Last time I talked about how building a massive warship in secret is an implausible idea that, at the very least, needs a thick layer of expositional excuses and lampshading.
Cerberus Building an Army
Think back to last week’s hypothetical project to build a single destroyer. Now imagine you don’t need to build one destroyer. Imagine you need to build an entire fleet of them. Also you need warships of several different classes. You also need shuttles, fighters, mechs, and ammunition. You need thousands of trained soldiers, pilots, mechanics, medics, officers. You need special custom-made body armor for all of them.
You need to feed, house, clothe, and train thousands of sailors, soldiers, officers, and military support personnel. You need cooks, plumbers, electricians, doctors, machinists, police, heavy equipment operators, and all those other people we talked about.
You’ll need literally hundreds of TIM Towns for this. Even if you steal the ships or poof them into existence using vast automated robo-factoriesBuilt by who? you still need supply lines of food, ammunition, fuel, and replacement parts to keep your forces going. And instead of moving all of those supplies over the vast empty ocean, you have to transport them from civilization to your (hopefully remote) base through many well-traveled mass effect relays.
You need to somehow hire or recruit these hundreds of thousands of peopleAnd to be fair, I think a Cerberus army is large enough to require millions of people back home., but also somehow HIDE this burgeoning society from a galaxy of people who hate you and want to shut you down. Because you’re not a no-name secret organization. You’re Cerberus, one of the most notoriously brutal forces in the galaxy. “Rogue cells” or not, your name is forever associated with terrorism and atrocities and no sane person would willingly work for you.
But Shamus! Cerberus has Reaper Tech™.
Yeah. See, more advanced technology generally means more infrastructure, not less. The larger and more complex your technology, the more experts you need back at home, taking care of it. We tend for forget this because most of the infrastructure of our daily lives is hidden far away. If I need a new PC, I just go to the store and buy one without needing to think about where they build the power supply, the case, where the chips are fabricated, where the hard drives are assembled, or who fed the people who assembled the dang thing. The PC you’ve got humming away under your desk represents the work of literally tens of thousands of people. Those thousands of people can build me a PC, but if I need (say) an AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare Suite, then suddenly I need to worry about building the whole thing from scratch, because they don’t sell those at Wal-Mart.
That means I’m going to need to employ all those disparate experts directly to essentially turn raw materials into some of the most complex machinery around. There’s no getting around it: This will take a massive workforce. The more complex the device, the larger the chain of experts between raw materials and final product. Saying Cerberus has better technology than everyone else only makes their advantage more absurd. Not only will they need more infrastructure, but they need more time to figure out how to make the final product. If they’re building experimental prototypes based on Reaper Tech™ then they can’t even copy established techniques from everyone else. Which means you need even more people working on the problem.
Well, Cerberus can enslave people by turning them into partial-husks, which makes them loyal! So a large workforce isn’t a problem for them.
I’ll just allow the hand-wave that Cerberus can acquire an unlimited number of workers, but only because I don’t want to spend the rest of my life belaboring this point. Fine. I can accept having husk-ified footsoldiers and husk-brained stevedores. But a husk-ified biochemist? Husk aerospace engineers?
Remember back in Mass Effect 1, Sovereign faced the problem where he couldn’t indoctrinate someone too fast, or it would make them a drooling zombie. It took time – perhaps decades – for him to make Saren his thrall. And even that was a troublesome project where Saren wasn’t quite as badassA lot of his apparent blunders in Mass Effect 1 can be attributed to his indoctrination. and he wasn’t perfectly loyal.
And yet we’re supposed to simply accept that TIM has – in the space of a couple of years – developed indoctrination technology that works better and more reliably than indoctrination personally administered by a Reaper? And TIM’s indoctrination works more than ten times faster? And can be applied to thousands of people at once? This idea is less plausible than any of the previous impossible to accept ideas.
Maybe they use automated factories?
If vast automated factoriesAlso: Even an automated factory needs parts, raw materials, maintenance, electricity, etc etc etc. are part of this universe, then why don’t the other races use them? Everyone else acts like building and maintaining warships is a big deal, so what makes it so easy for Cerberus?
The point is, the power of Cerberus relative to the other powers in the galaxy is unforgivably preposterous on every level.
This World Makes No Sense
Maybe you found the post on building TIM Island to be incredibly tedious. “Who cares how you build the ship? Just launch it and cut to the action!” But it’s all part of making a fictional universe that’s based on rules. We don’t know how your fictional universe works yet. Unless stated otherwise, we’re likely to assume it works like the real world, or like other fictional worlds in the same genre. If you want, you can absolutely make a universe where ten people can build an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Just make up some science-magic and make it part of your world. Make sure the audience knows what the rules are.
The goal isn’t to make a perfectly simulated reality. The goal is just to establish the rules so the audience knows what can and can’t happen. Without rules, the world is just a child slamming their action figures into each other while making explosion noises. The problem isn’t that Cerberus is “too powerful”. The problem is that their power isn’t clearly defined or justified, it comes from nowhere, it changes abruptly between games without explanation, and it’s often portrayed and talked about in contradictory ways. They are as strong or as weak as the current scene requires. Cerberus isn’t properly integrated with this universe.
At one point one of the members of the Normandy’s crewThe woman standing guard beside the body-scanner loading screen thing. I was stupidly running around the ship without recording, and so I don’t have a screenshot of this line. says something to the effect of, “We can’t hit Cerberus back because Cerberus doesn’t have bases to attack”.
Cerberus can pump out ships, soldiers, and guns, yet they don’t have any vulnerable colonies or supply lines to attack. The Reapers never bother them. The entire galaxy is caught in this desperate war for survival. Nobody can get resources, supply lines are cut, and it’s hard to move around because of the Reaper Invasion. Except Cerberus, because the rules don’t apply to them.
This is not something the Mass Effect 1 writer would ever dream up. That thought experiment I did last week? That’s what worldbuilding looks like. You don’t have to design TIM Island if it’s not shown in the game, but you do have to allow for the fact that it exists somewhere in your universe. I know it’s sort of a joke how I always ask “What do they eat?”, but that’s really just a shorthand for this larger concept of building worlds with verisimilitude. The writer didn’t need to show us the massive infrastructure of Cerberus if they didn’t want to. They just needed to realize that it existed and allow that truth to shape their world.
A worldbuilder likes to think about how the universe works, where resources come from, how technology develops, what motivates people, and how they relate to each other. The Mass Effect 3 writer has no interest in that sort of storytelling or worldbuilding. This writer wanted us to shoot some space marines, so they sprinkled Cerberus mooks around and that was the end of them thinking about it.
Maybe you don’t care about worldbuilding. Maybe this is an irritating waste of time to you. But as someone who admires it, as someone who loves to explore ideas like this, jumping from a worldbuilding style of writing to a “drama first” style was infuriating. The vast majority of videogames and movies are built drama-first. This was one of the few exceptions. Seeing the whole wonderfully constructed universe dissolve into G.I. Joe vs. Cobra Commander was heartbreaking. When the writer claimed that Cerberus has fleets and armies but no bases, it was like watching public vandalism as performance art.
Heck, just a bit of remedial lampshading would go a long way to smoothing this out:
Cerberus is everywhere! How could The Illusive Man possibly have amassed forces this huge?
We don't know for sure. Alliance Command thinks that <EXCUSE A> but some of my intelligence contacts have suggested <EXCUSE B>.
Sure, it’s still a mess, but at least the writer would…
- …signal that this is still a universe based on rules, even if they seem to be breaking them right now.
- …avoid nailing things down with one excuse, and instead hedge their bets between multiple justifications.
- …show that “hero and bloody icon” Shepard can actually operate on a strategic and logistical level, and he’s more than just a really tough space marine.
- …protect immersion and raise our interest level by hinting that maybe this is a mystery that will be resolved later. (Even if it never is.)
But instead, people ignore how improbable the Cerberus power level is, while also making this power a major driving force in the story. Once again, the writer seems to never pass on an opportunity to do the wrongest thing possible.
All of this makes Cerberus a giant plot-hole factory. But that’s not really their worst sin. No, the big problem with these guys is that…
Cerberus is Boring
I get that The Illusive Man is just a big dumb crazy-man who wants powerAnd is sometimes indoctrinated, depending on what scenes you believe and which ones you ignore. Fine. I could wish for a more interesting enemy, but when the writers thought we wanted a more “interesting” enemy they gave us Kai LengSoon. Be patient., so I guess we should be grateful The Illusive Man is just dumb and shallow.
But the problem is that his organization doesn’t interact with the gameworld except to produce mooks for you to shoot. Sure, there’s some history in the codex, but it’s the kind of disconnected history that adds plot cruft without contributing anything to the rest of the world. Compare Cerberus to (say) the Krogan and the complicated chain of cause and effect that brought them onto the galactic stage and established all the relationships between the races.
In Mass Effect 1 we get a sense of how all the other races feel about each other and their place in the galaxy. How the Krogan feel about the Turians and the Salarians. How the Volus feel about the council races. How the Asari feel about Humanity. It all forms this complex web of politics and culture. But you can’t find Cerberus anywhere in there. Nobody talks about Cerberus. Here’s the biggest threat outside of the Reapers, and they don’t seem to have any impact on galactic politics, history, or culture. The writer has never put any meat on the bones of this organization.
Here’s the codex from the Mass Effect 2 wiki:
Immediately following the First Contact War, an anonymous extranet manifesto warned that an alien attempt at human genocide was inevitable. The manifesto called for an army – a Cerberus to guard against invasion through the Charon relay.
Derided as “survivalist rhetoric written by an illusive man”, the manifesto and its anonymous author soon fell off the media radar. But in 2165, terrorists stole antimatter from the SSV Geneva, the sole figure arrested named his sponsor “Cerberus”. Throughout the 2160s and 2170s, alleged Cerberus agents assassinated politicians, sabotaged starships bearing eezo, and conducted nightmarish experiments on aliens and humans. Denounced as human-supremacist, Cerberus calls itself human-survivalist.
Counterterror experts speculate Cerberus may have changed leadership with its recent shift to stockpiling ships, agents, and weapons. Whether “he”, “she”, or “they”, the Illusive Man hides his finances behind shell companies. Few doubt he will kill anyone attempting to expose him.
For one thing, Cerberus is a central part of this story, so stuffing all of their backstory and motivations into the codex is completely unreasonable. The codex is meant to augment your story, not replace it. But more importantly, none of that backstory means anything. You could re-write it to be some totally different origin without conflicting with what we see in the game at allAside: I could have sworn that in Mass Effect 1, it claimed Cerberus was an Alliance black ops unit that went rogue. Did I imagine that? I can’t find any mention of it in the wiki.. You could move their origin to twenty years ago. Claim they were started by an Alliance general. Maybe they were the remnants of an old political party on Earth. None of the events above tie into history and none of them tell us anything about their goals.
So what does the Cerberus rank-and-file believe in? The Cerberus peons you met on the Normandy in Mass Effect 2 were cheerful and positive and seemed like nice folks. Were they aware of the breadth and depth of cruelty Cerberus has inflicted on people? Do they see those actions as justified, or do they think it’s all Alliance propaganda? Jacob likes Cerberus for “getting things done”. Aside from fighting the Collectors, what things did he think needed to be done? Presumably not a single thing we see them do in the game. Did he know about that stuff?
When Miranda claimed Jack’s childhood torture was the work of a “rogue cell” is the writer trying to say this is actually the case, or is the writer trying to show that Miranda is delusional? Before the Collectors arrived, what was the big cause at Cerberus that got her excited? Is she even aware of the sheer number of atrocities her organization has perpetrated?
What does the average Cerberus mook want to see in the future? Humans isolated from aliens? Humans ruling over aliens in a meritocracy sense? Ruling over them in a “British Empire in Space” sense? Ruling over them in a “Sith Empire” sense, with the aliens reduced to slaves? Or maybe just exterminating them? Are there disagreements and factions within Cerberus? Any religion? It’s clear that most Cerberus personnel are volunteers before the events of Mass Effect 3. So what makes people join Cerberus in the first place? How does the average human C-Sec officer feel about Cerberus? Secretly cheer them on? An embarrassment? An outrage?
None of the Cerberus people we meet espouse any worldview that would justify joining up with this army of murder-clowns. The writer keeps pushing Cerberus further into the spotlight, but they have no interest in characterizing the organization or showing how they tie into the existing galaxy. Once again, it’s a lack of worldbuilding.
Like I said above: Sure, you could justify Cerberus power and technology with space-magic. But there’s no reason for the audience to give the writer the benefit of the doubt and even less reason for them to try and repair this mess with their own headcanon.
Cerberus is Thematically Wrong
Sometimes the author pretends that Cerberus is a secret, and sometimes Cerberus is an infamous terrorist organization guilty of war crimes. Sometimes Cerberus is a clandestine organization and then later they’re a galactic superpower. Sometimes they’re the only people working for humanity’s interests, and sometimes they’re space Nazis. Sometimes they cure death and sometimes they’re killed by science so bad it wouldn’t be out of place as a Doofenshmirtz plot. They’re a terrorist organization with no clear ideology. They’re a standing army with no means of support.
Putting Cerberus into this universe is like putting a Bond villain in a Tom Clancy techno-thrillerTo be fair, plenty of late-period Clancy ghostwriters did exactly that, which is one of the reasons I lost interest in the genre.. That’s great if you happen to like bombastic, over-the-top action, but ruinous if you were reading because you liked the depth and attention to detail. Except, Cerberus isn’t even a good Bond villain. They’re flat and boring and draw precious screen time from the main event, which is the conflict against the Reapers.
The first game set us up for a story about exploring strange far-flung worlds, meeting aliens, and fighting aliens. Now here at the end we’re fighting to save humans on Earth from humans in spaceAnd also the Reapers, when they can be bothered to show up.. This is thematically a different sort of story with a different appeal. Imagine if the last couple of Harry Potter books had a major story arc going on where Harry took a break from opposing Voldemort so he could fight a drug-dealing biker gang in muggle world. Sure, you can make a good story about fighting biker gangs, but that’s not what the Harry Potter audience is here for.
So even if you fixed the myriad of plot holes orbiting Cerberus, you’re still left with a vague villain with no worldbuilding. And if you fixed that, you still have a shallow villain that runs on crazy and doesn’t have anything interesting to say about life in the galaxy. And even if you ignore that, Cerberus is the wrong kind of villain for this style of story.
 Built by who?
 And to be fair, I think a Cerberus army is large enough to require millions of people back home.
 A lot of his apparent blunders in Mass Effect 1 can be attributed to his indoctrination.
 Also: Even an automated factory needs parts, raw materials, maintenance, electricity, etc etc etc.
 The woman standing guard beside the body-scanner loading screen thing. I was stupidly running around the ship without recording, and so I don’t have a screenshot of this line.
 And is sometimes indoctrinated, depending on what scenes you believe and which ones you ignore.
 Soon. Be patient.
 Aside: I could have sworn that in Mass Effect 1, it claimed Cerberus was an Alliance black ops unit that went rogue. Did I imagine that? I can’t find any mention of it in the wiki.
 To be fair, plenty of late-period Clancy ghostwriters did exactly that, which is one of the reasons I lost interest in the genre.
 And also the Reapers, when they can be bothered to show up.
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206 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 41: Cerberus Sucks”
Honestly, if you want to make Cerberus a universe super power with ships and mooks seem real, probably the best thing to look at would be the Nazis. Rather than making them evil from the start and have everyone hate them, you should have them building infrastructure, making alliances, resolving minor disputes. Then, TIM can be your Hitler, where he corrupts the system in place.
I agree, it’s practically impossible to be mustache-twirling villains from the beginning. Just a line like “Cerberus used HELP people.” Or some dialogue talking about how they used to provide relief and/or protection to human colonies from the big bad scary universe would show why people are devoted to them and how they got support to build the things they have.
Cerberus used HELP People!
It wasn’t very effective…
Their first AI/VI was Clippy.
“It looks like you’re trying to create a clandestine pro-human group. Would you like help with that?”
That made me laugh out loud.
Mass Effect used LOGIC.
Cerberus won’t obey!
BioWare is confused!
It hurt itself in its confusion!
Cerberus got confused.
Cerberus hurt itself in the confusion.
I’m in the middle of reading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, and a lot of that infrastructure build up was done BY Hitler, with the explicit goal of the later invasions. Having TIM set these things up deliberately for goals like this works well, even with the indoctrination angle. Although it might ruin the “clandestine” angle, and also why Cerberus is seen as such a big threat yet no one can move against them, as the alien races would have no trouble beating down human infrastructure that even the HUMANS see as a threat, and you’d have to have Cerberus be able to ally with nations with more power to keep them neutral. Although this could lead to an interesting story, if the writers were, you know, willing to think about such things [grin].
Well, the Alliance and the Council, rather infamously, never proved themselves as able diplomats or strategists. It seems foolish in hindsight that Europe allowed the Third Reich to expand and aggress unopposed, but I could see a similar situation playing out in the Milky Way with Cerberus.
Yeah, I can see that, the problem is, AGAIN, that it could work if the series was building up Cerberus all along, ff the first game developed it as an interesting organization, gave them some nuance, established them as an entity with political and economic presence and influence…
Oh, yeah, it couldn’t work with this Cerberus, or its portrayal.
It seems foolish in hindsight that Europe allowed the Third Reich to expand and aggress unopposed…
The French eventually couldn’t afford to keep occupying the Ruhr, Britain wouldn’t directly assist them, the Soviet Union was an international pariah, the United States retreated back to official neutrality, and the whole world was going through an economic downturn. So how were they supposed to intervene in internal German politics to that extent, when they could barely enforce the Treaty of Versailles as it was?
There were a number of cases where if they’d just ACTUALLY declared war on Germany for the moves they made, either Hitler would have had to back down or his Generals were aiming for a military coup. One case is when he directly violated Versailles by crossing into some territory whose name I forget, Hitler had explicitly told his forces that if France offered any resistance at all, and despite the fact that the French greatly outnumbered his forces, they didn’t. Also, if the Allies had not granted the Sudentland of Czechoslovakia in the Munich agreement, that country would have been able to prevent some of the later moves, and would have been able to hold out behind their defenses long enough for the West to provide aid if Hitler did attack, which wasn’t the case for Poland.
Admittedly, there were a number of reasons for them not to make those moves, but there were a number of things they could have done to at least delay Hitler, and if the war had been delayed Hitler would have been outproduced by the Allies and so wouldn’t have had the success he did (likely).
There were also assassination attemptS on Hitler by his own people. Tons of them.
The guy was massively popular for a moment but was also massively opposed, often by his own former supporters. Cerberus would have to zombify everyone to keep them from trying to put a bullet between the Illusive Man’s eyes.
The problem is that it doesn’t fit with the personalities that we’ve established as part of the alien races. The Turians wouldn’t let an organization like this that was an actual threat survive, and would take aggressive action against them, especially if humanity considered them a threat to so it wouldn’t risk war with Earth. The Asari wouldn’t be able to convince them otherwise. And even the Salarians, it seems to me, would try to find SOME way to deal with them before they grew into that big a threat. Remember, Hitler managed to convince some not to oppose him by spinning it as it not being in their interest to intervene (Poland and Hungary getting chunks of land returned as part of the deal, it being pointed out to Russia that England and France weren’t respecting them, appeals to England wanting peace and not being ready for war, etc). There’s nothing that Cerberus could do on that end unless they had the support of Earth, and Earth had no interest in doing that, at least as presented in game.
Maybe. We know the Council refuses to interfere in non-Council territory, like Noveria. If you imagine the Batarian civilization as the Soviets, then Cerberus could confine their development primarily to the Terminus systems, relying on an (admittedly unlikely) detente or even partnership with the Batarians to keep them safe and expanding beyond the Council’s reach. Might not keep them out entirely- especially the Salarians- but it would loosen their options considerably.
Or maybe not. This is more of an exercise in “accommodate a different premise with minimal changes” than “improve Cerberus precisely within this premise.”
If anything, the Salarians are most likely to handle it, deal with them subtly before they escalate to be enough of a threat the Turians are willing to attack over it.
I agree, a lot of the rebuilding after WWI was done by Hitler, but Germany was a pretty big deal even before WWI. There are so many ways you could take it. Even if you don’t want to slog through the work it would take to present TIM as a Infrastructure Builder Turned Bad, you could just say that Cerberus has been beneficial since the beginning of the Human Space Age.
Though from how the writers treated TIM as some all-knowing smarter-than-thou, making HIM the one that made Cerberus great. Making HIM the one that pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes would make him so much more compelling as a character. And that leads to even more options. Was he planning this turn from the beginning like it seems Hitler was? Or was it the indoctrination? Like Saren, maybe that’s why Cerberus is so incompetent now.
All this could be built in a simple conversation with Jacob about why he’s so gung ho about Cerberus. And that would make his disenfranchisement with the organization that much more potent.
What was there to rebuild? There was no fighting on German soil during WWI. The NSDAP only rebuilt the military capacity at the expense of everything else.
The German economy was in shambles after WWI. Many Germans at the time viewed Hitler’s policies as helping them to rebuild their social and economic status back to being a world power.
Yes, he did that by building the German war machine and some questionable scientific research. I’m in no way an expert on post WWI Germany expert, but I do know that the Germans were basically fingered as “the bad guys” after WWI. Hitler’s response to the end of WWI is what allowed him to rise to power.
The Treaty of Versailles. Along with everyone else in Europe, Germany had spent vast sums of money on the worst war that had ever happened and had a hole where millions of young men once were, but on top of that were forced to pay reparations to Britain and France that they simply could not. It rendered Germany a shadow of what they once were until Hitler wrote it all off, which obviously made him immensely popular. That is the main reason why the Marshall Plan was devised after 1945; to stop the same thing happening again.
On top of the fallout from WW1, there was the 1923 global economic crisis and then the big crash of 1931. Neither helped in rebuilding a financially devastated nation.
Now, there are arguments over whether or not Germany would have recovered just as well without Hitler, the first trends of recovery certainly began before he took power in 1933, but that’s some pretty hazy what ifs.
As it happened, the key differences between Cerberus and Nazi Germany were:
-Germany was only held back by crippling debt. It already had the workforce, know how and natural resources (In this it was pretty much the opposite of rich but nationless Cerberus)
-Germany wasn’t building its military in secret. It might have been fudging the details, but that it was arming up again was a matter of pride, not a clandestine operation
-Even with all that, Germany still didn’t have the resources and perfect intelligence to fight everyone everywhere at once.
-Germany didn’t actually have that great technology in its military tech. They had a lot of creative minds applying them in newer, more effective ways (both in designs and tactics), but most of their advances actually occurred as counters to advances their enemies made first.
Cerberus is not Nazi Germany. It’s not any nation. It could have been, but it wasn’t. We could have been shown that in the wake of ME2, Cerberus united the terminus colonies under one banner, having protected them better than the Alliance did in the collector crisis, but nothing like that was shown. The writers didn’t think about what Cerberus would need to do what they did, they just threw space marines at the player.
Other key difference :
Germany couldn’t mind control people and transform them into elite force very quickly. Cerberus doesn’t need to train its force, which is a colossal advantage.
Germany wasn’t willing to use unfit for war people as raw material (at least at the start).
There wasn’t any major mercenary army which also need to have discreet way of providing supply.
There wasn’t a major nation who was both secretive and powerful enough to bring an army to its knee (speaking of which, Cerberus surprise you, but no a word about how the Geth were allowed to exist for centuries despite being an existential threat for everyone ? If you can tolerate potentially genocidal robot, why not Cerberus ?).
Yet again, I am forced to reminded people that Cerberus didn’t have a big army compared to everyone else. They lost most of it during their failed coup.
… and on Omega, when they took it from Aria T’Loak, which is something the Council wasn’t ready to do. They blackmailed her to abandon it, alright, but the very fact they were in position to do so is telling. As is the fact, when Aria comes back with Shepard, there is actually a space battle Aria loses, as their ship is destroyed, and they worm their way into Omega using ejected pods.
There’s no denying Cerberus is a whole, singular army, whose breadth matches or is actually better than most mercenary groups, all the while being built secretly despite sporting Cerberus logos everywhere (I’m sure Shepard’s underwear had those, too).
And the “I have infinite wealth and means” thing was already there in Mass Effect 2 (they build a Normandy v2, along side a miraculous resurrection, and multiple bases!), and it just got worse in Mass Effect 3.
And it actually soured my game experience.
That, and the fact you couldn’t go anywhere without being preceded by Cerberus troops, for some reason.
I remember too the “Cerberus started as a Black Ops group”, and the writers should have stuck to that:
1 – keep their means limited: Even through their supporters, they just can have everything appear on their doorsteps. Everything is done using borrowed or stolen equipment, or even material that was about to be scrapped but was at the last moment refitted.
2 – have them use some very high tech: Cerberus could have been the testing ground of future Alliance development, explaining some very grave mishaps, but also some astounding successes
3 – have them have access to intelligence, from secret supporters. That would be their main forces.
4 – have the Alliance actually use Cerberus, like paying them for some distasteful operations. What if Torfan had been organized by Cerberus? (instead of the ridiculous “Cerberus caused Akuze” thing).
5 – Remove all the dumb logos, seriously. Have Cerberus military forces being composed from private military companies whose human members would secretly work for Cerberus, thus diluting their forces in the galaxy
The Illusive Man would have been awesome if he had been less stupid. As would have Kai Leng if he actually shown himself to be a formidable opponent, instead of the recurrent “I pwned you thanks to writers fiat” mook.
If you want to know more about just how effective Nazi indoctrination was, check out a german book called ‘Die Welle’ (the wave). There is a movie, too, but I don’t know if it’s as good.
No, the nazi’s didn’t have magic space tech, but you don’t actually need that to sway the minds of large, xenophobic groups.
I have no problem believing that Cerberus could find people willing to join cerberus. The question is how do you recruit them secretly (ie without providing a recruitment chain for the alliance to counterattack) and how do you get them trained and supplied. Reaper indoctrination does not grant skills, it’s actually a good way to lose them (see ME1’s Saren). So no, Cerberus does not have a way to quickly turn speciest hicks into elite soldiers.
Mercenaries are not terrorists (usually); if their existence is legal/tolerated, their supply chain is, too. Unlike a terrorist cell, they do not constantly have to fear government reprisals.
Granted, ME2 could have been a bit clearer on whether the various merc groups are legal or merely operate in extralegal space, but since they rarely act against governments, their existence makes a lot more sense than the admiral murdering, civilians to monster feeding Cerberus.
The Geth existed because they either kept to themselves in space only the Quarians had any jurisdiction over, or operated in ares generally considered contested by everyone. They didn’t threaten to Turians, they didn’t threaten the Asari, they didn’t threaten the Salarians. They technically didn’t even threaten the Alliance, attacking at worst non-alliance systems.
That all changed when Sovereign attacked the citadel, of course, and did draw containment efforts, but in the centuries before that, the Geth were that angry man who threatens trespassers with his old shotguns but never leaves his house.
Cerberus murders civilians and high ranking military personnel. They are a threat, the geth had not been.
And the fact is, again, that Cerberus has an army capably of even attempting the citadel coup with (after all the mook murdering Shepard does and including warships and fighter squadrons) is a feat outside the realm of what a clandestine organisation should be able to accomplish. That kind of military requires a nation to support. We are never told how and why cerberus has/is a nation, and if it does/is, why doesn’t the alliance ever counterattack?
Extra History just started a series on the economic factors leading to WWII. Here’s the first episode: WW2: The Arsenal of Democracy
Edit: forgot to complete the link.
Well if we are looking for similar genres to define our rules of the universe, maybe we looked in the wrong place. Cerberus is a mythological gatekeeper of the underworld. And the illusive man was indoctrinated by the reepers in the end. If mass effect has one consistent theme starting with the memory flashes from the beacon in MmE1 all the way through andromeda- it is a theme of 1) the inevitable 2) human/synth harmony 3) reepers taking their time to indoctrinate shepherd himself
Shamus, you did that thing again where you post the whole article to the front page.
I find it almost funny/intriguing how it happens with such regularity to this particular series.
Its the mass effect retrospective effect.
I’m just intrigued how it’s supposed to work, and how it goes wrong. Like, does somebody using WordPress just put in a special tag in the post? A special sequence of non-printing control characters? Or does this site have some add-on that allows for this functionality? Any way it happens, it must be manual, since it keeps going wrong. :P
I had a blog on Blogspot/Blogger and there you inserted a special tag ( or maybe it was a regular HTML comment tag with specific text inside ). I image that there’s something similar here, but Shamus seems to do a good bit of twiddling with the site and templates, so he might have something non-standard.
It probably comes down to everyone’s best frenemy, copy-and-paste, the source of many many bugs in software.
To make a page break, I have to put this:
In the article. Usually I write a post here on the site, using the WordPress text editor. It’s not awesome, but it’s good enough for 1,000 words.
But for Mass Effect, I write in Google Docs and then copy & paste individual entries into WordPress. Apparently this break in workflow causes me to forget my usual procedures. Repeatedly.
So write more in google docs then.
I’ll say it again: If the game required a greater variety of mooks to fight, they could just have been indoctrinated forces of the Reapers a la Saren. The game sets up the fact the Reapers know husks aren’t much use beyond cannon fodder, and that they are fans of infiltration and sneak attacks. The problems with infrastructure and why they’re doing stuff like fiddling with the Tuchanka bomb disappear in a flash if it’s the Reapers that are backing them. No, they wouldn’t have been particularly interesting, but then Cerberus are both uninteresting and nonsensical, so.
Cerberus are upsetting because the writers pushed them so damn hard, mutilating their own world to fit them in and more or less make them the main enemy, but offered zero pay-off for doing it.
Maybe it would’ve been better if you had to fight the forces of the nations/species that you were trying to recruit onto your side? The game already has the theme of everybody squabbling amongst eachother instead of facing the main threat, and there’s theoretically points where you choose whether you want one species or another, although the game has a tendency to just let you have it both ways a lot of the time.
Shamus, you’ve forgotten to put in a cut in the column.
That screenshot of fighting cerberus mooks is from the other tuchanka mission, I think? The one where you need to seize the spaceguns? Your point absolutely stands, even though in that mission cerberus is seen evacuating the site in preparation for detonation. (And I am embarrassed that I could tell from that one screenshot).
And I remember the scanner guard officer talking about how they can’t hit back because the enemy doesn’t have worlds to hit, but I could have sworn she was talking about the reapers, not cerberus? Was there a second conversation where they also say that about cerberus that I forgot?
For the actual content, I was very surprised again. You’ve once more explained something I subconsciously felt was wrong but hadn’t ever been able to put into words or thoughts. Of course Cerberus doesn’t fit into the universe, doesn’t have a shared history with it! As you say, it was tacked on, added after the fact (though even that shouldn’t be an excuse for such a complete absence of connection to anything).
Very little added from ME2 onwards really expanded on the setting in a thought through way, and Cerberus wasn’t a major part of the setting before that.
I’m really morbidly curious: Who made the decision to expand the role of cerberus this way and why?
>I'm really morbidly curious: Who made the decision to expand the role of cerberus this way and why?
It’s difficult to say and reductive to try and pin the blame on one person, as this series made clear early on. A lot of people blame Mac Walters, who was the main writer for ME2/ME3 – but he was there for ME1 which had smashing writing, and it seems like if he was the guy who was pushing this awful Cerberus nonsense, others in the writing team should have been brave enough to stand up and point out the extremely obvious.
Ultimately the blame lies with how Bioware changed as a company after the EA buy-out. ME as a series is painful because of how their shifting priorities and MO metamorphosed it from a really intriguing and absorbing (if frustrating to play) space opera to a slick but utterly brainless action adventure game.
There was a leak of the script? or assets? or something? I don’t remember. At any rate I wonder how much of the story was a “Well, we have 75% of the game done. What do we do now?” vs original intent.
PS I hope the family is doing OK Shamus. Your tweet isn’t much information to go on.
PPS I’m also sorry to hear about the Escapist. I would have put money down on you being the last one standing.
I’ve never quite understood the argument for “It’s all EA’s fault!” either. Is the actual argument there a matter of time-crunch negatively impacting the writing/game quality? How many years did ME1 have to incubate compared to ME2 and how exactly should a time-crunch directly lead to instantly un-writing most of what had already been incubated for ME1?
Basically, my point is that from the beginning ME1 was the beginning of a series–it is itself not a complete story–so if the writer had from that beginning failed to think up a complete plot arc the onus is on them time-crunch or not. They should never have actually released ME1 before thinking about ME2 or if needed a ME3. Most authors are responsible enough to have it such that after the first release in what will by necessity be a multi-book series they only need a year or two at most to bang out every subsequent release until, after enough releases, fatigue starts to set in and they take breaks. But even then they tend to know what to write at all times because from the beginning they had a plan.
In fact, I just looked it up to be sure–ME2 was nearly 3 years out from ME1. That means that the argument cannot possibly be time-crunch. That leaves us with the vague, conspiracy-theory-esque “maybe EA gave them funny demands or mis-managed them!” that could still never possibly excuse the bad writing–even if you want to believe EA made them create a lot of human assets and told them to focus more on humans the writers failed to work with that ultimatum competently and in a way that respected their prior work.
In defense of DA2’s writing people will often cite an example given by the writing team for the final boss fight, where they were forced to write it such that there was always a fight even when it didn’t make much sense. That’s great and all, but it fails to excuse all of the bad writing that existed prior to that point and even at that point given there were easily other ways to handle it. Then they will cite the time-crunch which is a a more acceptable excuse. For Mass Effect though? The time-crunch doesn’t exist and we’ve heard almost nothing concrete in terms of “we were forced to ______”. And DA2 also gets another benefit of the doubt for not being a direct sequel–they clearly couldn’t have really planned it beforehand, during DA:O.
People say “It’s all EA’s fault” because it was the obvious thing that changed between ME1 and ME2, and there is so little else to pin it on. I mean, you yourself have offered a counter argument as to why it’s not EA’s fault, but haven’t suggested a different, more convincing explanation for why ME2 is the way it is.
As for a lack of planning at the ME1 stage – Shamus did a pretty decent article earlier in this series about that not really being the case. They had set up story mechanics and foundations that would have enabled them to continue in a convincing fashion, and according to Drew Karpyshyn had a general idea of what the Reapers’ motives were going to be. No, they did not have a detailed road map, and maybe they should have drawn one up in those three years, but it’s worth thinking about the amount of work it must have taken to set up Mass Effect in the first place. They probably felt they deserved, and really wanted, a break from it. DA:O came out (as well as Sonic and the Dark Brotherhood lul) in the meantime, which dragged attention and manpower away from it.
So when they got back to the drawing board, why did they throw away what was already there? A reconfigured writing team is a likely reason. Not sorting out that road map when they possibly had the chance is another. But I do feel a new publisher holding them to a harsh timetable and leaning on them to make a simplified space marine game optimally designed for the mainstream was also a pretty significant factor.
I think it’s indirectly EA’s fault; they don’t have to actually make specific requests to shape the flow of things. ME2 feels more like a game EA would make; like one of their military shooters but in space. Still, I really doubt EA actually came in and said “Shepard must work with Cerberus!” At most they said “we want Shepard to work with someone morally ambiguous and not entirely trustworthy” and then Bioware looked down the beautiful flawless road labeled “Teams up with the Shadow Broker” and decided to clamber over a cliff studded with broken glass instead.
Why, though? What made the shadow broker not morally ambiguous?
I’m going with “someone wanted to make their self-insert Cerberus Mary Sue canon.” The Shadow Broker could not be a more perfect fit for the role.
For what it’s worth, I was vaguely aware of the name ‘Shadow Broker’ before I played any of the Mass Effect games–must have picked it up from some gaming site or other. Sometime later I saw a picture of the Illusive Man’s digs (the chair/sun/cigarette made for a memorable image even though I had no context).
I naturally assumed the two were one and the same, and that the Shadow Broker briefly referred to in ME1 would inevitably turn out to be the cancer-ridden fellow with the nice view. Got a bit of a shock when that turned out not to be the case.
You’re right. Who is not a productive question here. But the why still baffles me. What was gained, or thought to be gained, but this change?
There are so many ways ME2 could have been done without cerberus, or with a different, more thought through cerberus. But they made this?
A possible reason for having you fight Cerberus instead of the Reapers is to avoid Villain Decay. If you travel around slaughtering vast armies of Reaper forces they could cease to feel like a near-invincible foe.
I don’t think it was villain decay; the Reaper husk hordes are completely disposable and their threat comes from their sheer numbers. Fighting only them wouldn’t hurt the plot one bit. But the gameplay would start to wear if Cerberus were cut and you fought the husks everywhere they showed up instead. Still, there was no call for it to be Cerberus; let me quote one of my prior suggestions for the role:
By robots,of course.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.Which would be built by robots.
……………..Which would be built by some kid with an Arduino.
The Arduino was built by robots.
But who built the Robots?
It’s robots, all the way down.
Point of order: Are these Good Robots or Bad Robots?
That sounds like a Bad Robot question to me.
So, basically Good Robot is Shamus’ version of Mass Effect: How it Should Have Ended.
Good Robot Citadel DLC on the way then?
At the end of Good Robot you encounter the
StarUnderterrainian Child who forces you to make a choice between 3 ways on how to use the Goodinator 3000 (for the purpose of Good!).
They all result in 3 different shades of Purple
You raise a good question:
Shamus,how much purple is in the end of good robot?
Ross and I are working on techniques to over-boost the active matrix layer in consumer-grade LCD, hoping to unlock the secret of “ultrapurple”, and perhaps someday “megapurple”.
But we all know brown is more realistic.
Why isn’t the whole galaxy occupied by von Neumann probes by now?
What do you think the Reapers are?
Clearly, we need to kill the robots. Especially the Bad Ones.
But where do the buffalo come in?
Agreed on every point, I literally can’t think of a single thing I like about Cerberus as a plot device.
Not to sound like a smug nerd but I did see all this coming from the first gameplay reveal of Mass Effect 3 way back when. Firstly it showed you fighting Cerberus soldiers, then it was trying to sell us on the idea that this would be fun because, and I’m not joking here, that you have a giant lazer blade arm. I mean do you remember when the game was being sold to us with “You have a giant lazer sword’? It was so silly. Anyway then finally it showed Shepherd fighting a reaper by ineffectually shooting it’s big robot face with a turret on a car. So within a five minute trailer we had
-Contrived Cerberus mooks because we need cover based shooting to happen
-Attempt to make an iconic weapon
-Scripted falling off things
-Pointless turret section
We were being sold the game purely on these “merits”. These are selling points I’d expect for a friggin Uncharted game, not Mass Effect.
And we didn’t even get to shoot a Reaper with a turret on a car in its big stupid robot face! Add false advertising to ME3’s long list of crimes.
@Coming_Second: You do on Rannoch.
Here’s the trailer of ME1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_6ZMr2bMco
“Oh wow. Shep bangs a chick, punches a weird alien in the face and shoots up robots.”
What you describe is more of a problem with trailers in general. Trailers are meant to draw your attention, so the publisher packs it full with big, flashy stuff. Don’t take trailers seriously. They don’t directly tell you anything about the game.
That said, they can indirectly tell you something. For example a publisher being unwilling to show gameplay footage in the trailer is generally a bad sign.
I’m pretty sure we’re yet to get to that but that sequence on Rannoch? Through all of it I heard this distant echo of (I’m pretty sure but it’s been a while) Ashley saying “I’m a soldier, I can’t defeat a Reaper by shooting it with a gun” earlier in the series…
It’s true about the trailiers but I’m pretty sure with ME this goes beyond that because of the “victim of its own success trope”. The first game sold too well for its own good and suddenly caught attention of people who would have nothing but safe, broad appeal: we need more action, more drama, more amazing set pieces, we need more awesome button triggering awesome cutscenes, we need relatable safe things like aliens invading Earth…
Though as useless as it might be shooting a reaper like that, I REALLY liked the feel/sound of firing those turrets. So I liked the scene anyways, if only because I got to shoot turret more.
It sounds very much as though Cerberus in Mass Effect 3 is the North Korea of Homefront or maybe the Russia of, er, that one Medal of Duty game for which you did a one-off Spoiler Warning. (I didn’t imagine that, did I?) I suppose that as the series moved away from RPG and towards shooter it inevitably acquired a shooter-like plot. Too bad.
At least with russia you can say that its a huge country with already preexisting huge military.With korea,not so much,though even they already have infrastructure to at least build a somewhat sizable military strike force.But a terrorist organization with no bases?
North Korea has one of the worlds biggest standing armies (700,000 men) that said they have a huge amount of military spending relative to GDP. So they don’t have much room for growth in that department.
North Korea may have a large army, but its soldiers are very poorly equipped (from what I’ve read, most North Korean military equipment is at least 40 years old), poorly trained, and only slightly less malnourished than the rest of North Korea. So most people don’t consider them to be a major threat.
The main reason that North Korea still exists has little to do with their military (though they could kill a lot of South Koreans on their way down if a war did break out) or even their nuclear weapons and more to do with fears that the collapse of North Korea would send millions of refugees flooding over the borders into South Korea and China. Remember the extortion gambit that ME2’s Purgatory, the prison ship that held Jack, had going? North Korea’s existence for the past 25 years has depended on something a lot like that except on a much larger scale.
It’s estimated that only ~20-30% of NK’s equipment actually still works.
It’s not like the US’s equipment is all modern drone fighters or SM-6 missiles or whatever the hell. There is a LOT of cruft in any big military machine.
Like, an amazing amount.
Like, it is hard to describe, the amount of crap even the US’s soldiers have to deal with regarding munitions that was first trotted out during, say, Vietnam.
That is not what I mean. I mean that’s how much of their equipment is estimated to literally work as opposed to being a rusted hunk of metal.
Not really. The alliance isn’t fighting Cerberus. The Alliance is losing against the Reaper, and Cerberus can move its small elite force easily as a result of this. They are closer to a technology advanced ISIS than Nazy germany.
I believe you’re thinking of Randy Johnson’s solo LP after leaving Spoiler Warning. Pretty sure it was of Battlefield: Bad Company. It was on Twitch before Twitch died in a fire, not sure if it’s been posted anywhere else.
Or maybe you’re thinking of when they played MW3 for a few episodes?
It’s mentioned on the wiki: http://masseffect.wikia.com/wiki/Cerberus
After completinng & turning in this quest:
Admiral Kahoku contacts you and says Cerberus lured his marines to their death and that Cerberus was a rogue black-ops group that had broken away from the Alliance. Then this quest will start:
I have the feeling there was some cut content in ME1 related to Cerberus. It felt odd that Cerberus murdering an Alliance admiral, Shep giving the Shadow Broker info on Cerberus or refusing to do so or Shep coming across the remains of their rachni depot was never followed up on.
And then there was the whole Armistan Banes thing that went nowhere.
The comics later created the backstory that Jack Harper (TIM) was a mercenary and served under General Williams (Ashley’s grandfather) during the Turians’ occupation of Shanxi.
I don’t think anything was cut from ME1; you track down and destroy one of their bases and that finishes that particular arc while leaving space to keep fighting them in the sequels.
You can also find a quest on one planet where UNC marines are fighting against a Rachni brood that had been released by Cerberus. Which leads to another base being invaded, and in the end you learn that the Cerberus ships had already sent off Rachni to a bunch of planets, reinfecting the galaxy.
There are half a dozen incidents with Cerberus, though most require some looking. But as noted they were absolutely portrayed as a former part of a special ops group. It’s a thin characterization in ME1, but it is at least consistent.
I think of the raid on the base where you find the admiral’s corpse as being the end of the first game’s story arc for them; while the other sidequests aren’t mechanically linked and can be done before or after, that one feels like the culmination. Particularly because it’s got some cells holding a few of the creatures from their other operations.
For all the grief we give them, they did appear to have a plan in the first game; the unifying theme of their experiments is that they involve trying to control some kind of presumed near-mindless thing for use as a weapon, and they just didn’t get it to work.
If not cut from ME1, then there were definitely Cerberus-related threads that the original writer(s) intended to pick up in the sequel, but never were because the new writer(s) decided to take Cerberus in a dramatically different direction (along with the entire franchise).
Was going to post more or less exactly this – glad I checked if someone else already had.
No, Shamus, you’re not the only one to recall that was their stated origin in the original game, insofar as any origin for Cerberus was provided in that game (since Cerberus was never mentioned at all in the main plot, and was only a driver of a handful of mostly minor side quests).
For my part, I tried to head-canon the change by telling myself that the rogue black-ops group that Shepard and Admiral Kahoku uncover in ME1 was actually an effort by Cerberus to infiltrate the Alliance military, or a group that began as a rogue black ops group and was then absorbed or co-opted by Cerberus. Which didn’t work very well, but was all I had. And was then more or less overtly made impossible once I read the mini-series establishing The Illusive Man’s origin.
Additionally, if you clear out all their Rachni-carrying ships in ME, you’ll find a message from a (surprisingly) dead Cerberus operative referring to ‘The General’. This only adds to the problems of Cerberus in ME2 and ME3 – Cerberus had a leader: this ‘General’, which fit with the idea of them being an Alliance black-op gone rouge.
This could have accounted for some of their military might: “Oh, Cerberus got a couple of cruisers from the Alliance back when it was a ‘legitimate’ black-op, and had a bunch of crack marines assigned to them. When they went bad, they took these and a few other ships/resources.”
This still doesn’t account for Cerberus’ stupidly massive pool of troops, ships, ‘bases’ and other such, but that would let you have a leader to work for in ME2 (and one that could more convincingly get Shepard to work for him – “Commander, we are the Alliance. They denounce us now, but they made us their shield and their sword, and we need the best – we need you”, or something like that), a unit of crack soldiers to perform Collector-base-destroying style missions, and a few ships to make hit-and-run strikes.
Better yet, let’s look at an old version of that entry, say, the original one.
Not sure where it was stated in Mass Effect 1 but I too distinctly remembered this. If I had to guess I’d say it was in the codex but I couldn’t find a ME1 codex entry for Cerberus on the wiki so… Could have been mentioned in the dialogue sending you on one of the Assignments though.
“Maybe you don't care about worldbuilding. Maybe this is an irritating waste of time to you. “
I’m gonna go ahead and assume that the people who don’t care about this sort of stuff quit reading this Mass Effect Design Critique Novel like a dozen chapters ago.
You don’t understand. All of Mass Effect was a re-iteration of KOTOR, but without the pesky Star Wars trademarks. Force power were re-imagined as biotic powers. Cerberus are the Sith, the fleet was constructed in the Star Forge, and TIM is, in fact, Malak.
Now then. I know TIM’s bad, but he’s not THAT bad.
Well played, sir.
Aw come on. Malak’s not that bad, he just needs to chin up and actually do something productive for once.
Hey, hey. Malak’s productivity is stellar.
Eh, it wasn’t productivity, it was scale. Seems he bit off more than he could chew.
Well, I’m sure seeing his productivity reports made his jaw drop.
I like this one better than the last one – talking more about the themes of all that nonexistent infrastructure and how their non-presence hurts Cerberus (Cobra, at least, had to hunt for cash on occasion)
You are absolutely correct and not crazy or making things up at all. This is apparently in Rear Admiral Kahoku’s dialog, though I couldn’t find a transcript.
If they had emphasized this, it would have fixed a lot of the “were did they get X from?” issues and some of their characterization.
The Codex sets Cerberus up as a response to the First Contact War. Afterwards humanity is at peace with the other council races but many people are uneasy. So a covert anti-alien black ops unit is created (and supported under the table by the alliance) to fight a shadow war to strengthen humanity – Cerberus. The parts that go to far, and/or stop following orders from the alliance are the rogue cells everyone is constantly talking about.
Fast forward to the reaper threat becoming apparent and the alliance wants to act but cannot because of council politics. A military build up would look like preparations for another war, creating tensions. So they turn to their shadow army. This helps fix the premise of the second game – you(and lots of other people) work for Cerberus because they are the Alliance.
By the third game, humanity has all its military build up eggs in the Cerberus basket, but oh no they get indoctrinated. Earth’s main defense force is gone. Start game.
The tone and many other things are still completely off, but it gives the writer a way to have their Cerberus combat fix without completely removing the details.
We thought we were dying of thirst, so we turned to the oasis, and discovered it to be illusion.
Here you go:
Joker (on the intercom): Message for you, Commander. Just came in over a secure channel.
Transmission: Shepard, this is Admiral Kahoku. I found out who set that trap for my men. The ones killed by the thresher maw.
Transmission: Damn, I hope you get this message.
Transmission: It was a group called Cerberus. An Alliance black ops organization. Top secret, highest-level security clearance.
Transmission: They vanished a few months ago. Dropped right off the grid. Nobody knew where they went or what they were up to.
Transmission: They’ve gone completely rogue, Shepard. They’re conducting illegal genetic experiments, trying to create some kind of super soldier.
Transmission: I don’t have any proof, but I found the coordinates for one of their research worlds. I’m uploading them with this message.
Transmission: They’re completely out of control. Somebody needs to stop them. I’ve done my part. Now, it’s up to you.
Transmission: This is… this is probably the last you’ll hear from me. Cerberus is after me now. I need to disappear before they find me.
Source: My copy of ME1
I haven’t actually played the game… but from what I’ve gotten from your writing so far, it seems like Reaper Tech is something like this.
Basically the Reapers are incredibly advanced and all the technology everyone else has is the table scraps the Reapers decided to leave them. It’s not omnipotent but is universally better than anything the galaxy has that hasn’t been stolen off one of the Reapers, and has full license to break any rule that applies to everything else without raising questions. Still, generating a fleet in six months should require a considerable quantity of Reaper nanoforges or what have you, and if that’s supposed to be the reason it should have been brought up. And their gear should have a massive edge over everything else and either their weapons should self-destruct on death or you should steal them and never use anything else at the first chance you get.
Shamus, for your point , I’m not sure about ME1, but ME3 mentions this about Cerberus. It’s between Pvt. Campbell and, well, the other guard I forget the name of. It’s located in the security screen between the war room and the CIC. I forget when the conversation triggers though.
First guard: “My old sergeant told me that Cerberus started out as an Alliance black op.”
Campbell: “Black ops always go bad. If you have to deny the action, it was a crappy action.”
Yeah, the Admiral that sends you on the Cerberus missions in ME1 tells you they are a rogue Black Ops cell. Then Cerberus kills him.
Yes, thank you! That’s the one from ME1.
Can someone actually familiar with ME2/3 let me know in brief on what’s the deal with this Kai Leng character, of which I know pretty much nothing? Is he an obnoxious evil Mary Sue sort of character or something?
Obnoxious ninja character who shows up with minimal explanation in ME3 for a couple boss fights in which he does two of the most irritating things a villainous character can do: He becomes invincible during part of the fight for absolutely no reason, and after you defeat him he escapes anyways, and he gloats about how awesome he is while doing both of these.
Even worse – after you defeat him he wins in a cutscene and escapes with the Mcguffin you were after. Then your character enforcedly feels really bad about their plot-enforced failure.
And Shepard always forgets to bring his brain to these boss fights and does stupid shit.
Basically, when Kai Leng appears on the screen, these two things happen:
1. The game cheats you out of victory by making him invulnerable.
2. Shepard and his allies become completely stupid. For example, there is one scene where Thane holds a gun to Kai Leng’s head and doesn’t shoot. It’s like James-Bond-villain-syndrome for the good guys.
Shorter explanation: he’s proof that the ME3 writer was *definitely* trolling the players.
If only. I almost wish he was the writers saying “Yeah, we know Cerberus are really silly, this character is a deliberate nudge in the ribs that we get that”.
It says something about Kai Leng that if he kept putting his foot on chest high walls and posing dramatically as he talked, swinging his sword around over and over instead of attacking Shepard, and/or misquoting Shakespeare, he would actually improve as a character.
I’m not familiar with Mass Effect at all, but a brief search got me this, which I’m pretty sure gives you the right impression.
Basically he’s Shadow The Hedgehog.
Finally: he looks, sounds and acts like a fifteen year old’s idea of cool. And wears a mask that accentuates his ethnicity in a way that still makes me cringe to this day.
For perspective on how bad Kai Lang is, Shamus probably chose now to go off on Cerberus just to delay having to talk about him.
See, I know that when the retrospective finally reaches that point Shamus will either pick apart Kai Leng trope by trope, scene by scene, peeling off layers of excuses for the character revealing how it doesn’t work on any level, or actually cover the character very briefly precisely because it doesn’t work on any level and so there’s really not much of interest to say. But I can’t get this image out of my head of a “Kai Leng” headline followed by (even though it would be vary non-Shamus thing to do) about a post length’s of incoherent dsaduisoaweqni keyboard smashing punctuated by capitalised “F*** KAI LENG” and ended with a gold box from a family member: “At this point Shamus had something of… an episode. Tea was administered intravenously, he’s feeling better now.”
I did not know I wanted this. And now I’m reaaaally curious about what that part of the retrospective will be like.
Let me quote my rant from the SW series:
To expand on 5, he jumps off a bridge, lands on your air car, and proceeds to disable it by cutting into the engine with his-actually I think it’s technically too short to be a katana-and forcing you to crash. In the Mass Effect series.
You forgot to mention that he poses dramatically after landing, and again before cutting the engine, to give the player time to take in how totally awesome this character is you guys.
And later in the game he sends you a message where he gloats about how he rules and you suck.
I’m not making that up.
I think that sort of slipped my notice at the time because I’d been watching Ghost In The Shell and was used to people making landings like that. Which, considering the relative styles of the two settings, says quite a lot on its own.
All you need to know is that kai leng is someone who will break into your house and eat your cereal.That is literally what he did when he was introduced before the game.And yet someone thought that that was a character they need to include in their epic finale.
Eat your cereal and pee in your plants instead of your toilet. Yeah… he’s quite a guy.
Obligatory “Mass Effect Deception” comic
Another question, why did they focus on Cerebrus so dramatically? They were a thing in ME 1 you literally could not run into. They had nothing to do with the main plot. I only learned about them due to there being one or two associated side-quest.
Why did they suddenly become such an integral part of the plot? Not just how they did, suddenly being this massive corporate-state-thing, but why?
(I never actually encountered them in ME1 since I didn’t do many side missions)
Best guess – ME2 writer(s) wanted ME2 to be “edgy” – so the obvious thing was to have the player character forced into an alliance of convenience with a shady organisation in order to fight a greater evil. Cerberus fit the bill.
Of course, that doesn’t explain why the ME2 writer chose bumbling incompetent, possibly-not-even-encountered-in-ME1 Cereberus, rather than the Shadow Broker.
If I were to take a guess, they picked Cerberus because, in ME 1, they are a group that is known to have military assets, having been an alliance black ops group, which means you could JUUUUUST stretch them to explain being able to get the tech for a new normandy.
Barely, anyhow. Certainly not the resources for it though, so they started just building on them.
And then they just ballooned out of control from that point, as the writers added on to shit they just have, as opposed to world building the structure of it all. As opposed to world building how Cerberus could have say, bribed a fringe shipyard to build a vessel off the books while using old military connections and political exploitation to get the advanced components they needed, they instead just decided to say “Cerberus has trillions of credits and just did it all themselves”.
Once they wrote that in, it just became the de facto explanation for everything, because hey, they already said that they got a basically bottomless pool of resources so why couldn’t they.
I honestly think they built the entire thing around Martin Sheen. They were so excited to get Martin Sheen to voice a character that they took a U-turn with their plot to create a character worthy of his voice. Everything not involving the main plot in ME2 is relatively strong, while the contrivances and retcons pile up around anything to do with TIM and the main mission.
It’s like Jar Jar but with gravitas.
I agree with most of the arguments against Cerberus’ credibility and consistency, but I feel that a lot of them may be answered with the classic space opera argument of “Space is HUGE!”.
Meaning that the island analogy is a bit moot. Sure, Cerberus may really need to own whole cities, but it is quite easy to hide a city (or two, or a dozen) on a whole uninhabited PLANET, of which there are quite a lot. It is much easier to stay hidden in space.
Also, since space is huge, and there are a lot of powers at play, and no one can really control anything, it is easy to imagine that smuggling and black market deals happen in bulk. With access to funds, one could buy pretty much anything from pretty much everyone through various proxies.
Even on Earth in real life rogue governments have no trouble securing vast shipments of weapons, Iran and North Korea easily keep developing weapons of mass destruction, ISIS stays armed and fed and equipped. And that is on Earth, where we can literary monitor the whole planet. Seems that it would be even more easy in the undiscovered reaches of SPAAAACE.
Just a thought.
In most settings that might work, but not when you add in the mass relay system. Unless Cerberus has found a way around them, and that completely breaks the entire point of the reaper thing, then they have to pass through mass relays, the ones that are “sealed” being guarded constantly by Council guardians to prevent illegal activation’s.
I can’t agree with this at all. First, your real-world examples aren’t even remotely analogous to Cerberus’ activities. North Korea and Iran have relatively small nuclear programs, not “vast shipments of weapons.” And despite their attempts at secrecy, the rest of the world has a pretty good idea of where those programs are located. Second, are you seriously proposing that the Mass Effect universe contains a thriving black-market trade in state-of-the-art military spacecraft? And that you could buy enough vessels on such a market to field enough ships to threaten a super-power?
The only way that “the vastness of space” even comes close to excusing Cerberus is if
(a) Cerberus somehow has the population and material and technical resources of a galactic superpower located somewhere far beyond the reach of either the Alliance’s or the Citadel’s intelligence services, or
(b) Cerberus is somehow buying large numbers of naval vessels from an industrial power in the Terminus that the Citadel Council has yet to discover.
You are right on many accounts, but I want to point out that
a) by “vast shipments of arms” and “rogue governments” I was referring to small arms being sold in bulk to various dictators in Africa or South America, or, indeed, terrorist cells and drug cartels. A huge amount of weapons is bought and sold pretty much everywhere with very little control.
b) Since Earth is small, everybody DOES know where Iran and North Korea are situated, but the extent of their weapons programs? Not so much. Only this week Iran tested out new ballistic missiles which turned out to be a nasty shock for NATO countries.
c) I wasn’t suggesting that there is a black market where WHOLE SHIPS are being bought and sold. Parts, though? Why not? Why not metal or electronics or weapons or whatever else you need to assemble one? The military industrial complex is innately corrupt. There is always someone at some level who would sell anythong for enough cash. And since space is huge, there are a lot of ways to set up proxies and false fronts to make it even easier. One could conceivably buy stuff from any of the non-Council races without them even knowing who they were selling to.
Okay. I’ll concede that there’s a fairly robust trade in small arms (assault rifles, say) in real life and presumably in Mass Effect. But if real life has taught us anything, it’s that the bigger and more sophisticated a weapons system is, the less likely it is to be found in the hands of non-state actors. Islamic State fields pickup trucks with machine guns mounted in the back and not tanks because there is no black market for tanks or tank parts. Nor is there a black market, so far as I am aware, a black market for warship parts, let alone warship hulls! Warships get built because a government contracts with a shipbuilder to build a certain number of ships. Construction doesn’t start until the contact has been finalized. A warship is a tremendously large and complex–and therefore expensive–undertaking. Nobody builds warships–or warship parts–on spec.
Actually ISIS does not field tanks because airstrikes blew them all up; they’d captured a bunch when they seized military bases. Also, private groups absolutely can buy warship hulls; when they’re decommissioned the hull gets sold off; there’s a battleship made into a privately owned museum down in North Carolina. You obviously can’t buy one with operational guns still on it (unless you can finagle things to buy them while having the records say they were melted down for scrap that was then sold off) but it makes for a good starting point.
But on the broader point, while there are various ways for people to buy weapons across international borders, people usually know where they’re from, and the original source is probably aware they’re missing or the sale was made by the government to begin with. The biggest source for international arms trade is governments who want to make trouble for other governments, not private citizens.
Very true, but I feel that this once again boils down to the problem of scaling. I strongly feel that the relative size of a spaceship in the Mass Effect Universe is much smaller than the relative size of a warship on Earth. Meaning that in the world of Mass Effect the spaceship market, so to say, is more akin to mobile artillery or tanks than to destroyers or carriers. Again, in terms of the size of the object in question relative to the size of the “playing field”.
Now, I am not saying that there is nothing wrong with Cerberus, I mainly agree with Shamus on most points. But I still feel that economy-wise the “TIM island” analogy doesn’t fully work because it doesn’t properly scale.
Capturing a tank when you conquer/infiltrate a military base is very different from obtaining it through black market.Sure,its conceivable for cerberus to infiltrate a few military bases and get their hands on some cruisers.But that would alarm the rest of the bases and increase their security.Also,Im pretty sure that wouldnt work when those ships are already mobilized to fight in a war.
As for those hulls,weaponry is not the only thing that makes them not operational.Youd have to replace or install engines and electronics completely as well.Which,even if you had the right parts,requires a bunch of specialists.
To be fair, the idea of Cerberus evolving from an Alliance rogue black ops group into a bigger organization with more focus on it in the narrative and with TIM in the lead came up as early as 2008, in the Ascension novel (published July 2008). And it was written by Drew Karpyshyn. It’s not clear whether the retcon was his idea or was somehow forced on him, n’or how extensive was it originally going to be.
I was going to write a “for the sake of argument” post involving Cerebus acting like a corporate parasite and using indoctrinated pseudo zombies to mass replicate the multiply the efforts of skilled workers, but after the second half of the post I can’t help but feel it’s pointless. The Mass Effect writers clearly didn’t put any thought into Cerebus, so I can’t help but feel that doing so myself would be a waste of time. Kinda depressing.
Plus, even if they did that they wouldn’t have the time. They started at some point in the six months after the end of ME2; their fleet simply grows too fast for any source except direct Reaper sponsorship or the full military shipbuilding capacity of multiple major powers.
The idea would be having many operatives placed in many key points at various corporate organizations involved in the shipbuilding process, to the point where the organizations could be used as Cerebus puppet. In this way, the infastructure already exists; you’d merely be subverting it to use for your purposes. The flow of information around the organization is compartmentalized – to your average worker, even of the skilled variety, building a warship for the Alliance is not particularly distinguishable from building for Cerebus. No need to brainwash or kidnap everyone who’s going to be working on the ship, it’s merely their job. They’re already not supposed to talk about their work – national security concerns abound. Fill in the remaining security gaps with indoctrination and there you go.
Next you have agents in accounting cook the books to keep it off the radar of investors. If Enron can do it, so can a competent criminal organization , right? Since this takes place over 6 months presumably it’s possible to keep it under wraps for that long. You don’t need to fool everyone forever, just enough to keep suspicion off you for long enough to get the job done.
The closest analogue in Shamus’s tons of money scenario previously mentioned would be using your giant pile of money to buy off the entire leadership of Lockheed Martin or whoever and have them build you your military hardware.
It’s still ludicrously unrealistic, but if you hand wave hard enough it’ll pass casual inspection. That’s also just getting it built – there’s a lot of steps after that.
Eh. Again, that’s a perfectly good way for people to get their hands on weaponry, but they simply have too much. By my math, if we assume they had a total force equivalent to Fifth Fleet, which didn’t laughably outclass their base defense forces, and it was built by Alliance companies, then two-thirds of the warships built by Alliance companies since ME1 were built for Cerberus. There is simply no way to hide that.
It’s a perfectly good excuse for the Normandy; it’s small enough to get lost in the cracks if the books add up unless someone gets stupidly lucky and discovers that the books don’t reflect physical reality*. It requires an enormous quantity of Element Zero, but that’s just outright for sale and multiple major corporations could collectively disappear that much money. But it simply doesn’t scale to the point that ME3 did.
*at the extreme, if you hide them from when you mine the raw materials, your mine’s books will show conspiciously low production and if you cook up a cover story they can figure out it was faked
The other problem is that Cerberus is using customized equipment. Military procurement today simply doesn’t work in a way that would permit this particular scenario and the Alliance seems to work relatively similarly. When the government wants something new they solicit bids, pick some companies to make one or two prototypes apiece, then test the prototypes and pick a winner to go to full production. If the project is classified then only people with clearances get told there’s something to bid on. You can overproduce current-generation stuff and cook the books to indicate you haven’t, or you can pretend to be bidding for a contract and get a small quantity of state-of-the-art stuff, but if you’re going for numbers you can only plausibly get the stuff the military is using in bulk.
Actually, come to think of it, the Shadow Broker has all the same problems as Cerberus. He has a state-of-the-art ship which must’ve taken a ludicrous amount of time and manpower to build, specially designed to perpetually circle around on an inhospitable planet, which must take an insane amount of fuel being constantly supplied, and he maintains a constant connection to every one of his agents, despite the weather and remoteness of his little base.
Of course, Mass Effect 1 set up the universe to be full of this sort of thing. There are mercs and PMCs galore, and you get to see Saren’s secret research base and hear a story about how Saren keeps his things secret by offing contractors. In ME2, you get to see even more, the story takes you to a privately operated Blue Suns space prison, and there’s a slew of little side missions where you go and raid mercenary bases, and there’s datapads scattered about that may not give any in-depth exposition about them, but they add a little flavor about the base. It’s only now that Cerberus feels severely out of place, because all of those mercenaries are gone. They were such a major component in the last game, and they’re gone.
That one actually got explained.
Purgatory is a re-purposed freighter that was originally designed to carry livestock. It pays for itself by taking in prisoners and demanding fees for them. Similar to real private prisons.
Additionally the warden admitted to running a extortion racket (“pay us money, or we’ll dump crazy, dangerous criminals on your world”) and it’s inferred they did slave trading.
Does it all make sense? Eh, not really. It’s kinda hard to imagine any government would put up with being extorted, let alone multiple governments. But the explanation is still there.
They also explain it by pointing out that the guys they keep there are people the governments really really don’t want to deal with. Sometimes for political expediency.
I think the warden suggest that part of it is also that the governments can use purgatory as a hidden dumping ground for people they would like to disapeer.
I don’t think they pushed the extortion angle too far; they provide an extreme max security prison for anyone who pays them to and threatening to release them is their leverage if governments decide to leave them with the prisoner but stop paying rather than their main tactic.
Yeah, but ME2 mostly takes place in the Terminus Systems, where there aren’t really strong central governments. It’s mostly warlords, pirates, mercenaries, independent colonies, and shady trading ports like Omega. I’ll bet Purgatory avoids extorting any place with an actual fleet that could wreck their shit. They probably take money from Citadel governments for housing their dangerous prisoners, and collect extra graft from Terminus worlds that the Citadel doesn’t care about anyway.
I think scale is the big thing. Yes, there are mercs and such, and Saren has a secret research base, but as far as information goes it seems to be his only real base.
And mercs make sense because there’s no like, “gun laws” that we know about. There are arms manufacturers who sell stuff to private citizens so if some dude wants to grab a gun and fight for the highest bidder, that makes sense. Even ME2 had different bands of mercenaries who were larger scale but still believable, because it’s never suggested that they’re really producing anything. In fact one of the good world building pieces of ME2 that wasn’t mentioned was how different factions WITHIN the mercenary outfits are constantly vying for power with each other.
There armor is bought on contract, their weapons are supplied on contract. It’s never suggested they’re building big ships or legions of soldiers.
Shoot now I wish the mercenary thing could’ve been expanded on because I love that stuff.
I always thought that it was a bit of a waste for Mass Effect to center on the same old “save the world/galaxy” plot that you see all the time. They set up this whole galaxy where warfare is common, and there are all these merc companies all over the place. That’s perfect fodder for all kinds of reasons to run around shooting guns.
…and then, the central plot decides to focus on some totally unrelated, a more existential threat that involves zero politics, and they’re sentient spaceships, so there’s no real way to confront them from the perspective of a three man squad with no weapons beyond what they can carry on their backs. Even doing a cool infiltration mission on a Reaper isn’t an option because they emit unstoppable psychic force. From the start, they crafted a central antagonist that wouldn’t work with the central gameplay mechanics.
It’s mostly just how much stuff Cerberus has. Extremely powerful criminal organizations, especially in areas with weak central governments, can get their hands on considerable hardware. But there’s still a limit and any criminal organization with a carrier group in fiction has some serious explaining to do. We know where the merc bands get their stuff; it’s for sale on the open market. But it never feels like the merc bands are a match for the real militaries in Council Space and the Terminus Systems have weak governments that can’t field powerful militaries. The governments who can actually control their arms manufacturers let them sell to the mercs but by all appearances keep the really heavy stuff to themselves; you never see a Blue Suns dreadnought and their gunships are rare and precious.
Somebody please write a story where Harry uses magic and non-magic means to clean up the streets of London from a hostile drug-pushing biker gang.
Harry Potter as The Punisher in Gangs of London: One Magical Evening.
A quick google of “harry potter biker gang fanfic” suggests that it shouldn’t be too hard to find something pretty close. Though the previews suggest that more often Harry is in a biker gang.
Harry Potter and the Reapers Cut – Harry goes up against the Sons of Anarchy
And the entire second act takes place in a court room.
Maybe two court rooms; one muggle for the bikers and one wizardly for Harry, so you can draw similarities and all that jazz.
If you want to read about a wizard named Harry fighting drug dealers (albeit in Chicago, not London), just go get a copy of Storm Front. I guess Fool Moon had bikers in it, though I don’t think Dresden encounters a gang of drug-dealing bikers, at least so far as I’ve read.
“That’s it!” SexBot cried; “No more! Never again will you creepily purloin my stainless-steel lingerie, RefrigeratorBot! Don’t you think I can tell when it’s all frost-encrusted like this? Ugh! Eat plasma, pervert!”
I found the Venatorii in DA:Inquisition annoying and they weren’t this stupid even if they did kinda come out of nowhere. At least the Venatorii you meet and talk to have actual motivations and stuff, and they’re mages so it’s not beyond sense that they could be few in number but disproportionately powerful. And most of the big bad’s forces came from corrupted groups in a pretty sensible way.
The Venatorii are completely unobjectionable given the political background. Their leaders are powerful Tevinter nobles and they just have private armies. We don’t get much detail on Tevinter’s system, but they’ve got enough pull to influence foreign policy and their army is no stranger than Arl Eamon’s.
Yeah, they were nowhere near as bad as Cerberus. My only objection is that they weren’t really introduced very well and then nothing much was done with them.
Of course, you could say the same for pretty much all the bad guys in DA:I.
Actually, I think the only thing any of the bad guys in DA:I did was to:
10 Yell about how ossum they are.
20 Yell about how doomed Inquisitor is.
30 Run Away
40 If Not Final Fight GOTO 10 ELSE 50
60 defy Inquisitor at judgment
I think that describes all of them.
Knight-Captain Denam? Check.
Envy Demon? Check.
I felt like they were introduced fine on the Mages path; they didn’t show up before because they were in Tevinter, which we haven’t been to, and they’re established quickly as being cultists trying to elevate Corypheus to godhood in return for a reward when he becomes god, which is a perfectly good motivation for everything they do. Though one thing I don’t like about DA:I’s first act is that you miss a proper introduction to what turns into your primary adversary; it is supposed to feel like they suddenly came out of nowhere but then it doesn’t backtrack to establish their background once you reach Skyhold. Both sets of enemies are around, but it’s the one you didn’t get properly introduced to that acts as Corypheus’s praetorian guard.
Anyways, they’re from an existing corrupted group; it’s the Tevinter military and at some point the central government officially disavows them but doesn’t provide you with any actual help or even seem to launch a domestic purge; I pretty much got the impression that they wanted the Venatori to seize the south or at least inflict serious damage and were just laying the groundwork to play innocent if the Venatori lost.
Cerberus is simply this game’s foot soldier stand-in for the Reapers (see also: Geth, Collectors). The player needs to have something to “punch in the face” because those are the mechanics the game engine is built around.
“What do they eat” is only a problem because your immersion is thoroughly broken by their apparently non-nonsensical actions. If the writer had identified Cerberus as Reaper-meat in the first act, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it:
Handwave #1- Oh no! Collectors were hoovering up disaffected human (Cerberus) colonies to be troops, not just genetic material!
or Handwave #2- Cerberus had been recruiting whole colonies for at least a decade before(?) they were co-opted by the Reapers.
In either case, it’s easy to recruit/indoctrinate soldiers (and even scientists) from people who already distrust their own government and hate all alien races.
If the writer had established that suspicion in the first act, that justifies the crazy, two-front war. The Reapers focus on the big population centers while their drones (Cerberus) disrupt your ability to organize a response (aka collect War Assets).
Then at the end, the player should get to confront TIM with the laundry list of “You think you are in control? Here are all the things you couldn’t have known without a whisper in your ear. Here are all the dumb things you did that hurt your own cause…” It’s not lamp shading; it’s role-playing why Choices Matter.
I always suspected the only reason we didn’t get that is because Martin Sheen was being paid more than an entire department of writers, and there was pressure to make TIM the main villain.
â™ª Cerberus Evil Incorporated!
Shamus, you are correct about Cerberus being referred to as a rogue Black Ops team. Kahoku says that when you get the Cerberus mission that follows the mission about his missing marines.
At this point, the amount of Cerberus-related material from other sources has flooded the relevant wiki articles to the point where this bit of lore is easily missed at a glance. The “Mass Effect 1” section of the Cerberus article on the Wiki does have a singular sentence that mentions it.
Does anyone else wish Cobra Commander actually did show up? I mean, compared to the actual ME3 ending, this at least has the advantage of being gut-bustingly hilarious.
[Cobra Commander] “Foolish Joes! It was really I who created the Reapers!”[/Cobra Commander]
And then the entire cast could have a “Knowing is the Half the Battle” moment to close out the series.
Cerberus: Because Umbrella Corporation was TOO competent as a villainous corporation with the end-goal of eliminating their own clients.
I really have to hand it to them. Umbrella Corporation was the butt of everyone’s jokes when it came to videogame villains for a good reason: it was too stupid to be taken seriously in a survivor horror story that was trying to take itself seriously. Then they stopped pretending and made everything silly, making Umbrella stand as less of a sore spot.
Now Cerberus easily takes the spot. Throughout the games you encounter absolutely NO successful Cerberus experiments. Their goals are nonexistent. The Illusive Man manages to be even more smug and pretentious than Albert Wesker while also being more obnoxious, inconsistent and insufferable. Say what you will about Umbrella, at least they pretended to cover up their screw-ups, Cerberus actually both publicizes them to the four winds AND can only feebly and pathetically accuse them of being rogue cells, which actually just undermines them further (so you’re an all powerful clandestine organization whose an absurd amount of sub-divisions goes rogue on a weekly basis?). It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so tragic that it exists in a setting like Mass Effect…
My favorite experiment of theirs is where they try to weaponize Thresher Maw acid by testing it on human subjects, specifically, Alliance Marines. So either they were planning on using their results on other humans, or nobody told them that aliens have completely different biochemistry, and as such the results of the human-based experiments would be of very limited use.
I mean, Thresher Maw acid is probably going to hurt no-matter what species you are, but then why bother with the tests? On humans? What additional information could you possibly need?
I think the test was mostly about DIRECTING the Thresher Maws to attack a distinct target. And that part was a total success. And it even comes back since that’s what the heroes end up doing in 3 to defeat a Reaper on Tuchanka.
Eh? They used a distress beacon to lure an Alliance patrol right on top of a Thresher Maw’s nest, with predictable results. They didn’t direct the Thresher Maw anywhere, they didn’t even move it themselves.
But you’re right, the Krogan managed to figure it out hundreds of years ago, using giant ground-pounders.
If you pick the Sole Survivor background, there’s a quest that gets a bit more detail; they managed to direct Thresher Maws to attack a colony on Akuze and wiped out Shepard’s squad. Haven’t played Sole Survivor myself so I don’t know the details.
I played that mission (one of the many reasons for me to hate Cerberus with a passion, the way the Illusive Man just casually brushes off the accusation that he is literally personally responsible for the death of EVERYONE else in Shepard’s military life pisses me off to no end, but the fact that you have no option but ACCEPT this ridiculous non-apology is even more abhorrent).
The TL;DR of it: Someone else actually survived the incident and points out it was a Cerberus experiment to see if Thrasher Maws are dangerous (tip, they are). Then in ME2 he will send you completely deserved hate mail for joining Cerberus, while TIM brushes it off as a rogue cell. Then in ME3 you find out that the plan to use Thrasher Maws against human civilians to see if humans are tasty was actually FROM TIM HIMSELF (because the sad thing about the Rogue Cells excuse, is that it paints Cerberus as pathetically incompetent if true OR false).
In regards to that ME2 codex entry, 1: calling someone “illusive” is a pretty weird way to express derision, and 2: Even in the future, people assume that an anonymous manifesto on the internet was written by a man?
At least that version actually has a reason for them to be called “Cerberus” even if it blatantly conflicts with the ME1 explanation of a rogue black ops unit.
Maybe they knew the manifesto was written by a man because TIM threw in the word “bro” every third sentence.
They knew it was a man because it was signed “Tim the Anonymous”.
Looking back, it’s just so hard to figure out what the writers were thinking with Cerberus. If they wanted to make the shady group with noble goals but dubious methods, then why did they make them so freakin’ incompetent? You can’t even pull the ‘ends justifies the means’ excuse with them because virtually all of their shady experiments blow up in their face and result in massive death tolls among their staff.
It kind of torpedoes Miranda’s character when she constantly has to stand up for these idiots in Mass Effect 2. Her comparing them with the Salarian STG doesn’t do them any favors. The STG aren’t the most morally upstanding types, but at least they do what is necessary to keep the peace and do it right, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Cerberus is an embarrassment, clowning around in the backround, accidentally blowing themselves up and achieving precious little. I guess they did voodoo magic Shepard back to life that one time.
I can see two options for why Cerberus ended up the way they did:
1) The gameplay/plot demanded a faction of recurring, humanoid mooks that could be shot at from cover. Cerberus were established at that point and were thrown in as that faction to make sure the gameplay worked.
2) One or more writers had a real hard-on for Cerberus and wanted to make sure everyone else really got to see a lot of Cerberus, so that they too would get a hard-on for Cerberus. Screw logic, screw plot, screw everything that wasn’t more Cerberus in ME3, they were to be in there and they had to be at least as (preferably more) prominent as the Reapers.
Either way, it is obvious that Cerberus weren’t put in the position they were in ME3 because it helped the plot. That’s really all I need to know about it too.
About point 1: They had already perfectly filled that role with the Blue Sun mercenaries. The three mercenary companies in ME2 are each kinda pathetic, but at least they are much more interesting than Cerberus. Both as factions and as enemies (one uses tech and biotics, other uses krogans and heavy melee guys, the other uses commandos and diverse tactics.) And the main reason they are pathetic is just that the only way we interact with them is fighting them off, and the story kinda needs the protagonist to succeed, while the Cerberus is shown to be pathetic no matter how you interact with them.
Besides, the existence of the Blue Suns gave us Zhaeed, the only good human squad mate in my opinion.
The mercs really weren’t bad, plotwise or gameplay wise. They always lost but then again you’re elite special forces and they are ultimately just mercs, and they each had the same general formula but their own little twist on it; Eclipse did biotics, Blood Pack had Krogan and flamethrowers, Blue Suns did tech and shields. I wouldn’t have minded having them back; maybe co-opted and bolstered by the Reapers.
That’s precisely what I mean. They were a great addition to the lore and, according to the codex, they were only the most famous mercenary companies in the Terminus. They had the perfect template there for more antagonists and enemies for Sheppard to shoot that need little justification other than “Someone paid us to do it”.
Heck, it makes entire universes amounts of more sense for the apparently impossibly rich Illusive Man to hire these mercs than to field his own forces…
ill go through and read other comments after i fix Cerberus:
FIRST: Cerberus shouldnt be that large/eager to commit atrocities
FIX: At some point after the first contact war human mercs/former military coalesce into an independent human militia. There would be several groups/cells of independently operating ships that would go around and try to “aid/protect humanity”. If they went to say colonies that were beyond the protection of the alliance and offered regular patrols in exchange for support and an open port for their ships that would solve a lot of problems
SECOND: Cerberus has too much support
FIX: The ships that this shadow military gets will be older begged, borrowed and stolen. maybe some of the leaders new which palms to grease in the alliance to get a few frigates decommissioned and sold, maybe a Turian politician agreed to sell old ships out of their mothball fleet to what he/she assumed was an ambassador from the human alliance (they all look alike…all scruffy with fur, do humans get furballs? ew, IT’S NOTICING THE AWKWARD PAUSE DO SOMETHING “*cough of course i think we can find something to send to aid human fleet development” )
THIRD: Cerberus should not ever be able to be confused with the main enemy of the game or series.
FIX: this one is simple they should not have been in that much of the game, keep them in areas that are identified as ‘frontier’ or ‘border’ territories launching attacks of varying degrees of sophistication at pretty much anyone that isnt human. If the writer needs them to commit an atrocity it would be fairly simple to have them mistake a trade mission as a slaver group.
These fixes would encourage people that feel left out of the alliance umbrella to join. It would give the other species/races/people of the galaxy a reason to not trust humans – after all they cant even control their own military. It would give in universe reasons for being strong in one encounter and weak in another (different ‘fleets’ with different ships). It would allow for one group to be willing to work with the alliance and a filthy citadel speck like you while another group would try to kill you because you gave Tali/Garrus a hug.
why did they have to break cerberus?
Now that you mention it, the humans really ARE the only sentient species in Mass Effect to have fur.
I mean, unless the Volus are actually all little Ewoks under those environmental suits of them.
I mean, it must be soooo weird for everyone else.
“Sooo… that hair. You have to keep cutting it off? Like, every month? Does it hurt?”
That’s really common with sci-fi. From an author’s perspective, they often want to make aliens based off of weirder, less familiar things, like lizards, bugs, or silicoids. Some hairy thing in human shape is often going to just look like another normal primate.
From a production perspective, hair is harder to render properly, and it is much more expensive to maintain costumes or prosthetics with lots of hair. Hair can get tangled, and it leaves a mess if something goes wrong. If you look at the compactor scene in the first Star Wars, Chewbacca is very clearly doing everything in his power to keep his expensive yak hair costume out of the trash water, and even on the massive budget of the original series in full swing, they decided it would be too expensive to do a planet full of wookiees in Return of the Jedi.
so do you think genetic engineering new species or secretly smuggling actual aliens that have hair will come first to add more variety to or science fiction
Doesnt tali have hair in that picture she gives you?Or are we just collectively ignoring that bit of idiocy?
If ME:A retcons anything, first on the list should be quarian’s appearance.
Oh, right, I completely forgot about that photo.
I always assumed the Quarians were semi-insectoid with humanoid faces… and even after the photo, my headcannon didn’t change.
I think TIM might be allied with the Barbarians from the Civilisation series. The ones that build battleships as soon as at least one nation develops them, despite not holding any territory?
That also explains their ability to spawn bases literally anywhere you’re not looking.
Writing challenge time:
Rewrite ME2, ME3 with a sensible, world-building, ME1 point-of-view.
You may or may not include Cerberus, but if you do, they are small, have little influence and are aligned with the idea of a shady, spying, plotting organisation. No Spesh Mawines Allowed.
ME 2: replace Cerberus with ME 1’s Shadow Broker. Resolve Reaper conflict by making sure they’re locked out of the Milky Way for at least a few centuries; you can’t stop cosmic horror without fucking up your themes, but you may win some more time – an appropriate if clichéd reflection of the condition all living things find themselves in. This also serves as a somewhat metafictional (and hopefully not too ham-fisted) message of inclusivity across all the various races of the galaxy, aka “we’re in this together”. Maybe end in a Suicide Mission where Shepard and their crew pulls a Cristo Redentor and you got a nice heroic bow to put on top of the game.
ME 3: you play a Krogan bartender on Omega.
ME2: You star as Garrus. After the events of the first game, you’ve taken Shepards’ example and keep in contact with her, but you all go your separate ways in order to use your own species’ resources to assess the Reaper threat more efficiently, seeing how in this version of the events the Council isn’t a useless bunch of figureheads that try to ignore the glaring problem.
You consider the notion of seeing if the Reapers are a universal threat or if they’re limited to the galaxy. You decide to travel to a different galaxy, but that necessitates you to activate a dormant Mass Relay, which people aren’t keen to do after what happened with the Rachni. The game ends with you throwing all caution to the wind and opening the Relay. Once you do it, you encounter a new threat, which might be the solution to the Reaper problem… or might spell doom to your galaxy even sooner.
Meanwhile, Cerberus is relegated to a side-mission where they attack a Turian base, as protest for the events of the First Contact War.
ME3: This is a rhythm singing game for the Wii. You star as Mordin, and defeat the Reapers with the power of music.
As an aside: Seriously, F**K KAI LENG!
ME2 opens with the Normandy returning to the Citadel four months after the events of ME1. Things are still being rebuilt, but the damage was minimised by the Citadel’s defensive systems, and things are ok. You (Shepard and Co.) have been out exploring the galaxy, trying to find a way to stop the Reapers. You haven’t found much, but a recent call from Anderson has brought you back to the center of galactic politics.
Depending on your choices, the Council is either 1.) In your debt (Saved the Council in ME1) 2.) A Human-led Council of aliens or 3.) All Human. Anderson or Udina have the political power, depending on your choice. No matter what, Anderson has pushed for the creation of a Reaper Task Force (RTF – it should have a snappier name, but hey). If you took option 1 and made Anderson Councillor, then it’s a serious task force with real resources. If you picked option 2 or 3 and Anderson is Leader of the Council, you have the whole might of the Alliance Military behind you, and some support from other races (less if option 3). In all options, having Udina in power lessens the effectiveness of this task force, as he’s more concerned with making political decisions.
Irrespective, Anderson tells you that the RTF has found something – a small Prothean facility that may have a map of Mass Relay networks that the current cycle’s races haven’t opened yet – it might reveal more caches of information like Ilos. This information came either from Asari and Salarian scientists or from Anderson paying the Shadow Broker, depending on how much influence your RTF has.
Anderson also has the Normandy upgraded (not much, but a bit of a visual tweak and maybe some expansion inside), with the big change being the incorporation of Vigil as the ship’s VI (we know ships have VIs, but not AIs, so the idea that the RTF recovered Vigil and decided to incorporate him into Normandy, a ship that is now going to be investigating Prothean sites, having Vigil as its shipboard VI is not unreasonable. It also gives you a handy exposition engine).
Anderson tells you that this is a Council-approved mission – you’re going in your capacity as Spectre.
You ultimately find some sort of encrypted information that will take time to unlock. Ultimately, it will lead you to several possible sites (A few good plot planets), but only at certain intervals (a few might be made available at a time). In the mean time, Anderson (who is now essentially your CO and the Council’s voice to you (if Udina’s in power, he delegates the job to Anderson)) suggests that you’ll need a team to tackle these missions, since your ME1 squad is off doing their own things (Garrus and Liara are still with you, because Garrus is your protoge in a way and Liara is your Prothean expert), but the others are off doing stuff – Wrex is uniting the Krogan, Tali is being accepted back into the Migrant Fleet and maybe warning them of the Reapers (they weren’t at the Citadel), and Kashley has been re-assigned to lead their own team.
Your enemies are a faction led by Batarians (maybe even Balak from Bring Down The Sky, operating under the pretense of being just another anti-human Batarian group, and maybe using the excuse of Human expansionism. They’d be protected by the Batarian government, and relying on Geth, Batarian soldiers, mechs, and maybe some mercenaries.
Anderson gives you a list of candidates, mostly soldiers, scientists, and the better class of mercenary, and tells you to pick whomever you want.
The game allows you to recruit team members in almost any order, and throws out a few Prothean-related main plot mission every little while, letting you choose to put them off or not, but giving them a time-out (the Batarians get to the site and claim it if you don’t get there in x time).
Your team is similar to the real ME2’s Dirty Dozen, but with fewer criminals. If you focus on team-building for the first act of the game (As you ‘should’) then the team grows strong for the final mission (a raid on the Batarian facility that leads you to the Reaper’s back-door relay), and survives, kicks ass, etc. If you ignore team growth, then you can easily fail the final mission, similar to Real ME2.
Ultimately, you discover that the Batarians were indoctrinated by the Leviathan of Dis, and the Reapers are using them to open their back-door relay (hence why the Reaper’s left the Leviathan there – as a contingency). Your end-game choice is to destroy the back-door relay, wiping out a Batarian (or other such) colony and looking like war-criminals, or to use Vigil to shut the relay down (remember, he was developed in a facility that had worked out how to make new Mass Relays), which would look better to the galaxy, but isn’t a guaranteed fix. During this mission, Vigil uncovers that a handful of Reapers (two or three ships) will arrive no matter what, as they set out through conventional (but much improved) FTL back near the beginning of ME1.
You choice impacts how the galaxy views you in the next game, and whether you can get support from the various races. The game ends with you returning to the Citadel to either face the Council's “What the hell, hero?” moment, or to tell them that the Reapers are stopped, but their threat remains. Anderson tells you that the Reaper Task Force has fully decrypted the information from the beginning of the game, and it points to a way to enter Dark Space. It's not a way to stop the Reapers, but it's a good set up for the idea that one stealth ship and a small team could enter the Reaper's lair and destroy them, or at least trap them there forever. Your team is strong (or not, depending on player choice), your ship is ready – now you need only resolve the few remaining problems, and develop a way to actually permanently stop the space Cthulus.
Mass Effect 3 would be similar to the core ideas of the real game – you finish the outstanding plot threads while a Reaper-destroying device is created. However, with ME2 having now set things up properly, things might make more sense.
You start with the Galaxy either decrying Sheppard and Co. for destroying the Batarian system, or championing them for stopping the attack. However, those two or three Reapers arrive, and begin to wreak havoc upon the galaxy (they are as powerful as Sovereign, and one of them can cause massive damage to a whole star system).
Your Task Force sets out to develop a program that could permanently shut down the Reapers, but they need you to gather data from the active Reapers in the galaxy. As such, you have to go to key battlegrounds and conduct stealth/infiltration missions (which fits with the idea of having a stealth ship and a crack commando unit).
You hit the main beats of re-uniting with old squadmates, curing the Genophage, and resolving the Quarian/Geth issue, and at each point you raid (and maybe destroy) one Reaper (you could feasibly have a massive fleet at each battleground).
With these pieces of data your team develops, depending on how much support they have which is in turn dependent on your previous choices, a virus that will either definitely shut down the Reapers for good and allow you to gain a wealth of knowledge from them (best ending) OR shut down the Reapers for good but not allow you to gain any knowledge (ok ending) OR probably shut down the Reapers but not for good – they'll re-awaken in a few thousand years and try again (not good ending) OR your team develops a last ditch, massive scale EMP device that will hopefully shut down the Reapers for good, but will probably trap you in Dark Space and fry the relay you're going to use to get there (Worst ending – the Reapers are only mildly damaged, and you and your team die watching the bulk of their fleet return to the galaxy and the cycle continues).
The final mission has a suicide-mission style setup, and who survives depends on which missions you did in ME2 and 3, how you built the team (fostered their interactions over the 3 games), and the big decisions you made (Tali will have no will to live if her fleet is wiped out. Wrex won't feel compelled to help you if you didn't cure the Genophage, and so on).
Unless you get the worst ending, you get to come back to an appropriate response (heroes welcome or a space walk of shame), and the Council (human or alien) thanks you for doing whatever you did. You then get the option to go and see the galaxy in a post-Reaper state, allowing for a “˜happy' ending option, and the possibility of DLC that can expand on the galaxy without having to relate to the Reaper threat.
Such an ending (the good ones) are somewhat true to themes established in ME1 – that determination and cooperation can overcome any problem, and that if you are good to others others will be good to you. The development of the Reaper-killing device by people from all over the galaxy, without ancient plans but with help from a VI from the previous cycle, shows that you can overcome the will of fate (the Reapers) with enough willpower and cooperation between the people.
Here we don't even need to know why the Reapers did what they did. We don't need to have any Cerberus, any Kei Leng, any Harbinger, or any Collectors. The enemies in ME3 can be Reaper troops, and remnants of the Batarian group from ME2, llowing you to fight a whole variety of enemy types.
Ultimately this plot allows for the options of exploring the Reaper's motives, but doesn't require it. It lets you have Lair of The Shadow Broker style DLC, and maybe even some Cerberus, without fundamentally changing how the universe operates. This is a plot that works with the ME1 universe, and (I think) holds onto ME1 values.
But it's just my thoughts.
Have you played the game Factorio? It never answers “what do they eat” but in terms of thinking about supply lines, it’s a fantastic illustrative example.
Factorio is awesome, it’s a lesson in automation, productics and logistics.
Just to add one more funny aspect to all of this: If you read the novel Retribution, you will know that at some time between ME2 and 3 Anderson (together with Kahlee Sanders and the turians) dealt a massive blow to Cerberus after a pissed off Paul Grayson blew the whistle on a lot of TIM’s secret facilities, operations and shell companies. Even after this, probably the most major disaster in its history, Cerberus is still stronger than ever.
I always figured “Rogue Cell” was just the buzzword used by Cerberus higher-ups to claim plausible deniability and was never meant to be taken seriously by the player. As Lionel Hutz explained, there’s a difference between “The Truth” and “The Truth!”
But Shamus, Cerberus cured death and builds loyal AI’s. So you fighting the same Zombies and Sex Dolls over and over again.
Same goes for the scientists. Those Sado Masochists like to get killed and revieves again and again.
And if you can repair a dead body from scratch, its easy to rebuild ships from molecules. It’s the same two ships – everytime.
Space Magic like Battle Angel Alita – Last Order.
It would have been simpler to make Cerberus a rogue faction within the Alliance. Thus, you don’t have to explain in depth where all their stuff came from; the Alliance built it and Cerberus stole it. The fact that this didn’t occur to writers makes me wonder how they got the job in the first place…
You know, the implausibility of Cerberus normally wouldn’t have really bothered me as that’s par for the course in dumb video game plots.
But Mass Effect is so desperate to be taken seriously and be considered the thinking-man’s shooter that it becomes impossible to ignore the glaring lapses in basic storytelling.
On replay, one thing I’ll give Cerberus is that they’re more enjoyable to fight than the Reaper foes. They have a good variety of mooks that require a range of abilities to deal with, their AI is reasonably smart, you need to prioritise who you take down first. I’ve come to think the main reason they’re so ubiquitous and seemingly missions are made up out of whole cloth just to include them is because the devs were pleased with how they turned out mechanically. That’s literally it.
One of the most eye-rolling minor moments regarding Cerberus is during one of those missions on those multiplayer maps ported and repurposed into singleplayer missions. Cerberus has apparently found a way to improve medi-gel for Hanar physiology, but evilly tossed it aside because “it’s useless for humans”.
Of course, a smart organization would immediately decide to start producing this medi-gel and sell it in order to make money to fund their ongoing projects, but the Cerberus in ME3 doesn’t do that.
I actually disagree on this. The Illusive Man is basically a dark reflection of Paragon Shepard. Both of them saw the Reapers coming and unlike Saren (who tried to appease the Reapers out of fatalism) or the Council (who just ignored it) they decided to actively try to fight them. The key differences are that a.) Paragon Shepard never sacrifices their principles and b.) they understand that they need to work with other races and can’t shoulder the burden alone. The Illusive Man does neither of those things……and ultimately ends up cracking and doing things that are not only monstrous but deeply stupid and counterproductive. As Shepard says in the climax “You sacrificed too much.”
He also subverts the “hard man making hard decisions” by showing that most of the “necessary cruelties” aren’t really necessary but done more because they’re convenient. And when you look at groups like the CIA (which used that mentality to justify their crimes) and the fact that those “necessary evils” really just fucked things up in the long run and it’s a lesson that kinda needs to be said.
Hell even Kai Leng works as a PHYSICAL foil (They’re both powerful warriors who were in the Alliance’s most powerful unit….but whereas Paragon Shepard is a good guy Leng’s a racist psycho).
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