but understandable. His goals stem from his position, his culture, and the galactic history that has shaped the Quarian / Geth conflict.
- This isn’t a last-minute ass-pull from the writers. His potential for this sort of villainy was established and telegraphed in Mass Effect 2. Nearly everything in Mass Effect 2 has ended up retconned, forgotten about, or rendered moot. So it’s awesome to see some Mass Effect 2 ideas leading to some kind of coherent payoff.
- Everyone else in this mission story is basically normal, or flawed in interesting ways. This is a plot that requires a couple of leaders to be foolish about one thing, not a plot that requires everyone to be stupid about everything.
Space Battles IN SPACE!
So Han’Gerrel wants Shepard to slip onto the battlefield in his super-cool stealth ship, send a team of people over, and disable the dreadnought that’s broadcasting the magical Reaper buff signalWhich means in D&D terms, this dreadnought is technically a bard.. Getting to the Geth dreadnought means flying though a big Star Wars style space battle where ships float lazily past one another like sailing ships and blast each other with pew-pew lasers.
This isn’t how the Mass Effect 1 codex says space battles work. According to Mass Effect 1, space battles are like space itself: Mostly empty, with a small number of things moving through the void at massively dangerous speeds, where any hit means death. Fights supposedly happen at extreme ranges, at high speed. But here we have naval combat without the water. (Although to be fair, Mass Effect 1 forgot about this idea by the time we got to the fight with Sovereign at the end.)
But you know what? I think the Mass Effect 1 codex writer made a bad call. I think this works better for the medium. While I’m always happy to see hard sci-fi ideas in my videogames, I think this change makes a lot of sense.
The problem is that while sniping in the void is probably pretty realistic – or at least, more realistic than Star Wars style dogfighting where lasers travel at hockey puck speeds – it’s an idea that works really well in print, and horribly in a visual medium like movies. (Which includes videogame cutscenes.)
How can you depict such a battle properly? There’s nothing to see. The camera can cut from one ship to the next, but it’s just a ship in a black void. The audience will have no sense of speed. No sense of where the combatants are relative to one another. No sense of who has the upper hand.
The only way to do this would be to have a couple of characters looking at a monitor, and one of them is explaining to the other what’s happening. It’s like listening to a baseball game on the radio. The audience would be left with a conflict that’s less exciting, less clear, and which needs tons of expensive dialog to explain how the battle works.
I’m not saying it’s impossible. You could probably have a go at handling it like typical submarine movies where the battle is conveyed through chatter, although that would require a large cast of characters flying the ship instead of just a pilot / co-pilot. In any case, doing it “right” would be very dry, expensive, and difficult.
Sometimes you need to stick to your science. Sometimes you really need to break from science and just go with what makes sense. Like hand-waving gravity, this is one of those things where a little compromise can go a long way to making something much easier to follow.
You CAN Stop the Signal, Baby!
This is a really great section of the game. Okay, the blue interiors get old quickly, but it’s a nice change of pace, there are a few fun ideas thrown inLike a hallway of science-static that will kill your shields, forcing you to time your movements and when you enter and exit cover., and you get to fight the Geth again. I never get tired of their beeping noises.
At the end Shepard finds Legion, the special Geth envoy / explorer that was potentially part of the Normandy crew in the previous game. The Geth are using him to… boost(?) the Reaper signal(?) somehow? He doesn’t even want to be doing it. They’ve just got him chained up like a prisoner in their evil Reaper machine.
While I really like this mission, I will say this setup is pretty schlocky. Why is Legion uniquely qualified to boost this signal? Does he have some ability that the Reapers don’t? If this power comes from some gizmo in his body, why don’t they just take the gizmo? Or build a duplicate? Or mind-wipe him so he’s loyal and not fighting to get free of this situation? The writer is anthropomorphizing the shit out of these guys.
But at least these problems stem from sloppy adherence to the science-magic of Mass Effect. That’s a tiny bit annoying, but basically par for this genre of fiction. Heck, the Starship Enterprise is powered by Dilithium Crystals and This Very Thing. I’ll take this over another brain-melting Cerberus scene any day.
Once Legion is free, the dreadnought is vulnerable. Rather than rescue the live ships as agreed, Han’Gerrel decides to push the attack and blow up the dreadnought. With Shepard on board.
Shepard escapes, and when he confronts Han’Gerrel you get a RENEGADE INTERRUPT prompt to punch his stupid dumb face, and it’s really hard to not click on it. This was a pretty big hint that this story was working. I was mad at Han’Gerrel, not the writer.
But you need to cut a deal with this guy for his fleets, so it’s actually not ideal to click it. I love this. The renegade interrupts in this game often feel a little self-indulgent, so it’s nice to have an irresponsible one thrown into this situation where you need to restrain yourself for reasons of diplomacy.
Minor nitpick: I’m not crazy about how ambiguous these prompts can be. When the red marker pops up you don’t know what Shepard is going to do. Deck him? Say something racially insensitive? Shoot him? Sure, you can probably guess what the game is going to do if given enough time. (Racial slurs would be out-of-character, Shepard doesn’t have a gun, so this is probably a prompt for fisticuffs.) But if you pause to think it through, the moment will pass. I’d like it if the prompts gave you a little more information about just how drastic your actions are going to be. I’m always afraid I’m going to try and flip someone off and end up shooting them in the face.
Like Mass Effect 2, this game has a very modal quality. In Mass Effect 2 we had a drooling central plot and then enjoyable character missions. Here in Mass Effect 3 the main plot is both larger and dumber, but the “side” stuff is still wonderful. Like curing the Genophage, this Quarian vs. Geth conflict has lots of different viewpoints, is driven by characters, is responsive to past choices, and offers engaging new choices.
A good example of an interesting choice: There’s a Quarian general who opposed the attack on the Geth and was vigorously against bring the live ships into the fight. But once the vote went against him, he sucked it up and did his job to the best of his ability. He’s been shot down and separated from his crew on the planet. He pleads with Shepard to save his crew, but from Shepard’s perspective it’s better to let the crew die and save this general, who might be able to convince the leadership to give up on this attack. And of course, you’re here to get his ships for retaking Earth, which means the fewer losses here on Rannoch the more ships you’ll have for retaking your own homeworld.
It’s a volatile mix of politics, people, and practicality. And the game is smart enough to not directly map your options strictly to paragon / renegade. The game allows for the fact that maybe you’re trying to help the general because it’s the “right thing to do”, but maybe you’re doing it because you want his shipsWhich could also be the right thing to do from a renegade perspective. But let’s not have the paragade debate again..
Legion invites Shepard to enter the Geth version of Tron and clean all the Reaper code out of their brains. The premise is pretty silly science, and that’s before we get to the hilarious idea of shooting computer viruses with virtual guns. But I give this section points because it gives us a fresh new perspective on the Quarian vs. Geth conflict.
The Quarians were really genre-savvy. They realized that their robot servants had achieved consciousness, and they figured they were about to face the robot uprising. So they tried to get rid of all the robots in the most brutal way possible. Which caused the robot uprising. (They were genre-savvy, but not “regular savvy”.)
As Shepard stumbles around inside the Geth mind, he sees some Geth memories. If these memories are to be believed (and they don’t conflict with anything the author has told us so far) then the Quarians were brutal, callous, merciless, and wrong. The Quarians don’t remember it, but there was a faction of Quarians who wanted to let the Geth live, and they were killed along with the Geth.
The Geth didn’t begin to fight back until they had been pushed to the brink, and they stopped fighting the moment the Quarians retreated. The Quarians were 100% the aggressors.
I love this inversion of the expected sci-fi tropes. It lets us have our robot conflict story without it being yet another riff on Skynet.
On the other hand, this massively, completely, aggressively contradicts the end of the game when King Reaper tells us that synthetics and organics will always be at war. Not only is war not inevitable, but it looks pretty damn easy to avoid. The Geth are intelligent, reasonable, compassionate, and merciful. When we switch back to the main plot, these ideas will be forgotten.
Again: The writing here is clearly modal. You can almost hear the clutch grind as we shift between disparate sections of the game.
 That’s “live” as in “live wire”, not “live long”. English is annoying sometimes.
 Just go with it.
 Which means in D&D terms, this dreadnought is technically a bard.
 Like a hallway of science-static that will kill your shields, forcing you to time your movements and when you enter and exit cover.
 Which could also be the right thing to do from a renegade perspective. But let’s not have the paragade debate again.
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