Mass Effect Retrospective 15: Change Happens

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 24, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 290 comments

I don’t hate Mass Effect 2. It’s not a horrible game. I know people find this hard to believe, because I’ve spent so much time complaining about it. People look at the sheer volume of negative words I’ve put out and assume I’ve got this burning vendetta against the game, or that I think it’s the Worst Thing Ever.

Often when I do this sort of long-form analysis people will respond with “Why are you so angry?” and “Why did you write a book-length tirade about this?” I think this is a side-effect of the common “nerd rage” shtick that some critics do. People see something critical and they just assume it’s supposed to be performed in the voice of a spittle-spewing madman.

But if you look you’ll notice this series isn’t filled with outraged hyperbole, profanity, or personal attacks against the developer. I’m not making demands, claiming that I’ve been wronged, or accusing anyone of fraud. Yes, it’s negative, but it’s not outrage. If your mechanic tells you that your alternator is busted, he’s not saying you have THE WORST CAR EVER and that YOU ARE DUMB FOR OWNING IT. He’s just telling you why it doesn’t work.

That’s what this series is. We’re opening up the hood on Mass Effect 2 and finding things that don’t work.

I’m Not Even Angry

Mass Effect 2 does itself no favors by opening with the two most irritating characters in the game.
Mass Effect 2 does itself no favors by opening with the two most irritating characters in the game.

As I’ve said in the past few entries, even though Mass Effect 2 isn’t a horrible game, it’s also not the sequel suggested and prepared by Mass Effect 1. It’s tonally different. It’s thematically different. Important facts of the world and characters are changed, sometimes for poor reasons and sometimes for no discernible reason at all. This makes it incredibly frustrating for people who have spent a lot of time thinking about the first game. No matter how good Mass Effect 2 is, the fact that it tells this story means that we will never get the sequel we anticipated. The first game primed us and the main characters for a quest for knowledge and discovery that never took place.

This disconnect isn’t the result of a single flaw that we can point to and say, “This! This one thing shouldn’t have been changed!” Instead the old story died the death of a thousand paper cuts. Numerous things were altered, forgotten, shifted in importance, or abruptly added on. Just one of these changes would be a little annoying, but harmless over the long haul of the series. But when stacked together they create a rift that no retcon or hand-waving can overcome. This is not a continuation of the story I loved, and no amount of gameplay polish or Garrus fanservice can change that.

This is why these explanations are so damn long. People think I’m going through the story, searching for tiny, inconsequential things to gripe about because I enjoy nitpicking. And I do. But I’m going through this because all those “inconsequential things” compound until they kill my connection to the universe.

“[The Author] makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is ‘true’: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are out in the Primary World again, looking at the abortive little Secondary World from the outside.”

J. R. R. Tolkien

Here is Shepard being ejected from the story, moments before the audience. I'm fairly certain the slapstick flailing is only ACCIDENTALLY hilarious.
Here is Shepard being ejected from the story, moments before the audience. I'm fairly certain the slapstick flailing is only ACCIDENTALLY hilarious.

This is quite an achievement. I really loved the world of Mass Effect 1. The world of Mass Effect 2 looks and sounds a lot like it, and a lot of my favorite characters are here. I want to be in this world, having this adventure. But the unraveling of the story is so violent and the problems so far-reaching that all I can do is sit here in the Primary World and try to figure out where it all went wrong.

There’s a lot to unpack here. A bunch of established ideas change, the gameplay changes, and the tone changes, and so it’s difficult to know where to start. Since Mass Effect 2 puts the characters before the story, it makes sense to talk about the characters before we dissect the plot. On the other hand, it would feel strange to launch directly into talking about these recruitment missions without at least covering the setup that makes them necessary.

So let’s deal with the opening of the game and this new status quo, and then we can depart from the main story for a while and talk about all the other things. If nothing else, this will let us dilute the negativity a bit.

Wait, What?

The opening of Mass Effect 2 is tough for me to get through. Every line and every action rings false, awkward, contradictory, or just sophomoric. Jumping directly from the end of Mass Effect 1 to the opening of Mass Effect 2 is like jumping from Classic Trek to Abrams Trek. Trying to fit the two together is a thankless and infuriating task, and the writer seems bent on undermining your efforts at every turn.

The opening crawl is thus:

We apologize for the fault in the opening crawl. Those responsible have been sacked.
We apologize for the fault in the opening crawl. Those responsible have been sacked.

Right in the opening line the game claims that “Humans seized political control of the galaxy. That sounds kind of unreasonably abrupt and extreme. At the end of Mass Effect 1, the other races were “scared” and wanted Humanity to “step forward”. Saying Humans have “more power” would be reasonable. Claiming they have “political control” strikes me as extremely implausible. On top of that, the rest of the game undercuts this notion. Humans don’t seem to have any power at all, and can’t even spare resources to defend their vanishing colonies.

Either way, if the Humans lead (or control) the council, then why would they attempt to quell rumors of the Reapers? That’s the source of their political power. You could argue they’re trying to keep the people calm and hunt the Reapers in secret, but the very next scene reveals that to not be the case. That’s like a politician sweeping into office on a platform of demagoguing and threatening Elbonia, and then once they’re elected claiming that Elbonia isn’t and has never been a threat. Yes, you can contrive where such an outcome is possible, but it’s not the most intuitive and logical outcome of the previous events.

Everything feels slightly off-kilter like this. Nothing seems to flow naturally from the events of the first game, or even from the events of the preceding paragraph.

We fade in on Miranda and TIM doing this idiotic circular discussion that boils down to: The council is making Shepard waste his time chasing Geth. The council won’t trust Cerberus, but they’ll follow Shepard. Because he’s “A hero, a bloody icon.”

Don't worry, The Illusive Man, my quilted buttocks have everything Shepard needs to defeat the Reapers. Also, where is this blue lens flare coming from?
Don't worry, The Illusive Man, my quilted buttocks have everything Shepard needs to defeat the Reapers. Also, where is this blue lens flare coming from?

So Cerberus wants to help Shepard, because humanity will follow Shepard. But they feel they need to help because… nobody is following Shepard? This becomes all the more nonsensical once you attempt to meet with the Council and they refuse to work with you (much less “follow” you) because you’re working for Cerberus.

These problems aren’t just “plot holes”. This is a premise that is inherently contradictory. This isn’t one part of a story disagreeing with another part of the story, this is each part of the story disagreeing with itself.

At the end of the conversation TIM says that Miranda needs to “Make sure [Shepard] doesn’t fail.” Okay. How were you going to accomplish that, exactly? What possible plan were you suggesting? Did you read ahead in the script and know that Shepard was going to die in the next scene and that you would need to resurrect him? If the Collectors hadn’t attacked and Shepard just kept flying around, what would Miranda have done? What help could she have offered? TIM eventually recruits Shepard to investigate the colony abductions, but at this point in time the abductions haven’t started yet. TIM is sending Miranda to help Shepard with a problem he doesn’t have yet so that TIM can recruit Shepard for a problem that doesn’t exist yet.

Basically, everything they say in this conversation is immediately invalidated by the next scene. Later they will follow through with the decisions made in this conversation, but for new reasons. That’s not really a plot hole, it’s just an incredibly muddled way to introduce the premise of the coming story.

And then we have the myriad of plot holes you get when you examine the scene retroactively, like why the supposedly clandestine collectors would brazenly attack the NormandyOr ANY ship, since their abduction tech seems to be pretty top-notch and based on secrecy., or why they wouldn’t scoop up (or destroy) the escape pods after they won the battle, or why nobody in the Alliance or the Council follows-up and sends a force out here to find out what happened to their trillion-credit super-ship and their “Hero and bloody icon”. The dissonance is fractal, and trying to create headcanon to explain some of it will just open up holes elsewhere. Trying to follow the actions and motivations of the various sides is a fool’s errand.

We’re only five minutes in, and it feels like the writers are trying to plug a USB device into a light socket. This does not fit with the events and claims of the last game, it doesn’t fit with what comes later, and it doesn’t make enough sense to stand on its own. When you open up a game with ten minutes of non-branching expositional cutscenes there’s no excuse for it not holding together.

The Writer Flips The Table

Joker, I know you're the best pilot or whatever, but could you STOP FLYING DIRECTLY INTO THE BEAM FOR, LIKE, FIVE SECONDS? At least make them AIM at us.
Joker, I know you're the best pilot or whatever, but could you STOP FLYING DIRECTLY INTO THE BEAM FOR, LIKE, FIVE SECONDS? At least make them AIM at us.

Mass Effect 2 is merciless in its efforts to break free of the ideas and direction set by the first game. It feels like a sequel made by someone who actively loathed the original. This wasn’t just a quick retcon to change a few elements. The writer blew up the Normandy and killed the main character, ejected all of the squad members from the story, and then brought Shepard back to life and poofed the Normandy 2 into existence under new management.

As a result, we are asked to accept too many implausible, contrived, or dissonant ideas all at once, while at the same time relevant and reasonable questions aren’t even acknowledged, much less answered.

  1. The council isn’t just influenced by Humans, it’s “controlled” by them.
  2. And yet, the council STILL doesn’t believe Shepard about the Reapers, thus robbing the player of a portion of their victory from the last game.
  3. It turns out Cerberus isn’t clown college for super-villains, it’s actually a competent pro-human organization with spectacular power, reach, resources, and knowledge, rivaling that of most governments.
  4. Cerberus is led by this crazy, distinctive, infamous leader, who everyone knows about but who was never mentioned or hinted at in the last game.
  5. Shepard isn’t off looking for answers or knowledge like he promised in the closing line of Mass Effect 1, but instead flying around doing what seems like a waste of time.
  6. Where are the squad mates? Where is Garrus? Wrex? Tali? Hang on, are they on the Normandy? Did they just die? Where did they go?
  7. Shepard is suddenly dead at the hands of a new foe with zero buildup or foreshadowing.
  8. This new foe is a species which has apparently always existed in this universe and yet has never been mentioned.
  9. Shepard has been miraculously cured of death. Not just “Shepard’s heart stopped” but “complete and total brain death for a prolonged period of time, possibly even experiencing the effects of re-entry. (We’ll talk more about “re-entry” later.)
  10. Not only was Shepard cured of death, but the cure came from Cerberus.
  11. Cerberus is the only force interested in dealing with either the Reaper threat OR the collector threatYes, they’re the same threat, but nobody outside of Cerberus knows that., making them the only proactive force in the galaxy, and making every other power seem dumb or apathetic in contrast.

That’s just too many immersion-breaking questions in the first minutes of screen time. The writer is changing too much, too fast, and without giving their radical new ideas the proper build-up and support.

On top of all this, it doesn’t seem that this sledgehammer reset was needed. The main plot of the game consists of: Investigate collectors » gather team » fight collectors » gather more team » go through Omega-4 relay and fight collectors » end. You could do all of this in the context of a story where Shepard was still more or less working for the Council / Alliance. There would be no need to kill and revive Shepard, blow up and rebuild the Normandy, simultaneously introduce and retcon Cerberus, and explain the various crew changes. Sure, it might need a little retcon here and there to make it fit, but it would have needed fewer, less disruptive changes than this Cerberus plot.

Changes Require Planning, Not Brute Force

I keep look at the lettering on the wall and thinking it somehow says 'RETCON'.
I keep look at the lettering on the wall and thinking it somehow says 'RETCON'.

The larger the change you want to make to a story, the more care is required.

You can say that Darth Vader is Luke’s father during a climactic and emotional battle, after an entire movie of build-up and mystery about what Vader was doing and what his interest was in Luke. That same idea would have fallen flat if it had been part of a scene at the start of Empire Strikes Back where it’s revealed that Vader was Luke’s father, the Death Star wasn’t totally destroyed, Han is actually strong in the force, and Uncle Owen is still alive and working as an Imperial Spy.

As an author, you can’t change very many established facts without the risk of ejecting people back into the Primary World. But if you do need to change a lot of things, then don’t change them all at the same time. If you do need to change a lot of things at the same time, then at least wait until the audience settles into the familiar story before you upend everything. If you can’t wait until the audience settles in, then at least have the characters spend a good deal of time reacting to and reflecting on these incredible revelations. And if you can’t do that, at least make sure the changes all serve a purpose in the coming narrative, and aren’t just there for “style”.

Even if a revelation is possible under the established rules, if it’s a big deal then it needs to be given its own space. The audience needs time to absorb the new idea and the characters need to react to it. Nothing in Star Wars: A New Hope explicitly precluded Han Solo from using the force, but it would still have been ridiculous to introduce the idea of him being force-sensitive in the same scene where he starts throwing stuff around with his mind. Big ideas need time to grow and big revelations have to be earned. Having some kind of proportional character reactions wouldn’t hurt, either. Shepard’s reaction to his own death and resurrection gets fewer lines of dialog than (say) the totally optional “flavor text” conversations with the Volus ambassador in Mass Effect 1.

The opening of Mass Effect 2 whiffs on all of these. It changes too much, too fast, with too little reason or build-up, and it doesn’t have the characters adequately react to them. It flings you out of the story, and the more attached you were to the premise of Mass Effect 1, the more likely you’re going to have a problem with this new scenario.



[1] Or ANY ship, since their abduction tech seems to be pretty top-notch and based on secrecy.

[2] Yes, they’re the same threat, but nobody outside of Cerberus knows that.

From The Archives:

290 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 15: Change Happens

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Commander shepard:Change we can believe in!

  2. Michael says:

    I’ll be honest, the story of Mass Effect 2 always felt like it should have been an expansion pack, instead of the second act of a trilogy. With half the setup being built specifically to create that kind of a board wipe, so the writers could tell another ME1 era story, and half the setup being for blind shock value without any thought put into it beyond that.

    EDIT: I mean the story specifically. I’m rather fond of the way the gameplay developed through the series. To the point that I’d actually like to see ME3 style inventory and combat in 1 and 2.

    1. Henson says:

      Or, better yet, didn’t star Shepard.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yup.This wouldve been much better if it was “The adventures of Someone Else” set in the universe where all that stuff with shepard took place earlier.

        1. Henson says:


          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Sure,why not?Heck,it couldve even be someone completely new(like fuck kai leng)

          2. Conrad is a hero, a bloody icon.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              You know what?If that was said with a straight face in one of the games,Id actually buy it.He is the type of guy to fabricate a reputation like that,and someone is bound to believe it.

              1. Henson says:

                Cerberus got trolled.


                1. Gruhunchously says:

                  Turns out that TIM is actually Conrad in disguise, and Cerberus is secretly the Shepard fan club, fighting for humanity on her behalf to the best of their limited ability.

                  What? It makes sense, doesn’t it?

                  1. Thomas says:

                    TIM is definitely a paid up member of the Shepard fan club.

                    Actually.. Conrad really is the other NPC most like TIM … have we ever seen them in the same place at the same time?

                    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                      I still wish someone would do a mod where Conrad was the Catalyst.

                      “So its, like, all about cycles man. We gotta save life by killing people. You taught me that.”

        2. ehlijen says:

          It was the perfect opportunity to introduce Kai Leng in a way that might foster player acceptance of his supposed bad-assery in ME3: Have him introduced *as* the player in the middle game set from Cerberus’s side.

          1. Vect says:

            They sort of did that with Jacob. He and Miranda were introduced in a phone game or something where they stopped Batarians from fucking up some diplomatic negotiations or something. Granted, it was a game no one remembers.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But if you look you'll notice this series isn't filled with outraged hyperbole, profanity, or personal attacks against the developer.

    Not required for rage.The scariest rage is in fact very clinical.

    Not that Im telling you you arent angry,just that anger can be expressed in various ways.

    As for this game,the emotion I usually associate with it is disappointment(except for that conversation when you save the colony from collectors,that is just pure rage).

    1. Michael says:

      Well, that probably describes far more of my own articles than I’m comfortable admitting. :p

      EDIT: I read Shamus’ post as more, “disappointed” than actually angry. Not sure if that’s a fair assessment, though.

      1. Peter H. Coffin says:

        “disappointed” + “angry” = “betrayed”

        Is there a mild form of betrayed? Over something that’s only emotionally meaningful and not even by the lights of larger society not even important?

        1. MichaelGC says:

          ‘Let down’ would maybe be a mild form of ‘betrayed’.

          1. Jeff says:

            But you’re not really that angry when you’re let down, maybe just annoyed or irked?

        2. Ahiya says:

          Disappointed is a good word for it.

      2. Trix2000 says:

        And really, I think ‘disappointment’ is probably the best way to describe the game to most people. People were excited for what ME2 would build upon after the world and events of ME1, and the resulting product ended up failing to deliver on a lot of what made the first game good.

        And like Shamus says, ME2 is not a bad game overall – if anything, it’s actually pretty good in a lot of aspects. But for all it gains in terms of gameplay and character building, it loses just as much from the worldbuilding and plot consistency… which is a lot of what people liked about the series.

        And perhaps the worst part isn’t so much that significant aspects of the game were flawed, but that it doesn’t seem like it’d be that difficult to make better – considering we already HAD a good example in ME1. If they’d stuck with that AND made some improvements to the gameplay/characters, it would have been an amazing game. It doesn’t sound all that unreasonable.

        That’s really what I think people are unhappy about. Not that it was bad, but that it could have and should have been so much better… and it seems like it wasn’t for no good reason.

  4. Limeaide says:

    It amuses me greatly that “The Illusive Man” abbreviates to “Tim”.

    1. Michael says:

      Between the Monty Python jokes, and the Lassie references the options are fairly limited, but incredibly amusing for awhile.

      “What’s that EDI? Timmy fell down a plot hole and contracted the stupids again?”

      And of course, “there are some who call me… Tim?”

    2. James Porter says:

      I believe the ME2 season brought this up, but shouldn’t his name be “The Elusive Man” since he is hard to find, and doesn’t spent time tricking people?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yeah,but the intent was for him to be a trickster and not just some schmo who is hard to find.

        1. MrGuy says:

          In actuality, he was the just the dream of an autistic child.

      2. Armagrodden says:

        I always thought he was “The Illusive Man” because he always communicates with people through holograms.

        Of course, that also made me think that he was going to turn out to be a VI or something at the end, or to otherwise never have existed at all.

        1. Thomas says:

          He is officially The Illusive Man. Is the quote they say they named him after a real life quote or an in-game quote? If it’s not, I actually believe Rutskarn’s theory that they just screwed up and mixed Illusive and Elusive up.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Actually he was supposed to be the exclusive man,but somewhere down the line that document got corrupted.

    3. swenson says:

      I used to be pretty active on the Bioware forums between ME2 and ME3. Everyone called him Tim or Timmy. There were so many “some call me Tim” jokes too…

  5. Zekiel says:

    So – why did the writers kill off Shepard at the beginning of ME2? What did it gain them?

    My best guess is that:
    a) They were intending this game for people who hadn’t necessarily played ME1
    b) So they needed a way for the player character to not understand what was going on
    c) Being dead for 2 years accomplishes this – the galaxy has moved on, your old squadmates have gone their separate ways etc etc. So it gives a reason for Shepard to wander around going “what’s going on? who’s in charge now? what’s a Reaper again?” etc etc (OK I’m joking with the last one)

    1. Michael says:

      IIRC, the real reason was to justify the player changing class. It came up in an interview back right after the game launched.

      1. Grudgeal says:


        That’s stupid. Seriously. If you haven’t played ME1, you could say Shepard was always that class. If you had played it, there was no reason to just put the class change option in and… I mean. What? You kill the protagonist over an out-of-story adjustment?

        1. Thomas says:

          Its a very old tradition in videogames that only died out recently. It’s almost a punchline in Metroid now what they’ll do to reset Samus’ abilities and armour.

          (Basically Bag of Spilling on TV Tropes)

          It’s one of the most extreme ways of doing it this time round, and slightly odd because Shepard _can_ carry some stuff over, but “What implausible event will set my RPG character back to level 0?” is something most sequel writers have scratched their heads over at some point. Baldur’s Gate 2 for example has the PC get kidnapped and tortured I think.

          1. Grudgeal says:

            Baldur’s gate didn’t reset your XP. It did steal your equipment, but not your XP or class. You found got some of it in the first dungeon if you imported your game.

            I recognise a Bag of Spilling scenario was, on some level, neccessary, but blowing up your ship and killing your character only to bring you back to life, then give you a new identical ship only without your guns, is stupid.

            1. GloatingSwine says:

              Baldur’s Gate also only let you get to a max level of 10 (for Rogues), and BG2 rolled you a new character at the level you could have reached in 1.

              Quite frankly though the fact that the systems changed so much between ME1 and ME2 rendered the previous levelling irrelevant so they might as well not have tried to justify it.

              All those points you spent on teaching your super special space soldier to be able to hit the wide side of a barn? Well he can do that out of the box now!

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                It might have even served to help justify why it was so important to hire you this time around. “Shepard is Level 60, as are most of his field team. We can’t ignore that.”

              2. Ivan says:

                Honestly if they hadn’t even tried to justify a character reset it wouldn’t have caused as many problems as they did with their method of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. People would have joked about it for sure but pretty much everyone understands that it makes no sense to start a game at the max level and they probably would have forgiven it pretty easily. They could have even justified some of it as “budget cuts” and left it at that.

          2. Michael says:

            Yeah, the bag of spilling in Balder’s Gate 2 was designed to remove a couple problematic items from your inventory. As it works, you get most of your actual gear back after a couple rooms, with a line about how “most of it’s still there, but, whatsisname took a few things with him.” I used to know exactly what wouldn’t transfer over, but it’s been too long.

            Ironically or not, Shepard does carry some levels over into ME2. On an imported save you can start as high as level 5, if I’m remembering correctly. But, the main reason was to let you respec into a different class, and to accommodate changes to the skill system between games. Which, yeah, that was stupid.

            1. Grudgeal says:

              If you import, you get to keep the Golden Pantaloons, a set of armour (chosen from a small list) and one magic item (chosen from a small list). If you don’t import, you get one item from each of the lists (the +2 chainmail and the Helmet of Balduran) and you don’t get the pantaloons. Everything else is lost.

          3. Trix2000 says:

            The funny thing is, they were planning a trilogy. Did they consider that, by this logic, they’d have had to kill off or otherwise divest Shepard AGAIN in ME3?

            Thankfully they didn’t bother with an explanation for class change in the third game (and even kept your levels in a way), so this didn’t come up. But if that was their real reason for killing off Shepard in ME2, I can’t help but wonder if they thought about ME3 at the time.

            And if they DID feel like they had to do something again for the third game… what would it have been? Would they kill him again? (Probably not) Maybe if they had given it some thought, it might have made them realize how ridiculous the idea was in the first place.

            1. INH5 says:

              ME3 does take a bunch of your stuff away through the plot device of Shepard being grounded and the Normandy being in the middle of refurbishment when the Reapers attack. There’s even a sort of minigame where you have to search the ship for your model ships that have been scattered about before you can put them back in your cabin.

          4. Joe Informatico says:

            It goes back even further to tabletop RPGs, when they’d write novel trilogies and adventure modules to explain the rules changes between editions of D&D. And even then, I’d think, “Why the hell are they trying to justify out-of-game information in the in-game story?”

            1. Joshua says:

              Well, sometimes it happens because the original stories were way too wrapped up in the original rules system (I’m looking at you, Dragonlance). Then significant rules changes change a significant part of what would impact the story, so they try to explain it rather than pretend like it’s always been that way. I’m sure there’s a TV Tropes or two about it…..

              1. Mike S. says:

                “Ooooo… weapon shrinkage.”

                (“♪ Skill points! I love my six new skill points! ♪”)

      2. guy says:

        That’s not a good reason. They could just let Shepard change class and have always been at war with Eastasia. Heck, if you talk to Kaiden as a soldier in ME1 he mentions that Shepard does have biotic potential, so they already had a ready excuse for a class change.

        1. Michael says:

          Hilariously, there’s no justification given for you swapping classes between 2 and 3.

          1. Alexander The 1st says:

            You were incarcerated for six months because you blew up a relay to stop the Reapers at the beginning of 3. Plenty of time to re-evaluate your life choices.

            1. Mike S. says:

              “I spent all my time running into the walls of my cell, and so I got really good at running into things!”

            2. Michael says:

              At which point, Pastry Chef should have been a class option in ME3.

        2. 4th Dimension says:

          But they wanted to have an actual reason for a change and a reset. In fact I know some people that laud the ME2 for how “well” they handled the character skill reset.

          1. boota says:

            those people need to be locked up in institutions.

      3. Zekiel says:

        I don’t think I believe that. It could be true, but it sounds more like a justification after the fact. As others have pointed out, it breaks immersion far less to just say “you can be a different class” (something that has literally zero impact on the story) than to have a sequence that everyone has to experience which doesn’t make sense from a plot-flow perspective.

        I wonder if the real reason was that they wanted a Really Epic Opening Sequence that would Significantly Raise The Stakes and establish the collectors as a Really Badass Enemy?

        1. Zekiel says:

          A machine elder god failed to kill Shepard. But the Collectors did. Ergo the Collectors are more of a threat than the Reapers! SUSPENSE!

        2. Michael says:

          To be fair, I’ve always found the reduced level cap from 1 to 2 very suspicious, particularly when you consider that ME3 has the original game’s level cap reinstated.

          1. swenson says:

            I dunno if that’s “suspicious”, I think that was just because they changed leveling from being based on enemies killed, etc. to being only handed out on mission completion. Fewer sources of XP, so a lower level cap.

            Or at least that was probably their reasoning–2’s leveling system was weird just in general, there were so few actual choices. 3’s was so much better, as was most of 3’s gameplay.

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Why are western developers so afraid of huge levels anyway?Final fantasy is still loved by millions,even though you can get your characters to do 100 times 999999 damage every round.So why are western rpgs so limited with numbers?I mean,its not like numbers matter,you can always skew the situation to fit whatever interpretation is required for your story,so why put a level cap anyway?

            1. djw says:

              If the levels get to high their scouters will explode.

            2. Ivan says:

              I don’t really know but personally I prefer numbers that I can comprehend. I respect systems that try to keep all their numbers below three or four digits rather than pretending they’re a pinball machine.

          3. Ringwraith says:

            It’s because their levelling system changed entirely.
            They went for fewer skill levels with bigger jumps.
            It only really shines in 3, where there are several levels of mutually exclusive upgrades to each skill instead of just one.

      4. Fnord says:

        Remember how character creation in ME1 does the whole “Alliance Military corruption encountered…please reconstruct profile”? Why didn’t they do that again? That seems like it would provide the perfect excuse to change class (just as it provided a frame for choosing class, background, etc in the first one).

        It’s understandable why they made the decision and, like Shamus said, it wouldn’t have been fatal if that was their only mistake, but it was still the wrong decision.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You say you are joking,but if you talk to the council at any point in me2 or me3 it feels like they literally forgot whats a reaper.

      And yes,thats basically the line of reasoning they went with.Except that its trying to fix a nonexistent problem.No one would ever go “Hey,I came into this fresh,and I just now get to make a character,even though they did stuff before,this makes no sense!Uninstall!”.I mean look at the witcher series:So many people have jumped into 2 or 3 without playing the previous ones,or going through the books.Did they complain about wanting a clean slate before jumping straight into a sequel?

      1. Michael says:

        That starts to sound like a production note from corporate at that point. “We don’t know what this is, so, find a way to make it work that will completely screw up your project.” I know it’s an issue with TV production, I’m not sure if that kind of meddling actually pops up in game development, though.

        1. mechaninja says:


          Just sayin’.

      2. Zekiel says:

        Well at least Shepard doesn’t forget what a Reaper is in order to prompt a long-winded explanation to the audience!

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          True.But apparently the reapers do forget whats a reaper leading to the terminator baby.Because reasons.

          1. Michael says:

            Okay, that was funny.

        2. Henson says:

          “Who are you?”

          1. ehlijen says:

            I Am Canderous Sovereign, Prepare To Receive Backstory….Again.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Hmm,very interesting.Yes,indeed.That clarifies so much.But I have a question:Who are you?

              1. MrGuy says:

                Some you died!

      3. Ivan says:

        After reading (some) of the Game of Thrones series I pretty much got used to not knowing what was going on and just kept reading until it started to make sense. It’s maybe not the best way to tell a story but it is serviceable (and it’s not the reason I got bored of the series). So it’s a little bit strange to me that games bend over backwards to explain their story to newbies when I really don’t think most of them care in the first place. It usually just ends up being tedious to vets, and really if you’re worried about people jumping in in the middle of the story, then maybe we should stop trying to tell stories that span multiple games. Books rarely take the time to recap the events of the previous one in the series and when they do it’s really easy to just skip that entire paragraph, not so much in video games though.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          This is one of the reasons I like witcher 3.It has small biographies about the characters that you can read,but other than that,it doesnt explain anything to the newbies.You have a conversation with one of geralts old friends and they are like “Hey remember the time we had in a place?” and geralt is like “Sure,that was fun”.

          1. Cinebeast says:

            Ironically, Shamus didn’t like that.

            I mean, no hate for Shamus at all, I get it, I just think it’s a bit funny that he’s lamenting the loss of continuity in Mass Effect, yet when the Witcher kept it intact he was annoyed.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              He didnt like dandelion.Theres a difference.

    3. AReasonWhy says:

      I am pretty sure that whole deal was there so that everyone who changed their sheps had a canon reason for his visual change.

    4. Zak McKracken says:

      My best guess is that they made most of the cutscenes for entirely different reasons, for a different plot which could then for some reason not be used. But then they had the expensive cutscenes, and if you make them, you have to use them!

      I think many movies, games etc. are more or less Frankenstein monsters, only some are made with more talent/luck than others. This one had a lot go wrong for it, a lot…

  6. Wide And Nerdy says:

    Did you even consider titling the second heading “I’m Being So Sincere Right Now” ?

    EDIT: Aww. You don’t allow the style attribute? I was going to imitate your h3 format.

    1. MrGuy says:

      I’m making a note here: huge failure.

      1. The Specktre says:

        It’s hard to overstate my disappointment.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    That's like a politician sweeping into office on a platform of demagoguing and threatening Elbonia, and then once they're elected claiming that Elbonia isn't and has never been a threat.

    Those damned elbonians,always trying to win the arms race!And can you believe their recent joint venture with the nation of kneegeria?Such a ridiculous pairing.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    And yet, the council STILL doesn't believe Shepard about the Reapers, thus robbing the player of a portion of their victory from the last game.

    Cerberus is the only force interested in dealing with either the Reaper threat OR the collector threat[2], making them the only proactive force in the galaxy, and making every other power seem dumb or apathetic in contrast.

    To be fair,this bullshit is from me3.In me2,its still possible that the council does believe you,but they wont tell you anything because you are with cerberus.Its only in 3 that we find out that this plausible alternative was thought of,but discarded for the stupidity of “we just dont believe in reapers”.

    Same for other races.In me2 its still possible that others were preparing for the invasion,only they deliberately left you in the dark because cerberus.Me3 confirms that everyone was just being retarded and twiddling their thumbs the whole time.

    1. Michael says:

      IIRC, it’s possible to get a worldstate in ME2 where the Council blows off the Reaper menace and thinks that Sovereign was a unique geth flagship… for some reason. I think that’s where the, “ah, yes, Reapers, we have dismissed that claim,” line comes from.

      EDIT: though come to think of it, I don’t believe that’s possible with the worldstate Shamus is showing. You need to save the Council in ME1 to get that dialog… I think.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yes,but even then you could still argue that they were just messing with you because you were cerberus.Why would they tell you anything they were actually up to?

        But no,me3 confirmed that they really are that stupid.

        1. Michael says:

          I thought ME2 proved the writers were that stupid, and therefore the characters would follow suit.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Actually,joker comments on it in me3,saying “I thought they were just keeping stuff from us because of cerberus”.This means that the writers werent so stupid to not think of such an obvious thing.No,they were even stupider to think of it,yet decide to take the worse option instead.AND THEN tell everyone that they were so stupid to think of the obvious and sensible explanation,but decide not to use it because they liked the stupid version better.It boggles the mind.

            1. Michael says:

              I’m inclined to think that the writers really were that stupid, but that more intelligent creatures prowl the BSN looking for things to nitpick.

              1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                Could it be that people other than the writers called the shots and wanted a more actioney less sci-fi direction for the franchise complete with a reset button to help with onboarding the new target audience but one that would (they hoped) still get the ME1 fans to buy?

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Doesnt matter.The story couldve been good despite the genre change.Plenty of the plot holes couldve been filled easily.I mean that comment from joker proves it how one of the stupidest things in me2 couldve easily been corrected,without changing the gameplay,any of the characters,or even the main story from what it currently is.So when it comes to stupid story stuff,its 100% the writers who are at fault.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    That same idea would have fallen flat if it had been part of a scene at the start of Empire Strikes Back where it's revealed that Vader was Luke's father, the Death Star wasn't totally destroyed, Han is actually strong in the force, and Uncle Owen is still alive and working as an Imperial Spy.

    And that the force is actually some bacteria,darth vader is some emo git,princess leia is actually an elected official,and also the fake princess and its chewbacca who is the actual princess,c3po was actually built by vader when he was 10,and all the storm troopers are just clones of some nameless mook who doesnt do anything to impact the main story.

    1. Grudgeal says:

      To be honest, those reveals wouldn’t have worked even at the most dramatic of moments…

      1. Syal says:

        Actually, most of those reveals would work on their own with the proper build up.

        Darth Vader being an emo git could be the big reveal at the end, that anything cool about the Dark Side was just a facade and at its core it’s pure selfish ugliness.

        C3PO being built by Vader could have been the payoff to the rebels fighting a losing battle because the Empire always knows what they’re planning. It’s revealed that C3’s been sending data to Vader because that’s what he was programmed to do all those years ago.

        Princes being an elected position with body doubles works fine on its own, and who knows what Chewbacca looks like when it cuts its hair.

        Storm troopers being clones of some guy could have worked if the guy was the first one to fight a Jedi, or kill a Jedi, or something along those lines. It’s the big reveal that the Empire particularly glorifies the destruction of the Jedi, and probably coincides with the reveal that the Emperor is connected to the Dark Side himself.

        Midicholrians will always be stupid, though. Seriously, if the Force is just bacteria then why was Obi-Wan talking to people after he was killed? Did Luke just start carrying his body around? That’s gross.

        1. INH5 says:

          Midichlorians aren’t the Force, they’re what allows force-sensitive people to use the Force. They’re still dumb, but not that dumb. And for the record, they actually were a pretty early concept, because at least one person has said that Lucas told them during the making of the first Star Wars that “some people can use the Force they have more midichlorians in their brains.” But then a different person quotes Lucas from around the same time as saying that the Force is something that anyone can learn, “like yoga,” so this is probably something that Lucas himself wasn’t sure about.

          Though when reading The Secret History of Star Wars by Michael Kaminski, I was astonished to learn that Boba Fett was envisioned as having a backstory involving the Clone Wars from almost the instant that Lucas and co. thought him up. Though the one they had in mind during the making of ESB it was a little different than what Episode 2 shows. The idea was that the Clone Wars had involved an invasion of the galaxy by “Shocktroopers,” and Boba Fett was one of the few surviving Shocktroopers now making a living as a hired gun. Still, Lucas can legitimately say that Boba Fett was planned from the beginning as a living relic of the Clone Wars.

          Though one thing I should point out about the stormtroopers is that while it’s never spelled out in the films, it is very clear that by the time of the original trilogy, the Imperial Armed Forces is no longer mostly made up of Jango clones, and include both clones of other people and ordinary recruits. The reasons are obvious: it takes 10 years to grow a Jango clone but a recruit/conscript can be trained in a few months. This is stated in several EU sources, and also strongly implied by the fact that Lucas did not dub over the Storm Trooper dialogue in the Special Editions, even though he did dub over Boba Fett’s dialogue.

          1. Cinebeast says:

            Didn’t know any of that. Cool.

    2. krellen says:

      So what you’re saying is that Mass Effect is actually biting social satire of Star Wars?

    3. Jabrwock says:

      princess leia is actually an elected official

      So? There were two options to explain her position as a Senator. 1) she was appointed because she’s a high-ranking member of a planetary royal family, 2) she was elected by her planet’s people (but also happens to be a high-ranking member of a royal family).

      If things worked like the UK, then there would be prohibitions on running for a political office while still a member of the peerage. Those were introduced to keep the monarchy “neutral” politically.

      Neither explanation breaks anything narrative wise however. Because other than being both a Galactic Senator and a Princess we knew little about her past in the movies. So making her an elected Senator is not a character-changing revelation.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Sorry,I didnt consider my wording there carefully.Let me rectify that one:

        “Princess leia is actually elected to be a princess.”

        1. guy says:

          Leia’s adopted into the royal family. Padame is elected, but elective monarchies are a real thing. Granted, historical examples didn’t generally have term limits, but it’s acceptable terminology for a powerful executive apparently elected from the aristocracy.

          1. lurkey says:

            I prefer the explanation by Darths & Droids, myself — that this part of script was written by the preschooler girl. Suddenly, it all starts making sense!

            1. John the Savage says:

              I prefer the other explanation by Darths and Droids: Princess is simply her first name.

          2. Mike S. says:

            Elective monarchies are a real thing. Teenaged monarchs are a real thing. A sequence of elected teenaged monarchs in a developed starfaring society sort of demands explanation. (‘Queen’ is the official title of the winner of the the Miss Teen Naboo contest; Padme did really well in the sharpshooting phase of the competition.”)

            1. guy says:

              Actually, her immediate predecessor had been an old man.

              1. Mike S. says:

                As Queen? Is that in the movies?

                1. guy says:

                  Official novelization. He had the title of King.

                  1. Mike S. says:

                    So much for my Miss Teen Naboo theory, then, unless they’re notably broad minded.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Broad minded?Tsk tsk

            2. Joe Informatico says:

              Possible explanation: The Naboo monarch is solely a symbolic or ritual position, like a constitutional monarch, or a president in a republican system that has separate formal (president) and political (prime minister) heads of state. The Chancellor is the political head of state and the Senator is Naboo’s official representative to the assembly of the Galactic Republic. In Phantom Menace, Padmé was just an unusually proactive monarch, i.e., formal heads of state might not have a lot of official authority, but they can still be very influential or persuasive.

              Some trivia: The democracy of classical Athens had a position called basileus, which is typically translated as “king” (the ancient Greeks applied the term to foreign monarchs). In Athenian democracy, the basileus retained some of the traditional roles of the pre-democracy King, including overseeing some key religious rites and presiding over homicide trials.

              1. Lachlan the Mad says:

                And pulling this back to Shamus’s ideas throughout this series; a complicated political system like the one Naboo has (since your explanation seems to be what fits in best with the EU and with real-world systems) would work in a “details first” kind of story, where it would be perfectly acceptable for a knowledgeable character to explain it to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. In a hypothetical details-first Star Wars, you would probably open Episode I with the Jedi Council’s pre-mission briefing to Qui-Gon where they could explain this political landscape, as well as stuff like the Nubian/Gungan relationship and that weird yet canonical business with passing through the planet core.

                The main problem (at least as far as this particular flaw is concerned) is that the Star Wars prequels contain far too much fine detail for a drama-first story, and all of these political fine points come off as nonsensical because the nature of the story doesn’t allow them to be explained, so all of the cracks have to be papered over by EU writers. I don’t mean to say that the Star Wars prequels should have been a details-first story — the setting wouldn’t have supported it — but I do mean to say that the core plots of each individual film, as opposed to the running plot of the trilogy (in Episode I’s case, a merchant consortium blockading a planet to leverage control over the galactic government) would have worked much better in a more Star Trek kind of setting.

                Imagine the Ferengi establishing a blockade around Bajora so that they could obtain more control over the businesses on Deep Space Nine. Actually, I’m pretty sure that was the plot of a DS9 episode.

                1. Mike S. says:

                  I suspect it would be possible for a talented author to have all sorts of details like this that would never come up in the story (because it wasn’t relevant and they know better than to include exposition just to show how much work they did). But such an author would build trust by having lots of other curious details that do make sense when they’re explained. By contrast, giving the impression of not thinking things through means readers/viewers/players won’t extend their trust and suspension of disbelief as far.

                  And I do mean impression. Tolkien had a lot of established backstory, but also did a surprising amount of “throw it in, figure it out later”. The difference is that he was good enough at the backfilling that readers were inclined to believe him. (And would in some cases try to do the work for him. If Glorfindel was killed at Gondolin and then shows up in LotR, well, here are three or four possible explanations! It’s not a plot hole, it’s a mystery!)

                  Writing is a lot like stage magic: cheating is fine, even necessary; being seen to cheat is fatal.

                  1. Lachlan the Mad says:

                    And heck, on the subject of Star Wars, the original trilogy actually manages that whole “feed your audience just enough information to make the world seem way deeper” business. That’s why the Expanded Universe became such a nerd goldmine. It’s just that the prequel trilogy had too many unexplained details, and the explanation of them wasn’t something that nerds were hungering for. Most people would love to get an in-depth examination of the powers of the Force, or how hyperspace works, but the inner working of dreary galactic politics? Not so much.

              2. ? says:

                They also could have some executive powers for the formal head of state regarding signing peace treaties and commanding the army in times of conflict, but since Naboo is peaceful planet and there was no major galactic conflict in thousand years those powers were largely irrelevant for the public. When Padme was chosen nobody expected that she would have to do anything outside of ceremonial duties of figurehead.

    4. wswordsmen says:

      Can you point to the part of the post where Shamus defends the prequel trilogy as doing these things well? I thought it was in the internet rules that when Star Wars is brought up as a good example it doesn’t include the prequels.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        I think DL was just saying that if anyone had included any of those ideas in Star Wars, they would have fallen flat. Not that anyone would do such a thing, surely?…

        So, it wasn’t a pop at Shamus’ example, but just a pop at the prequels – the example was just a jumping-off point. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I certainly find the odd not-entirely-contextually-justified pop at the prequels rather therapeutic!

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I was taking the reasoning and moving it further beyond the braking point.

        1. wswordsmen says:

          Sorry I misunderstood you. However I will still contest you on two points:

          1) Queen being an elected position nearly happened in the US. There was the idea the head of the executive branch would be an elected King (which could be a queen once woman got the right to vote)

          2) Padme having a handmaiden be her decoy actually makes sense. It could have been hinted at better, but it makes sense.

          1. John the Savage says:

            No need to even say what “almost” happened; elected monarchs are actually a thing. Just ask the pope.

    5. JAB says:

      So, the third trilogy should disconnect from the first and second?

      Midicholorians aren’t some random bacteria, they’re actually the individual cells of a galaxy-wide, psychic distributed mass mind. Beings who are “force sensitive” are actually just easier to understand in some way by the entity, which tends to move more of it’s bits into such people. The Force isn’t some mystical, supernatural force, it’s merely the entity saying “Hey little buddy, you want me to move that starfighter, sure!” The various meditations of the Jedi Order were to try to contact the entity in a controlled manner. It can be contacted through emotions as well, but the message is often muddled, so the Force-User trying to communicate “Argh! Break down this door!” sometimes got translated as “Argh! Destroy all life on this planet!”

      Machine intelligences know this, and have no way of connecting with the entity, not having fleshy parts. They’ve been experimenting in various ways. Cyborgs are an attempt to link to the entity, which is why cybernetic limbs [no more powerful than the limb they replace] are common, and the technology for regenerating limbs has been subtly but actively suppressed. The Sith-Jedi wars were attempts to reduce the population of Force-Users, down to only a few easily influenced dupes in the galaxy. Anakin built C3PO? Sure, he held the screwdriver while a helpful house robot or two built the goofy looking and acting robot who couldn’t possibly be a threat to a mouse, who is actually the most intelligent robot in the galaxy, with the best understanding of these meatbags, and who, with the help of the cybernetic arm connected to the last Force-User in the galaxy, will soon be the first Robot Emperor.

      And reading all of this, it makes too much sense. I fail.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        And reading all of this, it makes too much sense. I fail.

        I still am unsure if you made it all up,or if you pulled it out from somewhere deep in the eu.Both options are pretty hilarious though.

        1. JAB says:

          Made up, although the “Machines have no connection to the Force” thing is canon, I think. I was trying to come up with wacky explanations for everything in your post, although I forgot to mention that Stormtroopers are also a Machine Intelligence experiment, based on trying to create humans with no connection to the Force. Darth Vader, of course, being nearly entirely cybernetic, was a prototype, leading to the genetic manipulation of his kids, and Luke’s near perfect connection to the entity.

          1. Syal says:

            Works except for Ghostbi-Wan.

            1. JAB says:

              No, Force Ghosts are easy- they’re clearly the attempts by the entity to communicate with Force-Users, in a way they can understand. Either that, or visual or auditory hallucinations created in cyborgs by machine intelligences, copying historical attempts by the entity to communicate, to influence people.

              After all, if you hear the voice of your Jedi Master, telling you to go do something, you’ll probably do it. And if you don’t, well, having “visions” of the pain/suffering/death of innocents/friends/loved ones, seemingly due to the Jedi’s inaction, will nearly always motivate the meatbags to take a particular action.

  10. RCN says:

    You may not hate Mass Effect 2 as much as you want, you softie. Doesn’t prevent me from hating it with the endless loathing AM had for humanity.

    My thoughts while starting ME2 (keep in mind I kept myself completely spoiler-free and hype-free, so I didn’t know the first thing about how the game would be beyond “you’ll get a Salarian ex-STG guy, so this should be great.” Little did I know the Salarian STG guy would be about the only redeeming thing about the game for me).

    “Ok, since when is Sheppard a ‘bloody icon’ to anyone but humans? Did I beat my head? Humans were a speck of dust in this large, large galaxy.”

    “Wait, the humans took over? That’s how it works in the council space? You kill the last leader and you become the leader? What is this? Futurama had a whole episode dedicated to how braindead such a government type would be. Am I playing a sci-fi game where no-one involved watched Futurama? Are they even sure they’re writing sci-fi?”

    “Wait, these two were cerberus? WHO THE HELL IS CERBERUS? The name does ring a bell…”

    “Who are these new aliens? I thought we were brief on the major alien threats in the last game. Why did they find us? The Normandy is a stealth ship, did ping them ourselves? Even if they had the means to find us, their instruments should have no means to AIM at us. They’d need to shoot at us MANUALLY. JOKER CAN YOU PLEASE DODGE A SINGLE…”

    “What? Shepard is dead and suffering re-entry. That’s it. There won’t be anything left to scrape from the ground after that. Did I do something wrong? Is this a game over screen?”

    “Oh, they rescued Shepard before reentry, apparently. But he was still very, VERY dead. Oh, this world has the technology to bring people back to life in this state? Cool, that’s almost Schlock Mercenary levels of tech… wait, ONLY CERBERUS has this tech? What the hell? WHO THE HELL IS CERBERUS?”

    “What do you mean they didn’t rescue Shepard before reentry? *incomprehensible rant*”

    “Ohhhh… you’re THAT cerberus. The ones who killed Shepard’s family and everyone he loved in MY background. Yep, where’s the option to shoot this Miranda in the face?”

    “New and improved Normandy? NEW AND IMPROVED Normandy? Have I hallucinated the entire previous game? This combination of words is impossible by everything that was established from the previous game. These ships take YEARS to build. Oh, and it is twice as large now. WHAT an improvement, to better allow whoever these guys riding an asteroid were to find us again next time we bump into them. GREAT!”

    I gave up on that session right at that point. It takes way too long for the game to introduce Mordin and mollify my anger somewhat.

    1. guy says:

      Yeah, they never do explain how the Collectors found the Normandy. They could in theory have a sensor that can detect you*, but the Reapers themselves don’t so it doesn’t make sense that their minions would. The best explanation I can come up with is that they saw you coming out of FTL, but obviously you would normally come out of FTL far enough away from anything important no one would see it. Though once they know where it is they could probably track it with lidar, which is too narrowly focused for a practical blind sweep.

      *The Normandy doesn’t radiate in stealth mode and can’t be picked up on radar, but its stealth drive would create anomalous gravitational fields, so it could be picked up by a gravitational sensor. There’s no indication that the Council can make any that are practical for use as tactical systems, but the Reapers might have.

      1. Thomas says:

        The Normandy stealth system works more like an old submarine than a stealth bomber. They can store heat inside the ship, but if you choose to do that you can only go so long before venting it, otherwise everyone inside cooks.

        Apparently the Normandy can stay stealthed for 2-3 hours of active travel, or drift passively for days. So spotting the Normandy isn’t too hard if it’s been spending days in an area doing stuff and aiming at is shouldn’t be too hard either.

        Of course that makes ME3 make even less sense =D

        I think stuff like that though is why it’s so smart for Shamus to be talking about the broad picture failings. Having explanations or not having explanations doesn’t actually matter if you’re pissed at a game. Is knowing the Normandy can only stay in stealth for 2-3 hours (established in ME1) going to make you like ME2? Of course not.

        And the reasons I hated ME2 actually turned out to apply to the whole franchise (the complete inability to roleplay thanks to the conversation wheel is just as, if not more, present in ME1), but even when I got over that and grew to like ME2, I can still see that its completely inadequate as a sequel and it’s going to stop people who enjoyed certain themes in ME1 from ever getting resolution on that.

        1. guy says:

          I know about the time limit, but clearly it’s not long enough relative to travel time that it can’t be used to reach a planet inside the star system without being detected, because it was used for that exact purpose more than once.

          1. Thomas says:

            Yeah, but since running silent begins to put the ship at a disadvantage, they probably don’t bother when the mission is routine. And they’d been tracking Geth down for a couple of days right? And we know the stealth doesn’t last that long

            1. guy says:

              They dropped out of FTL and entered stealth mode at the start of the cutscene.

              1. Thomas says:

                Ah okay, yeah fair enough it’s nonsense then.

                They could have been using LADAR if they knew where the Normandy was likely to be, that’s still a thing in Mass Effect and the Normandy isn’t invisible to that. But it requires them to know where the Normandy is roughly going to be after FTL. Was it a trap? I vaguely remember something that might have said it’s a trap. If it was then they could just ping it, which is good enough for aiming purposes.

                1. guy says:

                  The possibility of it being a deliberate trap is never followed up on in the game, and setting up an ambush at the arrival point would require knowing the location very precisely. The Normandy’s exact itinerary wouldn’t be public knowledge for obvious reasons, and really there isn’t an especially compelling reason for anyone except Joker and the command crew to know the arrival point to within a light-minute. They might have been able to calculate the most likely place from the Normandy’s general orders, but those would still have been hard to get ahold of.

                  1. 4th Dimension says:

                    This is a stretch, but from what I remember they were chasing something. maybe it was a base on that planet you fall into? If so Collectors would know pretty preciselly where Normandy must come through. On the other hand if they were simply scanning the area, an area around a planet is VERRY VERRY large, allmost too large, and on top of it all you risk your oponent coming in from the other side of the planet and thus never being spotted.

                    1. guy says:

                      The Normandy was looking for Geth, but Pressly seemed to think it was a fool’s errand so they probably didn’t have a very specific destination. Plus, they wouldn’t want to emerge at the obvious place for anyone going to their destination to drop out of FTL precisely because that means they’d be easy to ambush. They could show up anywhere between one and two hours away at max thrust with the stealth drive, and that’s way too much space for a single ship to scan.

                    2. RCN says:

                      Let’s be realistic here. The reason why the Collectors find the Normandy is because the writers wanted to destroy the original Normandy and kill Shepard while introducing the new villain, but since they couldn’t be arsed to use previous lore to do so, they did it by following “The Bad Writer’s Guide to Horribly Introduce Power Creep by Having the New Villain Instantly Outclassing The Old Villain and Then Instantly Restoring the Status Quo”.

                    3. 4th Dimension says:

                      Well DUH! Of course it’s what happened. But when has that ever stopped us from pointlessly nitpicking the lore?

          2. Mike S. says:

            I’d think not seeing the Normandy coming due to stealth is a different matter from stalking and ambushing it. For the latter, you find it when it’s out of stealth, and then keep track of it telescopically till it’s where you want to jump it.

            The Collector ship still has to be able to follow out of detection range of the Normandy somehow for that to work. But it doesn’t seem as if Reaper tech having longer sensor range than humans or turians, or their own stealth tech, is out of the question. That would also help a lot with their remaining a mystery when they’re kidnapping colonies.

      2. 4th Dimension says:

        Lidar like radar has a BIG issue. It’s not a passive but an active sensor meaning once you turn it on you are screaming to anybody else out there that you are searching for somebody. And once you “paint” somebody they definitely know the position of their enemy and that the enemy knows where they are. So lidar is not something that you can use to sneak up on somebody.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          He didnt say it would be useful for sneaking,but for tracking something stealthy that you know the initial position of.

          Also,its easier to sneak up on a ship that is trying to be stealthy,seeing how they will not have their active scanners active,but rely only on passive stuff.And in case of a ship that is trying to minimize its heat signature,probably all of their scanners that require power would be shut off.

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            I was talking about the big Collector ship. If they had an active lidar pointed at the area where Normandy might pass, it would likely alert Normandy that somebody is searching for them and give them the location of the enemy BEFORE the enemy can get a good lock on them.
            And no under no circumstances you would be shutting down your passive sensors. It’s just a bunch of computers and receiver antennas. Their heat signature is negligible and you are BLIND without them while you are looking for the Geth.

            1. guy says:

              True, but passively spotting ships by visible light is not a practical ship-detection method in Mass Effect. Lidar is the only standard sensor that is likely able to detect the Normandy. And passive IR is a practical ship-detection method, so unless the Collector ship also has a stealth system the Normandy would see them anyway. They only got the drop on the Normandy because they struck right after the Normandy dropped out of FTL.

      3. MrGuy says:

        Even absent making up some kind of detectable anomality being actively produced by the Normandy, it would be possible to detect a stealth ship by the shadow it casts.

        Just as you can see a completely black object on a sunny day, the universe has background radiation against with a non-emitting entity would produce a shadow, which could in theory be detected. Sure, the cosmic microwave background isn’t completely uniform, but a single point shadow moving at a constant rate would be (in theory) detectable and unlikely to have a better explanation than being a small moving non-radiating object.

        Or, y’know, just use visible light to find it. It’s not like the Normandy is invisible, and there’s enough light around in most places a ship would actually tend to be in for some to reflect off of it.

        1. guy says:

          The stealth drive is in the Codex; it generates a gravitational field ahead of the ship that it “falls” into, allowing it to maneuver without generating any exhaust.

          1. MrGuy says:

            Yeah, and my point was that you could detect a ship even if it didn’t emit any exhaust or other detectable emissions.

        2. 4th Dimension says:

          The problem with the shadow method is that Normandy is not in fact a shadow in that part of a spectrum. With no stealth drive on it’s a big beacon of light. With the stealth on it’s still noticeably warmer than the background radiation but much less than astronomic bodies and objects exposed to Sunlight.

    2. Thomas says:

      Humans were never really a speck of dust in a large large galaxy. ME1 is all about how the other races are nervous about these new exciting humans who are making waves so quickly (I’m playing through it right now). Everyone thinks humans are going to be the next council member race and lots of people don’t like that.

      Here’s the ME1 codex entry on human military for example

      “The human devotion to understanding and adapting to modern space warfare stunned the staid Council races. For hundreds of years, they had lived behind the secure walls of long-proven technology and tactics. The Council regards the Alliance as a “sleeping giant”. Less than 3% of humans volunteer to serve in their military, a lower proportion than any other species. ”


      “Wait, the humans took over? That's how it works in the council space? You kill the last leader and you become the leader?”

      That’s a Mass Effect 1 choice. At the end of the game you can choose for the council to be entirely human, I can’t remember how they justify it.

      If you don’t choose that, you get a different text crawl that says
      “One month after the devastating geth attack on the Citadel, the galactic community struggles to rebuild.

      The alliance fleet made a tremendous sacrifice to save the Citadel Council and earned humanity membership in their prestigious group. Now ”

      The “seized power” stuff is entirely about a choice Shamus made in ME1

      1. Spammy says:

        Humans being a speck of dust may be an exagerration but I think ME1 makes it clear that humanity’s position is contentious and a lot of people (specifically Turians) don’t want to give this new race any power just for showing up.

        That was actually one of my favorite parts of ME1’s world. You do something with Western sci-fi after Star Trek happens and you kind of expect humanity to be Space America- Meritocratic and the space peacekeepers. But the Turians are already doing that, and they’re doing it even better than humanity ever could. Their whole thing is that they’re meritocratic and the Asari and Salarians put them on the council specifically to be the space cop galactic peacekeepers.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Right: humanity is Space Japan, pre-WWII edition: new on the scene, treated with a combination of patronizing disdain and genuine if grudging respect for its surprisingly effective military performance, and intent on being treated as an equal of the existing great powers right now.

          1. Thomas says:

            But that’s still basically the opposite of being a speck of dust. Lots of people don’t like humanity and don’t think they should be on the council, but they’re _actively_ disliking humanity because humanity is so important that it’s an issue which everyone has to have an opinion on.

            Even the Normandy is a flagship to humanities importance. The Turians shared their top level engineering* with another race allowing the humans to have a ship with capabilities like no other.

            Pre-WW2 Japan is completely fitting, because everyone thought they were a world power and they were proved exactly correct.

            I think people read a lot more “humanity is unimportant” than was actually there, perhaps because that would actually be a cool concept in a game. Yet almost every interaction in almost every place in the game is about humanities place in the galaxy and what people think of the ‘human question’. And then the end of the game always culminates in the answer that yes, humanity is so awesome they should be on the council right now. Something which no other race has done so quickly, and ahead of other races which have been trying to achieve that for lifetimes.

            I mean the Volus _invented money_ and yet ME1 decides that humans get to be on the council ahead of them, in less than one lifetime of being discovered.

            *That’s how up humanities backside ME1 is. It’s canon that the _humans_ provided the tech to build the Normandy. The Turians just did the engineering. I had to reread it the first time I saw that, because I couldn’t believe that’s how the were doing it.

  11. Dragmire says:

    “I'm not making demands, claiming that I've been wronged, or accusing anyone of fraud. Yes-“

    Man, I just woke up and started reading this and, in my grogginess, I read that period as a comma and the word “yes” as “yet”.

    1. Syal says:

      I’m still disappointed nobody is trying to sue anyone over control of the wind, like Shamus’ tweet implied.

  12. acronix says:

    I wonder if the purpose of Shepard’s whole revival thing was to have him preparaded for the hegelian balloon collection in Mass Effect 3. I remember the red ballon where you destroy the Reapers and every artificial intelligence also has Shepard dying. Or maybe I’m remembering wrong.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ha!How cute,you actually think these clowns planned something in advance.

      1. Michael says:

        It’s pretty clear they planned a lot in advance, and then did none of it. :p

        1. Bropocalypse says:

          I think it’s more like Lost, where they pretended to be establishing a lot of stuff but were actually just blue skying it.

          1. Thomas says:

            I’ve got an article about it somewhere, but basically the writers in Lost were never allowed to establish an element unless they’d already thought of a good reason about what that element could be and that reason satisfied the rest of the writers.

            But then they had a system where if the writers could ever think of a _better_ reason and it could be incorporated in the story, they’d do that instead. So the story grew over time in collaboration with everyone’s ideas.

            I think what that shows is that the problem with Lost wasn’t that they didn’t know what they were doing. It’s that the mystery was more important than the solution.

            The solution just needed to be some kind of resolution to the mystery. It didn’t have thematic depth or purpose, because they were happy to replace it as soon as a better idea came along. All they cared about was that the mystery was good enough to grip the audience.

            And it showed and eventually it killed the show. Theatrics only work for so long and you can’t build a franchise on just repeating the same narrative device.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              But then they had a system where if the writers could ever think of a _better_ reason and it could be incorporated in the story, they'd do that instead. So the story grew over time in collaboration with everyone's ideas.

              Ok,lets accept that like it is true(meaning they didnt just try to justify themselves).Heres my question:
              Who the hell thought that “afterlife” was a good reason?Scratch that,a better reason?It was proposed as a joke somewhere around the beginning of season 2(or maybe earlier,but thats when I first heard about it),and you are telling me someone,no wait,multiple someones were stupid enough to accept that joke as legit thing for their finale?

              1. Thomas says:

                The things that thought were good initial solutions are lame enough that I totally believe it’s true :p

                I found the link. It’s a massive blogpost, but it is an interesting read if anyone still cares about Lost. Although that’s a pretty big if =D

  13. Mersadeon says:

    I also never got why Shepard would even be hunting leftover Geth – it makes no sense! You don’t use secret agents (or, well, war heroes, since Shepard isn’t really “secret” anymore) and prototype stealth ships to mops up enemy encampments after the war is over. That’s just not practical, that’s a job for the army, not your special agents and their one-of-a-kind infiltration ship.

    And you can’t argue that it’s because “Shepard wants it and whatever he wants, goes” since Shepard has no reason to do this either – he KNOWS the Reapers are out there, he KNOWS the Council is denying it, why would this special agent waste his time with a job he is massively overqualified for when his entire agenda should be to find a way to expose and stop the Reapers?

    1. guy says:

      Well, the Geth are your only lead at the time.

      1. krellen says:

        Actually, the excuse in game is that the Alliance ordered you to do it (and Shepard is still Alliance military).

        1. guy says:

          Hackett’s quests in the first game indicate that Shepard doesn’t have to take their orders. Fairly obviously, the Spectres wouldn’t be very helpful to the Council if they still took orders from their home government.

        2. wswordsmen says:

          That is even worse. Shepard was taken out of the chain of command by becoming a Specter. Maybe the Alliance could have forced him back, but only if he gave up the Specter status. It would be like if a State national guard officer was federalized and then ordered around by the governed. The new position supersedes the need to answer to the old authority. And it wasn’t like the Alliance was forced into the position, they asked for it specifically.

          1. Joe Informatico says:

            I could believe future political structures could have some way of reconciling the “serving two masters” bit (hell, we do it in the real-world all the time). But you have to do some worldbuilding to explain it. Otherwise, when you present fictional organizations that otherwise look and behave like real-world ones, the audience is going to assume the fictional one works in a similar manner until you let them know otherwise. (E.g., apparently the Alliance military is okay with fraternization between officers and enlisted?)

            1. wswordsmen says:

              The idea that it can’t work was established and reinforced several times through ME1. Off the top of my head, Captain Anderson says that you can’t be answerable to anyone except the Counsel and when the Rear Admiral comes you spout some leagalbabble at him about how he can’t do anything since you are outside of the chain of command.

              1. Mike S. says:

                But by the same token, the first game establishes that Shepard retains Alliance rank and is requested to act accordingly unless she chooses to play the Spectre card. (Shepard can act as a captain reporting to an admiral in the confrontation with Mihailovich rather than pulling Spectre rank, after all, and I think can be deferential or not with Hackett.)

                It would make more sense for the Alliance to have given Shepard the Normandy under a captain (maybe even Anderson) with a “you command the mission, I command the ship” division of authority. (And retire Shepard from her Alliance rank, or at least keep it in abeyance while Spectre status lasts.) That way the Normandy is at the disposal of the first human Spectre, but still in the Alliance chain of command when it comes to fleet operations.

                But for the purposes of a game, there’s no real point in inserting an intermediary who can only be either a puppet or an obstacle. (Pressley is basically in that position as XO anyway.)

    2. Syal says:

      I mean, they obviously didn’t do it, but the Council sending Shepard to investigate the Reapers covertly, under the guise of dealing with the remaining Geth, is a fine answer.

  14. Farmwolf says:

    I’m just glad there’s someone else out there who makes Tolkien the gold standard of literary criticism.

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You know,one good thing I can say about the mass effect series is that it only takes them two games to completely retcon all of the lore,instead of eight(plus) games.

    For ea,thats an improvement.

  16. Da Mage says:

    I played through Mass Effect 1 last year, then moved onto Mass Effect 2 right after. About 2 hours in I was done. It felt like a shitty cover shooter and I had no idea what the story was doing….which is a huge problem in an RPG for me.

    Why did we need a new threat? Could not the Normandy have lost to overwhelming odds against a Geth ambush? All ships get destroyed, and Shepard’s body is ‘lost’ in the destruction, so they never find it. Instead of Cerberus it is the Shadow Broker who wants Shepard to ‘owe him’. That way you can introduce the Cerberus stuff a little further into the story. Considering how little we know the Shadow Broker, magic resurrection wouldn’t feel as cheap.

    Suddenly you are using only facts the player learnt in the previous games, but still hitting all the plot points you want (aka status quo). That alone would have made WAY more sense in the story context.

    1. guy says:

      Yeah, the Shadow Broker was a gigantic question mark in the first game and could have been filled in with anything. My favorite Shadow Broker conspiracy theory was that he was secretly the Council; it’s noted that he maintains the status quo. Everyone buys information from him and no one gains a relative advantage as a result. The Council obviously has a big edge in intelligence gathering, an interest in the status quo, and a use for being able to do things that can’t be traced to them. My second favorite was it being Barla Von.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        My preferred one was that the Shadow Broker wasn’t an individual but basically The Illuminati IN SPACE; an inter-species cooperative (mostly apolitical towards individual species and worlds) that derived benefits from keeping galactic society as stable — and thus as predictable — as possible. They sell to everyone equally because it was the only way to ensure an equillibrium that benefits all of them and nobody knows exactly who the Broker is because there isn’t one broker but maybe less than a hundred people who’s really ‘in the know’.

        My other alternative was an AI, essentially making the Broker the Mass Effect version of the first Citadel Station Intelligence from SWKotoR 2.

        1. Thomas says:

          Really? Because I thought it would be cool if the Shadow Broker was a massive demon-spider who ran into pillars and ate people. In a space tuxedo.

          1. Syal says:

            Oh man, the Shadow Broker being the Rachni Queen would have been great.

        2. swenson says:

          I always really wanted the Shadow Broker to turn out to be Barla Von, because:

          1) it’s so obvious nobody would seriously guess it

          2) he’s short and tiny and adorable, and that’s just hilarious.

    2. newplan says:

      I had the suspicion that Sovereign was the Shadow Broker.

      His mission was to do exactly what the Shadow Broker did – gather information on everyone and everything.

  17. Daniel England says:

    Even though the narrative is an absolute mess, Mass Effect 2 is my favorite of the series. Really only because it’s character game is so strong. Even the characters coming back from the first game, I felt, were done better. It would have been nice if the companions had relationships with the other members of your team, but I understand that that would be exponentially more difficult to write. Also the bullshit narrative leads to the suicide mission, and while actually dying to destroy the collector base is dumb, that any character can die in this mission is kinda awesome.

    Speaking of which, I once decided to try and kill off as many characters that I could w/o killing Shepard as well, ending with only that really boring DLC character and Samara alive. This had the effect of making ME 3 one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game. Turns out, unsurprisingly to be honest, the reason I liked ME 3 was because of the characters, and without Wrex, Ash, Tali, Garrus, Mordin, Legion, Thane(My bea), Grunt, Jack, and even Miranda (to some extent) all the missions are a bunch of noise. The reason I cared about the Geth/Quarian conflict is because Tali is there. Why the hell would anyone choose to help the Quarians without Tali there to plead for her people? All the side missions feel like they have nothing going on. Kaiden and Liara aren’t strong enough to carry a game as boring as ME 3.

    Anyway, *clears throat* I, uh, still apparently have a lot of feelings on ME 3…

    1. Zekiel says:

      I too loved Mass Effect 2 for the characters. I loved that about 75% of the playtime is made up of companion-focused quests – recruitment and loyalty missions. Bioware’s greatest strengths is its NPCs and to have a game that spends most of the time focusing them was glorious. I love this game in spite of the plot, and the Cereberus railroading, not because of it.

      And the way the suicide mission is structured – even if it makes next to no sense logically from a plot point of view – reinforces this character-focused attitude and makes it enormously tense and satisfying (unless you’re a masochist who deliberately kills off most of your team ;-)

      Also I agree that (for reasons I’m not clear about) the returning characters were better in ME2 than they had been in ME1. I didn’t really care all that much about Garrus in ME1. I adored him in ME2 (and 3).

    2. Mike S. says:

      While it runs against what the game clearly wants you to conclude, a reason to help the quarians is that the geth keep allying with the Reapers whenever they have a chance, and lying to you about their motivations.

      ME1: The geth worship the Reapers as their god.
      ME2: No! That’s a heretic minority! The True geth are intent on building their own future. The Old Machines’ help is not only of no interest, but actively counter to their desire.
      ME3: As soon as they were seriously threatened (due to inexplicably concentrating their population at a prime target) the True geth consensus chose to ally with the Reapers. Who promptly enslaved them. If freed, the first thing Legion (or Legion’s nonunion equivalent) does is reimpose Reaper subroutines on the entire species, and if Shepard tries to stop it it will fight to the death over it.

      We’d shoot any organic who insisted that Indoctrinating themselves is the key to victory over the Reapers, but the geth (and EDI) having Reaper code running is Just Fine.

      The quarians may never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, and may pick unnecessary existential fights. But they do have a big fleet, and unlike the geth there’s no question which way their guns will be pointing.

      Of course, in the event, the geth are perfectly trustworthy, just as EDI is. But based on previous experience, I think fatal distrust is a pretty defensible response.

    3. swenson says:

      oh my word

      I once tried to do a ME3 playthrough with Wrex dead. I hated everything so much I stopped halfway through Sur’kesh, fired up a save editor to make Wrex be alive again, and finished the rest of the game with Wrex alive. Wreav suuuuuuuuucks.

      I can’t even imagine trying to do Rannoch without Tali, who would even care if you didn’t have Tali there? Nobody cares about the quarians in general, you care specifically about Tali (and my man Kal’Reegar).

      1. Mike S. says:

        Wreav is good to have if you want to betray the krogan. I know you can do it to Wrex, with heartbreaking results, but I don’t have it in me to play through that scene.

        And trusting that two solid krogan leaders are sufficient to restrain the violent of a long-lived, warlike species with a 1000:1 growth rate each generation is probably the most… Paragon decision in the game.

        (Like so many things, the endings short-circuit the question– they can be kept down by tame Reapers, made to sing Kumbaya by being incorporated into a techno-organic gestalt, etc. But sans that a new Krogan Rebellion seems like a near-foregone conclusion.)

        1. Thomas says:

          Bioware suck at interesting consequences to decisions. I doubt they’ve ever really made a game where the results of what you do are actually surprising. It’s basically whatever the most obvious wish fulfillment is, that’s what happens.

          1. Mike S. says:

            I don’t know if surprising is the right word, but when I learned the consequences of sacrificing the Bull’s Chargers in the Dragon Age Inquisition Trespasser DLC, I thought that it was both striking and appropriate.

            The ME3 consequences of having destroyed Maelon’s research results in ME2 also strike me as pretty soid. (Ditto letting Rana Thanoptis live twice, though that was just a text update.)

            But the need to narrow the range of results to manageability for sequels does make it tough to do consequence well. (E.g., the big choice at the end of Dragon Age is at least acknowledged in DA:I with different paths to the endgame, but the impact is pretty muted.)

            Little though I liked the end to ME3, at least they did something that couldn’t be ignored going forward. But later commentary (and the retreat to Andromeda) strongly suggests they didn’t really understand that they were doing that till it was too late. (Which at least supports the idea that it was written at the last minute by two people with no outside input.)

  18. Zekecool says:

    I’m always surprised people missed the big news story before ME2 that justifies the big Shepard “death” scene. Some quotes from that story:

    “Mass Effect is the story of that universe, not the story of Shepard.”

    “We wanted to allow people to see this universe from multiple angles over the course of the trilogy, through the eyes of multiple player made protagonists.”

    In other words, Shepard was supposed to DIE. Kaput! Gone! Then came feedback on that move, which was overwhelmingly negative, then came bioware placing first in the backpedal Olympics, then came the most ridiculous opening in gaming.

    I’m not saying the game would have been saved with a different protagonist (as Shamus says, the game had too many shifts all at once for that) but the whole “work for Cerberus the rest of the game without complaint” thing would have worked a lot better with a tabula rasa character.

    1. Zekiel says:

      That… actually makes a certain amount of sense. If Bioware had already put a lot of effort into the cutscene and gameplay to kill off Shepard then they probably wouldn’t want to can all of that work, and have to massively re-write the story. I’m now trying to work out how much you’d have to change to get the ME2 story to work as:

      1) Shepard is killed
      2) Cerebrus thinks (s)he’s the bees knees, so spends some time trying to mold a human into a Shepard-like operative
      3) You play that operative (justifying choosing your class, creating your face etc, all of which you do in ME2 anyway)

      You’d need to establish reasons why Garrus and Tali care about this new protagonist. But on the plus side, this approach would explain why the Council want nothing to do with you, why the Alliance want nothing to do with you, and why the Kaiden/Ashley conversation sounds like it was written with ony 5 minutes thought put into it!

      1. Syal says:

        Miranda being the main character seems like the original intent, when you think about it.

        1. lurkey says:

          You know, it actually makes a lot of sense. Celebrity face, genetic tampering to give her the edge over regular humans — all very fitting for a PC. And she’d be miles less obnoxious as a PC too.

          I would totally have liked this game more.

          1. MichaelGC says:

            And they clearly put a lot of effort into that asspect of Miranda’s character model which would be most-commonly prominent whilst playing the game in third-person view.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      It doesnt justify the death scene at all.There are plenty of ways to include a different protagonist into the sequel without poisoning the well by killing off the previous one.Advance the story a few years(decades),someone else finds a meaningful mcguffin somewhere else,shift the perspective to someone else just to explore a different view with no mention about the events of the previous game until somewhere in the middle,the protagonist of the last game gets lost on an important mission(to the dark space),the protagonist of the last game is busy doing something IMPORTANT in order to notice the new threat,…………………………….Killing them off is frankly amongst the laziest ways to introduce someone new.

      1. acronix says:

        Interestingly, that’s what they did in Dragon Age. The Warden Commander gets lost in important missions (a variant of fridging him, really) and Hawke in Inquisition is not introduced until you are some way in.

        EDIT: Oh, Raygereio had mentioned it below. Well, people will read mine first because it’s above, so I can claim total originality anyway! Yes!

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Unless they read the comments through rss feed instead.

    3. Raygereio says:

      I'm always surprised people missed the big news story before ME2 that justifies the big Shepard “death” scene. Some quotes from that story:
      “We wanted to allow people to see this universe from multiple angles over the course of the trilogy, through the eyes of multiple player made protagonists.”
      In other words, Shepard was supposed to DIE. Kaput! Gone! Then came feedback on that move, which was overwhelmingly negative, then came bioware placing first in the backpedal Olympics, then came the most ridiculous opening in gaming.

      What I don’t get then is why Shep had to die.
      The Dragon Age series does exactly this. Each game takes places within the same setting and is connected via choice-consequences, cameos and whatnot. But they’re still their own separate stories with each their own protagonist.
      It’s a big galaxy out there. You could easily have Shep out here doing her Spectre-thing in Council space. While Tool McCerberus is flying around in the Terminus Systems. Naturally a big threat like entire colonies disapearing would attract Shep’s attention, but the threat in ME2 could have been a more dialed down one. Something of a breather in between the “WE’RE ALL DOOMED!” of ME1 and ME3.

  19. Dev Null says:

    Also, where is this blue lens flare coming from?


  20. Thomas says:

    Mass Effect at the time was very exciting because it promised a trilogy of continuous storytelling. It was a brave attempt, but I feel like the trilogy has shown that the idea is flawed and just no worth the effort.

    It locks you into too many decisions for too long if you want to properly honour the first game in its sequels. If you want to make wild gameplay changes, you can’t alter the tone of the game to fit the new gameplay without abandoning the first game.

    Loose cannon sequels all the way. Then again, it’s not like that’s better. Dragon Age drastically changed gameplay and tone between each game in the franchise and that hasn’t left people feeling happy even though they’re not direct sequels.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      It was a brave attempt, but I feel like the trilogy has shown that the idea is flawed and just no worth the effort.

      No!Please god no!Dont look at this piss poor execution and say that the idea is flawed!Its not,it can be done,its worth the effort.I mean just look what harry potter series was successful,and to pull that off was way WAAAY harder than pulling off a trilogy of video games.Its difficult,no doubt about that,and it requires a very skilled and talented person to coordinate it,but it is possible.

      1. TMC_Sherpa says:

        Books, movies and games are different beasts with different expectations.

        Is it possible to make a good game trilogy? Maybe. I think that depends on how important the plot is. An average RPGish game is so long now efficient story telling is crazy difficult.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Finding child actors that not only have the potential to be good now,but also the will and freedom to do a seven year contract is far tougher than connecting something like the baldurs gate series in a tighter way.

          Now making something good,liked and profitable like the baldurs gate series again is a different story.

          1. TMC_Sherpa says:

            That is true but I think there is a difference between a series and a trilogy. If Mass Effect went all EU and each game was a story in the same universe they could have gotten away with doing what they did but as it is… I don’t know. ME2 is just kinda ME1 but with better special effects as far as I’m concerned. Not that movies don’t do the same thing. T2 is the same story at T1. Alien, Aliens and Alienses are basically the same movie. etc.

            With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I would have made ME1 about the first contact wars, ME2 would have been ME1s story and ME3 stays kinda the same. Now you have three interesting stories that can still be linked by Shepard if you want.

      2. Bubble181 says:

        KOTOR and KOTOR II were sequels and managed to make quite a few of the decisions in the first matter in the second. They were even made by different studios! Had both been made by the same studio, a few more nods or variations on quest could’ve easily been implemented to connect them more strongly.
        Heck, the main reason you say it won’t work is because games are so long now…But nobody says they have to be. A lot of episodic games are pretty much this.
        Also, Starcraft II – though admittedly your choices there are fairly limited.

        1. Thomas says:

          Episodic games are fine and cool, Life is Strange is engrained on my heart. But with episodic games, because it’s basically one game chopped into bits, that’s like an _easier_ way of writing games because you get audience feedback.

          KotoR1, KotoR2 is what I think of as the sweetspot. Different protagonists, separated either side of a cataclysmic event which has changed the galaxy. Even then they had to bundle of the protagonist from the first game to really make it work (otherwise you could never have options as cool as the choice at the end of KOTOR1).

          It’s when you’re trying to tell a continuous story across games that I think it doesn’t work. The best case scenario is where background details from the previous game can inform the current one, but nothing else. And definitely different protagonists.

          @DL See I always though the Harry Potter films sucked, but we liked them because we knew their job was impossible anyway :p I don’t think the films could have caught on if they didn’t already have the worlds largest fanbase behind them before they were even made.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Never said that the movies were very good,just that they are spectacular.Though I will say that the choreography in wizard fights from 3 onwards is good,and probably the highlight of each movie.

          2. newplan says:

            The Harry Potter films are terrible as films – the cuts they had to make to make them films left the plots totally nonsensical.

            Their value was that you got to see some scenes from the books acted out.

    2. Matt Downie says:

      Loose cannon or loose canon?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Lose cannon.

        1. Christopher Kerr says:

          You drop the cannon. It lands on your left foot. In your haste to hop about comedically, your leg is torn off at the knee.

          You make a fair effort at hopping regardless, before collapsing some way to the south.

          To the east, there is nothing. To the north, you can just make out a cannon and some portion of a leg. To the west there is nothing. To the south there is an accountant yelling about budget constraints.

          You are beginning to feel woozy.


    3. Darren says:

      To me, The Witcher III is the game that shows the limits of the multi-game structure. For all of CD Projekt’s boasting, the choices you can make that are massive in one game are almost laughably minor in the grand scheme of things. And don’t get me started on whether or not I think every choice within each game makes sense.

      It’s just not realistic to expect writers to be able to offer both cohesive stories and stories that allow for a great deal of meaningful player choice. Games aren’t tabletop RPGs where even a mediocre DM can fluidly shift and alter the narrative to suit the situation.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Meaningful player choice is not the same thing as choice that impacts the game world in a massive way.For example,one choice in witcher 3 I particularly enjoyed is whether I wanted geralt to stay faithful to yennefer.It impacts absolutely nothing in the game world,but it still impacted me and my feelings about the game and the characters.I call that meaningful.

        Also,witcher 3 allows you to decide the faith of the entire continent in a side quest.You get to personally decide the faith of an emperor and few other notable npcs.That is pretty freaking awesome.

        1. 4th Dimension says:

          Faith or fate? Coz I don’t think Gealt can convince Emyr to become the follower of Eternal fire.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Whoops.Though technically,you decide the fate of faith as well.

  21. I wouldn’t say that I “hated” ME2…it was like most modern AAA-games, possessing a great deal of pomp and flash and panoply yet very little in the way of substance.

    When I purchased this game, I expected that it would be an RPG like its predecessor. Instead, what I got was a shooter with some RPG elements that were so threadbare one might switch them off entirely and have much the same experience (as I recall, the third game allowed one to do just that). Inventory, non-combat skills, exploration, weapon mods; all of these were excised, leaving little but a shallow husk of what had come before. I realise that the aforementioned elements were sometimes poorly implemented in ME1 (everyone complained about the Mako), but what they need was fixing, not removal.

    Further more, the few RPG elements remaining made little sense. Using different ammunition types is now a skill one has to put points into (I guess “put bullets into gun” is something Shepard has to consciously work at…and when he gets really good at it he can put bullets into other peoples’ guns!). Persuade/Intimidate is now based entirely on your Paragon/Renegade score; I guess a Renegade Shepard can never, ever try to sweet-talk someone, while a Paragon Shepard can never, ever threaten someone.

    There were several lengthy threads on the BioWare Social Network discussing whether or not ME2 was an RPG, and the only conclusion I reached was that most BioWare fans have no idea what an RPG is or what purpose RPG mechanics serve. Apparently, all it takes for a game to be an RPG is for the player to be able to “pick dialogue and make choices!” Obviously these people have never played any of the old point-and-click adventure games. This was what made me swear off the BSN entirely.

    (Well, that, and the extraordinarily-creepy behaviour exhibited by Tali’Zorah fans. One thread dedicated to her character was over ten thousand pages! And there was that one infamous individual who tried bringing his knowledge of biochemistry to bear on the question of what her sweat might taste like)

    But what I found most disagreeable about ME2 was the tectonic tonal shift. ME1 was a throwback to the space opera genre, with a few nods towards hard sci-fi that made it feel a touch more plausible than Star Trek or Star Wars. ME2 threw all that in the rubbish, throwing us into a generic dark-and-gritty action sci-fi universe quite clearly modelled on Firefly (it was around this time that BioWare decided how best they might place their lips on Joss Whedon’s backside). Shepard becomes a wisecracking action hero, female characters start strutting about in ludicrously skimpy outfits (even in a vacuum!), and the whole game is much more fast-paced and violent.

    You can see the change in the soundtrack; ME1 had this Vangelis-esque score that suited the game perfectly. ME2, by contrast, had a generic-sounding orchestral score. You can see it in the box art; ME1 looked like classic sci-fi movie poster, whereas ME2 just features Shepard holding a gun and grimacing (why does every male protagonist these days have look so bloody po-faced?)

    The quote about the game being made by someone who loathed the first Mass Effect title is about as accurate a statement as one can make. It took something that was flawed but unique and remade into something that was slick and polished, but utterly generic and forgettable.

    1. Matt Downie says:

      “There were several lengthy threads on the BioWare Social Network discussing whether or not ME2 was an RPG”
      I quite like the convention of referring to Mass Effect, Fallout 3, and so on as the “Guns ‘n’ Conversation” genre. “RPG” is a pretty meaningless descriptor these days.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Depends on what you mean by rpg.If you mean roll playing game,then mass effects definitely dont qualify.If you mean role playing game,then practically any game with a defined protagonist qualifies.I guess the role of an empty brick counts,so mass effects qualify.If you mean rocket propelled grenade…wait,what were we talking about again?

        1. Matt Downie says:

          Obviously, I meant Report Program Generator, IBM’s programming language.

    2. MichaelGC says:

      Well, that guy has an excuse, as the process of becoming a witcher apparently suppresses emotions, and can lead to chronic po-facity. But that’s just one guy with an excuse out of eleventy billion, of course!

    3. GloatingSwine says:

      In terms of levelling choices affecting play Mass Effect 2 is actually better than 1. ME1’s levelling system is, frankly, a bit crap. The skill upgrades are a massive number of incremental improvements with only a few minimal functional changes as the powers upgrade, whereas ME2 actually did let you functionally alter powers (eg, choosing a larger AoE or stronger DoT on Incinerate).

      (And the ammo types were all pointless anyway except Shredder rounds and Jackhammer rounds, because only Krogan had the kind of damage resist and health that made the extra damage worth having and Jackhammer rounds broke the game completely)

      ME2 felt more like you could make meaningful choices about character development.

      It was just a different game thematically and tonally.

      1. swenson says:

        Meh. I disagree on the leveling thing.

        I think ME2’s approach was better. ME1 definitely suffered from the incremental thing you mentioned, putting a point in any particular skill didn’t get you any noticeable benefit unless you had enough to unlock a new ability, so it felt kind of like you were randomly throwing points at a dart board and you didn’t notice any differences until you’d put several levels worth of points into something.

        On the other hand, ME2 had so few choices that you could pick in the first place, that it almost feels pointless to let the player level up at all. Unless you’re playing on Insanity, it barely matters what order you put points in, because you’re going to get a couple points in every skill anyway. The lack of choices means there’s basically only one or two reasonable ways to build a character for each class/difficulty level.

        ME1, at least I felt like I was making meaningful choices over time. ME2, it just seemed pointless because I was going to get all the skills anyway (or all of them except the one really useless skill each class has).

        Anyway both systems sucked in their own special ways. It wasn’t until 3 that we got REAL choice, where you if you chose one thing, you were permanently locked out of the other, and there were valid builds for most of these choices.

        1. Victor McKnight says:

          Its been said elsewhere before, but ME3 actually, in a small way brought some of the ME1 stuff back – gun upgrades for example – while also making the meaningful skill tree choices you are talking about.

          I suppose if you want to split hairs, ME1 has the more RPG elements in its character system because it has skills not directly related to combat, but I agree that it wasn’t until ME3 that we finally had a nuanced and interesting character leveling (and equipment system).

    4. Thomas says:

      By Yahtzee’s definition, Mass Effect 1 is just a game with RPG elements.

      [He says it’s not an RPG if you’ve got almost all the upgrades by the end of the game. Because you haven’t actually had to make any build choices in the long-run. I haven’t even started Feros or Noveria yet and I’ve already maxed out almost every skill]

    5. Daemian Lucifer says:

      And there was that one infamous individual who tried bringing his knowledge of biochemistry to bear on the question of what her sweat might taste like

      Quite an interesting question.So we know that quarians are similar to turians,who are reptilian.Now,Ive never licked a sweaty lizard,but I have eaten frog legs,and amphibians are close to reptiles.And because frogs taste similar to chicken,only juicier,I can infer that their sweat is similar to that of a wet chicken.Now I have never licked a sweaty chicken,but I have eaten chicken soup.So in conclusion,its quite clear that quarian sweat tastes like noodles.

  22. Victor McKnight says:

    Shamus is talking about how the writers tried to do too much, too quick and lacked any subtlety. I feel that this is especially true of the whole “working for Cerberus thing”. I have always felt that, at its core, this is actually a decent idea. In fact, it could have been pretty cool. It was just tremendously mishandled.

    Specters are secret agents (built very much on the James Bond mold). You don’t have to look real hard at history, current events or James Bond films to find examples of secret agents forging alliances of convenience with disreputable terrorists, insurgents or criminal organizations. Bond does this like every other film. Its the old “enemy of my enemy” trope.

    The problems are all in the execution. The game makes it seem like Shepard is working FOR Cerberus, rather than temporarily working WITH them. People are right to complain that the Normandy SR-2 had the Cerberus logo on it, that Shepard is wearing a Cerberus uniform and that Shepard is taking orders from TIM rather than the Council. But these are issues of execution and presentation. You could have kept the same basic idea but executed it much MUCH better.

    Imagine an alternate intro to ME2 (as Shamus already has suggested) where Shepard doesn’t die (and thus isn’t corralled into owing Cerberus something). Instead, the Council plugs their ears about the Reapers – its too big and too strange and depending on the ending they think its a Geth super weapon. Then, when human colonies start disappearing, the other Council races tell humanity that they have to deal with it on their own (this already happens in the game). This leaves Shepard (and Anderson) pissed off, marginalized and ignored. They are dealing with another new threat they don’t understand and they have limited resources because many of the colonies are outside of core Alliance space.

    And then Cerberus reaches out to Shepard. They claim to care about the missing colonies and they believe Shepard about the Reapers. They are offering intel and support with just the promise of some reciprocation and access to Collector tech in return. Tali and her team at Freedom’s Progress could even be replaced with a Cerberus team lead by Miranda and Jacob who are trying to figure out what is happening to the colonists. This has the added benefit of making Cerberus seem like its actually trying to help and maybe even maybe making Miranda a more sympathetic character.

    When Shepard finishes one of the story missions like Horizon or the Collector Ship, the player could decide how much intel to share with the Council, which only takes an interest in what Shepard is doing once the Collectors are positively ID’ed, and/or Cerberus, who claim they want to protect humans but are also is a little too interested in obtaining Collector/Reaper tech. Even if these dialogue options had not real impact besides Paragade points, it would create a more interesting dichotomy between the Council and Cerberus.

    This wouldn’t solve all of the issues with Cerberus (or the intro to ME2 as a whole), but it wouldn’t have required that many changes to the overall game and would have made this entire plot thread far more realistic and tolerable. The player only ever has to trust Cerberus as much as they want to, but in their irritation with the Council, they may find themselves more willing to work with Cerberus since Cerberus at least wants to get stuff done. More could also be done with this interplay between the Council and Cerberus – a lot more, but then you have to make more drastic changes to the game.

    Of course this solution does mean that it would make even less sense for Liara and Ashley/Kaidan to not join your team again. Wrex still has a good out though (if he survived Virmire).

    1. Thomas says:

      A big problem is it’s Cerberus in the first place too. I started the series with ME2, so I happily went along with the Cerberus=Ultra IRA thing. It doesn’t all make sense sure, but I knew what the writers were going for and it all worked well enough.

      Except in ME1 Cerberus aren’t the Ultra IRA. They’re mad-scientists who feed people to Thresher Maws to ‘see what’s happening’. That’s nothing like what they were going for, and why you get all the rogue cell BS. To make Cerberus work for their purposes, the writers had to retcon literally everything that made them Cerberus in the first place.

      If it wasn’t Cerberus it’d make the “Why didn’t I hear about TIM?” style questions go away too. You were entirely involved in alien affairs in ME1. It’s totally reasonable that you didn’t hear about these super powerful human-rights-activists because that’s really an internal problem for the Alliance, not an external one.

      1. Victor McKnight says:

        Well, yes, this solution doesn’t solve ALL the problems. Cerberus is basically Stupid-Evil in ME1. But they were also just there to add flavor and texture to side missions. Its one of the few times ME1 skimps on details first. Doing literally anything more complex with them would have required retconning.

        But like Shamus pointed out, you could get away with a retcon or two, just not eight or whatever. Basically, the Collectors are a big retcon specific to ME2 and Cerberus going from cartoonish evil and incompetent to competent is an issue for ME2 and ME3. But if that is all there was (and it was handled better) it wouldn’t be a deal breaker.

        Or not, if you happened to have the Survivor background. Then you basically just give Cerberus the middle finger no matter what.

  23. Zombie says:

    The weird thing with Mass Effect as a series, is that basically, as it goes on the game gets much better, while the story goes from good to great in ME1 to bad to average in ME2 (excluding companion related side-quests) to average to good in ME3 (mileage may very; I like ME3’s story).

    Like, ME1’s got this fun story with great characters that is an utter mess to play. The Mako is a nightmare to control, the gunplay is just bad, biotics are hard to aim right, because they don’t lock onto targets, they go wherever you’re looking at. And the gameplay doesn’t even mesh with the story. Shepard is a badass N7, the best special operatives in the Alliance, but Adapt Shepard doesn’t know how to fire an assault rifle correctly? Do biotic powers just stop you from being good with guns?

    ME2 has kind of a mess of main plot, brought together by really awesome companions and great loyalty missions. But its actually a fun game to play. Sure, its a pretty standard third-person cover shooter, but at least its fun, and not taking away from the game.

    ME3 basically takes out every problem any ME game ever had with combat, but I’d like to know if they changed how combat worked for the multiplayer mode (which is actually really super fun), or if they changed the combat for the base game, and then decided to make the multiplayer mode.

    1. swenson says:

      100% agree with you. I’ll also throw in that ME2 and ME3 are much prettier than ME1. ME1 wasn’t exactly a bland brown-and-gray game, but 2 and 3 had some really lovely and distinct environments even for side missions, as opposed to ME1’s generic rooms that only came in Brown Science, Silver Warehouse, and Spooky Cave. (oh! I almost forgot Oddly Designed Spaceship With No Living Inhabitants!)

      I will say, though, the incredibly OPness of ME1’s biotic powers help mitigate the gameplay problems a little. By the end of the game, a biotic Shepard can shove around Geth Colossi! I understand why biotics were nerfed in 2 and 3, they needed to be, but I kinda miss having that kind of ludicrous power that nobody could defend against, not even giant killer robots.

      1. Thomas says:

        The Citadel was nicer in ME1. It’s my favourite part of the game, and maybe the franchise.

        Just everything about the sidequests was the absolute worst in ME1. ME2 and ME3 definitely improved on that

  24. Xilizhra says:

    I admit that I don’t understand you, Shamus. Your mindset seems to be centered on ways in which the story doesn’t seem to work, and I prefer to think of the ways in which the story does, and come up with explanations for it if the work doesn’t initially seem to provide any. Of your eleven points, only two of them can’t be figured out with a few minutes’ thought.

    1. This is, admittedly, stupid, but it’s absolutely not an issue if you save the Council instead of slaughtering them.
    2. Udina never really believed in the Reapers himself, and his influence has quite a long reach.
    3. Cerberus only had one experiment screwup in ME1, the rachni release. Everything they had at their main base on Binthu was perfectly well-contained, and the thresher maw attack on Akuze worked similarly well.
    4. Everything Shepard knew about Cerberus came from Kahoku, who wasn’t exactly an operative of Alliance intelligence who would have known about TIM.
    5. Shepard here was on a mission to investigate missing colonies, which doesn’t exactly seem pointless.
    6. They probably evacuated already.
    7. Being suddenly dead is admittedly not good for the plot, but since finding out what’s going on with this enemy is part of the plot here, them being new isn’t really a problem.
    8. The Collectors hang around in the Terminus Systems, mostly, where Shepard wasn’t allowed to go in ME1. That’s also why vorcha didn’t appear there.
    9. It wasn’t miraculous, though more details could have been given.
    10. See above.
    11. Pretty much the same issue as #1.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      1)Yes it is.Humans still control practically everything for no reason.I mean you use exactly this to justify #2.
      2)Thats no justification.Its still extremely stupid.I dont believe in unicorns,but if one crashed through my front door Id react “Holy shit!A real unicorn!” and not “Huh,must have been the wind”.
      3)Still does not explain the spectacular power,reach,resources and knowledge to rival whole governments.A few labs here and there,sure.A shipyard capable of rebuilding a unique ship that required inter species cooperation?In just 2 years?And an improved one as well?That alone is bonkers!Adding to that resurrection and a fully capable and working ai that doesnt want to kill all humans just moves it into a whole new category of crazy.And they did not stop there with the crazy,but thats a story of me3.
      4)Tim is constantly referenced in the second game by almost everyone,yet none of them mentioned him when you talked with them in the previous game.
      5)What have missing colonies have to do with the reapers?If the game gave us some connection before,then it would be believable.But this way its just like she read the script in advance.
      6)Not really an explanation.
      7)But lack of buildup or foreshadowing is.Especially since the game later establishes these guys as someone who was known to everyone before,instead of some new player in the galaxy.
      8)Yet plenty of people you talk to mention stuff you never see in the first game.But not the collectors,who possess advanced tech.Also,all these people know that the collectors have this advanced tech,yet no one bothers to find out anything about it?Or steal it?Or connect their beam weapon technology to sovereign?
      9)It is nothing short of a miracle,considering that her body was shot into the vacuum of space,and then suffered atmospheric reentry followed by a crash into the hard surface.Its a miracle she wasnt smeared across several kilometers.And thats not even going into the details of completely reconstructing her brain.
      10)See #3.
      11)See #2.

      Now,can you ignore these problems?Sure.But fixing any of them requires way more thought than just a few minutes.

    2. guy says:

      3) They experienced multiple disastrous failures with Thorian Creepers and Husks at other bases.

    3. swenson says:

      4) You get introduced to Cerberus by Kahoku, but you learn about them by actually going out and exploring their bases and seeing that they’re up to no good (and then randomly murdered Kahoku, which oddly enough nobody seems to care much about). You have actual direct interaction with Cerberus in the first game–yet there’s not even a single mention about who’s running the thing, which you think might’ve come up at some point.

      6) Good writers shouldn’t rely on the audience to come up with “probably”s. They had to know that ME1 players would be wondering what happened to their other squaddies and addressed that, at least in a minor way.

      11) How is this not an issue if you save the Council? If you save the Council, they should be more willing to listen to you about the Reaper/Collector threats. If you don’t save the Council, then the new Council would be more reliant on the goodwill of humans and thus would again be willing to listen to you about the Reaper/Collector threats. It’s not just stupid, it makes no sense.

  25. Disc says:

    I’m still dreaming of a reboot where ME2 and 3 are all retconned and Shepard wakes from a very fevered dream/coma.

  26. Vermander says:

    Reading Shamus’ recaps has made me realize that I enjoyed the Mass Effect games for very different reasons than he did (and from what the developers originally intended apparently). To me the series was never about a quest for knowledge. I wasn’t particularly interested in the history of the Protheans or the exact nature of whatever MacGuffin we would eventually use to stop the Reapers. Since KOTOR I’ve always played Bioware games for the characters, and for the ability to customize the protagonist, even if it’s only in superficial ways. I usually don’t care about the major themes beyond “Shepherd is awesome”.

    That’s why I liked the second game. It felt like most of the missions revolved around the characters. You spent most of your time searching for new team members or winning the loyalty of your current ones, and the last mission depends on how well you work as a team. That’s a lot more interesting to me than downloading data about Reapers and Protheans.

    I think that’s the main reason I hated the ending so much. I wanted to see the other characters react to my epic triumph, heroic death, or even tragic fall from grace. I was annoyed that instead I was obliged to have a conversation about the nature of organic vs. inorganic life, which I was told was supposedly the central theme of the whole thing.

    1. I hear this sentiment expressed quite often: “Well, ME2’s plot was a bit rubbish, but at least the loyalty missions were well written!”

      I thought the same, up until my second play-through and I realised that most of my teammates’ personal quests had something in common:

      Miranda: Daddy issues
      Jacob: Daddy issues
      Tali’Zorah: Daddy issues
      Grunt: Daddy issues
      Samara: Daughter issues
      Morinth: Mommy issues
      Thane: Son issues

      This is why my teammates were almost always people like Mordin, Kasumi, or Garrus, because they didn’t make me feel as if I were playing crisis counsellor. At some points in Mass Effect 2 it almost feels as though BioWare is descending into self-parody.

      1. Zombie says:

        To be fair:

        Miranda: Its kinda daddy issues, but it more like “Protect my sister from my megalomaniac dad” kinda daddy issues.

        Jacob: Yeah, its just straight up daddy issues, but it’s still a pretty cool mission.

        Tali: Its not really daddy issues. It’s more along the lines of Tali is being accused of treason because she sent things to her dad, those things took over the ship her dad was on, and now they need to figure out whats going on. Do the quest, find out her dad was doing illegal things, etc.

        Grunt: I’m not sure “I’m going through Krogan puberty, I have no idea whats going on and no one around me knows what to do” counts as daddy issues.

        Samara/Morinth: Its both Daughter/Mommy issues, and the fact that Samara is honor bound to kill people like Morinth, and she needs to do this one the most because of the fact Morinth is her daughter.

        Thane: Yeah, basically father/son issues.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yeah,its not the loyalty missions that were good,its the character themselves.However,I still say that the best character is from me1:

  27. Bubble181 says:

    Hundredth post!

    (just because of the twitter)

    1. MichaelGC says:


    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I miss Shamooses first post pun pictures.They make me regret that first posting died.

      1. Bubble181 says:


        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          I say we should all start first posting until he brings them back.If you agree,proudly proclaim FIRST!

          1. Lachlan the Mad says:


  28. Mephane says:

    Oh my, that last image. It starts deep in the uncanny valley, only to jump out of it and reveal a truly ugly-looking maleshep. And the next instant it plunges back into the valley with its totally wrong facial animation. And then you notice the hand, so wrong.

  29. avwolf says:

    I’m not sure if I hate ME2, but I know that it hated me. Like many others, I made the tragic mistake of playing the game right after beating ME1. I think it’s been long enough now that I might be able to try ME2 again, but it was tough having my entire play style removed from the game; I’ve never had a developer flat out tell me through gameplay that I’ve been doing it wrong the whole time like that.

    I went from being a sweet Infiltrator (not as good as “Turian Agent,” the most perfect class for my preferred playstyle, but what can you do?), walking crouched the whole game and shooting people from beyond draw distance with my infinite ammo guns to a stupid Infiltrator who is unable to crouch, shooting people from twelve feet away with my “better” guns that carry three whole cartridges in them.

    And of course, I’d done enough of the side missions to be utterly convinced of the undying and deep set evil of Cerberus, whose experiments, beyond just being responsible for most (all?) of the back stories you can pick for Shepherd, were so beyond the pale you kind of empathized with the Reaper’s perspective: “These guys are so bad, maybe we *should* all get murdered before they take over the galaxy…”

    If it did nothing else, ME2 convinced me that someone at Bioware misunderstands the word “better.” The infinite ammo guns that we’ve justified through lore need to be “better” (for cover-shooter gameplay reasons?) so we’ll add ammunition counts to them and claim they fire faster (even though they really don’t). Tooling around the Mako is kind of boring, so we’ll make it “better” by just having you stare at a slowly rotating globe for minutes on end. You already saved the galaxy as the underdog, so we’ll make it “better” by having you more underdogy save the galaxier by tying you to a “better” organization of secretive space nazis!

    1. Raygereio says:

      The infinite ammo guns that we've justified through lore need to be “better” (for cover-shooter gameplay reasons?) so we'll add ammunition counts to them and claim they fire faster (even though they really don't).

      For shooter gameplay in general reasons. Gunplay – like most of ME1’s gameplay – was kinda shit. The addition of ammo was one of the ways Bioware tried to make it so the game didn’t devolve into “Find enemy. Point cursor at enemy. Hold left mouse button until enemy is dead. Go to step 1” like in ME1.
      That said: I felt Bioware was still learning how shooter gameplay worked and didn’t succeed into making a game with good, solid shooter gameplay until ME3. But ME2 ‘s gameplay was an improvement over ME1 in a lot of ways for me.

      Personally I still think a hybrid ammo system would have been the best choice, but that’s just me.

      Tooling around the Mako is kind of boring, so we'll make it “better” by just having you stare at a slowly rotating globe for minutes on end.

      Bioware removed the Mako and exploration aspect (*) and added a resource gathering mechanic. The latter didn’t replace the former. They’re two completely different things.

      *: If I were to hazard a guess it’s because Bioware knew the exploration aspect of ME1 was shit from a gameplay perspective, made no sense whatsover from a story point of view and Bioware had no idea how to implement a better one within the confines of the game’s overall concept.

      1. Thomas says:

        I think I’d have made the pistol cruddy but with infinite ammo and I’d have raised the ammo capacities of the guns _a lot_. Or made it so it worked with clips but you had infinite clips and no overheating at all.

        I still think having your gun overheated in ME1 is completely unfun. And firing slower or keeping your eyes on the heat bar is also super unfun.

        Whenever anyone justifies the situation to me it’s always “Oh I got a late game gun that was so good it’s impossible to overheat and it was great.”

        But “It’s fine because I broke the mechanic and now I don’t have to deal with it” isn’t a good justification for that mechanic. If that’s the fun part of the game, then maybe infinite-ammo non-overheating guns should be available from the start.

        Reloading in a tense moment is fun. Sitting there for 5 seconds unable to shoot isn’t. On the other hand, scrambling for ammo isn’t fun either.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its not the overheating that was unfun.Its the lack of things to do while your gun cools down that was the problem.Reloading in 2 was just as unfun.The key component that improved the gunplay are the powers.I mean,just try to go through me2 without ever using any of the powers and youll get pretty much the same experience as you got from 1.

        2. guy says:

          I really did like the overheating system and the way it let you pulse your fire rate higher than was sustainable for a short period of time if it seemed appropriate.

      2. avwolf says:

        Personally I still think a hybrid ammo system would have been the best choice, but that's just me.

        I agree that a hybrid system for ammunition would have really improved the feel, at least for me. Weapons that fired quickly with clips and then still fired, just crazy slow, without them would have retained the lore from both ME1 and ME2 and not made what at least felt like absurd ammo caps be less galling. You’re still sitting around doing nothing while the weapon cools, which isn’t terribly fun (as Thomas mentions), but it sure beats sitting around doing nothing because you’re completely empty. And in no small way, I’m sad to see overheating weapons leave because they were something different and distinctive from the norm. I’m not sure if they could have made it not feel terribly jarring moving directly from one game to the other while retaining the largest part of their gameplay changes, but more continuity between the two would have eased the transition. (Though since Shamus hasn’t really gotten into the gameplay aspects, I feel like I’m a little off topic whining about them.)

        Bioware removed the Mako and exploration aspect (*) and added a resource gathering mechanic. The latter didn't replace the former. They're two completely different things.

        I’ll grant you that they’re supposed to be very separate things. But the resource gathering felt like it was replacing the Mako, at least to me. They’re both the ways that you interact with non-storyline planets (at least in what little I played of ME2), and after doing all the side-quests in ME1, the collectibles that you acquired in the Mako “felt” like they were largely doing resource acquisition — the mining claims especially — so it made a connection in my mind that I’ve been unable to shake. It also doesn’t excuse the tedium of the resource mining in ME2. Removing one dull feature and adding in another even duller feature is not an improvement.

  30. INH5 says:

    I agree with a lot of the complaints here, but I think that any analysis of them is incomplete without talking about how they are mostly knock-on effects of the catastrophe that is ME1’s sequel hook.

    The ending of ME1 threw everything that we thought we knew about the Reapers into question. The first priority of any sequel should have been fixing the problems that this created. It wasn’t strictly necessary to establish exactly what is going on with the Reapers, but it was absolutely important to establish what Shepard and his friends think is going on with the Reapers and most importantly why they think this. But instead the beginning of ME2 continues to dig this hole deeper by further muddying the waters.

    Let’s start with the opening text crawl. It says that the Reapers “have returned.” Not “will return,” not “want to return,” it says that the Reapers are already here. This obviously isn’t what happened. This is the equivalent of having the text crawl of Empire Strikes Back say that the Death Star blew up Yavin IV and destroyed the Rebel Alliance. Was this written by an unpaid intern who had only been with Bioware for a week?

    I do note, however, that the idea of the humans taking control of the Council actually is a carryover from ME1. One of the endings has Udina explicitly say that they’re going to establish an entirely human council. Which is incredibly stupid for a million different reasons, and the fact that this idea is continued at all even if only in this text crawl is bad.

    Then there’s the opening talk with TIM and Miranda. They say that “the Reapers are still out there.” So I guess the Reapers haven’t returned after all, and in fact this makes the Reapers sound less like the approaching enemy army of ME1’s sequel hook and more like the trapped demons they were in the first 99.9% of ME1. So far, so good.

    But then they start talking about how the Reapers are the “real threat” and “it’s up to us to stop them,” and things get incoherent again. Remember, this is before the Collector attacks, so there is not a single shred of evidence that the Reapers are still a threat. It would be one thing if they were talking about how they should prepare in case the Reapers try anything, but like Shepard and Anderson/Udina in ME1’s sequel hook they’re absolutely certain for no reason at all that they will have to fight Reapers. And they’re saying different things about where the Reapers are and what they are doing.

    I fully agree that their statements about making sure that Shepard doesn’t fail etc. make no sense. But those are really side effects of the premises underlying the central conflict being smashed into an incoherent mess that turns anything touching it into an incoherent mess.

    I’m going to say more on this later, but after reexamining the series with this contradiction in mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Council’s actions in ME2 are much more reasonable than those of Shepard. When you look at things objectively, the complaints voiced here by TIM and later by Shepard have no merit. The Council isn’t doing anything about the Reapers, but there’s no reason to think that there’s anything more that needs to be done. Miranda complains about them sending Shepard to fight Geth, but as far as anyone knows the Geth are the only beings left in the galaxy that want to bring back the Reapers, so we should absolutely make sure that they’re taken care of.

    Now, denying the existence of the Reapers is stupid, but at this point the text crawl seems to imply that the Council is only denying their existence in public statements. That makes some sense: I could see how a government wouldn’t want to tell the general public about this until they were certain how the public would react to it. Furthermore, at this point all the evidence seems to indicate that while the Reapers do exist, they don’t pose any kind of immediate threat, so it’s not something that anyone needs to know about right now.

    1. Duoae says:

      Ignoring the rest of your post (because it’s convenient for me as well):

      Let's start with the opening text crawl. It says that the Reapers “have returned.”

      Well, this is demonstrably true… The Reapers HAVE returned. Sovereign was a thing. The whole Saren/Geth/Asari matriarch (I feel sexist for having temporarily forgotten Barenzia’s name) thing obviously didn’t happen!

      I mean, does some activity warrant an investigation? Does a murder imply a crime?

      The answer is yes. It may be superficial but it is also accurate. Both technically and literally.

      1. INH5 says:

        Except that Sovereign didn’t return, because it never left the galaxy in the first place. Exactly zero Reapers returned during the entire story of ME1. No matter how you parse this statement, there is no way to get it to make sense.

  31. Joe Informatico says:

    Shamus, I still love your original plot analysis of ME2 from five years ago (holy crap, I feel old). While I’m pretty sure your feelings are nuanced and have probably changed in light of ME3, I still love that graphic at the end of that post where you conclude the parts of the game that don’t directly involve TIM and the Collectors are all pretty good, but those 4 main-plot sections wreck the main narrative.

  32. Ron says:

    I suppose I’m getting a bit ahead of where this series is at right now, but this does tie in to this entry.

    Something that really bothered me was the lack of Shepard having any sort of crisis over being brought back to life. The closest we got was on the Cerberus base in 3 where you find out that he is probably nothing more than a clone of the original Shepard. And even then, it felt like the writers hadn’t even thought about the implications of the previous game’s opening until after they had almost finished the trilogy. That moment honeslty felt like even more of a stab in the back than the moment it was trying to retroactively cover for. Especially since it leads directly into the KAI LENG FIGHT.

    That, I think, is one of the most tragic things about the 2nd and 3rd games. After all of the thought that went into crafting the original game’s world and lore, almost everything after was done without thought. And it only made it worse when the writing team would come along in the 3rd game and give some half-assed acknowledgement or justification. Especially since the thoughtlessness continued.

    In a lot of ways, the latter games remind me of the Star Wars prequels. They completely miss the tone and themes of the original (and don’t seem to have any real themes of their own), are extremely contrived, and are far more interested in spectacle than telling a coherent and compelling story.

    1. Duoae says:

      Speaking of which….

      That moment honeslty felt like even more of a stab in the back than the moment it was trying to retroactively cover for. Especially since it leads directly into the KAI LENG FIGHT.

      How much would it have changed people’s perspective on the Kai Leng fights if it was revealed that Kai Leng was a result of cloning experiments designed to produce a ‘controlled’ Shepard? :D

  33. Bropocalypse says:

    I just realized that there’s smoke coming out of their guns. Their guns that are effectively magnetically-driven.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Ummmm…..its excess heat?

  34. swenson says:

    Here’s an interesting thought. I suddenly started replaying ME2, thanks to this (I’m going for a “no guns” Adept playthrough, I’ve never tried that before and it’s not particularly hard so far even though I’m on Veteran, although I’m still right at the beginning), and TIM says some interesting things that are either dropped, immediately contradicted, or otherwise don’t make sense.

    One of these is that he claims the reason the Alliance and Council aren’t worried about the Reapers is because they believe the Reaper threat “died with Sovereign”. And that actually makes some sense to me. They could reasonably go, “hey, we stopped them from coming back with the Citadel, they’re stuck out in deep space and we aren’t going to have to deal with them for a really long time”. Then you could have Shepard trying to convince them that the Collectors really WERE working with them and that it really WAS evidence that the Reapers had some other method of coming back and much sooner than they expected… I think you could make it work.

    But this idea is immediately dropped and never heard from again. Instead, the Council and Alliance don’t believe the Reapers exist at all, which makes no sense.

    (another thing I realized this time around… you know, the whole attack on the station when you wake up makes no sense, there’s no real reason for Wilson to do it even though he’s blamed for it. Wouldn’t it be neat if it was TIM who set it up? Conveniently, the first person you meet is Jacob, the closest thing to an honest man that Cerberus has, who’s also ex-black ops Alliance just like Shepard, who Shepard might be likely to trust. Equally conveniently, everyone dies except Shepard’s new best friend Jacob and TIM’s righthand woman Miranda, thus hiding everything about the process of bringing Shepard back and even that Shepard is back at all.)

    1. INH5 says:

      I’ve actually been discussing this problem for 3 parts now. The short version is that if you look closely at the story, you realize that until Arrival there really isn’t any in-universe reason for anyone to think that the Reapers are going to invade, which makes the repeated insistence before then on the part of Shepard, TIM, and other characters that the Reapers are coming totally inexplicable. Because of this, I think the major problems with the series start not at the beginning of ME2, but at the end of ME1, when Shepard suddenly says that the Reapers are coming.

    2. Sartharina says:

      It would have been really cool if they did have the Alliance and council believe the Reaper threat ended with Sovereign’s destruction, with only Cerberus saying “No, no it didn’t – The Terminus systems, where we’ve been doing all our amoral research, has been showing signs of Reaper-related activity. We need Shepard to help us because he’ll believe the Reaper threat, and he’s the only one equipped to help!” (Instead of “He’s a hero, a bloody icon!”)

      I wish they’d also better integrated Cerberus into ME3, instead of just making them bad guys. It would have been great to be able to, say, have a gun that shoots Thresher Maws at Reapers thanks to data gathered from the Akuze experiment as a war asset. And an option to boost the biotics (for Renegade points and a war asset) using the research from Subject 0. “Yes, we fed human colonists to Thresher Maws on Akuze. And because we did so, we now have developed ways to control Thresher Maws, and developed strong countermeasures and treatments for Threshermaw bile!”

      1. INH5 says:

        It would have been really cool if they did have the Alliance and council believe the Reaper threat ended with Sovereign's destruction, with only Cerberus saying “No, no it didn't ““ The Terminus systems, where we've been doing all our amoral research, has been showing signs of Reaper-related activity. We need Shepard to help us because he'll believe the Reaper threat, and he's the only one equipped to help!” (Instead of “He's a hero, a bloody icon!”)

        That would be a much better way of doing things. Of course, it’s hard to do that after you’ve established that Shepard already inexplicably knows that the Reapers are coming to invade/are still a threat.

      2. The Elusive Man says:

        A great example of this ‘renegade path yields results, even if god might damn our souls’ approach, the Godzilla Threshold effectively applied, is Invincible, with Cecil and the things he’s willing to do in his Nick Fury role as director of the government force trying to stop the universe’s super-beings from smashing us like bugs.

    3. Thomas says:

      It’s canon that Jacob was placed onto the station and retained as part of your crew because TIM knew that he was the closest thing they had to a nice guy and that putting him there might make Shepard think better of Cerberus.

      It definitely would be cool if he orchestrated the attack too. I could see that as something he might do.

      1. INH5 says:

        I believe that Lair of the Shadow Broker has some files that say that the Shadow Broker arranged the attack.

  35. Mr Compassionate says:

    If ME2 was the start of a fresh IP I would think much, much better of it. The sleek and stylized aesthetic has it’s own kind of charm and the story would make sense if this was the establishing of a new ruleset rather than tramping all over the much better old one.

    Unfortunately that isn’t the case. Much like Shamus I stopped buying Mass Effect after the second game because this whole entry was a foreshadowing for the bulls**t that was to come. I saw where the ship was sailing and I got the hell off. Saved myself £40.

  36. Steve C says:

    “or even from the events of the preceding paragraph.”

  37. Adam Phant says:

    Who is TIM? It’s “The Illusive Man” but that’s never established. Even though it’s a post about Mass Effect you shouldn’t rely on the reader to be familiar with the series or common fan-acronyms. Spell it out once (the first time you mention him) and show the abbreviation so you can guarantee everyone’s on the same page. And spell it out once for every subsequent entry you mention TIM in, in case the reader missed or skipped over this entry.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thats a good point.

      1. Duoae says:

        Yep. Even though I feel like a dick pointing this out. I agree.

        I always try and remember to spell out my acronyms the first time through a post.

  38. Zaxares says:

    I think the two changes that felt the most jarring from ME1 to ME2 was the shift in the gameplay and the tone. The ME1 mechanics felt a bit clunky, but it was definitely an RPG at heart; how good you were at killing enemies depended almost entirely on your level-up choices and tactical use of powers. Furthermore, ME1 cleaved quite closely to hard science fiction. Many side-quests and planetary excursions emphasized that space was a vast, largely unknown and VERY dangerous place. If it weren’t for the advanced technology used by the galactic races, death when exploring space or alien worlds would be all but a certainty. (And there were no shortages of examples where tragedies like those took place.)

    In contrast, ME2 feels more like a shooter set in space. Powers help a lot, but if you’re skilled enough at FPS games in general you can just play a Soldier and kick total ass even without using any Powers. A lot of the “danger” and “organicity” you felt while exploring new places was gone; each level was largely rooms and corridors filled with conveniently-placed waist-high walls to hide behind. As Shamus pointed out, the game’s approach felt less like a hunt for knowledge and more of a “do I have big enough guns to take on this next mission?”

    And the game tends to gloss over the sci-fi aspects of the MEverse from this point on, the most immediate of which is the fact that your teammates no longer all wear sealed hardsuits when out in hostile environments. Case in point, one side-quest has you travelling to a planet that has a toxic chlorine atmosphere. Yet despite this, teammates like Jack and Miranda will go out onto this planet wearing only a breather mask. Come on, REALLY??

    You did make a couple of mistakes in this article though, Shamus:

    1. I believe the first line in the opening story crawl depends on what decision Shepard made at the end of the first game. If you sacrificed the Council or told the fleets to focus on Sovereign, then it plays the “Humanity has seized control” line. If you told the fleets to save the Council, then it reads differently.

    2. TIM’s exact words were “Then make sure we DON’T lose him/her.” It was in response to Miranda saying that Shepard’s only one person and he/she was up against seemingly impossible odds. By the time Shepard awakens and meets the Illusive Man, the colony abductions have also started. Still, it does seem like a bit of a plot disconnect, because 2 years pass in between the opening sequence and when the player finally gets control of Shepard. Everything that’s said and done DOES make sense… provided you also followed the comics/novels/etc. released for the MEverse, which I think is a rather terrible way to go about it. I’m not excusing Bioware for the seemingly broken plot they’ve provided, but I do want to at least point out that the story does stack up if you have all the info.

    1. INH5 says:

      Furthermore, ME1 cleaved quite closely to hard science fiction.

      Apart from biotics, Asari reproduction, cyborg zombies creating by impaling dead bodies on giant metal spikes, and a hundreds of thousands of year old intelligent plant thing that mind controls people with spores, creates a psychic cross-species filter thing by eating Protheans, and poops fully armed and armored Asari clones. And I’m sure there was other space fantasy stuff that I’m forgetting.

  39. Dragmire says:

    Oh yeah! Hey Shamus, I forgot to mention something about Vigil that doesn’t really become super important until Mass Effect 3(where it comes up again)

    Vigil has the ability to tell if a person is indoctrinated.

    Imagine having a piece of software that can tell who is indoctrinated and who isn’t.

    Even if Vigil lost all power, salvaging that tech should be possible considering the galaxy’s experience using old Prothean ruins to advance their technology.

    Crippling one of the Reaper’s key abilities to control organics seems pretty important.

    Also, to add to your little blurb about Vigil:

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

    “I mean, I can totally tell who’s indoctrinated and who isn’t. It’s super useful against the Reapers. Too bad you don’t have these files. Good luck!”

  40. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I know it justifies nothing for those of you who were with the series before but I feel its worth representing at this point.

    When I bought ME1 and 2 for PC, I initially couldn’t get ME1 to run but could get ME2 to run (if you have this problem, copy your ME2ConfigUtility in place of the ME1 version and rename but I didn’t discover that till months later).

    If your introduction to Mass Effect was ME2, chances are you had a satisfying experience. In fact, for those purposes the immediate death and resurrection of Shepard helped calibrate my expectations. “Oh, its that kind of sci fi. This is basically Voyager level. Got it.” Which meant that when I got to the giant Terminator Reaper at the end, I was fine.

    And for me the experience was always more about those character missions. I know it was like that for everybody, but I saw it as a clever way to ape TV conventions. It made it that much more Star Trek like to get these vignettes. Jacob’s loyalty mission, Samara’s, Tali’s, Mordin’s and even Grunt’s all kind of felt like things you might see in an episode of Star Trek (Mordin’s could have made an excellent Trek episode.)

    Also, as awesome as the Reapers are, I think the Mass Effect universe has enough to explore without getting into that. I’m hopeful that Andromeda will not deal with the Reapers except possibly right in the beginning as a bit of aftermath.

    So given that they were clearly retooling the series for a different audience and even provided a downloadable interactive comic to cover the first game, I feel like they succeeded at part of their goal, making something that worked for a new wave of fans. It just failed at its presumed other goal of keeping existing fans happy.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Oh, its that kind of sci fi. This is basically Voyager level. Got it.

      Oh come on!Look,we all say that mass effect 2 is bad,but its not that bad.Though Ill grant you that me3 is like enterprise.

      1. Wide And Nerdy says:

        I guess I should say that after having gotten through Voyager, I’m ready to accept the level of sci fi that ME2 has descended too. You’re right. Voyager has the infinity engine and a species that can only produce one child in a life time, and giant viruses.

        1. Mike S. says:

          I’m never one to defend Voyager, but terrible biology goes back to TOS (giant space amoeba, anyone? Vulcans and humans being interfertile?)

          Mass Effect’s biology, while not hard SF, actually averages rather better than Trek’s: even the asari aren’t really getting genes from other species. “Humans are super-genetically-diverse” is dumb, but not a patch on “billion-year-old humanoids preprogrammed Earth and a bunch of other planets to produce humanoid life, but not till a few million years ago– Evolution Does Not Work That Way!– and left a YouTube video about why in our DNA”.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Vulcans and humans being interfertile?

            Isnt there an episode that deals with “an elder race” that sort of seeded the universe?That kind of explains this(though not really).

            1. Mike S. says:

              That’s what I was referencing in the last part of my comment. As you say, “not really”– the timescale doesn’t work, and it would mean that everything we think we know about evolution was a hoax by ancient aliens.

              Things we have ancestry with in common from circa a billion years ago but are not interfertile with include, I think, somewhere between all multicellular organisms and all eukaryotes. We have much more recent ancestors in common with, say, spiders than we would with Vulcans in that scenario, and possibly with corn. So it can’t just be common DNA– they’d need to put a serious thumb on the scale to make things work out that way.

              So something in Earth’s and other planets’ DNA noodled around pretending to develop via natural selection for most of that time, and kept accurate track of how long had passed. Then suddenly produced humanoids on a bunch of different worlds across the galaxy roughly simultaneously and at the last evolutionary minute. Not in response to environmental selective effects, but because the alarm clock went off and triggered a program.

              That idea does more violence to the idea that it’s even possible for us to understand the universe via scientific observation than anything in Mass Effect. It’s comparable to “God created the world complete with an intentionally misleading fossil record”, only minus the omniscient supernatural being who knows better than we do about why that might somehow be a reasonable idea.

              For plausible humanoid aliens, the way to do it is the way Stargate SG-1 did: ancient aliens picked up humans (or at least hominids) from Earth and dropped them off various places. (Because we clearly evolved here, and so weren’t seeded from elsewhere.) The Ancients are still a problem, and the Asgard look too much like us for realism, but most of the planets with their human villages (and “terraforming pines” that look an awful lot like Vancouver’s) are reasonably well justified.

              1. INH5 says:

                I agree with you about the only possible justification for aliens so human-like that they can interbreed with humans is the transplanted humans idea (if you tweak it to “transplanted hominids” you could even justify Star Trek style rubber forehead aliens). However, I think I might quibble about the plausibility of humanoid aliens, in the sense of having a general human-like two legs, two arms, and one head body shape. There are reasons that humans evolved into that body shape, and convergent evolution is totally a thing. Personally, I don’t find it implausible that there could be relatively earthlike planets which produce intelligent alien species that are kind of shaped like humans, in the same way that pterosaurs, bats, and birds all independently evolved similar wing bone structures.

                Of course, we can’t say anything for certain about this since at this point we can only observe life that has evolved on Earth, so we can only speculate on how life might evolve somewhere else.

                1. Mike S. says:

                  It’s the fact that the primate body plan has only shown up once in the history of life, where things like wings and camera eyes have developed multiple times along multiple different tracks, that makes me very skeptical that there’s the same sort of environmental tendency for convergent evolution to produce it.

                  It’s a skepticism that could certainly be rebutted by counterexample as and when we find something in an alien biosphere. But “upright monkey” thus far seems like a really low probability niche compared to recurring standbys like “big quadrupedal browser”, “flying bug-eater”, etc.

                  1. INH5 says:

                    Yes, but the only species in the history of life on Earth that has developed a technological civilization has a primate body plan. So while this kind of body plan may not be common in general, it might be common specifically among intelligent and technology using species. This body plan certainly has a number of obvious advantages over other shapes when it comes to developing technology: hands with opposable thumbs have more manual dexterity than almost any other kind of manipulator limb, and since on Earth virtually all large animals have four limbs (I have no idea whether or not there is actually an evolutionary reason for that), that leaves few alternatives to bipedalism if you want to use complex tools.

                    Well, there are also various aquatic creatures with tentacles, but with them any technological development would likely be limited by their environment preventing, for example, smashing rocks together to light a fire and using that fire to smelt metal. Unless, of course, they got a technological head start from someone else as in the case of Mass Effect’s Hanar. Or if they could mind control land animals, like the Leviathan.

                    1. Mike S. says:

                      I think that the quadruped bauplan being dominant in vertebrates is contingent on our shared ancestry, and that there’s no inherent reason that e.g., hexapods couldn’t have filled the same niches if things had gone a little differently. (Just as a random asteroid later made the difference between certain niches being filled by dinosaurs or by mammals.) But it’s not something I know well enough to be confident about, or to know how well established it is period.

                      Technological species need to be able to manipulate things. But doing it based on adapted forepaws seems like only one of a number of possibilities. Octopuses are famously able to escape from researchers’ tanks if given half a chance. (Since they’re able to function outside the water for some time, I’d think that a land-based creature with similar mechanics is at least possible.) Elephants manage to do quite a bit with their trunks. When I saw these ravens working together to open up a sprinkler, I could imagine a cooperative species working in tandem.

                      Obviously it’s all purely speculative till we find another species that use tools (more complex than the ones corvids and other animals already do). But another evolutionary pathway to manipulating appendages strikes me as more likely than the coincidental recapitulation of the same path. (Which I infer is low probability from the planet not having anything like primates till 30 million years ago.) I may be wrong, of course.

                      And of course for fiction there are practical considerations. Movies need something that can be performed by human actors or convincing special effects. (Even CGI aliens generally have to have relatable emotions and motivations, which usually means human-like faces and gestures at least.) Games need something that fits the mechanics– there’s a reason we started seeing hanar and elcor less and upright aliens with hands more in the ME series as the emphasis on people we could interact with and shoot increased. Even novels generally need creatures that can be meaningfully interacted with and talked to, though there are some cool incomprehensibly alien aliens out there.

                      But I’m still inclined to think of humanoid aliens as a dramatic convenience, rather than a convincing speculation.

  41. Sartharina says:

    I was under the impression that the Reapers were biding their time in ME2/Using Collectors to gather and study humans because, honestly, the Reapers were scared shitless by Humanity and Shepard’s murder of Sovereign.

    A dictionary makes it clear the Reapers are just giant space farmers who’s semibillenial harvest got uppity.

  42. Duoae says:

    I just can’t get enough of this. Shamus, keep ’em coming! This series and the Elder Scrolls series from Rutskarn are one of the reasons I love this blog! :D

    OT: It’s just amazing how many simple story-telling conceits and rules the authors of ME2 break when bridging the first two games and EVEN the second to third game! If we could just skip the first three to five hours of ME2 and ME3 then I think both sequels would be much stronger…

  43. Kdansky says:

    My “favourite” argument is that Shepard dies so there can be an in-universe explanation for the skill points and inventory reset. Because clearly, Cerberus curing death to just the right degree for someone to be very competent but not too competent is more believable than no explanation at all.

    It’s as if they wanted to explain the difference between two renderings of the Normandy (they are using a newer directX version but that means the shadows look different), and the only idea they had was “an interplanetary war happened, and all the ships got destroyed, but the Normandy was rebuilt.

  44. natureguy85 says:

    Yes, yes, and more yes.

    Despite TIM and Miranda’s nonsense, my jaw dropped when I saw the Normandy destroyed and Shepard killed. While I laughed at things like Joker in a vacuum with only a helmet and his disease spreading throughout his skeleton, the scene had emotional punch.

    Then it threw it all away by bringing back both Shepard and the Normandy immediately. And the Normandy is no longer special because the Collectors can see through the stealth. Then only Tali reacts appropriately to seeing Shepard again… and then can’t be recruited for half the game (thanks to a divide because consoles needed two disks.)

    Also, I love the line about the USB in the light socket. :)

  45. Mathemagica says:

    This is a very nice analysis of the Mass Effect series so far. Since you have written so well on themes and the shift in themes in the last few entries, have you ever considered to write your mind about the importance of consistent themes and the shift of themes in a long ongoing series, specifically the cinematic Star Wars universe? Both the prequels and Episode VII have created quite a debate about how to stick with a theme and how to expand a theme to prevent growing stale. With movies like Rogue One on the horizon, this could be a very interesting topic.

  46. No need to apologize. You’re very analytical. Being critical is only a good thing.

    Thank you for writing this “book”.

    Not a gamer btw.

  47. Roger says:

    Hmm. I never thought about it this way since I absolutely loath ME2, but yea, it’s probably not a completely horrible game on its own. It’s just a completely horrible Mass Effect game. Like a crappy spinoff shooter or something.

    Like, if this ‘Shepard’ was somebody completely different and they were on a quest to join the real Shepard, the game might actually make sense. Well apart from the actual suicide mission, because that was retarded as hell.

    But the game itself could be rather sensible otherwise; what real Shepard knows is not the same as what this ‘non-Shepard’ knows, which would explain e.g. the different perception of Cerberus, ability to use inventory etc. Completely different people.

    Damn, I wanted to replay the whole trilogy recently but stopped after ME1. I just can’t force myself to play this crap. I do like ME3 however, including the ending (I played the extended version with the DLCs). I wish there was a way to import the the save from 1 directly to 3 and ignore this spinoff.

  48. DarthVitrial says:

    You know, reading this now in 2017, all the flaws you point out here – improbable opening, pointless death and resurrection of the main character, suddenly working for a new faction that you probably don’t want to play as, random new villain with no buildup that somehow also is the old villain but nobody knew that and they clearly were designed to be two different villains before some writer merged them, and an overall attempt to escape carefully laid out plot threads that the previous writer had made – pretty much perfectly sum up what happened to SWTOR during the Knights of the Fallen Empire expansion…another Bioware game where Drew Karpyshyn (and others) laid some excellent groundwork, even wrote plans for where the story would go (we have the datamined quests spelling it out), and then someone else took over and drove the story at high speed into a wall because they wanted to tell a totally different story.

    And like ME/ME2, KOTFE might actually have been a decent story if they hadn’t tried to shoehorn it into SWTOR, where it was utterly incompatible with the existing story.

    It even had the ME2/ME3 thing where the major failure (ME3/KOTFE) was forshadowed by an underwhelming previous entry where the writers first started rebelling against the original plans and theme (ME2/Shadow of Revan).

  49. bhlaab says:

    That's like a politician sweeping into office on a platform of demagoguing and threatening Elbonia, and then once they're elected claiming that Elbonia isn't and has never been a threat. Yes, you can contrive where such an outcome is possible, but it's not the most intuitive and logical outcome of the previous events.

    Doesn’t seem that implausible to me. Wait, what year was this written?

    1. Kavonde says:

      I’m rereading this series, came to that same line, and was struck by how very long ago 2015 now seems.

  50. Wide And Nerdy says:

    But if you look you’ll notice this series isn’t filled with outraged hyperbole, profanity, or personal attacks against the developer.

    I’m normally on your side and I’ll give you the first two, you don’t have hyperbole or profanity in this series that I can recall. But I happen to have skipped ahead and read the Kai Leng entry and, well, personal attacks:

    The guy playing with the Kai Leng puppet – who I’ve been charitably calling the writer – has missed the point entirely.

    You also say something about the writer performing a lewd act towards the reader that I won’t repeat.

    So you attacked a writer, not a developer, so you’re technically correct, which as they say is the best kind of correct. But your series does skid into personal attack territory occasionally.

    You could also argue that your whole bit about “George” the guy who took over for Lord of the Rings is a bit of an attack against the people making Mass Effect 2. I guess its not personal. You don’t engage in name calling or anything defamatory but you insult a person at their given trade.

    If you told me I was a bad web developer, that would sting as much as if you said things about my mom. Its what I do for a living, Its part of my identity. People do take these things personally.

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