Supply lines are cut. The military is being consumed by an implacable enemy. Resources are low. Millions have died and entire worlds have gone dark, production-wise.
And yet somehow the galaxyOr maybe just the Humans? If the other races are involved, they’re a footnote is building the Crucible, which is a massive mystery device of future technology built from ancient Prothean blueprints. This is like Great Britain building the Apollo program during The Blitz.
The story never says where the Crucible is being built. I’m really curious about that, since there must be a constant influx of people and supplies to the place. It’s the most important thing in the galaxy right now. It should be very hard for the Reapers to overlook. The entire plot turns on this object, and it’s being built entirely off-screen, mostly by people we never meet, in an unknown location.
The the best scientists in the galaxy have gathered to build a device they don’t understand, they don’t know how to use, and don’t know what it will do when they turn it on. Imagine this. They literally have no idea what this does. Is it a weapon? Should we aim it at something? How? Where do we put it? Is it a super-shield to protect a planet, or a super-nuke that will blow up a star system? Do we need to stand way, way back when we turn it on? Does it need a crew? Fuel? A driver-side airbag and parking lights?
Despite that, they do know it’s not complete. They know they need one more part, but they don’t know what it is, what it’s for, or what it will do, but they’re calling it the Catalyst. Really, the list of things they do know and don’t know about this device are oddly specific.
The Asari councilor summons Shepard. She might have some information on the Catalyst. She sends him to a temple on their homeworld. When he gets there, the Reapers are attacking and everything is chaos, etc.
Liara says this on the way to the temple:
“The coordinates the counselor gave you are for the Temple of Athame. My mother took me there once. It’s several thousand years old. And for some reason it has classified government funding.”
It’s revealed that the entire Asari religion and goddess-worship is actually a government-created conspiracy that lasted for thousands of years to cover up the fact that they had Prothean beacons, which the game implies is the source of their technology.
So the government formed a religion, and took this alien artifact – which, again, is apparently a source of a lot of their knowledge – and put it inside of a statue, and put the statue in a public temple.
I Have Questions
This entire section is a piñata of bad ideas. Every line of dialog spews out several new, unsupported, contradictory, nonsensical points that have never been foreshadowed and lead to no payoff. It’s so bad I’d suggest it was sabotage if the rest of the main story wasn’t such a mess.
Why didn’t the Asari learn about the Reapers from the beacon?
The entire point of this device is to warn the people of the next cycle about the Reapers. And yet the Asari somehow studied this thing enough to get a technological boost from it, and yet never turned it on or saw it fulfill its one and only purpose? What were they doing with it?
The Asari had this beacon on their homeworld, which they continued to keep secret (and never investigated themselves) even after the business with Saren and the Reapers and the frantic search for beacons all over the galaxy?
Why didn’t the Protheans just TELL the Asari about the Reapers?
This sequence in the temple also reveals that the Protheans uplifted the Asari. Maybe not to space, but to agricultural-level society. They knew each other personally. So that means the last Reaper invasion overlapped with the friendship between the Protheans and the Asari. So the Protheans didn’t tell the Asari about the Reapers, even during the Reaper invasion? And then the Protheans created a beacon to tell them, and it still somehow didn’t tell them, despite them studying it for centuries?
This is not another case of the writer forgetting to read the codex. Both of these concepts are introduced here, together, in the same scene. Somehow the Asari remembered all this stuff from the Protheans, but never managed to remember their godlike friends being wiped out by space demons?
Why did the Asari hide this Prothean beacon in a statue in a public place?
Imagine aliens crash on Earth and the US government wants to conceal the wreckage. But instead of sticking the ship in Area 51, they put it in a giant statue of the Virgin Mary, which they put in the biggest church in New York. If the artifact did anything interesting, there wouldn’t be any science people around to observe it. Moreover, if you decided to run new tests on it, you wouldn’t be able to, because it’s now sealed inside a statue. This both increases the chance of exposure and prevents you from studying it.
Governments have secure facilities for this very reason!
Actually, it’s not like they made a Virgin Mary. It’s like they made some new figure that nobody had ever heard of, and then somehow got people to worship it. Which makes me wonder…
Why would you create a new religion?
What’s the religion for? Assuming you’re just set on this idiotic statue idea, why not invent something way easier? Why not just make a park with a big secular statue? What possible benefit would there be to invent a new religion?
But even if you had a good reason for doing that…
HOW would you create a new religion?
Maybe if you’re 8 years old you might imagine that you can wander out into the streets and say, “This is a new god I made up. Everyone believe in them now” and then you’ll become the Pope of a new religion.
But people with some sort of rudimentary, middle-school grasp of history will observe that religions tend to have some kind of background and culture associated with them. Laying aside arguments over a supernatural divinitySeriously. This isn’t some kind of invitation for a bunch of backhanded insults against whatever religions you find annoying., a historian can observe that religions don’t simply materialize at random. They’re the result of political changes, cultural shifts, charismatic leaders, and heroic deeds. That’s not something a group of scientists could manufacture, even if they had a reason to do so. Especially if the only point was so that they would have a container to prevent them from studying a technological artifact.
This is on top of the fact that the Asari only seem to have one religion right now. Presumably they had others before this one came along. How did this abruptly-invented government religion supplant the established ones?
And since this religion is so popularSure, Liara claims it’s in decline, but it’s still the dominant religion of a powerful species. now…
Why would the government secretly fund this religion?
Governments can do that in the open. Moreover, this is the dominant religion – indeed, the only religion depicted – of an entire species. If they have some sort of system of tithes, then money really shouldn’t be a problem. If they don’t, then how is the government funding a secret? Do none of these billions of worshipers ask who’s paying to keep the lights on? Do the millions of priestesses never look down to see who signed their paycheck?
While not impossible, this is a strange idea. It’s like if I tell you a story, and in the middle of the story I casually mention that half the people in a city killed themselves, but I never say why and I never say what the aftermath was. I just sort of mention it in passing. If you were the listener, you would probably stop me and demand an explanation, because details like that stand out.
This entire section is filled with these sorts of strange ideas, and Shepard doesn’t ever step in on our behalf. He doesn’t even seem to notice how ludicrous this is.
How did the government keep this gigantic conspiracy a secret for thousands of years?
Funding a religion in secret only makes it seem extremely suspicious. Which would be fine, except little Liara had apparently heard of the covert funding, which means it must have been a poorly kept secret. Which… fine. But then why is she shocked about any of this? Why isn’t this common knowledge by now?
Can you imagine as each new generation of Goddess-worshipers comes to work for the Department of Fake Religion and they have to be told that everything they’ve been taught is a lie? That’s got to be the most awkward employee orientation ever.
And then none of those shocked, disillusioned former worshipers ever went public? This suggests an abrupt new sinister dimension to the Asari that the writer doesn’t explore because they didn’t realize that running a conspiracy for thousands for years would require a level of ruthlessness, cunning, and zealotry that goes against what we’ve been shown about the Asari until now.
What technological advantage?
This is something that’s never come up before in the series. While the writer might talk them up in the codex from time to time, are the Asari really that far ahead? Their combat prowess comes from their biotics, not their zap guns. Their ships don’t seem to be anything special. In fact, in the previous shooting section we see the Asari have the same thump-thump mounted turret they have back on Earth, and the soldiers are all carrying pedestrian ground weapons.
The story has never shown us any mystery technology or seemingly-magical gizmos in the hands of the AsariYou could maybe argue that the Destiny Ascension would count, but that was the flagship of the council, not the Asari, and the story said it was BIG but didn’t really talk about its technology. In any case, I seriously doubt the Mass Effect writer is basing this idea off of that ship.. Not once has anyone ever expressed wonder at Asari technology, much less asked how they could be so far ahead. Sure, they do seem to be a little better than everyone else, but the Asari seem closer to the Turians than (say) America in 1950 compared to America in 2015.
Yes, you could make the case that they have lots of advanced technology that we’re never shownMaybe their big advantages are non-military, and we don’t encounter them because Shepard spends most of his time in combat situations.. But that’s my point: This is an explanation to a mystery that’s never portrayed.
But even if we accept the premise that the Asari really are significantly ahead of the other races…
Why would the Asari need an explanation for their technological advantage?
The Asari are supposedly hiding this beacon from the rest of the galaxy so that nobody will know where they got their technology. Except, doesn’t everyone get their technology from the mass effect relays and the Citadel? In the first game it was made clear that the relay network was kind of a trap invented by the Reapers. It was designed to funnel technological progress along certain lines, and make organics dependent on the relays.
Ignoring that, the Asari were the first ones in space in this cycle. Of course they should be ahead of the other species in terms of technology! Moreover, they live for 1,000 years. That is an amazingly long time. Imagine if every great thinker since 1100AD was still alive and working today, and they had spent all of the intervening years continuing the study we know them for.
Imagine that right now, in Cambridge, you could find Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Sir Edward Victor Appleton, and Niels Bohr hanging out with Stephen Hawking. And all of these guys are busy doing research, writing papers, and commenting on one another’s work. Imagine if we still had Da Vinci, Charls Darwin, Galileo Galilei, Marie Curie, Johannes Kepler, Nikola Tesla, Nicolaus Copernicus, Rosalind Franklin, Erwin Schrà¶dinger, Richard Feynman, and Carl Friedrich Gauss. Even better: Most of these people are still in their prime. None of them has entered the last century of their lifeNot that this seems to slow down the Asari very much.. Galileo is pretty busy, but if you corner him at a party he’ll tell you all about hanging out with Al-Khwarizmi before his death in the 1700’s. And if you get a few drinks into him, he’ll wax nostalgic about the teachers of his youth, most of whom studied under Plato, Archimedes, and Pythagoras.
A thousand years is a really long time!
That’s the problem with us humans. It takes a good 30 years to get the knowledge into your head so you can contribute, and then you’ve got maybe another 30 left before you start to fall apart. For the Asari, this “useful” phase is apparently about 900 years long. The Asari might live 10 times longer than us, but they have something like 30 human lifetimes of productivity.
It would be strange if the Asari weren’t the most advanced race in the galaxy. I’d expect them to be centuries – perhaps millennia – ahead of the other races. But instead the game shows them only slightly ahead. Fine. I always assumed the relatively even technological match between the various races was due to general Asari openness.
The Asari should be far, far ahead, but the game shows us they aren’t. And yet the writer claims that they are, but they shouldn’t be. This is double backwards. And no that doesn’t mean the stupidity cancels out. It’s just twice as dumb.
Fine. Whatever. Let’s just go with it. But even ignoring all of that…
Why would the Asari councilor think this artifact would help us?
She hears that we need help building the Crucible, and her first thought is to send us to a religious temple so we can smash open an ancient and presumably revered statue because the Prothean beacon inside might have more information for us? This requires her to know that the religion is fakeWhich I guess is reasonable for a political leader to know, assuming you’re willing to swallow the premise of a pointless conspiracy that lasted for thousands of years. Which I’m not., that the beacon exists, and that it will have something new to tell us, when you might assume the Asari had squeezed out all of its secrets thousands of years ago. And she also knows that it will reveal stuff somehow related to the Crucible, when the plans for that were found on Mars. And while we’re at it, why wasn’t this stuff about the Catalyst stored with the rest of the Crucible plans?
Once again, this is a mountain of strange ideas that are casually glossed over.
But the worst part of these reveals is that they’re all for nothing. I mean…
Why did the writer do ANY of this?
None of this is used later. This isn’t part of a build-up to the finale. These concepts don’t exist to support the theme of the game, or the ending, or help us understand the motivations of anyone in the story.
Heck, in Mass Effect 1 you could’ve used any one of these ideas a central plot for a particular quest or colony location. This reveal in Mass Effect 3 is like Vader stopping in the middle of his fight with Luke and saying, “By the way, I’m your father and I built C-3P0.” And then they go back to dueling and the topic never comes up again in the entire trilogy.
The only reason to do any of this – and this might be the most damning thing I can say – is that the writer thought this was cool.
So the Asari studied an artifact without ever learning the one thing it was specifically designed to teach them, but which gave them a technological boost that isn’t depicted. Then they decided to hide the artifact by making up a religion they didn’t need, and which people had no reason to believe in, so that they could put the artifact where it couldn’t be further studied. Then they formed a secret conspiracy to give the religion money it shouldn’t need, in order to conceal the source of technology they didn’t have, from people who weren’t looking for it.
This writer isn’t just bad at worldbuilding, they hate it. They have contempt for the very concept of creating fictional universes. Dialog is so vague and perfunctory, yet it’s still bristling with these goofy, awkward, ill-fitting ideas. Nothing works together. Nothing is ever set up beforehand. Nothing is supported by anything else. Nothing leads to a payoff. The writer just lives in the moment, lashing snippets of cliche dialog together to bridge the gap to the next shooting section. Never look back. Never plan ahead. Just pound out the requisite two minutes of exposition for the nerds and get back to making action set-pieces, which are the only thing that matters.
Any one of these ideas is a big reveal that needs to be given proper attention and weight. But this writer apparently attended the M. Night Shyamalan “anything unexpected qualifies as a plot twist” school of storytelling.
Shepard does the lamest puzzle in the world, the statue of Athame shatters, and a Prothean beacon is revealed. Although instead of working like a proper beacon that gives a vision that only Shepard can understand, this one spits out a little VI buddy. But this VI isn’t anything like Vigil from Mass Effect 1 in terms of lore, outlook, personality, goals, appearance, or even voice acting.
Did the Asari ever find this VI? Did the Asari ever TALK TO this VI? If not, why not?
And no, I’m not asking for some fanboy to jump in here with a, “Well maybe the writer was suggesting X?” fanfiction patch. I’m not asking the reader to write me a story. I’m saying the writer of Mass Effect 3 should have written a story.
The answer to all of these questions I’ve been asking is apparently, “Shut up, nerd.” Because the only thing this writer hates more than worldbuilding is not shooting things. And boy is it ever time to shoot something.
Guess who we’re talking about next week?
 Or maybe just the Humans? If the other races are involved, they’re a footnote
 Seriously. This isn’t some kind of invitation for a bunch of backhanded insults against whatever religions you find annoying.
 Sure, Liara claims it’s in decline, but it’s still the dominant religion of a powerful species.
 You could maybe argue that the Destiny Ascension would count, but that was the flagship of the council, not the Asari, and the story said it was BIG but didn’t really talk about its technology. In any case, I seriously doubt the Mass Effect writer is basing this idea off of that ship.
 Maybe their big advantages are non-military, and we don’t encounter them because Shepard spends most of his time in combat situations.
 Not that this seems to slow down the Asari very much.
 Which I guess is reasonable for a political leader to know, assuming you’re willing to swallow the premise of a pointless conspiracy that lasted for thousands of years. Which I’m not.
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