Mass Effect Retrospective 26: THIS HURTS YOU

By Shamus Posted Thursday Dec 10, 2015

Filed under: Mass Effect 289 comments

So we’re on Horizon and we’ve met Joe Colonist, the nameless dolt who is our stand-in for the human colonies. We still have two other characters to “meet”. First up…


Well you know what they say happens when you 'assume'. You make an ass out of 'u' and 'Mass Effect'.
Well you know what they say happens when you 'assume'. You make an ass out of 'u' and 'Mass Effect'.

Harbinger is the name of the Reaper who is controlling the Collectors. Occasionally he shouts “ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL” and jumps into the body of one of the Collectors so he can face you on the battlefield. He throws some cheeseball combat taunts out. Stuff like, “This hurts you, Shepard.” Then you kick his ass and go back to what you were doing. He only takes control of the low-level mooks. He doesn’t ever try to drive one of the larger foes that actually have a chance of killing you.

This is a truly stunning level of perfect wrongness. There are so many layers of faulty decisions here that it’s like peeling an onion made entirely of bad ideas…

  1. Space-Cthulhu should be above pedestrian concerns like direct combat with firearms.
  2. But if he needs to be somehow involved in a gunfight, he should have his own form and not just jump into the body of a lowly mook.
  3. But if he does jump into a fight, he shouldn’t get his ass handed to him repeatedly.
  4. But if he does get his ass kicked over and over, he shouldn’t keep saying the same four swaggering tough-guy combat taunts.
  5. But if he does, we should at least maintain the illusion that Shepard is an insect beneath his notice, and not somebody he knows by name.
  6. But if he does know Shepard by name, then the story should be selling the idea that Shepard and company find him the least bit intimidating. They should react to his presence in terror or dismay. Sure, it would be ludo-narrative dissonance to have the player character afraid of someone that isn’t actually a serious threat, combat-wise. But that ship has already sailed. We’re already having shooty time with a Reaper. I’m just trying to rescue our villain before this story turns him into a comical punching bag.

If the protagonists aren’t even going to react to Harbinger, then why is he here in the first place? Harbinger comes off like some kind of overcompensating tryhard, and Shepard just smacks him down without a word. It’s as if this Reaper is just another unworthy mook beneath his notice. This is exactly backwards! This whole thing is so perfectly wrong: If you were to add anything, or take anything away, it would be an improvement.

This humanizes the Reapers in the worst possible way. It makes them seem small-minded, petty, and weak. His one-liners aren’t even good:

“This hurts you!”

“My attacks will tear you apart!”

The idea that a Reaper that’s millions of years old would behave like a 14 year old kid getting schooled in Counter-Strike is so bad it’s almost hilarious. I can’t believe this idea came from BioWare.

“But Shamus! Harbinger is actually dangerous on higher skill levels!”

If you say so. Although, “Playing on max difficulty will partly fix one of the half-dozen things wrong with our villain” seems like a bad trade-off to me. I’ll point out that the Mass Effect 1 conversation with Sovereign works just fine regardless of what you do in the options menu.

Oh shit. Did I just school Harbinger again? Didn't even notice it was him this time.
Oh shit. Did I just school Harbinger again? Didn't even notice it was him this time.

A lot of his taunts don’t even sound like they’re trying to sound Reaper-ish. Several of them could be read by any loser Blue Suns merc and they wouldn’t sound out of place. This flaw should be glaringly obvious to everyone involved. Not just to the writers, but to anyone working on the team. And it’s something that would have been trivial to fix. Just… how did it get this bad?

On top of it all, Harbinger is a dumbass. His Collector plan is doomed to fail even without Shepard opposing him. Later he has the heroes cornered on the Collector ship and he can’t stop Shepard from walking out. He finally scores a win over Shepard late in the game, but only because Shepard suddenly comes down with a legendary case of cutscene stupidity. (We’ll talk more about these sections in detail when we get to them.) There’s nothing in Harbinger’s behavior that suggests any degree of cunning, forethought, patience, or competence.

Harbinger looks even worse when we try to view Mass Effect 2 in the context of the other two games:

Looking back to Mass Effect 1, Harbinger is evidently such a loser that Sovereign didn’t ask for his help when it attacked the Citadel at the end of Mass Effect 1.

Looking forward to Mass Effect 3, we know the Reaper invasion fleet will be here just a few months after the events of Mass Effect 2. (Sooner, if we take the premise of The Arrival DLC into account.) The supposedly ageless and patient Reaper launched this short-sighted attack against a single Human. That rash and needless attack provoked a response that blew up his Prothean ant farm. If Harbinger had just sat still for a few months it would have been effortless to round up all the humans they wanted.

Not only did this writer fail to create a compelling villain for their story, they took the imposing machine-god villains established by the previous game and turned them into pathetic and mildly comical losers.

And speaking of ruining things from the previous game…

The Virmire Survivor

It's the great commander Shepard, my dear friend and god among men WHO IS AN ASSHOLE BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T CONTACT ME FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. SCREW YOU COMMANDER JERKFACE!
It's the great commander Shepard, my dear friend and god among men WHO IS AN ASSHOLE BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T CONTACT ME FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE. SCREW YOU COMMANDER JERKFACE!

You run into either Kaiden or Ashley here, depending on who survived Virmire. You’d think Ashley might remark on the fact that this is the second time you’ve shown up to save her life during an alien assault on a Human colony. It was a pretty big moment in her life and led to her friendship with Shepard. She ought to be experiencing some intense déjà vu, here. But no.

Kaiden and Ashley both have the same dialog for some reason, even though these two characters have very different personalities. They begin the conversation claiming you’re a “god”, then throw a teenage tantrum because you didn’t call them in the last two years while you were dead, and then act like you’re a supervillain for working for Cerberus. Then they storm off. It’s probably the most frustrating conversation in the game, because both sides are wrong. Kashley is incredibly unreasonable to the point of being irrational and childish, and your answers are dumb, bordering on idiotic. And to top it all off, the dialog wheel lies to you about what you’re going to say.

Here’s the dialog between Male Shepard and Ashley:

Shepard is trying to talk sense into Joe Colonist. One of Shepard’s companions calls Shepard by name.

Joe Colonist:
Shepard? I remember that name. You’re some kind of big Alliance Hero.

Ashley enters the scene from behind a crate(?) and looks in awe at Shepard. The somber Vigil theme plays.

Commander Shepard, Captain of the Normandy. The first Human Spectre. (She looks at him warmly, smiling.) Savior of the Citadel. (To Joe Colonist.) You’re in the presence of a GOD, Delan. Back from the dead!

Joe Colonist:
(To Ashley. Disgusted.) All the people we lost and you get left behind. Figures. Screw this. I’m done with you Alliance types!

(Steps forward, offers Shepard a handshake.) I thought you were dead, Commander. We all did.

(Top of wheel, paragon-ish.) It’s been too long, Ash. How have you been?

(Suddenly offended.) That’s it? You show up after two years and act like nothing’s happened?

If you choose 'I'm not working for Cerberus', Shepard ACTUALLY says, 'Cerberus and I want the same thing.' It's like EVERYTHING in this scene is engineered to piss you off.
If you choose 'I'm not working for Cerberus', Shepard ACTUALLY says, 'Cerberus and I want the same thing.' It's like EVERYTHING in this scene is engineered to piss you off.

Every single spoken line above is wrong or jarring in some way, and I could probably spend an entire entry dissecting the whole scene a line at a time. But I don’t want to detract from the Main Wrong Thing by focusing on all the smaller blunders. The main problem is the incredible damage it does to the Kashley character. The rest of the game seems aware of how important the characters are to our connection to this universe. So why is this character handled so poorly? Like Liara, it feels like the author abruptly re-wrote the character for no reason. This isn’t even in service of the story.

This is conversation is such a disaster that we can’t even turn to authorial intent for help. Even from outside the story, I can’t tell what the writer is trying to accomplish. Why does Ash go from “awe and admiration” to “offended and pissed off” when Shepard greets her? Is this slam-cut mood change intentional? Is the writer trying to say Ashley is irrational and emotionally unstable, or did they just skip the point in the conversation where her mood-change is depicted? What is the audience supposed to be feeling, here? Are we supposed to be angry at her? Hurt? Indignant?

The dialog wheel doesn’t tell you ahead of time, but Shepard’s responses inevitably mention Cerberus, which makes Ashley even more outraged. They argue for a few lines. Ashley seems to worry that Cerberus is mind-controlling you, even though she doesn’t actually know about the rebuilding process and so doesn’t have a really good reason to suspect that. (And literally nobody else in the story is worried about that, even the ones who do know about how extensive Shepard’s rebuilding was.)

No matter what you choose, she acts like Shepard is a monster and says, “You turned your back on everything we stood for.” (After you saved half the colony. Which you can’t actually point out.) She spends the whole exchange insinuating Shepard is either a liar or brainwashed. When she ends the conversation, she doesn’t say she’s going to check on the victims everyone here is supposed to care about, but instead she says she’s going to report to the Alliance, “To see if they believe you.”

I did not tamper with the game or this cutscene in any way. Ashley really does go cock-eyed here for some reason.
I did not tamper with the game or this cutscene in any way. Ashley really does go cock-eyed here for some reason.

Really, writer? “I’m gonna tell mom!” That’s how you’re going to end the conversation with one of the core characters from the last game?

Some players were willing to go with the premise of working for Cerberus, and some players hated the concept. But this conversation fails for both groups. The writer threw you some excuses at the start of the game to justify the Cerberus alliance, but you can’t offer those excuses back to the game when Kashley asks about it. But you also can’t agree with her, either. You’re obliged to debate her and then prevented from saying anything substantive or asking reasonable questions. Instead you select the dialog optionThere are other choices, but I have no idea what they say. I’ve never chosen them and I’ve never heard anyone comment on them. Everyone goes straight for disavowing Cerberus. that says, “I’m not working for Cerberus”, and then Shepard says the opposite and fails to follow up with a good reason. And then Kashley acts like this is a horrifying betrayal.

The writer keeps telling us conflicting things about Cerberus:

1) Cerberus is so evil that working with them for any reason – even to save the lives of thousands of innocent civilians – is simply unacceptable. It’s a betrayal of basic values and decency.

2) Cerberus is so benign that Joker and Chakwas left their prestigious careers with the Alliance to join Cerberus, and it doesn’t seem like a big deal to either of them. They’re not deeply conflicted, or worried about what people might say, or expressing anything suggesting that this decision would be viewed as scandalous.

Having conflicting viewpoints can work, if you’re willing to spend the time on it. It’s a good way to make the world feel large and complex. “One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” is a real argument we have in the real world. Except, the author refuses to address any of this. None of it is reflected in dialog or even acknowledged by the characters.

BioWare, get ahold of yourself! What are you doing, man?
BioWare, get ahold of yourself! What are you doing, man?

Why is Kashley the only person to think that working with Cerberus is beyond the pale? What does she know that Joker doesn’t? We have this massive difference in opinion on the nature of Cerberus. Based on the Cerberus activity we see in the games, I actually agree with Kashley. But everyone else disagrees. You can’t tell Kashley about what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’ve been trapped in this course of action, and you can’t ask Joker what he thinks of all the horrible things Cerberus has done. Kashley doesn’t explain why her view of Cerberus is so radically different from that of Joker and Chakwas. You can’t confront Miranda or TIM about the evils of Cerberus. None of the pro-Cerberus people will name even a single thing that Cerberus has done that’s good.

The game’s entire presentation of Cerberus seems to change from scene to scene without anyone noticing or commenting. This is so wrong it’s disturbing. If feels like the writer is gaslighting us. “What? I never said Cerberus was evil. Maybe you imagined it?”

I think the author of this scene felt they needed a way to justify Kashly not re-joining the crew, and so they contrived this juvenile argument. But no argument was needed. It would have been out of character for Kashley to abandon their post and fly off with you, leaving behind the colonists, equipment, and duties that had been entrusted to themThis is ignoring the really odd idea that the Alliance would send just ONE person. Shit guys, send a squad at least. How short-handed are you? Kashley needs to sleep SOMETIME..

All we needed to hear was, “I can’t abandon my post. These people need me here now more than ever, and going AWOL won’t help your cause or this colony. (Tearful hug.) Good luck out there, Shepard.” Boom. Done. Kashley stays behind. No stupid conversation, no railroading dialog, no breaking character. You could follow that comment up with Kashley saying something about checking up on their friends – meaning the remaining survivors you just saved. That would give Kashley a way to demonstrate concern for the colonists, it would give us at least some approximation of third-hand concern for them, and it would provide a graceful way to end the conversation without making it sound like Kashley is running off to pout.

And if all of that wasn’t wrong enough, the game plays the Vigil theme from Mass Effect 1 during this conversation. The writer is going to use the music of somber revelations from the first game as the soundtrack for an angry argument?! This is ludicrous and tone-deaf. We’re hearing the most distinctive track from Mass Effect 1 while talking with someone who is acting completely out of character. It actually amplifies the dissonance.

Based on how the theme was used last time, it might be appropriate to use this music…

  • When investigating Prothean ruins.
  • During a profound and revelatory conversation regarding the Reapers or the ancient past.
  • In the “calm before the storm” moments leading into a finale.

Playing this music for Kashley is like playing the Star Wars Cantina music when we meet the Ewoks. Even if you think it matches the mood, a proper musical score is more than just a collection of tempos. Individual pieces of music come to mean things. They have their own context. It’s not a magic button the clumsy writer can push to cause emotions to happen.



[1] There are other choices, but I have no idea what they say. I’ve never chosen them and I’ve never heard anyone comment on them. Everyone goes straight for disavowing Cerberus.

[2] This is ignoring the really odd idea that the Alliance would send just ONE person. Shit guys, send a squad at least. How short-handed are you? Kashley needs to sleep SOMETIME.

From The Archives:

289 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 26: THIS HURTS YOU

  1. boota says:

    in hindsight, i think the kashley encounter is the moment in the series where the series was broken beyond repair.

    before this the deceptions and limitations of the conversation wheel were frustrating, but here, when you meet one of the most trusted characters of the last game, the lack of player agency is made blatantly obvious. I wonder what the reason for this is.If kaiden and ashleys actors unavailable for the project, i would understand that they had to find a way to get rid of them for the remainder of the game (this is the reason for Elena Fisher to be such a small part of Uncharted 2)

    but if this is what the writers intended, it’s really sad. After the first hours of mass effect, finding out you weren’t technically you anymore, realizing it was impossible to defect, the whole situation could have been remedied by at least having kashley on a mission or two before them becoming unavailable (maybe act out the differences of oppinion after going to tuchanka or whatever.) would have made huge differences

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Whats even more baffling is that none of the other people from me1 react like that.Liara and wrex also dont acompany you,but they are glad when they see you alive,and they trust your judgment about cerberus.Anderson also refuses to help you,but is still polite and friendly.Tali and garrus also trust your judgment about cerberus,and accompany you despite everything.Its just cashley that reacts like a spoiled brat.

      1. Ringwraith says:

        In fact, Tali rightly challenges your decision somewhat, before making it clear she’s there for Shepard, not Cerberus, due to the direct damage they’ve caused to the Flotilla (in one of the interim books, hence the hostile quarian response at the beginning).

      2. Lanthanide says:

        It’s actually slightly more realistic to have different people react differently to the new situation, instead of having everyone respond in exactly the same way.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Differently doesnt not mean that someone has to act like a spoiled idiot.

    2. James says:

      I recall Bioware saying they needed Kashley and Liara for Mass Effect 3 and that’s why they couldn’t be crew members this time.

      The Actors could also have been busy i guess but Kaiden’s VA has been in like every bioware game ever made it would be odd for him to suddenly turn them down, or them to not find time for him.

  2. Raygereio says:

    Re: The onion made entirely of bad ideas…
    I’m okay with the basic idea of Harbinger “assuming direct control”. He doesn’t use firearms: He uses one of his mooks’ bodies as a conduit for his power and hurls firebombs at you. On paper that sounds pretty cool.
    And it would have been cool and perhaps even feel intimidating if it happened only at a few climactic moments and mechanically he’d be an actual threat.

    I think of all the bad ideas you listed, the third one is the major one. In your very first engagement where Harbinger shows up, it’s possible for an average player to kill him something like three times. And the fight consists of Harbinger slowly walking towards you while repeating the same handful of lines over and over, while you just empty your heatsink into him. When you start to play whack-a-mole with the big bad, he stops being intimidating.
    Heck, Harbinger can even be a blessing when he shows up. I found myself thinking on more then one occasion “Oh thanks, Harbinger” when he possessed an Assassin (a collector type that can be an actual threat).

    But if he does know Shepard by name, then the story should be selling the idea that Shepard and company find him the least bit intimidating. They should react to his presence in terror or dismay. Sure, it would be ludo-narrative dissonance to have the player character afraid of someone that isn't actually a serious threat, combat-wise. But that ship has already sailed. We're already having shooty time with a Reaper. I'm just trying to rescue our villain before this story turns him into a comical punching bag.

    Oh dear. No. That’s a really bad idea. What you’re describing is pretty much exactly what the problem was with Kai Leng in ME3. If you can’t actually sell the villain being an actual threat. Then don’t try to force it down the player’s throat.
    On the whole I prefer the big bad being a laughing stock, as opposed to having the writers grab me by the metaphorical neck and having them scream “Please be afraid!” in my ear.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Working under the same assumption that we’re doing the direct confrontation thing no matter what Harbinger should have been a boss. When he takes over it should be a major event that only happens at most a couple times during the game. He should be this unstoppable force that the entire team can at best slow down, and entire areas should be focused on that or avoiding him, and that can only be handled by doing something like dropping a spaceship or collapsing a building on.

      1. James says:

        He should have been the last boss if we wanted a direct control thing, killing him more then once belittles him too much, plus we don’t have the Terminator in the game and everyone can be thankful for that.

        1. Pyrrhic Gades says:

          Why would Harbringer only assume control for a final boss fight? Sovereign never took Shepard seriously until the last minute. Sovereign is dead.
          What kind of villain doesn’t learn from others’ mistakes?

          If you want a job done right, do it yourself.
          Harbringer tries his hardest everytime, so what if he ain’t that menacing?

          Team Rocket only has to steal Pikachu once.

          1. Fizban says:

            I feel compelled to point out that Team Rocket stole Pikachu several times, and then he escaped or was rescued immediately afterwards.

          2. Andrew_C says:

            Looks like Team Harbinger is blasting off agaain!

          3. Couscous says:

            Team Rocket is an apt analogy for Harbinger. He occasionally does things that should be legitimately threatening and actually did something threatening by temporarily killing Shepard much like how Team Rocket was sometimes portrayed as an actual threat when the writers felt like it and did temporarily succeed sometimes. However, these cases become meaningless due to the overwhelming cases where they are just jokes, intentional or otherwise. In the case of Harbinger, his hands on approach is so pathetic that players are unlikely to consider him a major threat compared to the tougher regular mooks. Team Rocket’s attempts were normally pathetic jokes that were no real threat most of the time. Harbinger attempts to sound cool by spouting off garbage lines. Jessie and James in Team Rocket spout a meaningless creed about denouncing the evils of truth and love. Both simply make them more comical.

            They are both so pathetic that even the things that might seem threatening in isolation do not mean much given the context of their multitude of failures. The writers do not portray the changes in whether they are supposed to be a real threat like how a writer might portray a person going from a seemingly harmless goofball to a horrible threat no one suspected they were or combine the goofballness with being a horrible threat for tension. The cases where they temporarily succeed have the apparent success almost immediately ruined. In the case of Harbinger, “Oh no! Shepard is dead! Oh wait, he was resurrected five seconds later from my perspective. But the Normandy is still destroyed! That bastard! Wait. Never mind. Already have the Normandy back. Well, he killed a lot of people that I liked such as whatshisface!” I am pretty sure that even Team Rocket has had longer lasting successes than that.

            1. Peter H. Coffin says:

              Video games, in general, seem to be very very wary of letting the player lose anything except as a “game over”/”respawn” situation. The idea that learning to lose less or spending considerable portions of a game *losing* territory and retreating from battles is vanishingly rare, and I can’t think of a single video game that really expected a player to win by letting the enemy overextend to the point of weakness, which is how a large portion of actual wars are won.

              1. Jonathan says:

                Europa Universalis… especially in eastern or northern Europe. They Declare War? Fine. Raise the army, fall back, and let their armies rot in a 6-month winter siege before engaging.

              2. Richard H. says:

                I’d say a lot of this is because video games do a poor job of making overextension a weakness. Logistics generally isn’t fun, unless you build the game around it, and then it becomes a niche game. Absent overextension being a thing at all, you can’t really win by making your opponent do that.

      2. modus0 says:

        Maybe a good way to portray Harbinger as more of a threat would make him immune to the player’s guns; but with the change that his taking control of a Collector starts “burning it up”, and that body can only last for a short while before disintegrating, also it takes Harbinger a while to “recover” from that and take another body.

        It would serve to make Harbinger a credible threat without making him too much of one, while also resolving the issue of Shephard gunning him down easily.

        1. Lachlan the Mad says:

          I agree that’s a better plan, but it’s not great from a gameplay perspective. You already spend enough of this game hiding behind cover, we don’t need a boss who is literally defeated by hiding behind cover even harder.

          1. Couscous says:

            Have him destroy cover. There is absolutely nothing more horrifying than that in a cover shooter.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      The funniest thing about this is that this is true even on higher difficulties. Maybe ESPECIALLY on higher difficulties. IIRC, half a dozen husks pose more of a threat. He, at least, can be mitigated by cover. And he’s a giant glowing spotlight just BEGGING to get sniped.

      1. Poncho says:

        Yep. Even on hardest difficulty, sniper builds can usually 1 or 2 shot him. Throw in a couple powers from your squadmates and Harbinger falls like a wet sack every time he appears. Sometimes he doesn’t even get off his “ASSUMING CONTROL” line because I’ve already popped his head off.

      2. TheDjinni says:

        I dunno about you, but on the hardest difficulty this guy was a nightmare for Vanguards. He kills you in like 2-3 hits so you need to stick to cover like glue, yet biotic and tech builds regularly need to leave cover for long casting animations. The battles were a delicate aggro juggle between ordering allies to hit him with biotics so he’d aggro on them and diving into him headfirst with the Vanguard Charge for a biotic explosion followed by a Shotgun blast to the face. All while dealing with the problems Vanguards normally have to deal with, like maintaining good situational awareness so you can quickly get back into cover or use distant enemies as effective escape tools. Maybe Soldiers and Infiltrators have an easy time against him, but I found those classes boring and never really played them.

        In my experience, he was an intimidating threat that accomplished exactly the sense of terror that Shamus said he didn’t. Doesn’t help that I already had lots of other enemies to focus on at the time, and that it was best to save him for last so he wouldn’t jump into any more enemies. It was a delicate balance to keep him alive long enough to whittle the enemy numbers down while avoiding the strong possibility of him killing you and/or your allies if you just ignored him. The fact that he’d always jump in mid-fight meant he always felt like an additional threat popping up rather than an enemy that just had to be dealt with like every other. If you took a risk killing him early and then shit happened during the cooldown period that prevented you from whittling down the enemy force properly, he’d feel like such an asshole teleporting into the guy you were just about to kill and it was like you were back at square one again.

        Maybe we can chalk this up to inconsistent difficulty more than anything. Some classes have it much easier than others, that much is clear… and if you’re not already struggling to keep afloat, he’s not that much more powerful than the mooks he invades so he doesn’t seem like such a big threat unless you happen to be hovering around a very thin band where things are just barely consistently manageable without him entering the fray.

        It’s certainly not like he’s a Praetorian or whatever those things are called that show up twice and get a free shield refresh any time one of your allies is dumb enough to let them get close. For being immune to close-range combat those things have way too much HP for a Vanguard to efficiently take out. It would certainly help if your allies were a bit better at DPS than they are; as it stands they do about 1/2 to 1/3rd of your DPS combined. Again it comes down to poorly made game balance; some classes just have glaring weaknesses that no optimal choice of allies could fix, and there is way too much inconsistency in

    3. Syal says:

      There were a lot of ways for it to work better; make him a much stronger boss fight, make him possess heavily armored things, or just take away the taunts and don’t explain why some enemies will suddenly start glowing and fighting differently until a big dramatic reveal in the late game.

      I’m wondering whether it would have worked if Harbinger’s lines were all about how weird it was to be a humanoid biped, and how do you people deal with being so insignificant all the time, and Sovereign really lost to this? Then you can gun him down to your heart’s content and it doesn’t really diminish him as an antagonist because he’s clearly just messing around.

      1. Alexander The 1st says:

        “I'm wondering whether it would have worked if Harbinger's lines were all about how weird it was to be a humanoid biped, and how do you people deal with being so insignificant all the time, and Sovereign really lost to this? Then you can gun him down to your heart's content and it doesn't really diminish him as an antagonist because he's clearly just messing around.”

        Now I’m imagining a ME2 mod that replaces one of Harbinger’s lines with “How do I turn this thing on?”

        1. Armagrodden says:

          “How do I shot fireball? Testing..testing…can you insects hear me down there?

          “Also, I just collected another third of your little habitat while you were distracted by this meaningless shell. If it truly was you who ended my eternal brother, the laws of probability have much to answer for.”

          1. evileeyore says:

            Ahahah, oh man, I feel on the floor laughing over this.

            That would have been perfect.

          2. Alexander The 1st says:

            “Now that you’ve destroyed this meaningless shell, I suppose I should go back to finishing my taxes.”

  3. Christopher says:

    I don’t think you actually mentioned this in the part about ME1s finale, but the final boss is Saren’s carcass jumping around like a low-level geth frog mook, being controlled by Sovereign. This sin was already committed, and at the very pinnacle of the climax of the last game at that. Although I don’t remember any taunts. It’s been 4 years since I played it, so feel free to correct me if I’ve got the details wrong, or for jumping the gun if you were getting to it later in some sort of final boss comparison.

    1. boota says:

      there are a few differences though, sovereign and saren seem to be linked in some way. sovereigns shields go down when shepard defeats saren (or talks him into committing suicide). when the shelds go down sovereign is a sitting duck, so (i interpret it as) he takes his chance at defeating shepard and escaping in sarens body rather than trying to fight the fleets without shields.

      1. Mike S. says:

        The importance of the firefight with Saren to Sovereign’s performance in the larger battle makes, if anything, much less sense than Harbinger’s use of disposable teleoperated drones.

        Both are sacrifices of plausibility in the service of it being a game. But the Mass Effect 1 version makes the fight on the ground important to the survival of the impossibly ancient and powerful space-Cthulhu.

        (Because it’s not enough that Shepard caused Sovereign’s primary mission to fail and helped ensure the Alliance fleet would be in place to defend the Citadel. Shepard the ground-pounder has to somehow be able to personally defeat the two-kilometer long living spaceship in a bossfight.)

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          In Mass Effect 2, the act of killing Sovereign is personally attributed to Shepard, despite the involvement of both the Fifth Fleet and Citadel Defense. Heck, even the Reapers seem keen to pin the whole thing on her, and it’s implied to be a major factor in Harbinger’s interest in her.

          I mean, how would the Reapers even know that Shepard was involved in the chaos, unless Sovereign was sending real-time transmissions back to them. And accepting that, why would they care so much about one individual to the point that they would risk exposure to go out of their way to kill her? Is that just how they operate? Did they also relentlessly hunt down the guy who built and/or fired the Klendagon Rift weapon that killed that other Reaper?

          1. Mike S. says:

            Of course, the whole “paying too much attention to Shepard” goes back to Virmire, where Sovereign politely and lengthily exposits on the nature of the Reapers to Shepard because… why exactly?

            (It’s an awesome villain speech. But the fact that Sovereign makes it is in direct contradiction to the idea that individual organics are beneath its notice. Sovereign doesn’t even try set Shepard up for recruitment/indoctrination– it’s pure “this hurts you” posturing.)

            1. Gruhunchously says:

              In Sovereign’s case, it was just a horrible case of mistaken identity.

              Okay, so that’s not actually how it happened, but still, funny

            2. guy says:

              On Virmire, you happen to find the thing he uses to order minions around, and he exposits at you until he gets bored. He doesn’t even care about Shepard enough to want to keep secerts.

              1. Mike S. says:

                Just as I always exposit human history and my personal plans to ants, sure. (“Your own species only exists in this place because my people crossed the gulfs between continents countless of your lifetimes ago, for reasons you could not comprehend…”)

                1. djw says:

                  Meh, I talk to myself sometimes. That’s basically what Sovereign was doing.

                2. krellen says:

                  You might if the ants could actually communicate questions to you.

                  1. Mike S. says:

                    At that point I can’t really claim I’m beyond their comprehension, can I?

                    (And in that case, maybe it would also be satisfying to shout out taunts when I’m making with the boric acid.)

                3. Ofermod says:

                  … you mean most people don’t give villainous monologues to ants right before the magnifying glass is turned upon them?

                  1. SharpeRifle says:

                    Ugh last time I did that they killed my minion ant and gave me a heart attack!

            3. Trix2000 says:

              I always took it as just another example of how little we understood Sovereign (and by extension, the Reapers) at that point. That he was so willing to speak of things even though we were the enemy struck me as more of a “It’s inevitable that we’ll win, so no reason I can’t toy with you a bit with information”.

              It’s not a perfect explanation, but it was enough to carry the narrative for me.

              1. Mike S. says:

                I’m fine with that. (And Sovereign’s speech is great, and I want to keep it.) But it’s another case where it’s necessary to meet the story halfway. It’s exactly the kind of villainous monologuing that “The Incredibles” sends up– but there’s a reason that became a convention despite being a kind of dumb thing for a supposed mastermind to do.

                Shorter version: if we like the story, we cut it the necessary slack to let it work.

                I’m personally likewise willing to grant that a species that went from discovering interstellar travel to becoming the #4 power (at least) in the Milky Way in a shorter time than it took to get from the first Space Shuttle launch to now, and followed up by disrupting Sovereign’s otherwise foolproof plan and scoring the first known Reaper kill in 37 million years might be of interest.

                And that if Sovereign was willing to have a telepresence sit-down with Shepard having never heard of the Commander, Harbinger’s more specific focus after the events of ME1 doesn’t seem out of bounds.

                (After all, the only reason we think Reapers don’t care about individual organics is because one spent five minutes explaining just how much it didn’t care to an individual organic.)

                The specifics of the Harbinger battlefield enemy are gamey and hard to seriously justify. But no more so, I think, than that the Reapers bother with husks (where do melee electric zombies fit into combat doctrine?), that the geth rely so heavily on human-sized bipedal platforms with rifles, that Sovereign’s final throw of the dice involved zombie frog-jumping Saren, etc. (Or biotics, which is basically just spellcasting in space.)

                Perfect integration of speculative SF with the shooter mechanics would be a fantastic achievement, but it’s not something the Mass Effect franchise was ever really going for.

                1. Alexander The 1st says:

                  (After all, the only reason we think Reapers don't care about individual organics is because one spent five minutes explaining just how much it didn't care to an individual organic.)

                  So…what you’re saying is, it’s entirely possible that Sovereign is a tsundere?

                  1. Armagrodden says:

                    “You exist because we allow it…but…but it’s not as if I like you or anything, Shepherd-chan.”

                    1. Mike S. says:

                      [Resolves not to Google to determine whether this relationship dynamic has been explored within fanfic. Rule 34 notwithstanding, if I don’t see it I don’t have to acknowledge it exists.]

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Not with sovereign,but like SlothfulCobra has linked,there is one with harbinger.

                    3. Ant says:

                      I have seen Harbinger as a romantic option in a Dorkly comic. You’re welcome, Mikes

      2. Greg says:

        The main difference here would be that Sov-Saren was the final boss of the first game and was actually quite threatening mechanically. The problem isn’t really with possession in and of itself (I don’t agree with Shamus’ #2 point in theory); it’s with the possession being so limp and powerless that it becomes a joke.

        As for Sovereign’s shields going down … I thought that supposedly happened due to feedback from Sov-Saren being destroyed? The battle was for control of the Citadel’s arms position button, and when Saren lost (or killed himself) Sovereign realized it’d be a sitting duck with the arms reopened and a giant fleet waiting outside for it, so it poured a whole lot of power into Sov-Saren and consequently the thing’s destruction stunned it. That doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, now that I think of it like that, so maybe there’s a better explanation.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Disagree about Saren being a threat. That’s down to difficulty again. I do STRONGLY disagree with Shamus’ point about combat difficulty though. It’s ridiculous to set the game to “I want to win every time” difficulty and then be like “this guy is stupid easy to kill.” If you set the game to where every enemy CAN be a threat, then yes Harbinger drones are the worst non-boss enemy. Huge damage reduction, attacks that can drain you to near death right away if you’re hit directly.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not even close.Scions and ymirs hit way worse than harbinger,krogan regenerate and are tough as nails(and also hit very hard),and husks are stupid fast and come in swarms.The only threat in a harbinger fight is presented by the rest of the collectors flanking you while you shoot at him.And thats on insanity.

            1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              Krogans are instant death at close range for sure, but they also have the much more common to be ready for Armor instead of the more exotic “Barrier” shield. When Mordin of all people can easily wipe you out, you’re probably not the toughest enemy out there.

              Scions are just designed unfairly for the game (they then made this even worse in Mass Effect 3 multiplayer, so it seems they were aware of it). An enemy who continuously fires a projectile that ignores cover, won’t be interrupted, and can kill you in two hits… well. But there’s probably like 10 Scions in the game. Maybe more like 6. Harbinger you have to fight a TON and that number can be increased based on what you do. Harby rushes you and at Insanity, being on the wrong end of cover with him can basically be a forced game over if you can’t produce the necessary DPS on a whim. Scions, you sit back from extreme range and pepper with biotic attacks until they (finally) die. Harby won’t allow that.

              So my assessment is based on threat (he can easily kill you), behavior (he respawns when he feels like it if you haven’t cleared mooks and RUSHES you like a Krogan), commonality (appears commonly on every Collector mission), and armor (stronger than any mook, exotic defense type you may be unprepared for). The most dangerous enemy for you personally at any given moment will depend on your class, your team, your loadout, etc.

              1. Mike S. says:

                Though precisely because Scions are so overpowered, it’s very satisfying (once you’ve gotten the power via Lair of the Shadow Broker) to hit one on a moving platform with Stasis, have the platform move on without it, and then see it do a Wile E. Coyote when the Stasis wears off.

                1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                  You can do something similar with the train scene in ME3.

                  Or the scenes where shuttles are dropping off Cerberus troops, planting a Singularity in the doorway and picking off all the agents before they even land.

              2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                So my assessment is based on threat (he can easily kill you)

                Other special enemies can kill you even easier.

                behavior (he respawns when he feels like it if you haven't cleared mooks and RUSHES you like a Krogan)

                Yes,he respawns,but other special enemies often come in pairs.This means that a couple of krogan will usually flank you from both sides at once,while a couple of harbingers will come at you one after the other.Also,harbinger doesnt rush you,he walks towards you.Krogan rush you quicker.

                commonality (appears commonly on every Collector mission)

                Krogan appear about as much.Also,krogan come at you coupled with vorcha,who are tougher than the collectors.And the strongest trait of the collectors is their mobility and flanking you,which harbinger strips away from the one he takes over.Meanwhile,krogan are their own enemy,letting the rest of the vorcha scatter around you.

                and armor (stronger than any mook, exotic defense type you may be unprepared for).

                But not as strong as the other special enemies,who may also have three bars instead of just two.Plus,you wont be prepared for it only on your first playthrough,the one where you will also have no idea where krogan are,where sions are,where a bunch of husks lurk,etc.Every other time,you will either have a powers combo with you to deal with he barrier+armor,or you will carry the collector particle beam when attacking the collectors,and that one shreds through harbinger before he even stops levitating.

          2. Gruhunchously says:

            Subjective; I found Harbinger to be piss-easy on the ‘default’ normal difficulty, and little more than an annoying damage sponge on Hardened difficulty. It’s only on the two upper-most difficulties that I began anticipating him with apprehension, and by then, all his mooks had been buffed so enormously that he hardly stood out among them.

            1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

              The one thing it has going for it is the mooks are a little harder to kill with Harbinger in them. So if you focus on always taking down Harbinger, you’re going to take everyone down slower. So you might be inclined to take down the other mooks first so that the fight goes faster.

              Also, there is the idea that you’re fighting a shadow. It would work better if it wasn’t a Reaper who is arguably diminished by this direct involvement but for a lesser villain, the idea that you can’t actually touch him because he just keeps jumping mook to mook could elevate him as a threat and make him more satisfying to kill in the end (if you could actually kill him in the end).

          3. Trix2000 says:

            I actually think it was more important not that he was a “threat” (ie: able to kill the player), but more that he wasn’t so easy to bring down. I don’t think he ever killed me in all the times I fought him, but I always considered him a tough (and maaaaybe slightly annoying fight) if only because it took a significant amount of time and effort (and aiming…) to get through his defenses.

            There wasn’t a whole lot of real danger (he could bring down shields fast enough, but never enough to kill me) but it still FELT like he was putting up a real fight.

          4. GloatingSwine says:

            Harbinger is a pansy, his worst trick, even on Insanity, is that he can bounce you out of cover so that other things can shoot you.

          5. Loonyyy says:

            You’re missing Shamus’ point.

            He pops up, over and over, and you put him down, over and over. That undermines him. When he does it, he gives generic, arrogant combat taunts, and he gets smacked down, over and over, making him seem both unsophisticaed, and stupid. Even a player playing for the story, who doesn’t want to replay parts should get some feeling for his threat.

            The way it’s handled is poor. You can have a fight that’s not hard to complete that still feels epic or desperate. All of these wannabe survival games, Tomb Raider, TLoU, aren’t that hard to play, but they feel and look desperate and like a struggle. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, before it ramps up it’s difficulty still feels like it’s epic, and tricky in the early boss fights, even though they’re mechanically simple. The enemies were pushovers, but they impressed me.

            1. Bronn says:

              What’s hilarious is that he sometimes has lines like, “Your attacks are an insult.” Which is just silly since he’s lowering himself to your level in order to make that claim. In the meantime, his attacks are generally so useless as to be an insult. He never uses cover so you can just spam concussive shot and warp and bring him down.

              I like bringing Legion along for much of the suicide mission. His Geth sniper rifle takes out half a life bar on Insanity. He’s busy taunting me and I’m completely ignoring him while my SIDEKICKS quickly take him out.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Few notable differences:
      Jumping geth were way easier
      This was a one time battle
      Sarrens corpse was just that,a revived corpse
      There were no taunts
      Sovereign was also involved in humping the citadel and fighting off a whole fleet of ships
      Shepard was still a genuine threat at that point,so had to be dealt with in order to close the citadel hands again

      So yeah,that one was much better.Not great,but waaaay better than this thing.

      1. guy says:

        Sovereign also really did need to do it; without having someone in control of the council chamber he couldn’t counter Vigil’s override program and would eventually get zerged down by the defending fleets. He couldn’t possibly win without doing it.

        Mechanically, it’s kind of hard to call because of how powers interact; IIRC he doesn’t have biotic power immunity because the hoversled is gone, but he’s a seriously nasty adversary if you don’t have the right powers.He’s most definitely the strongest ground-bound roughly human sized adversary.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          He’s not actually HARD, he’s just an immense damage sponge. I honestly think he might have more HP than a Colossus.

          1. Loa Vecre says:

            Well, there’s the ridiculous amount of damage he can take, but also the instant-death missile swarm that can completely blindside you if his A.I. gets a sudden stroke of genius and leaps correctly.

        2. Ninety-Three says:

          Actually he does have near-immunity to biotics, he weighs so much that a single application of Lift will bounce right off him (at least on max difficulty), you need to stack powers from two or more characters at once to ragdoll him.

  4. Bas L. says:

    Their line of thinking regarding Harbinger was probably that they needed to give a face to the villain. This was impossible to do with the Reapers in Dark Space and the Collectors sitting behind the Omega 4 Relay. So letting Harbinger take over as one of the collectors every now and then is one way to deal with that (if only the one-liners weren’t so bad).

    Of course what they completely failed to notice is that they already had a villain and a villain who we see pretty often at that: The Illusive Man. The game should have ended with TIM turning on Shepard in the Collector Base and Shepard realizing that he had been deceived (to make Cerberus look less evil) and that TIM was in fact indoctrinated. This would also make the sudden transition of Cerberus in ME3 feel less out-of-the-blue.

    Completely agree about the Vigil track by the way. That is my favorite song from the whole trilogy and it feels downright offensive to have it used here. It was a perfect fit in ME1 but in ME2 it feels thrown-in. It would have been amazing on the collector ship when we find out the collectors are protheans (if the revelation itself was also better presented / stretched out) or, as you said, before the suicide mission (or after, when Shepard is looking at the coffins of his dead squadmates).

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      “The game should have ended with TIM turning on Shepard in the Collector Base and Shepard realizing that he had been deceived (to make Cerberus look less evil) and that TIM was in fact indoctrinated. This would also make the sudden transition of Cerberus in ME3 feel less out-of-the-blue.”

      I think that is a pretty conclusive demonstration that the writers were not planning ahead, they didn’t know what they were doing for ME3, they were just knocking out a videogame because they were told to make a videogame, and name it Mass Effect 2. Realizing they weren’t planning for 3 even while making 2 also goes a long way towards explaining why 2 is such a narrative cul-de-sac.

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        This doesn’t respect the fact that they reinvented the game mechanically. Mass Effect 1 is a terrible shooter. ME2 approaches respectability in a genre they had only tried once before. Making a video game is not a matter of thinking of a story and then drawing graphics around it, how it PLAYS is the most important part. And the moment to moment PLAYING of ME2 is clearly where their focus lay and it represents substantial improvement from 1.

        1. Bas L. says:

          Well obviously the “substantial improvement” is subjective. I think I prefer ME1’s combat slightly, although I love the charge mechanic in ME2 and playing as an engineer in ME3 is cool too. But I am not a fan of the “popamole cover combat” in ME2. In ME2 you can feel a combat scene coming from a mile away (most horrible example is the first combat encounter on Jacob’s loyalty mission), in ME1 this was slightly less so and I didn’t even use cover most of the time.

          I still remember the indoor bases in ME1 for example, yes they were littered with cover but I wasn’t constantly hugging them and popping out from cover. I usually kept walking around and combat felt much more dynamic than in ME2/ME3. I also liked how you actually improve with your weapons during the game (most notable with a sniper rifle). It was a very light RPG for sure but better than ME2/ME3 imho. I guess I am still from the old generation with Deus Ex and Half-Life 2 (I am not old enough for Doom and Wolfenstein, unfortunately) and I am not a fan of this “Gears of War” combat system.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            ME3 is much more dynamic and less whack-a-mole-y than ME2. Just look at the enemy design, particularly with the reapers (Who have, like, two types that use cover at all?)

            It also added back in a lot more customization to weapons and such, although in a very different form. Like you can upgrade individual weapons using money instead of XP in ‘assault rifles’ in ME1.

        2. Ninety-Three says:

          All of that is true, and none of it seems relevant to what I said? I was talking about the fact that the writers were not planning ahead, gameplay doesn’t even enter in to that discussion.

          1. Bas L. says:

            Yeah I was replying to Shoeboxjeddy.
            I agree that it is very obvious that they didn’t plan ahead. First in ME1 with all this talk of “you cannot comprehend us” and then in ME2 with the dark energy plot.

            I have posted this before on other websites. What I think would make for a very interesting dilemma is when we learned in ME3 that the Reapers are harvesting us for a war against a threat from outside the galaxy. Imagine that the Reapers are actually protecting the Milky Way and every 50.000 years they harvest us to make new forces (new Reapers). Perhaps biotics could play a role here and the Reapers have to wait long enough for our species to be advanced enough (= more powerful Reapers).

            Yet in this cycle they were delayed (thanks to the Conduit) and instead of the usual military empire we now have the Asari as the leaders of the galaxy. Plus we actually have peaceful synthetics (Geth). Instead of a device such as the Conduit I would use either hacking/a virus (with help from the Geth) or Dark Energy as the main plot device to take down the Reapers. The game would end with Shepard either taking his chances (we can defend ourselves against this threat from outside the galaxy) or agreeing with the Reapers and letting the harvest continue.

            All this would fit in well with the “you cannot comprehend us”, since there is a bigger picture. Of course it’s still not a very good storyline (too large-scale, in my opinion) but the introduction of the Reapers in ME1 created this problem in the first place.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              I was also replying to Shoeboxjeddy, since he was replying to my post.

              I think the best way to solve the Reaper problem would have been to stick to the Lovecraftian themes of the original: You can’t just get in a fistfight with the Old Ones, and you can’t wave a magic wand to make them go away, you have to stop them from showing up in the first place. The Reapers are trapped outside the galaxy, and need to find a way in.

              Starting from the premise “If they arrive, we’ve already lost” means we never need to give them enough screen time that their motivations need to be explained, all we need to know is that if they arrive it’ll be bad, so we need to stop that. ME2 could have had a focus on fighting Geth Reaper cultists, and then you could expand something like the Arrival DLC into the bulk of ME3: run around the galaxy learning stuff from Prothean ruins so that you can figure out how to blow up the mass relay network, locking the Reapers out for good, but at great cost to civilization (I’m sure you can find a way to spin that into a decent game-ending choice).

              1. Poncho says:

                Agreed. I’ve said this a few times on this site and on others: the biggest mistake in the trilogy is having it conclude with a Reaper War. It boxed the story into a narrative that can’t be complete without finding a solution to eliminate the nearly un-killable machine gods. McGuffins are invented and contrived Reaper motivations have to be discovered in order to get a satisfying conclusion to this premise, which is by its own design going to be unsatisfying.

                The third game should have just had Harbinger show up and take over the Citadel. It would still plunge the galaxy into chaos, force Shepard to gather allies, there would still be mass panic and all the somber themes the third game actually executed well on, but you have the possibility of a real ending boss fight and you don’t have to find a solution to killing EVERY Reaper, just their leader.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  It still couldve worked.The problem is that it wasnt well planned out.

                  1. Poncho says:

                    I’m not convinced. Lovecraft + all out war just doesn’t mix well, in my opinion.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      But reapers are not quite the elder gods.Yeah,they are scary,take over minds,and are impossibly old,but the key difference is that reapers power comes from technology while the elder gods are magic.And while sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,there is one major difference between the two:With magic,you know that you will never get that power,no matter what you do,but with technology its always possible to attain that power,even though it may take several millennia for your race to get there.

                      So while an all out war against the elder gods is impossible,an all out war against the reapers is merely extremely unlikely.

  5. Bropocalypse says:

    “But Shamus! Harbinger is actually dangerous on higher skill levels!”

    There are people who argue that? Jeeze.
    I mean, combat in video games doesn’t even have to be difficult in order to be meaningful, even relative to other enemies in the same game. For example, the final boss of the golden ending of Undertale isn’t even a fight you can die in. But by then you’re so emotionally invested and it’s presented so well that it doesn’t matter.
    It’d be better to have Harbinger Assume Direct Control at moments in the first, say, two-thirds of the story to perform a specific action that greatly hinders the player. Cutscene power. He throws the metaphorical lever that drops you down the metaphorical pit. Then near the end of the game, you start to fight him and only once or twice. Maybe he kicks your ass the first time. THEN he comes along in the final battle where you can beat him down for good.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Having played the highest difficult setting a few times, I don’t know what those people are talking about. Harbinger is big slow and occasionally chucks fireballs, in a regenerating-health cover shooter that’s fundamentally the easiest type of enemy to fight. I died more to mooks than Harbinger.

      1. djw says:

        He was difficult for my Adept on insanity. I haven’t played other classes on insanity so I have no point of comparison, but others have claimed they are weak in ME2.

      2. wswordsmen says:

        He was a bullet sponge that was immune to most Adept powers. That made him a threat multiplier, because him showing up meant you had to waste ammo on him you needed for the rest of the enemies.

        For Adepts on higher difficulties, once you got the assault rifle from the Reaper he just became annoying.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Fine,so he is tough against an adept.But arent other tough enemies worse for adepts as well?I mean,all of them get armor on insanity,and compared to it,scions and ymirs both have higher health,hit harder,and there are fights where theres more than one of them.

          Also,doesnt warp annihilate half of harbingers health in an instant?Bring mordin or garrus with you,and his armor will present no problem after that.

          Just checked the wiki,and it says that as an adept singularity+warp is a great combo.So no,even for an adept harbinger shouldnt be the biggest problem.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            You’re making the mistake of confusing “this enemy is designed to be threatening” with “I personally couldn’t beat this enemy”. Everyone here who chose to play higher difficulties ended up killing every kind of enemy a lot. It’s just that, in the game system, Harbinger IS a dangerous enemy on higher difficulties. I would tend to agree that he’s a tuned a bit low on Normal, but Normal is weird to where stuff like Turrets end up killing you more than any enemy.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Im not the one who said he is a nightmare for adepts.I said that compared to other special enemies,he ranks low.More dangerous than a regular collector*,less dangerous than other special enemies you get to fight.

              *Though this is only true if there are other collectors nearby.One on one,harbinger is a cakewalk.

              1. djw says:

                I said that he was “difficult” for my adept, not that he was a nightmare. The problem is that cooldowns for adepts are long in ME2, so even though there are combos that can hurt Harbinger, there are no insta-kills, and you are pretty helpless until your cooldowns finish. (I mean, I guess you can shoot him, but adepts aren’t very good at that). It was never hard enough to make me contemplate a rage quit or a class change, but it did make Harbinger’s voice a little more ominous for me than it sounds like it was for others.

                ME3 changed the cooldown times and turned adepts into ability spam powerhouses. The only thing that was “difficult” there was the crappy “one-damned-button-does-everything” design that had me dive into cover next to live grenades five times a level. That did make me contemplate a rage quit!

      3. guy says:

        His threat mostly comes from the defense bar stuff. I found him a bit problematic on normal because he’s only got armor and barrier and thus is flatly immune to several effective instant kills. He was hardly bossfight material, but for a guy liable to show up every fight, sometimes more than once, he was pretty tough.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Ah, that explains why I found him such a cakewalk. I played Soldier with all my power use going towards adrenaline, and Sniper with all my power use going towards cloak. As a pure DPS character, Harbinger is a pretty unremarkable sack of hitpoints. Even on insanity, my sniper could knock off two thirds of his health before he finished his transformation move (which helpfully lifts him up and holds him still for a headshot).

        2. Aldowyn says:

          literally everything on higher difficulties has at least one defense bar. Including husks. (I’m convinced the most significant jump from veteran to hardcore is giving husks an armor bar)

          1. Mike S. says:

            Considering that in ME2 biotics are instant death to an unprotected husk, that is a huge leap. On low difficulties, an Adept can take on hordes of husks without breathing hard, but you have to be a lot more careful when each one has to be individually shot multiple times.

            (Especially on the derelict Reaper and in That One Cave.)

            1. djw says:

              A well placed singularity can trap them in a stutter animation, even though it doesn’t damage them much. When they come from multiple directions (like on the derelict Reaper) it is pretty tough.

          2. guy says:

            I haven’t actually played on any difficulty levels where the Husks get extra health bars, because that sounds really annoying. But even on those, Harbinger doesn’t have a red bar and you’ll have to chew through all his hit points the hard way instead of stripping his armor and instantly killing him, or at least paralyzing him.

  6. kunedog says:

    Every time ME2 or ME3 attempts some clumsy, heavy-handed emotional impact in a cinematic, I can almost hear the writer narrating “This hurts you.”

    1. Erik says:

      ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL of your player agency

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The idea that a Reaper that's millions of years old would behave like a 14 year old kid getting schooled in Counter-Strike is so bad it's almost hilarious. I can't believe this idea came from BioWare.

    Well,they did build up on that and created the star child as the uber reaper god,or something.So theres a theme there.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Heh! – to be honest if Star Git had been all “nuh-uh” and “your mom” I might have liked him a little more. (Not that ‘a little more’ is setting a particularly high bar in this context…)

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “But Shamus! Harbinger is actually dangerous on higher skill levels!”

    No he isnt.He is the easiest special enemy to fight.He doesnt have that much health+armor+shield,he doesnt regenerate,he doesnt hit that hard,and he always comes at you alone.Krogan,ymir mechs and scions are way more dangerous.Heck,even the husks are a nightmare on insanity just because of their sheer numbers.But harbinger?Pfff.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    then throw a teenage tantrum because you didn't call them in the last two years while you were dead

    And while they were on a super duper secret mission and you literally cant contact them even if you ask anderson to do so.Uugh!!

    For me,that conversation right there is the worst thing in the whole series,because its the point where I lost my shit and had all my illusions about me2 crushed.Up the that point I was pretty forgiving and didnt even notice the bunch of stupid this game throws at you.But then ashleybitch yelled at me for no god damn reason and I that infuriated me.The idiocies shepard was given to say in her defense did not help one bit to calm me down.Hell,just reading that conversation again makes my blood boil.

    EDIT:Thank you for the next two pictures however.Nothing calms people better than unintentional comedy.

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    Space-Cthulhu should be above pedestrian concerns like direct combat with firarms. Typo there Shamus.

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      Pretty sure that’s not a typo. In fact, one of the things that has always bothered me about the series is the Reaper’s bizarre obsession with using trees as weapons.

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      If we’re doing this there’s also this leftover of a sentence revision: “This is conversation is such a disaster”, 2nd paragraph under the “dialogue wheel” screenshot.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    But no argument was needed. It would have been out of character for Kashley to abandon their post and fly off with you, leaving behind the colonists, equipment, and duties that had been entrusted to them.

    Heck,that is precisely the reason wrex gives you when you ask him to join you again.And reuniting with wrex is still awesome:
    “Shepard,my good friend!Oh,you work for cerberus?Well ok,they are evil,but I trust you,and you must have a good reason to do this.Its nice seeing you again,and alive too!Sadly,I cant come with you,I am a chief now.But if I can help from here,Ill do it.”

    Why was that so hard to replicate for kashley?

    1. guy says:

      Yeah, seriously. When I met Wrex, I saw the “come with me” option and decided I didn’t even want to ask; what he was doing was clearly far too important to stop.

      1. djw says:

        There is pretty much no chance you were doing the nasty with Wrex (unless that was your headcanon). Kashley might have slept with you. That has a way of changing things.

        I still agree that its a stupid conversation though.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          You can bang liara,and she too doesnt act like a bitch when you talk to her.In fact,if you do bang her in me1,first she does in me2 is kiss you.Even though she doesnt come with you.

          1. djw says:

            She’s quarter Krogan P

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              So what you are saying is that krogans are the level headed race and humans are quick to anger.

          2. Ant says:

            She is the one who gave you to Cerberus, so she knew in advance, plus it’s not like she didn’t dirty her hands in the past two years. The Virmire survivor didn’t have this chance, and apologize later for their behavior, recognizing that they didn’t behave rationally.

  12. Darren says:

    There’s an entire game about fighting Lovecraftian horrors: Bloodborne.

    And, of the many bosses in that game, exactly one taunts you throughout the fight, and he is an insane cultist.

    The desire for the big bad to actually participate in battle wasn’t inherently bad, it was just bungled.

    1. Syal says:

      There’s actually two; Bloodborne, and Cthulhu Saves The World.

    2. Loa Vecre says:

      Keep in mind that Micolash’ (said cultist) taunts aren’t just taunts, but also function as exposition. A selection:

      “Ahh, Kos, or some say Kosm… Do you hear our prayers?”
      “As you once did for the vacuous Rom, grant us eyes, grant us eyes. Plant eyes on our brains, to cleanse our beastly idiocy.”
      “The grand lake of mud, hidden now, from sight.”

      He tells you an alternate name for Mother Kos (and considering the horrors are classified as “Kin of the Cosmos”, said alternate name carries implications). He tells you part of Rom’s origin, and he speaks of a “grand lake of mud”, which could imply the DLC’s final location.
      Micolash’ taunts work both because they accentuate the fact that he’s long gone, but also because they reveal pieces of the puzzle of what exactly happened in the game’s backstory.

      1. GloatingSwine says:

        He’s not really taunting you as much as delivering an insane monologue, mostly to himself.

        Because he’s mad as a box of frogs.

  13. Joe Leigh says:

    One thing you didn’t mention about Harbinger assuming direct control is that it makes more sense before the twist. For most of the game, the player (and presumably Shepard) thinks that Harbinger is the Collector General. It feels plausible for the leader of these bug people to have some psychic hive-mind link to the grunts, and to be able to use that link to “assume direct control” over one and make it slightly more powerful. It isn’t until the very end, when Shepard is about to destroy the collector base, that it’s revealed that the Collector General is not himself Harbinger, but merely another pawn of the reaper. And then the whole thing goes out the window because why would a reaper be singling Shepard out by controlling a series of mooks, but giving them only slightly more ability than the average mook? It’s supposed to be an “oh shit, a reaper” moment, but instead it’s just a “huh? a reaper?” moment.

    1. BenD says:

      This! (…appeared while I was drafting the novella in italics below.) Yes, the slow reveal didn’t have the punch they intended, but like you I assume they did intend it.

    2. Bas L. says:

      This. Actually I didn’t even realize this until I started reading more about ME lore. Even during my first two ME2 playthroughs (before ME3 and Arrival came out) I always assumed Harbinger = Collector general.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        ME2 seems to want to put a face on Harbinger and somehow manages to never actually do it. I think the name ‘harbinger’ is in the game like, twice, and he never actually talks to ANYONE in a conversation. Yelling combat taunts doesn’t count.

        1. BenD says:

          The Aldowyn Rule, Proposed (test of appropriate level of characterization applied to a villain): (1) There have to be at least two bad guys who (2) talk to each other about (3) something other than the protagonist.

          1. Mike S. says:

            I don’t think any of the major villains in, e.g., The Lord of the Rings pass that test. Some of the orcs, maybe. Saruman only if talking about the protagonist’s allies doesn’t count. Sauron doesn’t talk at all.

            I think Darth Vader stops passing the test in the second and third Star Wars movies.

            1. Gruhunchously says:

              It all depends on context. Darth Vader’s failure to pass is justifiable because his relationship with Luke is an essential part of his character, and once he finds out who Luke really is, he becomes obsessed with finding him at the expense of all else.

              If the antagonist has no real relationship with the protagonist, or is an ancient machine god who probably should be above such things, it becomes less justifiable.

            2. ehlijen says:

              How does Darth Vader fail?

              Empire Strikes Back:
              Admiral Ozzel keeps disagreeing with him until Vader offs him and promotes Piett.
              Vader reneges on his deal with Lando (at that point in the movie still an unredeemed traitor).

              Sure, both tangentially involve the heroes, but both also work to establish that Vader’s character and relationship with his fellow villains.
              Even his conversation with the emperor, while about Luke, shows a fair deal about how the badass Vader submits to the floating see-through head.

              Return of the Jedi:
              The first thing Vader says is a rebuke to Jerjerod(?) about how he’s crap at death star building.

              But yes, after that he ceases to be in scenes not about Luke somehow. Even so, during Luke’s confrontation with the Emperor we learn a great deal about Vader (eg how much of a dog on a leash he really is, and why).

              Great, now I’m angry at how Lucas ruined all the great subtlety of that confrontation and it’s 2+something resembling 1 movie buildup with the prequels again :(

              1. Mike S. says:

                I think the fact that we learn about Vader in conversations about Luke (and that most of Vader’s dramatized actions relate to his pursuit of the heroes) is a sign that the proposed rule doesn’t necessarily point in the desired direction.

                1. Poncho says:

                  I think it’s fine for a villain to become increasingly interested in the protagonist. Why not? The protagonist is probably advancing the plot toward the conclusion, and the villain has to stop them or fail eventually, so by the end of the story, they should be principally concerned about this hero in their way.

                  Vader was doing plenty of other stuff that didn’t involve Luke in A New Hope: He captured Leia, interrogated her about the rebel plans, confronted his old master Obi Wan, and set a trap for the rebels to inadvertently reveal the hidden base on Yavin. It was only after Luke was able to make the miracle torpedo shot that blew up the Death Star that Vader become interested, and found out that Luke was his son.

                  1. Mike S. says:

                    Hence “in the second and third Star Wars movies”. I didn’t say there was anything wrong with it. The opposite, if anything: if I didn’t think Darth Vader was a great villain, I wouldn’t have used him as an example.

                    I’m suggesting that the proposed rule (that villains aren’t appropriately characterized if they don’t have a conversation with another villain, about something other than the protagonist) doesn’t cover a substantial fraction of villains that are widely well-regarded. Which suggests it may not be a helpful critical tool.

                    Other successful villains that are laser-focused on the protagonist:

                    The Terminator. (Original movie.) Having no other goals is pretty much what defines him.

                    The Wicked Witch of the West (1939 film) She’s theoretically after the ruby slippers, but those are a pure MacGuffin to give her a reason to chase after Dorothy, and just about everything she says is either a taunt to Dorothy or part of an effort to capture her.

                    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      The ruby slippers are actually a pretty good reason to hate Dorothy, even in the original movie (expanded on in fanfiction like Wicked and the like). They were her dead sister’s shoes, and after Dorothy (accidentally) kills her (or I guess is made to kill her depending on if some person created the tornado), the shoes are then given to Dorothy to wear.

                      So if your sibling was killed and then one of their favored items was proudly worn by the killer as some kind of sick trophy, I think MOST people would have something to say about that.

                    2. BenD says:

                      I’m not going to try to defend The Aldowyn Rule since I meant it as a one-off joke, but there have been some really interesting examples examined in proving its lack of value as a critical tool. I’m kind of surprised, actually, at how few villains get any screen time to discuss their plans outside of the hero.

        2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Harbinger speaks with Shepard in Arrival at least. It’s a pretty good, threatening conversation.

  14. RCN says:

    Even though I got my ass kicked by Harbinger time and again (stupid me, choosing an Adept in high difficulty in ME2, I deserved this), he still didn’t feel threatening because of his idiotic taunts and the fact I could mow him down eventually time and again. Heck, the fact that he takes control of another mook if you kill him means that the game was actively telling me to IGNORE the reaper in the scene until I’ve cleaned up everything else.

    I think it would be best that if Harbinger was an entity you couldn’t fight when he took control. Something like he’d take control of a mook and then the mook would have an insta-death laser you had to hide from until the mook disintegrated. Or he would overcharge a mook to blow up and you have to hide from the explosion, that is deadly to you but empowers the other collectors.

    But mainly, he had to stop with the childish tantrums. It would be much more in character if the encounters went like this:

    “Interference? This one will suffice.”

    Takes control/blows up one mook.

    “Interference terminated.” (If Shepard dies)

    “More pressing matters to attend. Deal with this nuisance.” (If Shepard survives)

    “The organics scurry and scatter once again, as always.” (If Shepard hides)

    1. Fnord says:

      Though better taunts might help, any kind of combat taunt is likely to sound stupid if it’s repeated a dozen times over the course of the game. He really needs to talk less (and probably have a longer list of taunts, but unless he’s got a novel-length taunt list, he needs to talk less).

  15. Gruhunchously says:

    *sigh* It’s sometimes really hard to pull the ‘the characters make it worth it’ defense when the writers are so clearly more interested in some characters than others. And it’s the characters that are closest to Shepard and the central plot that get the most damaging alterations. Liara’s treatment isn’t even that bad compared to Kashley, who gets terrible dialogue throughout most of MEs 2 and 3 before getting all but forgotten about, or Miranda, who gets her role drastically reduced while having anything remotely interesting about her siphoned out in exchange for a lame rehash of her loyalty mission.

    The only characters with consistent writing are Garrus, Tali, Jack, Thane, Samara, and…Grunt, I guess. But even they have problems.

    1. ehlijen says:

      Re Grunt:

      I do not consider being a juvenile, pun-loving brute to be a problem :p
      Grunts bit in the Citadel DLC was one of the best.

      But I do admit that he was a filler, a side dish. He couldn’t have been stretched into more to carry any story without becoming a slightly more tolerable Jarjar.

      1. Poncho says:

        There is a fanfiction called Interstitium that expands the stories of all the characters and does a FANTASTIC job of Grunt and the Krogan in general. Really worth the read. Grunt is amazing.

        “I am perfect Krogran!”

  16. BenD says:

    So somehow I managed to stay spoiler-clear re: Harbinger for years. So as I played ME2, here’s what I thought about Harbinger:

    Uh, that foe was named. Was that fight supposed to be hard?

    Oh, he’s back. I can’t kill him for good.

    Oh, this cutscene shows he’s also on a ship with a glowing cylinder.

    So, let’s see. He (she? Nah, let’s go with ‘he’) is a queen-ant type I guess, a higher-rank Collector with the ability to control any insect in the hive via the hive mind.

    That’s neat I guess. We’ll probably fight him in person near the end. Or maybe a bigger monster he finally gets an opportunity to control.

    Gosh his name is weird. It’s a human word chosen apparently to create anxiety in a human foe. He must have a real name but did this just for us. It’s an interesting take on the Reaper names we know about. I don’t think a Reaper would be so unsubtle, or if they were, they’d just go ahead with something far more menacing. Like Menace. Or Doom. Haha. Harbinger of what exactly? Maybe the Reapers themselves! He is the one who goes before, to announce the coming of the Reapers!

    Wait. That makes too much sense. What if he IS a reaper? The dumbest Reaper, sent here to… vaguely threaten us with an intellect borrowed from low-IQ bug people?

    (One act of game later) Oh. He’s a Reaper. Hrm. Well, at least it’s kind of neat that he gets away, since as far as I can tell he was never anywhere nearby in person, just controlling a bug at the bug base.

    I wonder if he’ll arrive with the others in the next game.

    I think this slow reveal is what Bioware had in mind: an ah-ha moment with some gravity where we realize that we’ve been fighting a Reaper all along. I was pretty unsuspicious going into this game, and also pretty convinced (by the game’s own setup) that for whatever reason we weren’t going to be dealing much with Reapers – I accepted the game (somewhat grudgingly) as an interlude to fight a secondary threat. I’d have preferred to be looking for a way to set a big welcome-home trap of destruction for arriving Reapers but okay, fine. Anyway, my naà¯veté made Harbinger into a slow reveal and while not perfect, it wasn’t bad. And since we never fought his real form, I thought we’d see him again in ME3.

    Haven’t played ME3 yet, but I’m thinking I was wrong on that count.

    1. Joe Leigh says:

      Well, very minor spoiler alert for ME3 (no plot details), but you’re not wrong. Harbinger is (I think) the only named reaper in ME3, and he still has a personal grudge against Shepard for whatever reason.

    2. krellen says:

      I endorse the “dumbest Reaper” theory.

      1. djw says:

        The “collectors project” was probably the Reaper version of a snipe hunt, and Harbinger was the only one dumb enough to fall for it.

        1. Armagrodden says:

          The Reapers needed something to keep Harbinger busy while they did the important work of planning the invasion, so they threw together a scavenger hunt.

          1. Gruhunchously says:

            Harbinger’s Dark Space Island, the show in which the Reapers desperately try to come up with sensible ways to purge the galaxy while Harbinger interferes with his own ‘genius’ ideas.

            Just eat Harbinger, you guys!

            Alternatively, Harbingers Heroes, where the Reapers constantly try to come up with new and better ways to purge the galaxy while Sovereign rolls his holographic eyes in the background.

      2. 4th Dimension says:

        Huh. This could actually work if they said that the Harbinger was the Prothean Reaper and thus he is less scary/dumber because he is younger and less experienced than the rest of them. After all this is his first Reaping.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          That would also explain why we is able to so effortlessly transfer into a collector,something that you dont see other reapers do with other husks they unleash on you,and even sovereign had a problem to do so with saren.

          Sadly,this all falls in the water when in 3 harbinger is shown to be the strongest reaper you encounter.

          1. BenD says:

            Maybe they get weaker as they age?

            Sorry, we’re fansplaining again but I kind of love this fiction. We just made the Reapers a race of actual beings with some culture and stuff.

        2. Slothfulcobra says:

          I thought that the whole implication of the collectors still being around was that they were no good for being turned into Reapers.

          1. BenD says:

            Based solely on ME2, it looks to me like they only get a handful of new Reapers (even as few as one) out of a given source species. Perhaps the Collectors weren’t terribly numerous, or it took a lot of Collector-juice per gram of Reaper created. Not unsuitable, but not worth further effort after making the first one (Harbinger) or too few remaining after making the one.

            1. Poncho says:

              From some of the cut-scenes revealed by Javik, we learn that the Protheans were mostly running suicide missions by the war’s end and blowing themselves up when utter failure was imminent. Reapers probably got most of their organic juice from the Citadel when they first arrived. Not sure if that was enough to make a new Reaper, but ME2 implies that it takes billions of individuals to construct a new one.

              It could just be they didn’t have enough to make a Prothean Reaper and thus re-purposed them into Collectors, like higher-functioning husks.

              1. Mike S. says:

                Somewhere out there I know I’ve read that they weren’t able to make a Prothean Reaper, since there isn’t always a species that makes the cut. But I don’t know if that’s in the game, the codex, or ancillary material.

                Whether or not we have a canonical answer on Protheans, a large subset of Harbinger’s taunts are giving specific reasons each other species on your squad is disqualified: “Salarian; insufficient lifespan, fragile genetic structure.” “Quarian; considered due to cybernetic augmentation, weakened immune system too debilitating.” Etc. Along with multiple comments about humans centered around the recurring phrase “viable possibility”.

                1. Shamus says:

                  Aw. I NEVER freaking heard these. For me it was always, “This hurts you” and “I’ll get you! And your little dog, too!” Did I just manage to bring the wrong team to every Harbinger fight? I usually run with Garrus and one rando. (Until Legion joins, but that’s pretty late in the game.) Or maybe it’s based on how I play? I NEVER order my team around. I just let them do their thing. Maybe he only comments on them when they engage him on your orders? Strange.

                  It’s a shame these aren’t used more. While I still maintain that silence it probably the safest bet for a Reaper in a gunfight, I actually really like these messages and the ideas they suggest.

                  1. Mike S. says:

                    The discussion on the talk page for the wiki entry where they’re listed suggests they don’t come up all that frequently.

                    I’d guess that it’s a combination of there being a surprising number of possible taunts, any given Harbinger not usually lasting that long, and maybe only using them when engaged with the relevant squadmate. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard some of them, but not often.

                  2. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                    It could be if you’re targeting Harbinger first each time. Maybe if you save him for last he gets to his other taunts.

                  3. Gruhunchously says:

                    These are all of Harbingers combat lines


                    And like you, I barely heard more than a third of them, if that. What I do know is that he give the species-specific lines if you revive a fallen teammate, the teammate determines the line, obviously.

                    Makes you wonder though; here we have Harbinger sorting species for some ambiguous compatibility for Reaper-ization, and then Mass Effect 3 gives us the Catalyst insisting that ALL organic life in a cycle is harvested for it’s own good. So which is it, Bioware? What happens to the ‘incompatible’ species. What if no species in a cycle is compatible. Do the Reapers wipe them all out. Does that mean that their stupid plan to save organics has the potential to facilitate the exact thing they were trying to stop. Oh dears.

                    1. Chris says:

                      I’m just glad he never says “Enemies everywhere!”

                    2. djw says:

                      Everything about the Reaper plan is stupid.

  17. Daemian Lucifer says:

    You could follow that comment up with Kashley saying something about checking up on their friends ““ meaning the remaining survivors you just saved.

    Havent you learned anything from jacob?This is bioware.Friends dont exist.You either have a fuckbudy in a group and thats why you care,or you dont care about them at all.

    1. Mersadeon says:

      Yeah. I have to say, even in some classical Bioware games, everyone in the group is very fixated on the player character, with barely any friendships between them. Which is okay in Obsidian’s KOTORII because everyone hates each other, but it feels kinda weird in the ME games how rarely any of the group members form friendships between each other, independent of the main character.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        Garrus and Tali can have a thing in ME3. Also Joker/EDI (obviously). And in general there’s a lot more interaction between party members.

        Inquisition has a LOT of inter-party interaction. Remember the dialogue between companions that used to happen in Origins, or the elevator conversations in ME1? There is a /ton/ of that in Inquisition.

        1. Mersadeon says:

          Huh, so the really new ones actually do this. Inquisition and ME3 are the ones I never played myself. So, nice to see Bioware is improving in that regard, I suppose!

          1. Mike S. says:

            In ME3 Shepard will frequently run into an ongoing conversation between two or more crew members. Occasionally she’ll get the chance to intervene in one or the other’s favor, but other times it’s just swapping war stories or playing poker.

            This is then taken up to eleven in the Citadel DLC, especially the party.

        2. Joe Informatico says:

          DA2 even more so. The companion dialogue was deeper, e.g. based solely on random party banter, Aveline and Isabela go from catfighting rivals in Act I (well, more Aveline being prudish and brusque and Isabela goading her for sport) to frenemies and grudging respect in Act II, to potential good friends who spar gently by Act III. Other party banter revealed that Varric, Ferris, and Donnic (Aveline’s potential husband) had a regular poker night. And almost every time you went to visit a companion to start the next character-relevant quest, the cutscene would usually start with one of your other companions just leaving, implying that Hawke’s companions hung out or discussed things even when Hawke wasn’t around.

          The game’s worldbuilding was lackluster in other ways, but when it came to painting your NPC companions as people with their own lives and agendas, I don’t think many RPGs have come close.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            I think ME3 picked up this torch really well. Party members playing games together, making calls on the ship intercom, having one-up racist insult fights (in fun!), etc. Inquisition had a decent amount of inter-party banter as well, I do think Bioware is on the upswing in terms of making the party feel organic.

  18. Mersadeon says:

    I am so sad we never got the game that the talk with Sovereign in ME1 promised. That was my favourite moment in the game.

  19. deiseach says:

    You don’t even mention how, in the Harbinger fight, you are shut into the kill zone BY A DOOR. I’m not normally one for playing an RPG on a high difficulty level but I enjoyed ME1 so much that I was determined to ‘make the most of it’. Duly I found myself regularly getting my arse handed to me and howling with frustration that I couldn’t get to safety by, I don’t know, shooting the poxy door whose type had proven so ineffective in keeping the colonists safe? Contrast this with the Saren fight which drops you into a pit so the only way out was through him. Terrible design, absolutely terrible.

    1. Mike S. says:

      The pit is an indoor garden in what’s basically a government office building. Level design aside, there’s no reason that it should be any more difficult to exit than the arena-like area on Horizon. Presumably there are doors and access corridors to let gardeners in to water and weed and replant.

      It’s possible to handwave geth barricades, etc. on the Citadel. But it’s likewise possible to handwave that the Collectors or Kaiden/Ashley trapped and reinforced the door to slow down enemy movement. Fundamentally, you’re gated into the bossfight because that’s how most games do bossfights.

    2. Timothy Coish says:

      Seconding what Mike said above. I’ve found that when games frustrate me, then I start noticing the logical flaws. If you were enjoying the fight, or at least not repeating it, then you probably would never have cared about the door.

      But I completely understand when you’re dying multiple times that you scrutinize the logic that got you to this point, and ME3 really should not be closely inspected. Still, the door closing is pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things, and could be explained away, the game just put you in an uncharitable mood.

  20. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    I think the biggest problem with Kashley in 2 is that we didn’t get a DLC to join up with them again like we did with Liara. I expected one right up until they announced Arrival was the last DLC for 2. The thing about their reaction in Horizon is that it’s not fair or logical, but how SHOULD a person react to their reincarnated hero/boyfriend/girlfriend saving their life while working for a terrorist organization? If we got another more reasonable interaction with them later after they calmed down from the initial “YOU! BUT, DEAD, YOU CAN’T…. TERRORIST but HERO DEAD!” outburst, it could have been just fine. But instead they saw no need to do that. The handling of the Survivor WAS strange for sure, perhaps an artifact of the team change between 1 and 2/3.

  21. Dev Null says:

    This dialog hurts you!

    I don’t even begin to disagree with you about how the fight with Harbinger devalues our bad guy, but it does bring up an interesting point: how _do_ you let the player have an early-game fight to build up a badguy who is supposed to be ludicrously powerful? You can’t just make it an impossible fight, because gamers are used to every fight being winnable, and never run from anything. You can’t make them run in a cut-scene, because that’s lame and illusion-breaking. If you make it winnable but too hard it breaks the game balance. If you make it easy enough to be beatable by most players, some large proportion of them are going to find it easy, and it disempowers your villain. One option is not not let them fight the villain at all, and feed them henchmen, but then that risks your villain seeming too distant and unrelatable.

    I actually like the idea of an impossible fight, if you can just make it clear enough that the player _has_ to run. Shepard is down on the planet fighting mooks when a continent-sized ship appears in orbit, his comms are overridden with a dispassionate voice intoning “Die Puny insects”, and the orbital bombardment begins. Joker comes back on and yells “Crap! I’m evading! Run for the shuttle!” and we do an extended scene of fighting mooks and running before the thing we’re standing on gets blown up.

    The minute your badguy shows up in person, everyone is going to think they ought to fight him.

    1. Chris says:

      Dark Souls does the impossible (or nearly impossible) fight a couple of times. The very first encounter with the Asylum Demon is effectively impossible for new players, so you have little choice but to make a run for it. It happens again when you encounter Seath the Scaleless. As far as I’m aware, the fight with him in his library is unwinnable (rapidly regenerating health, unavoidable AoE with high Curse).
      Of course, that’s a game were death isn’t a game over / reload save situation, so it’s easier to get away with throwing the player into an unwinnable fight occasionally. Still, there are ways to telegraph to the player that running is the only option without forcing a cutscene. Give the enemy near instant regeneration or something like that. Have even their basic attacks do very high damage to the player to demonstrate power, but strongly telegraph them so they can be avoided. Use environmental design to guide the player’s eye to the escape route. And if the player still doesn’t pick up on it, after a set amount of time, trigger a very, very brief cutscene of one of the party members shouting something like “We can’t win this one, Shephard! We need to get out of here!”. It won’t feel like cutscene cowardice, as the player still has a choice between running or standing and fighting (and dying), and it sells the enemy as serious bad news.

      1. Dev Null says:

        I like the mini-cutscene idea; especially because it’s not a “game-snatches-controls-from-your-hands-to-make-you-do-something” cutscene, just a “game-briefly-pauses-and-forces-you-to-notice-something” cutscene. If that makes any sense.

        1. Chris says:

          It makes perfect sense. It’s a much lighter touch. Plus it’s short, so if you have to rewatch it for some reason, it isn’t as grating.

      2. IFS says:

        One of the best things with Dark Souls ‘supposed to lose’ fights is that they are easy to just leave the fight. The Asylum demon can be beaten if you’re good enough (or picked a certain starting gift) and even gives a reward but you are supposed to run away out a side door (the game even tells you to run with a message). For Seath you can actually just leave through the fog door, which admittedly is a little counter-intuitive since normally they lock you into a boss fight, and losing takes you to a new part of the area to let you explore more with the only cost being souls which are plentiful and potentially recoverable.

    2. Spammy says:

      The Super Robot Wars games are generally good about this. Not perfect but better than a lot of games that poorly handle “You’re not supposed to beat this enemy” scenarios. Usually if a named enemy shows up with ?????/????? health (SRW tradition is that you don’t show the exact numbers of a boss’ health when they’re above 100k) before the last third of the game you’re probably not supposed to be meant to beat them. And if the developers were really on point they change the objective to escaping the map or reducing the boss’ health to some percentage.

      I said good and not perfect though because there have been a lot of moments where it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do.

    3. ehlijen says:

      Half Life had a few of those.

      The tentacles in the rocket pit you had to sneak past and the big blue things you needed to keep luring into traps or just outright run from.

      Half Life 2’s first fight was an extended chase scene in which you had no weapon.

      Players want to win, but what does winning mean? It doesn’t have to mean ‘killed the bad guy’. If you frame the level so that escape is seen as a victory, you can have the player ‘lose’ the fight, but win the level.
      Or you can make them steal a thing from under the bad guy. Or push a button. Or survive X minutes. As long as the player achieves a thing, even a story defeat is a gameplay victory.

      1. Chris says:

        Yeah, the tentacle monster is how you do that sort of thing exactly right. Nobody else does environmental storytelling and mechanical instruction nearly as well as Valve does.

    4. Syal says:

      ‘Survive X Minutes’ works pretty well; give them strong attacks and ridiculous amounts of health, and either you or they escape when the timer reaches zero.

      ‘Run Away’ is an option for an enemy you can only beat in certain environments (like a spaceship; you run when you’re on land because you can only reasonably beat it with an AA gun).

      Forcible departure at the end of a fight; you beat the bad guy, and then someone hits you (or him) with an attack that knocks you into another stage. (Angband had the Teleport Other spell which would be awesome for something like this).

      Fight a lesser enemy; if you’re fighting an evil politician, the buildup fight could be a short conversation with him, and a fight with a bodyguard covering his retreat. If it’s the World’s Greatest Swordsman, you could fight a well-known local tough trying to impress the bad guy.

      Make the fight unwinnable, but give the bad guy a reason to want the hero alive (easier with some kind of Chosen One story, but hey, Metal Gear 3 pulled it off without one).

      …Powerful NPC allies are in the fight and the fight ends when they die? Basically a variation of ‘survive x minutes’.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Fightinf off the Balrog ’till Gandalf dies? Sure, why not :p

  22. Xilizhra says:

    A few things:

    1. Harbinger didn’t help Sovereign because the Collectors couldn’t be passed off as an independent enemy of the galaxy like the geth, or at least not as easily.

    2. I’m reasonably sure that the purpose of the Collectors is to test other species for their eligibility for Reaperhood, and once they decided that humans would make the best capital ship in this cycle, they built the human-Reaper embryo as a prototype; having one started already would make construction much quicker, but its loss isn’t crippling.

    3. I think the dialogue wheel accidentally had the positions of a couple of answers swapped. But “Cerberus isn’t the enemy” just reiterates the whole “colonies are being attacked and we’re here to rescue them” position, if you’re curious.

    4. The Vigil theme basically means “significant event calling back to ME1” in all contexts after ME1 itself.

    Aside from that… yeah, I confess that Horizon is probably the worst part of the game, plotwise. Though I never really minded Harbinger; perhaps this is because I wasn’t that impressed by Sovereign. Harbinger doesn’t really seem different from Sovereign in the “throwing out scornful taunts” department, honestly.

    1. Raygereio says:

      Harbinger didn't help Sovereign because the Collectors couldn't be passed off as an independent enemy of the galaxy like the geth, or at least not as easily.

      Where did you get that from?

      I think the dialogue wheel accidentally had the positions of a couple of answers swapped.

      No. The dialogue wheel straight up lies to you several times throughout ME2’s mainquest. For example “I'll never work for you!, TIM” when chosen, has Shep basically go “Whelp. Time to work for Cerberus.”
      Bioware was trying to keep the proverbial cake while having devoured it. Those dialogue options are there to give the player the idea that they might have influence over the boxed canyon story. But Bioware couldn’t actually have that happen, so they went with the absurd idea of attempting to misdirect the player in the most obvious way possible.

      4. The Vigil theme basically means “significant event calling back to ME1″ in all contexts after ME1 itself.

      That is most likely how the devs intended it. But that wasn’t the point Shamus brought up. Its use only highlights how ME2 kinda shits over ME1 and the player.
      “Hey, remember your old squadmate from ME1?” *Plays an important tune from ME1*
      “Now watch as this character who was with you from the start, throughout the entirety of ME1, and did not hesitate to defy orders to follow Shep to hell and back, chews his/her old commander out for deciding to work with Cerberus. Wow, aren’t we awesome writers? Yeah, it was a great idea of us to confront the players with the consequences of their decision to work with Cerberus. Let’s ignore the fact that the player had no choice in this.”

      1. guy says:

        Admittedly having the Collectors align with the Geth would raise questions. But I think the actual reason is that the Collector military assets consist entirely of a single cruiser and they couldn’t meaningfully contribute.

        1. Mike S. says:

          A single cruiser that could cut the Normandy like tissue paper and demands a Thanix cannon to engage on equal terms would have been worth a lot of geth ships in the Battle of the Citadel. Offensively it’s practically a second Sovereign, and it’s durable enough to take a lot of the heat off while Sovereign’s attached to the Citadel.

          That said, keeping it in reserve as a backup plan rather than adding it to what’s hoped to be an already overwhelming force doesn’t strike me as so obviously crazy as to be a plot hole.

          1. guy says:

            The Normandy is a frigate. Cruisers can tear it in half. The Collector cruiser is not meaningfully capable of threatening a dreadnought fleet, and the Destiny Ascension could blow it to vapor in a single shot. The Geth had plenty of essentially analogous ships.

            1. Poncho says:

              The Geth are also disposable. Sovereign thought nothing more of them than his other puppets, tools to be used and thrown away when their services were no longer required.

              The Collectors seem a little more important to the Reapers’ plans, and if it’s revealed that they have the ability to maintain a base near the galactic core with a relay, then the rest of the galaxy is going to try to figure out how the hell that is possible and try to replicate it, diminishing the surprise vector Reapers seem keen on exploiting in their harvests.

      2. Xilizhra says:

        The geth are an obvious boogeyman, due to galactic fears about synthetic intelligence and their earlier devastation of the quarians. The Collectors would raise more questions about who or what might be guiding them.

        1. Mike S. says:

          I’d say that by the time Sovereign is making an in-person attack on the Citadel, the time for secrecy is over. In fact, the Council refuses to believe in the Reapers anyway because plot, but it doesn’t really make sense for Sovereign to have depended on that. (Or to have thought it necessary by the time it’s enacting its unstoppable two-pronged surprise attack.)

        2. ehlijen says:

          I’m onboard with an alliance between the organic hating geth and the utterly organic collectors being very questionable and suspicion raising.

          But the Citadel attack was Sovereign’s end game. It should have opened the reaper portal to hell and left any musings as to what was going on to pointlessness. Who cares about why the geth and collectors joined up for that attack, there’re reapers eating our faces!

          And it was an all or nothing move for sovereign, so bringing in absolutely everything to make it work should have been the desired option. If nothing else, the collector ship seemed to be about the size of an asari cruiser. It should have been some help.

          It’s not like the collectors had any hand in assisting the reaper arrival otherwise. From what we could see, at best they could have built a young reaper to try sovereign’s plan again, but given that the reaper fleet arrived not much later, what’d that have gained them?

          1. guy says:

            Their intervention wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the battle, so I can see leaving them. It’d also be pretty difficult to smuggle the cruiser all the way to the Citadel without attracting attention and maybe losing the element of surprise. Wouldn’t have been worth it to bring an extra cruiser and have the Alliance fleet in the Citadel nebula when the attack arrived.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      2. I'm reasonably sure that the purpose of the Collectors is to test other species for their eligibility for Reaperhood, and once they decided that humans would make the best capital ship in this cycle, they built the human-Reaper embryo as a prototype; having one started already would make construction much quicker, but its loss isn't crippling.

      Except it is.It not only lets the rest of the galaxy learn what the collectors are,but where they are and how to combat them.Heck,we completely eradicate them,thus removing one big advantage from the future war,and we also get access to their tech,thus bridging the technological gap a bit as well.

      Harbinger doesn't really seem different from Sovereign in the “throwing out scornful taunts” department, honestly.

      How is “You are insignificant and I wont even waste my time with you.Bye,Im off to continue my plan.” the same as “This hurts you,girl I personally attempt to kill,yet have failed to do so multiple times already!”?

      1. Xilizhra says:

        The Collectors aren’t wiped out; they show up in ME3, it’s just that Shepard doesn’t fight them directly. But they’re the menace of multiplayer and are mentioned in a few codex entries about other battles.

        Also, Sovereign immediately tries to destroy the Normandy after their conversation, as you can hear from Joker saying that Sovereign made an extremely abrupt turn and started barreling towards the Normandy.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          No,he said that sovereign made a turn and started coming towards the facility.The facility where one of its very important assets is and who needs to be extracted.Because of the imminent nuke your guys were in the process of carrying.

          1. Raygereio says:

            Sovereign, nor Saren knew about the nuke at that point. All they knew was that there were some Salarian teams attacking the base and Shep had penetrated said base right down to its juicy center.

            The way the scene presented it, Shep’s “you’re just a machine” line definitely looked like it struck a nerve with Sovereign. The interpretation that Sov is hurtling towards the base to take out Shep can be a valid one.
            And Sovereign did get some “I’m way superior and cooler then you meatbags”-style taunts in. Though he still wins over Harbinger in that he didn’t repeat them constantly.

    3. Couscous says:

      1. The Reapers already did that with the Rachni.

      Harbinger and collectors would be considered a mysterious force that suddenly appeared. Mystery does not mean they automatically assume Reapers or anything like that. More importantly, they would not need to pass the collectors off as anything as the collectors and Harbinger could have just been used by Sovereign in the final stages or even earlier.

      Sovereign had already mostly stopped caring by the time Shepard got involved. Sovereign was flying around and indoctrinating people already. The only concern would be whether they would figure out anything about the plans of the Reapers before it was too late because of the extra involvement from the collectors and harbinger. I do not see why. The collectors and Harbinger have been active in the galaxy during the current cycle for a while. Mass Effect 2 has them be a myth that make deals with people, giving them fancy technology in return for things like two dozen left handed Salarians. Harbinger should have been able to easily help out Sovereign without being more than a myth.

      1. Poncho says:

        I think it’s mostly just a case of Bioware not knowing where the story was going, but I also think not having the Collectors join the fight on the Citadel isn’t a rational short-coming when your victory is assumed and throwing away assets hurts you in the long run. Sovereign has been doing this shit for millions of years, maybe he just has a big ego.

        Sovereign likely engineered the Rachni showing up, but it’s entirely possible that the Salarians (or Asari, I forget which) discovered them too early, so the Rachni war failed due to circumstance.

        It’s also possible that the Krogan rebellions were due to Sovereign’s influence. When you have a handful of “warlords” that an entire race follows, it would be incredibly easy to nudge them toward attacking the Council. There are also instances where the Krogan discovered incredible weapons and then blew themselves up with them. The Genophage stopped them, but the Krogan weren’t the best puppets due to their strong sense of pride and vanity.

        Then the Council started the Spectre program and Sovereign changed tactics to more clandestine manipulation, but the end goal was still out of reach without a way ON to the Citadel, and a fleet to occupy everyone while Sovereign docked with the tower.

        When the galaxy moved away from opening new relays, it made the Collectors a better hidden threat than an exposed one. We also don’t know if there are an infinite number of Collectors: they have to be grown from something. Maybe Collectors have a short “shelf-life,” making them good for opportune moments but poor warriors in longer engagements.

        It could all be due to the nature of how machines think, in any case. Collectors are just not part of the plan, and therefore their addition in an attack isn’t considered. They aren’t as useful on the front lines as they are hidden in dark spaces collecting genetic samples. A single Collector cruiser wasn’t going to turn that fight on the Citadel, it would have just delayed Sovereign’s eventual failure, as everything in the sky got pulverized by the combined Citadel + Alliance fleet.

      2. Xilizhra says:

        Actually, the rachni were set loose by the Leviathans, something brought up in the DLC of the same name in ME3.

        1. Mike S. says:

          My recollection is that that’s proposed during the search, but turns out not to be one of the things that actually pans out as connected to the Leviathans.

  23. Pyrrhic Gades says:

    So what if Harbringer fails to get you a million times? What makes him a threatening villain is not his competence but that he is a real go-getter who never gives up and always tries his best. While Harbringer doesn’t exactly bring home the bronze trophy, he always manages to get the participation award.

    While saving the Assuming direct control for a few dramatic boss fights may make him more menacing, it simply wouldn’t make sense for Harbringer.

    Him trying to personally get Shepard, the “Hero and Bloody icon” and “Only competent (yet not very bright) man in the galaxy” isn’t petty. It’s called taking your job seriously. Having a villian recognise a heroes actions against them doesn’t necessarily make them anyless of a villian, it elavates the status of the heroes.

    Sovereign’s fault was his hubris. Incompetence is Harbringer’s

    1. MikeH says:

      In a story of a non-Lovecraftian nature, sure. However, the Reapers are meant to be pure Lovecraft. The key theme of Lovecraft is that the universe is a place of infinite space and possibilities. Out there are things so ancient, monstrous and beyond our comprehension that they could annihilate you for no reason that a sane human being could understand. Sovereign, from his appearance to his dialogue, essentially tells you this to your face.

      Remember that part of Shadow over Innsmouth where Dagon assumes direct control over a Deep One and tries to murder the protagonist with magic ice bolts while calling him out by name? No? That’s because its would be ridiculous. Ancient false gods and Elder beings don’t need to know who Shepard is. There have been countless Shepards over the millennia that have been supreme badasses and died screaming like little girls as they are harvested.

      As of Mass Effect II the “bloody icon” is an icon for humanity only. One race. In ME I it was your detective skill in discovering the threat that was the key winning move, otherwise everyone in the galaxy would have died without even knowing why. What beats the Reapers at the end of ME III is a stupid worthless magguffin and your ability to unite the galaxy rather than your ability to shoot dudes. Had ME2 been about indoctrinated cultists trying to discredit Shepard (oh hey Shepard joined the alien genocide league for racists) and kept the reapers out of it until the reveal at the end that Harbinger is behind it all as he possesses a cultist, that would have been a Lovecraft story.

      Lovecraft = Mystery > Manshoots

      1. Xilizhra says:

        The Reapers aren’t really Lovecraftian. They attempt to give that impression, but it’s a bluff. They’re physical beings that can die, as is amply demonstrated by the end of ME1. I never really bought Sovereign’s assertions on Virmire. To quote Solas from DAI, “No real god need prove himself. Anyone who tries is either mad or lying.” The fact that Sovereign tries to get across to you the idea that the Reapers are Lovecraftian, directly, is a major indicator that they aren’t.

        1. Wray says:

          But here’s the thing: that’s not what it should be. The space-Lovecraft part was what excited people so much after ME1. It would’ve been much better than the story we got.

          1. Mike S. says:

            That’s kind of undercut by ME1’s final “The Reapers are coming, and we’ll be ready for them.” That’s not Lovecraftian, that’s space opera.

            If they’d stuck with “the Reapers are unbeatable if they get here, so the trick– which will inevitably eventually fail, but maybe not today— is to keep the misguided or evil from opening the door”, that would have been more in the Lovecraft direction.

            1. ehlijen says:

              That’s a concession to
              a) computer gamers assume that a game is winnable
              b) not everyone likes the bleak futility of true lovecraftian horror.

              Even the Arkham horror and Eldritch horror board games have victory conditions, the former even ‘as a last ditch, you can win if you shoot chtulluh in the face often enough’.

              The horrors from beyond the stars and our understanding is very much a lovecraftian horror trope. To sell the game, they made them beatable.
              It’s Also space opera.

              1. krellen says:

                Unless that Great Old One is Azathoth, in which case you just lose.

                1. ehlijen says:

                  If the Doom runs out, yes.

                  But admittedly, even for the others ‘you can win by shooting them in the face’ is said in the tone of ‘you can win if you roll several dozen 6s in a row’ more or less.

            2. Wray92 says:

              Maybe they didn’t want to write a story that bleak: I can understand that. But still, Harbinger was a huge step down for the Reapers. In ME1 they operated on a galactic scale and they were all but unbeatable. In ME2 Harbinger is concerned enough with one guy to personally try and kill him–and fails again and again.

              If this was Bioware intentionally trying to show that the Reapers aren’t as powerful as they say they are, I think that was a bad idea. It cheapens the story.

              1. Syal says:

                Someone mentioned Darth Vader focusing more and more on Luke as the story goes on. I think that might have been the idea, and it works when done right, but it requires a villain who’s been around for a while, and been at least moderately competent before. If you make up a new character who’s never been mentioned before but is intent on paying someone back for what happened to an old one, they, and the story they’re in, are not going to be taken any more seriously than Franz Gruber from Die Hard 3.

                And definitely don’t have multiple bad guys do it independently. There’s no reason for Harbinger to act that way when Cerberus is already doing it.

      2. Pyrrhic Gades says:

        Who said anything about Lovecraftian horror? Sovereign is a dead robot who put on heirs, and nothing more.

        The reapers got where they were by taking every task seriously, and making sure that no body takes them seriously.
        Maybe that’s the purpose of Harbringer? Prance about like an idiot to such an extent that not even the doomsayers fallcalling the coming invasion can take the reaper threat seriously?

        1. Nimas says:

          Not trying to be snarky, but I’m *really* having difficulty working out that sentence. How does a robot have heirs? Is it that Sovereign had heirs who were put upon by him?

          1. krellen says:

            It’s supposed to be “put on airs”.

          2. Christopher Kerr says:

            The phrase he was looking for is “put on airs”, but that meaning of “air” (an assumed or affected manner) is rarely seen in works published in the last 60 years or so.

            Googling for “putting on heirs” suggests that it has occasionally been used intentionally as a pun (for instance, as the title old Slate article about family inheritance), but mostly it’s just people confusing the roughly homophonous “air” with “heir”.

            I’m guessing this kind of mistake is particularly common in idioms, because they are used without thinking about their component words (see also “all intensive purposes”, “sneak peak”, “shoe-in”, “slight of hand”, “baited breath”, “wet your appetite”, “peaked my interest” etc etc etc)

            1. Kestrellius says:

              Interestingly, there’s a name for this sort of thing.. They’re called “egg-corns”, because, well, somebody once thought that “acorn” was spelled “egg-corn” — but spelling it “egg-corn” doesn’t really damage the meaning; the term still works fine.

              1. Mike S. says:

                But poor rein and reign have no hope of disambiguation. (“Free reign” is, if anything, more common than “free rein” these days.)

            2. MichaelGC says:

              Nice list! It passes mustard.

              1. Syal says:

                That’s a deep-seeded one, for sure.

      3. Syal says:

        Agree in spirit, but:

        Remember that part of Call of Cthulhu where the bad guys wiped out all the cultists, then a bunch of unrelated fishermen out of nowhere awakened Cthulhu by accident, and then ran him over to save the world? No, of course not; that would be ridiculous.

        1. krellen says:

          Cthulhu is the Harbinger of Great Old Ones.

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      It might just be me, but casting Harbinger as Ancient and Powerful Machine Intelligence Charlie Brown, still trying to kick that cosmic football after 50,000 years of failed attempts, doesn’t really convey “threatening”.

      Maybe if the taunting was taken away, and they tried to sell the Terminator trope of a single-minded unstoppable killing machine just coming, coming, coming after you, undeterred by any distractions or obstacles, it could work. But the whining really ruins the effect.

      1. Syal says:

        Although “he’s the kind of threat that always gets the participation award” is a pretty brilliant line.

        Trouble is, that kind of villain only really works when they’re fighting against an entity like the Reapers, that have no known weaknesses but could be found to have one somewhere if the bad guys are dedicated enough. Shepard, on the other hand, is wearing several weaknesses on her sleeve, which means Harbinger looks really stupid for exclusively playing to Shepard’s strengths.

  24. SlothfulCobra says:

    The best thing about Harbinger’s combat barks is that they can be put together for this NSFW video.

    I kinda like the idea of Ewoks being introduced with the cantina music. Makes me imagine those little bears as skeezeballs playing poker while drinking booze and smoking cigars.

  25. BurningHeron says:

    It always seems strange to me that, if you talk to Miranda right after the Illusive Man tells you to check out Freedom’s Progress, she says she wanted to put a “control chip” in your brain but wasn’t allowed. If Cerberus was physically preventing you from taking certain actions, the player would at least have a justification for it when the plot forces Shepard to go along with Cerberus.

    Shepard: “Screw Cerberus, I’m leaving.”

    Illusive Man: “You can’t. I put a bomb in your head when I brought you back to life. Haha!”

    Kashley: “You turned your back on everything we stood for! Why are you working for Cerberus?”

    Shepard: “I am literally being forced to do so by some smug jerk who’s way too proud of his convoluted plotting, and also by the Illusive Man.”

    It by no means solves all the main plot’s problems, but, teasing aside, at least it acknowledges the railroading in a way that makes you mad at Cerberus and not BioWare.

    1. Mike S. says:

      I wonder if Miranda’s bit about having considered a control chip and been overruled is an insert into the story of an actual game design dispute. With the sides being, basically, “It makes the plot make much more sense.”/”Players will hate, hate, *hate* the idea of playing a character with a control chip in their head.”

      (Though in SWTOR, there’s a storyline in which one of the characters has exactly that for a while, and it works quite well. Including dialog options you can choose only to find you can’t actually say them.)

      Having the chip for a while, then having loyal Miranda or Mordin or someone remove it at a late stage so that you can choose to follow or rebel against TIM at the end could have helped shore up the whole Cerberus thing. But I suspect it would be even more frustrating for a lot of players. Implicit messing with player agency (the inability to give reasonable answers to Kaiden or Ashley) is bad enough, but explicit denial tends to provoke outrage.

      Aside: while Kaiden and Ashley say basically the same things on Horizon, I always find it interesting that Kaiden calls Shepard a “legend”, and Ashley says “a god”. That always seemed kind of backwards. (Ashley’s the one who wouldn’t use “god” casually, if either wouldn’t.)

      I’m also annoyed every time I see top-level human biotic Kaidan Alenko respond to the Collector attack with an assault rifle. Would it really have killed the budget to do a few seconds of separate animation?

      1. Wray says:

        I think players would be on board with it if they had the goal of getting the chip out, and were able to take revenge on TIM at the end of the game. The Cerberus mind control theory is something a lot of people use to cover up plot holes.

      2. krellen says:

        I disagree vehemently with the idea that the “control chip” works in SWTOR. Perhaps if it was tied back to something that actually happened in-game instead of happening off-camera, but it’s still stupid and annoying.

        1. lurkey says:

          I disagree vehemently with your disagreement – that stunt was a major part of reasons “Imperial Agent’s story” in now in my RPG Top 3, and in-game hint could have ruined the nasty surprise and consequent emotions about antagonists.

          …ahem. Back on topic. I had no problem whatsoever with Ashley’s reaction here, it even made me like her more. People do not always behave rationally when encountering someone important to them who they thought to be dead, especially impulsive, blunt people such as Ashley, and I was 100% in agreement with her “You with Cerberus?!” sentiment. But it’s obvious the conversation was designed for Ashley specifically, because when quiet, introspective Kaidan gives such a reaction it is indeed jarring.

          I also was very amused by Shep’s & Co “OMG I cannot believe this, how can it be!!!!” reaction here and on the dead Reaper to the fact that the group named (and apparently defined by the name only) Collectors abducts and stores people.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            If it were just her reaction,the conversation couldve gone over a bit better.But at the same time you are completely unable to say anything of substance to counter her dumb behavior,and that whole combination is what makes this conversation so infuriating.

          2. krellen says:

            This post contains spoilers about a stupid twist in a SWTOR storyline:

            You’re wrong. It’s not a “surprise” that the Agent has been brainwashed and implanted with a control phrase. It’s bullshit. It comes out of nowhere – there was no point in the storyline where it is reasonable that it could happen, because you never once return to HQ for sufficient time to be processed before moving on to Chapter 2. The fact that you were somehow implanted with control coding off-camera after your epic showdown with Jaden is bad storytelling.

            Imagine you were playing in a face-to-face RPG and the GM tells you “the bad guy says onomotaphobia, and suddenly you obey all his commands”, to reveal months later that you were brainwashed at some undisclosed point in the story between sessions. You wouldn’t think the GM was a brilliant storyteller. You’d think he was a railroady asshole. (And that’s assuming you stuck around after he took control away from your character.)

            It’s not like the reveal is that you were implanted with a control phrase when you first entered Intelligence. It’s revealed that it was a reaction to your confrontation with Jaden. Somehow, between the end of Chapter 1 and the start of Chapter 2, you are given a code phrase that completely controls your actions.

            1. Slothfulcobra says:

              Well it worked for Bioshock.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Not the same.In bioshock,you were preconditioned before the game started.What krellen is saying is that your brainwashing in swtor happens in those 5 minutes you were not following your character,which is silly.

                However,I should also point out that botched setup doesnt mean a botched execution.You can have a weak or nonsensical setup and still tell a compelling good story with it.

              2. krellen says:

                Bioshock isn’t an RPG. There’s never even an illusion that you have choices in the story.

            2. lurkey says:

              If I recall correctly, every SWTOR story implied your character did some undocumented by the game stuff between the chapters. The handlers definitely went “Go, do your stuff then come back”, so it wasn’t a big stretch for me to imagine the Agent was obliged to drop to HQ and fill some paperwork. And it’s kind of impossible anyway to show character’s movement history perfectly gradually in the genre as limiting and suspension-of-disbelief-stretching as a MMO.

              In short, I treated twist’s presentation as part of game mechanic rather than story, and since I tend to zone the bullshit mechanic out if I like story well enough, it did not bother me in a least.

              1. krellen says:

                There was a perfect setup for this “twist” already, and the twist even uses it – the Watcher X implant. If that had been the cause of the conditioning, and the cure was to remove it, I would be much more satisfied with the story (though the fact that getting the implant is a non-choice is a count against it.)

                1. Nimas says:

                  I quite liked the Imperial Agent story. Admittedly, the only way I’ve experienced it through is SF Debris recent series on it :P.

                  I tried once to play SW:TOR but I went insane before I even hit level 10. Honestly, I think my problem was that even though I played WoW for ages (for me, not ages for ppl who are still damn playing the game), MMO combat has been ruined for me by TERA online. Although that game has problems in…other areas.

      3. Henson says:

        The control chip log is essentially there to humanize, in some fashion, the Illusive Man. To make him seem ‘not so bad’, and give the player more reason to be OK with joining up with Cerberus. “Hey, they totally could have put a control chip in my brain, but he vetoed that plan, so I guess he’s kinda cool sometimes, okay let’s do this.”

  26. guy says:

    I don’t think Harbinger’s appearances were conceptually unworkable. He bodyjacks random mooks and makes them considerably more dangerous, and doesn’t lose anything when they get destroyed. If his combat taunts were more dispassionate and reinforced the idea that he was just using whatever was handy, like “augmenting engaged asset” and “peripheral asset lost”, it’d work fine.

    1. Syal says:

      I like the idea of Harbinger being a Reaper scientist, experimentally probing at Shepard to find out exactly what about them led to Sovereign’s defeat, and how to prevent it in the future. That way we have a new Reaper power of possession (at least the revelation that it’s only really limited by the Reapers wanting to do it), the idea that they’re taking Shepard seriously, and separate characterization for Sovereign and Harbinger while maintaining the detachment, mystery and threat about the Reapers as a whole.

      And then the final battle could have been some device Harbinger concluded would defeat Shepard, and Shepard beating it anyway. Then we start to see the Reapers aren’t infallible, and there might actually be hope to win in the long run.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Actually,he makes them less dangerous.Collectors are dangerous enemies because they can quickly flank you.Removing their best trait(speed and flight)while upping their health and damage is not really an improvement.He does work like a good bait for Shepard to target while the rest of the collectors try to flank,but nothing more than that.

    3. Slothfulcobra says:

      Yeah, it’s not that it’s unworkable, it’s that nobody tries to work it. You’d think somebody in the game would take note of Harbinger in any way, maybe try to capture a collector who he’s assumed direct control of to have a conversation with, but nobody even mentions him.

      He’s just there providing a slight challenge and throwing taunts at the player.

  27. scowdich says:

    What bugs me (heh) most about Kashley in ME2 is that, in the cutscene introducing the threat to Horizon, we see them get paralyzed by the Collectors. Hours later, Shepard arrives, saves the day, and Kashley shows up, alive and well, and doesn’t even mention getting paralyzed and almost captured. Did the Collectors just choose to ignore them?

  28. James says:

    The problem with harbenger is that you could make him so much more menising so easly. First he is a rare occurrence, Second when he does appear no taunts, you hear assuming control and he just takes a minion any minion and becomes him. This minion should be tough a bullet sponge, impossible to just melee and takes some effort to bring down shields. That mook will die but than than “Assuming control” again, no taunts no BS just one powerful adversary after another. Third the first time the characters encounter him and learn he just changes body they should notice it some thing “Shepard hes not going down”, than the other member could point out “get his subordinates first so he can’t jump into another body”. Now instead of a childish broken villain we just have this ever present presence silently possessing his people if your doing to much damage to them, a relentless force who will just come at you again and again till their is nothing left to possess.

    Now I know this isn’t perfect writing but I’m trying to work within the terrible story that is mass effect 2. I swear would have given up on the series at this point if not for the characters.

  29. Merlin says:

    While we’re looking at funny pictures of Ashley, I’d like to take a moment to vent that I’ve always hated the armor design they use for her. That chestplate seems to exist to evoke “saggy breasts.” I don’t mean that to denigrate anybody’s body type or anything, it just looks like they tried to make space-age boobplate and succeeded only in making a tremendously unflattering version. It’s most noticeable on the cover art for ME1, which thanks to the shape of the torso, also manages to make her look pregnant. And again, nothing wrong with pregnant ladies or how they look. But also pretty clearly not the intended goal. It’s sexy armor that fails both at armor and at sexy.

    Edit: In a flailing attempt at relevance, is this a sort of metaphor for the series’s plot hopping the rails ever further as it goes on? To make us consider whether terrible execution is made better or worse by being attached to terrible goals?

    1. Joe Informatico says:

      Even in fiction where the aesthetics or art design of the setting are predicated on sexiness or a flexible and fanciful approach to physics and physiology, boobplates are still kind of silly.

      In a franchise that wants to take its larger ideas seriously, the boobplates are just dumb. Miranda’s a femme fatale in a spy catsuit, Jack doesn’t care what people think (and might have a bit of a deathwish), and Samara–well, personally I find Samara’s outfit ridiculous but let’s be charitable and call it an asari cultural thing, uniforms like bridge officer attire that aren’t battle dress can be more form-fitting, and civilian clothing can be whatever. I’m letting all those slide.

      But stuff we’re supposed to take seriously as the armour of a professional soldier, like Ashley’s armour, and FemShep’s, should look like something you’d take seriously. Women in the armed forces today don’t wear combat armour form-fitted to their bosom, because it would be a liability. So why would they less than 200 years from now?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        At least the first one had only boobplates and not cameltoe spandex like 2 and 3.

      2. Slothfulcobra says:

        Realistically, armor is supposed to be big and bulky, but Bioware wanted their armor to be just a bunch of thin skintight plating, so that’s what we get. At least the game’s mostly consistent and male armor is equally formfitting (except for maybe the aliens who we don’t know what their form under the armor is).

      3. Ninety-Three says:

        “Miranda’s a femme fatale in a spy catsuit”

        I realize this is a tangent, but, is she? Now that you’ve mentioned it, I realize that I’m unclear on what exactly Miranda does. Thane’s an assassin, Samara is a space paladin, Mordin’s a doctor and former commando, Jack’s a biotic god, but what exactly is Miranda? She’s not a weapons specialist, they never make a big deal of her biotics like they do with Jack…

        What is her skillset supposed to be, and why is Shepard dragging her along, instead literally any other combat-capable person in the galaxy? Is she there in case they come out the Omega 4 relay and find a load of Cerberus paperwork that needs to be filed?

        1. Mike S. says:

          Miranda’s the ship’s XO and the primary Cerberus presence on the ship. (Everyone other than the squadmates technically works for Cerberus, but she’s the one who actually seems to represent TIM and the organization.) While Shepard is given carte blanche more or less and Miranda is placed in Shepard’s chain of command, the Commander probably has no more power to actually dismiss Miranda than to have EDI uninstalled

          Miranda’s theoretically a skilled leader: her passive power (labeled “Cerberus Officer”) gives health and weapon damage bonuses to the whole squad. She’s also able to lead the second squad on the Long Walk during the Suicide Mission with no casualties even if she’s not loyal.

          That said, the idea that she’s good at managing people is somewhat undercut by the fact that no one (other than potentially Shepard, and Jacob, sort of) is shown to actually like her or respect her leadership. Also her responding to Jack by escalating the situation rather than showing any of those alleged people skills.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Jack is sort of a worst case scenario for Miranda. Jack has grudges against:
            -Cerberus in general
            -Leaders in general
            -Cerberus leaders specifically
            -Superficially “pretty” people (recall her tats and clothing choices)
            -And anyone trying to get her to do something she wouldn’t normally want to do

            Meanwhile, Miranda probably resents pirates and criminals in a similar way with her corporate background.

            Regarding the rest of the crew, I can’t remember any non-Jack members having a beef against Miranda. And they seem on good terms at the party (although, amusingly, she mostly interacts with Jack even then).

    2. Couscous says:

      Oh thank god that I wasn’t the only person that thought that when I saw the picture.

  30. Aldowyn says:

    The conversation is 90% identical with Kaidan, but there /are/ a few differences. Most notably, Kaidan says Shep is a ‘legend’, not a god, and just in general he sounds somewhat more sad and disappointed than just pissed off, like Ashley. It’s still a terrible conversation, giving you absolutely no chance to explain your decision to do something you didn’t actually have any input over.

  31. Khizan says:

    As far as the combat goes…

    Difficulty-wise, one of the core things about the ME games(2&3 specifically) is that no single enemy ever poses a threat; there is no enemy that poses a threat when taken in isolation. The Scions use a shockwave that can be trivially dodged, the Praetorians can be endlessly kited around a piece of tall cover, and any flavor of mook can be killed trivially. The nature of the game just doesn’t allow for single enemies of any real significance. This is why encounters like Kai Leng and Human-Reaper are awful mechanically as well as story-wise. Shepard’s abilities are just too potent to make a good single-enemy without making it feel cheap.

    In these games, the difficulty of the battle comes from the combination of the enemies, and that’s where Harbinger’s control-form shines. He respawns, he’s tanky for a mook, and he launches homing fireballs that knock you out of cover and stagger you. Depending on the difficulty and the situation, getting hit by one of them can be certain death and he can really make the level much harder. The first time I did this level I died all the time in those fights cause I’d let a fireball tag me and then I’d get focus-fired, and I had to redo that last battle several times. It felt quite challenging.

    Of course, on subsequent playthroughs it was nothing new and I already knew how to handle it, so I stormed over it like every other battle in this game. That’s because I’ve played the game several times, I’ve mastered all the skills, and I know what’s coming up in each encounter, though. I should be stomping all over it.

    The difficulty felt appropriate on my first playthrough and in a game like this that’s the one you should judge it by, IMO. In subsequent playthroughs you’ll know how to handle its mechanics and then it will just come down to your ability to execute them.

    1. Viktor says:

      Thinking about it, you’re absolutely right. So the problem becomes, we excise “Assuming Direct Control” as Harbinger’s presence on the battlefield/way of interacting with you, and we accept that we need regular interactions with Harbinger because the execs are worried that players will forget about him, what do we replace it with?

      My solution: We build off of indoctrination. Not the slow, subtle stuff, no. Harbinger sees that you’re interfering with his plans and needs you to stop, NOW. So he mind-blasts you. It doesn’t last long, but for a few minutes, your controls are inverted. Or you’re slowed. Or the edges of your vision grey out. And the entire time, Harbinger is overwhelming your audio with staticy “SUBMIT”s. Basically, make the fight harder by messing with the mechanics. Have a mook that’s acting as an antenna for the mind-screw so that you can end it early and you’ve got something that would give varying levels of challenge, feel appropriately foreign, and not make Harbinger seem like a low-grade miniboss. You’d have to balance it very well, and make sure it’s hard rather than really annoying, but it could make for some really interesting fights.

  32. Ramsus says:

    “playing the Star Wars Cantina music when we meet the Ewoks”

    Imagining this made me completely crack up.

  33. GloatingSwine says:

    Harby is even worse if you have Kasumi, because the only difference between him and an actual mook is that he gets biotic powers.

    Kasumi’s flashbangs disable enemy biotics.

    So if you have Kasumi it goes something like


    And now he’s an ordinary mook again and the only difference is an extra health bar.

    1. Slothfulcobra says:

      Well, the armor underneath the barrier does make him immune to most of your biotics.

  34. BitFever says:

    I actually like how Harbinger takes over the mooks bodies. The idea of a powerful alien force being able to just insert itself into someones mind like that and alter there physical being in a way that actually seems to distort and destroy the body is unnerving. How he is fine throwing away the lives of his mooks in this manner and how any say against being used like this has long been snuffed out. I find that personally unsettling.

  35. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

    You’re right Shamus. Fallout New Vegas is better than Fallout 4. This series convinced me.

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      Meh, say what you will, but I still think that Bioshock’s strengths are enough to set it apart as a worthy sequel.

      1. Syal says:

        And y’know, Tidus and Yuna laughing is supposed to sound unnatural and a bit grating.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Thats all well and good,but keep in mind that invisible war was obviously designed for consoles first,even though its predecessor was a pc exclusive for a while.

          1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

            But then why did The Old Republic even bother going MMO? Did they really think they could take on WoW just because they’re Star Wars?

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              Shamus wrote an article on that already.

              Have you seen how much freaking money League of Legends makes? Based on subscriber counts, in one month they must pull in as much as we get for a single installment for our “Call of Modern Gears” franchise. And those things take two years to develop! This is nuts! Why can’t we make Call of Modern Gears into a MOBA? If we could bring in even half of what LoL does we’ll never have to worry about money again.

              Get some developers in here and let’s talk about making a MOBA!

              Of course we can make our first-person shooter franchise into an MOBA. All we have to do is add some creeps, make the gameplay more grind-y, and come up with some solid ultimates Our games are loved by millions. We can handle this.

              We’re going to be rich!

              1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                Sure paid mods will make Valve and Bethesda some money but it will destroy the community.

                1. Ivellius says:

                  Maybe the Walking Dead didn’t have “freedom of choice” in that it led to dramatically different endings, but whenever I made decisions they mattered to me.

                  At least the second game did it a little better in its conclusion, though it’ll be hard to follow a sequel there.

                  1. Gruhunchously says:

                    As much as people rag on it, and justifiably so, I actually think that Deus Ex: Invisible War did that kind of faction interplay really well, especially for it’s time. It’s almost a precursor to New Vegas in that regard.

                    1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                      Besides, Saints Row was never meant to be taken seriously. This move further distinguishes it from GTA.

                    2. Syal says:

                      Although there really should have been a mechanical reason for Batman to turn off Detective Mode sometimes.

            2. Daimbert says:

              They certainly would have had a chance, given that trying to compete on simply being a better MMO didn’t work for anyone, but tying it to a specific lore could work … and, arguably, is how WoW got there in the first place.

              Full disclosure: All of my favourite MMOs — Dark Age of Camelot, City of Heroes, and The Old Republic — are my favourites because of the setting. I probably could have gotten into Lord of the Rings Online, but it had to compete with CoH and so, well, couldn’t.

              1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                You might want to read back through the thread.

  36. djw says:

    Well, with all this talk of failed Lovecraftian plot lines in ME2, at least we can take solace in the fact that we didn’t have to telefrag the Reaper Baby in the collector base.

    1. Poncho says:

      That is absolutely hilarious.

      1. djw says:

        Its funny now. In ’96 it was just confusing!

  37. “If the protagonists aren't even going to react to Harbinger, then why is he here in the first place?”

    I found that silly too. If they only left the “assuming/releasing control” thing for cutscenes it would make Harbringer more creepy as Shepard would know that Harbringer “could” take control of any of it’s subjects at any time. (Shepard would need to eavesdrop or find footage though))

    Maybe that was the plan but it changed through development?

  38. Decus says:

    You mentioned Arrival trying to sell reapers coming in months, but that’s not all Arrival tried to sell for the small price of, uh, awkward number of biobucks you had to overspend on (516 and they sold in multiples of 500?)! It also had Hackett try to sell you on “the Alliance is sending tons of ships out to all the colonies Udina or Anderson said we would ignore, totally, all the ships” when you ask him about how they’re handling the Collectors and if they’ve found anything.

    Especially when you start considering DLC content the plot is just full of mixed messages like that and all of them feel like “but shut up though”, even some of Zaedd in relation to all the merc mooks you kill. A tally on how many mercs you end up killing if you do every side quest would be both hilarious and sad–going to guess it’s somewhere in the thousands by end-count. I can’t quite remember what you were killing in the c/p ME1 sidequest levels, when they weren’t cerberus, but I want to say they were un-named mooks which is infinitely better than “all of space only has 3 merc groups and they’re all everywhere and all unquestionably evil so kill them always”. Less details are better than more details when the details are dumb.

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      Kind of makes you wish that this games had an Alpha Protocol style orphan counter.

      Though it would seem a bit of a nose rub given that you rarely have an option other than killing your enemies.

  39. Regarding the The Virmire Survivor, is it possible the god remark, and offended and whatever responses where supposed to be variations depending on how you treated them in the previous game (friendship vs no friendship, and romance vs friendship) but instead they dropped checking flags and just run all the dialog instead?

    If they had a good relationship (romance or not) then wouldn’t they be still glad and also curious or concerned, wanting to know where Shepard was, what happen.

    Since Shepard was a Spectre and The Virmire Survivor a soldier (higher ranking now in ME2?) it would be easy to assume that Shepard’s death was faked because of Spectre reasons for all she/he knows.

    And “why didn’t you call/contact me?” could then be replied with “I was actually dead.”

    It really was odd. Not long ago I replayed the trilogy and romanced Ashley instead of Tali and this particular meeting just seemed really weird. Wouldn’t Ashley be more mature after 2 tears?
    Also, wouldn’t she be shocked at first and “then” do the god line when the guy wonders who Shepard is?

    I really wish BioWare would do a honest post-mortem thing on the Mass Effect trilogy. But PR wise they would probably not gain from that (possible the reverse) so that will most likely never happen (until people’s NDAs expire).

  40. Dreadjaws says:

    Hey, Shamus, a bit out of subject here, but are you planning to do any write-up on Arkham Knight? I know you’ve complained a lot (and very rightly) about the Batmobile, but you haven’t mentioned anything about the amateur-fanfiction level of writing on the game, and you did some analysis on Arkham City and Origins.

  41. silver Harloe says:

    155 comments and no mention of the The Matrix yet?

    “Assuming Direct Control” was cribbed from how the Agents work in the Matrix.

    And, had it been done right, it should’ve been just as scary: you thought you were fighting a mook, but now you’re fighting an unstoppable killing machine and your only real chance is to run like hell for some kind of exit from this scenario. Coupled with the realization that even on the off-chance you DO beat him, you haven’t hurt him at all, just some random mook. Coupled with the fear that almost anyone, at any time, could suddenly become another round of ant versus magnifying glass.

    Part of the problem, of course, is that “had it been done right” is a huge hurdle: video games are very bad at giving you a “you must run from this fight” scenario, unless it’s the whole point of the game. If you have weapons and biotics of great potency, then you have to either make the boss immune entirely – in which people will call BS on you – or else make them Super-Duper resistant – in which case people will assume it’s just a challenge and reload until they can win, or complain about how they had to have the exact right character to do it, or whatever.

    1. Bas L. says:

      Then how about this: let him blow himself up. Any gamer would run away from an impending explosion (like the heavy mechs in ME2). It would also show Harbinger as utterly ruthless. Every now and then he takes control of a collector, maybe takes a few steps in Shepard’s direction and then blows himself up in a large explosion.

      This ensures that the player constantly has to be on guard and it could genuinely be scary.

      1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

        It would also keep Harbinger elevated as a threat. Instead of stepping down to your level to fight you, it would reinforce the idea of him using his drones as disposable weapons.

    2. Syal says:

      The idea of body possession is a lot older than the Matrix. It’s in the Bible, and is likely older than that.

      1. silver Harloe says:

        Possession is an older idea, yes, but I’d bet (a reasonably small amount of) money they were thinking of Agents when they put in that feature of Harbinger.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      In cases like that,I tend to refer to dark city instead of the matrix,as it came first and is a smarter movie.

      1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

        “I didn’t know a movie could have brains and beauty till I met you.”

  42. Alex says:

    “Even if you think it matches the mood, a proper musical score is more than just a collection of tempos. Individual pieces of music come to mean things. They have their own context.”

    Absolutely. It’s called a leitmotif. Like the Ring theme in LoTR, the soft, high strings that play a haunting progression whenever the ring appears or is mentioned. Can be used to great effect to symbolically tie people or events together.

  43. Rutskarn says:

    When you finish this series and publish it as a book, “This Hurts You” should be the title.

    1. Jsor says:

      I thought that was already the name of your Mass Effect/50 Shades of Grey fanfic.

  44. Flip says:

    Joe Colonist:
    (To Ashley. Disgusted.) All the people we lost and you get left behind. Figures. Screw this. I'm done with you Alliance types!

    Yep. The Collectors forgot the person they came to Horizon for. Good Job!

  45. Scerro says:

    I never realized the assuming direct control guy was a reaper… huh

    1. guy says:

      It seemed pretty obvious to me, since ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL has basically a recolored version of the Saren reincarnation effect.

      It’s made explicit right as the Collector base is about to be destroyed.

      Harbinger: You have failed. We will find another way. Releasing Control.
      *The Collector General’s glowing orange eyes fade to green*
      *The station explodes*

      1. Mike S. says:

        I always feel terrible for the Collector General in that moment: it looks so surprised and uncomprehending, as if this is the first time in its life that it’s actually under its own control and thinking its own thoughts.[1] And then the explosion hits.

        [1] If we believe Mordin then there’s no self left to any of the Collectors. But it sure looks lost and confused right then.

  46. MrGuy says:

    The comparison that strikes me here for how Harbinger could have been done better, amazingly enough, is From Resident Evil. Specifically, Resident Evil: Nemisis (RE3)

    In RE3, the Nemisis is significantly stronger than you, and nearly impossible in the early game. You encounter him somewhat frequently, but are rarely forced to fight him. Usually the best approach is to run away (though you can decide to stay and fight if you want to get whupped). The few times you have to fight him, it’s a really hard fight, and you’re usually relieved when you can defeat him enough to have him run away.

    Imagine how much better Harbinger would be if he was handled like this. He SHOULD be stronger than you. He should be hard to fight. You should be a little afraid of him – Soverign nearly destroyed the hub of the galaxy by himself, so reapers are clearly formidable. You can run into him frequently without him being a whack-a-mole mook.

    Of course, the RE3 approach only works if you allow the player character to ever be intimidated to the point where they might beat a tactical retreat. And since ME2 decided to turn Shepard into the greatest Mary Sue in the Galaxy, that would never do.

  47. Dork Angel says:

    If you take Ashley/Kaiden’s first comment as sarcasm it kinda works. They presumed Shepard was dead (and no doubt grieved for him), then heard rumours of him not being dead and his apparent work for Cerberus. Now here he is, with half his old crew bar you.

    A/K – Here he is, the big hero, etc… (sarcasm)

    Shepard, being American of course, misses it. ;) – Hi A/K how’s it going?

    This leads to A/K losing it – You didn’t write, you didn’t call, wtf are you doing with Cerberus, etc…

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      It makes the comments less dissonant,yes,but it doesnt make them any less stupid.The whole tantrum about you not keeping in touch WHEN YOU WERE DEAD,or telling them that you were resurrected WHEN THEY ARE ON A SECRET MISSION AND COULDNT BE CONTACTED AT ALL is childish and insane.

      1. Dork Angel says:

        If someone in war is presumed dead then shows up later your first thought is not “they’ve been resurrected” but they’ve been alive all along and lying low for some reason. You may well use the phrase “back from the dead” without meaning it literally, though in this case it is – which is ironic. (wow, literal, allegorical and ironic in one sentence) A/K could well have thought Shepard survived the Normandy crash somehow and then been working for Cerberus ever since (as opposed to only “waking up” a little while ago) which means he could have got in touch before her secret mission started. Was there not some comment about her rising in rank which suggests some time has passed between the Normandy’s destruction and the current secret mission?

        1. guy says:

          On the other hand, the natural assumption when someone you know personally to be extremely loyal shows up in the company of an alien you don’t know and one of your best alien friends in the service of an anti-alien terrorist organization is that they’re on some critical top-secret mission of their own.

  48. insert-nick-here says:

    I actually thought about it and Harbinger could have been a great villain. Let’s talk about his first appearance in the ME universe. I don’t mean Horizon, I mean the comic, “Redemption”. He was portrayed as a somewhat odd individual who had power much greater than you could tell by looking at him, and I think that what he said to the Shadow Broker (“You pretend to be everywhere at once… I already am”) should be an accurate description of who he is. This is hinted at in the post-Collector Ship mission description too – we can read about “an information network that may rival Cerberus’s or even the Shadow Broker’s”.
    I think that would be an excellent direction to take him in. A Reaper who instead of waltzing in and blowing up everything he sees, uses his mind-control and manipulation abilities to their full extent. The thing is; he’s a machine and a powerful one at that, so changing identities every few people he meets is not a problem at all. Imagine Harbinger abusing the hell out of indoctrination, the slow, subtle version, the “congratulations, you have brain damage” mind-blast and anything in between to get what he wants.
    And like that, Shepard would get in his way without even noticing, and after a few missions the commander as well as the player would put two and two together (not on Horizon though, I’m in favor of Harbinger not showing up there at all) and realize that the person who, for example ordered Blue Suns to kill Okeer before Shepard manages to get him off-planet, someone who tried to buy Jack but failed, because TIM was first and the Collector leader are all the same person – but no direct encounter yet.
    As the game progresses, this “Harbinger” grows from an odd individual with unknown goals to an omnipresent entity who may, or may not be watching you right now. Then you’d have people going crazy whenever he’s involved, people suddenly being oddly loyal to the cause they never really cared for, some instances of irreversible brain damage and in every single case the description of the process is roughly the same.
    Then comes the reveal, yes, Harbinger is a Reaper, and then (around the Collector Ship, maybe a bit later) you actually talk to him, either through a posessed Collector or a human who was unlucky enough to hang atound Harby too much. Then you have the posessed Collector encounters, one in the ship, another three in the base (for the end of every act), every time he’s more difficult and challenging. In the first one he can be just a damage sponge without any special characteristics. The second one would be like the first one, but Harby gets some biotic powers. The third one would introduce the knock-you-out-of-cover thing and in the last one he would get himself a gun and learn to use cover.
    Then you’d get a Shep-Harby showdown at the end of which you disable some computers or shit, weakening the base-outside world connection to the point that Harby decides that further fighting is both idiotic and futile and leaves the base. The proto-Reaper is still in there, but it’s not a Terminator and actually looks like some Reaper “organs”. You have your victory.
    But he’s not done. He basically handed you the base for you to fuck off and stop looking for Reaper plans to disrupt. Then Arrival happens, where Harbinger does his best to haul his ass to the Alpha Relay, stop the asteroid and keep the Project seemingly fine and running. Then Kenson gets caught and Shepard finds out about everything. Instead of being sedated and kept prisoner, Shep is forced to run away from the base and only when they start running out of oxygen, they return to end this (thus the time limit). The rest plays like it is, but at the end, after Shepard sets everything in motion, Harby posesses Kenson. During combat he tries to distract Shepard from the console and turn the engines around, maybe even doing THIS:
    Viktor said

    Harbinger sees that you’re interfering with his plans and needs you to stop, NOW. So he mind-blasts you. It doesn’t last long, but for a few minutes, your controls are inverted. Or you’re slowed. Or the edges of your vision grey out. And the entire time, Harbinger is overwhelming your audio with staticy “SUBMIT”s.

    Maybe not necessarily “SUBMITs”, but demands to let them in, to give up, trash talking about whoever died on Virmire, asking if they would be proud of these dead Batarians, essentialy trying to make it as personal for Shepard as it’s possible, wanting them to lose their shit and start making mistakes. After Harbinger-posessed Kenson is defeated, the Reaper makes a remark on how old and impractical her body is, both, him and Shep still hiding in cover, slowly walking around some pillar or something, then a conversation takes place and finally Shepard can either fight him again, this time killing him for good or repeatedly passing the reputation check and basically defeating him at his own game, distracting him long enough to jump at him and finish it with an interrupt. Before Shepard shoots Kenson, Harbinger says one, last thing; “Shepard”. Just “Shepard”. Through the whole game he’d call them “organic” or later “human”, refering to them properly only when he literally run out of options besides “zerg rush the galaxy as it is” specifically because of them.

    At leats that’s my idea.

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