Mass Effect Retrospective 13: Plan B From Outer Space

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 10, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 171 comments

Before we move on to Mass Effect 2, let’s talk about what what we might expect to see as someone who just completed the first game and had no idea where the sequels were going to go.

The Plan is to Come Up With a Plan Later

Saren performs an emergency RENEGADE INTERRUPT on himself.
Saren performs an emergency RENEGADE INTERRUPT on himself.

In the past I’ve said that BioWare’s problem was that they didn’t have a plan for Mass Effect. After re-playing the first game and looking back at the arrangement of plot elements, I have to say it’s pretty clear I was completely wrong. Somebody did indeed have a plan. No, they didn’t know the secret behind the Reapers or how the heroes would stop them, but they did have a framework to build on. They had clear direction for the story. The first game spent a lot of time establishing a very particular arrangement of elements and characters to facilitate the quest-driven nature of this series. It was ideally suited to explain why a squad of three people on foot was the best way to solve the problem of genocidal machine gods.

Reapers are an unbeatable race of machine gods that are coming to wipe out all life. However, it’s completely up in the air as to how long it will take them to get here. More importantly, we have no means to fight them. This creates questions in the minds of the audience, and those questions perfectly line up with the needs of the plot and the motivations of the central characters. Shepard’s last line in the game drives this point home, “The Reapers are still out there. They’re coming. And I’m going to find some way to stop them!” The final line of the game explained what the sequel would be about.

Prothean ruins are scattered throughout the galaxy, and they hold secrets that can advance the plot. They can have technology which grants us new weapons. They can have a VI like Vigil that can bestow explicit information, or they can have beacons that dispense vague hints. They can have hidden mass relay jumps to secret locations. They can appear on distant uninhabited worlds, be found near colonies, or be hidden beneath existing cities. Most importantly, they can hold as much or as little about the Reapers as the plot requires. Basically, they give the writer the excuse to send us anywhere. They can design a variety of fun quests, set pieces, and locations, and then just stick a Prothean ruinBy “Prothean ruin” I mean any item from any of the previously reaped races, even if it’s not necessarily Prothean in origin. or artifact nearby to give the plot a reason to go there.

The other races all look up to us now. But, you know, not in a way that would give us any power or even encourage them to listen to us.
The other races all look up to us now. But, you know, not in a way that would give us any power or even encourage them to listen to us.

The Council got to see a Reaper up close. Maybe they believe in the doomsday legend and maybe they don’t, but they have witnessed first hand that there is a massive new military threat in the galaxy. Udina even says that “The races are scared. They’ve never faced anything like this before. They don’t know what to do. They want us to step forward.” The council also might have died and been replaced by one that’s human-influenced to some degree. The writer has leeway to make them provide you with help if the story calls for it, or leave you to conduct your search alone if that suits gameplay better. The only thing this ending doesn’t allow for is that the leadership would dismiss Shepard and decide to do nothing.

Shepard can understand Prothean thanks to the Cipher. The conversation with Vigil makes it clear that Shepard hasn’t just seen a bunch of random hallucinations. Through his struggles he’s gained some sort of insight into Prothean language. If the writer needed, they could even use the Cipher to say Shepard is able to use Prothean devices or open doors that nobody else can. This gives the writers a free pass to put Shepard at the center of any effort to learn about the Reapers. Large-scale RPG’s always have the question: “If this is so important, then what don’t they send in the army?” Mass Effect 1 carefully constructed a scenario to address this problem. You don’t need an army to investigate ruins and look for clues in deep space. You need a small team, and Shepard is the most logical leader for that team. Boom! No need for a “chosen one” trope. Shepard just happens to be the person with the skills and resources to do this, and it has nothing to do with fate or superhuman ability.

Shepard is a Spectre. The Spectres are this group of agents with tons of power and little accountability, who are respected in some places but not others. This is like a “create a plot point for free” card for the writers. Do we need to explain why this ruin has been undisturbed for centuries before Shepard came along? “Nobody is allowed in here but since you’re a Spectre I’ll make an exception.” Do we need to justify obstructionist jackasses making us do side-quest stuff even though we’re trying to save the galaxy? “I don’t trust the Spectres or the council because they failed us when [backstory]. Your Spectre status means nothing in this part of space. Instead, you must [do this quest thing] before I’ll agree to help you.” People can be as difficult or as accommodating as the gameplay requires, without breaking any characters or creating annoying plot holes.

By the Goddess, Shepard! I cannot believe how awesome you are. Let's run away together and look for Prothean ruins before the Mass Effect 2 writers show up.
By the Goddess, Shepard! I cannot believe how awesome you are. Let's run away together and look for Prothean ruins before the Mass Effect 2 writers show up.

Liara is an expert on Prothean ruins. Right there, built into the core of the squad, is a magical exposition and quest dispenser. Do we need to send the player somewhere? Liara knows about some ruins there. Let’s say we want a ruin with a Prothean door that’s been sealed for 50k years (to explain why it hasn’t been looted yet) and we need some way for the heroes to open it now. Liara can find the door, explain the backstory of the ruin, and provides an excuse for why our team can go inside even though nobody else can. Liara can read symbols and explain why we have to do the requisite door-opening puzzle. Do we need to understand some new techno-gizmo? Liara has seen diagrams, or read rumors, or whatever. Her career is directly relevant to the plot in a way the other characters aren’t.

The Normandy is a one-of-a-kind stealth ship with the best pilot in the Alliance. Do we need to send the crew where nobody has ever gone before? The stealth ship and Joker’s skill can explain why the journey is possible for us when it was impossible for others. On the other hand, the stealth systems aren’t a cloaking device and the ship can still be spotted visually. So the Normandy is as visible or as hidden as the plot requires, to allow or gate progress as needed.

Some people thought the Protheans built the Mass Relays, but research suggests they were actually the creation of a being known as J.J. Abrams.
Some people thought the Protheans built the Mass Relays, but research suggests they were actually the creation of a being known as J.J. Abrams.

Mass Relays are mostly closed because of the Rachni, which means there’s a great big chunk of the galaxy out there that we’ve never seen. If the writers really need to fling the characters into the unknown, there’s always the possibility that they could open a relay and go someplace crazy in the quest to find a way to beat the Reapers.

Indoctrination can mind control anyone, so if the game designers decide that Geth fights are getting stale, we can justify having just about any race we like as a Reaper-serving mook. There’s no telling how many followers or sleeper agents Sovereign might have created before the events of Mass Effect 1.

A Way to Beat the Reapers


The writer also gave themselves a couple of tools for justifying why the good guys might win this time, when so many countless cultures have fallen to the Reapers. In a Details First story, saying “We won because we’re super-motivated badasses” will come off as lame. Sure, we do need heroes to be strong and passionate, but it’s safe to assume that over the last few millions of years, some other passionate, clever, and motivated folks fell to the Reapers. In fact, that’s part of what makes the Reapers so horrifying.

The Reapers actually have an insidious setup. They have a network of relays that control the flow of traffic through the galaxy. At the crossroads they have the Citadel, a spacious, self-sustaining palace of comfort and free energy. Naturally, this place would make a fantastic trade center or seat of government for whatever sapients find it. Whoever controls the Citadel will have an advantage over the other species that might show up, which gives it strategic value, which means political power will gravitate there.

So the Reaper alarm clock goes off every 50k years. They jump directly into the Citadel, wiping out the government and silencing all communications before the dumb meatbags even know there’s a problem. By the time Joe Sapient gets his pants on and arms himself, his government has stopped existing.

Once they control the seat of power, the Reapers can indoctrinate whoever they please and read everyone’s computer files, thus telling them the location of every single known settlement in the galaxy. From this point, it’s just a matter of mopping up. Once the last of the sapients are dead or indoctrinated, the Reapers obliterate the ruins, clean up the Citadel for the next batch of suckers, turn off the lights, and then retreat to dark space and set the genocide alarm for 50k years.

Having Shepard die at the hands of nameless Geth mooks is a pretty silly way to end an epic story like this. But it's not the WORST way to end it, either.
Having Shepard die at the hands of nameless Geth mooks is a pretty silly way to end an epic story like this. But it's not the WORST way to end it, either.

It’s a setup so good that over the course of countless cycles, no species has ever stopped them. We can assume it would be just as hopeless this time around, except for a few small details that have changed.

Our first lucky break is that the Protheans did us a solid and sabotaged the Citadel. They tried to hide from the Reapers on Iilos, and that nearly worked out. But when it was clear they were doomed to extinction, they fixed the Citadel so the Reapers couldn’t just pop in like they usually do. If not for this, then Humans would likely have opened up their Mass Relay a couple of hundred years ago and wound up stumbling out into the galaxy mid-reaping.

But the Prothean sabotage delayed the Reapers, denied them their backdoor, and left scattered warnings for the people of the next cycle. This didn’t give us the means to win, but it did give us a window of opportunity to look for a way to win.

The other lucky break for the inhabitants of this cycle is that the Asari were the first species to rise to power. It’s hinted that sooner or later, usually one species winds up in charge. Like a game of Master of Orion that runs long, someone is bound to tip the balance and grab all the power for themselves. At that point everyone else ends up dead or enslaved. This means that it’s just one species ruling the Citadel when the Reapers throw their surprise party.

Stop Liara... ghk... you're... hrk... choking... me!
Stop Liara... ghk... you're... hrk... choking... me!

But the Asari have an unconventional way of procreating. They prefer to mate with other species, which means they value species diversity. They’re also incredibly long-lived, which tends to put them in charge. So this time around the galaxy is run – or greatly influenced by – a powerful species with a fixation on peace and cooperation. They’re strong enough to rule, but have this interest in promoting peace and lifting up other species instead of subjugating them. .

This creates a galaxy with a lot more diversity than the Reapers are used to dealing with. This could have been used as a plot point at the endgame, or it could have been used to explain why this cycle is just a little more adaptable than previous ones.

And finally, the Rachni happened. At one point someone opened up a relay and the Rachni poured through. They nearly conquered the galaxy. The fallout from this shook the mindset and development of the entire galaxy. It led to the Krogan uplift, which led to the Genophage. It led to a policy of not opening up any more relays, which led to the war between Turians and Humans. It also led to a galaxy where a majority of the relays are still closed, which is probably also something the Reapers don’t usually see when they show up.

Mechanically, the Mass Effect 1 writer did plan ahead. They had an “unbeatable” enemy, an excuse for why we “might” be able to beat them, and a setup that required a small squad of characters to travel around and have adventures. Yes, they needed to come up with an ending, and (maybe) an explanation for the Reapers, but they gave themselves a wonderful framework to build on, and that framework worked with both the genre of gameplay and the genre of the story. There was a plan, and for whatever reason the writer of Mass Effect 2 threw it away and did something completely different.

We’re going to spend one more post walking about this strange disconnect between the end of Mass Effect 1 and the start of Mass Effect 2. A lot of the later problems begin here, and there’s a lot to unpack.



[1] By “Prothean ruin” I mean any item from any of the previously reaped races, even if it’s not necessarily Prothean in origin.

From The Archives:

171 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 13: Plan B From Outer Space

  1. Grudgeal says:

    This is pretty much every thought I had about ME1’s ending plot hooks presented way better (I didn’t even consider the Asari angle). They could have made a great second game based on this premise instead of the bug hunt and ‘OMG they’re killing the humans!’ narrative we got.

    But the writing team apparently didn’t change. So why did the narrative? Didn’t the writers recognize for themselves how much great groundwork they’d laid down? Was there a hand-down executive order to turn it into a Gears of War clone? Did the strain of the Star Wars MMORPG cause the writing team to be unable to follow up on their plot hooks? Did a Cerberus Rogue Cell infiltrate Bioware’s headquarters?

    1. Felblood says:

      Some time between ME1 and ME2 someone upstairs decided that Mass Effect should stop all this thinky, Star Trek BS and become COD: Black Ops — In Spa~ce!

      1. shpelley says:

        It’s so unfortunate too, if we had the story/strong thematic elements of ME1 and the combat system of ME2, that is all I’d ever want. ME2 definitely felt a lot better combat-wise to me but all the story issues sabotaged it for me.

    2. SlothfulCobra says:

      I think the excuse most people give is that the guy in charge of the writers was swapped out, maybe to work on The Old Republic.

      Of course, if you think about it, those are the obvious plot hooks, but I feel in my gut that however many plans there were in place, nobody left any notes about them, so the second game was formulated mostly from scratch.

      1. Matt K says:

        It might sound odd, but I bet there was a good chance that at least some of the people making the game never played the first one, so not matter how obvious it is in game, without design documents that info may never get to the people actually creating the game.

        1. SlothfulCobra says:

          There’s no way they didn’t have access to the previous games documentation, though. Or at least its script.

          1. Tom says:

            Theoretically, that approach could work, but it never does. Just look at the Gene Deitch era of Tom & Jerry. The Czech animation studio it was farmed out to were given all the information they needed, but apparently never saw an original Hanna-Barbera episode. It shows. Oh boy, does it show.

            Mass Effect 2 wasn’t quite such a drastic change from ME1 (though it’s not far off – ME1 was going for a late 60’s – early 70’s TV sci-fi, optimistic, white plastic, Star Trekky kind of vibe; ME2 seemed to be trying its damnedest to be Blade Runner for the first half or so, and a bunch of other gritty 80’s movies for the remainder), nor ME3 from ME2, but if one were to, say, compare ME3 to ME1 without any knowledge of the middle episode, it would be about equally jarring.

      2. James says:

        i do recall that for ME 1, Drew Karpshyn was a lead writer.
        But for ME 2 he was also working rather heavily on SWTOR and while i dont want to blame Mac Walters it might have at-least something to do with it

    3. Taellosse says:

      Except the writing team did change – although he’s still credited as a writer on ME2, Drew Karpyshyn (lead writer for the first game, as well as Knights of the Old Republic and several other Bioware titles) was shifted over to The Old Republic pretty early in ME2’s development, and Mac Walters, who was lead writer for ME2 and 3, essentially took over full time. Additionally, Mike Laidlaw (who moved to Dragon Age) left, and they added 3 new writers for ME2: Chris Hepler, Brian Kindregan, and Jay Turner. So they had a bigger writing staff, led by a different guy, and the original lead wasn’t around to advocate his ideas or remind the rest of the team what threads they’d already laid down.

      Additionally, though it wasn’t trumpeted initially, EA actually took ownership of Bioware not long after the first Mass Effect released, meaning that ME2’s development was managed under the direct guidance of EA’s corporate overlordship. So yeah, there probably was “a hand-down executive order to turn it into a Gears of War clone” – that’s exactly what EA was doing with just about everything they touched at the time (slightly less so these days, but then it was still the heyday of EA’s “chase the fads” strategy).

      1. MrGuy says:

        Slight tangent – there’s a really interesting thread in Neal Stephenson’s REAMDE (sic) about a gameworld (pretty clearly a WoW-type MMO) when they transition from one lead writer to another, and how impactful the shift of focus is.

        I can totally see a reasonable case being made that “the new guy” has come in and wants to tell HIS stories in this world, not the ones he’s been set up to write.

      2. Zaxares says:

        Was Drew Karpyshyn the guy who had the idea behind the “Reapers are harvesting organic races because of something to do with dark energy”, snippets of which we saw during Tali’s mission on Haestrom? If so, I’d dearly love to know what was his original idea for how the story was supposed to have played out.

        1. Taellosse says:

          That’s what the grapevine indicates. Nobody directly involved in the writers’ room of the ME series has been terribly forthcoming, to my knowledge, about what was left on the cutting room floor, how fleshed out any of it was, or who was responsible for either writing it or discarding it.

          1. Richard says:

            “Who was responsible for…”

            That’s generally something that nobody can ever tell after-the-fact in any good artistic team.
            Art is collaborative, ideas bounce off each other and in a good team, nobody’s ever really sure who came up with something because every idea has been through most of their minds before it makes it onto the actual page.

            In a bad team, everyone knows exactly who did each component, because they don’t fit together anyway.

            1. Taellosse says:

              Presuming that most of the plots of the ME games were written collaboratively. From what I’ve read about their process, that’s mostly not the case. The lead writer is responsible for the main plot (in consultation with the the project director), and the various other writers are responsible for particular missions and/or the dialogue of major NPCs, with oversight by the lead. I’m sure some incidental collaboration takes place, but from the sound of it, they mostly don’t work in a “writers room” like on a TV series.

        2. Tom says:

          Has anybody asked him, or does he have some kind of contractual gagging order from EA?

    4. tremor3258 says:

      I hadn’t considered the Asari’s impact in that context in regards to the Council – it’s such a thing in Mass Effect it’s easy to forget its apparent rarity.

      1. Victor McKnight says:

        Yeah, I basically thought every single thing Shamus pointed out my first time through the game, except for this point. I think its a really interesting angle and makes a huge amount of sense.

        Looking at Earth’s own history, the Asari are basically playing the role of the UN, acting on other races (countries) entering onto the galactic (global) stage. The Council even performs the same basic functions as the UN Security Council. Its not a perfect fit – lots of small details are different – but it explains how you might have such a diverse group of races.

        But Shamus’ point about the Asari and breeding and what it might mean for their desire for inclusiveness is a nice subtle touch I hadn’t keyed into. Its too bad the sequels mostly just focus on Asari being bad ass at biotics. We don’t really get the sense in later games that they are moderating the Turians and Salarians (or humans) much. There are a few lines to be sure, but that is about it.

        1. guy says:

          Yeah, the Asari Councilor in the first game is nearly always the one being friendly and reasonable in conversations, while the Turian Councilor is always hostile. It would have been both interesting and funny if, in your conversations in the third game, they’d privately admit they were doing that on purpose to exploit their species reputations for a good cop/bad cop routine.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            Man, that’d be neat. You never even learn their NAMES, as far as I’m aware, but they definitely had distinct personalities. A missed opportunity in ME2, one among many.

            I’d never considered the idea that the Asari being the first to find the Citadel likely led to a very different political climate, either. Very interesting point.

            1. Taellosse says:

              I’m not sure whether you can find their names in the game or not (I know they’re never spoken aloud, but they may have been visible as text labels during certain conversations, or something), but they do have names:

              Asari: Tevos (replaced by Irissa if the Destiny Ascension is destroyed)
              Salarian: Valern (replaced by Esheel)
              Turian: Sparatus (replaced by Quentius)

              1. Victor McKnight says:

                I was going to say I felt like the Salarian councilor’s name is said in ME3, but now that you have listed it, it doesn’t sound familiar.

                That is probably a bad sign.

                Also, Guy, I love your idea – that it is all a routine they are playing to test Specters, or and anyone else really.

                1. Taellosse says:

                  I think it may have been mentioned in passing once or twice, during the mission involving Thane. Wasn’t it the Salarian councilor that he saves from assassination?

      2. 4th Dimension says:

        I did notice later on that there is a bit too much diversity compared to the ussual considering that for every cycle there seems tio have been one dominant race, and now there isn’t one. But Shamu’s point is a nice explanation that explains the state of affair beyond “the writers wanted lot’s of wierd races to give the modelers something to do and create planet’s of hats” or “aliens are simply too nice”. This way there is an underlying non moral/physical reason why there are a lot of races in the Council.

        1. guy says:

          I don’t think there’s usually one dominant race, and when there is they’re probably usually First Among Equals. I mean, it was true of the Protheans, but there’s no reason to think they aren’t an exception. The Reapers apparently deliberately leave tech caches around, so being first into space even by quite a bit isn’t going to give an insurmountable tech advantage. Even if a race is stronger than any other, odds are good they won’t be so strong that they don’t have to worry about making everyone else gang up on them. And control of the Citadel is immensely valuable, but it’s so valuable no one is going to want anyone else to have exclusive control (though they might accept someone owning the Citadel and leasing space on it) and it isn’t all that defensible. It’s strategically positioned to be easy to get to from everywhere, and it isn’t armed. It’s nearly invincible when the arms are closed, but it isn’t actually invincible. The codex says it could be breached with a multi-day fleet bombardment, so closing it merely stalls for time.

          That said, I think the Asari are primarily responsible for the Council existing the way it does. It’s a genuine government made up of several equal nations; it has a fleet that reports to the Council despite being provided from the member militaries. This is apparently an extension of how the Asari govern themselves; they’re the Asari Republics, plural, but they have a single Councilor and apparently a combined fleet. If the Asari weren’t around, the Council would probably be “The Turians graciously allowing other species to pretend they matter.” If there isn’t a militarily dominant species, any Council analogue is probably a joke.

          1. RCN says:

            I dunno. I think that if there weren’t any Asarians, the Salarians would be in charge, but from the shadows, allowing the Turians to be the headpiece. Either that or they’d be completely removed, politically, from any galactic alliance.

            The Salarians would probably more secretive and paranoid, while the Turians would probably be more aggressive and coercive.

          2. Mike S. says:

            Honestly, even with only fifty thousand years to play in, a 1% difference in development speed is the difference between sailing ships and starships. And during most of that time we were preagricultural bands whose highest technology was chipped flint hand axes.

            The species being close enough in development to work together, challenge one another, etc. is permissible artistic license. More likely, first contact for everyone but the first species in space is starships appearing in the sky over hunter-gatherers. Or if they’re really lucky, agricultural empires who envy the Aztecs’ chances against Spain.

            (Even in ME’s history, the asari might have shown up in Sol system any time from Babylon onward. And they weren’t even paranoid about opening up relays till the first millennium CE.)

            1. INH5 says:

              Granted, ME actually does have the various species become spacefaring centuries or millennia apart from each other. Looking at the fan-wiki’s timeline, the Krogan would probably have gotten into space before the Asari if they hadn’t nuked themselves back to the stone age first, the Salarians met the Asari some 60 years after the latter had found the Citadel, and the Turians and Volus showed up sometime over the next couple of centuries until the Rachni War threw a wrench into everything. All of which took place nearly 2 millennia before humans were able to even get into orbit of their home planet.

              One weird thing about the timeline is how long it apparently takes to explore the galaxy – a whole 500 years pass between the Asari finding the Citadel and the Salarians opening the wrong relay and running into the Rachni. Later, the humans explore the various mass relays for 15 years until they run into the Council races. The only explanation I can think of is maybe opening dormant relays takes a long time – years, or even decades. That could help explain why there are multiple competing species with starships – sure, one of them got to the stars centuries before the others, but it took them centuries to reach the others, by which time some of them had gotten into space, found ruins from the previous cycle, and made starships of their own.

              Though one thing we do know is that even if the Rachni War hadn’t happened, the Asari probably wouldn’t have come into contact with pre-spaceflight humans. At the time, the Sol system’s relay was buried under the surface of Pluto’s moon Charon, which I assume would make it unreachable. The nearest system with mass relays is Arcturus, which is 30 light years away. Given how many stars are in Arcturus’s neighborhood (a google search tells me that there are more than 150 known stars within 20 light years of Earth), what are the chances of them choosing to explore the system of a random M-class star that, because this was millennia before humans invented radio, wouldn’t be emitted any EM noise reminiscent of a technological civilization.

              1. swenson says:

                Bit late, but there’s this amazing cut content originally planned to be in the Shadow Broker’s files that not only implied an asari exploration vessel (that Samara was on) did stop by Earth once several hundred years ago… had to make a forced landing, actually, and when they left they mayyyy have accidentally created the storm that sank the Spanish Armada.

                It was cut from the game, so it’s probably not canon, but still hilarious.

        2. Writiosity says:

          Don’t forget that the Protheans themselves actually had a hand in making sure this diversity happened, it wasn’t totally by chance.

    5. You know, I hate to say it, but the evidence is pretty good that Sturgeon’s Law applies to professional writers as much as it applies to everyone else. There is nothing implausible whatsoever about 1. Everything Shamus said is 100% on purpose and 2. The new writers either did not realize it, or simply decided that their own stuff was so much more important and awesome that it justified trashing the perfect sequel setup. I tend towards the former, truthfully, much as I hate to say that, too.

      Makes me want to read and/or write a fanfiction continuation of Mass Effect starting from here and ignoring 2 & 3.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Sturgeon’s Law was originally applied to professional writers. The “90% of science fiction” in its first clause was implicitly the published stuff. (No one would have suggested that the crud fraction of the slush pile was anywhere near that low.)

        1. Facepalm. I should have known that. You got me fair and square on that!

  2. LadyTL says:

    The stuff you described is the game or games I would have loved playing. That was the stuff I enjoyed so much in ME1 to be honest. I always find it really too bad that those things were pretty much gone for the rest of the series.

    1. Rory Porteous says:

      It’s a bit heartbreaking really. They had the setup for a fantastic arc of games that explored a Star Trek-esque universe, complete with mysterious and terrifying existential threats threatening to destroy a world you couldn’t help but immerse yourself in. And it just turned into ‘Robots want to kill the humans’ and ‘Oh shit we forgot to set up anything in the last game’.

      And it didn’t end up being bad, but it could have been so, so, so much more. Mass Effect 2, even at the time felt like a disconnect from the previous game, but it was still a greatly enjoyable game. The problem came from when Mass Effect 3 came out and ME2 stood out like a sore thumb. You can skip it and miss very little.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Looking at a series as a whole, ME2 basically exists solely to introduce a few important characters for issues they wanted to tackle in 3 – mostly Mordin, Legion, and I suppose TIM.

  3. Xilizhra says:

    Personally, I think a big part of ME2’s plot was because EA was pretty adamant about marketing ME2 to people who hadn’t played ME1, using the gameplay shift as a reason. And that clearly worked, judging by sales figures.

    Personally, ME2 was my favorite game. Partially because it handled characterization significantly better than ME1, partially because the combat is a lot more fun… I even, after playing ME3, got to enjoy the concept of working with Cerberus. Mostly because, whatever Cerberus is, it’s not as boring as working for the Alliance.

    Then again, I’m a complete weirdo who thought that the ending was one of the better parts of ME3, with the worst part being the anthropocentrism of the setting and the omnipresence of the bloody Alliance.

    1. The Railway Man says:

      I’d offer that EA marketing the game to first-timers doesn’t seem to me to be the main factor in their Radical Retooling… Surely they could cram this new shooter-ing gameplay into the existing plot framework, no?

      I’m starting to wonder if it was necessitated instead by more corporate interests who insisted they cast someone like Martin Sheen, which put the writers into a bind – forcing them to scramble up someone human for him to play.

      Or perhaps the ‘destruction of Earth’ thing was already planned, and the writers sought a more ‘humanity-centric’ plot to make the threat of the Reapers more… personal?

      1. wswordsmen says:

        Cerberus being important was planned. I don’t know what role they were to play, but the hints about them are just to strong. The Admiral Kohoku quest line (which ends with him getting killed by Cerberus after giving you the name) is placed so that it is really hard to miss, almost as hard as the Keeper scan quest (which is really important to give the info dump on them setting up Vigil).

        1. Mike S. says:

          Though then there’s the weird Armistan Banes connection, who Anderson speaks portentiously about before he’s dropped entirely, never to be mentioned again. I’d guess there was supposed to be more Cerberus in ME1 but it got cut for time, though I suppose it could also be a dropped sequel hook like the dark energy on Haestrom.

      2. BFEL says:

        Actually I think that EA wanting it to work for people who didn’t play the previous games is possibly THE reason things went so far south.

        Think about it this way: because of this, they had to make every game a self contained story as well as a continuation. They had to make ME2’s Collector plotline pay off in a big finish wrapped up in a little bow for all the people who didn’t buy the first and might not buy the next, and then they had to do the same in ME3.

        If you look at each game as a completely different story from the others it starts to make more sense where the devs heads were at.

        In essence they changed it from one long story to three separate stories with tiny plot threads vainly trying to tie them together.

        1. INH5 says:

          ME1 was already a self-contained story. By the end all of the bad guys are dead and all the plot threads are tied up in a neat little bow, except for the tacked on sequel hook. I suspect the plan for most of ME1’s development was for each entry in the series be its own mostly self-contained story (see my really long comment below for my reasons why). Then for whatever reason they tacked on the sequel hook at the end, which gave the impression that it was going to be one long story, and so they tried to make some new plot threads to tie all the games together. It failed, in large part because the main plot thread they had come up with to tie the third game in with the first two (the Dark Energy plot) was abandoned when they actually sat down to make the third game.

          I highly doubt EA had anything to do with it. For one, because Microsoft Games published ME1 which is where I think the problem started (though I would not be surprised if someone at Microsoft was responsible for that game’s sequel hook). More importantly, because multiple people at Bioware have said that EA gave Bioware complete creative control, and I believe them. If EA had been exercising any creative oversight at all, they wouldn’t have let Bioware make the ending to ME3 the opposite of everything that EA could possibly want form the ending to ME3.

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      I get that, but those needs could have been accommodated without the plot and setting needing to take a stupid pill.

      1) There’s no reason to kill Shepard and destroy the first Normandy in ME2. The only thing it accomplishes storywise is to get Shepard working for Cerberus, and it’s a ridiculously Rube Goldbergian way of doing so. It ends up creating more plot holes: there’s now resurrection technology out there in the galaxy, but no one ever brings it up again. There are cultures and individuals who have questions and beliefs about the afterlife, but no one ever asks Shepard about it. Everyone from ME1 Shepard crosses paths with either picks up like the last two years didn’t happen, or acts like Shepard stood them up for dinner instead of being dead and incarcerated by terrorists.

      2) Even if the Council wanted to cover up the Reapers, how can they do that? Sovereign attacked the centre of galactic government, commerce, communication, shipping, trade, and culture. There are millions of people from different cultures who saw a really powerful ship take out most of the Citadel’s defense, and even if the Council doesn’t want to acknowledge a race of ancient killer machines committing genocide on a schedule, they have to acknowledge the geth had a ship more powerful than anything they’ve ever seen before. They need to reverse engineer it or develop something comparable, because if there had been two of those things the Citadel would be a debris field.

      3) Say they still want to do this “working for Cerberus” malarkey in ME2. A better way to do it would be to have the Council ask Spectre Shepard, or the Alliance to ask Commander Shepard, to infiltrate Cerberus. Then the Illusive Man gives Shepard his manifesto of how he sees things. Maybe the player can decide to keep to the mission and continue spying on Cerberus until the handlers tell Shepard to sabotage them/kill Illusive Man/whatever, or decide they find TIM’s arguments convincing and join him. It’s not too hard to make TIM a more persuasive figure. The Council Races are holding humanity back, they can be patronizing about it, even in such a short time humanity’s done a lot for Citadel Space and maybe deserves recognition for it. But instead, Shepard’s forced to work for TIM because The Plot Says So, regardless of how little sense it makes for Shepard to stick around, or for Cerberus to suddenly be tolerated in Citadel Space, or for half your old crew to sign up with a terrorist organization.

      4) The main plot of ME2 adds nothing to the status at the end of ME1. What do we learn at the end of ME2? The Reapers are coming: we already knew that. The Collectors are modified Protheans: Meaningless, as it doesn’t give the Reapers an advantage in intelligence or tactics. The Reapers have turned humans into a baby Reaper? Also meaningless: if mass genocide is their goal, does the method really matter? Humanity’s extinct either way.

      5) The binary choice at the end of ME2: give Collector Base to TIM or destroy it, accomplishes nothing. You don’t have the option to turn it over to anyone else, e.g., tell the Council or the Alliance where the base is so they can reverse engineer the technology instead of Cerberus, and in ME3, Cerberus salvaged useful War Assets from it anyway.

      I think ME2 could have stayed a more character-driven, action-heavy game if that’s the way they were committed to, without all these massive story problems.

      1. Xilizhra says:

        1. True, actually dying wasn’t ideal. It would have been better, probably, for Shepard to have just been in a coma for two years or something.

        2. With two years of fighting the geth without any other comparable ship, the public’s fear of the Reapers probably faded, assuming they heard anything about it at all.

        3. But then there’s really no reason to work with Cerberus at all, at least none that serves the plot. In my opinion, the real thematic point of doing so is forcing Shepard to become independent from governmental forces. Which is rather more interesting than just working for the damn Alliance all the time, I think.

        4. Actually, we didn’t know that the Reapers were starting their invasion anyway; they could have just been trying some new infiltration scheme to reopen the Citadel relay. The end of ME2 shows that the Reapers have decided to just use brute force on the galaxy. I also think that it adds an important revelation about the Reapers: while ME1 framed everything in terms of organic-synthetic conflict with the Reapers being the latter, ME2 shows that the Reapers are actually both and that nothing is so simple.

        5. This wouldn’t work, really. If you tried, Cerberus would take control of the Omega-4 relay and grab everything from inside the base long before the Council or Alliance would decide to listen to your crazy story, be willing to download copies of your Reaper IFF into their own ships, and fly through the relay. Given what we’ve seen of the bureaucracy already, it wouldn’t move nearly fast enough for their to be a practical difference between that and Cerberus getting it.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Re #1, IIRC there’s a deleted scene in which Ashley asks Shepard about what she experienced while dead. (Shepard doesn’t remember anything prior to waking.)

        2. Zombie says:

          For point 1, as to why no one brings it up again, they talk in the beginning about how they got some of the best scientists in the galaxy together, and flushed billions down the drain to bring back to life one person. Its something you could build upon, maybe make it more common, but its certainly not practical to even consider doing it again.

          1. alfa says:

            But that’s not how science usually works! You pay R&D costs once, and can then do it multiple times for _much_ less. A better explanation would be that they had to use some unobtainium, of which there’s so little in the universe that gathering enough again would take years.

            1. Syal says:

              And even if it costs the same amount, is there really no other figure in the galaxy that anyone with money deems worth resurrecting?

              …actually, if the whole goal of the Collectors was to resurrect Saren, that could have been a nice twist, and at least given a reason to resurrect Shepherd as a Chekhov’s Gun, mirror man thing.

          2. Writiosity says:

            Wasn’t it also revealed that it was Reaper tech used to bring him back anyway? Not exactly something the races at large would be likely to even be interested in playing around with. Been a while since I played, but I seem to recall this being a thing.

      2. Wide And Nerdy says:

        On Point 3.

        Campster had a brilliant villainous monologue for TIM in ME3 based on what you’re saying. (very roughly paraphrasing, sorry Chris) “You need me Shepard. You’ve seen how the Council is, they don’t care about us, they hold us back. They had their heads stuck in the sand while you and I were out there actually doing something. You think this is insane, but how many people would have said the same about resurrecting you? The Reapers don’t play around. Now is not a time for debate, its a time for bold and unorthodox action. Surely you understand.”

        Or something. And this could have set up Kai Leng better too. What if Kai Leng started out trying to court Shepard to rejoin? He looks up to Shepard and thinks Shepard should be helping Cerberus with their plan. When spurned and injured by Shepard in their first clash, admiration turns to jealousy and bitterness and needs implants to get back on his feet. Kai gets his cyborg upgrades then clashes with Shepard again and the beats play out from there. Then Kai doesn’t come off as petty for absolutely no reason.

        Probably needs more work to fit thematically. Maybe it ties in with the whole “Shepard the Icon” thing, showing the drawbacks of being the guy/gal everyone looks up to.

        1. Alexander The 1st says:

          Or something. And this could have set up Kai Leng better too. What if Kai Leng started out trying to court Shepard to rejoin? He looks up to Shepard and thinks Shepard should be helping Cerberus with their plan. When spurned and injured by Shepard in their first clash, admiration turns to jealousy and bitterness and needs implants to get back on his feet. Kai gets his cyborg upgrades then clashes with Shepard again and the beats play out from there. Then Kai doesn't come off as petty for absolutely no reason.

          Please tell me there is a mod to turn Kai Leng into Conrad Verner.

          1. Trix2000 says:

            Maybe secretly he IS Conrad Verner!

          2. Aldowyn says:

            It’d be nice if Kai Leng ever actually said anything important. What a waste of a good VA.

            1. Alexander The 1st says:

              Just replace Kai Leng’s combat taunts with “Shepard! You were my hero! And then you pointed a *gun* at me!”.

      3. MrGuy says:

        On your third point, agree that they could have done something more interesting with The Illusive Man. But IMO they’d have had to make the character completely different for it to make sense.

        An option to side with Cerberus and TIM would be like the option to side with Caesar’s Legion in FO:NV. Sure, it’s nice to have the choice, but the game clearly sets them up as so mustache-twirling evil guys, and the only reason to side with them is to “see what happens” or because you’re doing an evil playthrough. Caesar actually has some interesting ideas on strength and power, but the actions taken are absurd for any reasonable outside party to say “Yeah, that guy seems like a good person to support.”

        For all his “pro-human” rhetoric, TIM risks your life repeatedly and unapologetically, and will gladly let thousands die to gain a tiny advantage.

        It’s not enough to give him a stirring speech (heck, I think FO:NV’s writers actually did a good job with the conversation with Caesar). It’s the stuff he does. His whole approach would have to be different. His interaction with Shepard would have to be totally different. His quests and their outcomes would have to be different.

        At some point, what this reduces to is a wish that he was a different character with different goals, which is sort of like saying “I’d like TIM better if he wasn’t TIM.”

        That said, there ARE a lot of places they could have gone with the concept. Personal favorite idea – Cerberus is a human corporation that’s gone “all in” on the Reaper threat, and is scouring the galaxy for anything that can stop them. But Cerberus doesn’t trust the council after they failed to listen to Shepard and almost got everyone killed (idea: Udina is TIM), and so they refuse to share their anti-reaper tech with any other races. Working with Cerberus means helping with the people with the best ideas and tech for stopping the Reapers get stronger, but at the cost of a xenophobic agenda. Or we could help the council re-invent race to discover the tech for themselves before Cerberus gets there first, even though they can’t use it as well as Cerberus. Or you try to steal from Cerberus to make the Council stronger.

    3. Richard H says:

      So… I agree with you on a lot of the plot stuff stuff… but I didn’t think the shooting was more fun, and it kinda ruined the second game for me. I was bad at the shooting in the first game, but I could usually find ways to mitigate it with cleverness (and sniper rifles and explosive rounds, to a significant extent).

      Then, we got the second one, and the thinky bits went away (even if the teammate quests were great) while we were expected to be actually good at the shooting… which I’m not, because I’m bad at shooting in all shooters. (I’m so bad at it that I usually go for center-mass shots even though I know there’s a headshot bonus.) To make matters worse, now that I needed to take 2 seconds instead of 20 seconds to line my shots up, Infiltrator went from the best class for me to the worst.

      Then, you get to the third game, and the shooting was actually fun for a change, while the story, even if it wasn’t better, hadn’t gotten any worse, IMO.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        … You were bad enough at ME2 for it to make it that much less enjoyable and preferred ME3? That seems somewhat surprising to me, given ME3’s tendency to make just staying in cover a lot harder and (IMO) overall increased difficulty. (Excepting a few extremely annoying fights in ME2 – ME3 has a much smoother difficulty curve)

        1. guy says:

          ME3 does have the advantage of Vanguards being crazy-broken. Also, I’m pretty sure powers were more generally useful in 3; 2 was more restrictive about which ones could be used on various health bars, and I recall finding myself in scenarios where none of mine would work on anyone in the fight.

      2. wswordsmen says:

        I feel your pain. I am the same way. In ME2 I always was out of ammo, so it trained me to never shoot unless I had to. In ME3 the upgraded Biotic powers let me just spam them, so I never had to fire a shot. I would often clear out areas and go to collect the ammo drops, just to realize I never even fired a shot.

        1. Mike S. says:

          In ME2 I had to learn to use guns, because they’d nerfed my Adept so badly. (It became a character beat; she blamed TIM for messing up her powers.)

          In ME3, the powers came some of the way back, with the result that I managed to die in the first big fight on Earth at the beginning of the game. It turns out that, no doubt for dramatic reasons, the shuttle doesn’t come till you’re out of ammo. (Pardon me, “heat sinks”.) Since my response to running low in ME games is to try to conserve it, I was getting attrited to death by infinitely renewing goons.

  4. bigben01985 says:

    Your Mass Effect 2 (or, well, the ME2 I expect from the setup you provided) sounds AWESOME! When can I play it?
    I haven’t played ME2 or ME3 yet, and am in the middle of playing ME1 and loving it so far. And from all I heard, I’m actually dreading to go on after I finish it

    1. Grudgeal says:

      ME2 and ME3 are much better *games*, at least where the shooty bits are concerned. So at least you shouldn’t dread that part. It’s just the story that gets a bit… Not so good.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yes and no.2 is definitely better in the shooty parts,but stuff(like probing)are made worse.And from what Ive seen of 3,its like 2 without the polish.So 2 is definitely the best one when it comes to mechanics.

        1. Jokerman says:

          3 about the same… it does everything 2 does plus adds a bit more mobility and a better system for inventory with the weight/cooldown dynamic.

          1. Christopher says:

            Rolling is a pretty great addition.

            1. Zombie says:

              Honestly, just being able to pick what weapons you want to bring was a god-send. And there were like, 20 different types of each weapon that did different things, like a regular sniper rifle, a sniper assault rifle, and a three round bust sniper rifle.

              1. Victor McKnight says:

                I know many people really like the “tight” feeling to the controls in ME2, but I really greatly prefer ME3. The controls are a bit “looser” because of the added mobility stuff, but everything else really feels better to me. More and better gun choices, better mobility (I was playing Vanguard so that is part of it), gun mods are back, the new cool-down system and weapon choice was well handled and the minimalist skill system in ME2 was somewhat expanded.

                1. Aldowyn says:

                  There is a reason they cut the MP for ME2 (yes, they were planning on having it in ME2) and didn’t in ME3. There is a lot more variety and dynamism to the combat (and related mechanics) in ME3, and I greatly prefer it.

            2. MrGuy says:

              We demand bouncing, followed by rolling, followed by rolling of the third type!

      2. bigben01985 says:

        But who cares about shooty bits? They just connect the story parts! Well, both at the sme time would be best of course.

        And before someone says “games should have fun gameplay first”… Yes, but in a story driven game such as ME1, I can forgive clunky and repetitive gameplay (to an extent, but I’m pretty lenient) in favor of a good story.

        1. Scerro says:

          I’m the exact opposite.

          If shooty bits are too boring, it just becomes wasted time trying to get through a story that is mediocre. Xenosaga was terrible for that reason, I just got bored.

  5. The Railway Man says:

    The disconnect between Mass Effect 1 and 2… I should like to know what necessitated it. Was the disconnect intended to be so great, or was it something that the staff realised had occurred upon reflection?

    Why discard all of the framework they so carefully established?

    1. Syal says:

      I can see a situation where someone introduced the ‘working with Cerberus’ plotline as a twist, and then the team got themselves super distracted and offcourse building off of that. Not that I’m a professional or great writer, but a lot of my stories end up getting new elements halfway through that can take over, just because new stuff is more fun to write than the stuff that’s already been planned out.

  6. SlothfulCobra says:

    You’re not going to do a bit on any of the sidequests, or even touch on how barebones they were?

    How about the DLC? I thought that Bring Down the Sky was available for money purchase, even if there wasn’t really much meat to its story.

    1. BenD says:

      As much as I’d love to read another novella-length series from Shamus about ME, I think this topic IS a separate novella-length series, not a natural part of the one he’s writing now. What he’s doing now seems to handle the world’s story – the arch plots of the ME universe – and the sidequests at best handle the stories of some government factions, runner gangs, and individual persons. A lot could be said about them, but they don’t affect the arch story of the ME galaxy much if at all. Where they function as set dressing, Shamus discusses the set dressing itself (for example, the Mako as exploration tool and opportunity to view the world directly).

      So yeah, I’m looking forward to the sequel series Shamus will write dissecting every character’s sidequests and following the stories of the gangs and governments and shadow organizations…. :D

    2. Aldowyn says:

      Bring Down the Sky is interesting, but ultimately irrelevant. Pinnacle Station isn’t even that. (WHY would you make a DLC centered around a combat arena for Mass Effect?!?

      1. Mike S. says:

        I liked BDtS: it’s a pure sidequest, but it’s a nicely elaborate one, and it lets us see the batarians (critical to the history of most Shepards yet entirely offstage in the first game). I like getting the chance to rescue people for a change. (Though yes, it would be nice for the merest handwave as to how Balak escapes my heavily armed, preternaturally fast stealth frigate.) You get to fight in some different architecture for once. And you save a whole planet. Honestly, I’d have liked to see more quests like that in the main games.

  7. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Looking at your explanation of the Asari, I’m glad they averted the “All female society is a pacifist utopia” trope.

    Yes they are advanced, but they can be violent, aggressive, shallow, and prejudiced just like other races can*. Many of them embrace the almost cyberpunk level of capitalism, and we see greedy and corrupt asari along side their more noble members. Their reason for embracing diversity and cooperation is heavily influenced by their unique biology, as you said. So it allows them to fill that role without hitting that painfully awkward trope that ignores why wars are fought in real life.

    *-(actually, I think they may have been aware of this trope and been going out of their way to make sure we knew it wasn’t in play here because when viewed through this lens it almost looks like they’re overcompensating.)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Man,if only they expanded on that illusion gag.That would make asari even more awesome.

      1. Jokerman says:

        You mean the way they appear differently to appeal to each race?

        They could have Shepard’s weird Prothean DNA (the same DNA that makes the Beacon in 3 think you are Prothean) mess with the asari’s illusion, making Liara look like a bug (Like Javik) to Shepard.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          My impression was always that it just made people focus on different aspects of their biology – I’m not entirely sure that makes sense, but that’s what I thought.

      2. Grudgeal says:

        The games already had enough Babylon 5 references as-is; I’m not sure making the Asari have the Vorlons’ ability on top of the numerous Minbari influences would sit right.

        At least we’ll always have the Morrigi.

      3. Mike S. says:

        In a world with photography, I think it’s better to leave that as a joke.

        In the case of the Vorlons, presumably cameras see nothing or a glowing light, and keeping that on the down low that’s one of the reasons for the containment suits. In contrast, pictures of asari that leave nothing to the imagination are probably half the traffic on the extranet. If they looked different when not psychically manipulating people, everyone would know.

    2. SlothfulCobra says:

      Individual Asari are often violent or aggressive, but all of the background lore about the Asari implies that they pretty much do have a weird sort of utopia where everyone just gets along. It says that they don’t have any real government and they’re just a big ol’ confederation of Greek style city states, but they don’t seem to be constantly scuffling with each other like the greeks did.

      Greater Asari society never does seem to be addressed throughout the games. The Asari seem like they tend to have an overly laissez-faire bent to their worlds, what with legal slavery (god, I don’t want to think about the further implications of that), drugs, and corporate interests running out of control. But there’s also this weird thing where all Asari respect the authority of justicars to murder anyone they see fit, and there’s constantly references to some kind of organized group of Matriarchs that run Asari society somehow, although they’re never really explained or addressed directly.

      Aside from that, even though the Asari show up everywhere, nobody explains anything about their society, the lore about them is filled with all sorts of weird holes, and there’s weird mysterious things about them like what Morinth said about the Ardat-Yakshi, the Prothean beacon, and the “embrace eternity” bit. It’s no wonder that people have a tendency to just write their own story in their heads about the Asari’s supposed dark secret.

      1. Mike S. says:

        My recollection was that the slavery/indenture (depending who you talk to) was only on Ilium, which is basically to asari space what Noveria is to human. (A separate, conveniently laissez-faire jurisdiction that corporations with shady operations like to operate in.)

        Slavery does seem to be illegal in Citadel space proper. That’s one of the things that ticked off the batarians as oppressing their traditional culture.

      2. Aldowyn says:

        I think their long lives would be at least as relevant to their relative pacifism as their methods of reproduction. Most mercs and stuff are maidens, and the leaders are matriarchs, who would probably be pretty smart after centuries of experience.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Though it’s hard to portray that sort of smarts, and the game doesn’t really succeed in showing rather than telling. The asari businesswomen trying to manipulate Shepard tend to be remarkably unsubtle, the politicians are just kind of there, Samara’s bound to straightforwardness by her code, Benezia is little more than a boss fight. (Though of those, it’s true only Benezia and the Councillor are matriarchs.)

          Aethyta in ME2 at least manages to imply hidden depths, and I sort of like the reveal in ME3 that her “disgruntled exile bartender” thing was a cover.

      3. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Yeah but at least they aren’t portrayed as being that way because they’re all female (Which is the trope). They’re that way because they’re sexually motivated to breed with the “other.” If we in real life were motivated to specifically seek out and breed outside our races and nationalities, we’d probably be peaceful on a macro scale too just through sheer sexual motivation, not due to gender.

        And its not like humanity wars within its species anymore nor do the Turians. Once you’ve reached the point of being spacefaring you’ve pretty much united the species even if its against other species.

        And again, individual asari are prone to violence, in fact they commonly join merc bands in their maiden years. They just don’t for some reason fight amongst each other and have good relations with other species because they breed with them.

  8. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Dragon Age Origins used a similar structure but a little differently. We’ve compared the Grey Wardens and the Spectres before. Both elite “by any means necessary” organizations that cut across boundaries that normal people can’t.

    They actually have things a little more explicitly built. Everyone knows that Grey Wardens are the best for dealing with Darkspawn but at the same time, because the Grey Wardens are kind of secretive, use any means necessary, recruit anybody who will do the job, conscripting forcibly when necessary and hire from all races and classes (and nationalities which proves important in the first game) many people have reason not to trust them. You even have cause to not always forcibly conscript though its your right. Duncan reminds you in multiple origins that the Grey Wardens have few friends and abusing your powers will create ill will.

    So again you have a situation where you can have societal boundaries in place but with a perfect structural excuse for why you’re hero is able to break them. This also allows the hero to have one of several diverse background but because of the function and ethos of the Grey Wardens, it matters little once you join.

    I say they use it a little differently because, while a lot of Mass Effect is about explaining why your particular set up works, with lots of plot enablers, Dragon Age Origins feels much more structured around examining the roles of class, race and, to a lesser extent, gender in society. This is one reason I wish they had continued to do Origins.

    With each Origin you start out confined by your role. Even the Human Noble is confined by his/her parent’s wishes and their obligations, but the extreme end would be the Casteless dwarf and the mage. Becoming a Grey Warden frees you from one role while binding you to another. In fact, this is probably the strongest running theme throughout the entire series, living with and defying prescribed roles (I don’t know, is that too broad to be a theme? I’m not a student of literature.)

    1. Corsair says:

      In my experience nothing is too broad or narrow to be a major theme of a story.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        Well there’s “People Sitting in Chairs” from TV Tropes. Which on the site is not that specific thing itself but the idea that something that common isn’t really a trope, its just a thing that happens.

        Mind you, you could turn “Sitting in chairs” into a trope (and there are tropes related to chairs and how one sits in them) but sitting in chairs itself is just a thing we do the vast majority of the time (I know someone is going to come up with a contrarian counterpoint.)

        1. Corsair says:

          A smug enough writer could write an entire story where a pivotal, nay, crucial theme was people sitting down, people in the act of sitting down, and people contemplating sitting down in highly elaborate chairs. I’d call it Game of Thrones.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            Yeah, my point should have been, even if a story features a lot of people sitting in chairs, the mere act is not a trope. Things like how you sit (slouched, stiff, etc) what kind of chair you sit in (a cool looking chair, a throne, a kids chair) can be tropes.

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                Yeah I’ve seen that one. Its a good one. But again what I was going for is. You can’t just say “people frequently sit in chairs in this movie” and call that a trope. The trope would be the chair or the way of sitting and what that says about the character or scene or whatever.

                That said, I guess “roles” is not people sitting on chairs. At worst, the same complaints the Spoiler Warning crew had about “Its about cycles” might apply to “its about roles” but I don’t think so. They do a lot with societal imposed roles.

                1. Syal says:

                  I wasn’t really trying to make a point one way or the other, I just figured I had to link that since there was so much chair talk going on.

              2. Trix2000 says:

                I think technically this would be a different trope. I don’t know which, because I’m too busy to check right now, but they’re definitely using some device to carry their point across here. Deconstruction? I have no idea.

                People Sit on Chairs is just another way of saying “Not a trope”, since it has no bearing on the experience (people sit on chairs all the time – that by itself means nothing). When there IS something to notice about it (Hey, he’s sitting on a chair now instead of standing! That means he…”) then it’s another trope, and no longer People Sit on Chairs.

  9. guy says:

    I’m not sure that there’s usually a single race in charge. It was true for the Protheans, but in the first game that was by default because no one else was spacefaring in their cycle. I actually assumed the Citadel usually wound up as galactic UN HQ or a shared capital, because it’s deliberately sited to fill that role. You also left out possibly the biggest advantage the Reapers get by taking the Citadel; they can shut down the entire relay network and cripple everyone’s FTL.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Somebody did indeed have a plan.

    People keep saying that,but I disagree.Having and idea that you want to pursue and broad sketches of how to do it is not a plan.There is the ever important phase 2 that is missing.

    And this is especially true if you are just one person in a team and you dont share all of your thoughts on this with the rest of the team in order to reach a joined conclusion.

    But even if a plan existed,its quite evident that it was tossed in the garbage as soon as the beginning of the second game.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      Shamus’ point is that they put enough elements in place to give them a strong foundation for phase 2. You can be assured looking at the set up Shamus describes, that they can continue to tell interesting stories working with the rules and devices they’ve laid out, and they can progress towards their goal.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Foundation is still not a plan.Its the phase 1 of that chart.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          If I gather supplies for a storm/disaster and make a list of emergency shelters, I have a plan. I can’t be anymore specific until the storm arrives.

          And I think that’s relevant because this is a major Triple A game, not a book. Many many hands are in the pot. We don’t know what the gameplay is going to be, how much graphics we can afford (both afford to make and afford to pack into our target system spec), how much voice acting, what the execs are going to demand be forced into the plot, what kind of gameplay the designer is going to come up with.

          So the best you can do is structure your rules and setting elements in such a way that they can adapt to those needs, giving you wiggle room.

          We know what the goal is. Shepard is trying to beat the Reapers. We know the broadstrokes of how she’s going to approach the problem “I’m going to look for a way to beat the Reapers” and the elements in play provide plenty of opportunities for Shepard to pursue and a good framework for producing a solution.

          Its as good a plan as you can have under the circumstances.

        2. grelphy says:

          Well given that they drove halfway across the continent, found the biggest, deepest swamp they could, and started building right in the middle of it for Mass Effect 2, I’d say deciding whether they had a foundation or a plan is beside the point.

    2. Supahewok says:

      Yeah, the same thoughts crossed my own mind while reading this entry. Just because the writing set up things for *this* game well, didn’t mean that they were looking ahead for how their set-up in the first game would affect the next. It just meant that the writer did the job in front of him well, without necessarily thinking through on what to do further on down the line. I feel that there’s a pretty strong dose of hindsight at play here.

      Honestly, in my hindsight I wish the reapers were dropped after ME1. The threat was stopped, the Reapers are still sleeping away at the fringe of space. Maybe there’s a sidequest where a cult tries to summon them at some point, and they occasionally get namedropped, but they’re not a focus of the games by any means. Also wish Shephard had been dropped as protagonist. Bioware spent so much effort creating a galaxy with a living and logical history, with all of these different cultures that have been shown to one extent or another. It was a perfect stage for a series of unrelated adventures, with each game moving the history of the galaxy forward a little. You don’t even need to plan a cohesive story arc that spans multiple games! Instead, we have narrative mess, ending with “Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies” for the whole setting.

      ME Andromeda is just proof of how short-sighted Bioware was. The idea of rebooting the setting was laughable by the end of ME1, but they went ahead from there and drove it into the ground for the end of ME3. Now they have to redo a massive amount of work, which frankly I don’t have faith in them being able to pull off.

      Waste. Just pure waste.

      1. ZOMG yes. YES.

        You know what I was expecting when they announced pretty early on that ME was meant to be a trilogy? I was expecting games 2 and 3 to have new protagonists and that the 3 major protagonists would then TEAM UP (note the THREE PERSON SQUAD FORMAT) for the final boss fight in game 3.

        It was so obvious that keeping Shepard was just a catastrophically bad idea. The way they kept him/her around was so. friggin. dumb. that I couldn’t even bring myself to play ME2.

        ME2 could have been a great game if they’d ditched Shepard and shifted the focus to dealing with the Clear and Present danger that they set up in ME–the GETH. The friggin Geth are still running around!! It was set up that they WORSHIP the Reapers so OBVIOUSLY the Geth are going to be trying to find some way to bring the Reapers through! The whole game could have revolved around the Big Idea question of what exactly IS this conflict between organic and inorganic life forms anyway? Why does it exist? Is it really “inevitable”? How does that tie in with the Reapers?!

        But instead they decided to a.) kill Shepard b.) resurrect Shepard c.) force Shepard to work for the Organization of Stupid Morons. UGH.

    3. Soylent Dave says:

      I think the point is that there was at least a broad outline, and certainly enough plot hooks left dangling for people who played Mass Effect to have their own ideas about where ME2 would go, and to build some expectations (and even consensus) about where the sequel(s) would go.

      There wouldn’t be anywhere near as much disappointment with the sequels if the first game hadn’t created that anticipation for different sequels.

      (Star Wars did a similar thing with The Phantom Menace – existing fans disliked the film so much because the original trilogy set up certain expectations for us which it didn’t realise (although in this case for the prequel).

      This is also why Episode III, which isn’t a great film, is by far the most popular of the prequels – it’s the closest one in tone and in plot to what we expected.

      Whereas it’s harder to have expectations destroyed by Episode VII, because we don’t know what ‘should’ come next in the story – it ended pretty conclusively. They could screw up the tone of Star Wars, but the actual plot could go pretty much anywhere at this point (except for those who’ve had their expectations set by the EU, I suppose :/ ))

  11. Your’e correct Shamus, except the writers of Mass Effect I left not just a sequerl backdoor but a sequel super structure (for a lack of a better word for what you outline ere).
    I’d have loved to have gone Prothean ruin hopping “with the crew”, but sadly that did not exactly happen in ME2.
    Don’t get me wrong the the Tali loyalty quest stuff and such was awesome and I wouldn’t be without it.

    But ruin hunting with Tali, Garrus, Wrex, Liara, Ashley/Kaidan would have been awesome. By the mid-point of ME3 you are drowing in squadmates which is a shame.

    They should have done what they did with Tali (she has a natural story arch from ME through ME2 to ME3, and to think that BioWare almost was about to drop her completely in the later games, imagine no Tali at all in ME2 and ME3, insane)

    BTW! Shamus, Shepard is not just a Spectre but also a high ranking Alliance officer commanding the Normandy and the special task force based on that ship, so places where Spectre status may not be valid the Alliance military status might be valid.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Mid point of ME2 you’re drowning in squadmates, I think you mean? I don’t think ME3 ever has more than 5 or 6 at a time – most of your time is spent running around helping various squadmates in their specific areas. (Wrex, Tali, Legion, Mordin), or even individual quests (Jack, Samara, Miranda, Grunt, Jacob…)

  12. Christopher says:

    Is the character discussion going to be saved until Mass Effect 2 gets going? There isn’t a lot to the characters in ME1, but they’re such a big focus and improvement in ME2 that I was expecting some kind of overview about what they’re about in the first one compared to not only the changes in ME2, but the much bigger focus on those characters compared to main story missions. So far, it’s been pretty much Tali and Saren and a bit of Liara.

    Sorry, but “We're going to spend one more post _w_alking about this strange disconnect” by the way.

  13. Not related to Mass Effect but I’ve been watching various Until Dawn Let’s Plays recently.

    The following have spoilers all over the place due to the dynamic nature of Until Dawn, while it does not directly spoil story/plot stuff the following does hint to possible butterfly effects outcomes in the game.

    SPOILERS: “Good” Behavior Playthrough
    The Stranger tries to save everyone.
    Jess, Emily, Mike, Matt, Ashley are all partly responsible for the death of Hannah and Beth.
    Jess, Emily, Mike, Matt, Ashley, Chris, Sam are all partly responsible for the death of Josh.
    Sam tries to save everyone.
    Josh scares the shit out of Ashley and Chris and Sam, knocks out Chris with a punch, uses knockout gas once on Chris and twice on Ashley, Josh is responsible for Chris and Ashley professing their love for each other and also the strengthening of bonds between the other couples.
    Mike leaves his girlfriend Jess for dead, knocks out Josh with a pistol, threatens to kill Josh, almost kills a stranger, almost kills his ex-girlfriend Emily, (unknowingly) leaves Josh alone to die, and later (knowingly) leave Josh to certain doom.
    Ashley wants to leave her friend Emily to certain death or have her killed.
    Chris is partly responsible for the death of a stranger, tries to save Josh or Ashley from dying.
    Matt tries to save his girlfriend Emily and helps Jess survive.
    Hannah, Beth, Josh and Sam are to some extent free of guilt or almost free of guilt.

    The group of “friends” (Josh, Beth, and Hannah excluded) end up responsible for 4 deaths total, so in retrospect who’s really the real villain in the story here?

    SPOILERS: “Bad” Behavior Playthrough
    The Stranger tries to save everyone.
    Beth intentionally tries to let her sister Hannah die.
    Jess, Emily, Mike, Matt, Ashley are all partly responsible for the death of Hannah and Beth.
    Jess, Emily, Mike, Matt, Ashley, Chris, Sam are all partly responsible for the death of Josh.
    Josh scares the shit out of Ashley and Chris and Sam, uses knockout gas once on Sam and Chris and Ashley, knocks out Chris and Ashley with a punch.
    Mike leaves his girlfriend Jess for dead, knocks out Josh with a pistol, threatens to kill Josh, almost kills a stranger, kills his ex-girlfriend Emily, (unknowingly) leaves Josh alone to die, and later (knowingly) leave Josh to certain doom, tries to shoot a stranger in the back, chops of his own fingers, kicks a dog.
    Chris hits Josh in the head with a baseball bat knocking him out, and is partly responsible for the death of a stranger, tries to let Ashley die twice, tries to let Josh die once, kills a squirrel, wants to leave his friend Emily to certain death or have her killed.
    Jess kills a bird.
    Ashley wants to leave her friend Emily to certain death or have her killed, stabs Josh, and lets Chris get killed on purpose.
    Matt kills a Deer, and leaves Emily to die on purpose, causes Jess to get killed.
    Sam knowingly lets Mike die, or possibly a combination of Mike and Ashley and Emily and Chris die.
    Hannah and Josh are to some extent free of guilt or almost free of guilt.

    The group of “friends” (Josh, and Hannah excluded) end up responsible for 10 deaths total of which 7 are human and 3 are animals.

    Until Dawn is a game I’d love to see Spoiler Warning tackle. It seems a playthrough takes 6-7 hours total on average.

    Even during timed choices it’s possible to pause the game by opening the in-game menu (which shows stats/choices made so far/and clues collected). so it’s possible for the Spoiler Warning gang to collectively decide on all the choices to make (unlike Alpha Protocol for example which couldn’t be “paused”).

    I think Rutskarn / Shamus / Chris would enjoy the multi-branching choices and effects of such, and I think Josh would have a blast just screwing up everything.

    I seem to recall that Josh was able to do recording of PS3/PS4 games? (Until Dawn is a PS4 title only)

    1. Ivellius says:

      I’ll second that this would probably be a good game for analysis.

      Or TWD: Season 2.

    2. Cinebeast says:

      Thirded! Love Until Dawn.

  14. INH5 says:

    Shamus, you are missing something very big. There is a huge problem with ME1’s ending. It’s going to take me a while to explain, but stick with me. Since I noticed this, I can no longer look at the series the same way again, and it might have a similar impact on you.

    The sequel hook at the end of ME1 is the huge problem that I’m talking about. It makes no sense in the context in the rest of the story, negates the events of the game, and I think is the root cause of a lot of most of the problems with the overarching plot of the trilogy.

    Until the final scene, the Reapers are built up as essentially sci-fi versions of the demons that have been locked away and will destroy the world if they are released. The Prothean’s sabotage of the Citadel is the equivalent of the ancient priests sealing the demons long ago, and Saren’s plan is the equivalent of cultists working to release the demons in the present. While the Reapers aren’t trapped in an alternate dimension or anything like that but instead outside the galactic plane, the result is the same: they are trapped outside this world and they need help from the denizens of this world to get back.

    It is, in fact, repeatedly stated that the Citadel relay is the only way that the Reapers can get back, presumably because 1) their resting place is so far out that getting back the slow way would take an unreasonable amount of time (note the Codex entry about how non-relay FTL requires regular drive core discharges in a planetary atmospheres; I wouldn’t be surprised if that was added in for exactly this reason), and 2) it is implied that the Reapers in dark space only wake from hibernation when they are signaled through the Citadel relay, and there is no other way to contact them from the Milky Way.

    A few examples: Vigil says that the Prothean scientists had found, and I quote, “some way to stop the Reapers from returning. A way to break the cycle forever.” Vigil goes on to repeatedly say that “the Reapers are trapped in dark space.” Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. At one point in the conversation with Vigil, there is an Investigate dialogue option labeled “How can they come back?” and if you take it Shepard will say that Saren must have a plan to undo the work of the Prothean scientists, without even bringing up the possibility that there might be another way for the Reapers to return. Another Investigate option when talking with Vigil has Shepard asking, “If the Reapers are trapped in dark space, how did Sovereign get here?” If you take the Paragon persuade options during the final conversation with Saren, at one point Shepard will say, “Sovereign hasn’t won yet. I can stop it from taking control of the station! Step aside and the invasion will never happen!

    By everything that had been established up until the final scene, Sovereign getting destroyed should have been the end of the Reaper threat for good. The Reapers were not delayed, they were stopped. At least until a new set of cultists try to summon the demons again in a sequel. But until then, everything is fine and Shepard and co. can go home and relax.

    Then in the literal last minute of the game, everything changes. Out of nowhere, Shepard says something along the lines of, “the Reapers are coming, and I’m going to find a way to stop them,” and then Anderson/Udina makes a dramatic speech about how they’re going to fight the Reapers (there are a few variations based on Paragon/Renegade and the outcome of the final Council choices). Now the Reapers are the equivalent of the approaching enemy army that will have to be fought. There isn’t even an attempt to explain how this massive change in the central conflict happened, how it is even possible, or how Shepard knows that it happened. The characters just suddenly start acting like everything is different.*

    Besides the obvious problems with logic and consistency, this is very bad for other reasons. First, this effectively negates the entire game’s story and with it all of the player’s actions. You did so much to stop the Reapers, then at the end you’re told that sorry the princess is in another castle and they’re coming anyway. Nothing you did mattered. You can’t even say that you discovered that the Reapers are coming, because you never did. Shepard just suddenly knows this for no reason.

    The other big problem is that I think this basically broke the overarching story of the trilogy. If you ignore the sequel hook, the story of Mass Effect is very self-contained. By the end of it, Sovereign is dead, Saren is dead, Benezia is dead, the Thorian is dead, the Rachni Queen is possibly dead, and Saren’s Krogan cloning facility has been vaporized. There really isn’t anything left in the story for a sequel to continue. And the sequel hook doesn’t actually provide any plot threads to continue, it just makes a vague statement that things aren’t over yet. But once that sequel hook was there, everyone expected the sequels to continue the Reaper plot, and there was really no way to continue that plot without either rehashing the events of ME1 or making the events of ME1 irrelevant. They ended up doing the latter, resulting in a third game with a premise that is completely incompatible with the premise of the first game.

    (Okay, the Dark Energy plot or something like it could theoretically have tied the stories of all 3 games together – the Reapers need to get to the galaxy and get something done ASAP, so Sovereign tries to reopen the Citadel relay to get them here faster, then when that fails they order their agents in the galaxy to get a head start on the task before they arrive – but that opens up a whole other can of worms and it still wouldn’t solve the problem of Shepard’s inexplicable knowledge.)

    We’ll probably never know what happened here, but I sometimes wonder if this is the result of a last minute change of plans. In a July 2006 interview, Casey Hudson said that the first ME game was going to have a “self-contained adventure” with a “definitive ending” and that the sequels would tie into the first game’s story in “unexpected ways.” Obviously, that doesn’t prove anything, but it would explain a lot if the plan at the time was for each game in the trilogy to tell a standalone story, with some recurring characters and plot elements, kind of like how the Dragon Age series has turned out, or in movie terms more like Indiana Jones or Back to the Future than Star Wars. The first game would end with its plot resolved (though the Reapers would be imprisoned instead of destroyed, in case the writers ever wanted to use them again) and the next two games would primarily be about something else. Then at the last minute, someone important decided that the game needed a sequel hook and those lines got tacked on at the end.

    If you’re looking for where the major cracks in the story start, I think you should look here instead of, as was written in Part 1, the beginning of ME2.

    * And in ME2, the characters flip-flop about this from scene to scene. For example, when Shepard talks to Anderson and also maybe the Council, they describe the Reapers as “waiting in dark space,” but when Shepard talks to the Quarian admirals in Tali’s Loyalty Mission, he says that the Reapers are coming and they need to be ready. The weirdest moment is if you get the Shepard dies ending, where before Shepard falls he tells Joker that “more are coming,” and that he has to warn people, as if this is something that Shepard only just found out. I played ME2 before any of the other games, and by the end of it I was so confused about what was going on with the Reapers that I ended up making the Collector Base decision at random.

    1. Duoae says:

      An very interesting and well thought-out post.

      I must ask though: What was the given answer to this question? (Googling doesn’t appear to help me!)

      Another Investigate option when talking with Vigil has Shepard asking, “If the Reapers are trapped in dark space, how did Sovereign get here?”

      If there is something pretty specific in that then it might negate my following point. Namely, the Protheans and current aliens (including Shepard & Co.) do not know the “unknowable” enemy. There may be more than one way for them to get back and at least one very slow way (i.e FTL and they don’t have to stop at every planet to get a crack squadron of Reapers to the Citadel to take it back even if that is what they would be fine doing until they got to the nearest activated Mass Relay since they need to make sure there are no sentient beings the galaxy anyway!).

      In later games FTL is so overpowered that it was stated that the destruction of the Mass Relays is but a little multi-year long hindrance to the combined surviving fleets of incompatible alien species (i.e. left/right amino-acid groups).

      Sure, Shepard is stopping this specific invasion… He/She doesn’t need to state that explicitly to be correct in your reading of the line you quote.
      In the same way, a threat is still “out there” at the end of ME1. Now, everything you say about ME2 flip-flopping is correct and I agree with it wholeheartedly, but I didn’t think the ending comments of ME1 were out of context with what we knew about the Reapers and their intents in the first place. I may be wrong but I thought I remember a dialogue line from Saren than stopping this invasion would not stop the Reapers?

      I think this is the part at which the rest of your post comes undone. You made a logical mistake and so everything based off that is also concluded in a mistaken manner.

      Besides the obvious problems with logic and consistency, this is very bad for other reasons. First, this effectively negates the entire game's story and with it all of the player's actions. You did so much to stop the Reapers, then at the end you're told that sorry the princess is in another castle and they're coming anyway. Nothing you did mattered. You can't even say that you discovered that the Reapers are coming, because you never did. Shepard just suddenly knows this for no reason.

      Let me give you an example. You’re fighting a war. You speak about one quadrant of the front – a known invasion/incursion is about to be made by the enemy. You manage to counter their plans before they are put into their final stages. You stopped the invasion/incursion but you know the war is far from over.

      This is the story of Mass Effect 1 in a simplified form. So the quoted paragraph above is incorrect. Shepard knows the Reapers are coming. They know that Sovereign had indoctrinated intelligent beings. Why would it put all its eggs in one basket? Why would it be logical to conclude that this eons-old essentially immortal being that had waged hundreds, perhaps thousands of crusades against technologically competent enemies would stop at a single, obvious, commander/agent? Shepard knows that the Citadel relay is the fastest way to communicate with the Reapers in darkspace and for them to travel from there… they don’t know if that’s the only way to do so. In fact, basic physics tells us that this is not the case.

      The point is, whether the Reapers arrive in Shepard’s lifetime or not – they are coming. Whether Sovereign sent out a conventional EM spectrum signal to them, whether they have systems on-board to detect a certain number of Type 1a supernova (galactic time-keeping standard!) or whether there is also FTL communications between them as the alliance and other standard tech aliens have the message will get to them and they will awake. The writers have quite a lot of leeway with the hows and the whys.

      Just because some uninformed peon or person/alien VI tells us what they think they know, doesn’t make it 100% true.

      1. INH5 says:

        I must ask though: What was the given answer to this question? (Googling doesn't appear to help me!)

        Another Investigate option when talking with Vigil has Shepard asking, “If the Reapers are trapped in dark space, how did Sovereign get here?”

        The answer is (paraphrased): Sovereign stayed behind when all of the other Reapers left. Then when the Citadel relay didn’t work, Sovereign had to work alone to figure out what had gone wrong, because without the Citadel Relay the Reapers are trapped in dark space.

        Sure, Shepard is stopping this specific invasion… He/She doesn't need to state that explicitly to be correct in your reading of the line you quote.

        You seriously don’t see a contradiction between “step aside and the invasion will never happen!” and “the Reaper fleet is still coming,” spoken less than 10 minutes apart by the same character with absolutely nothing happening in between that could have possibly led the character to change their mind?

        Now, everything you say about ME2 flip-flopping is correct and I agree with it wholeheartedly, but I didn't think the ending comments of ME1 were out of context with what we knew about the Reapers and their intents in the first place.

        The context is that multiple characters say over and over and over again that the Citadel relay is the only way that the Reapers can get to the galaxy, that without it the Reapers are trapped in dark space, and that stopping Sovereign from reopening the Citadel relay will stop the Reapers for good. They say this without any qualifications and without anyone else ever expressing any doubts about this. The examples that I listed are only the most obvious ones, and there are others. For example, if Liara visits Shepard after the Normandy is locked down, she says that Saren “might have thought that he could stop the Reapers from returning.” Which indicates yet again that the way to defeat the Reapers is to prevent their return.

        Then at the end of the game suddenly one of the characters who made the above statements says that actually the Reapers are still coming, without even an attempt at an explanation. If that isn’t a massive contradiction, I don’t know what is.

        Shepard knows the Reapers are coming.

        No, Shepard knows that the Reapers are trapped in dark space now that they can’t use the Citadel Relay. We know this because, prior to the last minute story destroying sequel hook, Shepard repeatedly states this without any qualifications or the slightest hint of uncertainty.

        Why would it be logical to conclude that this eons-old essentially immortal being that had waged hundreds, perhaps thousands of crusades against technologically competent enemies would stop at a single, obvious, commander/agent?

        No, it isn’t logical. But lots of things about ME1’s story are illogical. What matters is that this is what the game tells us. Whether it makes sense or not, this happened. This isn’t about tidy plot logic, this is about basic coherence. The entire story is built on the premise that the Citadel relay is the only way that the Reapers can get back. You can’t say that this doesn’t apply any more without at least trying to explain why things are different from what we previously thought they were.

        Just because some uninformed peon or person/alien VI tells us what they think they know, doesn't make it 100% true.

        No, but it tells us what that person thinks they know. So if that person says one thing, then says something totally different in the next scene without any explanation, that’s a contradiction.

        1. Duoae says:

          I’m going to refer to each of your answers with a 1), 2) etc. as I think these things become unreadable after multiple responses from people! :)

          1) Okay, so it doesn’t affect anything then.

          2) I don’t see a contradiction at all. I think you’re taking this way to literally. I already gave an example where saying ‘x’ doesn’t happen doesn’t preclude ‘y’ from occurring in the future.

          Shepard is told again and again that every 50,000 years or so the Reapers reap the galaxy of intelligent life. They didn’t magic themselves out to darkspace so they obviously have the ability to travel to and from it. There’s no implication that they’re trapped out there completely other than that you seem to think so.


          You keep picking the bits of Vigil’s conversation that you want and ignoring the rest. Vigil states that what he knows are only theories. We know that indoctrinated people do not have full control over their thoughts and actions which means they are unreliable as information sources as well. Which means that even though Saren thought that the Citadel relay is the only way back for the Reapers it is not necessarily true.

          You can’t just take things at face value when there is no reason to do so.

          4) Again, Shepard doesn’t know they are trapped in dark space – no one knows that. Shepard knows the Reapers are still out there and doesn’t know what Sovereign did or what they will do. No one knows if they’re even hibernating all the time and waiting for the citadel to wake them up.

          5) Again, it does matter what the game tells us… but it matters more to understand the context surrounding what the game tells us. Like I said above: Saren & Co. are indoctrinated, Vigil is limited by the theories of his scientist group who hid away on an isolated planet so they are unreliable as sources of information. You can’t just take it all at face value like you are doing.

          6) I think that we’re going to have to agree to disagree if you’re unable to see my points in relation to your own.

    2. Smiley_Face says:

      I have to disagree. Yes, the Reapers are hiding out away from the normal relay network. But this doesn’t make them trapped. Yes, Vigil says it does, but he’s a Prothean AI, he doesn’t actually know anything about the Reapers in this respect, it was just a hail mary play to stall for time – they are ‘trapped’ in that their Plan A doesn’t work. But being immortal, plan-obsessed giant spaceships, the idea that they don’t have some more time-intensive Plan B is doubtful. Maybe they’ve got another relay with automated defenses parked a couple of years travel away that will drop them into the main relay network – like what they actually do. And yes, the Citadel signal usually wakes them, but given that it happens on a schedule and they’re IMMORTAL PLAN-OBSESSED GIANT SPACESHIPS, that’s likely more for exact timing instead of them intentionally crippling themselves rather than setting an alarm clock. They’ve never had to use it before, so there’s no reason the Protheans would know about it, but the idea that they would have no contingencies is much more unlikely than the idea that the Protheans were just wrong. I understand that the parallels to other supernatural fiction don’t play in this regard, but nothing says they have to.

      1. Abnaxis says:

        But that’s not what Shepherd says. It’s not “well, we stopped them this time, but they surely must have a plan B.” Yes, you can come up with a rationalization for why someone would be convinced, but that’s not the same as it actually being justified on screen.

        I think the whole exchange you an INH5 are sharing would have been GREAT to see in the sequels. Instead of Shepherd fighting to convince the counsel the Reapers exist, s/he should be working to convince the counsel that the reapers are an immediate threat that haven’t been taken care of already. It makes sense for someone to look at the defeat of Sovereign, dust their hands off and say “Cool! Crisis averted! Now back to business!”–and really, there’s no evidence that the reapers are coming at this point.

        I mean, you don’t see the counsel gearing up for a second Rachni War, and all they did to the Rachni was blow up a relay. Why should the Reapers be different (bearing in mind that the counsel doesn’t have all the information the audience does)?

        However, that would mean not completely taking the return of the reapers as a foregone conclusion, which is not something the writers ever seemed to consider.

        1. guy says:

          Uh, they didn’t stop the Rachnai by blowing up a relay; no relay has ever been destroyed prior to the Arrival DLC. They attacked the Rachnai homeworlds, sent in Krogan ground troops, and killed every last one of them.

          It always struck me as wildly implausible to think the Reapers would have no backup. Obviously any backup must be much, much worse, but just not being able to cause the total collapse of galactic civilization within hours of first arriving is a plenty good enough downside.

          1. INH5 says:

            The existence of any sort of backup immediately raises the question of why the Reapers didn’t simply use that backup when Sovereign realized the Citadel wasn’t responding instead of having Sovereign go to a tremendous amount of effort to try and get the Citadel relay working again. Even if invading through the Citadel was extremely important for some reason, why not use whatever backup system is in place to send a few more Reapers to help Sovereign get the thing working again?

            It’s kind of like the fact that Superman is never recognized as Clark Kent even though his disguise consists of a pair of glasses. It doesn’t make much sense*, but that’s what the story gives us and we ultimately have to just go with it because going against it would break the entire story. Which is exactly what ME1’s sequel hook does.

            * Though I have to say that the Chrisopher Reeve Superman movies do a pretty good job of selling this idea. I’m especially impressed by the scene where he prepares to reveal his identity to Louis by taking off his glasses and changing his posture and tone of voice. When you say it like that it sounds ridiculous, but he really does seem to almost turn into a different person.

            1. guy says:

              There inherently has to be another way to get back from dark space. Mass Relay connections have two ends, and the Reapers must have built both. There are any number of reasons they might not have used it to send reinforcements, including that it might stop them from getting to the Citadel* before the races of the galaxy rallied their entire military force to stop them. Or they weren’t actually planning for the scenario where Sovereign and the Citadel were both intact but the Citadel could not be activated, and either Sovereign sends the wakeup signal before the relay is activated rather than warping in a bunch of inactive Reapers, or there’s some emergency signal protocol in case he got destroyed.

              *Which is critically important; it’s the linchpin of their grand trap. Firstly, it’s convenient because it is highly likely to be a major administrative center and they can get a pretty good sense of what is where by examining the records, but even more importantly it’s the central control hub for the entire Mass Relay network. As demonstrated during the attack on the Citadel, it can be used to shut them down at will, trapping enemy fleets to be destroyed piecemeal, a virtually insurmountable advantage even if they were technologically equal. It’s why they gave us the relays, so they could turn them off at a critical juncture.

              1. Mike S. says:

                Given the timescale the Reapers operate on, it could take them ten or a hundred thousand years to fly back from dark space. Or it might be actually impossible: getting the relay out there could have required specialized propulsion that they don’t generally have.

                (Say, one long-range construction expedition that consumed the energy of a supernova and millennia of travel time to drive a mass relay and maybe a small activation crew to the destination. After which all the rest of the Reapers used the Citadel relay to get out there once it reached position.)

                The Reapers could easily be off the board beyond any plausible time horizon, or forever. Obviously they don’t have to be. But I prefer the Reapers as a background explanatory detail (other than Sovereign as their last grasp at depriving the galaxy of its future), rather than an active adversary.

                1. INH5 says:

                  Or maybe Mass Relays can throw things out without a receiving relay, they just need a receiving relay to be at all precise in where the thing ends up. So the Reapers built two super-relays, then used one to throw the other somewhere outside the galaxy. Now that they’re a corresponding pair, the Reapers can travel between them freely, but if the Reapers tried to use the dark space relay without linking up to the Citadel Relay, then they’d probably just end up in dark space on the other side of the galactic plane, and now with absolutely no way back.

                  There are any number of backstories one could think of. In the first game, we’re given no information on how the Reaper cycle got started, so there’s nothing to contradict. In all likelihood, this is the result of the writers starting with the “jump gates” as portals to some kind of hyperspace, then not bothering to think about the knock-on effects after they came up with the “mass relay” concept.

                  What matters is that the first game makes it very clear to the player that, whatever the logic behind it, this is how the Reapers and their cycle work. Then at the end it pulls the rug out from under the player by abruptly changing these rules without explanation.

          2. Abnaxis says:

            Yeahhh, I got ME1 confused with something else. I forgot relays are basically considered indestructible in ME.

            This is sci-fi–you can make whatever head-canon you want, add a dash of techno-babble, and it becomes plausible. It doesn’t matter how plausible the best rationalization you can invent is. What matters is the logic given for why Shepherd is absolutely certain the Reapers are an immediate threat.

            Forcing the audience to come up with plausible explanations to justify a central driving motivation for the main character is bad form. All the justifications you’ve listed are certainly reasonable, but are nowhere near canon. In canon, no justification is given, and it’s quite a flip-flop from what the story has told us so far.

        2. INH5 says:

          I think the whole exchange you an INH5 are sharing would have been GREAT to see in the sequels. Instead of Shepherd fighting to convince the counsel the Reapers exist, s/he should be working to convince the counsel that the reapers are an immediate threat that haven't been taken care of already. It makes sense for someone to look at the defeat of Sovereign, dust their hands off and say “Cool! Crisis averted! Now back to business!””“and really, there's no evidence that the reapers are coming at this point.

          After noticing this and re-examining the series with it in mind, I’ve actually come to the conclusion that in ME2 the Council are the ones who are being mostly reasonable while Shepard is the one who is acting irrationally. Sure, outright denying the existence of the Reapers is dumb, but until Arrival there really is no in-universe evidence that the Reapers are going to invade, so when Shepard says that that Reapers are still a threat his statements really aren’t backed up by anything.

        3. Smiley_Face says:

          True, the fact that this has to be inferred from rather nebulous material makes it clear that this stuff was just left open ended rather than planned. I don’t buy the argument that it’s totally clear from 1 that the Reapers were stopped for good and would never do anything again ever, but there’s a lot left open, and too much filling in left to be done by the player. These sort of discussions would have been great to have in the imaginary sequel, but nope, Shepherd takes one line, the Council another, and there’s no reasoned discussion.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thats all very nice,but you are basing the whole thing on the premise that everything shepard and vigil say is 100% true.I mean,shepards asspulls have been proven to be true because of some shaky writing,yes,but that doesnt have to be the case for all of it.And vigil is basing its notions on what the protheans managed to discover while reapers were reaping,so we cant be certain its correct.So neither the “reapers are trapped outside the galaxy forever” nor “reapers are coming as we speak” have to be true.

      Here,a quick way that you can make it so that reapers are coming,even though they should be sleeping without the citadel:Investigating the wreckage in the beginning of 2,we find out that while sovereign didnt manage to open the mass effect tunnel,he still managed to send out a signal to wake up the reapers so they can start the slower trek into our galaxy.

      First, this effectively negates the entire game's story and with it all of the player's actions. You did so much to stop the Reapers, then at the end you're told that sorry the princess is in another castle and they're coming anyway. Nothing you did mattered.

      Thats not true.Our goal was not to stop the reapers,our goal was to stop sovereign.Whether that merely delayed reapers or stopped them for good is irrelevant.What we did does matter,because if sovereigns plan had succeeded the everyone wouldve died.We stopped that.

      You can't even say that you discovered that the Reapers are coming, because you never did. Shepard just suddenly knows this for no reason.

      Yeah,shepard is prone to asspulls like that.Which is weird,since its regina from star wars that has the perfect ass for that job.

      the story of Mass Effect is very self-contained

      This I agree with.And this is why I still maintain that despite everything they didnt plan this as a trilogy,even though they shouldve.

  15. Duoae says:

    I never put this much thought into the ME1 to ME2 story/narrative divide but I can’t help but agree with every aspect of this analysis. The hooks were all there – ready to be used – whether there was a plan or not… they just were never used!

    However, I always knew on an instinctive level that the macro story elements of all three games were just so disparate that they may have well have been ripped from different narratives and jointed with the same characters into a seamy whole. The mishmash of themes, plot points, reasoning and story-arcs just never worked together, IMO.

  16. Smiley_Face says:

    Damn, now I really want to play this Mass Effect 2. I mean, I enjoyed the one we got, but looking at it objectively, it was a side-story; it had a low-stakes plot to allow focus on characters, but there’s no good reason we shouldn’t have had both, and NO good reason that they should have treated it like a second act when it REALLY wasn’t. I mean, even if we had got ME2 as “Mass Effect: Cerberus”, with a few tweaks, and THEN we had this Mass Effect 2, I wonder if a lot might have been salvaged.

  17. Vermander says:

    To be honest, in my early playthroughs of ME1 I either missed most of the sidequests involving Cerberus or ignored them, to the point that I barely remembered them by the time that the second game came out. So I initially didn’t get why they were supposedly so evil or why everyone had such a problem with me working for them.

    I also saw the Council as a bunch of obtuse, obstructionist bureaucrats who were prejudiced against humans and seemed less than grateful that I saved all their lives, so I had no problem cutting ties with them. I was actually happy to work for a proactive organization that seemed to take the Reapers seriously.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      Cerberus was very forgettable in ME1, largely as a result of being a lot of boring missions with no face (or even name, afaik), to attach to the threat.

      1. guy says:

        They had a name. There’s a quest where you help an admiral discover what happened to a missing unit and after you find out that they were deliberately lured in with a false distress beacon to be killed by a Thresher Maw, he starts digging and discovers a rogue Alliance black ops unit called Cerberus. Then they kidnap and murder him. They’re tied in with a bunch of missions with the consistent theme of them trying to control various types of monsters-Thresher Maws, Husks, Thorian Creepers, Rachni-and Shepard finding the monster-infested wreckage of their bases.

        ME2 then features a terrorist organization apparently backed by wealthy buisnessmen that is confusingly also named Cerberus.

      2. Mike S. says:

        I found their torturing an Alliance admiral I’d actually spoken with to death to be suitably memorable. Also being responsible for the Starship Troopers homage and that ship full of rachni. And for characters with the Sole Survivor background, their being responsible for feeding their entire platoon to a thresher maw really concentrated the mind.

        (In ME2, my Sole Survivor Shepard… somehow… wound up with no one alive who’d voluntarily joined Cerberus other than Joker. Some things you don’t forgive. Conversely my only Shepard who worked for them without reservations was the one who hadn’t gotten around to those ME1 missions– who alas, lost Jack before he could follow up on whatever planet she wanted to show him.)

        They were kind of unmotivated in ME1, but I thought they were a decent minor group of creepy science crazies. It doesn’t really mesh up with how they’re portrayed in ME2, but that’s another issue.

  18. Spammy says:

    Even if I must admit that you might have a clever point with regards to the Asari, the fact that they have giant space boobs and share the human model from the neck down still makes me hate the race. And no, there’s no illusion they’re doing to make themselves look different to each race, those guys in the bar were each focusing on a different part of the dancer’s appearance.

    The other major races are all playing with a trope in some way. The Krogan are the big warriors, and that’s why their race is going extinct slowly. The Salarians are the science race, but they’re also ends-driven and fond of sneak attacks and special operations. The Turians basically have a Federation Space-America thing going already and don’t see why they should let the humans muscle in on their turf.

    But the Asari are just sexy blue bisexual space elves. Everything about them screams “We didn’t want to make a new model.” Why do they have boobs? Why are they human from the neck down? Why do they even have human-shaped breasts? Look at the Krogans, Salarians, Turians, Quarians- These people didn’t have a problem making aliens who did not share human proportions. But you get to the Asari and they’re all sexy ladies.

    Bioware’s laziness with building a major species for their setting makes me this mad.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      To be fair, the “blue sexy girls in space” is a common trope in science fiction. It’s there in Star Trek and Star Wars, it’s in The Fifth Element and Farscape, and I never watched Babylon 5, but I think it’s there as well.

      It’s not really laziness, it’s a common storytelling visual device.

      1. Spammy says:

        It is laziness in this game because the other races actually have thought put into them. If they were going to be playing with the idea of space elves then their appearance should be more androgynous and less human, because why would an alien species look like humans from the neck down? Just because they’re all female doesn’t mean they have to have breasts, if I recall, the Dalatress is flat-chested (or wearing so many robes you can’t tell). I don’t know if the “They have to show cleavage because heat from using biotics builds in the chest” thing is canon but if it is, that still doesn’t require breasts, they are way more efficient ways to radiate heat.

        Heck the Asari even have human faces if you block out the head-crest thing. All the other major races, the Turians, Krogans, Salarians, and Quarians all have work put into their design to make them not look like people in costumes. Krogans have barrel chests and short limbs. Salarians have flat bodies and flat heads that are thinner in profile than a human skull. Turians and Quarians both have slender builds and wide hips. And the Asari don’t look like anything more than ladies in blue body paint with a dumb head thing instead of a lumpy forehead.

        1. Mike S. says:

          I think they thought it through, they just had different design goals. The asari are a very deliberate play on the sexy green/blue space babe, which goes back to the pulps, with prominent media exposure in both Star Trek (Orions) and Star Wars (Twi’leks.) But while they include pole dancers and naive young women who need the hero to guide them through this thing you humans call love, they also happen to be the politically dominant and technologically preeminent species in Citadel space, providing a disproportionate number of scientists and leaders on every side of the law. They’re the Orions and the Vulcans and the wise elder species whose comfortable dominance has to deal with those pesky energetic humans.[1] Space elves, yes, but not the faded remnant that elves usually are in post-LotR fantasy.

          [1] Which the Vulcans became in “Enterprise”, but weren’t really before that.

          I thought it was an interestingly unusual alloy of disparate tropes. Being implausibly humanoid and attractive is a pretty intrinsic part of the space babe part of the package.

          And I really liked the ME1 treatment of interspecies relationships, where the asari uniquely engage in them due to SCIENCE! doubletalk– which they carefully note isn’t actually interbreeding. (ME wasn’t by any means hard SF, but it gets credit for generally knowing where it’s breaking the rules and lampshading it, often entertainingly.)

          That got lost because Bioware had other audiences to please, and I can’t say they’re wrong. (The folks who wanted to romance Garrus or Tali are players too, their money spends as well as mine does. And even ignoring 50s Mars-needs-women schlock media SF has been doing that sort of thing since Spock.) But I preferred the original portrayal, where interspecies relationships were something they thought worth bothering to justify.

          1. guy says:

            I think you’re giving them a little too much credit. Ultimately the Asari are blue-skinned space babes because they wanted blue-skinned space babes for fan-service purposes. At the same time, you are correct that they’re more than just that. It’s entirely possible to have a character or species who is blatantly for fan-service and also interesting and complex.

        2. Dreadjaws says:

          Your reply didn’t even pretend to take into account what I said. Like, at all.

      2. wswordsmen says:

        There is one in B5 (not one species, one individual) and that actually ties back into the plot directly (as in explaining it is Major Spoilers). If anything humans are the pink sexy space babes of B5, and that is only because of 1 character’s fondness for human women early in the series.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      I think you’re unduly focused on their physical appearance. There’s quite a bit about the Asari as a race in ME1, IMO. Probably more than the Turians, and certainly more than the Salarians, who don’t even have a crew representative. They’re the diplomats, the peace-makers, and undeniably at the head of the council races, for a reason.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Judging women just by their appearance?How sexist!

      Joking aside,quarians are also just humans with weird helmets,and in me3 they even have human faces(fuck that photo).Turians also get boobs in me3 because….um,they are reptiles,so of course they have boobs.And dont even get me started on the whole sexing tali and garrus thing.

      1. Chargone says:

        Quarians also had Something odd going on with their lower legs as well as the fingers and toes being different. Though the legs and feet seem(?) To become closer to human between 1 and 2. Though that might just be my memory. It’s been ages since i played either game and i no longer even own them.

        From the other side of the argument: female quarian hips.

  19. Somniorum says:

    And as I read this article I start getting excited until my brain ticks in and says “stop that, dummy – they didn’t MAKE that game!”

    I want to play Shamus’ game : /

    1. krellen says:

      This post is why I was so excited for the series and pre-ordered Mass Effect 2.

      And then I got Mass Effect 2 instead.

      You have made me very sad this evening, Shamus, reminding me of the promise that was never fulfilled.

  20. INH5 says:

    I’d like to respond to one part of this post separate from the stuff about the Reaper plot.

    Shepard can understand Prothean thanks to the Cipher. The conversation with Vigil makes it clear that Shepard hasn't just seen a bunch of random hallucinations. Through his struggles he's gained some sort of insight into Prothean language. If the writer needed, they could even use the Cipher to say Shepard is able to use Prothean devices or open doors that nobody else can. This gives the writers a free pass to put Shepard at the center of any effort to learn about the Reapers. Large-scale RPG's always have the question: “If this is so important, then what don't they send in the army?” Mass Effect 1 carefully constructed a scenario to address this problem. You don't need an army to investigate ruins and look for clues in deep space. You need a small team, and Shepard is the most logical leader for that team. Boom! No need for a “chosen one” trope. Shepard just happens to be the person with the skills and resources to do this, and it has nothing to do with fate or superhuman ability.

    There’s a big problem with this idea, and that’s that it is possible that another person who has the Cipher, Shiala, is still alive, depending on whether the player chooses to spare her. Worse, Shiala has the ability to give the Cipher to other people, and because she gave it to Shepard after giving it to Saren, this ability clearly works more than once. Which means that if the Cipher really is important, there is nothing stopping Shiala from handing it out to countless other people.

    If you want to have the Cipher be the thing that makes Shepard special, then Shiala has to quickly die offscreen even if the player chooses to spare her. Like you wrote about the Rachni Queen, negating player choice is bad.

    1. Mike S. says:

      Saren and Shepard both interacted with the Prothean beacon. So easiest thing is that you need both to do the exploration– the Cipher lets you understand Prothean, but it’s the beacon exposure that makes the fossil tech in the ruins actually operable. (As in ME3, where the beacon on Thessia only talks to you because it detects a Prothean presence.)

      1. Writiosity says:

        “Or you could just ask the Prothean standing right next to you.”

    2. Shamus says:

      “If you want to have the Cipher be the thing that makes Shepard special, then Shiala has to quickly die offscreen even if the player chooses to spare her.”

      That doesn’t follow at all. Shepard is still the best person for the job. He’s used the other beacons, he’s a trained soldier, he’s got the stealth ship, he’s a trusted Spectre, Liara is part of his crew.

      Shepard doesn’t need to be the ONLY person in the galaxy who can save us. He just needs to be the most obvious and expedient choice.

      1. INH5 says:

        That doesn’t change the fact that, if the player left Shiala alive, Shepard having the Cipher is irrelevant because Shiala can hand that thing out to anyone in the galaxy. Shepard having used the beacons is also irrelevant because the beacon message had no purpose other than to lead him to Illos. If there was any other meaning there, Vigil would have told Shepard about it. It’s a map to a treasure that’s already been found.

        Everything else you list is also replaceable. There are lots of trained soldiers in the galaxy. There’s nothing preventing the Alliance from giving the Normandy to someone else or someone else building another stealth ship (which does happen in the sequels, ME3’s War Assets even mention the Salarians building stealth dreadnoughts). There are several other Spectres. There is nothing preventing Liara from being assigned to someone else’s crew.

        I also think the general idea of Prothean ruins throughout the galaxy holding secrets about the Reapers is an example of projecting stuff from ME3 back onto previous games. In ME1, only Illos and stuff that comes from Illos (the beacon messages) have anything useful, and the implication is that the Reapers were able to mop up any clues to their existence everywhere else (with the glaring exception of the Conduit, which is in the middle of the Citadel but somehow got overlooked). Obviously ME3 goes back on this idea and has all sorts of Prothean ruins have stuff that is key to defeating the Reapers, but I don’t think ME1 ever really establishes anything like it.

        1. guy says:

          It’s still quite possible merely using the Beacon is important; Liara mind-linked with Shepard but I don’t think she gets to understand spoken Prothean on Ilos.

          And the Prothean ruins are quite likely to be important; the Reapers tried to destroy all information about them, but that doesn’t preclude a desperate hunt for any tiny fragments they may have missed. No one has found any, but they didn’t have the Cipher and didn’t know what they were looking for. And even if the Reapers got everything about themselves, it’s clear that the Council isn’t caught up technologically.

        2. Flip says:

          There are lots of trained soldiers in the galaxy. […] There are several other Spectres.

          Sure. But we’re looking for good soldiers that are also good leaders and Spectres (after all, we need a small exploration and research team). Shepard is both and he already has an experienced team that is suitable for the task. Why would you go through the effort of reorganizing everything?

          There's nothing preventing the Alliance from giving the Normandy to someone else…

          The Normandy is on loan to the Citadel (see the renegade dialogue with Admiral Mikhailovich). Unless the Alliance somehow gets the Normandy back (Why would they? The Alliance wanted Shepard as a Spectre and Anderson is always backing Shepard.) I don’t see how the Alliance can reassign the Normandy. And even if they could, they would only reassing her to someone better that Shepard. And as far as ME1 is concerned, there is nobody better than Shepard or he would not have been chosen for the Spectres in the first place (see Intro dialogue).

          …or someone else building another stealth ship.

          Building another stealth ship would take time (2 years for the SR2). Do we have time? No. Do we have a reason to build another stealth ship just so someone else can go hunting for clues on the Reapers? No.

          There is nothing preventing Liara from being assigned to someone else's crew.

          Liara is a civilian who just happens to also be good at biotics. She is not part of any military. You can’t just reassign her.

          I have trouble understanding your line of reasoning here.
          Yes, you could reorganize everything. But why would you? Never change a running system! Shepard and his crew have done great work so far.
          Yes, Shepard can lose his uniqueness if you tell Shiala to mind-meld with some other good soldier and leader who is also a Spectre and who then gets a stealth ship and an expert on the Protheans and a good team. But even if you go through all this trouble you still wouldn’t have the relations Shepard has build with the daughter of a Quarian admiral, an influential Krogan, the Council (either good or bad) and the galaxy as a whole by being a hero. You would start at square one. That’s just a stupid thing to do.

          1. INH5 says:

            So you’re saying that the reasons that Shepard is special are that he is highly skilled, has important friends, and is a hero as a result of saving the galaxy from Sovereign? Isn’t that almost exactly what the sequels went with anyway?

            1. Shamus says:

              Are you just trying to be difficult for no reason? You make an assertion that doesn’t make sense, someone counters you, and then you change the subject by ignoring their points and taking another dig at Shepard as the protagonist. What are you after, here? You just love arguing? I can’t even tell what point you’re trying to make.

              1. INH5 says:

                You’re right. I lost track of what I’m trying to say too. I’ve already made my point about Shiala making the situation with the Cipher more complicated, so I’ll shut up now.

              2. Flip says:

                I think INH5’s point was that you can’t use the cipher to have Shepard be special because Shiala can give the cipher to everybody. That means that Shepard has no innate specialness like the protagonists of Skyrim (dragonblood), Dragon Age: Inquisition (green hand) and Mass Effect 1 (beacon visions).

                And that results – at least in theory – in the protagonist being replacable. If you worked really hard, you could sort-of replace Shepard with somebody else.

                Is this a problem? I guess the answer depends on you.
                I like playing a normal guy who just happens to be in a position to be the story’s hero.
                Other players might prefer a story that tells them: ‘Only (!) you can save us!’

                1. INH5 says:

                  Yeah, after spending a day to rethink things I think that’s what I was getting at. I’m not saying that this is bad either. It’s just that from this and a number of previous posts Shamus seemed to be saying that having the Cipher make Shepard special in the sequels would be good precisely because it would supposedly give Shepard an innate specialness and reason to be involved in the plot besides just “Shepard’s really good at this.” Unless I read those posts wrong?

                  1. Flip says:

                    You didn’t. Quote from above:

                    Shepard can understand Prothean thanks to the Cipher. […] Through his struggles he's gained some sort of insight into Prothean language. If the writer needed, they could even use the Cipher to say Shepard is able to use Prothean devices or open doors that nobody [emphasis added] else can. This gives the writers a free pass to put Shepard at the center of any effort to learn about the Reapers.

                    Yes, Shamus did say that the cipher makes Shepard special. So that’s not necessarily true. Of course, since Shiala says that it will take time to get used to the cipher, you could say that Shepard has a headstart and is therefore special, but really… Does it matter? Shepard is the most logical protagonist for this hypothetical Mass Effect 2 we are talking about, special or not.

                    1. natureguy85 says:

                      I’m a few months off so this may never be read, but one thing that hasn’t been mentioned is Shepard’s strong will/mind. Both Liara and Shiala bring this up. So while you are correct that Shiala might be able to pass along the Cipher to anyone, most people wouldn’t be able to handle it. Now, maybe we can’t take that very far since Saren handles it, Shiala can handle the Cipher, and Liara can handle peeking at Shepard’s mind, but that is what the game says.

                      And as Shamus said, Shepard may not be the only choice, but he is the best choice. The Cipher being able to be handed out to others just means the Lazarus Project isn’t worthwhile. It does not mean that a Shepard that doesn’t die in the opening of the second game isn’t the most qualified to spearhead everything else going forward, which he is.

  21. Aldowyn says:

    hoo boy, I can feel the Mass Effect 2 rage coming. Time to batten down the hatches…

    For the record, I have a lot of issues with ME2, learned over a lot of years of discussing it, but man some people really hate it.

  22. OldOak says:

    I must confess how much I appreciate the whole plot analysis, and picking on the loopholes. I don’t pay too much attention to that when I play, as it’s just one part of the whole, but I really enjoy the passion of others that concerns it.
    But Shamus, you have a programming background of sorts and gave us the spectacular PixelCity, why deny us some rants about the looks of ME? Your site background image is a testimony to the good results (at least partially) with this regard. I guess you can drop in some thoughts of the game mechanics & co. (e.g. AI, sound, voices) on the side.

  23. Zekiel says:

    Excellent analysis Shamus. I feel slightly queasy about what ME2 could have been. In particular the complete abandoning of the cipher (as the only thing that makes Shepard more-or-less uniquely qualified to fight the Reapers) is pretty shameful.

    Having said that, presumably if the aim in the sequels was to court a more action-y audience, the writers/marketers/publishers perhaps felt that having the unique quality of their action hero being “understands dead language” was not the most compelling quality!

    1. Zekiel says:

      (Athough having said that, the parallels with not-altogether-unsuccessful action hero Indiana Jones have now sprung to mind)

    2. INH5 says:

      If the player left Shiala alive, then the Cipher isn’t unique to Shepard at all, because not only does Shiala have the cipher herself, she can give it to other people.

      The cipher was clearly just a McGuffin to wrap the Feros mission around and was never intended to be anything else.

    3. Alexander The 1st says:

      Having said that, presumably if the aim in the sequels was to court a more action-y audience, the writers/marketers/publishers perhaps felt that having the unique quality of their action hero being “understands dead language” was not the most compelling quality!

      Now I’m reminded of Rutskarn’s “Interesting Choice Problems” from the Elder Scrolls analysis:

      “What? You took a skill point in Language(Prothean)? Didn’t you pay attention in Mass Effect Universe High School that the Protheans are all dead? At best, this lets you speak to maybe one Reaper, and like you *might* be able to make a Collector or two be non-hostile to you.

      You should’ve taken a point in Perform(Conduit) instead – it would’ve been so much more useful.”

  24. Writiosity says:

    I’ll just leave this here. Would’ve made for a rather more coherent and less dumb Mass Effect 3:

    1. Scerro says:

      Having not played ME3, I’m just going to pretend that’s what happened.

    2. Chargone says:

      Well, the strike team plan runs face first into the indoctrination issue, but the Fleet plan’s great!

  25. AReasonWhy says:

    I’ve just read all the posts up till this one, and this one especially made me realise just how much a better games after the first one could have been. As you mentioned, the writers wrote in various possibilities for shep to roam around the galaxy by opening new relays in search of something to stop the reapers, having trek or stargate like adventures, meeting more aliens and characters, engaging in more indiana jones like ruins digging and just cruising around planets.

    You also mentioned now that a reaper was right in the face of the council (and maybe destroys it even), there’s no way any sane political power would just ignore the reaper threat, even if they don’t believe there’s a hundred spacesquids coming for them. Somethings fishy, and Shep seems to know something about these squiddies. But wait, in ME2 Sheps wearing Cerberus insignia! He’s with some crazy people, can’t trust his ass! Lets let him deal with another weird unknown massive military threat on his own. I really feel the whole Cerberus plot was put into ME2 for the sake of prolonging the councils involvement in the game and make them blind to the whole plot. Just ugh. It makes my sci-fi heart ache that we lost the possibility for an even more awesome trilogy of cool story and gameplay because reasons.

  26. natureguy85 says:

    I’m so happy you’re doing this series. I’m sure I’ll enjoy you ripping into the next two games but I also like remembering what was great about the first one.

    I’m fully with you on all the room the first game left. I thought we’d be using the idea that the Citadel is a Relay to go fight the Reapers in Dark Space. That would have been better and made more sense than the magic Omega 4 Relay.

  27. King Feraligatr says:

    I appreciate all the comments about series. I personally have been working on a total Rewrite of the series after ME1 for a while and would love some feedback. I still consider it in pre planning phases and I find many things are open to change. I also have many things I have not written down as I’m lazy :( .

    Links about some of the stuff in my Rewrite (RP is dead for now):

  28. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Your Spectre status means nothing in this part of space. Instead, you must [do this quest thing] before I’ll agree to help you.” People can be as difficult or as accommodating as the gameplay requires, without breaking any characters or creating annoying plot holes.

    If we were getting the kind of sequel you were suggesting, this obstruction could be overused, to the point that you start to wonder about the value of being a Spectre. Luckily they usually avert that even in the second game where your Spectre status is in question (either its been revoked or because you’ve been dead for two years people have reason to believe you’re not you.) I can’t think of any instances after the first game where you need to perform a favor to be granted access.

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