Mass Effect Retrospective 5: Feros

By Shamus Posted Thursday Jul 30, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 153 comments

Feros is the most “Classic BioWare” of the planets. It’s packed with story beats, themes, and plot elements ripped from earlier games. You’ve got the bog-standard optional “help these villagers gather resources they need to live” type questing, you’ve got some charmingly lame puzzles, and you’ve got a little bit of local politics and personal drama for flavor. This would be my favorite location in the game if it wasn’t all the same unendurable shade of beige.

A lot of games from this time period made the mistake of making a world of tan and grey, but this particular example really bothers me. I can tolerate it if the people developing the Military Manshoots of 2007 thought that concrete dust and rubble was just the “most realistic” and therefore “best”, according to the artless simplistic tastes of the day. But here? On a strange and distant world meant to evoke a sense of wonder and alienation? I can’t help but feel like the people who designed this place should have known betterAnd perhaps they did, but were pushed to make it “more realistic” by some hack who doesn’t deserve his job..

Fridge logic: How did the massive ruins on this world escape the Reaper mop-up crew? Did they overlook it because of the cloud cover? Because those buildings sticking out seem kind of... obvious.
Fridge logic: How did the massive ruins on this world escape the Reaper mop-up crew? Did they overlook it because of the cloud cover? Because those buildings sticking out seem kind of... obvious.

You could go either way. You could make the old parts of the planet – the ruins and underground caves – look vibrant and full of color, and make the prefab human housing look drab and boring. This would make the human stuff look ordinary and pedestrian in contrast to this alien backdrop. Or you could go the other way and have the human structures be bold and garish against the understated backdrop of the ruins and nature. Perhaps human stuff would be painted, or made of colored plastic. This would make the human structures stand out as new and out-of-place, like building a McDonalds in the Greek Parthenon. Either way, there should be stark contrast between new and old.

And no matter what, the Thorian should have some kind of green or yellow motif, even if it doesn’t photosynthesize with chlorophyll like Earth plants. It’s mind boggling that the exact same color palette is used for the human colony, the Prothean ruins, the ExoGeni Offices, and the Thorian caverns. What a wasted opportunity.

Zhu’s Hope

Welcome to Planet Skybox!
Welcome to Planet Skybox!

The outpost of Zhu’s Hope feels a lot like a remix of the Mother quest from Jade Empire. (Which itself borrowed a little from the Rakghoul plot in KOTOR.) You enter a small community of odd people who are suspicious, unwelcoming, and secretive. Their dialog doesn’t make a lot of sense and it sort of feels like you’ve stumbled into a cult. Then after some screwing around you make it underground to find everyone was being controlled by a huge monster. Then you beat the monster and everyone is set free.

Some people fault BioWare for this very trope-y approach to stories, but I didn’t mind. Ok, maybe if they did this story a third time it would have been pushing their luck, but this is an interesting idea for a location. The cult-like atmosphere gives the monster a certain mystery and build-up, so that heading underground feels tense. You really have no idea what you’re going to find or how you’re going to deal with it. The reveal of the monster is creepy and the post-monster denouement is a great chance for character interaction and contrast.

It’s a solid hook for a story. And given that so few people played Jade Empire, I don’t mind that it was given another chance here in Mass Effect. Speaking of the monster, let’s talk about…

The Thorian

I wonder what would happen the Poison Ivy (the Batman Villain, not the plant) met the Thorian? I'm betting it would create a problem you couldn't solve with batarangs.
I wonder what would happen the Poison Ivy (the Batman Villain, not the plant) met the Thorian? I'm betting it would create a problem you couldn't solve with batarangs.

Yes, they’ve done the “underground monster enslaves a village” idea before, but this time around they really ran with the idea and explored it in greater detail. In Jade Empire, Mother was just an angry monster, but the Thorian is given some depth and complexity. When I talk about “big idea sci-fi”, this is exactly the kind of stuff I’m looking for.

The Thorian is a plant the size of a building, hidden deep underground. It has lived for tens of thousands of years. Its roots (or tendrils, or whatever they are) reach for at least a few kilometers, and nobody really knows where they end. It sends out spores that are inhaled by mammalsNot actually mammals, since Earth animalia classifications wouldn’t necessarily fit on other worlds, but you know what I mean. and work their way into the nervous system. The Thorian is then able to control the victim by prompting the creature to take action and inflicting pain if it resists.

For the most part it leaves its thralls to live their lives, breed, and do whatever it is that they do, but it can direct them to action if it needs to defend itself. The Thorian doesn’t really think or measure time the way we do, and it’s not even sure of its own age. It spends most of its time dormant, but will rouse itself once every few millennia when it needs to take some action.

That’s a pretty radical idea for a life-form. That’s a long way from the usual human-sized biped that carries a gun and hides behind cover. The Thorian is strange and unsettling and more “alien” than anything else in the game.

Please wait. Caching exposition buffers.
Please wait. Caching exposition buffers.

In the case of Zhu’s Hope, the ExoGeni Corporation has deliberately placed some of their personnel in living spaces directly over the Thorian to see what the effect would be. Embarrassingly, one of the computer VIs in the ExoGeni offices refer to these people as the “Control Group”. Uh… no, silly computer man. If there was another group of colonists NOT living next to a mind-controlling Elder Plant and you were comparing the two, then the non-enthralled people would be the control group. These people are just unwitting test subjects. If this blunder was made by one of the employees I might assume this was to show that ExoGeni were not very good at science. But since this was stated by the VI, I have to assume whoever wrote the dialog didn’t understand what a control group was. Oops.

But the Thorian isn’t just a sideshow freak for nerdy fans of space opera. Its nature and its lifespan are directly relevant to the plot.

Back on Eden Prime, Shepard interfaced with a Prothean beacon, but all he saw was a scrambled flash of images of circuit boards and meatUgh. Am I the only one who thought the visions had a kind of “Stock Photo hallucination” feel to them? with no other context. The beacon was a device that enabled Protheans to communicate with each other mind-to-mind, over vast galactic distances. But since Shepard doesn’t think like a Prothean, the message is all garbled.

Brace yourself Shepard. This is going to be like a Vulcan mind-meld, except with a hot chick instead of Leonard Nimoy.
Brace yourself Shepard. This is going to be like a Vulcan mind-meld, except with a hot chick instead of Leonard Nimoy.

The Thorian has been alive for so long that it actually had Protheans as thralls at one point. The Reapers purged the Protheans, but the Thorian lived on, its mind preserving Prothean language and culture long after they were gone. Here, fifty thousand years later, the Thorian picked up an Asari thrall, and through the Thorian she was able to learn about how the Prothean mind worked. Once Shepard deals with the Thorian, she is freed and able to share this knowledge with him. This knowledge lets him understand the vision more clearly and (as we learn later) grants him the ability to understand the Prothean language.

On the first world, Shepard saw a vision, a message from a long-dead civilization. On this world, Shepard has learned the language, culture, and mental patterns of that long-dead race. Shepard isn’t the “chosen one” according to some deity or space-prophecy. And Shepard isn’t special because of his ability to dispense space-bullets. Shepard is special because of the knowledge in his head. That knowledge wasn’t just bestowed in a single act, but was something the player earned over the course of an entire videogame.

And then Mass Effect 2 didn’t know what to do with that, so it decided he’s a “hero and bloody icon”.

ExoGeni Offices

This room is different from the previous room because there's slightly more rubble and the chest-high wall is in a different position.
This room is different from the previous room because there's slightly more rubble and the chest-high wall is in a different position.

As Much as I love the events on Feros, I will say this is some of the worst environment design in the gameAt least on the main quest. You can make the case that the empty planets are worse, although they’re less painful by virtue of being shorter and more open.. It’s even worse than Therum. The copy-paste hallways of the ExoGeni buildings are confusing, the visuals are a dreary monochrome, the lighting is flat, and the stairways make the map confusing to read without making the place interesting to navigate.

The scenery doesn’t even make sense. The offices are built in old Prothean ruins, and the place is falling apart. Did the company really move into this place of collapsing walls and floors and staircases and just set up their desks in the rubble? Do the office workers navigate this maze of barren rooms every morning and then stand ankle-deep in broken concrete and hope the ceiling doesn’t fall on them today? Or are we supposed to assume that the Geth did all this? Did they come in here and demolish all these staircases? I wouldn’t expect the game to waste resources showing us where the executives eat and sleep, but having a (decorative) locked door in a clean room with creature comforts would go a long way at selling the notion that human beings live nearby.

Zhu’s Hope looks like a place where people might live: Beds, shelter, desks, crates of supplies, lights, and walkways. By contrast the offices – where the white-collar types work – look like one of the subway tunnels in Fallout 3. There are no seats, no storage, no furniture, no supplies, and no signs that people used this place for anything besides storing computers and rubble.



[1] And perhaps they did, but were pushed to make it “more realistic” by some hack who doesn’t deserve his job.

[2] Not actually mammals, since Earth animalia classifications wouldn’t necessarily fit on other worlds, but you know what I mean.

[3] Ugh. Am I the only one who thought the visions had a kind of “Stock Photo hallucination” feel to them?

[4] At least on the main quest. You can make the case that the empty planets are worse, although they’re less painful by virtue of being shorter and more open.

From The Archives:

153 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 5: Feros

  1. Yerushalmi says:

    Maybe it’s control in the sense of being “under control” by the Thorian?

    DISCLAIMER: I have not played Mass Effect.

    1. Squirly says:

      It’s kinda amazing that so long after having played it I still remember that conversation and thinking to myself “Wait, if they’re the control group then what’s the REAL experiment?” I spent the better part of this planet wondering when some other super-secret group of people would pop up.

      1. Primogenitor says:

        I took it to be that ExoGeni underestimated the Thorian so much that the control group got affected when they were supposed to be isolated – the actual experimented people being force-fed to the Thorian or some such.

      2. Joe Informatico says:

        The real experiment is probably the science fair project of some Cerberus rogue cell.

        1. guy says:


          Seriously, if you poke around the ExoGeni offices, you get a plot hook involving Cerberus, and when you follow it up you find Cerberus bases overrun by Thorian Creepers.

          Actually, for all the fun Shamus makes of them, in ME1 Cerberus did have a coherent research plan; they wanted to have some form of artifical army. They worked on weaponizing Thresher Maws, controlling Husks, and mass-producing Creepers. Admittedly, their plans did all explode in their faces every time.

          1. Jeff says:

            They should try to weaponize their enemies.

      3. Syal says:

        Haven’t played it, but could the experiment be about finding a sure for the mind control? So the control group would be untreated mind control subjects and the experimental group would be mind controlled and then pumped full of drugs?

    2. Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’ll give the writer slightly more credit than Shamus. I think they did understand the concepts of a control group and test group but had the names mixed up. Might have even been a typo that simply made it into the game.

      But he could be right. They could have just been trying to throw in some sciencey sounding words.

      1. Guys! Guys… the VI is making a pun.

        1. Even Wider And Nerdier says:

          Pery Vunny.

      2. guy says:

        I figure it’s the control group in that the experiment isn’t “expose people to Thorian spores to see what happens”, it’s “do something with Thorian infectees”, so the control group is people with the Thorian infectees who aren’t receiving treatment.

    3. Rogue Likelike says:

      In the French translation the VI calls them the “testing group”. So, most likely some kind of typo then.

  2. DeadlyDark says:

    Oh yeah, I agree, it was a very good move to make Shepard special because of knowledge in his head he earned some by chance, but large part of it by hard work. And while I like ME3 as much as ME1 (and >> than ME2), I was very disappointed that prothean knowledge in his head wasn’t used in any way.

    1. Raygereio says:

      The Cipher actually was used in ME3. It activated the beacon on Thessia and allowed Shep to get the codes for Javik’s stasis pod.

      It was kinda weird that it was completely ignored beyond those two instances. I was expecting it to come up during conversations with Javik, especially after they introduced his psychometric shtick.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        So it was used for getting a real live prothean and then….nothing was done with him?This species that was the center of the whole first game(and arguably the second),and all he brings is “Yeah,Im a prothean.Sup?”.

        1. Raygereio says:

          There is a scene where a Hanar flips out at meeting one its gods. But yeah, they didn’t really do anything with Javik being Prothean.

          I felt Javik suffers from the same problem Shale had in DA:O.
          Their very nature means that just their existence ought to be “a big frigging deal”. But if Bioware had properly explored that, they would overshadow all other companions. Perhaps even the main plot in parts. So Bioware decided to pay the barest lip service to it and ignore it for the most part.
          It’s easy to understand why they got cut from their respective main games. But I can’t help but think they ought to have stayed on the cutting room floor and not be re-purposed as DLC. I mean if you’re not going to do something right, don’t do it all instead of half-assing it.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            And yet,they constantly attempt to have their pet mirranda(and tim,and fuck kai leng)overshadow everyone else.

          2. Mike S. says:

            Javik does spent a lot of time fleshing out how Prothean society worked, how it related to its neighbors, and what the last war was like.

            I didn’t really like what they did with the Protheans, since they seem to have decided that every civilization before the current one were jerks. The ME1 Protheans included scientists, victims, and heroes, and their fall was a galactic tragedy. The ME3 Protheans were imperialist social Darwinists who evaluated other species only as potential slaves.

            I choose to headcanon it that Javik was educated by a militarist rump state that projected its own ideology back to the pre-war era. (It’s not as if history education would have been a priority in any case.) But the idea seems to have been that our era was the first time on record that multiple species actually cooperated, and this was a source of strength. (Even though the Protheans had demonstrably reached a higher level of technological advance prior to the Reaper War, up to and including building the Conduit and reverse-engineering the Keepers’ programming.)

            1. Taellosse says:

              As I recall, that wouldn’t just be head-canon, but actual canon. I seem to remember that Javik said he was around in the last days of the war against the Reapers, and that the Protheans had been fighting a losing battle against them for a LONG time already – several generations, anyway (contrary to what the events of ME3 imply, it’d take a really, really long time to clear out a galaxy-spanning civilization as thoroughly as the Reapers do, even with the FTL-cheat of the relays to get around, even if the initial attack to take out major centers is over fast). He had never lived in a time where his civilization wasn’t being destroyed by the Reapers, anyway. Moreover, he was raised and trained as a warrior, not a scientist or diplomat, so his knowledge of the more refined aspects of his people would have been limited at best anyway. He wasn’t an exemplar of the best his race had to offer, in other words.

              1. Mike S. says:

                I still get the impression that the Protheans were intended to be taken at face value as a slave empire whose interest in other species was purely as threats or resources, even before the Reapers showed up. Which is a very different impression from the one I got from the vision in ME1, or Vigil’s description of the last days of the scientists at Ilos. In particular, it doesn’t feel as if people who were that contemptuous of non-Protheans would have taken a one-way trip to the Citadel to do something that could only benefit future intelligences.

                It’s not strictly inconsistent– different groups of people within a society should have different motivations and goals. But I’d have preferred some explicit nod to Javik being an unreliable narrator.

                1. ? says:

                  There are those things called vengeance and spite.

                  But Protheans were also involved in early Asari culture and are responsible for uplifting of Hanar. Their influence was nothing but positive here. Especially with Hanar they created most kind and compassionate species (saving Drell from extinction comes to mind). They must have had some good side. (Although I could never get how those two species survived the harvest considering their connection to Protheans)

                  1. Nidokoenig says:

                    The Hanar are almost defenceless without a strong tech base under their control, see the mission where some tries to sabotage their planetary defences in ME3, and the Asari are blue space lesbians. Both seem like the sort of thing slavers might go for, and if they weren’t uplifted to being within the Reapers notice they evidently weren’t given all that much tech.

                    1. ? says:

                      But without their tech they are also useless. And even with it they are no more useful than any other potential slave race. So unless Protheans were so cruel that even their goldfish needs to be sapient, so it can suffer the despair of it’s existence for it’s master amusement, I don’t see why would they bother. As of Asari, if I recall correctly their involvement was about grooming them as successors of Protheans in next cycle, not teaching them pole dancing.

                2. guy says:

                  What’s weird is that in ME1, the Protheans were explicitly the only sentient species that became spacefaring in their cycle. They were masters of the universe pretty much by default.

                  1. Aldowyn says:

                    They handwaved that by explaining that when they assimilated other species, they became ‘Protheans’ as well. They’re basically Space Romans – aggressively conquering and ‘civilizing’ other cultures but legitimately allowing them to gain the benefits of citizenship, particularly through some meritocratic methods.

                    1. guy says:

                      I’m not entirely sure I buy that. Granted, the Reapers did wreck Prothean civilization pretty thoroughly, but I still think an empire comprised of numerous species that had been subjugated would be visible in the historical record, even if all of them could breathe the same atmosphere that cycle.

                      Plus, the Collectors were identified as Prothean because Prothean DNA is distinctive. The odds seem rather against every species in one cycle having the exact same DNA structure and sharing it with no one in the current cycle, and even if the other versions of DNA were less hardy, they’d probably still be visible in the form of species-specific food sources, like with Quarians and Turians vs. everyone else.

                3. Taellosse says:

                  I tend to think the pre-existing data about the Protheans – that they uplifted the Hanar and (to a lesser extent) the Asari, developed the Ilos project, and disabled the Citadel from external access by the Reapers all speak directly to the fact that the Protheans were, at least at some point, more complex than the picture that Javik paints of them. As I recall, Javik himself even explicitly acknowledges this fact, saying that he had little contact with other elements of his society than those that were fighting, and that much of their former glory had already been lost by the time he was around.

          3. James says:

            At least with Shale she was “free” DLC in that anyone who bought the game new got her. and she does have more to her then Javik does. on top of being funny like-able and well written, where as Javik was kinda of boring.

            1. Taellosse says:

              Wasn’t Javik also “free” in exactly the same sense – anyone buying the game “new” got him also, I thought?

              1. somebodys_kid says:

                I think Javik was a preorder bonus, and the multiplayer aspect was a new purchase bonus. I could be wrong though…

                1. Taellosse says:

                  On checking, we’re both wrong – it was included with the CE (which I got) and DE versions of the game, but costs extra with the standard version, new or used, except for the WiiU edition, which did include it standard.

              2. Falterfire says:

                Nope. Only the ‘deluxe edition’ of the game came with him. At launch that version was like $20 more expensive, so if you decided to only fork over $60 instead of $80, you didn’t get him.

          4. guy says:

            BioWare has a very bad habit of putting things that should be main plot in their DLCs. They did it with ME2 in Arrival, they did it in DA:2 with Legacy, they did it in ME3 with Levithan, and one DLC into DA:I they’ve done it again.

            In this one, it’s mostly concerned with an expedition to discover the fate of the previous Inquisitor, who went off into Avvar lands and was never seen again. So you get to learn more about Avvar religion, which has the significant benefit over everyone else’s religion that their gods verifiably exist and show up to help them out a bunch. Because they just outright worship Fade spirits as gods and if they aren’t being helpful the Avvar pray a new god into existence, and there’s a hilarious codex entry where one of them tells a Chantry missionary that it sounds like their god sucks and they should make a better one. So basically if they’d been in the main game my Tal-Vashoth Inquisitor would have had a religion instead of being a devotee of “Holes in the sky raining demons are bad”.

            But then you find out where the prior Inquisitor went, which was to fight the incarnate Avvar war-god. Who is a fade spirit who when summoned turns into a gigantic dragon. This may seem familiar, because that is a dead ringer for Flemeth and could fit Dumat and company. So not only does their religion seem to be correct, it’s a superset of the two main non-Andrastian deistic religions.

            Then you get into the last place he went and it turns out that he’s actually still alive courtesy of having raised a stasis field of some description. Which he could do because he’s an elven mage who was friends with the legendary Orlesian emperor of the time. Which may be relevant to Inquisition relationships with elves and mages. In Orleais.

        2. Khizan says:

          This is addressed somewhat. The thing about Javik is that he was a soldier. He wasn’t a scientist, an engineer, or a fleet admiral. He wasn’t even a repairman who might know something about prothean technology.

          He’s a soldier and he knows what a soldier would know. This doesn’t make him a huge benefit to the war effort. If you were trying to rebuild the the Large Hadron Collider in the year 52,015 years from now, how much help would a frozen infantry officer be?

          1. guy says:

            Not very, but he would be extremely useful for fighting the guys he was fighting before he got frozen.

    2. Wide And Nerdy says:

      The Grey Warden was good this way too. When you’re recruited, there are many Grey Wardens so you’re not a chosen one at this point, just a member of an elite order.

      Then circumstance puts the treaties in your hands and puts you far enough from battle to make you the last survivor. And of course you’d be playing as the surviving Grey Warden or it would be a short story. They’re even willing to deal with the complications of that convenience. You’re placed away from center of battle because you’re new. As a consequence of being new, there are things you don’t know about being a Grey Warden and the game deals with that lack of knowledge.

      And it kind of makes sense that you’d also be the one who had the treaties since Duncan decided to kill two birds with one stone by making that fetch quest a part of your trial (so he could stay and help plan for battle). Its a little convenient but they did the best they could to explain it. (I also note that the treaties are all with groups that have been around a long time. There’s no treaty for Ferelden iirc.)

      The Inquisitor not so much. Even given what you learn later, you’re functionally a chosen one. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too with that character. (I find myself using that “have their cake and eat it too” phrase a lot to describe DAI)

      1. DeadlyDark says:

        Oh yeah, I agree with Grey Warden stuff. They really do tried to make it work and I appreciate that care and will to do something different.

        Though, still didn’t play Inquisition yet.

        1. James says:

          And then in DA:Awakening your a older Warden either the hero of Ferelden or a Orlesian, you have a wealth of combat experiance. and are now charged with finding out what is happening in Amaranthine and also rule the place as Arl

          (funny thing you can whilst being Arl of Amaranthine be Teryn of Gwaren and King of Ferelden (Technically Prince Consort i guess its kind of odd in that one title your liege is your brother, whilst also holding a title of the same rank, and one of higher. the Ferelden Feudal system is a mess)

          1. guy says:

            Trust me, the actual feudal system was even more confusing, in that it could outright be circular and people could be vassals of their vassals. It wasn’t even uncommon.

      2. Joe Informatico says:

        And the lore makes it clear that a) the Fereldan chapter of the Order has been weak since Sophia Dryden’s failed coup two centuries ago (IIRC you get the basic story in a codex entry even if you don’t play the Warden’s Keep DLC) so the Wardens who died at Ostagar were basically it, b) the nearest sister-chapter is in Orlais, and c) Loghain would see any large-scale troop movements coming from Orlais as an invasion attempt, Wardens or no.

        Oh, and lore in later DLC and games suggest that the (Fifth) Blight you stop in DAO was probably the smallest and shortest one yet, and didn’t require the mobilization of multiple nations to deal with.

        DAO’s lore is really dense at times, but I respect the amount of work they did to head off obvious plot-holes.

        1. Mike S. says:

          And Loghain isn’t unjustified in his suspicions. The Orlesian occupation was in living memory, and there’s no reason to think they’d go home after the darkspawn were defeated if Ferelden’s forces were too weakened to make them.

          1. Taellosse says:

            Well, except for the fact that the Grey Wardens are repeatedly shown to be apolitical – they take a solemn oath to give up national allegiance when they become Wardens and in the main are shown to take that oath very seriously. It’s what allows them to enjoy the respect they do across the continent, and what gives them the access to gifted warriors they need to maintain their existence. Even famously paranoid and xenophobic nations like the Imperium and the Dwarves accord the Grey Wardens respect and access. That Loghain wouldn’t because the nearest Wardens were nominally of Orlesian extraction kind of made him a nutball, within the context of the setting. Which was sort of the point, of course.

            1. Wide And Nerdy says:

              Except that Sophia Dryden and Avernus tainted the Grey Warden’s reputation. Levy is still basically a disgraced peasant at this time.

              1. Taellosse says:

                Yeah, I have some trouble with that excuse. Dryden’s insurrection happened, as I recall, QUITE a while ago – several generations before the Orlesian occupation. I have a bit of a hard time believing that, in that time, the Wardens were unable to convince the people of Ferelden that she was an outlier, not the norm.

            2. moonlup says:

              This whole conversation just really makes me wish they would do a DA:O Spoiler Warning season.


      3. Volvagia says:

        Dragon Age: Inquisition. I tried so hard to give it a chance…and it’s basically EVERYTHING wrong with the platonic ideal of Western RPG mechanical design, narrative design, characterization level and environmental design.

        Mechanical design: You know how each boss should vaguely feel like it’s getting tougher and how you’re triumphing against greater and greater odds? Yeah, none of that. I get that the grind is a thing in all RPGs, but when nothing feels like it’s truly getting tougher unless you forget to improve your weapons, you’ve got massive flaws.
        Narrative design/creativity: Which genre would you abandon for all time? The one that at it’s peak created things as out there and creative as Disgaea and Neptunia, or the one that, even at it’s best, can only reheat variants on Star Trek, Mad Max and Tolkien.
        Characterization level: I played for what easily amounts to twenty hours and slogged through dozens of lines of dialogue and every character in it is BORING. There’s a reason I think Telltale are the only guys who have made a free choice dialogue systems not BORING. 1. It’s completely non binary. 2. There’s actually the feel of specificity to it.
        Environmental design: Simultaneously shockingly barren, overly large areas and oddly labyrinthine ways to get around those areas. Note to developers: If your environment is so big and empty and unintuitive that fast travel feels absolutely necessary, shrink your environment a little and make better pathways. I get that the FFXIII hallway is also terrible, but the opposite is just as bad. (From what I played, Skyrim was way better balanced than DA:I.)

        1. mhoff12358 says:

          I dunno about your narrative design comparisons. I’ve heard Disgaea is hilarious and interesting, and Neptunia is… interesting… But they’re not especially deep or well fleshed out in terms of feeling like livable spaces. Their narratives are content to be very game-y, which lets them do other things like be funny and quirky.

          Also, you’re vaguely referencing the worst of western RPGs and comparing them to a handful of hand-picked JRPGs. What about Morrowind or Shadowrun or Fallout? They’re all “rehashes” of existing genres but they bring something interesting to the table that makes their world stand out. And they do that while continuing to make everything, not necessarily feel realistic, but be coherent.

          1. Legendary says:

            Hell, anyone who trashes WRPGs for narrative when Planescape: Torment exists is overstating their case at least a little. Especially when the biggest JRPG series is Final Fantasy, which spent ages rehashing *itself*.

          2. Decius says:

            Um… Morrowind, Fallot, and Shadowrun (SNES) aren’t “rehashes” of existing genres. Unless you count Arena and Wasteland (1). They are the prototypical examples of those genres.

            1. mhoff12358 says:

              Morrowind is fantasy (with strong orcs and smart elves…), Shadowrun is cyberpunk, and Fallout is post-nuclear apocalypse. They’re all very definitely basing a lot of themselves on existing things.

              For the most part they contain their genre stereotypes, they just also do a really good job of expanding on them.

              1. Gordon says:

                Eh, Morrowind has elves and swords and magic, but it’s mostly unique in terms of structure and setting except inasmuch as it uses an implied “medievo-roman” backdrop to provide context to the weirdness.

                Planescape is even weirder, though it’s maybe tricky to argue it’s originality, since it’s based on an existing property. On the other hand, if we include mainstream tabletop design in our assessment of Western RPGs, we get not only Planescape, but Spelljammer, Eberron, Numenera, Paranoia, Eclipse Phase, and Gamma World (anyone who says Gamma World is just reheated Mad Max hasn’t played a good game of Gamma World. )

                I think what I find frustrating about the originality of many JRPGs is the way that I’ve seen weird for weird’s sake become a crutch. In Morrowind, the island’s strangeness is there to emphasize the player’s position as an outsider, and the way that you become familiar with the customs and history of a dying culture gels with the character’s ascension as the reincarnation of a mythic figure in that culture.
                Similarly, the strangeness in Planescape suits the fever dream plotline of amnesia and self discovery.

                But I’ve seen a ton of JRPGs where the casual implausibility of its airships and cosmology and weaponry seem to be thoughtless. A certain amount of that can probably be chalked up to cultural differences, but I get the sensation that many Japanese developers oppose convention on principle, which can be just as damaging as a focus on convention.

                Selective adherence to convention is often as strong a stylistic choice as outright rejection, because it allows the creator to focus in on a specific element or theme that interests them. Pillars of Eternity is cosmetically a standard D&D riff, but the ways that the setting differs from standard fantasy gesture at specific topics and dilemmas – where does culpability end? What defines personhood? To what lengths will people go to escape responsibility?

                This is not to say that a wholly original setting couldn’t explore these questions, just that convention can provide a stylistic baseline that allows specific choices to stand out more plainly.

          3. Ringwraith says:

            The first Disgaea is a master of switching gears from ‘silly nonsense’ to ‘serious plot’ at the drop of a hat, and often does so to contrast the two, the fact most of the game is usually on silly tangents makes the heavy revelations harder-hitting although it’s never quite jarring, just tends to repeatedly take you by surprise. There’s even an entire chapter (called episodes here, because it does a ‘next time on…’ running joke sequence every time) done entirely to incredibly sombre music, coming after a battle with runaway zombies equipped with a horse weiner (no, really), and the next one after basically being ‘attack of the incredible overacting’.
            The only other main plot of the series that works anywhere near as well is the fourth game’s, but I think the first still has the edge in being really affecting when it counts. Shame the gameplay has not aged nearly as well on the first game though, even just playing the second one makes the first feel incredibly clunky.

            (I also just like sad music overrides, Fire Emblem: Awakening has a brilliant example, the battle’s even in the rain for bonus points).

        2. Jeremy says:

          JRPGs are the king of rehashing and sameness. You started this rant with a preconceived notion and conveniently ignored anything that disagrees with your bias. There’s a lot of reasons WRPGs are considered leagues better than JRPGs these days. Everything from style, to gameplay, to plot, to characterization and more. Show me footage of a dozen JRPGs and I couldn’t tell you which game they came from.

      4. Aldowyn says:

        Inquisition does a lot of playing around with the idea that you are ACTUALLY a chosen one. “Herald of Andraste”, and all that. Whether or not you actually were, or that you stumbled on Corypheus by random chance is up to the player to decide.

        1. guy says:

          I felt like it really should have been left more ambiguous, really.

          Basically, I think having the part where the player found out it was Justinia’s spirit that helped them escape pushed things a little too far away from it looking like you were divinely selected. I mean, mysterious ways and all that, but Justinia becoming/merging with a powerful Fade spirit is hardly outside the realm of likely outcomes of her entering it. I’d have preferred everything between getting sucked into the Fade and emerging to be left mysterious.

  3. Da Mage says:

    Oh my God….I just dread going to Feros because it’s sections just drag on waaaay too long. There just seems to be one/two too many steps for every action you need to take, and the industrial brown colour on EVERYTHING just makes the whole thing dull.

  4. Raygereio says:

    Ugh. Am I the only one who thought the visions had a kind of “Stock Photo hallucination” feel to them?

    Yeah. It really didn’t help that they reused it so much and that Shep seemed to pull interpretations of it out of thin air.
    I would have liked it more if as Shep learns more about the Protheans to gain the Cipher (and even in a way becomes a Prothean), the vision video changes to become more clear and show more details. So that the player can understand it alongside the character.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      At least they are better than chasing after some dead kid in a forest.

      1. James says:

        How about this.

        ME1 we leave as is, because it works.

        ME2 the visions haven’t stopped and its slowly driving shep insane, shep cant go to ilos because the council doesn’t want to acknowledge the reapers, shep goes rouge trying to find answers to the dreams. discovers at the end of the game that the dreams are about a weapon to stop the reapers. have the standard recruitment stuff. several worlds. (basically the plot to KoTOR)

        ME3 ok so now we know we need a weapon and 75% of the bulk of this game is finding and building it, the dreams havn’t stopped, and we can use them as a meta-narrative thematic thing about loss (Kaiden/Ashley will be the avatar of it in the dreams +- anyone else who might have died in me2) last part of the game is assembling the weapon and a force to defeat the reapers (who never ever get explained leave them as a lovercraft boogieman)

        Themes of uniting disparate peoples for survival, loss, and freindship. basically Biowares old MO from KoTOR.

        1. Mike S. says:

          If I get to do the rewrite, the Reapers stay unstoppable, incomprehensible, and offstage. As strongly implied in the first game, they’re too far away to arrive in historical time other than through the Citadel relay (or maybe some secondary bolthole we have yet to discover). So stopping them is always a matter of keeping them from opening the door in the first place. The only time you see Reapers arrive in ME3 numbers is on the Game Over screen.

          They’ve served their purpose by solving the Fermi Paradox and explaining why everyone is at roughly the same level of development. Now let’s explore the many fascinating corners of the world they made, leave the Reapers as a looming threat. And only occasionally raise the stakes by having someone stupid or indoctrinated enough to try to open the door for Cthulhu. (Sounds like a job for Cerberus!)

          1. INH5 says:

            The first game doesn’t just imply that the Citadel is the only way for the Reapers to get back, it outright states it, repeatedly and without any qualifiers. If you don’t believe me, watch the conversation with Vigil and pay careful attention to what he says.

            And then it contradicts itself with the last minute sequel hook, but I’ll have more to say about that when Shamus gets to the end of ME1. Suffice it to say that I believe that the major cracks in the story start at the end of ME1.

            1. Mike S. says:

              I’d have been fine with the Reapers being a background detail after ME1 rather than an ongoing threat. That said, Vigil only knows what the Protheans could discover, and while that’s more than modern civilization knows about the Reapers, his information could easily be incomplete. (Though any alternatives would need the explanation of why Sovereign didn’t make use of them after his first attempt to signal the Citadel failed.)

        2. INH5 says:

          Leaving aside the inconsistencies regarding the Reaper plot, ME1 plainly does not work “as-is” if it is supposed to be the first part of a trilogy with a single overarching plot, and it would require substantial changes to the story if you want to make it fit in that role. For one thing, it would probably be a good idea to not kill off every named antagonist. There’s a reason that Star Wars has Darth Vader get shot off into space instead of blown up in the climax.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            While I agree that there was a serious lack of planning for the sequels,and that me1 is too self contained at the end,I dont think that killing off all of the named antagonists is a bad thing for a trilogy.The established thing was that the reapers are the big bad,so killing just one of them doesnt solve much.Introducing another reaper in second game wouldnt be that hard*.Plus,we still have the geth.Plus the shadow broker

            Also,the whole thing that was established with how humanity was seen by other races,and the council thing was a great way to start some serious political intrigue in the second game**.So there still were ways to continue the story in a coherent way,with minimal introduction of new villains we care nothing about.

            *Yet,they screw it up in me2,but thats beside the point.
            **Which they also screwed up,but that too is beside the point.

            1. Zekiel says:

              And Udina! He should have been the big bad in ME2.

              It would basically have been all about galatic politicking with no shooting whatsoever.

              1. Mike S. says:

                While Udina was obviosly antagonistic to Shepard in the first game, he didn’t strike me as villainous. At the beginning of ME3, I was hopeful that they were going to find a way to work together. His palpable helplessness at being simultaneously the most powerful human leader in history and utterly unable to act usefully was the first time I’d really felt sympathy for him.

                His turn to Cerberus was disappointing– I wanted to have the choice to either find a modus vivendi with him (better political resources, but you have to watch him), or discard him for total military administration of the war effort (more efficient chain of command, but more limited negotiating capability with other species or non-Alliance political groups.)

        3. boota says:

          i’d do you one better and make the reaper threat gone with the events of ME 1, I feel like ME2 would need a complete shrinkage of spectacle, and the remaining reaper threat is, to me, what hampers the sequels the most.

          that way, if i wanted ME2 to feature shepard, it could be about the political aftermath of a human who was given spectre status on a whim and allegedly saved the entire known universe. This way cerberus and its fight for human supremacy could be featured, and it would be the main. shepard might even go undercover as a spectre and the council could get worried about shepard having turned on them. plot wise ME2 would be about cerberus trying to create unrest in the galaxy by for example showing up shepard as a terrorist when it fit their purposes. by the end of ME2 the galaxy would be on the brink of civil war, with shepard either exposing cerberus to the public and being granted plenty of its resources (paragon), or shepard having taken over cerberus from the illusive man who may or may not survive those events (renegade) the renegade options could even be offerd you from the council itself. basically the game ends with shepard having the keys to a human covert ops division that’s not necessarily tied to any established government. this could tie in to the whole liara as information broker stuff if you really want to as well.

          ME3 would be about a galactical civil warâ„¢, and how humanity struggles to make an impact, where shepard uses his resources and contacts to either promote purely human interests (like an Illusive Man II, promote council politics (with the risk of humanity ending up as still being marginalized in the galaxy) or maybe some third middle road.

          that’s what i would do if i were to make three games about the same main character. though, i feel like dragon ages approach with different protagonists in each games was much better.

          (I would also like to see a better reason for shepard to be granted permanent spectre status… and make it so that not everyone knows who’s a spectre and who’s not. these are supposed to be the most elite of elite soldiers. the ME games must feature the worst fictional intelligence services ever, when you factor in cerberus, that also everybody everywhere knows about. Even alpha protocol managed to create more believeable black ops divisions)

    2. MrGuy says:

      I’m reminded of the movie The Conversation (trying to avoid spoilers – what I’m talking about here is the main premise of the movie).

      The premise in the movie is Gene Hackman and team are private surveillance professionals, and they successfully tape record a conversation two people are having. Over the course of the movie, as he learns more about the people and their situation, his understanding of what they were talking about evolves. They replay the same conversation over every time we’ve learned something new, and we hear something different.

      According to IMDB, they actually recorded several versions of the conversation, with different stresses and pauses that subtly lend themselves more naturally to the changing interpretations. This is done with a light enough touch it doesn’t feel like a cheat.

      A similar approach might have been interesting here – have the same “base” message, but as Shepherd learns more, translate some of the language that was obscure, remove some visual distortions over some of the images, etc. It’s recognizably the same vision, just “played” through Shepherd’s evolving understanding of what it means. You can cheat a little and add a few things, but it will still “feel” like decoding the original message.

    3. Anorak says:

      I played ME1 long after ME3 had come out. I’d actually bought it in….2009? (Maybe), on DVD from GAME, but never really got into it.

      Anyway. I’d spoiled myself all the way up to ME3’s ending because was wondering what had got everyone so mad on the internet.

      So when I played Mass Effect, I already knew about the Reapers, what they were, and what they wanted. I could not, however, see how the hell Shephard knew what was going on. He’d had some vague vision and suddenly knew exactly what they were going to do. I think he even pulled the 50’000 years number out of the air.

      1. IFS says:

        50,000 years ago was when the Protheans were wiped out, which is where that number comes from. If its a vision from the Protheans its at least that old.

        1. Anorak says:

          Makes sense :)

          1. MrGuy says:

            “Year” is a vestigial mode of time measurement based on solar cycles. It’s not applicable.

            I didn’t get you anything.

            Why on earth (ha!) would the timeframe be a nice round number of earth years?

            1. Mike S. says:

              No, that’s the series in which a shipful of diverse characters have to deal with mysterious beings who appear from the outer fringes of space and try to kill everyone, but their origin turns out to be sort of dumb. You know, the one with the guy at odds with the hero who’s continually doing horrible things, while justifying it in terms of humanity’s future? And an evil organization that uses a blue sun logo?

            2. Mike S. says:

              Re the serious question, I’m guessing that “50,000 [Earth] years” is meant to be read as a rough estimate rather than a calendar date– the way we might say agriculture started “about 10,000 years ago” where a more precise number might range from 13,000 to 9,000. People like round numbers, and nobody but Liara really needs to know the median estimate and the margin of error.

              And maybe it’s more like 30,000 asari years or 90,000 salarian. But the series has always had a Trek-like deemphasis of translation issues, except as applied to understanding the Protheans themselves. (The worst you get is stilted speech patterns like the elcor or hanar.)

            3. Joe Informatico says:

              I just assume those sorts of thing are a handwave in space opera. Instead of making the audience learn multiple timekeeping systems or even have to get used to a new standard of weights and measures (e.g. it would make sense in Citadel space that one of the three major powers’ systems would be used, or that they’d hashed out a universal system long before the humans showed up), we just assume that whatever measures they’re using are translated to terms us 21st century people understand. E.g., on Babylon 5, the Narn keep calling their original planet/capital, “the Narn homeworld”. Surely, they must have a name for it–Earth is almost never referred to as “human homeworld” in space opera. I just assume there is a name and the Narn are using it when they talk among themselves.

              I know ME is not a franchise that shies away from dense lore and world-building, but messing around with timekeeping and weights & measures conventions not only further confuses your audience, it starts messing up your writers.

              1. ? says:

                I actually consider aliens having fancy name for a planet they come from stupid space opera cliche. We call our homeworld the same we call dirt we walk on. If you want to be fancy you can call it Terra, which is just earth/soil/dirt in dead language. Will future Mars colonists say that they filled a flowerpot with mars and plant the seeds in it? Doubt it. “Johnathan, clean your shoes, you will get kepler-186f all over the carpet!” Or are we the only freaks in galaxy who didn’t bother naming their homeworld? Is it too late? I vote for Reginald Cuftbert. Can we monetize it? T-Mobile Planet? Unless a species is uplifted or artificially created and space travel is as natural to them as picking berries of a bush is for us, all aliens should use “our homeworld” in my opinion.

                1. Ringwraith says:

                  This is what I like about Mass Effect in general, really, that most races aren’t named after their homeworld.
                  Also non-capitalised race names, except when they are named after a regular noun, like the Reapers, to differentiate them.

                2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Actually earth is called “soil” mainly in germanic languages.In other languages it varies from “ball” to “all under the sky”.And in old greek and latin,earth had a name of one of the goddesses(terra or gaia).So an elaborate name for a homeworld is not a fancy thing only space operas do,its a thing many cultures do in real life.

            4. Decius says:

              Because our precision in measuring it has only one significant figure.

      2. Deager says:

        I always chalked it up to my lack of paying attention but I did feel like the story rushed Shepard’s understanding of the Reaper situation quickly. Granted, story pacing and all that matter but I remember watching the visions and was like, “This could be almost anything. I have no idea what this is.” Granted, by the time Feros is done, I thought things were coming together.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Some people fault BioWare for this very trope-y approach to stories

    Eh,all developers have a prefered tool like this.Bethesda has their “You are a prisoner” opening,and blizzard has their lucifer betrayal(seriously,the number of times they do it in the expanded warcraft lore is astounding,and they do it a bunch of times in their games already).Its just a thing that happens whenever you create something.

    1. MrGuy says:

      Valve has a seesaw puzzle.

      1. Volvagia says:

        The Tales Series has the Skits and Total Bechdel Compliance.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          Obsidian (when they have creative control) has “You awaken feeling hollow, sickly as though the parts of your mind that knew joy and pleasure were carved and torn away leaving empty screams of torment. You look around to see a world that looks even worse. You have an uneasy feeling that a god is looking upon your plight cackling gleefully. An otherwise indifferent god who makes an exception only for you.”

          Yeah I’m still not over Mask of the Betrayer.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Why is the thorian a plant?This thing started bugging me ever since you guys did the poison ivy thing.Why do they continue making this “its not an animal,but a mobile plant”?It just makes no sense.Why not do a fungus instead?Those things are already known to grow at incredible speeds and have spores that can poison or even infect various animals.Seriously,more story tellers need to play the last of us in order to grasp how shrooms can be much more effective.

    1. MrGuy says:

      I think it would be more interesting if the left the taxonomy of the Thorian ambiguous/unknown.

      As Shamus points out, Earth classification systems shouldn’t be expected to apply off-world. Just make the Thorian a near-ageless living THING. Not a plant, or a fungus, or an animal. Because humans are making the game, you can give it some plant-like, some fungus-like, and some animal-like qualities, but let it defy classification.

      I suspect the reason they decided to be definitive about it is to make it ExoGeni look “smarter” – they’re good at science and can classify this totally alien thing. I think it’s a better statement on the world if they’re stumped.

      Calling the Thorian a plant is like explaining midichlorians – it adds nothing and subtracts a lot of interest and mystery.

      1. Kian says:

        I always just figured it was shorthand. It’s not that the thorian is a plant, but that calling it a plant evokes something closer to it than calling it a “creature” or an animal would. In the way that someone might call fungi plants, even if they aren’t taxonomically plants. Being right is less important than being expressive.

        The thing mostly stays in one spot and has roots. So, when describing it to humans, a plant.

    2. Xeorm says:

      Plants are generally longer lived than Fungi, and are usually self-sufficient, while fungi require outside nutrients. That’s the biggest difference between the two, and the Thorian, at least from what I saw, is definitely self-sufficient.

      The mind control and creatures spawned were for protection and influence of the area around it, not for nutrients like a fungus or animal would require.

  7. silver Harloe says:

    ” It sends out spores that are inhaled by mammals[2]
    Not actually mammals, since Earth animalia classifications wouldn't necessarily fit on other worlds, but you know what I mean.”

    I think you give the writers too much credit here, especially considering how it can control so many different kinds of beings :/

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Also how every species was given breasts by the end of me3.Even the robots.I wouldnt be surprised if in the next one we see that female hanar have boobs.

      1. Torsten says:

        Didn’t every species have people with psychics powers at ME3? The rule of the Mass Effect universe is that bigger the boobs, the stronger the psychic.

        1. Henson says:

          Women are the psychic powerhouses of the Mass Effect universe. That’s why Samara and Jack are super-powerful, while Kaiden and Jacob just suck.

          actually, I kinda like Jacob. Even Kaiden is okay. No, please don’t hurt me!

          1. Anonymous says:

            I also liked Jacob, even if mechanically he was worthless. Just a nice normal guy in a sea of caricatures and meme spewers. And Kaiden is the least worst of Bioware’s big fat crybaby standard human male starting companions.

            1. Wide And Nerdy says:

              Ditto on Jacob. It helps that in the beginning its him and Miranda. He’s practically brimming with charisma and warmth compared to Miranda (big oversight in her genetic augmentations.) I also like that he’s an aversion of the Bioware trope big fat crybaby trope for human males that you mentioned (why don’t they have more characters like Minsc?).

              They still manage to give him some appropriate angst but, and I love this about him, he’s his own man and even the revelations about his father don’t shake him of his convictions. It bothers him, but it doesn’t throw his whole identity into turmoil the way it would with Carth or Alistair or Kaiden. There’s no “I’m no different than my father” subplot. He knows he’s better than that.

              1. Mike S. says:

                I like Jacob early on, but it feels as if he runs out of much to say of interest pretty quickly. His loyalty mission is perfunctory (nothing changes for him because of it, and it’s unclear why it was so important to him to do it right then). And playing female Shepard, it grates on me that the only way to engage him in any conversation is with “I’m more interested in just talking for a bit” delivered in the flirtiest way possible, even if the character is romancing someone else.

                ((And while I never romanced him, I feel for those who did for how he comes off in ME3. “Come on, Shepard. Did you expect me to wait forever?” Dude, it was six. months.)

                I didn’t mind him in ME2, but it felt as if there was more of interest to be done with a biotic ex-privateer who’d saved the Citadel, then signed up with Cerberus voluntarily because he thought it was the best way to fight Reapers.

                1. Henson says:

                  Jacob’s romance is…well, let’s just say Jacob’s not good with words, trying to be smooth and failing horribly. He comes off as such a tool.

                  “Yeah, Shepard…it’s all you. Nothing but you.”

              2. Anonymous says:

                I’ve always put Minsc into the same category as HK-47 and Shale. All psychotic comic relief characters.

            2. Henson says:

              I didn’t like Kaiden my first time through, but I think it was mostly because I couldn’t get past hearing Carth. Carth had a sense of history and gravitas to his character, like his personal hang-ups had time to be engrained in his identity. Kaiden didn’t, so it took a while to take his conversations on their own terms.

              1. Mike S. says:

                I didn’t play KotOR till after ME, so that wasn’t a problem, and I liked Kaidan. I liked Ashley too, which meant Virmire had the effect it was intended to. (Where I infer many players relish the chance to kill one of them, and some only wish it could be both.) He struck me as a decent guy who’d risen above some pretty bad circumstances (victim of human experimentation, isolated as a teen somewhere in the Kuiper Belt, subject to constant migraines, etc.) And Lord knows someone needed to be the ship’s conscience.

                My wife started with Mass Effect watching over my shoulder as I played, and Kaidan was the reason she started playing. (September 2009: “You should be fine with onboard graphics on your new computer. We can always get you a graphics card– you know, in the unlikely event that you spontaneously pick up video gaming.” [both of us laugh] March 2010: [Orders video card for her computer.] She now games much more intensively than I do.)

                I still remember the trepidation I felt when I had to tell her I’d lost him at Virmire. (Ashley was with the salarians, needs of the many, etc.)

            3. Jokerman says:

              Surely Alistair is the best human male big fat cry baby starting companion of all time?

              1. Lachlan the Mad says:

                I found Carth to be a much bigger crybaby than Alistair, but then again I never pushed Alistair to be king. Apparently if you do that he whines incessantly.

      2. Ronixis says:

        I’m fairly sure that the turian woman in the Omega DLC didn’t have breasts, though.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    and the stairways make the map confusing to read

    This is a common problem when you have 2d maps in a 3d world.Has any game made their minimap easy to use when multiple levels are involved?

    1. Warstrike says:

      Zelda ain’t too bad on their multi-level maps.

    2. scowdich says:

      I remember Human Revolution’s map being at least decent.

    3. Jonathan says:

      Descent 1-2

    4. Nidokoenig says:

      Metroid Prime had 3D maps, similar to Descent on the off chance I remember correctly. Since it was a platformer it was kind of necessary, but I’d guess that stuff is enough of a pain to not be worth bothering with unless it’s essential or it’s someone on the team’s fetish.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        The Armored Core series (about piloting giant mechs, in case you were wondering) also does 3D maps, rather necessary when dealing with twisting complexes which require jetpacking to get around.

  9. Dragmire says:

    Ah, the ExoGeni segment of Feros… I’ve wandered aimlessly around that area so much that, at this point, mentioning the name ExoGeni flashes the entire layout of that maze in my mind as some kind of reflexive defense.

    Points of interest here:

    The bridge with very poorly implemented hitboxes resulting in enemies stuck in or below the floor(Mako cannon shots aimed at the right spot has enough AOE to kill the enemies stuck there) and physics shenanigans where the Mako clips through the floor a bit making the engine launch the tank off the bridge when it tries to correct itself.

    The Geth Shrine where we get our first glimpse at supposed Geth culture.

    The bay doors that apparently can close with enough force to cut through Geth ship armor (after the dumb pressure gauge puzzle)

    Geth built interfaces there for some reason even though they were sent there to destroy everything. Why power the shield with the Geth ship? Why were the Geth in the building at all? Shepard needed info for why Saren was here/where did he go next, so he went to ExoGeni to look for info. Saren just needed to kill the Thorian to stop others from getting the Cipher. So it makes sense for the Geth to be attacking Zhu’s Hope but not the ExoGeni Corp. They were already jamming communications so it’s not like anyone could call for help anyway.

    Overall, Feros is my least liked story planet(not that it’s bad though). The part that always truly hurts my enjoyment of this section is the assault on Zhu’s hope where, if Paragon(like me, always), you have to subdue everyone without killing them. Either you use stun grenades perfectly or you melee them. Not fun.

    I really liked the Thorian itself though. Silly boss fight though, why control many people through spores when you can instantly clone people?


    Oh yeah, I also liked that while the ruins were Prothean, they didn’t have exactly the same smooth obelisk-like aesthetic design that Prothean buildings tend to have.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Saren just needed to kill the Thorian to stop others from getting the Cipher.

      Which supports my fannon that saren was subtly fighting his indoctrination and deliberately drawing attention to himself while appearing to be completely loyal to sovereign.

      Either you use stun grenades perfectly or you melee them.

      What do you mean not fun?Me1 grenades are the best thing ever!

      1. Dragmire says:

        I used grenades quite a bit as an adept for the damage it did before my skills were up to par. I’m fine with the weird, slow, long range grenades existing but the annoying part in Zhu’s Hope is that you can’t restock the stun grenades so every toss counts and has to take out multiple targets. This is especially true if you didn’t upgrade grenade carrying capacity(an upgrade I usually only get for sole purpose of this mission).

        1. Raygereio says:

          There is a box that has a refill of 5 grenades in the colony itself.

  10. ? says:

    Reapers also left behind Prothean ruins on Mars. They are very thorough about erasing any trace of THEM and what they do, they don’t care about next cycle finding remnants of previous one. In fact they need to leave stuff behind, because they are leaving Mass Relays and Citadel (and therefore everybody knows they were not the first life form to reach the stars) and their plan relies on new civilizations developing along predictable path ( they focus on reverse engineering mass effect tech and applying it to everything instead developing alternative FTL) . If there were no ruins and technology catches left behind by Protheans, “who build the Mass Relays?” question is unanswered and space faring species have no idea how to operate it.

    1. Ranneko says:

      I guess the Reapers want to ensure some traces are left, but not the hints that are able to say “Seriously, giant genocidal robot/organic hybrids are coming to kill you, build up your defences now”

      1. ? says:

        Exactly. “Who build the Mass Relays?” “Protheans did” is an Occam’s Razor answer. Nobody has a reason to suspect giant space robot whale squids, because there is no evidence of them. But if there was no evidence of Protheans existing someone would keep digging until they uncover existence of giant space robot whale squids.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Especially since “Prothean” was just shorthand for “civilization that left all this advanced tech lying around”. That there was more than one, and that the timescale was several orders of magnitude longer than anyone suspected, was apparently something three millennia of asari archeology hadn’t yet turned up.

          Which is kind of odd. There was enough intact in ruins to kickstart FTL and learn about the mass relays, not to mention all those retrospectively suspicious impact craters, the Leviathan of Dis, etc. Even if they couldn’t reason their way to the cycles or the Reapers, it should have been pretty clear that some ruins were both stylistically different and much older than others.

          (Though I suppose that would be confused some by the fact that many of the previous cycles’ ruins would have all sorts of Prothean stuff around it, same as the Mars ruins have human bases and artifacts all over the place.)

      2. Zekiel says:

        Do any of the games ever explain how the Reapers get rid of evidence of their existince after each cycle? None of the tools they display in ME3 really seems suited for the purpose.

        1. Deager says:

          Yeah, I’m not sure how they do that. They could connect to the Citadel perhaps and wipe that data and use the keepers somehow, but the rest of it is a little tricky. Granted, 50,000 years is a long time so natural decay could take care of a lot of that and using indoctrinated people to destroy things and the like, I guess I see how it could make sense.

          But you’re right, it’s still a pretty tall order at first glance and I’m not sure my ideas above really cover it.

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            They do destroy civilizations planet by planet with the process taking hundreds of years, so probably by the time they are finished with a planet it’s full of theri husks and it’s trivial to damage/corrupt the majority of the datastorage that is likely to survive.

            Hell even if some traces remain, it’s verry likely that images of Reapers would be charted under horror entertainment and fiction. I mean Council was attacked by an actual Protean and they still refused to belive it wasn’t a Geth.

        2. ? says:

          The only answer I can think of that fits all three games is: they handled previous cycles differently. In ME2 Mordin develops antidote/counter-measure to Collectors’ paralyze bugs. Assuming it can be mass produced and distributed across the galaxy it prevents abducting the whole population without fight.
          Also, in previous cycles Reapers controlled Citadel and Relay Network, shutting down any travel and communication between systems. They could focus on single planets and take their sweet time indoctrinating population from afar until they can take over without much destruction. Since colonies have no way of warning each other they don’t know how to prevent it and don’t gather a lot of data about what is happening. Also some of them probably fail on their own, because while FTL transport was available they didn’t need to be self-sufficient. So all the records say is “galaxy wide societal collapse” and maybe have someone deeply indoctrinated go over them to erase specific mentions of mind controlling squids in the void of space. This time organics can organize their defenses and resistance, evacuate people somewhere safe and Reapers have to harvest them the hard way. And then act 3 of ME3 happens and screw continuity we have set-pieces to arrange.

        3. Taellosse says:

          They don’t really get into the nitty-gritty of it, but it is made clear at various points that the cleansing process if not a quick one. In ME1, you learn on Ilos that the Reapers took generations to wipe out the Protheans completely – they were still active in the galaxy long after Prothean “civilization” as such had been thoroughly crippled. We also learn that Indoctrination can be used to make organics serve Reaper interests, and if the degree of exposure is controlled, the organics retain much of their intelligence for an extended period. In ME2, we learn that some remnant of the Protheans were re-engineered into the Collectors, to serve Reaper interests between cycles, over the long term. And in ME3, Javik tells us about just how long the Reaper-Prothean war dragged on – he was not young when he went into stasis, and he had never known a time without war, nor had his immediate ancestors – the rearguard, doomed defense against the Reaper invasion took several generations, and they were constantly on guard for Indoctrinated betrayal.

          From all this, we can infer that the Reapers first thoroughly destroy all technologically advanced society across the galaxy, killing or Indoctrinating everyone from such cultures they find. Once ALL opposition is quelled, they use Indoctrinated organics and techno-organic hybrids made from the dominant races (Collectors or equivalent) to wipe out all traces of themselves from every advanced world they crushed, and to leave only minimal traces of the cultures they just destroyed, for the next wave of organics to find and “develop along predictable paths” in the next cycle. Once all this is done, which all told probably takes a few hundred years at least, they leave any remaining Indoctrinated servitors to die, have their hybrids withdraw to some isolated locale (either beyond the Omega 4 Relay specifically, or its equivalent), and return to Dark Space.

  11. GGANate says:

    I’m wondering if they had problems learning the Unreal Engine, and that’s why the environments weren’t very detailed. That was my first thought when I played it. Wasn’t Mass Effect Bioware’s first UE game? The detail jump from ME1 to ME2 is very noticeable.

  12. ehlijen says:

    I loved Feros. The idea of ancient skyscrapers and a fully 3d postapocalyptic wasteland really intrigued me, even though ME pretty much treated it just as a collection of regular rubble apart from the Mako sections (which I was really glad for in this section).

    As for why the ruins are there? I always assumed the reapers were mostly just interested in wiping out life and collected knowledge, but didn’t give a damn about basic infrastructure. If there were no life or power related sensor readings from the planet, whatever was left would likely be so basic or rotted away by the time anyone else came looking that it didn’t matter much to reapers.
    That approach would often lead to total destruction, but wasn’t required to, and that’s why some worlds like Feros were left.

  13. INH5 says:

    This section felt like it had a number of interesting ideas with poor execution. It’s set in a huge city of ancient sci-fi skyscrapers, and it ends up becoming just a generic beige backdrop that you shoot robots in. The Thorian is a being that is at least tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of years or more old, it’s seen the rise and fall of at least one civilization. Then when you finally meet it, it’s just a boss monster that you kill in order to get a McGuffin (and if it is this easy to kill the thing, how has it survived for so long?). It can apparently create clones and plant zombie copies of any living creature it has eaten, and as stated before it’s really, really old, so it should be able to produce all kinds of things you’ve never seen before to fight you… And you just end up fighting generic plant zombies and green skinned versions of a common enemy (and seriously, where did the Asari clones’ weapons come from?).

    Finally, the Cipher is described as the “essence of what it means to be a Prothean,” whatever that means, and what it actually does is make the Visions of Plot inside your head a bit clearer. Shamus writes about it not being used much in the sequels, but even in ME1 it’s strangely underutilized. When you get to Illos, the Cipher is used to justify how you understand a few of the background story videos that you stumble across, but when you meet Vigil the game does a handwave about how Vigil was able to learn your language by listening to radio conversations, when they could have easily just said that Shepard can understand Vigil because of the Cipher.


    Much of the vision footage was apparently created by Casey Hudson going to the supermarket and buying some slabs of meat, then mixing them with some old circuitboards he had lying around the house and taking photos of the results. Make of that what you will.

    1. Zekiel says:

      I understand Shamus’ comments about the vision looking rather stck-footage-y but I found it quite effective, precisely because it didn’t fit with the rest of the style of the game – so it felt quite appropriately alien and disturbing.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      like 10 minutes before you meet Vigil you DO run into a VI that only Shep can understand. I guess Vigil speaks English so Liara can fangirl over him or something.

      1. INH5 says:

        Yes, but the fact remains that they put in a rather flimsy handwave (how much of Shepard and co.’s radio chatter could Vigil have actually heard?) instead of using a perfectly serviceable plot device that had already been established.

  14. Wide And Nerdy says:

    As I noted earlier. I hated the navigation in this game. It didn’t help that you can’t tell who’s who on the map and the maps were kind of featureless. I really wish there was a navigation mod to make Citadel easier as I want to experience what others were excited about but I don’t want to deal with the headache of continually getting lost in that area.

  15. SlothfulCobra says:

    I don’t think the Thorian is letting the people of Zhu’s Hope live their lives. For one thing, it wants its thralls to remain close to it, and the salarian merchant you meet at the colony very clearly didn’t want to stay on some planet in the middle of nowhere, but he was…persuaded otherwise.

    Then there’s some weird micromanaging of the colony it does. Only Fai Dan is allowed to tell you anything about the colony, so everyone will just point you to him if you ask, but Fai Dan also refuses to go into any depth in the various problems facing the colony, and he’ll just tell you to go and talk to the people specifically assigned to those parts.

    And of course, the people who refuse to do its bidding get delivered huge amounts of pain for their disobedience.

  16. Henson says:

    You mention that the puzzles are lame, but I wonder if that’s not by design. It seems to me that, much like the Mako, the puzzles serve a function even if people don’t like them. That is, they give tasks an element of difficulty to give the impression that Shepard is overcoming obstacles. Imagine how it would feel if, in order to close the pressure doors, all you had to do was flip a switch.

    On the other hand, a difficult puzzle or a puzzle that makes you think hard would disrupt the flow of the action. Mass Effect is very much concerned with pacing and mood, and the ExoGeni facility is very much an action ‘infiltration’ sequence. You only ever stop moving forward for the purpose of important exposition.

    Essentially, what’s important isn’t the puzzle itself, but its role as an easy barrier. Making it lame keeps it out of the Player’s way while still giving the impression that Shepard is accomplishing something.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You know,the “control group” thing may be correct actually.If they are developing some sort of mind control of their own,based on the thorian,the control group would be those guys naturally controlled by the thorian,while the test group would be the ones controlled by their thing(drug probably).

  18. 4th Dimension says:

    Those flesh sequences reminded me of a similar “body horor” flashback/vision in Aqua Nox where the cutscene is talking about Crawlers, creepy human canipals from deepest depths and darkness.

  19. Twisted_Ellipses says:

    “And then Mass Effect 2 didn't know what to do with that, so it decided he's a “hero and bloody icon”” – to be fair, Shamus would have probably complained if the opposite was true as well, if no-one know who you were and/or cared after the events of the first game…

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Shamus has commented more than once that he would have preferred it if the second game had a different protagonist and Shepard simply made an appereance as a background character.

      1. Mike S. says:

        One problem with choice of appearance and outcomes (even within limits) is that it makes that sort of guest-star turn harder. DA:I didn’t even try to have the Warden show up, and while I appreciate the level of customization offered for Hawke, I imagine there’s a reason the appearance is relatively short. Though I suppose there are always letters.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          While Hawke’s appearance might not have been very long, it was certainly more than just a cameo. They’d have a much harder time putting the Inquisitor into the next game, I think, given all the different possibilities (and the lack of a convenient shorthand for personality)

    2. John says:

      Virtue consists of a mean between two extremes. Those are not the only two possible depictions of Shepard. There’s a whole continuum of choices–some of which, I presume would be pleasing to Mr. Young.

  20. Dreadjaws says:

    “But the Thorian isn't just a sideshow freak for nerdy fans of space opera. It's nature and its lifespan are directly relevant to the plot.”

    It should be “Its” before nature, just like before lifespan.

    Oh Em Gee, I did it! I found a typo! HAHAHAHAHA! I have proven myself superior to you, Shamus Young! Or, should I say, Shamus Old? I have ascended to the next plane of existence and will forever be remembered as the one who defeated you! This day shall be written in ballads and sung over dozens of generations. Shamus? More like Shame-oos!

    … Unless this is fixed and promptly forgotten or simply goes by completely unnoticed, as all normal mistakes like these… … Nah, I’m going to Amazon to get me a life-size statue of triumphant me over your defeated body. I’m gonna need you to send me a 3D model of you crawling on the floor crying. I’ll be waiting for your e-mail.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      I really wish they’d do a game where the Elcor are the most human looking creatures you encounter other than humans.

      But then the game would probably just be 99% humans.

      1. Nidokoenig says:

        What about a universe where FTL travel doesn’t happen, and exploration, mining and research is done by droids controlled through quantum entangled thingies? Droids would be made locally and may resemble local aliens, or have animal-like or purely mechanical appearances, and the player character never actually leaves Earth. You can get away with reducing the polygon and texture budgets by making everything sharp angles and gun metal grey(or bronze or ceramic or whatever) to allow more time to make more varied models and make meeting a living being in the flesh rare and important enough to justify a really fancy character model.

        1. Duoae says:

          Isn’t this basically the premise of the world in “Time is the simplest thing” by Clifford D. Simak?

          Interestingly, the main character’s name is “Shep”!!

  21. Nidokoenig says:

    Seeing the way monochrome palettes and filters have been dropped quite sharply with the new console generation, and even remakes like Bayonetta on the WiiU easing up, I wonder if the intention isn’t, or perhaps wasn’t, to push the colour spectrum into a narrower band, either to make a saving in graphical grunt required by cutting out a few hundred colours, similar to how early Japanese PCs would display fewer colours at higher resolution to make kanji legible, or to obscure upscaling artefacts by making everything something of an ugly smear to begin with.

  22. methermeneus says:

    according to some diety or space-prophesy.

    Is that a deity on a diet?

    1. Nidokoenig says:

      Kinda necessary after a few billion years of omnomnomnomnipotence.

      1. Guildenstern says:

        I groaned, but only because I know I’ll never come across a suitable scenario for which I can steal this joke.

  23. Zaxares says:

    Random segue, but did anyone else prefer the closer zoom up views of the planets in ME1 compared to the “round balls floating in space” style used in ME2 and 3? I liked the style in ME1 because it made the planets seem more vast, a reminder that you were looking at celestial bodies which could be hundreds of times larger than Earth. In the later games, all the planets looked like more or less the same size when you were scanning it.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      So much.
      Plus most of those planet descriptions just got reused in the subsequent games.
      It was really interesting to read about all the various singular events that happened around odd planets.
      They even had technical numbers down for all of them! Which is kind of ridiculous.

  24. Phantos says:

    I had a friend who was downright horrified by the Prothean “meat and circuit boards” vision stuff. He showed it to me on Youtube before I played the game, and all it did was make me hungry for some reason.

  25. Xander77 says:

    You make the Jade Empire comparison a number of times when writing about Bioware, and… you may want to go back and refresh you memory. The cannibals weren’t mind-slaved humans, or transformed humans or anything of the sort. They were just monster-spawn that happened to be wearing human disguises to lure travelers to their doom (as loosely inspired by Chinese mythology as everything in Jade Empire).

    They’re no more connected to the KotoR Rakghoul’s via “monsters underground” than they are to the Fallout 3 supermutants.

  26. natureguy85 says:

    Speaking of “control”, I was surprised and disappointed that they didn’t do more with the parallel between the Thorian’s control of thralls and Indoctrination. I’m also surprised that isn’t mentioned in the article, other than the generic statement the the Thorian’s nature is plot relevant.

    As to the “control group” comment, you’re probably right, but it’s just a VI that said the line. It can only repeat the lines programmed into it. Therefore you could still see it as exogeni being bad at science because the employee that gave the VI the knowledge got it wrong.

  27. Ib says:

    Just a pair of typos I wanted to point out:
    diety or space-prophesy – deity or space-prophecy

    1. Droid says:

      Prophesy is a proper English word, meaning essentially the same as prophecy, but being pronounced prophe-SIGH. No, I’m not kidding.

      1. Passerby says:

        There’s a reason for having two words. In common usage, prophesy is a verb, prophecy is a noun. For example:
        “The prophet prophesied a prophecy.”

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