Mass Effect Retrospective 12: A Chat With Vigil

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 3, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 215 comments

Like I said last time, the conversation with Vigil is my favorite part of the game. That incredible music plays, you’ve got your two favorite companions with you, and Vigil lays it all out. He explains just how long the odds are, just how powerful the enemy is, but he also explains the little glimmer of hope you have.

Fridge Logic

Shepard has trained his team to stand in 'triangle formation' during long conversations.
Shepard has trained his team to stand in 'triangle formation' during long conversations.

As much as I love this section, you knew we weren’t getting through it without a little nitpicking, didn’t you? Let’s paraphrase / summarize this conversation:

So Vigil, what are the beacons and why do they show us these psychedelic visions of machine murder?

Those are our telephone system. The vision wasn’t clear because you’re not Prothean. But good on you, Shepard. You managed to get the gist of it.

What’s the deal with the Reapers? Why do they kill us meatbags every 50k years?

We don’t know either.

Why haven’t the Reapers invaded yet?

We sabotaged their ambush machine. It won’t stop them, but it has given you this fighting chance to get ready for them. I sure hope you don’t spend the entire next game dicking around with a secondary threat instead of working on this problem, because that would make you a monumental idiot. Good luck!

What’s the deal with Sovereign?

Sovereign probably stayed behind to keep an eye on the galaxy and wait until there was a society advanced enough to fully appreciate just how much it sucks to experience genocide on a galactic scale. But since we sabotaged the Keepers, when he rang the dinner bell the Keepers didn’t open the door to dark space. So all his Reaper buddies are probably still out there, napping.

What's the deal with your display, Vigil? Do you need new graphics drivers or something?
What's the deal with your display, Vigil? Do you need new graphics drivers or something?

What’s the deal with Saren?

The Reapers indoctrinate servants and use them to infiltrate the cultures they’re killing. Did I mention they’re assholes? They are patient and cautious. Rather than just brazenly assaulting the Citadel all by himself, Sovereign went around and indoctrinated some followers. Saren probably isn’t the only one, he’s just the most visible and active. Not trying to make you paranoid or anything, but, you know… heads up.

Okay so Saren was looking for the conduit. And he attacked Eden Prime to find it. But the purpose of the conduit is to give him access to the Citadel, so he could get to the Council chambers, since that’s where the controls for the station are. But, like… he was a Spectre. Why would he attack Eden Prime to gain access to a magic door that will let him enter a room that, presumably, he was already allowed in?

I don’t understand the question?

Why didn’t Saren just walk into the Council chambers and push the button? Why didn’t Saren just undo whatever the Protheans did to the Keepers, so Sovereign could go back to Plan A?

Those are great questions, Shepard. Good thing you never ask them in the game!

I'm really glad we're not the ones who have to clean out all these pods.
I'm really glad we're not the ones who have to clean out all these pods.

Conjecture on my part:

Saren could indeed walk up to that control panel, but he’d be doing it right in front of the Council, which is roughly the equivalent to walking into the office of the American President and thumbing through his big book of nuclear launch codes. It’s a safe bet that security would provide a spirited response. Saren is a badass, but presumably he’s not a match for all of C-Sec. So while he can walk into the chambers alone, what he needs is to walk in there with an army of Geth. And the only way to get that many Geth into the Citadel without starting a war is to use the conduit. Sovereign only gets one chance to poke this particular hornet’s nest, so he probably doesn’t want to take any chances. Beaming an army of Geth into the station is a lot like usual plan of popping Reapers in around the station. It’s got that sudden surprise invasion vibe that seems to appeal to Reaper sensibilities.

Saren’s plan does seem to have a few cracks in it like this. The difference between Saren and antagonists of the future is that Saren’s plans seem mysterious at first, and then only seem questionable once you know the full story and have time to let the fridge logic to settle in. This is different from adversaries in the subsequent game, who seem to do confusing or stupid things, which are then sort of half-justified if you read enough codex entries and selectively believe certain sub-section of the things the Illusive Man says. It’s the old gradient of plot holes at work again. No story is perfect, but the job of the storyteller is to avoid those plot holes that immediately launch you out of the story and require you to begin authoring your own headcanon to get back in.

The Slog

Sovereign appears to be, uh... 'interfacing' with the tower. This is the strangest nature special I've ever seen.
Sovereign appears to be, uh... 'interfacing' with the tower. This is the strangest nature special I've ever seen.

Saying goodbye to Vigil, Shepard chases after Saren and drives the Mako through the conduit to land at the “statue” of the mass relay in the presidium. From there it’s a massive hike up the tower, while Sovereign looms on this new indoor horizon. The arms of the station have closed, hiding the nebula and the stars around the station. The new sky consists of the wards – the cities filled with the people Shepard is fighting to saveToo bad the textures are so painfully low-fi that it looks like a giant blurry circuit board. Alas..

It’s a long hike up the tower, fighting against the same two or three enemies you’ve been fighting for a majority of the game. The designers do what they can to keep it fresh by changing the terrain, but it still feels like BioWare’s standard mook-fest padding. It’s the classic late-game slog for which RPGs have become infamous. KOTOR, KOTOR II, all the Mass Effects, Neverwinter Nights 2, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, Oblivion, Skyrim, and numerous others. Dragon Age: Origins subverted this by having their slog in the middle-ishAlthough if you ask me, I think the whole game was a bit of a slog. Don’t tell Josh I said that., and making the end-game mooks all low-level pushovers. There’s always a misguided attempt to increase the tension by loading us with combat, but for me it ends up sucking the drama out of the story. Changing Star Wars so that the final X-Wing dogfight was an hour longNote to George Lucas: THIS IS NOT A SUGGESTION. would not make the payoff at the end bigger.

Ideally, I think it would be best to design things so that the section from Ilos to the closing credits should all fit in the average game session. In any case, whatever happened to the Fallout 1 idea of using disguises, bullshit, and subterfuge to avoid all that combat? I’m not saying they needed to do that here, I’m just saying I wish somebody was still doing that sort of thing now and again.


At the top of the tower Shepard has a fight with Saren – right in the council chambers where the two of them debated at the start of the game. If you’ve been investing in Paragade, then Shepard can even convince Saren of just how lost he is, so that he can find redemption through suicide. Regardless of which gun kills him – Shepard’s or his own – once he’s down Shepard opens the arms of the station so the fleet can get at Sovereign. We get an epic space battle and we get to see the Normandy spearhead the attack. Sovereign blows up like the Death Star. A chunk of Sovereign comes in the window and seems to crush Shepard’s team.

But no! Music swells, and Shepard emerges, injured but strong, standing atop the carcass of the slain Reaper! He’s backlit, and everyone else is looking up at him.


I'm commander Shepard, and this is my favorite piece of Reaper debris on the Citadel.
I'm commander Shepard, and this is my favorite piece of Reaper debris on the Citadel.

Is it a bit hokey? Yes. But it works. It’s far too early to begin the long autopsy of the Mass Effect 3 ending, but I want to peek ahead for just a moment so we can compare how the two games handled their big “moment of truth” finale, at least in cinematic terms. Let’s compare this staging to the same scene at the end of Mass Effect 3.

Here in Mass Effect 1, the author had already established the locations of the tower and Sovereign. They placed the control panel in the council chambers, which placed the final shootout between Shepard and Saren in the same room. So when the writer wanted Shepard to symbolically stand on top of a dead Reaper, at the seat of galactic power, they didn’t have to contrive a way to move those plot elements together, because the earlier parts of the story – going all the way back to the first hour of the game – had carefully laid the groundwork for this. Instead of feeling forced, it feels inevitable. Of course! It had to end here, like this.

In Mass Effect 3, the Citadel isn’t immediately invaded in the initial wave, even though that’s Standard Reaper procedure. Then when they do finally invade the Citadel, they move it into Earth orbit, which isn’t something we knew it could do and which doesn’t really fit very well with what we already learned about them from Vigil. It looks like Shepard is standing in space without a helmet and without an explanation, and while there’s a huge space battle in the background we’re disconnected from it.

Okay everyone, look up into the light, towards Shepard, while I crank up the John Williams-ish theme. And... scene!
Okay everyone, look up into the light, towards Shepard, while I crank up the John Williams-ish theme. And... scene!

The ME3 writer crudely shoves the plot elements into position and proclaims, There! NOW FEEL STRONG EMOTIONS ABOUT THIS!” If they’re feeling generous they might shove a half-assed justification into the codex to shut up the whiners. It’s very brute-force, and so when Shepard is talking to the Star Child with the ruins of the Earth in the background, it doesn’t feel like a natural culmination of everything that came before, it feels like a clumsy and heavy-handed attempt at being profound in the most banal way possible.

The end of Mass Effect 1 shows that details-first stories can have drama too. They can have iconic imagery, symbolism, foreshadowing, irony, and catharsis. They can have heroic poses and blunt, on-the-nose camera framing. They can have cliché situations and musical cues. They just have to do their homework first. They have to plan ahead. They have to earn it.

We’re not quite done with Mass Effect yet. We’re going to talk about the ending for a couple more entries before we move on to Mass Effect 2.



[1] Too bad the textures are so painfully low-fi that it looks like a giant blurry circuit board. Alas.

[2] Although if you ask me, I think the whole game was a bit of a slog. Don’t tell Josh I said that.

[3] Note to George Lucas: THIS IS NOT A SUGGESTION.

From The Archives:

215 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 12: A Chat With Vigil

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Conjecture on sarens plan on my part:
    He managed to keep his knowledge of his access from sovereing for just long enough to go rogue and alert everyone that he has gone rogue.He knew that he could easily infiltrate the citadel and do whatever,that he will be indoctrinated and do whatever he was ordered to do,so he went for the desperate route and warn the others that he has become dangerous so that someone would stop him.

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      To me that does seem plausible. The game allready establishes that Saren knew how he will end, and was trying to fight it. Also he might have met that other Turian Specter on Eden in an attempt to get his colegue to figure out something is wrong with him.

    2. Retsam says:

      Yeah, I think Shamus mentioned this “universal justification for Saren behavior” a few entries back: anything Saren does that doesn’t make sense in the context of Sovereigns plan can just be explained as Saren resisting the indoctrination.

      Though, arguably, Soverign picked Saren to indoctrinate in the first place because of his position as a well-respected Spectre; so it does seem a bit of a stretch that he had the goal of getting access to the council chambers and picked one of the few individuals in the galaxy with access to the council chambers to indoctrinate… but didn’t realize that the individual that he picked had access to the council chambers.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        Saren seemed level enough that, if he balked at just waltzing into the Council Chambers and flipping the REAPERS NOW switch from “Off” to “On,” it was for a good reason; as Shamus speculates above, it’s only a tiny bit more indictive reasoning from “Saren could have just walked in” to “Just walking in isn’t the problem.”

        And to Saren and Sovereign’s credit, the Reaper’s investment in Saren seemed to be paying off. As Shamus has pointed out, Saren had spent several years doing the proper legwork on various side projects. He seemed the model thrall right up until Shepard blew up him and his entire operation in (what I assume to be) a few months.

    3. Alexander The 1st says:

      My understanding on this part is that Saren and Sovereign had the same problem Shepard and the rest of the gang have – Sovereign knows that the signal failed, but he doesn’t know how, or why. Even as he indoctrinates others, he’s more interested in figuring out why the Keepers aren’t working with him. After all, Sovereign wants to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

      So Saren runs around the galaxy doing quests like getting the Geth on his side and trying to figure this stuff out, while also researching how to fight the indoctrination under the guise of a Krogan Cured Army for Soverign (I guess he noticed he could bluff the Elder Gods? Wasn’t sure how long that could last, but he could.) [Incidentally, the initial parts of this plan probably are what led to Saren hiring Wrex and crew that one time, before that all went haywire.], and ends up on the knowledge of the Eden Prime beacon. Runs off, gets to Eden Prime, discovers Nihlus is there, takes him out so that he can’t intervene, gets the beacon and the message, but like with Shepard, still can’t completely figure it out.

      Thus, that begins the Feros expedition, Virmire beacon research (Perhaps beforehand; hence why he knows about the Conduit beforehand, and that it has *something* to do with the return of the Reapers’ delay), and the attempt to bring in Liara regarding the Protheons. In the middle of this, he discovers he’s on trial and tries to buy time as he’s attempting these clarification of goals physically on Feros via the Prothean cypher, and sends Benezia at Noveria once he discovers that the Conduit is on Ilos, via the Mu Relay that the Rachni had encountered.

      He might have discovered with Sovereign before they actually got to Ilos about what the Conduit itself was, and why the Keepers aren’t working as planned – at which point Sovereign loads Saren up with cybernetics so that he can interface with the Citadel’s security system, but at that point, they have to use the Conduit because at that point he’s now a wanted person, stripped of Spectre status.

      1. Ite says:

        That could actually make for a really cool Mass Effect prequel.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Didnt Lucas already do the hour long fight climax in episode 3?That sword fight goes on for forever.

    1. Zeta Kai says:

      And it was still fairly uninteresting: Obi-Wan & Anakin spar for several minutes, across multiple areas, all without one or the other gaining a clear advantage until the last ten seconds or so. I thought it would be more interesting if the power dynamics were changed throughout the fight. Anakin, with his clear advantage of being a more powerful Force-user, would be winning at the start, easily deflecting Obi-Wan’s attacks & directing the fight where he wants it to go.

      Obi-Wan would then get desperate, as he had in previous battles where he was largely out-matched (Darth Maul, as well as General Grievous). He would be looking about for anything that would even the playing field. He tries to use his surroundings to his advantage, gets a lucky hit in…

      …And cuts of Anakin’s left arm. Hampered by this grave injury, along with the loss of Force power that comes with loosing an arm, Anakin is now brought down to Obi-Wan’s level. The fight continues for some time, with Obi-Wan scarring Anakin’s face, steering him toward the lava, & generally dismantling him mentally & physically.

      Anakin, defiant & furious, fights on, despite his injuries. Obi-Wan begs him to stop, pointing out that to continue this struggle would be suicide. Anakin cannot be reasoned with, however, & Obi-Wan is forced to put his former student down, cutting off his legs & knocking him into the lava. The fires consume Anakin, burning away his humanity at last, leaving only Vader, a heartless machine of the newly-formed Empire.

      That, IMO, would have been a much more interesting conclusion to the prequels. Then again, perhaps the prequels got exactly the end that they deserved: serviceable, but uninspiring.


        This is one of the worst quotes from any movie, ever, especially given the context.

        1. Hitch says:

          I am slightly above you on this gentle slope. There’s no way you can ever overcome this insurmountable advantage.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            “Unfortunately, I forgot to teach you the ancient ‘leap thirty feet vertically while your enemy stands dumbfounded’ technique I used against Darth Maul. Sure would be useful right now if I had.”

            1. The Rocketeer says:

              I’d have thrown my lightsaber at Obi-Wan as a distraction and then Force Yanked him into the lava. Risky, but, I mean, it couldn’t have turned out any worse, I guess.

            2. Slothfulcobra says:

              Well, Anakin tried jumping over Obi-Wan and take the higher ground. Turns out it exposed his legs to being sliced off by a lightsaber.

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                He forgot the “Obi Wan does nothing” part of the technique. Anakin was always sloppy.

        2. Soylent Dave says:

          But don’t you see, he has the higher ground both physically and morally, it’s such a clever and subtle play on words you might not have noticedohkillmenow.

          I think “only Sith deal in absolutes” is pretty bad as well, although that does at least tie into the ‘Jedi talk quite a lot of crap’ theme that runs through all of the films.

          1. Sadly, I now have a meta-view on dialog in Star Wars: “Was that line complete twaddle to sound deep or is this another throw-away line that suddenly becomes the next ‘Rule of Two’ for no apparent reason?”

          2. Mephane says:

            Remember, Jedi are an exclusive order of a self-elected celibate elite, (apparently) infused with Judge-Dredd-like legal powers, they are above the law and above the common folk (who are only just so above droids, the slave-caste of sentient AI). Because they deem their own wisdom far superior, the Jedi generally disregard the opinions of normal people, and therefore, in the mind of Obi-Wan, whether a normal person would “deal in absolutes” is totally irrelevant, not even worthy asking at all.

            Thus, adding the word “only” makes sense inasmuch as he only ever looks at the distinction between the Jedi and the Sith*. Yeah, normal people may also deal in absolutes, but who cares what they do, they don’t matter.

            *He also ignores that the distinction between Jedi and Sith is an absolute in and of itself. For them, you can be either Jedi, absolute good, or Sith, absolute evil. You cannot just decide that some of the rules of Jedi order are stupid, cruel, or unjust, and some of the ideals of the Sith are worth pursuing. No, you must decide, either you are with us (=Jedi) or against us (=Sith). And this is not merely what the Jedi believe, but the story itself presents it as a truth within the Star Wars universe. Count Dooku didn’t just leave the Jedi order because he had different ideas, he left it to become a Sith. When he tells Obi-Wan the truth about the Sith controlling the senate, Obi-Wan does not hesitate to call Dooku a liar, not even asking whether he has any evidence of this at all.

            Just imagine how much richer the story could have been if when Count Dooku tells Obi-Wan in episode 2 that the Sith are pulling the strings in the senate and ask Obi-Wan to join him to fight the Sith – if that wouldn’t have been a lie, but an honest offer, and Dooku were indeed trying to prevent the Sith from turning the republic into their empire, and then Obi-Wan would have agreed to at least have a look at any evidence Dooku may produce, which eventually convinces him. So Obi-Wan and Dooku go rogue, but for a good cause, and eventually start recruiting individuals, Jedi and non-Jedi, for an underground movement that ultimately ends up saving the republic from Palpatine and forcing the Jedi to rethink their doctrines and hubris.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              No, you must decide, either you are with us (=Jedi) or against us (=Sith).

              Ah,so the jedi are internet activists.Lucas was so prophetic in predicting them.

      2. modus0 says:

        I prefer the novelization’s telling of the Kenobi-Grievous fight: Kenobi wasn’t desperate, he was in control the whole time and The Force was guiding him through his actions, enabling him to avoid blaster fire from Droids. And he goes into the battle essentially knowing that Grievous is going to lose.

        And his mastery of Soresu enabled him to counter Grievous’ technique of finding a weakness in his enemy’s attacks. Since Obi-Wan wasn’t attacking, there was no weakness to find, and when he did attack, he immediately resumed blocking.

  3. newplan says:

    Rather than just brazenly assaulting the Citadel all by himself, Sovereign went around and indoctrinated some followers. Saren probably isn't the only one, he's just the most visible and active. Not trying to make you paranoid or anything, but, you know… heads up.

    This is the whole problem / missed opportunity that is ME3.

    When the Reapers make it to the galaxy, they win. That’s it – that’s their win condition. The combined council fleets could barely beat one of them.

    Shepard is a commando / secret agent. ME3 should have been a game where you investigate, uncover and fight indoctrinated agents and sleeper cells and various Reaper controlled threats to prevent the Reapers from ever entering the galaxy.

    You know, like you successfully did in ME1 and even what you did in ME2 in defeating other Reaper agents.

    They would have to come up with something really impressive to justify this as you have succeeded in stopping the Reapers forever(ish – c’mon a hint of looming doom isn’t the worst thing for a fictional galaxy) rather than you having defeated another in a string of stooges. You don’t end a Call of Cthulhu game by killing Cthulhu – that undermines the whole universe you’ve built – you end it by defeating the cult that wants to free him.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You could still have a fight against reapers themselves in me3.For example,make it so that me2 is a search for an indoctrination shield(find mordin,and then bring him to the reaper husk so that he could have his eureka moment),then in me3 you could build a virus that you would have to upload directly into a reaper to either control them against the others,or to infect them all and destroy from within.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        Or keep the Deus Ex Macguffin from the third game (I forgot its name — the one you get all this War Score to build in the first place), but make looking for it the point of the entire second game.

        Make the second game into Shepard opening new Mass Relays in a desperate attempt to find something — anything — from previous cycles that can help battle the Reapers, with leads of the giant space thing being the thread that leads to you digging up some plans in the end. Make Sovereign’s other agents and the Geth your primary foe, trying to shut you down and destroy any leads before you get to it. Heck, even work Cerberus into it if you want — the whole ‘digging for new tech’ was right up their alley in the first game.

        1. krellen says:

          ME3’s MacGuffin was called the Catalyst. I remembered this despite not playing the game because I remember how utterly stupid the name was.

          1. Henson says:


          2. Aldowyn says:

            ‘The thing that makes the Crucible (another dumb name, possibly dumber. What is it making?) work’

            1. Mike S. says:

              Not that they know this going in, but the Green ending is, effectively, alloying synthetics and organics, which metaphorically is the sort of thing that happens in a crucible. In effect, the entire galaxy goes through its fires and is reformed, one way or another.

              But I admit it’s a stretch. If I had to handwave it, I’d go with “Prothean military codename the whole point of which was that it wasn’t descriptive, a la ‘Manhattan Project’ or ‘tank’.”

        2. Primogenitor says:

          I thought you meant a macguffin from Invisible War (Deus Ex 3) for a moment…

      2. Syal says:

        Or maybe you turn the Reapers’ tactics against them; mass the entire galactic fleet and send them through a relay into the Reaper base of operations in a surprise attack, wiping out their ability to coordinate with each other (and punching Harbinger in the face). The game is about finding a way in, unifying the council enough to go through with it, and probably a post-victory battle over who gets what tech.

      3. ehlijen says:

        Or you could have ditched the protagonist with each game, allowing a time fast forward.

        Game one: Shepard discovers the Reaper threat and stops sovereign
        Game two: Much later. A new protagonist uncovers a plot to sabotage the alliance the council is building to stop the reapers when they will inevitably arrive. The continued presence of reaper cults is revealed and the player stops them, driving them remainders underground.
        Game three: Far future. The reapers are coming, the council’s fleets are ready to fight them. But suddenly several important commanders desert with their ships. Turns out there had been a second, smaller reaper in the galaxy the whole time, desperately trying to stay hidden but still help. The player must lead a last minute search to end its influence before the fleet is devoured piecemeal by the reapers.

        It would have avoided shepard as space jesus, could have opened the door to playing other species in the sequels and could have even had Cerberus as either a properly developed enemy (reaper helped secretly build them up) or as the dubious antiheroes behind the scenes who do what must be done because indoctrination has spread too far to rely on official channels.

        It wouldn’t even have needed a reason for the reapers, they could have stayed mysterious robot space chtuhlus.
        And it would have left a long enough timeframe of the universe intact for many spinoff games.

    2. Pseudonym says:

      I like this idea and think it would have been good, but I also think there is no way you could have got away with it in a triple-A game (which ME3 either was or aspired to be). That thing Shamus said RPGs used to do, where you could use disguises, diplomacy and demolitions to beat the final boss without firing a shot? Games don’t do that any more, because so many people feel cheated if there’s even a *chance* to avoid a running gun battle in the final encounter.

      So even though turning ME3 into a race against time to stop the Reapers rising, instead of a race against time to … make a magic space machine that beats the Reapers because science … would make a whole lot more thematic sense (and justify the choice of “immortal space krakens” as villains for a cover-based shooter), it would never sell in a million years.

      Yeah, in a Call of Cthulhu game, you win when you stop the cult from raising him. But in “Call of Cthulhu” the modern triple-A video game, you win when you shoot Cthulhu in the face. With a pistol. In a cutscene.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Games don't do that any more, because so many people feel cheated if there's even a *chance* to avoid a running gun battle in the final encounter.

        Correction:People dont feel that,developers only think that people feel that.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          I think it has some merit, as there can be a lot of catharsis in finally punching out Cthulhu after all the crap you deal with from them. So the idea of making the final goal to be matching/destroying the reapers somehow makes a lot of sense.

          But I think a lot of the problem with the way it ended up was in execution and built up – there WASN’T that moment of punching out the big bad, or feeling like you really saved the galaxy. Sure, the ending didn’t have to be particularly happy (perhaps all you can do is postpone them for another 50k years, or a lot of people die to do it including maybe yourself) but it really needed more of a sense of accomplishment, of feeling like all the efforts of the three games really paid off in the end. As it stands, ME3’s ending feels too much like “Hey, the reapers aren’t all THAT bad of guys in the end, RIIIIIGHT? So here, have some terrible choices that hardly tie into the plot and tone of the games we’ve been playing.”

          I think ME3 really needed either a simple, clean “Shepard destroyed/took care of the reaper threat” without going into the reaper’s actual motives much… or it needed to really build up the question of WHY the reapers were doing things more, in all three games (moreso ME2 and 3). As it stands, the ending of ME3 feels like trying to answer the question of “what motivates the reapers?” without anyone even really asking that question beforehand. It seems out of place.

          A consequence of seat-of-the-pants writing, I guess…

        2. Andy_Panthro says:

          The hostility towards the forced boss-fights in Deus Ex: Human Revolution does suggest that there are plenty of people who want the option to avoid fighting (people like me for example).

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Precisely.As long as you have to do something meaningful,whether its raw punching,sneaking around,planting evidence,or whatever,people will feel satisfied about that encounter.Its engagement we want,not pure fighting.

        3. Rack says:

          Correction: People don’t feel that and developers don’t think people feel that but publishers get all riled up about the spreadsheet that says it’s a waste of resources.

    3. 4th Dimension says:

      You could have a limited naval engagement and large scale combat in the end if you set up a story where Sheppard learns that there is a Mass Relay gate at the verry edge of the Galaxy and the Reaper fleet is gunning for it. There are no other relay’s that war away from the Galactic core and this one is probably supposed to be the Reaper backup plan. The game would sonsist of you trying to open up the relays untill the last one, on the way solving issues of various races, and trying to find anything that can help you fight. So the last mission’s objective is to insert Sheppard’s team into the Relay (the fleet itself is basically all major powers in the galaxy + whoever you met on the way there that wasn’t indoctrinated, so he can blow it up and stop them from using it. In the end you blow it up, and depending on your choices and character quests you are able to escape just as teh Ralay blows on a last mass jump. Your teammates and the Council congrastulate you and tell you how the Reapers are history since it will take them centuries to arrive and most of them were killed in the Mass Relay blast. Roll end credits. Post credits roll the sequel hook of Some Reaper hulks waking up and continuing to bore down on the Galaxy.
      Next game can happen couple hundreds of years after the events of the first trilogy.

    4. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Aaaaaactually, delaying the Reapers may be all that’s needed to defeat them, depending on how long the delay is*. Far as we know Reapers aren’t really advancing as a anymore and while they do have indoctrination and several other tricks their plan is based on certain principles. Specifically, they guide the technological (and to a lesser extent cultural) development of the dominant species in the galaxy by leaving technological artifacts and when the time comes in they use their override codes for said technology along with their greater mastery of every aspect of it.

      Delaying them means we have more time to catch up to them technologically. Not to mention in this specific case we’d have knowledge that our tech is booby trapped and literally tons of what is probably more advanced variants of said technology to reverse engineer and improve upon (unless, you know, everybody just decided to cover their ears and go “lalalala I’m not listening”… the way that the Concil did).

      *Because logically, in a plan that takes around 50 000 years before it needs to be executed, and probably has a decent margin of error, delay of… oh let’s say below 5 years is so insignificant there’s no point in having plan A at all.

      1. Mike S. says:

        The delay probably needs to be a while, because the Protheans were substantially in advance of the Citadel species and still lost.

        On the other hand, they came up with multiple substantive anti-Reaper actions after having their capital destroyed and their civilization fragmented by an entirely unanticipated surprise attack. Which suggests that if you could get to the Protheans’ level as a starting point, hang onto the Citadel, and know the Reapers’ nature and intent going in, there might be something to work with.

        While it’s never outright stated, there are some indications that the Protheans were more challenging than the Reapers were comfortable with. Sovereign originally wanted to open the Citadel relay centuries earlier this time, even though the asari and salarians weren’t anywhere near the Protheans’ level.

        Though… if the Reapers had invaded around the time of the Rachni Wars, humans (and whatever other species got spaceflight in the last millennium) would have had a heck of a long time to develop. (I can’t think of any reason we wouldn’t stilll have found the Charon Relay when we did.)

        Even without the Council species to bootstrap from, we’d presumably be up to their level in less than a millennium. Does that mean a really short Cycle, or do we wind up with tens of thousands of years of starfaring before the Reapers come back again to stomp us.

        (If the latter, the Protheans kind of screwed us by messing with Sovereign’s schedule, didn’t they?)

        1. guy says:

          It’s possible that the Reapers would have dropped by Earth and decided letting us stick around would be cutting it too close. Or at least they might’ve decided to blow up the giant cache of valuable technical information the Protheans had kindly placed on our doorstep. The Turians are the only major species that aren’t known to have some Prothean contact or been uplifted by someone who did, and we don’t know what their tech base looked like before they met the Asari, so we don’t have a baseline for unassisted technical development, and the Asari still have a technological edge from holding back Prothean artifacts they’ve had from the start. The Reapers presumably leave them intentionally as part of their plan of channeling technological development, but they probably wouldn’t leave ALL THE TECHNOLOGY where an unharvested species will get to it in a thousand years.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            My thought was that the Reapers know how to deal with the type of technology the Protheans have because it’s all based on mass relays, and the current cycle was a little more diverse, possibly in ways that were harder for the Reapers to deal with.

            Still all the eponymous ‘Mass Effect’ fields, though.

            1. guy says:

              Nah, the current cycle is pretty much based on Prothean tech, and still hasn’t quite caught up. The big edge is that the Reapers haven’t shut down the Mass Relays, which is their most potent trap.

              There is another form of FTL, but it’s much slower and makes an electrical charge build up on the drive core until it starts shooting lightning into the crew. This needs to be externally discharged into a planetary magnetic field (yeah, there are other ways you could try handling this, but apparently this is the one they’ve gotten to work), which means they can only go so far before stopping by a suitable planet and large sections of the galaxy are simply impassible because they aren’t close enough together. So if a civilization uses the relays to skip over those areas, and the Reapers shut them down, it’s simply impossible to get between all parts. Furthermore, the primary FTL comm system piggybacks off the relays, so that goes out too.

    5. Szierra says:

      When the Reapers make it to the galaxy, they win. That’s it – that’s their win condition.

      EXACTLY, That’s the whole point of stopping them in ME1. Having the reapers be able to just fly to the galaxy hangs a reaper-sized plot hole over the trilogy. If the reapers could just fly to the galaxy, then why didn’t Sovereign just go back to sleep and wait ~3 years? 3 years is nothing to them.

      This is why I’m fine with ME2 being about a smaller threat. The heavy leg work was done to stop the main invasion, now any potential threat/agents/servants/etc has to be eradicated to ensure the reapers never arrive, because that’s the only way to stop them.

  4. Mark says:

    The game play of the second game makes it by far my favourite game. But the ending of the first one is the only one that really resonates. The second is a brillient concept, and works really well in terms of pacing until you see the boss. A giant pair of hands and glowing head. Dear god that killed all the tension that had built up.
    But me1 really worked for me. In a way that few games do. Its a space game so you have to have spaceships, but that makes it hard for you to feel that what you do has an effect, either your ship is good enough or not, but with this game you get alot of value in fighting saren through the citadel. And the citadel is the place you spend alot of time so seeing it getting damaged really means something. Unlike the third game where i actually wondered at one point why i cared that earth was getting attacked, if it had been the citidel i would have cared.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yeah,me2 is a weird game.It improves so many things that sucked in me1,yet at the same time goes out of its way to ruin everything that was brilliant.

      The end game slog?Lets turn it into an interesting mission where all your companions will have something to do,and you will fight enemies in ever changing environments.The epic boss conversation and boss battle on 2 levels?Lets turn that into a stupid looking terminator suspended over abyss,all with the glowing things that open and close for no reason.

      1. They pull some great characters out of the game, but any time you think about the plot, you get disappointed in the whole mess yet feel bad that characters you like are kind of tainted by it.

        It’s like becoming friends with a bunch of really good people while having to spend the whole of a movie about winning a car race at the DMV.

      2. Vermander says:

        I never hated the “Terminator” reaper as much as everyone else seems to. I thought it was kind of fun in comic bookish way, and it least it was visually distinct from the other reapers.

        On the other hand I don’t find insects, spiders or cephalopods as inherently unnerving as many people seem to, so I’m really tired of “bug” bad guys. Tentacles, pincers and multiple legs just don’t seem that creepy or cool to me. I prefer my monsters to be vertebrates.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Same here. It was very much a game boss, but so was Benezia (“I will stand here, motionless and invulnerable, while you whittle down my minions”) and the Thorian (“It’s a plant! It’s a bug! It’s enormous enough to be geography, but can still be defeated by shooting these nodes, which are all conveniently within walking distance, with a pistol!”) and robo-Saren (“An incomprehensibly vast intelligence believes the most effective possible drone is some sort of hyper-grasshopper thing, and its attention is so consumed by fighting three people with guns through it that losing that fight makes it vulnerable in space. Somehow.”)

          I would have much rather that the process by which species are used to make a Reaper were less… direct? absurd?… than “we build them out of people slurry”. But having mass murder be an inherent part of their reproduction cycle is a defensible way of making them implacable antagonists.

          (“Sorry, folks, but would you stop having kids because the maternity hospital requires bulldozing a bunch of anthills? We’ve made policy of sustainable growth and controlled clearbacks: that’s called responsible stewardship.”)

        2. GloatingSwine says:

          The main reason people don’t like it is because it’s not consistent with any of the other Reapers. They’re all space cuttlefish, and this new one is apparently going to have a humanoid skeleton because reasons. Do they all have different shaped skeletons inside depending on what they were made from? If so why, what possible purpose does that serve?

          Mass Effect 2 was actually super easy to save. Just have the collectors building a new Citadel and kidnapping humans to be their replacement Keepers, and activate it at the end, meaning you have to destroy the Omega relay to trap them. Bam, immediately Mass Effect 2 is relevant to the trilogy and [i]doesn’t[/i] have a stupid nonsensical reaper skeleton. It would also have saved one of the (many) stupid parts of ME3 (that it basically makes the whole first game irrelevant because the Reapers can happily just drive into the galaxy in less than one hundredth of one percent of the time they wait between cycles….)

          1. Henson says:

            Or…the Reapers are building a new Citadel, Shepard & Co. fight to stop/destroy it, and they fail. This would not only make ME2 relevant to the trilogy, it would set up how the Reapers invaded in ME3. Plus, it would actually give some credence to that bollocks ME2/Empire Strikes Back comparison.

            (I mean, you would need the good guys to acquire some vital information on how to stop the Reapers during the failed mission just to make it not all seem pointless, to end on a hopeful note, but everything else could go straight downhill)

          2. Aldowyn says:

            I believe I’ve heard somewhere that something said that the reaper baby was going to be *inside* a more traditional cuttlefish shaped hull. Or something.

            It’s dumb, all right.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    While I agree that the ending works great as an ending,its a pretty weak ending for the start of the trilogy.Shepard shouldve died in that scene.That way,no matter who you follow in me2,shepard or someone going in her footsteps,you would have a clean slate with The Team disbanded.You would have a reason to reunite everyone while at the same time looking for the solution that would culminate in me3.

    1. Ringwraith says:

      Though that just shows how little planning they had really.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Which never ceases to astound me.It was marketed as a trilogy from day one,so why the hell was it made as a stand alone game followed by a tacked on two parter?

        1. Ringwraith says:

          With a second part which basically does nothing.
          In the overall plot, nothing is achieved that is relevant to the rest of the trilogy in that one. It brings up a new threat and solves itself.
          Instead of, you know, setting up the gizmo that is to fight back with, that part three opens with.

        2. Grudgeal says:

          Maybe because the game was planned and storyboarded before it was marketed?

          1. Thomas says:

            But they also knew it was a trilogy before it was marketed

        3. Raygereio says:

          Which never ceases to astound me.It was marketed as a trilogy from day one,so why the hell was it made as a stand alone game followed by a tacked on two parter?

          There are three possibilities that I see:

          – The change in staff and increased workload. This is I think the most plausible one. Around the ME1 release Bioware started work on the KotOR MMO. And before anyone starts blaming EA, note that Bioware wanted to do the MMO. It was practically part of the sales pitch “Save us from financial ruin, and we’ll get you an awesome MMO”. So Bioware has no one to blame here but themselves.
          Anyway Drew Karpyshyn was credited as lead writer for ME1, however he moved on to the MMO afterwards. He’s still credited as co-lead writer together with Mac Walters, but it’s reasonable to assume that the MMO consumed a significant (if not the majority) of his time. Same with the lead designer for ME1 – Preston Watamaniuk, and a lot of other Bioware devs.
          Perhaps there was an outline for a trilogy, but this only existed as some notes from Karpyshyn that he never had the time to work out properly. Before ME2 the ME devs have made comments saying that they used the fan-made wiki as a resource, indicating that they might not had a ME lore guide of their own. Who knows really.
          The change in the dev team on its own might not have been a problem. But Bioware’s writing process involved the writers & other relevant devs coming together a critiquing eachother’s writing. With the MMO monster beginning to rear its ugly head, it’s possible that there was less time for people to do this.
          All of this resulting in ME2 going in a direction that the original leads might not have wanted.

          – Arrogance on the writers’ part. From interviews I always had the impression that Bioware had started to drink their own kool-aid around ME1 a little (due to factors such as the increasingly echo-chamber nature of their forums) and the writing staff actually started to believe they’re super awesome writers. Perhaps they thought that they could get away with not planning the trilogy out in advance (like anyone planning a series ought to do) and figured they could wing it.

          – And my favority fan theory: Marketing bullshit!
          I've once heard from a former-Bioware dev that the reason all the side-quest planets were so shitty was because someone from marketing claimed in an interview that you could go to dozens of planets. Since it would look kinda bad to come up with a “Erm, he actually meant just three” rectification, the devteam just shrugged and proceeded to create dozens planet despite not really having the resources for that.
          If someone from marketing really did pull a stunt like that, them promising it’s going to be a trilogy without consulting the dev team isn’t that far fetched.

          1. Ringwraith says:

            I thought EA had re-branded another studio to “Bioware” to handle the majority of the development of The Old Republic.
            Writing duties are of course another matter.

            1. Raygereio says:

              I thought EA had re-branded another studio to “Bioware” to handle the majority of the development of The Old Republic.

              No. Development for the KotOR MMO was handled by Bioware Austin, which was a completely new studio formed in 2006.

              There were some studios that during various reorganizations were shuffled into the “BioWare group” and briefly got the “Bioware name”, which is probably what you’re thinking of.
              For example the dev studio that developed Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online:
              When EA acquired the studio in 2006 it was known as Mythic Entertainment. It was renamed to EA Mythic, but went back to Mythic Entertainment 2 years later. In 2009 EA reshuffled some of their assets and the studio became part of a RPG/MMO division headed up by one of the Bioware’s doctors, and Mythic Entertainment was renamed to Bioware Mythic. Only for the studio to go back again to Mythic Entertainment in 2012.

              1. Ringwraith says:

                It wasn’t the same main staff was sort of my point anyway.

                1. Raygereio says:

                  I don’t have the KotOR MMO credits at hand to check. But from what I’ve heard, while they did bring in new people, a lot of positions were filled by people from BioWare Edmonton.

                  1. Aldowyn says:

                    Yeah, afaik they’re doing the same thing with Montreal, who is handling Mass Effect now. These are actually BioWare studios, at least to some degree, with a core of veterans from the edmonton studio.

          2. Matt K says:

            I think it’s probably a combination of all three, leaning towards mostly 2 and 3.

            If it’s 1 though, it’s a shame. I get why studios were chasing the MMO dream but pretty much every one has failed miserably, killing some of the studios in the process. I’m mainly thinking of Kingdoms of Amular. But one has to wonder what we would have if Bioware didn’t bother with SWOTR and Bethesdasoft with Elderscrolls Online.

            1. TMC_Sherpa says:

              If all the Bethesda writers were moved to the MMO would anyone notice :)

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Of course:The stories in the single player games would get better.

              2. Matt K says:

                Probably not. Personally while I loved Morrowind (despite a bunch of wonkiness) I hated Oblivion which was well before the MMO was a gleam in anyone’s eye. That said, perhaps we would have gotten Skyrim 2 which actually improved on Skyrim (which was a step up from Oblivion) instead of BS’s usual odd way of making sequels.

          3. INH5 says:

            I have my own theory about what happened to the overarching plot of the trilogy, but I’ll save it for when Shamus gets to ME1’s sequel hook, which is where I think things really went awry.

            Perhaps they thought that they could get away with not planning the trilogy out in advance (like anyone planning a series ought to do) and figured they could wing it.

            I see people say things like this all the time, but I have yet to see any real world evidence for it.

            The original Star Wars trilogy was for all intents and purposes made up on the fly, and the few plans that were made were discarded almost immediately. For example, Yoda’s “there is another” line was originally intended to set up the protagonist of episodes 7-9. Then ESB’s production turned into a nightmare and Lucas decided that he didn’t want to do episodes 7-9, so he resolved that line by introducing the extremely awkward “Leia was actually Luke’s sister the entire time” plot twist.

            People frequently bring up Babylon 5 as the gold standard of planning out a series before you start writing it, but if you actually look at JMS’s original 5 year plan and compare it to what actually aired, you find that it was almost entirely abandoned by the middle of season 3.

            Lord of the Rings wasn’t planned from the start either, in fact Tolkien didn’t even come up with the significance of the ring until more than 6 months after he had started writing it.

            More recently, it’s clear from interviews that the writers of Breaking Bad did very little planning. The fifth season premiere opens with a flash-forward to the events of the series finale, and the writers have said that when they wrote that scene they had no idea why it was going to happen.

            I only know of two instances of major series being planned out early on and the creator sticking to those plans until the end. The first is How I Met Your Mother, a sitcom with a central plot arc where the final scene of the series finale was actually filmed 8 years in advance. While I can’t comment on it directly because I never watched the show myself, a lot of people didn’t like the ending, and a common complaint was that it didn’t fit with the way the show and the characters had evolved over the years.

            The second example is the Star Wars prequels, where Lucas started with a pretty detailed outline and more or less stuck to it until the end, though he did change a lot of small details and story beats along the way. I think that example speaks for itself.

            1. guy says:

              Brandon Sanderson planned out the Mistborn trilogy, sufficently well that the chapter heading of the first chapter is a major clue to the ending*,and has planned out his new Stormlight Archive series well enough that he went ahead and wrote a book several steps down the line. In between writing several other books in his other series. He may possibly be a robot programmed to generate SF/F series.

              *It’s drawing from an in-universe document written by the prophesied savior of the world a thousand years ago. The first selection includes the line, “They say I will hold the future of the entire world on my arms”. Note the phrasing. There is a supporting character who has magically stored a wealth of historical information in metal bands he wears on his arms, and it turns out the prophecy is about… well, if I understand the precognition mechanics correctly, not about him in particular because that couldn’t have been known when the prophecy was written. But about the unknown guy like him who would be maneuvered into position.

            2. Raygereio says:

              I see people say things like this all the time, but I have yet to see any real world evidence for it.

              This is pretty basic writing 101 stuff actually.
              I think where you’re getting it wrong is in thinking “planning the series” means you write the entire series’ story in one go and stick to it. There are writers who actually do that, but that’s not what it has to mean. What is generally meant by it is that you make a rough outline of the overarching story. That way you have a clear picture of where you want to go as you’re writing each individual installment of the series.
              Things can always change off course. If you come up with a better ending then the one you originally envisioned, then go ahead and change it! A character that was supposed to be a one-off ends up being more fun that you thought? Then go ahead and give it a bigger role.
              The point of making that outline is not for it be an anchor around your neck, but so you can plan ahead and so you hopefully avoid getting stuck because you have no idea where the story is supposed to go (see: the transition between ME1 and ME2).

              There are off course the seat-of-the-pants writers who are perfectly capable of winging it. Who can take on each individual installment of the series one at the time and will still end up with series that’s a cohesive whole.
              But I’ve done a fair bit of editing and review work and I can tell you there are lot of people who think they can do that, but very few who actually can.
              And when you’re not working on your own, but as a team of writers, it’s all the more important to have a clear direction in the form of an outline of sorts in place.

              As for your examples:
              The original Star Wars trilogy did have scripts. There were certainly changes made to it. Even during filming. But when they began work in the first movie, they did have solid idea where the story was supposed to go if the movie was a success and they got to make more.
              Babylon 5 certainly saw a lot of changes from JMS’ original outline. TV show writers are actually often seat-of-the-pants style writers by necessity as things like budget changes, producer demands and actors leaving can mess up any plan of theirs. For example no one could have foreseen that Michael O’Hare (who played Jeffrey Sinclair, the station’s commander in season 1) barely managed to make it through one season due to mental illness and had to go. But as I said: having an plan, doesn’t mean you can’t change it.
              As for the Lord of the Rings, that was never written as a series. It was only published as a trilogy.
              I’ve never watched Breaking Bad, so no comment on that. At first glance that just sounds like something the writers came up with to make themselves look more impressive. But again: I’ve never watched it.

              1. INH5 says:

                If by “outline,” you mean that when planning out a series a writer should establish a solid framework: who is the protagonist, who is the antagonist, what is the end goal of each, and so on. But quite often people seem to mean much more than that when they say “the writers should have planned ahead.”

                The original Star Wars trilogy did have scripts. There were certainly changes made to it. Even during filming. But when they began work in the first movie, they did have solid idea where the story was supposed to go if the movie was a success and they got to make more.

                Are you basing this off of something that George Lucas said? Because almost everything that Lucas has said in recent years about how the original trilogy was written is a lie. I know that sounds extreme, but there really is no other way to describe it. Lucas’s plans for continuing the story when Star Wars started filming consisted of, “I’ll leave Darth Vader alive at the end, so in the unlikely event that this movie isn’t a total bomb I might be able to use some of the ideas in my notes and discarded parts of earlier screenplay drafts.”

                During post-production, there were some plans made for a sequel that could be made on a low-budget (because, again, everyone expected Star Wars to bomb), which ended up being turned into the novel, A Splinter in the Mind’s Eye. As one can tell by just looking at a Wikipedia summary of the book, the only things that ended up in ESB are that there is a swamp planet, Luke fights Darth Vader in a lightsaber battle, and Luke and Leia have some romantic tension going on.

                They didn’t even decide to make a trilogy until well into ESB’s pre-production. After the unprecedented success of Star Wars, Lucas and the studio executives started thinking about doing a potentially indefinite series like James Bond, then the plan was for 4 trilogies, then finally they got it down to 3 trilogies: a trilogy starting with Star Wars (now retitled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), a sequel trilogy, and a prequel trilogy. Then after ESB Lucas decided to cancel the sequel trilogy and put the prequel trilogy on indefinite hiatus.

                And Lucas absolutely did not know that Vader was Luke’s father until one of the later drafts of ESB, nor did he know that Leia was Luke’s sister until one of the later drafts of ROTJ. Obi Wan’s story was meant to be taken at face value throughout the entire production of the first Star Wars. Though I think the Vader father twist is an example of a retcon being done well, since the first Star Wars has a few things like “Luke has too much of his father in him.” “That’s what I’m afraid of.” and Obi Wan’s expressions when telling Luke about his father that can be retroactively interpreted as foreshadowing.

                If you want to know more details about all of the above and much more, I would reccomend picking up a copy of The Secret History of Star Wars by Michael Kaminski. It’s a really interesting read and places the whole Star Wars saga in a new light.

                1. Raygereio says:

                  Are you basing this off of something that George Lucas said?

                  What I’ve always heard is that Lucas had screenplays (or at least drafts) for 9 movies. And they went with number 4 first because that story was the most standalone of the lot, so they could scrap the whole project if the movie bombed.
                  Given how Indiana Jones came to be (with a lot of improvisation on set and Lucas mainly just being the idea-guy), it would not surprise me at all if that was bullshit and Lucas at best just had some ideas in his head for 9 movies.
                  I’ll check out that book you mentioned. I’m not that huge of a Star Wars aficionado, but I love background information like that.

              2. cassander says:

                Babylon 5 didn’t have all the details worked out, but it had a lot of those big arcs in place. Sure, Michael O’hare literally started going mad, and when your main character drops out things have to change, but a ton of that shows in the outline you present. And it made a huge difference in the show. The londo stuff, probably the most consistent element of the show over time, is amazing. We spend 5 seasons knowing exactly how he’ll die, and still can’t stop watching. The point of such planning isn’t that nothing can change, that would never work with anything as complicated as a television series, the point is to lay down big arcs and overall direction to give you structure as you work down the day to day path.

                A great example of the power of this method is to compare B5 to Battlestar Galactica. Galactica is better looking, has better acting, much more consistent writing, and the same high aspirations as B5. The quality of the average episode of Galactica is unquestionably higher than that of B5. But while Galactica did a great job of laying down initial characters and a few themes, it had very little structure. All of those great episodes add up to less than the sum of their parts because they’re just a series of things that happen, not a coherent narrative that pays off.

              3. Aldowyn says:

                Tolkien considered Lord of the Rings a single novel published in three volumes, not a trilogy. But yeah, ‘the tale grew in the telling’.

                I’m curious where INH5 got the ‘Tolkien didn't even come up with the significance of the ring until more than 6 months after he had started writing it’ bit, though. That’s certainly true of the hobbit, but what was the *point* of LOTR if it wasn’t about the Ring?

                1. Mike S. says:

                  Initially, a straight Hobbit sequel featuring another quest of roughly the same tone, starring Bilbo’s nephew Bingo Bolger-Baggins and his cousins Odo and Frodo.

                  (And Aragorn, foredestined heir to the kings of the West, distant scion of the Elves and Men who strove with Morgoth and the lords who humbled Sauron? Started as a Hobbit called “Trotter”.)

                  1. Aldowyn says:

                    This is amazing, particularly in the context of the wider Middle Earth mythos it eventually turned into.

                    1. Mike S. says:

                      Tolkien had been working on the First Age material for many years by the time he wrote The Hobbit, but the references to it in that book were more in the line of a very personal in-joke. (Since no one but him and his fellow Inklings had ever heard of it.) The Hobbit also mentions things like locomotives and popguns and folding umbrellas that don’t really fit the medievalesque rest of the world.

                      There are some indications that insofar as he was thinking about it, the Hobbit was originally conceived as taking place contemporaneously with the Silmarillion or shortly after: it would make a lot more sense to run across swords from Gondolin in a random troll hoard shortly after the city’s fall than, as it is now, something like seven thousand years later. (Sort of like searching a burglar’s apartment and finding Gilgamesh’s spear propped up against the wall.) The unnamed Elvenking, with his pride and dislike of Dwarves and his underground palace, is a lot like Làºthien’s father Thingol and may have been intended to be him.

                      It’s only as LotR came into focus that the connections solidified and the relation between the later-set books and his mythology were made coherent. (Something Tolkien kept noodling around with well after the books were published, coming up with names for the other two wizards, stories behind references he’d dropped in randomly like “the cats of Queen Beràºthiel”, etc.)

                      And despite the fact that he’d started thinking about the First Age during World War I, he never did get that into a final form. The published Silmarillion was a bunch of hard choices by Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay among a bunch of highly variant stories.

                      (For example, later in life he was inclined to have Orcs descended from Men rather than Elves, and he was moving away from the story that the world was flat until it was made round after the fall of Nàºmenor.)

                      The real difference is that once Tolkien decided that he cared about worldbuilding, he cared, and was sure that anyone else reading would too. Of course you want plausible etymologies of words running from Elvish to formal Westron to abbreviated Shire usage. An explanation of human migration patterns, and how (say) the Rohirrim were distant kin to the people of Gondor. Family trees for everyone going back many generations.

                      Where most fictional worlds are houses of cards, Tolkien kept going back in and reinforcing every structural element with rebar. (“The Hobbit’s treatment of the Ring doesn’t make sense in the context of LotR? Better rewrite it!”)

                      It’s still not perfect, because Tolkien is one human who was interested in some things more than others. (He makes a halfhearted swipe at the economics of Mordor– “what do they eat?” as someone once asked– by having it supplied by farmlands to the southeast. But fundamentally supporting unlimited armies in a hell-desert surrounded by impassible mountains has to lean pretty heavily on the fact that it’s run by an evil demigod very intent on maintaining an image.) But it’s the long and careful effort that distinguishes Middle-Earth from its many imitators.

              4. JakeyKakey says:

                Breaking Bad had a pretty clearly defined story outline though so it’s a bit of a shite example – it was Mr Chips meets Scarface. BB was a pretty straightforward character-exploration kind of drama without any Lost-esque hooks or GoT-esque worldbuilding to keep track off so as long as Walt had a vaguely planned out character arc, you were good to go. Walt’s destination was clear cut, if in broad strokes, from the very first episode of the series, it’s the journey along with the unknown fates of all the wildcard characters surrounding Walt that made it fascinating.

                How I Met Your Mother ending was awful because…where do I even begin? They had this interesting mature bittersweet bait-and-switch about how in spite of the title, it wasn’t really about the mother after all.

                Problem was, they wrote it with four seasons of the show in mind and refused to adapt when the bloody thing went on for nine. The pacing of the ‘flash-forward’ timeline just got padded for twice as long and they generally did an awful job of setting up for the ending they wanted.
                Nine-tenths of the way into the final season, after nine years of being dicked about and strung along with scraps of the overarching storyline, people wanted and expected nothing more than the most sacharine disgustingly sweet finale to top of it all off.

                What they got instead was poorly-planned last-minute 500 Days Of Summer -esque deconstructive ending that was forced to come out of nowhere and rapidly regress all the characters back to Season 4 personas to really make any narrative sense.

                It’s not the ending people wanted, but they could have made it work and remain subversively brilliant if they didn’t also go about it in a piss-awful manner every step of the way.

        4. MrGuy says:

          I’ll be honest. I blame Star Wars.

          Consider where they were when the first game was still in concept. We have BioWare constructing this interesting world with interesting inhabitants, internally consistent mechanics, nebulous powerful foes, and incredibly high stakes.

          They know it’s bigger than one game. This world has too many stories to tell. It’s a rich vein of lore. This is GREAT – we know we have multiple stories to tell in this world. They probably had the plot of ME1 mostly worked out. They maybe had an idea for Cerberus to get developed in a later story. They knew the final confrontation with the Reapers was down the road somewhere.

          They wanted to market the game as the start of an epic storyline spanning multiple games. It was standalone, but it was the start of something bigger.

          Then marketing gets involved and says “Great! Let’s call it the first episode of a trilogy! Perfect!”

          Why a trilogy? Because Star Wars is a trilogy. And we really want to be Star Wars. We want Star Wars fans so bad. And since Star Wars was a trilogy, they’ll expect any other epic space opera to be a trilogy too! Trilogies sell!

          Star Wars has embraced this idea so fully that the prequel to the original trilogy had to be a trilogy,** and the follow-ups are expected to be a trilogy too. Three is the number of your episodes, and the number of your episodes shall be three.

          Writers: “Umm….we’re not really sure there are exactly three games here. It might be more than that. There’s a lot to explore.”

          Marketing: “Look, we’re calling it a trilogy, and that’s final. You’ve got a great first game there, sounds like you’ve got a good idea for a second one. I’m sure you’ll find a way to wrap it up in the third one. Just get it done.”

          ** If you plan to point out here that Star Wars forced the prequels to be a trilogy by starting with Episode IV, I’ll point out that by starting with Episode IV they specifically DENIED the story was a trilogy (if there are already 4 episodes, then we’ve already crossed the “more than 3” bridge…), and the fact that they “wrapped up” the original story in three episodes was something Lucas didn’t anticipate until he wrote the second one. The goal (initially) was to resemble an indefinite serial, not a highly structured grouping of threes. Also, I’ll hit you with something.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Mass Effect could have been a lot more interesting if it was more like elder scrolls, jumping around in setting and mechanics but keeping the core intact. *shrug*

        5. Orillion says:

          They didn’t know it was going to be successful, so they had to give it a semi-satisfying conclusion in the first game–at least in as much as you defeat a threat and see your protagonist standing triumphant.

          This is true about nearly every first installment in a trilogy. Fuck, this is true of Star Wars even. If it had ended there, the heroes would have been victorious, the movie would have ended with the awards ceremony, and even if the movie hadn’t been popular, it would have been satisfying.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            That just modifies the question actually:If they didnt know in advance how successful it would be,why was it advertised as a trilogy?I mean ea is pretty stupid when it comes to marketing,but bioware shouldve said something about this.

            1. Because it’s easy to use the Star Wars model and get away with it. It’s also a macro-version of the three-act play. You just have three of them that create a larger one.

              Both stories ended with the good guys blowing up the bad guys. Both stories ended with at least a part of the bad guys left to come back if the money rolled in. Both stories ended with at least a satisfying stopping point so that if the IP tanked, it wasn’t stopping on a nail-biting cliffhanger.

              The ending of ME1 was an easy one to build on, and I’d bet that the original writers had plans for where the series would go. Too bad they weren’t involved with making those decisions.

              1. Victor McKnight says:

                And if we are honest, even if the whole mandatory trilogy thing is way over-done, a Star Wars style trilogy isn’t a bad fit for Mass Effect. In very broad strokes the original Star Wars trilogy looks like this.

                New Hope: Introduces us to world, some characters and conflict. Lets heroes snatch victory from jaws of defeat. Promises grander struggle to come.

                Empire: Expands world, characters, conflict. Fills in critical lore (the Force) elements needed for third movie. Major point of revelation at the end regarding Vader and Luke.

                Jedi: Cashes in on plot threads from two movies. Big action sequences. Final confrontation fueled by revelations in second movie.

                The Matrix movies tried this too (and failed), but you can see that structure there too.

                This is why, however much you like the Suicide Mission or the characters in Mass Effect 2, it fails the trilogy. It does nothing that Empire Strikes Back did. Then Mass Effect 3 goes into to cash in all the chips. And so people like it up until the end, when, with no revelations about the Reapers and/or how to beat them, they throw some ending together and hope it works. And it doesn’t.

                Had Mass Effect 2 been more about at least revealing some weakness of the Reapers or figuring out how to beat them, Mass Effect 3 would not have suffered so much and the trilogy as a whole would have been better.

                1. Matt K says:

                  I think part of the problem is what Shamus eluded to earlier. I.e. what’s the deal with the Reapers. Are they Space Elder Things in which case they’re unknowable and the goal is to stop them from coming back, or are they something you can stop by shooting it in the face.

                  It feels like the games keep bouncing back and forth between these ideas but in order for the series to work (beyond the first game) then this question needs to be answered as it then produces different end games. If they’re not unknowable then you need some sort of motivation/background (as their logic doesn’t need to make sense if the proper background for why is given) for them that makes some sense.

                  But if they are essentially Elder Things, then motivation isn’t as necessary but stopping them shouldn’t be an “apply fist to face” thing. It should be this bitter sweet, “we stopped them for now but who knows what the future may bring”.

                  But as the series equivocated between these two, you’re left with a mess.

                  1. Victor McKnight says:

                    Well, I do think you are right that whether the Reapers are knowable or not impacts the “how do we beat them question”, but at some point you do have to answer that question, and Mass Effect 2 never tries to answer it in any way. That puts a lot of weight on Mass Effect 3 to answer this question and wrap up all the plot threads people care about.

                    To me, that is the biggest problem with Bioware’s lack of planning. Even if, they were just trying to make the 1st game good and weren’t sure if they would get to make sequels, once they did know, from the start of story boarding 2, they should have had their eye on the endgame of 3. Even if a trilogy was just an EA marketing ploy or whatever, if you have a Star Wars style trilogy in mind, you should use the Star Wars 3-part/movie/game/story structure.

                    I would have preferred a muddled attempt at an answer rather than no attempt (until the last 20 minutes of ME3) at all.

                    1. INH5 says:

                      They did have an ending to ME3 in mind when they wrote ME2. Google “mass effect dark energy plot” if you want to know the details. Then sometime in the development of ME3 they decided not to go with that idea, so the foreshadowing in ME2 like the Haestrom mission and also, really, the entire Collector plot, ended up going nowhere.

                      So if anything the problem is that they did too much planning.

                    2. Aldowyn says:

                      Leviathan helps with the ending SO much. It completely defangs the Reapers, but (IMO) in a way that feels interesting and semi-plausible. They’re bugged AI, basically.

                      I never liked the “DARK ENERGY” plotline, although I never read the leak or whatever. (I think that was a thing?)

                    3. Mike S. says:

                      Leviathan helps make the ending something other than completely out of left field. But aliens who can hide from the inexorable force that’s had a perfect record of tracking down its prey for a billion years, yet can be found in the middle of an existential war by a marine (already engaged in heavy multitasking), following up on a scientist’s investigation of a few years at most… Said marine then talking them out of a gigayear of isolationism in minutes.

                      (Shepard must have studied at the John Sheridan school of talking people out of positions they’ve held for geological eras.)

                      I also didn’t like its contribution (along with From Ashes) to ME3’s determination that every other cycle was run by slaver jerks. Why are we (really the asari and salarians) the only ones who seem to have come up with the idea of a multistate confederation with a legal concept of sapient rights?

                    4. Victor McKnight says:

                      I’ll admit that I never got around to playing the Leviathan DLC, and at this point I am not buying more DLC unless there is some kind of Mass Effect Complete Trilogy set with ALL the DLC included.

                      I actually really like the bugged AI idea though. There is an obscure old Star Trek episode called “Return of the Archons” where a planet is ruled by a faulty AI. Kirk talks into blowing up of course. Played more seriously though, that would have been a good way to go with the crummy Star Child thing. I’ve liked that idea since day one.

                      But if Leviathan plays that angle too, that sounds pretty cool. Maybe I’ll have to try it after all. I only hear good things about it.

                      As for the Dark Energy thing, I have heard about it but didn’t read the leaked stuff itself. It doesn’t really seem like they committed to it though. Its just a one-off line on Tali’s recruitment mission in ME2. That hardly constitutes laying the foundations for a well planned out explanation of the Reapers in ME3. Maybe it could have worked, or maybe it would have been just as bad as we got. But eitherway, it was just an idea that was thrown out there and could have been used later, or not. It was NOT a well though out plan setting up a multi-game storty arc.

                    5. INH5 says:

                      It’s not a “one-off line,” it’s built into the entire premise of Tali’s recruitment mission. The fact that it is set in an environment with artificial structures on a planet where the sun is dangerous indicates that the basic idea of something being wonky about its sun must have been planned early on, because that’s the sort of thing that is set in the early stages of level design.

                      There are also clues in other parts of the game besides that one mission. If Gianna Parasini is alive, she’ll bring the subject of dark energy up if you talk to her on Illium.

                      As to how committed Bioware was to this idea, well, this is how Chris L’Etoile describes the status of this at the time he left Bioware in, I believe, August 2009:

                      I haven’t watched the endings yet (I’m not going to play the game, because being the sort of OCD I am, I’ll just end up throwing juvenile tantrums over every physics violation, canon retcon, and ship painted the wrong color), so I don’t know what ended up in the final version. When I left, the Big Reveal was going to be that dark energy is destroying the universe (the “premature aging” of Haestrom in ME2 is because the compressive force of gravity is no longer balancing the explosive force of fusion), and the Reapers are trying to stop it. They absorb some races because – despite millions of years of computer-speed thinking on the outskirts of the galaxy – they still haven’t figured out how, so they need fresh perspectives.

                      So the Reapers were secretly good guys trying to end the threat of dark energy by scattering dark energy based artifacts all over the galaxy for young races to find, reverse engineer, and use. In hopes that they find a species who can fix the problem they’ve spend 37+ million years thinking about.

                      If that’s no longer the story, I am fervently grateful.

                      An anonymous forum poster on a different forum who worked on ME3 in some form (we know he was who he said he was because he posted a bunch of leaked info and even a screenshot of the new default Femshep ingame model months before release) also refers to the dark energy concept as “the original plan for ME3.” So I think it’s pretty clear that starting sometime during the development of ME2 and continuing into at least the early development for ME3, Bioware was pretty committed to this idea.

                    6. MichaelGC says:

                      I wonder if he’s still fervently grateful.

                    7. Mike S. says:

                      Little though I like the current ME3 ending, I’m fervently grateful. The DE ending I’ve seen described (Shepard must choose between letting humanity be turned into a Reaper on the premise that Harbinger thinks This Time, For Sure if we’re put on the case, or refusing and making a Paragon bet that a civilization that can’t even build mass relays will somehow come up with a solution that billion-year-old superintelligences can’t crack) would have been even more frustrating. And would have made it even harder to go forward with any sort of sequel.

                    8. jd says:

                      “Even if a trilogy was just an EA marketing ploy or whatever,”

                      EA didn’t even own Bioware until about a month before ME1’s release, they had virtually nothing to do with the series until ME2. EA certainly had nothing to do with ME1’s original release or marketing, it was an MS published game.

                2. Trix2000 says:

                  I think you’re right about that, and it would have improved a lot of opinions about ME2 with regards to it “Not actually accomplishing anything in the grand scheme of things”.

                  I don’t think they even really needed to change things THAT much. You could still have the Collectors doing all their stuff, but maybe tied into the reapers themselves more as well as ultimately leading to a possible way to beat them/fight back (which requires the epic climax/boss fight to secure, or something). Then the victory comes in finally finding “the ultimate weapon against the reapers”, with the game ending on a hopeful note.

                  Might not have to modify ME3 as much either – just take out the whole finding the Catalyst bit and change the ending to something more satisfying and cathartic (and less confused mess and un-predicated choices).

                  1. Victor McKnight says:

                    That would certainly be one way to do it that would preserve as much of ME2 in its current form. That “Ultimate Weapon Against the Reapers” wouldn’t have to be a weapon but some form of understanding of the technology used in making Reapers. Maybe it could be linked to how the Harbinger can control the Collectors. Maybe that link can be used two-ways.

                    Sure, its generic and has shades of the “Control Ending”, but it would have at least felt cathartic. It also leans heavily on the idea that the Reapers can be understood on some level. And like you said, that particular type of ending also fits into ME3 nicely.

                    The only problem it might have is limiting how many different endings ME3 had. People really seemed to want multiple endings. It could have worked though.

                3. Aldowyn says:

                  funny thing: They *explicitly* marketed ME2 as the ’empire strikes back’ of the Mass Effect trilogy, with a lot of emphasis on Omega, which really doesn’t make sense.

        6. Pseudonym says:

          Which never ceases to astound me.It was marketed as a trilogy from day one,so why the hell was it made as a stand alone game followed by a tacked on two parter?

          To be fair, this is fairly common even for movie trilogies. The big reasons are usually:

          1) Companies often don’t want to make a “part one” that doesn’t stand alone for the (very reasonable) reason that they usually don’t know if they’ll get to make a sequel and it would suck for them and for their customers if they started a story and never got to finish it.

          2) I’m not sure, but I suspect that customers are much less likely to watch part one of something if they know they’ll need to watch parts two and three to get any kind of payoff. The deeper you get into a series, the more it can afford to start having instalments that just advance ongoing plotlines, but I suspect far fewer people would have played ME1 if they’d known that they wouldn’t get *any* kind of ending until they’d played three long video games that would be released over half a decade.

          1. Deager says:

            Yes, this I think is the best explanation of what really was going on. Obviously we’ll never really know but these seem the most plausible.

          2. Matt K says:

            I actually think ME1 had a pretty decent ending and if you stop there (which I did) it works.

            The problem is when Part 1 is all set up for Parts 2-X. Invariably it seems, without a payoff in Part 1 people seem less interested in seeing it (with some exceptions) and I don’t blame them. See Golden Compass, F4F, Green Lantern, Order 1866, etc.

            Especially for video games, starting a new IP and then not having a good ending in the first game is suicide. No matter how cool it looks, if the game just suddenly ends and is like “too be continued” that game will be savaged for it. Personally I won’t play a game if I hear that it does that (or at least will wait for the whole series to come out and pick it up on sale).

            1. Trix2000 says:

              And the thing is, I don’t think having a good payoff ending in the first game is really detrimental to making a trilogy… not on its own, at least. Further games have to up the stakes anyways, so it shouldn’t be that hard to write sequels in a way that frames the first game/movie as “We won a great victory here, but the war isn’t over.”

              ME1 did this fairly well, since the reapers were still out there. But ME2 didn’t really address that too much and went in an almost completely different direction, to the point where the ending feels like a win in an entirely different war.

              ME3 works better on this for most of the duration, but the ending didn’t feel like a big win in any sense. Sure, the reaper threat is gone, but not because we destroyed them, convinced them to leave, or otherwise stopped their advance for good – it’s because the ALLOWED themselves to be beaten in a way that feels like they still won (Catalyst inspired or no). If anything, it makes the added refusal ending work better just because it’s the only one that doesn’t play into their interests.

    2. MrGuy says:

      While I agree that the ending works great as an ending,its a pretty weak ending for the start of the trilogy.Shepard shouldve died in that scene.

      But, if they’d killed Shepard here, how would they have a compelling “you got killed in a cutscene!” opening for ME2?

      1. Mike S. says:

        I’m not sure that getting killed in a cutscene at the end of ME1 is an improvement. “Succeeded in facing every major challenge, then crushed by random debris” is the sort of thing that happens in reality but generally feels cheap in fiction.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          You could do it differently. Maybe Shepard and Saren end up alone together isolated. Shepard has knocked out Saren.

          Shepard is conducting the last fleet operations through his com, gets to see the final victory shots from his vantage point as we cut to his face . . . pan to the side as at that moment he looks back and Saren has awoken and is seeing his plans come to ruin and despairs. Then he looks at you, his face twisting into a mask of hatred.

          You clash one last time, Saren wanting revenge against the filthy human that ruined it all. As you drop him to his knees he reveals his last ace in the hole, a bomb. He’s going to take you both together. You don’t get your shields back up quite in time.

          Your party arrives, having heard the struggle through your com and raced to try to aid you. You stumble up onto that piece of rubble like before and for a moment you get that heroic pose with a swell of victory music . . . before you falter and collapse into the arms of a friend who was climbing the rubble to greet you. There’s some kind of “you did good” moment. Then a funeral and a statue.

          I think it could work.

          1. MrGuy says:

            Put another way, pretty much ANYTHING they might cobble together as a death scene at the end of ME1 would make more sense and feel more satisfying than the way they started ME2, where you die for no real reason and for no stakes whatsoever.

            If you’re going to kill off your protagonist (even if only temporarily), why not do it at the climactic moment of an epic storyline?

            I guess this is proof ME2 wasn’t really thought through before ME1 was completed, but damn, the hamfisted way they did “LOL you’re dead now!” sucked so hard.

            1. Grudgeal says:

              Let’s just leave it at “ME2 wasn’t thought through”.

              Agreed about the death scene.

        2. Matt K says:

          It could be if done well. Essentially it would require Sheppard to win despite taking heavy loses. But it would require setting up the conditions in advance and Sheppard going ahead despite the cost.

          You’d need to make it clear there is no other choice and you’d need to make it clear why, despite the earlier battle, this is why Sheppard died, and not a cheap “oh hey, Sovereign crashed into your room killing you” death.

          It’s not easy but can be a pretty effective ending if done right. Alternatively, they wouldn’t need to kill off Sheppard to have someone else in the lead. Have Sheppard work on a political solution (or via research or something) while you play as one of the NPC’s or simply a new person tasked by Sheppard for some mission to help stave-off/fight the Reapers. Then ME3 could bring those plots back together for the finale. Include some hints in 2 about what Sheppard is doing so it’s not out of thin air in 3. But that requires planning for both 2 and 3 which Bioware didn’t seem to care for (even starting the trilogy).

    3. Daimbert says:

      To make this work, they should have done it kinda like the destroy ending in ME3: it LOOKS like Shepard died, but there’s room for her to have survived. Then if you start with a new character or reuse the existing one, there’s a way to spin the story.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Not necessary.Me2 couldve worked without shepard as the protagonist.For example,it could be about garrus continuing the mission.Or a completely new human continuing in shepards footsteps.

        1. Daimbert says:

          That’s why I say that at the end of ME1 they should have simply made it look at way in a vague and ambiguous way that allowed for Shepard to either be dead or to survive. In theory, they could have let you choose which way to go with it, but even if they wanted to choose they would have left themselves the freedom to go either way without having to have the “Back from the dead” theme that they used to start ME2.

    4. John says:

      Mass Effect is a trilogy for the same damned reason that 99% of all fantasy novels are marketed as trilogies. First there was Tolkien, then there was Lucas, and now fans think that trilogies are the mark of . . . well, quality probably isn’t the right word. Importance, perhaps. Maybe “big deal-ness”. Never mind that the Lord of the Rings is only a trilogy because it’s so long that the publisher couldn’t get it out the door any other way. Never mind that the film Star Wars is perfectly self-contained, that the other films only exist because it was so popular.

      Writers are filthy, filthy liars. They say things like ” I have a plan for a five season run” or “I always intended for there to be nine–no, wait, six!–movies. But the truth is that they really only have a plan for the first one, and maybe a couple notes or ideas for possible continuations. They have no way of knowing if the first one will catch on, after all, so why put a bunch of work into the sequels? And even if the first one does catch on, they won’t necessarily know in advance which parts will resonate with the audience. So it’s better for them to leave their future options open. But they want to sound confident in front of audiences (and producers or publishers) so of course they have a plan. Of course it’s a trilogy.

      1. Matt K says:

        I shudder to think how Stephen King’s “The Stand” would have been released in this day and age (assuming King was a new writer).

    5. Alex says:

      “Shepard shouldve died in that scene.”

      No, they shouldn’t have. Just pretending they were going to pull that bullshit ruined the ending – I went straight from enjoying the game to hating them, the writers, for ruining the game with their transparent diabolus ex machina. Even after the reveal that they weren’t that much of a bunch of dicks, I had already been taken out of the game.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Theres a huge difference between reintroducing the same protagonist in part two,only to kill them in a cutscene and killing them in a heroic fashion at the end of part one.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I’d prefer Shepard dead to the way the scene was played out. I’d even be okay with the debris crashing into council chamber, fading to black and then switching to the scene of team members being dug out from under it with Shepard being recovered last, not a great fan of “did that kill them? dun dun dun!” scenes but if the game has to be that way, sure. Instead someone wanted to give us some kind of rollercoaster of emotions with everyone being So Sad ™ and then “OMG! Shepard is so alive and triumphant”. I’m sorry but this made me grit my teeth and roll my eyes, this one scene just feels so incredibly cheap it largely ruined any emotional impact of the entire Saren confrontation.

    6. Geebs says:

      I totally disagree. Shepard dying at the end of the first game would have been thoroughly off-putting, not least because it would have happened in a cutscene, and losing in a cutscene (immediately after winning a fight to get that cutscene) is a total game-design no-no.

      Plus, they were already marketing it as, “you play as Shepard and your decisions carry from game to game”.

      Constantly raising the stakes by killing off characters (that you’re then going to have to find some convoluted way to resurrect) is a sign of being too immersed in grimdark genre piffle, where the only way characters can relate is murdering each other. Lucas was right, killing off Han would have ruined the tone without measurably improving the story in any meaningful way.

      If you’re going to kill off the player character and resurrect them in a cutscene, the very beginning of the game is the absolute best point; you have an entire game to pull yourself out of that particular narrative hole.

      1. Victor McKnight says:

        Killing Shepard also doesn’t really serve a purpose either. A couple of times Shamus has talked about what makes Shepard special. ME2 and 3 want Shepard to be special because he/she is just SOOO bad ass. But ME1 its because of the knowledge Shepard has. He/she can understand Prothean and has visions of what is to come. I even like the Casandra angle that people don’t or won’t believe in the Reapers

        So not just is killing Shepard a hollow way to up the stakes AND a game design no-no, it means that any protagonist the ME2 and 3 would need to have some other reason for knowing Prothean and have insider knowledge on what is to come…

        Or the rest of the series could just be about how awesome/bad ass Shepard is… I guess.

      2. Syal says:

        Disagree; the best point to kill the main character is in the midpoint; it’s far enough in to have an investment in them, with enough time left over to deal with it.

        Like with Spore. Wait, not Spore, that other game.

      3. guy says:

        The SFDebris review of the Transformers movies (which sadly is unavailable right now because Blip shut down) actually has a nice discussion of the “heroes die and return” trope as used in a continuous story rather than because the author ended a story with a character dead and later decided to continue it. Basically, dying shows that they’re willing to pay the ultimate price for their ideals and coming back shows they can overcome the greatest enemy of all.

        It can also be used in a less messianic way by having a character come to the rescue unexpectedly, which can also be done by having them be presumed dead. And of course in some settings everyone has a bottomless supply of clones or may reconstruct their bodies and death is much like being knocked out.

        Personally, I’d say that there’s no particular time it should/shouldn’t happen, but it shouldn’t be done just because. ME2 did it badly because it squandered the drama and isn’t a setting where death is supposed to be routine. Shepard dies in a fight that doesn’t have a lot of dramatic buildup and doesn’t get much out of the revival, so it introduces resurrection to the setting for little benefit.

        Armchair writer opinion: death+revival should be handled in one of three general ways depending on timing. Beginning: you don’t get much drama out of the death because it lacks buildup. Even with a known character, the event itself lacks buildup and you should have killed them at the climax of the last story. So the revival should be important somehow. Either it changes the nature of the character (they’re now a ghost or a robot), it motivates the plot (they’re angry about dying and grateful for being brought back), or it changes the overall story (they were dead for a hundred years and the world has changed). Middle: basically second act villain victory writ large. They should probably stay dead at least long enough to sink in. End: the villain has been defeated but at a huge cost, and everyone is sad, then the hero revives and everyone celebrates. Ideally everyone includes the audience. You can also have them be dead for a while and hit various plot beats that depend on the death, then bring them back. Note that these work pretty much the same as if they were merely presumed dead.

        That’s all for settings where it’s rare. If people come back regularly, they can of course die whenever. The drama here depends on the mechanics of coming back. If they have to be externally revived, it’s going to be about arranging that and dealing with situations without them. If it’s timer-based or happens at a specific location, it’s going to be about missing them at a critical moment. If they spring back to life at full health in seconds, it can happen whenever and the drama will be about ways to win in spite of that, by disabling it or teleporting them to the Moon (Actual example from the manga UQ Holder!)

        There’s also a considerable dramatic downside to having it, which is that it cheapens the dramatic impact of subsequent deaths, particularly if it keeps happening. Eventually the audience won’t ever expect it to stick. At best, if the revival requires the brain/AI core to be intact, the audience will be anxiously waiting for confirmation that it is. At worst, a dramatic mourning scene will be undermined by the audience saying, “Quit crying, she just got stabbed through the heart. Give her five minutes and she’ll be fine.” If the audience knows and the other character doesn’t, that can be funny, but not dramatic. This is also why having a character just be presumed dead offscreen isn’t good enough; that’s been used so much and is applicable to every genre that the audience is liable to just not believe they’re dead.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          I think the ME2 death maybe could have worked, if, say, you died on that first planet (Freedom’s Progress) after discovering a little bit about the Collectors and what they’re up to – maybe on a tip from Miranda before she reveals she’s from Cerberus, or something? I dunno.

  6. Rory Porteous says:

    Interesting to see you completely gloss over the second Saren fight Shamus! Although I hardly blame you.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its just an extension of the fleet fight after all.Not much else to say about it.

      1. Arstan says:

        I felt that the fight was forced. After talking down Saren I still have to kill him? Also, if you are a biotic, or sniper – that was a really tough fight.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          No its not.Widows are great in killing him fast.

          And its not saren,its the extension of sovereign.So that you arent just twiddling your thumbs while the fleet is fighting him outside.

        2. GloatingSwine says:

          On the other hand, if you have a shotgun and Jackhammer rounds, he’s trivial because he can never stand up.

          Yay for combat balance!

        3. swenson says:

          Really? If you have biotics, that fight is complete easy mode! Unlike bosses in 2 and 3 (or even Saren from the earlier part of the fight), in the last Saren fight he has no defenses against biotics. Take Liara and Kaidan with you (or Wrex if you killed Kaidan), keep spamming Lift and Throw and Pull and Singularity, and he’s ragdolled the entire time.

          As a sniper, yeah, that’s hard, because he moves so fast. But biotics make it so easy!

          1. Arstan says:

            Ahh, I kept damaging him, not crowd-controlling! My bad)

    2. Grudgeal says:

      Wasn’t Second-Form Saren basically one of those Jumping Geth thingies only on steroids?

      Not a very memorable Final Boss. At least it was over quickly unlike certain other Bioware bosses I could mentio*cough*Malak*cough*.

      1. Jonathan says:

        I can’t figure out the spoiler tags, so I’ll just say he’s not. Two or three AOEs, then two rounds of combat… total…6-7 rounds including running?

        1. Aldowyn says:

          He always seems like a ridiculous damage sponge to me but I’m usually playing on veteran or hardcore and the end is a cakewalk where I just destroy *everything*.

          1. Mike S. says:

            Yeah– with Vanguard on Insanity the outcome wasn’t in doubt unless I made a bad mistake, but it took forever to whittle him down.

  7. Arstan says:

    Actually, that bit with Saren getting into the Citadel without all the fuss from Eden Prime and forth?
    Remember when we met Tali? He had turian indoctrinated agents all through the citadel. Also, there was Benesia and her commandos. Why Saren coulnd’t take all commandos and turians in his command and just simply get to control rooms WAY easier?

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Because that wasnt really his goal.That was sovereigns goal.Saren,even though indoctrinated,still tried to do plenty of stuff to oppose sovereign.Like that whole facility where he researched indoctrination.

      Incidentally,finding his research on a drive somewhere wouldve been a great thing to start me2,where you try to replicate and advance his research while there is still more time before reapers arrive.

  8. Jokerman says:

    Oh Dragon age Origins had a mighty slog at the end, after you go back to Redclift and make the decision to sleep (or not) with Morrigan to create the god baby (this sounds kinda silly when i think about it) you go back to the main city for a good 2-3 hour slog starting with the one hit kills guys but as soon as you go inside you start fighting the proper mooks again, ending with an awful boss fight against the dragon.

    One thing Mass Effect did really well was the last mission, it went on quite a bit but never felt like a slog to me. Then we get Mass effect 3:Return of the slog.

    Inquisition had the less of an end slog than ever, considering it just cuts straight to the boss arena, which felt more unsatisfying than any RPG slog i have played.

    1. Zaxares says:

      I thought that ME2 did the final mission slog a lot better than the other games, with regards to deciding who does what role. (Leaving aside the goofy peekaboo final boss fight.) It gave just enough variety to the entire mission AND let the players feel proud, or foolish, when seeing how their decisions played out.

      1. Jokerman says:

        This is what i meant to write when i said.

        “One thing Mass Effect did really well was the last mission, it went on quite a bit but never felt like a slog to me.”

        I meant Mass Effect 2.

    2. Daimbert says:

      The worst slog in ME3, for me, was the point where you drag yourself to the final confrontations. You can’t run, you walk very slowly, and it’s a relatively long distance, all to show that you’re kinda hurt, I think? Pointless and stupid … and I had to do it TWICE because I chose the wrong option the first time …

  9. Grudgeal says:

    I think Saren needed the Conduit because he can’t personally activate the Citadel to let the Reapers in — only Sovereign can do that. Which is why Sovereign shows up for the final event instead of staying secret and out of reach.

    And Sovereign can only approach the Citadel from the outside, which can’t be done stealthily and would provoke the Citadel Fleet to action, and probably make it much harder for Saren to take control of the Citadel internally if he was alone. Saren’s geth army was probably there to make sure the Citadel closed on time, to prevent them from re-opening the Citadel to attack Sovereign, people blowing up the control tower, or run other sorts of interference.

    1. Zaxares says:

      Yeah, that was my thought too. Saren himself couldn’t “reset” the Keepers to make them activate the Citadel properly (since the Codex states that anybody interfering with a Keeper immediately activates some sort of self-destruct process which makes them liquify into goo). Sovereign himself had to do that.

      Although ME3 kind of throws a wrench into this theory. If the Catalyst/Starchild was on the Citadel all along, why couldn’t HE just broadcast the signal?

      1. Grudgeal says:

        ME3 threw a wrench into a lot of things and I tend to ignore it wholesale when considering the events of the prior game. It’s the same thing as the ammo system they introduced in ME2 — nobody thought about how it would be consistent with the previously established.

    2. Victor McKnight says:

      Yeah, I guess I always thought Saren in the Council chambers was more about closing the Citadel so Sovereign was uninterrupted in activating the Citadel relay for the rest of the Reapers.

      Can you imagine if, as the Asari, you set up your office and there is a random button that you don’t know what it does but it is staring you (and your successors) in the face for a thousand years. No one ever tries to figure out what that button does? I mean, ME1 does ask us to accept that people are too worried about breaking the Citadel to figure out how it works, but that button, that is beyond the pale.

      Sovereign needing to dock with the Citadel to activate it is why Saren couldn’t just walk in and push a button.

      1. guy says:

        I imagine that conversations about mystery buttons on the Citadel go like this:

        Salarian Councillor: We could press this button of unknown purpose on a system that may control our life support.
        Asari Councillor: Or we could not do that.
        Salarian Councillor: Who wants to live past fourty anyway?
        Asari Councillor: Me.

        But anyways, I figure it isn’t an actual button but a command sequence that needs to be typed in, so they know there are commands they haven’t used but not how many. Saren could probably reprogram the Keepers from the terminal, since the Protheans reprogrammed them somehow, but having Sovereign hook up directly lets him examine the code with his giant robot brain or bypass the Keepers entirely and activate it personally.

      2. INH5 says:

        The Council races know that the Citadel’s arms can close, and in fact the standard procedure for the Citadel being attacked is to close the arms and hunker down until the enemy fleet can be vanquished. This is shown by how in the cutscene of the final battle, the Destiny Ascension crew ask Citadel Control why they haven’t closed the arms yet. Then it cuts to Citadel Control to show that Saren and the geth have already killed the people on arm closing duty. Also, this is mentioned in the Codex.

        So the idea is to delay the closing of the arms long enough for Sovereign to get inside, then close them around Sovereign so it is protected.

        1. *nods* Yep! Which is why Saren needed to get a small army in there, to hold the forces back long enough.

          I’m surprised Shamus didn’t notice that.

  10. MrGuy says:

    Saren could indeed walk up to that control panel, but he'd be doing it right in front of the Council, which is roughly the equivalent to walking into the office of the American President and thumbing through his big book of nuclear launch codes. It's a safe bet that security would provide a spirited response.

    That’s assuming the Council (and their security) knows what that panel is for, and what will happen if it’s tampered with.

    Considering it was disabled by the Protheans at least one cycle ago, and nobody (including Shepard, who thanks to the beacon knows more about the Protheans than most) knows what the Protheans did and why, that seems unlikely.

    This is more like a trusted advisor, who has full access to the oval office, walking in one day, moving a painting out of the way, and pushing a button that was hidden behind it. He’s the only one who knows what he’s doing, or why it’s dangerous.

    1. ? says:

      Does it say anywhere that this specific panel can restore Keepers’ system in an instant? Or is it just a control panel for Citadel defenses, closing and opening the station, allowing Sovereign to do his thing in peace? Because I find the latter way more plausible than clicking on “Disable the Pr0th34n hax” in main menu of a most important panel in most important room in the friggin galaxy. To continue the analogy: it’s like saying that anyone can launch ballistic missiles by closing a door to Oval Office, when in reality the traitor does it to not be interrupted by Secret Service while he goes through presidents desk.

    2. Nidokoenig says:

      It’s a panel that controls something in the largest, most technologically advanced facility in the known galaxy. Not knowing what it does would make me more twitchy about letting people fuck with it, not less. Not to mention, having high clearance is not enough to get into certain areas unattended in real life(e.g. nuclear facilities) or a license to fiddle with whatever you please or rifle through classified filing cabinets at will.

    3. guy says:

      I think it’s the same panel used for the Spectre ceremony, and probably is a central control terminal for the entire station. They might not know all of what it does, but they know it’s important.

      Mind, I figured that the actual explanation was that Sovereign didn’t actually know why the activation failed, just that the Protheans had managed to block it. So when he started out, Saren didn’t know what the Conduit was, just that the Protheans somehow used it to block the invasion, so he needed to find it, figure out what it did, and fix the problem. If it turned out the Conduit generated an energy field that prevented a Mass Relay corridor from opening, accessing the Citadel control system would be futile. Either he figured out the details from beacons or records along the way, or he put two and two together once he saw it was a Mass Relay.

  11. Raygereio says:

    the conversation with Vigil is my favorite part of the game

    I always thought it was actually one of the weaker bits of ME1. Don’t get me wrong, I thought it was awesome the first time I played it. But on repeat playthroughs I felt this conversation takes a sledgehammer to the game’s pacing (which was already suffering).

    Anderson unlocks the Normandy and we’re off ready to go take down Saren no matter what! We go through the relay and with a dramatic scene drop down right on top of Saren! But he closed of the doors to the bunker! We quickly scramble around for a way to open them, find one and hurry inside to chase after Saren and then….
    Everything comes to a screeching halt as we have a conversation with mister exposition.

    what [Saren] needs is to walk in there with an army of Geth. And the only way to get that many Geth into the Citadel without starting a war is to use the conduit.

    I always felt the explanation for why Saren was looking for the conduit was rather weak as on Noveria Benezia managed to smuggle in a friggin battalion of Geth, despite the heavy security and scans of the cargo the flashlight heads were in.
    Why not abuse his Spectre authority and smuggle in batches of Geth onto the Citadel in the same way?

    I know the villain can’t be too competent or otherwise the story would be rather short. But it would have helped if the writers hadn’t introduced the concept of the Geth being undetectable.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      It’d ruin the pacing if it wasn’t already ruined by a ridiculous amount of combat. If they really had to put so much goddamn fighting at the end of the game, at least I get a solid half hour of loredump to tide me through.

      Yes, that’s how I think of Mass Effect :D

  12. Neko says:

    I think there was a bit of throwaway detail somewhere that the Keepers had access to areas of the Citadel that no-one else had ever been. Places which were completely sealed off in the innards of the Citadel. Of course you had to suspend disbelief that no-one had ever tried to get in these hidden areas or wondered what might be in there, but I would guess that the secret Reaper summoning button would be in there somewhere. So merely being a Spectre with access to the areas the Council might have access to wouldn’t necessarily get Saren what he needed, or at the very least people might ask questions when he’s busy laser-blowtorching his way through bulkheads. He needed to get Sovereign to the Citadel so he could do the secret Reaper handshake with whatever secret Citadel innards were around.

    1. CLuhrsen says:

      You didn’t have to suspend disbelief. You had the option of asking about it and are told that the Council enacted laws against interfering with the keepers and Citadel systems out of fear of breaking something that they didn’t understand.

      1. guy says:

        It’s mentioned somewhere that some people did mess with the Keepers because of their habit of randomly renovating sections people were trying to use, but then Citadel systems started failing so they stopped. There’s an ambient conversation involving someone watching a Keeper installing a wall in the middle of his office.

  13. Jonathan says:

    Baldur’s Gate II doesn’t have an “at the end” slog. It’s one combat area with some quest stuff to do, then several battles, each of which accomplishes a particular goal and takes less than a minute.

    TOB (the expansion) has a couple of sloggy areas, but when you’re invading the home of a small army, that’s what you get. They do at least change up the foes and the scenery.

    1. IFS says:

      Combat in BG2 is also really fun and engaging (for me at least, I’m sure some people dislike it) so even the longer ‘slogs’ of combat never felt like slogs to me.

    2. Zekiel says:

      Yeah BG2 did it pretty well actually didn’t it? (Compare Throne of Bhaal which has a series of stupidly hard boss fights at the end, and Baldur’s Gate 1 which has the Thieves Maze – the most difficult challenge in the game being overcoming pathfind problems in narrow corridors!)

  14. CruelCow says:

    >In any case, whatever happened to the Fallout 1 idea of using disguises, bullshit, and subterfuge to avoid all that combat? I'm not saying they needed to do that here, I'm just saying I wish somebody was still doing that sort of thing now and again.

    Have you looked at the Shadowrun series by Harebrained? You definitely can’t avoid all combat, but some of them you can talk yourself out of

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      Good call, I really enjoyed both Shadowrun Returns and Dragonfall. Looking forward to playing through Hong Kong (I have it downloaded but haven’t started it yet).

      1. Grudgeal says:

        Hong Kong is even better at it. There are missions in that game you can complete without firing a shot.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          yesss! Although I don’t *think* there’s a way to avoid the final boss, like I think Dragonfall might have had? (well, I suppose there was an evil option that might have worked…)

          Given the circumstances, that’s probably reasonable.

          1. Grudgeal says:

            Hong Kong endgame spoiler. So much spoiler:

            Not entirely, you still have to fight the final boss’ two first forms. But you can skip the final battle (which is more of a formality than anything at that point) by making a deal with it. Depending on the deal, from the view of the narrative this is presented as either the best or the worst way to deal with it.

            Dragonfall spoilers:

            This is similar to how it’s done in Dragonfall Director’s Cut. No matter which way you go you’ll have to fight *someone* as a final boss (either Audran or your own team), but again you’re allowed to choose the narrative describing the boss’ downfall if you do your research.

  15. Deager says:

    There’s no way Shamus can cover everything but I had an interesting dialogue about the Vigil scene regarding Lovecraftian vs sci-fi. The other person really did not like the comment, “In the end what does it matter. You salvation lies in stopping them, not in understanding them.” Basically the issue was the only reason this cycle has a chance is because the Prothean scientists spent a lot of time figuring out how the Reapers do what they do and the Protheans figured out a way to at least delay them. As others have already alluded to; from a sci-fi point of view it’d make the trilogy much more interesting to then figure out how to stop the Reapers and work off information in ME1; Saren’s research base info (although that did sort of blow up) or some other ME1 plot point other than the one they chose. Or at least execute it differently.

    On the other hand, I’m sort of lazy and like Alien so I liked the comment “In the end what does it matter. You salvation lies in stopping them, not in understanding them.” So for me, it was great to get the information and have things click into place but still leave the Reapers as mysterious.

    While ME2 was great for characters and I did like the mechanics of the ending of ME2, it really was a missed opportunity that Shamus and so many of you mentioned. And seriously, Terminator thing? *(()*@. I must have missed something in ME3; I guess humans are important so they decided to, for the first time, change the tried and true method of Reaper design.

    1. Writiosity says:

      It was explained (somewhere, can’t remember exactly where now) that the Reapers create the inside in the form of the race being reaped, then the standard cuttlefish Reaper hull is built around that. Might’ve been a design doc/concept art design actually, I don’t recall it being something in-game.

      1. Deager says:

        OK, I could buy that, if I can find it. But at least it’s an answer as I had no clue what was going on with that.

        1. guy says:

          I don’t think that was an official explaination, unless maybe it was confirmed in Leviathan. It was a pretty common fan theory.

          1. INH5 says:

            I think the writers did use this explanation in some interview somewhere. Behind the scenes, it is clear that when making ME2 they came up with the idea that each Reaper is shaped like the species that it is made from, then moved away from that when they realized how hard that would be to fully implement. By the time they made the final cutscene for ME2, it’s clear that the idea was “okay, the Reapers all have a general squidlike design, but there are variations in things like number of tentacles, eyes, hull shape, and other small stuff.” This image that flashes briefly during the “Reapers invade” game over ending of Arrival is probably a bit of concept art from when they were using that idea. Then at some point during the development of ME3, they apparently threw up their hands and just made every full sized Reaper except Harbinger look like Sovereign.

          2. Aldowyn says:

            I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in Leviathan, although the standard form IS based on the ‘leviathans’ which were the race that created the Reapers.

  16. Benjamin Hilton says:

    Shepard Standing on a dead reaper at the seat of galactic power while back-lit by flames? No that’s not hokey. Hokey is the credits sequence of the camera slowly moving towards Shepard who is….Staring into space? Floating in space? Suddenly come down with lockjaw? that never really made sense to me.

  17. CLuhrsen says:

    “Then when they do finally invade the Citadel, they move it into Earth orbit, which isn't something we knew it could do”

    That’s because we were explicitly told in ME1 that it wasn’t something that was possible. The codex explained that the maximum size for a ship was based on the mass limits of the Relays. The Destiny Ascension was the biggest ship that could use a Relay. The Geth Dreadnought from 3 would have been stuck in it’s home system.

    Granted there could have been the possibility of a special code that would allow the Relays to send something larger, but since that wasn’t stated in the game it can’t be used as justification.

    1. guy says:

      ME2 does include precedent for the special code idea; the Collector base had a safe zone smaller than the established precision of relay emergence, but the Reaper IFF tightened the precision. I am willing to spot them moving the Citadel; it’s not in a resource-rich system so they had to have put it there somehow.

    2. Jakob says:

      A lot of the time, it seems that Reapers have locked away features of their tech, so only they can use it. Same as the gps system. It is super precise, but if you aren’t authorized, you will only have access to an more imprecise version.

      For example, in the dlc “Arrival” for ME 2, we learn of the Alpha Relay. It functions as a standard secondary relay for normal races (i.e. it can send ships to any other relay, but only if the destination is within a few hundred lightyears). However, when used by the reapers, it can send them super far, even dropping them right on the citadel.

    3. INH5 says:

      Isn’t Sovereign itself larger than the Destiny Ascension? If so, that would mean that the precedent for a special code was set in ME1.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Does Sovereign even use the mass relays? … I guess he’d have to, or the rest of the Reapers could just jump back from deep space.

        Anyways, I’d be willing to bet that the /citadel/ didn’t use the relays, but instead has a heretofore unknown ability to relay itself.

      2. Mike S. says:

        Googling suggests they didn’t give a firm size for the Destiny Ascension (though I’m open to correction). The ship models don’t seem to be to a consistent scale, so we can’t use those.

        One post reasons that the DA is said to be 4x the size of any human ship, with the largest human ships at 800m, so~3.2km=bigger than Sovereign (who IIRC is stated to be 2km long). But I wouldn’t assume that the developers were relying on that sort of indirect inference. (And does “four times the size” mean length, or volume? Very different answers, and the latter seems more likely.)

  18. Spammy says:

    REmember, the space battle around the Citadel is not indicative of actual space battles in the Mass Effect universe. That was an anomaly because of how close the Mass Relay is to the citadel. Normally space battles aren’t within visual range, Sir Isaac Newton is going to cap you, et cetera. Turns out they forgot that part.

    Remember, the fighters strafing Sovereign to blow him up is anomalous because Sovereign was so into piloting the Saren-husk that he got distracted and lowered his shields or something.


    1. Ayegill says:

      I believe the fact you’re trying to reference is that SIR ISAAC NEWTON IS THE DEADLIEST SON OF A BITCH IN SPACE

    2. Aldowyn says:

      IIRC there was a bit in the codex about how ‘knife-range’ battles occasionally happen when defending a priority target.

      ME3 still isn’t consistent, but I’m not convinced the ME1 fight was, either, with the Normandy zipping around like that.

      Seafaring cruisers may be fast compared to battleships and carriers, but they’re not *THAT* fast.

  19. Jakob says:

    Okay, so many people are wondering why didn’t Saren just smuggle in some geths instead of using the conduit. Here is my thoughts:

    Sovereign has no clue at all what the conduit is at the start of the game. All it knows it broke the remote to open the citadel relay, so being ever so cautious, it wants to figure out exactly what it is dealing with before trying bull rush things. Hey, if someone started modifying your high tech relays, you might not want to tamper to much with it. It might be rigged to explode or something.

    So, Sovereign starts to try and gather intel. It appears on Eden Prime, because of the beacon, which has intel. In short, scrambled message, not really that useful. It might have learned about the conduit for the first time here, so it is natural extremely wary. Reapers doesn’t seem to like unknown factors (also the reason that humans are one of the first races to be attacked. We are newcomers, unknown entities. Eliminate that, and you can deal with an enemy you have studied for +1200 years).

    Now, unfortunately, Saren is declared a traitor shortly after Eden Prime, before Sovereign even has a clue on what the conduit is. That means that Saren really begins to lack assets on the citadel. Remember, Fisk and his thugs are met before we get him declared a traitor.

    I would imagine a big clean up is underway on the station as Sovereign is investigating the conduit.

    Now, once Sovereign learns of the nature of the conduit, it has a second option. It now knows that the conduit is a mass relay that connects to the citadel. It might reasonable also have learned that there is no hidden booby trap on the station, so the only threat that remains are the armada of the citadel races. By launching a boarding party through the conduit, it can quickly gain control of the citadel ward arms. This means it is only exposed to the armadas firepower for a limited time, which poses no real threat.

    In short, I don’t see the fridge moment with the conduit. I think it occurs merely because you assumed that Sovereign knew what the conduit was before Saren is declared a traitor. You forgot at what point in time did certain pieces of intel became available.

    1. guy says:

      Well, from the conversation Tali got a recording of, they did know the Conduit existed before Eden Prime, but not necessarily what it did. Possibly they recovered and used a badly damaged Beacon and were able to recover a mention of the Conduit but not a description or location.

    2. INH5 says:

      Except that Tali’s recording has Saren and Benezia saying that the Conduit will allow them to bring back the Reapers so, no, they knew what the Conduit was from the beginning. Not to mention that when they do land on Illos they don’t bother investigating the ruins at all and just head straight for the Conduit.

      1. guy says:

        It’s still not clear that they know exactly how, so they could easily have learned what it did later. Actually, Benezia probably didn’t know when she died, or she’d have told you to guard the Relay monument when she was being helpful. The only constraint is that he must have figured it out long enough before your arrival at Ilos to get Sovereign and the fleet in position for the attack.

      2. Jakob says:

        It says:
        Saren: “Eden was a major victory. The beacon has brought us one step closer to finding the conduit.”
        Benezia: “And one step closer to the return of the reapers.”

        They don’t indicate that the conduit itself is a mean to bringing them back, merely that finding it is a key step. The Ilos scientists did mention that the conduit helped them stop/delay the return, so of course Sovereign would be super interested in finding it.

  20. Christopher says:

    I like Vigil a lot, too. Ilos, Virmire and the final battle on the Citadel are the three parts of this game that I really enjoy. The slog wasn’t anything I had a problem with, at the end of the game I finally had enough abilities unlocked to feel sufficiently powerful and comfortable with the combat to deal with everyone, and it was the invasion of a place I knew, transformed into something amazing-looking.

    The problems I had are that the earlier levels and most of the sidequests are boring, the boss fights are all poor(Wooh, the final boss is a geth frog with a shotgun laser), the combat system(that is, the actual playing of the game for many hours) is not engaging and the characters in your party aren’t really there. I’m not sure what these next few articles are going to cover, but I appreciate how clear this series makes it that one really needs to enjoy the story above all else to get any enjoyment out of ME1. And then specifically the parts about the universe it creates. It really is the exact opposite of what one needs to enjoy Mass Effect 2.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Yep. I love the Citadel and I love everything from Virmire on, but I just couldn’t care less about most of Noveria and Feros. (therum is short and I get to talk to Liara, so aside from that freaking Krogan I don’t mind much)

      Why, for the love of god, would you make a setting chock-full of interesting aliens and then have all of your areas be human colonies? It’s not like they didn’t have models for several of the other races they could use!

  21. GloatingSwine says:

    I think the reason that the design mechanic of having alternate ways to progress other than “fight all the mans” is that it’s easy for the designers to gauge the pacing, challenge curve, and narrative tension in a game driven by combat. Especially when the combat is predominantly player skill driven like Mass Effect 2 and 3.

    You don’t have to think about “how much of X skill does player need to have at this point in the game” when the only progress relevant skill is “put your dot on their dot and click”.

  22. wswordsmen says:

    Anyone else think that Shepard really died at the end and were genuinely surprised at his survival?

    I was, I thought it would be too hard to fit all the choices you could make into the next game so they would kill him so they only had to talk about how cool he was while mostly dodging the choices he made.

  23. Sleepy the Bear says:

    I really liked the final battle up to the Council rooms. Or at least the atmosphere of a last ditch fight with under the Citadels wards, and the sense of doom as Sovereign crawls closer towards you.

    However, the last choice about the saving the Council is where Mass Effect lost some of its hold over me. I initially played through the Renegade option and let the council die, despite going full Paragon previously. I figured it was better to hold our fleet back to ensure we kill Sovereign rather than risking things. After finishing the boss battle I went back to a previous save to try and rescue the council. I hoped that you could only save Council at some cost, or risk of failure. Instead there is zero meaningful change between these choices. Call me grim-dark, but I wanted some consequences for my choices at the end of the game. I figured you might lose the Normandy in order to land the killing blow. Instead, you get some mention about lost human lives in the Codex and some reduced War Assets, which have zero in-game consequence. So ME3’s lack of meaningful choices wasn’t much of a surprise.

    I also mourn the loss of my Fem-shep from this game. She was battle-scared, too focused on soldiering to bother with makeup, and ran like a linebacker (as I suspect you’d have to run in power armor).

    I am also on board with Shepard dying at the end. I can see why they didn’t kill her. But I am immensely irritated by killing her and bringing her back from the dead at the end of one game, and then killing and reviving her at the beginning of the next game.

    Huh, once you start complaining about these games it’s really hard to stop. I’ll probably pop in later to rant about how quantum entanglement does not work like video games assume it does.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Yes pls! I could definitely go for a quantum entanglerant.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      It’s complete nonsense that the Paragon option is straight up better in ME1, as far as I’m concerned. Actually, that’s true of most of the series.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I actually like when there are options like that.Provided that they have some meaningful impact.Here,the only impact it has(putting humans on top)is just window dressing in the second and third game.If there was some meaningful difference between having human council and mixed council,then this would be a great option to establish renegade as pro human and paragon as pro peace amongst races.

    4. Mike S. says:

      The QECs are nonsense physics (among many other things, because quantum entanglement doesn’t allow FTL information transfer). But they’re the sort of abuse of scientific principles that SF has relied on since its inception. On the SF Mohs scale, it’s not Hal Clement hard, but it’s a couple of degrees harder than Asimov’s positronic brains (because positrons were new, and sounded cool, not because they had anything to do with computing) or James Blish’s spindizzy space drives (“Look! A real equation! Now I’ll move it around in a completely invalid way to justify my antigravity drive!”)

      And the analogy to quantum entanglement carries some limitations that are useful for story purposes: since they rely on two particles that had to have once been in proximity, you get 1:1 communicators and a network that’s slow to build out, rather than instantaneous communication to anywhere.

      Compared with the routine use of FTL, Mass Effect’s overrepresentation of humanoid body types, etc. etc., the QEC strikes me as a pretty minor liberty.

      1. Sleepy the Bear says:

        You’re right, the quantum entanglement is a minor abuse of science in the service of the story. But since that’s the physics I know best, that’s what I find irritating to see misrepresented. The way I imagine programmers have been irritated for decades when watching movies.

        1. Mike S. says:

          That, I totally get. :-)

  24. Thomas says:

    ME1 did not have a good ending, at best it didn’t have a bad ending, but that’s exactly where it stops.

    1. There’s not a single believable emotional moment in it, instead there are minutes and minutes of the audience being well ahead of the writer and just waiting for the writer to get on with it. Sarens not dead. He’s not dead. Saren isn’t dead. I know Saren isn’t dead stop dragging it out and resurrect him already. Seriously I know there’s a second part to this boss fight. Get it over with already.

    Shepard isn’t dead. Stop looking at the debris, everyone knows Shepard isnt dead. He didn’t die, this is really pointless. Hurry up and get to the dramatic moment please. Okay cool finally there? Awesome.

    2. It decides to remind us of all the poorly written council BS right at the end of the game, because we didn’t have enough of that before.

    3. The second Saren fight is probably the stupidest boss fight Bioware have ever created. I have no idea why “So then the dignified menacing villain turns into a frog and you fight him.” got past the draft phase. Apparently it did it with the words “Can he shoot lazerbeams out of his mouth too?”

    Funnily enough the bit I like _most_ about the ending is the slog. They did the thing you mentioned Dragon Age Origins doing for the ending of ME1 too, almost all the enemies were incredibly underpowered for the finale and you could breeze through it just by saying “Garrus and Wrex, walk forward.” which was really fun to see. And the first conversation with Saren is good too.

    But as far as Bioware endings go, it’s no Jade Empire, it’s no KOTOR1. In a ranked list of videogame endings it wouldn’t even be in the top 50%

    1. Aldowyn says:

      You seem awfully focused on the last like, five minutes. KOTOR, in my opinion, peaked well before the ending with the remarkably tedious fight against the astonishingly mediocre antagonist of Darth Malak. Malak’s entire job is to go ‘HEY YOU’RE REVAN’ and then he loses all relevance to your previous self.

      I’ll agree the second fight with Saren was pretty pointless.

      1. Thomas says:

        I’m talking about the literal ending as in ‘the last five minutes’, as opposed to say the endgame which in some games can be hours. Mass Effect 1 has a great endgame but a crud ending.

  25. INH5 says:

    I’m not going to mince words: the search for the Conduit plot makes no sense at all.

    Stop and think for a minute about the enormous risks that Saren is taking and what he actually has to go on. He’s chasing down vague Prothean visions and a bunch of tenuous leads that might lead him to something that might make it easier to take over the Citadel. If the Rachni queen hadn’t known where the Mu Relay was, or the Thorian wasn’t willing to cooperate, or if it turned out that the Conduit had broken down sometime in the last 50,000 years and didn’t work anymore, or any number of other things had happened to derail the plan, then Saren would have taken all these risks and spent all these resources for nothing.

    It isn’t enough to suggest ways that the Conduit could be useful for Saren. An adequate justification would have to describe why Saren is willing to go to such extreme lengths to get it. And I have yet to see anything that even approaches an adequate justification for it.

    Saren could indeed walk up to that control panel, but he'd be doing it right in front of the Council, which is roughly the equivalent to walking into the office of the American President and thumbing through his big book of nuclear launch codes. It's a safe bet that security would provide a spirited response. Saren is a badass, but presumably he's not a match for all of C-Sec. So while he can walk into the chambers alone, what he needs is to walk in there with an army of Geth. And the only way to get that many Geth into the Citadel without starting a war is to use the conduit. Sovereign only gets one chance to poke this particular hornet's nest, so he probably doesn't want to take any chances. Beaming an army of Geth into the station is a lot like usual plan of popping Reapers in around the station. It's got that sudden surprise invasion vibe that seems to appeal to Reaper sensibilities.

    Except that in the actual game, the Citadel in general and the Council Chambers in particular are not at all presented as any kind of impenetrable fortress. Even before you become a Spectre and are just “an Alliance marine that recently got exposed to an unknown Prothean artifact and is now making wild accusations against a trusted agent of the Council,” you are allowed to walk around the Council Chambers fully armed. Your companions, which can include a Quarian and a Krogan mercenary, are also allowed inside the chambers fully armed. There aren’t many security guards in that area, nor do you see any checkpoints, security scanners, automated turrets, etc.

    Call these gameplay conventions if you want, but the game never tries to counter them. Shepard doesn’t carry weapons while on the Normandy, so why couldn’t the Council Chambers also be a “weapon free zone”? You know, like the entire Citadel was in ME3.

    This is without even bringing up the fact that on Noveria the game does go out of its way to emphasize how high-security the place is, yet Benezia is able to smuggle a huge Geth army in anyway. So even the excuse of “this is the only way Saren could get an army onto the Citadel” is directly contradicted by another part of the game.

    The bottom line is that there is no obvious reason why Saren needs the Conduit, and the game never even attempts to provide a non-obvious reason. I can easily think of dozens of plans that Saren could have tried to accomplish his goals without the Conduit.* We could spend all day quibbling about how likely these plans would be to succeed, but all of them would have the huge advantage over “searching for the Conduit” of not requiring Saren to expend vast amounts of resources and take enormous risks on what could have easily turned out to be a wild goose chase. It’s not just that there are things Saren might have done differently, it’s that the plan he chose in the actual story is pretty much the most roundabout, inefficient, and riskiest way of accomplishing his goals one could possibly imagine.

    The worst part is that this would have been incredibly easy to fix. Just tweak the backstory so that undoing the Prothean sabotage of the Citadel, in the sense of getting the relay to work at all, requires some McGuffin that can only be found on Illos. The sabotage was, after all, planned on Illos, so it makes perfect sense for something like that to be there.

    Saren's plan does seem to have a few cracks in it like this. The difference between Saren and antagonists of the future is that Saren's plans seem mysterious at first, and then only seem questionable once you know the full story and have time to let the fridge logic to settle in. This is different from adversaries in the subsequent game, who seem to do confusing or stupid things, which are then sort of half-justified if you read enough codex entries and selectively believe certain sub-section of the things the Illusive Man says. It's the old gradient of plot holes at work again. No story is perfect, but the job of the storyteller is to avoid those plot holes that immediately launch you out of the story and require you to begin authoring your own headcanon to get back in.

    Maybe this didn’t throw you out of the story, but a lot of other people had a different experience. It’s very easy to find forum threads asking some variation of “why did Saren need the Conduit?” In fact, doing a google search for “why does Saren need the Conduit” (without quotes) gets more than 6,000 results. I’d say that this is the sign of a pretty big writing screw up, and the only reason it isn’t talked about more is because ME1 didn’t sell that many copies compared to, for example, the sequels.

    * For example, have Saren, Benezia, and as many mercenaries and geth platforms as can be smuggled in take hostages in the Citadel Control room (which a cutscene shows is a separate room from the Council Chambers) at the same time as Sovereign and the geth fleet attack, and delay the closing of the arms just long enough for Sovereign and some geth transports to get inside. Once they are inside, the geth transports can deploy enough troops to the Citadel tower to take it over, and then Saren can walk over to the Council Chambers and push the right buttons and fiddle with the right knobs. Meanwhile Shepard is out futzing around on Eden Prime with Nihlus and has no idea that any of this is happening.

    1. Call these gameplay conventions if you want, but the game never tries to counter them. Shepard doesn't carry weapons while on the Normandy, so why couldn't the Council Chambers also be a “weapon free zone”? You know, like the entire Citadel was in ME3.

      Presumably for technical reasons. You don’t get guns on the Normandy because there’s never a point in the story where you will use them. Same can’t be said for the Citadel, which has firefights occurring on multiple occasions. To get what you’re suggesting to work, you’d need the time and resources to:

      – Separate the chamber and it’s gamestate parameters from the rest of the citadel level or make it it’s own level entirely. Bear in mind since there is a point where you battle in there, you’d essentially have a duplicate environment to accommodate both.

      – Create specialized art and programming assets for all your party of them in their traveling gear, sans weapons.

      – Create some manner of justification for this transition. A cutscene for the visual change and dialogue to explain the context of the change.

      That’s a lot of time and resources to put into a game that already had issues with loading times to begin with, all to plug up a plot hole that’s not really a plot hole to begin with. Just sayin.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      It makes no sense to you because you are assuming two incorrect things:

      1)That saren and sovereign know what from the start what protheans did and how to subvert it.But like someone points out up in the comments,its very plausible that the journey you have of discovering the plan is exactly the same journey saren had as well.First fidning out the fragmented vision,then finding out the translation for it,and finally finding out that the problem was in the keepers,and that the citadel still functions if operated manually.

      2)That saren was indoctrinated from the start,and 100% aboard with whatever sovereign told him,without resisting one bit.But as I point out,he is shown as doing stuff of his own will,so his mistakes could very well come from his feeble resistance.

  26. “Why didn't Saren just undo whatever the Protheans did to the Keepers, so Sovereign could go back to Plan A?”

    I just finished what I assumed was a pretty thorough playthrough (I got to the level cap at least) and I don’t remember anything in the game that indicated he could if he wanted to. Nevermind that futzing with the Keepers of the Reapers is established as being a very public no-no, so presumably it’d be just as hard to pull off as ringing the dinner bell in the Council Chamber.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      is established as being a very public no-no and yet has an extremely annoying sidequest dedicated to doing it anyway.

      Just saying.

      1. Except no., you don’t futz with them. You don’t alter them in any way. You literally just equated scanning to reprogramming. Those are not the same things.

  27. Mersadeon says:

    Honestly, it would have made a lot more sense if the mini-relay in the citadel would have led to some part of the citadel people can’t go. Like, a part that can otherwise only be visited by Keepers. Actually, I think the lore pretty heavily implied that this would be the case, except then the gameplay didn’t pick up on that.

  28. mottaaf says:

    (Without reading all the other comments) I never had a problem with the logic of Saren’s plan.

    Remember Saren isn’t fixing the Reaper signal problem, he is just opening up the arms so Sovereign can interface with the Citadel and figure out what the problem is and fix it.

    I have no problem believing that the Citadel fleet would not take kindly to an unfamiliar type of ship just showing up and docking with it; and the combined fleet could kill Sovereign. So they had to get the Geth fleet to help distract the Citadel fleet, but if the Geth show up, the Citadel arms are closing for sure and Saren would not be able to ‘just’ open them up, so he needed the Geth to distract C-Sec. But the Geth can’t just waltz onto the Citadel either, so to be able to get Sovereign to interface with the Citadel required a plan that coordinated a simultaneous internal and external assault.

    1. Zekiel says:

      ^^This (as someone else pointed out further up the comments too). Saren’s not pushing the “summon Reapers” button. All his actions in attacking the Citadel are just enabling Sovereign to do it directly instead.

      I also believe (from memory) that the Keepers are irrelevant at this point – whatever the Protheans did to them is regarded as irreversible. Rather than Soverign trying to fix the Keepers, he’s just bypassing them to do whatever it is the Keepers are supposed to do when they receive their activation signal.

      1. Mike S. says:

        That was my impression as well. I was surprised that others read it as Saren fixing the Keepers rather than acting directly.

  29. Jeff says:

    Regarding Vigil, I mentioned disliking the whole Cassandra-protagonist thing inSci-Fi where nobody believes the protagonist in spite of a myriad of convenient recording devices at hand.

    Now I’m vaguely reminded – was it mentioned later that the recordings failed or something, some sort of hamfisted explanation of why they couldn’t record it?

  30. natureguy85 says:

    I like your explanation on why Saren couldn’t use the console. At first I thought it wasn’t enough because Saren is done so quickly. But I realized all he did was lock out the Relays and close the arms. He didn’t finish giving control of the station to Sovereign. If he had, Sovereign would have opened the relay and the Reapers would be here. Maybe he could have taken out the guards who objected and finished before a larger group arrived but it’s a good possibility.

    While you are right about the impact of the final confrontation happening in the same room as the first one, I still don’t like the final battle being where we’ve already been. They talked too much about the Keepers and secret areas of the Citadel to never use that idea. Well, I guess they used it with the magic hallway/room at the end of ME3.

  31. Ness says:

    More conjecture: Sovereign couldn’t just indoctrinate a scientist to figure out what’s wrong with the citadel. It’s illegal to mess with the citadel anyay, but no species had been advanced enough to discover what was up with it. Sovereign probably needed to be hands-on to fix the signals problem. The equivalent is if someone brain controlled me to give them rocket technology. Idk anything about rocketry so your brain control doesn’t do much. He wouldn’t want to give away all of his secrets either for fear that his thrall would give away his secrets (since the less control he exerts the more useful they are as anything other than a walking sack of meat)

  32. Ness says:

    Also the argument that Sovereign and Saren didn’t know what the conduit was or if it worked or any other thing the counter argument I see is… sowhat? I can theorize that Sovereign had many other agents and many other projects. This one is the one we are seeing because it was bearing fruit. If they got to Ilos and the conduit didn’t work he could either bring a bu ch of scientists to look at it or he could just go with plan R or S or T etc. He had time and he had been making steady gains (hr got the get in the last 20 years). But this is a story and “it turns out you were questing for a broken artifact” would be a worse story

  33. Bronnt says:

    2 and a half years after the fact, but I just replayed ME1. ME1 is FAR from a perfect game, but the last chapter nails everything. The most satisfying thing in the entire series, for me, is talking Saren into blowing his own head off. It’s a reward for roleplaying and following the story. There’s someone involved in that who understands how to deliver the sense of satisfaction that makes video games enjoyable.

    And then Shepherd is freaking genre savvy enough to follow up with “Make sure he’s dead.” And then your teammates walk over to his corpse, look at it, and then put an extra bullet through his skull. Shepherd then issues her recommendations to the alliance fleet that’s about to jump in. She’s obviously not doing everything, but she’s proactive and she’s the definitively the character who is driving events. THAT’S the Shepherd I loved playing as. It’s insane to think that they somehow made Shepherd into a blind sheep (and sometimes a drooling idiot) in the ensuing games.

  34. David Y says:

    Realise I’m 3 years late to this party, but there’s an issue with the above that I think is quite significant. The premise of many of these criticisms is that Saren could’ve walked up to a control panel at any time and pressed a button, but that is not the case. The Conduit is crucial to the plot, as follows.

    The events of ME1 come about, we find out from Virgil, because the Protheans with their last were able to alter the Keepers just enough that they’d ignore the instruction to open the relay to Dark Space. We already know from the early parts of the games that the Keepers a) go about their business without interference, b) have the complete run of the Citadel and c) including areas and functions to which the rest don’t have access.

    What happened is that Saren needed to use the Conduit to access the area of the Citadel where all these functions happen. I would liken it to the area Shepard finds himself in with Starchild in ME3 (spit). It’s a secret area, inaccessible and unknown whose only way in is via the Conduit, whose location was hidden and need the beacon, cipher, a Rachni’s memory and an Asari to decipher.

    Saren could not have opened the relay at any time, else that’s exactly what he would have. The Conduit accessing this hidden part of the Citadel is the crucial plot point missing from the above.

    1. Karma The Alligator says:

      Except the Conduit literally drops you (and anyone else using it) in front of the tower that leads to the Council Chambers, nothing else. It doesn’t unlock the secret areas, nor does it take you there.

  35. stonebrood says:

    “no story is perfect” could be your slogan i see you say it so much
    maybe not perfect but I’m pretty sure you can write a story without plot holes pretty easily

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