Mass Effect Retrospective 23: Assumed Empathy

By Shamus Posted Thursday Nov 19, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 172 comments

Once the introduction is over, TIM sends Shepard to the human colony of Freedom’s Progress to see what the Collectors have been doing. He claims that we’ll find proof that the Reapers are behind our disappearing colonies.

Freedom’s Progress

What are the odds?
What are the odds?

The colony is empty. Well, empty except for Tali, who we just happen to bump into here at random, in an out-of-the-way location neither one of us has ever visited before, just a few hours after Shepard wakes up for the first time after being dead. She’s literally one of the first people you meet.

Look, if the galaxy was the size of Rhode Island this would be a shockingly unlikely happenstance. It would be implausible enough to warrant some sort of hand-wave, lamp-shade, excuse, or some other storytelling trick to smooth over the contrivance. If the galaxy was the size of the United States, the odds against this meeting would be astronomicalIf we scrambled teleported a random American to a random room in the continental US, what are the odds that they would end up in the same room with one of their five closest friends?, far more unlikely than winning the lottery. If the galaxy was the size of Earth, this would be a one-in-billions chance encounter. But the galaxy is the size of the galaxy, and thus this meeting is a hilarious miracle contrived by the author.

Even worse is that she’s not even needed here. She brings no special knowledge or skills to this encounter. Her friend Veetor is the one that solves all the technical problems. If nothing else, the Veetor character should have been dropped and his feats of technical wizardryUnderstanding human computer systems better than the humans themselves. could have been performed by Tali. It’s bad enough to have this chance encounter, but having it happen and then not using the character is just strange.

You could perhaps argue that she’s here to reassure the player that this is indeed the Mass Effect universe they remember by throwing in a fan favorite. Still, this seems like a sledgehammer solution to that problem.

And just to push this conversation over the top into maximum awkwardness, one of the Quarians immediately clocks your team as “Cerberus operatives” before you identify yourselves or even say a word. We’re still reeling from the last contrivance and the writer hits us with this? If you want to suggest that it’s Jacob’s yellow icon on his uniform, then portray that with a close-in shot to focus on the logo so we understand that this Quarian hasn’t been reading the script. And once you’re done with that, you could follow-up with an explanation for WHY IS JACOB WEARING IDENTIFYING MARKINGS OF A CLANDESTINE ORGANIZATION?!?

According to the game, nobody knows who has been kidnapping our tens of thousands of colonists. They erase all traces of themselves when they leave, and when the next ship arrives all they find is a ghost town. Well, it only takes one delirious Quarian (Veetor) to recover the security footage and see the Collectors stealing all the people.

This also ties into the lack of agency I mentioned last time. Shepard is told to come here. He didn’t even know what he was looking for. He just kept walking forward and shooting stuff until someone else gave him what he needed.

If Shepard brought a tech expert to this location and told them to scan the computer, then it would feel like Shepard was an active participant in the story. If Shepard had contacted Tali and asked her to meet him here, it would both make him proactive and rid the need for the massive contrivance of bumping into her at random. But in this scenario he makes no decisions and makes no contributions aside from shooting shit.

A Lack of Worldbuilding

Luckily, Veetor brought his copy of Norton utilities and was able to un-delete the footage.
Luckily, Veetor brought his copy of Norton utilities and was able to un-delete the footage.

A later mission reveals that the Collectors have to land their skyscraper-sized vessel to load all the colonists on board. This ought to leave a stadium-sized footprint, which would then be turned into a “stadium, plus parking”-sized crater when they blast off again. And yet nobody knows who is doing this, the colonists aren’t fleeing back to earth, nobody is doing anything about it, and we don’t even know why they’re coming out here to begin with.

For contrast, everyone vanished from the English colony of Roanoke Virginia back in 1580. That was 400 years ago and involved just over 100 people, and yet we’re still captivated by the mystery today. Yet here in the world of Mass Effect, nobody cares about “tens of thousands” vanishing in mysterious circumstances.

I’m not saying this is an impossible outcome. I’m saying this is a curious enough outcome that it warrants some sort of exploration. But the complete lack of exploratory dialog regarding this setup makes it clear the author never spent time pondering how these events would shape politics, military, or even human behavior. They thought, “I’ll have bad guys kidnap people and send my main character to stop their plan” and that was the end of their attempts at worldbuilding.

In Mass Effect 1, Wrex gets angry at the Salarians because of the Genophage. The Genophage exists because of the Krogan rebellions. The Krogran rebellions happened because the Salarians uplifted the pre-spacefaring Krogan and gave them space-weapons. They uplifted them because they needed help in the Rachni wars. This chain of events has shaped technology, politics, and galactic development for hundreds of years.

This is what worldbuilding looks like. Things happen for reasons and actions have consequences. The events of the past shape the present, and the resulting history puts the whole thing into some kind of context. For contrast: What events are driving this colonization effort? What’s preventing anyone from helping? What’s making the human leadership so apparently ineffectual?

The author wants us to work for Cerberus because they think Cerberus is cool. And then to make it work they have to make all of humanityOr at least, all colonists and the Alliance dumb, incompetent, or apathetic so that we have no choice but to work with for Cerberus.

Assumed Empathy

I have about a dozen questions I want to ask this guy, and this isn't one of them.
I have about a dozen questions I want to ask this guy, and this isn't one of them.

Film Crit Hulk has an essay on the failures of Man of Steel where he talks about the lazy blockbuster shorthand of “assumed empathy”. It’s how you end up with forgettable movies of epic battles, and sensory experiences that you can’t remember the next day and you never feel like re-watching:

“This person is the main character, so the writer assumes you will care about them without the writer having to do the difficult work of characterizing them.”

“These are humans so the writer assumes you will care about them, without having to depict or humanize them.”

“This person is the mother / girlfriend / brother / father / husband / barista of the main character, so the writer assumes you will care about them without needing to portray their relationship.”

It makes for a story with no emotional core. It follows the framework of a story, but is lacking in the personal connection that makes the thing worth watching in the first place. It’s all hole, no donut.

The story of Mass Effect 2 revolves around saving human colonists from the Collectors. This is presented in the laziest and most abstract form possible. Do you know how many of those colonists we meet in this game? I’ll give you a hint: It’s three less than the number of Quarians we meet here on Freedom’s Progress. In a game all about saving colonists we meet exactly one.

And that doesn’t happen until the halfway point of this game.

And he’s not even a sympathetic character.

Somehow, the subject of this videogame isn’t actually portrayed in this videogame. In Mass Effect 1, we met the colonists on Eden Prime. Then we met about a dozen different people on Feros. We met a few dozen more named, voice-acted, developed characters on Noveria. The Mass Effect 1 writer understood that if you want a story to work, you need to develop things like characters, motivations, and stakes.

Leaving the colonists out of the game is a pretty staggering omission, but we could still build up the colonists by proxy. If the other characters in the story care, then our existing relationship with them will let us see the colonists from their point of view and want to help them. In Star Wars, when the Empire blows up Alderaan the storyteller has an established sympathetic character (Leia) react to it so we have some kind of framework. Later, Kenobi reacts as well. The writer conveys the enormity of the crime not just by telling us “this is really bad” but by showing us through the characters.

But the Mass Effect 2 writer didn’t do that, either. Not only does the writer not give us a reason to care about the colonists, they don’t even create any developed characters that care about the colonists.

Your team doesn’t care.

Your squad in Mass Effect 2. The team members with direct connections to the main plot have been highlighted with flashing rainbow circles.
Your squad in Mass Effect 2. The team members with direct connections to the main plot have been highlighted with flashing rainbow circles.

Well, they “care” inasmuch as it’s their job to solve this problem, but they don’t “care” in any kind of way that bulds up the world, the story, or the characters. They don’t “care” about these colonists the way Leia cared about Alderaan or the way Frodo cared about the Shire.

Jacob and Miranda never really discuss the colonists. Their loyalty missions don’t involve colonists. They don’t know any. They don’t have any sob stories that might give us an emotional connection to the problem. Same goes for Joker and Chakwas.

You’d think that maybe one or two of your dozen or so crew members would have a mission related to the plot. Maybe someone has a relative they lost contact with, and they’re worried the Collectors nabbed them. Maybe someone wants to look into the Collector-based trade in genetic specimens that the game tells us about but never shows us. Maybe Mordin is dealing with a couple of refugee families on Omega who are fleeing the abduction threat and trying to buy their way back to Earth. Maybe Shepard could help them secure transport?

Tell us something about the people we’re trying to save.

But no. None of them have stories that contribute to the plot at all. If anything, their concerns trivialize the problem even further: “Oh Shepard, I know the lives of thousands of people are supposedly on the line, but I have a problem with my dad so can we go take care of that?”

Okay, one of the Cerberus people in engineering mentions they have a colonist relative. It’s not part of a dialog with Shepard. It’s actually one of those walk-by-and-eavesdrop deals. Is this single line of overheard dialog supposed to be the emotional foundation for our entire journey?

The writer is willing to have the amazingly unlikely coincidence of bumping into Tali on the first planet you visit, for basically no reason, but they couldn’t contrive that any of our dozen or so friends would have some connection to the colonists we’re supposed to be saving?

The Alliance doesn’t care.

There is no telling why they keep moving out there. Or why they don't move back. Or why we don't help them. Or why people keep moving out. How could we find out? I mean, aside from asking LITERALLY ANYONE IN THE UNIVERSE WHO PAYS ATTENTION TO CURRENT EVENTS.
There is no telling why they keep moving out there. Or why they don't move back. Or why we don't help them. Or why people keep moving out. How could we find out? I mean, aside from asking LITERALLY ANYONE IN THE UNIVERSE WHO PAYS ATTENTION TO CURRENT EVENTS.

Anderson says at one point that, “Those people went out there to get away from the Alliance.” And suddenly I sit up, because we’re about to learn something about the colonists and the universe they inhabit. What do they have against the Alliance? How deep does this antipathy go? Are people still going, despite the abductions? How does Anderson feel about all this? Does he know any colonists? Has he dealt with them? What kind of political or cultural shakeup caused these people to leave earth? Is this a headache Udina has to deal with? What do the people back on Earth think of all this?

Tell us something about the people we’re trying to save.

But no. This isn’t worldbuilding, it’s hand-waving. The Alliance won’t help, or can’t help, or their help isn’t wanted, or something. The game isn’t interested in explaining the central conflict. They threw some helpless colonists into deep space and unleashed bug aliens on them, and if you need more motivation than that you’ll need to write your own fanfiction.

The Colonists themselves don’t care

I'd have a picture of the colonists here, but they're not in the game. So here's another picture of Miranda's ass, which - judging strictly in terms of framing and screen time - is a more fully developed character than the tens of thousands of people you're trying to save.
I'd have a picture of the colonists here, but they're not in the game. So here's another picture of Miranda's ass, which - judging strictly in terms of framing and screen time - is a more fully developed character than the tens of thousands of people you're trying to save.

Why are they still living out in the fringes? Why don’t they flee back to Earth? The game never tells us. You can theorize if you want, but in a story about “Save these people from danger” it needs to answer rudimentary questions like, “Why are they still in danger?”

And just how many colonies are left there? Dozens? Hundreds? Three? Is Freedom’s Progress a typical colony, or a small one? What is the scale and scope of this problem? How many people am I trying to save? TIM mentions “tens of thousands”. Is that how many people have been taken, or how many are left? What percent of the colonists remain? Across how many worlds?

Tell us something about the people we’re trying to save.

But Shamus! The first game had you saving the whole galaxy! Isn’t that pretty abstract, too?

It would have been, except the galaxy was full of interesting characters to care about. Anderson, the Sha’ira, Kirahee, Barla Von, Lizbeth Baynham, the people of Zhu’s Hope, Agent Parasini, Dr. Michel, Lorik_Qui’in, Chorban, Han Olar, Dr. Cohen, the Hannar evangelist, General Septimus, and dozens of others are given personalities and goals and agendas. You are fighting for all of them. Who are you fighting for in Mass Effect 2? What is Shepard’s relationship to them? How do they feel about Shepard?

The game abandoned it’s details-first approach to telling a story. Fine. We’re going to have a drama-based story now. Except this writer has absolutely no idea how to create drama. They’re not willing to give us the worldbuilding to explain this problem, but they’re also not willing to give us any characters to give the problem any emotional weight. They just wave in the vague direction of “humans are in danger” and expect drama to happen. It’s like a version of Spider-Man’s origin story where we never see Uncle Ben and he dies entirely off-screen.

There’s actually quite a bit of smart, powerful drama in this game, but it’s all in the character side-quests and none of it is here in the main plot.

Drat the Luck

Note how TIM gets the most elaborate cinematography in the game. Striking camera angles. Dramatic lighting. Attention-grabbing close-ups. Unique animations. His own set and props. Note how Shepard just stands around doing boring talking animations. Which of these characters did the writer *really* care about?
Note how TIM gets the most elaborate cinematography in the game. Striking camera angles. Dramatic lighting. Attention-grabbing close-ups. Unique animations. His own set and props. Note how Shepard just stands around doing boring talking animations. Which of these characters did the writer *really* care about?

It’s really astoundingly bad luck for the galaxy that Shepard just happened to bump into Tali here on Freedom’s Progress. If they’d missed each other, then Shepard would have found no proof of the Collectors. He would have gone back to TIM and said, “Nope, not convinced.” And then maybe he would have rounded up his team and gotten back to work on solving the space-mystery of trying to defeat the Reapers.

But instead he discovers that yes, the Collectors are abducting humans. And then the entire scope of the Mass Effect story takes a massive step down from, “Stop the unstoppable machine gods that want to kill the galaxy” to “Stop these dudes who are kidnapping humans on the edge of space and who nobody else will help because the writer says so.” And that would be fine – not every story needs to be an epic about saving the galaxy – except the writer has no interest in establishing these humans or telling their stories. We’re supposed to care about characters the writer doesn’t care about.

Note that we haven’t hit on any universe-shattering plot holes in the sense of “This couldn’t possibly happen”. It’s just ill-fitting. Thematically wrong. Poorly justified. Emotionally empty. Discussions of the plot like this one tend to be heated. Some people look at this list of flaws and think, “That’s not a big deal. That one only bothered me a little. That one bugged me but I got over it. That one is just petty. I came up with an excuse for why this one isn’t necessarily as bad as it seems at first. Okay, that one was bad, but they sort of justify it a little in a later mission. That one was stupid but it made me laugh.” This story wasn’t slain by a single plot hole. It died by tripping over its own feet a thousand times.

Sure, the writer could’ve gotten away with a couple of these. If they nailed the feel on everything else, then randomly bumping into Tali wouldn’t be quite so obnoxious. We could perhaps grudgingly accept a Council that still doesn’t believe in the Reapers if we were still on the same quest for knowledge given to us in the first game. We might be able to accept an uneasy alliance between Shepard and Cerberus if they didn’t kill the main character and revive him again before the tutorial started.

But there are just too many writer-imposed “miracles” going on here. None of this feels genuine. And even once you choke down all the contrivances, all you get is an empty story with no emotional stakes.



[1] If we scrambled teleported a random American to a random room in the continental US, what are the odds that they would end up in the same room with one of their five closest friends?

[2] Understanding human computer systems better than the humans themselves.

[3] Or at least, all colonists and the Alliance

From The Archives:

172 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 23: Assumed Empathy

  1. James says:

    I sometimes feel like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2 have somewhat the same issues, not exactly ofcourse.

    Both games go nowhere with the meta narratives of their worlds, despite mentioning them, DA2 is actually really bad about this, Darkspawn, Mage vs Templar, Qunari and Elven racial segregation are all touched on but never properly addressed.
    ME2 does similar things The Reapers are mentioned as backing the collectors but thats about it for their involvement in this game.

    Both games have a variety of issues that are interesting and great talking points, sadly they often aren’t expanded on enough.

    1. Orillion says:

      It’s not really fair to levy the same thing on Dragon Age 2, because you’re not playing a character who’s trying to save the world. You’re playing a character who’s just trying to give his family a better life in a city that (literally) wants to kill them, and gets swept up in the current events without his knowledge or consent. So letting you see the background events of the setting without touching on them directly makes perfect sense: they’re just “other people” problems, and maybe you can help some of them on an individual basis or not, but it’s not your priority.

      1. Daimbert says:

        Which kinda fell apart right at the end, with the set-up for DAI, where it all of a sudden was entirely about the fate of the city and even the world. The personal nature of DA2 was an improvement on ME2’s approach, but then the ending, in my opinion, mostly left that all behind.

        1. Joe Informatico says:

          The time skips between chapters sabotaged that. They were a neat idea–I’m cool with the idea that you don’t have to play every waking moment of the PCs life, or that events can move around them. But they were too long for this story. The opening of Act 3 implies that Hawke’s a big hero everyone respects for saving Kirkwall from the Qunari (and 3 years later the burned city has been rebuilt to the exact same specifications! Fancy that!) but that s/he sat on their ass for 3 years while the mages and templars got increasingly antagonistic.

          The idea that Hawke was just a fairly normal individual (i.e. not a member of a paramilitary society of problem solvers or whatever the usual BioWare trope is) got dragged into events bigger than them is an interesting one, but it’s clear a lot more work needed to be done to build that up.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            I never got the sense Hawke sat on his/her ass. Instead, zealots in both factions got worse because the leader of the Templar faction was LITERALLY going insane. How is Hawke supposed to fashion a good faith dialogue between a naive appeaser (the head of the Mages clearly isn’t as opposed to Blood Magic as he originally states he is considering how quickly he goes for it in the ending) and an INSANE PERSON?

            1. Mike S. says:

              In addition to the stupid transformation at the end, Orsino turns out in a letter to have been collaborating with the blood mage serial killer from earlier in the game. So yeah, a plague on both their houses.

              1. Daimbert says:

                And as one of the victims happens to be your mother, you aren’t likely to feel pleasantly disposed towards him.

            2. guy says:

              Actually, there had been substantial factions of moderates in both sides.

              Where were they at the end of the game? Dead. Because Hawke killed them.

              1. Daimbert says:

                I think you can leave some of them alive, though, if you try hard enough. I know that at the end one of them sides with you if you side with the Templars and say that you aren’t just going to kill indiscriminately.

              2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                No, this is inaccurate. Moderate Templars include one of the team members in Inquisition and your brother, they are not murdered. Moderate mages… well the game generally has most the mages turn to blood magic towards the end of the game, which means they aren’t moderates anymore. There are a few mages who you can tell to run for it at various points though.

                1. guy says:

                  I’m talking about the group made up of Templars and Mages you kill during Act 3 in a main quest. Potentially to rescue Anders after having threatened to kill him if you ever saw him in the city again.

      2. ? says:

        There even isn’t an ongoing need to save the world. Mage-Templar tug of war existed for centuries, Qunari in Kirkwall were not an issue for years before Arishok snapped. And when those conflicts suddenly escalated, they were dealt with immediately. From perspective of Hawke setting up a date for Aveline is the most pressing issue in his/her life right now. Unlike ME “we are doing WHAT instead of looking for a way to stop the Reapers?”

      3. boota says:

        And for this shrinking of scope bioware should have all possible credit. i think DA 2 is the DA i actually enjoyed the most story-wise.

        It could (should?) have been done in Mass Effect as well by making the reaper threat completely defeated in ME1.

        That way the sequels would have been set up for much more interesting political scenarios, like humanitys struggles to play a larger role in the galactic community, the ramifications of humanity pushing into unknown space for new colonies: (is the human alliance strong enough?). i actually feel like most of the stuff in ME2 (omega, focus on cerberus, human fringe colony struggles, the council being reluctant to assist shepard) would have a better place, and there would be more room for explained conflict if it wasn’t for the “gaah we’ve got reapers trying to kill us again” plot.

    2. Jokerman says:

      Well at least Dragon Age 2 was not a game promising to be following on from the last one.

    3. kdansky says:

      I do not agree at all. DA2 has a long list of issues, but the meta narrative holds up very well: The player-character is an enabling side-character in someone else’s big plot, and didn’t really have any influence over how the world changed. If anything, this was (probably accidental?) genius by Bioware, because that’s how all their games work: The player has no real influence. Except in DA2, this was made obvious.

      The protagonists of DA2 are Meredith, Anders and the Arishok. Hawke is just a pawn.

      It’s a bit like HBO-Rome, which tells the story of the fall of the Roman empire through the eyes of two lowly footsoldiers.

      Apart from the glaring technical problems with DA2 (recycled maps, broken combat mechanics and respawning enemies), it’s the far better game than ME2 ever was: It has decent internal consistency, and manages to not trample its own theme during the first ten minutes. It’s the lack of polish that killed it.

      If anything, this is the opposite of Mass Effect 2: ME2 has great polish, but rotten fundamentals. DA2 has decent fundamentals, but reeks like a turd.

      1. djw says:

        I agree with this. I liked the story in DA2 and thought it was well crafted. It sucked as a video game, but as a semi-interactive movie it was pretty decent. I found the decision not to have an epic enemy to be refreshing.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          DA2 even has an epic enemy with the one DLC guy. Fitting the theme, Hawke believes that s/he has solved the problem when in fact, s/he made it worse (excepting the fact that doing nothing could have released the enemy anyway).

      2. Chris says:

        Small, pedantic nit-pick about a tangential detail: HBO-Rome covers the fall of the Roman *Republic* and the rise of the Roman Empire.

  2. “That one was stupid but it made me laugh”

    I think you’ve hit on one of the big reasons for playing characters that are … not lawful good … in Bioware games ever.
    “Oh, it’s you again! Have you found the missing title deeds for my inn yet?”
    “…actually, I gave those to some goblins”
    “Goblins? Why?!”
    “Because you are a fool, and that’s what fools get! MUAHAHAHAHAHA”
    “You will not get away with this!”
    [PC proceeds to get away with this]

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      Before Undertale, the game that I felt rewarded me most for playing a good guy was… Overlord. (I haven’t played Overlord 2 yet, because of lack of time)

      Overlord’s plot has problems, but it really felt rewarding to be able to choose the “goodie goodie” options when presented because the game didn’t assume you were going to do so but it gave you the choice anyway. You could be a good-bad-guy or a bad-bad-guy. The thing I felt was missing the most was that the advisor character should have been more and more frustrated with my noble behavior, because that could have been comedy gold.

      You know what could have fixed Mass Effect 2’s plot with only a little re-working? If the main plot was presented as not just an option, but an option that Cerebus explicitly did not want you to waste your time with. If saving the colonists was subversive in some way, if beating the Collectors was an optional ending that the player had to work to find, then it would make some of the players care.

      Imagine that: being a good guy actually being a challenge. Doing the right thing actually being not the easiest thing. And if you could cause grief to The Illusive Man in doing it, that would be the icing on the cake.

      1. Vect says:

        In Overlord II, the “good” option is replaced by Domination, which basically just means brainwashing everyone and everything to serve you rather than simply killing them.

  3. deiseach says:

    I’m the person for whom the term ‘fridge logic’ was created. Say it with enough certainty and I’ll buy it. Which makes it noteworthy that it was jarring to me every time TIM advised you to carry on ‘building your team’. Why were we doing this? I’m sure there’s an explanation in there somewhere about the futility of sending an army on a suicide mission, but why would a Dirty Dozen succeed where Three Musketeers would fail? It’s not a story, it’s a series of short stories thrown together. Leonard Bernstein said of Rhapsody in Blue that it “is not a composition at all. It’s a string of separate paragraphs stuck together “” with a thin paste of flour and water.” That’s what Mass Effect 2 brings to mind.

    NB I’m not saying Mass Effect 2 is up there in the video gaming canon as high as Rhapsody in Blue is in the music canon, just that Bernstein’s description applies to Mass Effect 2, okay?

    1. John says:

      Leonard Bernstein said that? Poor Gershwin. No respect.

    2. natureguy85 says:

      I’m somewhat like that with films. There are plenty of bad movies that I enjoyed while watching and when I felt something was off, I couldn’t place it while watching the movie. It’s only after thinking about it later that I can pick it apart and identify the problems.

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The thing about the chance meeting with tali is that you could easily handwave it by saying that tim knew she would be there and sent shepard to that same place at that precise time just for that reason.However,because the dark matter thing was scrapped,there is absolutely nothing connecting talis search there with the collectors abducting humans,so it still remains as a stupid contrivance.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Veetor,the master of uncropping.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This is presented in the laziest and most abstract form possible.

    The second laziest.Me3 handily wins that title.Multiple times.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I don’t know, “Some kid died!” is more work spent making us care about the main plot than the entirety of what ME2 gets.

      1. Tom says:

        True, the catch is that while ME2 had a weak, stupid and brief central plot surrounded by decent and far more interesting side quests, ME3 arguably doesn’t HAVE a main plot for the damn kid to draw attention to; it’s seemingly all side-quests built around a core story-shaped void. Seriously, unlike the first two games which have core plot development missions and side missions, there are NO CORE PLOT DEVELOPMENT MISSIONS in ME3 other than the final one. The construction of the giant space mcguffin is the closest thing the game has to a central plot, but a mcguffin by itself is not a plot, any more than building a base structure in Command and Conquer is a plot; it’s literally just a construction counter. Everything else connected with it is side quests/secondary plot, not main plot. After the tutorial the game is literally nothing but side quests until the final battle, which itself contains no plot development except that you don’t win.

        ME2 core plot:
        *Prologue: Shepard dies.
        *Beginning: Shepard comes back and is railroaded into investigating human abductions.
        *Middle: Shepard is ordered to walk idiotically into several traps set by the abductors because that’s apparently the only way to learn anything about them.
        *End: Shepard destroys the abductors’ base.
        *Epilogue: Shepard finally realises he/she has much more important stuff to pay attention to.

        ME3 core plot:
        *Prologue: Shepard is on some kind of trial/hearing/interview thing that gets instantly forgotten about and has no bearing on anything.
        *Beginning: Reapers destroy stuff. Shepard does nothing with any immediate bearing on this.
        *Middle: Reapers destroy more stuff. Shepard does nothing with any immediate bearing on this.
        *End: Reapers destroy the last of the stuff. Shepard tries to do something with immediate bearing on this but it achieves nothing and practically everybody dies.
        *Epilogue: PSYCHE! Nothing before the epilogue mattered anyway, LOL!

        1. Mike S. says:

          The core story of ME3 is building and delivering the Crucible. That the Crucible was a deus ex machina didn’t bother me since once it was clear that ME3 was going to be about the Reaper War, it was clear that a DEM was on the table. There’s no other way that a squad of three footsoldiers can be crucial to solving the problem of enough invincible living starships to threaten the galaxy.

          (See also: making Sovereign’s defeat likewise somehow hinge on the outcome of his Saren-puppet’s fight with three people.)

          To do that, Shepard needs the other species of the galaxy on side, to provide research assistance in making the Crucible, and military force to deliver it. That’s pretty much the motivation for every quest in the game, from retrieving random holy books that inexplicably wound up in planetary orbit to resolving intractable centuries-old interspecies conflicts.

          Yes, Earth is overemphasized (not necessarily from the point of view of the Alliance, but no one else can be expected to share that). And yes, then they decided to get clever with the last ten minutes and thoroughly bollixed things up.

          But still: Reapers destroy stuff. The Crucible (built as a result of Shepard’s alliance, and brought to the Citadel as a result of Shepard’s alliance) stops the Reapers destroying stuff.

          (By destroying them/enslaving them/turning every living creature in the galaxy into an abomination without asking first. Or Shepard refuses to compromise, and lets the next cycle end things on its terms instead.)

          That Shepard first has to be lectured by and get permission from the Billion Year King of all Genocides before implementing this hardly needs further criticism. But the fact that the core plot explodes at the end doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a core plot.

          1. Flip says:

            The core story of ME3 is […] delivering the Crucible.

            Nobody even knows that the Crucible needs to be delivered to somewhere until you find this out very late in the game on Chronos Station. Therefore all this recruiting-allies-business cannot be meant to help with delivering the Crucible.

            The core story of ME3 is building […] the Crucible.

            a) How do Turian ships and Krogan troops help with building the Crucible? They don’t.
            Does getting the Quarian fleet help with building the Crucible? No.
            The game never tells us that they help. It doesn’t even tell us that they protect the Crucible (which is good because it avoids the question of ‘How do you build something as large as the Crucible without the Reapers noticing?’).
            b) The Crucible has it’s own War Score category. Its score doesn’t change no matter how many people you recruit. It’s just there.

            The core story of ME3 is building and delivering the Crucible.

            In addition to the counterarguments above I would like to point out that ‘building and delivering the Crucible’ is not a major focus of the game. There is one mission where you find the thing (Mars) and two where you try to get info on it (Thessia and Chronos Station). That’s it. Compare this to:
            1. Getting Turian and Krogan support -> 5 (Palaven’s moon, Sur Kesh, saving the Primarch’s son, stopping the bomb, getting to the Shroud)
            2. Geth/Quarian conflict -> 5 (Geth dreadnought, rescue admiral, server on Rannoch, Geth consensus mission, destroying the Reaper base on Rannoch)
            3. The Leviathan and Omega DLCs also take at least as long as Mars + Thessia + Chronos Station.

            I think Tom is spot on in his assessment of ME3’s main plot. At best you could say that Shepard is trying to gather troops and technology to do something against the Reapers. And that ‘something’ is exactly where the problem is:

            I. What is our goal? -> We want to stop the Reapers.
            II. How do we do that? -> Well, we have plans for a big machine. But they are incomplete and we don’t know this machine works. Does it even work? As far as we know, it has never worked for any previous race.
            III. So, how can we fill in these holes and make this machine work? -> Certainly not by recruiting allies.

            1. INH5 says:

              a) How do Turian ships and Krogan troops help with building the Crucible? They don't.
              Does getting the Quarian fleet help with building the Crucible? No.
              The game never tells us that they help. It doesn't even tell us that they protect the Crucible (which is good because it avoids the question of “˜How do you build something as large as the Crucible without the Reapers noticing?').

              It is in fact explicitly stated that the Quarians, Geth, Salarians, and I’m pretty sure the Turians as well will help build the Crucible if Shepard can get their assistance.

              b) The Crucible has it's own War Score category. Its score doesn't change no matter how many people you recruit. It's just there.

              Plenty of War Assets in other categories are described as contributing to the Crucible. The War Assets system is poorly organized.

              n addition to the counterarguments above I would like to point out that “˜building and delivering the Crucible' is not a major focus of the game. There is one mission where you find the thing (Mars) and two where you try to get info on it (Thessia and Chronos Station). That's it. Compare this to:
              1. Getting Turian and Krogan support -> 5 (Palaven's moon, Sur Kesh, saving the Primarch's son, stopping the bomb, getting to the Shroud)
              2. Geth/Quarian conflict -> 5 (Geth dreadnought, rescue admiral, server on Rannoch, Geth consensus mission, destroying the Reaper base on Rannoch)
              3. The Leviathan and Omega DLCs also take at least as long as Mars + Thessia + Chronos Station.

              Horizon/Sanctuary is also a core mission devoted to finding info about the Crucible (to be exact, it is about finding people who have info about the Crucible, but it’s still part of the Crucible plot). That’s 4 mandatory missions devoted to finding information about the Crucible and 1 mandatory mission (Priority: Earth) devoted to deploying it. And if you include side missions with the Tuchanka and Rannoch plots, then it is only fair to include in the Crucible plot the numerous side missions that involve Shepard finding something that will somehow help with the Crucible. The Conrad Verner quest, for example.

        2. INH5 says:

          I don’t follow you. In ME3, Shepard is directly responsible for finding the information necessary to construct and deploy the Crucible. Mars, Thessia, Horizon, and the Cerberus Base are all about Shepard fighting Cerberus for important Crucible information, and Priority: Earth is up until the last 10 minutes all about Shepard fighting the Reapers to deploy the Crucible. That’s 5 out of the 10 mandatory core missions. I think that’s enough to qualify as a main plot.

          I don’t think ME3’s main plot is very good, mind you, but it still exists.

          1. Flip says:

            That's 5 out of the 10 mandatory core missions. I think that's enough to qualify as a main plot.

            Is it? Can we really say that something is a main plot when it only connects 50% of the game’s main missions? Calling it a main plot implies that it is the dominant plot, the plot that glues everything else together. A 50%-plot can hardly be called dominant.

            Just for comparison:
            — In ME1, all main missions (Eden Prime, Citadel I, Therum, Feros, Noveria, Virmire, Ilos, Citadel II) form the plot (stopping Saren und Sovereign).
            — In DA:O all main missions (Ostagar, Orzammar, Circle Tower, Elves, Redcliff, Urn of Sacred Ashes, Denerim) form the main plot (gathering allies).

            And where does it stop? When 75% of a game’s mandatory missions are random stuff and 25% follow a coherent plot, does that mean this 25%-plot is the game’s plot?

            1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              ALL of ME3’s missions are about beating the Reapers. Just like in ME1 and DA:O, you have to do different things to accomplish that goal. Sometimes you need to make or help an ally (Rannoch, Tuchanka, Palaven), sometimes you need info to continue with the Crucible (Mars, Thessia), and sometimes you just need to counter the enemy factions’ moves (Cerberus base, Samara’s daughter’s place). Your argument moves the goalpost to a silly place (only building the Crucible is the plot even though that’s definitely never the case) and then you easily score points in the argument you rigged up ahead of time.

          2. Tom says:

            My point exactly. It’s just more and more increments of “crucible information,” conveying nothing more than a percentage completion bar. Complete mission; “crucible information” or “people working on crucible” counter increments a bit. Zero nuance. Zero potential for plot twists. Zero story. The closest they came to a twist in that central “plot” is if you send the Rachni clone to work on it and the counter decrements a little. Wow, I’m on the edge of my seat. Personally, I consider a worthwhile plot to be more than watching one scalar variable slowly change. The crazy thing is they never even tell us what the information is, so it can’t inform the plot directly (you know, the way information so easily could) – it might just as well be gold pieces, mana or red and blue pages you’re collecting. It’s all the same, really…

            Granted, one could accuse the first game of something similar with the Prothean beacon fragments, except they were just in support of the main plot (uncover what Saren was and is up to, follow his footsteps and fix the mess he left, confront him a few times, etc…) and not the main plot in its entirety, and they also had more of an attempt at nuance – there was that whole business with the Thorian, as a living link to the past so you could learn to think like a Prothean and actually understand the information you’re gathering, and so on. Plus they actually show the player the damn message in the beacons itself onscreen and give you a chance to guess what it means, so there’s a kind of payoff at the end when your guesses are confirmed or refuted. By contrast, the writers pull a total Arthur Conan-Doyle* in ME3 in that the player isn’t given sufficient (or, indeed, any) information to hazard a guess what the crucible might be or do prior to the big reveal, even though the characters in the game are privy to such information. You the player don’t get to see so much as a single technical drawing or line of descriptive text after you wrestle them away from Cerberus or whoever.

            *This was Conan-Doyle’s cheating trick, in every single story, for making sure the reader could never solve the mystery before Holmes revealed it – I never read a Sherlock Holmes book again after I noticed it.

        3. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Now this is a complaint I hadn’t heard before. The core plot of Me3 is pretty straightforward and good, as long as you accept the need for a convenient superweapon to ultimately solve the problem. I’m gonna ignore the ending because… yeah that’s a whole post in itself. Suffice to say, not a fan.

          The game opens with Shep on trial for taking decisive, murderous actions against the Reapers. Hundreds of thousands of (Batarian) people are dead, and while the existence of the Reapers is no longer being whole scale denied, their threat is still not understood or absorbed by society, so they’re unsure of what should be done with Shepard. It helps his case with them that he killed a hated enemy of humanity (innocents though they were) instead of a close ally. This plot thread is dramatically settled by the Reapers personally showing up and vaporizing the doubters. It’s table setting for how the galaxy Is. Not. Ready.

          The next part of the game is getting Turian fleet support for Earth (since they are probably the Earth’s closest allies for this sort of thing). They agree if you’ll lessen the pressure on THEIR homeworld, which you eventually do by getting Krogan troops. Basically, each mission is a step to completing a promise to some faction or another so they’ll help you, none of it is side stuff. Once you finally get Turian fleet support, you split time between getting necessary pieces for the superweapon (Thessia), countering Cerberus moves (Citadel), and getting additional fleets for the big fight at Earth.

          Yes the ending discounts the effectiveness of the resources gathered, but the idea was that it wasn’t possible to build and use the Macguffin without this stuff.

          1. Tom says:

            Wait, wait, wait – so the trial at the start of ME3 is for something Shepard did in DLC???? I.e. if you didn’t buy the DLC, you start game 3 being tried for something you could never have done if you just played the stock game?

            Now that’s some grade A game design.

            1. Mike S. says:

              If you didn’t do the DLC, you’re on trial for working with known terrorist group Cerberus.

              (In that case, a bunch of Marines did the job you were supposed to do in the Arrival DLC and the batarian colony was still destroyed. With more losses on the Alliance side– I think no one made it out– which are reflected in the War Assets count.)

              1. INH5 says:

                If you don’t import a ME2 save file, then you are under house arrest (Shepard is never actually put on trial; any trial happens before the start of the game) for “the shit you’ve done,” and the game never gets any more specific than that.

                1. Mike S. says:

                  Thanks for the correction. I’ve never actually done ME3 without an import.

                  (I’d guess that even if for some reason I wanted to play ME3 without running a character through the first two games– and at this point I have a backlog of characters to run through the last game– I’d probably just download something from )

            2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              It would have been a smart move to give a free DLC code for Arrival as a pre-order bonus for Mass Effect 3. But EA and free stuff… eh, not gonna happen.

              1. Mike S. says:

                To be fair, if they’d done that the dominant tone on the net would be “oh, great, ‘free’ DLC if I buy another game. Thanks, EA!” (And in harmony, “Wait, I just paid for that a few months ago, and now you’re giving it away for free?!? Thanks, EA!”)

          2. Slothfulcobra says:

            The worst thing is that the DLC basically railroads you into mass-murder.

            1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              I’d like to hear the alternate option. Let the Reapers show up now because Shepard is bad at math?

              1. guy says:

                Have Shepard not get knocked out in a cutscene and actually have a chance to send an evacuation warning.

                1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                  But that’s just being mad that the game made you incur serious consequences. Like demanding a mod where you save Ashley AND Kaidan because you don’t want either person to die. Arrival sets up 3 well, where even the victorious engagements kill tons and tons of allies.

                  1. pdk1675 says:

                    I’d like to argue with you a little bit; any time your saying that a cutscene sucker punch is the right way to tell a story, I’m going to point out that you are wrong.

                    This could have been okay; set up a challenge, and on a failure, the Shepard’s knocked out and no time for a warning. Do moderately well, warning issued, but still late (recognition s/he tried). Do it perfectly and the warning works, but some people still die (people blame that Shepard didn’t do enough, arrested to make the politicians happy).

                    It’s a video game; they wanted a movie. Any time the writers/developers hit you in the face that you have no control like that is a failure on their part; they should at least make it look like you can win, even if they railroad a bittersweet end out of victory.

                    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      I think you’re giving Arrival too little credit in the sense that it DOES have a variable outcome. If you do poorly in the fight, Shepard is knocked down and captured. If you do well, they bring out heavier and heavier troops and begin to panic in the dialogue that they can’t stop Shepard. If you beat a certain number of waves, Harbinger actually assumes direct control of the Artifact and stuns you. I don’t think the player has a right to get a good outcome just because they want one, but the strongest combat performance makes it so that a Reaper had to PERSONALLY attack Shepard to force the bad outcome, which is a nice bonus bit of story.

                      It’s like saying “My team was strong, so I shouldn’t have had to watch Aeris die. We could have sensed Sephiroth’s approach!”

    2. ehlijen says:

      I disagree. ME3 at the very least managed to relate that the galaxy was in trouble and that actual people were dying.

      The infamous kid who died didn’t do so off screen. It was poorly developed, but not handwaved like ME2s invisible colonists.
      The refugee docks on the citadel are full of people trying to escape the reapers.
      You get to ask many of the crew about their families in this war.
      The number of reapers to evade in the albeit silly minigame of exploration steadily increases.
      As Shamous said about ME1, because the galaxy is in danger, everyone you care about is. And you get to talk about your worries to at least some of them.

      ME3 did many things wrong, but it did establish that there was a galactic invasion occurring and that things were going bad for everyone (and why no one was stopping it without Shepard’s Holy Bulletspitter). It actually does most of the things ME2 should have done as listed in this article.
      Granted ‘you care about earth!’ is still somewhat lazy. But at least we saw it get attacked and people dying. That’s more effort than putting nameless faces into generic ill-explained jeopardy off screen.

      ME3 failed because it threw in too many pointless deviations and offered no coherent story flow. But the stakes were set up passably if blandly.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        You guys all forget the major driving force of me3:Earth is being invaded!And you audience should care,because it the planet you all live on!

      2. swenson says:

        Yes, I very much agree that ME3 did a good job of showing a galaxy in chaos. That aspect of ME3’s worldbuilding was done very well, IMO. For example, there’s some random sidequest, I forget what it is, but basically where you get to either let more refugees into the Citadel or turn them away. And somebody doesn’t just tell you “the Citadel is super crowded with refugees!” You actually walk around and see the refugees packed in like sardines, you see the lines at the embassies, you see the patients cluttering the hallway of the hospital.

        And while the game does have a weird emphasis on “WE MUST SAVE EARTH! ONLY EARTH MATTERS FOR SOME REASON!”, I think it did a decent job of showing to the player that planets were being systematically taken over. Joker talking about his family out in the colonies, for example, or when you first pick up Garrus and at first he doesn’t know if his family made it off Palaven safely. Or even Samantha Traynor talking about how she doesn’t even have a toothbrush, because of how quickly they left Earth.

        And best of all, it’s characters you care about who are telling you these things–both characters you knew and loved from earlier in the series (Garrus, Joker, etc.) and characters you meet but spend a lot of time with in ME3 (Traynor, Vega, etc.).

        In ME2, you’re supposed to believe that tens of thousands of people are disappearing, yet nobody cares, so I have a hard time believing it. In ME3, you’re supposed to believe hundreds of thousands, millions of people are being killed or turned into husks, and… I really do believe it.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Note that we haven't hit on any universe-shattering plot holes in the sense of “This couldn't possibly happen”.

    You mean,besides “no one knows what happens to them” coupled with that easily recoverable footage and the thing about landing and leaving the enormohuge crater behind?

    1. Deda says:

      And what about killing and resurrecting the main character at the start of the game? I think that should count as an universe-shattering plothole by itself.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I dont count that as a plot hole,just a dumb asspull.

        1. Syal says:

          The “death and resurrection” thing is just the effects of the medication they give Shepard for surgery. TIM runs with it because he thinks it’s funny.

    2. swenson says:

      Okay, let’s talk about the lack of evidence, right?

      So there’s NO EVIDENCE at these colonies. No DNA, not even a coffee cup out of place. It implies people were immobilized almost immediately, with no time to react.

      But on Horizon, we CLEARLY see that this isn’t true–we see people react to the Collectors showing up, we see them running, hiding, fighting back… and yet we’re supposed to believe nobody knocked something over in their haste? Nobody scribbled a desperate note? There were no bullet holes from somebody frantically shooting at the seeker swarms?

      And you can’t even explain it by saying the Collectors are just really good at cleaning up after themselves, because if they were, they obviously would’ve found Veetor at Freedom’s Progress.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Horizon’s a bigger colony, after people have started to notice what was going on (even if they’re concerned that the Alliance gun makes them a target more than it protects them). I’d infer that the early attacks on smaller colonies, it was basically “huh, odd bugs” followed by immobilization.

        But again, we’re back to charitable vs. hostile readings. One person’s “I can see where the situations would be different” is another’s plot hole.

        (At the beginning of Star Wars, an Imperial officer actively countermands shooting at an “empty” escape pod, despite the fact that we can already see that droids are ubiquitous in their civilization, and the one shot necessary to take out the pod would cost essentially nothing. Plausible oversight or idiot plotting? Depends on how much buy-in you’ve given the story at that point. If the story has lost the reader/viewer/player, everything’s a potential irritant.)

        1. swenson says:

          I think that’s the problem. By Horizon, I’m not buying in to the story anymore, so things like that become noticeable to me. (and in fairness, I actually only consciously noticed how contradictory that is in my most recent playthrough. But I do think we subconsciously pick up on these things)

          Maybe if they’d built up that people were freaking out over these disappearances more (rather than JUST in the Horizon scenes–like maybe you visit another colony first, that hasn’t been disappeared yet and see how on edge people are or something), then “the Collectors are having a harder time keeping this quiet” would work. Well, they’d have to actually say that in the game, which they don’t in the actual game, but you know what I mean.

  8. Zekiel says:

    Shamus you are gradually convincing me that ME2 would have been a better game if it was framed as a relationship-building JRPG. That would have kept the good bit and removed everything that didn’t work (Cerberus, Collectors etc).

    1. Henson says:

      Funny you should say that. I’ve often felt that ME2 was basically the second half of Final Fantasy VI, in the World of Ruin. It’s a game where you are recruiting all your teammates to go fight the big bad, but missing the entire first half where you build meaningful relationships with those teammates. The problems should be evident.

  9. Omobono says:

    “But Shamus! The first game had you saving the whole galaxy! Isn't that pretty abstract, too?”

    Fun thing is, some writers realized this. In one of Mordin’s dialogues, he tells Shepard that the galaxy is too big to properly care about, so he’s doing this for his favourite nepew.

  10. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

    Whats even funnier is, if they’d remembered the first game, it was an important part of the plot that Tali was an expert at recovering wiped memory. The Geth were supposedly good about wiping their memories when a unit was lost but she was able to retrieve a record of Saren. That would have been the perfect canon justification for putting her on this team.

    And it wouldn’t have seemed like such a coincidence. You need a memory retrieval expert because the Collectors aren’t leaving evidence. And its the Quarians because they’re outsiders. The Council races (other than humanity) don’t want to help these colonies outside their space. The Quarians who are also used to having their pleas ignored are no doubt interested in investigating this before it becomes their problem.

    Its more like randomly running into a former coworker at an industry convention. Not so improbable.

    1. Chris says:

      Clearly, you’ve spent in excess of 4 seconds thinking this through, making you a very poor fit for the ME2 writing team. Besides, that explanation might take a moment or two away from shooting from behind conveniently-placed chest-high walls.

  11. Henson says:

    I think I appreciate this segment of your retrospective the most so far. It’s really nailing a lot of the niggling issues that were bothering me on a subconscious level, but could never really articulate. I knew that there was a storytelling problem regarding the colonists, but just couldn’t put my finger on what. I guess I was too focused on the logic (or lack thereof) of the main plot, recruiting TIM’s mercenaries for an unknown mission at an unknown time; faffing about the galaxy without a clear sense of purpose.

    Now I’m envisioning ways that we could fix this problem, too. Maybe one of the squadmates you have to recruit lives on one of these human colonies, and in the process of finding him, you meet a bunch of colonists who are scared that they might be next. Or maybe in meeting Anderson on the Citadel, you catch the end of an argument between him and the representative of one of the colonies, regarding their safety and whether the Council/Alliance intends to do anything about it. Or both!

  12. Kerethos says:

    I’m starting to see why I played the first game about 12 times, the second game twice and the third game once.

    In the first game I cared about the world and the characters.

    In the second game I stopped caring about the world, because there wasn’t really any world left to care about, but I cared about the characters and I wanted them all to live into the next game.

    In the third game I just wanted to know how the story would end – for the characters. The world was just corridors of convenient cover, at that point, and I left thinking: “Well, now I know how it ends. That was underwhelming”.

    Then I stopped caring about the characters too, because I knew their ending, and my investment in the series was over.

  13. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

    You ask about the colonization. I thought they made that pretty clear. Humanity has not been content with dealing with the Council so they push for settlements outside of Council space. The Council is fine with this but says they’re not going to help if the colonists get in trouble.

    I’ll grant you, its not as deep as your Wrex example but your example draws from the very richest and deepest bit of world building in the franchise.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Right, it kind of just builds on the colony with the Thorian from the first game. Anyone landing there would have recognized the problem, but NOBODY GOES THERE so it’s undetected. The Alliance cares to some extent, that’s the entire subplot where you meet Kaidan/Ashley and their extremely expensive gun. But there’s a habit here of arguing from the worst possible interpretation and labeling all in-game explanation as “excuses” or something.

      “This can’t be explained!”
      “What about this textual explanation?”
      “Now you’re just hand waving the BIG PROBLEM away! It would take MORE explanation in DIFFERENT PLACES to cover this BIG PROBLEM.”
      “It’s only a big problem when you frame it that way and refuse to apply any of the logic provided in the game…”

      1. Nimas says:

        I’m sorry, I just don’t buy this. Yes, you could say that the alliance doesn’t go there, but all it takes is *one* person who was on a supply run, or a trader that has an abducted colony on their route, or even a *single* person sent to investigate by worried families back home.

        Assuming that abductions have occurred for multiple colonies, the idea that all everyone does is say “That’s weird.” and shrug whenever one of these colonies goes dark is frankly ludicrous.

        I’d give you that it might not be instant, but multiple colonies is preposterous (also the way TIM frames it is that this has been going on for some time).

        Once *one* person arrives at a harvested colony, all they need is a goddamn cellphone to photo the GIANT HOLE in the ground and things would escalate very quickly.

        1. Mike S. says:

          I don’t get the impression that failed colonies are that uncommon. It’s supposed to be a high-risk proposition with no backup. To take Shamus’s example, Roanoke is unusual in its notoriety because it was early, had had the first English child born in North America, and its disappearance was somewhat mysterious. It wasn’t the only colony that failed.

          (The Norse colonies in Greenland and Vinland disappeared with a whimper, not a bang, and Europe more or less forgot them. How many people have heard of Fort Caroline in Florida, or Ajacan on the Chesapeake Bay?)

          On investigation, something like Freedom’s Progress looks weird not because there’s nobody there, but because there are no bodies or signs of struggle, or other usual indications of a slave raid, slaughter by someone else who thinks the planet belongs to them, spaceship departure because the crops failed, etc. They all suddenly disappeared in the middle of what looks like a normal day. But you have to be interested enough to look for that.

          A trader might come into the system, not get a response to hails or see IR concentrations at the settlement from orbit, and figure he’d better get somewhere with paying customers. (Especially if it was wrecked by hostiles who might still be around.)

          1. ? says:

            I thought Roanoke is famous mystery precisely for the same reasons you mention with Freedom Progress – it’s occupants disappeared without a trace, with no sign of battle, no corpses, buildings disassembled and not burned (if it were raided) or abandoned (if they died from plague/starvation/hostile weather). Just like that, hundred people vanished with all their possessions into thin air. And only thing they left behind was one word carved on a tree stump or something. Creepy. It wasn’t as clear cut as “spaniards dropped by and slaughtered everyone”, and that’s why it get’s all the attention. And even with history repeating itself like that, humanity in general isn’t interested.

            1. Mersadeon says:

              While I agree with your point, I just wanted to quickly explain that it’s highly likely that the disappearance of the Roanoke colony is not mysterious at all – it’s almost guaranteed that they were assimilated by a nearby native American tribe, which happened all the time and is, in this case, hinted at by reports of suspiciously light-skinned natives encountered later on. People constantly jumped ship to join the natives because, well it turns out living with the people that know how to live there and have a rad culture is a cool thing.

              1. Mike S. says:

                I’d say that if after four centuries of intense scrutiny the best we can do is “highly likely”, it’s fair to call it “mysterious”.

          2. Couscous says:

            Why would anybody expect that colonization efforts in 2180s to suck as much as colonization efforts in the 1500s and 1600s? Simply the vast differences in knowledge as to how things like diseases work and exactly what the environment will be like in terms of expected weather conditions over time should change it. Other species have been doing it for long enough that their knowledge base can also be used.

            It is one thing for some colonies in the 2180s to fail and to have to leave with some notices that it is abandoned. What is happening in ME2 is quite another thing.

            This is also humanity we are talking about. If humans on Earth in the 2180s are not demanding retribution against whoever did it regardless of issues like jurisdiction and are not demanding massive investigations, they aren’t really human. I refuse to believe humans will be less jingoistic in the 2180s, dang it!

            1. Mike S. says:

              This is a world in which terrible things happen all the time. In ME1, you’re continually running across colonies that have turned into husks, colonies taken over by plants, marine units trapped and killed, etc. in which either Shepard runs across them randomly or Hackett gives a “we’ve lost contact and we’re worried, check it out if you have time”. Legal human colonies with millions of inhabitants are subjected to devastating attack. The troubles of a bunch of faraway malcontents seem as if they could easily wind up in a squib in the sidebar of the Extranet page that’s mostly focusing on regular mass death nearer the centers of civilization.

              Mindoir was raided and devastated, its colonists taken as slaves, in 2170, and aside from a failed rescue mission that was it till the batarians attacked in the Skyllian Blitz in 2176. Human jingoism wasn’t sufficient to begin a war with the batarians, even in the face of blatant attack, until the batarians (or rather their deniable pirate catspaws) were ready to start one.

              The Collectors thing looks to be on roughly the same timescale: Terminus colonies disappear and an expensive frigate is destroyed. Alliance dispatches small-scale response to try to defend one of the bigger colonies and figure out what’s happening. And maybe they would have been ready for a full-scale conflict in the Terminus systems by… two years or so after the end of Mass Effect 3.

      2. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

        Actually I think most of his argument is solid. Enough so that his basic objections stand.

        Killing Shepard and resurrecting him was stupid. Hiring a team for a raid when you have no idea whats on the other side is stupid. Leaping through with no other plan than “big guns and awesome crew” is stupid. Never showing a successful Cerberus project other than this one is stupid (If you want to count their Normandy as a separate project, then you have two I guess.)

        I used to more fiercely defend this game. Give it time. Play more Bioware games. Their flaws become increasingly evident. They’ve really drifted away from a strong sense of cohesiveness in their world building and plot structuring.

      3. swenson says:

        Feros was a very small colony with at most a few hundred people, run by a scientific research company with a vested interest in not letting the true state of the colony leak out. It is plausible, if a little unlikely, that they could escape notice for awhile.

        But in ME2, tens of thousands of people from multiple colonies are disappearing, everyone high up knows about it, and yet no one cares. That’s a totally different scale.

    2. Gruhunchously says:

      Also, aren’t most of the colonies in the Terminus Systems? The Alliance can’t operate there without risking aggression from the various independent factions that hang out there. Just installing the defensive turret on Horizon was likely a risk.

      1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

        Thank you. I’d forgotten the name. Yes, they wanted freedom from supervision and the Council said “Ok, you’re on your own, good luck.” And I guess a government presence would provoke local groups.

        1. ? says:

          The guy at Horizon is pretty clear they don’t want Alliance in any form in their lives. He is even angry at them supplying defence systems. It’s not a case of Council accepting demilitarized colonies in Terminus, those are colonies independent of mainstream human government.

  14. Mike S. says:

    I sort of assumed sending you to the planet Tali was investigating was one of TIM’s chessmaster wannabe moves, to get you engaged with the problem. He’s planning on having you recruit her anyway, so of the disappeared colonies why not make that one the one he sends to to look into?

    (As astronomical coincidences go, it still beats the one that got her involved in your story in ME1.)

    I’m also a little struck by the idea of failing to build sympathy. The Feros colonists in ME1 were unquestionably in a horrific situation… which mostly failed to register with me because I was too busy treating them as questgivers, antagonists, and mystery clues to really feel their plight under the operant conditioning of the ancient alien who’s enslaved them. Even Fai Dan’s suicide doesn’t really pack an emotional punch for me.

    By contrast, the overheard conversations and especially the letter you get after Horizon (“The children are the worst. Empty desks at the schools, winter clothes that never got worn.”) really do make me feel something. After that, the fact that you’re never able to rescue anyone but your crew from the Collectors feels like a genuine loss in a way that Saren’s massacres on Eden Prime (Jenkins notwithstanding) and the Citadel just don’t.

    (ME2 retroactively gives a face to the latter, revealing in a sidequest that the two asari you meet in the Presidium, the receptionist at the Embassies and the one at the consort’s door, were killed by the geth. But in ME1 the entire attack on the Citadel is represented by an empty space, with the closest thing to a recognizable casualty being the malfunctioning Avina.)

    And of course it’s not that the Alliance doesn’t take an interest in the colony disappearances, they’re just not telling Cerberus-aligned Shepard. (Which gets back to the bad choice of forcing the PC to join Cerberus, but at least it’s consistent.)

    The Virmire survivor’s efforts prove to be inadequate without Shepard’s intervention because PC. But the Alliance did provide a planet with defenses that were in principle sufficient to beat back an attack and get critical data, in contravention of its legal obligation to stay out of the Terminus systems. Implicitly giving the lie to TIM’s claims that only Cerberus is willing to act.

    (That Anderson actually respects the concept of operational security for once and doesn’t tell Shepard is uncharacteristically sensible, if anything.)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I sort of assumed sending you to the planet Tali was investigating was one of TIM's chessmaster wannabe moves, to get you engaged with the problem. He's planning on having you recruit her anyway, so of the disappeared colonies why not make that one the one he sends to to look into?

      And it just turns out that her mission,which has nothing to do with either the reapers or the collectors*,has a goal on the same planet where the collectors were recently abducting humans.Its still a ludicrous coincidence.

      *It used to,but that idea was abandoned

      1. Mike S. says:

        Given that it was lampshading everything else, ME3: Citadel should have called out the fact that Tali’s appearance in both previous games was the result of that sort of coincidence.

        (“Shepard, I just remembered: I found a letter from this Maya Brooks person to Eva Core in a wastebasket while we were on Illium last year. Do you think it’s important?)

      2. Sartharina says:

        As far as meeting Tali goes… I thought it was simple:

        Tali and her team were sent to the colony to check on Veetor. Tali was chosen because she’s a hero to the other species of the galaxy, even if she’s not in Council space.

        Shepard was also sent to investigate the colony.

        Both were sent as soon as the colony was found to be a problem, and there was enough overlap in their operational time to justify them meeting when they did.

    2. Tom says:

      The empty space in the Citadel at the end of ME1 kinda worked for me to convey the situation, because it was a space that had previously been teeming with vibrant life, in practically the capital city of the galaxy. It might have worked a bit better if we’d had a chance to wander the entire presidium post-massacre & see it all echoingly empty, I suppose, rather than just a tiny corner of it conveniently right by the lift. Maybe the level design budget ran out.

      1. Mike S. says:

        I suspect that it was a dramatic decision. They’re at least trying to set the tone that you’re chasing hard on Saren to stop him from flipping the switch and destroying the galaxy. If they leave the option of wandering around the giant Presidium space gawking, players will do it. Not least because we’ve all been well trained that you need to explore everywhere to find that last bit of hidden loot.

        (Even though you will literally never have a chance to spend credits again in the game, and you almost certainly are armed with Spectre X weapons with whatever mods and ammo you could wish. We’re a predictably compulsive lot.)

        The only way to prevent that sort of anticlimactic dawdling is what they did: block all the paths out except the one the player is supposed to take.

  15. Falterfire says:

    It occurs to me that part of the reason I probably enjoyed Mass Effect 2 is that I more or less play every video game on the assumption that the overarching plot is trash but some of the individual levels will be worthwhile. It’s probably not a great attitude, but it’s really born out of how stagnant the main plot seems to feel tend to be when you play them in two hour chunks (at the longest) and the game is more than a dozen hours long.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      No,thats a pretty good attitude.Most of us have it as default as well.The problem in this case is that some of us liked me1 so much that we dropped that attitude for its sequel,which turned out to be a mistake.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        I wish I could have this attitude, but whenever I play a game where the overall plot reaches a threshold of inadequacy that I start to notice it, it deflates my enthusiasm for the rest of the game like a pricked balloon. There are side missions in Mass Effect 2 that easily provide some of the best content the series has to offer, but whenever their over and done with they just feel weird when paired with such a weak core premise. That’s the main reason why I’ve not been able to finish a Mass Effect 2 play-through in a long time.

        1. Nimas says:

          Sort of like you have the most spectacular beverage of your choice for a meal, but all you have to eat is stale McDonalds. And you’re hungry.

          1. Gruhunchously says:

            More like, you bought a tomato sandwich with stale, week old bread, just so you could pick the tomatoes out of it. Not exactly the most satisfying experience. But at least the tomatoes are nice, fresh and juicy.

            I love me some food analogies.

            1. Syal says:

              Thanks to you two, I now have a craving for stale bread.

  16. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    I honestly hadn’t thought that a teammate with say, a brother on one of the colonies would be important. I mean, it doesn’t match up with the lore or the timing at all, you’d have to rig something up where the brother left the podunk colony world and somehow hooked up with Cerberus, then found out to his or her horror what was going on, but you certainly COULD have done something like that.

    Is it necessary though? Think about say, Star Trek. When they encounter a planet with a problem, they don’t have to make Scotty’s cousin live there to make us care, we care because we DO have empathy if the problem is bad enough. When you hit the 2nd Collector attacked planet (after the problem is established), you actually get to see the Collector attack, and it is genuinely scary and upsetting. Asking for your motivation to help after that… confuses me. “Why should I care about these humans being swarmed by horrible space bugs and kidnapped to some horrible fate? What does that mean to me, Shepard the space hero of justice?”

    1. Mike S. says:

      Though Trek frequently did create urgency via personal connection, either preexisting (episodes with Kirk’s brother, McCoy’s ex, Scotty’s girlfriend, etc.) or via the romance of the week involving one of the leads, usually Kirk. (It sucks that Edith Keeler has to die because she’s a genuinely good person who represents the ideals that will lead to the Federation. But it sucks much more because both Kirk and McCoy are in love with her.)

    2. Zekiel says:

      The question isn’t “why should it matter to Shepard”. The question is “does the player actually care”. Sure, we can feel like we *ought* to care (because they’re innocent humans) but that’s much, much weaker than actually caring because your friend from Game 1 is one of the people who’s been kidnapped. ME2 actually demonstrates how to do this well in the endgame, where I cared far, far more about a handful of Normandy crewmembers who’d been kidnapped than thousands of nameless, faceless colonists before that.

      Edit: Hell they could could have done much better by actually having Kaiden/Ashley be kidnapped on the second planet, thus making it personal much earlier on.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Though there’s nothing really personal in ME1 till Virmire, which happens at about the same point in the story as the crew kidnapping in ME2. (Jenkins really doesn’t last long enough; compare with the child you try to save in ME3.) Nobody you have a connection to is under threat at any of the other main planets.

        1. Zekiel says:

          True to some extent – but as Shamus points out you do actually have some connection to the various colonists under threat from the Thorian/Geth (I didn’t really connect with any of them personally, but you certainly have more chance of doing so than with the ME2 colonists who you never even meet)

          1. Mike S. says:

            I guess that’s an empirical question that people can answer for themselves. Take Fai Dan: he’s unquestionably a tragic and ultimately heroic figure. He led a dangerous expedition, was betrayed by his own people, and spent God knows how long being tortured and enslaved. Worse, he found himself having to collaborate with his enslavement, both lying and evincing deliberate hostility to Shepard (and sending Shepard into multiple intended deathtraps) on the threat of excruciating pain for himself and worse for the people for whom he feels responsible.

            At the end, when Shepard frees the rest of them, he uses his last reserves of self-possession to shoot himself, rather than let the Thorian force him to shoot Shepard and re-enslave his colony. They should build a statue to him. (And name the research study to overcome Indoctrination after him.) He’s also a nice thematic echo of the main villain of the game, who can go through pretty much the same sequence of events.

            Did anyone here feel that in the moment that it happened? Because I really only did in retrospect. In the game, he mostly felt like an Udina-like jerk for most of the Feros storyline. By the time I understood what was happening, the colonists were objectives (stop them from killing us, don’t kill them). I wasn’t happy that Fai Dan shot himself, but it wasn’t even as impactful as when Saren later does the same, let alone a serious blow like losing Wrex or Kaidan or Ashley.

            (Or for that matter the fall of Thessia in ME3, which worked for me in the moment even though the mechanics of the fight were frustrating and scripted.)

            But it may be that I’m the outlier here. Did anyone shed a tear for Fai Dan?

            1. Syal says:

              I haven’t played the games and am extrapolating entirely off what you said here*, so feel free to tell me how much I get wrong.

              I’d say it’s because Fai Dan is presented as merely an obstacle to overcome. You know about Saren long before you know anything about Sovereign; I have to assume you know about the Thorian before you know much about Fai Den. So, unlike Saren, you aren’t there to stop Fai Din; you’re there to do other things and he’s getting in the way. Saren is the plot hook, and his actions run counter to the little you know about him beforehand (He’s a Spectre, effectively the most trusted branch of the Council). I doubt you get much prior information about Fai Don.
              To understand Saren is to understand why everything in the plot prior has happened; to understand Fai Dun is just to understand a guy who’s stopping you from understanding the Thorian.

              *Decisions like these brought to you by lack of sleep.

              1. Bubble181 says:

                I have no idea what the guy is actually called, but…. Gah!

  17. Dr.Plonk says:

    And that would be fine ““ not every story needs to be an epic about saving the galaxy ““ except the writer has no interest in establishing these humans or telling their stories. We're supposed to care about characters the writer doesn't care about.

    And yet Homeworld managed to make me care and almost cry more than a decade ago with nothing more than a good voice acting, about five minutes of explanation and a few boxes with low-res textures. And I still remember the lines.

    1. Zekiel says:

      I find it outstanding that Homeworld managed to make me care so much despite having essential no characters at all. Amazing.

    2. Enjolras says:

      In a similar vein, I can remember lines from Star Control 2. a game which had to tell its entire story using only *text* and static VGA graphics. There’s more emotional resonance in the SC2 story (I experienced sympathy for the SC2-devil, for example) than in all of ME2+ME3.

      P.S. SC2 is legally available for download,

    3. m0j0l says:

      Hiigara – home

      That line still makes me shiver

  18. tremor3258 says:

    Man, I was so happy to see Tali again when I hit that point after being told she was busy I didn’t stop to think about it – I’m apparently Bioware’s intended audience.

    (Other way to work it: Tali’s team is tailing Cerberus on the way to their sun mission, TIM’s security isn’t quite as good as he thought, especially after the mess with the Flotilla in the novels that gets referenced, and it’s where the fissures start to appear for Shepard in TIM’s story)

    1. Neko says:

      Same, I was just happy to see Tali.

      It could be fixed relatively simply: Have Shepard only meet Veetor, he can get at the data but can’t clean it up completely or whatever. But hey, he knows this one Quarian who would be really good at that, and she’s in this system, you should go see her. Shepard meets Tali on a space station somewhere, she gets evidence out of the data, everyone is happy.

      So then we’ve just got to fix the 10,000 other things.

  19. SlothfulCobra says:

    I guess the reason that there was no evidence for the collectors before is that all video footage that may have been taken was password protected.

    The decision for what to do with Veetor is pretty stupid too. It’s between letting Tali take him to get him treatment, or send him to the illusive man to…give firsthand accounts? They already have the footage, it’s not like there’s anything left he has to offer.

  20. Adam Haase says:

    My running theory is that the writers were constantly distracted by Miranda’s ass. Think about it… it explains everything!

    1. Chris says:

      Given how much of the story is complete ass-pull, you might be on to something. I always assumed the writers were pulling things out of their own asses, but maybe it was a different source…

  21. Gruhunchously says:

    As for the fleeing colonists, talk about a missed opportunity! Wouldn’t it be great if, during her jaunts through hubs like Illium and Omega (which border and are in Terminus Space respectively), Shepard could come across refugees from as yet unaffected colonies who got spooked and fled inwards?
    They could-
    a. Provide a human face to what’s been going on with the Collectors, describing the fear and doubt that many colonists are going through.
    b. Explain why more colonists haven’t fled along with them. Maybe transportation is expensive, limited, or dangerous. Maybe they don’t want to leave their homes behind, even in the face of danger. There are plenty of plausible explanations that we never get to hear.
    c. Just provide some personality and flavor. If my experiences with the Mass Effect fandom is any indication, they love them some minor characters. Characters that aren’t involved with the main plot or even side quests. People like Liliheirax, Al-Jilani, Athyta, Conrad Verner, the turian bartender who serves Shepard dangerous alcohol, even Aria. Plus all the ones Shamus mentioned in the article. Bioware, if nothing else, is very proficient at writing those kinds of characters.

    I’d be keen on fighting the Collectors because [Jim Bob Joe], who sold me some model ships on Illium and retains a weary optimism despite feeling completely out of his depth as a human on an asari world, is desperately trying save up enough money to get his mother and father off of their home colony and out of harms way. It’d be more incentive than the actual game ever provides.

    EDIT- Wait, the game does do that, a little, with your crew members. A couple them talk about their fears about losing relatives, children and the like. Still doesn’t change the fact that no one else seems to care.

  22. INH5 says:

    I can’t say that I agree about ME2 not making you care about the main plot compared to ME1. It isn’t much, but just walking around an empty colony, walking through abandoned houses, hearing my squadmates comment on the table settings that are still in place, and then later seeing an abduction in progress through Veetor’s security video and on Horizon, provided me with a decent amount of motivation to want to stop this. It just felt more real than “the galaxy is going to be destroyed by giant robot spaceships.” And like Mike S, I never made much of a connection with the Feros colonists, because as soon as I met them I pretty much instantly mentally filed them into the category of “generic RPG quest-giving townspeople.”

    Still, I agree that it is weird how the main plot is so self-contained. I understand why the Alliance can’t intervene directly in the situation, but this should be a major topic of discussion. This involves the newest Council species and the volatile political situation in the Terminus Systems. It has the potential to start a galactic war. Everyone important in the galaxy should be concerned about this, but especially any human officials. And yet it’s barely mentioned at all outside of the main plot missions.


    Regarding the Collector Ship landing and taking off: the fact that you don’t find a crater on Freedom’s Progress would seem to indicate that the Collectors don’t leave one every time. On Horizon, the ship was getting shot with an AA gun and needed to get out of there in a hurry, so presumably under normal operating procedure the ship uses some slower and less conspicuous method to get into orbit.

    Though I will give you that the ship should have left a pretty big footprint regardless. Even if it used mass effect fields to hover above the ground the whole time, it still would have left some kind of trace.

    1. Mike S. says:

      Taking no official notice of something that can start a war if it’s actively recognized is a time-honored diplomatic tactic. Even if it’s obvious. Being able to fail to observe clear and obtrusive facts with a straight face is practically a baseline job qualification

      We know that in fact the Alliance sent in Kaidan or Ashley and a massive space defense gun.

      And the Council sent a Spectre (if you accept reinstatement), which is ostensibly their standard short-of-sending-a-fleet approach.

      (And whatever the overall plausibility might be that a super-agent is that big a deal in a realistic world, in the event Shepard– and Saren– really do have that kind of impact on events.)

      There probably should have been further indications that they were only feigning disinterest if that was the case. (Not least because it’s hard to tell the difference between the characters missing something and the writers– especially when the player base tends as uncharitable as the gaming community does. :-) ) But saying it’s the Spectre’s problem and calling it a day (except to criticize how the Spectre addressed the problem) has been the Council’s MO throughout.

      1. INH5 says:

        That’s true, but even if the official government position is “no comment,” you would still expect officials to talk about it in private, and civilians who pay attention to current events to talk about it in public.

        I don’t want to break the “no politics” rule, so I won’t name any specific examples, but suffice it to say that governments deciding not to intervene in humanitarian crises for political reasons is depressingly common. But even when no one does anything, these sorts of situations still tend to be major topics on the news, among political commentators, and even in private discussions among individuals. In ME2, we don’t see any of that.

        If nothing else, adding some comments on the Disappearing Human Colonies in the Terminus Systems into the background chatter on the Citadel, Omega, etc. would have helped give the player some idea of how the rest of the galaxy was reacting to this.

        1. Mike S. says:

          I think our world of instantaneous video from anywhere is different from one in which a failed colony is on the end of a slow and unreliable chain of communications. In the historical colonial era, it was a lot easier for a humanitarian disaster thousands of miles away to just not show up on the radar. Or for one to become a cause celebre because it had high profile people pointing at it, while another just ground on invisibly because it’s far away and no one important had noticed it.

          That said, I don’t disagree that a sense that TIM and Hackett (or whoever sent Kaidan/Ashley) aren’t the only people worrying about it would be welcome. The people in your breakroom can”t be the only ones with relatives on threatened colonies. But after two years that included geth hitting Eden Prime and batarians trying to drop a rock on Terra Nova and an attack on the Citadel itself, I can sort of see fatigue about yet another faraway disaster (without heartwrenching pictures) hitting smaller colonies that aren’t even supposed to be there setting in.

          1. guy says:

            Mass Effect interstellar comms are somewhere between telegraph and high-end fiber-optic in terms of operating characteristics, dependent in part on how much money is involved. While the colonies are probably far towards the low end of the spectrum in terms of bandwidth, odds are still good people will realize they’ve got communications trouble in less time than it takes the Collectors to load the spaceship.

            I do think that people in general would get rather concerned once they realize there’s a pattern of entire colonies mysteriously vanishing and no one has any idea how or why. That’s the sort of thing that makes people worry that they might be next, even if they aren’t anywhere close.

            1. INH5 says:

              Granted, the colonies in question are in the Terminus systems, so the infrastructure out there might be a bit less developed than in Council Space. Still, you’re definitely right that people will notice. Maybe with the first one or two colonies (especially if they were small) people might assume that it is some sort of comm failure and forget about them until some trader or the like stumbles onto them weeks or months later. But there are only so many times that this can happen before the galaxy at large realizes that Something Is Up.

              In fact, one might expect that the first people to take notice would be the various independent powers in the Terminus systems. Every warlord would know that neither they or any of their allies were responsible for this, and anyone who can disappear entire colonies like this must be pretty powerful. Sure, whoever is behind this is only targeting the humans right now, but you never know…

              But you never get any hints of this in the game. In fact, as far as I can tell you can’t even talk to Aria about the Collectors, and you’d think that she would be a bit concerned if she found out that the people responsible for the disappearing colonies are on her territory’s doorstep.

              It’s another sign of how compartmentalized the writing process was for the Mass Effect games, and the potential pitfalls of that approach.

              1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                You actually can ask Aria in a general way about the Collectors. She hates them because they’ve messed with Omega before. She certainly doesn’t care to help with human colonies though, she doesn’t even care about every outrage in her home base.

            2. Mike S. says:

              I think communications to Terminus System colonies could be worse than telegraph a lot of the time. (Or “telegraph when it connected major cities, but not every town” level.)

              The system relies on comm buoys that are effectively highly limited mass relays. (I hadn’t noticed that before, but it explains why Aethyta thinks they’re anywhere near reproducing a proper relay.) They do the same “tube of low-mass space” thing between buoys that relays do between one another, but can only pass comm lasers.

              So you have ftl communication between buoys, and lightspeed communication to the nearest buoy.

              In settled systems, that’s presumably nearly as good as being on the telephone network is on Earth. The fact that Shepard is able to do real-time communication with the Council in ME1 suggests that it’s easy to get within less than a light-second of a buoy. (Though from planetary surfaces there’d probably be a bit more of a noticeable delay, as with our comsats, which is ignored for game purposes because it would be annoying.)

              But does every wildcat colony have the resources for a comm buoy? Does it cost anything to connect to the network? (And does a colony that’s trying to avoid interference from the Alliance and the Citadel want to have a “here I am” signal?)

              If a system doesn’t have a buoy, communication is basically “how often does a ship come by?” (Or if they have ships, how often do they send them somewhere with a relay or buoy.)

              Even assuming they mostly start off with one, they probably don’t have a lot of redundancy, and neither does the next system over. Colony goes offline for a while: is that a buoy malfunction (there or elsewhere), a pirate attack, or mysterious aliens pursuing a master plan to build a space monster? How often are there outages or traffic delays somewhere in the network when you’re at the ragged edge of it?

              1. swenson says:

                You know what question this raises for me, though? If communication is so hard that the Alliance can’t keep track of the colonies… how did Cerberus notice?

                You could suggest Cerberus keeps tabs on/supplies human colonies as part of their whole pro-human shtick, but that’s never so much as implied in the games, I just made it up right now.

                1. Mike S. says:

                  I really don’t think it’s that much of a stretch that the secret black ops organization that’s never seen an inimical alien that it didn’t want to get samples of and try to control (usually with predictable blowback against itself), and that doesn’t care about Council restrictions on where to operate got wind of something like that. They probably have a Google Alert set up for anything that might lead to some monster that can eventually tear through their own labs like the love child of a Terminator and a Predator.

                  In the first game, we’re given only the vaguest idea how Saren wound up learning about and being suborned by Sovereign, and amassing a geth army, when no one else knows anything about the Reapers or has seen geth for centuries. Why him (and only him)? Why now and not a century ago?

                  (Or maybe he’s the last of a thousand years worth of Sovereign’s agents, finally put into play because finding the Eden Prime beacon makes it possible to start the endgame. But we’re certainly not told that.)

                  I’m confident that the novels or comics have answers. (And fairly confident that they’re not very good ones.) But those answers weren’t accessible when we played ME1 and probably didn’t exist at the time.

  23. RCN says:

    Another problem with Mass Effect 2 is that is is guilty of the greatest writing crime any sequel can commit: It undid all the accomplishments of the original story only to force the characters to accomplish it all again.

    Maybe the reason people who started with Mass Effect 2 don’t care is because they hadn’t spent an ENTIRE FREAKING GAME investigating the reapers and what their deal is, culminating in one showing up in METAL AND WIRE right at the seat of Galactic Civilization and very loudly proclaim “I want you all dead”.

    Then, all of sudden, everyone forgets this just so your goal in ME 2 to be “discover what these Collectors are. The Reapers? Never heard of them, but these guys are like killing maybe TENS of people. We think. We don’t even know. Or if they’re killing them. But this is more important than this Reaper deal. They only want to kill the entire galaxy. Do you know HOW MANY of these we have? You have to betray everything you held dear to fight this new and improved threat! THEN you can scrounge up something about that Reaper deal. Maybe. If you still have allies you haven’t pissed off by then by associating with us. Good luck! And remember. TIM is AWESOME!”

    1. Chris says:

      I believe you might be getting to the heart of why I find ME2 to be so utterly and despisably pointless. ME2 as the louder, dumber do-over of ME1 really fits. It definitely feels like ME2’s writing team was lead by somebody who was pissed that all their terrible ideas were rejected during ME1’s development. So in ME2, we get ME1 done badly with store-brand Cancer Man and the KAOS washouts running the Umbrella Corporation. Ugh.

      As bad as 3 is, at least it moved things forward.

    2. Mike S. says:

      The “greatest writing crime any sequel can commit” was good enough for Shakespeare. (Henry IV, Part 2.) I won’t say that it’s a plus, but it’s a pretty standard tactic when tacking on a sequel to a story that ended satisfactorily in the original standalone work.

      (Of course, they claim they were planning a trilogy. But one infers that “plan” is a generous way to put it.)

      1. tremor3258 says:

        That’s what’s going on – I hadn’t thought of it in the right terms – it’s the Ghostbusters 2 issue.

      2. Couscous says:

        Isn’t Henry IV, Part 2 seen as one of his lesser works? It was far less successful in print than Henry IV, Part 1 from what I can tell given it appears to have been reprinted much less than Part 1 in the decades after release. Part 2 seems to have been less successful with the critics as well. Which seems to be a good example of why not to do it. If Shakespeare couldn’t do it, don’t think your space opera videogame will be able to do much better.

        It wasn’t a necessary tactic for Mass Effect 2. Henry IV, Part 2 had obvious reasons for why it was more limited. The most obvious is that it is loosely based on events that actually happened. Bioware had set themselves up a sequel hook to use in Mass Effect 1 instead of ending it in a way where pretty much any sequel would have to bs up a conflict that was going to be worse than the last one. ME1 ended with the Reaper threat known but at least temporarily delayed. That provides plenty of opportunities for a sequel that actually works as the second part in a trilogy where the first part had to be designed with it not being popular enough for a sequel in mind. They just completely failed to use that set up and to even come up with some plan for how ME2 will lead into ME3 in an amazing failure to plan ahead by more than five seconds.

    3. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The sequel undid humanity joining the council? Or the Reaper threat being discovered? It reversed Shepard’s commitment to fighting the Reaper threat on whatever front it was discovered on? No? Perhaps you’re using a bit too much hyperbole then.

      So in ME2, the Collectors are abducting tens of thousands of humans and there are no Reapers acting in the galaxy. Your suggestion is that Shepard should ignore the threat in favor of worrying about Reapers that aren’t in system yet? This is especially silly once we discover that the Collectors are basically Saren round 2.

      Finally, I don’t get why ME2 supposedly sidelines the Reaper threat. It doesn’t at all, it advances it. In the first game, we hear how the Protheans were defeated and made extinct by the Reapers. In 2, we see exactly what happened to them and realize that the thralls of the Reapers are starting again, with humans this time. In 1, Shepard tells the Council we need to band together to fight the Reaper menace. In 2, Shepard makes personal connections with several different species governments (Quarian, Geth, Krogan), connections that are vital to actually getting those people to do what needs to be done in 3. In 1, Indoctrination is discovered through Saren, although the mechanics are obscured. In 2, the mechanism is discovered and analyzed, allowing the player to detect it in TIM for 3.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Or the Reaper threat being discovered?

        Yes,because no one believes it,nor does anyone attempt to prepare for it.We are caught of guard by the reapers invading despite knowing for years that something like that could happen.And despite knowing that they are practically here for months(the dlc),no one still did a thing to prepare.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          The absolute best thing to do to prepare to fight the Reapers would be to build new ships. But it’s unclear how many ships they could build and of what size even if they start from the ending of ME1. For example, the Alliance would immediately work to replace ships lost against Sovereign, Reapers or no Reapers, and the War Assets in 3 make it clear they have NOT recovered yet.

          Next best would be developing new weapons. This actually is done, starting from ME2. In canon, the weapons after 1 are much stronger than the older ones.

          Finally would be making alliances and fighting plans, but not even Shepard has strategies or knowledge of how the Reapers will be fighting and how that should be countered until it happens. That only comes with experience. So really just the political situation is out of whack for 3, and that’s where the focus is IN 3.

  24. Dragmire says:

    Hey Shamus, how are the stats/page views for these Mass Effect articles? I’m enjoying reading these but I’m curious about how much audience retention they have. Have views stayed pretty much level or has there been a noticeable increase/decrease as this novel has been published.

  25. Writiosity says:

    “This person is the mother / girlfriend / brother / father / husband / barista of the main character, so the writer assumes you will care about them without needing to portray their relationship.”

    Honestly surprised you didn’t make mention of Fallout 4 here, it’s a perfect example of this. After the bad opening it’s actually pretty good, but the whole ‘finding my babby’ deal just never resonates.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      These articles have been written way in advance (months, I think), so FO4 wasn’t out at the time this was written.

  26. m0j0l says:

    Even if they did ‘throw the player a bone’ so to speak with Tali, the way she reacts to Shep is weirdly… cold

    “Oh, you’ve been dead for two years and now you’re been brought back to life? ¯_(ツ)_/¯ So this mission, we should split up [yada yada yada] “

    1. Sartharina says:

      Eh… I understood her. I got the same way when one of my closest cousins was killed in a hunting accident. And from a surprise visit from a friend I hadn’t seen in years. You don’t see her later reaction – just the rather realistic ‘This’ll hit me later, when you’re gone’ initial coldness.

  27. Disc says:

    Mass Effect 3 got to be the worst case of assumed empathy I’ve ever experienced. “Some kid died” was one thing, but making Earth so important was the biggest mistake. There’s nothing that happened before that would tie you in anyway to Earth besides maybe choosing being Earthborn Shepard. And that’s 1 out of 3. It doesn’t make much sense for a Spacer or Colony kid Shepard to be so attached to a place where you might’ve even never been to before besides the six or so months between ME2 and ME3. It could have a place of importance in the story as the human species’ core world and play some part, but the series failed to give a proper glimpse as to what life actually is like for humans living in big population centers just by themselves. Everywhere else you’re either mixed in with aliens or some other species is the vast majority. There’s nothing to empathize with the larger collective of humanity maybe besides the Alliance as an organization, but not even that shows you properly what human culture really is like. It’s just a face for humans in space.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The loss of Earth would make humans an endangered species because the vast majority of humanity still lives there. Every Shepard would care a tremendous amount, I don’t think it’s a big role playing ask to suppose your character might care about the fate of his species, government, military, etc etc etc.

      And while seeing future Earth would be cool, I actually don’t think we need to see “how people live on Earth.” We’re… uh familiar with it.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Not every shepard.In fact,for many of the backgrounds,shepard might have never even visited earth.

        Furthermore,just because the character cares,you cannot assume that the player will care.You have to show them why its important for the character.Like how we are shown that shepard cares about becoming a specter.Or how wrex cares about his people and the genophage,despite being away from others of his kind for a long time.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          No… every Shepard. Every Shepard swore an oath to the Alliance, which involves defending humanity. That’s like saying “My character is a marine, but what is his motivation for wanting to save Washington DC from being attacked by terrorists? He’s never even been there!”

          I agree they had to show why the Genophage was important to Wrex, but they didn’t have to explain why humans might care about Earth being ground up into paste. And yet, they did anyway! You get all kinds of communications throughout the game from Anderson and others about how tough it is on Earth. And yes, even the hated random kid who died is another element meant to show the loss taking place there.

          1. Shamus says:

            “Every Shepard swore an oath to the Alliance, ”

            You make a really great point that it was completely stupid to have Shepard working for Cerberus in this game.

            1. Mike S. says:

              Agreed. That was a bad story choice, compounded by the other Alliance officers who likewise defect to Cerberus. If they wanted to do a “you’re off the case, McGarnigle!”/”yeah, Chief? Then I’ll have to work outside the law” story, they should have done it a different way.

              But Cerberus and the Alliance are as one when it comes to “the place where all humans live (minus a third decimal place rounding error) is kind of important.”

            2. INH5 says:

              Like I’ve said before, if they wanted to have Shepard work for Cerberus, they should have introduced it as a new shadow organization that neither Shepard or the player has ever heard of before, then reveal late in the game that this new group is actually Cerberus operating under a different name. Not only does it make far more sense for TIM to not let Shepard know that he’s working for a longtime enemy of the Alliance in general and possibly Shepard in particular, but a confrontation with TIM after you’ve spent most of the game helping him would be much more dramatic and interesting than what happens in the actual game.

          2. Couscous says:

            Understanding the character’s motivation isn’t the same as feeling it. I feel no emotional connection with the goals of the videogame protagonist who needs to save the president from terrorists and is a bad enough dude to do so. I know who the president is, what terrorists are, and why he needs saving, but that doesn’t equate with caring. If they want me to care about saving the president from terrorists, they are going to need to make me care about the protagonist or someone else who really cares for some real reason like having loved ones that need to be saved. Shepard herself is too much of a cipher for the player to really work in that way in ME3 even with attempts like the ghost child. The characters the players are likely to care the most about are mostly aliens.

            An intellectual understanding has little to do with an emotional connection. Whose death do you think most players cared more about: all the people being murdered at the beginning of Mass Effect 3 or Mordin’s death?

            Increasing what is at stake in the story doesn’t actually make the audience more emotionally invested. If anything, it usually makes them less emotionally invested as everything becomes more and more nebulous and nebulous. 12 Years a Slave made me more emotionally invested than Star Wars. My reaction to Alderaan being blown up as a child was pretty much nothing despite millions dying in the story as a result. My reaction to the suffering of the protagonist in 12 Years a Slave was much more as a cynical adult.

            1. Mike S. says:

              Nothing can make something work for an individual if it doesn’t. But it’s hard to say ME3 didn’t try to connect the player with Earth’s plight.

              (Starting with the trailers, which I found pretty affecting. But assuming no one watched those…)

              We start with Shepard on Earth as the danger inexorably approaches. We lose contact with Luna, then see more Reapers than anyone has ever seen fall out of a clear blue sky onto a defenseless Vancouver. We get an innocent to try and fail to protect, and an old friend who we have to leave behind.

              We get a really unlikely contrivance (a man-portable QEC that remains in operation and never has to be abandoned) that allows regular updates from said old friend about the increasingly desperate situation on Earth.

              We get multiple conversations about losses and what’s been left behind.

              We get the discussion with EDI about humans on Earth refusing to collaborate even to extend their own lives, and staging rebellions that they themselves can’t possibly survive.

              On the return to Earth, we’re again given individual voices and stories:

              The woman on the radio who’s talked through trying and failing to save a wounded soldier, then is herself discovered.

              The note about emergency services no longer being able to perform their primary mission, and soliciting volunteers to use the fire trucks to intentionally attract Reaper fire, to allow others to escape for a little longer.

              The background chatter about units devastated or destroyed buying the space you need for the last effort.

              Again, one person’s affecting scene is another’s transparent manipulation. Once someone’s checked out, after a certain point they’re not checking back in.

              But ME3, at the very least, isn’t just assuming empathy. It’s providing multiple different avenues for evoking it.

              1. Chris says:

                The opening of ME3 felt jarringly abrupt and rushed to me. Basing the opening on DLC I never DL’d didn’t help, but I really blame ME2. 2 was a monster-of-the-week episode that did nothing for the plot, so ME3’s opening came out of nowhere. ME2 screwed the pacing for the entire trilogy.

                I think 3 would have had more impact if the series had actually spent some time building to it.

                1. INH5 says:

                  The problems with the opening to ME3 have little to do with what happened in ME2 and everything to do with poor design choices and the very bad decision that the game must start with the Reapers invading Earth. In order for that to happen, Shepard has to be stuck on Earth somehow, the Reapers have to make a complete surprise attack on Earth so Shepard doesn’t get off the planet before the Reapers arrive, etc.

                  A lot of ME3’s problems could have been fixed if the opening mission was similar to Arrival and involved Shepard learning that the Reaper invasion was imminent, then the bulk of the game involved preparing for the full scale Reaper invasion, which doesn’t actually happen until the third act (in the meantime, indoctrinated agents and maybe Reaper advance scouting forces can be introduced to give Shepard something to fight). Setting an entire game during a full-scale Reaper invasion was never a good idea, because the Mass Effect games just don’t have the gameplay, mission structure, or budget to tell a story like that well.

      2. Disc says:

        “We're… uh familiar with it.”

        Well I’m not a time traveler. I can only imagine what life in the 22nd Century with all the interstellar travel and shit really is like.

        The point is, there’s no emotional connection with Earth. It’s just a place far away from anything interesting in the story. And suddenly it’s all that matters. Thematically it would have made more sense to focus solely on the Citadel, since it’s the foundation of the co-operation between the different species plus it’s a place everybody’s familiar with.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          The game did focus on the Citadel in that it’s the place you visit all the time and the finale of the game is there. So in PLAYING the game, Citadel is more important than Earth. Hell, even the best DLC in the series is there. It’s just yeah… saving humanity’s home planet is an understandably major story consideration.

          1. Disc says:

            Except they moved the Citadel next to Earth for no reason whatsoever. The end’s happening on Earth and on the Citadel. It all comes back again to “assumed empathy” and the conflict of having character defined for you vs. having the freedom to define it for yourself. In the first two games nobody gives a shit about Earth at any point and suddenly in ME3 everybody’s “OMG EARTH IS IMPORTANT GUYS”.

            Again, in principle there’s nothing wrong with saving Earth, but the shift from relative obscurity to its (over)elevated importance doesn’t come naturally from how the rest of the story was told. It’s just forced into the story ASSUMING you will automatically care. I didn’t and couldn’t with the way they handled it. Having some precursory visit to Earth and establishing some emotional connection to it would have gone a long way, but no. All we get is bunch of subtle-as-hitting-you-with-a-hammer trailers that use cheap tricks to try and create some emotional appeal for saving Earth.

            They fucked it up, is all I’m saying. Agree to disagree or whatever, I’ve got nothing more to say.

    2. Mike S. says:

      The emphasis on Earth is a recurring complaint, but I don’t entirely understand that. No, we shouldn’t expect turians or asari to be primarily concerned about a parvenu second-tier world (however rapid its advancement) when their own worlds are threatened. But humans?

      Earth is the home to 99+% of humanity. No colony world has even a thousandth of its population. It’s the economic and cultural center of the species. If you’re not Terran, it’s still where your parents were born. (The oldest colony world is all of thirty-four years old.) Humanity is centuries, at least, from Earth just being one among many human worlds of comparable importance.

      If someone who’d lived in Honolulu all her life woke up to find out that the continental US was on fire from Seattle to Florida, I find it hard to believe that their response would be “well, I don’t know why there’s so much attention being paid to that when Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico are also under threat!”

      Any individual might be concerned first with their own homeworld. But it’s pretty obvious where the common threat lies: if Earth falls, Eden Prime and Terra Nova aren’t going to win on their own. (Let alone whatever tiny settlement Colonist Shepard is from, whose independent viability at this point was demonstrated by the batarians.)

      Even the most pro-Citadel, pro-cooperation Shepard can pretty plainly see that everyone else is looking first to their own species’ defense (as Ashley pretty much predicted in the first game), and shouldn’t consider it out of place for the Systems Alliance to be doing the same.

      The basic question for everyone else is “use the time the bear takes to digest Earth to figure something out, or, Crucible-permitting, force the final battle there to catch as many of the enemy as possible and shorten the war?” But even if the first option is the more reasonable one (since the Crucible is a total Hail Mary, and if it doesn’t work you’ve lost your combined fleets), few humans should be indifferent to their entire species (to a first approximation) being the sacrifice.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        Earth is home to 99% of the human species. Which makes it rather unfortunate that it’s likely completely uninhabitable in the aftermath of the final battle, if for no other reason than that it got hit by dozens if not hundreds of missed shots from the Sword fleet. Because everyone forgot about, or was desperate enough to ignore Sir Issac Newton, the deadliest son of a bitch in space.

        This is why you don’t assign fleet tactics to a Lt. Commander who specializes in ground combat, you guys.

        1. Mike S. says:

          “That is why you check your damn targets! That is why you wait for the computer to give you a damn firing solution! That is why, Serviceman Chung, we do not “eyeball it!””

          And for that reason, I trust that most of the shots fired by Sword didn’t miss. Did some miss? Sure. Did some intersect with Earth with a force twice Hiroshima’s? No doubt. Given the number of shots fired, probably quite a lot. (Though 3/4 hit the ocean, where they’ll contribute to reduced temperatures and bad harvests for the next N years but probably didn’t kill anyone directly.)

          And the Reapers were actively attacking Earth, and the cities were devastated. Hundreds of millions were killed at least, maybe billions.

          But there’s a lot of ruin in a planet. I seriously doubt that Earth was made uninhabitable as long as the individual hits were more in that kiloton range. (The dinosaur killer didn’t make Earth entirely uninhabitable– though it was a lousy place to be a large vertebrate for a while– and that was something like 240 teratons– or the equivalent of a hundred billion wild shots by the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space.)

          The pre-Extended Cut scenario, with the mass relays gone and a bunch of angry trapped veterans half of whom couldn’t eat the local food was pretty grim. But if we accept (however implausibly) that they got the relays up and running again pretty quickly, Earth has a good chance of recovery. (And anyway, we’re told that it did, IIRC.)

          1. Spacewreck says:

            The pre-Extended Cut scenario, with the mass relays gone and a bunch of angry trapped veterans half of whom couldn't eat the local food was pretty grim.

            Even in that scenario it may not be as grim as it initially appears. Their standard FTL drives still allow travel throughout a local cluster at approximately 12 LYs a day (assuming that Ashley’s statement about going 12 light-years being “a day’s cruise” refers to standard FTL drives). That might let them get to a place more compatible with their biology if necessary. Also, the difficulties with counter-chiral proteins might not be as serious as initially presented.

            There are two other possible mitigating factors, though there’s not any direct evidence for either of these in the games AFAIK:

            1) Synthesizing edible food stuffs of the appropriate chirality might be a fairly routine thing in the Mass Effect universe.

            2) If there were Quarian ships present, they would likely have the necessary equipment and trained personnel for growing the necessary dextro foods. Most of the food for the Quarian fleet is produced by the Liveships, which would probably have been left out of the battle for Earth, but there might be enough supplemental supplies and talent among the ships that did join the battle to help produce a workable interim solution until a longer-term fix could be developed.

            1. Mike S. says:

              It’s tough to say how helpful standard FTL is. My impression is that there aren’t a lot of habitable planets nearby, which is why no one discovered us till we activated the Charon Relay and went looking. Charon went to Arcturus, which was near a bunch of other relays, and I think all our colonization effort went that way through the network rather than via local FTL.

              The fact that few visited systems other than Arcturus have familiar star names is consonant with most known planets being way far away. Though as long as there’s not too large a gap without a place to discharge static, it’s still in principle possible to mount a long-range expedition given the time and eezo to work with.

              (Part of my rewritten headcanon after the original ending involved Wrex’s Odyssey, with Wrex taking decades to zig-zag his way across the galaxy to get back to Tuchanka, while Bakara runs the place and plays potential suitors against one another, and Urdnot Mordin travels the local stars with a trusted mentor, searching for news of her father.)

              Also, depending on how canonical one wants to treat the Cerberus Daily News releases from when ME2 was relatively new, there was a lost colony established at Alpha Centauri by a sublight craft 75 years before the relays were found, then rediscovered by an asari expedition in the 2180s. So that’s one nearby garden world.

              ETA Huh. If those poor bastards hadn’t been found by the asari, they’d have been a human colony with no mass effect technology, no access to relays, not even any local spaceflight. (They came in a hibernation ship that probably wasn’t resuable.)

              If left alone, might they have been overlooked by the Reapers? Getting found when they were may well have been the worst possible thing that could have happened to them.

      2. guy says:

        What bugs me isn’t that Shepard cares about Earth, it’s that Shepard often seems offended that the Turians are more concerned about Palaven than Earth, even though it’s the Turian homeworld and the Reapers are also assaulting it in strength. Given the relative tactical situations, the Turians are well within their rights to say “retaking Earth simply isn’t possible. Help us hold Palaven and we’ll see about protecting your remaining colony worlds.”

        1. Mike S. says:

          I didn’t get the impression that Shepard was offended. Everyone in the setting basically says “solve our existential threat, or we’re not helping anyone else”. That’s what you get from the turians, the krogan, the quarians, and the geth. (The salarians are never directly attacked by the Reapers, and the asari just make a desperate plea when Thessia comes under fire.)

          Shepard is basically making the same pitch from the human perspective: quid pro quo, how do we get your help with our existential threat? Shepard isn’t assuming that they’ll want to give that help, but asking what the conditions are to get it. Which seems like a reasonably rational negotiating position for a human.

          (The other species could decide that humanity’s an acceptable sacrifice. I don’t think it’s more unreasonable for the game to close off accepting that option for Shepard, any more than it is to close off the option to become a Reaper collaborator, or to point the Normandy into deep space and try to find a planet the Reapers won’t follow it to and settle down. There are always limits to what the protagonist of a game can be allowed to decide to do.)

          Shepard also has the added point that Earth really is demonstrably more important to the Reapers’ plans in a way that Palaven and Tuchanka aren’t. That’s a consequence of what Shepard learned in ME2, and it’s corroborated by the fact that the Reapers are at Sol in force, are building massive processing centers, administering and pacifying the population via indoctrinated leaders, and generally doing things on Earth they aren’t shown or said to be doing elsewhere.

          Even before the Citadel is moved, there is actually a military justification for treating Sol as a more critical Reaper target: they’re getting more ground troops from there, and can be plausibly assumed to be building one or more Reapers using the same tech they had at the Collector base.

          Of course, that knowledge is useless as long as they’re overpoweringly superior. But if the Crucible can make them vulnerable, Sol is pretty much the only occupied system known to be a particular focus of Reaper interest and activity.

          (Because, yes, Humans are Special. As we always were in this series, from the moment we leapfrogged species who had been starfaring when our ships were built from wood and cloth. Members of practically every species in the setting pointedly comment on it before Shepard is ever put in charge of the Normandy, let alone saving the Citadel and setting a land speed record for Council membership.)

    3. Tom says:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Earth implied to be a bit of a sucky place by this point in the ME canon anyway? Overcrowding, depleted natural resources, social stratification, etc. I got the distinct feeling everything had gone a bit Blade Runner back home – “A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies…”

      1. Mike S. says:

        My recollection is that there was something of a tug of war of two of the writers in ME1 over what Earth was like. (Among other things, one thought there would be a lot more balkanization based on things like the Yugoslav and Czech breakups and Scottish and Catalan separatism, the other thought there would be more consolidation a la the EU and the WTO and other supranational unions) It wouldn’t surprise me if that was one reason to leave Earth offstage and ambiguous.

        We know that there’s some poverty and crime given the Earthborn Shepard origin. But Kaidan’s background seems perfectly nice up to the point he’s sent to Brain Camp. I don’t think there’s any strong indication that it’s especially dystopian or Blade Runnerish, so much as simply not so utopian as to lack the run of terrible things and desperate people you could find in any period of history.

        (At least in the games. Tie-in material may say different.)

  28. Sartharina says:

    The sheer luck involved in getting anything useful from Freedom’s Progress does justify why Cerberus likes to orchestrate atrocities like Akuze and Horizon (Yes, Cerberus lured the Collectors to Horizon). TIM knows the galaxy is a big, dangerous place, full of all sorts of threats to humanity. (Note: Cerberus is Pro-Humanity, not Anti-Alien. They’ll happily befriend Turians and Quarians if it gives humans shoulders to stand on later to reach even greater heights, and pissing off the Aliens From Outer Space through xenophobic attacks just invites Alien Wrath on humans: Pissing off the Turians is NOT the way to ensure humanity’s survival and triumph!)

    Anyway… Cerberus likes to arrange a threat to hit somewhere with minimal impact on Humanity’s future, and let it run its course, while running their cameras the whole time. To use the Bhatia situation from the first game: The “Ethical” method to dealing with researching Geth weaponry is to wait for Geth to attack human positions on the Geth’s time (All of them Strategically Important to the Geth), slap Medigel on survivors and hope it works to save them, then get informed consent from survivors or families of casualties to run tests on what remains, restricted heavily by morality and medical ethics.

    The Cerberus method of dealing with threats like Geth Weaponry is try to lure the Geth to a big, juicy human target (That the species can recover from the loss of) let as many of their weapons tear apart as many of the people as possible to maximize the number of data points (How the weapons deal with all sorts of humans, from unarmored panicky civilians, to armored militia and armored-and-kinetic-barriered soldiers and biotic-barriered… biotics, and everything in between. And all sorts of tissue as well), then apply scientific rigor (But NOT humane ethics) to comprehensive study of casualties and wounded to learn as much as possible from the weapons and their interactions with human bodies and defensive systems. Short-term catastrophe for a more solid knowledge base… And Knowing is Half the Battle!

    The single Akuze incident probably provided more data on Thresher Maws than a dozen non-directed encounters would have. And Horizon gave a lot of information on the Collectors, allowing a Cerberus Scientist (who happens to be a Salarian named Mordin Solus) to develop a countermeasure against their Seeker Swarms.

    Also – I bet Cerberus had another cell monitoring the one studying the dead Reaper, to study the Reaper’s indoctrination effect. They just wouldn’t tell Shepard about that cell to avoid the moral indignation rant against just letting people become thralls to a machine god.

  29. Slothfulcobra says:

    Come to think of it, how are those robots still functional after the collectors just came through? Did nobody think to try stopping the invaders?

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      If you’re talking about the robots in the first level, they’re explicitly malfunctioning, they never should have attacked you. I’m guessing the Collector bugs wrecked their insides and left them just shooting at anything that moved when they left.

      1. Spacewreck says:

        IIRC, the mechs were only being activated at that point because Veetor had come out of hiding. He mistook Shepard and the others as threats and thus ordered the mechs to attack them. Prior to that, I’m guessing the Freedom’s Hope colonists didn’t have time to activate the mechs before the seeker swarms paralyzed them so they were ignored by the Collectors.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Yep, that’s it. I failed to remember that part.

  30. Ofermod says:

    I’m personally a fan of how the collector’s big plan is, apparently, to attack Earth directly to abduct the maximum number of humans… with their one ship. And people think this is actually plausible.

    1. Mike S. says:

      And since the capacity of the ship is said to be “millions”, a colony like Terra Nova or Eden Prime being the target would make more sense anyway.

      Maybe once the baby Reaper is toddling around on its thrusters, it can come with them to provide fire support and easier logistics. (“Here comes the space fighter! Open wide! Who’s a good vanguard of their destruction? ‘Es oo is!“)

    2. INH5 says:

      To be fair, this is only the speculation of one of Shepard’s party members. There is some unused audio of EDI saying that “the obvious final goal [of the Collectors] would be Earth,” but apparently someone at Bioware realized this was dumb and changed it to just say that the Collectors will need to collect millions more humans.

      It’s still dumb, and they should have also removed the “they’re going to target Earth” line in the Collector Ship mission.

  31. Xander77 says:

    Agree with this wholeheartedly. I was just going on about how the recruitment and loyalty mission structure of ME2 allowed the game to delve into the less savory aspects of each species and their respective sins – and while the napkin draft of the ostensible main plot would have been perfect for doing the same with the Alliance, basically nothing of the sort takes place. The same is true in regards to Cerberus – exploring the reasons why people may join a terrorist organization would have been fairly interesting – if the game wasn’t so set on denying the “terrorist organization” part, or willing to provide actual reasons besides “I got bored / Love Shepard / Alliance weak in non-specific way”.

  32. Flip says:

    The player’s empathy for the colonists is actually undermined by the game. Anderson says that they wanted to get away from the Alliance.

    So the game is asking us to feel sorry for colonists who…
    a)…voluntarily settled in a very dangerous area of space (Terminus Systems).
    b) Did so because they wanted to get away from the Alliance. They knew they would be unprotected.
    c) Are represented by a rather unsypathetic character who doesn’t seem to want saving.

    Yep, the colonists got what they deserved. Shepard shouldn’t have bothered stoping the Collectors.

  33. natureguy85 says:

    While it’s still contrived, I do like the scene with Tali because she is the only person who reacts appropriately to seeing Shepard alive! Nobody else cares or acts like it’s a big deal.

  34. Wveth says:

    I agree with you overall here, but I do think you’re reaching with some of these complaints. I didn’t “come up with an excuse for why this flaw isn’t so bad,” I came to a perfectly reasonable conclusion based on what I knew about the game. It’s not like I had to dig to find it. I don’t want to get specific because again, I agree with the overall complaint, but yeah, that line struck me as dismissive.

    1. Natureguy says:

      As a fellow reader from the far future of this article, I’d love toknow what you’re talking about.

  35. Natureguy says:

    This series is so awesome I’m reading it again after stumbling on another article of yours that mentioned it. I hope the book does/did well. It’s a cool idea.

    I thought of another thing that supports your comments about TIM getting all the cool cinematography: Why are we in TIM’s office seeing hologram Shepard instead of seeing TIM as a hologram like Shepard would?

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