Here we are. The mysterious and legendary Quarian homeworld. We’ve been hearing about this place since we met Tali way back at the start of Mass Effect 1. I’ve always wondered about this place. I have to say it’s not quite what I was expecting.
The Quarians only left a couple of centuries ago, and they were already a space-faring civilization at the time. So you’d expect to see some spectacular cities here. Or ruins of cities. Or Geth cities built from abandoned Quarian cities. Or, you know… houses. Something.
The planet description offers the excuse that a lot of the planet is kind of “Mojave Desert”-ishWhich almost makes me wish for a nuclear winter. and not worth inhabiting. I guess that’s where these missions take place?
In reality, I’m sure this was a simple budget problem. Cities are expensive to build, and this game is already heavy on expensive content. Still, I really wanted to see a Quarian city. Even if it had just been a darkened city on the horizon, baked into the skybox, it would have been wonderful.
It’s hard to share Tali’s excitement when her planet looks like such a depressing shithole. It’s like bringing your alien friend to see Earth, except you only show him some featureless scrublands, or a random spot in the middle of the Atlantic. Spoiler: He might not be super-impressed.
We’re here because the Geth are still getting some sort of Reaper signal from the planet, which is boosting their combat prowess.
Earlier, there was a brilliant conversation with Legion where he explained why the Geth allied with the Reapers again. The Quarians attacked, and the Geth felt like they were out of options.
“Imagine that for every one of your people lost on Earth, your own intelligence dimmed. The [Quarian] attack narrowed the Geth’s perspective. Self-preservation took precedence.”
This is a great perspective. It shows just how different and alien the Geth are in their thinking. It explains why they allied with the Reapers, even though you supposedly wrapped up that plot in Mass Effect 2. It also puts the blame for this whole mess right back on the Quarians.
Legion wants his kind to evolve independently, without Reaper interference. So the final task here on Rannoch is to shut down this Reaper signal.
There’s a bunch of fighting, but at the end of the mission it’s revealed that the source of the Reaper signal is… a Reaper. Which, yeah. Maybe someone should have seen that coming.
Shepard is equipped with a space-laser-pointer so he can paint targets and the Quarian fleet can bomb the spot from orbit. So you have to dodge the Reapers eye-laser and guide the fleet weapons to shoot it in the vulnerable spot. Which is a big red glowy bit. Which is exposed when the Reaper fires. And once the Reaper begins shooting, it fires in a straight line so you can dodge-roll out of the way.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear I dislike this sequence. It’s too transparently a videogame boss fight. It requires the Reaper to continue to chase around one little human instead of dealing with the fleet that’s actually kicking its assWould you continue to chase a house fly around while someone else shot you over and over again?. The Reaper apparently forgets it can fly. The Reaper suddenly can’t aim its eye laser, even though we’ve seen them do it effortlessly in the past. The Reaper keeps using the red laser that makes it vulnerable, when it could just as easily walk over and sit on you at no risk to itself. This supposed hyper-intelligent machine god has to be dragged down to the mental level of a cat chasing a laser pointer for this to work. And I’m pretty sure even a cat would stop chasing a laser pointer if you physically attacked it.
Sigh. I guess this is the price of BioWare going mass market. I hate it, but I guess I don’t blame them. There really are a lot of people who get bored or frustrated if the game doesn’t give them big set-piece encounters like this. As silly as this is, I’d gladly put up with it if it meant we could get more AAA sci-fi in our gaming diet. At least we’re not fighting Cerberus.
This is clearly a part of the game you’re not supposed to think about too hard. But I’m feeling churlish so let’s perform a renegade interrupt and do exactly that.
Overthinking Orbital Bombardment
So Shepard is laser-painting the Reaper’s weak spot. Given the speed the Reaper is moving, painting the target would be pointless if it took more than a second for the space-bullets to reach the target. Any longer than that and they’d be hitting his turtle shell, which the dialog makes clear is invulnerable-ish.
Both the Quarians and Geth want to operate in the space directly over the signalThe Geth want to receive the signal, and the Quarians want to engage the Geth.. So it’s reasonable to assume that the ships are in stationary orbit around the planet.
Geostationary orbit on EarthYes, that’s technically redundant. But shut up. is 35,786,000 meters above sea level. Let’s assume Rannoch is in the same ballpark, mass-wise. Light travels at a brisk 299,792,458 meters a second. So if these space-bullets cover the distance from orbit to ground in one second then they are coming down through the atmosphere at something like 12% the speed of light. We don’t know how big the projectiles are because we don’t have any reference objects when we view the ships. But these are warships and the cutscenes suggest the ones in the foreground are probably Normandy-sized. Hilariously, the guns recoil and make boom-boom sounds like gunpowder-based cannons from Earth. (I guess writing science fiction is hard sometimes.) Using that as a guide, the projectiles are somewhere “between bowling-ball sized” and “human sized”. Let’s assume the lower value, just to be nice.
Accelerating a bowling ball to 0.12c is not a very safe thing to do. It basically doesn’t matter what you make the ball out of. It could be made of high explosives that detonate on impactAlthough at these speeds, simply entering the atmosphere would count as an “impact”. or they could be literal bowling balls. The difference in energy imparted to the target (and surrounding area) would be basically the same.
Assuming I didn’t screw up my Wolfram Alpha inputs: A 10lb (4.5 kilogram) object accelerated to 0.12c will deliver 4.106à—10^17 joules of energy to the target. That’s something like 98 megatons of TNT. That 10lb bowling ball is going to hit more than 4,000 times harder than the A-bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Shepard is less than half a kilometer from the point of impact. He’s basically got 4,000 atom bombs going off in his faceSome of that energy will be “lost” in the atmosphere. That slows the ball down a bit, but it can’t save Shepard. It just means the atmosphere above the Reaper is now a column of superheated, supersonic plasma..
Oh wait. That’s just one shell. The ships are actually firing a dozen or so of these “bowling balls” per salvo.
And this fight requires you to hit the reaper with five salvos, with the Reaper getting closer each time. The last salvo slams into the Reaper only a dozen or so meters away from Shepard.
4,000 atom bombs per shell x 12 shells per salvo x 5 salvos = 240,000 fat man nukes.
“Can Shepard survive this?” is the wrong question. The question should be, “What kind of damage is this going to do to the planet?”
Welcome back to Rannoch, Tali. You might want to wait for the tectonic plates to settle into their new positions and the dust clouds to settle out of the atmosphere before you start building your house.
Yes, it’s goofy and pretty schlock-y, but I can actually forgive the game for lapses like this. I don’t expect writers to know how to calculate the energy of impacts at relativistic speedsShit, I’m not even sure *I* got it right.. And there’s always the hand-wave of “mass effect fields” to deflect this sort of analysis. But I do expect them to know how to construct a story and write their characters. And turning the Reapers into derpy punching bags who act like a cat chasing a laser pointer is a lot more damaging to the story than getting tripped up on the science.
EDIT: It turns out that – as I feared – I did fumble the above calculations a bit. As Talifabian pointed out in the comments below:
As a physicist, I can confirm that you did one thing slightly wrong on your energy calculation there.
The relativistic energy of an object is indeed E=gamma * mass * c^2, where gamma =1/sqrt(1-velocity^2/c^2). Plugging in the numbers, that gives an energy of 4.106e17 Joules
However, you'll notice that if you plug a velocity of zero into that equation, you still get a large energy. This is because that equation includes the rest mass of the object, which won't be transferred during the impact (i.e. all the actual particles of the projectile will still exist after the collision, but now occupying a significantly wider area)
The formula you need to use for the kinetic energy is T=(gamma-1)*m*c^2, which gives you a kinetic energy of 2.967e15 Joules
So I was off by about two orders of magnitude. Which sounds bad, but it doesn’t really change the result in Shepard’s case. It just means this is a smaller scale cataclysm and the planet will recover faster. Everything in Shepard’s field of view – including Shepard and his team – are thoroughly atomized.
When the Reaper dies, the Geth lose their upgrades and the space-battle going on overhead begins to turn against them. Han’Gerrel is still a dick, and has decided to wipe out the Geth while he has the advantage.
Legion shows up and announces he wants to upgrade the Geth collective. (It’s a long story.) You get some pretty big choices here. If you stop Legion from giving the upgrades, then Han’Gerrel will wipe them out. If you allow the upgrades, then idiot Han’Gerrel will still press the attack and get his people wiped out. You can side with the Quarians – which includes Tali. Or you can side with the Geth, which includes Legion.
When forced to chose, I’ve always sided with the Geth. The game just got done showing that the Quarians have always been the aggressors in this conflict that has spanned centuries. The only reason to side with the Quarians is because you really like Tali. I like Tali, but I’m not willing to genocide a species for her. Especially not when her species is and has been the aggressor for centuries. I suppose Han’Gerrel’s trechery and bloody single-mindedness doesn’t help the Quarians either.
You can try to broker peace, but it’s only possible if you have enough paragade juice and you haven’t pissed off either side too much. Brokering peace gets you both fleets and a big happy ending to this storyAnd also makes the ending of the game incrementally dumber., but does require quite a bit of effort. I’m pretty sure it’s only possible if you imported a Mass Effect 2 with the right decisions. The default Mass Effect 3 state can’t ever attain it.
For reasons of lazy pathos, Legion has to die in order to pass on these upgrades, even though he’s simply broadcasting data to the other Geth and copying data is kind of what computers DO.
The writer has basically given up on the whole “hard science” angle and gone for full-on action schlock. That’s annoying, but it doesn’t ruin the game because everything else here works. It concludes a story introduced in the first game. The characters ring true. We’re not constantly tripping over massive contrivances and retcons. There are characters driving the story, giving a sense of personal stakes. The dialog isn’t bristling with stupidity. Shepard doesn’t grief the player in cutscenes. Shepard isn’t railroaded into making infuriating choices or saying things that frustrate the player.
It’s action schlock, but it’s good action schlock. I miss my Mass Effect 1 style sci-fi, but at least this part works on its own terms. The next part? Much less so.
 Which almost makes me wish for a nuclear winter.
 Would you continue to chase a house fly around while someone else shot you over and over again?
 The Geth want to receive the signal, and the Quarians want to engage the Geth.
 Yes, that’s technically redundant. But shut up.
 Although at these speeds, simply entering the atmosphere would count as an “impact”.
 Some of that energy will be “lost” in the atmosphere. That slows the ball down a bit, but it can’t save Shepard. It just means the atmosphere above the Reaper is now a column of superheated, supersonic plasma.
 Shit, I’m not even sure *I* got it right.
 And also makes the ending of the game incrementally dumber.
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