Mass Effect Retrospective 46: Kai Leng

By Shamus
on May 5, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

It’s finally time to talk about Kai Leng. Except not. Because first we need to talk about…

Dungeons & Dragons

NERD!

NERD!

Imagine you’re going to play one of those nerdy tabletop games with your friends. The group has a kind of grounded, low-key approach to worldbuilding. The world is basically “middle-ages Europe”-ish with a very understated dash of magic. Rather than invent new characters for my hypothetical game, let’s just borrow a few. The players around the table have the following characters:

Boromir: A son of nobility but not royalty, he’s a stalwart man who trusts more in arms than in magic. His mind is often on his troubled homeland.

Frodo: A gentle idealist. He hates violence, but understands the necessity of it. He’s reluctant to draw blood, but also curiously wise and forward-thinking for a halfling.

Gimli: Dwarf. Proud. Practical. Loyal. Simple.

And then there’s this guy. Let’s call him JoshNot my friend Josh from our podcast. I’m talking about this Josh.. Josh brings in this character:

Xantar Shadowwalker: A reincarnation of an elven god that was slain by an army ten thousand years ago. He’s a half-elf with a clockwork robo-arm. He carries a glowing samurai sword, wears a Zoro mask and a black cape, and has glowing white eyes. Xantar doesn’t have a fixed personality, but seems to jump from being a swaggering sarcastic joker, to a gravel-voiced agent of vengeance, to an unflappable gentleman, depending on whatever will make the biggest scene.

Some people will complain that he clashes “thematically” with the setting. And he does. Others will worry about his character being overpowered. And he probably is. But that’s not really the problem with Xantar. The problem is that Josh is trying to make him the main character. Xantar is so outlandish that he will stand out in every scene. He’s screaming for attention, and the other characters look like extras when they stand next to him.

The other players are here for a cooperative and symbiotic experience. They want to work together to make an interesting story about their adventuring party. Josh is here for a competitive and parasitic experience. He sees the other players as people to play audience to his one-man show of attention-whore badassery.

Josh is fundamentally a problem player in this particular group. Unless his real-life charisma is so astounding that people don’t mind mind playing his sidekicks and passively watching his antics for hours at a time, then he’s a social vampire and he’s going to suck the life out of the game. Good D&D games – and even a few friendships – have been ended because of selfish assholes like Josh, who entertain themselves by magnifying their own glory at the expense of others.

Now imagine Josh isn’t just a player. Imagine Josh is running the game. Everyone still has to play grounded characters like Boromir and Frodo, but Josh designs the villains using the same self-indulgent approach he used to design Xantar.

That’s how you end up with Kai Leng.

GMPC

You don`t want to tell me how awesome my character is? Check your dialog wheel, sparky. I don`t think you have a choice.

You don`t want to tell me how awesome my character is? Check your dialog wheel, sparky. I don`t think you have a choice.

This Trope even has a name: GMPC.

This is a load of bullshit. You don’t know the first thing about Call of Cthulhu and you sure as Hell have no idea how to run a role-playing game if you think our idea of a good time is being your pet character’s FUCKING ENTOURAGE!

Al Bruno III, from the Binder of Shame.

Kai Leng is not the only offender when it comes to GMPCs. He’s simply the worst example of an ongoing problem: A self-indulgent writer run amok.

If you look, you can find other instances of the writer making colorful antagonists for their own gratification. Aria is a strutting diva who gets flashy camera angles and gets to proclaim, “I AM Omega!” She has no reason to star in the nightclub scenes, except the writer liked the design and wanted to play Aria and they wanted you to participate by watching and playing the part of the dumb mook she’s got wrapped around her finger. That would be fine as a sort of “flavor text” kind of character, except that your paragon / renegade responses have been re-mapped to “moron” and “bootlick”. You’re not allowed to decide how you feel about Aria, because the writer says you think she’s awesome.

Likewise, The Illusive Man is a chain-smoking shadow master with glowing robot eyes who sits in front of a dramatic backdrop. The Star Child is a glowing god that controls all the Reapers gets to smugly Know Everything while his robots ravage the Earth in the background. These people don’t actually have clever things to say, and in fact a lot of their dialog is shallow and dumb when it isn’t just clichés copied from better stories. But when they’re on stage the world revolves around them, because they have character designs that overshadow everyone else and the cinematographer is on their side to give them all the dramatic cuts and close-ups they need. When these characters are around the storyteller treats them like the protagonist and relegates Shepard to the role of their impotent sidekick / whipping dog. It would be bad enough if the writer simply made Shepard an inert observer of this show, but then they co-opt your dialog wheel and force you to participate.

“But Shamus! It’s not fair to compare a scripted Videogame to a tabletop game!”

You’re right. This is unfair. It’s unfair because what the Mass Effect 3 writer has done is actually far more offensive than just sidelining the player character for a “more interesting” character controlled by the author. In a tabletop game, the GM doesn’t presume to dictate how your character behaves. Sure, as the god of this world the GM can make their villain effectively omnipotent and omniscient, but at least you’re still allowed to play your character according to the rules. Here in Mass Effect 3, not only has the author made a self-indulgent Mary Sue for you to fight, they presume to make your character act like an idiot in cutscenes in order to amplify the glory of their pet character.

No, now it`s LAME.

No, now it`s LAME.

In your first encounter with Kai Leng, Shepard says, “It’s over, pal!” when his team surrounds Leng. It’s really strange. Shepard says it spontaneously with no player input, and it doesn’t sound like a very Shepard-ish thing to say. (Really? Shepard is going to call someone “pal”? Why is my space marine suddenly talking like a 1950’s gumshoe?) It’s kind of lame. Kai Leng responds with a smirk, “No. Now it’s fun.” And suddenly Shepard’s dumb line makes sense. Shepard is not talking to characterize Shepard, he’s setting up “cool” one-liners for the writer’s pet villain.

I’m not saying that characters aren’t allowed to be impressive. Sure, there’s a time and place for dramatic antagonists. But Kai and company aren’t designed with the needs of the story in mind, they’re designed to gratify their author. They look like characters designed to be above this nerdy pedestrian Star Trek bullshit around them.

Anyway. Let’s get back to…

Thessia

I don`t need the element of surprise. I have PLOT ARMOR.

I don`t need the element of surprise. I have PLOT ARMOR.

Kai Leng struts in. He’s not afraid of your three-person squad, because he is the writer and the writer has given himself multiple layers of plot armor.

Shepard knows this guy is with Cerberus, and he already ruined Shepard’s day when Cerberus invaded the Citadel. The player has no reason not to start shooting. But instead of simply attacking to protect what is now THE MOST IMPORTANT ARTIFACT IN THE GALAXY, cutscene Shepard strikes up a conversation. And not by saying something clever, or interesting, or even tactically useful, but by asking a stupid question. “What do you want?”

Kai Leng puts Shepard in a conference call with TIM.

Compare this scene to the exchange on Virmire, which I talked about way back in part 10 of this series. Both scenes have very similar goals. We need the bad guys to make their goals clear. (Saren wants to serve the Reapers to save himself. TIM wants to control the Reapers.) We need to raise the stakes by taking something away from the heroes. (Kashley / The Prothean VI.) We need the player to lose a fight.

But the Saren fight was a pretty good encounter by the standards of second-act mandated player loss, and this scene on Thessia is one of the most irritating sequences of the entire franchise. Let’s look at why:

There’s no reason to strike up a conversation with Kai. The writer has done nothing to intrigue us, and in fact his character design is extremely off-puttingI realize tastes may vary, but I have yet to encounter someone besides the author who didn’t think this character was ridiculous.. It’s like having Sephiroth visit the starship Enterprise. Furthermore, He’s not the leader of Cerberus. He has nothing to offer us. He’s just dumb muscle. We have more important things to do.

You can make a forced conversation work if you give the audience something they want. If there’s a big emotional reveal, or a character enters the turning point of their arc, or you hit them with a plot twistA proper plot twist, and not just random unexpected bullshit. then they’ll hold still while the revelation plays out.

In Mass Effect 1, the game had us encounter Saren right after learning about what indoctrination was and how it worked. We were getting the chance to see Saren in light of this new information. Moreover, in that conversation we learned about his motivations. We could see why he thought he was serving SovereignBecause he imagined Sovereign would spare him. and we could also see why he was really serving SovereignBecause he was partially indoctrinated. and so his already-developed character was given additional depth.

Sorry, TIM. Shepard doesn`t have a brain either.

Sorry, TIM. Shepard doesn`t have a brain either.

In contrast, Kai and TIM have nothing new to say to us here. Kai waves his sword around and does ninja flips, and TIM simply repeats the same points he already made back on Mars. TIM once again tries to sell Shepard on the idea of controlling the Reapers. I guess he’s read the script and knows that the Catalyst will offer us that option at the end, because nothing in the story (aside from TIM himself) has suggested that this might be possible.

We can tell this is going to end in a fight. In Mass Effect 1, the two sides didn’t start talking until they’d taken cover and traded a few shots. They were taking a break from the fight to see if they could talk their way through. Here in Mass Effect 3, Shepard and company are just stupidly standing around in the open, making them seem impotent and short-sighted. Do they really think Cerberus is just going to give up and go home? Why don’t we start shooting? Why don’t we take up defensive positions? Why don’t we secure the VI? Why is my team standing around like a bunch of numskulls?

We could understand Saren’s point of view, even if we didn’t agree with it. He was trying to survive, and he arrogantlyYay, character-driven motivations! thought he could put one over on Space-Cthulhu. We can’t understand TIM’s point of view because we’re not allowed to ask about it. Where is he getting this idea of controlling the Reapers? Is this something he came up with himself, or is it from the copy of the Crucible plans he’s looked at, or is this just another blind assumption on his part due to indoctrination? We can’t ask him what he’d do with the Reapers, or how he thinks it will work, or where he got the idea, or how he plans to achieve it. He just shouts “Think of the possibilities!” If the game actually defined his end goal and how he means to achieve it, then we would have something to think about in this scene, as opposed to just waiting until we’re allowed to make meaningful input again.

As I’ve said before: The Illusive Man is a disaster of a character. Sometimes he’s hyper-competent, and sometimes he’s a blithering idiot. Sometimes the story pretends (through our friends) that Cerberus is serving humanity, and sometimes they’re just mass-murdering terrorist dingbats. And here is where all of those sloppy contradictions come back to bite the writer. Maybe TIM’s plan is a pipe dream, like Saren’s. Or maybe it’s just audacious, like taking over the Collector base. We can’t tell what the writer is trying to say, and we’re not allowed to ask.

Shepard is railroaded into disagreeing with TIM, and yet he isn’t allowed to make any intelligent arguments. Shepard continues to moralize or threaten, but never says anything incisive or persuasive, and he certainly never articulates anything approaching a solid argument. Even when TIM says stupid, contradictory stuff, Shepard doesn’t call him on it. Instead, Shepard’s arguments are simply emotional appeals.

Yes, we know there is only one way this can end. We can see it coming a mile away, because the writer is completely transparent and clumsy and we can see them blatantly cheating their ass off to make it happen.

Yes, we know there is only one way this can end. We can see it coming a mile away, because the writer is completely transparent and clumsy and we can see them blatantly cheating their ass off to make it happen.

The exchange ends with some taunting from the writer. TIM tells Kai to take the Prothean VI, and both of them do the swaggering villain thing where they act like the hero is powerless. Taunting is a dangerous thing for a villain to do in a game. If the player likes the villain, it can intensify the rivalry. But if they don’t, it instantly creates animosity towards the writer. The player is already aware that the writer is omnipotent within their own story, and it’s generally considered bad form to rub the player’s nose in it. And it’s really bad form if the writer seems to be reveling in that power. Suddenly this isn’t about Shepard vs. Kai Leng, but Player vs. writer.

The writer doesn’t want you interrupting their swaggering avatar, so they just point the camera at the bad guy. Because in the writer’s mind, people can’t take action if they’re not on the screen. The fight can’t start until Kai Leng allows it, and he has some sweet ninja poses he wants to show you first.

Of course, the writer doesn’t want to be caught doing anything lame and stupid like shooting a gun or hiding behind cover. That’s for losers. So Kai Leng fights with a sword and when his shields are low he drops into another ninja pose. In the open. While you shoot your gun at him from behind cover.

It`s not just Shepard. The entire squad ends up standing around, holding the wrong weapons, not using their powers, not firing their guns, and basically waiting for their turn as punching bag.

It`s not just Shepard. The entire squad ends up standing around, holding the wrong weapons, not using their powers, not firing their guns, and basically waiting for their turn as punching bag.

Once you drain his shields three times, you win. And by “win” I mean the writer takes control away from you again and makes you lose. Kai grabs LiaraWho was 100 meters away and behind cover just a second ago. and throws her into your third teammateWho wasn’t anywhere near her. and they both fly out of frame. As far as the writer is concerned, this means they have traveled to another dimension and can no longer contribute to the fight. Kai orders his gunship to level the templeWhich is apparently built over a featureless, bottomless chasm. In the middle of a vast city on one of the most densely populated planets in the galaxy. Because the rules of time, space, civil engineering, and real estate are less important than this writer’s constant need for self-gratification.. Cracks open up in the floor. Shepard falls on his ass and drops his gun into the abyss, then falls in after it for good measure.

Kai is only a couple of steps away, but he’s strutting confidently. The crumbling floor doesn’t apply to him. He’s not worried about falling in because he’s the writer and he made that abyss just for you. You can cling to the ledge just long enough to see his dramatic exit and listen to his one-liners. You don’t get any dialog, because the writer doesn’t want to hear your voice while he’s busy jerking off in your face. Loser.

Instead of giving us an interesting villain, the writer gives us a bland villain and tries to make up the difference with a crazy costume. And since the writer doesn’t have the talent or vision to make the villain seem impressive with wit or clever plans, they drag Shepard down with lame dialog and cutscene incompetence until the villain looks impressive in comparison.

“How can I have my super-cool bad guy escape this impossible situation? I’ll have Shepard fall down and shit his pants and cry!”

Like I said during Mass Effect 1:

[…]cutscene fights are a fragile point where the movie-story is crudely attached to the game-story, and the designer needs to be scrupulously careful about what happens during these encounters. The bigger the villain’s victory, the more carefully their actions need to be portrayed, because the player is going to resent when control is stolen from them. Their player character needs to take actions that are acceptable to them, the villain needs to do things that obey the established rules, and the whole thing should have some sort of emotional payoff to justify (to the player) the loss of their input.

To sum up: You’re forced to talk when you’d rather fight. The talking simply repeats what you’ve already heard before. Then you’re forced to disagree when you’d rather ask for more information. But your disagreements are forced to be childish instead of pragmatic. You’re forced to continue talking when you can see that they won’t make any difference and it doesn’t matter what you say. The conversation ends with the writer taunting the player about how much power he has over them. Then there’s a fight where the writer flagrantly breaks the rules of the world, simply because they want their self-serving avatar to look “cool”. And then in the end, Shepard is beaten not by clever plans, but by cutscene incompetence, dumb luck, and by the writer ignoring the abilities of Shepard and his team.

The writer isn`t mocking Shepard. Or the player. It feels like the writer is mocking this entire genre of fiction.

The writer isn`t mocking Shepard. Or the player. It feels like the writer is mocking this entire genre of fiction.

Once again, this conversation isn’t in the service of the story or entertaining the player. It’s in service of the writer. He’s grabbed the controller out of the player’s hands and shouted, “MY TURN!” Because Shepard isn’t the main character. He’s the audience. Or maybe a prop. He doesn’t matter.

“Shamus, it’s not fair to say Kai Leng becomes the main character. He’s still the antagonist, and the antagonist can’t be the main character. Aren’t you just being salty because YOU selfishly want to always be at the center of the universe?”

The closest analog to Kai Leng is a slasher movie villain like Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger. They’re the signature characters. They get the cool camera angles, the cool one-linersMore so in the case of Freddy than Jason, but you get the idea. You could probably put the original Terminator into this category as well., the wild costumes, impressive musical cues, and they exist in a world where everyone else is a boring peasant. They get to be unstoppable badasses for most of the story, and even at the end they get to die the death of a badass. If you want to kill them you have to overkill them, because they’re Just That Tough. Even in defeat, they don’t ever suffer from regret or humiliation.

That’s fine if you’re supposed to be writing a story about a supernatural killing machine who slaughters his way through a cast of disposable, mostly-unlikable sacrificial lambs and treats them like his playthings, but in a sci-fi story about Commander Shepard finding a way to stop the Reapers, introducing this author-serving side-villain halfway through the final installment is maximally wrong.

It’s bad enough to prop up your villain by making the player character into a boring dunce, but it would be less painful if this was done in service of an interesting villain. The problem is that…

Kai Leng is All Costume

*FART NOISES*

*FART NOISES*

What drives Kai? Why did he join up with Cerberus? What does he value? What’s the big ideological difference that puts him and Shepard at odds? Nothing. He’s just another indoctrinated loony who can go anywhere in the universe at will, simply by jumping into the scene from just off-camera.

The whole point of Kai Leng is to give Shepard an adversary to oppose. Except, this game is already overflowing with adversaries. Cerberus is seriously crowding out the Reapers as Top Villain, and we have The Illusive Man running that show. We have Admiral Han’Gerrel and the Salarian Dalatrass acting as people who oppose him politically. There is not enough room in this crowded story to meaningfully introduce, build up, confront, and resolve yet another bad guy.

In Mass Effect 1, Saren is introduced during the tutorial. We learn his name, we see he works for the council, we see him betray a fellow Spectre, we see he commands the Geth, and we learn that he’s interested in the beacon. We learn his goals, we meet his allies, we visit his base, and we hear about his history with Anderson. He’s part of the story all the way until the end, and his death happens at the very climax of the story. By that point, the player will probably respect him as an adversary, and they may even pity him. Heck, if you spend your paragade points right, you can even redeem him.

Kai Leng isn’t even introducedNo, the tiny scene where he walks on-screen and TIM talks to him doesn’t count as being “introduced”. until the second act, he dies at the start of the third, and he does nothing to build up or underscore the themes of this game. He has no relationship with Shepard and no connection with the story aside from being someone you fight. Despite his outlandish and attention-grabbing character design, he has nothing interesting to say.

After the first fight with Kai Leng, Anderson phones up. As soon as Shepard mentions “an assassin”, Anderson says (paraphrase) “Holy shit it must be Kai Leng! Watch out for him, he’s a total badass!”

It’s like the writer looked at Mass Effect 1 and noticed that Anderson and Saren had a history, so they tried to do the same thing here. But Anderson has an interesting story to tell about Saren that ties into his character, his past, the Spectres, and acts as a payoff / reveal for things said during the Council meeting. It also contributes to the Turian / Human animosity that’s been simmering since the First Contact War. Saren fits within the world, and his backstory supports and even highlights the galactic politics currently playing out around you.

I never realized how flammable polished stone was.

I never realized how flammable polished stone was.

The guy playing with the Kai Leng puppet – who I’ve been charitably calling the writer – has missed the point entirely. Aside from the fact that he’s Yet Another Human in a story overflowing with them, there are no interesting stories like this about Kai. There’s just Anderson telling you how evil and dangerous he is. The writer has a sock puppet on each hand, and the left one is telling you how cool the right one is. You do get a bit of backstory, but that comes from an audiolog you find just before you fight him for the last time, and it isn’t even interesting or connected. The writer decided to make his character look like Nightwing, and they pretty much ran out of ideas after that point.

Kai Leng isn’t needed in this story. And even if he was, he wouldn’t work as a foil for Shepard because he isn’t given enough screen time to develop as a character. He’s another of the writer’s self-gratifying playthings. The writer – who is supposed to be making an entertainment product for the audience – has instead chosen to entertain himself at their expense.

Everybody makes a big deal about the ending to this game. Yes, it sucks. But Kai Leng’s presence in this story is grotesque, infantile, and self-indulgent. It’s shocking that this character design was even proposed, much less modeled, written, voice acted, scripted, and put into a real AAA videogame. He’s the antithesis of the BioWare style of storytelling. He doesn’t fit in this universe, this genre of videogame, or this genre of fiction.

I’d rather sit through the ending a dozen times than watch one Kai Leng cutscene again.

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Footnotes:

[1] Not my friend Josh from our podcast. I’m talking about this Josh.

[2] I realize tastes may vary, but I have yet to encounter someone besides the author who didn’t think this character was ridiculous.

[3] A proper plot twist, and not just random unexpected bullshit.

[4] Because he imagined Sovereign would spare him.

[5] Because he was partially indoctrinated.

[6] Yay, character-driven motivations!

[7] Who was 100 meters away and behind cover just a second ago.

[8] Who wasn’t anywhere near her.

[9] Which is apparently built over a featureless, bottomless chasm. In the middle of a vast city on one of the most densely populated planets in the galaxy. Because the rules of time, space, civil engineering, and real estate are less important than this writer’s constant need for self-gratification.

[10] More so in the case of Freddy than Jason, but you get the idea. You could probably put the original Terminator into this category as well.

[11] No, the tiny scene where he walks on-screen and TIM talks to him doesn’t count as being “introduced”.



A Hundred!A Hundred!A Hundred!9309 comments? What, did somebody start a flame war or something?

From the Archives:

    • Mephane says:

      This could be misinterpreted. :)

    • ChrisBChikin says:

      Had a fun thought while reading this: What if the Kai Leng character was replaced with whichever one of Kashley died on Virmire, also resurrected by Cerberus, possibly as a trial run of the process used to bring back Shepard, and mind-controlled or otherwise conditioned (maybe fuelled in part by anger at Shepard leaving them to die) to fight for them?

      Yes, this would be immensely contrived but no more so than Shepard’s own resurrection. It would tie the character into the story since we already know where they came from (we were there) and there’s an existing emotional tie to Shepard as well, confronting someone from their past who they weren’t able to save. The dialogues can have plenty of Paragade options trying to draw Kashley back to the good side with maybes he option for a Saren-style redemption at the end.

      Also, it would be cheaper, given the Kashley character models were already in the game and getting a voice actor you’ve already hired to do a few more lines is going to cost less than hiring a completely new one.

      I’m not saying this would be a good idea; just a better one than what we got.

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Not my friend Josh from our podcast. I’m talking about this Josh.

    Wait,you mean the two arent one and the same?!?!

    • 4th Dimension says:

      Yeah, because I could totally see Josh deliberately making an OP character simply to troll the others. Only he would have been a bit smarter about concealing his abilities, until time is right AND HE AN CHUCK FELLOW PC OF A BRIDGE and laugh at them. He is fully capable and willing to do the Joker thing and work hard for those couple of hours of looking to be effortlessly superior.

  2. Daimbert says:

    I was waiting for this one, because as I’ve mentioned before Kai Leng didn’t bother me anywhere near as much as he bothers everyone else. And part of the reason, I think, is this:

    . So Kai Leng fights with a sword and when his shields are low he drops into another ninja pose. In the open. While you shoot your gun at him from behind cover.

    I’m kinda used to gimmicks like that. Most boss fights in, for example, the X-Men: Legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance games end up that way, especially in the later games. So do a lot of JRPG boss fights. So his having some kind of gimmick that lets him do that but that isn’t permanent — because you CAN eventually take them down — didn’t bother me that much. (Also, doesn’t he get covering fire from the gunship there, too? I seem to remember getting killed that way once). And I also don’t really mind the trick used to have him get away because at least it’s something that a) was already there and b) I couldn’t have dealt with. Yeah, losing sucks, but if I have to lose, losing because they shot the floor out from under me is something that I couldn’t have planned for in advance. The most annoying part is how broken Shepard seems after this fight, when there wasn’t really anything I could have done about it, but that’s easily explained more as a sign of depression over losing the thing that Shepard hoped would win the war. It’s been a rough past little while, so a little irrational despondency is to be expected.

    But another big part of this for me, I think, and it applies to the ending as well, is that both myself as player and myself as character refused to accept the words of others over what I myself knew or believed. So, Kai Leng is built up as this great and wonderful villain … and both the player and the character thought of him as a poser. He’s such a great antagonist that … his big plan was stopped by a dying assassin, and he managed to kill him before fleeing in failure. Ooooh, big man! Just warning Miranda that he’s on her trail lets her find a way to ensure that he doesn’t kill her, whereas if _I_ wanted to kill Miranda I might even let her know that I’m coming to make it more sporting (it’s not like Shepard hasn’t done that to OTHER antagonists in the series). Here, he wins not by beating me, but by using a gunship against me, while carefully keeping it out of reach for most of the battle because, hey, I’ve taken them out, too. And at the end, he tries to kill me with a sneak attack that I anticipated which let me finish him off in a way that makes ME really, really badass.

    As seen in the vids at the Cerberus base, Kai Leng is supposed to be TIM’s replacement for me. But I’m a hero, a bloody icon. Kai Leng is a poser. And for me the entire game is just Kai Leng proving EXACTLY that. He has good PR, but compared to me he’s a bug on the windshield … irritating until I can find the time to wipe it off.

    So that’s why I didn’t mind him, because even if the writer wanted me to think more of him that I did, I just can’t take him that seriously, either as a player or as a character.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I’m kinda used to gimmicks like that.

      Its not the gimmick itself thats the problem,its that its in the wrong game.I play a lot of fantasy,so magic is nothing new to me.Fireballs being hurled at me is a common thing Im used to.But if I saw someone throwing a fireball in call of duty,Id be like “Da fuck?This is bullshit!”.

      • Mike S. says:

        Mass Effect biotic and tech powers are effectively the same sort of magical attack with a different justification. (Mordin can even basically throw fireballs, and so can Shepard with the right build.) Kai Leng having some sort of heavier-than-usual shield is less of a stretch of the setting than, say, the ammo powers, and less of a stretch of physics than the assorted cold attacks.

        (Didn’t Benezia have basically the same thing in ME1?)

        • guy says:

          The ammo powers don’t stretch the setting in any way whatsoever. They’re a clear alternate mechanic for the swappable ammo mods of the first game, which functioned by altering the internal bullet manufacturing systems of the guns.

          • Mike S. says:

            So why can you only put armor piercing ammunition in your guns when Garrus is nearby? Does he have use his thumbprint to unlock the mod before you put it on your gun? :-)

            (Never mind how Liara contrives to put a charge of warp on each sliver of metal as it’s shaved off the block.)

            • guy says:

              Actually I think that is the in-universe explaination. Fabrication pattern DRM is why you need to buy stuff and not just have your omnitool make everything for you in ME1.

              • Mike S. says:

                Fiat DRM, ruat cælum!

              • Decius says:

                The pattern for an omnitool that doesn’t need patterns is too expensive? Or do Certified Genuine Omnitools all refuse to use open-source patterns, and nobody can bootstrap a single pirate omnitool?

                • guy says:

                  I think the Fabrication Rights Management (that is what the codex actually calls it) is built into the pattern itself and cracking it or reverse-engineering a physical object is not a trivial endeavor, and an omnitool without patterns to use is a very expensive paperweight because rather than having a database of instructions on how to fabricate a wide variety of objects it does not.

        • IFS says:

          He didn’t say ‘if someone threw a fireball in ME’ he said ‘if someone threw a fireball in call of duty’ (although to be fair I think a fireball flinging wizard wouldn’t be too out of place in the zombie modes in CoD).

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          See,I never said me2 powers dont feel off.In me1,yeah biotics and tech are basically magic,but the justification made it ok.And without me1,the ammo powers are just as ok in me2 and me3.But all three together,the whole ammo business is jarring.

    • Coming_Second says:

      This feels like you’re over-thinking a character who is just ruddy terrible. He is Shepard’s replacement, and you do eventually overcome him in a way which should be bad-ass. However all of his beats convey that the writer thinks Kai Leng is incredibly awesome and frightening, a mirror darkly that is supposed to cast doubt on Shepard’s own ways and means. The fact he comes across as an embarrassing and annoying poser is simply the product of incredibly clumsy writing and stage-setting.

      All of his scenes build up to that final confrontation in Tim’s base. If the game had made you genuinely hate him, stabbing the prick and gritting out the name of someone he’s killed should be incredibly cathartic. Instead I wanted my Shepard to laugh and say “You really were pathetic, son. That e-mail? Those goggles? Holy crap, are you fifteen?”

      • Daimbert says:

        This feels like you’re over-thinking a character who is just ruddy terrible.

        Hey, I’M not the one who wrote a self-professed 4000 words on him [grin].

        This was pretty much my reaction throughout the game, though: Kai Leng is a poser that a lot of people think is a lot tougher than he really is. The comments here are my attempts to figure out why I didn’t react to him the same way most other people seem to. So it’s not that my overthinking is aimed at saving a poorly written character — which he is — but is aimed at figuring out, in the game context, both myself as player and character have the opposite reaction to that than most people. And for me, it’s because based on the writing and how it was pulled off, my impression of him in-universe is as a poser; people THINK he’s tough and cool, and HE thinks he’s tough and cool, but based on what happens he really, really isn’t. Yes, that’s not what the WRITER probably wanted me to think, but that’s not how it comes across in-universe and I refuse to be bound by what the writer WANTED to do over what they, well, actually DID.

        I feel the same way about the ending. The writer might have wanted the Star Child to express something deep and meaningful and TRUE, but when it tells me its reason for the Reapings all I as player and character can think is “Yeah, you’re just kinda screwed up, aren’t ya?”. And yes, that’s EXACTLY what my reaction was in the game when it gave me its reason.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          but is aimed at figuring out, in the game context, both myself as player and character have the opposite reaction to that than most people.

          Its simple:Different people have different tolerances.Thats why some people got yanked out of it immediately in the beginning of me2,some during me2,some only in me3,and some only at the ending of me3.

        • Coming_Second says:

          I think we’re more or less agreeing here. You’re arguing it from a personal perspective of why Leng didn’t figure much to you, whilst Shamus is delving meticulously into why he’s a ridiculous character – you (and I) both agree that regardless of how he impacts he’s terrible. That for some players he didn’t register at all doesn’t redeem him.

          The problem with author intent is redolent throughout ME3. Leng looks, says and does so many ridiculous things that you’re constantly wondering if in fact the author intended him to be this utter, mincing chump who is supposed to highlight how much more competent Shepard is. But nothing in ME2/ME3 allows you to credit Bioware with subtlety or slyness. What is seen has to be taken at face value, which is that they genuinely thought that with Kai Leng they were delivering an awesome, super cool dragon.

          • Daimbert says:

            I think that Kai Leng was done poorly for the clear intent of the writer. I also think that a lot of the “I hate him!” comes from interpreting him in the light of what the writer wanted as opposed to how he really comes across in-game; we all agree that Kai Leng is not as impressive as presented, but for me that just meant that I think of him AS that, while others are rather holding him up and reacting to him as a failed super cool dragon.

            I’m not even going to say that those others are wrong [grin]. But this mostly explains why my reaction to him — and the game — isn’t the same as that of others, beyond mere tolerances.

            • arisian says:

              Honestly, I think the issue here is not that people believe the writer about Kai Leng, so much as they understand what the writer wanted them to believe. When people say “I hate Kai Leng,” what they mean is “I hate the writer.” For all the reasons Shamus layed out, the writing here is terrible; this makes people upset.

              Granted, a high tolerance for anime-bullshit can be very helpful in getting through ME3, but the point is that you shouldn’t need a tolerance for anime-bullshit in this genre. If it were a JRPG, this would be par for the course (though still drivel from a writing standpoint). My first reaction to the ending was less instantly rage-filled than it might have been because I’ve watched a lot of anime with disappointing “colored lights” endings. That doesn’t mean the ending wasn’t bad, it just means that some people are more used to dissapointment. If your defense of a work is, “you need to have lower expectations,” you’re probably in trouble ;)

          • Alex says:

            “Leng looks, says and does so many ridiculous things that you’re constantly wondering if in fact the author intended him to be this utter, mincing chump who is supposed to highlight how much more competent Shepard is.”

            Shepard is not a person who needs to suffer fools, because Shepard is a heavily armed special forces operative with a license to kill. If Bioware intended for Kai Leng to be the chump he is, they would have let the player core him with their choice of mass driver the moment he started showboating.

            • Trix2000 says:

              I couldn’t help but think of one of the Thessia scene starting as usual, with Kai walking down the aisle. Then he opens his mouth and starts speaking…

              …only for Shepard and crew to open fire immediately on him, with the follow-up: “What did you expect? That we were just going to sit here and listen to your drivel?”

              • Richard says:

                If I recall correctly, I did core his head with one or two sniper rifle rounds the moment he appeared, but nothing happened because of cutscene rules.

                That really annoyed me. In-universe my sniper rifle should have straight-up murdered him pretty much the first time we met as his shield wasn’t up, yet it didn’t even knock his goggles off.

              • SPCTRE says:

                That would be a great Renegade Interrupt kind of moment.

        • Axehurdle says:

          Basically what you’re doing is reading parody into the writing. You can see Kai Leng as laughable because he gets all the cool one liners and bad ass camera shots that we all know he doesn’t deserve. Which when done on purpose is good comedy. The issue of course is that the writer wasn’t writing his character to be satirical so for a lot of people, who didn’t read that humor into the character, it just comes off as annoying.

          • Daimbert says:

            No, I’m actually just describing my actual reactions as I played the game. There was no real analysis (although I did know stuff about this beforehand, because unlike many people I laugh at spoilers, sometimes literally [grin]) that led me to my feelings about Kai Leng, other than about the scene with Thane, and even THAT was mostly just my reaction. The analysis part is reading this analysis and determining why the interpretation of others is so different.

            I know what the writer intended. I know that they failed. But for me, in-universe, how they failed ended up making Kai Leng a poser. And I’m okay with that [grin].

        • Syal says:

          The comments here are my attempts to figure out why I didn’t react to him the same way most other people seem to.

          Does it have anything to do with this?

          Because dammit I’m posting it somewhere.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2Qa2J4j3_8

        • Kian says:

          The problem is that while as a player you may feel that way (and I do too), you’re never allowed to express it in-game. You can never roll your eyes at him, or tell your teammates “What a push-over! TIM’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel now.” In-game, your character is impressed by this clown, and so are all your character’s friends.

          • Daimbert says:

            One of the things that made me love Knights of the Old Republic was when you meet Malak and he gives you the big reveal, and when he asks “Doesn’t this make you angry?” I replied “No” … even though it did. Then later I gave it to the other companions over that being kept a secret from me.

            So I’m perfectly okay with the game presenting things one way while my character, in their head, really thinks otherwise [grin].

            That being said, I didn’t find my character all that gushing over Kai Leng most of the time, so I could ignore/forget that.

            • guy says:

              This is why I like the KOTOR/NWN model of having things like:

              1. No I don’t.
              2.[Lie]No I don’t.

              It’s a clear method of having the character say something they don’t actually mean and have the player and (if mechanically relevant later) the game itself know that the character doesn’t mean it.

              • Daimbert says:

                My main issue with that was that it tied the model too much into in-game representations, which limits the interpretation of the player of how that happened … especially in cases or for options that they left out. Having the game recognize whether or not you lied can limit your interactions later in the game, and often those consequences assumed what your intent was, which to me defeats the purpose of doing it.

                • Trix2000 says:

                  That assumes the two choices actually differ in execution, which often they don’t. The important thing then isn’t the results of the choice but what sort of agency/options the player feels like they have.

                  Even if it ultimately has no effect on the proceedings, just being able to decide if your statement is a lie or not is a form of roleplaying for the player. It allows the player to decide for themselves what their character really thinks without having to mess with narrative branching, leaving both the player and writer happy.

                  I mean, that sort of flexibility was a lot of what I think the Paragade system was built on in the first place, though arguably the execution on that isn’t the best sometimes. While occasionally those options had big consequences (like saving the council or not), most of them were just variants in dialog which had little greater impact… but to a player it lets them decide which type of Shepard they want to be at any given time. That’s surprisingly powerful, which you can see in how much people ended up talking about their Paragon/Renegade playthroughs and choices.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Aye – I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I recall barely noticing (F)KL when I first played the game. It was only after some time that he began to stand as symbol, somehow, for everything wrong the game and with BioWare’s approach during that time.

      Which only goes to show that whether it comes to you immediately, or if it grows & develops over time, there are many many ways to hate Kai Leng… ;D

      • Zekiel says:

        My experience too. I found Kai Leng a bit annoying in the game. The Mandated Plot Failure at Thessia didn’t actually bother me that much – I managed to look past the stupid way it happened and embraced Shepard’s mandated depressive slump since it fit pretty well with how I was roleplaying my character.

        But on reflection I can totally see why everyone hates Kai Leng. And now I hate him too.

        • Richard H. says:

          I didn’t mind the mandated plot failure, because, well, I’m used to that. (If there isn’t a tvtropes entry for “hero collects all the things the bad guy needs in one convenient spot,” there should be.) That particular boss fight was annoying and not terribly fun, though, which really pissed me off.

          Later, I got to learn that the character was a clown in every piece of official material involving him.

    • guy says:

      I play JRPGs too. My problem is that it’s just completely out of genre for Mass Effect to implement it in this way. I’ve never heard anyone complaining about the bossfight on Jack’s recruitment mission, where the warden raises an impenetrable forcefield from a series of projectors and you have to destroy all of them to render him vulnerable, because that does fit the setting despite being a standard bossfight gimmick I first recall encountering in the Warcraft 3 demo.

    • Steve C says:

      I’m also kinda used to gimmicks like that but my tolerance for them has gone way down over the years. As the graphic fidelity has increased, it just doesn’t work anymore for me. When over-the-top villains do their over-the-top thing it is like putting the hammy acting from silent movies into a modern IMAX movie. It just doesn’t work. It can still work as a parody but that’s it.

      It’s the reason why I cannot play JRPGs, nor any Konami game. It’s also why I like anime but never watch it. That sort of crap is just too prevalent. It is interesting how it can still work in games that have dialed the graphics way back like modern indie games.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And not by saying something clever, or interesting, or even tactically useful, but by asking a stupid question. “What do you want?”

    To be fair,its on par with everything else shepard has been saying from the beginning of the game(“We fight or we die!”).Shepard may have been an empty brick at first,but in me3 she is finally characterized.As an idiot,yes,but at least thats A characterization.Something is better than nothing,right?

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    He was trying to survive, and he arrogantly thought he could put one over on Space-Cthulhu.

    Technically,he did.If you look at his mistakes as a deliberate last ditch attempt to combat indoctrination,saren is the main reason the galaxy was made aware of sovereign and was prepared enough to barely secure a victory.

    • Chris says:

      Absolutely, and it’s that sort of detail and depth that makes ME1 so great.

    • Taellosse says:

      It’s impossible to prove one way or the other, of course, but I don’t think Saren was making those mistakes consciously or deliberately.

      Indoctrination is also characterized as causing irreparable damage to the mind of the subject. It’s subtler in someone being indoctrinated slowly like Saren, but it still happens – in the end you’ve still got a gibbering moron, it just takes longer. I think Saren’s mistakes were a combination of his usual arrogance and the creeping deficiency introduced by his indoctrination.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        I dont see them as the product of indoctrination simply because sovereign didnt try to rectify them.If it knew indoctrination could lead to such sloppiness,it would probably involve itself a bit more personally with what saren was doing.Which is why I believe sarens mistakes were,most probably unconscious,a warning to the rest of the galaxy.Sarens last dredges of loyalty and defiance.

        • Taellosse says:

          Well, it’s clear that Sovereign was toweringly, fantastically arrogant (in ME1, this was implied to be a racial trait. Harbinger sort of acts the same way in ME2, except for his bizarre obsession with Shepard as an individual. There’s a brief conversation with one of the mini-Reapers in ME3 that has the same sort of tone, so it’s presumed that was the intention, even if it wasn’t executed with equal skill across the whole series). The implication I got was that he adopted the approach of telling Saren to make something happen (find the location of the Conduit, get inside the Citadel, and unlock the controls so Sovereign can summon the other Reapers), and then not bothering to keep up on something as petty and trivial as how Saren chose to go about it. It’s entirely possible that Sovereign just wasn’t paying that much attention. He certainly gives the impression in the conversation on Virmire that he’s not all that worried about this particular plan succeeding – even if it fails, he’s supremely confident of the Reapers’ eventual victory, and he adopts the perspective that they’ve got the time to wait – to him, even the millennial perspective of the Asari and older Krogan is an eyeblink.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not quite.Sovereign does present itself as arogant and uncaring about meager races,but its still well aware of its limitations,careful,meticulous and patient.It worked on assembling the geth,getting saren and benezia,and a bunch of other things for quite a long time.Sovereign may be even sincere in its arrogance,but its not stupid or careless.It lost due to a fluke more than anything else.

  5. Calliope says:

    Kai Leng is great. He’s a greasy-haired pimple-faced nerd with his own Hanzo-steel katana and mind-controlled sexy Phantom posse running around pretending he’s a hero by killing dying assassins and unarmed politicians. His final character beat, of course, is blubbering and crying while Shepard takes him down to size. That tie-in novel stuff about eating cereal and pissing in plant pots is even funnier.

    He’s also an image of what Shepard would have ended up as if he’d lost Mass Effect 2 and stayed with Cerberus, so that’s important too.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to mis-characterise the game to make your points. Shepard doesn’t fire on Kai Leng because they’re blinded and outgunned by the gunship. TIM knows a lot about the Reapers because he has the remaining tech from the Collector base. Shepard doesn’t say anything during the temple collapse because, you know, they’re busy trying not to die (it certainly beats Saren holding Shepard out over the edge of the AA tower and not dropping them). I’m sure you could find a quote for Anderson instead of a hyperbolic paraphrase. You get the idea.

    • Shamus says:

      “”Shepard doesn’t fire on Kai Leng because they’re blinded and outgunned by the gunship. ”

      Shepard says no such thing. He doesn’t make any motion to his squad or say what he’s thinking, which would go a long way to fixing this.

      “TIM knows a lot about the Reapers because he has the remaining tech from the Collector base.”

      Again, that would have been a great thing to throw in this conversation. It would have helped justify ME2. TIM could say what he thought he could do, and where he got the idea, and why he wanted to do it.

      “Shepard doesn’t say anything during the temple collapse because, you know, they’re busy trying not to die”

      Right. The point is that the writer made you powerless and incompetent and mocked you for it.

      “I’m sure you could find a quote for Anderson instead of a hyperbolic paraphrase. ”

      I could. But this made my point in fewer words.

      • Daimbert says:

        Shepard says no such thing. He doesn’t make any motion to his squad or say what he’s thinking, which would go a long way to fixing this.

        There’s a gunship up there that has you in firing range that ISN’T currently shooting at you, and Kai Leng is walking towards you totally unprepared for combat. I’m not sure I’d trust any squadmates in combat that might think “Hey, now’d be a really good time to start a firefight!” [grin].

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Why not?We already fought a gunship before.One more wouldnt be a problem.

        • Shamus says:

          Either he should shoot or take cover. No matter how you look at it, standing in the open and talking is stupid.

          Shepard has defeated two gunships by now (Garrus recruitment, Samara recruitment, both in ME2) and both of those took place at closer range than this. A gunship isn’t insurmountable. Well, until this fight, because the writer says so.

          • Daimbert says:

            I did think that he should have taken cover, but I don’t find that egregious because again no one’s shooting at them right now so there might be some curiosity about why Kai Leng is walking up unprepared for a fight. And while we have taken out gunships before, again that’s not really egregious because it’s always better for us to NOT have to try to take out gunships [grin].

            I think one of the big issues here is that you’ll let a lot of this slide if you aren’t in a mode of “I want to kill Kai Leng the instant I see him” (which I wasn’t, because I just considered him too unimportant to generally bother with) and are actually curious about why he and Cerberus aren’t just trying to kill you and take the beacon. If these hold, you’ll let the “Why am I standing around here and not in cover?” and the “Why don’t I just shoot him and take my chances with the gunship?” slide. But if you really want to kill Kai Leng and don’t really care about what he or Cerberus might have to say, then you’ll be bored in this part, waiting anxiously for the chance to kill him that you KNOW is coming, and feel cheated that you had to sit through crap you didn’t care about only to NOT be able to kill him at the end.

            • Gethsemani says:

              Why should I care for what Cerberus has to say? This is the organization that has proven countless times that it is a genocidal bunch of lunatics/terrorists/supervillain mooks and who’s goals will never align with my own. At this point I am about to potentially get the final piece of the puzzle needed to save all space faring races from extinction, and I am supposed to care for what some assassin that killed one of my friends and works for a genocidal terrorist has to say to me?

              Why don’t I just shoot him in the face? The old soldier in me feels that an adequate reaction to a hostile approaching my super-important equipment is to kill them with extreme prejudice, especially if they aren’t showing overt signs of surrendering. The big issue is not that Shamus or I am in the “wrong mood”, it is that this scene is completely fucking tone deaf. It strips both me as a player and Shepard as the protagonist of agency and has Shepard acting as a moron so that Kai Leng and TIM can do their shtick. Something as simple as making the temple a trap that makes it impossible for Shepard to attack Kai Leng would have done a lot to rectify this particular problem. But there is no such thing, instead Shepard just stands there like he suffered a sudden stroke and let’s Kai Leng and TIM steal the show. Heck, even a Paragade interrupt to start firing (even if it resulted in bullets bouncing of Leng’s shield or whatever) would have gone a long way to make this train wreck of a scene more palatable.

              • Daimbert says:

                The big issue is not that Shamus or I am in the “wrong mood” …

                I’m not suggesting that. Let me ironically be MORE harsh in my comments to prove that I’m actually being LESS harsh than you think [grin].

                The things here about the gunship and about taking cover and about not shooting Kai Leng in the fact are all things — even taken all together — that Shamus would typically ignore if he was engaged with the work. They aren’t incredibly and ridiculously stupid so that you can’t ignore them if everything else was working. In this case, I submit that if you aren’t looking for an excuse to pot Kai Leng and are actually interested in what Cerberus might want here, these really WILL just slide on past and you might think of them later, but would just shrug and move on.

                The problem is that the game not only doesn’t establish that “mood” in the player, but it actively works AGAINST that. Kai Leng has, at this point, killed Thane. Pretty much all Shepards have killed in anger people who did FAR less than that over the course of the three games. Additionally, Thane could have been your ME2 love interest, which makes you even more likely to just want to kill the bugger. On the other hand, there really isn’t any reason to care about what Cerberus is up to now since with the Citadel and all of the other crap they’ve proven that they not only don’t support your cause, but instead are a hindrance to it. So, given the structure of the game, you are indeed more likely to be in a “Why aren’t we just killing this guy?” mode than in the other mode. This is a failure on the part of the game writing.

          • Mike S. says:

            The asari have nothing comparable to Garrus’s rocket-resistant couch technology in their temple.

      • Calliope says:

        SHOT: camera pans to the right. A bright white light rises behind the silhouette of KAI LENG, walking towards the camera. His features are obscured by his shadow. SHEPARD raises a hand to cover their eyes.

        SHOT: close-up of Shepard. Their brow furrows.

        SHOT: mid-shot of Kai Leng. He stops walking and stands neutrally.

        SHEPARD: (lowering hand and pulling a gun) You…

        I’d like to suggest this shows Shepard is blinded by the gunship. They don’t even pull a gun until Kai Leng gets close enough to to be recognisable past the glare.

        We know TIM has the technology from the Collector Base, we’re about to see it (the human Reaper) when we visit Cerberus HQ. You seem to be arguing for “tell, don’t show” here and above?

        If Shepard quipping/not quipping is irrelevant to your larger point (the scene makes you feel impotent), why talk about it? If Anderson’s exact words aren’t important, why invent a quote for him? Why analyse these games if the details don’t really matter to you? (Again, I don’t think this somehow contradicts your larger arguments, it’s just a matter of best practice.)

        I appreciate your preference for player/avatar fidelity, and I think it’s a good stance to take for games with emergent narratives (what’s the point of constructing a story through your actions if someone can overwrite it at any moment?). But I’m not sure how useful it is when it comes to games with pre-written narratives like Mass Effect, or analysis of said games. I think it definitely fails you when the game wants to convey a sense of impotence and deliberately interrupts the power fantasy. A lot of Mass Effect 2 and 3 are about Shepard reaching their limits as a hero and how they respond to that; rejecting this out of hand means missing out on Shepard’s spiritual development.

        • Daimbert says:

          We know TIM has the technology from the Collector Base, we’re about to see it (the human Reaper) when we visit Cerberus HQ. You seem to be arguing for “tell, don’t show” here and above?

          You can’t use things that we’ll see LATER in the plot to claim that we know about things EARLIER in the plot. I presume that there are other reasons for us to think or know that, but as written it really sounds like “We know that because the writer will show us that later!”, which is not good.

          I think it definitely fails you when the game wants to convey a sense of impotence and deliberately interrupts the power fantasy. A lot of Mass Effect 2 and 3 are about Shepard reaching their limits as a hero and how they respond to that; rejecting this out of hand means missing out on Shepard’s spiritual development.

          No one is complaining about the game interrupting the power fantasy. Lots of games do that and Shamus doesn’t usually complain about it, and he in fact references in this post the trope that does that (the second act defeat). The problem here is that it’s done BADLY. You don’t get defeated because you lost or lost legitimately, or even overstepped your own abilities and got in over your head. You lose because the game CHEATS, and then mocks you for losing to its cheats.

          I don’t think Shamus has an issue with the spiritual development, just with how that was railroaded in.

          Note that for me I have the exact opposite reaction, as I find that this defeat shouldn’t impact Shepard as badly as it does, because there was nothing she could do about it, really, and the OBVIOUS reaction is to just go and hunt TIM down and get it back, not get all mopey about it. But as I said in another comment, it’s been a rough little while so some irrational despondency isn’t surprising.

          • Calliope says:

            Things that happen later in the story explaining questions from earlier in the story is how mysteries work though? “Why does Saren attack Eden Prime?” is a question answered only on Virmire, many hours later. “Who did the murder?” is a question answered only at the end of many crime/mystery novels.

            I think you’ve misunderstood my other point there. The issue is that Shamus hasn’t recognised the power fantasy being disrupted here (and elsewhere in the series, such as Horizon) because he’s too busy feeling frustrated that he can’t just say/do something that’ll stop Kai Leng getting the Catalyst or Ashley getting mad at him, and he feels frustrated because he thinks Mass Effect is an emergent narrative formed from player actions, rather than a more traditionally cinematic story where the player has a ‘director’ role at most.

            There’s nothing wrong with that framework in itself, but I don’t think it suits Mass Effect or critical analysis in general. Hence the weird digressions about “cheating” or “being mocked” by an inanimate object.

            • Daimbert says:

              The issue is that Shamus hasn’t recognised the power fantasy being disrupted here (and elsewhere in the series, such as Horizon) …

              No, as I said, he recognizes it. He understands what they’re trying to do. He thinks it was done badly.

              …and he feels frustrated because he thinks Mass Effect is an emergent narrative formed from player actions, rather than a more traditionally cinematic story where the player has a ‘director’ role at most.

              Starting from ME1 , the main conceit of the series is that it indeed IS an emergent narrative. The idea, carried all the way through the series, is that your choices MATTER. Even the ENDING is based on the idea that the character’s choices matter, and the best scenes in the series are all about the cases where they do. It’s certainly not unreasonable, then, to treat it like that and then get annoyed when the writers take that control away just for the sake of pushing their favoured NPCs on us.

              There’s nothing wrong with that framework in itself, but I don’t think it suits Mass Effect or critical analysis in general. Hence the weird digressions about “cheating” or “being mocked” by an inanimate object.

              Since those came from me, you might have wanted to ask me why I didn’t think they were digressions. The idea of “cheating” is that Kai Leng violates the rules of the game as they have been established (specifically, the “crouches in the open to recharge his shields and you can’t shoot him while he does that). You can also argue that gunships haven’t been seen to be that powerful before. Thus, if the game is violating its own rules, it’s cheating, and it’s reasonable to FEEL that it’s cheating. As another example, think of an RTS that on higher difficulty levels gives the opponent AI more resources whenever it runs out. That is indeed “cheating”, even if its effect is to make the game more fun for people who want a challenge.

              And the mocking I was referring to was essentially the dialogue in the game, which it is perfectly reasonable to assign to the game and game experience rather than having to say “the writer”. The game dialogue treats it as a failure on the CHARACTER and PLAYER’S part that you couldn’t defeat Kai Leng here … when the game gave neither of you ANY CHANCE to do that. Yeah, that might make people a little annoyed, too.

              I hope that clears those parts up.

              • Zekiel says:

                As much as I hate to say it, I feel that plot-mandated failure is a necessary part of creating a strong narrative in games like the ME series. It really would be a huge amount of work to create content for if Shepard beat Kai Leng here, in order to be able to give Shepard the option to win. And having Shepard lose the Beacon at Thessia creates a strong character beat for him/her as the end-of-second-act-failure (very similar to what happens at a similar point in ME1 when the Normandy gets grounded by the Council).

                BUT the problem with this scene is that the plot-mandated failure is done in an obnoxious way. The Council block Shepard in ME1 – that’s fine, because they’ve been shown to be obstructive and suspicious, and they outrank Shepard.

                At Thessia, Shepard *beats* Kai Leng, and then the game pulls a 180 and has Kai Leng win in a cutscene anyway. That is thoroughly obnoxious and game designers need to kill it as soon as this sort of idea is even mooted.

              • Calliope says:

                No, I don’t think Shamus does recognise it – or rather, he treats it as writer error. Moments where the writer invites us to consider Shepard’s limitations are dismissed as mistakes or opportunities to rewrite them as ‘tactically realistic’ scenarios: Shepard should have shot Kai Leng straight away, Shepard should have explained themselves better, like how Frodo should have flown the eagles to Mordor straight away, like how they should have just built a giant dome around the Pacific Rim wormhole etc. The reality is that this is fiction and these are all carefully-arranged metaphors designed to tell us something. Shepard being blinded by Kai Leng’s gunship is a direct and obvious visual metaphor for Shepard being (literally!) blindsided by Cerberus throughout the game, for instance, or Kai Leng daintily tiptoeing through the collapsing temple is a parallel to Shepard’s typical invulnerability when it comes to crashing Reapers or exploding Collector Bases.

                The main conceit of the series is the Paragon/Renegade dilemma, as suggested with this very early trailer. Implicit in that is limitations on options available to the player. Player input is actually very limited compared to most other RPGs.

                Both you and Shamus suggest an antagonistic relationship with the writer: you want one thing, the writer wants another, and an uneasy truce is maintained with ‘rules’. ‘Rules’ define the secondary world; interpreting events according to the ‘rules’ let you strike a balance between your ideal story (“Shepard saves the galaxy and gets the girl and everything’s good”) and the writers’ ideal story (“Reapers/Kai Leng/whoever destroy the galaxy and shoot the girl and everything is awful”), and the compromise is what we actually get in the game. Again, hence these ideas about who is “winning” or “Player vs Writer”.

                Since the game is arranged by the writer to end with Shepard’s victory regardless, I’d like to suggest this isn’t a good framework for analysis. ‘Rules’ aren’t real, they were never real, and they don’t determine anything. Instead, the writer is presenting us with images: Kai Leng showing up out of nowhere, Ashley blaming Shepard unfairly. It is up to us as audience members to interpret these images and understand their meaning.

                • Shamus says:

                  You’re lifting the errors from the article and considering them in isolation.

                  1) The player wouldn’t mind talking if Kai Leng was interesting.
                  2) The player might be interested in talking if TIM had something new to say.
                  3) The player wouldn’t mind talking if this scene had some kind of cool payoff or reveal.
                  4) The player wouldn’t mind the conversation if it at least created the illusion that they had SOME agency.
                  5) The player wouldn’t mind so much if Shepard properly said something forward-thinking that indicated he was thinking tactically. (To his team.) “Easy now. Let’s not pick a fight with a gunship if we don’t have to.”
                  6) The player might be more willing to give the writer the benefit of the doubt if the last section wasn’t so stupid.

                  Any one of these can be dismissed as “minor”, and generally won’t ruin a scene on its own. But the writer missed every possible chance to make this encounter work for the player. It’s this cumulative and systemic failure that leads to the disconnect.

                  • Calliope says:

                    Why does the player have to ‘mind’ an event in a story?

                    • Tsi says:

                      You use the word “player” so I assume you’re talking about Mass Effect : the game and not the movie. Yet, you question why the player should mind events that he/she helped to craft or events that will influence the player emotionally or intellectually later on?

                      I say this because the key words of this article are character-building and player control. Shamus even brings in a quote mid-way through about how scripted sequences (or pre-rendered ) in games are a double edged sword.

                      So yeah, players should mind event’s in games as they dictate how easy or hard the player will progress further. They can provide information to the player on how to approach the next level, maybe even give them ideas to achieve the next goal in unexpected and original ways. Maybe some event’s will not be useful for the gameplay but will help bring the world to life and make the player feel a part of it. There are even more reasons but this reply is already being too long.

                      Anyway the more I think of it, the less I understand the legitimacy of your question… Why don’t you give us an example of event’s in games that players don’t have to mind ? That could help I guess.

                    • Decius says:

                      The player minds the error, because the errors in the writing impair the player’s experience.

                    • Calliope says:

                      The implicit assumption is that Kai Leng’s appearance is something that needs to be justified – it is something we ‘mind’ until convinced ‘not to mind’. E.g. Kai Leng showing up is wrong, but we can let it slide because Shepard said something tactically realistic about gunships. In a broader sense, it’s the general framework behind this article series as a whole, where we begrudge things happening unless the writer provides an excuse or an explanation – and when they don’t, we let rip with both cannons firing (because it is not ‘immersive’).

                      This is an inherently antagonistic approach to the text – the player and author are fighting over the narrative, and the author is only ‘allowed’ to write things if they can ‘prove’ them. Texts do not function that way, of course, and the author can write whatever they wish. There is no obligation to immerse, and modern literary culture largely rejects this concept. The onus instead is on the audience to interpret, and understand.

                    • venatus says:

                      when someone says they don’t mind something, it’s a way of saying they weren’t bothered by it. there’s more then a few things wrong with the quarian/geth conflict in mass effect 3 but I don’t mind them (aka I’m not bothered by them) because I feel a few scenes such has the geth history and legions sacrifice were powerful scenes.

                      applying that to what’s going on here, there’s a lot of ways to make it so players aren’t bothered by the scene or what kai lang and Shepard are doing, the writer isn’t giving you any and they’re staking up a lot of reasons to be annoyed at it.

                    • Calliope says:

                      No – again, there is this assumption that we can be ‘bothered’ by things in a story, that a story can be ‘wrong’ about itself. It’s a story, it is what it is.

                      There is also still this suggestion that the ‘wrongness’ precedes everything else. Like, the order is not “was this scene powerful/cool/interesting” but “was this scene powerful/cool/interesting enough to forgive”.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      Yes, it is absolutely a writer’s job to get the reader on his side. Great writers will do it without you noticing, good writers will get you to agree. But in bad writing, this can and does take antagonistic forms, because the writer and the reader aren’t on the same team.

                      Normally, the fiction writer wants his work to be liked and the reader wants to like it. Assuming no gross incompetence, this should be easily achieved. It’s cooperation.

                      But a bad writer like this works against the reader’s enjoyment, such as seen here. They continually don’t give the reader anything that makes sense, fits the theme or even just obeys the established rules of the fictional universe.

                      And when you’re dealing with an antagonistic writer like that, you have to indeed look for ‘good enough’ aspects in the story to decide if it’s worth liking anyway. Had the writer been half decent at their craft, this wouldn’t have even come up!

                    • Bryan says:

                      It’s a story, it is what it is.

                      Yes, it is what it is: Bad, given the previous story that had been told.

                    • Calliope says:

                      No, no, again still this presumption of opposition – that a good or great writer will get you “on side”, to induce cooperation, to suspend disbelief or persuade you to like the text or whatever, and a bad writer won’t. Texts don’t have to work that way – if you don’t want them to.

                    • Syal says:

                      Does that apply to contracts? Like, if the contract says the writer gets paid but then he doesn’t, and he complains, do we say the writer isn’t interpreting the contract with the right mindset?

                    • Calliope says:

                      A contract isn’t a literary text?

                    • Syal says:

                      What separates it?

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      No, no, again still this presumption of opposition – that a good or great writer will get you “on side”, to induce cooperation, to suspend disbelief or persuade you to like the text or whatever, and a bad writer won’t. Texts don’t have to work that way – if you don’t want them to.

                      Wait,what?

                      Look,text is used for one thing,and one thing only:To convey information.It can do it directly(its raining),it can do it metaphorically(the sky weeps).How you interpret it is important,sure,but how you write it is just as important.If your job is to convey an information that its raining outside,and you say “the sun is bright”,you have done your job badly.Thats what “a bad writer” means.This is not a subjective thing,this is how it is.

                      A good writer will convey their thoughts to you well(sovereign is a threat,saren is an indoctrinated puppet,but still very dangerous,etc),a bad writer will convey their thoughts to you poorly(tim is a threat,kai leng is an indoctrinated puppet,but still very dangerous,etc).

                      And its not just important for the audience to know what the writer wanted to do,it also matters if they actually did it.We KNOW that kai leng is supposed to be a bad ass,thats how the characters in the game treat him like.But at the same time,kai leng doesnt ACT like a badass,but rather like a poser.Thats what a bad writer does,it gives you contradictory messages at the same time.A good writer makes a character that behaves in a certain way,and then makes the world that reacts to that character in the same way as the audience will react to them,because they predicted well how the audience will see the character.A bad writer makes a character that behaves one way,but fails to predict how the audience will perceive them,so the world reacts to that character “wrong”.The world in me1 reacts to saren like he is a legitimate threat,and when you face him,he is a legitimate threat.The world in me3 reacts to kai leng like he is a legitimate threat,and when you face him,he is not a legitimate threat(even worse,the world keeps twisting so that despite his meakness,he would still be a problem for you).Thats BAD writing.Period.

                      Shamus covered this waay way back in the very beginning of this retrospective.And if you still fail to understand that now,there really is no use talking to you any longer.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      If the reader doesn’t like what’s written, why should they read it? And if they don’t, what’s the point of having written it?

                      Simply put: A reader has finite time. The author does need to earn the privilege of filling it with their work, because the reader won’t let that happen if they don’t like the story.
                      If a story doesn’t try to be worthy of a reader’s time, it won’t get read. That’s it. It will have failed as a story.

                    • MichaelGC says:

                      modern literary culture largely rejects this concept

                      Modern literary culture can blow it out its ass.

                    • Taellosse says:

                      “Have to” mind? We don’t “have to” mind. We DO mind when the writer does a bad job of creating an engaging story that causes us to invest in the situation as presented. Way back at the beginning of the series, Shamus described the process of story collapse, and how it can come at a different point for different people. I take it from your defenses that it did not come for you, or at least did not come by this point in the game. Fine – glad you liked it. It didn’t work for a lot of others, however, and this series is in large part about describing all the places and cumulative failures of the game series that might cause story collapse for any given person.

                    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

                      @Calliope

                      You’re judging this like a story. If I was just reading a book about this, it might work a little better.

                      But we’re playing the protagonist. We step into Shepard’s body to pursue combat goals, we step into her head to work through her decisions with her. It creates a different dynamic and a different set of expectations than if we were just reading a book or watching a movie.

                      But the writer is snatching that away from us in this scene, forcing us to fail so that the story can deal us a setback. If you’re going to do that, you need to sell us on it and give us something else we want. This scene doesn’t give us anything and it doesn’t convince us that Shepard’s setback was believable and inevitable. We’ve fought gunships on foot before in this game and the last. We’ve fought worse than that. In fact we dealt with at least one gunship on our way to the temple.

                      And a good player has been thoughtful and strategic up to this point. Plus we already want to shoot Kai Leng, either because of the reasons Shamus listed or, if we buy him as a villain, because he killed Thane and is a major obstacle to our main goal. The player would start shooting Leng right away. We’re primed for it. We’re not interested in talking and we know better than to trust Leng or drop our guard around him.

                      So making Shepard stop and talk out in the open only to be dealt a setback against a threat that he’s been able to battle before, is going to rightfully earn the player’s ire. So yes, we need to be sold on this. It needs to be for something.

                • Daimbert says:

                  Moments where the writer invites us to consider Shepard’s limitations are dismissed as mistakes or opportunities to rewrite them as ‘tactically realistic’ scenarios: Shepard should have shot Kai Leng straight away, Shepard should have explained themselves better …

                  The issue is that these fail on both character and tactical grounds, an issue that is only made worse by the fact that Shepard is, in fact, supposed to be strong in battle tactics. By that point in the story, most Shepards should want to kill Kai Leng on sight out of PERSONAL considerations, let alone tactical ones. Given the previous interactions, most of the rest will see the tactical merit in not letting that guy get too close and not stopping to talk to him. Strongly Renegade Shepards will not only be WILLING to shoot during parley, they’ll have done it a number of times already. Strong Paragon Shepards MIGHT be willing to hold off, but even THEY wouldn’t really think much of just going ahead and shooting him.

                  I already disagreed with Shepard telling the squad to back off, as if there is a reasonable reason there — ie like the gunship — everyone ought to know about it. But these specific things are things that are minor and that if the story was structured correctly wouldn’t be noticed. Because it isn’t, they are.

                  The reality is that this is fiction and these are all carefully-arranged metaphors designed to tell us something.

                  Not all fiction and not all things in fiction are metaphors, let alone carefully-arranged ones. Sometimes — and I’d even say most of the time — they’re mostly aimed at entertainment. This is kinda taking the “Games are art” line and taking it to the uber-extreme. And it runs the risk that we hit in full-on academic literary analysis that pretty much anything can be seen as a metaphor for something if you look hard enough. This is not that extreme an analysis, but instead is based on what seems mostly likely to be the case. And I think Shamus is pretty much on track with what the writer wanted to convey here, more so than …

                  Shepard being blinded by Kai Leng’s gunship is a direct and obvious visual metaphor for Shepard being (literally!) blindsided by Cerberus throughout the game, for instance, or Kai Leng daintily tiptoeing through the collapsing temple is a parallel to Shepard’s typical invulnerability when it comes to crashing Reapers or exploding Collector Bases.

                  … this, because as someone else said given how the rest of the story is structured we’re given no real reason to think that the writer is trying for such subtle points here, and there are more likely and obvious interpretations, like that the game is trying to keep who is coming at us secret for a while longer and the writer fell into the standard conceit of forgetting about how dangerous being near things like that can be (see, for example, how many writers forget how much heat lava gives off and so that stepping across stones in a lava flow will kill you in about two or three different ways before you get across). Personally, though, the edge thing isn’t a big concern for me, and I don’t think it would be for Shamus either if he wasn’t already annoyed by all the contrivances in this scene.

                  The main conceit of the series is the Paragon/Renegade dilemma, as suggested with this very early trailer. Implicit in that is limitations on options available to the player. Player input is actually very limited compared to most other RPGs.

                  But not compared to other BIOWARE-style RPGs, and in fact there’s more input here than most of them get, and yet the same complaints don’t really arise for, say, Dragon Age or Knights of the Old Republic. In fact, I’m trying to think of RPGs that are less limited and, other than the Elder Scrolls series games, am drawing a blank. And in those games, you have more freedom, but your choices don’t actually matter much to the story, which is what Bioware-style games promise: that your choices WILL impact the story. They tried that for all three games, so it’s fair to say that this is too railroady for them.

                  Both you and Shamus suggest an antagonistic relationship with the writer: you want one thing, the writer wants another, and an uneasy truce is maintained with ‘rules’. ‘Rules’ define the secondary world; interpreting events according to the ‘rules’ let you strike a balance between your ideal story (“Shepard saves the galaxy and gets the girl and everything’s good”) and the writers’ ideal story (“Reapers/Kai Leng/whoever destroy the galaxy and shoot the girl and everything is awful”), and the compromise is what we actually get in the game. Again, hence these ideas about who is “winning” or “Player vs Writer”.

                  “Rules” are really the definitions of the world, and are examples of how the world works. If you’re going to build a world, there has to be some “rules” on how that world works, in terms of physics, psychology, politics, and so on and so forth. Perhaps let’s not call them “rules”, but instead expectations. In this case, the game has spend three games outlining how combat and all of the various mechanisms work. It even has them in the codex. If a character — even the player character — suddenly violates those expectations, it breaks immersion because we don’t understand how the world works anymore. Now, you CAN do that in a case like this, but if you do that you need to have the CHARACTERS react as if that’s something new and special. I don’t think anyone did here, although I could be mistaken.

                  So if the writer violates expectations, they risk breaking immersion. If they do that to hand the character and by extension the player a loss — and clearly both the player and the character “lose” here, as they don’t achieve the objectives the game set for them — then the player is likely to be upset by losing only because the writer made it impossible for them to win by setting it up so that their seemingly preferred character can do things that not only no one else can do, but that in-universe are either impossible or, at least, really, really bad ideas.

                  The issue isn’t that Shamus and myself want super-happy stories where everyone wins. In one of my favourite games ever — Persona 3 — the MC at the end either dies or goes into a permanent coma to seal the world-destroying evil away. The ending doesn’t make me happy — it shouldn’t if I LIKE my MC — but it’s a perfectly reasonable ending based on the established story (you WERE warned that you couldn’t really defeat it). So it’s not about that sort of conflict. It’s about the conflict between the universe the writer presents and what they want us to take from it.

                  And note that I’m the guy above who said that Kai Leng — and this scene — doesn’t bother me that much. Thou dost protest too much when you insist that I’m fighting with the writer here [grin].

                  Since the game is arranged by the writer to end with Shepard’s victory regardless, I’d like to suggest this isn’t a good framework for analysis. ‘Rules’ aren’t real, they were never real, and they don’t determine anything. Instead, the writer is presenting us with images: Kai Leng showing up out of nowhere, Ashley blaming Shepard unfairly. It is up to us as audience members to interpret these images and understand their meaning.

                  Then the writer isn’t presenting a story at all, and so can be criticized for, well, not writing a story into a story-focused game. A plot is more than just images that we have to interpret, but includes links between parts and a structure that encourages us to interpret it the way the writer sees it. If a writer is just doing some kind of avant garde set of images that are even in THEIR minds unrelated and encouraging us to draw links, then I suggest that that isn’t something to put into a AAA game aimed primarily at entertainment. And I also suggest that, in that case, everyone’s interpretation and way of approaching the game and plot is valid, and so Shamus’ approach — that leads to him hating it — is in no way less proper or good or valid as the “everything is a metaphor” approach you take, and that is in no way less proper or good and valid as my “Go with my gut” approach that leads me to think of Kai Leng as nothing more than a poser.

                  Thus, either there is an intended meaning on the part of the writer or there isn’t. If there is, then Shamus is right to talk about what he thinks it is and why he thinks it doesn’t come across well. And if there isn’t, then Shamus, you and I are all equally correct in our impressions of the story.

                  • Calliope says:

                    We are evidently coming at this from very different perspectives. What one has to consider is: which perspective creates a coherent and viable reading of the text, and which doesn’t? By its own admission, literalism (this notion that a text is a secondary world, that there are rules or expectations, that story events are a simulation of a plausible, potential reality) can’t encapsulate what a text actually is.

                    All stories are metaphors, inherently symbolic. Shepard is not real, after all, and I’m sure we all agree on that; therefore he cannot be anything but a metaphor. What we have in a story are images (not literal images like a picture, images like ideas or concepts or dialogue – parts of the story) and the meaning we derive from them. Good interpretations of a text explain the images as a unified whole, with truth and accuracy. I am not certain of the value of an interpretation which cannot explain the text, save as the act of a vengeful author.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      If thats the exact thing the text conveys,then thats a valid interpretation.

                    • Izicata says:

                      >>What one has to consider is: which perspective creates a coherent and viable reading of the text, and which doesn’t?

                      Sometimes a text is not coherent or viable.

                      >>All stories are metaphors, inherently symbolic. Shepard is not real, after all, and I’m sure we all agree on that; therefore he cannot be anything but a metaphor.

                      Not everything has to mean something, and not every writer is trying to make every aspect of their story a metaphor for something else.

                      >>Good interpretations of a text explain the images as a unified whole, with truth and accuracy. I am not certain of the value of an interpretation which cannot explain the text, save as the act of a vengeful author.

                      Or an incompetent author. You see, this is your problem. You are not considering the possibility that an author can be incompetent and produce an incoherent text.
                      If I write the text “a;jdksla; fjkds;ahkds;ha kldsjfk la;djsfji owqbelrno;ih ulgyvbh jknijohugyv bnjhubgvb niohlu”, what is that text a metaphor for?

                      Nothing. It’s a worthless incoherent spew of characters. Now, not every text is a completely incoherent spew of characters; there are differing levels of incoherence. Take, for example, one of the many postmodern text generators, which produce grammatically correct but completely meaningless essays.

                      Not every text is symbolic of some deeper meaning. Sometimes it’s just shit. And I’m sure a skilled enough birdshit diviner can extract meaning from the patterns of pigeon droppings on NYC sidewalks, but at some point you have to ask yourself if they’re just making shit up.

                    • Epopisces says:

                      I think Shamus’ position is that the text is not a unified whole, and the images it presents are at odds with each other, with the genre, and with the preceding games from the same franchise. He provides examples to support his starting position, as well as notes on how the unity could be restored and how an intact, consistent narrative could be presented.

                    • Calliope says:

                      This is tautological. “We know the text doesn’t mean anything because the author is incompetent. We know the author is incompetent because the text doesn’t mean anything.” It is a failure to analyse.

                      The unfortunate stumbling block in your argument is that “a;jdksla; fjkds;ahkds;ha kldsjfk la;djsfji owqbelrno;ih ulgyvbh jknijohugyv bnjhubgvb niohlu” is indeed a metaphor for something, since you have used it precisely to convey the idea of a nonsense text.

                      A text is just a text; it is just words, and words are just arrangements of ink on paper. Meaning is not inherent – it is constructed by the reader. A good reading of a text exists independently of the author and their intentions.

                    • Syal says:

                      Did you do a metaphorical breakdown of the Udina scene from earlier? I want to read that.

                    • Izicata says:

                      >>This is tautological. “We know the text doesn’t mean anything because the author is incompetent. We know the author is incompetent because the text doesn’t mean anything.” It is a failure to analyse.
                      Nice job quoting something I never said. If you want to argue with yourself, why involve me at all?

                      >>The unfortunate stumbling block in your argument is that “a;jdksla; fjkds;ahkds;ha kldsjfk la;djsfji owqbelrno;ih ulgyvbh jknijohugyv bnjhubgvb niohlu” is indeed a metaphor for something, since you have used it precisely to convey the idea of a nonsense text.
                      It can’t be a metaphor for a nonsense text because it is a nonsense text. Things can’t be metaphors for themselves, that’s not what the word metaphor means.

                      >>A text is just a text; it is just words, and words are just arrangements of ink on paper. Meaning is not inherent – it is constructed by the reader. A good reading of a text exists independently of the author and their intentions.
                      If meaning is constructed by the reader, why have a text at all? Why not pull meaning from the ether? The fact that an actual text, a written work, is necessary for the process of finding meaning in said text belies the idea that meaning is solely constructed by the reader.

                      You are absolving the author of any responsibility for their own text. Under your paradigm, there is no way to say that an author or a text has failed, only that the reader has failed. There is no way to determine the quality of a text, only the quality of a reader. In short, it is antithetical to literary criticism as a whole.

                    • Calliope says:

                      No. “a;jdksla; fjkds;ahkds;ha kldsjfk la;djsfji owqbelrno;ih ulgyvbh jknijohugyv bnjhubgvb niohlu” is a string of characters. It is not possible for it or any word to inherently contain sense or nonsense. The quality of sense is something you and I construct after the fact.

                      We can decide the quality of a text based on the elegance and sophistication of the readings it generates. We can’t decide it by a priori assuming the author is incompetent and therefore the text is meaningless.

                      Literary criticism involves more than evaluating authors as good or bad.

                    • Izicata says:

                      >>No. “a;jdksla; fjkds;ahkds;ha kldsjfk la;djsfji owqbelrno;ih ulgyvbh jknijohugyv bnjhubgvb niohlu” is a string of characters. It is not possible for it or any word to inherently contain sense or nonsense. The quality of sense is something you and I construct after the fact.
                      82PzSNl4RUmnqp2TorfpJ46tYutCLTTQw6jeKwOQnWIZvXb1TYblh6Y2MmghLo
                      ux81scvvacCgcgQXBh8LkeM2DBxpoCmFpKXpBBLnnGnF1Dh90IpnOGVhLSS4H
                      bC2NDvD7rTNF2o5JJXF64wVYmiKMTpBN7xYUxOgn2n1wGIW913egxs1DkUKs
                      7UTnCOgX4a3lAO44QRIJH2bgHLJ4TZ8TmH4vxWMWC39S0JJ5q6xRfwarcGCm
                      A89cY5CfFl7JMEzaU7pF3uxQhVcCO1tvHkLi48r1R50HWsrS1mwFvj4YcEEwrhp
                      Z7QrpSVqnwuIWii1tVVF6a2yVh5fQAqKc7bssTTIEpHLubASkiB0ZgqM3z7WCK
                      NZgBPtOp4BiJVwykv2Ajj5K1LZIAQtRNCm6pmHqBwf2aTBsH9AzVR8QbVyrFR
                      bnFQJGvOVubbh43Q6pOXGNA7m7R0VqAnH3UEGmFjZLmfnicLH5xVHDPIKniyWrQOhF3ZYho

                      I expect a full rebuttal. If you can’t understand my argument, I guess you’re just not a very good reader.

                      >>We can decide the quality of a text based on the elegance and sophistication of the readings it generates.
                      I’d say that Shamus’ Mass Effect Retrospective has been a very elegant and sophisticated reading of Mass Effect. Does that mean that Mass Effect 2 and 3 are high-quality texts?

                      >>We can’t decide it by a priori assuming the author is incompetent and therefore the text is meaningless.
                      Where have I ever a priori assumed the author is incompetent? More importantly, where has Shamus ever done so? He has painstakingly analyzed and deconstructed almost the entirety of this series, and only after he has found it severely wanting in almost every way has he deemed the author incompetent. That is nowhere near an a priori condemnation.

                      >>Literary criticism involves more than evaluating authors as good or bad.
                      Yes. It also, very broadly speaking, involves evaluating texts as good or bad. Something which is impossible if you push all the responsibility for generating a “good reading” onto the reader.

                    • Calliope says:

                      You’ve simply repeated yourself. Again, another random string of characters, which you an I have imbued with meaning (the meaning in this context being ‘a nonsense text’). Signifier and signified are not the same thing; “this is not a pipe”, yeah?

                      With all due respect, Shamus’ reading is incomplete and not especially sophisticated. He has yet to discuss the themes of the games or many non-literal aspects e.g. colour motifs, intertext. There are stronger readings out there.

                      You are the one who brought up author intentions and ‘competence’ as a metric for whether we can/should analyse a text for meaning. The text should stand alone, and fail alone if needs be, and analysis will determine that. But we can’t limit our analysis of the text because we feel the text or the author doesn’t ‘deserve’ it.

                    • Izicata says:

                      >>You’ve simply repeated yourself. Again, another random string of characters, which you an I have imbued with meaning (the meaning in this context being ‘a nonsense text’). Signifier and signified are not the same thing; “this is not a pipe”, yeah?
                      Wrong. There’s a different meaning in that string of characters, which you’re just not a good enough reader to see.

                      >>With all due respect, Shamus’ reading is incomplete and not especially sophisticated. He has yet to discuss the themes of the games or many non-literal aspects e.g. colour motifs, intertext. There are stronger readings out there.
                      I disagree. A think a low-level reading which discusses problems with a story’s foundation is a stronger reading than one which discusses problems with a story’s “higher” aspects. Story aspects like theme are based on that foundation, much like a house’s upper floors are based on the house’s foundation, and if the foundation fails then the upper floors fail with it. How good your theme is doesn’t matter if your audience misses it entirely in favour of wondering how Character A is alive when he is supposed to be dead. Colour motifs don’t matter if your audience has given up reading in disgust after the third gaping plot hole. The ability of a text to induce meaning in its audience is directly related to its ability to not piss its audience off so badly they stop looking for meaning in the text. This may not be a “sophisticated” reading in your subjective experience, but I find it an extremely strong one. Sort of like how a dust explosion is unsophisticated, but extremely strong.

                      >>You are the one who brought up author intentions and ‘competence’ as a metric for whether we can/should analyse a text for meaning. The text should stand alone, and fail alone if needs be, and analysis will determine that. But we can’t limit our analysis of the text because we feel the text or the author doesn’t ‘deserve’ it.
                      I’m saying you can analyze the patterns of pigeon shit on an NYC sidewalk and come up with sublime meaning because humans are really amazing at perceiving patterns in noise. See every single time someone has seen Jesus in their toast. What you’re doing is the equivalent of someone saying they saw the Virgin Mary in a wooden plank. Maybe you can see it if you prime yourself for it, but that’s just because that’s what human brains do. They see faces in toast, human motivations behind the weather, the future in the entrails of birds, and deep subjective meaning in scribbles. You can do a deep analysis of what a wooden plank says about the human condition all you want, but what you’re coming up with is just your own preconceptions. A text cannot possibly ever stand on its own because a person is reading it, and that person is bringing along all sorts of sophisticated pattern matching algorithms that can find meaning in the draw of tarot cards or the lines on your palm. You need to correct for your very human bias towards seeing meaning where there is none.

                    • Pyrrhic Gades says:

                      >>Syal to Calliope
                      >>”Did you do a metaphorical breakdown of the Udina scene from earlier? I want to read that”.

                      Gladly. I’ll take that challenge.

                      The entire scene is a metaphore for how much of a dumbass Shepard is and that we should not take the protagonist seriously.
                      Immediately after Udina is killed after claiming that Shepard doesn’t have any proof, Shepard is shown to be wrong about his theorized assassination plot when C-Sec comes up the elevator instead of Cerberus.

                    • Calliope says:

                      You are more than welcome to explain the string of characters. As said, meaning is not contained in the intention of the author, but is constructed from the text. Construct a meaning.

                      There is no pyramid structure to analysis. Themes are not disallowed because the text does not create a secondary world. I’m reminded of Gravity’s Rainbow, in which the narrator explicitly describes the protagonist as literally diffusing into the rest of the book’s subplots and which in general has a dreamlike quality to the text; it certainly isn’t disqualified from ‘higher’ analysis for defying literalism.

                      More generally I’m reminded of China Mieville’s Embassytown and its Ariekei, aliens who understand words only through the psychic echo of its speaker, and therefore are incapable of lying or understanding metaphors and synthesised speech.

                      Literary criticism is the practice of comparing readings and determining which is stronger. Strong readings describe the entire text with truth and accuracy. Weak readings are inaccurate, or fail to account for the whole of the text, or substitute meta-narratives about authors for proper analysis, or give up altogether.

                      (To extend your analogy, consider a pattern of pigeon droppings that spells out the word “SHIT”. It is irrelevant whether the droppings are a product of mere circumstance or an unusually intelligent foul-mouthed bird – people will still notice the word “SHIT” and will be amused by it. Meaning exists independent of the author. Do you see? A beautiful landscape is the product of mindless weather and erosion, yet meaning is still derived. Do you see that, too?)

                    • Daimbert says:

                      What one has to consider is: which perspective creates a coherent and viable reading of the text, and which doesn’t?

                      Sure, but the most coherent and viable reading of a text might well be “This text is incoherent”. Note that a lot of the objections to your interpretation of ME3 is that your interpretation is incoherent, as it tries to patch around the things that others see as incoherent by inserting details and links that are not only not present in the work itself, but in fact seem at odds with the overall tone and presentation of the work itself.

                      By its own admission, literalism (this notion that a text is a secondary world, that there are rules or expectations, that story events are a simulation of a plausible, potential reality) can’t encapsulate what a text actually is.

                      All stories are metaphors, inherently symbolic. Shepard is not real, after all, and I’m sure we all agree on that; therefore he cannot be anything but a metaphor.

                      Just because something is fictional doesn’t mean that you can’t have a literal interpretation of it, or that it’s a metaphor in the way that you need it to be a metaphor to make your case. Fictional works CAN be direct metaphors in the sense that they are really a representation used to make another point, but they don’t have to be. And even then those metaphors have literal AND metaphorical meanings. For example, “Animal Farm” is clearly intending to use the metaphor of a farm from the animals’ perspective to represent the Soviet Union. On the other hand, “Peter Porker: Spider-Ham” ALSO tells a story from the perspective of the animals, but we are indeed intended to take that as a literal distinct universe and, from that, in some way parody the Marvel comics, but it’s not a meaningful metaphor in the same way. Thus, it’s easy to find works that are aimed more at entertainment and so are works that we are supposed to primarily be immersed and engaged in, and so metaphorical meanings aren’t what we’re after there. Additionally, even metaphorical works work better if we can be immersed in the literal world that it presents. If it breaks the literal world to present the metaphor better, we turn from reading a fictional work that presents a point to reading an essay, and thus the point of using a metaphor is lost.

                      This also leads to the point that even in works that are primarily metaphorical — and we have no actual reason to think that ME IS primarily metaphorical — the literal interpretations are still important, because the literal and metaphorical interpretations cannot contradict each other in an effective work. If we take the book’s meaning literally and it means that the metaphorical interpretation would be false, then that’s an issue for the work, and vice versa. So, for example, if the metaphor of a character is supposed to be that they are the only ones who can take action while the others merely follow rote roles, and yet every time that character could actually take action in the world they fail to do so, we have a contradiction between that the literal text says and what the metaphorical interpretation implies, and something is seriously wrong if that’s to be the metaphorical interpretation.

                      Much of the complaints here is that the literal actions contradict what we think the intent is. Kai Leng is supposed to be a bad ass and respected — if hated — opponent for Shepard, yet he never does anything that would really make him be one, and he only wins through plot contrivances. The issue with me is that his wins aren’t even all that impressive: he kills a dying assassin who managed to foil his mission anyway, and here he manages to delay us slightly by taking this thing away when the whole precept of the story up until now was that when that happened our FIRST reaction was to find the people who took that thing away from us and beat on them until they give it back. Starting from this framework, I don’t think your metaphorical interpretations align with the literal text, and so if they contradict that you have an issue that you need to resolve.

                      Let me address some of your later points here, even though they are not addressed to me:

                      A good reading of a text exists independently of the author and their intentions.

                      I think you’re taking the modern literary analysis idea of “Death of the Author” here. This is fine, but you continually claim that the writer knew what they were doing or were aiming at these metaphors, and if you take the tack you’re taking here you can’t do that. Thus, you insist that we ought not interpret the text in light of what we think the intention of the writer was, while at the same time insisting that the writer’s intention was to put in these metaphors and to demonstrate that. You can’t have it both ways.

                      Also, you run into issues with insisting that a certain interpretation or reading of a text is good or better. In what way? In describing the author’s intent? You insist that a good reading ought not take that into account. If we take the “Death of the Author” school to its conclusion, then the interpretation that anyone makes — as I pointed out before and you ignored — is just as good as anyone else’s. Who are you to say that Shamus’ interpretation of this as GMNPC or mine as poser aren’t as good as your metaphorical one, if this is what we take from the work? Is it just that you think that interpreted your way we’d find the work more interesting and less problematic than our way? But who says that a good reading of a text has to judge it as a good work at all? Sure, we want to be charitable, and perhaps some of Shamus’ complaints are a bit nitpicky and things that he’d ignore if the work was good, but it is a valid interpretation on his part to say that the work contradicts itself so much that he’s now in “analysis mode” instead of the “immersive mode” that he’d need to be in to buy into what the work seems to be trying to say.

                      You have spent a lot of time talking about how your interpretation is better and how your approach is better, but little time saying WHY it’s better. Mine is based on what I actually experienced as I played the game. Shamus’ starts from there and then he analyses in more detail the failures that led to that. Why is it wrong for us to interpret the game based on what it actually says to us as we play it, and how are you not doing the same thing or, worse, simply reading things into the work to make it come out as enjoyable to you?

                      We can decide the quality of a text based on the elegance and sophistication of the readings it generates. We can’t decide it by a priori assuming the author is incompetent and therefore the text is meaningless.

                      Except that the complaints are the inverse: the text doesn’t portray either a coherent meaning OR the meaning we think the writer meant to convey, and so the writer is incompetent. And here the readings the work generates aren’t generally all that elegant and sophisticated … even the ones that YOU are espousing. And the more elegant and sophisticated you go, the more your interpretations seem disconnected from the text itself. By your own standards, then, this ought not be called a quality text.

                      Strong readings describe the entire text with truth and accuracy. Weak readings are inaccurate, or fail to account for the whole of the text, or substitute meta-narratives about authors for proper analysis, or give up altogether.

                      I think that Shamus’ reading better describes the text than yours do, and yours seem to read far more into the text than actually seems present. And it’s a perfectly valid assessment to say that the writer intended to do X, but their structure fails to establish it. The more reasonable interpretation of things like the light blinding Shepard are that they are plot points, not deep metaphors. Even the Reaper comment you made doesn’t seem to fit with the narrative, because to pull that off you have to assume that those doubting it are idiots and almost willfully blind. No matter how you try to slice your metaphor, we run into the issue that the work is poorly constructed to convey them even IF the work was trying to convey those metaphors.

                      We can argue about this, of course. But to do so, we need some kind of objective standard to appeal to that can settle which is really better. “Death of the Author” is … problematic with that, because I see no reason, under that, why I’d ever prefer yours to my “poser” interpretation, which also takes the entire work into account.

                    • Chauzuvoy says:

                      I would actually be really interested in reading your interpretation of ME3, because you definitely got something out of it that I couldn’t find. Part of the problem I have with expecting the audience to handle the bulk of getting something worthwhile out of a text is that the audience’s interpretation doesn’t come from the audience in a vacuum. Not only in the sense that the tropes, context, and content of the text provide instructions for how to interpret it, but also the way the marketing and broader conversation influence it. Mass Effect 3 fails as a work of traditional secondary-world speculative fiction. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of great speculative fiction fails on those grounds. But unlike Dark Souls or 2001: A Space Odyssey, ME3 is structured like a traditional sci-fi story, places a lot of focus on the secondary world (the rules by which the secondary world functions are written down for the player’s perusal in the in-game codex), and was marketed as a Bioware RPG with an emphasis on the player being able to make decisions and see the consequences unfold on that secondary world.

                      I don’t really doubt that there’s an angle that can make the story provide some kind of value, but from the time it was announced all the way through the final moments the game was very clear about what the goal was and how it wanted the audience to interact with it. I’ll grant that from another angle it could succeed at a different goal, but it really does feel like for the most part the game’s critics, including Shamus, have been trying to meet it on its own terms.

                • TMC_Sherpa says:

                  In CSI-oid TV shows the who dunnit is actually impossible to figure out based on the information you are given but in a Sherlock Holmes novel at the end you are given an exposition dump that pieces together clues that are actually written down and if you reread it you can see everything he talks about. Hell, if you watch Wild Things (which I’m not sure I can recommend doing) the plot twists are hidden in plain sight.

                  You can be OK with filling in the blanks yourself or or you can call bullshit, a lot depends on your expectations. Neither view is right or wrong, they are differences of opinion.

                  On a slight tangent, the as recorded line from Empire was Vader saying “Obi Wan killed your father” which is at least as accurate as Obi saying Vader killed him. Now my brain hurts.

                • lurkey says:

                  The reality is that this is fiction and these are all carefully-arranged metaphors designed to tell us something. Shepard being blinded by Kai Leng’s gunship is a direct and obvious visual metaphor for Shepard being (literally!) blindsided by Cerberus throughout the game, for instance, or Kai Leng daintily tiptoeing through the collapsing temple is a parallel to Shepard’s typical invulnerability when it comes to crashing Reapers or exploding Collector Bases.

                  ….I think you are giving this particular writer too much credit. Taking all the other stuff into account, he isn’t Stanley Kubrick, he is Mike Bay. Not Philip K. Dick, but Dan Brown.

                  • Calliope says:

                    Not at all. A cursory knowledge of Joseph Campbell and Western mythology shows that somebody at BioWare knew their stuff.

                    • djw says:

                      Campbellian Monomyth written badly is still written badly.

                    • Daimbert says:

                      Not at all. A cursory knowledge of Joseph Campbell and Western mythology shows that somebody at BioWare knew their stuff.

                      Not necessarily. Campbell and Western mythology form the basis of a lot of standard tropes used in Western media, which are the tropes that most Western people grew up with. Without knowing anything about them in detail, a writer can easily replicate them simply by using the expected or standard tropes from the genre they’re working in. So you can’t assume any intent on the part of the writer here to deliberately invoke them, and you also can’t assume that if some of them are present that therefore even scenes that at first glance don’t look like they invoke them still deliberately are doing so.

            • Taellosse says:

              I don’t think Shamus expects Mass Effect to be an emergent narrative. That’s plainly impossible in a video game on any meaningful level. He’s simply expecting the writer of the fixed narrative to follow the rules of the setting (guns are a superior weapon to a sword for good reason, mass effect shields are useful for reducing the damage and deflecting glancing bullets for a short time, but are easily overpowered by sustained power, particularly when they’re small enough to be put on a person, etc.), and to write the characters both consistently and with motivations and logic that makes sense in the setting that’s been established. If a writer can’t do those things, they are a bad writer. This entire series serves to demonstrate how the writer(s) in ME2 and 3 are bad at writing, by those metrics.

              • Mike S. says:

                guns are a superior weapon to a sword for good reason, mass effect shields are useful for reducing the damage and deflecting glancing bullets for a short time, but are easily overpowered by sustained power, particularly when they’re small enough to be put on a person, etc.

                While Kai Leng has issues, combat has always been fairly Rule of Cool over practicality. The undisputed masters of the galaxy think melee-only husks are a useful thing to make. Combatants generally prefer slow, dodgeable projectiles to anything as fast as a hail of bullets (or calling in airstrikes).

                Kai Leng’s shield makes him temporarily immobile and invulnerable. Liara (and Adept Shepard) had the same ability in the first game, just used as an offensive power rather than a defensive one.

                • guy says:

                  The melee-only husks are disposable trash produced essentially for free and deployed in immense swarms, and decidedly the least useful of the Reaper’s ground forces. It is telling that the Turians, the primary military race in the current cycle, retain guns and barriers when transformed.

                • Taellosse says:

                  …combat has always been fairly Rule of Cool over practicality.

                  Only to a relatively limited extent. Sure, the power of small arms fire deployed tactically in squad-sized groups has an outsized influence, but guns are still the primary mode of combat in Mass Effect. Melee of any kind is a limited-use, last resort tool, not a primary mode (with the possible exception of the Vanguard class for Shepard in ME2 and 3 – but ME2 is where the rot in the series began anyway) for anybody with a literal brain to act rationally.

                  The undisputed masters of the galaxy think melee-only husks are a useful thing to make.

                  Guy already addresses this particular point, but I’ll also add this – husks are not a weapon of war for the Reapers, they’re a weapon of terror. It’s the fact that they’re made from the corpses of people that makes them terrible, not their physical threat. It’s a handwavey aspect, but the making of husks is virtually free for the Reapers (somehow) – the Dragon’s Teeth just need to be loaded with a corpse (or living person, they’re not picky) and a little while later there’s a rampaging husk. It’s clear that however they work, the individual devices can be reused indefinitely, so once they’re set up, the only cost is the time and effort it takes to load them with more bodies, and that can be managed by the use of indoctrinated slaves. And it is made clear in ME2 and 3 that husks, as such, are far from the only cybernetic weapons at the Reapers’ disposal – simply the cheapest and most numerous. And many of the others are quite capable of wielding projectile weapons of varying degrees of power.

                  Combatants generally prefer slow, dodgeable projectiles to anything as fast as a hail of bullets

                  I’m not sure where you’re getting this one at all. Guns are the primary weapon for virtually every faction encountered throughout the series. Admittedly, a few use “energy weapons” that shoot slower, somehow, than projectile weapons (which, of course, is nonsense, as anything firing any sort of “energy” from the electromagnetic spectrum would be doing so at the speed of light, which is faster than any physical projectile, or throwing something like plasma bolts which, again, would necessarily move faster than bullets of any sort), but the vast, overwhelming majority of weapons in the ME series are guns. They don’t work like modern guns, operating on principles more like a railgun since they use mass effect fields, but they’re still shooting physical projectiles at high speed. Many combatants supplement this with biotic powers, I’ll grant, and those move slower for some reason (mostly just gameplay, as there’s no pseudo-scientific justification for it), but they’re by no means the primary mode of combat for most in the setting. Biotic adepts that have no guns at all are quite rare, in fact.

                  • Decius says:

                    Small arms are useful weapons, but they can’t replace artillery and close air support in military engagements.

                    • Taellosse says:

                      I don’t disagree, in terms of real-world battle strategy. They do kind of seem to in the Mass Effect universe, though. We see the use of things on the scale of artillery and air support (or orbital strikes, which would be even more of a game-changer) exceptionally seldom. To some extent, that’s a result of the fact that this is a game where the protagonist is a commando, leading a small team on tactical strike missions, but particularly in ME3, we see plenty of really large battles where firepower on that scale is a bit more scant than one would expect.

              • Caryl says:

                guns are a superior weapon to a sword for good reason, mass effect shields are useful for reducing the damage and deflecting glancing bullets for a short time

                Karpyshyn could barely write a fight scene in the novels without mentioning shields being activated by the speed of bullets (which is introduced in the codex), so while he didn’t say so directly, I ended up interpreting Kai Leng’s reliance on swords of all things as a way to cheat shields because swords don’t move fast enough to activate them.

                But that’s being generous.

                • Mike S. says:

                  That is a doctrine associated with that sort of shield going back to Dune and probably further– I keep thinking Doc Smith used it in the Lensman books. (Frequently, force fields that stop fast-moving objects exist specifically to enable knife and swordplay In Space in preference to less swashbuckling ranged combat.) And it’s presumably the idea underlying the utility of the omniblade and associated weapons in ME, as well as Shepard using the mighty power of punching to attack the otherwise invulnerable Shadow Broker at various points in that fight.

                  • guy says:

                    The omniblade does not bypass shields, though. It just does a big chunk of damage when you’re in close quarters for whatever reason. Attacks that bypass shields are mechanically represented only in ME1, and there only with attacks based on acid or poison that don’t depend on kinetic impact to deal their damage. Melee attacks do trigger shields.

                • Alex says:

                  You could also justify it on the grounds that shield technology is an extension of the same principles behind their inertialess drive technology. The reason why a shield in Mass Effect stops a bullet isn’t simply that it acts as a non-Newtonian fluid and resists fast impacts more than slow impacts, it’s because mass effect fields reduce an object’s mass and thus reduces its inclination to continue moving with the same velocity it had before. When the bullet hits armour inside a mass effect field it doesn’t have enough momentum to keep going through the armour, and instead just bounces off.

                  A weapon like a sword, on the other hand, does not rely entirely on inertia. A mass effect field would remove the momentum provided by swinging the sword around, but the wielder can still simply push the edge of the sword through the armour.

                  • Taellosse says:

                    You could also justify it on the grounds that shield technology is an extension of the same principles behind their inertialess drive technology. The reason why a shield in Mass Effect stops a bullet isn’t simply that it acts as a non-Newtonian fluid and resists fast impacts more than slow impacts, it’s because mass effect fields reduce an object’s mass and thus reduces its inclination to continue moving with the same velocity it had before. When the bullet hits armour inside a mass effect field it doesn’t have enough momentum to keep going through the armour, and instead just bounces off.

                    Except that’s not how kinetic barriers are stated to function in Mass Effect. They’re “repulsive mass effect fields” designed to “safely deflect small objects traveling at rapid velocities.” They don’t absorb or reduce kinetic energy significantly, they alter trajectories. Also, mass effect drives are not “inertialess drives” – they’re near-massless drives, enabling the propulsive force of ship engines to accelerate the vessel to vastly greater speeds. Relays are essentially the same idea, but on a more massive scale – gigantic mass-effect-powered railguns that fire starships from point to point across the galaxy.

                    Also, I think you’re underestimating the role inertia plays in how a sword (or any melee weapon) is used. To illustrate, buy a good-sized gourd sometime – something like a pumpkin. Take it outside (this is likely to get messy) with, say, a large kitchen knife, preferably one with a decent point. Now, place the tip of the knife firmly on the surface somewhere and attempt to push the knife into the pumpkin. You’ll find this to be pretty difficult, most likely. now try again, but this time (carefully!) stab it by swinging your arm down forcefully. You’ll probably have much more success and with less effort, assuming you don’t miss. Now imagine you’re trying to stab through armor specifically designed to stop the wearer from getting injured. You know, something made of ceramic plating and carbon fiber, or something. A sword with no force behind it will have very little success at such a task, almost regardless of how sharp it is.

                    • Pyrrhic Gades says:

                      Except that’s not how kinetic barriers are stated to function in Mass Effect. They’re “repulsive mass effect fields” designed to “safely deflect small objects traveling at rapid velocities.” They don’t absorb or reduce kinetic energy significantly, they alter trajectories. Also, mass effect drives are not “inertialess drives” – they’re near-massless drives, enabling the propulsive force of ship engines to accelerate the vessel to vastly greater speeds. Relays are essentially the same idea, but on a more massive scale – gigantic mass-effect-powered railguns that fire starships from point to point across the galaxy.

                      A sword is a lot bigger than a bullet, and is therefore not a “small object”

                    • Taellosse says:

                      @Phyrric Glades, since the nesting is exhausted:
                      “Small” is a relative term. A sword is still small relative to furniture, and still fast-moving relative to a person trying to sit in a chair, which is the cited example in the codex for something a kinetic barrier is designed not to prevent. Most tellingly, when a melee weapon is used in the games, be it fist, omni-blade, or even Kai Leng’s ridiculous ninja sword, it does not bypass the defender’s shields – it has to do damage to them first before injury is sustained.

                    • Caryl says:

                      I was considering including melee not bypassing shields in my original comment… except that Kai Leng does have a one hit kill melee attack if you let him get in melee range and fail the survival QTE, and I couldn’t remember if it still kills you if you have shields up.

        • Arstan says:

          A lot of Mass Effect 2 and 3 are about Shepard reaching their limits as a hero and how they respond to that; rejecting this out of hand means missing out on Shepard’s spiritual development.

          Hmm, i don’t see how a lot of ME2&3 is about Shepard reaching their limits as a hero. Aside from horrible mess in story missions (Thessia, IFF test mission) Shepard really wins over every kind of curcumstance that game throws at him (all loyalty and party member missions at ME2, final run ME2, Tuchanka, Quarian/geth conflict – you could resolve them completely). Also, what kind of spiritual development, if ME1-2 Shepard is a blank slate protagonist for the player to act? It’s only messed up third installment that tries to characterize Shepard, instead of giving control to the player.

          • Calliope says:

            The premise of Mass Effect 2 is that Shepard has become a Campbellian hero, but stands alone in a non-heroic galaxy. While Shepard has been enlightened to the truth of the Reapers and mass effect technology, nobody else has undergone the same transformation, and now either hinder Shepard’s efforts or simply abandon them to do other things. Shepard is thus rendered impotent, and the temptation Cerberus offers is the ability to act against the Reapers (as Shepard knows they must) at the expense of Shepard’s ethics. Mass Effect 2 is about Shepard negotiating these boundaries to regain their heroic mojo (mainly though resolving the personal conflicts of their allies).

            Mass Effect 3 is more literal in depicting Shepard’s struggle to save the galaxy from the Reapers, with dreams of dead comrades and conflicts that ultimately can only be resolved through sacrifice (Mordin, Legion, Thane).

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              The premise of Mass Effect 2
              .
              .
              .
              (mainly though resolving the personal conflicts of their allies).

              This would work if both those who believe and those who disbelieve shepard werent morons.As is,the only thing shepard has to struggle with is overabundance of idiocy.

              Mass Effect 3 is more literal in depicting Shepard’s struggle to save the galaxy from the Reapers, with dreams of dead comrades and conflicts that ultimately can only be resolved through sacrifice (Mordin, Legion, Thane).

              Dreams of dead comrades?You mean some kid??

              And the only sacrifice that is mandatory is choosing between mordin and wrex.Everything else,you can save them all.

              Also,not to mention that more often you are saving the galaxy from cerberus than from reapers.For some reason.

              See,you can have any basis you want,but ultimately its the presentation that matters.And the presentation in me2 and me3 is bad.Really bad.

            • djw says:

              I see the problem. You writer got your Campbellian Monomyth in my Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror.

        • Jabrwock says:

          They’re in a hostile location, at an artifact they know the enemy wants, and they just stand there blindly, trying to peer into the bright light of the gunship that just showed up?

          At the very least they should dive behind cover. They don’t know who’s gunship that is, and it’s clearly not friendly, or else it wouldn’t be doing its damndest to blind them on purpose.

          In many other scenes this would work, because the blinding light itself is unexpected (gunship rises up while we’re exploring a cliff, we’re expecting a ship but not this one, light clicks on after gunship appears but before we see him walking towards us, etc). We came here expecting a fight, and some unknown party shines their flashlight in our face, and we stand there waiting for them to please knock it off.

          The problem is the writer wanted a dramatic entrance for the antagonist, but didn’t explain why the protagonist would stand there waiting for his cue to act. And it’s not like in some anime like Sailor Moon where we have the established trope that the hero does a costume change while the villain stands there glaring at them, or that villains are untouchable while monologueing. We’ve already established that interrupts are possible in this universe.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not to mention that the vi says “indoctrinated presence” before disappearing.One more reason to bolt for cover.

            • Jabrwock says:

              Yeah, at that point I’d just jump for cover, firing wildly. Whoever they are, they are either enemies, or compromised friendlies. Either way, they’re a threat.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Shepard doesn’t fire on Kai Leng because they’re blinded and outgunned by the gunship.

      The same shepard that once fired directly AT a gunship(not to mention a big ass reaper)?Also,there was enough time for shepard and co to adjust to the light AND draw their guns.At that point they couldve just shot as well.

      TIM knows a lot about the Reapers because he has the remaining tech from the Collector base.

      Ah yes,the same base that was blown up in the center of the galaxy,where only the ship equipped with collector iff could go.Worse,the collector base was controlled BY the reapers,it was not controlling the reapers.Not to mention that six month is barely enough to salvage parts of that base,let alone thoroughly study it.Covering one plot hole with another (bunch of) plot hole(s) doesnt work.

      Shepard doesn’t say anything during the temple collapse because, you know, they’re busy trying not to die

      You mean the same temple that conveniently collapses all around kai leng who casually walks towards his goal,throwing stupid one liner along the way?Funny how that temple colapse never bothered him,but was so dangerous for shepard.

      (it certainly beats Saren holding Shepard out over the edge of the AA tower and not dropping them).

      As opposed to kai leng walking past shepard who is holding on for her life and not shooting her?Or slicing her with his sword?Yup,muuuuuch better.By the way,this is a great point to bring this up:

      I don’t think it’s necessary to mis-characterise the game to make your points.

      You mean how you said saren was holding shepard over the edge,when the ledge was meters away?How you didnt say that saren was walking towards said ledge when he was distracted by the nuke bell,allowing shepard to punch him and break free from his grip?That kind of mis-characterization?Im sure you couldve found the exact cutscene instead of a hyperbolic misinterpretation.You get the idea.

      • Calliope says:

        Saren holds Shepard out over the edge for five seconds before being distracted and getting punched.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Nope.Not even close to the edge.Which can easily be seen when shepard falls straight down from sarens hand,onto the platform.If saren was holding her over the edge,she wouldve plummeted down.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONF6V7WPjME&t=3m34s

          • Calliope says:

            That’s the bomb site, not the AA tower.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Oh that one. Yes, saren could’ve totally let go in that scene, which would have shepard…..continue to cling on. Because she was holding his hand as well. Unless you think that saren letting go would immediately cause shepard to let go as well.

              • Calliope says:

                Saren is strong enough to lift Shepard one-handed. I am sure Saren is also strong enough to throw Shepard from the tower.

                I’m glad we agree that I am not being dishonest.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Intentionally dishonest,no.But you are doing the exact same thing you are accusing Shamus of doing.

                  Also,you are nitpicking just one thing while the rest of what I said still stands.

                  As for this particular scene,no lifting something and throwing it are not the same thing.I can lift about 40kg with one hand about as well as saren lifts shepard(though with considerably more effort),but I most definitely cannot throw it.And thats when the lifted object is inanimate,and not a living being grasping at your hand and squirming around.

                  Now,couldve saren used his other hand to punch shepard?Or shoot her?Probably.But it seemed like he was trying to choke her,not let her fall to her death(he was portrayed as arrogant much earlier).Either way,it most definitely is neither as silly as you portray it,nor as silly as casually walking by while the building collapses all around you.

                  • Calliope says:

                    With respect, a lot of your points were incoherent or irrelevant. Worse, though, you are devising explanations for the text, which is not permitted.

                    The text is clear: Shepard is blinded by the gunship. TIM has salvaged Reaper technology. Shepard struggles to survive during the temple collapse. Anderson does not say the attributed words, even as a paraphrase.

                    It is not allowed to decide how much time is required to adjust to a gunship light, or how asari temples ‘should’ collapse.

                    We should be truthful and accurate to the text in our criticism. Else what is the point?

                    • djw says:

                      Did you just make up an arbitrary rule for the discussion to follow? This isn’t your English Lit class, we can criticize the “text” based upon whether or not the actions are logical and/or possible if we want to.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      But it is allowed to decide if someone has a strength to throw someone?Are you serious?

                      And Im not deciding anything.I am going by the text.The text is:Shepard and co know a hostile is approaching,but they neither shoot at the light trying to blind them,nor do they bolt for cover.Then they adjust to the light,draw their guns,but neither shoot at the approaching figure nor bolt for cover.The text doesnt show in any way that they know this is a gunship blinding them with light,nor that the approaching figure wants to parley before fighting.The only thing the text shows is that they know that hostiles are approaching and they still act like they arent going to be immediately threatened by said hostiles.

                      On the other hand you ARE deciding that they know they are being outgunned,and that that somehow excuses their actions.

                      The text also shows that said reaper tech is not accessible by anyone other than the collector ship(which was blown up)and normandy.But then the text shows that tim somehow DID access it.The text contradicts itself.

                      The text shows that a building is collapsing.It also shows that you AND your party all struggle with the crumbling floor.Yet kai leng does not.I am not deciding how a building crumbles,the text is deciding it,and its deciding it in a very unrealistic way.Mind you,before that point,buildings were portrayed as real life buildings,so we dont expect them to crumble in bizarre ways like that,unlike bullets for example,which we were shown work in a different way,so we do expect them to not immediately harm someone who is being shoot.

                      Quote anderson then,show us that he says something radically different from what was paraphrased.

                      Fine,you like the work.Good for you.But dont excuse its inconsistencies by accusing others of being dishonest while you are doing the exact same thing.Dont go around saying how something is “not permitted” while doing the exact same thing yourself.

                      And seriously,reading both this and all your other responses,Im not sure if I should bother any more.You seem like you are trolling.

                    • Calliope says:

                      It is Roger Ebert’s rule, and a good one. The text is the text. Inventing explanations leads to infinite recursion where we can say anything to support or criticise the text because we are no longer discussing it.

                      Saren has no difficulty lifting Shepard. It is not permitted to invent obstacles for him, like ‘Saren is not that strong’ or ‘Shepard has Super Kung Fu Grip’. (Of course, my stance is that it’s ultimately irrelevant anyway. But if we’re going to tactically optimise Kai Leng, we should tactically optimise Saren as well.)

                      The text is clear. We see a gunship’s blinding light; we see Shepard covering their eyes; we see Kai Leng approach; we see Shepard draw guns; we see Kai Leng not draw his gun but deploy a comms device for parley. It is not relevant to discuss what they ‘should’ or ‘should not’ have done, or pupil dilation times in C22 humans, because that will never end: e.g. maybe instead of Shepard rolling for cover, maybe Kai Leng should simply not be evil?

                      TIM has the Reaper IFF. In the Renegade ending of ME2, you see a display of Cerberus ships travelling the Omega 4 relay to scavenge the Collector Base.

                      Yes, precisely! The building crumbles, Shepard is thrown about and caught in the rubble, Kai Leng casually strolls through the debris to pick up the artifact. This is the image the text presents to us. What does it mean? (Kai Leng is at ease in chaos and destruction, while Shepard is caught up in collateral damage. It is a metaphor.)

                      To be clear, my original point was that Shamus should be more accurate in his criticism of the game. He doesn’t need to argue that there’s no reason given for Shepard not immediately shooting Kai Leng, since there is (Shepard is surprised by him) and it’s largely irrelevant to Shamus’ larger argument (that Kai Leng is unpleasant and a bad character).

                    • djw says:

                      I never much cared for Roger Ebert. I think that I prefer the Shamus school of video game criticism.

                      Video games are not movies. They should not be criticized as movies. They should be criticized as video games, and I’d argue that Shamus has gone a lot further to create standards for that sort of criticism than Roger Ebert ever did.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Inventing explanations leads to infinite recursion where we can say anything to support or criticise the text because we are no longer discussing it.

                      Then stop doing it.Stop inventing some metaphors about “kai leng being confident amongst the rubble that is consuming shepard”.There is no such thing.Its a crappy contrivance so that the bad guy can get the thing while the good guys are unable to stop him.Period.No metaphor there,no deep underlying meaning.

                      Also stop inventing how “saren could easily throw shepard”.If he could have done that,he would have done that.All we saw was saren managing to lift shepard and shepard grabing his hand.Thats it.Lifting =/= throwing,and clutching at someones hand means you wont fall.Nothing more there.So stop inventing explanations to justify how your view of that scene was 100% legit while Shamus view of this scene was not.You cannot easily throw something just because you can lift it,and you dont need superhuman strength to hold yourself on someones arm.Not to mention that we do see shepard holding onto ledges and peoples arms without falling in multiple scenes.Your argument that the scene with saren was poor,so stop inventing explanations why its not.

                      We see a gunship’s blinding light; we see Shepard covering their eyes; we see Kai Leng approach; we see Shepard draw guns; we see Kai Leng not draw his gun but deploy a comms device for parley.

                      Also stop cherry picking.This isnt the first time shepard encountered hostiles.We know that shepard bolts for cover when threatened because we saw it dozens of times before.We know shepard doesnt mind shooting at gunships with pistols,because we saw that multiple times before as well.The only reason this time shepard stands in the open when she knows that hostiles are approaching is because the writer wanted to give us this lame face to face parlay.

                      Again,compare this to the scene when saren has a similar parlay,and shepard is constantly in cover during that.Because thats what shepard does when she encounters hostiles.The fact she isnt in cover now is a discrepancy in the text.So stop inventing explanations how “this time is different,she couldnt have shot because she was outgunned and surprised”.

                      TIM has the Reaper IFF. In the Renegade ending of ME2, you see a display of Cerberus ships travelling the Omega 4 relay to scavenge the Collector Base.

                      Again,this is a discrepancy in the story.We know that there is only one iff out of hands of the collectors because we got it,we installed it in our ship.No other ship posses it.We had to get it from a dead reaper,and there was just a single one of those in the entire galaxy.And now cerberus magically has one iif as well?That contradicts all the things that were explicitly shown to us.Its a gaping plot hole.And it cannot be used to explain further discrepancies because it was not explained.You cannot cover a plot hole with another plot hole,so stop trying to do that.It does not work.

                      To be clear, my original point was that Shamus should be more accurate in his criticism of the game.

                      Then stop being so inaccurate yourself.The whole “do as I say,not as I do” is really old,so stop it.

                      He doesn’t need to argue that there’s no reason given for Shepard not immediately shooting Kai Leng, since there is (Shepard is surprised by him) and it’s largely irrelevant to Shamus’ larger argument (that Kai Leng is unpleasant and a bad character).

                      No,there was not.Shepard was not surprised,the vi warned her.And this is not the first time shepard was ambushed by enemies.We saw what shepard does when she is ambushed by enemies.She doesnt do it this time.And this discrepancy in her behavior IS relevant to the larger argument,because the only reason shepard reacts differently this time is because the writer wanted to deliver a face to face parlay with kai leng.The reason that kai leng is a bad character is because the established rules of the work suddenly dont work around him.He isnt a bad character because he is unpleasant,unpleasant characters can work,if they are presented skillfully.This one was not presented skillfully,but rather sloppily.That is the whole point of this part.

                    • Trix2000 says:

                      One thing I’d like to point out is that if you are in a warzone and something pops up to surprise/blind you, most (if not all) people’s reactions are going to be that it’s an attack or ambush. They’re not just going to sit still through that.

                      I mean, Shepard’s supposed to be a good soldier, right? I would think first instinct in an unknown situation like that is “OH CRAP I MIGHT GET SHOT MOVE NOW”. Because standing out in the open is a good way to die.

                      Though I’d also like to point out that if you have to have a discussion to paper over things like this at all, the work has already failed in some way. There’s a vast difference between drawing conclusions based on story elements and making guesses at the author’s intent – one of those is a LOT more immersive than the other.

                    • Zen Shrugs says:

                      Here I am again commenting on old discussions…

                      This debate is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen of a literary-criticism viewpoint (Calliope) colliding with a genre-fiction viewpoint (everyone else), and the confusion that results.

                      I admit to a suspicion that Calliope is trolling, given that Mass Effect 3 is clearly a work of genre fiction, but I’ll give him/her the benefit of the doubt. If it is trolling, it’s very well done and scarily convincing. This sort of lit-crit difficulty with genre fiction happens all the time in real life–famously so regarding The Lord of the Rings*.

                      I’m going to put words into people’s mouths here months after the fact, and might be misconstruing posters’ intent, so please jump in and correct me if I’ve got this wrong. I should also mention that I’m writing this after midnight, which is never a good idea. In my defence, I suppose I can always invoke the ‘Death of the Author’ and declare that I’m constructing a meaning from the above posts alone :)

                      My rough and possibly strawmannish understanding is that the literary-criticism approach traditionally involves looking at works of fiction not as stories, but as vehicles for presenting interesting themes and symbols. (Note Calliope’s telling use of the term ‘text’ rather than ‘story’.) This is why he/she talks about metaphors so much.

                      The literary critic does not pretend, even in the privacy of their own head, that this imaginary story is really happening. It clearly isn’t. Some writer made it up. The critic is not interested in finding out ‘what happens next’ unless it furthers a thematic or symbolic meaning. Some critics have even been known to sneer at stories that are considered ‘page-turners’ (i.e. ones that keep you interested in finding out what happens next), seeing them as containing nothing of value.

                      From this point of view, whether the story and events of ME3 make sense does not matter. It’s not even irrelevant to ask that question–it’s nonsensical. As Calliope says, it’s all made up anyway. There are no ‘rules’.

                      This quote is a perfect example of what I mean:

                      Yes, precisely! The building crumbles, Shepard is thrown about and caught in the rubble, Kai Leng casually strolls through the debris to pick up the artifact. This is the image the text presents to us. What does it mean? (Kai Leng is at ease in chaos and destruction, while Shepard is caught up in collateral damage. It is a metaphor.)

                      (emphasis added)

                      From the lit-crit viewpoint, you can’t ask ‘how come he doesn’t fall?’ because Shepard, Kai and temple aren’t real. The writer could have written it happening any other way. Therefore, if Kai is shown to be miraculously immune to masonry, it must be because it has some symbolic meaning.

                      The problem, of course, is that ME3 is a work of genre fiction. (And a game, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.)

                      In genre, whether it’s romance, mystery, thriller, or whatever, the most important thing is to tell a good story. (Not true of a game, but let’s continue to ignore that particular krogan in the room.) The most vital question is: what happens next?

                      Take Harry Potter, for instance. I suppose it’s possible Rowling wrote the Potter books to present themes and symbols, but somehow I doubt it. Instead, she probably started with a mental game of ‘let’s pretend’. Imagine magic was real and a boy discovered he was a wizard. What would that be like? I guess he’d go to wizard school. What would that be like? And why didn’t he grow up knowing he was a wizard? Well, maybe he’s adopted. But what happened to his parents? And so on. Keep going until you find a story worth telling.

                      Whether this has some deeper metaphorical meaning is irrelevant (though it’s nice when it happens). The point is to play make-believe. And if you’re going to play make-believe, you can’t just have any old thing happen. That’s cheating. ‘What Happens Next’ loses all meaning if anything can happen.

                      Even in a ‘Drama First’ story like Harry Potter, in which the rules of magic are vague and change whenever the plot requires, Voldemort won’t suddenly turn friendly and run around singing the Lamb Chop Song with a kitten on his head. Amusing though it might be, it wouldn’t be true to his character. We would lose faith in the story. Our suspension of disbelief would be broken. Voldemort’s not a real person, but if he were, he would never do that sort of thing. On the other hand, somebody could conceivably cast a Lambinus Choppus Kittenus spell on him, because that fits the imaginary rules (more or less). And it would then backfire due to terrible dog-Latin. But never mind.

                      A literary critic might be inclined to see the Great Voldemort This Is The Song That Never Ends Meow Meow Moment as an ingenious metaphor for the absurdity of the human condition, but everyone else would just throw the book across the room. Or take a photo and post the paragraph on Tumblr.

                      Stephen King says the same of his writing. He doesn’t start with themes and symbols; he just plays ‘imagine if this were actually happening’. If this character were real, then they would do this, and say this, but that would clearly annoy this other person, who would do this other thing… He doesn’t grab the characters like toy dolls and make them dance in bizarre implausible ways to make a symbolic point. (At least he tries not to.)Themes and symbols do tend to crop up unexpectedly and naturally during the rough draft, but they’re not the starting point.

                      The fact that ME3 is specifically a science fiction story, or a space fantasy story, or what have you, isn’t really the issue in my view. Everyone besides Calliope keeps bringing up ‘but this bit doesn’t make sense!’ moments–both logical and character-based–because they instinctively understand that this is a genre story and should be approached as such. People repeatedly raise the complaint that the rules of the imaginary setting aren’t being followed. Why wouldn’t Shepard just shoot Kai Leng? (Drama flaw.) What’s the deal with the shields thing? (Details flaw.) And so on.

                      From a traditional lit-crit point of view, these complaints are meaningless. Symbolic meanings are what you should look for. But for a lover of genre fiction, they’re vital. Whether Details First or Drama First, it’s all fundamentally Story First.There ought to be a reason. It’s make-believe. Make me believe it!

                      Ahem. Sorry if this is all bleedin’ obvious, but sometimes you have to get back to basics with these things.

                      *Tom Shippey has written a great deal about the puzzling reaction of literary critics to The Lord of the Rings. After its publication, and right up to the end of the twentieth century (and maybe even to this day), many critics expressed horror that the book was so popular and dismissed it as Boys’ Own trash. The irony is that LotR is packed to the gills (gollum, gollum) with themes like the danger of power, the nature of evil, and the value of courage in the face of hopeless odds. Somehow the masses got it while the highly educated literary critics didn’t. They had been trained to look for certain things using certain tools that simply didn’t work for that kind of story. It’s as if they were all expert wine-tasters who, upon being presented with a plate of delicious and nourishing food, prodded it and sniffed at it and complained that it lacked a bouquet.

      • acronix says:

        Does the cutscene show that Shepard and his company are blinded? Or is that a Headcanon based saving throw? I forgot.

  6. Coming_Second says:

    Oof. Worth the wait.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    there are no interesting stories like this about Kai.

    Yes there are!One time,kai leng ate andersons plant,and pissed in his cereal.

  8. m0j0l says:

    It’s funny… I LOVE ME and have played through the series a bunch of times. Different choices, different teams, so on and so on…. I can quote some of the dialog; I’m basically a huge ME nerd.

    When I think back thru my playthrough’s, I have ZERO memory of Kai Leng. I honestly forget he’s even in the game until someone mentions it. He is so boring and ill-conceived that I (perhaps deliberately?) edit him out.

    The only playthrough I remember him was the first, and thats because when he appears on Thessia I just did the giant-rolleyes-emote IRL. I could already tell how bullshit he was going to be from the first moment… so thats successful character design I guess? :trollface:

    • Trix2000 says:

      You’re not alone there.

      I’ll be the first to say I love ME as a series and am very glad to have played it, but that doesn’t mean I consider them to be well-made games (maybe ME1) in terms of story (gameplay I liked all of them).

      Pretty much all of Shamus’s criticisms ring true to me and highlight the things I found lacking about the series – somewhat in hindsight, but even while playing. But I enjoyed them anyways because there WAS a lot they did right in constructing the world and much of the characters/dialog.

      …Which just makes it all the more disappointing, because as much as it was a GOOD series for me, it could have been SO much better with a little more planning. Too many simple things they messed up which could have made an enjoyable experience into the best games I’ve ever played.

      I kind-of draw a parallel to the Witcher series, actually, because in some ways it feels like the way ME1->3 SHOULD have gone – progressive improvements on the formula turning a fun game into an amazing game. Witcher 3 is one of my favorite RPGs now, and it’s all because they took the time to make their writing and characterization make sense for the most part… if not some of the best I’ve seen in a game in years.

      Witcher 3’s not perfect either (plenty to criticize there too if you like), but the mistakes at least feel reasonable even for a good writer – people aren’t perfect/omniscient, after all.

  9. Lanelor says:

    I continue to be ashamed by the pure focus and willpower of Shamus to persevere with this MassEffect plot analysis. By this point he “destroyed” almost all scenes of the game and I can’t but agree with him, yet still wonder if all this will make any effect on ME4’s story. Are we going to explore new planets searching for “secret” caches, rescue endangered settlements and hunt for upgrades ala /Ubisoft title goes here/ Wither3? As with most of the points made in his blog and Spoiler Warning, yes this are on point, but I just don’t see the game industry willpower to craft a complex story and do it right. Are you ready to pay 60$ for 20/30 hours long masterpiece of storytelling with real choice, consequence and story branching even if graphics and length are not the main selling point?
    To be honest, for me after finishing Baldur’s gate 1 & 2, BG2 was THE GAME. After IWD1, IWD2’s improvements made so much sense. After KotOR1 & 2, I was wondering if Bioware even plays their games anymore. Every change in KotOR2 was similar to the ones in BG2, at least on NPC interaction. After ME3, I don’t think they care anymore, so let’s go somewhere quiet for one snipe with Garrus. For the old time’s sake.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      After ME3, I don’t think they care anymore

      I wouldnt say that.They did made improvements in me3.Only none of them were in the main story.But the gameplay and the hub were improved.

      • Lanelor says:

        True, but as Shamus wrote in detail the story is … well quite shitty. If I can use Pillars of Eternity, there is just too much battle to pad game length. Why? Because there has to be something to fight every 200 meters?! Even with improved gameplay and hub, some games need story to keep the player interested. Balance in everything and such.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          But this is nothing new for bioware.Their main stories oscillate between brilliant and shit,while its the characters that usually uplift the game.

          • Lanelor says:

            Yes, and the fact that this keeps happening after so many titles is making me feel schizophrenic: part infuriating for continuously botching story elements , part wanting to see more of the characters, and part wondering why after so many years we are still here and why am I wasting time and money on half baked shit for the rare moments of clarity. How many years have passed from the last game that made you stay all night to get to the end, then watching the credits roll with your stomach in a knot, feeling a bit sad and euphoric at the same time? I am getting older, yet Bioware is still telling stories for 10 year olds.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              At least they aren’t telling stories for 40 year olds like dc.

            • Trix2000 says:

              I feel like, to some extent, the game industry got into a bit of rut where they knew they needed actual writers for their games… but ultimately didn’t consider that aspect much beyond that fact. So we get games with heavy plot focus that seem like they should be decent experiences but turn out lacking, missing pieces, or making no sense on scrutiny.

              It’s like they noticed people going “We want better writing/stories!” and said “So we’ll hire a writer” and that was that. I step in the right direction, but only the one step.

              But then, I can’t help but think (hope, really) that Witcher 3’s demonstration of “Hey, good writing makes good successful AAA games, who knew?” will convince people in the industry that they’ve got to focus more on how their writing and stories work within the context of the game… instead of just hiring a writer and calling it a day.

      • Daimbert says:

        Compared to ME2, the main story is an improvement because, well, there IS one beyond “Hey, go recruit these characters!”. I really feel that it is an attempt to combine the story-focus of ME1 with the character-focus of ME2. It fails at it, and may even fail at it miserably, but it’s an improvement, in my eyes, to even make the attempt.

    • Taellosse says:

      I feel I must point out that KotOR2 is not a Bioware game. It was made by Obsidian, using the same engine Bioware had on the first one. Obsidian also made the second Neverwinter Nights game (the first being another Bioware game).

      • djw says:

        In both cases the Obsidian story was more interesting than the Bioware story (although the difference is a lot more dramatic between NWN2 and Mask of the Betrayer).

        • Taellosse says:

          Arguably, yes. I can’t really speak to NWN2 – I never finished that game, and have never played the expansions, though I bought them once upon a time. But the technical flaws in both games made it very hard to enjoy them, unfortunately – particularly KotOR2, whose ending was so deeply compromised by a premature release as to very nearly ruin the entire game.

          But I wasn’t really assigning a value judgement to Obsidian vs. Bioware – just making a clarification, since the previous poster seemed to think, as many do, that Bioware was responsible for those two sequels to games they DID make. I just don’t think it’s fair to either credit or blame Bioware for the work of a completely different company, whatever a given person thinks of those 2 titles.

          • djw says:

            Fair enough. It is Obsidian that gets credit/blame for Kotor 2 and Mask of the Betrayer.

            As far as personal opinion goes IMO, I agree that the unfinished nature of Kotor 2 was a huge problem, although I did like it quite a bit in spite of that. I don’t recall Mask of the Betrayer having any obvious problems though. That story held together from start to finish and was in general much better than NWN2.

  10. Zekiel says:

    Man, I love Saren. Second-best Bioware antagonist ever.

    • Zekiel says:

      Possibly even the best. Its hard to compare Irenicus and Saren dispassionately when I played their games 11 years apart. Saren has a fantastic motivation which makes him a really relateable and tragic villain.

      • GranForte says:

        I replayed BG2:EE recently and fuuuuuuuck Jonoleth Irenicus. I was so ready to smash his skull in by the end. I hated Saren too, but not as much as Irenicus. The intensity of my feelings against him is what makes him a better villain for me.

        The dialogue is what did it, I think. Both had relatable motivations, but all that extra characterization that BG2 had really made me want to kill him.

      • IFS says:

        I played BG2 and ME1 much closer together (though still over a year apart) and I’d say that Irenicus is the better of the two but Saren is still really good. After those two I’d probably put the Arishok in third place, but then I haven’t played Jade Empire so maybe the villain in that deserves third.

        • djw says:

          The Arishok was awesome. To bad he wasn’t the main villain of DA2.

          (I am in agreement with Irenicus as the best villain).

          • guy says:

            Yeah, the Arishok was pretty great while Anders made for a terrible main villain since he vanishes from the plot for the entirety of Act 2 and inexplicably reappears when you’re forced to rescue him from kidnappers after vowing to kill him if you ever saw him again and then he just wanders off.

            Okay, so I’m pretty sure that was a bug, but it was still really infuriating.

            One of the nice touches in DA2 was the sidequest in Act III where a Qunari agent wants you to bring him the swords of the dead from the fighting in Act II. Hawke didn’t really grasp the significance, but I’d done Sten’s quest and I made absolutely sure to track down every single one.

          • lurkey says:

            I wouldn’t call ol’ ‘shok awesome, since he was too full of pretentious bullshit, but he indeed made for a well-established villain that I loved to kill (even if the fight itself was kiting hell). And your Hawke probably had both siblings dead and Anders romanced to have him show up in the scene, because the feature order was sibling>SO>everyone else in order of friendship/rivalry.

            Irenicus I found kinda okay, but too much standard fantasy stereotype schlock, Jade Empire’s so-called-villain I like so much I refuse to label him as villain, Malak was a Kai Leng- rivaling buffoon, Dragon Age just had a big dumb dragon, so I’ll probably go with Saren as my second favourite villain, and my bestest would be, quite unexpectedly, from SWTOR, Imperial Agent’s story. He was a bit like Kai Leng done right — pithy one-liners, 4th wall breaching power to turn the PC into a dummy, foil both to the PC and the player — the difference was that he had legit means to manipulate and nowhere ever his taunting and such were presented as cool — no, he was set up as petty, mean, power-tripping, self-indulgent jerk. Oh, and in the end, when you have him at gunpoint and he’s about to do his Big Reveal (because of course he had one, all proper villains have; and it’s pretty great reveal too), you can go “Nope” and just shoot him.

            • guy says:

              Nope. No Anders romance. During his act 1 quest I threw him out of the city on pain of death.

              I think the quest triggered while my SO (IIRC I romanced Merril) was actually in my party, and my back bench was pretty sparse, but I still had at least one character alive and in the city who wasn’t in the active party at that very moment.

              • djw says:

                I did not know that you could banish Anders in act 1. I always kept him around since he was the only healer available for Acts 2 and 3 if your Hawke isn’t a mage.

                • guy says:

                  I recall that there’s a bit of healing magic on one of the standard mage trees, though personally I mostly just relied on armor and potions with my warrior Hawke and team.

                  • djw says:

                    There is some healing on one of the mage trees, but Meril doesn’t have access to it, and Bethany is unavailable after act 1.

                    I did eventually experiment with a party comp that used Meril and three rogues (or two rogues and a warrior) to whack enemies fast enough that healing isn’t needed. Anders is such a whiner that I hated having to bring him along for everything.

            • djw says:

              I never quite finished the imperial agent quest line. Probably I will have to go back and do it someday.

  11. Neko says:

    Yessssss let the hate flow through you.

  12. deiseach says:

    I loved Mass Effect. I remember the day Mass Effect 2 was released, picking it up at the store and getting increasingly agitated as the end of my shift approached. I got home around 10.30pm, telling my wife not to bother me for the rest of the weekend and not to be disturbed if she woke up the following morning and I was still awake. Okay, she could be disturbed but she was not to be shocked. I made myself a promise that I would not drop back down a level if I got stuck and I kept that promise, even through that galling fight with Harbinger on Horizon. I kept it up through Mass Effect 3.

    Then I got to Kai Leng. There was no way I was sitting through that crap. Casual ahoy!

  13. MrGuy says:

    Meh. Kai Leng is just an extension of a series trope that’s been playing out since ME2 (and which largely contradicts what ME1 set up, but you’ve already talked about it).

    The Great Big Save the Galaxy Goal has been background since ME2. Instead, the focus of the series shifting to small, low-stakes personal interactions that don’t do much to advance The Big Goal directly. With few exceptions, pretty much all the stuff Shepard is doing in ME2 and ME3 is penny-ante stuff while the big goal plays out in the background. We’ll have cutscene or mission-briefing stuff that sets up how Shepard YET AGAIN fighting a lone, small-squad tactics action against a small group on some obscure planet somehow advances those goals.

    But the connection between “the stuff Shepard is doing right now” and “advancing Shepard’s stated goals” has been tenuous at best. Take Mordin. He’s badass. He’s an awesome character, and his arc is stupendous. And yet…you battle your way through gang-infested slums to recruit him. There’s no obvious reason why you need a doctor or a Salarian along on your magical mystery team, other than TIM told you to recruit him to help fight the collectors (and even that goal isn’t clearly germane to stopping the reapers). His admittedly awesome loyalty mission is largely a diversion from your goals – the ONLY connection to anything Shepard actually cares about is that it gives him the magic green circle that will have him survive the end game. You have no reason to meet or recruit Mordin other than “the game told us to.”

    Similarly, you fight small-squad tactics with 3 (always 3!) people parachuting onto a planet, even though in many cases you could command armies, or nuke sites from orbit, or bring a larger team, or do something other than “fight all the things,” or use tactics that rely on cleverness or stealth as opposed to cover-based shooting behind convenient chest-high walls. But you don’t. Squad fighting is the hammer you have, and damned if the entire universe isn’t littered with nails.

    My point is the franchise has for a long while now given up on having you do much of anything that directly advances Shepard’s goals. They just string together a series of small character moments that rely on small-squad fighting, tack those moments carelessly onto a notional overarching plot, and call it a game.

    When those small moments work (as many of them do in ME2), they really work. When those characters are interesting (Mordin is really interesting), they make up for the fact that, when you look at the big picture, it doesn’t need to be clear how they “fit” into the big picture story.

    So the fact that Kai Leng doesn’t really “fit” into the overarching plot isn’t really anything new. The fact that Shepard is in a penny-ante fight that doesn’t advance his goals in service of a minor character’s arc isn’t new. The “this is a thing you need to do because I said so!” from the writer isn’t new.

    The only thing different about Kai Leng is that he’s a badly written character, who doesn’t get enough screen time to convince you he’s interesting. Which is definitely a major problem, and stands in stark contrast to many other characters in the series. But dropping you into a fight that doesn’t necessarily make sense for reasons that don’t advance your goals is a series trope by this point.

    • Gethsemani says:

      Mordin is a spectacularly bad example though, because he’s the only party member in ME2 that has relevance beyond “another body for the meat grinder”. TIM, the dossier and the mission itself makes it explicitly clear that the primary reason to recruit Mordin is so that he can find a vaccine or antidote to the Collector’s paralysis venom (or whatever it is), this is also why the early interactions with him on the Normandy has him bringing this research up and there’s a cutscene with him and a collector swarm bug just prior to the Horizon mission. Mordin and his recruitment are, as such, directly linked to the larger goal of being able to combat the collectors.

      • MrGuy says:

        He’s actually a good example of what I’m talking about.

        Imagine Seal Team 6 has a mission to take out some baddy. The mission needs a helicopter, and the team’s helo is down. Therefore, the head of Seal Team 6 needs to personally track down a former genius Air Force mechanic who got disillusioned and left the service to live in dangerous obscurity. He needs to help the mechanic sort out his personal demons and come back for One Last Mission.

        Theres a nice story in there about duty, friendship, and redemption. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s ludicrous from a military perspective. The army HAS helicopters. And mechanics. It’s their mission. Why on earth would they leave their own special ops team unsupported?

        Mordin may be the very model of a scientist salarian, but he’s hardly the only scientist (or even salarian scientist) in the universe. Cerberus is repeatedly shown to have whole teams of scientists.

        There is no good explanation for:
        Why no one currently on the payroll can solve the venom problem.
        How TIM knows both that his current team can’t solve the problem AND that Mordin certainly can.
        Why Mordin is the ONLY one who can solve the venom problem.
        How TIM knows that Mordin can solve the problem sufficiently quickly to be useful.
        Why Shepard is the only one who can approach Mordin, but we know Shepard can successfully recruit Mordin
        Why Cerberus, Galaxy-wide military power, decides to offer zero support to the one guy they think can save humanity other than a few names of possibly useful people from the phone book.

        You can paper over any of these if you try, though arguably with more holes (only Shepard can recruit Mordin because he’d never work for Cerberus! Wait, Shepard works for Cerberus…)

        But when you think about it, other than some notional, often thin, tie to the overall goal, the mission specifics are rarely “sensible.” We just notice it less when the characters are better.

        • Gethsemani says:

          Except now you are shifting your critique. Your initial point was that the game gave no reason for why you needed to recruit other then “TIM said so”, I pointed this out and explained the reasons given in game. To which you give a reply that amounts to “but it is a stupid reason!”

          Is it far-fetched? Yes. But that was not your initial critique, which was that the game gave no reason and that it was an example of persona drama before the overarching plot of saving the world. This holds true to some degree, but Mordin is not one of those cases as it is clear why he has to be recruited and he plays a very specific part in the early game, other then providing just another squad member for the shooty parts (which is what everyone else on the team does).

        • GloatingSwine says:

          Cerberus has teams of scientists, but they fuck up everything they touch and maybe he wants this mission to actually work?

        • guy says:

          It’s a very difficult scientific challenge so they send Shepard to recruit a very good scientist to handle it. There’s no particular need to talk about why this particular scientist as opposed to other scientists who could theoretically be recruited instead, because Mordin is selected by the Cerberus intelligence apparatus and we don’t actually see any scientists who are at least as good and as easily recruitable. Plus, in ME2 Cerberus is not actually a galactic military superpower but a very well-financed yet small terrorist organization who very reasonably might not have anyone equivalent to the STG’s top biologist, especially after the loss of the Project Lazarus team.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      In the first game, by making you a Spectre they clearly set you up as a special forces/secret agent type person, right? Small, covert ops where you have a lot of personal autonomy, recruiting assets and operatives from outside your original military/intelligence agency, so that your superiors have deniability for your actions–that’s the name of the game.

      That’s the game they should have let you keep playing in the sequels. If they wanted to have the whole Cerberus crap from ME2, they could have had Shepard infiltrate Cerberus as a double-agent instead of just blindly following TIM’s orders. If the key to defeating the Reapers was hidden in some long-lost Prothean ruin, maybe guarded by some still-active autonomous defense systems, or maybe the heretic geth are sending small search teams across the galaxy hoping to aid the Old Machines so you have story excuses for small-unit combat during the course of your mission (the geth can’t really send fleets everywhere when the whole galaxy has them on their shitlist). Add a few other indoctrinated cults of other species–I think someone on a previous thread said Cerberus could have become an indoctrinated cult–but overall just have a couple of good reasons why Shepard’s missions all involve small-unit tactics and recon, and limit the major events like fleet battles to cutscenes or resolved with dialogue and such.

      • Mike S. says:

        From what we see in ME1, Spectres aren’t so much covert or deniable as simply smaller scale than a fleet and so less inherently provocative. Everywhere Shepard goes in ME1, she announces her Spectre status and uses it to demand cooperation. Anderson’s story about Saren is about his causing a giant refinery explosion when they could have been quick and surgical.

        (Aside: I’d forgotten until reviewing the conversation that Saren and Anderson’s target was a scientist developing illegal AI tech for the batarians.)

        • guy says:

          Spectres are basically the Holy Imperial Inquisition, and do whatever they deem appropriate to complete their mission.

          Honestly, they really don’t fit the setting; the Council is too open and non-authoritarian to invest absolute power in appointed individuals with basically no accountability just for the sake of doing so, and their communications technology is too good to declare it necessary to dispatch someone with absolute authority to resolve a situation because the time lag in contacting the central government to provide a unified civil/military chain of command is too great. But they’re pretty important to the roleplaying aspect by providing an excuse to let the player act independently, so I can forgive it.

      • Aevylmar says:

        Honestly, I think the simple fix for ME2 would have been to replace “Shepard is killed and brought back by Cerberus” with “Shepard infiltrates Cerberus.”

        Why are you doing the stupid stuff TIM tells you do? Because you have to play along until your bosses on the Council are ready to drop the hammer on the entire Cerberus operation.

        If a player then gets attracted by Cerberus, and is convinced that they really are the best people to save the world – well, you can have that be one of the options on the dialogue wheel. But if not, you have a reason to do what they say.

  14. Darren says:

    I’m really glad you used Sephiroth as an example here, because Final Fantasy VII–while it has narrative flaws of its own–is a case study in how to juggle a large number of villains and use them to good effect. Count the recurring villains: the Turks (Tseng, Reno, Rude, and Elena), Scarlet, Heideggar, Hojo, Rufus, Jenova, and Sephiroth. Hell, let’s throw Don Corneo in there too. That’s eleven characters who are of varying importance to the narrative but who appear time and again for the heroes to deal with in different ways, from boss fights to minigames to conversations.

    The important lesson is that in that game there was one villain greater than all the rest–Sephiroth–and the other villains invariably served only to make him seem even more dangerous. They are either comic relief (Reno, Rude, and Elena, at least after Sephiroth takes center stage), boorish and flatly unlikeable in comparison (Scarlet, Heideggar), in service to Sephiroth (Hojo, Jenova), or killed directly or indirectly by Sephiroth’s actions (Tseng, Rufus).

    I’m struggling to think of other games that did a good job balancing multiple villains. Does anybody else have a good example?

    • MichaelGC says:

      The Arkham games, to I think varying degrees of success:

      Asylum: darn well!
      City: rather bitty overall, although individually fine
      Origins: who are all these people and what is going on?
      Knight: you play as a car and your main adversaries are walls and floors, so not really attempted

      • Darren says:

        See, I think only Asylum really handled it all that well, though the Poison Ivy section is more of an interruption than anything else. City couldn’t decide whether Strange or the Joker was the main threat and split the difference; it works as a “stressful night for Batman” story, but the ending falls flat because the game never really felt like it was about Batman and Joker’s relationship above anything else. Origins is better–Black Mask hired assassins and is secretly the Joker, so even though the Joker doesn’t fully appear until halfway through the game is still about him–but leans far too heavily on Bane in the final stretch. Knight does well by Joker but flubs Scarecrow and the titular Knight.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I also hated City’s villains, because they undermined Asylum’s strengths. Asylum was really good about making Batman feel badass in cutscenes: When Batman is in the room, Joker doesn’t escape in a cutscene, he gets grabbed by the neck and restrained, Bats doesn’t lose to Harley in a cutscene, he one-shots her. Then along comes City and nearly every single villain gets some kind of cutscene-sucker punch in on the World’s Greatest Detective. Hell, most of the main plot consists of Batman trying to recover from Joker’s sucker punch, which is especially grating because half the players see it coming and it’s the kind of forced failure that the player could totally have beaten if only the controls weren’t locked for a cutscene.

    • Syal says:

      Chrono Trigger had Magus, the Chancellor, Azula, Dalton-and-Golems, Ozzie-Slash-and-Flea, and Zeal, all orbiting around Lavos. They were all more compartmentalized than 7’s bunch, though.

      (You left out the Weapons, too; they each mostly only show up once but the group is certainly recurring.)

      EDIT: Oh, and Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together may or may not have pulled it off; Lars stands out above the rest for the most part I think.

  15. Grudgeal says:

    True story: My first reaction to Aria was to go “aaaaaawwww, how cute, it thinks it’s being cool” and then hoping Shepard had the option to give her a noogie and tell her that “I Am Omega!!!!111!” speech was just adorable in cutesy baby talk.

    Realising that the game was actually playing her dead straight was, in retrospect, the tipping point where the game became truly “badly written” to me.

    • Coming_Second says:

      The only way I got through Aria’s scenes was because Shepard spent most of them smirking. So I could at least pretend me and him were thinking the exact same thing.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      She just feels like a character created solely to justify Cari-Anne Moss’ stuntcasting. And did any of the stuntcasting really pay off? Seth Green and Tricia Helfer had great performances. You can set your watch to a Keith David voiceover role. Claudia Black’s always nice to hear. Lance Henriksen was fine but got stuck playing the most boring stock character. But Marina Sirtis, Yvonne Strahovski, Michael Hogan, Adam Baldwin, Moss–did any of them bring something to their performance a veteran VO artist couldn’t have pulled off?

      I give a pass to Martin Sheen–he always made TIM sound compelling and dangerous, even though 80% of his dialogue was complete nonsense. It was like the casting coup of Christopher Plummer for Skyrim, only ME’s VO director knew what they were doing with the talent. And Shohreh Aghdashloo (AKA Chrisjen Avasarala from The Expanse) has such a unique and interesting voice it’s great in any context.

      • Zeitgeist says:

        As Shamus noted in Part 7, we should be glad Marina Sirtis is getting work, considering how Star Trek seems to pull actors into an inescapable black hole of typecasting. Plus, she’s had some VO experience (Gargoyles comes to mind).

        • krellen says:

          I think the majority of the old Star Trek cast members are doing voice over work these days, actually, even if you don’t count reprising their roles in Star Trek Online.

  16. Gabriel says:

    They should have just brought Saren back to life with another Lazarus Project and replaced Kai Leng with him. Put him in charge of the collector ship- unless you destroyed it in ME2, then put him in charge of an exact replica that Cerberus pulled out of their ass. You could make all three games worse at once!

    (It’s a testament to how bad Kai Leng is that I’m not sure if this is actually worse.)

  17. Xedo says:

    It just occurred to me that this scene would be far, FAR better if they had Miranda instead of Kai Lang doing all this. Think about it – Cerberus already has a swaggering, self-proclaimed badass on staff who is a true believer in their cause. She’s the most likely Cerberus character introduced so far to take on Shepherd’s role as a lead field operative after Shepherd leaves. She even has a backstory with Shepherd, like Saren with Anderson.

    And if she was present, there could be actual plot and emotional ramifications from ME2, which would make that working for Cerberus have some sort of payoff in ME3. It would even be reasonable for Shepherd not to open fire when she walks up to them at the start of this sequence and try to talk it out. There’s a lot of story possibilities here depending on factors like securing her loyalty or starting a romance in the last game. Bioware could have even had TIM do an indoctrination experiment on her to force a conflict if Shepherd had done her loyalty quest/romance. That would have been really great for bringing an emotional engagement – the more a player had invested in Miranda in ME2, the more they would presumably be motivated to find a way to save/redeem her here.

    Or they could relish taking her out in a firefight if they really hated her! That’s cool too.

    A lot of characters have replacements to perform their roles in the plot if they were dead. Kai Lang should have been Miranda’s understudy.

    • Aevylmar says:

      That’s a… really good idea.

      I wonder if they were originally planning to do that, then realized (a) they’d written themselves into a corner with her betraying Cerberus at the end of ME2 or (b) ran out of money, and said ‘ah well, let’s just use Kai Leng, we had to design an understudy anyway.’

    • Dreadjaws says:

      “Taunting is a dangerous thing for a villain to do in a game. If the player likes the villain, it can intensify the rivalry. But if they don’t, it instantly creates animosity towards the writer. The player is already aware that the writer is omnipotent within their own story, and it’s generally considered bad form to rub the player’s nose in it. And it’s really bad form if the writer seems to be reveling in that power. Suddenly this isn’t about Shepard vs. Kai Leng, but Player vs. writer.”

      That is EXACTLY what this mail is doing.

    • Redingold says:

      I love the suggestion that if Shepard had won the fight (and the following cutscene) then somehow Thessia would’ve been saved from the mile-long alien spaceship gods that were invading it at the time. The writers really didn’t think any of this through, did they?

    • Coming_Second says:

      His whole character is literally that *unsheathes katana* copypasta.

  18. Mokap says:

    “Heck, if you spend your paragade points right, and you can even redeem him.”

    Shouldn’t either the “if you” or the “and” be removed? I’m not sure if it’s wrong, but it felt weird reading it.

    Anyway, I do agree that Kai Leng is much worse than the ending. The ending felt like incompetence, not malice.

  19. Zeitgeist says:

    A very thoughtful analysis, and best of all, you didn’t call him “emo.” Thank you.

    (I will never understand that connection. The term “emo” implies being whiny and depressed, but Kai Leng never demonstrates that in the slightest. He has only one note in the entire story, and that note is “haha u mad bro? 1v1 me irl”. If anything he’s a really bad troll.)

    Also, in your opinion, what is the best way to handle a dramatic antagonist, and when?

    • Chris says:

      I was under the impression that emo meant “goth, but without the dignity”.

    • Jabrwock says:

      Think Drisst knockoffs. Badass, but “tormented”. Super-cool, but moody.

    • Syal says:

      Like Chris said, “emo” and “goth” are often used interchangeably.

      Also, in your opinion, what is the best way to handle a dramatic antagonist, and when?

      Depends on the story and what you mean by dramatic, but… early. Always introduce them very early, or at least the concept of them. And separately from any other villains. Even if they’re part of a larger threat, introduce them alone, or as the autonomous leader of their squad. If they take orders from someone they do it once in a blue moon, or on their terms: otherwise just focus on their boss.

      Either

      A.) Give them or the hero a long-term goal, and either their primary goal is to stop the hero, or the hero’s goal primarily involves stopping them. The goal needs to last for the length of the conflict; if the goal is resolved, the conflict is resolved, either the antagonist is dead or otherwise removed from the villain pool. (Darth Vader)

      B.) Make them tangential to everything; they don’t really care what happens here, they’ve got their own adventures elsewhere, but if your paths should cross they’re going to mess with you for funsies. (Whats-her-name from Fable 1). Obviously this only works if you have other villains carry the weight of the story.

  20. Vermander says:

    While I agree that Kai Leng is awful and ridiculous on almost every level, I can see how some people might be clamoring for an antagonist that’s a physical match for Shepard. Most of the main villains are gigantic space robots or shadowy spy masters who have to be beaten through political maneuvering and careful application of magical space science. It’s nice to have someone that you can fight one-on-one.

    Plus, we at least got to kill him. What bothered me most of all about the ending is that we never really “beat” the Reapers. The conflict was basically resolved on their terms. I really wanted to hear Harbinger yelling “NOOOOO!” if we picked the destroy ending.

    At least he’s better that Reaver from the Fable games though. That guy was the worst GMPC ever.

    • Coming_Second says:

      The ME team actually showed they were capable of creating such a character in the EA era with the asari spectre in the Shadow Broker DLC. Tela Vasir was a throw-away villain who was tough, competent, didn’t treat Shepard as a chump to bounce one liners off, actually bothered to notice choices the player had made, was that out-of-control-special-agent that renegade Shepard keeps threatening to become, had understandable motivations, and in the end was satisfying to overcome. The fact that Bioware quickly scribbled out that character for some DLC, and then dished up Kai Leng in the blockbuster sequel, makes him all the more frustrating.

      • Trix2000 says:

        I actually hadn’t considered that comparison. I remember she worked REALLY well for me, and that’s even considering I kind-of saw her being the enemy coming.

        It’s those parts that work really well that just make me even more disappointed by all the parts that didn’t, that could have been avoided.

      • KarmaTheAlligator says:

        >> actually bothered to notice choices the player had made

        Yeah, but she also berates you for joining Cerberus when you have no choice in the matter. Although that’s really the only problem I had with her (apart from the fact I managed to Biotic Charge her off the boss arena, and she just teleported back in somehow).

  21. Wraith says:

    The non-Tabletop version of the GMPC trope is the Creator’s Pet. Just as an FYI if you weren’t aware of it.

    It saddens me to see this same exact downward spiral of writing happen to my favorite TV show – Game of Thrones – as well. They even have their own Creator’s Pet character in Ramsay Bolton, who has the magical power of an aura that reduces all characters in close proximity to him to being drooling idiots. He’s a less egregious example compared to Kai Leng, since he’s been around a while and has extensive characterization (well, as much as you can have for a one-dimensional murderous sociopath), but unlike Kai Leng we actually have “source material” for this character.

    At least with a character like Kai Leng, I can roll my eyes and remember he’s just an annoying one-shot villain. But what makes Ramsay particularly grating to me is that he’s a not particularly competent character at many things in the books but in the show all of his flaws from them have been ignored, removed, or outright reversed.

    Is it worse for a Mary Sue to enter stage left, ruin a few scenes, and then exit stage right, or for the original script to be rewritten to make the Mary Sue way “cooler” than he/she was before?

    • Shamus says:

      Yes! Creators pet is a much better fit. I suspected there must be a trope for it, but I didn’t know what it was called.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Really?Because I dont see ramsay like that at all.And who did he turn into an idiot?Theon was a sniveling fool before meeting him,sansa was a stupid child before meeting him,the fat chick was an idiot all the time(which is why daddy bolton married her in the first place),and daddy boltons only mistake was not expecting treachery from someone who has always done what was ordered to him.

      And if you think ramsay is flawless,his arrogance has already cost him a lot.And I cant wait to see him march his confident army against castle black,only to get smashed to bits by giants and wildlings.

      • Wraith says:

        Just how much the writers utterly demolished the Sansa arc would require its own dedicated rant, so I won’t touch that. Experienced commander Stannis Baratheon walked completely disorganized into a trap and made no attempt to resolve the situation (because the writers hated his character and wanted him to die ASAP so Jon could get his arc). Roose Bolton is one of the most cunning and intelligent men in Westeros, yet decides to regularly inform his sociopath son that he is expendable provided his new wife births a boy, keeps said sociopath closely updated on that impending child’s status, and then when said boy is indeed birthed decides to get in knife range of the sociopath. This is doubly egregious for a book-reader like myself because in the books Roose is well aware of how dangerous and unstable Ramsay is and secretly plans on murdering him shortly after the boy is born, especially because he strongly suspects but can’t prove that Ramsay murdered his original trueborn heir Domeric years before. Finally, Walda wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, yes, but was portrayed as obviously knowing something was up when she couldn’t find Roose. Yet she still follows the known sociopath alone (with her small child that’s a threat to him) into a dark, secluded, confined area full of animals she knows are viscous and totally loyal to the sociopath.

        That’s not mentioning how all but one of his flaws from the books is, as said, ignored, removed, or reversed. In the books he’s described as not very attractive, his fighting skills are more akin to “a butcher wielding a cleaver” than a swordsman, and so uncontrollable with his murderous and rape-y urges that he’s considered a liability in diplomacy by his father. He’s really only good at deception, training viscous animals, and torturing people. But in the show he has a harem of willing, highly attractive (and apparently equally sociopathic) women, can outfight “the best killers in the Iron Islands” while shirtless without receiving a scratch, can outplan one of the most experienced commanders in Westeros, and can outsmart one of the most cunning conspirators in Westeros. Not to mention that he hogs a ridiculous amount of screentime compared to far deeper and more important characters.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          No need for spoilers about the last season.Those who wanted to see it,saw it,and those on the fence about the show wont be reading anyway.

          Stannis stupidly dying has nothing to do with ramsay.He was portrayed as blind to reality,following the prophecy of the red woman,even when it bites him in the ass,as it did when he invaded the capitol.He wasnt killed because ramsay is a brilliant tactician(he isnt really),but because he didnt listen to reason.

          Daddy bolton not expecting a dagger is both because his son,while a scheming sociopath,was listening to all his orders prior to this point AND because there were two other people in the room.

          Walda did not know something is wrong before she entered the kennel.And she was never shown to know how deranged ramsay is.

          As for his flaws,the way you describe him seems like in the books he is just joffrey 2.0.In that case,Im glad that they changed it for the show,because him being more competent than joffrey is the only reason he is interesting and perceived like a genuine threat.

          And one woman does not equal a harem.

          • Vermander says:

            In the books he’s more of an ugly, nasty brute, with bad hygiene and crude manners. He’s sometimes clever, in an opportunistic, animalistic way, and is remarkably good at spotting fear and weakness in others, but he’s a terrible leader and has little or no formal education or training in arms. He’s also very insecure about his low birth, and knows he doesn’t fit in with other nobles, so he’s quick to perceive almost any comment as an insult. In some ways he reminds me of Joe Pesci’s characters in Goodfellas and Casino.

            In the books it’s Roose and his Frey allies who are the real threat. Ramsay isn’t really intelligent or influential enough to exert much authority beyond his small circle of equally crude, sadistic, sycophants. He’s terrifying to anyone who falls into his clutches, but he’s not really capable of taking control of the North on his own. TV Ramsay on the other hand is smarter, braver, and more charismatic. They’ve basically combined several traits of Ramsay, Roose, and a couple of Frey brothers into one character.

          • Mike S. says:

            No need for spoilers about the last season.Those who wanted to see it,saw it,and those on the fence about the show wont be reading anyway.

            Season 5 was released to buy on Amazon less than a month ago. I think spoiler protection is still justified.

            I subscribe to HBO and generally watch it the night it’s released, so it’s not a plea for me personally. But lots of people don’t, and nonsubscribers who don’t go in for illegal means don’t deserve to have major plot events spoiled for them for their trouble.

    • Syal says:

      I think that’s just an unfortunate but expected effect of the show outpacing the books. Now they’ve got to improvise the next chapter of someone else’s massive story, and worse is that it’s not really a story with a clear direction forward so you can’t even point vaguely in the right direction without a lot of work and second-guessing.

      • Have they outpaced the books yet? I re-read Dance with Dragons not all that long ago, and I didn’t get the impression that they’d reached some bits yet, and only just reached others. And other bits seemed such a departure from the book storyline that I don’t even know, really. Like all the Sansa stuff… Granted, I followed the 5th season very sketchily, and I’m not sure I even saw the last episode.

        • Syal says:

          Well, that description sure sounds like they did, but I’ll admit I haven’t watched the show, just read the books.

          • Poncho says:

            The show has surpassed the books in a couple of arcs, but still lags behind on others.

            The Starks, specifically, have more advanced plot than the Lannisters or some of the other characters in the TV show, and Danearys is just now surpassing the books.

            The current season (season 6) will definitely go beyond the books.

  22. silver Harloe says:

    I’ve watched a few Friday the 13th movies and a few Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and somehow the bad guy is always defeated by… characters I can in no way remember. I only remember Jason and Freddy.

    Perhaps the “writer” of ME3 has given up on your remembering Shepard or any of your team – under the reasoning that Shepard’s actions can vary wildly, and the rest of your team might be dead and replaced by alts anyway… so in order to have memorable characters they have to be like Jason or Freddy?

    • silver Harloe says:

      I mean, I’m sure I’m giving the writer way too much credit. And everyone remembers the side-characters, despite that line of reasoning (yay Garrus)

  23. IFS says:

    I think the type of game Kai Leng wants to be from is an action game ala Bayonetta, DMC, or Revengeance. He’d still be bad in those games because he’s just awful, but those are the kind of games I see do rival characters well. A big part of this is that while the rival is ridiculous and awesome in cutscenes so too is the player character. Virgil might catch all of Dante’s bullets and throw them back with his katana but Dante just cuts them all in half, everyone is over the top and ridiculous so instead of the rival stealing the spotlight the two characters are sharing it or trading it back and forth. Hell in the games I listed you can play as the rival character at some point (Bayonetta has Jeane unlock as a playable character, DMC3 lets you play as Virgil if you want, and Revengeance has a very good dlc where you play as Jetstream Sam and fill in his backstory more).

    DMC3 and Revengeance also do supposed to lose fights and I think the reasons they work (for me at least, I’ve heard others complain about them) is that the loss happens early on (so it gives the player and the story similar goals: beat this guy), establishes the character as a threat, and perhaps most importantly gives the player a significant power up immediately afterwards (in both cases the power up is in story a result of the loss) which not only eases and distracts from any frustration of losing but in story gives some reason for why the character will be able to win next time. Of course it also helps that those games the gameplay is the big reason you are playing, not the story, but even then those games do a far better job of having gameplay and cutscene match each other than ME3 does.

    • Vect says:

      It helps that in those games, the rival fights on even ground with the character rather than simply relying on gunships to do their dirty work then bragging about how awesome they are. That and those games had much better combat mechanics than Mass Effect, meaning that their fights are generally more enjoyable and fun.

  24. Peter H. Coffin says:

    That’s fine if you’re supposed to be writing a story about a supernatural killing machine who slaughters his way through a cast of disposable, mostly-unlikable sacrificial lambs and treats them like his playthings, but in a sci-fi story about Commander Shepard finding a way to stop the Reapers, introducing this author-serving side-villain halfway through the final installment is maximally wrong.

    Hmmm… You know, that description actually sounds a lot like one of Commander Shepard…

  25. Ciennas says:

    You know, I was reading this, and I was forcibly reminded of your complaints about Reaver from Fable 2. You know, the swaggering cooler than you jackass voiced by Stephen Fry who will kill steal the main villain of the show if you’re not fast enough?

    (Although Fable 3 would have been amazing if they had forcibly acknowledged the problems by making Theresa and Reaver cohorts in the Spire plot.)

    Yeah. At least here I assume you were never forcibly teamed up with this ninja poseur while you both escaped TIM and Starkid, right?

    I’m thinking the problem is similar to the problem people had with JJ Abrams as the director of Star Trek: The guy could turn out some pretty good work, but he was the wrong fit for the details oriented nature of Star Trek, where he did a really good job with the emotions first appeal of Star Wars.

    Although this guy is clumsy enough to not be aptly compared. Like, what game did the writer want to make then? I can’t tell. All I’m seeing is the nested levels of not enough to say. Maybe he’d work well in a shorter game?

    Maybe the guy resented being in charge of something he didn’t have a hand in from the beginning? Some kind of powerplay? Ya know, screwed by the network?

    I dunno. Still, Kai Leng here reminds me forcibly of Reaver, but at least Reaver had Stephen Fry behind him, clearly having a ball being over the top, especially in the third game.

  26. Dreadjaws says:

    I thought I’d have a lot more to say before starting to read, but you’ve pretty much clarified all the problems I have with the character. Were it not for all the time I had invested in the previous two games, I would have quit the ME3 after Kai Leng’s encounter in Thessia, assuming I somehow didn’t quit after our encounter in the Citadel.

    This is literally the character I hate the most in all fiction. The Arkham Knight comes in a close second, but at least that guy has the decency of having some backstory and motivations (still, I wish he would just SHUT THE HELL UP).

    I honestly don’t understand how this character got in the game when the only person who could possibly like him was the writer. Has the writer so much power? Is he related to one of the higher-ups at EA or something? How the hell did this happen? How did no one stop him?

    • Witness says:

      We keep referring to “the writer” but let’s keep in mind it’s a convenient shorthand. If I had to guess, Kai Leng exists because the “higher-ups at EA or something” insisted on inserting a “badass” villain like this at an inconvenient moment in production and the actual writer(s) just ran with it the best they could.

    • Burnsidhe says:

      For Kai Leng in particular, there’s really only two people for whom he made sense. Mac Walters, lead writer for Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, and Casey Hudson, director for the Mass Effect trilogy.

      Casey, from all accounts, is a more intellectual sort of guy for whom this kind of juvenile drama does not particularly appeal.

      While at the same time, Mac Walters pushed for Legion to be ‘feeling emotions’ in Mass Effect 2 where Chris L’Etoile (codex writer, the guy who understands science fiction and how detailed world building creates immersion, and Legion’s writer in ME 2), thought this was complete nonsense for a machine intelligence.

      With Chris’s departure, Mac Walters had no one pushing back on his ideas. And so we got Kai Leng and Shooty Action Drama.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Casey, from all accounts, is a more intellectual sort of guy for whom this kind of juvenile drama does not particularly appeal.

        Wait,really?One of the two guys who came up with the rainbow ending is a “more intellectual sort of guy”?!?!

        • Burnsidhe says:

          Yes, actually. You can see the bones of a very deep discussion in that ending. The words the Catalyst uses touch on so many different things so quickly, you can see a remarkable amount of logical intellectual thought went into the dialog.

          It completely fails on an emotional level, and it completely fails to engage the viewer, because none of what is being talked about addresses the viewer’s actual experiences during the game, and there’s no way to explore ANY of the ideas the Catalyst blurts out in the first thirty seconds, but it is actually very thoughtful.

          The fact it all ends in red blue and green and the ending sequences prior to the Extended Cut are recolored versions of the same sequences, only makes the ending failure more disappointing.

          Earlier in these comments, someone made the point that if the writer loses the reader’s attention and willingness to believe, it really doesn’t matter what the writer’s message is, as the reader will be too busy being distracted and/or feeling betrayed to appreciate or interpret the message. That’s what happened with the ending.

          It would actually be a decent ending, if. If only Mass Effect 2 hadn’t been episodes of “Daddy Issues SR2”, and had instead been about the original direction of the series. Exploring the past and digging up (possibly literally) clues about the history of the galaxy, the Reaper’s place in it, and building the context which would eventually support statements like “We preserve the old life in Reaper form, making way for new life” and how this is actually a logical consequence of the Catalyst’s programming.

          Instead we got nothing.

        • Burnsidhe says:

          Another frustrating thing is that they came so damn close to an alternate, more satisfying explanation in that Catalyst dialog, but they missed it.

          One throwaway line in that dialog that, if it had been the main focus of the conversation, would have made very good sense, been consistent with the Catalyst’s stated program directive, would have been easily elaborated on and inarguable regardless of the player’s choices during the trilogy. This alternate explanation would have justified all four choices as valid and equal responses.

          And they missed it because, going back to the Dungeon Master analogy, the ME 3 Writer looked back at the early campaign notes to refresh his memory, read the concept ideas jotted down by the ME Writer who actually started the campaign, and then said “Oh, that’s what the campaign was about!”

          Promptly ignoring the campaign as it had developed up to that point, the ME 3 Writer then writes in a last minute “DM text” entry and when the time comes, he reads it verbatim to the players, then says “Now you must choose from the choices I gave you.”

          When the players protest at how the “DM text” makes no sense and they’d already resolved the plot threads he just restated, he stands on how “It’s artistic integrity, it’s my campaign, so you have to do what I say.”

          And then he’s confused about why they want someone else to run the next adventure.

      • AD-Stu says:

        Here’s the weird thing though: as mentioned above, the Kai Leng character originated in the novels. He’s actually Drew Karpyshyn’s character.

        One of the things I find most irritating about ME2 and ME3 is the writers’ insistence on shoehorning in references and callbacks to every single minor character and event that you came across in previous episodes. One or two would have been cool. Running into Gianna Parassini on Illium might have been fun on its own. Or Conrad Verner coming back as a running joke. But they way they seem to think that we need to know what happened to every single background character… it goes way beyond coincidence that you’d run into all these people over and over again on completely different planets in a galaxy this big. It makes the galaxy feel much SMALLER as a result, and it’s always bugged me.

        Anywho, I find Kai Leng to be easily one of the strangest examples of this:

        The ME3 writers seemed to spend an AWFUL lot of time and energy shoehorning in references to stuff that happened in the Karpyshyn novels – which surely only a handful of people have read? There’s Kahlee Sanders, visiting Grissom Academy, and Kai Leng. Karpyshyn built up Kai Leng as some kind of super-assassin-badass, it was very silly, but whatever. The history with Anderson was there.

        None of this stuff needed to be included in ME3. I think it suffered for being shoehorned in in the first place, and then suffered again from the ME3 writers trying to work with someone else’s character.

        I find Leng as presented in ME3 as awful as everyone else seems to. But that extra meta layer of “how did he even end up in this game – did they think they were doing the super-fans a favour?!?” adds extra awfulness to it.

        • Burnsidhe says:

          Sure, he might be Drew’s character, but he became the Creator’s Pet of someone high up in Mass Effect 3’s writing team.

          I believe he appeared in the comics. The comics were not written by Drew, they were written by Mac Walters.

          As a character from the novels and comics, he could very well have been dropped or ignored by ME 3 Writer, as the video game story should have been primary over anything from secondary or tie-in media. Instead he was shoehorned in for the sake of drama.

          • AD-Stu says:

            Yeah, he ended up in the Mac Walters comics as well – IIRC the ones he featured in were released after ME3? I could be wrong about that.

            I agree 100% that he could easily had been dropped or ignored by the ME3 writer. I’m not as sure that he was inserted purely for drama though. I get the feeling he was actually included as some kind of misguided attempt at fan service… which Bioware have shown time and time again that they love to indulge.

            If that was the case then it just makes it all the more frustrating too. They tried to make a big hairy deal out of a character in service to an incredibly tiny part of the fanbase (seriously, how many players would have read those novels? Less than 1%?), botched it horribly, and ended up pissing off both the core fans and the novel readers :P

  27. The Schwarz says:

    All this and you’ve barely even touched on how bad the Thessia fight is from a mechanics standpoint.

    This whole game is about shields. If you want to win on higher difficulties you need to carefully manage both your and your enemies’ shields, time your abilities to bring their shields down and then deliver the killing blow. I actually really enjoyed this mechanic.
    Then Kai Leng shows up and suddenly when his shield is down he becomes *invincible*? This completely breaks everything that’s been established up to that point, including player expectations. I actually game-over’d the first time because I was trying to shoot him and not understanding what I was doing wrong.

  28. Geebs says:

    Fantastic write-up. You did miss another of Kai Leng’s most irritating features, though: you have to read a whole bunch of spin-off crap to have the faintest idea of who he even is. When he appears there’s this palpable whiff of “our biggest fans are going to wet themselves with excitement over seeing Kai Leng in the flesh!” which is incredibly confusing to people who only played the games.

    Anybody who didn’t read the comics (i.e. everyone) got this strange sense of having missed something terribly important which would justify the who and why of this pointless, time-wasting jerk-off, which only made him even more odious.

  29. Valik Surana says:

    Kai Leng is just MGS4 Raiden with serial numbers filed off.

    Come to think of it…
    -The main bad guy also wants to control a Big Thing
    -He also uses an army of brainwashed housewives in powered armor
    -He’d done some bad voodoo on himself and has gone crazy

    …Crap, it’s Mass Effect 3: Guns of the Patriots.

  30. Blackbird71 says:

    Shamus, admit it: the first part of your post was totally a hook to get people to go read “DM of the Rings.”

    Not that that’s a bad thing; in fact I’ve been meaning to do a re-read myself for a while. Hmmm, I think I know where my afternoon is going…

  31. Tsi says:

    [I’ve forgotten almost everything from ME3 (for the better) so what i’m about to say might not work.]

    Replace Kai with Thane, mix and match the story elements and dialogue, remove and add bits and you get a great antagonist that you could recruit later.

    The sequence described in this article would then turn out to be a hide and seek gameplay where Thane ends up putting one or both of your team mates in a difficult situation that forces you to help them because he knows how formidable you are as a team. In the meantime he copy’s the VI as that’s his main objective ( not killing the player. You know how much the illusive man paid for your sorry ass ? Besides, you can still be useful to him ).

    You meet Thane later on on another mission and you get a chance to make him switch camps (Let’s say he works for Cerberus because they promised to come up with a cure for him but you can convince him to join you after some dialogue and a couple of side quests involving some Hanari, a flight to Kahje and drell blood ).

    The last Kai fight is basically removed as it’s unnecessary.

  32. Josh says:

    Why Shamus, I had no idea you thought so highly of me!

  33. Phantos says:

    I like Kai’s stupid robot-coat.

    …That’s it. That’s the only positive I can attribute to this open-palm slap in the face to everyone who paid for Mass Effect 3. You’d think after TIM and the Star Child, they’d have fulfilled their quota of “bad guy that derails the plot because the author doesn’t know how else to make the stuff he wants happen”.

    I do think there’s some satisfaction when the game (finally!) let’s you kick his ass, but even then the killing blow is delegated to a cutscene.

    (Sidenote: the villain in Kung Fu Panda 3 is named Kai and he sucks too. Is that just a cursed name for an antagonist or something? Is there a Kai in fiction that isn’t the writer’s lazy, self-insert power fantasy? Maybe when they’re making these guys, they’re just too happy with how cool they think the name sounds and stop there.)

    • Syal says:

      Kai el-Maclachlan?

    • Caryl says:

      Kai from Avatar: Legend of Korra?

    • Trix2000 says:

      I actually kind-of liked Kai Leng’s physical design, even if it did kind-of scream “ANIMEZ” to me.

      I think if killing him is cathartic, it’s because you finally get to get rid of the guy. It’s less “I’ve killed my evil nemesis!” and more “I finally swatted that irritating fly who keeps messing with me.” It’s less a victory and more of a relief.

      I could also see the renegade interrupt for him (which even the staunchest Paragon might consider) as being a statement of “Screw you and your character! I’ve had enough of your crap!” That is definitely satisfying.

  34. Sleeping Dragon says:

    My experience of this sequence was further enhanced by playing a biotic, which Shepard forgets in the cutscenes. So on top of everything else Shepard is ineffectively plinking at Kai Leng with his silly pistol instead of dropping a couple tons of falling rock onto his head.

    • Mike S. says:

      Hey, Kaidan forgets he’s a biotic in cutscenes too. Liara may be the only one who remembers some of the time.

      (But not all: biotic Shepard, Kaidan, and Liara can all be present and equally stymied how to nonlethally restrain an aging politician with a gun during the Citadel coup.)

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Oh I know. It’s just so much more frustrating when it’s my character. And it’s always been the case in the series, which annoys me because they could get it right with Hawke being a mage in both cutscenes and dialogue in DA2.

        • Poncho says:

          When I think about it, DA2 actually had brilliantly complex background logic for conversations and cut-scene interactions. It’s a shame that the game re-uses so many assets and its combat is based on waves of spawning enemies.

  35. Khazidhea says:

    Hi Shamus, as I don’t use the twitters I’ll reply here about your question about a print version: I am very interested. I don’t read much digitally, so for me it’d be print or nothing.

    Bonus points if you swap all the pronouns to create a femshep version.
    Double bonus points if you can bundle it with Free Radical (I haven’t checked the pricing, but shipping is usually the biggest cost when buying from Australia).

  36. mechaninja says:

    Kai Leng reminds me of the Crow Wizard Ninja dude from the latter two episodes of Ong Bak.

    He also strongly reminds me of some of the weird bullshit from Final Fantasy Online. The latter/current one, didn’t play the first one. (And I mean any of the FF games have the same weird stuff in them, but that’s the one I’ve played most recently)

  37. MadTinkerer says:

    “Aren’t you just being salty because YOU selfishly want to always be at the center of the universe?”

    By the way, anyone who might actually say something like this is missing the first rule of video-game writing: the player absolutely is the center of the universe, by definition. In-universe, the game and characters need to pretend this isn’t true at least part of the time so that the player feels immersed and reasonably challenged. But you, the writer, actually absolutely are the player’s servant and you build the universe around them.

    The player is more powerful than the writer because the game only exists to entertain the player.

    The less the writer understands this, the worse the game.

  38. Pyrrhic Gades says:

    “Shepard is railroaded into disagreeing with TIM, and yet he isn’t allowed to make any intelligent arguments. Shepard continues to moralize or threaten, but never says anything incisive or persuasive, and he certainly never articulates anything approaching a solid argument. Even when TIM says stupid, contradictory stuff, Shepard doesn’t call him on it. Instead, Shepard’s arguments are simply emotional appeals.”

    Of coarse Shepard uses an emotional appeal, it would be out of character for him not to! Shepard never uses proof. Are you forgetting the scene with Udina?

    Shepard exits the elavator screaming that Cerberus is right behind him and will assassinate the council,
    Udina: “You don’t have proof Shepard. You never have proof.”
    Kashley: “Yeah, you look pretty stupid now”
    Shepard: “You have to believe me, Kaiden!”
    Kashley: “Why”
    Shepard: “Cause I love you and Udina is a doodoo head”
    Ashley shoot Udina.
    Udina: “Ow! Now I am dead”
    C-Sec (not Cerberus) walks in to pacify the situation

    In his death, Udina is vindicated. And Shepard, who not once based his arguments on evidence is wrong about Cerberus coming from the elevator to kill everyone.

    You should not condemn the writer for having Shepard use emotional arguments. Appealing to emotion is what Shepard does. It is explicitly pointed out.

    • Shamus says:

      Sure, Shepard has been making emotional appeals since Mass Effect 1. But that’s not ALL he does. He COULD argue with TIM on some sort of ideological level if the writer wanted to make that happen.

      The point is that TIM is making vague statements and Shepard is doing broad knee-jerk emotional responses, so there’s nothing interesting happening in their debate. The writer didn’t HAVE to make the debate interesting. if this conversation had something else going for it (plot twist, character growth, payoff for earlier reveal) then this wouldn’t be a problem.

      I was listing all the ways in which this conversation could be interesting and useful, and wasn’t. It’s not a “plot hole”, it’s just that the writer is wasting our time on a conversation where we’re bored, frustrated, and lacking in agency, when they could have made the exchange interesting.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You should not condemn the writer for having Shepard use emotional arguments. Appealing to emotion is what Shepard does. It is explicitly pointed out.

      Except that Shamus has objected to that way back in me1.The only reason he didnt mind it much back then was because the rest of the game was good enough for the flaws to be overlooked.

      Also,shepard has a character?!?!

  39. Miral says:

    There sort of is a justification for Kai Leng’s existence in the game. As you pointed out yourself, your main antagonist in this game is Cerberus (what, the Reapers? pfft, nobody will care about non-human enemies, let’s bring back Cerberus!).

    Cerberus, though, consists of a bunch of mooks and dead scientists that you’ve gunned down a thousand times before, a bunch of characters who you got to know and have either killed off or defected to your side, and TIM — who is the “stay at home and brood” type rather than someone you can have a personal showdown with.

    So they needed someone else who could actually get in Shepard’s face, and at least there was this guy that had been mentioned in the novels, so why not bring him in?

    Having said all that, the rest of your criticisms are spot on: despite this justification, they did a really poor job of introducing the character or doing anything other than make you despise him (and not for the right reasons — not that he was the villain, but that he was just a bad characterisation in a plot armoured ninja suit).

    • Syal says:

      Thinking about the Sephiroth comment above, a lot of what made Sephiroth work was that he was the intersecting of a whole bunch of separate antagonists; he’s Gast and Hojo’s project, Shinra’s muscle and a hybrid of Jenova.

      Kai Leng could have been that, if Cerberus had built him out of Reaper tech. Like, TIM gives his explanation of how he’ll take over the Reapers, and Kai Leng is how. You could have fights where Kai Leng is directing Cerberus soldiers and other fights where he’s directing Husks. And then you could have a climactic battle where he admits he’s been Harbinger the whole time and then you beat the everloving hell out of them both.

      He could have been the cumulative face of every threat in the Galaxy. Instead he’s the cumulative face of every hole in the plot.

  40. Zaxares says:

    Kai Leng was actually one of the major antagonists from one of the ME novels, so in that sense, he didn’t just “appear out of nowhere”, and he does actually have a backstory. (Although not a terribly interesting one, from what I know.) The trouble, of course, is that the ME writers can’t assume that everybody playing the game has read the novels and knows what’s the deal with this guy. For players like me who’ve never read the novels, I found Kai Leng to be an aggravating goon whose aura and reputation in no way lives up to his actions in the game.

    For instance, a far better way to have ended the fight instead of having Kai Leng simply beating Shepard through “sheer badassness” would be instead to showcase him having taken proper precautions. Have Shepard beat Kai Leng in the fight, but as Shepard walks over to grab the VI, Kai Leng pulls his ace out of his sleeve. Instead of “target the supports”, Kai Leng simply pulls a detonator out of his pocket and activates it, blowing up some pre-placed bombs underneath the temple. (This shows foresight and cunning, and is something the player can respect, indicating that Kai Leng made good use of the time where he got to the Temple first.)

    Then, as the place starts to crumble, two more Phantoms rappel down from a skycar above the Temple and grab the VI. Shepard and Co. tries to stop them, but Kai Leng orders his gunship to open fire on them, forcing them to dive for cover. Kai Leng then walks (hobbles?) to his first gunship and escapes.

    That would have felt much more satisfactory than what we got.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      Hell, if Leng had skipped the whole bit where he started throwing your party members around and just retreated before ordering a missile barrage of the area, that alone would be less aggravating. At the very least you would only have lost because your opponent brought an overwhelming force against you, not because he was too ‘badass’ or something.

      Because all that needs to happen for the plot to advance is for Leng to steal the VI. He doesn’t actually have to win the mano-y-mano against Shepard. If they made it so that the fight was an elaborate distraction while his goons snuck off with the the goods…it would still be kind of dumb, and would also require a restructuring of the level for it to make sense, but it would be better than what we got.

      • Coming_Second says:

        This feels a bit like kicking a corpse at this point, but I feel it’s worth saying that regardless of the underpinning story or scene, the dialogue in ME3 is really, really bad almost all the way through, a noticeable drop down from ME2, never mind ME1. Even if what they’re saying isn’t nonsensical or aggravating, the characters speak in nothing but cliches and often seem like they’re not carrying on conversations at all, just offering particularly moronic soliloquys one after the other. If you’ve got the stomach to play the games one after the other, it’s very noticable.

  41. Gruhunchously says:

    And can I just add that this scene continues the strange trend of the Mass Effect 3 main plot and it’s bizarre one-liner infused dialogue.

    “Show yourself,” says Liara to the Illusive Man’s hologram projection, “I promise I won’t miss.” What, does she think that he’s just hiding behind a pillar like the Wizard of Oz? It’s just meaningless bravado that achieves nothing. And what kind of a line is “I promise I won’t miss?”

    “Stick to your talents, Doctor T’Soni.” The Illusive Man responds, as if Liara isn’t demonstrably capable of shooting large numbers of people. More meaningless bravado.

    Super nitpicky, I know, but all this dialogue feels like it was slapped together by some burnt out writers who just wanted to get the whole thing over with. A lot of Mass Effect 3 feels like that, actually.

    • Burnsidhe says:

      Mac Walters tweeted that he’d written both Earth and Mars, around the time of the Mass Effect 3 launch in March of 2012. Those tweets are still available.

    • George Monet says:

      While I hate defending Mass Effect, TIM is referring to the fact that Liara is much better at being an archaeologist and studying/watching events unfold than she is at being an active participant in those events. Her failures in the two years between ME1 and 2 is a good example. Her failure to discover and stop TIM’s spy on Mars is another good example. Liara doesn’t have the ability to back up her words, it is all bravado and TIM is calling her out.

  42. Dt3r says:

    Yesssss… ever since this series started I have been waiting for this day. Based on the huge number of comments, I see I was not alone.

    Kai Leng is so artlessly grafted on that when Anderson started talking about him I seriously thought I missed a section of exposition earlier. He randomly appears and another character already knows who he is. Kai Leng is like a human ear growing on the back of a lab rat; pointless, out of place, but there just because someone realized they could do it.

    (Bonus: The lab rat has more scientific merit than any “research” that Cerberus did)

    • Vect says:

      The thing is, they could have used that moment to at least have Anderson bother to give details about Leng since he’s the one who has dealt with him before. Just put in a “Tell Me More” prompt and he’ll tell you stuff like military background and the fact that he hates aliens.

      • AD-Stu says:

        Yeah, not having Anderson at least expand on his background with Kai Leng at that point is inexcusable. Especially considering the vast, vast majority of players won’t have read the novels.

        It wouldn’t fix what they chose to do with Leng, but it might have improved things a little. And they didn’t even need to write that bit of the story for themselves: all they needed to do was look a the summary of the novel on the wiki and have Anderson regurgitate the relevant bits…

  43. Rapha3l_WHOA says:

    Just compare how Shepard reacts to Kai Leng to how Carth reacs to Malek after you get captured in KOTOR.

  44. Deager says:

    I admit, I just wanted to start shooting Kai Leng, like this.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRX00ygF_5Y&

    • AD-Stu says:

      Yeah that’s another annoying part about it too – Shepard has proven at various points before this that he knows there are times when it’s better to skip the talking and just start shooting.

    • natureguy85 says:

      Forget that. Don’t the Geth look so dang cool at the 12 second mark? Then the next games give us Collectors and Cerberus, which are comparatively dull, especially collectors.

  45. Benjamin Hilton says:

    I prefer the moment in ME2 when you can renegade interrupt the one Krogan in the middle of his speech. Even when I’m going full Paragon I can never resist.

    Edit: this was meant to be a reply to Deager.

  46. Benjamin Hilton says:

    The comments are flooded with Kai-Leng discussion, but I just wanted to say how happy I was that Shamus brought up Aria. She pissed me off no end with how full of herself she was and that you had to do her stupid quests. To rub salt in the wound, if you brag about yourself she says “Oh, aren’t you interesting.” All I could think was “Screw you writer, that’s what I should be saying to her,. When she proclaims “I AM OMEGA”, I just wanted to quote Firefly: “…..nothing but a petty thief with delusions of standing…just a sad little king on a sad little hill.”

  47. Armand Hammer says:

    I always thought that if they wanted to add a ‘kewl’ GMPC like that mid-game to act as an antithesis of Sheppard, that they should have replaced Kai Leng with an exact clone of Sheppard, perhaps with some cybernetic parts to dehumanize him.

    Cerberus certainly had the opportunity to harvest some of Sheppard’s DNA when they were regenerating him. The clone could be under the impression that he is the original Sheppard and the clone possessing cybernetics might make the player wonder whether that is true. After all, it makes more sense that they fixed the original Sheppard up with cybernetics and just cloned a fresh new body, so why does the PC have a whole body and the GMPC have cybernetics? Easy answer, from Cerberus’ point of view, is because it enhances his abilities justifying some of the things that the GMPC does. Plus that just seems like something that the Cerberus, that we know and love, would do.

    Creating the GMPC in this way immediately answers important backstory such as who this person is and where they came from. What they want and why they oppose you are questions easily answered. Perhaps he has been told that you are created by or helping the Reapers, or perhaps he has been indoctrinated (either by the Reapers or Cerberus) into believing that TIM’s goals are well thought out and the only way to save the galaxy (after all, he is Sheppard and that’s what Sheppard would want).

    And plus, it leaves the question of whether the player is actually the original Sheppard or not. Skillfully sprinkle in some other hints that the player may be indoctrinated and doing exactly what the Reapers want, and you have the player questioning every choice that they make. I, for one, was worried the entire game about making the Crucible because I thought that it all seemed too convenient and easy to build in the middle of a full on invasion to actually work. I was convinced that the Reapers wanted us to build it and it was all part of their master plan. In the end, I just over estimated the writers.

    • Poncho says:

      This is almost exactly the premise for the “Citadel” DLC

      1. Shepard was cloned by Cerberus, but the clone escapes and poses as the real Shepard
      2. Clone!Shepard is trying to eliminate Player!Shepard because he thinks he’s going about the whole reaper thing all wrong.
      3. Real!Shepard grabs all his buddies to eliminate Clone!Shepard but Clone!Shepard gets the upper-hand by locking Real!Shepard in the Citadel Archives and stealing the Normandy
      4. Real!Shepard takes it back and eliminates Clone!Shepard

      People generally laud it as one of the better parts of ME to the point where there’s a mod that replaces the ending with it.

      Personally, I think it’s just too little too late; it’s the Apology DLC as much as it is an expansion to the game — same deal with the Leviathans. No amount of interesting, cool, or fun is going to brighten the pile of stink that is the story of Mass Effect. The games need a whole re-write, starting from the premise of ME2.

      • Armand Hammer says:

        I didn’t play the Citadel DLC because at that point I was done with the game (not in a ‘stupid ending, I hate you forever!’ kind of way but a ‘*sigh* ok, its over, time to move on’ kind of way). But its interesting to know that somewhere in Bioware that story idea existed.

        I’m not saying that its a good story, but just that it would be a better way to introduce an adversary part way into the game and have it make sense. The fact that the DLC is considered one of the better parts makes me wish that its writers were writing the rest of the story.

        Other than to stretch out Mass Effect and Dragon Age to as many games as they can, I am curious to see what Bioware does from here.

      • Deager says:

        I actually made the mod only because I liked the Citadel DLC but I just didn’t like the tone of it during the main game. :)

        Granted, that DLC was made as the ending of the game; says so right in the stage directions for the goodbye scene. That doesn’t mean people can’t enjoy it during the story but the intention from Bioware was definitely that being the Shepard send off.

  48. SPCTRE says:

    RE: “Shepard’s spiritual development” – I would have loved to play the trilogy of games where that is a thing that actually happens.

  49. Xander77 says:

    “Truly, he was Shepard’s greatest anime.”

  50. Juicygoo says:

    I always thought they could’ve fixed a few (not all) of the problems with Kai Leng by just replacing him with a revived Saren.

    Cerberus already has the tech, shown in ME2 with the revival of Shepard.

    It would’ve brought at least something back from the first game, creating some interconnected threads throughout the trilogy.

    It would’ve skipped any need to create another character out of the blue and try to instill some sort of backstory (which they didn’t really do anyway).

    Yeah, the overall problems are more deeply rooted, but we’re talking about plugging holes in a boat.

  51. George Monet says:

    What pissed me off so much about Kai Leng wasn’t the character itself, although he is one of the worst author insertion characters ever placed into a video game. No, what pissed me off is that the game constantly robbed me of my agency whenever Kai Leng was on screen and forced my character to become a blubbering idiot who sat and constantly pissed her pants instead of taking obvious actions that would have resulted in Kai Leng dying.

    For example, the first time you see Kai Leng, you are on a balcony overlooking a plaza where Kai Leng is standing in front of the adminstrator you want to save. Shephard has a clean shot at Kai Leng and has every reason to shoot him dead immediately in order to protect the administrator, the same way she just sniped her way through an entire Cereberus army to get here and no reason to let Kai Leng continue to stand there menacingly in front of the adminsitrator she was trying to save. Instead of letting me take the obvious shot that my character must take because that’s what my character would do in that situation, she sits on that ledge and pisses herself while Kai Leng threatens the Adminsitrator. Only after 5 minutes of a fight that ensues between Thane and Kai Leng, 5 minutes where Shephard is still standing there pissing herself instead of joining the fight and shooting Kai Leng in the head, does Shephard decide that she will finally take action now that Thane has been stabbed and Kai Leng is getting away.

    Immediately after we have another problem where Kai Leng is sitting on top of a flying car with Shephard in the driver’s seat. Despite the fact that the car has no handholds for Kai Leng to hold onto, appears to have a very low frictional coefficient between Kai Leng and the car, Kai Leng someone manages to stay on top of the car during the entire scene and Shephard never turns the car upside down or crashes into a building to crush Kai Leng.

    Thessia was simply pouring salt on the wounds from the first Kai Leng scenes. The hatred and contempt I felt for the writer had already reached a boiling point long before Thessia, and I was frothing at the mouth by the time I met the Space Brat. Every part of the Mass Effect 3 specific story was some of the worst storytelling that has come out of Bioware until Dragon Age: Inquisition where Bioware repeated all the mistakes of Mass Effect 3, all of them and more.

    And if anyone is interested, Kai Leng is just as much a Mary Sue in the books. Completely insufferable in every way no matter the medium he is in. But these new books based on video games are just as much horrible fan fics as every book written in Star Wars EU. They are all about the author’s own Mary Sue. That is why no Star Wars EU story can be canon, because they are just one Mary Sue on top of another. Boba Fett is not a super badass, he is shitty bounty hunter who just happened to get lucky during The Emperor Strikes back and then gets immediately beaten by a blind Han Solo because that’s how incompetent Boba Fett actually is. He didn’t crawl out of the Sarlacc, he died. Face it, Boba Fett is a shitty character who died during Return of the Jedi.

  52. Merit Coba says:

    Hi Shamus,

    Thank you for this insight. I have been replaying ME 3 recently and you define well the frustration I feel with the Kai Leng character. I must say that my initial reaction was: why is there a Ninja in a Mass Effect game? Where does he come from? When next it turned out that he was scripted to be blatant in-your-face invulnerable regardless of the violence you leveled against him, I was just baffled by the gall of the writers. When next he swaggers about knowing himself to be invulnerable, I got totally put off.. I have nothing against a Ninja, but if you want to have him survive confrontations with you make it at least plausible.

    I am now lowering my appreciation of the whole series though, which is perhaps because of the way they represent heroism. In games like these heroes seem always to be those fantasy leaders everyone follows in the end for no other reason than that they are scripted to be followed. Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more!
    Protean VI: the reapers have you beat, it is too late to make a difference. Shepard: we will make that difference! We shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them on the landing grounds, we shall.. wait that is Churchill. It is nice rhetoric isn’t it?
    In many ways, Kai Leng is actually the mirror of the Shepard character: scripted to survive and knowing that he/she will be awesome. Yes, Shepard has to battle some initial skepticism, but that is just to provide a challenge. As a consequence I am unimpressed by the Shepard figure, which I never liked to begin with, but who starts to become annoying.
    There is more heroism in some random bloke with a gun who is rather at some other place than in the path of a husk. Shepard just picks up that transponder to level a Reaper or the rocket launcher to blow away a Banshee.
    Granted, that Sandworm eating that Reaper I found an awesome soluation. Oh, wait that was a Thresher Maw.

    Maybe it is best to stop playing these games? What do you think?

    Anyway, thanks for your post..

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