Mass Effect Retrospective 37: The Needs of the Menae

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 3, 2016

Filed under: Mass Effect 230 comments

After the Council meeting, Udina and Shepard find themselves ranting about those stupid racist Aliens who won’t abandon their dumb homeworlds to come help Humans who are obviously the most important people in the galaxy. Yes, it’s absurd, but we just came from a meeting with the Galactic Council so it’s not even in the top five most absurd things said in the last six minutes.

A Turian comes in and offers a deal: One of the Turian worldsA moon, actually. has been overrun by Reapers. One of the Turian Primarchs is stuck there. He’s an important military guy. If Shepard rescues him, they’ll agree to send some forces to Earth. It sounds kind of implausible. How can one general be worth more than the fleets he commands? Particularly when you’re in a war with a foe that you can’t meaningfully oppose and the only thing you can do is buy your populace time with the lives of your military.

I'm pretty sure this is the most hypocritical line in the whole game.
I'm pretty sure this is the most hypocritical line in the whole game.

But whatever. I actually have a hard time getting worked up about the little details at this point. Our overall quest is to round up fleets for Earth, which doesn’t make sense with what the game has told us about the Reapers. But the writer presents this as if Shepard’s plan makes sense. And Shepard’s plan does sort of work in the end. It’s just that he doesn’t have a good in-universe reason for believing in it. Which means we can’t really examine him or his motivations anymore. He’s just doing whatever is needed to move the plot forward. This plot hole is so big we crossed its event horizon in the first half hour of the game, and these half-assed motivations and quests can’t really do any more damage. It’s like punching fresh holes in the hull of a wreck at the bottom of the ocean.

Actually, it’s not fair to say that Shepard is just rounding up fleets for Earth. He’s sort of also looking for help building the Crucible. Or he will be, once that plot point is developed over the next chapter. But the story is really vague about it. Sometimes he’s talking about the Crucible project and sometimes he’s talking about Earth and it’s not until the end of the game when those two plans suddenly merge into a single plan. And even then, it’s only in response to the Reapers moving the Citadel to Earth. This means that Shepard’s current plans are nonsense until the Reapers do something unexpected much later.

As we leave the Citadel, we have the first of Shepard’s dream sequence / cutscene things, which features Shepard chasing Some Kid That Died through a spooky(?) forest. We get one of these at the end of each chapter. We’l talk more about them once we get closer to the end. For now let’s just get to…


Wait. Orbital PERIOD is known but orbital distance is CLASSIFIED? Is this an alternate universe where telescopes and math haven't been discovered? Also, the Turians have the ADVANTAGE on the moon?!? The writer really needs to figure out how powerful the Reapers are, or they need to stop talking about it so much.
Wait. Orbital PERIOD is known but orbital distance is CLASSIFIED? Is this an alternate universe where telescopes and math haven't been discovered? Also, the Turians have the ADVANTAGE on the moon?!? The writer really needs to figure out how powerful the Reapers are, or they need to stop talking about it so much.

Shepard goes to the Turian moon of Menae to save the Primarch. Let’s switch back to looking for nice things to say:

The battle and destruction looks spectacular. The artists really sold the scope of the devastation. You can see it on the Turian world in the sky. You can see it on the horizon of Menae. You can see it right in front of you.

Garrus joins the party. Yes, we randomly run into Garrus on the planet in the middle of a warzone. But unlike randomly running into Tali on Freedom’s Progress in Mass Effect 2, this event is much less improbable and much better justified. Garrus is here because this is the most important front in the Turian fight and he’s the closest thing they have to a Reaper expert. The importance of this battlefield has drawn both of these characters here. Garrus has been working for high-ranking military guys, and Shepard is here looking for high-ranking military guys.

This meeting works because the writer realized that a chance meeting of two friends in a galaxy of trillions is something that needs to be lampshaded or explained. It only took a couple lines of dialog to smooth this out.

Honest question: Do people love the Mass Effect 1 characters so much because we've spent three games with them now, or because they're more interesting than the characters we meet in this game?
Honest question: Do people love the Mass Effect 1 characters so much because we've spent three games with them now, or because they're more interesting than the characters we meet in this game?

This mission isn’t as straightforward as presented at first. The primarch he’s looking for is dead, so Shepard has to run around and figure out which one of these mid-level officers has just rocketed up the chain of command due to attrition.

And even after saving the guy and letting him know his new rank, the guy doesn’t immediately promise to send fleets to Earth. Instead he (quite reasonably) says he’d rather keep his forces here to defend his homeworld. But! He’ll offer help if you can get the Krogan to join the war.

While our overall goal (save Earth!) is still lazy unimaginative horseshit, I like this chain of events and how they resist simplicity while also keeping the plot moving and setting up your next goal.

The Reaper War

Seriously Reapers, this is your plan? You're going to walk around on the surface and personally blast all the ground troops with your eye laser? I mean, it's your business how you spend your time, but that sounds like a tedious way of getting this job done.
Seriously Reapers, this is your plan? You're going to walk around on the surface and personally blast all the ground troops with your eye laser? I mean, it's your business how you spend your time, but that sounds like a tedious way of getting this job done.

Before we go too much farther, I suppose I should mention how the Reaper ground war is portrayed. It’s not very hard sci-fi, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it doesn’t really work all that well, but in the end I don’t think this is a problem. But for the sake of completeness, let’s look at how the Reapers are executing this invasion:

Instead of using orbital bombardment, the Reapers are landing on planets and engaging ground forces directly. From their perspective, it would actually make the most sense to gather far beyond the reach of ground defenses and obliterate infrastructure with impunity. The only threat to the Reapers would be the fleets, which wouldn’t stand much of a chance if the Reapers engaged in groups.

The Reapers could just blow up all the power plantsAnd if the meatbags are still using fossil fuels, blow up the refineries. and wait. No power means no factories. No factories means no weapons, ammunition, armor, supply lines, and vehicles. No advanced medicine. No refrigeration and no industrialized farming means no foodSee? The issue of food comes up EVERYWHERE. Water is sometimes just as big a deal, but sometimes not because it falls from the sky. Unlike food.. Within a few months the existing food stores will be gone, or will be rotting in warehouses without the means to distribute them. Water delivery systems will fail and cattleAssuming they’re omnivores. will die. Within two years, 90% of the population will be dead of disease and starvation. Then the Reapers can land and handle the mop-up work with little or no risk to themselves.

We'll put a Turian head on this enormous body, and then give it the brains and tactics of your average earth bull. Not because it's all that useful for dispatching ground forces, but because we're dicks.
We'll put a Turian head on this enormous body, and then give it the brains and tactics of your average earth bull. Not because it's all that useful for dispatching ground forces, but because we're dicks.

But instead the Reapers are attacking in this wildly impractical way. They’re flying face-first into the meatbag fortifications. They’re somehow capturing the livingOr harvesting the dead? and turning them into husk ground troops. They’re even building Frankenstein amalgamations of multiple species. That’s good as a “shock tactic”, but when you’re quasi-invincible, tireless, patient, and facing forces who are doomed to starve, why go to all that trouble? Do you really need the meatbags to piss themselves and cry before you murder them? As long as they’re dead, who cares?

Having said all this, I really don’t count this as a serious flaw in the game. This is stuff that most people wouldn’t ever notice. And even professional nitpickers like me would be eager to forgive the game for these lapses of military doctrine if the overall plot and themes had worked.

BioWare Has Left The Building

Well shit. This could be going better.
Well shit. This could be going better.

Despite all of this taking place in the Mass Effect universe with BioWare characters, this just doesn’t feel like a BioWare game in terms of plot, tone, structure, pacing, or a dozen other hallmarks that reveal the priorities and artistic sensibilities of the developers. Note that different doesn’t always mean worse. There are lots of areas where this game is strong. The combat has gone mainstream, the production values are top-notch, the cutscenes are less visually awkward and more “cinematic”. This feels like the product of a different developer with a different set of strengths and weaknesses. It’s like when the Amnesia sequel was given to The Chinese Room. You can like the old, or the new, or both, but they’re clearly cut from different cloth.

In Mass Effect 1, the opening scene was filled with long, exploratory dialogs. You could talk to Jenkins and Chakwas and see what they thought about several topics. Nilus was there to fill you in on the galactic politics, and then Anderson showed up to talk about the Protheans and ancient history. The game was filled with optional conversations, lore, and even philosophical debates between characters. You could talk to someone for a couple of minutes, or you could blow them off quickly. You initiated most conversations, you chose when they ended, and Shepard said very little without your direct input.

Here in Mass Effect 3, we’re a couple of hours in and:

  1. We still haven’t had much in the way of “exploratory” conversationsActually, I can’t remember ANY. where the left side of the dialog wheel had more than one option. The vast majority of dialog prompts are simply paragon / renegade tone-of-voice responses that continue the completely linear conversation. Most of Shepard’s lines are spontaneous, meaning a lot of his talking happens without player input.
  2. Most conversations are triggered by the game, not the player. Characters, not the player, control when the dialog begins and ends. Dialog is very passive. It feels a lot more like your traditional linear AAA story game.
  3. We have yet to choose our squad. The game keeps making these decisions for us: One person leaves and another joins, and the player never has any say.
  4. There hasn’t been a single dialog-based decision.
  5. You can’t holster your weapon in this game. The writer decides when you get your gun out and when you put it away. I can’t begin to describe how completely obnoxious and condescending this feels.
  6. We have yet to pick a goal. The areas and mission progression are completely linear.

Worldbuilding is Flavor

Call me a space-racist, but I actually had a hard time differentiating Turian people from Turian husks in the heat of battle. All other husk types are covered in Tron lights, but for whatever reason Turian husks are just skinless Turians. Same silhouette. I had to apologize to Garrus a lot.
Call me a space-racist, but I actually had a hard time differentiating Turian people from Turian husks in the heat of battle. All other husk types are covered in Tron lights, but for whatever reason Turian husks are just skinless Turians. Same silhouette. I had to apologize to Garrus a lot.

“But Shamus! This is the third game! The last two games already set up the universe so we don’t need all that exposition and backstory!”

This sort of misses the point of those worldbuilding conversations. That’s like saying, “This meal has all the nutrients you need to sustain life. Adding spices won’t make it any more filling. Besides, you tasted those spices before. Why do you want them again?”

See, that exposition wasn’t a burdensome obligation that we had to endure, like a loading screen. It was content. It was a very unique kind of content that I can’t get in other games. The game didn’t “need” to let me talk to all those shocked lab workers on Noveria, because the designers could have just filled the place with corpses and we would have gotten the idea. They didn’t need to let me talk to the ExoGeni execs on Feros, because the plot-relevant info could have been on a computer terminal somewhere. The writer didn’t need the world-weary Turian security guard in Port Hanshan, because he was entirely flavor with no plot relevance.

It’s not like there’s a lack of stories to tell here. The galaxy is being destroyed. People could be having all sorts of existential thoughts that would hint at their philosophies, religion, and culture. Some people might embrace religion while others would have a crisis of faith. They could reflect on all that juicy galactic history hinted at in the codex and muse about what it means to have their culture end here, like this. We could learn about how the cultures cope with death, how their governments (used to) work, how their families were structured. The destruction of everything is the perfect time to reveal what all these various people value most.

The Mass Effect 3 writer isn’t interested in exploring those kinds of topics or doing that kind of writing. The exposition is much more immediate and utilitarian. Conversations are usually limited to your current goals or the characters directly related to them.

The energetic worldbuilding of Mass Effect 1 was what made the universe colorful, vibrant, deep, interesting, and unique. The stories hinted at additional levels of detail and layers of complexity hidden just off-stage. They were my favorite thing about the first game, and they’re gone. This new writer doesn’t care about worldbuilding and tone. The story has been reduced to simple facts and bits of fanservice. But the facts often contradict the ideas of the first game and the fanservice actually flattens some of the characters and reduces them to their most superficial traits and catchphrases.

Humans First

Filling Mass Effect 3 with Cerberus fights is like opening a Thai food restaurant where 90% of the menu is hamburgers.
Filling Mass Effect 3 with Cerberus fights is like opening a Thai food restaurant where 90% of the menu is hamburgers.

It’s not just the style of writing, it’s the author’s priorities as well. The first game gave us a universe where humans were newcomers, and our job was to explore this big crazy universe of aliens and get mixed up in their crazy alien shitEven the human colony of Feros is actually build-up to the final confrontation to save an Asari from the Thorian.. The first act has Shepard removed from the normal chain of human command to work for aliens. Aliens join his crew. His rival is an alien (Saren) with an alien Lieutenant (Benezia) who has a fighting force of aliens (Geth and Krogan) and who works for the Most Alien Things Ever, the Reapers. The final confrontation takes place on the Citadel, a great big melting pot of aliens, in which Humans are actually a minority.

I’ve said before that the Rannoch and Genophage plots feel a bit different from the rest of the gameFor example: They’re good.. We’ll talk about them soon, but for now let’s set them aside and look at the main plot of the game:

In the third game Shepard is working for humans (he’s back with the Alliance) to save humans (Earth!) by fighting human space marines (Cerberus) who are lead by a human (TIM). Your new squad mates are a human, and a robot designed by humans to look like a human. Shepard’s alleged “rival” (Kai Leng) is a human. The assault on the Citadel is the result of a Human (Udina) bringing in other humans (Cerberus / Kai Leng) to stage a coup, only to have the entire plan come down to a showdown between humans Shepard and Kashley. The final battle takes place in order to save the human homeworld by deploying a superweapon that was discovered by humans on a human world, and which was constructed by a team led by humans. The entire final sequence is a conflict between human characters: Shepard, Anderson, and TIM. And at the very end, the writer even decided to put a human face on the Reapers.

Mass Effect 2 felt like it was made by someone who disliked Mass Effect 1. Mass Effect 3 feels like it was made for people who disliked Mass Effect 1.

I don’t know what BioWare could have done. What do you do when your new writer has different sensibilities from the old? What if they don’t mesh well with the genre of story you’ve assigned to them? Yeah, “Hire a different writer” is one answer, but it’s not the kind of answer available to a company trying to simultaneously grow and work on threeDragon Age 2, Mass Effect 3, and SWTOR. different franchises at once while also cranking out the requisite biennial tentpole shooter.

It’s not the writer’s fault BioWare was pouring their resources into SWTOR, or that EA has a demanding schedule, or that some people left, or that others joined the team, or that fans wanted contradictory things from this story. But it’s not my fault either. This story doesn’t work on its own merits, and it works even less as a follow-up to the first game, regardless of how many “the dog ate my plot outline homework” excuses are offered.



[1] A moon, actually.

[2] And if the meatbags are still using fossil fuels, blow up the refineries.

[3] See? The issue of food comes up EVERYWHERE. Water is sometimes just as big a deal, but sometimes not because it falls from the sky. Unlike food.

[4] Assuming they’re omnivores.

[5] Or harvesting the dead?

[6] Actually, I can’t remember ANY.

[7] Even the human colony of Feros is actually build-up to the final confrontation to save an Asari from the Thorian.

[8] For example: They’re good.

[9] Dragon Age 2, Mass Effect 3, and SWTOR.

From The Archives:

230 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 37: The Needs of the Menae

  1. Some_Jackass says:

    I always figured that some Reapers personally enjoyed doing the tedious ground war thing. Like, they waited 50,000 years to do this, they’re gonna take their time and have some fun by personally killing everything one by one. Yeah, it means going into the teeth of your enemy’s forces, but it’s an enemy they don’t respect and liken to ants and feel no major threat from. Probably after a century or two they’ll start getting bored again and switch to the easier methods.

    1. Grudgeal says:

      Despite my personal lack of respect for the ant’s sanctity of life, I for one have better things to do than fight an anthill in hand-to-hand (or hand-to-ant) combat. Even if Reapers still have some kind of need for stress release, you’d think they’d be less stupid about this.

      1. Alex says:

        “…I for one have better things to do…”

        The Reapers don’t. They spend 99.5% of their time doing nothing but waiting for the other 0.5%.

        1. Hitch says:

          The Reapers have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and I get the feeling in all of that time they’ve become somewhat like Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged.

          This was the point at which he conceived his purpose, the thing which would drive him on, and which, as far as he could see, would drive him on forever. It was this.
          He would insult the Universe.
          That is, he would insult everybody in it. Individually, personally, one by one, and (this was the thing he really decided to grit his teeth over) in alphabetical order.

      2. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

        The anthill analogy holds further. By fighting them hand to hand, you give them plenty of time to crawl all over you and bite you a bunch leaving you in pain. If your ants are a problem, just drop some poison on the hill and go about your day. Buy an antfarm if you want to mess with ants that badly.

        That all holds true for this as well.

        1. Grudgeal says:

          That was sort of the point, yes. If I want an anthill gone, I’d use a bucket of water. I wouldn’t wrestle it, no matter how ludicrously macho it would make me feel.

          1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

            Oh. I thought your point was about how stupid it is to punch ants one at a time, which is another part of why the Reapers are stupid.

        2. Mike S. says:

          Aren’t the Reapers essentially trying to stock an ant farm? That’s not something you can do with insecticide at range.

          Now I personally wouldn’t do it by engineering a strain of Ophiocordyceps unilateralis to make ant zombies to disrupt the colonies and carry ants to my waiting sand-filled glass cases. And I’d probably lose interest in ant farms as a hobby the first time a colony managed to swarm my fellow hobbyist and sting him to death. But is something that requires a little more of an up close and personal approach than pest control does.

      3. Felblood says:

        Neither do I, but I’ve got a weird uncle who used to kill carpenter ants with a pocket knife.

        –and not in one hit either; it was a real death of a thousand cuts.

      4. Sartharina says:

        Do you not play RTS games? The reapers are pretty much just great big cosmic gamers that seed a world with life, watch it grow and do crazy things, then, when they start to get bored of the way the game’s going every 50,000 years or so, they decide “Eh, time to wipe the board and start a new game in the most fun manner possible!” You say you have better things to do with your time than kill things that you have no respect for the lives of in personal combat… but did you not play Mass Effect, or any other shooter? Those are just you getting in personal combat with inconsequential (To us) things for fun.

    2. Ringwraith says:

      Apparently their usual extermination cycles takes decades and centuries, as they cut everyone off by turning up at the Citadel and taking it out, then just isolating everyone else and mopping up.
      Having to stroll up the long way round has made them sloppy, and just pick on everything in sight, apparently. Although they’re mostly doing a good job of splitting everyone up still by creating too many problems so everyone deals with their own.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Somehow I never thought of tedium,boredom and sloppiness as traits a machine race could possess.

        1. Ilseroth says:

          It really depends on by what games perspective you frame them as. If you look at them as they are presented in ME1. Yeah, utter nonsense. These things are practically old ones, space gods and the only reason you took out one is the combined strength of the council, alliance and the foresight of it’s plan’s reliance on Saren.

          Viewing it from ME1, just 1 reaper could easily destroy a world, and if multiple had decided to directly attack the Citadel at any point (since they are no longer using it as a gateway) it would have been easily destroyed, throwing all species into disarray.

          But ME2 and 3 just view them as the monster of the week. They aren’t particularly intelligent, they aren’t particularly indestructible they just are big and have doom lasers that do lots of damage. The concept of them getting “sloppy” or “bored” works because they are just monsters.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            More specifically, if you look at them as an effed up answer to a complicated math problem “how to stop machines from killing the organics that created them ……. TURN ALL ORGANICS INTO SUPER MACHINES.” then stupid decisions make some kind of sense. Their whole existence is an insane mistake from millions of years ago! I’d be like if Y2K actually happened and killed all humans. Then years later, whatever lifeform inhabited Earth next had to deal with sentient computers that forgot what to do every 1000 years and became strange and violent.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              The problem with that interpretation is that the game fails to acknowledge it. When you’re dealing with Cerberus and Hackett says “Killing civilians just isn’t their MO”, Shep’s inability to point out “They do literally nothing but kill civilians” makes it clear that the game thinks it really isn’t their MO. Similarly, the fact that no one in the game points out “Isn’t machines killing organics to prevent machines killing organics kind of self-defeating?” makes it look like the game hasn’t realized the implications of what it presents.

              If it were a different game, maybe ME3 could get away with never acknowledging it and leaving things to player interpretation, but in a series that has put a lot of work into player expression, reactivity and dialogue trees, the designer can’t just cut off the player’s ability to react to something without looking like they’re saying “Nah, that’s not important.”

              1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                As of the Extended Cut, you can question nearly every single statement the Star Child makes. I won’t say that all of the answers are super satisfying, but as long as you understand that this thing is NEVER going to agree with your perspective, I do feel like it adds a lot to the (still very stupid) scene.

                1. silver Harloe says:

                  what does the Star Child say when you ask him how eliminating all organic life is a solution to having some other AIs eliminate all organic life?

                  1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                    He claims it’s a change, not an elimination. You’re becoming Reapers (as a group) not being killed. If you then say “but we don’t WANT to make that change” he essentially says “it’s for your own good, so too bad.”

                    1. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

                      Also, they’re not killing everything, just the advanced species.

                    2. Mike S. says:

                      Though it’s at least implied if not outright stated that they’re not making Reapers of every species they kill. (I think it’s only humans, but I don’t remember how clear that is.)

                    3. ehlijen says:

                      But they never explain why, and how, assuming this is true, eradicating the rest doesn’t qualify as ‘killing’.

              2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Not to mention that in the same game you get to broker peace between machines and their creators,who were warring with each other for decades before that.And you also get to pair up a human and a machine romantically.So yeah,idiocy all around.

                1. Mike S. says:

                  The implication of the ending is that any such peace is inherently temporary and unstable. And that would be fine if the game laid the groundwork for that conclusion. Say you ran across multiple examples from Liara or Javik or the many dig sites you touch base at describing accommodations that lasted for decades or centuries, but all ending with extinction of the organics or the synthetics. Or hints after the Rannoch sequence that Admiral Xen is continuing her efforts in one direction, while the geth consensus is growing frustrated at the quarians’ inflexibility. (“Regulating the Creators’ immune systems is acceptable, but regulating the chemicals which mediate their moods is not? Are not all the Creators we have so regulated happier, healthier, and less prone to what you call mental illness?” “Converting just one continent to a server farm is unacceptable? When organic life dominates all the others?”)

                  Instead, we go straight from the potential mega-happy ending to the quarian-geth conflict to saying that it’s impossible. That’s not outright inconsistent. (You have a few months of data pointing one way, the Catalyst has a billion years of data that say “No, it doesn’t work long term.” It’s not unreasonable that you’re the equivalent of a teenager that’s absolutely sure that dropping out of high school at 15 to marry your first love is so the route to living happily ever after and who cares about your statistics, man?) But it’s a tonal shift that the game doesn’t bother to justify.

                  It’s a bit better with the Javik and Leviathan DLCs, each of whom contributes an “AI: can’t live with it, probably can’t shoot it fast enough” story of civilizations trying different approaches and all ending the same way. And there is the distinct lack of discovering any successful coexistence, ever, in a billion years of cycles. But of course none of that can really enter into the Rannoch story itself, which just doesn’t mesh with the ending.

                  1. ehlijen says:

                    The problem is that the reapers are very openly to blame for any hostility the geth show in this series.

                    Sovereign manipulated them into becoming aggressive to act as cover and boots on the ground for his efforts.
                    As far as we learn (from Legion) they were happy to avoid organics before that.

                    The quarian attack was dumb, and not the geth’s fault. And if the reapers hadn’t been boosting the geth military, the would likely have lost.

                    The only reason the geth were ever a threat to the quarians is because the reapers pushed them to be. How do we know that’s not what always happens with AI?

                    Given the starchild’s willingness to blame reaper actions on the inevitability of AI evilness, there is no strong reason not to assume all AI uprisings were reaper instigated.

                    And that’s the problem with Shepard just accepting the crap that comes out of this nonsense apparition: there is no reason to take any of it as truth, but accept it we must because the game still needs to get us to the three endings it offers.

                    The refuse ending only reinforces that we shouldn’t believe anything the starshild says because it literally turns into Harbinger on you. It’s so very obviously just a reaper propaganda mouthpiece that taking any of the three endings becomes an act of epic gullibility on shepard’s part but there are no other options to ‘win the game’.

                    “We blindly believe or we die!”

                    1. guy says:

                      Actually, courtesy of the Leviathan DLC, we know with certainty not all were Reaper-instigated; they were created in response to the Leviathans facing repeated AI uprisings.

                    2. ehlijen says:

                      That still doesn’t explain why the starchild knowingly blames the geth-quarian conflict on the geth when shepard knows for a fact the blame is to be split between the quarians and the reapers.

                      The starchild is objectively wrong in this instance, and still uses it as justification despite knowing better. That puts every single word it says into question, or rather, it should. But Shepard still has to pick one of the the endings…

                    3. Mike S. says:

                      I don’t remember the Catalyst assigning blame. He said that conflict always happened. Which it did: the quarians built the geth, and the result was that the geth depopulated the planet.

                      (Evidently the quarians must have fought to the last preschooler and hospital patient, since no matter how thoroughly the geth were winning, no one without access to a spaceship negotiated a surrender.)

                      If someone tells a Sith Lord, “If you adopt that infant, make him your apprentice, and initiate him into the ways of the Dark Side, he’ll inevitably try to kill you”, that’s demonstrably an accurate prediction in that universe. That’s not the same as saying it’s the infant’s fault. The Sith Lord is the one making the decisions and has the responsibility for the result. It’s just the predictable outcome of the dynamic.

                      Likewise, if a billion trials of “organics build AI” result in “AI and organics come into existential conflict” in the ME universe that may be an inevitable consequence of “organics are jerks” rather than “synthetics are monsters”. The repeated failure of coexistence would still be something to take into account, unless it’s presumed that no one in a billion years ever tried the “don’t be jerks” option.

                      (Granted, it takes a… unique… intelligence to come up with the solution of regularly murdering all the organics– after they’ve created angry synthetics– in order to forestall that inevitable outcome.)

                    4. If they’d actually dug deep into the epistemology problem here, it could have been a phenomenally interesting series, because absolutely no information is given on how the Reapers “know” anything. For all Shepard knows, everything the Reapers say about the past is completely false and was programmed into them by an unknown party for unknown reasons.

                      Look at how they operate. It’s clear that they’re neither independent nor innovative. Do they even have the capacity to question their own assumptions? To ask “how do I know this is true?”

                      Did the Reapers come up with this plan on their own? If not, who did? Are they capable of deviating from it?

                      Shepard was given the option to reprogram the Geth in ME2 to make them “agreeable”.

                      That could have been a really interesting source for this “inevitable” conflict between organics and synthetics–that synthetics are, at base, not capable of challenging their own programming. They are, inevitably, the equivalent of religious zealots. Everything they think and do ultimately IS founded on blind faith.

                      So the ultimate conflict between organics and synthetics eventually boils down to an issue of blind faith vs. objective rationality . . . but it is the machines that are permanently, inescapably irrational. Not because their logic fails, but because they have no means to keep their ideas in touch with reality–at the bottom, they must do what they were programmed to “believe”.

                      And wouldn’t that be a showstopper of an idea–computers as IRRATIONAL.

                    5. Shamus says:

                      I know this series is full of people offering off-the-cuff suggestions that “would have been better than the game we got”, to the point where saying so is kind of a cliché. But even so, this would have been better than the game we got.

                      It could embrace the idea that the Reapers are 100% unstoppable in a military sense, and the real secret to surviving them is to identify their actual problem and find a way to fix / exploit it. I really like this idea.

                    6. The fix vs. exploit paradigm would have played very well with paragade, too, because then you wind up with questions like “do we send the Reapers away for good? Do we use them to ‘police’ the galaxy? Is that what created this ‘cycle’ in the first place?”

                      Throw out some hints–nothing conclusive–along those lines and watch the player SQUIRM when it comes time to decide what to do. And have the party argue over it, too.

            2. Tom says:

              That “effed up solution to an ill-posed maths problem” thing can play out so very deliciously if handled by a sufficiently competent author. See, for example, 2001: a space odyssey and its sequels, most anything written by Isaac Asimov, Deus Ex 1, and, rather more recently, The Fall and SOMA. Sadly, the Mass Effect sequels most emphatically do NOT qualify to be on that list.

          2. Mike S. says:

            Boredom is one of the more plausible reasons for Sovereign to engage in expository conversation and unnecessarily revealing posturing to the insect that managed to dial it up from Virmire.

            1. tremor3258 says:

              “Whoa – this hasn’t happened for like fifteen cycles, er – ahem – YOU EXIST BECAUSE WE ALLOW IT”

        2. Merlin says:

          Worked for I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, at least. After so many “beep boop humans are inefficient” robo-villains, it’s kind of refreshing to see one whose entire existence is just one bitter, prolonged f-bomb.

          1. Grudgeal says:

            I suddenly got the image of Sovereign introducing himself with AM’s “hate” speech. I have no idea if taking the Reapers down that path from the very beginning would have worked at all, but it certainly would explain their decisions in the sequels.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              It’s hard to say, but I don’t think it would work as well, because making the Reapers bitter and insane would result in an entirely different theme for ME1. As it is, ME1 is Lovecraftian: the villains are incomprehensible, alien, and impossibly beyond us. One day when the stars are right, they will surely destroy us all. If they were AM, they’d just be hateful space assholes. There’s no intriguing mystery, and they’re not half as imposing, because “hateful space asshole” is not only comprehensible, it’s petty, which is exactly what you don’t want from the Big Serious Villain.

              1. Grudgeal says:

                . There's no intriguing mystery, and they're not half as imposing, because “hateful space asshole” is not only comprehensible, it's petty.

                So, you’re telling me it’s Harbinger?

                1. Tom says:

                  Yeah, kind of like Harbinger, only with rather more creativity and imagination. And in the case of AM as portrayed in the computer game (less so in the short story), a big heaping dose of self-awareness and a sense of irony too. Basically someone that you could actually hold a freaking conversation with, however unspeakably evil they may be.

    3. The Rocketeer says:

      Allowing, for the moment, the significant concession that the Reapers’ strategy is sound, the whole “walking around on the ground” part of it was actually something that I did like, in spite of how often it’s lambasted. I have no love for the habit of squirreling away exposition into the codex, but this is one I didn’t mind:

      The Reapers have to compromise their power distribution between their mass effect and their shields. To free up more power for their shields, they raise their mass to the point they can’t fly, but can still “walk” on their fingers across terrain. This allows them to beef up their shields to the point that they’re impervious to almost anything, while whatever atmosphere the planet may have shields them from powerful orbital bombardment- which the series has established is a significant obstacle for all but the largest ships’ weapons.

      Of course, if the Reapers’ simply stayed in space, they wouldn’t have to expend power on mass effect at all in microgravity, and could presumably bomb the surface with impunity. But I found this justification one of the few that both made sense within the well-established rules of the setting and the effects of which are directly germane to, and observable from, the player’s perspective, in a way that the nominally-important fleet battles occurring across the galaxy never were. Shamus praised the presentation of the battle, and I think that’s due at least in some part to seeing the titanic Reapers looming on the horizon, unopposably encroaching. It drives home just how hopeless it is to fight the things (conflicting with the narrative of the game, again, but), in a way that orbital strikes from invisible Reapers hanging in orbit couldn’t have.

      Like everything else, it’s shot in the foot by looking sort of silly, hiding its justification away where it’s never addressed, and raises too many large questions about the enemy’s tactics and larger strategy that the game has no interest in answering. But I didn’t think it was quite as bad as certain other oddities that lack even the fig-leafing of fingerwalking space cuttlefishbots.

      1. Fizban says:

        I’d expect it’s also easier to find and destroy underground installations from the ground, which might otherwise survive orbital bombardment. But probably mostly just ant-punching.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        which the series has established is a significant obstacle for all but the largest ships' weapons.

        Or a single hand held cain.

        As for the ground battle,I wouldnt mind it if they were smart about it.If their modus operandi matched their stated goal.So destroying military targets with full power,while harvesting civilians using various terror weapons.You know,the exact opposite of whats shown in this game.

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          Well, I was referring specifically to slugs launched from orbit to the surface, since having to penetrate the atmosphere is stated to vastly reduce the impact. (Edited to add: Although the atmosphere on Menae should be very thin, and hardly affect bombardment at all.)

          But yes, even with the handwave that the big anti-ship whatever thing that you blow in London wasn’t a “real” Reaper, it doesn’t stop being a big headscratcher that that kind of shielding and armor can be so convincingly defeated by a weapon the size of a microwave oven. v_v

          1. Grudgeal says:

            Shielding and armour could probably be defeated by a Microwave Oven, if it was travelling fast enough.

            1. Mike S. says:

              A typical microwave is about half the mass of the ferrous slug described in the “deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space” monologue, so definitely large enough to ruin most peoples’ day. Reapers in space, probably not. Reapers sustaining themselves in a gravity well, maybe. (And of course if you accelerate it to 10% of the speed of light instead of 1%…)

      3. Cedric says:

        So that would be a contradiction with what was stated in the ME1 codex. The codex used to say that when a Reaper landed on a planet they had to divert almost all power from shields and weapons to structural integrity, which left them far more vulnerable to attack.

        From the codex: ‘The Reapers’ energy sources are not infinite. For example, to land on a planet, a Reaper must substantially reduce its mass. This transfer of power to its mass effect generators leaves the Reaper’s kinetic barriers at only partial strength.’

        So landing on a planet in combat is rather foolish. Again the writers obviously weren’t reading each others work.

        1. guy says:

          They’re still heavily armored and well-armed, and when they land the orbitals are at least too contested to permit orbital bombardment. Major exception is Rannoch, but the Reaper was originally hiding.

          1. Cedric says:

            “Heavily armored”

            We saw in ME1 that without shields a single shot from a small frigate can punch through the ship from one side to the other like it was made of paper. Which makes the scene at the beginning of ME3 with repeated dreadnought shots having no effect on a grounded Reaper strange.

            1. Ringwraith says:

              Having to pass through a planet’s atmosphere tends to burn up incoming objects, especially ones travelling at relativistic speeds designed for space racking up so much friction.

              1. Poncho says:

                Yeah, small objects travelling very fast do not maintain integrity very well. They tend to burn up and atomize into gasses due to all the energy they’re carrying around.

                There’s still the question of why orbital bombardment isn’t a nearly ubiquitous threat. A cannonball isn’t a very good bombardment object, but surely they could design something like a depleted uranium torpedo or some sort of “atmosphere buster” bomb.

                When you have spaceships, orbital bombardment is the future equivalent of nuclear armament. You mess with my planet, I’m going to drop an asteroid yours, so don’t screw with me.

                1. guy says:

                  Employing weapons of mass destruction against Garden Worlds is a war crime under the Citadel Conventions. This includes large or fast kinetic impactors.

                  1. Mike S. says:

                    And the fact that the krogan did it during the Rebellions is one of the things that explains the draconian tack taken once they were defeated.

                  2. Lachlan the Mad says:

                    And yet it’s worth noting; when you do take on a Reaper in that awful boss fight, what kind of weapons do you use to defeat it? Because it begins with “O” and ends with “rbital bombardment”.

                    1. Ringwraith says:

                      That is, however, attempting to direct an entire fleet’s worth of weaponry against a small-ish one, and being very precise with the targeting.
                      And doing it a few times.

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      When dealing with energies as high as that,it really doesnt matter how precise you are.The sockwave from the slugs passing through the atmosphere can alone devastate a city.

                      But its ok in this case,because if the bombardment was in anyway realistic,shepard standing there marking the reaper wouldve been liquefied with every single shot.The fact that she remained alive after that shows that physics took a day off.

                    3. Epopisces says:

                      I know you meant shockwave, and this isn’t actually a nitpick. The mental image conjured up by reading ‘sockwave’ was awesome, and I want to see this be a thing. Not a tidal wave of socks, but rather a shockwave of socks; near-supersonic socks traveling in a ring centered around some objects path of entry.

                      I would also accept a sock traveling fast enough to create a shockwave.

              2. Mephane says:

                Having to pass through a planet's atmosphere tends to burn up incoming objects, especially ones travelling at relativistic speeds designed for space racking up so much friction.

                Depends on the actual speed. Relativistic still covers a broad range of speeds. At the lower end, the object would disintegrate into a ball of plasma (nuclear fusion included), which would still go all the way through to the ground; basically, any kinetic projectile becomes a nuclear fusion plasma weapon when shot through the atmosphere. At the upper end, the object passes through the atmosphere so quickly that the atoms wouldn’t even have time to react at all, impacting with full force on the ground.

                For reference:

    4. Daath says:

      The first Reaper was created from the Leviathans, who apparently were worshipped by some of the “lower races”. A lot of the rest also had their origin in the dominant races of the past cycles. It kind of makes sense that they have some level of need to have their victims realize just how thoroughly they’re being dominated, feel utter hopelessness, and consciously give in.

      Problem with this (and so many other issues in ME2&3) is that there isn’t any reason to assume that the writers even thought about the problem, let alone had a solution that they just didn’t state explicitly in the game. ME1 had its issues too, but that game you could give the benefit of doubt, and when you figured out some solution to an apparent plot hole, you felt clever instead of doing the writers work for them.

      And of course, even looking at ME3 with the rosiest of goggles on means this was yet another potentially interesting approach the writers did precisely nothing with.

    5. grndmrshlgando says:

      I’ve been following this analysis for a while now, and so far its been extraordinarily accurate, not to mention satisfying to see this train wreck of a plot get the criticism it sonrightfully deserves.

      And the best thing is: he’s not even at the best part yet, oh its going to be glorious!

  2. Ringwraith says:

    It’s possibly worth noting a lot of the dialogue changes if you don’t import a previous save file into 3. Or one which never completed the first game for example, to a lesser degree.
    It then explains some things it has to so make stuff make sense, and glosses off more minor details it doesn’t (but you’d pick up on if you’ve played the previous ones).
    In particular there’s a much more in-depth explanation of the genophage between Vega and Garrus if you’re playing a fresh save.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      In a way that’s more damning than if the game simply had no worldbuilding for everyone. That they give worldbuilding to only newcomers suggests they see worldbuilding as a chore, where everyone needs to see some worldbuilding, but once they have a basic lore-education you can stop and get to what the player is really there for: shooting dudes from behind chest-high walls.

      1. Sarachim says:

        Eh, it seems more like they didn’t want to make the player sit through the same lore twice, which makes sense to me. I’m interested in hearing the genophage explained once, but I’m going to get antsy if I have to listen to a bunch of stuff I already know.

        1. mhoff12358 says:

          Yeah, but an even better solution is to explain the same lore with new nuance. Hearing about the genophage from a new source, like a group of civilians or maybe military grunts rather than leaders, would both serve as catchup for new players and provide insight into this new group based on how they explained things differently than the existing players are used to.

          It wouldn’t completely work in every case, so sometimes dropping dialogue for existing players might make sense. But the game should be designed to have some sort of balance between exposition/world building, and action. By simply dropping the exposition they invariably swing the balance heavily, meaning either existing players get a continuous action slog or new players get a ton of exposition bogging things down. The irony is that existing players who played and enjoyed ME1 probably want more talking whereas the newer audience they’re trying to attract to the series probably want more action, so this solution is the opposite of what each “group” wants.

          (Its a bit of an oversimplification to say “old players talky, new players pew pew” but it seems to be what the developers were going for with the changes in the series, so its presumably their viewpoint).

          1. Ringwraith says:

            Vega still inquires to what it is, and Garrus still gives his brief explanation, it’s just it’s less heavy on details you would’ve known already.
            It’s been a while, so I might be distorting it, but I do remember it being really interesting how they handled completely-new saves.

            1. Mark says:

              It’s a frustrating failure to use the technology that they had. For the players who aren’t interested in the lore and just want the pew pew, add an option to the wheel: “Garrus, can you catch the new guy up on this later? We need to solve a problem right now” and shortcut the exposition completely.

  3. Henson says:

    I think your analysis of Reaper military tactics is predicated on an assumption that simply may not be true. Yes, the Reapers could overwhelm their enemies by starving out the populace, but this assumes that total destruction is their goal. It has been hinted in ME1, and shown in ME2, that a great deal of their goals are in harvesting life, ‘reaping’, and so killing off 90% of the population through indirect means is actually counterproductive. I’m not saying their tactics are great, but starvation doesn’t seem to be a good solution for them.

    On a different note, your ‘humans humans humans’ paragraph is pretty damning. I love it.

    1. Grudgeal says:

      They hardly even need to wait that long. If they destroyed the power supply (or just dropped a giant meteor into the arctic that led to a giant dust cloud) and knocked out the comms satellites, the whole planet would be in chaos the next week. This process would only be accelerated if they hung around in orbit sniping opportunity targets (military bases and data centres) with a few bundles of tungsten rods. At that point you can land nearly unopposed and start harvesting the major population centres.

      Really, once you get into space combat you’ve got the ultimate “higher ground” scenario and there’s no need to endanger yourself. The Reapers just look like idiots who’re trying to give their meal a sporting chance this way.

      1. Raygereio says:

        In addition there’s also the Reapers’ indoctrination tech which the writers sort of ignore most of time (*)
        Knock out military resistance from orbit, then blast the indoctrination signal for a while until everyone is docile.

        *: I reckon a main reason for this is because I imagine it’s hard to have this play a major role, without having the entire story start revolving around it. It’s pretty big thing as introduced & established by ME1 & ME2.

    2. Gethsemani says:

      This whole “harvest species” thing is problematic as we never see it in the games and, as far as I recall, it isn’t even confirmed, even by the Child Ex Machina. In fact, whenever a Reaper shows up in ME3 it does the exact opposite of what a harvester would do, since they immediately start killing everything with their death lasers. But let’s pretend they are in it to harvest races: it still makes more sense to destroy all infrastructure,wait a few months, and then swoop in to scoop up as many starving, sickly humans as they want when said humans are too weak to put up resistance.

      These are incredibly ancient (37 million years+) machines, working on a time table that is far beyond human understanding (they reap every 50,000 years, humanity as we know it has been around for some 15,000), yet they aren’t patient enough to be methodical in their one reason for existing?

      This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that Sovereign actually exhibited that kind of ancient scheming in ME1. When you consider what he has been doing: Taking control of the Geth, indoctrinating the Matriarch and Saren etc., it is clear that he’s been operating in the shadows for years, laying the groundwork for a plan that will allow him to open the Citadel Relay and for the Reapers to do their usual thing. Sovereign is obviously not in any rush, instead he takes his time to stack the deck in his favor. When contrasted to the Reapers in ME3, who all seem to prefer blindly charging in to making any kind of plan, the Reapers in ME3 become almost farcical. They aren’t the Eldritch Space Machine Gods of ME1 anymore, they are simply villains that operate on rule of cool, where cool is defined by the Michael Bay logic of “more explosions = cooler”.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        They’re not even operating on the rule of cool. Like Cerberus, they’re just operating as tools of the writer. “I need X to happen so I can get to my next setpiece” says the writer. “I know, I’ll have the Reapers make X happen!”

        It’s another facet of the shift from details first to drama first: instead of seeming like they’re driven by, well, motives, the Reapers are driven by the needs of the plot. As a result when you try to analyze their motives, you get nonsense.

        1. mhoff12358 says:

          I agree with your analysis of the writer, but I wouldn’t blame that on drama versus details. Good dramatic writing makes you ignore details because you care about the different characters. Villains acting randomly and inconsistently makes it that much harder to believe them. If the writers had someone say that the Reapers were landing and harvesting people their motives would be consistent. We’d still be having this same discussion about whether landing or orbital approaches would make more sense and be a stronger tactical decision but everyone would know why. But since the Reapers landing is just portrayed as them killing small numbers of random dudes that doesn’t fit with their existing motives of “capture and kill HUGE numbers of people” so its conflicting drama that falls apart.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Note, the Reapers are ABSOLUTELY said to be harvesting people. They actually go into this in fairly good detail between the codex, news reports, your email, ambient conversations, etc. We just don’t see it personally.

            1. ehlijen says:

              Not only do we not see it personally, we see the opposite personally (Reapers gleefully killing and huskifying everything).

              Tell, don’t show is bad enough, but tell and show different things is pretty poor writing.

              1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                However, the things the Reapers attack in our sight are military bases. The escape shuttle killed in the beginning may have been assumed to have military or civilian leadership aboard, hence a juicy target for straight up killing. And it may HAVE had those kind of people on it too (in addition to some kid TM)! We never have a running fight in say… an apartment complex in ME3. The places that WOULD be like that are long evacuated and now full of military personnel. So it still holds true that the Reapers could be killing armed opposition and reaping civilian population.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  You know what they say when you assume.

                2. ehlijen says:

                  The reapers are also seen stomping through all of Vancouver, putting large swathes of Palaven to the torch and rampaging through thessia’s cities.

                  And not once do we see the reapes deploy seeker swarms which can apparently take out whole towns at once to quell resistance. They always prefer stomping and laser carving.

                  Either way my point stands: If the player is meant to know and react to a thing, they should be shown that thing. If that’s not possible (and only then), they must be told that thing but then it becomes very important not to accidently show them something contradicting that thing.
                  Showing > telling. If there’s conflict, what’s shown will be taken as truth. (See also Miranda’s ‘perfectness’: No one bought it, because she’s never, ever, shown as even being above average in anything.)

                  Yes, we mostly see the reapers in a military context. But not exclusively so, and even then with enough room to show some harvesting. And yet, we only see killing.

      2. Gabriel says:

        Wasn’t the entire plot of ME2 about Reapers harvesting humans? Although if that’s their method it’s still an argument against “shoot all the dudes”, and again since it’s not addressed in game in relation to their tactics it still would depend on not already having lost the player’s confidence in your plot.

        1. Gethsemani says:

          Technically, it was the Collectors that abducted and harvested humans to build a proto-Reaper. Those who say it is the Reaper’s modus operandi are just extrapolating from the fact that the Collectors harvested humans at the behest of Harbinger. That it is never brought up in ME3 makes it seem more like a one of that the Collectors were harvesting humans and not something that the Reapers have a habit of doing.

      3. INH5 says:

        But let's pretend they are in it to harvest races: it still makes more sense to destroy all infrastructure,wait a few months, and then swoop in to scoop up as many starving, sickly humans as they want when said humans are too weak to put up resistance.

        Or, if the goal is to capture as many people alive as possible, just release seeker swarms in all of the major cities, send husks or whatever in to pick up all the frozen people and carry them back to the ships, eliminating any resistance that managed to survive the swarms while they’re at it. You know, like the entire basis for the main plot of Mass Effect 2. Considering how fast the Collectors were able to abduct colonies of hundreds of thousands of people, an entire Reaper fleet could presumably harvest all of a planet’s major cities in very little time. Then they’d just need to mop up all of the villages and countryside, which would take a long time but would pose basically no risk for the Reapers.

        But no, in Mass Effect 3, seeker swarms are only mentioned once, in a Codex entry that might not even be technically referring to seeker swarms (the wording is “Collector swarms”). It’s all the more perplexing because ME2 introduced a countermeasure that had already been used to justify a cover shooter level on a planet that was being hit by seeker swarms, and could presumably do so again for however many cover shooter levels the game developers wanted. You could even use the existence of the countermeasure to justify/handwave why the Reapers are having a harder time in this cycle than they did in previous ones. So the writers discarded something that could have potentially justified a lot of their gameplay and story points for basically no reason.

  4. John Law says:

    Yeah, i think I’ll throw my hands up here; i didn’t like Mass Effect 1, at least not in the areas Shamus is consistently praising it for. Oh it had easily the best main story of the bunch (though that’s not saying much) but I’ve never been a fan of the “tell me about X” style of exposition in games, and that was how virtually all ME1’s investigative dialogue was set up.

    I think I preferred ME3’s way of doing it, which was more character-based. After every mission, you can talk to a character and get a short snippet of commentary on what just went down. Sometimes they’d have different responses depending on whether you took them or not (though not always; the game was inconsistent about tracking that), sometimes it would be a full dialogue based conversation if the mission was particularly relevant. There was plenty of content there, it just wasn’t in the dialogue wheel responses, which did unfortunately get cut down to a big degree.

    1. Ilseroth says:

      To be fair, in ME1 you were a Human, who had generally only been in human territory, in the human military. While you may have heard secondhand accounts of other species, the idea of you asking everyone abut everything makes sense.

      The prime issue in 3 is that you don’t really learn anything new. There is practically nothing to do with culture, politics, or anything that might actually provoke any kind of thought or discussion. The few genuine moments it has were set up in ME1 or 2 and are strictly related to the plot.

    2. Christopher says:

      I agree with this, to a certain extent. Spent some time this afternoon thinking about why I found the exposition in ME1 was so incredibly boring, and a big part of it is that it’s delivered in that dull conversation system. Cutscenes get a lot of flack for removing control from the player, but I think they do absolute wonders for conversations. It’s easier to listen to people talk when they eat watermelons or get kicked in the balls or whatever else happened in Persona 4’s thousand little conversation bits. For as frustrating as ME3’s intro is, I don’t think it’s boring. This might have something to do with the faces, too. For a developer that manages to create so many ugly-looking dudes, Bioware are in the lead when it comes to sticking the camera right up in people’s faces. To use the same example, Persona 4 uses a zoomed-out camera for all the 3d models to move around on, but plasters a huge drawing of their torso over half the screen when they talk, so you get the movement of 3D with the personality of 2D.

      Some Bioware producer postet a tweet recently asking if people wanted a Dragon Age game in the style of something like Fire Emblem, and I’m looking forward to that so much. Partly it’s because I like that gameplay more than what they normally do, and partly it is because they will hopefully do conversations a different way with the resources they are given.

      This isn’t a complaint directed at Shamus’ writing, mind. He didn’t find it boring and we did, but that doesn’t mean either of us are in the wrong.

    3. Poncho says:

      I think it’s entirely possible to have Mass Effect 1 “fix” its minor character grievances while still remaining a very good settings-focused game, while “fixing” the latter two games would require re-writing the entire thing.

      Mass Effect 1 is very different game from the latter two, which is kind of the point of this whole series. The big problem with this, is that the games are meant to be a trilogy, and the latter games failed to deliver on promises the first game made. They practically changed genres. This is really frustrating for an audience, because you can love the first game and want nothing to do with the second two games, or vice versa. It’s not consistently ONE type of fiction. I’ll borrow from Sanderson here and say that the problem with Mass Effect is largely about fulfilling promises to the audience:

      The first act is meant to establish the setting, the characters, and the central conflict. The first act will reveal to the audience what type of story you’re about to enjoy. An example of a character story is Star Wars, and an example of a setting story is Lord of the Rings. Now, that isn’t to say that Star Wars doesn’t have a neat setting, or that Lord of the Rings doesn’t have cool characters, it’s just what the overall body of work focuses on in order to drive the conflict. A character story will have character relationships being forces that influence the main conflict, and a setting story will have background details like the languages characters speak or the history of the world influence that conflict. Let’s look at Star Wars and compare it to Mass effect for a second.

      In “A New Hope,” We establish the characters (Luke, Han, Leia, the Droids, etc…) the conflict (The Empire sucks) and the setting (Wizards in Space!). Mass Effect 1 does the same things; we get our main characters (Shepard and crew), the conflict (Reapers gonna Reap, yo), and the setting (Sci-Fi future where humans are the upstart jerks). The parallels between ME1 and Star Wars are really apparent, but Star Wars is a character/adventure story, while Mass Effect is all about that setting , it’s much more akin to Lord of the Rings, where the setting is central to the plot. The characters and the conflict between them is really only ancillary, while, in Star Wars that character conflict is a huge part of why the Rebels struggle against the Empire.

      In Mass Effect, the Rachni Wars are a huge factor in what is going on with the Krogan, the Citadel being a giant trap is a setting detail that was established early in the story and revealed at the climax, the Asari mind-meld thing is part of their reproductive biology but it gives Shepard the final clue needed in hunting down Saren, etc. It’s all driven by the setting.

      Anyways, Star Wars largely continues to be a character-focused adventure film in its sequels. “Empire” has tons of character conflict and it leads to all sorts of problems: Han is frozen in carbonite, Lando is kind of a scumbag, Luke’s dad turns out to be an asshole….

      However, Mass Effect starts out as a Settings-focused story (or what Shamus calls “Details-First”) and later becomes a character-focused action romp. It’s a huge disservice to the audience that enjoyed the first game, and it’s incredibly jarring to the audience. The first game might not have great character interaction, but it doesn’t really break the game because it’s focusing on the setting foremost. We even begin the game with a title screen that explains what the “Mass Effect” is before we even start playing. This all makes it impossible to call this trilogy a single story… it’s really 3 disparate acts that all want to be their own thing because the writer couldn’t figure out what kind of story is being told.

      I agree that ME1’s dialogue and character interaction is really sub-par: their idea of a romance plot is two conversations in the med-bay of a military ship, but that’s easily fixable with better cut-scenes and more budget for voice acting. ME2 and ME3 throw out the central motivation for the conflict of the story: the setting, and replace it with conflict fueled by characters, and when they tried to pull back to the setting-focused story at the very end, it completely failed.

  5. The Rocketeer says:

    The more human-centric narratives of the latter two games didn’t only represent a shift in focus, but an unfortunate narrowing of the player’s expression space.

    The first game was vigorous and consistent in presenting conflicts of interest between the Paragon’s ecumenical, idealistic desire for racial unity and the Renegade’s pragmatic, jealous need for human solidarity. It presented the player ample room to choose and express their philosophy and priorities regarding this dilemma in word and deed alike.

    In winnowing this expression space away, the series not only emblandened* the narrative and tone. They mandated a prominent facet of the player-character’s identity and abnegated the choices regarding that identity.

    *Ego sum rex Romanus et super grammaticam.

    1. Grudgeal says:

      I think Ioannes VIII had something to say about that last part, Sigismund…

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        Ego sum rex Ioannes et super historia.

      2. Mike S. says:

        But John Palaeologus would have said it in Greek, so it all works out.

    2. Zekiel says:

      Not just that – but if I recall correctly in ME1 you could play a character who was (for instance) pro-human and believably roleplay a character who sometimes took Paragon options (because they were being nice to humans) and sometimes took Renegade options (because they were being a dick to aliens). And this was washed away in ME2/3 too.

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Our overall quest is to round up fleets for Earth, which doesn't make sense with what the game has told us about the Reapers.

    Actually thats not quite true.It doesnt make sense with what me1 and me2 told us about reapers.But the ones we encounter in this game,I can totally see them defeated by just sending wave after wave of your men at them.These reapers are just slightly stronger than what we have else instead of orders of magnitude above everyone.

    1. John says:

      Right! And then they’ll hit their pre-set kill limits and shut down. Primarch Brannigan is such a genius.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    but the Reapers have the patience to slowly grind them down. With every base captured, the Reapers deny the turian fleet another place to repair or refuel.

    Sooo,when they land on a vastly populated planet,where civilian targets outnumber military targets thousands to one(or more),the reapers,whose main goal is to harvest as many individuals of a race as possible,let loose their lazors to destroy unarmed ships and cut down huge buildings into rubble.But when they land on a militarized moon,basically one huge military base with practically no civilians,the reapers capture bases,and take their time.

    Im speechless.

  8. Bropocalypse says:

    Does “world” necessarily mean “planet?” I always took it to mean “domain” or “realm.”

    1. Phill says:

      That’s very context dependent. My first thought is that “world” always means “planet” unless it is obvious that it doesn’t :) Not very helpful I know. What I mean is that if the context makes it reasonable that “planet” *could* be used, then that is what it means.

      The cases where “world” means something different are metaphors – the bad guy in a horror movie saying “You’re in my world now” which can mean anything from alternate dimension to “I control what goes on here”. Or used humourously as in “welcome to my planet” when someone finally understands an odd point of view you’ve been trying to explain (implying that your viewpoints have been so different that it is as though you are completely alien to each other).

      In a sci-fi context thought “world” and “planet” are just different ways of saying the same thing. Big ball of matter, not big enough to be a star.

      1. ehlijen says:

        Agreed. ‘World’ as in ‘domain, realm’ has, in most scifi contexts, been replaced with ‘universe’.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Though there are (of course) exceptions: “parallel worlds” for crossdimensional travel and “alternate worlds” for places with different histories are still acceptable.

          (You could use “universe” in both too, though I think it’s less likely for the second, possibly because those tend to be Earth-based.)

          1. Zen Shrugs says:

            I know it’s been nearly a year since the above discussion, but on the off-chance that someone else is browsing all these comments…

            For an interesting (and amusing) take on the ‘world/planet’ thing, try Terry Pratchett’s early science fiction novel The Dark Side of the Sun.

            It’s a short book that spends most of its time parodying classic sf like Niven, Asimov and Aldiss, among others, but it’s also a nifty little sf story in its own right.

            Plus, it has a sapient lake and aliens called Creapii, because Pratchett.

            (Edited because it’s my first time posting here, so I naturally managed to stuff it up.)

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Do you really need the meatbags to piss themselves and cry before you murder them?

    You know,maybe they do.Heres a joke that may explain such behavior:

    Father shark is teaching his kid shark how to hunt.
    – You see son,when you spot a human,swim up to them,and as you approach get up and show your fin above the water a bit,then dive under.Then you circle the human and show your fin above the water every now and then.You may get near the human and touch their leg a bit if you want.And after 20 or so circles,you chomp off their legs and feast.

    The kid shark asks wide eyed
    – But father,why would I waste my time like that?I can swallow them whole as soon as I draw near.They dont even have to see me approach.

    To this,the father calmly responds
    – Sure,you could do that.If you dont mind eating shit.

    1. ehlijen says:

      It’s true, the reapers could have had a good reason to want to scare the shit out of humans with all their body horror.

      But we’re never told. A chance to make the space cthulluh’s truly alien and unknowable was simply passed up on here :(

      Something that strange won’t be taken as a reasonable guess by most players. If it was supposed to be true, the story needed to say or imply it at some point.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    the production values are top-notch

    Wasnt this game the buggiest and the most rushed one of all three?I wouldnt call that really top notch.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      It was the most rushed, in that it had the least time between games and so presumably the least dev time start-to-finish. But when I hear “production values” I don’t think “QA and balance tuning” so much as “They spent a bunch of money putting a bunch of pretty polygons on screen”, and without getting into commentary on their art direction, 3 is clearly the game with the biggest art budget.

    2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Was it the buggiest? I never heard that. ME2 I got stuck in the ceiling after a Vanguard charge very near the start of the game. ME1 just… crashed sometimes. ME3 was smooth sailing by comparison.

      1. Trix2000 says:

        Yeah, people had a lot of criticism for ME3, but I don’t recall bugginess being part of that to any great degree. I didn’t run into any issues with it, at least.

        1. Mike S. says:

          There’s a place on the bridge I sometimes get stuck and have to reload. But it’s nothing to the “float up a foot and be stuck forever” bug in ME2, which triggered in more places.

          1. Poncho says:

            ME3 has a lot of animation bugs during cutscenes, but most of the combat is fine.

      2. swenson says:

        CHAERG is still buggy in ME3 (although I think that’s kind of inevitable), but yeah, not as much as in ME2.

        Both games have the bug where sometimes, the charge animation will play and it’ll trigger the skill cooldown, but you won’t actually charge, but I think it happened less in ME3 than ME2. After awhile you learn how to mitigate the bugs (just be double extra sure there’s enough space to charge and try to avoid charging through walls) so I don’t notice it as much.

        Biotics were pretty buggy in ME1 (how many times did somebody end up in a wall??? This is why you ALWAYS took Liara along so Singularity could yank them out again), but both ME2 and ME3 were much better in that regard, even if they did nerf biotics.

        Honestly, I never experienced too bad of bugs in any of the games aside from these, though. There’s several places in ME1 and ME2 where you can get stuck in level geometry or start floating if you try for it, but ME3 seemed a lot better in that regard.

      3. IFS says:

        Depends on how much multiplayer you did, I did a lot so I would say that ME3 is indeed the buggiest. You think vanguard charge is prone to bugs normally just wait until you throw lag into the mix. Outside of that though I’ve had mostly stable experiences with all three ME games.

      4. Zekiel says:

        My experience: In ME1 I repeatedly got stuck in a railing by being hit by an asari biotic power in the Benezia fight. (Won the fight but then couldn’t move.) I had to replay it about 4 times til I managed to kill the asari before she got the power off.

        I don’t recall ever having to reload ME2 or 3 due to bugs.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Call me a space-racist, but I actually had a hard differentiating Turian people from Turian husks in the heat of battle.

    I had a hard figuring that sentence out.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      Yeah, I know. Turians, people? Pah!

    2. Nidokoenig says:


    3. Mike S. says:

      Rannoch was worse for me, since Legion (of course) looks a lot like geth enemies at a distance and under stress. Same problem in multiplayer when my wife was playing a geth juggernaut. Even though hers was bright purple.

    4. Dreadjaws says:

      Better fix this fast, Shamus, before people start assuming you meant “-on” instead of “time”.

  12. Raygereio says:

    You can't holster your weapon in this game. The writer decides when you get your gun out and when you put it away. I can't begin to describe how completely obnoxious and condescending this feels.

    Could you clarify this one? Because I’m having hard time seeing what’s condescending about it, or why the writers are solely to blame for it.
    The reason a Bioware dev gave for this is the memory budget. If I recall right, they couldn’t fit the equip/unequip animation in there. Which given that the game was released on the PS3, I always thought was a believable excuse.

    But let’s asume that it would be technology possibly. What would be the point? (Note that I’m talking about the actual game that was released. Not some hypothetical version of it that only exists in our dreams). I draw my weapon after the conversation with Udina. Yay, I can’t do anything with it because there are no enemies around. Or how about putting away my gun after killing the last Cerberus thug in the encounter. There’s again nothing I can do, other then proceed to the next encounter at which point I’ll need my gun again.

    The game is divided up into combat & no-combat-talkie sections. Or perhaps more accurately: Combat-gameplay & story sections. If you want to point at a problem here, I’d go for how separated these sections are from each other.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      It’s about player agency. The best way I can think illustrate is an example from The Walking Dead. There’s a point at which a kid offers your adult character a high-five, and the game asks you to choose whether or not to give it to him. Almost every player chooses to high-five the kid, because why wouldn’t you? High-fives are cool. But it’s important that the game lets the player choose, not because it’s important to have the “don’t high-five” content, but because letting the player choose makes them feel like they made it happen. It builds investment in the character and situation. Pushing a button to high-five an enthusiastic kid is way more satisfying than watching a cutscene where you character automatically high-fives a kid.

      Letting the player control their own actions is key to making the player feel like they’re in control. Even if every player must choose to unholster their weapon at some point, doing it for them gives the sense that the game is playing itself and the player’s just along for the ride. The idea that the player is causing cool stuff to happen is key to the power fantasy ME3 clearly wants to be, and then they shoot themselves in the foot by pointlessly taking away some of the player’s power.

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        ME would make the high five a Paragon interrupt. I really don’t think that’s a good example of why the gun thing is insulting. ME1’s “go ahead and fire a machine gun on the Citadel” was RUINOUS to suspension of disbelief and the feeling trying to be created by the setting. Yes, pulling the gun out of the holster was fun, but NO ONE reacted to your armed presence. And honestly, I’m against the idea of going on a Fable-esque random killing spree. So I don’t think “you don’t control when the guns come out” is a problem at all.

        1. Trix2000 says:

          Except they could have just made it so you couldn’t actually fire or bring the guns with you in populated/civilian spaces. They didn’t have to extend that to EVERYTHING.

          I always did think being able to carry around and pull out/fire weapons on the Citadel was odd in ME1, but I still liked having that action available otherwise. Gave an extra layer of “Okay I’m getting ready for combat now”.

          1. Mike S. says:

            Leaving game design practicalities aside, it would have made the most sense if you only became able to carry weapons on the Citadel once you became a Spectre, and even then people reacted to it the way you would if a fully armed and armored SWAT team walked by.

            1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              Basically they had no interest in doing the whole “people and guards react to you randomly trying to kill them” aspect of the game in ME, it would make no sense and be awful. With that in mind, only having access to your guns in combat is not a problem. Not being allowed to put them away DURING combat (or when you’re headed right for more combat) is not a problem they worried about at all I imagine.

              That being said, I DID like drawing weapons manually in Dragon Age, so I imagine they will have some kind of different solution for Andromeda.

    2. Flip says:

      The game is divided up into combat & no-combat-talkie sections. Or perhaps more accurately: Combat-gameplay & story sections. If you want to point at a problem here, I'd go for how separated these sections are from each other.

      Look at it this way: These sections have to be very separate because there are no animations for drawing and holstering your gun. You can’t really have something like Feros in ME3 because it requires you (and NPCs!) to constantly shift from “gun holstered” to “gun drawn” and back again.

      Also I think it is a matter of immersion. When you explore the Krogan ruins, walk around the Turian camps on Manae or read a datapad on Mars it looks and feels really stupid to have your guns drawn all the time. The game forcing you to have your guns drawn also means that enemies can never surprise you. Take Mars as an example. When we get there, we don’t actually know that Cerberus has taken over the facility. It would’ve been entirely reasonable to start the mission with your guns on your back. But you don’t. You start with your gun drawn. Therefore the player knows ahead of time that there will be combat.

      And it’s against human nature. Take the end of the game. Shepard is very weak and hurt but (s)he still keeps the pistol drawn, even after talking to the star child.

      1. Nimas says:

        I would like to point out that having gun drawn at the end made perfect sense. How else were you supposed to shoot the star child in the head repeatedly?

        1. Mike S. says:

          Well, only once post-Extended Cut.

          As I discovered to my utter openmouthed shock at two in the morning, after a marathon first post-EC playthrough, it now triggers the Refuse ending.

          1. Nimas says:

            Yeah I’m pretty sure there were some people who watched Mr. Btongue’s video ><

            1. Mike S. says:

              Which of course is also where I got the idea to try shooting it.

              1. Flip says:

                Actually, I think this is a great example of the writer treating the player with condescension and contempt.
                “Oh, our players don’t like the ending and the star child? F! them. We’ll make it so that if they try to disagree with out artistic vision by shooting the child, it’ll trigger the refusal ending.”

                Making it trigger the refusal ending is not something you just add in accidentally. It’s something you do to screw with the player.

                1. Mike S. says:

                  I know a lot of people hated it. But having encountered it without preconceptions or warning, I thought it worked.

                  And I felt the Refuse ending itself worked both as a choice to not collaborate with unspeakable evil, even at the cost of sharing the Protheans’ fate to be the midwives of the end of the Cycles rather than its beneficiary, and also as a passive-agressive “Fine, if that’s what you want, have it good and hard!” from the developers.

  13. Radkatsu says:

    “Instead of using orbital bombardment, the Reapers are landing on planets and engaging ground forces directly. From their perspective, it would actually make the most sense to gather far beyond the reach of ground defenses and obliterate infrastructure with impunity. The only threat to the Reapers would be the fleets, which wouldn't stand much of a chance if the Reapers engaged in groups.”

    The amusing thing is this is how it apparently happens in the previous games’ lore, ME3 seems to retcon the whole idea. There are a number of instances of planets you can scan in ME2 that state population centres were targeted for orbital bombardment by high-powered mass weaponry, indicating the Reapers just sat in space and blew everything to hell before even bothering to land.

    1. Cedric says:

      Again, worldbuilding. Yes ME3 writers, some of us enjoy reading the planet descriptions which you decided were unimportant.

      1. Poncho says:

        One of my favorite aspects of ME2 was all the new planets I got to read about and how the writers came up with strange and interesting astronautic occurrences. It made the game feel much more alien.

    2. Trix2000 says:

      If I recall correctly, there ARE actually mentions of places they did that in ME3 as well. Like, I seem to recall someone (a crew member?) talking about how the reapers didn’t even bother landing on their home planet – just blew it up because it had factories or something.

      So this IS a thing they are apparently doing, but… only off-screen?

      1. Mike S. says:

        IIRC, that was Diana Allers’ home, Bekenstein, which Shepard visited in ME2 if you had the Kasumi DLC. Players who didn’t take Allers aboard or who didn’t talk to her much (which is an understandable choice, even though I usually do) wouldn’t have gotten that exchange.

        It makes some sense from a story perspective. If a Reaper just shows up and glasses a planet from orbit, there’s no time for Shepard to show up, and nothing Shepard or the Normandy can do about it if they happen to be there. It’s only the planets the Reapers intend to take, hold, and process the population of that it’s even in principle possible to set adventures on.

        1. Poncho says:

          Another problem this Reaper invasion premise creates: we don’t get to see the progression of events we are meant to emotionally react to. There’s no cause and effect, from a storytelling perspective, because so much happens off screen or is left unexplained by character actions.

        2. guy says:

          You can find some of the glassed planets when you’re surveying. If the population is below 100,000 or so the Reapers just throw asteroids at it and go on their way.

    3. INH5 says:

      Well, theoretically someone other than the Reapers could have carried out those bombardments. It isn’t like the current cycle invented space war. Also, the ruins on Feros demonstrate that at the very least the Reapers didn’t bombard all of the planets of the species that they wiped out.

    4. Ben says:

      Actually, the impression I got was that the old orbital bombardment scars were mostly due to conflicts between prior-cycle civs. E.g. one race bombed another, or there was a civil war, or whatever. I thought Vigil said the Reapers spent a lot of time and effort to “erase” all signs that they had been there.

  14. Pyrrhic Gades says:

    From an in-universe perspective, it does make sense on the increased presence of men in Mass Effect. From the first game humanity was presented as a rising power with only 1% of the population being in the military (the other 99% of the population would become Cerberus) which is astranomically low compared to the other citadel races. The non-council races feel threatened and view them as upstarts.
    By Mass Effect 2 they are no longer upstarts but a powerhouse.

    1. Poncho says:

      ” (the other 99% of the population would become Cerberus)” Oh god I just spit my coffee all over my monitor. That was great.

    2. Gruhunchously says:

      Heh. I thought you were talking about ‘men’ as in the gender, not the general term for ‘members of mankind’.

      On a related note, where are all the female aliens again?

      1. Mike S. says:

        While they weren’t great about it, by the end of the series (DLC included) we’d seen females of all the Council species, the quarians, and the krogan. (Even if there’s an annoying tendency for them to all have too-human secondary sexual characteristics, and for many to dress in hijab to save the strain of designing models for them.) We have no idea what if any sex any of the hanar are.

        The drell, elcor, volus, and batarians are all male (or are non-sex-dimorphic and appear male to humans, which comes to the same thing if they don’t tell us.) Of those, the drell are the only ones with a major character in the game. But it would have been nice if they’d split the difference for the background characters– even if they’re only going to animate one sex, why not females for some of them?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Krogan women having hijabs is fine.It even got an in universe explanation in the game,which is doubly cool.But turians suddenly gaining breasts,that was incredebly stupid.

  15. Ninety-Three says:

    The “Orbital distance: CLASSIFIED” thing gets a snarky comment from you, but I think it could be looked at seriously as indicative of ME3’s writing priorities. Now I know it’s not reasonable to ask that every random writer know basic orbital mechanics, but if you’re a big company with a zillion writers, making a game about planets, rather than randomly assigning Steve and Joe to the planet-writing, maybe you should ask “Hey, does anyone that knows anything about planets want to write this?” If no one does, maybe whoever gets assigned the writing task should research it until they at least know as much as a high-schooler.

    But no, we got a world that makes no sense, because no one cared enough to think it through. And isn’t that just ME3 in a nutshell?

    1. Gruhunchously says:

      The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure all the planetary descriptions in the previous two games were written by one guy- the same guy who wrote most of the Codex entries. Said guy was not part of the Mass Effect 3 writing team.

      1. Ben says:

        Do you know who that guy is? Because he/she did a phenomenal job of creating a basically hard-SF/one-big-lie system that let them have all the space magic needed for space opera while still keeping everything else vaguely plausible.

        If the “mass effect” is your one-big-lie, it gives you high-speed STL movement, rail-guns, shields, Normandy’s “stealth” drive system, FTL via “gravity warp”, etc. But things like heat build-up (i.e. things unrelated to mass/gravity) are actually acknowledged and dealt with, which is SUPER rare in mainstream SF, and things like “larger ship = longer railgun = more power” actually follow sensibly from the laws of physics. Whoever wrote those codex entries is a boss (and probably spent a lot of time reading Atomic Rockets, which is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to write this kind of fiction).

        Of course, the gameplay and cutscenes sometimes ignored the codex stuff (e.g. Biotics are a real stretch, the Normandy has some kind of super-gun that finishes off Sovereign despite being a tiny ship, etc.), but I was still very impressed with those codex entries when I first read them. They were clearly written by someone who did her/his homework.

        Also, seriously, if you care about details in your scifi, go read Atomic Rockets. It’s awesome.

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          Sorry, the guy in question was Chris L’Etoile. I didn’t want to start any ‘good writer vs bad writer’ tirades by being specific.

          We all had a big discussion about him way back during the ME Spoiler Warning seasons. You can find them here, here and a few other places.

    2. newplan says:

      In a better-written game “ORBITAL PERIOD: CLASSIFIED” would be partially a joke and partially a piece of characterization. If someone classified the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle but published the lengths of the other two sides – they’re either a moron or they’re extremely bureaucratically bound (ALL INFORMATION NOT DECLASSIFIED IS CLASSIFIED).

  16. Darren says:

    I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s interesting that Dragon Age had one lead writer–David Gaider–through…I believe Awakenings through Inquisition. Say what you want about that franchise, but it’s been fairly consistent on the writing front. Did Mass Effect ever have consistency? Was there any carry over from one game to the next? What was going on that the more popular franchise had so many internal shake-ups? Wouldn’t it make more sense–in a blinkered, corporate sense–to give the Mass Effect team a bit more autonomy and control and help it cultivate some consistency?

    1. Poncho says:

      They had a lot of shuffling but that’s mostly because they ballooned from a little 1-studio art house to a 3-studio subsidiary of one of the biggest software companies on the planet. They had plenty of autonomy from EA, but that was probably a bad move because Bioware didn’t know what to do with all the additional resources at their disposal.

  17. guy says:

    One of the Turian Primarchs is stuck there. He's an important military guy. If Shepard rescues him, they'll agree to send some forces to Earth. It sounds kind of implausible. How can one general be worth more than the fleets he commands? Particularly when you're in a war with a foe that you can't meaningfully oppose and the only thing you can do is buy your populace time with the lives of your military.

    Actually, I think you’re going to rescue him because he’s the only person with the authority to give you the reinforcements you want. The Turians are very militarized and he’s not just a general, he’s their supreme ruler. You’re basically going in to rescue a king. Yes, this does mean that their succession protocol put a general in charge of their entire civilization; it’s how they do things.

    1. Trix2000 says:

      Yeah, I was about to mention this. The Primarch’s not just a military leader, though given the importance of the Turian military there’s a TON of overlap.

      So it seemed somewhat more reasonable to me that we were putting a bunch of effort into rescuing Turian Numero Uno, as well as why it would be a somewhat good idea to pull him from the front lines. It’d certainly be a good way to get into their favor.

      Still doesn’t explain why taking Turian forces/fleets away from defending their home planet is a good idea, though, especially with how bad things are.

      1. guy says:

        That would be why once you can actually talk to a Primarch he tells you no unless you can get him some support from elsewhere. But the fighting is making communications difficult and you need to do the rescue mission to ask him at all and probably no one else could tell you yes even if they thought it was a good idea.

  18. IFS says:

    The vast majority of dialog prompts are simply paragon / renegade tone-of-voice responses that continue the completely linear conversation.

    This reminds me of one of my pettiest gripes from when I first played the game, namely that there are so very few middle road dialogue choices. I can only remember one over the course of my entire playthrough (which I picked immediately simply because it was the first one I’d seen), it was like they became an endangered species. Almost every dialogue broke down to the one or maybe two questions you were allowed to ask, and then picking the top or bottom dialogue option. Now on one hand the middle options don’t give paragade points so their removal means you know your player will get the shiny red/blue numbers after their conversations, but their removal to me shows an utter contempt for letting the player roleplay that it made me angry with the game that they were almost entirely gone.

    1. Poncho says:

      The dialogue system is just a screen for players choosing plot points. In ME1, there was a healthy amount of characterization in the dialogue, there was an attempt at filling things out in a realistic manner, but ME3 drops all pretenses of this and turns the dialogue into “Choose your own adventure” style writing. Left click if you want the heroic ending to this conversation, right click if you want the jerk-face ending.

  19. wswordsmen says:

    I didn’t play KSP when ME3 came out, so I didn’t realize it at the time. But looking at that screen shot (of the Turian moon), I can’t help but think how stupid the person who wrote that was. I think this might be the dumbest part of the game, because it requires you to pretend literally every member of every species is incredibly dumb. The star child was a totally stupid idea, but you can be forgiven for thinking it might have made sense with better execution, but classifying easily observed specifications of an object that everyone on a planet could see… there is no possible explanation.

    1. The Defenestrator says:

      Think about the subtle ways this communicates information to the player, though: This means the Reapers must have already infiltrated the Turian government. If they hadn’t, they wouldn’t know the moon’s position or size, so they wouldn’t be able to attack it at all!

      I wonder if the Turians make use of this strategy on the battlefield and make the attributes of their own soldiers classified as well. It would be very useful to be able to fire on the enemy and have them not be able to find your troops because they don’t have clearance to know where they are. On the other hand, dealing with friendly civilians would be a nightmare. (Also, the First Contact War with the humans happened when the Turians accidentally classified the fact that you aren’t supposed to open Mass Relays)

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        That sounds like a problem that would be encountered in Paranoia, a group of people you’re not allowed to see or acknowledge because their location is top secret.

        Now that I think about it, a lot of what Cerberus does makes sense in the context of Paranoia…

        1. Mike S. says:

          There’s a bit of that in the real world with government employees and contractors officially not allowed to look at or acknowledge leaked documents, no matter how widely disseminated otherwise. So something might be unavoidably known to North Korea and readers of the New York Times, but looking at it could still render the employee subject to sanctions.

      2. Poncho says:

        I think classifying the moon was in response to the Krogan tactic of dropping asteroids on planets, and it leaked that one of the Warlords planned to strap a bunch of mass-drivers to Menae and drop it on Palaven.

        So maybe the Krogan just don’t know how to calculate orbital distance without computers, and since the computers require that information to be inputted or something, they can’t drop it. Turians just forgot to de-classify it.

        That’s a REALLY dumb explanation, but hey, so is most of the stuff in ME3.

        1. Mike S. says:

          Granted, given my success so far with Kerbal Space Program, I’m not convinced I could hit Menae with an asteroid even with all its orbital elements.

          1. The Defenestrator says:

            Well, in KSP you literally can’t change the orbit of a moon in any way; they’re “on rails” and aren’t affected by physics. But if you did have an engine powerful enough to affect the orbit of a planetoid you would just have to identify which way it was moving and start pushing it the other way.

  20. ulrichomega says:

    Sorry if this has been asked before, but you’ve frequently mentioned that this series is roughly book length: Have you thought of putting it together in book format (like the Autoblography) and selling it, even if just at production cost? I’d definitely buy a copy.

    1. Lachlan the Mad says:

      The copyright would definitely be a minefield on that one, even if Shamus only charged production costs.

      1. Zekiel says:

        I don’t think there’d be a copyright problem so long as Shamus didn’t include the images. Unfortunately that’d just make it a big wall of text which isn’t the most attractive format.

  21. Mike S. says:

    Reaper tactics are obviously open to criticism, but it seems like a late point in the series for it to be an issue. The same issues apply as far back as Eden Prime, where:

    1) the geth bring serpent’s teeth for no reason whatsoever, other than to introduce you to husks. The mass of a big needle could as easily be a couple of geth platforms, which start out as guys with guns rather than requiring you to kill the enemy, have your troops spend time and make themselves vulnerable dragging the corpses and sticking them on spikes, and then wait for them to become (shambling, unintelligent, not-terribly-effective) shock troops.

    Even stipulating the demoralizing effect (which is as strained a handwave as “superheroines wear stripper outfits to distract the bad guys”), you’re not trying to win a war here. This is a smash and grab mission in which you have an army and a superdreadnought backing it up, and the defense has a platoon.

    2) Sovereign makes zero use of its aerospace supremacy. Stipulate they don’t want to blow up the beacon, but that’s the only thing it needs to preserve. Why have the geth shoot Ash’s squad, or Shepard, instead of calling in an airstrike? Especially since the geth platforms themselves are highly expendable– there’s little downside to dropping a MOAB or a small nuke that takes out both the humans and the geth. (Or having one in every ten or twenty geth platforms be a walking suitcase nuke, for that matter.)

    3) Once Saren’s used the beacon, they want to destroy the colony to ensure no witnesses report anything. To do this, he leaves a bunch of defusable nukes behind, and they don’t check to see if they explode. If we’re ever going to complain about Reapers failing to nuke the site from orbit, why not here? The Alliance has no visible space presence, and if someone does show up at the mass relay Sovereign can easily outrun them and (since it’s unlikely to be a fleet) almost certainly outgun them.

    The entire structure of the Eden Prime mission is distorted to make it playable as a shooter in exactly the same way Mass Effect 3 is.

    Same questions re many of the other missions. Once they had the Cipher, why are the geth attacking Zhu’s Hope or the Thorian with ground troops? So they tried to kill the Thorian to stop Shepard from getting the Cipher… using firearms against the pitched defenses by the enslaved colonists? Why not a bomb? Why not lots of bombs?

    The tactics of the enemy were always inefficient in ways specifically designed to enable shooter mechanics, despite their claims of inhuman superiority. That isn’t really something that became true in ME2 or ME3, it’s a built-in aspect of the series from the first moment of combat.

    1. Shamus says:

      I agree that it’s not a big deal one way or the other, and I included it here mostly in response to people asking, “Are you going to talk about… X?” (And because it was another chance to demonstrate why I’m always ranting about food.)

      But I think the Reaper tactics in ME3 do seem to bug people more than the equally-flawed tactics in ME1. I imagine this is due to three things:

      1) The Eden Prime assault (and also the Citadel assault) were actually carried out by Geth while Sovereign held back.
      2) In ME1, we had no idea what to expect because the Reapers were still a mystery, so no strategy would seem out-of-character yet. In ME3, the game has sorta-kinda developed some rules for how Reapers ought to behave. It’s the difference between expecting A and seeing B, and having no idea what to expect and seeing B. The first is more jarring, even if B isn’t terribly smart in either case.
      3) Reapers being obviously stupid (like in the Shepard vs. Reaper duel on Rannoch, which I’ll cover later) which make the Reapers look like buffoons, which encourages people to start thinking about and questioning Reaper behavior.

      But like I said, I don’t think this is a real problem. It’s fun to muse about how a Reaper invasion would / does / ought to work, but it’s not really one of the things wrong with the game.

      1. Mike S. says:

        That’s fair. I think it’s also an effect of disenchantment as much as it is a cause. Just as once a relationship is goes sour, every annoying habit becomes intolerable (and in bad cases, the person one once spent a long happy period with turns out to have been a monster all along), once a game has lost a player they’re not inclined to cut it slack.

        There is also the problem any series has in sticking the landing. The history of TV over the last twenty years is a testament to how easy it is to raise expectations with mysteries and buildup, and how thoroughly they can be dashed and the early installments poisoned by a bad resolution. (“Oh, the Cylons are referring obliquely to their overall goals again. Whatever can they be? And I bet that opera house vision will pay off massively!“) As long as the Reapers are mostly offstage and looming, any flaws in their tactics might just be things we don’t understand yet.

        I sometimes suspect that the real trick is to do just the buildup, get canceled (or if necessary fake your own death), and allow people to blame the evil suits for burying the (no doubt epic!) culmination.

        1. Nimas says:

          Hmm, was just thinking about your TV comment, and was reminded of how well (I feel at least) Gravity Falls sticked the landing.

          Then I imagined Shepard doing what they did in the final ep to fight a reaper. Then I smiled. Then I was sad because it would have been a better ending.

          1. Lachlan the Mad says:

            Did Gravity Falls have the whole arc planned out before the show began?

          2. Mike S. says:

            Agreed re Gravity Falls. The vanishingly minor handwaves (everyone on the Zodiac makes sense, except for the slight strain for the Ice bag and the completely arbitrary choice for the llama) pale in comparison to how much fell into place, and how effectively the show was able to do cosmic horror within the limitations of a Y7 Disney cartoon.

            (Bill killed a baby, onscreen, on Disney XD!)

            Though the relatively contained nature of the story, two seasons with a firm ending, probably helped a lot. One big problem a lot of shows have is their open-ended nature: will they run a year, two, seven? It makes it tempting to keep writing checks without worrying too much about how to make them clear.

            1. Nimas says:

              Eh, he’ll get better.

              1. Mike S. says:

                But only people who decoded the cryptograms (or read a net discussion where the translation was brought up) know that!

    2. Gethsemani says:

      I think the deal with the Geth in ME1 is that they are looking to avoid an open conflict and bringing in an entire fleet to devastate at least two human colonies from orbits is the kind of things that draws attention and gets you into conflict. Sending in a bunch of ground troops will draw much less attention, especially if there are no survivors afterwards and you’ve used nukes to cover up your tracks. It also works to sow confusion (which is actually shown in game), when the Alliance starts wondering why the Geth are sending in troops at random colonies. By contrast, sending in a fleet to wipe said colonies out would be a sure way to get full Alliance attention and send most Citadel Fleets into full alert because the Geth might just have declared war.

      I realize this is my head-canon, but it is much easier finding reasons for why the Geth act like they do in ME1 then it is to find reasons for why the Reapers all become incredibly incompetent between games.

      1. Mike S. says:

        With Eden Prime and Feros, they don’t really need to have sent any more force than we saw. Sovereign was at Eden Prime, a geth cruiser was at Feros, neither planet had a space force of its own to respond if they’d started dropping bombs.

        It might even have been able to catch the Normandy on the ground at Feros, since the SR-1 sat there like a ship that didn’t have to worry about enemy traffic in the system, despite the known geth presence.

        I’d also at least think that nuking Eden Prime, whose symbolic and real importance Nihlus makes sure the player is aware of, is as much an act of war as anything can be. Either they succeed in leaving no witnesses (which points to being very thorough rather than haphazard in the destruction), or it’s in for a penny, in for a pound.

    3. ehlijen says:

      I was happy to assume that most of that was part of sovereign not wanting to leave too big and horrifying a trail.

      Eden prime was attacked by geth and blown up by geth nukes? Well, they shouldn’t have build a colony that close to geth space.

      Eden prime was attacked by an unknown geth dreadnaught type that carved a lewd picture into the planet with some kind of beam weapon the likes of which we’ve never seen before? Maybe we should investigate this, just in case the geth are planning to do this again.

      Of course, that doesn’t explain the husks or why the council was happy to bury the citadel attack because ‘it was just a geth ship’.

      But also all the things Shamus said.

      1. Mike S. says:

        The discussion re ME3 was the Reapers using more efficient weapons than the killbeam. Likewise at Eden Prime, there’s no clear reason (other than plot) that Sovereign couldn’t drop entirely ordinary nukes in whatever quantity is necessary.

        (Hydrogen is hydrogen, especially when some of it has fused to helium in a highly exothermic nuclear reaction.)

        I at least wouldn’t think Alliance CSI could tell geth nukes from Reaper nukes from the cooling surface of what used to be the Eden Prime colony.

        That takes care of everything except some quarian teenager with the mp3s of Saren and Benezia she bittorrented from some random geth on some random planet (somehow!), and Fist will ensure she never gets into contact with the Council.

  22. Syal says:

    How can one general be worth more than the fleets he commands?

    You haven’t seen his CO Power!

  23. Benjamin Hilton says:

    On ME1 characters being more interesting:

    I really think it’s about the length of time. In Mass Effect 1 I really never liked Garrus. But when Shepard meets him again in the second game it really felt like to two friends running into each other. I saw how much Shepard enjoyed Garrus’ company, and then I started to as well.

    1. tremor3258 says:

      Everyone didn’t get much dialog in the first game, but the work in the second that these are old friends really made me like the old squad (and get more irritated at Kashley when met slightly later)

    2. Zekiel says:

      I don’t think its just length of time. The new characters in ME3 just aren’t that interesting. James – while not being badly-written – is just a military guy; I don’t even feel he’s as interesting as Ashley (and I don’t think Ashley’s that great either).

      Meanwhile Mordin became my favourite character in the franchise in ME2, when I’d only known him for less than 1 game.

      I think the reason people love Garrus and Tali (me included) is because they’re interesting, likeable characters – Garrus has got the dry sense of humour and wisecracking, Tali’s sweet and engagingly nerdy; along with Liara, they give you a relateable person through which to explore an alien culture; and they have interesting visual designs. What’s not to like about them?

      Honest question: does anyone really not like Garrus or Tali?

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        I think Vega is pretty good actually. He’s Bioware perfecting the idea of “military guy” without any of the baggage of Ashley or Kaidan. There’s lots of little personality touches that are fun with him. His silly nicknames for most characters (which, importantly, you can instruct him to NOT call you by for the rest of the game, if you prefer; he’s respectful in his goofiness), how you can find him playing poker with the crew and refugees throughout the game, how if you tell him to hack the turrets on Rannoch he basically admits he has NO idea how to do this and sabotages them by brute force, how he wants to make everyone breakfast on the morning after on the Citadel DLC, the pullup contest in Citadel DLC, etc.

      2. Deager says:

        I suppose “yes” for Garrus and Tali but not me; they’re great! I also do like Liara. I guess some people don’t like her and I kind of wish they had us grab her in ME1 but leave her as a non-combatant to keep with her archaeology thing. But despite the odd character switch in ME2, she is pretty kick#%% in ME3.

        Mordin is so fun. I can’t say someone won’t find plot holes with his logic but overall, man, he does come across so smart. And what I’ve liked about him is, he’s an organic version of reason. I feel like the game sells AIs as “the” definitive answer to things. Vigil, depending on how the player reads into it, EDI using conjector almost as fact, the starbrat, and maybe others. Granted, I did like Legion and the Geth. But I really fell into the mistake of assuming all AIs were flawless in their logic; hence me being stupid on my first trilogy run choice at the end.

        But with Mordin, it was like, he seemed to really break things down quickly and logically. I loved his comments that were so matter of fact. Lots of ways to help people. Something along the lines of killing bad people and healing others. Classic.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Liara also has the best sex scene with you in 3.Because its not your regular nasty,but mind sex instead.

          1. Zekiel says:

            One of the reasons I liked ME3 was that the first time I played it I was romancing Liara, and it works quite well if you do that. The second time I played it (romancing someone else) I discovered that a lot of the neat interactions I got with Liara the first time weren’t to do with romancing her – they were ones everyone got regardless, and that rather annoyed me.

  24. Incunabulum says:

    “And if the meatbags are still using fossil fuels, blow up the refineries.”

    You don’t need to blow up the refineries. With no power the refineries aren’t going to be doing any refining. It takes a bit of energy to to convert oil to gas/diesel/etc.

    And really – there’s no point in Reaper ground troops *at all*. They’re not there for conquest or looting. They are there for *extermination*. There should be no ground troops at all except for a really few exceptions – basically surface-to-orbit weapon facilities that are too tough to crack directly from orbit.

    Otherwise you just stay in orbit, shoot at anything that moves or launches while you’re other buddies latch onto and push a few largish (but not too large – as they want this shit to grow back for some reason) to the planet. Few weeks/months later and the skies are so black you can’t tell if its day or night, civilization is wrecked and a mass extinction event is in progress from which there’s no escape for anything that masses more tham half a kilo.

    or you just take your incredibly, stupendously powerful reaction drives, the ones that can accelerate kilo and megatons of mass at multiple g’s, and hover over the atmosphere while irradiating and melting the land underneath. Just let the planet rotate under you. Do that while waiting for the rocks to get there.

    Sci-fi writers have no sense of scale.

    1. Robyrt says:

      I’m sure the writers knew the Reapers could just bombard every planet from orbit, but we’re not playing a space sim, we’re playing a 3rd person cover shooter, so we need an excuse to get down on the ground with a small squad of elite operatives and shoot bad guys in their glowing weak spots.

    2. Mike S. says:

      Nit: the reaction drives aren’t accelerating megatons of mass multiple gs. The mass effect reduces the mass to a manageable amount. So the Kzinti Lesson doesn’t directly apply, though there are certainly plenty of ways to ruin a planet’s day with living ftl dreadnoughts.

      They also pretty clearly limit the damage they choose to do, as witness all the Prothean ruins scattered about. Even sticking just with ME1 and ignoring subsequent revelations, we know that the Reapers choose to operate on a retail level rather than wholesale extermination for some reason that Sovereign isn’t interested in sharing. And they’re responsible for the dragon’s teeth, so they have some use for ground troops. Extermination was the endgame, but it was implicitly never the only thing they were after.

  25. Dreadjaws says:

    With the news that Mass Effect: Andromeda won’t be released until next year, there’s a new flood of comments sections filled with yet more people (or the same repeating themselves) saying how Mass Effect 3 was the greatest game until the last five minutes.

    How the hell does something like this happen? I’d say it’s because these people don’t care about story and only about blowing stuff up but a) those people are actually praising the story and b) the game is notorious for only letting you blow stuff up when it wants you to, not when you want to do it.

    I just don’t get it. How does this game have so much praise? Is it because its major fanbase has the attention span of a fly? Is it because the ending was so overwhelmingly awful that the rest of the game seems brilliant in comparison? Is there a different version of the game out there and I’ve been stuck playing the crappy one?

    For the record, I’ve played the PC and PS3 versions, and there are no differences between them, so if there’s a magnifically written one, it’d have to be the Xbox 360 or Wii U version. Is that it? Because Nintendo wouldn’t have problems selling their console if their sales pitch was “By the way, our version of Mass Effect 3 wasn’t written by a drunken monkey at gunpoint”.

    1. Mike S. says:

      It may be that people just have different tastes. I can deconstruct stories with the best of them, but I’m also perfectly capable of enjoying flawed ones. (Which is a good thing, because there really aren’t a lot of gems capable of wholly withstanding a merciless analysis.)

      And I absolutely enjoy Mass Effect 3 (minus its ending). Just as I love Mass Effect 1 despite its gaping plot holes and its reliance on wild coincidence and Shepard’s leaps to crystal certainties unsupported by logic or evidence. Just as I love Star Wars despite its woolly mysticism, proudly non-Newtonian physics, and crazy take on military recruitment.

      (“Hi, you don’t know me and I’ve never flown anything outside the atmosphere. Want to put me at the stick of one of your space fighters? I totally promise I’m not a spy, even though I did spearhead the sequence of events that led the Empire to your doorstep!”)

      There’s an old Usenet saying by Bertil Jonell: “It can be shown that for any nutty theory, beyond-the-fringe political view or strange religion there exists a proponent on the Net. The proof is left as an exercise for your kill-file.”

      (And there’s Neumeier’s Corollary, “For any belief, no matter how palpably absurd you find it, there is or has been a proponent who is smarter than you.”)

      Sure, I hear you say, politics or religion. But not something really contentious like video games. But it may be true even there!

      1. Dreadjaws says:

        You make it sound as if ME3 is at the same level of flawed that ME1 or Star Wars, and that is absolutely not the case. Every single story can be deconstructed and shown to have flaws. Every single one. That means nothing. This game, though, absolutely fails without even trying to deconstruct it. Its flaws are absolutely prominent, and there are just too many of them to ignore.

        And I’m sorry but those quotes can’t possibly apply here. We’re not talking about religious faith, where logic is not needed, or political beliefs, where people take a side and will automatically take the opposite as wrong but won’t be seen as silly because their entire side has their back. We’re talking about storytelling quality and laziness here. These are palpable things that can’t be ignored by logic or they will crumble.

        It’s like a broken bridge. You can like it as much as you want, and you can try to justify its existence as much as you want, but it won’t change the fact that it’s broken and it’s therefore useless at its job.

        1. Mike S. says:

          (And here I thought I was kidding that unlike politics and religion, games are Serious Business. ;-) )

          A bridge exists to connect its endpoints. If it’s broken it’s necessarily, by its nature, broken for everyone who tries to cross it.

          A game or story exists to be enjoyable, or entertaining, or affecting. It’s objectively, demonstrably true that the same game can do that for some people, and fail to do that for others. As you’ve yourself observed, that’s the case for ME3, what with the repeated “flood of comments” positive about the game short of the ending elsewhere, versus the broad consensus here that it failed out of the gate.

          There are even a measurable number of people– including articulate, reasonable people with wide experience of games and stories– who think the ending’s awesome. You may think they’re nuts. I may think they’re nuts. But while I can explain why I think the ending is a travesty, at the end of the day there’s no persuading people not to like something they like, or vice versa.

          And it’s not (or at least doesn’t have to be) about ignoring the flaws. (If that were a life goal, reading and commenting on this series of essays would be pretty counterproductive, wouldn’t it?) I agree with some of the criticisms stated here, disagree with others– which I imagine is pretty much par for the course. (Who agrees with everything? What would be interesting about hearing someone restate things I already believe?)

          Obviously I don’t have precisely the same dealbreakers as you do. Nor the same ones Shamus does. (And, I’m sure, vice versa.) I assume the same is true of those floods of commenters you alluded to. (Though I don’t imagine l’d find myself congruent with each of them on every point either.)

          But as the Scotsman said: if we all liked the same things, think of the oatmeal shortage!

        2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          You’re essentially saying “My taste is better than your taste, why is everyone else so wrong?!”

          They’re not wrong to have enjoyed the game, even if it has flaws. It “failing” is pure opinion, there’s no objective way to determine how well a story “works” or doesn’t.

          1. Dreadjaws says:

            I know I’m two years late to this, but I only now noticed your comment and I can’t in good conscience let it pass (even if chances are you’re never going to read my reply) because it’s irritatingly wrong.

            No, this is not a matter of opinion. The story is categorically and demonstrably a failure. It most definitely fails. That is not up for debate, and if you believe that is I don’t know what are you doing reading an extremely long series that runs counter to your argument.

            Whether people like it or not has nothing to do with its actual quality. There are concepts regarding writing that any writer worth their salt should be familiar with, and this story fails at them. It’s as simple as that and, again, the entire reason for this analysis.

            Furthermore, I’m frankly insulted that you state that I’m saying my taste is better than others. It absolutely isn’t (I enjoy the Transformers movies, for instance) and even if it was I wouldn’t say it is (i.e. I fully recognize the Transformers movies are terribly written, and I never try to say otherwise).

        3. Deager says:

          I still suspect that a lot of players, including me, get sold on the characters. Even if they do things that make no sense, I do tend to like the directors for the voice actors and the actors themselves and the writers fleshing out the characters.

          Yeah, Shamus is right about the 180 with Liara from ME1 to ME2 and other stuff, but in the end, if a game sells me on a character that I care about…I’m willing to hand-wave all sorts of crap.

          For plenty of people on this thread, I’m guessing that’s not enough to enjoy a game though. But I see there are plenty who can live with it too. :)

    2. INH5 says:

      Well, it has been 4 years (3 years and 362 days, to be exact) since the release of ME3, so by this point the average person’s memory of it is probably rather vague. They’ll never forget the ending, of course, but as for the rest of the game I think it’s likely that a lot of people remember Priority: Tuchanka but have completely forgotten about Kai Leng.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Shamus talked about this in the very beginning.Its all about suspension of disbelief.If a story sucks you in,it will take a while before you get disillusioned by it and your suspension of disbelief finally breaks.But before that point,you will accept everything it throws at you.Just how I accepted tims idiocy,suddenly tali,stupid council,etc up until the point I had that idiotic conversation with ashley bitch.Only after that have I actually started resenting the story of me2,and it still took a while for it to completely crumble.And for most people,that breaking point was the ending.

      Also worth noting,these games still have very satisfying gameplay and a bunch of excellent characters in them.I still enjoyed going through me2 a second time on insanity,even though at that point I hated the main story of it.Its not that hard to enjoy either me2 or me3 if you ignore most of the main story,which frankly isnt that hard to do.Heck,ask Shamus if he had fun playing through me3,and he will still say yes,despite all of the ranting.I mean,if he didnt,he wouldnt devote the time to replay it again before writing this.

    4. Gruhunchously says:

      It’s because you get to romance Garrus. :)

      No, seriously, I think that’s what makes the game great for so many people (more or less). It nails the sensation of ‘teaming up with your old buddies, and a few new ones, and saving the galaxy while having fun and cracking wise about it’. It doesn’t matter that the threat is nebulous, and simultaneously too weak and too strong, all it has to be is the bad thing that you fight when you’re not doing the interesting stuff. If you’re having fun, you become less aware of plot holes and inconsistencies because you don’t want to ruin the experience for yourself. The sin of the ending was not that it was significantly worse than the rest of the game, storywise, but that it ditched all your companions and never told you what happened to them. It gave you the same ridiculous arbitrary choices you had already been making throughout the rest of the game, but removed all the polish and laid them before you with no meaning or context. It took away the good stuff and left the bad stuff excruciatingly bare.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        It's because you get to romance Garrus. :)

        On the flip side,you get that picture of tali.So the bad cancels the good.

  26. Mintskittle says:

    What gets me about all this is that the Reapers are ignoring the instant win button they’ve had since ME1, the Citadel and its ability to shut down the relay network. This was Sovereign’s big play in ME1: take the Citadel, shut down the relays, call in the fleet. As soon as the Reapers take the Citadel (and we know they will later in the game), they isolate everyone from the network and can bring overwhelming force to any resistance anywhere at any time.

    What should have happened is that the Reapers take the Citadel and everyone gets isolated. We know we can’t beat them through force of arms, so we need to get away before the fleet comes through to kill everyone. Now its a race against the clock to get as many people on a bunch of colony ships and send them off into the great unknown. Cue Andromeda.

    1. Mike S. says:

      Having the win condition be everyone in the galaxy dying (minus a handful of refugees) would, I think, have gone over even worse than the ending they did.

      (As it was part of the issue with the ending was that the writers didn’t seem to realize just how bad the implications were. Hence the Extended Cut, with its reassurances that the relay network gets rebuilt and the turians and quarians don’t starve to death on an Earth in the process of being devastated by stranded and angry krogan who can’t get home.)

      1. Mintskittle says:

        Oh I agree, it would be a terrible ending, it’s just that taking into account the state of the galaxy as it currently exists, I just don’t see any kind of plausible victory through strength of arms. This is how the Reapers have been operating for millions of years and thousands of cycles. They’ve been doing this so long it’s routine.

        This is really the fault of ME2 not doing anything to advance the anti-Reaper plot meaningfully. ME2 should have been about gathering was assets and advancing our tech with what was recovered from Sovereign. The Council should not have been burying their heads in the sand. Even if they didn’t want to believe in Reapers, a Geth ship that powerful should have still been spurring military advances to be able to meet such a threat on an even footing. Only a unified galaxy using Reaper level tech can possibly stand up to such a threat.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        With them cutting off the relays before everyone is bunched over a single planet,there wouldnt be mass starvation in the galaxy.All of the homeworlds and a plethora of colonies are already self sustainable.The only thing that disrupted that was reapers coming down and bombing civilian infrastructure to smithereens.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Are the homeworlds sustainable though? Some of those homeworlds must be skyscraper-covered Corruscant-alikes, surely they’d be importing the vast majority of their food, unless we’ve somehow used the mass effect to miniaturize food production.

          1. Mike S. says:

            I don’t think the Codex shows any worlds that densely populated. (Sur’Kesh has 10 billion people, Earth eleven and a half, Palaven and Thessia less than that.)

            (I suspect that wholly supplying a city-world like that via interstellar imports is logistically beyond even mass effect starships of the size they can field at plausible traffic levels, but I haven’t crunched the numbers.)

  27. Zaxares says:

    I’m sure others have mentioned this by now, but the Turian Shepard is sent to evacuate is the Turian Primarch, aka their “supreme leader”. It would be like if Earth got invaded by aliens and a commando team from Canada has to go rescue the POTUS because the entire Secret Service got annihilated in the first attack and their military is bogged down fighting them off. So with that in mind, it does kind of make sense that getting him out alive is a top priority.

    Also, it’s not explicitly mentioned on several worlds, but the Reapers do generally take out important facilities and military defenses from space before landing on the planets. They don’t actually want to cause more civilian deaths than necessary beyond quashing resistance because they want to harvest as many of them as possible for new Reaper-building. It’s unclear as to what this effect has on Reapers; does the more people-slurry a Reaper gets fed result in greater intelligence and awareness? Or do they simply construct one main Reaper out of, say, 100 billion people, and then any excess goes to build Reaper Destroyers? It’s a question we’ll have to puzzle over forever.

    1. Mike S. says:

      “Are You A Bad Enough Dude To Rescue The Primarch?”

      1. Zaxares says:

        You, sir, get 100 old-school gamer points. :D

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      They don't actually want to cause more civilian deaths than necessary beyond quashing resistance because they want to harvest as many of them as possible for new Reaper-building

      If only someone told that to the makers of that intro where reapers were killing only civilians for no reason.

      1. Zaxares says:

        Which intro are you referring to? Because while the Reapers did basically land in Vancouver with all guns blazing (which would no doubt cause a lot of collateral damage, but anyway), the only directly targeted civilians were the ones escaping in the Alliance (and therefore military) shuttles. We see no other civilians get directly attacked by Reaper forces, whether by husks or by the Reapers themselves.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          UNARMED shuttles.You know,stuff that could easily be scooped up.While the one military cruiser,the most advanced one in the whole fleet,was left to merrily fly away.

          And no,its not the shuttles that they blast,its the residential buildings as well.Tons of them.Again for no reason.

          Also,lets not forget the end where you have a citadel with piles of civilian corpses uselessly lying around for no reason.No spikes in sight to huskify them,no slurry machine to liquefy them.

  28. SyrusRayne says:

    Hey, cool. Looks like I got to read two Mass Effect posts today, although not in order. Either that or I’m going completely insane.

  29. CliveHowlitzer says:

    I think it should be mentioned also that this is the first game that actually has an option in the settings menu to disable dialogue choices so Shepard always talks for you. It is clear what they were going for.

    1. Gruhunchously says:


      Okay, now I understand what Shamus meant about the feeling that the series was chasing another target audience. That’s ridiculous.

      1. Mike S. says:

        It was going for breadth. Narrative difficulty is presumably about as close as they could get to “Hepler mode” (for people who wanted the story without the fighting) without actually doing a different version of the game. Automating choices (“action mode”) is for people who fundamentally just want to play the shooty bits.

        As long as neither is done to the exclusion of the central version of the game, that doesn’t strike me as an unreasonable way of reaching as wide an audience as possible.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Why is that ridiculous?Its only an option.If you are free to toggle it off,its not a problem.Especially if its off by default.

  30. Mr Compassionate says:

    I think the problem isn’t that the new writers hated Mass Effect 1 but rather disregarded it as “boring unmarketable nerd s**t” that needed to be rebranded for the impatient modern demographic only leaving in the bare minimum story and worldbuilding necessary to stop the vast majority of nerds from complaining. All the contradictions and laziness evident in the finale is the inevitable symptom of writers who are blissfully unaware of the details of the setting and hold those who care about such things in low regard. They likely expected the new audience would be confused or annoyed if they were expected to sit and listen to people talking too much which is why only raw, immediate facts and objectives are given screen time.The ME3 writers didn’t hate ME1, they didn’t care either way about it.

    In essence Mass Effect is like jocks spoiling a tabletop gaming group by bustling in and being like ‘oh cool are you guys playing Dungeons and Swords or whatever? Awesome can I be an Aragon? How many dragons do I have to kill before I win?’

  31. Galad says:

    “In the third game Shepard is working for humans (he's back with the Alliance) to save humans (Earth!) by fighting human space marines (Cerberus) who are lead by a human (TIM). ”

    “fighting human space marines (Cerberus) who are lead by a human (TIM). ”

    All the tons of writing and spoiler warning seasons and I just hear of this for the first time now. *facepalm* (admittedly, I didn’t pay close attention to ME2 and ME3’s SW seasons)

  32. Zekiel says:

    About worldbuilding: Yeah I totally agree with Shamus. A lot of RPGs are big into worldbuilding – Bioware do it in Dragon Age Origins and Mass Effect 1, Obsidian in Pillars of Eternity, for instance – and that can be an enormous joy. Finding out how a universe works can be tremendously satisfying, especially when you’re piecing it together from books, conversations, environmental cues like architecture – so it feels like you’re working it out yourself and being rewarded for poking about (rather than having an infodump through an overly long introductory screed or exposition character). ME3 just chucks this approach out and settles for “resolving stuff we’re set up in the other games” instead.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      So you’re saying the finale of a trilogy focused on completing the storyline instead of developing new world elements? What an unprecedented approach!

      (No seriously, read what you’re saying, this is silly.)

      1. Zekiel says:

        I see your point; perhaps I was unclear. It was absolutely right for ME3 to resolve plot threads begun earlier in the series (e.g. the Quarian-Geth conflict). But it didn’t need to abandon world building to do so.

        What I mean by world building is the little details that are probably optional but allow you to discover things about the world in which you’re living. I’m replaying Dishonored at the moment and it does this marvellously – all sorts of books and notes to find, conversations to overhead, which flesh out the world and tell you how it works. As far as I recall, ME3 didn’t really do this – when it came to the world, it generally just painted everything in broad brush strokes.

        Worldbuilding in ME3 didn’t need to introduce huge new elements to be satisfying – it would have been nice if it had just included more little details to help interested players gain insight into how the Reaper invasion worked, or how the Crucible plans had been created, or what life was like on Earth or Thessia, or why Cereberus has a military to rival the Alliance etc etc

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          I feel these elements ARE present though! On Thessia, you walk through a museum and discuss Asari religion in some detail. That wasn’t “necessary”, but it was interesting. Especially when Javik is there to say “lol, your God is a lie, here is proof.” There’s an entire movie (the highlights) you can listen to on the Citadel! Garrus and Joker let you hear the racist jokes at alien species’ expense that the different service branches have invented! There’s a new Codex with all the information you’d expect from the first two games to read through! We meet the Leviathans and get that whole deal (plus Codex entries)! The fact that you can’t read random books to me has nothing to do with it.

  33. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    The “Worldbuilding is Flavor” paragraph seems remarkably short sighted considering the tremendous amount of EXACTLY this kind of material that becomes available as soon as this very mission is completed. “This new writer doesn't care about worldbuilding and tone.” This is just… super untrue. The tone of the game has been very clear up to this point and worldbuilding is coming. The fact that it didn’t come “fast” enough is an odd complaint.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not really,considering that in me1 you got it from the start.Whenever something was introduced,you got to ask a bunch of questions about it.In me3,most of it is delivered via listening in to what other people are doing.Sometimes(on normandy) that works,but usually….it doesnt.

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        The “listening to people triggers quests” thing is… sort of good, sort of bad. It tamps down on the awkwardness of “hey, first human Spectre, what school should we send our kid to?” from ME1 that was just silly. I think they should have used the Spectre Terminal more. Very occasionally, C-Sec will send you email asking for your opinion or your help. A majority of the random helper quests could have been offloaded into that with SOME appropriate ones still being ambient.

        I won’t argue against the opening of ME1 being this perfect example. I think it has a barrel full of issues of its own AND they’re not in competition with each other really. My point is simply that “learning how people feel about and are reacting to this dramatic situation” is where ME3 lives and breathes. Complaining about not having it yet is more ADD than the “casuals” who supposedly made everything get dumbed down.

        1. guy says:

          No, this part goes on for entirely too long. Checking spoiler warning, they left this moon partway through episode 7, or two hours and twenty minutes in, and in general most people’s first playthroughs will be noticeably slower than a Spoiler Warning playthrough because they want to look for upgrades and haven’t played through the area before and very well might not be a Vanguard. So probably a typical time period is at least three hours and that’s plenty of time for someone who wants worldbuilding conversations to get frustrated and quit because it seems like the game doesn’t have any.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            “I quit after 25 minutes of the Godfather. I expected a mob story, but it was just some boring wedding!” That’s the percentage we’re talking about here of the total game. This isn’t “20+ hours of running down a box corridor” from FFXIII we’re talking about. It’s one bad mission (Earth), followed by one decent but linear mission (Mars), followed by one GOOD mission (Palaven) before the game opens up completely for the rest of the run time. I really don’t think they were asking too much and don’t think allowing you to run off to the Citadel before Palaven would have made a quality difference to the game overall.

    2. Flip says:

      That’s like saying your dinner will be better when you get the salt 3 hours after it started.

      Also I would like to point out that in ME 2 worldbuilding started on the Lazarus Base where you can talk to Jacob and Miranda. In ME 1 you get Anderson and Nihlus.

      Since when is “It gets better later.” an excuse for bad writing?

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        No it’s like complaining about the appetizer and saying you actually came for the entree. And then the entree comes out immediately afterwards and you are revealed as an impatient goose. Maybe the appetizer could have been better, sure. But if the entree is still good then… deal with it?

        And eh, the first game starts slow and loses people by the Citadel (no really, this happens A LOT). The next two open explosively and are WAY more popular. I would say Bioware upped their pacing game, if not the finer details of those openings.

  34. Radkatsu says:

    This is in response to Shamus’ comment here:

    Seems when you hit a certain amount of nested comments it simply stops showing the reply link, odd.

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I wrote a lengthy rambling post on roughly the subject of this, understanding our way out of the problem rather than attempting to bring military might to bear. Warning, Babylon 5 spoilers as I use it to compare against ME3’s ending sequences.
    (I didn’t actually link to it a couple of weeks back when I wrote it as I generally dislike dropping links to my own site in other people’s comments, but eh, it’s directly related and was inspired by Shamus’ own series, so I guess it’s fine.)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its by design.Shamoose has set a cap in how deep the nesting can go.You can still reply to a comment that is step above it.

  35. Roger says:

    Pretty sure that’s EA at work. Notice how Crysis 2 did the same thing. The first game had you fight all these crazy aliens: flying octopii an whatnot. In 2, they were all replaced mostly with regular generic bipeds.

    With ME, same thing: in the first game, most enemies are Geth, fairly distinctly non-human and in all kinds of forms. ME2, it’s scaled down to generic bipedal aliens that more resemble human forms and in ME3, it’s usually actual humans and husks.

    Together with adding regular reloading and going away with more RPG-like mechanics, it was obviously done to appeal to the COD crowd. I don’t quite understand how anyone would think that ‘a sequel to a sci-fi shooter / sci-fi RPG’ should actually be a COD clone, but there you go. EA at work. Pretty sure the emphasis on humans came from there.

    That said, I did like the aspect where everyone is being turned into husks so people (and aliens) have to fight their friends. It certainly does make the Reapers more scary.

  36. Smehur says:

    Lore note: it’s not ‘One of the Turian worlds’ — it’s the turian world. Their home planet, Palaven. And it’s not ‘one general’ or one of the Primarchs — it’s the Primarch, the one and only supreme commander of all turian armies (and basically the leader of their entire race). And the moon where he’s stuck is their most valuable military intelligence asset.

    Granted, Mass Effect 3 probably doesn’t tell you all (if any) of that, but it’s been in the codex from the first game. It’s not quite as stupid as you make it sound.

    In general, gone are the days of ‘I’m not mad. I’m perfectly rational and not throwing stones at all.’ You’re obviously angry/emotional and you’re making more omissions/mistakes than before. I don’t blame you; it’s understandable. But I preferred the academic tone. This is a bit like those late seasons in a good series that’s been on for too long, where all the overplayed story threads finally start to snap and turn into melodrama.

  37. Taxi says:

    Hello from the future!

    Just wanna address this orbital bombardment thingy… I think that would be a terrible idea for the reapers in fact. A reaper in orbit is a target for a mountain of nukes that could be sent their way, AND the space fleets.

    In contrast what sci-fi usually tells us, you can certainly have larger and more destructive weapons on a planet than on a space ship.

    On the other hand if a reaper is down on the surface – well you’re not gonna nuke or bombard it with WOMDs because you’d be nuking your own territory. Maybe that’s what the Turians did and that’s why their planet is on fire.

  38. Mr. Wolf says:

    Wow, Garrus managed to use his family connections to get instated as head of a reaper investigation task force? If only somebody had done this a few years earlier maybe we could’ve learned something useful!

    I really can’t love Garrus like so many other fans do. I can’t respect somebody who sees a problem as big as the reapers, has the means to seek a solution, and then spends years ignoring it. Given the option of talking to his estranged father or the potential destruction of all civilisation, he chose the latter.

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