Mass Effect Retrospective 38: Cerberus Unlimited

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 10, 2016

Filed under: Mass Effect 208 comments

There’s a distress call from Grissom Academy, an Alliance military school for gifted young Biotics. Shepard goes to help and finds out Cerberus is attacking the school.

Grissom Academy

What is going on with the lighting on the central dome? That seam down the middle makes no sense.
What is going on with the lighting on the central dome? That seam down the middle makes no sense.

On my first playthrough of this game, I’d lost my Mass Effect 2 saves in a computer migration and so I had to use the default world state, in which Jack is dead. If we make the assumption that anyone using the default character is new to the seriesWhich is not remotely a guarantee, but it’s probably a better policy than just assuming all players are returning ones., then this actually makes sense. Jack is a tricky character and it would be awkward to try to explain who she was in the second game just so the player could appreciate her transformation here in Mass Effect 3.

But this series is based on a full play-through of all three games, and so I got to see the different ways BioWare handled the fact that most of your Mass Effect 2 crew might be dead. They put a lot of work into it, and it really does make for a better world if you take the time to import the saves.

Here at Grissom Academy, Jack has somehow joined the teaching staff. She’s trying to clean up her potty mouth and has ditched the nihilism and random violence in favor of being a mentor to young adults.

I feel like I should complain about this transformation, since I gave the Mass Effect 2 writer a hard time for doing the same thing to Liara. But here the transformation feels a little less extreme, and a little better supported by the events of the previous game. She actually did soften a bit in her character arcAssuming you did her loyalty mission. I suppose it helps that New Jack is just as interesting as Old Jack, while the same can’t be said of LiaraLiara’s transformation took a really unique character and turned her into another swaggering hardass, and the story is already brimming with hardasses.. Moreover, you can still see Jack’s old personality poking through. Her evolution is a continuation of changes begun in the previous game, and not an out-of-nowhere off-screen re-write. Also – and maybe this is the most important difference – the transformation is properly acknowledged in dialog.

Well shit, Jack. Maybe YOU should write the next game.
Well shit, Jack. Maybe YOU should write the next game.

Jack also gives us yet another, “Wow, you were really stupid to trust Cerberus!” conversation. That wasn’t a lot of fun when we had it with Kashley a couple of hours ago, and it has not been improved through repetition.

Once again we come back to the problem of trusting the writer. In the last game, the plot revolved around working for Cerberus, which a lot of players thought was thematically wrong, an obviously bad idea, and poorly justified. They spent the whole game shaking their head saying, “This is dumb and I shouldn’t be forced to do it.”.

And then when we come to these arguments. What do we assume the author trying to say?

1) Yes, the Cerberus plot of Mass Effect 2 was poorly justified. As an apology, here is an acknowledgement of those problems in dialog.


2) Ha ha! Fooled you! You thought working for Cerberus was a good idea and you got pwned by TIM!

I want to believe #1 is the case, but the writer doesn’t make it easy. Shepard never acknowledges how trapped he was, or how he thought it was a bad idea, or anything else to show that he saw this coming. He can either express regret that he messed things up, or he can arrogantly shut the other person down. But he never uses the one defense that would match how the player feels, which is that he did it because it was the only course of action available to him. And in this argument Jack, not Shepard, gets the last word in. The writer has already passed on a lot of opportunities to patch over problems with the Cerberus plotLike claiming that The Alliance / Council was working on the Reaper threat, but couldn’t tell you. Or patching in some good Cerberus deeds to explain the pro-Cerberus people you meet. Or making sure the plot of ME2 had some kind of meaningful payoff here in ME3.. Maybe the author was trying to fix the mess of Mass Effect 2, but it feels like they’re just taunting the player for “falling” for their all-too-obvious Cerberus betrayal. If that’s the case, then this is a giant middle finger to those fans. (Which for the most part are fans of Mass Effect 1.)

This location has a lot of fleshed-out peasants for us to meet. They even have a little dollop of characterization and aren't just exposition dispensers.
This location has a lot of fleshed-out peasants for us to meet. They even have a little dollop of characterization and aren't just exposition dispensers.

I’m not sure how justified it is for the Alliance to hire an infamous, dangerous criminal (remember you bust Jack out of prison in Mass Effect 2) who has “worked for Cerberus” as the most recent item on her resume. But then, the Alliance is all over the place in this game and don’t seem to have an identity. Admiral Hackett’s practical military Alliance is very different from the bureaucratic “we can’t be bothered to look after our abducted colonies because we have to polish our ships” Alliance, which is distinct from “We can’t talk to you because you have Cerberus cooties” Alliance which doesn’t mesh well with the, “Hey! You’re a barely sane biotic! Wanna teach our kids? No swearing, though!” Alliance.

One part of the Alliance put Shepard under some sort of arrest for maybe working for Cerberus, and another part of the Alliance put fellow Cerberus alumni Jack and Joker into prestigious positions. If nothing else, the Alliance has a massive, untreatable case of multiple personality disorder that needed lampshading.

In any case, Grissom Academy feels a little Mass Effect 1-ish. The dialog wheel is still pretty lean. If it were up to me, I’d love to have some more details filled in on this place. But the students certainly qualify as peasants – which I mean as praise in this context – and it’s really nice that we get to meet them instead of just step over their corpses on our way to the next gunfight, like on Mars. These students have names and relationships with each other and histories and opinions, which are all revealed organically over the course of the mission.

I also really appreciate that the vehicle section isn’t mandatory.


I bet the Salarian tourism board has been fighting for centuries to de-classify this place. Imagine how much you could make if you turned this research facility into a hotel.
I bet the Salarian tourism board has been fighting for centuries to de-classify this place. Imagine how much you could make if you turned this research facility into a hotel.

So we’re off to the secret Salarian research outpost on Sur’kesh. The Salarians have a single fertileThis game really can’t figure out if the Genophage is a sterility plague or not. Krogan female, thanks to the genophage cure cooked up in Mass Effect 2.

The dependency chain works like this: Shepard needs the Turians to retake EarthOr perhaps just slow down the Reaper conquest of Earth? I have no idea what he’s thinking.. The Turians want the Krogan to help retake Palaven. The Krogans want a cure for the Geophage from the Salarians. Thankfully, I don’t think the Salarians want anythingThere is actually a cool Mass Effect 1 decision that crops up here, which impacts how the Salarians feel about you..

The best part of this mission is the tense standoff and the quiet downtime before the shooting starts. When Wrex arrives, the Salarians get really touchy. This installation is their CIA headquarters / Area 51. This is where they collect their intelligence and conduct their research, so having a Krogan drop in is bound to alarm some people. It gets smoothed out, you get some fun dialog, and you even get to see KirraheI didn’t talk about him in this series, but he’s a fan-favorite character that appeared on Virmire..

You get to talk to MordinOR a replacement character, if Mordin died in Mass Effect 2. and that’s always a treat. The left side of the dialog wheel opens up, the dialog crackles, and it’s generally a great time.

And then Cerberus attacks.

Mandatory Cerberus

Travel the galaxy! Discover strange new worlds! Meet exiting new alien species! And then shoot waves and waves of generic dudes in body armor.
Travel the galaxy! Discover strange new worlds! Meet exiting new alien species! And then shoot waves and waves of generic dudes in body armor.

Doesn’t Cerberus have some other goals? What are they trying to do here? Back on Mars, TIM tried to steal the plans for the Crucible. I get it, TIM likes technology. Fine. But he was also trying to erase the data so nobody else could get it. How would that have benefited his cause? What would have happened if that erasure had worked? Who would have built the Crucible then? Nobody? Was that his plan? Or would he have built it himself with the massive GDP he pulls out of his ass? Why didn’t he build one anyway, since it’s so central to his plans? Why is he invading this planet completely unrelated to his core goals?

TIM didn’t exist in the first game. In the second game, he’s abruptly introduced as a super-famous spymaster running a clandestine terrorist / research faction. Now here in Mass Effect 3 he’s a bonkers supervillain leading a galactic superpower.

Why is this character so central to the story when his goals and motivations are all either undefined or contradictory?

The structure and themes of this game are a mess, if they can be said to exist at all. The game opens with the Reaper invasion, priming the audience for a fight against the Biggest Threat Ever. Some Kid Dies, Anderson stays behind, and Shepard is given his mission to Save Us All from the Reapers. And then the Reapers are hurried off-stage and stop being relevant for several hours so we can shoot space marines.

The plot of Mass Effect 3 is a disjointed mess of stories (some of them quite good, mind you) working at cross purposes. We’ve got a Reaper invasion, a full-scale war with Cerberus on multiple fronts, the resolution to the Genophage plot, the resolution to the Geth vs. Quarian plot, the “Kashley becomes a Spectre” plot, the Crucible plot, the Take Back Earth plot, and the resolution to a half dozen character and squadmate stories. Some of these elements were things demanded or expected by the audience. Some of these things were simply needed to bring the overall story to a close. Some of these things were… not.

Specifically, we really didn’t need Cerberus here. You could replace every fight against Cerberus with a fight against the Reapers and it would enhance focus on the main villain, clean up a cavalcade of plot holes, and remove the need for tons of exposition. If Cerberus needed to be in this game, they could have been relegated to a single side-mission to tie up whatever plot threads the writer felt they left hanging in Mass Effect 2.

Yes Shepard, they are capable of anything. The problem is, they SHOULDN'T be. That's the Reaper's job.
Yes Shepard, they are capable of anything. The problem is, they SHOULDN'T be. That's the Reaper's job.

Cerberus is attacking Mars. Cerberus is attacking Sur’Kesh. Cerberus is attacking Grissom Academy. Cerberus is abducting civilians on Benning. Cerberus has an evil base where they’re studying Reaper tech. Cerberus has three different fronts on Tuchanka, trying to set off bombs and murder Turian soldiers. Cerberus invades the Citadel. Cerberus attacks on Thessia.

Everyone talks about the Reapers, but we spend so much time fighting Cerberus. The setting has already established an omnipresent foe with limitless resources and an excuse to attack anywhere the plot required, but the writer felt the need to create another, less relevant one. Except, Cerberus doesn’t have any reason to be attacking these sites except to be evil in the most cartoonish way possible.

Cerberus got done paying for the soldiers, the shuttle, the body armor, the fleets, the mechs, and the vast intelligence network to make this all possible. And then they realized they'd forgotten to buy guns for the troops, and had to attack with pistols.
Cerberus got done paying for the soldiers, the shuttle, the body armor, the fleets, the mechs, and the vast intelligence network to make this all possible. And then they realized they'd forgotten to buy guns for the troops, and had to attack with pistols.

Sure, you can balance a story between two villains. But that requires time and attention that this game doesn’t care to spend. There’s too much else going on here, and this story would have been much better served by more focus. They’ve mistaken complexity for depth, and the result is that neither of our villains gets the proper focus. It’s an overcomplicated mess of unfinished ideas that crash into each other rather than conclude sensibly.

But if there was one thing that would have raised the quality of the game as a whole, it would be to cut the Cerberus plot down to a single side-mission and let the Reapers have the spotlight. Sadly, I suspect that Cerberus was the only thing the writer really cared about, which is why it gets so much time and attention. The writer had a story they were obliged to write, and the story they wanted to write, and they sacrificed the former to feed the latter.

What Does Cerberus Want?

Why did Cerberus blow up those other buildings? That wasn't even part of their mission! What dicks.
Why did Cerberus blow up those other buildings? That wasn't even part of their mission! What dicks.

Cerberus has no real stake here. The Krogan warchief is here to get the last fertile female so that a cure can be engineered. This female is a closely guarded secret of the most secretive race in the galaxy. This base is one of their most secure facilities, and it’s on the Salarian homeworld. This plan to turn her over to Shepard is only a few hours old and came directly from the supreme leader of their people. And the Salarians are no doubt already on high alert due to the Reaper invasion. But here’s Cerberus, storming the planet like they’re a galactic superpower and TIM has been reading the script again.

Is TIM trying to kill this treaty? Or is he trying to prevent the genophage cure on practical grounds? Or is he just being a dick? You could argue that he’s worried about another Krogan uprising, but this all-out military assault doesn’t mesh with the clandestine Cerberus the writer was trying to sell us in the last game. While I’m not advocating having more Kai LengShh. Be patient. We’ll get to him. in this videogame, a small covert team would make a lot more sense than this.

Moreover, TIM’s ultimate goal is to take control of the Reapers. That one goal trumps all others. Once you control the Reapers, presumably that will solve all your other problems. And if you don’t, then none of this will matter. “Take control of the Reapers” is the closest thing TIM has to a goal, but everything TIM does undermines that goal. Why not let all the various factions (Alliance, Reapers, Krogan, Salarians) fight each other while you enact whatever ridiculous plan you think will secure that goal? Why not save your supplies and manpower for when they count?

Nobody discusses it and the writer never explores it because the writer isn’t designing conflicts that arise from character or philosophical differences. They’re designing gunfights, and the question of “why?” apparently never entered their mind. Nothing with regards to Cerberus is supported, explained, justified, or reasonable. The nature and motivations of Cerberus change from one scene to the next and the characters can’t even be bothered to lampshade any of it.

And the sad thing is, we’re not even to the bad parts yet.



[1] Which is not remotely a guarantee, but it’s probably a better policy than just assuming all players are returning ones.

[2] Assuming you did her loyalty mission

[3] Liara’s transformation took a really unique character and turned her into another swaggering hardass, and the story is already brimming with hardasses.

[4] Like claiming that The Alliance / Council was working on the Reaper threat, but couldn’t tell you. Or patching in some good Cerberus deeds to explain the pro-Cerberus people you meet. Or making sure the plot of ME2 had some kind of meaningful payoff here in ME3.

[5] This game really can’t figure out if the Genophage is a sterility plague or not.

[6] Or perhaps just slow down the Reaper conquest of Earth? I have no idea what he’s thinking.

[7] There is actually a cool Mass Effect 1 decision that crops up here, which impacts how the Salarians feel about you.

[8] I didn’t talk about him in this series, but he’s a fan-favorite character that appeared on Virmire.

[9] OR a replacement character, if Mordin died in Mass Effect 2.

[10] Shh. Be patient. We’ll get to him.

From The Archives:

208 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 38: Cerberus Unlimited

  1. Dovius says:

    Honestly, hiring Jack to teach their biotics isn’t that far out of character for the Alliance, since they have a history of hiring Turian mercs so hardcore they kill some of the kids they teach. Pretty sure that killing one of them is a major part of Kaiden’s military background and backstory.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      I think contracting turians was done more or less out of desperation, in the early days after first contact. Humanity had literally no knowledge of biotics, so they hired out to an experienced third party. I’m sure they didn’t approve of the turians abusing trainees to death, but Kaiden described BAaT as a really shitty program that put everyone involved in a bad light afterwards. (Coincidentally, Grissom Academy was meant to be the much-improved successor to BAaT. So they hire… Jack. Okay.) I can see the whole shebang as a case of the military putting eagerness ahead of good sense.

      Of course, I’m not sure there’s a good reason given why they didn’t try to contract the asari instead of the turians. I’d suspect there might be, since it’s such an obvious alternative that the writers would seem pressured to explain it away, especially in the days of ME1 when they cared. But it doesn’t come to mind at the moment.

      1. Grudgeal says:

        The Turians possibly worked for cheaper. Or they had better CVs. Or they were using the same implants as humanity. Or they had a better service provider that could quickly get them a whole stable with teaching experience rather than having to individually headhunt space babes. Or maybe the Asari way of learning biotics is so based on the species’ natural affinity that it’s useless to train non-affinity species like humans with it. It doesn’t strike me as much of a plot hole.

        Similarly, I could imagine Jack maybe getting hired because this puts her in a ‘safe’ spot relatively speaking — Grissom academy is already designed to deal with biotics and gifted kids and possibly has the neccessary infrastructure and security measures to contain Jack compared to putting her in an unsecured facility, and she may have gotten hired because of her Cerberus expertise.

        1. Poncho says:

          We also don’t know how Jack started. Maybe she was a “consultant” or something and just kept butting in on the lessons, so they made her a teacher if she promised to clean herself up.

          I doubt “murderhobo” was in her resume, either. Shepard could have even recommended her, and given Shepard’s reputation, that would probably override any doubts by the people running the school. It’s a really minor issue.

          1. The Rocketeer says:

            I took it for granted that Jack was a notorious criminal, someone who not only couldn’t hide their past but whose reputation would inevitably precede them in the worst way. Nevermind what’s on her resume; Jack doesn’t have a resume. She’s a lifelong blackguard. Her entire history is criminal or worse, and the only things that possibly redeem her to the audience are things the Alliance doesn’t believe and wouldn’t care about.

            We know Shepard didn’t recommend her; Jack’s presence at Grissom isn’t known to or expected by Shepard. And I don’t think “Shepard’s reputation” would automatically override squat, given that Shepard’s reputation never accomplished squat at the best of times, and at the time, Shepard’s reputation was “arrested for collaborating with terrorists and/or annihilating a populated star system for incredible reasons.”

            I liked Jack’s character in ME2, I like her character in ME3, and I like the transition from the one to the other. But her position with the Alliance really did need a handwave stronger than, “They want me to stop saying ‘fuck’ all the time.” It’s only a “really minor issue” if, like the writers, you don’t care at all.

            1. Poncho says:

              Yeah, true, I guess it just doesn’t feel like a big deal because there’s so much shittiness to go around in ME3 that one little turd doesn’t seem so obvious.

              ME1 is chalk full of these little inconsistencies, but they don’t seem obvious for the opposite reasons. We don’t really have time to stop and think about them with everything else going on, and most of what’s going on in ME1 is cool enough to overshadow the quibbles. The quibbles don’t become a big deal until story starts swinging sacks of them in your face, like ME3 does.

              1. Phill says:

                I think it’s been said before in this series, but whether any particular logic failure on the part of the plot is a minor quibble that doesn’t bother you or a total turd in the face, probably depends on whether the game as a whole is engaging your suspension of disbelief or not.

            2. Joe Informatico says:

              How many crimes did Jack perpetuate in Alliance space? She’s wrecked Cerberus and Blue Sun shit but those guys are far worse scum than her, and yet a ship with the Cerberus logo can traipse all over Citadel space . If all of Jack’s criminal activity happened in the Terminus Systems, it’s possible no one in Alliance or Citadel space cares about her past. The US government employed literal war criminals; it’s not a stretch to think the Alliance would overlook a bit of murder and larceny that happened halfway across the galaxy, especially if it means employing the most advanced human biotic in existence and some insights into Cerberus’ procedures.

              1. Nidokoenig says:

                Not to mention, sharing information across a galaxy of trillions of people is basically impossible. Any reference she can offer isn’t getting checked, and if she can prove she was experimented on by Cerberus through secret files and then worked with Shepherd, she should be good, sympathy vote and ability. How quick is the fact that Shepherd is working with Cerberus going to permeate through Alliance military channels across intragalactic distances and between departments?

              2. Scourge says:

                “Jack, also known as Subject Zero, is a notorious criminal whose crimes include piracy, kidnapping, vandalism and murder.”

                “She ran with various gangs, became a pirate, crashed a space station into a hanar moon (becoming wanted for vandalism in the process), and at one point joined a cult, keeping her head shaved even after her departure. ”

                That is pretty much all from the wiki.

                1. Nidokoenig says:

                  “Man, fuck those jellyfish, has she done anything serious?”

            3. Shoeboxjeddy says:

              It’s probably unprecedented in a military related operation, but maybe Jack’s teaching was considered community service? Like how Black Hat hackers who agree to do work for the government can sometimes have their crimes forgiven. So Jack’s status as one of the best Biotics out of all Humanity was considered worthy collateral for all the bad things she had done. Plus some of her crimes were against other criminals or justifiable self defense, if you dig into these things (some of them were just bad though).

          2. Fizban says:

            I have no idea if the me3 dialogue supports it, but I would think Jack is the perfect person for the job. The alliance wants to put the bad stuff behind them, and Jack has a vested interested in making sure that happens. She sought revenge on Cerberus for what they did to her (masquerading as Alliance iirc), wiped their facility off the map, and grew a little in the process. Maybe she grew enough to realize the best revenge, the only revenge that will stick with you, is personally making sure that it never happens again. Doesn’t matter who approached who, they end up with a top-tier badass for both teaching and watchdog purposes.

      2. Studoku says:

        The Turians kicked humanity’s asses in the first contact war while the asari danced on tables and served drinks. I know who I’d contract military training to.

        1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

          I vaguely recall it being mentioned that the turians were approached because of the fear that the Asari would shut down the human biotic experiments.

      3. Gaius Maximus says:

        I’m pretty sure there was a conversation in ME1 where Kaiden explained that going to the asari would have meant going public and making humanity look weak, whereas they could get a turian, (or at least this particular turian), under the table.

        1. Vanilka says:

          This. I recall Kaidan saying that the Alliance would have come across as weak if things had gone public, as well. Or so they thought back then. Hiring mercenaries instead of actual teachers implies they didn’t care much about going official, as well. Kaidan even says they had no extranet. The Mass Effect: Foundation comic (if it can be given any weight) shows the students had no connection with the outside world, not even with their families, for months and they were severely punished for trying to contact them. So, yeah, they were shady bastards.

      4. They didn’t contact asari because the League of Ladies for the Protection of Children and Morality didn’t want the kids exposed to the bad influence of sex workers.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      I never bought Jack as a teacher. If you went through every named character in the Mass Effect Universe and asked me to pick the person least likely to be hired as a teacher, or the person who would make the worst possible teacher, I would pick Jack for both. I’m pretty sure there’s a named Varren at one point and I still pick Jack for worst teacher.

      I appreciate that unlike Liara, they put any work into selling the transformation, but it was just too much to swallow. Her resume includes “Traumatized child experiment”, “Space pirate”, “Cultist”, “Unrepentent mass murderer” and “Terrorist”. Handwaving the issue of why anyone would hire her (and that’s a huge issue to just handwave), nothing about her ME2 presentation suggested she would be suited to a teaching position. In 2011 if you asked me what would happen if Jack took up teaching my top three answers would’ve been “She gets frustrated and quits within a week”, “She kills someone by accident” and “She gets frustrated and kills someone on purpose”.

      1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        It’s a well worn cliche that “talented troublemaker with a bad childhood” eventually becomes “teacher with a heart of gold to OTHER troubled kids”. They just leaned into that. I would say killing someone on purpose is out since she never hurt ANYONE on the Normandy, despite very much wanting to in the case of Miranda. So clearly she is familiar with the idea of self control. Killing someone by accident is possible, BUT considering her background with adults abusing her as a child, I think she would be MORE careful than other adults with her kids. (Or she would become an abuser herself, but they chose to go very far away from that sad possibility.)

        1. Richard H. says:

          This is pretty on target, to me. The reason Jack’s transformation isn’t enormously ridiculous is because it’s a time-worn trope. It’s also a trope, for a reason: it’s heartwarming to see the screw-up get his or her shit together… and twice as heart-warming to see said getting-shit-together involve helping others get their shit together.

          Also, I feel like it casts her in a parental role in a way that her getting randomly pregnant and actually having a kid wouldn’t have… if the story had even had time for that (which it didn’t).

    3. Vect says:

      I just assumed that it was just blatant nepotism from Hackett/Anderson’s part, who gave her the position since she worked with Shepard and was presumably relatively cooperative since they’re basically always ready to pull whatever strings they can for Shepard.

    4. GoStu says:

      I didn’t find it that odd at all, but accept that it could be one of those things that’d go either way. Think about the implied stuff between ME2’s ending and ME3’s start: Shepard shows back up to the Alliance with his (stolen from Cerberus) Normandy SR2, some amount of crewmen, a highly illegal but also massively useful AI, roughly a dozen commandos with long lists of accomplishments, and a fresh victory over the Collectors. While Shepard may or may not have turned something over to Cerberus, he’s also just flipped them the bird & snagged their finest warship and turned it and its state-of-the-art hardware back to Alliance control.

      Most of those commando types it’s easiest to just let leave. Grunt was born in a tube and never left until Shepard (maybe) let him out. Keeping & charging Tali would be difficult. I wouldn’t want to hold onto Samara for more than her “one day, then I start killing” limit.

      Jack, though… if left to her own devices she’ll probably go back to being a dangerous biotic who kills and pirates for a living. I’d be tempted to offer her a nice paying job somewhere out of the way just to keep her productively under tabs.

  2. Gethsemani says:

    On the side note of Kai Leng, the character might have actually been kind-of-good had the game set him up properly. Having him show up on Sur’Kesh and just beating Shepard to the punch of getting the Krogan woman, deliver some exposition about Cerberus plans and then take-off to let his minions kill Shepard (allowing Shepard a chance to save the Krogan) would have made him much more compelling. Instead he just shows up to duel Shepard at random points as some kind of authors pet, breaking tone, theme and established in-universe logic to do his poorly executed anime rip-off stuff.

    Shit, having Kai Leng appear as early as Mars in some overheard/intercepted Cerberus transmission where he’s established as a proper Dragon that commands Cerberus forces would have also made him better. Anything but the “super-awesome-cool-interstellar-ninja-assassin”-shtick that was all he got.

    1. Grudgeal says:

      Heck, he’d make a better Mars villain than ms Sexbot. Just take her out and put the cyber-ninja in instead. You don’t even need to learn his name at this point, just make him out to be the leader of the Mars team and he escapes with a copy of the data before you arrive to stop Cerberus from burning the rest of the archive.

      1. Geebs says:

        I don’t think a problem with Mass Effect 3 exists that can be solved with More Kai Leng.

        In fact, I think it’s been conclusively proven that it’s dangerous to even try.

        1. Raygereio says:

          Actually there is such a problem: The game tries to sell the idea of Kai Leng as Shep’s nemesis. And it’s failing badly.
          In fact it’s failing so badly, that one can almost think that it’s failing intentionally and Leng is actually some weeaboo goober who we’re supposed to point and laugh at. Only the game practically screams “PLEASE TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY!” every time he shows up.

          Perhaps Kai Leng was intended to be the face of Cerberus. A focus point for the player to hate, since it’s kinda hard to have any emotion towards a group of faceless mooks. The problem though is that he & shep have a grand total of 3 interactions. And Shep immediately shakes her fist and goes all “I hate that dastardly Leng!” after the first one. While the player is just equal parts confused (because they either have no idea who Leng is, or because he doesn’t look anything like described in the novels) and annoyed (because the devs tried to make Leng appear cool at the expense of having Shep & Co look stupid).

          If Cerberus has to play a significant role in the story, then a potential fix for Leng’s character could be to make him Shep’s counterpart. Have him lead Cerberus’ charge, the same way Shep is doing for the Alliance. In other words: Have him be the guy ME3’s pre-release marketing was hyping him to be. Have him show up with a team during mission and try to mess with Shep’s goals (as neat bonus this could explain why Cerberus shows up on places like Sur’Kesh) and create mission where you try to disrupt Kai Leng’s goals.
          Have sometimes Leng score a win and sometimes take a loss. Bonus points if it can be made so this outcome is determined by the player’s input.
          And most importantly of all: Create dialogue options so that the player can express how they want their Shep to feel about Kai Leng, instead of having it shoved down your throat. Oh, and also don’t have Shep & Co suddenly become braindead during cutscenes. Seriously.

        2. Gruhunchously says:

          I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more Kai Leng.

    2. Kian says:

      The “problem” is that in Sur’Kesh, Cerberus has to lose for the plot to advance. You need to take the female and develop the cure. And the writer has no interest in putting Kai Leng in a situation where he could lose. Kai Leng is supposed to always beat you.

      1. So they give Kai Leng some mystery goal that he can achieve while you think you’re beating him by preventing him from preventing you from doing what you came here to do. This IS a major Salarian intelligence headquarters. They don’t have ANYTHING else here that Cerberus can use?

        It’d explain why Cerberus is here a lot better, too. So Shepard wins by achieving Shepard’s goal, but Kai Leng can laugh in Shepard’s face because Kai Leng also achieved Kai Leng’s goal.

        It’d be even better if they set it up so that you have some options to not pursue your goal so single-mindedly and can actually find out some of what Kai Leng was after and maybe spike him in some way that doesn’t actually defeat him but comes back to bite him later.

        You know, good writings. :D

        1. Guile says:

          I like that idea a lot. You don’t even really need to think of a thing for Leng to be after. Shep beats him, Kai Leng escapes with his life… then it cuts to Kai Leng in his ship, looking at a thumbdrive and smiling.

      2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Well hang on. Kai Leng loses at the Citadel. He escapes with his life, but in the vast majority of player outcomes, he can’t kill a Councillor (assuming you managed to get Thane OR Kirrahee to this point… which is not hard) and it’s not that hard to talk down Kashley either, so you don’t have any fatalities there either. In the WORST case for Shepard, Leng kills a Councillor and tricks Kashley into suicide-by-Shepard by doing so. But… he still fails in his primary goal and has to run off rather than confront Shepard.

        Obviously he wins at Thessia.

        And then the next time you see him, you kill him. So saying he’s “ALWAYS” supposed to beat you is 2/3rds untrue.

    3. Vermander says:

      While I agree that they failed miserably in the execution, I can appreciate what they were trying to do with Kai Leng and Cerberus in general. I don’t find the idea of struggling against a monolithic and incomprehensible enemy force like the reapers particularly satisfying. It’s impossible to really achieve any sort of victory over something like that. It’s like an earthquake or a tsunami, where you can really only hope to survive and rebuild.

      I realize most of you disagree and would prefer that the reapers be a terrifying Cthulhu-type entity who cannot be defeated or even understood by mere humans.

      That’s what I disliked the most about the Star Child sequence. I was willing to accept Shepherd dying, but I wanted to feel like I’d won, that I had actually beaten the reapers. I wanted to make the reapers feel anger, fear, or even frustration. I wanted to hear Harbinger say “how is this possible?” or “what have you done? You’ve ruined everything!”

      At least with Cerberus we got an enemy who can actually be beaten.

      1. Trix2000 says:

        Thing is, they already sort-of removed a lot of the ‘unbeatable-ness’ of the Reapers by creating and letting you shoot all their ground troops. The fact that there are Reaper forces you can fight AND win against already changes the perception and dynamic we have with the Reapers as a whole. They go from just being the massive insanely-advanced superships to being a big evil enemy faction we can push back against.

        Thinking about it, I think I pretty much treated the Cerberus troops like I did the Reaper troops anyways (not helped by TIM’s reaper-ization of them), so substituting one for the other doesn’t seem like it would make much difference. In that sense, the only value I see in Cerberus is to add some visual/tactical variety, but that could have been included WITHOUT downplaying the biggest threat we’ve been opposing all this time. Just feels like they went really overboard with Cerberus representation.

        1. wswordsmen says:

          I would argue that the damage to the Reapers is already done, and having them show up more often doesn’t hurt their threat at all. Yes it is stupid they have ground forces that can be beaten, but that was established already, showing it again doesn’t hurt more.

          Cerberus defiantly exists to crate a difference in kind of game play, but they went overboard with it and the effort that went in could have gone to different Reaper goons just as easily.

      2. Joe Informatico says:

        So what if instead of making Cerberus some kind of inexplicable galactic superpower, they were an Indoctrinated cult dedicated to hastening the arrival of the Reapers? That could have kept the Reapers as the unstoppable cosmic horrors they were originally billed at, so the goal is to prevent their arrival instead of futilely trying to kill them directly. And it still would have given the player hordes of mooks to kill. They could even still have Husks and other Reaper ground troops–imply that some cult-members who are “worthy” undergo a transformation into a form of techno-zombie.

        But no, the writers mainlined too many JRPGs back in the 90s/00s, so every RPG has to end with Killing God, whether that makes any sense or not.

        1. Nixitur says:

          So, you wanted the Mass Effect 3 writer to turn it into an actual Lovecraft story then? Could work.
          Would actually work far better than the original story, but I feel like that would have been just a bit too dark for the universe they’re going for.

          1. Incunabulum says:

            I don’t know – I think it would have fit in well enough with the universe they were going for *in the first game*.

            Back when Reapers were more natural disaster than enemy, before the whole ‘we have to destroy organics in order to prevent machines from destroying organics’ thing.

        2. Gavin says:

          My understanding was that TIM and Cerberus *were* indoctrinated and that they were fighting you based on reaper programming. Maybe I’m muddling up the plot but that’s how I remember it (and my fiance is playing through me3 now and it comes across like that). I tend to disagree with the author on the writer not knowing why Cerberus was attacking.

      3. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I can see where you’re coming from, regarding Reapers this is why I said I’d prefer if the grand finale of the entire series, rather than just part one, was destroying Sovereign (really, killing one elder alien god is enough of an achievement), consequently thwarting Reaper plans by making any action on their side impossible for centuries or millennia during which time the galaxy could grow and prepare in a way it never could before.

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      FUCK Kai leng shouldve been the protagonist of me2.Then youd have not only a properly established antagonist for shepard,but also one that you are personally invested in.

      1. ehlijen says:

        I agree. It would both give us a reason to take this clown seriously and remove all the dumb ‘but shepard, how could you work for cerberus!!!!?’ darma.

      2. Taellosse says:

        That’s…actually not a terrible idea. Far too bold for Bioware (even classic, pre-EA Bioware didn’t have the stones for something like that), but it could’ve made the whole Collectors plot work a lot better, overall. Especially if the game encouraged “Renegade” play (to at least the same extent as the first game encouraged “Paragon” play).

        It would’ve worked better in a lot of ways, too – Kai Leng gets blown up by a Collector attack 5 minutes in not because he’s a super-special snowflake, but just because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cerberus rebuilds him not because he’s “a hero, a bloody icon” but because he’s their most valuable operative (and maybe he’s a little less blown up than Shepard was, so it’s a slightly less absurd proposition), and TIM doesn’t want to lose him.

        Kai Leng goes after the Collectors both for revenge (“they blew me up!”) and because they’re snatching fringe human colonists, which the Alliance seems not to care about (even their precious Spectre Shepard is ignoring the problem!) – with the emphasis on which left to the player’s choice of Paragade. It’s far less weird to be exploring a side-story that only tangentially relates to the Reaper threat because you’re not playing Shepard, who is focused on the core danger of the Reapers themselves. There’s a far better chance the reveal that the Collectors are Reaper puppets would actually be modestly surprising this way, too.

        Perhaps most importantly, you no longer feel like working for Cerberus is thematically wrong and deeply out of character for your protagonist – Kai Leng worked for Cerberus before he was cyberized, it makes perfect sense he would continue to do so afterwards as well. You could maybe even, with some writing talent, permit the player to discover just how messed up his employer is – which maybe Kai Leng somehow hadn’t twigged to yet (this contradicts how he’s presented in the novels, but who cares about those? They’d have been written differently anyway if this was the way ME2 was going to go – Kai Leng is introduced in the one that takes place between the first 2 games, and was used as a vehicle to introduce TIM and Kai Leng both). This is not a shocking reveal to anyone that played the sidequests in ME1, but it could still work narratively if the player internalized the different perspective that comes with controlling a different character. And it’d certainly work a lot better than what we got, with TIM, Jacob, and Miranda claiming, with absolutely no supporting evidence, that Cerberus wasn’t as bad as it seemed, and that everything awful attributed to it was done by “rogue cells” (which forces any remotely critical player to conclude that TIM is either a deeply, deeply incompetent CEO, or a lying, speciesist asshole who also has no regard for the lives of his employees whatsoever).

        1. I would have played the CRAP out of this game.

          Even better, ME3 gets its own new protagonist, too, and you have to try and get Shepard and Kai Leng to work together. They, of course, spend most of the game trying to blow each other up.

          1. Taellosse says:

            That’s following the Dragon Age model. I’m not necessarily against that – I like the DA series, too (even DA2, though it was full of problems, caused mostly by being forced through development way too fast). But I’d be okay with revisiting Shepard as the protagonist in 3, or even sharing between the two at different points. I think introducing a third main character into what is ostensibly a concluding volume in a trilogy is a risky notion (it works for DA because it’s not a trilogy, just an ongoing series, each game set in the same universe but also standing on its own) – you risk the protagonist being treated like Vega (not a bad character, but nobody cared, because they’d invested all their emotional energy already). It also ends up smacking of “we’re trying to keep things approachable for new players!” which, again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but their constant efforts to do that in ME2 and 3 ended up further hurting the series as a whole. Overall, I just think the risk/reward ratio for such a move isn’t the best.

        2. Jarenth says:

          Yeah, I’d play it.

          I’d probably spend the first fifteen minutes walking Kai Leng off of cliffs and into lava, at this point, but still.

          And Mass Effect 3: The Odd Couple Edition? Hell yes I’d play that.

        3. Daath says:

          Keeping Shepard out of the story wouldn’t have gone over well with many of the fans, but maybe there would have been a way to eat the cake and have it. That is, include Shepard segments in the story, the way Witcher 3 has Ciri stories, though a considerably bigger portion. Fixed team of Kashley and Liara (if LI) or Garrus. That story then converges with Leng’s, as Shepard eventually finds out that Collectors are indeed with Reapers, and then we have the Suicide Mission with two antagonistic teams that have partly shared, partly different goals. It could go differently depending on the Paragade ratings, though to save costs most differences would have been cosmetic (like two cooperating teams deciding to split up vs. two hostile teams just moving through different routes).

          RenLeng – ParaShep: Openly hostile from the start, though perhaps one team would accidentally save the other etc.
          RenLeng – RenShep: Will initially cooperate, but one will eventually stab the other in the back.
          ParaLeng – RenShep: As above, though dialogue will have more “You think you’re better than me, you murderous hypocrite?” “Who cares? I’m a bloody icon, and you’re a third-rate hero slaving away under mouthbreathing morons.”
          ParaLeng – ParaShep: Will cooperate, and this disillusioned Leng will turn against Cerberus, destroying the base. We get an epilogue where he gets stunlanced by Miranda, with a generous serving of “I’m so sorry” if she was LI, and the game ends with TIM monologuing about how he can at least test some new tech on him. Augmented Leng is tougher enemy in ME3, but can be talked into suicide in the end.

          In most other pairings, Shepard usually wins, but if you make the right choices and move fast enough, Leng can capture the base for Cerberus. Shepard manages to escape the sterilizing blast and save his team, of course. In any case, this Leng would have history with Shepard. Some serious grudges, most likely. Or the horror of seeing a good man who went down a dark path, but did the right thing in the end, and was punished unspeakably for it.

          Instead, the writers just pulled a supa elite techno-ninja out of their posteriors. It could have still worked, if barely, but the execution of the idea was just so bad, it was actually what broke the game for me. I played ME3 with Extended Cut and Leviathan, so the ending, while bad, wasn’t actually as horrible as I expected (damning with faint praise, but still). Crucible made no sense, but almost to the end I thought that was the whole idea, and it was Reaper’s plan C – if Citadel trick doesn’t work and galaxy puts up resistance tough enough, let them build “an ancient superweapon” that turns against them. I expected Shepard to find out about it at the last minute, and then somehow have the weapon repurposed against Reapers with some more or less plausible handwaving. Of course there were no twists that would have made Crucible plot something worthwhile, but by the time that became evident, Leng had already Ruined Everything.

          1. Taellosse says:

            I think it would’ve bugged people to the same extent that not being able to play as the Warden in DA2, or either the Warden or Hawke in DA:I, bugged people – which is to say, it bothered some, but mostly they got over it (or found other things to be unhappy about, of which there were no shortage in DA2 in particular). Keep in mind this would’ve been what came out INSTEAD of ME2, not in addition, so there would’ve been no expectation at the time that Shepard would be the sole protagonist of the whole series yet.

            1. natureguy85 says:

              I think there would have been less of a problem not playing the Warden in Dragon Age 2 had it not been called “Dragon Age 2. I didn’t expect the Warden as protagonist since they can be dead, but I did expect the story to still focus on the Darkspawn. With Inquisition, I don’t think people had a right to expect either previous protagonist. It has it’s own name even if we knew the plot would be a sequel to DA2 and we’d already switched protagonists once. I suppose the end of DA2 could be seen as suggesting it.

              1. Taellosse says:

                On that front, I feel like Bioware did their due diligence, making it clear almost from the moment it was announced that DA2 was part of the same world without following exactly the same story. They put a fair amount of effort into explaining the protagonist would be a new person, that the tale of the Warden was done (and then some, since they gave players the option to revisit that character with Awakening, broken as it was in technical respects), and even that they had more stories to tell in this world than just the fight with the Darkspawn (which, given that all the lore suggested there were long periods between Blights, and the further developments related to Awakening’s plot, shouldn’t have been expected anyway, quite frankly).

                There were plenty of parts of DA2 that had problems (including, I think, designing it around a human-only protagonist), but that, I think, wasn’t one of them. People who were pissy about not getting to keep playing their Warden specifically, or were expecting Mass Effect with Blighted dragons instead of it’s own thing, were looking for the wrong things to complain about.

                1. natureguy85 says:

                  Did they? I don’t remember but good on them. My problem wasn’t that it didn’t follow the Warden but that nothing particularly interesting happened. The first game left several things to dive into, be it Morrigan’s child, the Fade, or the Black City and the origin of the Dark Spawn. That’s part of why I love Legacy so much.

                  Instead we followed Hawke the errand boy. I don’t mind the idea of a more personal story but this was no “rise to power.” Hawke gets pushed around by events more than drives them. While this can work in a story, it doesn’t go to video games well since the player is the actor.

        4. Richard H. says:

          Better yet, it solves the “where’d my gear and levels go?” problem that every sequel ever has to deal with and is probably actually why they blew Sheppard up at the beginning of the second game: he’s a completely different person, who maybe thinks he ought to be as cool as Commander Sheppard, but isn’t.

          1. Taellosse says:

            If that was the reason they blew Shepard up at the beginning of ME2, they were epically dumb about it – if you import a save from the first game, you get bonus XP that results in anywhere from 1-5 levels, depending what level your Shepard was at the end of ME1. And considering how vastly simplified and streamlined the skill system was from 1 to 2, that’s a fairly significant boost.

            Sadly, I think the reasoning behind it was even less sensible – it was to justify allowing character creation in a sequel, and to set up a scenario where an Alliance hero and Citadel Spectre would work for their precious terrorist group, regardless of the player’s attitude towards it – in other words a clumsy railroading device.

            1. Richard H. says:

              The one that always sticks in my mind is from Majora’s Mask: Link carries all his stuff with him at the beginning, and then skull kid steals it all at the beginning of the game.

              In any event, it’s a clean-slate thing, and it’s a particularly ham-handed one… while wanting to throw a bone to the people who expect importing your Sheppard to imply keeping your progression.

              1. Taellosse says:

                Yeah, I still think their primary motives lay elsewhere. There’s plenty of easier ways to strip the protagonist in a sequel of gear, and they didn’t strip Shepard of learned abilities, really (insofar as it was possible to translate from one game’s systems to another). Up to and including something maddening like outright theft during a cutscene (or capture and imprisonment, which I’ve also seen done a few times).

                Of course, something for game designers to consider is NOT taking away progress from one game to the next. I always appreciated that aspect of Soul Reaver 2 – Raziel (the protagonist of both Soul Reaver games, and one of the two protagonists of Defiance, the last installment in the Legacy of Kain franchise that got made) retains all the new powers he acquired over the course of the previous game when the sequel begins (with the exception of some optional-to-acquire spells that were removed altogether from play in the sequel) – he spends Soul Reaver 2 learning new abilities above and beyond the ones he had before (unfortunately, Defiance has him kind of redoing the same thing again to a large degree – he still has the abilities from the first game, but has to get new versions of most of the ones from 2 all over again).

      3. Guile says:

        That would’ve been a neat idea too.

        So many paths not taken…

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Yup.With a douchy attitude.And irritating cutscene powers.

        1. ehlijen says:

          And actual honest to god plot shields.

  3. Jokerman says:

    “But if there was one thing that would have raised the quality of the game as a whole, it would be to cut the Cerberus plot down to a single side-mission and let the Reapers have the spotlight.”

    Yeah, they even have a good place for it… they could of had Cerberus show up in Miranda’s mission. leave it at that. Purely from a gameplay perspective, They were more fun to fight than the reapers though.

    1. Poncho says:

      I think this is another area where design decisions are influencing narrative decisions, which is very dangerous for a game; you can never really separate the two, because your story is always limited to and has to explain the real-time action of the game, but ME3 goes so far out of the narrative-driven sphere and into the gameplay-driven sphere that it dilutes the entire experience.

      I love the combat in ME3, it’s one of the few Bioware games that was actually fun between the story bits, outside of their classic RPGs (I just love making broken D&D characters), so it’s kind of a conflicting experience. It’s fun, but it’s so WRONG that it’s sad and souring.

    2. Arstan says:

      I heard somewhere, that they didn’t have time and bugdet to get 2 different types of battle mooks for rachni/no rachni choices. So designing a whole set of cerberus just so they can be set in one mission surely was not possible. Those design restrictions seem very rational, but because of them ME3 is so stupid sometimes – because it does not play around those restrictions at all.

      1. Mike S. says:

        They could certainly have altered the ratio of Cerberus fights to Reaper ground troops fights. They also had the geth enemies who are only encountered in one chapter of the story, and since they had them in multiplayer, they could have done Collectors as well. So the reliance on Cerberus as a primary enemy was a deliberate story choice. And even though I like the game a lot, I think it wasn’t a wise one– scaling Cerberus up to galactic superpower redlines even my WSOD.

        If they wanted a foe that wasn’t all husk variants, maybe have the Reapers directly indoctrinate one of the existing powers. The batarians are the obvious choice– they were a direct challenger of Earth’s to begin with, and given the kind of tech Saren or the Collectors had could plausibly be upgraded into a match for Citadel forces.

        Even nastier might be to turn one of the Council powers into quislings– the reason the asari councilor won’t attend your summit is that they’ve already made a separate “peace” thanks to a combination of indoctrination and false assurances.

    3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      I suspect, based on what Javik says, the Cerberus is really standing in for the indoctrinated humans -without the confusion of having people in Alliance uniforms shooting at you.

      Of course the game makes a hash of this by implying that TIM isn’t fully indoctrinated until late in the game, and the fact that the “control” ending is viable, and the fact if it is true that Cerberus is indoctrinated then Shepard was probably working for them while they were indoctrinated in ME2 and that has some fascinating implications we aren’t going to think about because…

      Oh, look, a reaper. Let’s shoot it!

  4. Tizzy says:

    Do we really think the focus on Cerberus is writer-driven? Or could it be that the devs decided that the player should face off against human opponents? For reasons. And that turned into fight Cerberus?

    As much as we love focusing on the writers work here, it’s hard to imagine a context where they would have such an impact on the design of a AAA game. Even at Bioware.

    1. Chauzuvoy says:

      Yeah. I get the sense that the Cerberus mook enemies were designed first, and encounters designed around them largely because they were fun to fight, and then the writer had to explain why Cerberus was in that place to be shot. Though why the game didn’t just commit to making the big twist on Mars be explicitly “Cerberus has been subverted and directly works for the reapers, even if TIM doesn’t think so” I don’t know. It feels like they were trying to make him into Saren this time around, advancing the goals of the Reapers while deluding himself into thinking he’s undermining them. And that makes things make more sense, but all that crap about Cerberus experimenting on and trying to control the reapers comes way too late and undoes that perfectly sensible idea, as does the fact that nobody in the game really seems to work with that conclusion.

      1. Mintskittle says:

        I imagine it’s also difficult to design a proper man-shoots game where the enemy is the size of a skyscraper and mows down civilizations like wheat in the field. Can’t do man-shoots with no mans to shoot.

        1. guy says:

          Yeah, but that’s not a good reason for the approach they took. What the setup calls for is a “Servants Of The Ascension” faction; inhabitants of the galaxy who openly worship the Reapers as gods and want to bring the glory of perfection to all. Obviously they’d pretty much all be Indoctrinated, and could support any arbitrary mix of enemy types; if the designers really wanted to get fancy they could make a full spread for each species and have some fights be with a Turian force that defected as a unit and others be against a mix from several or all species.

          Instead they have Cerberus basically doing that but the game pretends they’re pursuing their own goals.

        2. Trix2000 says:

          But they MADE plenty of Reaper ground forces to shoot. A whole bunch of them!

          I could see having Cerberus troops for some variety (I don’t think I’d want to shoot Reapers ALL the time), but there’s no reason they had to be the primary option for “Let’s have a bunch of standard manshoots here!”

          1. Poncho says:

            There are also plenty of other ways to differentiate combat: Level design is a big one, but you can also have different sequences like a ticking bomb, anti-aircraft, dueling snipers/biotics/technician/knife fight depending on Shepard’s class…. lots of cool stuff could be different than just “shoot this enemy and keep your distance, make sure to take cover if they do this rage thing.” Cerberus are the most varied enemy type because they have lots of variety, but that’s not an excuse for poor writing when you can easily overcome a lack of variety with other things.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I think it was writer driven.Someone mentioned that reapers were not meant to appear in me2 at all,and I believe that.If you look at 2 and 3 and remove the reapers from both,you get only a slightly changed story.This leads me to believe that they had this idea revolving around cerberus for me2 and me3,and only added reapers later because me1 was so well received.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Consider that Cerberus is narratively nearly non-existent in the first game. They are defined with broad strokes, given pretty much no named NPCs and are relegated to a series of optional sidequests (except for that bit where they cross with the character origin… or does that only happen for survivor Shep?). If ME2 was the first game in the series then maybe they could sell this idea that Cerberus is an “outside the law” organization that really just wants to help humans that the racist aliens and the Alliance bureaucrats will do nothing for, only to reveal them as human supremacy extremists with no morals in the final stretch, but that ship has sailed and we get this ridiculous parade of rogue cells… To me it felt as if someone who wanted to tell the story of Cerberus came in a game too late and hijacked the series, though I will admit that the possibility that Reapers were meant to no longer directly affect the story after the first game and were instead forcefully injected into the plot would put the whole mes in an interesting light.

  5. Tizzy says:

    I wouldn’t mind the chance, one day, in an RPG, to be chewed out by someone for my past actions, only for them to conclude with something along the lines of: “You know what? These are troubled times. It’s hard to know what the best course of action is. I’m upset by your choices, but I really can’t hold them against you, you clearly felt like you had no choice.”

    Just once.

    1. Poncho says:

      I can’t recall specific conversations, but the characters in Dragon Age: Inquisition had a lot of air of this. “I don’t like your choices, but there’s a lot on your plate, Inquisitor. And you’re really our only hope, so I’ll follow you.” Kind of thing happened a lot.

      1. IFS says:

        I can recall a specific example, if you choose to ally with the mages early on Cassandra disapproves. But when you talk to her about it she tells you that a choice needed to be made and that she’s glad you were willing to make it (paraphrasing a bit).

    2. Fizban says:

      I also like the idea, except I feel like it’s already been used. Instead of “you made a hard choice and they don’t hold it against you,” my gut says it’s used as “you did something straight up obviously evil but the game isn’t allowed to punish you so they feign ignorance.” Or the usual “you disobeyed orders to do something noble and it worked so we’ll let it slide,” which is a bit different and still done to death.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Does it count when its one person chewing you out and another defending you?Because in hordes of the underdark the big bad tries to make your allies betray you for whatever reason,and they can choose to stay with you just because they like you so much.

      Or,you know,you can force them to stay on your side with brainwashing.Both are viable.

      1. John says:

        It’s kind of sad that Bioware waited until the very end of the game to make Persuade a valuable skill.

    4. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      That is essentially what Garrus says if you deny him his revenge in ME2, but then talk him down with a high Paragon or Renegade score. “I HATE that you did that, but I can try to understand it and still work with you because I trust you.”

  6. Daemian Lucifer says:

    and so I got to see the different ways BioWare handled the fact that most of your Mass Effect 2 might be dead.

    You seem to be missing a word there.

    Though I dont mind having mass effect 2 being dead.

    1. Tizzy says:

      I considered pointing this out as well, but do you think what this retrospective really needs is more words?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Of course.Thats what we are here for.Moar woards!

      2. Trix2000 says:

        If we were afraid of more words, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. :)

    2. Sleeping Dragon says:

      And if we’re doing this the 5th screenshot’s alt text (the one right below the “Mandatory Cerberus” headline) has “exiting alien species” which I assume is meant to be “exciting”. Though I will admit that meeting aliens and learning about them is largely absent from the third game.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shepard never acknowledges how trapped she was, or how she thought it was a bad idea, or anything else to show that she saw this coming.

    Or that she used every opportunity she had to undermine cerberus.

    Worse yet,the game doesnt do anything with those either.No matter how much you endeavored to undermine cerberus,they are still in the same spot as if you helped them all the way.

    Like claiming that The Alliance / Council was working on the Reaper threat, but couldn't tell you.

    And its not like they hand think about that.Because joker specifically mentions this.Which is one of the most infuriating sentences in the whole series.So the writers thought about doing the smart thing,but decided to do the dumb thing because….?You cant even claim its laziness,since they weave the whole thing into that conversation.

    1. tremor3258 says:

      Everything on the ‘nope, the Council really wasn’t doing anything at all’ is perhaps the most infuriating decision in ME3 – especially when it was obvious that all sorts of tech upgrades were being ripped out of Sovereign’s carcass in 2.

      1. Ben says:

        I remember reading some fanfic that postulated that the Citadel, being Reaper made itself, had indoctrinated the council, and possibly other highly-placed individuals who spent enough time near the council chamber. While I’m sure this was not intended by the writers, it’s actually a great way of covering up plot-holes; it’s plausible (given what we know about Reaper tech), and it neatly explains all of the repeated “face-palm” moments when the council, Udina, etc. act in ways that are obviously counter to the interests of the galaxy.

        1. Mike S. says:

          The problem with the theory is that it proves too much: if the Citadel could do that, how did the first game happen? Sovereign’s entire need could be satisfied by asking the Council nicely to activate the relay pretty please.

          Of course, once indoctrination via Reaper artifacts (as opposed to actually having to spend time inside a Reaper) is a thing, we have to ask why the Citadel doesn’t indoctrinate people.

          1. tremor3258 says:

            Obviously, Prothean sabotage fixed the loyalty part but not the stupidity-inducing part.

            Okay, the capital of the galaxy emitting stupidity beams feels like it justifies far too many plot holes.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              This just raises the question of “Why dont all the mass relays indoctrinate people?”.I mean,having a galaxy full of subservient cattle waiting for you to slaughter them is much less energy consuming than wiping out unwilling warlike civilizations.

              So no,the citadel having indoctrination capabilities does not solve anything.

          2. guy says:

            Not really practical; lengthy exposure causes progressive mental decay and people would notice and steering clear, wrecking the point of putting it in a central location on the network.

            1. Mike S. says:

              Unless the effect can be controlled in some way– turned on and off, or shielded. Whether that’s the case is unclear.

            2. Ninety-Three says:

              The entire point of Saren was that the Reapers can control the subtlety of the effect. He understood that the degree of degradation was proportional to how much direct control the Reaper asserted, which is why Saren managed to be lucid yet indoctrinated: they gave him only the lightest touches, and he came out of the process convinced he wasn’t indoctrinated despite knowing how it worked. The same should be doable for the Council, where it would be even harder to detect due to their lack of knowledge.

              1. Poncho says:

                From The Codex:

                Long-term physical effects of the manipulation are unsustainable. Higher mental functioning decays, ultimately leaving the victim a gibbering animal. Rapid indoctrination is possible, but causes this decay in days or weeks. Slow, patient indoctrination allows the thrall to last for months or years.

                It’s entirely possible the Council chambers are pumping in indoctrination noise that convinces whoever spends a lot of time in the chambers that the Reapers don’t exist. That’s really all it has to do, too, because the Reapers always show up at the Citadel first.

                Indoctrination doesn’t turn you into a slave or a servant if it is slow and subtle, it just makes the victim open to Reaper suggestion. The primary goal of the Citadel, from the Reaper perspective, is to consolidate power for their grand trap, so having your civilizations leaders be feckless is counter to the Reaper’s goal, but you also don’t want them poking around and investigating your big trap, either.

                It’s illegal to study the Keepers, so I imagine it’s illegal to study the inner workings of the Citadel, too, for similar reasons

                I think it explains a lot, but the game doesn’t really offer enough evidence to support it.

                1. SharpeRifle says:

                  Meh personally my headcanon was always that some of the pieces of Sov got installed after he was destroyed during the repairs by the Keepers. That gives them about 2 years to make the council stupid.

                2. Sleeping Dragon says:

                  Specifically it offers none, because the Council is not indoctrinated. Oh it would make perfect sense. A lot of people were betting on this or some other kind of manipulation being the case*. Personally after the Council talk in two I said that if the third game didn’t reveal they’re indoctrinated, or give a reaaaally good reason for their behaviour, someone has seriously effed up.

                  *Personally I liked the theories that the fact we weren’t allowed into the Council chambers in ME2 was a lead to us discovering in ME3 that they installed Sovereign components and the three stooges councilors had some huskifying technotentacles crawling up their buttholes spines.

                  1. tremor3258 says:

                    And yet, we got – the group administrating the three most powerful, militarily, governments in the entire galaxy had sat and done no investigation or preparation for a potential threat.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    This installation is their CIA headquarters / Area 51.

    AND they are a race of men in black.Meaning this place is super-duper-uber-secret-to-the-max.

    1. James says:

      on top of the fact this is the Salarian Homeworld, the cerberus drop ships would have been shot down before even getting to orbit.

      1. RCN says:

        This and the attack on citadel are the two most infuriating cerberus-related plots for me on ME3 (yes, even more infuriating than Kai Leng’s mere existence).

        The Salarians, the guys with de-facto the best and most paranoid probes and sensors in the whole galaxy, missed a handful of Cerberus dropships (that HAD to come from a bigger ship at LEAST cruiser sized since these things are not space-worthy much less FTL-capable) coming to their most secure facility. And the facility had NO ANTI-AIR DEFENSES whatsoever to shoot them down as they reveal themselves.

        You can bet your ass even the most advanced stealth fighters would be shot down in seconds if they ever came within a hundred kilometers of a NORAD base.

        The facility is completely open to attack. And it is HIT BY SURPRISE. The top-secret facility of the most effective and powerful intelligence agency (the STG) of the galaxy is taken completely off-guard by the bumbling, not-at-all-subtle Cerberus! I was pulling my hair at this, it was too stupid. It was so stupid it literally hurt my brain.

        1. Mike S. says:

          They could have handwaved it some. The Normandy’s stealth is good enough to work on the Reapers, and Cerberus built the SR-2.

          But while both the salarians and the quarians are noted as having used stolen Normandy tech, no one ever comments on, e.g., Cerberus having deployed a bunch of stealth ships, figuring out how to miniaturize stealth to the gunship level, or anything else that might justify a sneak attack on a secret salarian base.

          1. Guile says:

            Man, everybody seemed to notice the Normandy-2. The lady on Omega freaking knew all about us before we even touched down.

        2. Incunabulum says:

          “You can bet your ass even the most advanced stealth fighters would be shot down in seconds if they ever came within a hundred kilometers of a NORAD base.”

          IRL? Not even close. Well, maybe if we’re actually in danger of of a shooting war breaking out with a major power. Right now? Pretty much no US base, of any service, has more than a minimal defense force ready – mainly just a police (a well-armed police force, mind-you) force and no AD deployed.

          I’ve got a Marine aviation base near to where I live and they have an external site that is *built* for AD deployment – got spots built for missile launchers and radar and control vehicles to park. Its used as a storage site for bulk cargo and vehicles.

          Not even Cheyenne Mountain itself. Our IRL Area 51 never even had that sort of defense.

          Though the White House (and maybe Congress) is supposed to have ManPADs – how effective are they or how they’re deployed? Well, *this* guy made it to the White House lawn.

          In the post-911 era, there seem to be a pair of fighters on standby to intercept wayward civilian aircraft. But they’re not sitting on the runway, lit off and armed with a pilot in the cockpit and ready to go. Its closer to Alert 30 or something like that.

          1. Incunabulum says:

            So – how well *defended* it might be? That’s up for debate.

            But you’re right that there’s no way in hell they’d have been attacked by *surprise*. There’s a whole star system’s worth of sensors deployed. IRL its pretty close to impossible to provide genuine spherical stealthing and some part of the ship is going to reflect an active sensor to a receiver *somewhere* and *we’re* already pretty close to deploying networked radar systems.

            Plus there’s the whole ‘you can see the plume from the space shuttle’s RCS system from as far as Pluto with modern tech’ and ‘you’re habitat will show up at a bright spot against the CBR – as will the immensely hot reactor that’s powering all this crap will.

            All that has to be handwaved away – and they do a poor job of it.

            1. Gethsemani says:

              It isn’t really up for debate. The Reapers are in the galaxy, destroying stuff and being Reapers.
              Every military in the galaxy is mobilizing and everyone is trying to figure out where the Reapers will strike next. This is the equal of Defcon 1 in the USA, so at this point every contingency effort for defending your society should be in place. In the real world analogy NORAD would be staffed by several battalions worth of security and defense personnel, the air defense would be set up and everything around it would be a no fly zone.

              The problem is, once again, that the writers don’t even try to justify why the shooting segments take place. They could have dropped some lines about how a human cargo ship has deviated from its’ route and stopped responding to comms in or after the initial conversation on Sur’Kesh or how their sensors have been giving off strange ghost readings all day, which turns out to be a Cerberus stealth ship. Anything to justify Cerberus attacking one of the supposedly most secure locations in the galaxy.
              It is a recurring problem in ME3, as Shamus has been coming back to in pretty much all of his ME3 entries so far. Sur’Kesh is actually pretty tame in comparison to “why didn’t the Reapers hit the Citadel first?” and “Why did they move the Citadel to earth?” in terms of the writers not bothering to frame and justify the story.

              1. sabrewlf says:

                There actually is ambient dialogue, from a pair of salarians next to the elevator at the beginning, mentioning that 20 minutes ago, someone on the base sent an encrypted message (against regulations), and that they’ve detected ships approaching…

                This does raise its own questions/problems though, such as does this mean that Cerberus has somehow turned someone in STG traitor? This is the salarian homeworld, in a top secret facility; Cerberus cannot have some human mole here. The timing of it is also a bit off – 20 minutes prior to this had to have been before, or more or less immediately when, the STG were informed of Shepard and co’s arrival. And the fact that Cerberus arrives in such a relatively short amount of time surely means they had to have been in the system already. Besides, as was mentioned, Cerberus then arrives completely unmolested, up to and including an orbital drop(?) of an atlas.

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Well, maybe if we're actually in danger of of a shooting war breaking out with a major power.

            This is crucial,since the events here are happening while the reapers are invading the galaxy.So definitely a danger.

  9. Poncho says:

    “Take control of the Reapers” is the closest thing TIM has to a goal, but everything TIM does undermines that goal.

    This a crux of the issue with the narrative. The story went from being a “details-first” or a settings-driven story, where the history and culture and technology were the primary factors for driving conflict, then became a character-driven story in the latter two games. Now, that wouldn’t be as bad as a problem as it is, if the characters had clear motivations and their actions didn’t undermine their goals.

    As far as the player can tell, TIM’s goal is to just be an obstructionist asshole for the first 3/4’s of the game. When he reveals his goal toward the end, it becomes suddenly obvious that everything he did up to this point was contradictory to achieving that goal. The player is invited to question the character’s actions and when they can’t find any reason for the character to do the things they do, they get mad at the game instead of the character.

    But here's Cerberus, storming the planet like they're a galactic superpower and TIM has been reading the script again.

    Which fits in with a previously mentioned problem of player-agency in this story. Shepard is always reacting to TIM’s incursions, flying to a place because Cerberus is there or fighting his way off the planet once Cerberus shows up. Shepard doesn’t cause much of this to happen, and the player didn’t get a choice to make Cerberus this massive superpower. MAYBE if we sided with Cerberus in ME2, and gave them the Collector Base, and gave them Legion, and sided with them on all their decisions, then perhaps Cerberus is kind of a big deal by ME3 and their presence is more central to the story. Otherwise, yeah, their sudden explosion in power is really out of nowhere and should really be one small chunk of the story.

    Kai Lang is another example of Bioware conflating or confusing the difference between the audience disliking a character and the audience disliking the game for making such a shitty character. They offer the player a catharsis moment when we kill Kai Lang in a badass way, but that doesn’t fix the bad character, it just gives the audience a sigh of relief that we’re never seeing this asshole again. It’s like the writer is saying “See! We made this really shitty character and you get to kill him! We’re good, right?” Making a character the audience is supposed to hate is not the same as making a BAD character. The catharsis moment for ending the TIM plot occurs at the very end, and everything about the ending is epic levels of stupid, so that doesn’t really work, either.

    1. Raygereio says:

      They offer the player a catharsis moment when we kill Kai Lang in a badass way

      Am I the only one for who this wasn’t a catharsis moment? And instead loathed this cut scene?
      For me it was just another ham-fisted attempt at making Kai Leng look like Shep’s rival. With the whole personally finishing him off with a “that was X!” and all. It’s no different from any other cutscene Kai Leng is in: Shep & Co even became brain dead yet again as your squadmates just wander off and Shep herself decides to ignore Leng’s loud grunting and his sword’s clanking until a pointless dramatic moment.

      He was some guy obsessed with proving that he was better then Shep and I didn’t want to validate that “rivalry”. I wanted to express that my Shep didn’t think of him the way he thought of Shepard .
      What would have been pure catharsis for me is to have finally gotten the option to say “I don’t give a shit about Kai Leng” and have Shep completely ignore him while one your squadmates finishes him off.

      1. IFS says:

        Doing so would even be fitting for Shepard’s character seeing as they did exactly that with Saren in ME1. Comparing that scene to the Kai Leng fiasco really goes to show how far the writing fell over the course of the series.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        No, you’re not the only one, I hated Kai Leng but I did not hate him in character, I hated him as a failed narrative device, I hated him as an antagonist that the writers kept shoving down my throat but failed to properly establish, I hated him not for how he foiled my plans but for how the devs gave him stupid cutscene powers not bothering to even make Shepard act appropriately for the class I’ve chosen but instead plink at him with the stupid pistol. I don’t want to defeat him in a cool fight, that’s what I wanted for Handsome Jack, Kai Leng I just don’t want to lay my eyes on again.

        1. Poncho says:

          Exactly. It’s a shitty character, and I didn’t feel the catharsis I mention — I’m condensing the conversations I’ve seen in response to this utter failure of a character…. “At least we get to kill him, I got chills, man!” Ugh. It’s terrible. However, the goal of writing was to bring about that moment of satisfaction instead of building something worth being satisfied over.

    2. Tizzy says:

      I like your point about cultures over individuals, on two points. First, world building: meeting fascinating individuals is cool, but discovering new cultures and how they got that way is a lot more scifi.

      Second, cultures have their own momentum, not always in the right direction, and this will drive the reaction to universe altering events more than individuals ever could.

      So the trilogy could have been setup with you discovering cultures. A good understanding would allow you to predict how each would react, and possibly give you an insight on how to inflect their trajectories to help with the situation.

      Throw in individuals who don’t conform to their culture in the mix, and you have a truly complex and gripping tale.

      1. Lachlan the Mad says:

        Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra?

    3. Incunabulum says:

      “then became a character-driven story in the latter two games”

      Not so much a character driven story – as then these guys would need coherent characters – but, as Shamus has put it, a *drama* driven story. People do shit because it causes drama, not because it advances any coherent goal of their (except their goal of causing drama).

  10. I’m kinda wondering about Harbringer at the end if ME1, didn’t “he say he’d “find another way”?
    If Harbringer got his claws into Cerberus in some way that could explain a few things (why Cerberus seem stupider than “usual” and get progressively worse through ME2 and ME3).

    1. Alex McKenzie says:

      I’m fairly sure the Harbinger’s message was in Mass Effect 2, not 1. That said, that may be the case, but elsewhere it’s also stated that the Illusive Man was indoctrinated way earlier (I believe in the comics it is stated to be the case) so either way the canon is a mess.

      1. Ah right! Thanks for correcting me.

        As for the canon being a mess yeah. Writing a story by committee tend to do that.
        LucasArts had a department assigned to just canon documentation for Star Wars.

  11. Dev Null says:

    Why is this character so central to the story when his goals and motivations are all either undefined or contradictory?

    I always assumed that the writers of ME2 had played Half-Life, loved the mysteriousness of the G-Man character, and decided to import him into their game. The only explanation for how inexplicable TIM’s actions are is that they were _trying_ to make them inexplicable.

    Having the G-Man become the character that sends you out on missions to kill a dozen rats in the basement of the inn sort of ruins him though.

    My guess for why Cerberus trumps the Reapers for badguys in this game is that mooks in power-armour are a known quantity; they could probably just re-use the AI from another space marine game, and they’re geometric and shiny and super-easy to model.

  12. Flip says:

    Unfortunately, a lot of people will hand-wave TIM’s stupidity by saying that he was indoctrinated or at least in the process of being indoctrinated.

    Although to be fair, we only learn this very late in the game.

  13. AJax says:

    “Cerberus is attacking Mars. Cerberus is attacking Sur'Kesh. Cerberus is attacking Grissom Academy. Cerberus is abducting civilians on Benning. Cerberus has an evil base where they're studying Reaper tech. Cerberus has three different fronts on Tuchanka, trying to set off bombs and murder Turian soldiers. Cerberus invades the Citadel. Cerberus attacks on Thessia.”

    Don’t forget they invaded Omega! That pointless, shitty ghetto of a space station full of crime and disease…

    Btw, did anyone play the Omega DLC? How was it? Do they ever justify why Cerberus invaded that place?

    1. Raygereio says:

      Btw, did anyone play the Omega DLC? How was it?

      If you’ve read the Aria-centric comics & novels and are really invested in that character, I suppose it can be worth picking up. I mean, at that point you’ve already wasted an ungodly amount of money on some really bad comics & novels. So you might as well waste some on crappy DLC, right?
      I thought the DLC was somewhat good gameplay wise: There were some pretty decent encounters and some neat looking areas. But there just wasn’t anything that made a real impression. If you’re not an Aria fan then I’d say skip it and only pick it up if you really enjoy ME3’s gameplay, want some more and the DLC is on sale.

      As for why Cerberus invaded Omega. If I recall right, the justification were Omega’s eezo mines & processing facilities.

      1. AJax says:

        As for why Cerberus invaded Omega. If I recall right, the justification were Omega's eezo mines & processing facilities.

        Well, at least that’s something. No seriously, it gives us a proper justification of why Cerberus would attack such a dangerous location. They need a precious resource to further their (stupid) goals in the war. While I hate how they became the freakin’ Empire from Star Wars, this is at least better than their attack on Sur’Kesh which was because of… for shits and giggles I guess.

    2. Flip says:

      Btw, did anyone play the Omega DLC? How was it? Do they ever justify why Cerberus invaded that place?

      I think they said that Cerberus invaded Omega to get access to resources. Element Zero, afaik.

      Otherwise, you did not miss a lot by not playing Omega.

      Pro: There is a female Turian and the only class-specific interrupt in the entire series. The environments look nice.
      Contra: Gameplay is boring. And after you team up with Aria and the female Turian you are forced into a lot of dialogue choices that are binary – either you agree with Aria or with the female Turian. Aria = do whatever it takes; female Turian = protect the civilian population.

      I still like Omega more than the Citadel and Leviathan DLCs though.

    3. Trix2000 says:

      I thought it was interesting enough and worth playing, but it felt so disconnected from the rest of the game. The antagonist was pretty cool and I thought Aria and Co. were an interesting cast of characters, but the whole time I couldn’t help but think “Am I still in ME3?” If anything, I felt like it should have been its own standalone story… which was maybe their intention, but that doesn’t really work in the middle of something like ME3 where “SAVE THE GALAXY FROM REAPERS N STUFF!” is blaring in the back of my mind the whole time.

      It’s also got the one Cerberus leader who’s actually smart and pragmatic about things. Made me want him leading the organization instead of TIM. The gracefulness of his surrender at the end was just the icing on the cake for me.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Aria’s always kind of like that though, in both games. As annoyed as people get at Kai Leng, at least you can shoot him. Shepard spends two games letting Aria posture and have the last word and send her on petty criminal errands, and is forced to act as if these tasks are plausibly related to the big picture. She’s got a worse case of “Acknowledge This Character’s Coolness!” than Kai Leng and TIM combined.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Does she? Mind you, it’s been a long time since I played ME2 and I haven’t played the Omega DLC for 3. but while the devs were definitely trying to impress me at least she was limited to this one place in the story and while she was rather obnoxious it’s almost something I’d expect from a mobster who needs to look tough while telling you that you’re on their turf… maybe they were pushing the erotic side of the character too hard but then I kinda learned to filter that out long as its straight and the game doesn’t force me to follow.

    4. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Omega is cool, but imo the least essential out of the four story ME3 DLCs (Javik, Leviathan, Omega, Citadel). There’s a lot of focus on what makes Aria tick, so if you’re a fan of her, it’s probably a really good one for you. If she bothers you, you might dislike it. EXCEPT there’s rather cool (and completely unique) new enemies to fight (both Cerberus and monster classes), and a new power that is a sight to behold (you get to assign it to yourself afterwards if you’d like). So even Aria haters might want to sign up. There’s a female Turian squaddie (which fulfills a long time fan request) and a class specific interrupt (more of these in Andromeda please!). The villain of the piece is cool in principle and doesn’t quite get the screen time to really sink in. I will say he’s 100 times better than Leng though.

  14. ? says:

    “we can't be bothered to look after our abducted colonies because we have to polish our ships”

    I hate to harp on this point, but they were not THEIR colonies. It’s the only worldbuilding detail in ME2 that is marginally smarter than genre default of species=one unified government. They were humans intentionally settling in a region outside of Alliance and Citadel control, jumping into military intervention because ” ‘umans, fuck yeah!” should not be normal. Perhaps “the writer” didn’t beat us over the head with it, but forgetting previously established details is exactly why this cavalcade of nonsense is seen as good story for a lot of people.

    1. Raygereio says:

      The problem wasn’t so the lack of military intervention. That made sense given the setting’s political situation and is consistent with how ME1 presented it.
      The problem was that neither the Council, nor the Alliance seemed to care. Sure, the colonies are outside the Council’s jurisdiction. But entire colonies disappearing without a trace – with only human colonies being affected – ought to raise a big enough WTF?! to make someone want to poke around. If only to make sure that whatever is going on isn’t going to affect those colonies that are in Council space.

      I think you can make a case that Alliance & the Council did care and only presented a face of indifference in order to prevent panic. In the same way that they denied that the Reapers were real, but behind closed doors admitted their existence and were attempting to prepare.
      The problem with this though is that this wasn’t communicated to the player. Again, you can make a case that they didn’t trust Shep in ME2. But without communicating to the player what’s going on, it only ended up making the Council & Alliance look like incompetent idiots.

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        I repeat the comment I made back during ME2. People jumping the claims to settle in another person’s territory is a long and established trait in human history. And such colonies, whether in the American Midwest, Zululand, or anywhere else, get wiped out all the time. Most of the time, it doesn’t provoke more than a shrug from the government in question unless they were looking for an excuse to annex more territory.

        1. Shamus says:

          And if the writer had actually folded this kind of thinking into their story, I would have LOVED it.

          Game: Here is a problem to think about.

          Player: Why don’t people do obvious thing X?

          Game: Because of this complex situation, which reflects patterns we see in history.

          Player: Oh wow. This tells me a lot about the universe I’m in and gives everyone’s actions some kind of frame of reference.

          The fact that you COULD tell a great story here doesn’t change the fact that the author completely refused to do so. (And didn’t seem to be aware that they were supposed to.)

          1. guy says:

            It is specified that they aren’t Alliance colonies. They’re inhabited by humans but completely unauthorized by the Alliance; they’re no more part of the Alliance than Omega is part of the Asari Republics.

            What strikes me as off isn’t that the Alliance doesn’t feel bound to defend them; it’s that they’re vanishing and no one cares to know why. If they’d been attacked by a known enemy like the Geth then it would make sense for the Alliance to shrug and say that they’d forfeited the right to Alliance protection when they decided to settle outside territory claimed by the Alliance on their own initiative. But as it stands, there’s a mystery force that inexplicably eats human colonies by an unknown method, and that should be keeping high command up at night. They don’t know who or why or how, so if the attacker decides to target the Alliance itself, can the fleet stop them?

            1. Croatoan says:

              There’s a semi-famous example of the English colony of Roanoke, Vriginia mysteriously vanishing without a trace in the very late 16th Cenutry. The Crown didn’t do much more than shrug. There wasn’t even an investigation into the dissapearence until 12 years later. It had plenty of other colonies to worry about and a war with the Spanish to conduct. Why would the Alliance be any different?

              1. guy says:

                Because communications hadn’t been severed for years by a blockade before the colony disappeared and it’s happened several times.

        2. Raygereio says:

          The comparison to real-world history doesn’t work for me.

          In those cases that I’m aware of where a government did no more then shrug, it was because they simply did not have the resources/capability to launch a timely investigation. Often an investigation of a kind did take place, but due to lag in communications & travel time it would take ages for something to get done.
          A famous real-world example is the Roanoke Colony. There’s a period of 3 years where no one knows what happened. In 1587 the colonist were dropped off. In 1590 a resupply mission arrived, only to find the colony abandoned. Everyone gone.
          In the modern world – thanks to advances in communication technology – such a gap is practically impossible. If a whole town were to disappear now people will take notice.
          Likewise in the ME setting: People are connected to the extranet and it’s demonstrated in-game that it’s noticeable if a whole colony suddenly sends & receives no data to it.

          And let’s talk travel time: Sailing across the Atlantic would have taken more then a month. Multiple months possibly. And was both very costly and dangerous.
          In the ME setting the Alliance could have send an unmarked spaceship and utilizing FTL could have safely checked out the colony within the day.

          Let me put it to you this way: If the population of Emmerich (a German town close to the Dutch border) were to disappear without a trace, you can be sure the Dutch government along with everyone else on the planet would take a look.
          Everyone would notice pretty darn quickly something has happened due to the drop in communications. The Dutch government would want to investigate if there’s a threat to their own citizens. Thanks to advances in technology, they have the capability to send someone over and take a look. The Dutch government should do this, because to not do so would be nothing less then negligence.

          1. Mike S. says:

            I’d guess communication with wildcat colonies isn’t that steady. Within civilization, it’s lightspeed plus FTL comm buoys (plus point-to-point QECs), and so pretty fast. But I’m not sure that an illegal colony in the Terminus Systems has the wherewithal or the motive to maintain a comm buoy network. Even if they do, the buoys would be the first target of pirates or slave raiders.

            So it can’t be uncommon for planets in that situation to get news in and out at the speed of ships coming and going. Being silent for long periods of time would be typical, and if they drop off the map comm troubles would probably be a more common explanation than “they all mysteriously disappeared”.

            In addition, there are mundane reasons for colonies to fail. Bad harvests, batarian slavers, attack by Terminus Systems warlords, that great deal on the thirdhand generator wasn’t so good, etc. There needs to be a positive reason for people to suspect Mysterious Circumstances, rather than the usual reasons you wouldn’t advise your best friend to sign up with an illegal colony in a bad part of space.

            The Dutch can also investigate Emmerich without it being a provocation. If a town in a Daesh-controlled part of Syria mysteriously disappeared, there’d be a lot more questions about how outsiders could safely find out what had happened, and how much trouble the investigation is worth.

            1. guy says:

              The disappearances are explictly noted to be known to seem odd. Mundane colony failures leave bodies or bullet holes.

              1. Mike S. says:

                Sure but there’s odd and there’s odd enough to be worth doing something about in the Terminus systems. In a world in which there are lots of known terrible things that demand response, and a fairly overstretched space force.

                Feros was a (presumably) legitimate colony that was known to be under geth attack and also had some sort of Mysterious Circumstances plague that Exogeni was being cagey about. The Alliance’s response was… to mention it to the first human Spectre as something she might investigate. At her discretion.

                1. Poncho says:

                  I think the frustrating thing in ME2’s case is that everyone gives Shepard the cold shoulder, but the player feels like they haven’t done anything wrong to earn everyone’s distrust. Anderson doesn’t want to give information to Cerberus, but the Player didn’t join Cerberus, Shepard did against the Player’s will. The Council are still assholes, even if you saved them in ME1. They might give you SPECTRE status back, but that doesn’t really help the player except in 1 dialogue sequence in 1 side-mission.

  15. Vermander says:

    I actually liked the new Jack, even if it didn’t make sense from a story standpoint. In the previous game she was one of my least favorite squad mates. I didn’t see any reason we needed to bring this dangerously unstable psychopath with incredibly dangerous powers along with us, especially after we had Samara. She also seemed like the kind of character an angry teenager would create (rebellious, emotionally damaged, posses superpowers that let her get revenge on her tormentors, wildly impractical outfit).

    But in ME 3 it seemed like Jack had grown-up a bit and tried to move on with her life. I felt like she and Shepard still weren’t exactly friends, but that they had been through some tough times together and come to grudgingly respect, and even like each other. The whole “dancing at the nightclub” scene seemed particularly amusing to me for some reason.

  16. Deager says:

    “This plan to turn her over to Shepard is only a few hours old and came directly from the supreme leader of their people. And the Salarians are no doubt already on high alert due to the Reaper invasion. But here's Cerberus, storming the planet like they're a galactic superpower and TIM has been reading the script again.”

    Yup, that was my biggest problem with Cerberus attacking. And I don’t really see Cerberus brimming with Salarian agents.

    I know shooty bits are important to this type of game but I actually felt like this mission could have been a really awesome one with no fighting. Just a lot of dialogue, trying to get things sorted out. Sure, someone could tell me to go play a Telltale game instead but throwing in a few missions with no fighting, other than maybe a renegade interrupt, are a fun diversion in Mass Effect.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      In retrospect, this is the single largest piece of evidence that Cerberus is indoctrinated -a Salarian indoctrinated spy could have informed Cerberus.

      But they never do anything with that concept, so it hardly helps.

      1. Deager says:

        Exactly. While I think it would be difficult for Cerberus, from what they’ve shown us, having a Salarian agent, they could have explored that a bit. Instead they skip it. Maybe it was implied that what you said was exactly their thought but dang, at least give us something.

        If the writer was going for keeping everything in a state of chaos to keep the player feeling off balance; job well done. But give me a payoff at the end of either the minor-stories or the main story as a whole.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          You know what? This would be nice: if compiling information from several optional sources showed that Cerberus suddenly had more agents among aliens than they could reasonably bribe or lie to to obtain intel. That they suddenly got this influx of donations from wealthy humans from distant colonies, or maybe you can verify that one of those donations came from someone who definitely, absolutely was on a station that was devoured whole by Reapers. And then throw that at TIM when you meet and see that shake his confidence, see how he starts to question if what he considered the mark of his brilliant leadership and the sign that he was gaining more and more support from his fellow humans isn’t actually proof that someone is using him… and maybe, just maybe the fact that he didn’t realize despite being so sharp and careful to the point of paranoia is because something inside him wouldn’t let him realize…

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Your mention of it made me realize something surprising about the series. For all the focus on dialogue, not once in ME 2 or 3 do you get the opportunity to talk your way out of a fight. Or talk your way into a fight, for that matter. Every combat sequence is fixed*, if the developers built it in, you will do it and the only opt-out is that some sidequests can be skipped entirely.

      Mass Effect 1 gave us several dialogue-skippable fights of varying importance (offhand: a room of mooks in the Citadel nightclub can be intimidated away, that hostage-negotiation sidequest Hackett throws at you, and of course the beloved Saren talk), and until now I never noticed it was missing from the later games, but I think this either a significant contributor to, or indicator of, the directional change of the games. This is part of the “Shut up and kill stuff, Commander Shootmans” vibe that Shamus has talked about a few times.

      *Technically I think there’s one bit in ME2 when a renegade interrupt lets you blow up a fuel canister which starts the fight with a few enemies dead or wounded, but you know what I mean.

      1. swenson says:

        Hmm, let me think…

        In ME2, when entering the quarantine zone on Omega, if you can’t persuade/intimidate your way in, you have to fight a couple of guards, but you’d have to make some really dumb dialogue choices to NOT skip the fight.

        Hmm… you can talk your way into the bedroom in Kasumi’s loyalty mission, which again allows you to skip a minor fight.

        In Arrival, if you’re sufficiently sneaky you can sneak past the batarians to rescue Kenson. (not dialogue-related, though)

        In ME3, in fairness, you’re rarely fighting people, it’s usually either indoctrinated Cerberus or Reaper troops. I can’t think of any there, though.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Oh wow, I didn’t know it was even possible to fail talking your way into the Omega quarantine. Other than that, it sounds like it’s just DLC, which is not promising.

        2. Deager says:

          Yeah, the series doesn’t have a ton of non-fighting options. There’s the weapons smuggling thing in ME1 where you do what you’re told or choose not to, of course some missions have no fighting at all like ME2 Samara and, basically, Thane loyalty missions. The ones you mentioned of course. Overall, not to be expected in this type of game.

          I was just hoping for something a little different. If it’s Kirrahe or “the other guy” it’s still an interesting conversation, and that’s just some of the fun. Granted, I do get to prove that humans probably are so deprived of stimuli that I must keep touching that.

      2. Flip says:

        To be fair, ME2 and ME3 have you kill the guys in a cutscene instead of gameplay. For example when you rescue Mordin’s assistant you can kill the Batarians (or not, if you so choose). ME1 would force you into a normal fight.

        I don’t really think this is bad in ME2 and ME3 because there is so much combat already that it’s nice to skip some.

  17. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Regarding the Alliance’s left-hand/right-hand syndrome, that’s actually fairly common in large bureaucratic organizations that cover lots of territory. The US government simultaneously subsidizes tobacco growth and also taxes its use, for example.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yup. That indeed would have been just the sort of lampshading a good author would put into their story to let the player know “This is not representative of the whole”.

    2. James says:

      but the Alliance is allways described as basically the UN with a fleet. they dont have any alot of legislative power.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Specifically, we really didn't need Cerberus here.

    To be fair,we didnt need it in me2 either.What was wrong with having the shadow broker reviving shepard?If we absolutely had to have shepard die and get resurrected,that is.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Sure, you can balance a story between two villains.

    And there is a fabulous game that did exactly that a decade earlier.Its called half life,and it set the whole genre into a completely new direction.Bioware shouldve taken notes from that one.

    Its sad to see this kind of devolution after so much time has passed.

    1. ehlijen says:

      You mean half life 1?

      I don’t really see what Bioware could have taken from that game. Shamus talks about details first vs drama first, but Half life doesn’t even place on that scale: it’s unapologetically set piece first.
      Half life 2 had more story, but it was still set piece first, drama second and as little details as possible.

      Half life is all about simple characters and tropes for setting and arcs (if any). It never tries to answer any questions because allusions are so much more effective if all you’re want is to fill a bit of downtime between action set pieces.

      What Half life does it does well, but story wise it doesn’t have enough to fill more than a couple of side missions in a game like ME1.

    2. Gethsemani says:

      Half-Life doesn’t do it in the narrative though. First you fight aliens, then human soldiers show up to kill everyone to cover up the whole thing, then you fight aliens and human soldiers at different points and some times both at once. Half-Life never explores the aliens motivations or the marines motivations, it just presents you with more enemies and drop some vague context to justify why they are there.

      This is exactly what Mass Effect 3 does too, only ME3 is also striving to give us an engaging plot and utterly fails to balance the plot around both the Reaper threat and the Cerberus threat. For most of the game Cerberus gets a lot more attention then the Reapers, which is kind of odd in a game that’s supposedly about the Reaper invasion.

  20. INH5 says:

    Looking at BTS materials, it is pretty clear that Cerberus’s nonsensical motivations in ME3 are a result of a change of plans late in ME3’s development. The files that were leaked in November 2011 have Cerberus as obviously indoctrinated and allied with the Reapers from the start, with their stated motivation being that they’ve decided that getting turned into a Reaper would be a good thing for humanity. In this version of the story, Sanctuary was a secret human processing facility like the Collector Base.

    This motivation was in place as late as E3 2011, where the demo has Shepard saying during the Sur’Kesh mission, “[Cerberus is] indoctrinated, they’re capable of anything,” whereas in the final game he just says, “they’re capable of anything.”

    This wouldn’t have been the most compelling villain motivation ever, but it least it would have been mostly coherent and given Cerberus an actual reason to try to sabotage the war effort (it does raise the question of why the Reapers would rely so much on their incompetent slaves when they’re already in the galaxy and can deploy massive armies to anywhere, but the final game still sort of has that problem anyway). The version that ended up in the final release is just nonsensical.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The version in the game is actually just that, but with the player not finding out about it until the penultimate mission. TIM finalized his already-in-progress Indoctrination with the surgery we see him get and then gave the same surgery to all his troops. So yeah, Cerb is Indoctrinated.

  21. SlothfulCobra says:

    Cerberus mooks are everywhere in ME3 for the same reason that Blue Sun mooks were everywhere in ME2, and for the same reason why there were all those generic store brand mooks everywhere in ME1 (back in the days when armor color was totally defined by its model). For whatever reason, the writers like to ration the main baddies, be they Geth, Collectors, or Husks, and use more generic human mooks for the bulk of the game (sure, sometimes there are some Turians, Salarians, and Krogans padding them out, but mostly they’re human).

    It actually makes more sense this time around now that the main enemy is the Reapers, because there’s a big gameplay difference between the Reapers’ husks and Cerberus’s mooks (although maybe not so much since there’s husks with guns now). It’s just that in the previous games, the rest of the galaxy was full of chaos and independent people running around with guns, but in this game, everybody is supposedly putting away their differences to deal with the Reapers, so Cerberus is the only plausible option for generic mooks causing trouble. They even explain how Cerberus recruited so many idiots later; they just never bother with going into Cerberus’s motivation.

  22. Tylaris says:

    Because it was needed…the Cruscible, Cerberus, Space boy…they invented all of this because they could not resolve primary conflict in any sensible way in light of previous games.

    You have these first two games building that sense of an incredible, overpowering threat that shadowed an entire galaxy for almost billion years…and in the last one, they switch focus on the group of human terrorists that did a better job of getting THEMSELVES killed for the last twenty years.

  23. Steve C says:

    I have a question about your playthrough. You mentioned that you used the default world state in which Jack is dead. She’s alive in your playthrough however. Did I miss something?

    1. Shamus says:

      I used default world state in my FIRST playthrough. This time, I took a single save (using default manShep) through all 3 games.

      1. Steve C says:

        So you played through Mass Effect 3 once, then did it as a Spoiler Warning, then did it a 3rd time after that?

        You poor, poor man. It’s like an abusive boyfriend that you just can’t leave.

        1. Jokerman says:

          I actually attempted playing through all 3 in one long play through, i just couldn’t push my self through the 3rd game for a 2nd time.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Shamus was referring to his first playthrough, which he presumably did back in 2012. In 2015 he replayed the games, and that’s the playthrough these screenshots are coming from.

  24. Dilandau3000 says:

    So I take it that you’re not going to cover the Ashes DLC? Javik does at least add some worldbuilding to the game (even though it doesn’t always gel with what’s been said about the Protheans previously) and he can be pretty funny. He’s also pretty much a mandatory character to take to Thessia if you want to get the full experience there.

    Most importantly though, with Javik on board the writers suddenly remembered that Liara used to be an archeologist!

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Except he is the worst character in the game.Not because he is a bad character or whatever,but because he is a living breathing prothean,and no one cares.Yet practically the whole mythology of the series was built around protheans.But because its a dlc optional character,he is completely meaningless.

      1. James says:

        Yea, i can understand that Protheon tech might have been able to cyrofreeze someone for 10,000 years or whatever, sure on Ilos the most advanced of their secret research bases they couldn’t keep the cryo pods running for more then a few hundread years but whatever different place maby better tech.

        So you walk about with a Living Breathing Talking Protheon, a person who was around and fighting the last time this happened and it feels like noone cares, its just really really odd.

      2. Shamus says:

        Imagine some scientists in 1941 find a living, breathing Neanderthal. Imagine what we could learn from him or her. Imagine the questions they could answer.

        Or we could just hand him a gun and send him off to fight Nazis.

        It boggles the mind.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          And thats when such a being is behind us both mentally and technologically.Now imagine if we found an atlantean* soldier,who used laser weapons while the greeks were still dabbling with bronze.Mind boggling to the extreme.

          *Which fits not just because of the whole “atlantis had superior tech” aspect,but because of the whole “mythical civilization” thing.Even the simplest of slaves would have plethora to teach us about that civilization.

        2. ehlijen says:

          And let’s have the foremost expert in prothean archaeology fight alongside him, because there couldn’t possibly be anything else those two are good for.

          1. Flip says:

            Keep in mind she’s the Shadow Broker too.

            It really seems like we have nothing better to do than shoot at blue-grey guys from behind cover.

            1. SlothfulCobra says:

              Alongside the super secret mob boss and the prehistoric alien, there’s also a computer engineer, a biochemist, a highly sophisticated AI that’s supposed to be busy flying an entire ship, and in the first level, the highest-ranked officer on the planet.

              Everybody’s core competency translates into being able to shoot people with a gun somehow.

              1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                True, we could have the squad members be this:

                1) Lieutenant Human Man. Doesn’t know anyone important or famous, was not involved in any important incidents. Believes fighting for the Alliance against its enemies is important.
                2) Sergeant Human Woman. Also that stuff, but likes to wear hats when she’s off duty.
                3) Asari Commando. Is very good at shooting. Does not socialize with others as she finds her experiences are too different.
                4) Krogan Mercenary. Also good at shooting. Is cordial, but boring and unintelligent.

                That way we can ignore this pesky sense of coincidence and illogical scenarios that keep cropping up.

                1. ehlijen says:

                  Kaiden and Ashley managed to be different, despite ME2&3’s attempts to pretend they weren’t.

                  Garrus, Wrex, Zaeed and Vega were all extremely different characters despite having as their profession “shooting of guys”.

                  ME2 gave us a slew of characters that made sense to have along on ground missions without being samey: an assassin, a combat engineer, a combat superbiotic, a soldier, a vigilante, a grizzled mercenary, a master thief, an asari FBI Paladin, a tank bred super soldier etc

                  There’s a lot of figurative room to have interesting characters that fit the gameplay role of ground soldier without resorting to generic grunts and also a lot of actual room on the ship for people that can be on your team without needing to be ground soldiers.

                  Did Liara really need to come with us on ground missions? Wasn’t just having her feed us intel from her intel room enough? All the actual conversations with her happen in her room anyway.

                  1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

                    Liara is introduced as one of your shooting teammates. While she did miss the shooting return in 2 that both Tali and Garrus got, she somewhat made up for that in the excellent Shadow Broker DLC. Therefore, being passed over for the series conclusion would be a rather serious omission. I don’t think the “appropriateness” of her coming along should interfere with a clear fan favorite character making a full, important appearance. If they establish an active role for “Advisor” type characters like Dragon Age Inquisition had, that would be different. But the precedent in Mass Effect is that, aside from Joker, any character not in combat is basically disposable. Navigator Pressley? Killed off screen. Kelly, your helper throughout ME2? Demoted from Supporting Actress to a skippable cameo. etc

                2. Slothfulcobra says:

                  Krogan Mercenary was my favorite character though, and right after that, there’s Turian Cop and Grizzled Human Mercenary. It’s not like actually having a skillet that matches what you’re doing is a bad thing.

                  Then they could have the people who aren’t specialized in shooting tag along as noncombatants instead of Reef BlastBody suddenly being able to hack as well as everybody else.

                3. Guile says:

                  I would basically be okay with keeping half your really interesting friends on the ship, and just doing the groundpounding thing with interchangeable mooks. Or with Vega, Garrus, KAshley, maybe Tali to have someone to hack computers and stuff. Maybe bring back Grunt and Zaeed, who didn’t really have anything better to do at the time (Grunt was running with some krogan mercenaries, and I think Zaeed retired?) if you want some more variety.

                  Or hey, we could actually have Shepard himself not down on the ground all the time! That would be wild.

          2. Mike S. says:

            Liara’s a Prothean archeologist, but she’s not the foremost expert in Prothean archeology. When we meet her, she’s young and primarily of interest because of her family connection to Benezia. (Getting access to the human with a beacon download in her head could have been a real academic opportunity, but she ditched academia for information brokering instead.)

            More generally, I think it comes down to the game and the genre. Compare superheroes: stripped of conventions, you wouldn’t expect the world’s foremost research scientist, a WWII veteran of enormous symbolic importance and scientific interest, a head of state, or a corporate CEO to put on circus costumes and punch people in the face, any more than FDR or J. Robert Oppenheimer grabbed a rifle and shot Nazis. But the characters’ background is supplemental to their primary function of being superheroes.

            Likewise, the moment Shepard got a swath of new Prothean information in his head, sending that head over and over again into places where highly accelerated slivers of metal might totally randomize it became a terrible idea. If they needed to find the Cipher to have it make sense, they have people for that– expendable people who won’t waste the only accessible copy of an irreplaceable fifty-thousand year old cache. (Never mind that the whole Spectre concept exists only to be a video game protagonist’s job.)

            Nor is there any really good reason to suppose that a quarian teenager who managed to hack a dead geth belongs in a firefight, or to let her aboard a top secret Alliance warship in the first place. And so on. In Mass Effect 1, the only people who really should plausibly be out hunting Saren for the Alliance are Kaidan and Ashley. Or if the Council wants to do it, they should be sending a Spectre without an obvious vendetta.

            But part of the point of the game is to be a shooter, so the people you recruit are of course going to be good at shooting (or the biotic/tech equivalent) in addition to whatever story purpose they may serve. If it needs to stretch a bit, or a lot, to justify their going off to do three-person squad combat on the ground instead of being in a research lab or a war room or jail, then of course it’s going to do that. For the same reason that the last Martian and the king of Atlantis can’t think of more efficient uses of their time than periodic brawling, or political and religious leaders in a wuxia film will spend so much of their limited time training and using kung fu at the expense of their actual duties.

        3. Disc says:

          They did actually sort of, or at least try to, do this, but it’s never really in the spotlight. It’s pretty much the first reaction Liara has and the first thing she tries to do once he’s aboard the Normandy. It just turns out fruitless since he shows little interest in working with her throughout most of the game, mostly because he sees it as a pointless endeavour and also because he thinks he doesn’t really know that much of real importance, since he was born after the Reapers had already come for the Prothean cycle, his whole life being nothing but fighting a losing war against the Reapers. It’s only around the end where he mentions the possibility of maybe writing/help Liara write a book about something presumably regarding the Protheans.

          I don’t know if it was the best possible characterization, but he’s definitely one of the most memorable characters in the whole series. When he’s not using some stupid contrarian logic to disagree with you and is actually saying something interesting, I found him to be one of the more resonating characters in the whole game.

          1. Guile says:

            RE: Book-writing:

            And that’s if you don’t take the bait with the memory crystal thing and basically turn him suicidal.

  25. Dreadjaws says:

    Wow. The default save states for ME1 and ME2 seem to be based on the player being completely useless.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Also: “Shh. Be patient. We'll get to him.”

      I feel this is talking to me. I get shivers every time I read that name. I feel like I could suddenly lose it and start destroying the office.

      Seriously, F**K Kai Leng.

    2. ehlijen says:

      It does make some sense that the default save state would be ‘what would have happened if shepard hadn’t been there’, seeing as for new players jumping into the story, that’s pretty much true.

  26. Taellosse says:

    I think the intention was that Cerberus’ nonsense behavior throughout ME3 is justified by the “reveal” at the end that TIM is himself indoctrinated (and in denial about it). He claims to be after one goal – conquering the Reapers – but is unconsciously serving their interests instead.

    Unfortunately, this is badly handled – never even properly discussed in-game as I recall. Worse, it fails to account for their ability to be everywhere, with unlimited resources and manpower (which is sorta-kinda lampshaded on Horizon – but adapted indoctrination technology doesn’t grant these massive numbers of people military training, nor does it explain all the hardware they’re sporting, nor does it explain how they’re ALWAYS one step ahead of Shepard, often in literally impossible ways, such as showing up on Sur’Kesh at all).

    1. Zaxares says:

      Not to mention that if you watch the videos located in Minuteman Station (the place you storm as the penultimate mission), it shows that the Illusive Man doesn’t apply the Reaper upgrades to himself (and thus becomes totally indoctrinated) until after Kai Leng returns with the data from Horizon. Thus, a lot of the theories that “TIM did it because he’s indoctrinated!” are implausible due to that very short time frame.

      It MIGHT be possible that TIM was already affected by indoctrination due to the decision to bring the remains of the Human-Reaper to his base (a staggeringly illogical decision considering that TIM saw first-hand what happened to his scientists studying the dead Reaper back in ME2), but you’re right; it doesn’t explain all the other super-benefits Cerberus suddenly got in the third game.

      1. Taellosse says:

        TIM was already affected by Reaper-tech decades earlier, though in an attenuated form. Admittedly, it’s never discussed in the games themselves, but there was a tie-in comic series that showed his “origin” – he was a resistence fighter on Shanxi during the First Contact War, and he and a Turian got hit by an unspecific whammie at the end from a Reaper device uncovered there – that’s where he got his funky eyes.

        The implication, for those that invested in the setting enough to read tie-in materials, is that this had a long term and subtle influence on his thinking and behavior, which got slowly worse as he exposed himself to more and more Reaper technology, finally culminating in the videos you mention. As he went along, his actions became less and less rational, and more and more beneficial to his supposed enemies – the Reapers. But, again, not nearly enough effort was spent to convey this in the games themselves, so it’s something that has to be inferred by the player, or gleaned from getting more deeply invested in the setting than most people will.

        1. wswordsmen says:

          Every time I think ME3 has hit rock bottom in story telling, they find some way to make it worse.

          1. Taellosse says:

            The sad thing is it could have been a neat element if it was handled better. The obvious intention was for the final confrontation with TIM to be a recapitulation of the one with Saren, where you can talk him into suicide if your Paragade score is high enough. But unlike Saren, about whom they’ve dribbled more and more information and personality over the course of the game (and regarding whom the tie-in novel actually teaches you what made him tick before the game’s events, and adds depth to the brief summary of him you get from Anderson), they mostly kept TIM a black box of exposition and plot device, wrapped in some “cool” mannerisms and pseudo-intellectual justifications for evil. So where with Saren you might feel a little twinge of pity at the way things end for him, with TIM, you’re mostly just left wishing Martin Sheen had been given better lines to read.

  27. Phantos says:

    I would have traded most of the squad for Jack to come back on my team in ME3. She’s one of the few things to come out of the Mass Effect sequels that wasn’t completely stupid, nor quickly ruined.

    Instead we got more Liara Croft. Because people demand blue boobs.


    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Funny thing is,she wasnt that breasted in me1.I guess she hit puberty while shepard was decomposing.

      1. Deager says:

        My joke was that many of the females decided to get work done, for some reason, between ME1 and ME3. It was so teenage fantasy.

        1. Taellosse says:

          Try “all” – there was only one female torso used for most characters in all 3 games, including fem-Shep (with different textures applied of course), and their racks all grew noticeably in each one.

          1. Deager says:

            I think you are correct. I usually avoid absolute statements but in this case, because of the limited meshes/models/whatever…ah, Salarian. That’s the exception that comes to mind. Not that I think anyone wants to see that or that Salarian females…ick. This bigger breasts decision in ME3 has now given me shivers and a very uncomfortable feeling.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Thing is,its not the worst decision.Cameltoe for all the females is an even greater atrocity in those two games.I honestly have no clue why someone decided to make their costumes like that.

              Also,banshee vagina.Google that if you wish,but maybe you shouldnt.

            2. Taellosse says:

              I’m fairly sure there were no Salarian females in the first 2 games. I think the first one we meet is in 3, so we’ve got nothing to compare her to. Just like we never see Benezia (one of the few exceptions to the female torso re-use in ME1) again after 1, so we don’t know if they would have made her chest even more ridiculously huge or not.

              I’d have to check to be sure, but I don’t THINK they ballooned Tali’s chest even once, and she’s one of the few female characters to appear in all 3 games. So I guess that’s one exception?

              1. Deager says:

                Ah yes, Tali. Sweet Tali. They may have left her alone on that specific detail. I can at least say I never feel like something seems off when I see her in ME3. Maybe the hips got wider but I never really noticed. I know the “hair” changed but that was not an exploit thing at all to me or probably anybody.

                And to Daemian Lucifer, yeah, I kind of forgot about that. I actually hadn’t noticed it specifically until it was pointed out in some threads and yeah…an in joke? They thought it was somehow a good idea for reals? Ridiculous.

                Some day, some day my favorite way to tell stories will get really good. And there are some good games out there for what they set out to do. I love LIMBO and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Ironically, both basically involve no talking.

                For now, I still like Bioware games and I think they learned from ME3 a lot of things to not do, but still, the medium has a ways to go. We need more people like Shamus to break these things down and people to call out game makers when they do ridiculous things.

      2. Phantos says:

        At this rate, she’ll be represented by two weather balloons in Andromeda.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          – I tells you,I saw a ufo!
          – No sir,you just saw a naked asari.

  28. Lizard King says:

    To put the final nail in the coffin of why Cerberus attacking Sur’Kesh is stupid, Shamus. If you remember the after-action reports from ME2 every time you completed a mission (that I assume was written from TIM’s or Cerberus’ perspective), you can actually see that they approve of the idea of the genophage being cured and the Krogans used as shock-troopers in the coming war with the Reapers in the Mordin loyalty mission AAR, in factm they express direct worry if you chose to delete the data!

    A shame you did not cover that last bit of dialog between Shepard and the dying Cerberus soldier in Sur’Kesh, that dialog served no purpose since Shepard never bothers following on trying to find out what Cerberus’ motive is and the game simply leaves the question hang up in the air (same goes for the Citadel coup mission which I also hope you’ll tear a new one when you get to it). The only possible explanation I have for that last bit of dialog on Sur’Kesh was to have a cliffhanger to the single-player demo EA released.

    1. Flip says:

      Why did Shepard talk to this guy anyway? We already know from Mars that Cerberus huskifies their soldiers. What did Shepard expect?

  29. MrFob says:

    Haha, yea, Cerberus being on Sur’Kesh is one of the great mysteries of ME3. :)

    I think in some ambient dialogue during the mission Shepard randomly says “They’re indoctrinated” but even that doesn’t help because it creates more questions then it answers:
    – Are they indoctrinated by the reapers or Cerberus?
    – If by the reapers, how were they indoctrinated? (if by Cerberus, this doesn’t really help with the problem at all)
    – Is TIM (all of Cerberus) indoctrinated/ (at the time we didn’t know)
    – How can Shepard tell they are indoctrinated?

    I could go on but suffice it to say, it’s a mess whichever way you look at it.

  30. skaybay says:

    During my first playthrough I had this strange notion that the confrontation with Kai Leng will be deeply personal, some sort of an assassination attempt perhaps.
    My logic was:
    1) Kai Leng is a soldier, sure, but he’s first and foremost a covert operator, an assassin – it would make sense if he somehow sneaked on board of Normandy and tried to, you know, assassinate someone. Normandy was a Cerberus vessel after all and Alliance might not have had time and resources to find all dead man switches hidden in Normandy’s infrastructure and/or EDI’s code.
    2) Especially considering the window in Captain’s quarters, conveniently placed just above Shepard’s bed… Imagine – one moment Shepard is cuddling with his/her love interest, and then BAM vacuum sucks out the air, Shepard is struggling for breath, space-ninja Kai Leng appears, LI is killed/injured, chaos ensues…

    Sidenote 1: This series makes my Thursday afternoons at work slightly less awful. Sometimes i even smile. Sometimes*.Thanks.
    Sidenote 2: After reading the Twenty Sided for almost a year (mostly at work, so yes, reading – no videos and sound for me) today is the day I heard Shamus’ voice for the first time. Until now I used Louis CK’s voice to read standard snarky Shamus and Bryan Cranston’s for particularly snarky Shamus. Sometimes even Liam Neeson’s for serious Shamus**. Imagine reading Lord of the Rings and finding out in theaters that Saruman is dubbed by Elijah Wood***.
    Although, particularly snarky version of Elijah Wood.

    *variable dependent on ratio of user-generated ID-10T errors to amount of coffee available.
    ** Pun not intended. Sheriously.
    *** Or Daniel Radcliffe, if you’re feeling partcularly snarky evil.

  31. Andrew says:

    Sorry Shamus, but you’re wrong.
    Liara was a badass in ME1 already. She didn’t hide on the ship like a good archeologist, she went on missions with Shepard, she was equal to Wrex or Garrus.
    Her personality was a bit naive though , and her transformation in ME2 and Lair of the Shadow Broker was due to the event in the tie in comic book (where she needs to recover Shepards’s body from the Collectors, and gets what’s his name the drell captured) and to her feeling she needed to step up and really come through for Shepard.
    I don’t think her personality has really changed she can just put up a badass facade to deal with people as the Shadow Broker.

    1. Shamus says:

      “Sorry Shamus, but you're wrong.”

      Actually, I’m not. I didn’t claim that she was weak in the first game, I said she had a totally different personality. Watch the cutscenes of her shy, stumbling, awkward, flustered nerdy behavior and compare to her amped-up swagger in ME2 and ME3. It’s a totally different personality. It’s a totally different tone.

      I read the comic, and it really didn’t sell the personality re-write. And even if it did, having one of the major characters totally change personality off-screen is still a storytelling no-no.

      “I don't think her personality has really changed she can just put up a badass facade to deal with people as the Shadow Broker.”

      She doesn’t have a new personality, she just pretends to have a totally new personality? There’s a lot of things wrong with that, but the main problem is that it doesn’t matter: The old character is still gone.

      My full argument against her change was posted here:

      1. Andrew says:

        I felt that the old Liara was still there when she was alone with the old crew from the Normandy SR1. Her scenes with Shepard (if you romanced her) were pretty good.

  32. Roger says:

    Apart from the assumption that Cerberus (generic human/biped enemies) were obviously placed everywhere for the COD crowd to have something to shoot…

    Um, isn’t TIM and pretty much the whole Cerberus indoctrinated? So essentially Cerberus IS the reapers, just like the husks are. I’m fairly sure that seemed to be the case since the beginning of the game, although I may also be pushing some headcanon here.

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