Mass Effect Retrospective 7: Queen of Zerglings

By Shamus Posted Sunday Aug 9, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 202 comments

One of the sad things about the big reveal of the bug-like Rachni in Peak 15 is that for a lot of players it probably didn’t feel like a big reveal. The Rachni War is probably the single most important event to happen in the galaxy since the last time the Reapers went on tour, but the game never goes out of its way to let you know that beforehand.

A Brief History of the Rachni


Two thousand years before Commander Shepard was given his license to fly around the galaxy and Shoot Shit in The Name of Peace, some enterprising Salarian popped open a mass relay, took a look around the system on the other side, and was promptly captured by the Rachni that lived there. The Rachni reverse-engineered the ship, built some of their own, and started kicking the galaxy’s ass. They were kicking so much ass that the council races were basically screwed.

So the Salarians – masters at implementing terrible ideas in clever ways – uplifted the Krogan. The Krogan weren’t much for doing things like inventing spaceships or zap guns or space suits, but once the Salarians gave them these things the Krogan were able – delighted even! – to solve the Rachni problem as violently as possible. They eradicated the bugs from space, then eradicated them on their homeworlds, then bombed the surface just to make sure.

The Krogan then turned around and began fighting everyone else, because that’s kind of what they do. This led the Salarians to come up with a sterility plagueOr not, depending on which game codex you believe. Whatever Salarian PR is calling it, fewer babies are born., and the Turians to release it, which cut down on the Krogan numbers and created a lot of hard feelings all around. Also, the council races stopped opening new mass relays, which stopped their expansion, which had even more consequences down the road as species began squabbling over the now-limited supply of planets.

And then when the Humans showed up on the galactic scene, they tried opening a mass relay because they didn’t know any better. The Turians found them doing it and tried to stop them without saying “please” first, and yet another war happened.

Basically, the Rachni war was at the root of every lousy thing that’s happened in the last two thousand years.

I was sad we never got a Volus crew member. I understand why it would be impractical to make them a combat squadmate, but having one hang around the ship, tell stories, and do some sort of REMF work would have been wonderful.
I was sad we never got a Volus crew member. I understand why it would be impractical to make them a combat squadmate, but having one hang around the ship, tell stories, and do some sort of REMF work would have been wonderful.

I love this bit of galactic history because of the causality chain it creates: D because C as a result of B because of A. This is so much more interesting than so many invented histories which are simply: A then B then C then D. When you look at the history, you see how sickeningly inevitable it all was. You can also see the personalities of the various species involved. They don’t all behave like humans with funny-shaped heads. They all have their own approach to solving problems and making decisions.

For example: The Salarians are brilliant but extremely hasty, averse to direct confrontation, and short-lived. Short-term solutions like the Krogan uplift perfectly reflect their mindset. (The genophage probably wasn’t the product of long-term thinking, either.)

Sadly, I’m willing to bet most players had no idea about any of this when they ran into the Rachni Queen. You could only learn about the Rachni through the codex, and even then it’s not like the game went out of its way to draw attention to this particular entry. Wrex is the only one who brings it up in conversation, and only if you talk to him about his people often, and even then the Rachni are barely a footnote in his story about the genophage.

Basically, this could have been a major mind-blowing reveal, but instead ends up feeling like a little bit of trivia: “By the way, did you know this bug-thing was believed to be extinct?”

Ideally, it would have been nice if someone in your crew had been telling this story the way Wrex told the story of the genophage. Then when the player was offered the choice to let the Rachni queen live or die, they would have had a fuller grasp of the magnitude of their decision. Speaking of which…

The Rachni Queen

It's a good thing this commando was nearby. After Benezia's melodramatic death scene in front of her daughter a few seconds ago, it would have been super-awkward if the queen had used Benezia's body as the puppet.
It's a good thing this commando was nearby. After Benezia's melodramatic death scene in front of her daughter a few seconds ago, it would have been super-awkward if the queen had used Benezia's body as the puppet.

This is a pretty interesting alien. She is not quite the freak that the Thorian is, but the whole thing with her using a mostly-dead Asari commando as a puppet so she can speak is pretty out there, and all her blather about colors and words makes it clear that their way of communication is pretty different from ours.

This also marks one of the major player-controlled story branches in the game: Do you release or destroy the Rachni Queen? Either empty her cage into the vat of acid, or open the cage and let her scurry off.

The choice is a little unfair, of course. When the Rachni War ended, the Roman Empire was still a thing back on Earth. The war was a long time ago according to how humans measure it, and not so long ago according to (say) the Asari. Even if the player has been diligent about the codex-reading and even if Shepard paid attention in history class, neither one has the proper context or authority to make a decision of this magnitude.

Hello. You have reached the holographic answering service for the galactic council. Please leave your message at the tone. If this is an emergency regarding the revival of a previously extinct species, please stay on the line. Your call is important to us.
Hello. You have reached the holographic answering service for the galactic council. Please leave your message at the tone. If this is an emergency regarding the revival of a previously extinct species, please stay on the line. Your call is important to us.

The most obvious course of action would be to leave the Rachni queen in her cage for the moment. You could delay the choice until after you arrange a conference call with (say) the council. Maybe she should be handed over to the Salarian STG? Maybe you should give the complex time to evacuate before you let this particular genie out of her bottle? Maybe the Citadel could send some other force to take custody of the queen and leave the decision to them?

But Shamus, Noveria is outside of Council space! The council couldn’t just send in a team to deal with this.

I’m not really objecting to the fact that Shepard can’t just summon help out here. It just feels odd that our only options are “kill” and “release”. It shouldn’t have been that hard to fix. Just give Shepard a third option to leave her in the cage, and when he talks to the council they mention they’re sending somebody to secure the queen. This middle road would have offered no paragon or renegade points, and the writers could have simply treated this choice as exterminating her for the purposes of the sequels. (Since it’s reasonable to assume the council would have killed her themselves if given the chance.)

And speaking of making choices…

Choice and Consequence

Given the way everyone is sitting, the Normandy must have the WORST chairs in the galaxy.
Given the way everyone is sitting, the Normandy must have the WORST chairs in the galaxy.

But fine. It’s a videogame and it can’t possibly take into account every possible course of action. A complex dilemma is boiled down to a simple binary decision. That’s a bit of a bummer, but you can’t have everything.

But this just makes it all the more frustrating when Mass Effect 3 muddles the whole choice. There are four total outcomes for the Rachni:

  1. If you spare the Rachni queen here on Noveria, then you find her a prisoner of the Reapers on Utukku.
    1. You can rescue the queen, which turns her into war assets.
    2. You can leave her to her fate, which… whatever. Nothing happens.
  2. If you KILL the Queen here on Noveria, then the Reapers construct a Queen Thrall, because they want to control Rachni soldiers and no we don’t have time to explore that idea in detail. Let’s just go with it.
    1. You can rescue the thrall queen, which turns her into negative war assetsI’m just going by the wiki. I never explored this path. when she betrays you off-screen at some later time.
    2. You can leave her to her fate, and she will attack you.

They went to all this trouble to give us this branching outcome, when I think that what people really wanted was for that initial decision to stand. If I kill the queen she should stay dead, not be replaced with a color-swapped doppleganger. It’s this strange mindset that players must value content more than choice, that we’d rather see our decisions negated than miss out on one mission. Heck, if you don’t want to cut a mission then just fill the cave on Utukku with… I dunno… other mooks. Whatever. Just don’t un-do the earlier decision, and then turn around and offer the player the same decision again.

This is something that harmed Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Negating a major player decision doesn’t just harm that particular moment of the game, it harms every subsequent decision. You’re asking the player to ponder this uncomfortable decision with complex ethical implications and unknowable outcomes, but now in the back of their mind they have this nagging doubt, “Bah. It probably doesn’t matter what I choose anyway because nothing I choose makes any difference. I’ll just do whatever gives me paragon points.” It’s destructive to one of the core promises of the game, which is that the player will get to “make choices that matter”. Players are hungry for even a little authorship over the world. I think we value that far more than one more stupid gunfight.

Actually, maybe ALL the chairs in the galaxy are terrible.
Agent Parasini in Mass Effect 2

I can’t make sense of BioWare’s priorities when it comes to choice. You can bump into Agent Parasini again in Mass Effect 2, and according to the wiki there are several different ways that conversation can go. She might not be there at all, if she died in Mass Effect 1. If she is there and if you helped her, then she has some extra dialog acknowledging that. Parasini is a minor character and I doubt anyone would have been upset if she hadn’t shown up in later games. In fact, randomly bumping into her on another world makes the universe feel kind of small.

Why was the trivial decision about how nice I was to Parasini given a nice little fan-service spotlight, but the gut-wrenching decision to genocide or unleash the Rachni was hand-waved away? This was both the most expensive and least satisfying way of handling things.



[1] Or not, depending on which game codex you believe. Whatever Salarian PR is calling it, fewer babies are born.

[2] I’m just going by the wiki. I never explored this path.

From The Archives:

202 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 7: Queen of Zerglings

  1. krellen says:

    Sadly, I think they’re actually right, re: choice and content. Most players actually don’t give a crap about choices, they just want content.

    Most of those players also didn’t play Mass Effect 1, and didn’t play the rest of Mass Effect either, but those were the players BioWare were trying very hard to market to.

    1. Raygereio says:

      Most of those players also didn't play Mass Effect 1, and didn't play the rest of Mass Effect either, but those were the players BioWare were trying very hard to market to.

      Bioware was more attempting to strike a balance between satisfying old fans and not alienating newcomers. A lot of the marketing revolved around how your choices from previous games would shape the story and whatnot. And then with practically the same breath they went “but you can just jump in, you don’t have to worry about the previous games”.

      Bioware released some data after ME2:
      Now they never stated how they got those numbers, but if they counted unique players then the fact that only 50% of players imported a ME1 save is significant.
      I reckon numbers like that are why ME3 marketing felt a bit odd. And also why Bioware tried that half-hearted “let’s explain the backstory to the new guy” stuff with Vega.

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        It’s very common for developers to track the statistics of players how play games while online. Mostly it’s used to gauge player reception of the game, and its difficulty curve.

        In games like Mass Effect, it can also be used to judge how “interesting” the choices you make are. Ideally, you want choices that are close to evenly distributed, meaning that players are seriously thinking about a decision.

        1. crossbrainedfool says:

          Another metric is how often people change decisions in repeat playthroughs.

      2. Slothfulcobra says:

        It really is an insanely ambitious idea to make a trilogy of games with long-lasting consequences from decisions in the first game, and the weirdest part of it all was how they wanted to also let people jump into the middle of these things and act like they made the same choices.

        What they should’ve done was give new players the list of choice. Otherwise all they’re doing is walking a line between robbing new players of content and robbing old players of their agency.

        1. Mintskittle says:

          I originally played ME1 and 2 on the Xbox 360, then at some point got rid of the 360. When I wanted to play some more Mass Effect, I had to get ME2 on the Playstation 3 (Cause I’m not touching Origin(also, this was before the ME trilogy box)), and seeing the differences from having a complete ME1 save import with all the sidequests versus a fresh new game start was really jarring, since I knew how much was missing.

        2. Falterfire says:

          As much as I want new players to be able to jump in wherever (Especially because ME1’s combat is a sticking point with a lot of people) I don’t think just giving them a bunch of choices is the answer. There’s a lot of important choices that are made, and even if you outright ignore the more minor ones, I think you might end up overwhelming new players with choices they don’t have enough context for.

        3. top6 says:

          They sort of did this for ME2 of PS3. ME1 was never released on PS3 (until very recently, as in after ME3 was released). So ME2 on the PS3 starts with an interactive comic that introduces you to Shepard, the world, and requires you to make several of the choices from the original game (e.g., Wrex, the Rachni Queen, a romance choice, and saving the council or letting them die).

          I actually thought it was a great way to introduce the world, and never understood why they didn’t do something like this for ME2 and ME3 on all systems for people who didn’t play the previous games. It seems like an easy, relatively cheap way to introduce new players to the game.

          1. Taellosse says:

            Actually, I think it was released for all systems. At least, I’m pretty sure you could get it for 360 and PC, though I think it’s a purchaseable DLC, rather than free.

            And while it was better than nothing, I still don’t think it was a great solution – it’s so condensed and abbreviated that an actual new player has almost no context to make informed decisions. It’s far more useful for people who have played before but want to save time in setting up an alternate save import. Unfortunately, since it only provides the option to choose the major key decision points, not all the smaller side quests, it does a bad job there as well. The Dragon Age Keep is ultimately a much better solution, since it does most of the same thing, but for every choice in the series. It’s only drawback is it can’t be used to create a save import prior to DAI.

          2. Erunion says:

            They DID end up making a similar comic for ME3, covering events from both prior games. It came out very late, much like this reply. =P Over a year after ME3 and after all the other DLC on most systems. (It WAS packaged with the Wii U version, but of course that came out the same day as the Trilogy pack on 360/PC so nobody cared.)


      3. Joe Informatico says:

        In this case, I prefer to see the glass half-full. :-) The fact half of players imported an ME1 save when ME2 was the one that got most of the press and attention and popular acclaim is pretty heartening to me. I understand that means the devs have to consider the half of players who don’t load a save though.

        Plus, note that ME1 wasn’t available on the PlayStation 3 (until the Trilogy collection was released 10 months after ME3), so most PS3 owners who started the franchise with ME2 had no option to load an ME1 save. According to VGChartz, there were only 1.43 global sales of ME2 on the PS3 to the XBox 360’s 3.08 million, but that’s still a significant portion. (PC sales figures don’t seem complete so it’s hard to say how they stack up.)

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Most of those players also didn't play Mass Effect 1, and didn't play the rest of Mass Effect either, but those were the players BioWare were trying very hard to market to.

      Which is just baffling.If you want to draw in more new players,make a new game.Make a spin off even.Blizzard did it with its world of warcraft,and it gave them much more freedom to dick around in the universe.But when you make a direct sequel,you run into the “whats a paladin” problem,where practically all you do to help the newcomers has a high risk of infuriating the old fans,while the newcomers probably wont even care about it.

      1. Syal says:


        1. Taellosse says:

          Not sure what you mean by this comment – Warcraft 3 came out before WoW, and didn’t make any special effort to draw in new players. I mean, it innovated on the gameplay a lot, having 4 playable races with lots of unique units and all that (in that regard it was more a sequel to Starcraft than Warcraft 2), which attracted plenty of people on multiplayer grounds, but the story campaign didn’t spend an excessive amount of time re-explaining the events of prior games for new players (not that it really needed to – the stories of the first two Warcraft games are comparatively elemental, the first one especially).

      2. SlothfulCobra says:

        It’s not that uncommon. People pick up games without playing the rest in the series all the time. I played Call of Duty 3 without ever touching CoDs 1 or 2, I played Dark Souls without ever looking at Demon Souls, and it’s not even possible to have played all of the Fire Emblem series before playing the newest one if you live in America.

        The way Bioware decided to implement the choices in Mass Effect ends up punishing players for not having played the previous games, in the name of making the choices mean something. It’s like if Star Wars wanted to give Han Solo and Chewbacca the chance to die in A New Hope. Somebody still needs to fly the Millenium Falcon off of Hoth and into a space slug, so they’d have to put in a Denn Pair to fill the same purpose.

        1. Mikey says:

          “it's not even possible to have played all of the Fire Emblem series before playing the newest one if you live in America.”

          Sorry to nitpick, but that’s not entirely or even mostly true. If you stick exclusively to official localizations, then yeah, the only available Fire Emblem experience starts with the seventh game and skips over the twlefth, but importing is a thing, dedicated fans have gone to great lengths to provide the translated scripts for all the Japan-only games, and depending on your stance on emulation they can even be played in English with patches.

          Plus, Fire Emblem isn’t really relevant in this discussion, since it does the Final Fantasy thing of wiping the setting/lore/history clean every other game, whereas Mass Effect is one story spanning three games where the player’s choices were supposed to matter.

        2. Taellosse says:

          I think you’re comparing apples and oranges. CoD is not exactly a series of games known for its compelling story campaign – most of the marketing is aimed at multiplayer, and with good reason, as that’s the focus of the games. The primary purpose of the story campaign is to serve as training wheels for multiplayer.

          Dark Souls is not a sequel to Demon Souls, but an elaboration on the same concepts (and, significantly, a multi-platform title, while Demon Souls was an exclusive). Dark Souls 2 is, as I understand it, only nominally a sequel either. Regardless, the Souls games are kind of famous for being story-light – the focus is, again, on the gameplay. Players have to really care about the story to get a lot of it, since it requires seeking much of it out.

          I can’t speak for Fire Emblem, as it’s a franchise I’ve not played, but it is a long-running Japanese franchise, and the fact that some entries in the series are hard or impossible to find in the US is hardly unusual – until recently, the US market is not even in the target demographic of the series.

          By contrast, Mass Effect is a story-centric, Western RPG franchise. The idea is that the gameplay is supposed to serve as much to link together the plot scenes as to be something fun to do itself. To start playing the series in the second, or even third, installment is kind of bizarre – more analogous to starting, say, Star Wars with Empire or Jedi. Sure, you CAN do that, but you’re not going to know who anyone is, or why they’re doing anything, and you’re going to spend half your time trying to figure out what on Earth is going on, rather than being immersed in the experience. Sure, there IS an opening crawl to set the scene, but it does little more than give you the names of some of the major players and what side they’re on – you don’t know any of their previous history.

      3. Ranneko says:

        I disagree, new games in a popular franchise are a much safer way to bring in more players. You have a built in initial audience, but in general it is easier to get someone to try a new game that their friends know about and have been talking up than it is to get someone interested in an entirely new IP.

  2. Ilseroth says:

    As you stated, my meeting with the rachni queen was entirely uninformed. While I had heard the words “Rachni” and “War” nearby each other, all I knew was that the Krogans were involved in it. In addition you also are correct about my decision making choice. I kinda sat there for a second, shrugged, and picked the paragon option.

    It wasn’t until I was much further into the game when I was chatting people up that more important details of the Rachni war came up and prompted me to do more research. In all honesty, I probably would have still picked to release, but given the choice? I would have almost definitely given that choice to the species who actually *had* to deal with the Rachni.

    While that Rachni in particular is not necessarily a bad creature; not just her people in the past, but her children (who allegedly were out of control due to lack of connectivity with her) were immediately aggressive which would not look good were it to come to a council decision.

    1. evileeyore says:

      And after Shamus’ explanation now I feel a bit weird. Like Shamus I delve heavily into a worlds lore and I was fully informed of the decision Shepard had to make…

      I dunno, I guess just expected everyone who’d play a lore heavy game would be delvers.

      1. Ilseroth says:

        Well it’s not like I went out of my way *not* to look up the info; I just didn’t use the codex. I didn’t even know it existed till half way through the game.

        I talked to pretty much every person on the Citadel, did every sub quest, though I did do Noveria first.

        While there were occasionally passing comments on the rachni war, specifically from Wrex, he doesn’t open up about details (which still aren’t too specific) until further in the game.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I don’t get this. I don’t recall spending a great deal of time in the codex on my first playthrough, but I felt the choice was pretty informed. The Krogan Memorial on the Citadel has an AVINA station which explained everything pretty well. It’s on the way to the Citadel Tower, so it’s hard to miss.

          The scientists -including Hans Olar -explain the whole thing for you. Your squadmates will comment on the issue before you do anything.

          And if all of that fails, you know you’ve been attacked by rachni before this point -so your question is “do I believe this queen that the rachni that have been attacking me are crazy, not evil.”

  3. Raise yer hand if you thought the releasing Rachni Queen meant you’d get an army of bugs to fight alongside ya against the Reapers!

    1. GTB says:

      Right here. In fact, it boggles my mind that this wasn’t the result.

      1. Mintskittle says:

        *Raises hand*

        1. Erik says:

          *raises hand*

          1. guy says:

            *raises hand*

              1. Syal says:

                *raises foot*

                1. SlothfulCobra says:

                  *raises claw-tentacle appendage*

                2. Bropocalypse says:

                  *raises both hands, would rather have been a rachni than shepard*

      2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        Quite possibly the most infuriating thing about ME3. Would it have been so hard to insert some rachni with heavy weapons into the final battle?

        1. Forget them, where were the Alcor?

          1. Arstan says:

            Forget Elcor, where IS the final battle? all we have is 3 separate mook battles and Marauder Shields))

    2. Andy_Panthro says:

      If they had taken that route, it probably would only have mattered as much as certain decisions in Dragon Age: Origins. Those allies that you acquire have a very limited impact on the final mission, and it never felt like you’d got an army on your side (at least to me).

    3. MrGuy says:

      *Renegade Interrupt*
      Shoots Neil Polenske while his hands are raised.

  4. shiroax says:

    Are you sure Rachni are codex-only? I’m pretty sure talking to Wrex and Garrus near the Krogan statue gives some of their backstory, but it has been some time since I played.

    I quite liked how the queen implied Rachni were indoctrinated when they tried to eateverybody. What did you think of that?

    1. wswordsmen says:

      The Krogan statue on the Citadel triggers a small info dump on the Rachni wars from the Asari VI nearby. That said most people probably didn’t stop to listen to it.

  5. ehlijen says:

    Near where you meet Parasini in ME2 you can also meet another NPC who turns out to be a mind controlled agent of the released rachni queen if you freed her, who is not there if you didn’t release her, I think. So as far as ME2 went, your choice was being upheld.

    That said, completing Noveria in ME1 unlocks another random planet infested with racnhi for some Starship Troopers themed sidequesting, and it’s implied that those bugs are not there because you released the queen. So as early as that game there is precedent for rachni existing again even if you kill the queen.

    That said, yes there is a trend towards not wanting to make content not all players will get to see. I remember that sentiment starting back when the original Deus Ex was released and some gaming magazine columnist complained about the need to play that game (amongst many) multiple times to see everything. I thought he was wrong then, and haven’t really changed my mind since.

    You should be able to see enough of a game to get a complete experience, of course (which for example I didn’t get in Kotor 2 where I needed my second DS playthrough to get the other half of the picture from some major NPCs), but it really needn’t be that a game leaves no secrets to discover on repeated plays.

    1. Raygereio says:

      That said, completing Noveria in ME1 unlocks another random planet infested with racnhi for some Starship Troopers themed sidequesting, and it's implied that those bugs are not there because you released the queen. So as early as that game there is precedent for rachni existing again even if you kill the queen.

      Those bugs are there because a Cerberus experiment went wrong. It’s not stated outright, but it’s heavily implied Cerberus got those Rachni from Noveria.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Remember when cerberus were just a bunch of incompetent terrorist who killed themselves and we had to deal just with aftermaths of their blunders?Those were the days.

        1. Zombie says:

          I wouldn’t say they were incompetent. One of the bigger side quests in ME1 is dealing with them killing Alliance soldiers then kidnapping, experimenting on and killing an Admiral.

          1. Gruhunchously says:

            That really is the story of Cerberus though. They’re ludicrously incompetent except for when they suddenly have the power and subterfuge to rival major galactic governments.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              It does say something about those major galactic powers.”Reapers dont exist,and that cthulhu like thing from outer space destroying our planet is just swamp gas.”

              1. Gruhunchously says:

                “Saren was a charismatic traitor who convinced the geth to worship one of their own ships as a god so that he could…seize power or something.”

            2. Scourge says:

              Not sure where the quote is from but “Cerberus couldn’t run a hot dog stand withoout it killing 90% of its employees”

              1. ehlijen says:

                And they’ll accidentally unleash a swarm of hellhounds on an innocent settlement in the process of trying…

                1. Lachlan the Mad says:

                  “Dr. Betruger, why did you release hellhounds from your hot dog stand?”

                  “They’re dogs! They’re hot! I thought that’s what you wanted!”

                  1. MrGuy says:

                    But, to be fair, they’ll have both the technology and the ability to perfectly rebuild the hot dog stand to exactly how it looked before the hellhound incident.

                    Their reason for possessing this one single demonstrated competence will never be adequately explained.

                    1. Taellosse says:

                      Not merely rebuild it, but expand and improve it! No mere hot dog stand now, but a food truck, with fold-out seating, built-in condiment counter, and excellent gas mileage.

              2. evileeyore says:

                I’m pretty sure the Hotdog Stand quote is from Shamus…

            3. Richard H says:

              To give a little credit to Cerberus, their terribly-executed experiments seemed to have significant resources even from the start. After all, Lone Surviver Sheppard also survived a Cerberus experiment before the first game.

              Nonetheless, it is never clear where these resources are coming from, or where they find their endless supply of idiot mad scientists.

        2. SlothfulCobra says:

          I don’t that trend ever stops. ME1 has the Thresher Maws, Rachni, and Thorian experiments, ME2 has Jack and the dead Reaper, and in ME3, Shepard, the product of another Cerberus experiment, puts Cerberus down once and for all. It’s possible that the Illusive Man just prefers to not leave any loose ends or survivors after a cell has served its purpose.

          I think EDI is the only Cerberus experiment that never wound up killing everybody.

          1. INH5 says:

            Eva Core worked pretty well. Sure, EDI took it over and used it to kill a bunch of Cerberus mooks, but for once that wasn’t Cerberus’s fault.

            1. Taellosse says:

              Sure it was. EDI and Shepard are themselves Cerberus experiments gone wrong.

              1. INH5 says:

                Yeah, but Eva Core would have gotten away if not for Vega’s stunt with the shuttle. As far as I know, Vega wasn’t the result of a Cerberus experiment.

                1. Taellosse says:

                  As far as we know, no, Vega was not the result of a Cerberus experiment.

                  Though it’d be kind of funny if he was.

                  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    “We spent billions to create this new savior of humanity.Behold!The ultimate meathead!”

          2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

            The soldiers on the Luna Base beg to differ.

            1. INH5 says:

              I’m pretty sure Cerberus didn’t create the AI at the Luna Base, they just somehow got ahold of it after Shepard shut it down and used that to make EDI.

              Really, considering that EDI was made by Cerberus from an already crazy and homicidal AI combined with pieces of Sovereign, the fact that she never went nuts and started killing people is astonishing.

              1. Mike S. says:

                Cerberus engineer: “Hypothesis: homicidal mania is self-cancelling. Quick, get me a heretic geth Prime I can fuse with a Scion!”

    2. Trevel says:

      “The main problem with this choose-your-own-adventure book is that you’ll never see all the story in a single read-through — you’ll need to make saves before taking branching choices, or you’ll have to read the whole thing again in order to see different pages! Obviously the whole thing would be better if every choice lead to the same next page, so every reader gets the same story but with a different colour aura at the end based on what kind of options they pick.”

      1. ehlijen says:

        I’m not sure what you mean? Are you saying that’s what I said? Because I didn’t.

        Any path through a choose your own adventure book should include certain important points (who are you? why are you here? what is the obstacle? why is it there?) and any successful path should end in a way that feels complete and appropriate. As in, the paths can be different, but they should still form complete stories (outside of ‘oops you failed and you die’ results which exist to add tension and stakes).

        1. INH5 says:

          It’s actually quite common for any or all of the important points that you mentioned to change in different paths of the same Choose Your Own Adventure book. I’ve read plenty of CYOA books that have wildly different backstories for each of the major paths.

          1. ehlijen says:

            As long as there’s never anything crucial missing, being different is fine, and quite possibly better. That’s what replayability is about, after all.

            I’ve read a CYOABs, for example, where ‘failing’ an utterly arbitrary left or right path choice will leave you unable to get through a plot door and achieve any conclusion. (Not kidding, one was, from memory: “The door to the big bad has a combination lock. Did you find the combination (which exists in only one of the several paths that lead here; I checked)? If not, you cry at your shameful failure and a random patrol finds and kills you.”)

            In light of this, I can understand the ‘don’t lock content away from me’ attitude, but the real culprit is of course bad adventure design, not any specific story telling mechanic.

    3. Ivan says:

      I think the complaint about not wanting to have to replay a game to see all the content comes from a place where you like the game, but not enough that you want to spend hours replaying sections you’ve already done in order to find the new stuff.

      It probably mostly depends on the type of content too. Like playing Star Fox 64 over and over is fun because the levels are fairly short, and doing well in them unlocks entirely new levels. But if you’re only doing something like unlocking conversations like in Mass Effect then I’m probably going to decide that I don’t really care that much, or go to the wiki or some other resource to find out what happens.

      Then again, I’m the kind of person who really likes exploring new game spaces so there’s that.

      (just musing over what I said, I guess it’s worth noting that Stat Fox is a game that you play because it has good gameplay where Mass Effect is something you play for the characters and story. So I guess you could argue that to different types of players, new conversations are like new levels. But then you could play two playthroughs of Star Fox that only share the first one or two levels in common (I can’t remember if the asteroid field is manditroy but then there are two mutually exclusive bosses for the first level too))

      1. Ed says:

        Star Fox 64 is very odd, structurally. There are essentially 2 and a half paths, and it takes at least three playthroughs to hit every level. But, every run through of the game takes, at most, an hour. So, if you are very good, you can see the whole game’s worth of levels in three hours. But that assumes you know the shortcuts and options to move between paths, of which figuring out is a good deal of the fun. Add in that each level has a medal associated with a high score, and getting all the medals unlocks the higher difficulty, and, well, Star Fox has very little to do with Mass Effect.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    To be fair,the whole rachni thing happened long before humans even thought about going into space.So because we are playing a human,giving no shit about them is in character here.They are a big deal to everyone else,but not us humans.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It shouldn't have been that hard to fix.

    Or,make this a “time pressure” mission.Have the call come in just after we defeat benezia that nukes are coming to exterminate the complex,because the government of noveria is tired of waiting,so we can release the queen or let her stay in there to be purged by the nuclear fire.There,no time to call the council,need to evacuate the few survivors quickly,no need for kaiden to block our path in a stupid way,and a binary choice that makes more sense.

    1. Shamus says:

      That’s a really good fix. It had already been telegraphed and everything.

      1. guy says:

        Technically, that was actually happening; you never cancel the orbital strike and it’s indicated that it went ahead in some background news reports in ME2. However, by the time you get to the Rachni Queen it’s been a few hours of gameplay and the game never reminds you.

      2. Merlin says:

        It makes some sense in this scenario, but generally “It’s a dumb decision but we don’t have time for a good one!” is still a pretty obvious crutch. In this case, it relies on bad communication (Sheperd can’t be in touch with anyone to let them know that he’s got control of the situation? Nukes can’t be disarmed mid-air?) and is still conspicuously clumsy. Like, say this is your main justification for why you can’t take your time with the Rachni queen. Wouldn’t the reasonable decision be to let her loose, then call in additional resources to track her down for discussion or recapture, since you know what planet she’s on and even where she was last cited? A rachni queen is simply too important to be this trivial in the context of the story – the situation demands more than the lazy “kill vs. release” binary that Bioware is so fond of giving us.

        Though it’s still nowhere near as flagrantly stupid as Dragon Age: Origins’ handling of Jowan, the blood mage that poisons Arl Eamon. Jowan originally appears in the mage origin, where he’s exposed as a (well-meaning) blood mage and flees the circle with the intent of lying low. He later reappears as the hired assassin of the king, poisoning a governor. Way to keep things on the DL, Jowan. But after you capture him and revive Eamon, the latter delivers this huge speech about how we need evidence of the king’s treachery and misconduct to present at a meeting of noblemen. Then, without dropping a beat, asks you “Oh and this blood mage; kill him right this second, or let him run free with no further consequence?”

        We have a someone admitting to a crime that he was hired by our enemy to commit, we have further evidence to bolster this case on account of we literally just investigated it, and the best you can come up with is “stab or no stab.” Really.

        If you need to keep coming up with hoops to jump through to justify a dumb decision point, you’re probably better off restructuring the decision than adding more hoops.

        1. Raygereio says:

          Sheperd can't be in touch with anyone to let them know that he's got control of the situation?

          Shep forgets she has a communicator whenever it’s convenient for the plot.

          At the of the Bring Down the Sky DLC you’re forced to choose between letting the bad guy go and freeing the hostage, or attacking the bad guy and letting the hostages die.
          Apparently everyone just forgot the Normandy is a thing that exists. Specifically: a thing Shep could have ordered to intercept the bad guy’s ship after you’ve “let him go” and secured the hostages.

          1. Mortuorum says:

            …or the Normandy could have shot down Vido’s ship after he “got away” at the end of Zaeed’s loyalty mission (if you chose the “save the facility” option).

            …or the Normandy could have shot down Kai Leng’s shuttle after he ambushed Shepard’s party on Thessia. (Still mad at the writers about that.)

            An one play-through, I think I was yelling at the screen for Shepard to call Joker so he could actually use his badass heavily-armed stealth warship as something more than a glorified space taxi.

            1. Mike S. says:

              At least with Kai Leng, there could have been a bit about the Reaper presence making it impractical. The Normandy’s stealth, already imperfect (“just look out the window”) doesn’t work if it starts shooting. What with Cerberus having full access to the Normandy’s top secret tech, KL could even have his own stealthed transport, which would help explain how he was able to get in and out of Thessia during an invasion, get past the Citadel defense fleet, etc.

              (After all, both the salarians and quarians had ships with Normandy-derived systems, and their access was presumptively more limited than Cerberus’s.)

              But that doesn’t help with Vido or Balak, no. It seems like a mistake to emphasize that the Normandy is a frigate with the firepower of a cruiser and a massively overdesigned drive core, then have it helpless in the face of much less capable ships. Maybe have Vido dive into a mass of close-packed Zoryan ships, such that shooting into them would mean even worse casualties than at the plant?

        2. Ronixis says:

          They don’t actually let you do the ‘let him go’ option at that point, either (although you can run him off earlier to where he won’t come back, because the side quest where he was intended to show up again is bugged). I think it’s left over from original plans where you would have had a ‘conscript Jowan as a Warden’ option.

        3. MrGuy says:

          It makes some sense in this scenario, but generally “It's a dumb decision but we don't have time for a good one!” is still a pretty obvious crutch.

          Disagree that this approach should be considered a crutch (either here or elsewhere).

          Stories where the protagonist has time to gather all the information and make the proper informed choice lack drama and tension – there’s no urgency to the decision. Nothing’s more hilariously drama-free as a questgiver in, say, Skyrim telling you “OMG the bandits are about to overrun our outpost!” and letting you wander around for weeks, getting better gear and solving more interesting problems before you decide to bother dealing with it.

          And quite often, good stories come from the aftermath and bad feelings that flow from the unintended consequences of hasty decisions. The entire genophage plotline is a good example – it was a quick and dirty solution to a problem that couldn’t be ignored made by generally good people, but with some thorny consequences.

          Done well, you could have a whole follow-up on the Rachni queen. Do you set it loose on this planet and wish it luck? Do you hold it until you can turn it over to the proper authorities (the Citadel’s authority may not be recognized here, but they can presumably send a ship to pick up some cargo). Do you hold the queen on the Normandy, creating a potential “tiger by the tail” situation given you don’t really know how Rachni work or how to hold one? Separately, if you chose to let the Rachni queen die, do you tell the council what you found? This would be even more interesting if you’d found some intelligence that suggested Saren was working with someone on the council to find and capture the Rachni queen in the first place…

          The one thing that feels dumb in this is the need for Shepherd to actively kill the Rachni queen. Especially if you add in the ticking clock/inbound missiles pressure, the choice should be “save/don’t save.” You don’t have to dump her in the vat of acid – let the nukes kill her. This reduces your choice to accept the potential threat from saving a dangerous organism that you don’t fully understand but will likely never have the opportunity to study again, or refusing that risk. That would feel a lot less contrived as a binary choice than “kill or save.”

          1. Mike S. says:

            I think the need to actively kill the queen at close range makes the decision more powerful, so I’d be inclined to keep it in if possible. A clean flash at a distance that’s the result of inaction is easier to live with, and so less dramatic.

            Possibly someone points out that the queen is evidently capable of animating those asari corpses. It’s obviously not confident in its ability to use them to release itself (or it wouldn’t risk revealing itself to Shepard), but if you leave it for the missiles, there’s a decent chance that you get the worst possible outcome: a live rachni queen who knows you intentionally left it to die.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              So add a third option to make sure instead of leaving it for the missile.In fact,leaving it for the missile could be the “did it work?” option,coming back to bite you later.

  8. Attercap says:

    There is a fairly substantial conversation about the Rachni Wars on the Citadel in front of the Krogan statue. …But it’s with an Avena, so I don’t blame anyone for missing/forgetting that.

    1. I certainly did, and I was pissed off anew later on when Shepard acted like none of those info-gathering conversations took place. Shepard the character was probably my least favorite part of that game and a substantial portion of why I never played the other 2.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    If I kill the queen she should stay dead, not be replaced with a color-swapped doppleganger.

    Color swapped dopplegangers are one of the major problems of me3,and a clear indication that theyve planned none of this.

    “Oh,your whole crew died in the previous game?No biggie,heres a bunch of generic stand ins to make your choices in that game completely pointless to the overall story.”

    This is something that harmed Telltale's The Walking Dead.

    Its not quite the same though.In that game,if someone dies,they are dead.Yes,the other survivors can do something the dead person wouldve done otherwise,but it still is more effort from survivors,and more of an impact on the protagonist.You dont get a generic replacement to do everything the dead person would do,only with less dialogue from them.

    1. INH5 says:

      The ME3 replacements often do have different outcomes from the originals. Usually, they aren’t as good as doing whatever they’re supposed to do and more people die as a result. I know that in Grissom Academy, for example, if Jack isn’t alive, one of the biotic students named Jason Prangly takes her place in cutscenes and then dies at the end, which makes the ending scene where you can encourage the students to take either frontline combat or support roles much more downbeat. Urdnot Dagg, Grunt’s replacement, always dies at the end of the Rachni mission, whereas Grunt survives and becomes a War Asset if he’s loyal. If Tali or Legion or dead, you can’t make peace between the Quarians and Geth. If Kasumi or Zaeed is alive, you can obtain both outcomes on their little side missions instead of just one.

      Frankly, in some places having a replacement around makes perfect sense. It’s not like Aralakh Company wouldn’t appoint a leader in Grunt’s absence, or there wouldn’t be other Salarian scientists studying Eve. I think the real problem is that most of the ME2 squadmates make little more than cameos in ME3. Even though Padok Wiks does all of the same things as Mordin, he’s around long enough for the player to realize that he has a very different personality and viewpoint than Mordin, and videos I’ve watched of playthroughs with Mordin dead have a significantly different feel than my own ME3 playthrough with him alive. Though I think that having some difference in outcome, such as Padok being unable to save Eve even with Maelon’s data or being easier to persuade to not cure the genophage wouldn’t have hurt. Especially given Mordin’s mantra of “someone else might have gotten it wrong.”

      Besides the Rachni, I think the real head-scratcher is Legion. It actually makes perfect sense for a backup copy of Legion to be around given what ME2 establishes about how the Geth work, but what’s up with the holographic N7 armor? Even with the “we are not Legion” dialogue, it serves to constantly remind the players that Legion would be in the same place doing the same things if he had lived. If they had just made backup Legion’s model an intact version of the original Legion’s model, I think those scenes would sell a lot better (it wouldn’t fix all of the problems with Legion’s ME3 storyline by any means but that’s another can of worms). Shepard could still recognize him as a copy of Legion or “that Geth I sold to Cerberus” from his voice, and because Legion is never a squadmate in ME3 you wouldn’t have to worry about the player confusing him with Geth enemies.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yeah,but all of those you mentioned couldve happened even if the real person survived before.If grunt survives,he can still die in that mission.If tali and legion survive,you can still fail to reconcile the races.Etc.Not to mention that all those missions play out exactly the same,no matter what.Just a token “yeah,if you saved this dude then AND you helped them survive now,you can have them added to this number that will open a token color swapped ending” is not an improvement.

        1. INH5 says:

          I suggest you look up some videos on Youtube of what certain ME3 missions are like with important characters dead. Some make little difference, but others have important differences in tone and feel even if most of the same events happen. I would say that Priority: Tuchanka and Grissom Academy in particular take on very different tones depending on whether Wrex, Mordin, and Jack are alive or dead. Even backup Legion has some subtle dialogue changes during the final decision of Priority: Rannoch that make him and by extension the Geth in general seem less sympathetic (or depending your perspective, less emotionally manipulative).

          Like I said before, I think the real problem is how most of the characters aren’t around long enough to get a sense of how different things are without them. I think there was considerable room for improvement there. For example, I think EDI’s robot body, Vega, or both could easily have been replaced with a ME2 squadmate. In fact, Grunt would be in a perfect position to take Vega’s place as “the clueless new guy who triggers exposition by asking questions about the plot,” considering that he was literally born less than a year before the start of ME3.

          And yes, the War Assets turn out to be almost entirely pointless, but that’s a separate issue from how ME3 handles characters being alive or dead.

          1. ehlijen says:

            But regardless of which important NPCs are alive or have been replaced with off brand versions, Shepard runs through the same levels, shooting the same dudes.

            This is especially annoying with the rachni queen: regardless of whether the reapers capture and enslave a real one or they genetically engineer a broken one, Shepard goes to the same planet, meets the same Krogans, runs through the same cave and pushes the same buttons to free or kill her.

            The game tells us our choices matter, but then serves us the same level no matter what we order from the menu (and we still never get friendly rachni fighting with us at any point, ever).

            1. INH5 says:

              The thing is, even games that are considered really good at handling choice and consequence also tend to not change the gameplay much. Look at Alpha Protocol: it has one boss fight in the final level that can go about 4 different ways based on previous choices, one level where a previous choice can change the faction that the mooks belong to (which pretty much only changes their uniforms), another level where a previous choice can make some of the enemies near the start friendly, and several levels that don’t need to be completed to win the game. But a good 80% of the time, you’ll be going through exactly the same environments and shooting exactly the same mooks no matter what choices you make.

              I can’t say I blame the game developers. RPG character advancement mechanics already greatly increase the playtesting requirements of each level, and I can only imagine that making distinct versions of a level would increase the cost even more. Plus I imagine that a lot of gameplay changes wouldn’t amount to much anyway. If the decision in Legion’s Loyalty mission had resulted in an increase or decrease in the number of Geth enemies during ME3’s Rannoch missions, do you think anyone would have noticed or cared? I actually have heard rumors that the decision really does affect enemy spawn rates on those levels, but the fact that I can’t confirm if that is true or not sort of proves my point.

              But yes, I fully agree with you that ME3’s handling of the Rachni decision was very poor.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                I can't say I blame the game developers.

                Yes you can.It was their decision to bite off more than they could chew.It was their decision to advertise this as a trilogy,despite not having a strong plan as how to achieve that.Just because something is hard and expensive does not mean it has to be done poorly.

      2. The replacements are only as good as they need to be so that Shepard succeeds, or at least, doesn’t die.

        And really, if we’re admitting that such changes are, to gameplay, only cosmetic, and that the real value is in the narrative, why is it so hard for Bioware to just tell the story in the bits that don’t affect “CRITICAL MISSION FAILURE”?

    2. Dreadjaws says:

      I think the problem with The Walking Dead is a bit of the opposite. No matter who you decide to save, they’ll end up dead anyway. Once you’ve played enough you’ll start to realize it’s pointless to become emotionally invested in characters that are sure to kick the bucket no matter what you do, so you’ll most likely end up doing the selfish thing and make the decisions that benefit you and not others.

      Note that I said “pointless”, not “impossible”, but still…

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yeah,but it is a game that was not built with replayability as its first priority.

        1. Xapi says:

          Even not considering replayability, it feels like the game is cheating you sometimes (although it is still the only video game I’m actually playing in this days, so I must say that I really like it and it has me hooked).

          Spoiler ahead: (I think from ep 3 or 4 of the Season 2)

          This spoiler is from right after you escape the a-hole’s colony

          That first spoiler explains where the second spoiler is from.

          When you’re given the seemingly harsh choice to simply kill the zombie biting Sarita, wich would make less noise and be safer for you, or attempt to cut her arm off, wich could backfire horribly in many ways, but has been established as a way to possibly save her life.

          Guess what, your big choice doesn’t matter, she still dies right away, and Kenny is pissed at you for trying the only thing that could have saved her instead of watching over your own ass.

  10. newdarkcloud says:

    Way back when writing about Mass Effect 3 was the popular thing to do, I had very similar thoughts on the subject.

    I even proposed my own fixes to these issues. They aren’t perfect, but I still can’t believe how much ME failed to deliver on choice and consequence. I knew the possibility space had to be finite, given budgetary, time,and technological limitations. However, it’s surprising just what lengths they went to in order to not differentiate things.

    1. INH5 says:

      No offense, but some of your ideas would be totally unfeasible to implement. For example, your suggestions about what to do with the Rachni queen would require the level designers to design and playtest 4 different versions of every level that includes ravager enemies. Like I say in a comment below, a far more efficient way of dealing with this would be to just not have rachni husk enemies, use scions or some new kind of husk to fill their tactical role, and deal with the effects of the Rachni queen decision some other way.

      Your ideas for handling the Geth-Quarian conflict are even worse.

      If the player advocated peace with the Geth, then I would dramatically change the scene. I would have the Quarians and the Geth be in the middle of peace negotiations when the Reaper invasion begins. When the Reapers attack, then the two sides agree to at least a temporary truce. However, the Reapers have set up a barricade at the Mass Relay to prevent their fleets from leaving the cluster. (The Normandy would be able to escape using its stealth drive.) The fight would then be about defeating the Reaper forces in the area so that the two forces can escape and provide support on the fight for Earth. The missions do not change, except that the player will now be going up against Reaper hoards instead of the Geth.

      This slams head on into ME3’s core problem that it is trying to tell a story about a space war with third person shooter gameplay + dialogue trees. The existing Rannoch arc in ME3 already strains hard under these limitations. Trying to come up with a set of missions that have Shepard conducting on-foot missions around the Rannoch system to allow the Quarians and Geth to get past Reapers blockading the mass relay seems, to me, to be practically impossible (the only concept I can think of would be somehow getting Shepard and his two squadmates inside a Reaper and trying to kill it from within). The idea that you could design a set of missions that would work in both that scenario and a Geth-Quarian war simply by changing the enemies and dialogue is absurd.

      I’m not saying that ME3’s existing Rannoch arc is the only way it could have been done (I have my own ideas on how it could be improved). I’m saying that there are considerable design challenges here, and ignoring those challenges makes this an exercise in fantasizing instead of imagining hypothetical counterfactuals.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve heard rumors that rewriting or destroying the heretic geth does change the enemy spawn rates in Priority: Rannoch. I haven’t been able to find confirmation on whether that is true or not, however.

      1. newdarkcloud says:

        No offense taken. I know a lot more now than I did back then.

        EDIT: Good lord, those are from 2012. Has it really been that long since Mass Effect 3?

  11. Incunabulum says:

    Players are hungry for even a little authorship over the world. I think we value that far more than one more stupid gunfight.

    Yeah, that’s pretty naive.

    OK, so that might be taken rudely (which I don’t intend) so – its an exceedingly optimistic view of the majority of gamers.

    Sure, there’s a large contingent of gamers who value this sort of thing, but they’re swamped by the hordes who are going to pay money to shoot-things-in-corridors-that-are-slightly-different-than-the-corridors-in-last-month’s-game.

    That’s the trend that’s arisen as the industry chases the largest ROI – binary choices sprinkled throughout a game (that usually have no further effect on the game) that are undone at the end anyway with only your last choice having any ‘meaningful’ effect (meaning which button you press determines which ending cut-scene you get).

    1. bloodsquirrel says:

      But there are plenty of games designed to appeal to those players, and most of them are much better at that sort of thing than Mass Effect.

      You’re giving up a smaller market where you’ve got little competition and a long-standing reputation for a larger, but saturated market where your competition has better name recognition, more experience, and a frankly far better grasp on game feel and shooting mechanics.

      1. Taellosse says:

        Yeah, but from a purely-numbers standpoint, it was unfortunately still a good decision to market to the shooter crowd over the RPG audience – ME1 sold less than 2 million copies on its original release (noting it was a platform exclusive, of course), while ME2 sold almost 5 million copies across all platforms prior to the 3rd game’s release. ME3 doubled ME2’s initial sales.

        It, unfortunately, paid to dumb the games down. Probably because, even though it was dumbed down to the eyes of RPG fans, it was far more sophisticated, narratively speaking, than the average shooter is. As such, it offered a hybrid that many found appealing.

    2. The thing is a lot of this could be accomplished to the satisfaction of everyone with just a little more effort. It’s like how you could have a movie with the spectacle of Avatar, and it would’ve been a really good movie if someone had put forth the effort to make the script just a little less cliche via dialogue.

  12. OboboboTheNerd says:

    Previous: The Blistering Stupidity of Fallout 3, Part 5?

    That doesn’t look right.

  13. Daimbert says:

    I don’t really mind this one, because I think you’re evaluating it backwards. It’s not that if you kill the Rachni Queen you get a doppleganger later, but more that when the big invasion happened the Reapers will know about the Rachni and look to use them to help their cause. For speed and convenience, they’ll use one that’s available, but if they have to, they’ll create your own. So, the default case is that you face a generic Rachni Queen, and that saving her in that case leaves her free to attack you; in short, freed from the Reapers, the Rachni still attack because that’s what they do. But if you saved the Queen in ME1, then you’re dealing with a Queen that owes and respects you. Freed from Reaper control, she is indeed willing to help you and attack the Reapers. So the consequence of your choice in the first game IS that you can meet the Queen, being used as a Reaper puppet, and deal with her to bring about some kind of truce or even peace with them (kinda like the Geth/Quarian resolution, which is wonderful in my opinion). If you made the choice to kill the Queen, you pretty much have to choose to do it again with this one.

    So your comment about “We wanted that choice to stand” is that, well, it did, kinda. The only choice that you might have wanted to stand was that you would, essentially, be wiping out the Rachni completely … but to expect that to stand in ANY kind of fiction is probably expecting too much. It COULD stand, but obviously it’s not necessarily going to given how big a plot point they were. Killing the Queen stands: you have to fight and kill the Rachni because you have no chance and no in because you killed off the only Rachni that had any real reason to respect you. Saving the Queen is the more fulfilling choice given ME3, but note that it does make sense to look at the ME3 case first, and note that your choice in ME1 determines if you get another Rachni war while fighting the Reapers, or if they work with you.

    I would have liked either for there to be no War Assets impact from this, or for War Assets to be less critical in single player, because my character would have been more likely to say “Yeah, I trusted you last time, not going to do it this time”, and then let her die. BTW, I think the “Nothing happens” line is, in that case, nothing more than “She dies”. Why she doesn’t attack you in that case is a little puzzling if the clone queen does, but that might just reflect the conditioning that pushes her to attack your forces if you let her go; she’s been conditioned by the Reapers for a purpose that she fulfills, which includes attacking if she can. The Queen you saved has no reason to blindly attack if you leave her to die.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ok,but I have a question:Why?Why would the reapers want to make their own rachni?Look at every other thing they throw at you:Its a modified race that already exists,can breed on its own,and is enslaved and huskified.So why would they then build a whole new queen to give birth to the new husks?If a queen is alive,then it makes sense for them to use it,but if a queen doesnt exist,it makes no sense for these guys to make one.Cerberus,yeah,I can see those morons making one,but not reapers.Not even the stupid “lets kill defenseless people for fun,instead of capturing them” reapers from me3.

      1. Supahewok says:

        I didn’t play ME3, but aren’t the huskified Rachni called Ravagers, and aren’t they one of the toughest, hardest enemy types to fight? That seems to be a good enough motivation to me.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Similar enemies already existed in me2,and a bunch of other husks(krogan and asari)are also very tough.So its not a good reason at all.

          1. guy says:

            I think the Ravagers are a pretty reasonable thing for the Reapers to want. They provide heavy ranged firepower to augment the sharply limited supply of Banshees* and clearly can be produced in large numbers. The Brutes are also logistically complicated to produce, since they need members of two different species that don’t live together much.

            Granted, the Scions did fill a fairly similar tactical role, minus the mass-produced tiny bombs.

            I’d have liked it if killing the Rachni Queen meant the Reapers skipped growing a new Queen and just produced eggs in cloning vats. Doesn’t require much of a change to the mission and lets the choice stand. Actually, it would be really neat if killing the Rachni Queen adjusted the mix of Husk types so Ravagers were slightly less common, but that would be a good deal of work to balance.

            *They can only be made from Asari with some Ardat-Yakshi genes, and while that’s a considerably larger portion of the population than the ones who manifest it strongly enough to be confined to the monastery, it’s still under five percent.

      2. Daimbert says:

        The Rachni provide a biological base that’s more powerful than any other race except the Krogans, are easier to control because they are controlled to some extent through the Queen — hence, why you want a Queen — and if you breed them from a Queen you control breed relatively quickly and in a place that you can completely control and defend, and even keep secret. You don’t have to worry about capturing subjects at all. So, you have a way to produce an extremely powerful army that you control and where you can produce all you want when you want it. Why WOULDN’T they want it? It almost makes you wonder why they’d want to use the OTHER species.

      3. SlothfulCobra says:

        It’s already implied here and there that the Reapers were in contact with the Rachni, and compelled them to attack the rest of the galaxy. It’s the same reasoning for keeping the Collectors around in their secret base at the core of the galaxy. Might as well make use of any organics that they have.

    2. Decius says:

      How would the Rachni Queen recognize Shepard? Or are you saying that having once been rescued by a human, the queen would respect all humans enough to overcome her prior attitude of omnicide?

      1. guy says:

        The non-cloned Queen never had an attitude of omnicide.

      2. Daimbert says:

        Actually, I just played through it recently, and I think that the Queen DOES recognize you. And you recognize her. And you talk about it.

        I definitely remember a “I thought you were leaving. What happened?” sort of comment.

    3. Talby says:

      You can contrive a justification for why there should be an identical Rachni queen on the same mission even if you wiped them out, but that’s just lazy, convenient writing.

      1. Richard H says:

        It’s really easy, actually: more Rachni escaped than just that Cerberus experiment infestation that you fight in the side planets you may well have never seen anyway in the first game.

        If anything, this is an argument that running into her if you saved her is a small-world problem.

  14. Raygereio says:

    I can't make sense of BioWare's priorities when it comes to choice.

    I think it’s fairly simple: Give the player the illusion their choices matter in the rigid and inflexible story. Up until ME3’s ending where it all fell apart, I think that approach worked pretty well for Bioware.

    Take ME1. A lot of dialogue choices aren’t choices at all. All options lead to Shep saying the exact same line of dialogue. But you’re not going to notice that unless you replay the games and have a really good memory of your last playthrough.

    1. Henson says:

      The biggest problem with the choices in Mass Effect is that it was billed from the start as a trilogy. This puts inordinate pressure on importing choices, which always suck.

      1. Domochevsky says:

        “… billed from the start as a trilogy …”

        …y’know, I don’t think it was, actually. I do remember thinking back then “oh, of COURSE it’s a trilogy now.”. Is my memory making things up? o_O

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          It was advertised as a trilogy,even though it obviously wasnt planned as one.

    2. Slothfulcobra says:

      It’s most obvious whenever Liars wants to poke around in your brain and your options range from, “Yeah, sure!” to “I have no choice.”

      That always bothered me, especially on playthroughs when I was desperately want to dissuade Liars from her obsessive crush on Shepard and letting her mind-fuck me whenever she wanted seemed counterproductive.

    3. INH5 says:

      But there are moments when the games clearly fail at even giving the illusion of choice. The most blatant is undoubtedly when ME3 begins with Udina as counselor and Anderson as an alliance officer without any explanation whatsoever except for one sentence in the Codex. Would it have been that hard to include a line of dialogue from Anderson saying that he quit and left the job to Udina, if for no reason other than so players won’t find themselves wondering if something went wrong with their save import?

      The Walking Dead has this problem at times too. Even during my first playthrough, Carley getting killed by Lilly in episode 3 and Ben randomly dying in episode 5 (and Kenny deciding to sacrifice himself for absolutely no reason immediately after) were moments where it was really obvious to me that the writers were chopping off story branches. Also, if I had refused to give the gun to the bitten woman at the end of episode 1, I think the scene where she grabs the gun out of Carley’s hands and shoots herself anyway would have been a big immersion breaker too. That last one is especially weird, because you’d think the writers could have just had the woman run away and never be seen again.

      1. Henson says:

        The example you give isn’t the illusion of choice. It’s an actual choice being rendered moot by the designers, and is the REAL problem in going from one game to the next. (it wouldn’t be a problem on its own, really, but they do this all the time)

        No, the bad illusion of choice moment comes in the beginning of ME2, aka ‘I’ll never join you, okay imma work fer Cerberus now’.

        1. INH5 says:

          Yeah, I will never understand why they didn’t just rename ME2’s Cerberus and have it be a completely new organization, considering that it has basically nothing in common with ME1’s Cerberus apart from conducting risky science experiments. Which, as Shamus established in the last entry, isn’t an unusual trait of organizations in the Mass Effect universe.

          It also would have made things easier for new players or for players who didn’t bother with ME1’s sidequests. I played ME2 first and I spent a good portion of the tutorial wondering, who are these people and why does the game act like I should care?

  15. Gravebound says:

    Grammar nitpick in ‘note 1’: should be ‘fewer’ not ‘less’.

  16. INH5 says:

    Sadly, I'm willing to bet most players had no idea about any of this when they ran into the Rachni Queen. You could only learn about the Rachni through the codex, and even then it's not like the game went out of its way to draw attention to this particular entry. Wrex is the only one who brings it up in conversation, and only if you talk to him about his people often, and even then the Rachni are barely a footnote in his story about the genophage.

    Basically, this could have been a major mind-blowing reveal, but instead ends up feeling like a little bit of trivia: “By the way, did you know this bug-thing was believed to be extinct?”

    Ideally, it would have been nice if someone in your crew had been telling this story the way Wrex told the story of the genophage. Then when the player was offered the choice to let the Rachni queen live or die, they would have had a fuller grasp of the magnitude of their decision. Speaking of which…

    You’re right that there is a big missed opportunity here. What’s worse is that the game developers had a perfect excuse to insert exposition here: as a human, it’s perfectly plausible that Shepard wouldn’t know much about this stuff. All they had to do was give the player options to ask the researchers about the history of the rachni.

    They went to all this trouble to give us this branching outcome, when I think that what people really wanted was for that initial decision to stand. If I kill the queen she should stay dead, not be replaced with a color-swapped doppleganger. It's this strange mindset that players must value content more than choice, that we'd rather see our decisions negated than miss out on one mission. Heck, if you don't want to cut a mission then just fill the cave on Utukku with… I dunno… other mooks. Whatever. Just don't un-do the earlier decision, and then turn around and offer the player the same decision again.

    I think the real problem with the Rachni in ME3 is the Ravagers. When the game has Rachni husks as a common enemy, there has to be some explanation for where they came from, and balancing and playtesting two versions of every level that Ravagers might appear in is obviously unfeasible. Even reskinning the Ravagers as a different kind of husk if the Rachni queen is dead could pose considerable difficulties if one model was easier to hit than the other.

    But the solution is obvious: don’t use rachni husks as an enemy. ME2 already introduced an armored, slow-moving, long range artillery husk enemy with a bulbous growth that can be popped with bullets: the scion. So why not just use that or a variation of that? In fact, when the ME3 multiplayer team reintroduced the Collectors as an enemy faction, they made substantial changes to the scions, presumably to make them distinct from the ravagers.

    I have to say that I was disappointed in ME3’s handling of the Rachni choice when I saved the queen even before I looked online and found out how little difference there was. When I saw the queen I thought to myself, what was the point of freeing this thing if it’s just going to get captured again? Also, what was the point of the message in ME2 from the queen saying that she would help me when the time was right?

    I think that just doing something like having a bunch of Rachni ride in to help you at the end of some ME3 mission if you saved the Queen (and having the Rachni cavalry be replaced by Krogan or whatever else if you didn’t), and then showing the Rachni fighting husks during the final mission, would have led to a lot fewer complaints, and might have even been cheaper to produce.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      You make an excellent point about the Ravagers. That has to be why they felt the need to have a Queen stand in. Good catch. I’m not sure even Shamus took that one into account.

      However, I think putting the Scion in their place might be a misstep. A lot of people (not me but others) already complain that the plot of Mass Effect 2 amounted to nothing. If you had Scions showing up with the same frequency the Ravagers did, people would wonder just what was the benefit of destroying the Collector base.

      To address the point you quoted. I was indeed one of the people who missed the full context of the Rachni. I had some of the pieces connected but not all of them. Not until the column Shamus wrote a couple of years ago about the history of the Rachni, Krogan and Salarians leading up to Mordin Solus’ subplot (its a great read and sold me on ME1 in a way that the game itself never managed).

      I’m glad Shamus brought it to my attention because it ties together a great many quests, the creation of Grunt, the circumstances surrounding Wrex, the work of Mordin and his assistant, and the way it all culminates in the Tuchunka arc of ME3.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        Now I’m sad I didn’t catch this post earlier, because this is the exact point I wanted to make.
        They kinda wrote themselves into a corner when they decided to have husk rachni for some reason. Which is really irritating, as an entire story point was heavily compromised for the sake of a gameplay decision that could’ve easily been done another way.

      2. INH5 says:

        However, I think putting the Scion in their place might be a misstep. A lot of people (not me but others) already complain that the plot of Mass Effect 2 amounted to nothing. If you had Scions showing up with the same frequency the Ravagers did, people would wonder just what was the benefit of destroying the Collector base.

        That boat kind of already sailed given that scions somehow show up in the Derelict Reaper mission, which the Collectors could not possibly have been involved with. Abominations (the red exploding husks introduced in ME2) also show up in one of the side missions where some miners dug up a Reaper artifact and some dragon’s teeth, got indoctrinated, then turned themselves into husks, which makes their absence in ME3 single player a little strange.

        But regardless, I think people would just assume that Harbinger remembers how to create scions because he/it/whatever was in control of the Collector General when the Collectors were doing all of their human husk experiments.

  17. I did actually read the initial codex entry about the Rachni war so when I encountered the Rachni (helpfully labeled as “Rachni” on my screen) I was all “ooh, so they’re not extinct! Neat!”

    And then Bioware pissed me off in a completely different way because Shepard (who I kind of assumed also had access to these codex entries) said “I don’t know what those are!”

    The effing targeting thing says they’re Rachni! You have a Rachni codex entry that I went and got you with an effing picture of the effing Rachni! Do you have senile decay?! WTF, Shepard.

    That incident became one of my most-hated parts of that game, along with things like when you ask Tali about her people’s pilgrimage and Shepard says “I’ve never heard of this before”. It was the primary reason why I didn’t play ME2 (apart from the intro being an enormous pile of stupid). I hated Shepard. Shepard was a clueless boob who should never have been making major decisions impacting the future of the entire galaxy. When they kept Shepard as the protagonist for ME2 I just rebelled. I couldn’t take more clueless soldier boob runs the galaxy.

    When people ask on the Bioware forums (well, more, WHINE) about why the DA games all have a new protagonist, I’m like “BECAUSE SHEPARD WAS A CLUELESS IDIOT AND I’M SICK OF IT, THAT’S WHY.” Of course I don’t SAY that, but the entire Mass Effect series was like a giant “this is why you don’t have the same protagonist for 3 games” lesson in RPG creation.

    1. “What’s a paladin?”

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:


    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      The effing targeting thing says they're Rachni!

      I always thought that was stupid.Was it so hard to write “unknown” for those first rachni you encounter?

      1. guy says:

        Yeah, that was kinda annoying. I guess it might be a bit complicated? If the game isn’t designed to let them put in variable names so they can do the JRPG “???” name thing, you’d have to hack it by creating a new copy of the enemy data with a different name, which would be annoying and inconvenient to synchronize and difficult to ensure the player only fights the version with the name they’re supposed to be seeing. I think Fallout 2 did it that way with the mine creatures, and the overland random encounters kept the generic name even if you’d already met them in the mine.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Even if they screwed up and made the name thing unchangable,would it really be that hard to just copy the rachni enemy with a “unknown” name?It literally should take only 5 minutes to do so.

      2. Ronixis says:

        I think that the ‘unknown’ thing would have a nice, subtly creepy effect to it, too. And if they could do it in Wing Commander II, you’d think it wouldn’t be that hard today.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          This bugs me soooo much.
          It totally takes the wind out of it.
          Plus it shouldn’t (in theory) be hard to rectify!

    3. INH5 says:

      This annoyed me too. It’s worse given that there was an easy solution to this: just make the “I don’t know what that is? Could you please tell me more?” dialogue optional. That way the player gets to decide

      On other hand, sometimes the games go too far in the other direction. One of my least favorite parts of ME3 is when Legion demonstrates the effects of the Reaper code on Geth using his weird holograms and the only two dialogue choices in response are either “that’s a living creature all right,” or “grrr, robots aren’t people” when what I really wanted to say was “I don’t understand what any of this means. Legion, could you please explain this more clearly?” (And also: “Didn’t you tell me 6 months ago that your Geth faction wants to advance using their own technology?” but that’s another issue.)

      1. I don’t really mind the limited dialog options–that’s a feature of computer RPG’s regardless. But I mind it when there’s only one “tell me more about this” option and it makes the PC sound like a rube. Which, I mean, if that’s what you’re GOING for, fine, but if they’re supposed to be SOME kind of competent professional, come ON.

        Plus, saying something like “I have no idea what you’re talking about” in real life comes across as kind of angry and aggressive. It is much more politic to say something like “that sounds interesting”. I mean, if they’re picking the ? option anyway, you can kind of take it for a given that they’re interested in hearing more about whatever it is, so MAKE THE PC SOUND INTERESTED, yah?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But I mind it when there's only one “tell me more about this” option and it makes the PC sound like a rube.

          And there are places where you have the “tell me more” option where shepard ends up being the one doing the explanation for the player.So its not like that couldnt have been a thing.

          1. Cinebeast says:

            Absolutely CLASSIC ZP right there. I just snorted coffee over my keyboard.

        2. Wide And Nerdy says:

          Also, I think that’s an excellent idea Jennifer. Should be some kind of emote.

          Given the modern trend in rpgs of having the protagonist resist your choices a bit based on their characterization, it might be funny if, say, a character with a short attention span or someone with narrow interests tended to get comically bored if you kept forcing him to sit through the exposition options (Although Deadpool already did that best.)

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Of course I don't SAY that, but the entire Mass Effect series was like a giant “this is why you don't have the same protagonist for 3 games” lesson in RPG creation.

      I think its actually a lesson in why you should properly plan your trilogy way in advance and write it as a single work,instead of trying to slap things together as you move along.

      1. INH5 says:

        The actual track record of things like Star Wars, where the original trilogy was for all intents and purposes made up as it went along but Lucas did start with a pretty detailed outline for the prequel trilogy, and Babylon 5, where JMS started with detailed plans for all 5 season but was forced to change them as the series went on to the point that seasons 3-5 have very little in common with his original plans for them, suggests that planning ahead may be overrated.

        If we look at things besides sci-fi series, Breaking Bad was apparently written with very little planning. For example, the first episode of Season 5 starts with a flashforward that isn’t explained until the series finale, but when the writers wrote that flashforward scene they had no idea what it meant or what the context was. Meanwhile, How I Met Your Mother actually filmed the last scene of the series finale 8 years in advance, and while I never watched the show myself a lot of fans were unhappy with the ending and felt that it didn’t fit with how the show’s storyline had developed over the years.

        Even with the Mass Effect series, we know that they did write Mass Effect 2 with an ending for ME3 in mind, specifically the dark energy ending. Then they decided to not do that, and so all they got out of planning ahead that time was some foreshadowing that went nowhere. Furthermore, if you look up early interviews, you’ll find that there was an intention from early on in ME1’s development to make “the dangers of creating a true artificial intelligence” the core conflict of the series (see 0:58 of this video from 2005). So one of the most hated parts of ME3’s ending actually wasn’t something that the writers yanked out of their butt at the last minute.

        And before you say anything, no the Lord of the Rings is not an example of successfully planning a trilogy ahead. For one thing, it wasn’t supposed to be a trilogy. Tolkien wrote the entire thing as one book, but the publisher split it up into 3 volumes because of a post WW2 paper shortage. More importantly, by all accounts Tolkien did very little planning, to the point where he didn’t come up with the significance of the ring until half a year after he started writing it.

  18. Christopher says:

    What I would want, in an ideal world, is for the choices to branch into different gameplay sections. Not 1)you get too see this 2)you don’t get to see this 3)you get to see this with a stand-in. Write something different for each outcome, so there are different routes through the game.

    I never felt meaningful choices were believeable though. Going from ME1 to ME2 in less than two months, I saw that none of my choices mattered. You get the cheap solutions. Squadmates that could have died don’t return as squadmates, and do the same things. Minor NPCs have cheap cameos. Your big choices don’t change a thing about the plot. There was no reason to expect ME3 to be any better about it, except believing in their PR rather than the games.

    1. I’ve been harping on Bioware for years to have their “meaningful” choices have more of an effect on *how things play out* and also to have more choices that don’t amount to “pick between these two dialog options”. I like choices in games that work in such a way that if, say, you go talk to NPC A first, they give you this sob story about NPC B done them wrong and please go deal with NPC B. But if you go the other way and talk to NPC B first (in a public place), by the time you meet NPC A, they’re all “my buddy saw you talking to NPC B, are you working with them?!” and you get an angry grumpfest about how NPC B is a total dickhead and you should totally not be involved with them in any way, shape, or form. Or it could simply add an extra option to NPC A’s dialog to say “NPC B told me this” and THEN you get the angry yelling.

      It’s a fairly simple bit of scripting (I’ve done it myself), but it does a LOT to make it feel like the world is reacting to you. It’s even better when they add in options that can save you a bunch of running around back and forth talking to the same two yahoos four or five times to get all the details because of the WAY you talk to them, or if you go get more info from NPC C on the side, stuff like that.

      Stuff like that used to be pretty standard in RPG’s from what I recall, but you never seem to see it nowadays. Just little stuff like the bog-standard “we’re having tough times so I won’t open the gate until you do *sidequest*”. Being able to say “well, I’ll do *sidequest* but why don’t you open the gate NOW so I can sell this mountain of crap I’ve been carrying across four counties and turn in the 6 quests I have in this little village and encourage local businesses by buying out your healing potions?” I mean, if the sidequest is “the gate is broke so I couldn’t open it for you even if I wanted to”, okay. But if not, cmon. Sheesh.

    2. Falterfire says:

      The problem with real choice is that it effectively requires you to create multiple different games and package them in the same title. That means you have to hope either players run the games enough times to appreciate the work you put in or spend an even more phenomenal amount of money to ensure all the possible lines have a Full Game worth of content.

      I mean, it would be somewhat impractical to even split into two separate games for Paragon/Renegade. If you have a Paragon/Paragon, Paragon/Renegade, Renegade/Paragon, and Renegade/Renegade version of ME3 for each possible way to play through 1 & 2, you’re already looking at four different versions of the game and that’s before you start considering actual individual choices or middle grounds.

      Meaningful choice backed up by hand-crafted story segments will always be a lie if promised on a large scale because it’s just not feasible for a team to create.

  19. byter says:

    As some have mentioned a bit before, Avina in front of the Krogun statue does also talk about the Rachni wars. (So for me I did know the context going into this scene)

    The Rachni do pop up else where in ME1 (most notably as enemies) on minor, visit-able planets*, regardless of your choice.

    I felt a bit miffed with this decision in the first game, because it felt like it had little impact on these encounters. Either way there were Rachni in the galaxy and they were hostile… I might have been mistaken on this but it felt like this decision had not really changed the big picture of the Rachni in the galaxy…

    *Possible source, last paragraph in the segment about ME1… where it talks about Cerberus shipping Rachni around (to minor planets) and such.

    1. guy says:

      Well, all the Rachni you encounter on other planets would have been ones born before you showed up at Peak 15, so it’s not surprising killing the Queen wouldn’t change anything.

  20. Lame Duck says:

    I guess this also the origin of the question “In a universe with space armadas, how pivotal a role can infantry possibly play in interstellar warfare, no matter how biologically suited they are to the task?”, which became significantly more pronounced and confusing in Mass Effect 3.

    1. guy says:

      I actually figured that the Krogan also helped bulk out the crews of the fleets; Mass Effect AIs are notoriously unreliable and VIs are rather limited. Plus the Rachni can survive in extremely hostile environments and love to burrow. It would be extremely difficult to actually exterminate them via orbital bombardment.

      1. INH5 says:

        Also, if the Rachni occupy a populated colony world, even if the Council species regain orbital superiority they would face a choice of either 1) evacuating the colony and abandoning the world to the Rachni, 2) evacuating the colony and trying to wipe out the Rachni through orbital bombardment, possibly damaging the viability of a garden world in the process, or 3) landing troops to fight the Rachni directly. Krogan would greatly help with option 3.

        If the Rachni manage to infest an old and large enough colony or even a homeworld, evacuating the planet may not be feasible, leaving option 3 as the only possible recourse to prevent the planet’s population from being wiped out.

        1. Lame Duck says:

          I can certainly understand how the Krogan would be useful in retaking lost planets, but I was under the impression that the Rachni were completely out of control and rampaging across the galaxy prior to the Krogan getting involved and I just don’t see how you contain their spread in any way other than controlling the Mass Effect relays, which seems like a job for spaceships, not Krogan.

          1. INH5 says:

            IIRC, the Codex talks about the Krogan going down to Rachni worlds, entering their underground lairs, and killing the Rachni hive queens. I guess the implication is supposed to be that the queens’ command of their children extends into space, so killing the queens crippled not just their ground forces but also their fleets.

            Which, incidentally, is totally not how social insects work in real life, but this is a common enough sci-fi trope that I’m only mildly annoyed by it when it shows up.

      2. Lame Duck says:

        Surely anyone in the galaxy would be better at operating spaceships than a members of a species that had only very recently been introduced to even the concept of space travel. Unless they just need people manning the oars or something.

        1. guy says:

          Well, pre-genophage, the thing with Krogan was that there were seriously a lot of them. They birth in clutches of a thousand, and their childhood mortality rates had suddenly fallen from 99.9% to near-zero. They could provide the Council with sheer numbers, even starting from a single homeworld’s population.

          I would expect that as the war progressed, most of the officers were Turian, most of the enlisted were Krogan, and most everyone else was working in shipyards.

          1. Raygereio says:

            They birth in clutches of a thousand

            It still bugs me that Bioware completely ignored the problem with the Krogans’ natural birthrate for ME3 and treated curing the genophage as a “good” thing.

            No wonder the ME game has to be set in another galaxy. The Milky Way will have been completely overrun by Krogan shortly after the Reaper war.

            1. INH5 says:

              It depends on the ending. Refuse obviously makes the issue moot. In Control, Reaper-God!Shepard could presumably step in if the krogan got out of hand. Low-EMS Destroy blasts the whole galaxy back to the stone age, so the krogan would only be a problem for the planets that already have a breeding population of krogan on them (which wouldn’t include Earth because I highly doubt any Krogan females went to the Battle of Sol). In high-EMS Destroy, repairing the relays would presumably take a while and require extensive cooperation and negotiation among the various races of the Milky Way galaxy (if you have a middling EMS score Hackett’s narration says “it could take years to restore the relays”), so who knows how that would turn out. I’m not even going to touch Synthesis.

              But yeah, even a simple hand wave about family planning programs would have been appreciated. Besides, I’ve found the numbers about krogan fertility to be kind of ridiculous even when they were only a Codex entry in ME1 and ME2. Even rabbits only have litters of about 6-12 bunnies. It really seems like something the writers just threw in because it sounded impressive without stopping to think about the implications of it.

              1. guy says:

                Actually, while that birthrate is outlandishly large for mammals, it’s much more common in non-mammals. Frogs lay thousands of eggs at once. Those high birthrates are accompanied by high early mortality rates, with the net result that the total population growth is fairly similar.

                1. jd says:

                  “Those high birthrates are accompanied by high early mortality rates, with the net result that the total population growth is fairly similar.”

                  Yeah, R-type vs K-type reproduction. Lots of offspring per litter or whatever with little care needed with most of them dying off or small/single birthing with parents needing to give more care, but without high mortality rates.

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              That is if the mass relay explosions didnt completely destroy it first.Or if the krogans didnt all die on their irradiated world and orbiting the slagged earth.

          2. Drew C says:

            Actually the Turians weren’t around yet. They were discovered after Krogan started rebelling.

    2. Mike S. says:

      Aside from the Reapers, most space wars seem to be territorial. While space armadas guarding both ends of a mass relay works for controlling trade routes, if you actually want to use planets for resources or living room you have to eventually be able to land there.

      Heavy space bombardment of the surface can trivially deny the planet to the enemy, but at the cost of the biosphere being useful to you either. Which in a milieu in which garden worlds are limited, valuable resources isn’t always going to fit your war aims.

      Especially since it’s pretty clear that dropping rocks on garden worlds is the equivalent of going nuclear: a huge red line that most powers involved in wars strive not to cross, for which retaliation in kind is probably the presumptive response. Not that it doesn’t happen (IIRC, the krogan did exactly that in the Krogan Rebellions), but it’s a big deal, and for non-total wars you’re still generally going to need to send in infantry to secure territory.

      (The AI thing presumably limits the role of drones in warfare, though of course all three games had autonomous combat mechs.)

    3. bloodsquirrel says:

      The same way infantry are important in modern warfare despite the existence of nukes. Real wars have objectives, political concerns, cultural taboos, etc. Even in WWII, with all of its atrocities against civilians, nobody straight-up killed every member of the enemy’s population they came across. Note that the council races weren’t even willing to completely genocide the Krogan.

      The idea that every conflict would immediately devolve into mass extermination is a very mentality that is divorced from reality.

      1. guy says:

        The Rachni Wars were genocidal extermination campaigns, but on the other hand it’s surprisingly hard to destroy buried fortifications with bombardment from above and the Rachni seem fairly resistant to having the ecosystem destroyed around them.

      2. Lame Duck says:

        Except I’m not talking about every conflict, I’m talking about the ones in which the Krogan were apparently super important in determining the outcome. Firstly we have the Rachni Wars, which did devolve into mass extermination and then the Reaper invasion in Mass Effect 3 in which mass extermination was the explicit goal.

        1. Mike S. says:

          The Council doesn’t want to destroy any garden worlds if it can help it, and presumably the rachni were making landings on worlds with Council species. I’m guessing they wanted a way to get the worlds back intact.

          With the Reapers it’s tougher, but they for some reason go heavily in for zombie foot soldiers even though dropping enough asteroids on a planet to make multicellular life impossible should be within their capabilities. We can infer that their whole cycle thing means that they want to destroy the starfaring species, but not the entire biosphere that supports them. Still, killing husks doesn’t do any good if you can’t kill the Reapers themselves, and that seems to require fleet actions at the optimistic exchange ratio of one fleet per reaper. (Not counting the smaller Reapers created solely to give Shepard something to fire Thanix missiles at.)

          The krogan are a necessary part of a battle plan, but they never really came up with the other part beyond “hope this ancient superweapon turns out to do exactly what we need. Even though it’s defined by having gone through countless cycles of development and never actually working.”

          1. INH5 says:

            Regarding the Reapers and hitting planets with rocks: there is the whole harvesting thing, which however it works clearly requires the subjects to be taken alive. That obviously disincentivizes wiping out planetary populations from orbit. Still, the tactics shown in ME3 seem rather inefficient at achieving that goal. You would think they would be more methodical like the Collectors were when they abducted colonies. In particular, the fact that seeker swarms are never seen or even talked about apart from one Codex entry that briefly mentions “collector swarms” being used on Palaven is weird.

            Also, an amusing note on the Crucible: I recently rewatched some of the early bits of ME3 on Youtube, and Liara’s justification for putting resources into it is “the Protheans wouldn’t have tried to build it unless they thought it could stop the Reapers.” One wonders if that was the justification used by the Protheans too, and if the whole thing is turtles all the way down.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              The beginning fight for earth is really bad in showing the reapers combat,especially when there are unarmed shuttles trying to leave,and instead of siphoning them in mid air,the reaper just blasts them for no reason.

  21. Destrustor says:

    “Actually, maybe ALL the chairs in the galaxy are terrible”
    I don’t know; TIM’s chair seemed pretty comfy.

    Now that I think about it, maybe chairs in public places have to be made generally uncomfortable like that, as an inevitable downside of being expected to fit most races. “Jack of all trades, master of none” applied to furniture. Tim’s chair was a private thing, so it was better suited to his specific backside.

    1. MrGuy says:

      You’re telling me we live in a world where we can nano-manufacture correct calibre ammo for any gun in the universe fast enough to support fully-auto fire rates, but we can’t figure out how to make chairs that can adjust to fit different races’ anotomical quirks?

      1. Mike S. says:

        Machining cylinders (or in ME, metal sand grains in mass effect fields) seems like a simpler proposition than coming up with something that can reconfigure in 3D for a volus, a salarian, and an elcor. (Though given the mighty power of omnigel…)

        1. Syal says:

          Those chairs are clearly the future-world equivalent of “No Loitering” signs. They’re not supposed to be comfortable.

  22. SlothfulCobra says:

    I never found the Rachni that interesting. Conceptually, they’re just the Buggers from Ender’s Game but with Reaper influence instead of not acknowledging individual beings. Anatomically, they make no sense. Their arms bend backwards just to turn into tentacles and loop around forwards. But I really really like the Krogan, and the Rachni are the whole reason they’re around. If the Salarians hadn’t been desperate for any help they could get, the Krogan might’ve been quarantined, like the Yahg, or end up being just some obscure species that doesn’t matter, like the Raloi.

    The Krogan then spread across the galaxy like an infection, and caused all sorts of other problems, but they were damn good at what the Salarians uplifted them for. By the time humans pop onto the scene, the Krogan have been unseated by the Turians as top-dog in Citadel space, and all the Krogan have going for them is a reputation for mercenaries and troublemakers. Depending on who you talk to, the Krogan are even dying out, and defeating the Rachni and losing to the Turians will be their only legacy.

    Wrex gets really mad at you for letting the Rachni go. In ME1 he’s mostly given up on the Krogan, but the Rachni were their one big accomplishment, and he doesn’t want to see it undone.

  23. Renato says:

    Hey Shamus, I’m loving the discussion on the first Mass Effect game, as you bring up a lot of interesting things, even if you nitpick a bit. I would love to see some discussion like this on the lore of the Dragon Age series, because I absolutely love Dragon Age: Origins and, while DA2 and Inquisition have been overall weaker, the world they created in Origins is still one of the best when it comes to medieval fantasy (IMO, of course).

  24. SlothfulCobra says:

    I’ve been replaying through this game along with Shamus’s columns, and I liked Han Olar in the research station. The little shellshocked guy is still reeling from the Rachni attack, and full of survivor guilt, but he still does his best to help you, when everybody else lets their nondisclosure agreements hold them back.

    The Volus really get the short end of the stick in this series. According to the wiki, there aren’t even any new Volus characters in ME3. They’re just a joke race of small, fat, unlikeable men. At least the Hanar were more than a punchline.

    1. Henson says:

      This really bothered me about ME2. In ME1, the Volus were varied: the cantankerous ambassador, the shell-shocked yet disquietly calm Han Olar, the collected financial and Shadow Broker dealer Barla Von, the welcoming merchant with information about the colonies, the nervous yet cowardly partner who has been scanning the Keepers.

      In ME2, the Volus are either contemptible or the butt of jokes. The close-minded accuser of the Quarian on the Citadel. The inept go-between for Fade. The one who demands the highest quality gear on Illium yet obviously has no way to pay for it and is humorously out of his league. The trader who is gleefully taking financial gains from the suffering of others. The ‘Biotic God’. They became a footnote in galactic affairs.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        All of the “tertiary” species get this treatment to some degree or another. The hanar only seem to exist in ME3 so they can bring back the ‘big stupid jellyfish’ line. The elcor are treated somewhat better, but their mannerisms still get played up for humor more often than not.

  25. Gruhunchously says:

    Another little detail; if you travel to specific spots on a handful of uncharted worlds and stand around listening for a bit, you can hear the rachni “singing” in the distance. Though I’m pretty sure you can still hear it if you kill the queen, or haven’t met her yet. Still a nice touch- really pretty and really creepy at the same time.

  26. Dreadjaws says:

    Huh. Right up until you mentioned it I had never noticed that the game’s main story never actually talks about the Rachni and it’s only something you pick up reading side notes.

    It’s really strange for the game to give a major decision based on someting you might not be aware of, depending on your play style. It’s a bit like the Harry Potter films having bits that you couldn’t possibly understand unless you read the books, only the material is right there in the game, there’s no excuse not to put it in front of the player at some point.

    I mean, it was as simple a task as having Shepard ask “What the hell are those things?” and someone helpfully explaining what they are and just what their presence means before you reach the queen.

    1. Taellosse says:

      My memory may be faulty (personally, I read every Codex entry as soon as it unlocked), but it seems to me that how much you know about the Rachni at the conclusion of the Noveria quest line is dictated at least in part by when you play it, and who you talk to, though you can get it all at once in the Codex, certainly. You can learn most of what’s important just from the NPCs you can talk to in Noveria itself, and you can get the rest from Wrex and a couple other characters here and there. Wrex won’t expound on the Rachni early on, though – you’ve got to develop a relationship with him by talking to him after plot missions and such. If you play as a gung-ho jarhead, talking to as few people as possible, and never reading the codex, yeah, you’re not going to have any clue who the Rachni are even once you reach the Queen. But if that’s the case, I gotta ask, why are you playing an RPG?

  27. A recent interview with GOG, pretty interesting and some huge games are hinted at (GOG spent 4 years to get the rights/things sorted out for it/them). Also some of the stuff they do to the games are mentioned.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Rollback feature sounds great.Even though you can still do that by just disabling auto updates and doing things manually,its a great time saver.

  28. SharpeRifle says:

    Yaknow….all this talk about Mass Effect is making me want to go play it now….oh dear lord…..I’m part of The Problem!!!


  29. Zaxares says:

    On the Rachni Wars: Actually, they Rachni didn’t reverse engineer the Salarian ships. They were already a space-faring race before they even made contact with other alien lifeforms. Their ships are apparently weirdly organic in design, probably similar to how the Collector Ship looked like.

    The Salarians apparently also didn’t intend to use the Genophage on the Krogan. They believed that merely the threat of it would be sufficient to get the Krogan to call off hostilities. The Turians, however, disagreed and unilaterally went ahead with using it.

    I agree that the logical course of action would have been for Shepard to leave the Queen in its cage and wait until they could properly discuss among the Council about what should be done with her. Unless Shepard was worried that, by the time Council teams could arrive here, another unscrupulous corporation could have squirreled the Queen away to who knows where, which is indeed a feasible outcome.

    Random Note: I didn’t realise it at the time, but WHY would a volus say the words “God, am I sane”??

    1. MrGuy says:

      So, this reminds me of a major premise flaw in kind of the whole series.

      Apparently, we live in a world where genetic science is sufficiently advanced to allow biological warefare targeting individual races with high effectiveness.

      Why exactly are we still fighting our wars with guns?

      A genophage is likely considerably harder than to manufacture than a simple plague – something that’s highly-but-by-design-not-perfectly effective in achieving sterility is almost certainly more fiddly than trying to achieve complete sterility. Or, y’know, death.

      If you want to wipe out the Rachni (or the Krogan, or “all the sentient races” of a certain level of advancedment), wouldn’t it be a lot easier to use a virus than an army of husks?

      1. Mike S. says:

        We don’t really know how hard the genophage was to develop. The Krogan Rebellions reportedly lasted decades. (And knowing the salarians, they might have started developing it even during the Rachni Wars.) It required active fine tuning, and it apparently helped that there was a massive salarian-installed atmosphere plant on Tuchanka.

        By comparison, odds are they had less access to rachni to experiment with, and the rachni plausibly could have had better medical tech (pace Wrex, we have seen a couple of krogan scientists, but it’s still a sideline for them, while rachni queens are born with the accumulated knowledge of their entire species) and more disciplined responses to pandemics. Maybe they tried and failed, maybe the Citadel deployed the krogan before things got that desperate.

        I don’t think bioweapons are a likely tool against the Reapers. Their technoorganic tech is vastly beyond the level of the Citadel species. They start with corpses, which is pretty much where most conventional medical tech ends. It’s unclear if they’re susceptible to infection, if their systems and “biology” are close enough to organics for known bugs to be able to disrupt them. If you can somehow infect husks, isolated populations can be sterilized with extreme prejudice and new corpses found/made on planets light years away. Not that I’d be opposed to funding the attempt– it’s arguably no more desperate than “this weapon that failed dozens of times has to succeed now!” But I’d say it’s a real longshot.

        The wars in between the two mostly aren’t existential struggles, so I’d say they don’t use bioweapons for the same reason we mostly don’t: fear of retaliation in kind, fear of it getting out of control and turning back on us, distrust in its overall effectiveness (the genophage requires maintenance; a partially effective death plague may just get you some really implacable immune enemies), a sense that it’s crossing a moral Rubicon beyond simply going to war, etc.

      2. guy says:

        Considering that environmentally sealed armor is readily avaliable, I’m thinking bioweapons may not be particularly tactically effective. And of course, the Salarians could make the genophage and they could also cure it.

    2. Mike S. says:

      The Mass Effect wiki says the rachni reverse-engineered the salarians’ FTL drive, but it doesn’t cite a reference. (Say what one will about Wikipedia’s “citation needed” obsession, at least you can generally track down where an idea came from.)

      The codex as far as I can tell just says the salarian explorers opened a relay that led to their encountering the rachni. I’d certainly always assumed they were already starfaring at that point.

  30. Darren says:

    It’s interesting to see Bioware wrestle with matters of choice and consequence in their franchises.

    Dragon Age is a great case study, as it is neither as popular or as stable in design from game to game (presumably as a result of not being as popular) as Mass Effect.

    Dragon Age: Origins is filled with choices that are presented as significant, but by the time Inquisition rolls around the game sidesteps most of these. The big one, the god-baby that seemed so sinister when Morrigan proposed it in Origins, is rendered far less important both by the plot and by more explicitly delineating Morrigan’s motivations (she’s interested in preserving ancient, rare power, not in manipulating it; that her kid has a god’s soul is what matters, not whether the kid has a god’s power). Here the series showcases a typical video game approach, albeit in a slightly less overt way than is sometimes the case. There isn’t technically a retcon, but there’s a sense nonetheless that the first game was suggesting something that the franchise wasn’t willing to offer.

    Dragon Age II infamously has far fewer variables for the plot, but I’d argue it has far more permutations in terms of character interaction. Hawke’s personality is sculpted over time in a manner that’s similar to yet very different from Shepard in Mass Effect; the mechanism is similar, but the outcome is strictly related to Hawke’s tone and mannerisms. The many options related to the party don’t change the actual plot of the story, but the tone of the story can change pretty considerably based on how you’ve developed those relationships. As a male mage sympathizer who romanced Fenris, my DA2 experience felt very different from a female mage opposer/controller who romanced Sebastien, even if the broad outlines of the plot barely shifted.

    For my money, I’d rather have a game that changes the feel of a story than a game that attempts to change the substance of a story, just because the issues you raise about the Rachni are so hard to avoid. But I get the appeal and would be curious if anyone knows of a game or series that really pulls off substantive narrative change.

    1. Syal says:

      How substantive is substantive? Does Tactics Ogre count?

      1. Darren says:

        Oh, it definitely counts! Every time this topic comes up I want to shout, “Tactics Ogre did this better than anyone else 20 years ago!”

  31. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Two thoughts I’m going to put here because I don’t know if there will be a more appropriate place for them

    1) I’ve been watching an LP of Mass Effect 1 and am really impressed with Wrex. I like that they made a point to avoid the obvious aggressive brute cliche with our very first introduction to a Krogan. I especially find it interesting that he melancholy about the plight of his people more than he is straight up pissed. You’d expect a Klignon to just be non stop yelling and raging about it. (especially in a lot of their TNG era treatment.)

    2) I kind of feel like the Asari maiden stage predicts our future. The twenties have already become an extension of childhood for many of us and if we were allowed, I have no doubt the thirties and forties would be as well (it certainly would be for me).

    1. SlothfulCobra says:

      The thing about Wrex is that he’s good at fighting, but he wanted more than that for the Krogan. He went against the traditional wisdom and got burned. In ME1, he’s just drifting around, but if he survives, his hope in his rekindled and he gives it another try. Grunt in ME2 is sort of the same story in reverse.

      The conversation about Jarrod is one of my favorite conversations in the entire series.

  32. Vermander says:

    Personally I find the “choices don’t matter” thing in Telltale games way more annoying than anything in Bioware, but I feel like people are more willing to give Telltale a pass for some reason.

    I gave up on the Walking Dead around the third episode once I realized that no matter what decisions I made, the same people would end up dead and my character would end up in the same crappy situations. It felt like I had a choice between struggling in vain against forces beyond my control or grimly accepting my fate, but either way the outcome would be the same.

    At least in Mass Effect it was actually possible to keep Wrex and Ashley/Kaiden alive.

    1. MrGuy says:

      Personally, I give Telltale a pass on a number of these choices because of the type of game it is, the themes it’s really working with, and the tone of the world.

      Mass Effect is set against the background of a galaxy-spanning war, where you are one of the most important people in that galaxy. Your choices are meant to affect the very structure of the galaxy.

      The Walking Dead is personal and introspective. You’re not the most important person in the world – you’re meant to survive. The impact your choices have are local to your group, yourself, and your relationship with Clem. Your choices should change how you view yourself as Lee, as much or more than they affect the other characters in the game.

      Given the stakes, Mass Effect failing to have a choice of your have galactic-level reprecussions feels like a cheat. For example, at the end of ME1, you can wipe out the entire council that runs the galaxy.

      The choice is presented as a strategic one, not a personal one. You don’t agonize over the “OMG, I’ve KILLED people!” if you get rid of the council. There’s not a moral dilemma presented. Just a pragmatic one. It’s your opportunity to shape the world in the way most advantageous to yourself.

      This feels like it should have massive in-world implications. It should start wars. The amount of intrigue on the citadel kicked off by this uncertainty should be massive, because that’s how they set the choice up.

      But what you get is “Eh. Here’s the new council of people whose names you’ll forget, replacing the old council of people who’s name you forgot earlier. New!” Your choice doesn’t DO anything – the world’s no different, but it feels like it should be. The point of offering you this choice was its galaxy-changing implications, and they don’t appear.

      I contrast this to some of the choices in The Walking Dead where you’re offered a choice that lacks a gameplay payoff.

      There’s a choice in (I think) Episode 1 of Season 1 of the Walking Dead, where you encounter a woman in the motel who’s been bitten by a zombie. She begs you to shoot her. You can shoot her, or have Glen shoot her, or leave her there. But if you leave her, she dies in an accident anyways. No matter what happens, she dies. And Glen leaves shortly thereafter, so the choice of “who shoots her” doesn’t have a long-term impact on your relationships with anyone. And the fact that they have her die anyways even if you don’t choose to kill her robs your choice of impact. The choice has no gameplay impact, isn’t mentioned again, and never impacts the plot.

      But in The Walking Dead, the choices are about Lee. He’s killed someone once because he was very angry. Would he kill someone when he’s calm? Would he do it out of mercy? Would he ask someone else to shoulder that burden, or take it himself? Is he pragmatic enough to know she’s dead already and help her by killing her? Or still so idealistic that he somehow thinks she might survive? That’s the real choice, and the consequences of it are not zero in terms of establishing the world and its characters, even if it doesn’t change gameplay. How you choose here doesn’t matter, but it sets your personal precedent for how you Lee approaches the (frequently repeated) theme of mercy killings.

      The main point of the segment was that your choice COULDN’T matter. She was bitten. She was doomed. There was nothing you could do about it.

      1. Merlin says:

        And on top of that, the context & tone of the story often changes based on your choices even as the narratives converge.

        Carley & Doug is a perfect example. You save one in S1E1, and whichever one lives at that point, dies in S1E3. But between those branches, you have different relationships with them, and they contribute to the story in different way. To say that the choice doesn’t matter just because they die later is like… nihilism-lite.

        And spinning out S1E3, what you do with Lilly is a big context shaper. Yeah, she and the RV exit the story at pretty much the same time either way. But there’s a big emotional difference for the player & party whether they fix the train up at their own pace and start to rebound from the other terrible goings-on, or whether they get burned by their patience & forgiveness and have to deal with yet another piece of crap on an already-piece-of-crap day.

        That’s the funny thing about choices like this in games – they seem like the sort of thing done to create replayability, but they’re actually most effective at making your first playthrough engaging because you don’t necessarily know where all the seams are. Chrono Trigger is a great example. You open the game with an exciting adventure, then after an hour or two get thrown into a trial that possibly details what an opportunistic jerk you were. It makes good on one threat that your behavior is being monitored, then promptly stops doing that because you’re likely policing yourself at that point.

        Alpha Protocol also pulls a couple variations on this. My personal favorite is in working with an arms dealer, you get a different perk whether you respond to him suavely, professionally, or aggressively. Two of the perks say “Because you dealt with him effectively, you get 5% off his prices,” and the other says “Because you dealt with him effectively, you get 10% off his prices.” So the first time you play through, you get a little heck-yeah moment of feeling smart regardless of which choice you actually make, but replaying (or reading an FAQ in advance because you are a lame dork) loses the emotional beat in favor of grumpy practicality.

      2. Daimbert says:

        But what you get is “Eh. Here's the new council of people whose names you'll forget, replacing the old council of people who's name you forgot earlier. New!” Your choice doesn't DO anything ““ the world's no different, but it feels like it should be. The point of offering you this choice was its galaxy-changing implications, and they don't appear.

        While it probably should have had more implications than it did — although they were obviously going to replace the Council members — even at the time I didn’t get the impression that the point was the galaxy-changing implications, just that it was a choice that really did summarize, at that point, who YOU were. You were given the choice to saving the Council as is technically your duty, or taking advantage of that to go after the Reaper. And from that simple choice, a number of motivations spring:

        1) Let the Council die because you’re a Human Supremacist and you aren’t going to sacrifice the lives of good humans to save those aliens.

        2) Let the Council die because you’re vengeful and it would serve those doubters right to be killed by the person/thing they stopped you from going after because they didn’t believe you.

        3) Let the Council die because you think it might give humans more power in the galaxy. There are hints that it does but this doesn’t really happen, but that you’re wrong about that isn’t a bad thing.

        4) Let the Council die because you’re pragmatic, and see stopping Sovereign as more important than that, and so you sacrifice them out of necessity.

        5) Save the Council because it’s your duty.

        6) Save the Council because you think that letting them die will create too much chaos at this point.

        7) Save the Council because you think that letting them die would be crossing the line.

        And all sorts of other reasons. It was THESE considerations that made me love that choice, not the idea that it would be galaxy changing (other than maybe a thought that humans would then run things, which didn’t happen … and it was okay that that didn’t happen).

  33. Xedo says:

    “Players are hungry for even a little authorship over the world.”

    Does player choice always have to be about plot and content? I felt like the point of choice in Walking Dead was to provide a sort of morality play. Lee’s decisions aren’t about changing the plot, but establishing the kind of person he is. Find a car with goods abandoned in the forest, and Lee can decide whether to participate in the looting or not. The car is still looted, but you can establish whether or not Lee has principles, is idealistic, or becomes ruthless when threatened. This is why the big confrontation in the final episode has Lee being called out on any bad behavior he may have engaged in throughout the game.

    It’s not a coincidence that the game opens with the policeman describing a murderer caught red-handed, in denial over his crime, and says “It goes to show, people will up and go mad when they believe their life is over.” That’s the challenge the game offers a new player, to see if they go mad and lawless in a mad and lawless setting.

    Is it possible to make narrative games where the choices offered exist to define authorship over the character, rather than the plot? Where the plot might involve a criminal being either executed or pardoned, and what the choice determines is whether your character believes in justice vs mercy, rather than determining the fate of the criminal? And is it possible to make that game feel fair to the player by expressing the idea that you won’t have power over others or the world, but you WILL have power over your character’s self, values, and priorities?

    1. Daimbert says:

      To be honest, some of my favourite games and what I’M hungering for is that: stop telling me how I FEEL about what’s happening. As Gimli said, no matter how much you railroad players you can’t tell them what to feel … except in video games, where you can in fact give the reactions in a cutscene. For example, in ME3 where Shepard was devastated at the events on Thessia, where my character would have been annoyed but whose first thought would have been — given her own character and her history in the game — “Okay, fine, let’s go kick the Illusive Man’s ass and get that back, and THEN we’ll stop the Reapers”. Liara’s reaction was fine, and Shepard helping her with that was fine, but SHEPARD being that depressed didn’t make sense for my character.

      One of my best moments in gaming was in KotOR, when Malak confronts you, and asks if the deception ticked you off. My original character was based on Corran Horn, and it did. But he’d be DAMNED if he was going to let Malak see that, and so lied that he didn’t … without selecting a “[Lie] Of course not!” option. Then later he reacted badly. I could do that without having the game decide what that option meant (too much) which was great.

      The Persona series, at least 3 and 4, does this reasonably well, as what you have control over are the friends you make and links you forge and your reactions to comments, but not much else. Persona 4 gets marked down a little on this because it forces you to care for Nanako … but you almost certainly will anyway so it isn’t egregious. What I’d like from those games is the ability to play as a deadpan snarker or a coward or a HERO!!!! even though you still end up doing the same things regardless.

      1. Ite says:

        “Does player choice always have to be about plot and content?”

        “To be honest, some of my favourite games and what I'M hungering for is that: stop telling me how I FEEL about what's happening.”

        Pretty much that. One thing that really hit home with me in ME1 is the dialogue trees done right. As in, they’re mostly not dialogue trees, but rather roleplaying options.

        In this sense I feel that BioWare mostly shot themselves in the leg by talking about “choices and consequences”. BioWare mostly isn’t about consequences, they make roleplaying game where you can actually roleplay a character.

        This is different from, say, Witcher 2, where you always play the same character but what you do has massively different outcomes and a good chunk of the quests are completely different depending on your path choice in the first part of the game.

        I think those two ways of doing paths in CRPG:s are somewhat mutually exclusive.

  34. natureguy85 says:

    I knew about the Rachni war. The problem is that the game screen tells you they are Rachni by giving them health bars before the story ever gets there.

  35. GeorgeDM says:

    “The most obvious course of action would be to leave the Rachni queen in her cage for the moment. You could delay the choice until after you arrange a conference call with (say) the council. Maybe she should be handed over to the Salarian STG? Maybe you should give the complex time to evacuate before you you let this particular genie out of her bottle? Maybe the Citadel could send some other force to take custody of the queen and leave the decision to them?”

    Fair point, but I’d argue this is really just going to expand player choice for no reason because the outcome if Shepard gives the Rachni Queen to the council is really quite obvious in later dialogue. She will be killed. As you mentioned a little earlier, the war wasn’t too long ago for the council races (with the exception of the Salarians maybe, I’m not sure). They aren’t likely to do anything with the queen except dunk her in acid and feel a little smug afterwards. Sure, it would open up more roleplaying in the game by allowing Shepard to come to the conclusion he’s unfit to decide the fate of this bug and leave it to his superiors. But I feel that the player would feel cheated if their choice ended up essentially being the same as just killing her. I know I certainly would have felt a little like that.

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