Shepard has the Normandy sidle up to the “disabled” Collector vessel and his team takes the shuttle over. They’re here for “intel” on the “Omega 4 Relay”, but it’s kind of vague because that’s a really broad topic and we don’t know what they’re looking for specifically. We don’t know what part of the ship they’re in, or heading for. We don’t know how far we have to go, and it’s not even made clear why we need to board their vessel in the first place, since EDI seems to read their databanks from the Normandy. I guess the Collectors have a really shitty Wi-fi password? The author doesn’t seem interested in explaining how that works or what the limitations are, or what.
That’s usually fine in a drama-based story, although this is kind of muddled because the team seems to forget why they’re here. It would be nice if there was just one or two lines of dialog that framed their goals for this scene and explained how they planned to achieve themLike: We need to take this wireless adapter to the Collector router on deck 2.. Shepard and friends just walk down a single linear corridor and act like tourists in a Collector-based theme park.
It’s actually important to keep the audience focused in a situation like this. We want the player to have some kind of perceptible goal. Since this is supposed to be an ambush, we want them to be thinking about the thing they’re supposedly about to get. Otherwise they go into passive mode and simply wait for the other shoe to drop.
And then we come across a weapon on the ground and we get a popup asking what weapon class we want to permanently unlock for Shepard. Just.. what? Here? In the middle of a mission? Shepard suddenly unlocks a new weapon? Shouldn’t this happen on one of the many upgrade menus in the Normandy? Why is this choice here?
It’s like the writer forgot they were supposed to be building tension for the upcoming ambush and so they left out some exposition and instead gave us some immersion-breaking decisions to make about our character build.
None of this is horrible (yet) but it does feel distracted and desultory.
The Collector Ship
EDI scans the Collector databanks and steals all their exposition. She reveals that the Collectors have a “quad strand genetic structure” identical to a structure “found in ancient ruins”, and that only the Protheans had this feature.
A writer who had even the most rudimentary grasp of story structure would have tucked that “quad strand genetic structure” idea into the story much sooner. Preferably at some point long before this reveal, so that this would be a payoff instead of an ass-pull. But this is the first we’ve heard of it. Instead of being an “ah-ha!” moment of revelation, it’s an immersion-breaking moment where we stop and question the storyteller. Really? The ONLY SPECIES in the ENTIRE GALACTIC HISTORY to have quad-strand DNA? That sounds so unlikely and amazing that it ought to be a topic of constant curiosity whenever they come up.
This revelation that the Collectors are the Protheans would feel a lot more satisfying if the writer had made some kind of effort to connect the two. In Mass Effect 1, the Protheans were lanky Slenderman-looking guys with tentacle beards. Now they’re dudes with insect heads. It just feels like a lame twist for the sake of a twist, not a satisfying development of an idea that was properly established.
Then we reach the main chamber and we see the millions of pods on the wall. One of your companions says something like, “They couldn’t fill these pods, even if they hit every colony in the Terminus Systems. They’re going after Earth!”
Now, you could assume that this one squad member is just jumping to wild conclusions. Maybe the Collectors don’t plan to fill all the pods, or maybe the other pods will be filled with members of other races, or maybe the millions of pods are already full of stuff they’ve been collecting for centuries, or maybe the extra pods are for the collectors themselves to sleep in, or this is how they care for their dead, and so on. There are a lot of conclusions we could jump to that are more plausible than “The Collectors are planning to attack Earth directly.”
But you get this conversation no matter who you bring with you, and I find it more plausible that the writer once again has simply given the characters a copy of the script. The writer is trying to build tension by suggesting that Earth is in danger. Once again, this the problem of assumed empathy. These lines are intended to be exposition.
Which means the Collector’s plan was doomed from the start. The Normandy can give the Collector ship a pretty good thrashing at the end of the game, which means the Collectors wouldn’t stand a chance against the Alliance fleets, which it would certainly have to face if they went anywhere near Sol.
EDI has already revealed at this point that this particular Collector ship is the same one that destroyed the original Normandy, and it’s also the one that attacked Horizon. And at the end of the game, we only face one vessel. Which means that – based on everything the game shows us – they only have one ship. The Collectors aren’t a threat to Earth. They’re losers. If we blew this thing up right now we would win the entire game without needing to go on a suicide mission through the Omega-4 relay.
I’m not saying the game should end here. I’m saying the writer should be able to put themselves into the shoes of the various participants and see the world from their point of view. The Collectors have a plan that is doomed to fail. Everyone knows they come out of the Omega-4 relay, so the Alliance could stop them by having a handful of ships camp the relay. Shepard’s ship is revealed to be strong enough to cripple the Collectors at the end, so he could do the same thing. These possibilities need to be dealt with in dialog to avoid the feeling that this is a galaxy inhabited entirely by morons.
The Collectors spring the trap and kidnap Shepard by flying away!
Just kidding. They just funnel him into a room with chest-high walls and then send waves and waves of mooks at him. Shepard fights his way back to the Normandy and flies away. There are actually some tough encounters along the way, but when the tiny Normandy ditches the massive Collector vessel, I can’t help but marvel at how every single mission in this game seems to diminish our antagonists. The story ought to be building them up for the big finale, but instead it’s eroding them. Their trap was dumb, and the only reason we walked into it was because TIM can’t remember which side he’s on. Their forces are ineffectual. Even with the home field advantage and the element of surprise, they couldn’t stop three people from leaving. Their scheme to assault Earth is a pipe dream.
The only reason they’re a threat so far is because they’ve been kidnapping isolated unarmed civilians that nobody cares about.
In the post-mission briefing, Shepard comes off as kind of dim-witted. I mean, aside from the initial stupidity of working for Cerberus in the first place, his dialog after the mission is a mess. When Shepard discovers that TIM “lied to him” (by not telling him about the ambush) he gets upset that he wasn’t told all the details. As former Alliance military he ought to be able to wrap his head around the idea that superiors don’t always share all the intelligence with you. The problem with TIM’s plan isn’t the lie of omission, it’s that it’s stupid and creates needless risk of irreplaceable mission resources. If he had a smart plan that required withholding information from Shepard, that would be fine. But Shepard and company aren’t just disposable mook scientists like Cerberus is used to throwing away, and putting all of them at additional risk for no articulated benefit is… so very Cerberus.
Shepard is mad about the wrong things and expresses his anger childishly instead of pragmatically. Again, instead of making TIM smart the writer made Shepard dumb. That’s nice in that it prevents the player from asking questions that would unmask the plot as a gigantic waste of time, but it does so by launching them out of the story through dialog-wheel shenanigans.
You can see what the writer is trying to do: They want Shepard to board the Collector ship and get the next batch of exposition, and they’re trying to build some sort of conflict between Shepard and TIM. But this exchange shows they have no head for proper character-driven motivation. All three parties have to behave irrationally to make this particular mission work.
The Dead Reaper
We’re nearing the end of the game at this point. So far the character-based missions (recruitment and loyalty missions) have ranged from serviceable to fantastic, while the story missions have ranged from dull to abysmal. But here we have an interesting situation where a story mission is also a recruitment mission.
TIM sends us to investigate a mostly-dead Reaper, which is smashed and orbiting a brown dwarf. Apparently it was felled by some long-dead civilization, and the carcass has been drifting there for 37 million years. There’s some technical talk explaining how this thing was found and a discussion on what the conditions are like around a brown dwarf. The dialog establishes that if the local mass effect field fails, the Reaper will fall into the brown dwarf and be destroyed. The thing has a strong “sleeping Cthulhu” vibe, with the last batch of visitors (Cerberus scientists) having gone insane. Even in death, the body of this Reaper is still dangerous to the minds of mortals.
Suddenly Reapers are spooky again. Suddenly science is a fun source of plot elements again. Suddenly the game remembers that Cerberus is stupid. Suddenly it feels like I’m playing a sequel to Mass Effect 1.
If this mission had been written in the same style as the rest of Mass Effect 2, then the writer would’ve had the Reaper orbiting a supernova, because a supernova sounds “cooler” and more people have heard of it. The idea of “Cut power, Destroy Reaper” would have been introduced as it happened as a last-minute ass-pull, instead of being properly telegraphed at the start for a later payoff. The people inside would have been killed by something that can hide behind chest-high walls instead of going insane.
Okay, I realize it’s completely unfair to condemn Mass Effect 2 for mistakes it didn’t make. But I’m just trying to illustrate how I see this shift in tone and focus. This mission feels different from the rest of the story missions. It feels like some of the recruitment missions, or perhaps a bit like Mass Effect 1.
I’m not suggesting this mission is perfect or anything. The description for how the Reaper was found is pretty iffy. As INH5 pointed out in the last entry:
I don't have any justifications for the dead Reaper. There's really no reason for it to exist, especially given that the stated method of finding it (tracing the path from a crater that an enormous mass driver left on a planet) wouldn't work because planets move and rotate. As do stars. To do that, you would have to figure out the time of impact to the second, then figure out how the galaxy's stars were arranged 37 million years ago. I'm pretty sure that both of impossible no matter what kind of advanced computers you have.
On top of this: Going by the “Reapers kill the galaxy every 50,000 years” number, 37 million years means that 740 different societies have come and gone since this Reaper was killed. 740 different species rose to galactic power, explored the stars, built governments that lasted thousands of years, waged wars, conquered their adversaries, colonized far-flung worlds, and were then wiped out by the Reapers. And yet none of those 740 masters of the galaxy ever found this Reaper?
It’s true that the science behind this isn’t very science-y. But Mass Effect 1 also had little compromises like this. It’s not ideal, but I find these sorts of missteps are far less irritating and immersion-breaking than the broken characters, nonsense dialog, lack of reasonable dialog options, tonal failures, and massive contrivances we see in the rest of the story. I know I’ve been pretty heartless to poor Mass Effect 2 in this series, but I’m not doing this because I enjoy complaining about thingsI only enjoy complaining about things that REALLY BUG ME.. I really am willing to let little things slide when the author has the basic elements of storytelling working properly.
This mission is yet another case of a failed Cerberus experiment, and I don’t know if that’s a point in its favor or not. On one hand, this feels consistent with what we knew about both the Reapers and Cerberus in ME1. On the other hand, the main story missions probably shouldn’t be selling the idea that the main story is a dumb idea.
Cerberus found this dead Reaper and dropped off a bunch of scientists, who all went insane. Either Cerberus never bothered to check up on their people, or this whole thing was a deliberate test to see how long it would take them to lose their minds. It’s stupid and evil either way, but the first one is more stupid and the latter is more evil. (And wasteful either way. I have to assume there’s a finite supply of human scientists who are desperate enough to work for Cerberus. And leaving them all to die together isn’t a very good way to run an experiment. Did Cerberus even have means to gather the data? Did they even come back for the results?)
Earlier in the series I said that Mass Effect 2 feels like it was written by someone who hated Mass Effect 1. This mission feels like it was written by someone who maybe wasn’t totally on board with the overall direction of Mass Effect 2.
The meeting with Legion is understatedBy the standards of squad-mate introductions. and mysterious. He has just a few lines of dialog to stimulate our curiosity and a single moment where he snipes a husk to demonstrate he’s not your foe, but the game doesn’t say anything further. He doesn’t quip, he doesn’t get a big moment of cutscene badassery, and he doesn’t invite himself onto the team. In fact, he gets the opposite of this. After intriguing us, Legion has a moment of cutscene failure where he’s swarmed by husks. The writer here understands that the best way to get the player to do something isn’t “DO IT BECAUSE I SAY SO!” The best way is to simply leave a breadcrumb trail of questions and then allow them to predictably follow it to the answer.
My only complaint here is that this entire mission is basically fetching a key to open a door. We get the IFF so we can go through the Omega-4 relay. That’s actually not the best use of a dead Reaper, story-wise. Really, an encounter like this is significant enough that it could have been the climax of the game. Obviously the mission we have is too short and simple for that, and wouldn’t work with the rest of Mass Effect 2, but in a thematic sense this would have been a good way to wrap up the middle chapter. If this was longer and isolated Shepard from the Normandy then we could have trapped the player in here. You could mess with the companion dialog and make them worry that they might be crazy. Having the player crawl around in this Reaper and uncover more secrets would have been a good way to follow up on the Sovereign conversation in the first game. It certainly would have been better than playing Whack-A-Reaper with Harbinger when he assumes Mook Form.
But instead the whole thing is relegated to a door-opening quest. And despite my griping, I think it’s still pretty solid. This does a good job of re-establishing the Reapers are a space-terror after the previous missions worked so hard to completely ruin that.
We’re getting close to the end of Mass Effect 2 here. We’ll wrap this up in two more entries.
After that? Guess.
 Like: We need to take this wireless adapter to the Collector router on deck 2.
 I only enjoy complaining about things that REALLY BUG ME.
 By the standards of squad-mate introductions.
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