Mass Effect Retrospective 47: Space Magic Nonsense

By Shamus
on May 12, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect


We were all prepared for some exposition that would explain what the Crucible is, what the Catalyst is, and how it can beat the Reapers. We found the VI on Thessia, but before it could tell us anything useful Kai Leng showed up and stole it in a cutscene.

Kai Leng has a gunship protecting him. Apparently the writer totally forgot that the Reapers were blowing the hell out of the planet and that gunships were getting shot down in droves. I guess that doesn’t apply to Kai Leng? He can just stroll in here without being killed by either the Reapers or the Asari military?

“But Shamus, Kai Leng is indoctrinated so the Reapers leave him alone!”

That’s certainly an explanation a writer could have put in the game if they had the ability to think about more than one concept at a time. But this is a one-concept writer who tried to write a three-way fight, which leaves the rest of us to patch over the gaps and holes with conjecture. And if you head-canon that excuse in this scene, then the very next mission destroys that notion by showing the Reapers attacking a Cerberus base. It’s not so much “The Reapers won’t attack Cerberus” as “The Reapers only attack Cerberus when it’s convenient for the writer”.

After the big “Kai Leng Wins The Whole Universe Because He’s the Best” cutscene, everyone gathers on the Normandy to discuss their next move. James of all people – who I realize I’ve never covered in this write-up but he’s our meathead space marine squaddie – asks why we don’t hit Cerberus back.

That’s a Really Good Question

Hey, I`ve been thinking. Maybe I should try making decisions and doing things? What do you guys think?

Hey, I`ve been thinking. Maybe I should try making decisions and doing things? What do you guys think?

Really? This is a new idea? Up until this point I’ve assumed Cerberus was simply “hidden” – you know, the way one might hide all of Texas – so that we couldn’t find them. But now the game seems to be suggesting that Cerberus does indeed have bases. And nobody in the entire galaxy has ever gotten the idea to find these bases and blow them up? Really? Apparently so, because it takes just one person to track them down, and she does it without leaving the meeting or even using a computer.

Look, if they’re impossible to find, that’s ridiculous because they have armies that rival the council races so their burgeoning infrastructure should be trivial to find. But if they’re trivial to find, then why haven’t any of their enemies done so, since they have been going out of their way to pick fights with basically everyone? Not only is the game telling us two contradictory things about Cerberus, but both of these contradictory ideas are completely nonsensical. The writer can’t even keep track of which nonsensical bullshit excuse they’re using at any given moment.

Sure, you could make this work. This could be sloppily patched over by saying Cerberus is hiding in some politically difficult area, or they have a secret Mass Relay, or some cloaking bullshit, or a nebula, or some other lame excuse. Heck, at least make it sound like the Alliance has been actively looking for Cerberus bases and shutting them down whenever possible. You could say that Cerberus bases are like drug dealers: Remove one, and another one replaces it. It would still be dumb, but it least it would show that somebody in this universe was doing something. It would show that there are people in this universe who make decisions and do things, even if they’ve never met Commander Shepard.

But the writer never bothered because the main plot of Mass Effect 3 runs on contrivances and idiocy. The writer has extreme tunnel vision and can’t imagine the parts of the world that aren’t directly in front of them. Cerberus has been our most direct antagonist in the game, and until now we’ve never been given the impression that anyone in the story was doing something about them, or that anyone had ever tried.


Nobody would have predicted it, because it makes no sense. Once again, TIM seems to be reading the script and dispatching his men to always arrive ten minutes before us, even if our destination is a secret known only to Shepard.

Nobody would have predicted it, because it makes no sense. Once again, TIM seems to be reading the script and dispatching his men to always arrive ten minutes before us, even if our destination is a secret known only to Shepard.

Fun trivia: This takes place on the same planet as the Horizons mission for Mass Effect 2. So that’s TWICE we’ve been here without meeting anyone or experiencing any worldbuilding.

One strange thing that the game keeps doing is that it repeatedly has our heroes react with shock when it’s revealed how stupid and pointlessly evil Cerberus is. I thought Cerberus was stupid and evil at the very opening of Mass Effect 2. The game then proceeded to show us many instances that could only reinforce this perception. Then Cerberus went into full-on antagonist mode at the start of Mass Effect 3. And yet for some reason our characters still continue to be surprised at this, as if this idea is wholly new to them.

Shepard, do you remember Mass Effect 2? Jack’s loyalty mission? The science team on the derelict Reaper? The part of your own backstory where Cerberus fed your squad to a Thresher Maw? The Mars base at the start of this game where Cerberus murdered all our scientists and tried to erase the Prothean data? The bullshit you just saw on Thessia? It’s long past time to stop being shocked.

The only shocking reveal here is the scope and scale of the endless Cerberus military might. Instead of having Liara ask, “How could The Illusive Man do this?!” someone should be asking, “Where is this clown getting all his ships and weapons?”

This base shows that The Illusive Man is researching indoctrination by taking war refugees and turning them into husks by the thousands. That sort of explains the size of his ground army, but unless he’s “indoctrinating” shipyards, factories, and steel mills then Cerberus is still a cartoon villain that runs on fairy dust and unicorn dung.

At the end of Sanctuary we face off against Miranda’s father, who is holding her sister hostage. Once that’s resolved, we’re given the location for the main Cerberus base. And here I want to stop nitpicking and ask an honest non-rhetorical question: Why couldn’t we have obtained this information from Miranda after she betrayed Cerberus? We know she’s been to that base, because she was there in the opening cutscene of Mass Effect 2. I’ve never had Miranda survive the suicide missionActually, I did the default Shepard on my first play-through, and I’m pretty sure Miranda is alive in that situation. But that was way back in 2012 and I don’t remember it now., so I don’t know if this was explained or not.

I’ve always been left with the feeling that I’m missing something here, and I was never sure if that was an actual problem with the story, or if I was missing key exposition due to missing MirandaIgnoring that fact that, ideally, all permutations of the story ought to hold together.. So I don’t have more to say on this mission. Let’s just move on to…

The Cerberus Base

I can see why they need more funding. This video recording equipment is TERRIBLE.

I can see why they need more funding. This video recording equipment is TERRIBLE.

There are a couple of good moments in the Cerberus base. Shepard finds out just how dead he was, and begins asking what it means to come back from that. Granted, this introspection is about 1 ¾ games too late, but it’s a nice gesture.

You also find the ruins of the baby Reaper from Mass Effect 2. This happens even if you destroyed the entire base in a nuclear explosion. The only reason people wanted to blow up the base at all is to keep Cerberus from having it, and yet here it is. Somehow.

Why? Why would the writer negate the big end-game decision like this? It’s not like this Reaper tech is required to make the story workYou might try to use it to half-assedly justify the Cerberus fleets, but the dialog specifically says they’re using the Reaper bits for POWER, and power is basically a solved problem in this universe. When we see the massive Cerberus army, the question of “Where is TIM getting his electricity?” isn’t anywhere near the top of our list of objections.. Why would you spend money on scripting and voice acting and environment design to put this scene in the game, when the only thing it accomplishes is to undo a rare moment of player agency? And for what? To remind us of the lame terminator robot that we would have been happy to forget about? It is amazing the lengths the writer is willing to go to in order to do the wrongest thing possible.

Then at the end you have another conversation with TIM. Like all your other debates with him, it goes in circles and comes down to cliches rather than an exchange of viewpoints. He even claims that Cerberus is an “idea”, and then refuses to say what that idea is. Once again, it’s clear that our dialog choices cannot persuade TIM and that he’s not going to tell us anything interesting. It’s an argument about nothing, and this is the third time we’ve had to sit through it.

Afterwards, we recover the Prothean VI, who will hopefully make sense of the Crucible for us.

It’s Dumber than You Could Have Guessed

Shepard, it`s time you knew the truth: The Crucible is a device of pure nonsense, capable of tearing apart the fabric of the very universe with just a few lines of exposition.

Shepard, it`s time you knew the truth: The Crucible is a device of pure nonsense, capable of tearing apart the fabric of the very universe with just a few lines of exposition.

The VI reveals that the Crucible was developed over many cycles by many different species. Each species finds the plans and adds to them, but nobody has yet used the plans to defeat the Reapers. The “Catalyst” we’ve been looking for – the last piece of the Crucible – is the Citadel itself. I picked this idea apart way back in 2012, but for those that missed it:

How are the races collaborating? The Reapers surprise attack, kill everyone, and then leave no traces of their work. Does every single race just happen to never find any hint of the Reapers until after the Reapers attack? And then once the attack has begun they find ruins, or old computers, or whatever, and try to build their own Crucible, even though nobody knows how to use it or what it’s for? And then they somehow add to this design, even though they don’t know what it does or how it works? And then they bury their modified plans in such a way that the Reapers won’t find them, but the people of the next cycle will find them, but only once it’s too late? And the Reapers have never heard of this idea, even though they must have destroyed previous versions of the Crucible, and even though espionage through indoctrination (literal mind-control!) is a major tool of their invasion?

Imagine that the first race, facing the Reaper threat and having no idea how to defeat them, sits down and designs a trigger guard. And that’s it. Then they bury the plans for the trigger guard and they die. 50,000 years later, the next race is getting pulverized. Before they die, they find the plans for the trigger guard. They have no idea what it’s for or what it does, but they design a handle to go with it. They add it to the plans, and re-bury them.

And so it goes. 50,000 years. A safety mechanism. A rifled barrel. A magazine. A rear sight. The trigger. A front sight. A muzzle. An ejection port. Nobody knows what any of this does.

And then some random things happened and maybe a mystery or something and then... superweapon.

And then some random things happened and maybe a mystery or something and then... superweapon.

Then Shepard & Co come along. They follow the plans, which builds a Glock 17 pistol. Admiral Hackett points to the chamber. Something goes in there, but we don’t know what it is or what it does.

Then you meet the Star Child, who just happens to be a 9mm bullet, which miraculously is a perfect fit for this pistol, even though the people who built it have no idea what a bullet is or what it does.

Then the Star Child explains that the next step is to put the bullet in the chamber, aim the weapon at your foot, and pull the trigger. That’s how you “win”.

Actually, I think my explanation makes the setup sound cooler than it really is. A situation where you’re tricked into building the weapon of your own downfall would have been a great twist. This isn’t that. This is just a mess of contrivances and bizarre “plot twists” trying to sound profound. This isn’t just a couple of annoying plot holes. This entire concept is nonsensical to the point of being surreal. This device is at the very center of this story. The entire plot turns on this thing. And it’s complete horseshit.

The Mass Effect universe was originally named after the technology that makes all space travel possible. A large part of the first game was spent establishing rules, technology, history, and political relationships of numerous peoples and factions. And yet here at the end, the entire plot revolves around a device of unknown purpose with a nonsense history with no connection to our hero that – even if it worked on a logical level – is still nothing more than a brute-force deus ex machina.

At the end of the conversation, the VI reveals that TIM has fled to the Citadel and alerted the Reapers to the plans to use the Crucible.

Wait, What?

Cerberus is an idea. A stupid, stupid idea.

Cerberus is an idea. A stupid, stupid idea.

Why would TIM do this? It only jeopardizes his plans! If he hadn’t said anything, then presumably the Crucible could have been taken to the Citadel and deployed without incident. By telegraphing your plans, TIM made it far more likely that the Crucible would be destroyed.

We now have a three-way war in which nobody makes any sense:

The Reapers usually attack the Citadel first. The first game established this. It’s where galactic power is focused. It’s the center of all intelligence, leadership, communication, and also the entire mass effect relay network. Capture it, and the galaxy falls apart, making conquest much easier. But the Reapers decided to ignore this and attack homeworlds first, and the writers didn’t offer an explanation. Heck, they didn’t even lampshade it. Shepard never says, “I wonder why they changed tactic this time around? Why did they leave the Citadel alone?”

They spent the entire second game messing around building a terminator robot that didn’t advance their goal of galactic conquest. The entire first game was built around the idea that they were trapped in dark space, asleep. And then they just woke up for no reason at the end of the second game, and showed up for no reason at the start of the third.

Cerberus / TIM spends the entire game trying to thwart your plans, despite the fact that his plan requires your plan to succeed first. He needs you to bring the Crucible to the Citadel and deploy it. Yet he tried to deny you the plans for the Crucible. He attacks the Alliance at every turn. He tips off the Reapers. Heck, if he was being clever he could have offered to help build the Crucible with his endless resources, and then tried to take control of it at the last moment.

Yes, he’s indoctrinated, but that doesn’t really fix this. Saren was indoctrinated in Mass Effect 1, and his struggle against Reaper control was a major part of his arc. He worked towards his goals for most of the game, and made some blunders that could – if you’re feeling generous – be attributed to his internal conflict. Here TIM is sort of indoctrinated, although it’s not clear what particular Reaper is controlling or influencing him or what they’re trying to accomplish with him. Saren’s plans are flawed in retrospect, and excused by indoctrination, which was a major part of his character’s arc. TIM’s plans are brazenly idiotic and contradictory on the surface, and indoctrination is used as a lazy excuse without really forming a coherent arc.

Lines like this wouldn`t be so infuriating if we were allowed to call him on his bullshit. I could get behind the idea that he`s killing all these people, driven entirely by a sunken costs fallacy that says if he gives up now, then all of his previous atrocities will be for nothing. But the game won`t let you go there. Instead you can be threatening or sanctimonious, which makes it feel like the writer is saying that TIM is right and you don`t have any good arguments against him.
Lines like this wouldn't be so infuriating if we were allowed to call him on his bullshit. I could get behind the idea that he's killing all these people, driven entirely by a sunken costs fallacy that says if he gives up now, then all of his previous atrocities will be for nothing. But the game won't let you go there. Instead you can be threatening or sanctimonious, which makes it feel like the writer is saying that TIM is right and you don't have any good arguments against him.

Fine, he’s indoctrinated and acts at random. His actions don’t serve humanity, himself, or the Reapers. The indoctrination excuse means this isn’t a plot hole, but it doesn’t fix the fact that having major characters operate entirely at random is still bad for a story, particularly when the nonsense isn’t really addressed or even noticed by the other characters.

The Good Guys are confused and mostly devoid of agency. They’re building a device of unknown purpose, designed by unknown people, at an unspecified location. Shepard spends the game rounding up fleets that he doesn’t know he’ll need until the end. Sometimes the good guys act like Reaper tech is so evil it must be blown up and never looked at. Other times they put Reaper Tech in charge of their ship, and then turn around and condemn TIM for using Reaper Tech.

I’m frustrated that Mass Effect went from details-first to drama-first, but I could get over itTheoretically. if the game was actually capable of sustaining drama. Drama requires clarity, and everything here is so hopelessly muddled. Everyone is either lacking clear motivation, or they’re working towards their goals in the most roundabout way possible.

Shepard’s relationship with TIM doesn’t work because they don’t have a specific idea to fight over. They just gainsay each other. The rivalry with Kai Leng doesn’t work. We have no emotional connection with Earth. We have no emotional connection with the Crucible, the people building it, or even the Prothean VI. Our relationship with Some Kid doesn’t work. Our adversarial relationship with Udina doesn’t work because it comes out of nowhere and is introduced and resolved in the same scene. The only relationships that work are the ones established in previous games.

Fine, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. Other stories have worked despite being riddled with plot holes like this. The problem isn’t the plot holes, it’s that the the writer used all these brute-force storytelling shortcuts to give us cheap pathos, but it was all for nothing because the game doesn’t work on an emotional level, either.

Kai Leng Part 2: The Revengening



After we’re done talking to the VI, Kai Leng shows up. He spouts some more one-liners, and then you have a boss fight where he cheats his ass off, summons mooks, and generally acts like a boss for a completely different genre of videogame. Also he engages you in little quicktime event driven sword duels.

But the writer can’t bear the thought of those lame dirty players beating their precious villain with stupid gameplay. So after the fight, Shepard stupidly turns his back on Kai to sit down and use the computer. Why? Why would Shepard be using this computer? What’s he looking for? Aren’t we in a hurry to get back to Earth? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have EDI doing this? Why are both companions staring pointlessly out the window?

But of course, it doesn’t matter what Shepard is doing. This scene is here so the writer can give Kai Leng a proper cutscene send-off like a horror movie villain. He gets back up, and makes tons of gasping, grunting, stumbling sounds as he tries to sneak up behind Shepard. Which works, because Shepard is busy shitting his pants and his companions are drooling on themselves.

Apparently, I`m roleplaying someone deaf, stupid, and easily distracted?

Apparently, I`m roleplaying someone deaf, stupid, and easily distracted?

After all the Kai Leng bullshit the player has put up with, his death finally offers a moment of gratification. But it’s gratification for the author, not the player. This scene isn’t about Shepard, it’s about Kai.

You get a little renegade prompt to finally kick this non-character out of your videogame.

“This is for Thane, you son of a bitch!” Shepard shouts.

Oh yeah. I forgot about Thane. I guess it’s just as well the writer didn’t give me a dialog wheel to let me choose my one-liner. I’m sure I would have just screwed it up and picked the wrong thing. Better to leave all the roleplaying and decision-making to the writer and I’ll handle the quicktime events and shooting.

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[1] Actually, I did the default Shepard on my first play-through, and I’m pretty sure Miranda is alive in that situation. But that was way back in 2012 and I don’t remember it now.

[2] Ignoring that fact that, ideally, all permutations of the story ought to hold together.

[3] You might try to use it to half-assedly justify the Cerberus fleets, but the dialog specifically says they’re using the Reaper bits for POWER, and power is basically a solved problem in this universe. When we see the massive Cerberus army, the question of “Where is TIM getting his electricity?” isn’t anywhere near the top of our list of objections.

[4] Theoretically.

A Hundred!A Hundred!202020203There are more than 282 comments. But less than 284

From the Archives:

  1. Guile says:

    I’m not sure I’d say Udina’s adversarial relationship came out of nowhere.

    Udina had a pretty good adversarial relationship with Shepard in the first game, I thought. We were the Martin Riggs running around being all renegade cop while Udina is trying to Real Politik, ruining everything. But he was small and bald and kind of ugly and shouted a bunch and we were right about Saren so we didn’t pay him much mind.

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      I’m sure he meant the “Udina trying to kill the council and take over” behaviour.

    • Burnsidhe says:

      This is why I feel Udina was thrown away in the third game, for the sake of introducing the horribly implemented Kai Leng.

      In the first game, Udina is the Obstructive Bureaucrat. At the same time, Udina’s actually being reasonable despite his abrasive attitude. He’s working to advance Earth’s interests in Citadel space and with the Council, and looking at things from his point of view, Shepard’s being excessively disruptive to these plans. By the end of things, though, he’s seemingly come around.

      In the second game, Udina barely shows up at all and when he does, it’s to reprise his Obstructive Bureaucrat role. Though if Shepard’s been reinstated, he does accept the situation and see how what could have been a major diplomatic blunder instead got smoothed over.

      In the third game, Udina finally shows that he really is a diplomat worthy of the position he holds; accepting that the Reapers really are invading, rallying what support he can get, being, you know, an ambassador grounded in the real political situation.

      Right up until its time to introduce Kai Leng, then he gets slotted into the ‘Convenient Traitor’ role by the ME 3 writer without a second thought, because “Hey, the players probably hate him anyway.” SCREW the fact that Udina was finally getting some character development and some time to shine. SCREW the whole idea of characters other than Shepard accomplishing anything and being effective.

      Time for Commander Shootmans to Shoot more Mans!

    • Frenrik says:

      Really? In Mass Effect 1 my shepard was sympathetic to Udina, and I never felt the relationship was that adversarial, my Shepard even chose Udina to be the Councillor – because of course, I want the trained experienced diplomat in the Citadel, not a soldier who is pretty much loathed by the Turians, despite the fact he’s apparently Shepard’s friend.

      In Mass Effect 3 they just gave up trying to give the player agency with Udina, so of course it feels jarring for some players like me who were on decent terms with him. The writers were like “yeah Udina is bad, and he was bad all along, look at this evil guy who is bad because he doesn’t worship Saint Shepard and actually questions your moronic behaviour”.

  2. boz says:

    Anybody dabbled in enough of tabletop role play games can feel the problem here. This is the “bad GM creates an NPC they are in love with” issue.

    • Dovius says:

      As a DM who has made such NPCs, I disagree.

      Unlike with TIM, my players could actually just put a bullet in the head of anyone that’s this badly written, or at the very least argue with them on an even level.

      • IFS says:

        Then you weren’t being a bad GM which I think is a key word here. It’s fine as a GM to have an NPC you really like, but if you hit the point where you value your NPC more than the players fun or ability to engage with the game then you have a problem and that’s exactly the sort of problem Kai Leng and TIM have.

      • ? says:

        That’s the superiority of tabletop medium over video game. If your players don’t like your monologue they can interrupt and you have to address it. Also, they “write” their own dialog and make their own decisions. Video game writer has to railroad you into stuff they have prewritten. And since they think “this Kai Leng fellow is the best thing since sliced bread, and TIM’s plot is clear improvement on works of Shakespeare”, the idea that players won’t like it never enters their head, so they do nothing about it.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          And since they think “this Kai Leng fellow is the best thing since sliced bread, and TIM’s plot is clear improvement on works of Shakespeare”

          Well TIM’s plot does sound better in the original Klingon…

        • Taellosse says:

          You underestimate the power of a bad GM. A REALLY bad GM will engineer the scenario so that the players (for whatever dumbass reason) CAN’T interrupt the beloved-NPC’s monologue, and will grant said NPC arbitrary plot-armor if ever threatened with death (or manufacture a way for them to be resurrected in the next storyline).

          It’s certainly an even more fundamental violation of the conventions of tabletop RPGs to do this kind of thing than the bad writing and hijacking of player agency that Shamus has been talking about, but it can – and does – happen.

          • ? says:

            Absolutely, there is nothing stopping the worst GM from their thing (but still players can call them out on it, even if out of character; it probably won’t help, but at least they can vent), but in context of Dovious’ comment I assumed we are not talking about worst case scenario. Even good GMs can introduce this kind of plots and NPCs without realizing, but they can get instant feedback from the target audience and either scrap or adjust the character. In video game land the writer is the worst GM by default and has to work their ass off to create the illusion that it isn’t the case (but you are still on a bad railroad, the tracks are just covered up well enough that you don’t mind).

          • hewhosaysfish says:

            Now where have I heard that before?



  3. Grudgeal says:

    The Crucible plans only make sense if the Crucible itself was sentient, like a true Singularity-level AI, and altering its own plans, using each Cycle’s species as contractors to build a new part and the Citadel was basically the array antenna it needed to broadcast its Reaper-hacking signal. That way it’s not so much that each species is making a new piece of a pistol, but that each species is building something new for the Crucible that it decided it will need, either because it failed in the previous cycle or because the Reapers adapted to it.

    It’s not a perfect solution, but it makes some sense. Of course, that would require the Crucible to hold an entirely different sort of relationship to the Reapers, unlike that stupid brat at the end.

    • tremor3258 says:

      The Crucible being another layer of Reaper trap would be a much more sensible plot twist, but, alas, hindsight.

      • Decius says:

        If the Crucible was supposed to be a Reaper trap, but the player was able to disable/subvert/turn the trap into a weapon that was able to fight the Reapers, that would be a proper twist.

        • Profugo Barbatus says:

          I like that idea. It plays a bit off the original reaper dialog from the first game where they consider life to be so far below them that its not even worth worrying about. So they leave one of their elder god devices around because its so beneath them, and end up dying to it from their own hubris.

          Now that would have been a fun and satisfying ending, assuming they’d maintained the whole “infinitely powerful elder gods” approach.

          • Tsi says:

            And so cliché. ; )

            I don’t like the idea of the Reapers living on the edge, never knowing if the next sentient species is the one that will finally complete the nuke that will wipe them out. There is no point as they probably want to be sure that they’re the masters of Orion the galaxy.

            I don’t get why the Citadel wasn’t set on a timer anyway. Since the Reapers jump exactly every 50000 years to farm every species linked then go back home after a good day at work and have a beer.

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      That would be lovely. Why didn’t the writers spend the ten minutes thinking it through that you did? *grin*

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      So we want to provide the council races with plans for the device that interacts with reaper tech, which they barely understand, that can operate on an unimaginable scale and that the Reapers know nothing about. We’ll make it so [insert the nonsense we got about the plans being developed collectively through the cycles].

      On an unrelated, let’s put both a survivor of the previous cycle and Leviathans who actually built the Reapers in DLC.

  4. Bas L. says:

    I have to say I like the idea of TIM helping you with the construction of the Crucible in ME3 and then betraying you at the last moment. It makes sense and it would make for an interesting end-game. Imagine the conflicts this could cause when you have to work with Cerberus but they’re using a different approach than some races or some of your squad members are comfortable with. E.g., Cerberus brutally abducts scientists or eliminates whole groups of officers (like Stalin in WW2) out of fear of them being indoctrinated. As the player, you could choose to cancel your alliance with Cerberus at various times throughout ME3 but then you would lose a lot of war assets that you have to compensate for somehow. So as a player you have this internal struggle of “how long do I keep accepting their behavior”.
    Oh well. ME3 could’ve been so much better than what we got.

    • Trix2000 says:

      But then where would we get all our precious precious manshoots without Cerberus troops to pewpew?

      I mean, we can’t fight REAPERS all the time. It’s not like they’re the main threat or something. Jeez. They don’t even look like people!

      • Poncho says:

        Honestly, you can still keep the “Cerberus” style troops in many missions, but they’re coming from indoctrinated colonies.

        How cool would it be to fight against Salarian wetwork squads convinced that Shepard is going to ruin their glorious future? Asari commando units, human tactical squads, Turian Cabal unit, a Spectre here and there….

        Fighting “The Reapers” can be as much about fighting the established armies of the galaxy — and it makes a lot more sense from a storytelling perspective. If one of the major themes of ME3 is bringing the galaxy together, then fighting various indoctrinated forces reinforces the desperation of the situation and Shepard’s motivation to create alliances.

        Fighting Cerberus is just so stupid on every level, especially when we have a solution so very close in proximity.

  5. deiseach says:

    “This could be sloppily patched over by saying Cerberus is hiding in some politically difficult area, or they have a secret Mass Relay, or some cloaking bullshit . . .”

    Please say nebula please say nebula please say nebula.

    “or a nebula”

    I love you Shamus.

  6. KarmaTheAlligator says:

    You left out Cerberus trying to take over the Citadel (Maybe that was the Reapers attempt to take it? Since Cerberus is full of indoctrinated people and all?) in your list of reasons why we shouldn’t be shocked.

    Also, being human, you automatically have an emotional attachment to Earth. What do you mean, that’s not how it works?

    • NotSteve says:

      Assumed empathy is an incredibly useful concept I’ve gotten from this series. “Of course they care about Earth!”

      • Mike S. says:

        “You’re an American naval officer born and raised in Hawaii, who’s stationed at Pearl Harbor during the Cold War after a stint working for NATO Allied Joint Forces Command in Brussels. You get a message that all of North America has been conquered and occupied by the Soviets, along with other NATO and neutral territories. Your ship is one of the few American vessels not caught in port or otherwise tracked down. Your mission is to try to gather allies and resources, with the ultimate goal of liberating the continental US.”

        “Okay. Why do I care about the US specifically again? Isn’t that kind of railroady?”

        • Shamus says:

          The problem isn’t that SHEPARD cares about Earth. The problem is that the writer doesn’t make US care about Earth. All of our personal connections exist in space. If they wanted the third game to focus on saving Earth, then they should have spent at least SOME of the last two games building up an emotional connection or personal stakes. It’s the same problem as Mass Effect 2: We’re fighting to save people we never meet and have no connection to.

          Again, not a plot hole. It’s just lazy, brute-force, tone-deaf storytelling.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            It’s basically a problem of the game telling instead of showing. It would be like if a game introduced you to a character, told you they were your spouse, then killed them off before you even reach the tutorial and expected that to fuel an epic quest for revenge. We wouldn’t care, because no matter how much the game tells us “They’re your spouse”, it wouldn’t mean anything to a player who spent two unexciting minutes with them.

            Thankfully no games have made that particular mistake, can you imagine how terrible it would be?

            • Victor McKnight says:

              I agree… but Max Payne (also Dishonored, but that is a more complicated example).

              I think it is a genre thing. Some times you can get away with it – we see Max’s wife for about two fake comic panels – and sometimes not. Max being a tortured detective on the edge is practically required. Other times we require a little more context. Even Star Trek TNG has episodes showing earth in one way or another. It creates some attachment to the place.

              I think the real problem is that the scenes of Earth in the start of ME3 are nothing but an Alliance building, shooting some dudes on sides of buildings, a kid and a brief moment with Anderson. To allude back to Horizon – had they showed us some earth peasants – it might have been enough.

              • IFS says:

                It also helps that Max is a character in his own right (Corvo really isn’t and the story isn’t terribly strong in Dishonored, but you do at least see him suffer from the betrayal which helps sell it). It’s easier to get invested in Max’s revenge because you can get invested to him as a character, and the whole game is about his story. Comparatively in FO4 the character who is supposed to want revenge is yours (and getting your revenge feels different from getting Max’s revenge), and its not helped by the players goals (usually something like explore the wasteland, meet and shoot interesting people, make their own story) are somewhat at odds with the goal of ‘pursue this one guy to get revenge’.

              • Jabrwock says:

                In the original Max Payne game, there were also “flashbacky” levels (drug induced nightmares more like) that kept reinforcing the idea that he was tortured by finding his wife and child murdered. I remember being blown away at how they were using the game engine to provide the sense of “running but never getting there”.

                It wasn’t just “here’s your wife, look how pretty, oops, time to stuff her in the fridge, now go be all sad and stuff”. They (mostly) used the medium well to keep bringing it back to her death, and how it drives his quest for revenge.

              • Naota says:

                Counterpoint: Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

                Jensen’s fiancée Megan is a sterling example of what sucks about this trope. You meet her for all of two minutes, the majority of which is expository world-building that speaks little to her personality or goals, and then she’s taken away right before a long and disempowering time-skip. There’s no time to get to know her in the first place – let alone like her – which totally deflates not only her seeming betrayal later on, but also the reveal that she’s not actually dead.

                Dishonored actually has the same problem: your avatar’s life is ruined before you even get to settle into what it was like beforehand. They take away the Empress in the same conversation that introduces her, fridge Emily before you get to know anything about her, and never give a proper sense of what Corvo is losing when he’s betrayed (if this is dishonour, what does “honour” look like?).

                Buildup is important. Starting in medias res all the time is bad enough, but you can’t just skip to the climax and expect it to carry the same emotional weight. Earth-shattering betrayals and reversals of fortune come in the middle acts of books, plays, and (good) movies for good reason: they depend on earlier scenes to set the stakes, so the event means something to the audience when it happens.

                • Ninety-Three says:

                  Megan had so little time for characterization that I didn’t even know she was his fiancée. I came away from the intro with “They used to be dating, maybe? I think it’s left deliberately ambiguous for the player to project onto, based on whether or not they like her.”

                  I don’t think it’s fair to rag on this trope in Dishonored though. Not because it was done well, but because all of Dishonored’s narrative sucked. Not ME3-level sucking, it just wasn’t good.

                  The Dishonored universe’s version of literally Satan gives you magic powers, and explains that he’s doing it for the lulz, because he’s bored. He also gives you a magical heart which can read minds for you, and it turns out that it’s the heart of the dead Empress who is ambiguously your lover. These massive plot elements proceed to get completely ignored for the rest of the game. Corvo doesn’t even react when the Heart starts revealing it’s the Empress.

                  To me, that was Dishonored’s narrative in a nutshell: an excuse plot built to hang gameplay on.

            • Mike S. says:

              It’s more like the game using a digitized picture of the player’s spouse, digitally aged a couple of decades because the game is set in the future. “Earth” isn’t a newly introduced concept to (most?) video game players.

          • Mike S. says:

            Star Trek spends essentially zero time on Earth, and is set in a large multispecies polity. It still expects the audience to understand that when V’Ger or whale-seeking space gods or the Borg have entered the Sol system and are approaching humanity’s homeworld, it’s a major escalation of tension. (Much more important than, say, the destruction of an entire Federation fleet at Wolf 359.)

            I don’t see the need to spend screen time convincing the player of the emotional importance of the planet that the player lives on, which contains 99% of the protagonist’s and 100% of the player’s species, whose Alliance the protagonist dedicated her career to. Horizon, sure– what’s a “Horizon” other than what the game tells us? (I thought the letter about the aftermath in ME2 did a decent job of establishing pathos, but that’s a separate issue.)

            But Earth is Earth— it’s not a mystery, any more than a thriller dealing with a nuclear threat to 2050 Washington DC has to tell us that it now has a monorail and send us through a diverse and interesting neighborhood and give us an act getting to know who lives there, or has to establish why a hero from Des Moines might give a fig about it. “They’re going to bomb Washington!” is self-evidently bad, even if we only know Washington of the past and present and not Future Washington.

            “Why do I care if ancient alien machine gods blow up, to a first approximation, my entire species and the planet it’s my and my organization’s primary job (it’s right there in the name!) to protect?” just strikes me as a dramatically unnecessary question.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              it’s a major escalation of tension. (Much more important than, say, the destruction of an entire Federation fleet at Wolf 359.)

              The film is considered one of the bad ones.Not as bad as some others,but still a pretty bad one.The episode where the borg annihilate federation fleet at wolf 359 is considered one of the best,and its an event that has influenced a plethora of suture stories,including practically the whole of deep space 9.

              So youve just shown the exact opposite of what you are trying to argue for.

            • TMC_Sherpa says:

              Attacking the Earth makes sense in Star Trek, it’s (conveniently) the capital of the Federation. In Mass Effect it’s like trying to take over England by having the decisive battle happen in Leeds.

              • Decius says:

                It’s also friendly to the budget to attack the Earth in the past, because lots of footage can be shot on location.

                Which is why two of the movies are set on Earth, in the past.

              • Mike S. says:

                Or like having the decisive battles for Earth mostly take place in Britain (Doctor Who) or Japan (countless anime), regardless of the geopolitical logic?

                In any case, I’d argue that Earth is where Starfleet Command is because it’s expected to be important to the audience, rather than vice versa.

            • Syal says:

              The Federation does the job of building empathy there. The Earth isn’t important because it’s the human homeworld, it’s important because it’s the heart of the organization that fills the universe with Kirks and Picards, Rikers and Boneses and Scotties of all sizes.

              Mass Effect, on the other hand, establishes the Earth as the place that fills the galaxy with Ashleys and Udinas, TIMs and Mirandas and Kai Leng.

              • NotSteve says:

                “Shepard, you have to save the earth! Otherwise we’ll never see anyone like Kai Leng again!”

                Best argument for surrendering to the Reapers I’ve seen.

              • tremor3258 says:

                At least they went after all the homeworlds of the Council powers, not just Earth, and Alliance military doctrine was noted as especially bad at holding territory. (What, the rest of the core worlds that were part of the Federation for centuries? Eh, don’t need ’em).

                That said, why they didn’t go after the king (Citadel) and instead focused on well, rooks at best, is one of the biggest obvious plot holes in ME3, as Shamus notes.

                • guy says:

                  The alliance doctrine is basically that you can’t hold planets if the enemy controls the orbits so don’t try; give ground until you can win a decisive fleet action and then come take the territory back.

                  Honestly it’s not a bad plan against an enemy who won’t slaughter civilians just because they can, and their population and industrial power is still mostly concentrated on Earth.

            • IFS says:

              I’d say part of the issue comes from a difference of medium. In a film or show it’s easy to get invested in a place that a character has an attachment to even if that place is barely shown. In ME though we’re playing as the character that is supposed to care about Earth (and while Shepard is not necessarily from Earth there are good reasons why humans in the setting would value it), but Shepard is barely a character so it becomes much more important that the player is invested in it which the game puts very little effort into achieving. Other characters who are more developed have places they care about and this isn’t questioned even if we barely see them and we don’t question that, but because we’re supposed to be Shepard a different perception emerges.

              The other side is that the focus on Earth (and humanity in general) feels like a cheap way to create pathos on the part of the writer. The Reapers concentrate so many of their forces at Earth, which is clearly not the most valuable strategic point, Shepard spends most of the game rallying people to save Earth when those people have their own worlds burning yet no one suggests abandoning Earth to focus on saving their own world. The Reapers even drag the Citadel to Earth (which never made sense to me) to ensure the finale can take place there. This focus on Earth also goes in the complete opposite direction of the previous games, which basically ignored Earth in favor of exploring the galaxy, so the sudden shift is rather jarring. None of this makes much sense in universe and the reaction of ‘I don’t care about Earth’ is in some respects a reaction towards the writer’s hand being so clearly visible warping the story around Earth.

              • Mike S. says:

                I agree that the Reapers’ focus on Earth isn’t a choice I’d have made. It is explained: Shepard drew their attention, and their research convinced them that humans would be the best raw material for building a new Reaper. But while making Reapers from human slurry is a consistent throughline of the second and third games, it’s dumb even by space opera standards. And forgetting the part where the Citadel is the key to controlling the mass relays is an insurmountable plot problem.

                But given that they do want to make a Reaper out of humans, and that reproduction is established as one of the primary goals of the Cycles, focusing on Earth is basically just spending more time and money than you should trying to court the hot guy/girl. It’s not strategically rational (more sensible to reduce the galaxy first; humans will still be there, after all), but that’s kind of par for the course when it comes to reproductive behavior.

                • IFS says:

                  Maybe if you’re thinking from a human perspective on reproduction, but these are arrogant and highly intelligent space gods not horny teenagers, and attacking Earth first seems counterproductive to their reproductive goals at best. Their attacks kills tons of people and not just military as they actively target unarmed civilian shuttles. They’d be far better served taking the long game, blockading the system and using some method of indoctrination (beaming down an indoctrination signal or something) to pacify the system. It’s not like they’ve been shown to be hasty and impatient in the past, Sovereign’s schemes included the Rachni war which took place thousands of years before humanity joined the Citadel races, and wiping out the Protheans in the previous cycle took at least centuries from what I recall.

                  Even if this was the explanation the reproduction motive of the reapers is pretty much never brought up in ME3, it’s brought up at the end of ME2 and then pretty much never again. There are a few spots in 3 where it’s hinted at that the Reapers are gathering people together to process them, but someone who hadn’t played ME2 could easily be forgiven for thinking this was just the Reapers mass producing husks or systematically wiping out life. That falls more under a different writing issue from the Earth focus though, namely the issue that even in the game where the Reapers are finally here we learn basically nothing about them.

                  • Syal says:

                    Actually, applying the Geth logic that the more you kill the stupider they become, it could have been plausible that Sovereign’s death threw the Reapers out of whack and their kneejerk reaction is to replace their lost member before anything else.

                    If they’d followed up on that, it could have even been a way out of the corner they’d backed themselves into; Shepard spends all this time trying to find a way to defeat the invincible foe, and it turns out she already did the bulk of it in her first move.

            • Shamus says:

              The difference is that Trek is a LOT of different stories. The series went to a lot of places, and EVENTUALLY went to Earth in one if its many self-contained arcs. If this was the 50th Mass Effect game and they were saving Earth in an effort to do something new, then that would be one thing. But this is ostensibly a single story arc, and the first game already set up this vision of Commander Shepard building a multi-species team to save the galaxy. Then at the end it’s suddenly a story to save Earth.

              A good writer COULD sustain this story while stepping things down in scale, but this game made all the wrong moves. We spent some screen time on Earth at the start of this game, but – like Joe Colonist – the people are depicted as being dim, irritating, and shallow. No names. No stories. No heroic struggle. Nothing to make them sympathetic. They just unload their exposition and drop dead.

              And then Shepard goes around demanding fleets from other races, who are ALSO being invaded. Sure, I care about Earth in an abstract way, but I also care about Thessia to the same degree, so it’s not like I’m really engaged with Shepard’s goals.

              Once again, the writer bent the story to take it where it wasn’t designed to go, and they did it in such a clumsy way that the new direction has no emotional payload.

              • Mike S. says:

                A story about a French naval commander under de Gaulle in WWII might never go anywhere near France until the end of the story, and would obviously be largely about working with the British and the Americans to enable the overall defeat of Nazi Germany.

                But I don’t think making the liberation of Paris the focus of the character’s motivation and setting the march into Paris as the climax would be untoward or jarring, even if we never met a single French peasant in the entire arc.

                I can see the writers not expecting that Earth and its people, the species homeworld the character has been a decorated military hero since the opening of ME1, and the place the player has lived all their lives– which is treated as important in 99% of space opera works in which it exists even if it’s on its face a primitive newcomer (e.g., Flash Gordon, essentially every superhero universe, etc.)– would be treated by some players some sort of mysterious and emotionally neutral black box. So I fully sympathize with them for not anticipating that reaction.

                • Gethsemani says:

                  The thing is that for veteran players of ME Earth has always been an afterthought. The closest you ever got was the Luna mission in ME1 and both previous games established that the Galaxy was at stake, which involves Earth as one part of the much greater Galaxy. So it becomes jarring when we’ve been saving the galaxy for two games (and thus Earth in the process) and suddenly the game tells us that the galaxy isn’t all that important, but Earth is so important that we should pool all the resources of the entire friggin’ galaxy to save Earth.

                  In your example, imagine two movies about our French officer defending convoys in the Atlantic and fighting the Italian fleet in the Mediterranean, while constantly being told and echoing the sentiment that winning over the Axis is important to save all the people of Earth from fascism and genocide. Then in the third movie he’s suddenly all about liberating Paris and everyone around him totally agrees that the liberation of Paris is the most important event of the entire war and that everyone should just drop everything else to liberate Paris.

                  Because that’s how ME3 comes off. The previous two games had set some really high stakes, but ME3 dials them back (they are still present, mind you) in order to focus on a much, much smaller stake and then has everything in the game bend over backwards to fit with these new, smaller stakes. Including folding the higher stakes into much smaller stakes.

                  So why should I care about Earth? The entire damn Galaxy is burning around me, but I’ve got no course of action but to go all in for Earth (which in 2 out of 3 backgrounds isn’t even Shepard’s home or place of origin) without any proper explanation as to why Earth is suddenly so incredibly important. The writers seems to have banked on me just going all “Earth’s MY planet” instead of actually paying attention to what had happened in previous games. It was lazy writing and that’s why they got called on it.

                  • Mike S. says:

                    “Not his home or place of origin” doesn’t really seem relevant. Shepard is an Earth Alliance officer. (And in the Spacer origin, so’s mom.) Canadian and Australian troops famously fought fiercely for Great Britain in the world wars despite having a much longer cultural separation. (The oldest Earth colony settled via the mass relays is maybe 35 years old, most are much younger.) Indifference to the depopulation of Earth would be a really weird and unusual reaction.

                    • Grimwear says:

                      To be fair in WW1 Canadians did fight FOR Great Britain because we didn’t have much choice short of saying screw you we’re our own nation and leaving them to their fight. In terms of WW2 however Canadians did not fight FOR Great Britain. We had gained legislative autonomy from Great Britain prior to WW2 and as such we actually waited a day after Great Britain declared war on Germany to declare war ourselves (a very minor action but one to reinforce that we make our own decisions). We were no longer beholden to Great Britain but still fought with them because (if based only on ideals) it was the right thing to do and also because we were still very close to Great Britain.

                      To bring this to Mass Effect in all my playing I never once cared about Earth. They put you down and say there’s Earth, save it. You care about it. My response is a resounding…why? Again 2/3 of my backstories don’t involve Earth and more importantly Earth is a big place. During the reaper invasion how is Canada affected? What about my province? City? Nothing? Huh but because I’m from Earth I suddenly need to care and do everything in my power to save it when 90% of it is already ruined beyond repair and there’s a galaxy at stake? I don’t see it and I never cared for Earth.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      As it happens, Canada is one of the two places we see get invaded, and get further reports about from Kaidan.

                      But I think Canada’s conduct in WWII reinforces the idea that colonists would still care about Earth. Four hundred plus years after the first English colonies in Newfoundland and a lifetime after dominion status, Canada entered a war against countries that couldn’t do meaningful direct damage to it in support of, not China or Czechoslovakia or Poland or any other victim of Axis aggression, but of the mother country, because those ties remained strong after all that time. The odds that colonies established less than a tenth that time ago would consider Earth irrelevant on either a practical or emotional level is nil generally, still more so for a character who chose to enlist in Earth’s military.

                      As for player engagement, no one can force that. But I suspect it literally never occurred to the writers that many players wouldn’t consider Earth worth protecting.

                      (I suspect they were right and it’s a minority view. But obviously I haven’t taken a poll.)

                    • Trix2000 says:

                      The issue seems to be that a player is going to approach the experience without any of the expected stakes or investment. Even something as massively important as Earth won’t really matter to them at first, because they have no reason to worry – they’re playing a game, Earth’s not really in danger. The Earth in Mass Effect is fictional, just like any of the other planets in the galaxy (even if it IS based on the concept of real Earth).

                      So in a way, I think you have to build up the place in such a way as to construct a player’s investment all over again. You have to make them feel like this fictional Earth matters just as much as the Earth we do now, and that only happens through experiences… not “Hey, this is Earth. You should care about it because that’s what people do.”

                    • Mike S. says:

                      Counterpoint: multiple highly-regarded science fiction stories in which characters go to great lengths to save an Earth that remains offstage throughout. For example, Heinlein’s “The Long Watch” (officer on a moon base resists an attempted nuclear coup to take charge of the planet) or C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station.

                      (SPOILERS for the 30+ year old Cherryh novel:)

                      In the latter, the characters involved mostly don’t even like Earth much, given that it’s by policy equal parts officious and neglectful. We never meet an Earth peasant, just some touring officials who are about as pleasant as Udina– and who are secretly planning on trading the protagonists’ system away to a hated and feared enemy. The heroes still, at great risk and in some cases great cost, torpedo a plot by Earth’s long alienated interstellar enforcers to turn on the homeworld.

                      The result beat out authors like Gene Wolfe and Clifford D. Simak to win the 1982 Hugo Award for Best Novel. I don’t know how many people questioned just why Earth mattered. Evidently not enough to lose it the vote (or inclusion in a couple of subsequent “100 best SF novels ever” lists). And it was presumably a factor in Cherryh’s recent election by the Science Fiction Writers of America to Grand Master status.

                    • guy says:

                      I would point out that in addition to two of the origins being in space and not talking about Earth much, if you pick Earthborn the backstory is that Shepard enlisted to leave Earth and put her hellhole of a hometown behind her forever as soon as possible.

                      Then there’s a personal quest where someone from her old gang blackmails her to free another gang member who was arrested for poisoning Turian medical supplies, to give you an idea of how much things sucked.

            • krellen says:

              Note that no one expected to go into the Motion Picture not having previously watched the series. Kirk and his crew aren’t being newly introduced – they’re old friends whom the viewers have already spent years travelling with. Over those years, while the Enterprise never returned to Earth directly, we did get the crew talking about their homes – Chekov was especially notorious for comparing things to Russia. Through seeing their own emotional connection, we could have our own (transitive, through the characters we cared about.)

              • Mike S. says:

                Chekov was about the only one who did that. (I’m pretty sure we didn’t even learn Kirk was from Iowa till Star Trek IV.) And I don’t think American audiences in 1979 were expected to be concerned primarily about 23rd century idealized Russia.

                I really think the idea that you have to sell Earth’s importance is at least idiosyncratic. Threatening the Earth is standard-issue cheap stakes in action stories, precisely because it’s generally not something that needs a lot of explanation or justification.

                • krellen says:

                  If you care about <character> and <character> expresses that they care about <thing>, then it’s pretty easy for you to care about <thing>. Mass Effect didn’t even do that much for Earth (though it did do it for Rannoch.)

                • NotSteve says:

                  Earth is generally easy to threaten in action movies because the characters usually live there. So by implication, it’s threatening everyone you have grown to care about.

                  In contrast, in Mass Effect none of the characters live on Earth and most of them aren’t even human. So it’s not actually threatening anyone you’ve gotten close to over the course of the game.

                • Trix2000 says:

                  But you DO have to sell it, because this isn’t actually Earth – it’s fictional Earth. Even though it’s based on our own planet, it’s just as crafted and not-real as any of the other planets in the ME galaxy. That’s how a player is likely to treat it at first.

                  The fact that we’ve spent little to no time on it certainly doesn’t help a player believe that this future-fake-Earth is on anywhere the same level as the real one. It’s an odd case of tell, not show – we’re told this planet is Earth so we should care about it, but never shown how or WHY we should care.

                  • KarmaTheAlligator says:

                    That’s actually a very good point. Apart from being told it’s Earth, we are never shown it is, except during the ending where we see Big Ben (correct me if I’m wrong here). Any time before that it could have easily been any other planet (or human colony) anywhere in the galaxy.

                    • Mike S. says:

                      The opening is set in what’s visibly Vancouver. Playing through a few months back, I recognized the cruise ship terminal I left on an Alaska cruise from last summer as one of the targets of Reaper attack.

                      Obviously most people aren’t going to recognize that skyline. I didn’t my first several playthroughs, since I’d never been there.

                      (Now I recognize locales and buildings in half the shows on TV. Which is a mixed blessing. :-) )

                      But since I prefer every alien invasion not take place in the half-dozen widely-recognized cities (oh, look– Manhattan again, who could have guessed?) I don’t really consider their use of a lower-tier city (one the studio happens to have a connection to) as a downside.

            • ehlijen says:

              Off hand I recall 4 trek movies (ST:TMP, IV, VIII and X) and 4 star trek episodes (TNG one with the brain parasite conspiracy, Best of Both Worlds, DS9’s Homefront/Paradise Lost double and a later DS9 one where a dominion fleet has attacked earth) that threaten earth in any kind of direct way. That’s 4/10 movies and a tiny fraction of all episodes. Throw in season 3 enterprise if you count it as trek.
              (My apologies for any relevant episodes I forgot).

              The movies were written for a much larger audience with far less screen time than each show. Shorthand like ‘you care about earth, let’s move on’ is still lazy, but a lot more excusable in that medium, since it can expect just as much audience preparation from previous scifi movies as from the TV series itself. On the shows, threats to earth were few and far between.
              Of those movies, TMP could have done a lot better if it hadn’t wasted so much time on pretending to be 2001, the whale probe in IV was as silly as the entire rest of the movie and everyone knew it, VIII followed up on an established borg preference (and actually made the threat against trek as a whole by having the borg try to prevent any warp travel for humans) and X didn’t even need the threat or get to the actual threatening of earth.

              As for the TV episodes:
              The brain parasite one was a threat to starfleet, that happened to play out (mostly) on earth. And it was a deliberate attempt to create worry by having the crew realise that their home planet might not have been safe this whole time after all (one of the scenes I remember most from early TNG was the Enterprise D passing the Moon with clear battle readyness, everyone worried what they’d find on earth). It worked because it was the exception using a previous, deliberate oversight.

              Best of both worlds threatened earth, yes, but frankly, that’s not where the threat of the borg came from. Wolf 359 was a much bigger event (we got to see the damage there), as was the revelation of Locutus (plus the story was really about Riker growing up into the captain’s seat). Earth was shorthand for ‘Federation’ here, simply because one cube (and it was one to make the defeat at 359 more shocking) couldn’t go after every planet at once.

              Homefront/Paradise Lost is set on earth and deals with a threat to earth, but we get all the emotional connection we need out of that episode because it’s set there. Incidentally, this leaves Sisko strongly tied to earth and his father for the rest of the show, so the off screen dominion attack (and a few other mentions of possible threats) on earth later is a plot point in support of a different story, not the main event.

              Season 3 enterprise still deals with a world in which humanity hasn’t spread enough beyond earth, and this is established clearly. Here ‘earth’ means ‘humanity’.

              None of this really applies to ME. Humanity has spread beyond the sol system. The games had the time to create strong emotional ties to places for our characters. Earth is clearly established as not all that much more important to the fate of the galaxy (which Shepard is entrusted with) than any other homeworld.
              Unlike Trek, ME didn’t use the previous lack of mention of earth as a shock value from character oversight earlier (everyone knew earth was in danger), didn’t build connections for the player to earth and never explained why Shepard should shirk her duties to all of council space (she is a SPECTRE) in favour of caring about earth first (or why anyone else should, either).
              The vancouver and london sections exist to elicit player pathos separately from character motivation, and once you deliberately treat the player and player character differently, you’re hampering all future immersion efforts.

              • Mike S. says:

                Humanity has spread beyond the sol system.

                Something like one tenth of a percent of humanity lives outside the Sol system, dependent on the Earth Alliance fleet to defend them. (Most of them born on Earth, the remainder no more than one generation removed.) By that standard the base commander at Pearl Harbor can presumably feel indifferent hearing that North America is being razed clean by Martian tripods, since we’ve “spread beyond” it to the tune of a million and a half Americans in Hawaii and three and a half in Puerto Rico. And anyway the Pacific is his bailiwick.

                Earth is clearly established as not all that much more important to the fate of the galaxy (which Shepard is entrusted with) than any other homeworld.

                Earth is the homeworld of one of the top four military powers and the second or third largest fleet, and it’s the primary Reaper target. (Whether or not one thinks it should be, it is. That’s the story they decided to tell going back to ME2 having Harbinger evaluate and reject every species but humanity in his monologue, and EDI’s unjustified leap of logic that the Collector ship needed to fill up on bodies there.) Given that, it’s tough to argue that it’s not important to the fate of the galaxy.

                Meanwhile, Shepard was an Earth marine first, and became a Spectre specifically at the orders of his human superiors in order to advance human interests. (Initially abstractly when he was trying out for Nihlus, then to investigate the attack on one of the largest human colonies.) It would be really odd if someone who devoted a military career to fighting for a fleet representing an alliance of Earth nations should suddenly become indifferent to the planet and its native species being on the verge of extinction.

                (Getting back to Trek, even Spock the supremely logical is particularly thrown by the destruction of the Vulcan Intrepid in TOS, and of course by the destruction of the planet itself in the 2009 movie. Very few people seem likely to be indifferent to something like that. “My/my parents’ home country was carpet-nuked, but hey, I’m a citizen of the world.”)

                • ehlijen says:

                  10% of humanity is a lot. Enough to leave earth important to most humans, probably, but not equivalent to the survival of mankind as a whole.
                  That’s the big difference between ME and Enterprise. (And even then Enterprise had established better emotional ties to earth for its cast than ME had, Enterprise! )

                  Earth is the reaper target because it’s important because it’s a reaper target?
                  Sure, have the reapers attack earth, no problem with that. The issue is that the game then revolves around that to a degree that hasn’t been justified ever before in the ME series.
                  Is it really just because Harbinger is a shepard Fanboy? Did he catch that off Legion? The asari are a more potent military than earth, how come they’re attacked last out of the big four? (Or third? I don’t actually remember the Salarians being reapered, just cerberussed).

                  Shepard might also be a colonist or a spacer, instead of earth born. We don’t know there is anyone on earth she personally cares about (the kid is thrown in specifically to do that, but it fails so very badly). And that’s the issue. Of course everyone cares if a major world is attacked. But the game doesn’t just stop there. It’s EARTH. We are therefore OUTRAGED. We must TAKE BACK EARTH!
                  And that over the top pathos isn’t borne out of anything in the series. And it’s undermined by Shepard’s very own mission of getting everyone to stop looking only after themselves to work together!
                  Shepard: We have to put aside our selfish needs and work together.
                  Council: OK, to do what?
                  Shepard: To save my home planet while yours burn!

                  No one doesn’t care earth is being attacked. But we’ve been trained by two games now to view this as a galactic matter in which earth itself plays only a part. Now it’s the centre of everything?
                  That’s serious tonal whiplash!

                  • Mike S. says:

                    Not ten percent. One tenth of one percent. Earth has eleven and a half billion people. The larger colonies have population in the low millions, and there appear to only be a few of those. (Terra Nova, Eden Prime, not sure if there’s a third.)

                    That’s an amazingly fast colonization rate for thirty-five years, and it still means that for every thousand humans on Earth there’s roughly one off it. There’s no sign that any of the colonies are yet self-sustaining, and they couldn’t manage their own defense even before Armageddon struck. To a first approximation, and even to a second, Sol system is humanity.

                    • Trix2000 says:

                      The number is irrelevant, because those are usually arbitrary in service to plot elements anyways. If the number WAS important, we’d have gotten some significant exposition and dialog regarding it and why it makes things like Earth so important. It would have had to translate to actual stakes for the player.

                      ME isn’t about traveling and exploring Earth, it’s about traveling and exploring the galaxy with all its myriad worlds. Players care about the galaxy as a whole because they’ve spent lots of time in it, meeting its people and seeing the sights (usually with a lot of shooting). We know the Reapers will destroy it all if we can’t stop them. In a way, the writer is saying “the Reapers want to destroy all the interesting stuff in the game!” We naturally want to stop them because of that.

                      But then here comes Earth, this place we theoretically should know but in the context of the ME universe/game we don’t… and suddenly the rest of the galaxy isn’t important anymore. We don’t care about saving everyone else, we just want Earth! Nevermind that we’ve almost never been there nor talked about it. We never met any diverse personalities or saw any breathtaking sites – there’s nothing interesting to care about!

                      Having Earth as the focus only works if you turn off your emotional connection to the game, and even then it still doesn’t make a lot of sense.

                    • Gaius Maximus says:

                      Mike S. – Just wanted to applaud you for arguing your side here the way I would have liked to, but much more eloquently and logically. It has always boggled my mind that so many people feel that caring about Earth is something that has to be justified, either for the character or the player.

                      I’d also just like to amplify one of your points here by pointing out that, according to the Codex, the first extra-solar colonies were founded all of two years before Shepard was born. Even a colonist Shepard would have had parents and possibly older siblings born on Earth, and only a very tiny minority of humans would have only that slender a connection to Earth.

                    • Syal says:

                      One of the problems is that genocide is common in this universe. The Quarians, the Rachni, the Krogan, all brought to the edge of extinction (past it in the Rachni’s case), yet all playing prevalent roles in the galaxy. So yeah, Earth getting destroyed would be kind of sad, but if the Rachni can come back from 100% casualties then humanity can come back from 99.9%.

                      (Of course the real problem is that destroying a protagonist’s village AKA TutoriTown has been such a staple of videogames that it’s ludicrous to build a plot around preventing it. “Oh, you’re quaint, secluded home is under attack by unimaginable outside forces and is in danger of being utterly annihilated? You and every other plucky upstart. What, you wanna save it? Well aren’t you special.”)

                    • Mike S. says:

                      Thanks, Gaius Maximus! (And likewise thanks for the added info about the colonization timeline.)

                    • ehlijen says:

                      My apologies about reading the % wrong. But as you say, that still leaves colonies in the millions. The loss of earth would not necessarily be the end of humanity, and that changes the emotional weights involved.

                      Furthermore, we meet plenty of humans in the colonies and on the citadel, but barely any on earth. It’s ‘Show, don’t tell’. The connections the player makes in the game will always count for more than the connections that player is assumed to have. If Shepard has friends and family on earth, why don’t we ever meet them? Why is it some kid instead of a nephew? The game has literally avoided giving Shepard friends and family on earth by making the kid an unknown quantity. That does not fit into the same game as ‘Take Earth Back’.

                      If we are meant to care about earth as much as about all the places we’ve been and made friends in, we need to also go to and make friends on earth, as a player. Prescribed emotions are never as strong as evoked ones.

                      All through ME1 Earth and Humanity were put into scale with the rest of the Galaxy (small but notable). In ME2, humanity was pushed into the foreground but earth was still left out of the game. Now in ME3, the game assumes we’re emotionally invested in a place the game has avoided characterising on screen. If the games never cared to show us earth and still refuse to connect us to it, why should I, the player, care when so many other places and people can easily fill up my care-o-metre?

                      Shepard was never even railroaded into caring about earth before, why start now?

                    • Mike S. says:

                      My apologies about reading the % wrong. But as you say, that still leaves colonies in the millions. The loss of earth would not necessarily be the end of humanity, and that changes the emotional weights involved.

                      I’m highly unsure if I should even briefly touch on super-heavy issues in a game discussion (and Shamus, if you think I shouldn’t, feel entirely free to delete) but: as a member of a group that got reduced by about 50% a lifetime ago, leaving a remaining population still in the millions, the emotional weight is pretty big. Even though I never met any of those people and they all lived on another continent. The destruction of fully 99.9% of all of humanity really does strike me as an obvious big deal.

                      Moving quickly back from reality back into the game: the quarians still care about Rannoch and hate the geth, four centuries later. The krogan are still largely vengeful (if impotently) against the salarians and turians more than a millennium later. Genocide is common in the ME universe, but nearly every member of a species that’s been victimized by it treats their ruined homeworld and the incalculable losses as an unhealable trauma. (They might, at length, transcend it, but it never stops mattering.) And the comparison between their experiences and Earth’s is IIRC explicitly drawn when those issues are reintroduced in ME3.

                      Obviously, I can’t tell anyone else they don’t need individual Terrans to talk to to care about the planet. People feel how they feel. But, well, I know Earth. It’s where I keep all my stuff. :-) Its destruction being an incalculable loss strikes me as not requiring additional supporting evidence.

                      Naturally, others’ mileage may vary.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      I never said it shouldn’t be a big emotional impact, just that there is a difference between ‘a bit place with many of us was destroyed’ and ‘we are going to die out’.

                      And again, the issue isn’t that it’s a big deal, is that it’s a big deal the game hadn’t prepared the player for, in fact, it’s precisely what the game had been preparing the player against.

                      Imagine if in Return of the King, Frodo suddenly brings up a sister with cancer he’d left in the Shire and now every character moment of him is driven by that, rather than by the ring, Sauron, Sam or Gollum.
                      Sure, he should feel something, but the book hadn’t built it up. There is a very high chance that drama is going to fall flat.

                      It’s the same with earth in ME3. It wasn’t important to the story of ME1, ME2 didn’t really change that, and now in ME3 it’s supposed to drive our character based on one short intro cutscene?

                      It doesn’t work. Yes, earth should be important, but this thing on the screen isn’t the real earth. It’s a mockup created by the writer. For it to work the same way, the story has to treat it the same way. Shepard is a fake person from a fake world. I can and will overlook the fakeness because I’m looking to be immersed.
                      But if over two games Shepard never even brings Earth up, why should I, trying to immerse myself in Shepard, assume it has any meaning to me or to her? And if the game tells me Shepard cares about other things, the conclusion I must draw then is that Shepard cares in general, but not really about earth all that much.

                      Stuff like that is why writers need to be good at judging how what they write will be received. If they guess wrong, or if they send confusing messages, their audience will get confused.

                  • Mike S. says:

                    Imagine if in Return of the King, Frodo suddenly brings up a sister with cancer he’d left in the Shire

                    I don’t think the central planet of the polity Shepard’s been working for since the opening scene of the first game analogizes well with an entirely new character we’d never heard of.

                    If the armies of Sauron had diverted the bulk of their forces from Gondor to the Shire, with the stated intent of killing every Hobbit? (But there are still some in Bree!) I think the focus of Frodo’s efforts in his mind would be that finishing the quest would be saving his people. As it is, one reason Frodo leaves the Shire is because he knows that the danger will follow him, rather than menace others there.

              • tremor3258 says:

                Well stated.

                Even then, in Star Trek, saving Earth is important for the Federation/Earth Starfleet, which all the characters are members of. But ST Earth doesn’t have the same relative importance to the other local interstellar civilizations (except in the ‘man, if the Federation couldn’t take them, we’re screwed‘ sense) as we’re seeing suddenly in ME3.

                Not to mention most of well, the crew we care about aren’t Systems Alliance personnel. With all the homeworlds falling, why concentrate on Earth in a hopeless military exercise when everyone on Earth is probably Reaper soup?

            • Spacewreck says:

              “Why do I care if ancient alien machine gods blow up, to a first approximation, my entire species and the planet it’s my and my organization’s primary job (it’s right there in the name!) to protect?” just strikes me as a dramatically unnecessary question.

              On one hand, I agree that it’s not unreasonable to assume players will care about Earth in the abstract. On the other hand it’s like the game goes out of its way to make it nothing but abstract. Even most of the destruction we see in the first level is somewhat bloodless and for most of the rest of the game we just get talking heads telling us, “Yeah, it really sucks here right now.”

              Instead of those dream sequences that were plodding bores to the point of making the sympathy I had for the dead kid turn to resentment (yeah, it was a cheap ploy during the opening, but it worked well enough for me at first), why not have cutscenes showing how bad things are really getting on Earth? Maybe even show some of the locales that you’ll be fighting through at the end of the game in earlier less decrepit states to better convey the scope of the destruction. Show some of the background characters we’ve come to know over the series fighting and dying in desperate attempts to slow the reapers down.

              To look at it from the opposite angle, imagine if “Saving Private Ryan” opened with an officer reading an after-action report of the D-Day landing instead of showing it. You’d still feel sympathy for the soldiers who went through it but it wouldn’t be very engaging. And that’s where I think the game fails in that respect. Sure, the mission is to save Earth but Shepard’s spending a lot of time running around doing things that feel completely unconnected to the point where Earth’s plight being brought up more than often made me react more often than not with, “Oh, yeah, that’s still happening.”

              • Mike S. says:

                To look at it from the opposite angle, imagine if “Saving Private Ryan” opened with an officer reading an after-action report of the D-Day landing instead of showing it. You’d still feel sympathy for the soldiers who went through it but it wouldn’t be very engaging.

                It wouldn’t be as good a movie. I don’t think we’d have people scratching their heads about why American soldiers are fighting in Europe (“none of the main characters are even from there!”), or needing local paysans to talk to for that to make sense.

            • Bronn says:

              You’re missing a couple of important things here.

              1) We actually don’t really care about Earth that much in “Best of Both Worlds,” we care about the characters. There was this huge battle at Wolf 359 where thousands of people died, but it was actually shrugged off. There was one character, the Admiral (forget his name) that gave us a tiny connection to it, and that helped. But the people we’re empathizing with are the Enterprise crew, not the dead.

              2) Even though Earth is specifically targetted, the Borg assimilating Earth would be tantamount to the destruction of the whole Federation. It’s the line that can’t be crossed and have the universe continue, so there’s tension.

              Here, Earth is already invaded in the first 20 minutes with massive casualties. There’s no military or strategic benefit to saving Earth-you should try to get as many people out as possible and run the hell away, trying to save somewhere else. We don’t have a feasible plan to defeat the Reapers right now, so why are we wasting resources to save a planet that’s not strategically important and has already lost all of its defenses? It would be better to concentrate power somewhere else. Based on what we know of Reapers, Earth should already be a lost cause.

              The only reason to care about Earth is Assumed Empathy. The Reapers pose a significant threat to all life in the galaxy, and that’s what the player is identifying with. If Earth somehow held some significant importance to defeating the Reapers, it would make sense. It does not through 90% of the story. ME1 accomplished the goal of adding tension by making the Citadel not just a place filled with characters we know, but ALSO the lynchpin of the entire invasion. There’s tension involved in racing to stop Saren, a metaphorical ticking clock to doomsday. But in ME3, the ticking clock has run out. What are we trying to stop that is propelling the story forward?

        • Mark says:

          If ME3 was the first game in the series, then “They’re attacking Future Earth!” would be an acceptable shortcut to kick things off, since our attachment to Future Earth is small but nonzero (we don’t live on or know anything about Future Earth, but we do at least have an attachment to Present Earth.) However, ME1/2 have spent the entire game introducing and fleshing out other locations and cultures, leaving Future Earth just with the old, small, default amount of development and player interest by comparison. So basing the climax of the story on a threat to Future Earth ends up being a letdown.

          • Naota says:

            This is exactly the issue. Because of basic familiarity it’s likely that most players would choose to side with the Earth in a complete vacuum of information (though not everyone – those who consume a lot of fiction may well pick “weird alien planet” as a deliberate counterpoint to how over-exposed and over-important our own planet is often written to be.)

            …but Mass Effect 3 is not a vacuum. It’s the final act of a long-running series which goes through great effort to build up alien worlds and peoples, and endear them to the audience so that their struggles mean something. The strangers in Mass Effect 3 aren’t the Krogan or Asari – they’re the legion of faceless undeveloped Earthlings, whose only connection to us is that they’re vaguely familiar, yet are held up as more important than anything else in the galaxy.

            If these writers really wanted us to give a fig for what happened to future Earth or its people, they would have put characters there and let us see their struggles play out in a way that engendered sympathy. Proper characters, mind. Not talking heads, not nameless extras, and not cheap emotional grabs (“No, not pregnant woman!” “Small child, don’t run that way!”). We would need to see stories on Earth about people, and we’d need to come root for them over the course of their sub-plots.

            These stories couldn’t be done quickly; they would need plots, arcs, characters, and themes. There’s no magic shortcut to building sympathy – it takes time, planning, and an understanding of what the audience wants from your story.

            ME3’s error wasn’t that we don’t care about Earth – it was that we care a lot more about Tuchanka, Rannoch, and Thessia. It wasn’t that we don’t care about humans more than aliens – it was that we care more about people than places and abstract ideas. And given that we’ve already spent two games engaged by these alien characters and worlds, is it really any surprise that they loom larger for us than the vague notion of “the Earth”?

  7. Ninety-Three says:

    Why is it that hovertext is sometimes displayed below the image as well, like with “Lines like this wouldn’t be so infuriating if…”, but usually not?

    • Shamus says:

      Short ones are hover, long ones are captions. Because reading long hovertext is annoying.

      • Pyrrhic Gades says:

        I wouldn’t say annoying. Just irritating and annoyingly fiddly.

        Scratch that, I would say annoying.

      • Daimbert says:

        But … but … that’s how I always read them, even if they ARE as captions [grin].

        (I end up reading them and THEN noticing that they’re below, shrug and move on).

      • kdansky says:

        I’d go so far as to say that hovertext is annoying to begin with. It’s one of my major gripes with the Lulzy series: I have to find the hovertext to not miss out on the jokes. Can’t you just always use labels?

        • IFS says:

          I’m sort of the opposite, labels instead of hovertext just feel like wasted space to me, especially since I’m in the habit of just checking every image for hovertext anyways.

          • Daimbert says:

            Personally, I just want it to be one or the other, so I don’t hover over images looking for jokes when it’s in the label below, and so I don’t assume that there’s no joke because there’s no label and then have to go back and hover over the images to see the jokes.

            (BOTH of those have happened to me on this site, BTW [grin]).

            • Mark Felix-Thomas says:

              But i read on a phone and find the captions below so much easier to read.
              Captions below = always there. Hover text = try and remember to long press the picture.

        • Eskel says:

          Yes, I also prefer static captions. Hovertext is hidden feature that I tend to forget is there and cumbersome to read on mobile browsers.

  8. Ninety-Three says:

    This scene is here so the writer can give Kai Leng a proper cutscene send-off like a horror movie villain. He gets back up, and makes tons of gasping, grunting, stumbling sounds as he tries to sneak up behind Shepard.

    It’s especially stupid after how well-handled the Saren fight was. Back in Mass Effect 1, Shephard has the common sense to tell a squad member “Make sure he’s dead.”

    • Trym V. O. Tegler says:

      Showing Shepards decline from a competent leader of men, too mister/miss no situational awareness.

    • Daimbert says:

      That’s why my interpretation of that is that my character really DOES know that he’s coming, which triggers the Renegade interrupt. Essentially, it’s trolling him to let him think that he might have a chance when he really, really doesn’t.

      If you don’t take that option, then being so unconcerned about him that you let your team members take him out works, too.

      • Mike S. says:

        Which makes sense, since even if you don’t take the interrupt, you still kill him. It’s not a “press X not to die” situation, just Shepard choosing how to finish him.

      • Kalil says:

        I just watched the video clips for ‘renegade’ and ‘normal’ kills on youtube.
        Wtf makes that a ‘renegade’ action?

        • Vanilka says:

          Some of the “paragon/renegade” actions make no damn sense. Like the renegade interrupt that makes Shepard salute the marines she/he invited for drinks in Purgatory in ME3. How much the alignment of the interrupts matters is shown in the Citadel DLC in particular where you get to take both paragon and renegade interrupts to make Shepard do pull-ups or pull better moves while dancing with Vakarian. That’s what the interrupts have turned into – basically, it’s sort of a “make something happen” button by ME3.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            But we already had that.Its space.Why would you not want to crambind even more actions to it?

            • Vanilka says:

              I don’t follow. I didn’t say that. I merely said it makes little sense to assign neutral actions with the nice/naughty alignments. The player may have no idea what to expect. For example, the aforementioned renegade interrupt in the Purgatory. Am I going to punch someone? Am I going to send them to hell? Oh, I’m just going to salute, okaaay. Makes sense. Not. I’m still not sure how that’s a renegade action.

              • Syal says:

                Are you indoors? It’s totally renegade to salute while indoors.

              • guy says:

                Well, Shepard is an officer, and that whole bar scene is actually fairly unprofessional conduct because officers aren’t supposed to fraternize with enlisted. It’s against regulations.

                • Vanilka says:

                  I get how that entire scene itself might be problematic. (Not that Shepard seems to care about the rules overmuch, regardless of their alignment. I mean, “I” banged “my” subordinate. More than once, considering the whole franchise. Through the paragon options.) Not the saluting back, though. As far as I know, not responding to that is pretty… impolite, to say the least.

                • Burnsidhe says:

                  Bioware doesn’t exactly have a lock on how military personnel are supposed to behave when on active duty, much less the niceties of how on leave active duty personnel are supposed to handle things. At least those on-leave Marines aren’t actually in Shepard’s TOC or under her direct chain of command.

                  That said, Spectre Shepard gets a little bit of a pass, because as a Spectre (even though it makes little sense), Shepard is not answerable to the Uniform Code of Military Justice or whatever passes for it in the Alliance.

                  As for banging subordinates, yeah.. there’s a reason none of my Shepards have *ever* pursued Ashley or Kaiden, and have always either chosen Liara (civilian volunteer) or no one at all in Mass Effect. Granted it’s a roleplaying reason, but it’s still a reason; ethically, it’s the wrong thing to do. Shepard is in a position of authority over Ashley and Kaiden, therefore it is improper and unethical to enter a romantic relationship with either of them. Shepard is not actually in a position of authority over Liara; Liara can choose to leave at any time and is not legally bound to obey orders from Shepard.

                  And of course, once committed to a partner, none of my Shepards then start up a romantic relationship with anyone else.

                  • Ninety-Three says:

                    Shepard is not actually in a position of authority over Liara; Liara can choose to leave at any time and is not legally bound to obey orders from Shepard.

                    Wow, it’s not until you said this, eight years after the fact that I realize how weird it is. Shep just brought Liara aboard his top secret military vessel, and without so much as filling out a form told everyone “This civilian’s with us now, she’ll be replacing Ashley in my commando team for future combat missions.”

                    That’s super weird and at the time I just went with it because that’s the Bioware party-building formula. I don’t remember anyone else mentioning it as weird either, so I guess it’s to Bioware’s credit that they managed to cheat without the audience noticing.

                    • guy says:

                      Shepard can let Liara onboard on account of being a Spectre and possibly technically owning the Normandy; the legalities of the situation are noted to be a bit funky and Shepard has the legal authority to refuse to let a flag officer onboard. That’s the real reason the Spectres exist in the setting; fundamentally they don’t actually make sense in the context of the political structure and communications technology of the setting, but it provides a justification for the player running around doing all the things they do even though really Therum should have been handled by a special forces team, Novaria should have been intelligence agents and diplomats, Feros should probably have had a larger-scale response or a different special forces team, and then Virmire should have been handled by yet another special forces team, and all of them should have been working under clear guidelines and likely called someone when expanding the operations to Exo Geni or loading up to visit Peak 15, and none of them would have done much sidequesting.

                      It is an official authorization to be an RPG protagonist. DA:O does the same thing with the Grey Wardens, and the Inquisitor is basically a messiah and none of their devotees are going to tell them they can’t do something, and in KOTOR Jedi have broad discretion in general and it’s even broader because your mission is highly secret (which is also internally justified, because Taris provides a pointed demonstration of how well sending a large-scale military force with you would likely end) and you’re largely out of contact with your superiors. Even on Manaan, there would be severe consequences to using your Jedi status to secure major support from the Republic forces on the planet.

                    • Ninety-Three says:

                      Shepard can let Liara onboard on account of being a Spectre and possibly technically owning the Normandy; the legalities of the situation are noted to be a bit funky and Shepard has the legal authority to refuse to let a flag officer onboard.

                      I know he can let her on board, it’s still weird that he does. He’s a high-ranking military dude commanding a ship full of military dudes, it’s hard to come up with an explanation for why he would want to replace Ashley with Liara on combat missions, other than “He knows he’s an RPG protagonist.”

                    • guy says:

                      Well, because Liara has powerful biotics and Ashley doesn’t. That is the mechanical reason why you would and it is objectively true and known in-universe, so Shepard makes the decision for the same reason. Kaidan is apparently one of the stronger biotics in the Alliance military and Liara outmatches him, so it’s not likely a comparably powerful Alliance biotic is readily available. You could ask the Asari to send a stronger one, but for whatever political reason they didn’t end your briefing with “This is Tela Vasir; she will be accompanying you to provide biotic support” and are unlikely to suddenly change their minds.

                      She also knows potentially relevant information and it is not outside the realm of possibility that she can talk Benezia into surrendering. Or if Shepard doesn’t think these are good enough reasons to bring her into the field she stays on the ship and contributes with her quarter-century of academic study of Prothean archeology as relevant.

                      Likewise, Tali is in an analogous situation overall and has demonstrated considerable expertise in hacking Geth systems before she even joins, and that is enormously tactically useful given that they’re the main enemy Shepard expects to encounter.

                    • Shamus says:

                      What makes it feel strange to people familiar with grounded (non-movie) military doctrine is that this is portrayed so casually. He just brings her along.

                      Let’s say I’m a world-champion marksman, and a squad of army guys bumps into me during the course of their mission. Maybe they need me to guide them to their target. Even though I’m objectively a better shot and even though they need me along, they still wouldn’t want me to “help out” during a firefight. I’m not going to know jargon and movement patterns. I’m not part of the chain of command. I don’t have a designated role within the squad. I can’t be held responsible if I do something idiotic or disobey orders. I might blunder into their line of fire or I might shoot them because I didn’t understand what they were doing.

                      In TF2, you have those panic moments when the whole teams starts yelling “Uber! Uber!” If you don’t know what uber means, then being really good at FPS shooting isn’t going to save you.

                      I can totally believe that Shepard wants Liara along. I can buy that, under these extenuating circumstances, he might even take her into combat. But to a military type, it feels bizarre that this isn’t a really big deal.

                      You can hand-wave all of this in a space-setting with any number of excuses, but for some people it’s just going to look odd. I bet electricians feel the same way when videogame characters shoot fuse boxes to turn things on.

                    • guy says:

                      Yes, but soldiers also don’t generally get to defy legal orders from flag officers without consequence. The irregularity ship has thoroughly sailed and bringing along a powerful biotic with no military experience isn’t a big enough deal to get on the list of things that cause characters to ask Shepard what exactly they’re smoking unlike letting a foreign national with an engineering background poke at their extremely classified drive core. Tali canonically is better at operating the drive core than the actual engineering crew, but that’s still a much bigger WTF? moment than anything else Shepard does in ME1 and only narrowly beaten out by “the AI core is where we put captured synthetics potentially loaded with automated cyberwarfare suites” in the series overall.

                    • Ninety-Three says:

                      Yes, but soldiers also don’t generally get to defy legal orders from flag officers without consequence. The irregularity ship has thoroughly sailed and bringing along a powerful biotic with no military experience isn’t a big enough deal

                      You’re still confusing can and does. Shepard has so much authority that he could order his crew to wear sombreros on missions, but it would be weird because it brings up the question “Why is he doing this?” The only answer to the question is “Because the player thought it was hilarious”, and it’s a narrative problem when there’s no in-character explanation for an action.

                      Every Shepard has been in the military for essentially all their adult life and it’s weird to see that character casually bring a civilian on combat missions. It would be like if a parent who lost their child spent months screwing around punching irradiated scorpions in a wasteland instead of chasing down the person who took the kid. It goes against what we would expect the character to do.

                      As Shamus pointed out, I think a lot of people don’t notice because movies tell us this is a is an acceptable thing to do, and because Mass Effect is a videogame, it is a reasonable, correct thing to do, but it’s thoroughly at odds with the military doctrine that should be ingrained in Shepard.

                    • Vanilka says:

                      It’s been brought up on BioWare forums and such. Some people (although a minority) refuse to take her on missions, especially during the first game, because while that’s possible, they think that in real life situations that would be irresponsible, unprofessional, and could make her a liability. Not to even mention putting her in danger. I can’t say I quite disagree. Liara might be a powerful biotic, but as it’s been stated above, that doesn’t mean she knows how to behave in combat. She has no military training. She may not know how to act or react. Which… puts me in an awkward position as I like her as a squadmate and find her abilities very useful during gameplay. (In the end, I drag her along just because I like her. I’m such a professional.)

                      I admit at first I expected the game to keep Liara on the ship as a non-companion NPC. We do save her on Therum after all and she contributes nothing in the fight there. She just cowers (understandably) and tries not to get shot like any normal civilian would.

                      It might be that it goes so often unnoticed because of movies, as has been mentioned already, or simply because that’s what BW have always done. At least in all of their games I’ve played, I’ve always ended up gathering a ragtag group of misfits to save the world. Perhaps it’s simply the company sticking to the formula and fans being used to it by now.

                  • guy says:

                    My understanding is that officers are officially discouraged from associating with enlisted even from other chains of command, but it’s pretty common and people only get disciplined for it if there’s an actual problem resulting from it. I think the writer for that scene knew that Shepard technically shouldn’t be doing that.

                  • Vanilka says:


                    Shepard actually doesn’t pursue Ashley or Kaidan. They pursue Shepard because they’re little shits like that, heh. They very blatantly hit on her/him. (Including Liara. She always ninjamances my Shep. I’ve got to give her a chance to see how it goes one of these days.) Kaidan in particular is fairly interesting because his ME1 romance is a lot about not wanting to complicate the chain of command, making promises for after the war is over, (finding out more about him as a person,) etc. It develops dramatically over the course of the franchise.

                    I know it’s against the rules, but I enjoy what Shepard’s relationship with the Virmire Survivor adds to my character’s story throughout the franchise. Especially because, as lame and nonsensical as the writing can be, it provides more involvement and it’s one of the very, very few ways to develop Shepard as a character at least a little bit. (Plus, I like getting close to different characters to explore them some more. Some of them reveal more or something different to a romantic partner than a friend or they behave differently.)

                    Ultimately, I’m going to bite especially because it’s the forbidden apple and this is a work of fiction. Let’s call it… Spectre business.

                    Either way… I have no idea how I got from saluting all the way here, wow.

    • silver Harloe says:

      “Make sure he’s dead.”

      Is that like “go check his pulse”? or like “go chop off his head, rip out his heart, burn the body, head, and heart into ash in separate furnaces, take each section of ash and split it in half, bury each of these sections in salt on different planets (6 planets in all)”?

      (it’s possible I’ve seen too many resurrections in fiction)

  9. Dovius says:

    I think the whole Cereberus’ main base thing is explained in some random flavour text somewhere (Don’t ask me where, might be in the Shadow Broker files in 2) by having TIM constantly switch bases every few weeks. Since Miranda is either A) Dead or B) Hasn’t been in Cerberus for a while by then, she might not have accurate information of where he is, especially if she was unaware of the number or locations of some of the bases.

    Then again, one would wonder how he can maintain that many decently sized outposts throughout the galaxy without someone noticing it, or why the Alliance didn’t clean the damn place out right after the events of 2.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      So does he bring the background-lighting-sun with him to each new base?Or does he always position his base so that it has a window facing the enormous orange star?

      • Mike S. says:

        It’s his screen saver.

        (Which honestly makes more sense, given that the star changes color depending which ending choice you make at the end of ME2.)

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        I think having his back window being this sweet star image is actually a pretty cool thing! It’d be like if a Bond villain had a volcano base as a powerpoint screensaver instead of an actual thing he actually has. The character just appreciates the imagery, he’s not stupid enough to think the enormous resources it would take to LIVE there are practical.

        • Scourge says:

          “Cerberus IT, how can I help you?”
          “Yeah, my star has changed its color.”
          “I.. .I am sorry, what?”
          “I have a star outside of my window and now its green.”
          “I… Let me ask a collegue.” *ofwhisper* “Hey, steve, I got someone on the phone that tells me his star has changed color. Wtf do we have to do with that?”
          “Oh, that is TIM. Ask him if he had a call with someone.”
          “Excuse me Sir, did you have a call with someone.”
          “He says yes.”
          “Thats the issue. Its perfectly normal.”

      • Cedric says:

        It always annoyed me in ME2 when I read about players trying to figure out which ‘star’ TIM was looking at. It was clearly the gas giant Nontaban which was one of the prettiest skyboxes from the first game.

        And then the writer also forgot, took the players word for it being a star, and invented a whole new system to put it in.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      Wait, so do we only ever see one of his supposedly intricate network of bases, or does every one of them orbit identical giant suns?

      *aw screw Kai Leng’d*

    • ehlijen says:

      How do you move a space station that big, and do so without anyone seeing? How many unwatched mass relays are there in a galaxy trying to fight a war?

      ‘TIM has more than one base’ would have been a far more plausible handwave for that particular plot hole (even if it requires Shamus’ Cerby Support Infrastructre Island theme park be even bigger).

    • Taellosse says:

      As I recall, he doesn’t move bases, so much as moves the base – that space station is apparently (somehow) mobile, and he keeps putting it around some new star (which is why sometimes the big-ass star out the window is orange, red, or blue). It’s sorta dumb, given how unlikely it is that no one would notice something like that moving through the relay network all the time, but that’s the justification for why Miranda can’t tell us where it is.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Sorta dumb?Its all kinds of dumb.Space station is called that because its not mobile.

        • Taellosse says:

          Well, that’s neither true nor unique to Mass Effect. Space stations invariably move – they’re nearly always in orbit around some sort of stellar body after all. The “station” in “space station” is not meant to indicate that it is stationary, it is meant to indicate that it is “a place equipped for a particular kind of work.” Admittedly, they’re most commonly not intended to be mobile in the same way as a vehicle is, but that’s not universal either – the Death Star could travel like a ship, for example.

      • Caryl says:

        I found it buried in one of the novels:

        As cautious as the Illusive Man was with his operatives and operations, he was downright paranoid when it came to protecting this one location. Including Kai Leng, who was on board right now, only six Cerberus field operatives had ever set foot on this space station. Each time one of them visited he had the crew relocate the vessel to another system as soon as the guest departed.

        It’s the kind of thing that should be in the games somewhere, but wouldn’t surprise me if it isn’t.

  10. Fizban says:

    I like the idea of plans/schematics for something to fight the reapers being worked on and passed down from the previous races. It’s a nice callback to the ending of ME1 and humans not being the most important race in the galaxy-just the one who took the handoff and ran the last few yards to the goal.

    Not that we get that. It would only make sense at most 2 cycles back anyway, if the Protheans found something from the cycle before them and the remnants that made the backdoor/delay hack in the Citadel (or a different stranded group) finished the plans after they’d already lost. Wasn’t there a point made that if they’d seen it coming they might have had a chance somewhere?

    But this is Mass Effect 3. Maybe every time someone suggested a sensible plot element, the guy in charge said “No! That’s how everyone does it and it’s boring and no one will like it!” A classic problem for anyone first learning how to write, thinking you have to or even can re-invent the wheel and be unique. What it actually causes is random garbage nonsense punctuated by bursts of whatever the writer thinks is cool, so this game.

  11. Dragmire says:

    I’m actually surprised that the writer didn’t give Kai Leng a dramatic death speech to gain some sympathy with the player. It wouldn’t work, at all, but I’m surprised they didn’t try.

    • Cybron says:

      Oh no, why would he need to do that? As far as the writer was concerned he’d created a swaggering badass villain everyone would love to fight, a worthy antagonist. You can tell by the way he gets shoved in the story wherever possible and never sweats a loss. He’s just too COOL for that. For Shepherd, for the story, for any of these lame scifi rules everyone else has to follow.

      You can practically taste the contempt for the non-Cerebus parts of Mass Effect dripping off Kai Leng.

  12. Dovius says:

    Actually, the Reapers not starting with the Citadel was somewhat explained in 1: The remaining Protheans on Ilos used their prototype mass relay to jump into the Citadel after the Reapers left, and managed to alter the Citadel to no longer respond to the Reapers’ long range signals, so they can’t jump in directly to the Citadel from dark space. This is why Sovereign staged a full-on attack; so he could manually turn that back on using an agent such as Saren and have the Reapers start the plan as usual.

    Why Plan B wasn’t to just indoctrinate a random engineer or janitor and send them in to do this for them since it already looks like a direct assault wouldn’t work, I have no clue.

    • NotSteve says:

      That explains why the first place they appeared wasn’t the Citadel, but doesn’t explain why it wasn’t the second. As soon as they were in the galaxy they should have been able to use the mass effect relays to jump to the Citadel just like everyone else. But instead they decided to wander around attacking homeworlds instead of doing the thing that worked great in every previous cycle.

      • Jabrwock says:

        Maybe the Citadel is the control node, and what the Protheans did shut the Reapers out of the system? Have we ever seen the Reapers use a mass relay?

        As for the “why can’t they just indoctrinate an engineer to flick the switch”, maybe that’s what the caretakers on the citadel are for? Monitor it for signs of tampering?

        • Taellosse says:

          The whole point of the relays is that they’re self-maintaining and completely agnostic to who uses them. That’s WHY there was a First Contact War – because after the Rachni War, the Council races all agreed that it was too dangerous to randomly activate new relays – it’s impossible to control who uses them as long as they’re operational. Humans didn’t know that, though, and were activating every relay they came across. The Turians got pissy about that, and attacked Shanxi.

          The only way to keep someone from using a relay (normally) is to take it completely offline. If it is possible to do that from the Citadel, either selectively or en masse, the Council races do not know how (it almost certainly is – ME1 suggests this is part of how the Reapers are able to disrupt galactic civilization all at once in a normal invasion). There is only one known exception – introduced in ME2 – known as the Omega-4 Relay, which requires a special coded signal to activate, even though it is operational, which was previously known only to the Collectors and the Reapers, until Shepard retrieved it. Otherwise, if a relay is online, and a ship of essentially any size approaches it closely enough, it is fired off to the receiving relay at the other end automatically.

          • Mike S. says:

            My recollection is that the Omega 4 relay worked, it’s just that the other end was a fatal intersection with a black hole’s accretion disk. You needed the IFF to be sent with high precision to the smaller region of soace made survivable with Reaper tech, where the Collector base was.

            • Taellosse says:

              You may be right. I can’t remember right now whether it was “nobody can go through” or “nobody survives the attempt.”

              Either way, it was weird and dumb. Retconning in a huge, glaring anomaly to established canon (“this is how all relays work” ME1 says again and again, with no mention of “except this one place everyone’s heard of because it’s so unusual”) just to retcon in an unnecessary secondary enemy that is gratuitously mysterious and hard to locate, to distract from the main plot of the series for an entire game was one of the many, many problems with the foundations of ME2.

              • Poncho says:

                I believe it’s “nobody survives the attempt.” When we finally do go through, we’re introduced to the wreckage of tons of ships that previously attempted and failed.

                What’s annoying to me is that the games never establish whether a connecting relay is necessary. In some scenes, we see ships come through the relay and pop out next to the joined relay, and other times things just appear without a relay to grab them.

                • Taellosse says:

                  I THINK, in those instances where we see a ship use a relay and come out the other side without a visible receiving relay, the shot is usually just too close in to see it nearby – after all, a ship doesn’t go inside the relay or anything, it just flies kinda close to it.

                  But a lot of the time, we’re just seeing a ship coming out of FTL, no relay used.

                • guy says:

                  A connecting relay is absolutely mandatory. However, ships do have internal FTL drives and those don’t require a relay at either end of the trip. If the loading screen shows a relay activation, it’s a relay trip. If it shows the Normandy surrounded by blueshift and redshift, that’s on its own drives.

                  If there’s an instance where a ship definitely leaves via a relay and you don’t see one at the other end, they probably arrived a few thousand kilometers from the destination relay. The arrival point is pretty imprecise; think back to Joker’s start of game rant.

                  The Omega 4 relay lets people go through, but they don’t come back. Usually because the relay drift places them inside an event horizon, occasionally because automated defenses blow them up.

      • Xeorm says:

        The original pointed out that the Citadel has supreme protection. Fold up the arms, and it’s effectively impenetrable to outside weapons. Or at least, that’s what was stated.

        Those defenses were part of what made it such an attractive location as a hub. Presumably any reaper attack would end in failure, as it was only the combination of the supreme surprise attack (no one took such a threat seriously at the time) and Saren being inside when it was shutting. They could station some forces outside it, but splitting their forces might be seen as useless now that the reapers have been downgrades to only being a bit better than the normal forces, rather than the unstoppable juggernauts they were labeled as in the first game.

        • guy says:

          The Citadel is stated to not be impenetrable when the arms are closed. It is merely very tough. A sustained fleet bombardment can breach it in a few days.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      This is why Sovereign staged a full-on attack; so he could manually turn that back on using an agent such as Saren and have the Reapers start the plan as usual.

      The point is that once the Reapers show up in 3, they should recreate Sovereign’s full-on attack. And since they have a lot more firepower, it would be a certain victory.

    • Shibbletyboops says:

      That’s really the problem, though. If their strategy is to cripple the galaxy via shutting down the mass relay network and destroying galactic governance, then they *still* should have gone for the citadel, even when they couldn’t jump right to it from dark space.

      Instead of fighting on 15 different fronts at once, they could have concentrated a large portion (not even all!) of their forces, and still captured the citadel long before any of the council races could really react.

      Or indoctrination. They could have played the long game with some more indoctrination and fixed the problem, too.

    • djw says:

      I can think of a *reason*, but it was (to my knowledge) never actually stated in game.

      If they go to the Citadel first people will scatter, and since they had a warning they will scatter further than they usually do during a reaping. This increases the odds that they will miss somebody.

      So, once plan A fails you attack the outlying settlements and try to scare everybody into running to the Citadel. Indoctrinate politicians (not engineers) and have them encourage everybody to evacuate to the Citadel. Once you have them all there you attack and reap everybody in one fell swoop.

      • Taellosse says:

        That’s even more ridiculous, I’m afraid. The Citadel is big, but it’s not “house the combined populations of a dozen multi-system species simultaneously” big. Its normal population numbers less than 15 million. Stuffed to the gills, if we’re wildly optimistic, it could maybe hold ten times that. That’s still an order of magnitude less than what lives on a single homeworld, never mind the combined populations of all the homeworlds of humans, turians, asari, salarians, volus, elchor, hanar, batarians, and krogan (the latter two of which are unlikely to choose to flee en masse to the Citadel anyway), plus their assorted colony worlds (and most of those races have been colonizing a LOT longer than humans – they’ll have several colony worlds that rival their homeworlds in population by now). Not to mention the quarians, vorcha, and whatever other “lesser” species might still qualify for wholesale culling across the galaxy.

        There are probably literally trillions of people, of various races, across the galaxy of Mass Effect. There is NO one place they could all go at the same time, even if it were logistically possible to get them all there (there aren’t remotely enough ships to do that).

        • djw says:

          The idea can still work even if they don’t flee to the citadel. As long as the citadel stands people think that the Reapers can be defeated, so they fight rather than run. That gives the Reapers time to attack and control the Mass Effect Relays before large numbers of people use them to flee.

          • Taellosse says:

            Except it makes very little sense for the Reapers to leave the relay network operational for general use any longer than they have to – their goal is to wipe out all advanced civilization, and every living thing that remembers it. That task is made much easier if nobody can move about the galaxy anymore, but has to stay in or near whatever system they were in when the network shut down. Remember that it is also established that the entire network is not currently operational – a reasonable desperation move by alerted sentients would be to activate previously dormant relays to escape into presently-unexplored space and hide. It would only be a delaying tactic against the Reapers, since they built the network and presumably know where they all are, and will eventually track anyone down that does this – but it will nevertheless severely slow down the process for them.

            If the Citadel can be used to disable the relay network – which is established in the first game – it should be the Reapers’ priority one target in every invasion, whether they can go directly to it like usual or not. The faster they can gain control of it, the better their chances of an efficient victory, because doing so enables them to permanently fragment the galactic population, and guarantee that no one can do what Shepard does – marshal a combined force that can have a meaningful tactical impact (even if it cannot have a strategic one, since the Reapers are supposed to be far too powerful).

            Moreover, disabling the relay network for a galaxy-spanning civilization will do a lot of their work for them. Resources can no longer move freely about the galaxy – there are a lot of places that are not self-sufficient because it is fairly easy to move goods about. Once trade becomes a strictly local affair, a LOT of people are going to starve, or die of disease and injury, before the Reapers even arrive to wipe out what’s left.

            All of this is WHY the Reapers built the relay network – so that any civilization that becomes advanced enough to find it and spread out with it will become dependent on it, and be easily toppled by its disruption. To fail to use that deliberately engineered advantage is the worst kind of author-driven stupidity. It has absolutely no tactical or strategic advantage, it grants a huge benefit to their adversary (the protagonist), and ultimately becomes the single biggest factor in their downfall.

            • tremor3258 says:

              Don’t forget communication – except for Shepard’s Quantum Entanglement, almost all communication is… once again, piped through the mass relays. Shutting them down would stop almost all strategic coordination.

              • Taellosse says:

                Yes, though I don’t know how much useful coordination there could be if no one can go anywhere. Without the ability to concentrate their forces in strategic locations, there’s not much point in coordinated attacks anyway. Effectively, the shutdown of communication mostly just means no one knows what’s going on in the rest of the galaxy anymore, which adds to the dread and despair.

  13. Joe Leigh says:

    The Crucible-fitting-perfectly-into-the-Citadel thing was, I believe, explained. It’s not just some random miracle; a past cycle realized that the Citadel had a connection to the Reapers, being their point of entry into the galaxy, and designed the crucible to use it as an antenna which could reach all the Reapers. We, who are just blindly building the thing from plans, have to “discover” that it fits there, but it was actually intended to fit there by whoever designed that bit of it.

    • KarmaTheAlligator says:

      That raises the question as to why they didn’t see fit to include a note like “Citadel goes here” in the blueprints, instead of being cryptic and saying “Catalyst”.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        IIRC, the term “Catalyst” comes from the people building it this go around who concluded that something was missing from the device (which they can apparently conclude despite not knowing what it does or how it does it), so they named this X-factor “The Catalyst”.

        Of course, that does nothing to explain its absence from the blueprints.

      • Jabrwock says:

        Equivalent of writing “build this in Constantinople”? Someone who doesn’t know the history of the region would go “hmm, all I see on this map is Istanbul, maybe they meant somewhere else?”

        • ehlijen says:

          If you can get blueprints past the language barrier, you can get a picture of the citadel through as well.

          • djw says:

            Since the Citadel is visually distinctive it seems like the picture of the “catalyst” would be the *first* thing that the scientists would figure out, not the last thing.

            • KarmaTheAlligator says:

              Yup. I thought that maybe, some cycles didn’t call it the Citadel, and therefore left it as a vague “Catalyst” (or equivalent), but an image of it should have been easy to introduce or notice.

      • guy says:

        From what I can tell, the plan was basically to have Vendetta tell the Asari about the Catalyst once the Crucible was finished, in case the Reapers found a copy of the plans.

  14. Zeitgeist says:

    I’m kind of disappointed Miranda’s dead in this playthrough. I wanted to hear your thoughts on how they handled her in this game compared to Mass Effect 2 (here, she’s: focusing on protecting her sister; helping the Alliance behind the scenes; feeling a lot of guilt over her past actions, even going so far as to apologize for suggesting a mind control chip be put in Shepard’s brain to ensure her/his loyalty to Cerberus).

    With that in mind, putting aside how mishandled ME3 was, is it right for an author to try to redeem a hated character?

    • Gruhunchously says:

      Miranda’s character arc was always a bit wonky, as though it was forcefully grafted to serve the needs of the plot. She goes from being the Cerberus poster girl to betraying them, but it’s never entirely clear what leads her to do it. Could it be Jacks’s story? TIM’s reaction to the Reaper Baby? Proximity to Shepard’s heroic aura? You could make a case for all of these, but the games don’t commit to any of them.

      Maybe she just realized what total dumb idiots they were and smacked herself in the head for ever working for them in the first place.

    • Syal says:

      If time or space is not at a premium it’s worth trying to redeem a hated character. It’s the choice between leaving the character as a permanent blemish on the whole or smoothing out ruffled feathers and ending on a not-low note.

      Just don’t drag the main story down in doing it. And for the love of God figure out what it is people hate about them before you try.

  15. SparkingConduit says:

    “I’ve never had Miranda survive the suicide mission[1], so I don’t know if this was explained or not.”

    How? As far as I know, Miranda can only die if you take her with you to fight the Terminator reaper and she’s not loyal. Or if she’s literally the only person left to hold the line and she’s not loyal. She can survive just about anything else. Did you always bring an unloyal Miranda with you or something?

    • Shamus says:

      First game: Default Shepard in ME3. Don’t remember is Miranda was alive or what happened with her.

      Later play-though: Unloyal Miranda holds the line. (I did her loyalty mission, but then sided with Jack.)

      This play-through: Unloyal Miranda comes to the final fight. (Again, sided with Jack.)

      • Daimbert says:

        Huh, then you missed one of the better Miranda character moments, where you side with Jack, and then go tell Miranda, basically, that she’s the one who’s supposed to be the mature one between the two of them and so she should be better than that. Miranda accepts this and that restores the loyalty and thus saves both of them.

        • Jokerman says:

          Weird that it blocks off her romance though… even when she excepts she was wrong.

          • Dork Angel says:

            I think you need a high paragon score for that to work properly. She stropped with me through the rest of the game when I sided with Jack. She behaved so childishly in my opinion that I refused to let her command any of the suicide missions (which probably saved her life). Made up in ME 3 though…

      • SparkingConduit says:

        Fair enough, but that’s pretty crazy. I actually had to look up in a guide how to get Miranda killed when I was trying to go for a run where I brought as few squad mates as possible over to 3. I’m guessing you just lucked into some crazy situations. Pretty sure her “hold the line” value is 2 even when unloyal, so she can only die there if you have a lot of squishy characters. Even when it was just her and Zaeed one time, she still survived.

        You missed a little bit of exposition without her. Miranda actually comes to talk to you twice on the Citadel (and once via the Spectre terminal comm link) and that’s what builds up most of the intrigue around the Sanctuary mission. It’s not a lot, as with most other details (lol) in this game, but it’s more than most of the other old squad mates get.

        By the way, I just wanted to say thanks for this fantastic deconstruction. This is exactly the article I’ll point people to when it’s finished to show them why Mass Effect 3 was a bad game. I hadn’t even realized how stupid some of the parts of 2 are until you pointed it out. It’s been a very fun read and I appreciate all the effort you’ve put into the series.

        But I’m still shocked you didn’t have anything to say about the horrendously idiotic character change Samara experiences during the Asari monastery mission. ;)

        • Ninety-Three says:

          I find it odd that they made Miranda so hard to kill in the Suicide mission (she has outright plot armour in earlier segments, she’s the only person who if she fails at her assigned mission, someone else dies). I wonder if she was another Writer’s Pet character, or if at the time of 2, the writers had some plans for her in 3 so they really wanted her alive.

          • IFS says:

            Given how she was treated in ME2 she certainly felt like a creator’s pet at times. Being more generous to the writer though it could be said that perhaps they just wanted to have one character who was difficult to lose in order to make it harder to game over at the end of the suicide mission, and Miranda was chosen for that role (perhaps because she’s one of the first companions you get in ME2).

            • ehlijen says:

              One other factor, I think, is that a lot of the exposition dialogue in the suicide mission falls to her. Ensuring she survives at least to a certain point means a lot less redundancy in the voice files is required.
              Could have been anyone, of course, but as the self proclaimed second in command, she would have been one of the more obvious choices for that.

              • Trix2000 says:

                This sounds much more likely, as I don’t think too many specific people get lines later on in the mission except for her and Shepard.

                • guy says:

                  Absolutely nothing stopped them from having EDI handle all that, though. She is your ship AI and really exposition duties should default to her anyway. And it’s not like they were without alternate options either. You’re guaranteed to recruit Jacob, Mordin, and Garrus, all of whom also have military/STG experience. Of those, Garrus is probably the best choice since he’s reoccuring, definitively an experienced solider, and while the last team he led got wiped out that was after doing much better than it had any right to. And if he had a similar exemption, it would come off as Garrus just being his awesome self.

                  But realistically they really should have dumped all that to EDI; she can talk over the radio, she’s designed for an advisory role, and she’s not in the field so they don’t have to do anything special to make sure she isn’t killed in the fighting.

          • Mike S. says:

            she’s the only person who if she fails at her assigned mission, someone else dies

            I think that’s also true for anyone nonoptimal who tries to do the biotic bubble: they don’t die, one of the people they’re protecting does.

            • guy says:

              It also happens with the fire team lead covering the tech expert. I think she might break that rule somewhere else, or maybe just doesn’t die when she’s supposed to but one I remember for sure is that if the biotic bubble fails it will never kill Miranda even if she’s in the party while not loyal and the other squadmate is loyal. For literally anyone else in this or the hold the line section, non-loyal members always die before loyal members.

        • IFS says:

          What happened with Samara didn’t strike me as being nearly as stupid as how Zaeed’s inclusion was handled (I imagine Shamus has never done Zaeed’s dlc, which is fair as its not very interesting). Zaaed’s mission in ME3 basically involves tracking him down on the citadel (he is not aware of this) as he involves himself with mercenaries or something. When you finally reach him he gets in a gunfight just before you arrive, and his survival in that fight is dependent on him being loyal to Shepard.

          How exactly loyalty to Shepard affects a fight that Shepard is uninvolved in, when Zaeed has no idea Shepard is even on the Citadel, makes no sense whatsoever and it pissed me off that after all the effort I went through to keep everyone alive in the suicide mission he would just go and die in some random gunfight. I can only imagine the outcry if that happened to a character that was actually interesting (imagine how fans would have reacted if that happened to Tali or Legion for example).

          • Guile says:

            This is mostly tangential to your post I realize, but I liked Zaeed’s loyalty mission quite a bit. Good background on the Blue Suns, and Zaeed is probably right to flip out when Shepard prioritizes the random miner guys over Vito.

            Zaeed brought this mission to Shepard, made it clear this was the only chance he’d ever have to get this guy who shot him and left him for dead. This guy who is a Very Bad Guy and took everything Zaeed had and worked for, who Zaeed had spent years hating and living for revenge.

            Then Paragon Shepard gets all saintly and demands Zaeed break off his pursuit to help some random guys stuck in some fire. Not even ‘Go after him Zaeed, I need to help these guys’, it’s ‘You need to stop and help these miner dudes, that’s an order soldier.’ Zaeed’s freak out feels real; Zaeed is on the Renegade end of the spectrum, and doesn’t give a shit about those miners, and the fact that you’re forcing him to give up on his vengeance for this drives him goddamn insane.

            • IFS says:

              That’s fair, its a solid mission with a decent choice and all that, Zaeed’s just not an interesting enough of a character to be worth going out of your way to see (as from what Shamus has said acquiring the DLC for ME2 is apparently a bit of a hassle). He’s not a bad character he just doesn’t have too much going on for him beyond ‘angry old merc out for revenge’.

              • guy says:

                I think Zaeed is an excellent instance of a DLC character; he’s interesting and his mission is great but if you don’t have him in the party the story is still fine and if you do he’s just another party member and shouldn’t warp the story around his presence; it’s not like if you had the Asari Councilor as a party member and constantly wondered why she didn’t resolve every legal issue you find anywhere in the galaxy by either invoking her authority in Citadel Space or elsewhere threatening to elevate the situation over the pay grade of everyone in the room by turning it into a diplomatic incident with the majority of galactic military power if any citizen of any member state is treated even slightly irregularly.

                Huh, suddenly I want to write a fanfic of this; the only time it wouldn’t work is actually Tali’s trial. After all, Tali is a member of the Migrant Fleet and facing formal charges, and the trial is much more important to the Migrant Fleet than to the Councilor so she wouldn’t simply threaten them into dropping the charges. She could participate in various legal-fu ways and by making them be very scrupulously fair because Tali did kind of reveal Saren’s treason and any violations of Quarian law in her trial would be remembered at future negotiations. Everything else isn’t important enough to piss off a visiting head of state over when the actual legal case is on shaky ground to begin with.

      • Jokerman says:

        Did you never have enough Paragade points to smooth it over?

        • Shamus says:

          I ALWAYS had enough Paragon. But that option says, “You’re both right!” and I refused to say that. It’s one of the few moments you’re allowed to put Miranda down, so it’s pretty hard to pass up.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    then Cerberus is still a cartoon villain that runs on fairy dust and unicorn dung.

    Tim is a brony.That explains everything.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This happens even if you destroyed the entire base in a nuclear explosion.

    Its far worse.This happens even if you destroyed the entire base in a nuclear explosion,including the device,whatever it was,that prevented the center of the galaxy,chock full of black holes,from utterly annihilating it.AND after you gave the only remaining ship in the whole galaxy that had the capability to go there to the alliance,not cerberus.

    Im not sure which is worse in this game,cerberus having the reaper baby or reapers having the fake rachni.But both are so infuriatingly bad.

  18. Gruhunchously says:

    How does TIM even know what the Crucible is capable of. Or, more importantly, why does he seem to know more about it than the scientists and engineers that are trying to make it work. Did his fembot recover hidden information that no one else had access to? Did the Reapers whisper it in his indoctrinated ear? If the indoctrination is so strong that communication is possible, why didn’t he tell the Reapers about the Crucible sooner?

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      TIM knows about the Crucible because Kai Leng stole the VI on Thessia. They then had uninterrupted access to it in between the two missions. So everything Shepard learns at the end of Cerberus HQ, TIM already knew. This actually makes total sense.

      • Chris says:

        And Kai Leng knew to steal the VI how again? It’s bullshit all the way down.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Honestly, they should have just had him follow you on the way to Thessia, Boba Fett style. It would basically destroy the whole issue of “HOW IS CERBERUS HERE?!” How is he tracking the Normandy? A clever backdoor Cerberus created when making the thing, even EDI hasn’t found it yet.

      • Taellosse says:

        Except the temple conversation with the VI makes it clear that it can A: detect indoctrination in people, and B: is programmed not to talk to someone under such influence. Which means it would refuse to respond to any attempts at interrogation from anyone in Cerberus, especially TIM, and they didn’t have it for long enough to “hack” it and access the data directly.

        • KarmaTheAlligator says:

          Actually they do point out that they broke its security and got access, so apparently they also have plot hacking when required.

          • Taellosse says:

            More bad writing. Cerberus can do anything because the writer loves their precious antagonist.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Indeed.Not only can cerberus understand what the vi is saying,despite shepard(and javik) being the only one that knows prothean,but they can hack it.And its not like they forgot that no one knows prothean,because when shepard interacts with the vi they mention that plot point once again.

  19. MrFob says:

    The thing about the location of TIM’s base is really weird. In the novel Retribution, it is mentioned that the base is mobile and that TIM relocates it every time there is the slightest chance of its location being compromised. This is even described as the base moves location during the story of the book (it starts out at the dying star where we’ve seen it in ME2 and at the end, TIM’s vista has changed to a blue nebula). Why we are back at the old location in ME3 is unclear. Maybe TIM circles locations (which would be stupid), maybe it’s a different star that looks surprisingly similar (which is unlikely) or maybe the ME3 writers didn’t read or care much about Karpyshyn’s last book (the most likely explanation). Yet again, the concept was set up and yet again, no one bothered to think about it for 2 minutes and establish it somewhere in the game.

    • Will says:

      TIM’s vista has changed to a blue nebula

      That depends on ending, actually. In the renegade ending, it’s red. Either way, it’s clearly intended to be the same star (telepathically linked to Shepard’s jerkass gland or something).

      • MrFob says:

        No, that’s got nothing to do with the renegade/paragon ME2 ending (I actually assume that the blue sun is just a different color filter in TIM’s window because everything else about the star looks the same).
        The vista change in the book definitely happens after ME2 (in fact, the book already begins after the ME2 ending). And it’s no longer a sun.

    • Philadelphus says:

      maybe it’s a different star that looks surprisingly similar (which is unlikely)

      To be fair, stars are pretty featureless. They can be described very well with just a few correlated partial differential equations that ultimately rely overwhelmingly on just the mass and the percentage of various elements in them, which doesn’t really vary all that much. Given two stars of the same (approximate) mass, I’d be surprised if you could reliably tell them apart visually even if you were close enough to resolve the disc. (And by reliably, I mean if you repeated the observations multiple times; obviously one star might be having lots of stellar activity while the other is quiet at any particular moment you compare them, but on average they’d probably be pretty indistinguishable.)

      I don’t want to comment on the game, as I only know it through Spoiler Warning footage and there may be something specific there I’m not taking into account. Just posting a general observation about stars.

    • Deager says:

      I’ve got a lot of time before April 1st, 2017 and I think a MOCK EFFECT TRILOGY MOD is possibly going to be announced. There’s way too much good stuff to use from this retrospective. :)

  20. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    I feel like this is one of those “gilding the lily” entries in the series where you chose to overlook the game’s explanations for things in order to make them sound even more dumb.

    Example #1: No one has ever thought of a Cerberus base or tried to find one?!?!
    No, they have totally thought of that, they just couldn’t find it. Your super smart tech person on the team uses your encounter with a Cerberus operative as a key hint to smartly locate the secret base. So, since most people don’t have the back trail of Kai Leng to follow, this checks out as a plausible way to discover the secret HQ. This is really basic James Bond style movie plotting, not sure why it’s unacceptable here.

    Example #2: Why are the heroes surprised Cerberus is bad??
    Because they are bad in surprisingly newer, badder ways throughout the game. It’s one thing to say “this military force is opposing us and killing our men, we hate them” and another thing to discover that the henchmen aren’t paid mercenaries as you expected, but instead horrible genetically modified zombie-robot abominations. It’s yet ANOTHER level of depravity to discover they turned the equivalent of the Space Bahamas into the Soylent Green factory. Each of these new discoveries is increasingly horrible and shocking, it would be strange if the characters DIDN’T react to this strongly.

    Example #3: Kai Leng’s defeat shows complete contempt for the player!
    Does it though? I would agree that most people really despise this character. Less because he’s an effective villain, more because he’s a railroady piece of game design trash. However, the end battle is framed to make Shepard look as cool as possible. Kai Leng comes in making threats, and Shepard basically tells him he won’t be allowed to run away from the fight this time. Leng gets increasingly desperate, calling in backup troops, cloaking, draining power from the whole base to overcharge his shields, etc. and Shepard wipes the floor with him anyway. The quick time events show Shepard fending off a space ninja’s space katana attacks without having a sword of his own, which is pretty metal. In the end, Shepard turns his back on Leng assuming that he’s down for the count and can be interrogated later. Leng gets up and comes after Shep again, but the Renegade interrupt makes it clear that Shep was fully aware of his advance and can dispatch him easily, at will. So the guy who wiped the floor with the “super cyborg space ninja” is the uncool one in this situation? That feels like you’re WAY reaching.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Because they are bad in surprisingly newer, badder ways throughout the game. It’s one thing to say “this military force is opposing us and killing our men, we hate them” and another thing to discover that the henchmen aren’t paid mercenaries as you expected, but instead horrible genetically modified zombie-robot abominations.

      In the past, through varying combinations of reckless incompetence and deliberate monstrosity, Cerberus has gotten entire outposts Huskified, killed a bunch of soldiers just to see whether or not a Thresher Maw could kill a bunch of soldiers, and generally demonstrated saturday morning cartoon levels of evil. While this specific development is indeed new, maybe even an escalation, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to a character who was paying attention, instead of listening to Hackett’s “Killing civilians just isn’t their M.O.” speech.

      However, the end battle is framed to make Shepard look as cool as possible.

      I agree, the scene of Leng staggering up felt like it was staged specifically to produce the moment where Shep punches his katana apart and throws a revenge one-liner. But even in his final moments, Leng exerts his reality-bending railroading power to make that scene happen. I wanted to be the professional, the Shep from Mass Effect 1 who automatically says “Make sure he’s dead” (or if not that, at least the angry Renegade who executes this asshole at the first chance I get), but the game undermined Shep’s competence and the player’s agency so that we could spend more time with a character everyone hates.

      For that one scene, Kai Leng was there to serve the player instead of the author, but they did it so badly (giving Kai Leng more screentime, railroading, XTREME COOL MOVES like punching a sword apart, giving Kai Leng more screentime) that it came off badly anyway.

    • Gethsemani says:

      #1 Is still a problem though. Cerberus has freaking fleets and armies. That means they must have some form of logistical system, which means a logistical trail back to their bases. Which means that any half-way competent naval Intelligence Officer should be able to figure out roughly where Cerberus are coming from, not to mention what an intergalactic civilization’s entire worth of Intelligence assets should be able to glean.

      The difference between Cerberus and Dr. No or SPECTRE or any other Bond villain organization is that the latter are in the range of maybe a few hundred people who are working on something that must be kept secret until the very last moment. Cerberus are sending out tens of thousands of troops to all corners of the galaxy and are operating in plain sight. That’s why Cerberus don’t get a pass.

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        None of the warship stuff originates from the HQ where TIM sits though. THAT’S the important base that the team finds after Thessia.

        • ehlijen says:

          Nothing indicates that Kai Leng will be headed there, either (and he isn’t, he has to stop by Horizon first).
          And TIM’s base is huge and has a fleet defending it. Where are there supplies coming from? Why isn’t anyone tracking those shipments?
          Why is it easier to follow an elite operative back to his central HQ than a fuel truck or food freighter?

          Between that and Cerberus seemingly tracking the normandy at all times, I think ‘stealth’ might mean the opposite of what we think it means in the ME universe…

          • Poncho says:

            TIM’s base also has a hangar full of starships that can hold off an Alliance fleet long enough for the entire mission Shepard is on.

            If everything ISN’T coming from this base, then that means Cerberus has multiple Alliance-defying fleets that the galaxy isn’t privy to.

    • ehlijen says:

      1: Why does the only smart enough person to do this work on the normandy as a phone operator? Why can Kai Leng’s (supposedly cerberus’ best agent) trail be followed but not that of any of their other operatives, including their vast fleets and invasion armies?

      There is nothing wrong with a clever person figuring out something important. The problem is that by not letting anyone who’s job this very thing is succeed (or even visibly try) this important task when what we’re shown would suggest an immense supply train constantly moving to their bases, doesn’t make Traynor look smart, it makes everyone else look dumb.

      And even if cerberus runs on reaper tech magic, thanks to Anderson’s claims we know the reapers still have assets vulnerable to guerilla warfare, ie support assets that can be tracked and attacked. Nothing excuses Cerberus being untrackable and possessing of any meaningful military at the same time.

      2: Each discovery is horrible, but I wouldn’t say increasingly so. On Mars we learn that cerberus uses reaper tech to make mooks. Grisly. Very soon after we learn that Cerberus has no trouble killing civilians. Disgusting. Killing civilians to make reaper tech mooks shouldn’t be a surprise, it should just be a logical assumption. We know TIM is a messed up madman. Why was anyone deluding themselves into not concluding that ‘abductees + reaper mooks on the frontlines = where is their mook factory’?
      Sure, the characters should react. Just not with surprise. Anger, disgust, progressively decaying denial…but surprise? No. We’re long past the point where we should have accepted that Cerberus is capable of anything (in ethical terms, they should not be nearly this capable of anything in plot terms).

      3: Yes, yes it does show contempt for the player.
      The actual fight was ok. Not great in design, but shepard finally getting to talk back at Leng excuse a fair bit. But then you don’t get to defeat him with gameplay. You are in fact forced to sit through a dumb cutscene that makes no sense, destroys all sense of urgency we’ve just been given and results in no new information.
      Your only input is if you want to angrily stab Leng or just normally.
      Shepard was trying to capture Leng? Then why was no one moving to handcuff him? Why did shepard kill him instead of punching him out when he attacked?
      Shepard knew Leng was up and coming for him? How? We’re clearly shown shepard to be oblivious. We know, shepard doesn’t seem to. But if he knew, why do that thing that happens in the cutscene? What in character reason does shepard have for it given that
      -we have what we came for
      -we know the reapers are up to Bad Shit
      -we know TIM is up to Bad Shit
      -we know where we need to go to save the World(tm)
      -we still have bullets in our guns?

      Just like Kai Leng fails at being bad ass for being carelessly and inappropriately written and scripted, so Shepard fails to be badass here for the same reasons. The scene makes no sense and doesn’t fit into anything that precedes or follows it. It shouldn’t have been this way and forcing the player through it is obnoxious. If they writer had truly wanted the player to feel cool, they’d have let us kill Leng in gameplay using whatever power/weapon we felt appropriate.

      And all that assumes players want Shepard to be an inferior posterior in this scene, that we want to grant Kai Leng such a dramatic sendoff, that we care what happens to this clown. Most players, I think I can fairly say, just wanted to shoot the jerk, grab the file and move out.

      In short:
      -Kai Leng was defeated because the writer finally allowed it, not by the player wanted it
      -The deathscene is as shoehorned in as anything about Leng
      -We are once again told to care about someone we’d rather wasn’t in the game

    • Pyrrhic Gades says:

      I feel like this is one of those “gilding the lily” entries in the series where you chose to overlook the game’s explanations for things in order to make them sound even more dumb.

      Example #1: No one has ever thought of a Cerberus base or tried to find one?!?!
      No, they have totally thought of that, they just couldn’t find it. Your super smart tech person on the team uses your encounter with a Cerberus operative as a key hint to smartly locate the secret base. So, since most people don’t have the back trail of Kai Leng to follow, this checks out as a plausible way to discover the secret HQ. This is really basic James Bond style movie plotting, not sure why it’s unacceptable here.

      I feel like you might be missing the most obvious explanation as to why no thought of going after Cerberus bases. Everyone’s homeworld is being invaded by a horde of invincible spaceships. You would have to be extremely petty to worry about a rogue cell of terrorists under those conditions.

      Or do you mean why didn’t anyone go after Cerberus before the Reapers? Because Cerberus was secretly funded by the Systems Alliance to undertake shadow wars.

      • ehlijen says:

        That excuse will only hold until the moment they start actively screwing with the war efforts of the council races using reaper tech, ie after Mars, or at the very latest after they attack the Salarian Homeworld.

        Yes, the reapers are around, but Cerberus is clearly aiding them indirectly so they are targets, too. And targets of the galaxy’s master spy race no less. There is no believable reason no one made any efforts or gains in tracking cerberus down.

  21. Jabrwock says:

    Actually, I think my explanation makes the setup sound cooler than it really is. A situation where you’re tricked into building the weapon of your own downfall would have been a great twist.

    Wasn’t that one of the concerns in Contact (the book)? One of the detractors to building “the machine” is that he thinks it’s the interstellar equivalent of a letter bomb. Want to maintain your superiority in the galaxy? Instead of needing massive fleets to go wipe out any new civilization that crops up, you just have a network of satellites that broadcast a “hey, welcome to the neighbourhood, we want to talk” message that instructs the budding new civilization on how to build a device that will then blow themselves up. Then your fleet only needs to worry about the civilizations that are too smart for that old trick.

    • Burnsidhe says:

      That sounds like the plot to one of Babylon 5’s episodes.

      This small spacecraft shows up after coming through one of the gates, sent by an unknown civilization. It begins broadcasting a series of mathematical equations that, because Math is fairly universal, get decoded.

      Some frantic translation later, it becomes clear that the probe is asking a series of questions about math, genetics, philosophy, engineering, technology, all at a level that’s just barely at the edge of current science. The implication is that more information will be made available if the probe’s questions are answered…

      … only the station commander has an attack of smarts and asks himself the one question that the scientists, technologists, and everyone else working on the problem hadn’t: “Why does this probe exist?” And being of a skeptical mindset, he waits until the deadline is almost past. The probe starts to fly away. When it’s at what he thinks is a safe distance, he transmits the solutions.

      The probe promptly blows up in a massive explosion.

      • Radkatsu says:

        And this is why B5 is my favourite science, eh, I won’t say fiction because it’s kind of not, but science fantasy/adventure, certainly. JMS actually puts thought into these issues and his whole fictional world holds together under scrutiny. Hell, how masterfully he handled those five seasons is pretty much my own basis for world building, there’s a lot of good stuff there when it comes to how a future setting should work.

    • It’s pretty nonsensical to imagine that anyone could successfully build a technological device without having SOME clue as to WHAT THE HECK IT DOES.

      It’s INSANE to imagine that they could DESIGN a device to so something without knowing what it does!

      • guy says:

        I don’t really think there’s a problem with either of those two points.

        1. Yes you absolutely can build a technological device without knowing what it’s for so long as you have a detailed set of directions. If you can produce it from raw materials you can probably figure out what it’s for, but that’s not strictly necessary. So long as you have the necessary machining capacity to make the parts and transmit power to them you don’t need to understand the theory. For instance, making a generator requires only a magnet and a coil of copper wire, both of which were available well before anyone understood electricity.

        2. There is no reason to think none of the previous cycles knew what it did. Certainly the Protheans seemed to know everything relevant except that the Star Child could tamper with the Citadel to block its activation, and they knew enough about the Citadel that their plan was probably more detailed than “dock with the Citadel and pray”.

        3. Actually, the current cycle does know what the Crucible does. It generates a lot of energy and sends it to the Catalyst. That’s just a completely useless piece of information because they don’t know what the Catalyst is or does.

      • Jabrwock says:

        In Contact, they knew it was probably a ship, because it had several human-sized chairs.

        Their concern was that it could have been ship-shaped just to lul them into complacency, because most of the construction instructions were so advanced they seemed to be magic, so other than the more common components they recognized (gyroscopes, pipes, etc), a lot of the stuff wasn’t well understood.

        A better example might be a nuclear powered ship. You could use it to propel a ship around the oceans for years without re-fueling. OR, with the right minor tweaks that might be undetectable to someone who doesn’t perfectly understand fission, blow up the harbour it’s launched from.

        • guy says:

          No you can’t, that’s very hard and reactors are extremely different from bombs and the builders would ask exactly why they need to carefully position chemical explosives around the sphere and detonate them exactly simultaneously and most likely conclude that this is probably some form of bad idea.

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      This is the plot of a dodgy horror movie called Species. We get an alien transmission which says “Hey, do this to some DNA”, we do the thing, and SURPRISE IT’S A SHAPESHIFTING SUCCUBUS LADY

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      No need to think of all sorts of books and movies,when its the very plot of first mass effect.All the races in the galaxy follow the pattern of discovering eezo,then mass relays,then the citadel,and its all done as one huge fly trap.

  22. Radkatsu says:

    “Better to leave all the roleplaying and decision-making to the writer and I’ll handle the quicktime events and shooting.”

    So basically… Fallout 4.

  23. MichaelGC says:

    James of all people – who I realize I’ve never covered in this write-up

    Hmm… and no one’s yet mentioned him in the comments. Odd, that.

    (Although if you CTRL-F to confirm you’ll find there’s a positive; a false positive…)

    • ehlijen says:

      I’ll admit to liking Vega. His shuttle crashing stunt reminded me of Obelix and season 1 Korra, well intentioned but clearly a dunce, a derp paladin. One of my favourite character types.

      • Guile says:

        I have no problem with Vega. It was kind of like having Kaidan and Ashley back again, but instead of talking about history and race and shady government operations you watch his rippling muscles as he does pull ups, or bop him in the nose during a practice match.

        I just wish for ME3 we didn’t get him instead of some more interesting, possibly alien, character. He felt like more a ME1 or ME2 character.

        • Trix2000 says:

          I think he was much more interesting as a character than Kashley (at least, compared to their ME1 performance), if only because he seemed a lot more… quirky? Like, the way he spoke including random Spanish bits and his tendency to give people nicknames, for instance. Just something about the way he walked, talked, and carried about things seemed so… unique.

          One problem I had with Kashley in ME1 was that, to me, they felt too much like any other human… at least on the surface. I didn’t spend a lot of conversation time with either because, as much as they had things to talk about themselves, I wasn’t feeling much of a distinct person behind it. They were decent characters, but to me felt more like well-written NPCs than party members (part of the reason they didn’t get to come on missions much).

          That improved in the later games, but I still never really felt drawn to exploring their characters like I did some of the others.

          Vega, though… right off the bat he just seemed different from most of the people I met. He wasn’t just another Alliance soldier who happened to have a backstory – he felt more like a real individual to me.

          He’s definitely quite the doof, though. But a lovable doof.

          • Mike S. says:

            I had a different impression. Kaidan’s a straight arrow with a family in Vancouver, a tragic love, a death that weighs on his conscience, and ongoing consequences from inadequately understood biotic implants that he refuses to fix because he’s more concerned with being an effective soldier. Ashley has a close-knit family, a clouded background that’s sabotaged her career, a distrust of aliens, and a belief in God. I feel as if I learned a lot more about them in ME1 than I did about Vega in ME3. (Though Vega’s fine.)

            In ME1 they’re also more rounded people than the aliens (other than Liara), who tend to be exposition machines about a) their species, b) their daddy issues, and c) their sidequest (which is pretty perfunctory compared with the ME2 loyalty missions). Wrex shines through the best, but Tali and Garrus benefit a lot in retrospect from being expanded in the next game.

            • Coming_Second says:

              That’s very true regarding Tali and Garrus. I don’t think Shamus really gave the character writing in ME2 enough credit, because it’s one of the major reasons why people stuck to the series and wanted to see the ending despite the plot being so dire.

    • Coming_Second says:

      In his own weird way, Vega was a recurring Bioware element that ME3 actually improved on from previous games. The studio sticks to a very rigid formula which includes the cast-iron rule that the first recruitable is a bland, sturdy bloke that acts as your right hand/awkward love interest. Part of the reason for this is that he acts as an every-man off whom you can bounce whackier personalities. On top of these characters being naturally dreary, Vega had the completely thankless task of being the “wait, what?” guy; somebody who could ask the dumb questions that would fill in information for players new to the series.

      Despite this, Slab Bulkhead really isn’t bad. His entry doesn’t feel too forced and his interactions with Shepard are enjoyably breezy and knockabout. You aren’t forced to get to know him, which helps; he comes across as a rather likable knucklehead. No he isn’t important in any way, but these sorts of characters are difficult to deliver without them being both bland and annoying, so Bioware deserve a little bit of credit for not producing another Carth.

      • guy says:

        My biggest problem with Vega is that basically the first memorable thing he does is be blatantly insubordinate while simultaneously being deeply stupid and the second memorable thing is disabling an apparently civilian shuttle by ramming it with an armed shuttle.

  24. They could have added an interesting element to this entire series (and waved away some of the “resource magic” later on) if they’d shown in ME1 that almost all building and manufacturing is now done by robots and VI’s–sometimes so autonomously that they can colonize a new planet and have it ready for organic colonists.

    That would have been cool, particularly if it had been a contrast between the galactic races and humans–galactic races colonies start with this enormous amount of pre-fabricated everything. It’s basically like moving to a new city, not the trackless wilderness. Human colonies contain . . . dirt farmers.

    Give Cerberus this colony-building technology (maybe they attacked and stole it from one of the galactic colonies) and some turf to work with (the off-limits areas on the map past human space), and it becomes interesting.

    • IFS says:

      Given that Cerberus supposedly gets its funding from corporations you could even have a colony building corp be a/the front for Cerberus. Could even be tied into them having interests in human expansion and in investigating the colony abductions.

    • guy says:

      I am firmly of the opinion that any explaination for Cerberus’s fleets beyond getting a Reaper nanoforge is inherently nonviable. Because the problem isn’t exactly the amount of stuff; it’s the ratio of stuff. Sure, if there’s easily avaliable self-replicating factories, Cerberus could build dozens of warships in a handful of years. Then the Turians turn on their thousands of automated forge-worlds and build a million dreadnoughts.

  25. Jokerman says:

    “And then once the attack is begun” should be “has begun” right?

  26. ehlijen says:

    At first I thought the crucible improvement story could actually have worked. Each new cycle adapts it for their own physiology and production capabilities, each finds ways to make it a little more power efficient here and there or a little sturdier over there…

    But then the catalyst thing happened. Wait, no one ever knew what this thing does? Why would every cycle build the thing? Shouldn’t at least one have gone ‘we don’t know if this thing will help? forget it, we’ll build more warships instead!’ and that should have been that for the crucible.

    Then I thought maybe it was a tech trap, like the mass relays, and the reapers made sure plans of it would be hidden for the next cycle, and that building it or finding the plans somehow triggered each new reaping…but then starchild.

    And then well, plot kaputt.

  27. Abnaxis says:

    Wife, looking over my shoulder at the last image of the article: “That guy looks like Gene Simmons…”

  28. The Specktre says:

    Awwwwww. I managed to successfully and completely forget about Kai Leng’s death scene. Now I’ve been reminded and it hurts. It hurts so much. Why?

  29. Christopher says:

    It’s got to be “The revengeance”.

  30. Slothfulcobra says:

    The Crucible is basically the same as the ORB from the Venture Brothers. Somehow all the best inventors, artists, craftsmen, and scientists have been adding to this device over the eons without knowing exactly what it does, and when the time comes to use it, it’s all one big anticlimax.

  31. Sol says:

    The worst part about this was that taking over the Citadel was the entire plot of ME1. Now it’s glossed over like it was nothing. We don’t even get to see a cutscene of the Reapers taking it. It just appears over Earth.

    This was the entire plot of Mass Effect 1

    As mentioned, the Citadel also controls the Relays. As in it can shut the entire network down for all none Reapers.

    Yet they don’t. For no reason.

    Maybe it’d make for a difficult story to write if nobody could go anywhere… but doesn’t the Normandy SR2 have a Reaper IFF now? Something that happened in the base ME2 game actually being relevant? Don’t be silly. Reapers forget to shut down the Relay network because they’re idiots.

    This also begs the question why the Reapers bothered with Sovereign, Saren and the Geth in the first place. All this ended up doing was alerting the galaxy to the existence of the Reapers (not that 99% of them did anything about it). They had no idea the Reapers existed before this.

    Why would the Reapers come up with this convoluted plan which involved revealing themselves before arrival and contained significant chance of failure (what if the conduit no longer functioned? No back door, Citadels arms are closed on Sovereign, game over for him).

    Why do all this when they had a 100% guaranteed surprise attack with their entire strength just 3 years later?

    3 years when they’ve been waiting 50000 years? That’s nothing.

    And it was never explained.

    The better game was just ignored completely. It is true that ME3 was written by somebody who despised ME1. TIM made for a poor Saren.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Me2 shouldve dealt with the renegade geth,and how they were trying to awake the reapers.You get legion,and with its help you manage to kill/convert the renegade geth,but too late,the reapers are awake and coming back.

      And thats only one way I could think of bridging the gap between me1 and me3.There are tons more.But since me2 was what it was,theres this huge disconnect between the games.

    • Dork Angel says:

      I’ve always seen it that The Citadel existed to wake the Reapers when the races had progressed far enough to need their cull and let them travel back quickly. Before being wiped out on their cycle though, the Protheans managed to sabotage it so this didn’t happen on the next cycle. Sovereign is tasked with checking every thousand years or so and wakens from stand-by. Pings the Citadel – no response. With no access to the Mass Relays he has to come back the long way. Realises what has happened and tries to re-take the Citadel to undo what the Protheans have done. Fails. (ME1)

      At some stage though he managed to get a signal back to Harbinger who rather than travel back himself, activates The Collectors (plan B). They are more stealthy and the plan is to build a special human reaper to again try and re-take the Citadel as they aren’t powerful enough on their own but Shepard blows it up before it can be finished. (ME2)

      Out of options, The Reapers awaken and start the long journey back without the help of the Mass Relays leading to ME3.

      These 3 events likely overlap. Sovereign probably contacted Harbinger as soon as he found out what had happened, but as it took him years to get here, it took years for the signal to get back. Same with Harbinger. He activates the Collectors and while they are doing there bit, he wakens the other Reapers.

      Why does time seem important to the Reapers which have existed for thousands if not millions of years? Perhaps they only have a certain window in which to act. If they wait too long the “inevitable war” between humans and synthetics will break out. or perhaps, given the rate of technology growth the races will become powerful enough to beat them if given too much time to develop.

      The Catalyst would have been fine as just another Prothean idea (rather than doing the whole cycle spanning nonsense) though this would have meant technically it was the Protheans that beat the Reapers not “our hero” (and made their actual ending the same as the one we get if you shoot the Starchild).

      As for what it actually did when you turned it on, you’re on your own with that one…

  32. INH5 says:

    The moment when the Prothean VI informs Shepard that the Reapers have captured the Citadel offscreen is when the story fell apart on me. Up until then, I had either not noticed the problems or thought that I must have missed something that explained it. But at this point, my suspension of disbelief was instantly broken and if I remember right I actually groaned out loud.

    This is probably the most important event to happen in the series just far, and the writers seriously think that they can just have it happen offscreen? I’ve only been on the Cerberus base for 20 minutes or so, and the Reapers managed to capture the Citadel in that time? And nobody bothered to tell me about this when it happened? And wait a second, did the hologram just say that the Citadel was moved to Earth? Since when can that thing move?

    I bought ME3 about 5 months after its release, so I had been warned ahead of time that the ending was going to be weird, but I hadn’t expected a story failure of this magnitude before even the climax.


    Regarding the Crucible: I rewatched some LPs of ME3 a little while back, and early in the game Liara’s stated reason for building the Crucible is pretty much, “the Protheans clearly thought it could defeat the Reapers, so we should build it too!” It’s a shame that you can’t ask the Prothean VI whether the Protheans had also tried to build the Crucible solely because the cycle that came before them had done it, and if it is just turtles all the way down.

    • “It’s a shame that you can’t ask the Prothean VI whether the Protheans had also tried to build the Crucible solely because the cycle that came before them had done it, and if it is just turtles all the way down.”

      I think it’s turtles all the way down.

      I seem to recall that it was mentioned (forgot by whom) that each specie(s) in each cycle added to it.

      In a DLC (obviously) you get to meet two (I think) beings that is the basis for the Reapers. No idea if they reveal who made the plans for the citadel and crucible etc. But I’m guessing the Reapers did in after the 1st or 2nd cycle. I can’t recall what the god child said about this.
      Either the Reapers did it or the Reaper creators did it as a evolutionary failsafe of some sorts.

      But yeah, back to your question, the Prothean’s just continued the work that other races had done before them.

  33. Shamus when you say “The writer has extreme tunnel vision and can’t imagine the parts of the world that aren’t directly in front of them”

    I automatically translate “the writer” to “the game director”, after all they are responsible for the narrative making sense (with help from the lead writer if there is one). The game director is ultimately responsible for the consistency in a game.

    Lucasfilm (and now Disney) has a dedicated department/team to Star Wars continuity and lore. I wonder if BioWare had/have that at all?
    This would allow the continuity guy(s)/gal(s) to send notes back to the writer(s) game directory and say that this or that contradict the previous lore.

    Also I realized something, if Kai-Leng was instead a Shepard clone then I think the nemesis thing would have worked much better. After all, only Shepard can out-asshole Shepard right? You could even have a de-masking reveal at some point.
    Yes! I know there is a DLC that visits the Shepard clone idea.

    Cerberus creating clones of Shepard would make more sense than them just reviving/rebuilding the “original”, after all if that failed they’d need to clone him anyway.
    Besides reaper DNA the second most common DNA in Cerberus research labs are most likely Shepard’s.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      Lucasfilm (and now Disney) has a dedicated department/team to Star Wars continuity and lore. I wonder if BioWare had/have that at all?

      God no. Even in the original game, one writer wrote the detailed, hard sci-fi codex, then said he had to watch in disappointment as everyone else discarded bits of it for the Rule of Cool. Given how much worse the series got about continuity and lore, I think it’s clear they didn’t suddenly gain such a department in 2 or 3.

  34. Neko says:

    Crucible_v1.3_+_Protheans_(Needs Catalyst)_Geralds_Changes_2_(Copy)

  35. Mike C says:

    I can’t help but wonder if BioWare is reading this series, and has delayed Mass Effect: Andromeda to 2017 to fix the writing…

    • INH5 says:

      The lead writer for MEA left Bioware in February of this year, so I’d guess that at this point the writing is all in the can and the delay is for bug fixes and the like.

      • guy says:

        Which is more likely: An AAA studio delays a release to fire their writing staff and get better writing, or an AAA studio delays a release to fix crippling bugs like not being able to play a co-op game if you have friends?

        Maybe they discovered they accidentally mailed it to Mars and need to wait for the orbits to line up to bring it back.

  36. Guancyto says:

    I know it’s for a good reason (internal politics aren’t something that can be effectively pinned down, and trying would make the retrospective both longer, less cogent and more likely to start flamewars) but I feel like using “the writer” as shorthand for the Bioware staff really does everyone a disservice. Mass Effect 3 suffers all of the pains of being written by committee, of putting too many wildly competing visions in the same room without having someone competent at the head to try and sort it all out. Why in one mission is Cerberus not into killing civilians, and the next they’re using them as fodder? Because people had super different ideas of what sort of organization they were. Why is Cerberus “an idea” but you never get any explanation of what that idea is? Because it sounds cool until you have to write the next line of dialogue, at which point you get eight different factions on what that idea is and ultimately it’s easier to just move onto the next poorly-detailed bit of nonsense.

    Why is Kai Leng treated like a badass by cinematography but his only real accomplishment (besides furthering the plot) is killing a man in the late stages of a crippling terminal illness? Because somebody important thought their fanfiction ninja was so amazing, but the writing staff hated him so much he’d never make a meaningful difference, BUT he was showy and fun to render so the art/animation/cutscene guys had him do a bunch of flashy but ultimately irrelevant stuff.

    Why are the Quarian/Geth and Genophage storylines well-done but the main story is an unworkable mess? You can spin enough lore with enough proper nouns for the Geth story to make a meddling executive’s eyes glaze over until he says “you know what, sounds like you’ve got it covered, make it happen” and hey, it’s just a side story, right?

    Shamus, I think you mentioned in one of the previous retrospectives about the cliche-ridden dialogue just sounding like the writer was tired and I think this is key to the whole story of how Mass Effect 3 went wrong. In a lot of places there’s real thought, care and effort invested. In a lot of other places you can almost viscerally feel someone saying behind the scenes, “fine, we’ll have your ninja steal the macguffin, I’m so tired of fighting about this.” The fake rachni is another great example of one of those compromises that might have made sense in the moment (you want all our rachni assets to maybe just never appear in the game based on a single binary choice in the first game? After all the work we did?!), but are insultingly nonsensical when implemented.

    “Every cycle has added to the Crucible!” and “it’s a mystery what the Crucible does!” are honestly both interesting ideas in isolation. If you try to compromise between the group of people who think one and the group who think the other by the Golden Mean Fallacy (“I think you’re both right! I AM BEST AT MANAGING”), you get this unholy clusterfuck of ideas.

    “TIM wouldn’t let on what he’s really up to because he knows how badly Shepard would ruin all his plans” and “TIM needs to lay his cards on the table because getting Shepard on his side is his best shot of winning” are both fine ways to go with your bad guy! It’s if you try to make him do both at once where you get this random nonsensical mishmash of “I see a way to control!” You’re not allowed to ask what that way would because mysterious. You’re not allowed to blow him off or call him out because diplomatic. It’s funny to me that in a game about unifying diverse visions to a single goal, it is almost certainly disunity that caused this scene-to-scene, moment-to-moment, even line-to-line dissonance.

  37. BehattedWanderer says:

    I actually really like the idea of the crucible being this giant “shoot your own foot” weapon. You could even tie it into the stupid war points if you wanted. Too low, and the ending plays out as it is. Get enough, though, which would mean enough science-brains on board to figure it out, and near the end somebody interrupts you and goes “Hey, Shep…this thing we’re building? It’s for the Reapers to destroy US.” And you then realize that while the Reapers eye-lasering everything to death is stupid and impractical, building a galaxy wide pulse weapon that ties into the relays is a much simpler idea, and only requires cleanup after that. You could even go as far as to say that the Reapers only pack carry-on luggage, and not the actual materials or infrastructure to build it every time, so they have their indoctrinated agents disperse the information to get it built. That even solves the “why are they ignoring the Crucible?” question. Given that knowledge, you then have one last mission to figure out how to reverse it, and blow them up instead. You could even have a “destroy the Citadel” last resort, where you prevent the Reapers from using it regardless.

    It’s a fun idea. But it doesn’t even address the rest of the stupid, mostly because nothing will fix Cerberus.

  38. RTBones says:

    I have always wondered about the background of the writer responsible for Kai Leng. Does he/she come from writing characters for the FPS genre? When you contrast the depth of character we have in Saren with the vapid emptiness that is Kai Leng, I always get the impression that Kai Leng would be more appropriate as an outsourced boss-fight in Deus Ex:HR or possibly a Thief4 boss. The KL writer (possibly as fault of the director/producer) seems to think ME3 is a bog-standard shooter, and KL is supposed to be this uber badass that we as players should be wanting to fight. In reality, those of us expecting (wanting?) a story-driven RPG with shooter elements simply see KL as just flippin’ annoying.

    Put another way: In ME1, Saren is written as an antagonist for Shepard. Yes, Saren makes stupid decisions, but you can imagine Shepard – while not agreeing with the decisions – at least understands them on some level. In ME3, Kai Leng is written as an antagonist for the PLAYER – and fails completely because KL reminds us that this is just a video game after all.

    • guy says:

      Kai Leng originates in published novels, so probably neither.

    • AD-Stu says:

      Yeah, the Kai Leng character comes from the novels so technically the writer “responsible” for him is the same one responsible for Saren – Drew Karpyshyn.

      Karpyshyn didn’t work on ME3 though, so one of the game’s other writers just took the name and basic outline of the character from the books and then did terrible things with it.

      • Gruhunchously says:

        And Kai Leng was already a raging Mary Sue in the later novels, with his greatest contribution to the series mythology being the memes about him stealing Anderson’s cereal and peeing in a random vase (both of which are things that actually happen, no joke).

      • RTBones says:

        I was refering specifically to the writer for the game (as you say, DK did not work on ME3), not the novels – though I should admonish myself in that the readers of SW will know the origins of the character and I should know better than to make such an unbounded statement. :)

        My point is that in the games, Saren had depth where KL does not. In game terms, KL is just a boss mook for the players to shoot at, while Saren is written (in the game) as an actual antagonist for Shepard. I’ve not read the books myself, so I dont know how detailed/fleshed out DK actually makes KL.

  39. grndmrshlgando says:

    Ahhh the cerberus base: the point where the story, already so full of plot holes and contrivances it looks like swiss cheese, begins to fall apart at the seams before your very eyes. I remember the first time playing through this, when TIM was like “hey I moved the citadel to earth” I was like “WHAT?!” why? how? when? the story makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and, after reading between the lines, its pretty damn insulting. Like somebody walking up to you and slapping your girl friend across the face insulting.

    but I think we all know this is just a taste of the shit about to hit the fan in the next few posts… oh boy I can’t wait.

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