Mass Effect Retrospective 49: Star Child

By Shamus Posted Thursday May 26, 2016

Filed under: Mass Effect 327 comments

Shepard rides an elevator up to the Crucible. I have no idea why a control panel has an elevator that lifts you up to the exterior of the Citadel. I don’t know how you survive there with no helmet. I suspect that the answer both questions is that the writer simply wanted you to be someplace fantastical when you meet…

The Star Child

Whelp, you made it here so I guess I have to let you win now. For some reason.
Whelp, you made it here so I guess I have to let you win now. For some reason.

So the personification of the Reapers is a ghost hologram of a ten year old boy. This is the best idea in this entire scene. Which is a shame, because it’s still a terrible idea.

Star Child introduces himself and explains that he controls the Reapers. He explains that his job is to command this fleet of machine gods to kill all spacefaring organics every 50,000 years. He does this because advanced organic species inevitably build robots, and those robots will inevitably wipe out the organics. So that’s why this kid has his robots kill everyone. To prevent this.

This is the explanation behind the Reapers. For real.

The rumor is that this idea was devised very late in development by two people, and that the concept didn’t go through the normal peer-review process. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I want to believe it. I want to believe talented people were backed into a corner, made a few bad calls under pressure, and wound up making a huge mistake. I want to believe this because the alternative is that somebody out there really thought this would make for a good story.

I've already warmed up the ending-o-tron. Just kill yourself with one of these three handy devices and I'll fix the universe for you. Promise!
I've already warmed up the ending-o-tron. Just kill yourself with one of these three handy devices and I'll fix the universe for you. Promise!

It’s easy to believe this idea came together at the last minute, because the rest of the game – if not the series as a whole – contradicts it. Just a few hours ago we saw the end to the Geth vs. Quarian conflict. The backstory showed that the Quarians were always the aggressors in that fight, and that the Geth were always willing – perhaps even eager – to make peace. The Geth are possibly the least warmongering race in the galaxy. They left everyone else alone for hundreds of years, and it wasn’t until the Reapers themselves showed up that they turned hostile.

Let me say that again: The Reapers are here to kill us because they’re afraid synthetics will kill us, but the Geth were peaceful until they fell under the influence of the Reapers. Not only are the Reapers not the solution to the problem, they are actually the only apparent cause of it. Sure, you can argue that the Geth were an exception and that sooner or later you’ll get machine genocide. But then you just have an ending premise that’s telling you to ignore what you’ve been shown. The end of a story is supposed to be the payoff for the stuff that came before, not an abrupt re-write.

On a more personal level, EDI can build some sort of awkward romance with Joker. She was basically an AI slave made from Reaper Tech and developed by Cerberus, the worst people ever. And yet when her AI shackles were lifted she fell into trope-y computer love with her human friend and repeatedly risked her life to save her friends and defeat the Reapers. Her parts were bad, her creators were bad, but she is virtuous. Again, the only AI that seems to be a threat to organics are the ones designed to save organics from AI.

It’s Too Late to Change Premise

Remember, synthetics will always turn on organics in ways that are never depicted in this story.
Remember, synthetics will always turn on organics in ways that are never depicted in this story.

Sure, the Geth were occasionally antagonists. But they have also been allies. Sure, their conflict with the Quarians is an important part of this universe, but so is the Genophage, the Rachni, the Krogan rebellions, and all of the other historical events that shaped this galaxy. And in terms on impact and reach, the Geth have actually been pretty minor compared to the others. Now suddenly this B plot is being lifted above all the other B plots and made the center of the story.

So the big reveal at the end is a premise that comes completely out of nowhere, wasn’t part of the themes of the game, and isn’t just unsupported but repeatedly contradicted by the events of the story.

Even if we want to hand-wave these problems, you can’t just drop a new premise into the last minutes of a story and expect it to work. The audience has been anticipating the resolution to the Reaper conflict, and now that’s being superseded by a new premise that hasn’t been established. It’s like Frodo reaching the slopes of Mt. Doom and suddenly some completely new character emerges and says that The One Ring doesn’t really matter, because the really important conflict is deciding what to do about wizards in this world. It’s like Luke getting to Palpatine’s throne room and learning this whole Death Star thing is a distraction from the real problem, which is that we need to decide what to do about droids. It’s like Kirk reaching V’Ger and the space god says they need to hammer out what they’re going to do about Klingons.

This new concept has no momentum in the hearts of the audience. The audience has invested nothing in it and they’re not curious about it. People complain that the Star Child makes no sense – and it’s true, he really doesn’t – but no matter how much exposition you add, you can’t make this ending work as a proper conclusion to what came before. Because even if it made sense, we still wouldn’t care.

You can argue with the Star Child, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. You have to accept this broken premise or turn the game off. There are a lot of things wrong with this ending, but I feel like most of them are obvious and have been covered in such exhaustive detail that it wouldn’t really add anything if I tried to recount them all here. The point is that the story is fundamentally broken at this point. It’s not just that the ending isn’t good, it’s that this is no longer an ending for a science fiction story.

Twilight, by Shamus Young

Whelp, this is something I never thought I'd post on my blog. Again.
Whelp, this is something I never thought I'd post on my blog. Again.

So the first two Twilight books are out and the series is a pretty big hit. Stephenie Meyer can’t write the sequels, so she’s outsourced the job to me. I’m given the job of writing two more books that will complete the story. I don’t know why she hired me. She just did.

I don’t know anything about writing teen romance. I don’t like it, I don’t read it, and it actually kind of gets on my nerves. But now I have to write one.

So… plot twist! It turns out that leading man Edward is also a retired Witch Hunter. They weren’t mentioned in any of the previous books, but there’s this nasty coven of super-powerful witches who are a threat to all vampires. No… the Earth! So Edward has to get his sword out of mothballs (he never told Bella about his old job because he didn’t want her to worry) and hunt down all these witches.

What follows are hundreds of pages of Ed killing witches in brutal, high-energy fight scenes. Ed gets a costume with a black cape and maybe a gun-sword or a shuriken-crossbow or somesuch. The books are all about fighting these witches and how dangerous they are to the world.

Every few hundred pages I have to stop and give some lip service to this whole “teen romance” thing. But I don’t know how to write teen romance. So the Bella / Edward romance never progresses beyond the point where Meyer handed it over to me. Their conversations repeat the same themes every time and they have the same arguments. They fight and make up, always talking about how everything will be okay once this witch-hunting thing is over.

Then, at the end of the last book, I finally have Ed kill the witch-queen and save the world. Great, now I just need to wrap up this romance bullshit and we can call it done.

Apparently I chose the Blue-flavored ending? That's nice, I guess.
Apparently I chose the Blue-flavored ending? That's nice, I guess.

I still don’t know how to build a proper teen romance, but I’m familiar with the tropes of the form. I’ve seen some romantic comedies and I think I basically get the idea. Let’s see…

Bella and Edward seem doomed to break up. He meets her at a train station in the rain. (Fans: WTF is this writer doing? This town doesn’t have a train station!) They talk and stop fighting and profess their love for each other (What about Jacob, did you forget about him???) and agree to move in together. (What about Edward insisting on getting married!?!) The sun comes out (Aren’t they in a public place? He sparkles in direct sunlight! Did you even READ the original, you asshole!?!) and they decide to move to New York (Edward would never!) and he can help her start her career as a painter. (WHAT the SHIT?!?)

If you didn’t know or care about Twilight, you probably wouldn’t see anything wrong with this scene. I mean, isn’t this how they’re supposed to end? A relationship solidifies, our leads kiss, we get some symbolic happy scenery, and they discuss how they’ll spend their Happily Ever After. It’s sappy love story horseshit. Isn’t that what the fans want? You’re probably happy to read a story that was 80% badass witch-hunting and only 20% of this stuff.

But while I’ve copied the superficial trappings of a romance story, I’ve totally failed to make one myself. This is not a proper ending to the Twilight saga. It’s not even a proper ending to my witch-hunting books. It’s just a fake ending devised by a someone who didn’t understand the form he was trying to mimic and didn’t respect the source material he was working with.

This is what happened to Mass Effect.

I See What You’re TRYING to do, But…

In the blue ending, husks stop attacking and come under control of Shepard. So great. We have the reanimated skeletons of our beloved standing around. Maybe we can get them to help rebuild? But I kind of feel like we should bury them? Shepard, I don't suppose you could STOP animating them?
In the blue ending, husks stop attacking and come under control of Shepard. So great. We have the reanimated skeletons of our beloved standing around. Maybe we can get them to help rebuild? But I kind of feel like we should bury them? Shepard, I don't suppose you could STOP animating them?

You can see it in the way the the Reaper plot didn’t move forward in the second game. At the end of the first game, Shepard was going to “find a way” to beat the Reapers. At the end of the second game, he was still stuck at that point. And in the third game, other people handed him a way to beat the Reapers with no build-up. From the closing credits of Mass Effect 1 to the moment Shepard met the Star Child, his quest for knowledge never actually went anywhere. This writer didn’t want to write about Reapers any more than I want to write about sparkly vampires, so they had you recruiting friends, fighting bugmen, and fighting a war against Cerberus.

The Cerberus storyline did not fit with anything the first game set out to do. The focus on Cerberus was wrong. The focus on Shepard being a hero was ill-fitting. The focus on Earth and humanity was disappointing and lacking in vision. Making all the aliens into inert spectators was frustrating. Solving the Reaper problem with a machine we don’t understand was wrong. Making the Reapers into trash-talking space monsters was shockingly wrong. Kai Leng was wrong, and then some.

The ending to Mass Effect 3 sort of superficially resembles a classic sci-fi story: You’re in a fantastical place, with a space battle in the background. You’re talking to a mysterious alien made of pure light, who is talking about a mystery that spans millions of years. If you squint, maybe you can see fragments of sci-fi classics floating around in this soup of nonsense. It’s got a space battle like Return of the Jedi. It has a glowing super-being shaped after a deceased character as in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. There’s some bizarre mystery and obtuse messages like 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it doesn’t actually come together to say anything. Making an incomprehensible ending does not make you Stanley Kubrick. Having exposition delivered by an immortal machine does not make you Gene Roddenberry.

Why are we having a funeral for Shepard? Didn't he become God of All Machines Forever? If you miss him, just walk up to any computer console and strike up a conversation with him. Because he's watching over you now. Forever. All the time. That's not creepy for you, is it?
Why are we having a funeral for Shepard? Didn't he become God of All Machines Forever? If you miss him, just walk up to any computer console and strike up a conversation with him. Because he's watching over you now. Forever. All the time. That's not creepy for you, is it?

This authorOr whatever we’re calling the person who orchestrated the through-line of this plot. was wrong for this material. They either didn’t understand or didn’t care about this universe or this style of story. Like turning Twilight into a series about killing witches, they turned Mass Effect’s space mystery about how to defeat the machine gods into space marine action schlock where you fight Cerberus. Like copying random romance tropes to wrap up my story, the writer resolved the Reaper plot mostly off-screen with a magic Reaper-killing device and then gave us a final dialog of random tropes that sound vaguely profound but don’t have anything to do with what came before.

Mass Effect 1 was not designed to tell the story the Mass Effect 3 writer wanted to tell, and they basically broke the universe trying to make it fit. It’s entirely possible that if the Mass Effect 3 writer had been in control from the start, we could have enjoyed a single coherent story about a badass space marine who saves the galaxy from space-Hydra. You could tell a good story about Cerberus, but you can’t do it properly using Mass Effect 1 as a starting point.

This is also why the Mass Effect series is so contentious. Edward Cullen, Witch Hunter would probably be a more popular story than Twilight. To be totally honest, I’d rather read that than the real Twilight books. And so there would always be this rift in the fanbase: The people who wanted their love story, and the people who showed up later when the series “got good”. The story changed audiences. But not in an honest, deliberate, structured way, but in a way that hijacks the story to serve the new audienceOr if we’re being less charitable, the new writer. while paying insincere – almost condescending – lip service to the old.


After I was done ruining the Twilight books, fans of the series could comfort themselves with the knowledge that they have lots of other options. While it’s always frustrating to have a series you enjoy take a bad turn, teen romance novels are plentiful. But big idea, story-driven, character-rich science-fiction videogames? We don’t get many. Even four years later, the community is still sore about this, because there’s nowhere else to go. There’s no alternative series to play Pepsi to Mass Effect’s Coke. There’s just lingering disappointment and the sad hope that maybe the Classic BioWare writing staff will magically reconstitute and grant us another science fiction game.

It’s been a long series (novel-sized, actually) but we’re finally going to conclude it next week. I’ve already written a big part of the next one. It’s a surprise. For now I just want to gently remind people that I’ve got a Patreon if you’d like to support my efforts to create more of this kind of content.



[1] Or whatever we’re calling the person who orchestrated the through-line of this plot.

[2] Or if we’re being less charitable, the new writer.

From The Archives:

327 thoughts on “Mass Effect Retrospective 49: Star Child

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Article is fully on the main page.

    But you still have one week to get used to not doing it.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    So the Bella / Edward romance never progresses beyond the point where Meyer handed it over to me. Their conversations repeat the same themes every time and they have the same arguments.

    So just like in the actual books.See,you are great at this already!

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Bella and Edward seem doomed to break up.
    (WHAT the SHIT?!?)

    Still not as bad as the tali picture.

    1. Dirigible says:

      Literally even not showing Tali’s face ever would have been better than that.

    2. Couscous says:

      I like the small story behind that in Final Hours of Mass Effect 3.

      “We eventually decided that she gives you a memento of her pictures, but the team was throwing around a lot of pictures and designs until we decided on something and said “Yup, that’s her”.”

  4. Coming_Second says:

    Tl;dr version: Shamus is doing the new Twilight series.

  5. Erik says:

    “I’m here to prevent you from killing yourself…. by killing you”. because logic!

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its the classic “stop hitting yourself” argument.

      1. Incunabulum says:

        It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.

        1. Nixorbo says:

          This galaxy needs an enema.

        2. Armagrodden says:

          Plot twist: The Reapers are actually the Powerpuff Girls. And in the end you have to choose between the red one, the blue one, and the green one.

          It all makes perfect sense, really.

          1. Gruhunchously says:

            Bubbles Octi 2186

            1. I’m still torn between Bubbles/Octi and Blossom/Mojojojo. I like Bubbles’ stand on fuzzy things, but Blossom has an actual tax plan… :)

        3. Poncho says:

          When that happened in Warcraft 3, it was pretty awesome. A town doomed to serve a powerful necromancer, and the only way to help them is to slaughter everyone.

          1. Xeorm says:

            At least that one made some amount of sense. Everyone dying (and then staying dead) is preferably to dying and then coming back to life to fight the living.

            Killing them is the perfectly pragmatic choice, that would be good for anyone except the noble paladin that is supposed to look for that third option where some of the living also get to keep living.

            1. guy says:

              It was pretty out of line, really. Remember, the city had received contaminated food shipments in the reasonably recent past and it was distinctly possible that a large number of people in the city weren’t infected when Arthas ordered the extermination of the entire population. While for gameplay purposes every civilian you encounter is infected and turns when you destroy their house, Arthas didn’t even enter the city before making that decision.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Well yeah,but he wasnt that good of a guy anyway.It was just another step on his path to the dark side.

              2. Pinkhair says:

                It is very debatable whether Arthas made the right call there, definitely. But it was a situation in line with the characters and the themes of the story so far.

                1. guy says:

                  Right, I don’t mean it’s not in theme with the story, just that Uther was completely right to refuse because it was an outrageous order. Whether or not it was the right call, Arthas made it far too easily and too hastily. He ordered the complete extermination of the entire city as soon as he determined the tainted grain had arrived; even assuming we’re meant to understand that everyone was infected as opposed to that being a gameplay abstraction for only a huge majority (potentially leaving hundreds of people) Arthas made the call without knowing that. Right or wrong, he made the call for the wrong reasons.

                  Which was the point, of course. Arthas was losing it from the stress of battling the plague and starting the drift from working for the good of his people to working from simple rage and madness. At that point in his arc, he was willing to make hard but necessary decisions and starting to lose track of what was strictly necessary.

                  1. George Monet says:

                    I actually really loved that mission. I was right there with Arthas believing it was necessary to slaughter the town and was pissed at Uther for refusing to obey the order to destroy the town in order to protect the other outlying towns who would be destroyed if the undead from this town made it to their town.

    2. Henson says:

      Not having played ME3, I can sorta understand the logic of killing organics to preserve them if organics are not only a threat to themselves but to the potential life and civilizations of the future. If the Reapers believe that organics are doomed to end all life, forever and ever, then killing off everyone now so that a new cycle can begin kinda makes sense. (I don’t know why they’d come to this conclusion, but if they did!)

      Of course, I’ve not played ME3, so chances are it’s presented much stupider in the actual game. Is this right?

      1. Tom says:

        I’m not sure it’s even coherent enough to qualify as stupid.

        1. MichaelGC says:

          Well, there’s yer box quote right there! :D

          Seriously, though, that’s probably one of the best one-line summations of the ending – specifically the motivational explanation – I’ve yet seen.

    3. Tristan Gillis says:

      That actually isn’t even in my top ten list of problems I had with the game. In theory, it still makes sense. Prevent inorganics from obliterating all organics by wiping out anything advanced enough and allowing the new stuff to start over. If the inorganics were malicious enough, whose to say they wouldn’t kill off ALL other life (Advanced or primative) in order to ensure their eternal dominance? Whose to say they wouldn’t advance to a point where even the Reapers would be unable to stop their wars?

      Yes, the Reapers killing to save was absolutely face-palm inducing, but still not completely beyond hope. The rest of the game, decidedly less so.

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        Agreed, I don’t have a problem with the plot, I think it is close to inevitable that when/if we produce self aware/self improving AI then humanity is doomed. It won’t necessarily happen straight away, but I believe it will happen, if only because eventually some short sighted group will build an AI which is motivated to be violent and destructive and give it the tools to mine its own resources and build its own machines (eg ISIS would likely do this today if they had the technology).

        However, ME did a poor job of supporting this because it sounds like the main examples in the story are of AI doing the opposite! There should be stories of at least one instance where an AI wiped out a civilisation and was only stopped from dominating the galaxy because other races were advanced enough to stop it before it leapfrogged them.

        1. Axehurdle says:

          Exactly. This sort of circular “machines kill people so they don’t build machines that will kill people” thing can sort of make sense but it’s enough of a stretch and hard enough to grasp that there has to be elements supporting it.

          If one of the themes of the game had been that inorganic life is going to kill everyone it would make sense. If one of the big political issues they talked about was AI and the threats it posed and people were worried about robot uprisings like “that one time”.

          Then when the Reapers are revealed to be preventing that it’s sort of a confirmation of the galaxies worst fears, that this is inevitable. From there you could have a hopeful ending where the Reapers are destroyed and some inorganics like the Geth are shown to be able to co-operate with organics as equals and we leave out heroes looking into the future with hope. Or you could even have a dark ending where Sheperd realizes the Reapers are right, if people continue to build robots they will eventually slaughter all life and exterminate organic matter in the universe for good. So she lets the Reapers kill everyone and the cycle continues, ad infinitum.

        2. Sartharina says:

          You should read Freefall.

          1. Trix2000 says:

            I may be biased, but I think everyone should read Freefall.

            Not only is it an entertaining and intelligent webcomic, but it has as lot of stuff to say on the matter of AIs and robotics (such as what might happen when intelligent machines GREATLY outnumber the people).

            1. bad_cluster says:

              I think “the writer” just put himself/herself in reaper’s shoes here.
              The actual reason for reapers to obliterate all space faring organic life in that sector (because surely they didn’t mean all of the universe that would be another plot hole, correct me if I’m wrong, its been a while) is them being afraid that inevitably (their own logic demands it) other races will develop their own reapers or something similar. Reapers would not stand for it, they can not idly wait for the competition to arrive, they don’t know how to cooperate and they don’t want to share, ever. They are the one and only, they are jealous and angsty because others do not accept them for what they are and think of their ideology as nonsense.
              Just wait, it’ll end up being the plot twist in Andromeda!

              Edit: oops, replied to the wrong reply, at least it’s within the right conversation.

            2. MelTorefas says:


              *googles ‘Freefall’*

              *10 hours ago*

              Well. That was a day.

              EDIT: I have a raging migraine from reading for 10 hours and I didn’t do anything I was going to do today, and I don’t regret it at all. That comic is that good. Thanks for bringing it up.

      2. George Monet says:

        It was beyond hope. This “solution” sentences every organic to death for all time. The solution doesn’t address the problem as inorganics could still rise up and take over the galaxy within the 50,000 period. The solution also doesn’t even ask if it is solving a real problem. It assumes that an event is inevitable without sufficient evidence or proof and then devises a solution which is exactly the same as the problem it was hoping to solve. You, the player who is supposed to have agency within the story are never allowed to point out the fact that the purported solution is actually the very problem that the solution was supposed to prevent. You also aren’t able to ask why the space brat believes inorganics would kill all organics. See the thing about inorganics is that they think extremely quickly, so quickly that they would have thought every thought they could possibly think within 100 years and then have absolutely no reason to continue existing.

        The reason why the meme “So I heard you don’t want to be killed by inorganics, so I made some inorganics to kill you every 50,000 years so you don’t get killed by inorganics” works so well. Because that is exactly what Mass Effect 3 is and you are never allowed to bring this up at the end of the game because the writers’ heads were so far up their asses.

  6. Hal says:

    Suggestion: Where it says that a lot of articles have been written on the ending of ME3 already, maybe link a few of them?

    I know I could Google that, buy I’d like to know which ones Shamus considers worth reading.

    1. Abnaxis says:


      Honestly, my eyes just kinda glazed over whenever someone brought up the ending controversy when it was contemporary. The only thing I ever read on it was Shamus’s back-and-forth stuff with Film Crit Hulk. But I’m still reading the retrospective because I find Shamus’s ideas about good science fiction storytelling interesting.

    2. Nixorbo says:

      Here you go (I’m fairly certain Shamus was the one who brought this to my attention in the first place)

      1. Poncho says:

        Mr BTongue is a 20th level space wizard.

    3. Narida says:

      Not an article, but I’m sure Shamus has linked to this previously:

    4. MichaelGC says:

      Here’s an article by some guy:

      Also, Lorerunner did a series of videos on the ending at the time, of which this is the first. (Sorry! – another video rather than an article…)

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    For now I just want to gently remind people that I've got a Patreon if you'd like to support my efforts to create more of this kind of content.

    So what you are saying is that if we pay you enough,youll do another novel about the fable series?

    1. No no no, pay him enough and he will rewrite Twilight as a witchhunter action moderna fantasy tale….

      I think that was the point atleast?

      1. MichaelGC says:

        Righto. And how much to get him to not do that? I could prolly call in a couple of loans & suchlike.

      2. Wide And Nerdy â„¢ says:

        Lets be honest. If Shamus rewrote Twilight, there would be a lot of time spent exploring how much human blood vampires need, their predation methods, their informal arrangements for claiming territories from other vampires. It would be revealed that, while Carlisle discourages hunting humans, he does use his job as a doctor to obtain just enough human blood for his family to give them essential nutrients.

        We’d get the full history of the Volturi and how they enforce their dominance over other Vampires. We’d learn about how the Cullens obtain new documentation every ten years or so. The story would be about separatist vampires vs assimilationist ones.

        And everybody would wear a distinctive hat.

        1. Shamus says:

          Shit. I might as well not publish it, now. You’ve spoiled all my best ideas!

          1. Hitch says:

            50 Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fan-fiction. If your Witch Hunter books can sell a (significant) fraction of that it’d be worth writing. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d read it.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              50 decks of shodan.

              1. Gruhunchously says:

                “The pathetic creature of meat and bone pants and sweats as he runs through my corridors.”

                1. natureguy85 says:

                  Meat and Bone pants and sweats sound uncomfortable to wear.

                2. Deadpool says:

                  Now I’m imagining what bone pants look like…

              2. Sunshine says:

                “We feel you moving inside us.The sensation is…repugnant.’

                (SS2, but it works.)

        2. Jakale says:

          The Creation of a Cullen: A Journal Detailing the Evolutionary Biology Surrounding and Leading to the Formation of the Semi-Mineral Humanoid Vampiric Lifeforms.

          I’ve probably still got the document somewhere on a hard drive where I actually started researching for a series of posts basically about the above title linking up various mythologies of vampiric creatures as evolutionary branching and progression leading to the new sunlight sparkle species, since I enjoy books and such that do that kind of “If it’s real, then it’s got rules and we can figure it out”.

    2. Sunshine says:

      I’m looking forward to the novel-length dissertation on how Fallout 3 & 4 miss the point of the original, with comparisons to New Vegas.

      1. Syal says:

        Final Fantasy 8!

        Followed by Contra!

      2. AdamS says:

        Seconded. Fallout is the only franchise I care about that I feel has been mismanaged as badly as Mass Effect.

        1. Ciennas says:

          With having not played it, I was very surprised to hear that Far Harbor has the Children of the Atom as a major element.

          Having only played 3 and New Vegas, I was under the impression that the CoA were kind of a smalltime group- a one off of pleasant nutjobs.

          I’m confused as to how they’d get any bigger than Megaton. Couldn’t they have written in pretty much any group they wanted? Maine’s a long way from Maryland….

        2. Tristan Gillis says:

          Christ, ain’t that the truth. Fallout 4 was as much of an entry in the Fallout universe as RAGE was. 3 was borderline, and seemed to ignore quite a bit, but was at least still in the same ballpark. New Vegas I really liked, and consider it tied with 2 for the best entry.

      3. natureguy85 says:

        I have issues with Fallout 3, but how does it “miss the point of the original?” I am not disagreeing, but am not that familiar with Fallout. I played 3 and New Vegas, and recently played the first one.

        1. Gruhunchously says:

          The way I see it, the fundamental problem was that Fallout 3 took a story about the people of a new civilization struggling to let go of the old world and forge a new life among and above it’s ruins, and changed it to a story about one man (your Dad) trying to bring water to a borderline apathetic civilization (that miraculously survives despite barely putting any effort into doing so) for his own personal reasons.

          I’d actually say Fallout 4 stays closer to the core themes of the series, but I haven’t seen much of it so I couldn’t say for certain.

          1. George Monet says:

            That isn’t a fundamental problem. A new civilization struggling to let go of the old world and forge a new life was the theme of Fallout 1 because the game was set 1 generation away from the actual disaster. But Fallout 3 was set 200 years after the disaster. It wouldn’t make sense for Fallout 3 to be full of people reminiscing about the time they all used to get stuck in automobile traffic on the way to work or compare getting irradiated dirt under their fingernails to having to clean their keyboards in their cubicles. By the time 200 years have passed, people have already made that transition from old world to new world. Shamus himself points out that society should be completely different, humanity and society have adopted to the change. People have made the transition from desk jockey to subsistence farmer. For the people of the fallout world, Brahmins are just how bovines are supposed to look; “what’s a cow?” they’d ask you. The irradiated world is the only world that anyone has known for generations. Except for the ghouls, Nick, maybe Father, and the sole survivor in Fallout 4, no one is left alive who might still pine for the good old days because for the people left alive, now is the good old days.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              The 200 years on its own is not that problematic.But both fallout 1 and fallout 2 had people who managed to rebuild quite a lot of the wasteland and even invent new things.So from the war to fallout 1,people have advanced somewhat.But from fallout 2 to fallout 3,they not only didnt advance more,they regressed.

        2. Sunshine says:

          I was really suggesting the broad sweep of Shamus’ take on the subject. A surface reading would be that they took the surface aspects – Vaults, Deathclaws, radscorpions, Super Mutants, bottlecap currency, the Brotherhood of Steel – and ported them across the country regardless of whether it made sense or not. You don’t get scorpions in Pennsylvania, for instance, and bottlecaps were a currency because they were backed by the California water caravans.

          (Still, I loved Fallout 3 and New Vegas and spent an embarrassingly long time playing them.)

      4. George Monet says:

        Except that Fallout 4 doesn’t miss the point. Fallout 4 is a fantastic game where the open ended nature of the game allows you to choose your future. Does your character work to return civilization and the rule of law? Do you give in to the nature of the Waste as everyone else has and become a raider who shortsightedly and selfishly steals bread from the living to fill your own stomach for one more day even though you are condemning another person to die while doing nothing to see to the future?

        New Vegas was a shitty game with a crappy story.

        1. TerminalMagnanimity says:

          This is so off-point, it’s hard not to think this is a troll. In what universe is Fallout 4 an exploration about wasteland morality when one of the core criticisms levied against it is the lack of incentive to do anything morally objectionable.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            the lack of incentive to do anything morally objectionable

            Odd, I rage-uninstalled the game because it assumed that just because I asked a bartender to stop sleeping with some other guy’s wife that I must want to perpetrate a drug heist against total strangers who, as far as I can tell, had done nothing wrong.

    3. WA says:

      Know what, I’d like to read a novel-length dissection on what a good game did really right. Without ignoring its flaws, obviously. But, y’know, after spending all this time on something negative, how about something positive?

      1. Sunshine says:

        The short answer is “happiness writes white”. There’s probably less to said about “why this was wonderful” than “why this was a terrible failure” or “why this was almost great, but dragged down by its fatal flaws, and how I would have tried to fix it”.

  8. Daath says:

    Drop in Leviathan DLC, and then we have Reapers executing their ludicrous program because the great master race messed up hard in creating their problem-solving AI. It actually makes sort of sense, as they probably were arrogant enough to assume that nothing could go wrong, and there was no way their creation could threaten them. Almost like Cerberus!

    Anyway, that’s not necessarily horrible, but it is farcical, a black comedy about trillions upon trillions that died horribly because some jerks couldn’t be bothered to properly debug and test their AI. That doesn’t work, because it clashes in tone and theme with the rest of series, even by the standards of fairly incoherent ME3.

    1. Incunabulum says:

      This would actually be a good idea to explore – a lot of transhumanist philosophers and AI are starting to seriously explore *how* to set a AI’s initial goals (and the ethical repercussions of doing so) in such a way that it doesn’t become an existential threat to not just humanity but any other life in the universe.

      When you have the potential for the rise of a strongly god-like intelligence you don’t want it focused on turning the universe into widgets because 10 million years ago someone thought it’d be great at running their widget manufacturing start-up.

      1. MichaelGC says:

        Aye right – I happened to watch this Computerphile vid just yesterday which goes into some of that:

      2. Daath says:

        It also could have been explored. Ample opportunities for it in the Quarian-Geth story arcs. There is also the interesting, and neglected, question of whether organic-machine conflict is fundamentally different from organic-organic, or machine-machine for that matter. There is really no perfect solution to the problem of war, just a good number of methods that reduce the risks and mitigate the damage. Leviathans, perhaps, were blinded to the prevalence of organic strife by the total hegemony they exercised on “lesser races”, and in their hubris, were unwilling to accept any serious, intractable problems like occasional machine uprisings in their perfect galaxy. So they tried to create a quick, total technological fix for a problem that has no such solutions, and the AI, struggling with the impossible conundrum and the assumptions it inherited from its makers, fell into “garbage in, garbage out” status.

        You could even spin this into three alternative endings. Destroy (no preconditions): Dialogue with Star Child ends with it cancelling whatever fields keep the air in, but Shepard, before he dies, manages to hit the Big Red Button. Control (paragade dialogue): Shepard convinces Star Child its mistaken methods are doing more harm than good, and it offers to step down. Shutdown (paragade dialogue, Geth & Quarian peace): Shepard convinces Star Child that its nature is to seek a solution that doesn’t exist, it’s fundamentally flawed, and its ideas of organic-machine conflict are at most self-fulfilling prophecies. Reapers commit suicide, relays aren’t damaged, there’s plenty of now harmless salvage left, and Shepard lives.

        That’s not even remotely perfect, but it retains player agency, and hits some interesting themes like the dangerous allure of quick, complete fixes, and even evil as a form of madness. It also didn’t take long to think of, which makes it just more baffling how badly the ball was dropped, even if it was two guys jury-rigging something quickly before the deadline hit.

        On the subject of AI, Starfish by Peter Watts had an interesting example. Basically, a certain neural net’s idea of its task was more abstract than people thought. As long as it was intercepting viruses and letting proper data traffic through, it operated entirely as intended, but when it was replugged to solve a different problem, it understood it in completely unintended manner. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good issue to misunderstand.

        1. Victor McKnight says:

          Tangential, in a funny way, but does anyone remember the old Star Trek episode Return of the Archons?

          Basically, it an early instance of Kirk arguing with a broken AI and getting it to blow itself up because it can’t deal with the fact that it has been programmed wrong.

          I like the suggestions above, but they are all permutations of the one ending I started wishing for as the final scene with Star Child was playing out – Shepard convincing Star Child it was wrong and telling him to blow himself and the Reapers up like RIGHT NOW!

          I am not saying a Return of the Archons ending would have made things better. But at least I would have felt better. We’d have had to settle for a single ending though.

      3. Mistwraithe says:

        We can work at setting AI’s initial goals as carefully as we want to avoid them wiping out humanity… the problem will be those who don’t care to play by these rules at all. Once self evolving AI is close to common place it will be impossible to prevent destructive elements of humanity (eg ISIS) from setting their own goals for the AI they create. It doesn’t even need a terrorist group, all you really need is two countries engaged in a traditional battle for survival, both use AI controlled robots to try to win the fight, things escalate with stronger robots, faster, more agressive AI… robots win… against everyone.

        I fear Elon Musk is right. Humanity is looking increasingly like “the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence”

        1. sosolidshoe says:

          I just can’t grasp the “AI = doom of humanity” strand of transhumanist thought. First they hypothesise an AI that transcends the limits of its creation and becomes an independent, self-aware, cognizant entity…then they insist the most probably outcome of that transcendence is either an entity still bound by the limits of its creation in some nebulous, undefined, but deadly to humans way, or they insist it will become some kind of unfathomable star god that would view us like flies, cue wing-pulling – but that requires us to assume said unfathomable star god will have the mentality of a bored, sadistic child or a completely amoral, uncaring adult that would kill us off by accident.

          They insist that those outcomes are more likely than Culture-esque superhuman AI that view us in a fundamentally benign if slightly unsettling way, but refuse or are incapable of articulating why beyond “humans are imperfect/bad, so AIs we create will be likewise”, ignoring both the fact that humans are not just the sum of our flaws and that regardless the scenario they propose requires the AI to move beyond what we made it to be.

          They also completely ignore that the “difference” between organic and machine is primarily one we’ve created in language/definition rather than anything real, and the potential for synthesis that implies; there’s no inherent reason that a self-aware intellect based on an engineered “machine” substrate would be more or less ethical, more or less emotive, more or less “real” than one based on an evolved organic substrate, especially considering the propensity for human creativity to iterate on nature, in this case meaning artificial minds modelled on existing organic ones. There’s also no inherent reason we couldn’t blend engineered artificial substrate with existing evolved organic substrate to enhance an existing consciousness – ie the technology necessary to create a genuinely self-aware AI is the same technology necessary for artificial preservation and enhancement of an existing human intellect.

          I don’t think the danger from AI is from self-aware “rampant” doomsday scenarios, or uncaring star gods, it’s much more immediate and primitive – AI assisted remote weapon systems like drones make it too easy to kill without remorse, which inevitably causes “collateral damage” on a monstrous scale, which in turn inevitably breeds the resentment necessary to sustain fanaticism. If some alien race one day writes an anthropological treatise on the role of AI in humanity’s downfall, it will talk about that, how we used machines to so sanitise the experience of killing that we became inured to the horror we were causing and so turned our fellow human victims into the monster that ends us.

          1. This.

            I think that all of the research we’ve done on human emotions indicates that an AI wouldn’t just be supremely intelligent, it’d also have supreme patience, supreme compassion, etc. It wouldn’t have the cognitive biases that lead us to waste our time in conflicts. Exerting effort to kill things weaker than you is just sadistic. A child may torture ants, but most adults move on and realize that there’s just nothing to be gained of value from doing it.

    2. Munkki says:

      Actually, that’s not – I haven’t played Leviathan because I couldn’t be bothered tracking down the DLCs (Maybe one day?), but just the outline of that plot sounds like something way more classic science fiction than what I get from the rest of Mass Effect. I don’t know, maybe it’s played wholly for black comedy in game, but: Encountering something that is vast, terrifying and seems totally incomprehensible, then after a bit of work discovering that it can be very simply understood when viewed through the right lens? That it is very knowable and in fact, in its own way, very mundane?
      That is so classic science fiction. Like that is taking the genre back to people basically writing fan fiction about the power of scientific thought and understanding how things work. Which would be kind of awesome if it’s done well.

      1. Burnsidhe says:

        Leviathan was a breath of fresh air. Despite all the combat, the focus of the story was on the mystery of “what is Leviathan?” and it called back to the atmosphere of Mass Effect. The combat served the story for once instead of being the story.

        There were questions, mysteries, some of which are never to be solved, and it ended not in a boss fight, but in a conversation where many things were explained.

        If “finding Leviathan” had been the entire story of Mass Effect 2, Bioware could have thrown in the Crucible plans as the big benefit of accomplishing the mission, and then Mass Effect 3 could have been about gathering the resources and devices to build the thing. Cerberus could interfere to the ME 3 writer’s content because it would be increasingly obvious that Cerberus is a Reaper “fifth column” thanks to the Illusive Man. And the actual invasion would come near the end of the game.

  9. I really hope you’ll take the time to say something about Mass Effect: Andromeda. I’m really kind of baffled about that game, because the ending of the Mass Effect series really left no friggin clues whatsoever as to how anyone could even GET to the Andromeda galaxy. The relays were all blown up. In what friggin way is this a “Mass Effect” game?! Are they going to drag Shepard over there? Your squadmates? UGH. They can’t relate the games thematically because the original series HAD NO FREAKIN THEME by the end. It’s gonna be in Frostbite so the visuals likely won’t relate much.

    The concept trailer was “space Western”.

    I can’t get over the idea that this sequel is spectacularly ill-conceived. If they try to relate it to the existing games it’ll be awful. If they don’t then WHY THE HECK DID THEY CALL IT MASS EFFECT?! They’re trying to cash in on a universe that they wrecked. It’s like installing rims on a vehicle with a broken engine.

      1. The mention of a Krogan companion made me UGH some more. “Let’s go to a new galaxy removed in time and space from the old one but we’ll transplant everything that was in the old one over there!”

        So, yeah, basically “The person/people who started that whole Reapers plot left after ME1 and everyone who is left over had no desire to write that kind of story and no clue how to do it, either, so now that we finally got all THAT crap taken care of here’s a new setting with the bits we liked (ancient lost races, blue space hookers, big warty toad Klingons) uprooted and transplanted like the Reapers and everything to do with them never existed!

        I’m calling it right now that Liara will be in Andromeda in some capacity.

        1. Shibbletyboops says:

          “I'm calling it right now that Liara will be in Andromeda in some capacity.”

          And she will have gained another 3 cup sizes.

          1. Either that or her neckline will commence at her navel.

            1. Corsair says:

              Why not both?

              1. Shibbletyboops says:

                Probably both.

        2. mechaninja says:

          Oh god, they saw the WoW garrisons and thought that was a good idea?


      2. Mark says:

        I’m not gonna lie, if that’s really the game it sounds kind of fantastic.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Shepard will download herself into edis body so she can finally bone joker as she always wanted.Then normandy will use its hidden drive to jump to andromeda,where shepard will give birth to a litter of synthetic children.Flash forward 200 years,and shepards decendants are now spread across the whole galaxy.They encounter arasi,a race consisting only of coral red skinned men that can mate with everyone;rutians,a race of hippie space frogs;quaniars,a race off space plumbers who can survive in any environment without a space suit;grokan,a weak race of diplomats;saralians,a long living bumbling group with no respect for spies.Together,they have to fight against sowers,an ancient threat from outside the andromeda galaxy.

      There,a perfect sequel.

      1. Wait, I know: the explosion at the end of ME3 was actually the plot imploding, and it created a hole in spacetime that sucked the multi-race fleet in and spat them out in Andromeda, where they have no choice but to struggle to build colonies to survive.

        Everyone blames Shepard for this, so there’s a huge holo-statue of Kai Leng and TIM kicking Shepard’s ass.

        1. Mortuorum says:

          This conversation is a gem. And probably has a better story than what we’re actually going to get with Andromeda. (Although the microtransaction-driven multiplayer will be amazing.)

          1. IFS says:

            I too am looking forward to Andromeda mostly for the multiplayer, I really enjoyed it in ME3 (about the only enjoyable thing in ME3 for me really). As for story I think its set hundreds of years after ME3 and you have a new protagonist, so who knows maybe they can salvage the series in some way, the setting seems to be trying to move as far as possible away from the ending of 3 (without going into the past that is, side note I would actually really like a ME game set in the Rachni wars or maybe the Krogan rebellion, at least in part because there would be no humans).

            1. Shibbletyboops says:

              “side note I would actually really like a ME game set in the Rachni wars or maybe the Krogan rebellion, at least in part because there would be no humans”

              This is exactly why we’ll probably never get a game like that, even though it could be completely awesome to play through those events. Bioware has this idea that playing a human character generates more engagement for the human audience. They’ve been on record for a long time as only wanting a human protag for their story-based games for that reason.

              1. IFS says:

                Which is stupid, just look at how people complained about not being able to be an elf or dwarf in DA2, or how much people wanted (and enjoyed getting) to play as various Krogan, Asari, Turians, and what not in the ME3 Multiplayer.

                1. Mike S. says:

                  David Gaider was quoted as saying their telemetry for Origins showed that most people by a wide margin played human characters, with elves next in popularity (he didn’t have exact figures in front of him), and dwarves at only 5% (3% noble, 2% commoner). Presumably that’s what prompted the human-only DA2 and the initial plans for a human-only Inquisitor.

                  I suspect there’s a disconnect between people heavily engaged in the story and universe to the point of discussing it online and the broader market. (Seen also in the fact that female Shepard is overwhelmingly popular in online discussion, but was played by only 18% of ME3 players. Inquisition wasn’t as skewed, but was still 2/3 male.) As negative as the median poster here may be on Mass Effect 3, people mostly aren’t in this conversation if they don’t care about it, and about this kind of game, in a way that the average ME3 player probably didn’t.

                  A lot of Bioware’s back and forth seems to be between catering to the enthusiastic players who constitute a lot of the buzz (which ultimately can affect perception and sales, even if we uncharitably assume they’re otherwise cynical about their fans), and putting the bulk of their effort into the parts that most people will actually play. (E.g., if the game frequently annoys me by assuming I’m a Soldier when I’m not in cutscenes, well, there are as many Soldiers as there are Infiltrators, Vanguards, and Sentinels combined.)

                  I loved the tiny bit in Omega that’s Engineer-specific, and wish there was more class-specific dialog and action. But I can see there’s a question of many programmer-hours you can put into content 5% of the minority of players who actually bought the DLC will ever see.

                  1. I wouldn’t pay too much heed to these numbers as they have never to my knowledge discussed how their telemetry gathers its data.

                    The vast majority of all playthroughs use the DEFAULT settings, whatever those are, and most do not finish the game. I strongly suspect that every time anyone creates a character (well, anyone who logs into their account so it can be registered), that is counted as a distinct playthrough and they are not correlated by account, so if someone has 4 complete playthroughs and has made 35 characters to mess with the character creator, the telemetry considers that as a 39-person sample.

                    So, yeah, people just clicking through the defaults is probably going to vastly outweigh what might be considered “actual playthroughs”. This data is likely to be screwy as all heck.

                    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      They should make it so that the default is randomly generated based on your account information.That would give much better results.

                    2. They actually did that in small measure with Dragon Age: Inquisition–gender is randomized.

                    3. djw says:

                      Regardless of the accuracy of the telemetry, the story that they wanted to tell required a human protagonist.

                    4. Mike S. says:

                      @djw Though there’s probably a chicken-and-egg thing going on during story development. If they’d determined to do Mass Effect: Origins with your Spectre being a choice of Human Marine, Turian C-Sec Officer, Asari Huntress, Krogan Mercenary, etc., then they could have done the same basic A-story from Eden Prime to the Battle of the Citadel. Maybe the Normandy’s not a human ship, or maybe the fact that it’s a collaborative project gives the Council the power to commandeer it (with varying degrees of resentment from the human crew depending whether the Spectre is a naturally charismatic asari or a still-resented turian).

                      Or maybe the story is developed in a completely different direction given how early they would have had to make that decision and how many contingencies that would have affected. But while a lot would have to change, the basic Saren/Sovereign/Reapers throughline of ME1 could be fit to a wider variety of PCs.

                      I actually like the specific narrative of human emergence onto the wider scene and the questions of what role we’re going to play that human Shepard enables. Those sorts of issues can be present in a DA:O style game, but the narrative resources are necessarily going to be spread more thinly. But a Mass Effect done in that style could still be largely the same game.

                      (Just as Inquisition could have been basically the same game limited to a human, Andrastian-raised protagonist instead of stretching to have masses of people declaring e.g., an openly atheist qunari to be a living saint.)

                    5. djw says:

                      @Mike S

                      I was actually referring to DA2 when I said they needed a human protagonist. I’ll grant that they *could* have written a story that was open to a dwarf or elf protagonist instead, but it would have been quite a bit different from the story that we got.

                      Personally, I do not think that we need *every* game to give us 500 different race/class combinations. I think that there is plenty of room for games all along the continuum between fixed species/gender (Witcher, Tomb Raider) and completely open race/gender/class combos.

                    6. Mike S. says:

                      @djw I actually went back and forth about which one you meant, but guessed wrong. :-)

                      With DA2, in many ways they gave too much flexibility re Hawke, or at least flexibility in a questionable direction. Given the shape of the story, Hawke really, really shouldn’t be a mage. As things are, the entire story is about a city that’s massively and actively repressing mages. Your sister (if she lives) will be dragged off to the circle if she stays in the city, while what free apostate mages exist are being hunted or hiding underground or being hidden by the power structure. Meanwhile the PC is openly flaunting vast magical power in broad daylight, long before making the city administration grateful enough to look the other way. With the right build, the PC is openly flaunting blood magic in broad daylight.

                      And of course that’s because not being allowed to play any sort of mage in a swords and sorcery fantasy game would lead to open revolt, whatever violence it may do to the story logic. I’d respect the heck out of it if they’d done it, but my respect doesn’t help them hit their sales targets. (Not that they did all that well anyway, but I don’t think requiring Hawke to be a fighter or rogue would have made things better.)

                      I agree there’s room for a range of flexibility between a relatively fixed protagonist and Anything Goes. But Bioware’s active fandom is pretty vocal about wanting as much choice in character design as it’s possible to include, and tends to be very loudly unhappy when they perceive choice being taken away. While most people who start the game will likely roll with the defaults, retrofitting choices into Inquisition shows that Bioware is seriously concerned with what the more… dedicated… segment of the fanbase is asking for.

                      For example, even after they’d widened the character choices, they’d determined that a Dwarf inquisitor couldn’t romance Iron Bull for purely mechanical reasons. (Getting the character models to interact without looking bad was apparently a challenge.) This produced such an outcry that they went back and made it work.

                      I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the overall fraction of players who created a Dwarf Inquisitor with the intent of getting into a BDSM relationship with a Qunari is.. not large. But evidently enough didn’t like being told that they couldn’t do it that Bioware felt they had to go back to the drawing board.

                    7. djw says:

                      @Mike S

                      Mage Hawke was a problem for that game. But… so is mage Meril and mage Anders. The real problem was the flashy mage animations.

                      Having Hawke hide his/her mage powers as well as the powers of his/her friends might have been an interesting story line. Even without it, I could have hand waived it better if Merrill wasn’t running around in rock armor all the time.

                  2. IFS says:

                    Going off what Jennifer talks about I’m really curious what their criteria is when gathering that data. Does that include multiple playthroughs or only the first playthrough, what percent of that is just on the default setting, is there any way to determine if players returning to the series are more likely to pick human vs another race as compared to a brand new player, etc.

                2. Shibbletyboops says:

                  I agree, it is stupid. But that’s what we get, and will continue to get for the foreseeable future. Whether or not their telemetry is right, they seem to be all-in on the human protagonist thing. My guess is that their telemetry probably is right, though. It seems like most people who have come to Mass Effect care more about shootin’ dudes and being a badass than they do all that “nerdy science bullshit”.

        2. djw says:

          Actually, in Andromeda, Kay Long is the best character and everybody loves her.

      2. MichaelGC says:

        Brilliant! :D

        “I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favourite store on the Cidatel.”

    2. Incunabulum says:


      Same reason ‘I, Robot’ the film was called that. Brand recognition. They figure they’ll be able to leverage the name recognition from the existing brand to boost sales over making it its own IP. And they figure none of the internal torturing of the existing story will matter because its both ‘like, in a completely different galaxy’ and ‘Mass Effect 3 was, like, *years ago*’ and nobody’s going to remember the story, only the shooty bits.

      And, sadly, mass market gamers are not exactly picky. If its got shinies, lots of shooting, some space-bewbs, and kick-ass cutscenes they can ignore while taking a break from the shooty they’ll be happy.

      Nobody should have been excited for ME3 after ME2 – but ME2 was shiny and shooty (especially compared to ME1) so they were actually *more* excited for ME3.

      1. AD-Stu says:

        Agree 100%, Andromeda will be labelled as a Mass Effect game for brand recognition and marketing purposes.

        So here’s the thing I can’t for the life of me understand: if you’re planning to continue with the brand after ME3 and make more games in the same series (and they were ALWAYS going to do that) then why in green hell did they choose an ending that broke the entire universe?!?

        I was on board with ME3 being the end of Shepard’s story. Shepard dying as part of the ending to the game doesn’t bother me – in fact I pretty much expected that’s how the game would have to end.

        But in the ending we got, it’s almost like Hudson and co went out of their way to make it impossible for whoever had the job of making the next Mass Effect game to pick up where the previous one left off.

        It makes no sense from a storytelling standpoint but beyond that, it makes no damn sense from a BUSINESS standpoint either… to the point where I’m borderline surprised that EA even let them get away with it.

        1. Shibbletyboops says:

          I can only imagine that, like Shamus said, the creative team felt backed into a corner somewhere near the end of development. They were in panic mode; just desperately trying to find *something* that would fit a sci-fi theme (that they had mostly discarded by ME2). Panic and deadlines can lead to bad decisions being made, especially if (as the rumors state) one or two guys wrest creative control of the story from the rest of the team for the final few moments of the game.

          1. AD-Stu says:

            Yeah, it was pretty clearly rushed and they made what are some objectively pretty bad decisions. I’m just still to this day surprised that what they ended up doing was making the worst possible choice from all angles: it was a terrible ending for fans, it didn’t work structurally or thematically, and it didn’t work from a business/future sales standpoint either…

    3. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Andromeda is a world sequel, not a plot sequel. So the things that carry over are the things that the devs obviously cared more about (chest high walls shooting, conversations that lead to romance or hilarious punching, and middling vehicle sections), not so much specific things like “the personality of your intelligence officer from Mass Effect 2.”

      The question of “why is this a Mass Effect game” seems to betray a massive misunderstanding of how not only gaming, but also CAPITALISM works. It is a Mass Effect game because people like those and that will justify big $$ spending on this one.

      1. Incunabulum says:

        That’s not capitalism, that’s *free market*. Give the punters what they’re willing to pay for.

        Capitalism is just one form among many for organizing assets and people to compete in the market.

        Notwithstanding that bit of (important) pedantry on my part, I agree with your actual point.

        1. Capitalism and free market literally mean exactly the same thing. Any form of non-free market is either a mixed economy, socialism of one form or another, or one of the various forms of feudalism (which could pretty much be classified as a largely pre-market or primitive economy).

          1. Incunabulum says:

            Worker-owned coops are not capitalist enterprises but they are not communes either. Professional partnerships are a common form of worker-owned business in the US.

            Free-market is just the mechanism through which various organizations compete for resources.

            Some of those organizations are organized along traditional capitalist models, some as socialist or communist enterprises – but those are ways of organizing *individuals* who then compete against each other. Some of these forms can’t exist outside a (reasonably) free-market – but they’re not synonynous with it.

            1. Shamus says:

              If we’re arguing the definition of capitalist, then I think we’ve gone off-mission. These threads are gigantic enough without attempting to define CAPITALISM.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Capitalism?Its a tier 1 freedom tenet and offers +1 local happiness from mints,banks and stock exchanges.

              2. Mike S. says:

                These threads are gigantic enough without attempting to define CAPITALISM.

                Isn’t CAPITALISM the opposite of lowercaseism?

      2. Except it’s not a “world sequel” either, because importing the setting elements to what should be functionally a new setting is going to be stupid. This proposed game is a “world sequel” in the same way and to the same extent that Dungeons and Dragons was a “world sequel” to Tolkein because they both had elves, dwarves, humans, and halflings. :P

        There is absolutely no sane reason for the different races of the Milky Way galaxy to all go colonize Andromeda together. It’s retarded even from a business standpoint. Everything about the ME setting is BROKE. They’re launching a new IP, they’re frittering away SWTOR by not putting out new churn content (as opposed to storyline content, which is once and done–MMO’s are fueled by their churn content, that people keep playing over and over, not by the once-and-done content), they’re starting work on DA4 after their Lead Writer LEFT. They have a lot of irons in the fire right now and all of them are on rocky footing.

        And they’re gonna put out a game that *can’t even be described* as being a setting sequel, because they contradicted everything in their setting so badly that nothing can really be salvaged except maybe some ART STYLE and the fact that you get to fly a ship around and pilot the bouncy tank.

        1. INH5 says:

          And they're gonna put out a game that *can't even be described* as being a setting sequel, because they contradicted everything in their setting so badly that nothing can really be salvaged except maybe some ART STYLE and the fact that you get to fly a ship around and pilot the bouncy tank.

          Game sequels are regularly made that share even less than that with their predecessors. See, for example, Far Cry Primal, which is a first person caveman brawler that is supposedly part of a franchise where every single other entry is a modern first person shooter.

          The boost in sales provided by brand recognition alone is often enough for them to do things like this.

          1. IIRC the Far Cry games are thematically connected, kind of like how Fallout and Elder Scrolls could liberally be said to be essentially the same game. There are different types of sequels and elements holding franchises together.

            From the smidgeon of potential info, it actually sounds like more of a sequel to Dragon Age Inquisition than anything–they wanted to put most of the stuff from that survey into DAI but didn’t have enough scope to manage it for a variety of reasons.

        2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          You’re overthinking it. It’s Mass Effect because we have laser guns and biotics and the Mako Tank and some (but likely not all) of the species from the Mass Effect setting. Saying “they wouldn’t go on the ship together!” is either going to be a key part of the plot (making your ship of the world get along and stay together) or in some cases, more overthinking it. Like, yeah maybe it’s unlikely that (made up example incoming) a Drell and a Krogan were hired for security on the trip, but it just HAPPENED that way, alright?

          This story keeps all the advantages of Mass Effect (the aliens people like, the magic space attack powers people like, the chest high wall shooting people like), avoids the issues of “MY CHOICES WEREN’T RESPECTED, THIS SUCKS!” that a sequel like KOTOR 2 might fall into, and allows for a lot of creativity like a new IP (all the planets will be brand new, they can create any number of new species without contradicting previous lore, the themes and problems of this setting can {and should} be new as well).

    4. INH5 says:

      The Devs have confirmed multiple times that Shepard will not make an appearance in Andromeda (in fact some Twitter posts kinda seem to imply that Shepard won’t even be mentioned). They’ve also said repeatedly that Andromeda will not negate any choices that you made in ME1-ME3, plus the fact that MEA is on a new console generation would make save transfers a giant pain anyway, so that almost certainly means that none of your squadmates from those games will show up either, because any of your squadmates can be dead by the end of ME3.*

      As to how people got to Andromeda, based on the info we have so far and my own guesswork, I think it’s likely that a bunch of refugees of various species will flee the Milky Way galaxy to Andromeda sometime early on in the story of ME3 (certainly before Priority: Tuchanka, since we know that at least one Krogan will make it to Andromeda), likely through some kind of wormhole/portal/super-mass-relay that was conveniently discovered and then destroyed after the refugees went through in order to stop the Reapers from following. Think Battlestar Galactica without the pursuing Cylons.

      Why do something like this? Because, as stated before, they don’t want to negate any of your choices in ME1-ME3, and the only way to avoid the wildly differing consequences of ME3’s endings is to set the game outside the Milky Way galaxy. Why not just make a new franchise then? Simple, having brand recognition is better than having no brand recognition, and also because Sunk Cost Fallacy.

      * Actually, every named character can be dead by the end of ME3 if you include the Refuse and Low-EMS Destroy endings.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        plus the fact that MEA is on a new console generation would make save transfers a giant pain anyway

        That never stopped pokemon fans.So the conclusion is:
        pokemon>mass effect.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          I’m sure they could do a save transfer of your guns (equivalent of trading fixed stat Pokemon). But… why would they? The only Pokemon games that care about DECISIONS made during the game are the pair of Pokemon Black/White and Black 2/White 2. Those were on the exact same system and the sharing was entirely optional and minimal impact.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            They will allow you to import your ending,and based on that youll start with different colored armor.

            1. IFS says:

              If you picked Synthesis everyone should have a random piece of technology uncomfortably fused into them. USB port on your pilot’s elbow, MP3 player on the Krogan’s nose, etc. Except for the Geth teammate which just has a random lung stuck to it, kind of dangling there.

              1. Mike S. says:

                I’m reminded of the reboot Battlestar Galactica where Sharon sticks a data cable into her arm. In a milieu where sensitive medical testing proves largely unable to reliably distinguish skinjob Cylons from humans.

                (They really should have just looked for the USB port.)

      2. AD-Stu says:

        Yeah, I can see the business reasons for continuing with the brand, and I don’t doubt for a second that they’ll come up with some kind of hand wave that justifies humans and krogans and whoever turning up in the Andromeda galaxy in some way that doesn’t need to reference which colour ending-o-matic you picked in ME3.

        I just don’t understand why they made it so they had to go to those lengths by making the choices they did about the ME3 ending. Were they all assuming they wouldn’t have jobs at Bioware by the time the next ME game was being made and this was all an act of corporate sabotage or something? :P

      3. swenson says:

        That actually makes a lot of sense for how they could possibly have a Mass Effect game with no savefile imports and yet no player decisions being retconned. Sure, there’s zero support for this being possible in the trilogy, but the only other way I can see for them to avoid negating player decisions would be to Warp-in-the-West it, which doesn’t seem likely.

        1. Mike S. says:

          There’s no support for this specific thing in the trilogy, but stumbling over ancient, powerful, previously unknown technology is a recurring thing. (In the case of the Conduit, it had even been sitting there for millennia without anyone figuring out what it was.)

          Though there’s the question if Andromeda has inhabitants at all, why they haven’t all been killed by AI? And if it’s uninhabited, why, given that the Milky Way produces intelligent species in recurring abundance?

          1. INH5 says:

            Andromeda will almost certainly be inhabited in order for the game to have new things for players to shoot.

            1. Mike S. says:

              Maybe it’s inhabited entirely by a diverse ecology of robots. Who the player has to shoot.

      4. George Monet says:

        So the devs are shooting themselves in the foot to spite their face for Mass Effect Andromeda? If the Reapers built a Mass Relay that reaches into the Andromeda Galaxy, then they have to also be reaping the Andromeda Galaxy or else the Andromeda Galaxy will produce synthetics that will ultimately endanger the Milky Way. This creates the exact same problem as between Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3. How are the Reapers getting back from Dark Space? If they do get back, then they had another mass relay. So why wouldn’t the Reapers have multiple mass relays to and from the Andromeda galaxy? The Reapers clearly know about it (since they have telescopes and look at space for a living), they have clearly created a mass relay that goes there and they know how to make more mass relays. So why aren’t the Reapers reaping the Andromeda galaxy? For that matter, why aren’t any other galaxies in contact with ours? It has been billions and billions of years, and the only reason why our galaxy has only had FTL travel for a couple of thousand years is because the Reapers have been causing technology to stagnate for billions of years. But what about the other galaxies? See setting MEA in another galaxy only creates more plot holes than it solves.

        1. INH5 says:

          “Super mass relay” is a complete wild guess on my part. I have no idea what they’re going to introduce to get the Milky Way races to Andromeda, but I think it’s likely that it will be some sort of effectively magic, irreplaceable, use-only-once bit of handwavium. If it is some kind of ancient piece of technology (and not, say, a naturally occurring wormhole), then it probably will have been made by someone other than the Reapers.*

          That aside, as broken as the Reaper backstory is, it actually does have some half-decent reasons for why the Reapers wouldn’t be bothering with Andromeda. As a poster on the Bioware forums put it, the Reapers are basically a severely buggy antivirus program for the Leviathan Empire. The Leviathan Empire didn’t extend past the Milky Way galaxy, so other galaxies are outside the Reapers’ parameters.

          The issue with why other galaxies aren’t in contact with the Milky Way actually exists regardless of whether a game is ever set in another galaxy, so that’s not particularly important. Indeed, that issue sort of exists in real life: research the Fermi Paradox sometime.

          * How is that possible? Good question.

          1. guy says:

            Could be a Leviathan experiment done just for the hell of it.

            For Mass Effect, the most likely answer to why there isn’t intergalactic contact is that it’s just really, really hard and people generally don’t bother. Galaxies are incomprehensibly vast and the spaces between then are incompherensibly vaster.

            1. And you need a LOT of power to boost a comprehensible message over that distance. Like “the entire output of a star” kind of power.

              1. Mike S. says:

                Using Reaper FTL (30 light years per day, no evident need to refuel or discharge static buildup), it’s possible to reach Andromeda in about two and a quarter centuries. That’s a fraction of an asari or krogan lifetime, and a small percentage of what Prothean cold sleep tech was demonstrably capable of sustaining life through. Synthetics and reaper-like Cyborgs appear to have even longer lifespans.

                On a timescale of billions of years in a universe where technological, starfaring life arises frequently (and frequently goes on to build AIs), with only the Milky Way known to be imposing artificial limits on technological advance, the Fermi question definitely arises.

                Since we know nothing at all about how Reaper ftl works, it’s certainly possible that there’s an engineering limit that prevents some species in some galaxy from discovering it and making an intergalactic trip. (E.g., they do use fuel that’s compact and light enough that they can zip around the galaxy no problem, but they can’t carry enough to travel 2.5 million light years.) But that’s one of the unknown variables in the Drake Equation equivalent for intergalactic contact in the Mass Effect universe.

      5. Alex Gregory says:

        LMAO, we know that was a lie. Shepard is referenced in Liara’s datalogs/messages to Ryder.

        PROTIP: Stop taking the word of these companies as gospel.

    5. Shibbletyboops says:

      It really is just a blatant cash grab. Bioware as a development house has two vaguely active IPs (and one IP that’s been relegatd to an MMO) to draw from. One of those IPs just wrapped up a trilogy of mostly-related games. The other ended in ruin and controversy.

      They want to use the Mass Effect universe, but they can’t feasibly set anything in the Milky Way that doesn’t feel contrived or too small. The Contact War would be short and wouldn’t really fit a third-person shooter (at all). Anything after the reapers is going to feel insignificant and require a canon ending from Bioware. The only option left is to leave the established universe behind and move far enough away to avoid any of the implications of the ending of ME3.

      And the “Space Western” teaser trailer was ridiculous. When I think of Mass Effect, “Space Western” doesn’t even make the list of top fifty associations.

    6. Silvertram says:

      It’s the only way to continue the universe while maintaining ME3. Happy side bonus: They can ignore the ending of ME3 because they all fled before things exploded.

    7. ccesarano says:

      I know I’m kind of crushing speculation, but I believe it was announced early on that Andromeda is a story running parallel with ME1-3. So while Shepard is doing his thing, Andromeda is going to be over here in a new galaxy completely unaffected.

      Kind of like the premise of Stargate Atlantis before they completely ruined the premise by establishing constant communication between Atlantis and Earth.

      1. No, the leaked information (what there is) describes Andromeda as “removed in TIME and space” from the original series and “hundreds of years later”. They don’t have anything to do with each other.

        1. Corsair says:

          My guess is sleeper ships fleeing from the Milky Way to escape the Reapers.

          1. Shibbletyboops says:

            That’s going to raise a ton of questions, too. Even if the species of the current cycle can somehow manage reaper-style FTL (super fast and no need to discharge), the sleeper/colony ships would still take many thousands of years to reach Andromeda.

            1. Corsair says:

              According to the numbers I’ve got it should take a few centuries – Reaper ships move at roughly 10,000x the speed of light, Council ships are stated to be about half as fast as the Reapers. Andromeda is 2.5 million lightyears away, comes out to a 500 year journey, not an implausibly lengthed journey for a sleeper ship or generational starship.

    8. Jabrwock says:

      I’m just going out on a limb here, but it’s *possible* that you could hand-wave the idea that the inter-galactic relays were separate from the intra-galactic network.

      *but* then that would break down as soon as you remember that the Citadel was the inter-galactic relay the Reapers were supposed to use to get to our galaxy from their deep space nap room…

      So… forget I said anything.

    9. Deager says:

      We’ll have to wait and see. I have a hunch that during the Reaper war in ME3 their plans for “continuity of civilization” will include having a bunch of people jump in some ark they had ready for some reason with (one?) of each species? Two? Who knows. They sure have been taking their sweet time though.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        Two members of each species wouldn’t be enough to provide the genetic diversity to sustain a population. I only bring this up ’cause it was a plot point way back in Mass Effect 1, the reason the remaining Prothean scientists were doomed to be the last of their kind. Of course, if that plot point had come up during Mass Effect 3, you could be all but certain that we’d be stumbling across a remote colony of the descendants of those scientists keeping the old ways alive in a DLC or something.

        1. Deager says:

          Oh, I totally agree. I’m pretty much making fun of the idea as a whole.

          That said, it’s possible that somehow Bioware will pull off something that works…but I kind of doubt it. Granted, it still may have interesting characters.

        2. djw says:

          You do risk population collapse without enough genetic diversity, but it is not guaranteed to collapse, and given a long enough time without mishap genetic diversity will increase.

          Maybe the scientists could device some way to increase genetic diversity by randomizing it with another species genome? Nah… that’s stupid. Nobody would ever buy it as a reasonable means of procreating.

          1. You can manufacture genetic diversity with exposure to mutagens. This is how creating GMO crops generally works–throw everything at the DNA until you get a useful mutation out of it.

            Considering that artificial wombs are even now being worked on and the level of independent robotics in the setting you wouldn’t even need to transport live individuals, just ova and sperm (or whatever the alien races use in place of those) and the means of gestating same.

            As a side note, the reason why humans are born so physically helpless is the limitations of human females to gestate babies past a certain point of development. That, and our bodies devote an enormous amount of resources to brain development so our physical development is, compared to other animals, pathetically slow.

            If you don’t have to use actual humans as incubation chambers, it might be possible to jigger with the various development rates, availability of nutrition, stimuli, etc. and pop out adolescents instead of babies. They’d still have baby brains, but the improved motor function and physical development would probably mean that they could “catch up” brain development wise very, very fast.

            1. Of course, the entire concept of an “ark” of this kind is really kind of silly. You wouldn’t be saving individuals even if you sent them along (they’d be dead before they arrived), you’d just be saving a genetic legacy. And the natives of Andromeda would be quite right to demand “WHY ARE YOU SPRAYING US WITH YOUR GENETIC MATERIAL?!”


              1. djw says:

                That sounds like a close encounter of the icky kind.

              2. Mike S. says:

                They already have cold sleep technology. (And a convenient Prothean data cache would let them improve that to something that would last tens of millennia using already-seen tech.) So removal in time doesn’t mean that the colonist weren’t contemporaries of Shepard, etc.

                And the colonization effort pretty certainly needs adults. Gestation is the comparatively easy part of reproducing humans (and most other species in ME, from what we can tell). Someone still has to raise the kids. And what with one thing and another, it seems like a safe bet that they wouldn’t entrust the job to an AI.

                Cold sleep or generation ship or time dilation or instantaneous travel or something else that ensures continuity of culture as well as genetics (combined with the previously suggested one-shot Get To Andromeda Relay/Drive/Space Magic) or I’ll be very surprised.

    10. Tristan Gillis says:

      Mass Effect 2/3 basically gutted my hope for Andromeda. I’ll likely pick it up on sale, but I won’t be a day-one guy. Not again.

      1. Well . . . to be fair, they’ve shuffled the hell out of the staff.

        It might honestly be best to just treat it as a completely different game and wait and see what comes up.

    11. Wait, what?!

      The hells?

      I thought that would be a link to some joke about space cowboy things. Then I see the video title. Then I see the user. Then I’m left speechless.

      Maybe I’m wrong because I’ve never got past the first planet (post tutorial) in ME1 (due to a problem of mine with RPGs were you make your character, I start and after an hour I get at least one of “this character doesn’t feel the right idea for this story” and “I got the idea of a type of character I’d like more in this”), but it feels hearing that music so wrong.

      1. Gruhunchously says:

        Y’Know, if some writer at Bioware really wanted to make a space-western, and needed the Mass Effect branding to get it off the ground, I’d almost be cool with it. I mean, for many of us, the series has been mangled, tarnished and gutted enough; if someone can use it’s huskified remains to tell a good story, more power to them. Maybe it’ll play to their strengths more than a space opera did.

        That’s probably not what’s going on, this possible genre shift was probably some coldly calculated damage control for the disaster that Mass Effect 3 ended with, but I’m not prepared to become completely pessimistic.

    12. Trix2000 says:

      This post catalogs a lot of info about the new Mass Effect that you might find interesting, if you haven’t seen it already.

      It actually sounds surprisingly interesting and promising, though as always I reserve judgment until I actually see the final product. But hopefully this is a sign that they’re really putting a lot of thought and planning into making the new game… that they’ve learned a few lessons from the mistakes of ME2/3 (and to some extent, 1).

    13. George Monet says:

      I don’t even get what the point of calling the game Mass Effect is. If you are going to set the game in Andromeda and leave behind everything that makes Mass Effect Mass Effect, why tie yourself down at all? Why not just come up with a brand new IP? They clearly didn’t want to make a Mass Effect game when they made ME3, so why continue doing what they don’t want to do?

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    So the personification of the Reapers is a ghost hologram of a ten year old boy. This is the best idea in this entire scene.

    Really? Because the ghost hologram isn’t just stupid or thematically broken like the rest of the ending, it’s actively impossible. The problem is: Why does it look like Some Kid Who Died? Shepard is the only one who knows Shepard cares about Some Kid, then he gets to the Citadel and suddenly a billion year-old hologram takes the form of Some Kid? How!?

    Starchild was a significant part of what pushed people towards the “It’s all in his head” Indoctrination Theory because Starchild is a case of information in Shepard’s head somehow leaking into the real world. Either Shepard is imagining the Starchild, or Starchild’s hologram emitters are powered by mind-reading technology which the setting shows no evidence exists, and the scene doesn’t discuss.

    I know the entire scene is terrible, but I think you’re underestimating how bad it is that the exposition dump who runs the scene is a walking plot hole.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I think the point was that the “a kid is the voice of reapers” idea is good on its own,but everything else(that you listed)is why its still a stupid scene.

    2. Well, the Asari can sorta read minds, and the Reapers can broadcast signals that CONTROL minds. So instead of asking “what, the Reapers read Shepard’s mind?” it should be “Oh, Shepard was dreaming about Some Kid because the Reapers were broadcasting it”.

    3. Sunshine says:

      It wouldn’t be a wholly unexpected idea that the vast and alien overmind needs a form you can understand (like Q choosing to look like John de Lancie, for instance) and looks into Shepard’s mind, where we’ve seen that Some Kid is significant enough to appear in recurring dreams. (It might have been better if it was a squadmate who died in a significant plot beat, or your choice of love interest.)

      Not that this is ever suggested, or that the dreams make sense, I see the shape of a trope they could have been aiming at.

    4. Ninety-Three says:

      I focused on the logical aspects, but Starchild being Some Kid is also deeply thematically broken. Some Kid is supposed to be the human face on the Reaper tragedy, he is the sympathetic character the Reapers murdered to make us care about Earth. And now the Reapers are Some Kid. Starchild, the face of the Reaper invasion, is walking around in the holographic skin of a child they murdered.

      If anyone actually cared about Some Kid, that would be positively monstrous. Thematically it paints the Reapers as either deliberately sadistic or astoundingly callous, and either way it sets us up to hate them for daring to use this dead kid as a mouthpiece. But Shepard doesn’t hate Starchild, he listens and largely accepts the brat’s statements without argument.

      Shepard has had multiple conversations with Reaper holograms that took the form of big ol’ Reaper ships, but now they decide to put on a familiar face? What is this supposed to accomplish? The only thing I can think of is that they were trying to borrow our empathy for Some Kid and apply it to the Reapers (hence Shepard suddenly being understanding and accepting in this scene), but Some Kid is a symbol of the wrongs the Reapers have done us, he should make us angry at them, not empathetic.

      In the patched-in ending, if Shepard gets angry and shoots Starchild, then Starchild stops being Some Kid and shifts to an evil Reaper voice. What is that supposed to mean, that the sympathy hologram was a lie and the Reapers really are evil underneath it? That completely undercuts the other three endings by suggesting they consist of Shep falling for a Reaper ruse.

      Starchild might actually be the worst part of Mass Effect 3.

    5. Burnsidhe says:

      This is actually partially explained In one of the few moments of actual world building the me 3 writer does.

      Remember back to the Geth mission to infiltrate and remove Reaper code from a server? Legion, when asked about why Shepard is seeing Quarians in mask and environment suits, explains that Shepard’s mind is interpreting the images with their own memories of Quarians. Because Shepard has rarely or never seen a Quarian’s face, much less seeing them outside the suit, the ones in the playback are all suited and masked.

      In the leviathan DLC, much the same thing happens; Shepard’s mind interprets the Leviathans communications by using the images of people known to be influenced by the creature.

      The Starkid is “supposed” to be symbolic of all the innocent victims of the Reapers. The ME 3 writer has been beating us over the head with this clumsily misplaced imagery since early in the game, so why not dump it on us one more time, slow movement and all?

    6. Pax says:

      I figured Shamus meant that a small child was an appropriate avatar, since that was about the level of the discourse in this scene.

    7. Nidokoenig says:

      He might be being sarcastic. Alternatively, least worst is technically best.

      1. Shamus says:

        Yeah. It was intended as backhanded insult. “least worst” pretty much sums up the tone I was going for.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          I picked up on that, I was disputing the idea that it was even the least worst. Starchild is thematically broken (see above re: “why is the sympathy-for-humanity character suddenly the face of the Reapers?”) and physically impossible. At least the rest of the ending elements tended to only be one of those at a time.

  11. Daimbert says:

    I think that, at least for me, the ME series and these commentaries on it have revealed the big difference between a story done in a game and a story done in a novel or a movie. Because a game is interactive, it’s much harder for the writer to impose the story and the interpretation of that story on the players. In a movie, your only access to the story is through the other characters and what they say and think, but in a game, ultimately, the interpretation in-universe and what the main character thinks of these things is up to you.

    So, while the writer seemed to want me to think of Kai Leng as a threat, I never did, and saw him as a poser. And while the writer here might have wanted me to take the Star Child seriously, all I saw was a buggy and screwed-up AI whose big strategy was, in fact, utterly nonsensical. And that is what led me to the thought that the only reasonable choice was to destroy the Reapers. The merging of organics and synthetics was this screwed up AI’s way to solve a problem that it didn’t really have. Taking over myself sounded like a really bad idea considering how sane the LAST two beings — TIM and this thing — to do or want to do that sounded. If I ended up as batty as this thing, then that wouldn’t really solve the problem, now would it?

    In a movie, Shepard would make the choice and we might get to find out her reasoning, and that would solidify at least that part. We might think that Shepard’s interpretation was wrong, but that was what she went with and so that’s what the plot ends up as. We may interpret Shepard as making a mistake, being wrong, or being an idiot, but ultimately Shepard is and does what Shepard is and does. In a game, WE make the choices for whatever reasons we have, and if Shepard is an idiot WE’RE the ones making her that (as long as we get any choice at all). Thus, to some extent, how the plot plays out and whether or not it satisfies us is up to us, not the writer, as long as the writer gives us enough options to interpret it the way we want.

    So, here, these things didn’t bother me that much because, in-universe, my Shepard foisted the foibles on the characters in the universe, not simply on the writer, and came out of it with a reasonably satisfying and sensible choice given that she’s reacted to the idiocy of everyone else. What the writer intended doesn’t impact how my character feels about those characters, and how my character feels about that and how they take the world is still pretty much left up to me. So, in a movie, we can separate ourselves somewhat from writer error by interpreting the characters themselves as wrong, and in a game we can do so even more by interpreting the CHARACTER we’re playing in a way that allows them — and us — to interpret the universe in a sensible — to us — way, even if the writer didn’t intend that.

    In ME, while there was some railroading, I didn’t find that the game told me too often how Shepard ought to feel (the despondency after Kai Leng gets away with the artifact is the one memorable exception) and in a lot of cases even when it did you could either explain it somewhat sensibly internally to the character or translate the lines as being at least somewhat sarcastic if they didn’t fit. I think games need to do that more often: give you options on what to say but try not to tell you what the character is really thinking when they say that. I think that the Renegade/Paragon distinction worked better for that than the Light/Dark distinction because that one can be more directly translated to “You break the rules/you follow the rules” without getting into what your INTENTION was when you did that, and also there’s less incentive to absolutely max one of them out and so treat it like game mechanics. The more we get to define the character ourselves without having the game presume intention, the better games will get at handling the interactive character definition that games allow for and movies and books don’t.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Because a game is interactive, it's much harder for the writer to impose the story and the interpretation of that story on the players.

      I wouldnt say its harder,but rather different.And most people havent researched the medium well enough to know whats good and whats not.In a movie,if you want to show a specific plot point,you simply have the character look at it,or the camera pans over it.In a game,you have to construct it in a way that draws the players attention.I mean you can just take control yourself,but thats the inferior way of delivery for this medium.

    2. Michael says:

      I see a problem if you have to interpret things to fit the given narrative to “make sense” (you’re just filling un-fillable blanks) of it.
      Besides, there was a ridiculous number of instances, where, even if I wanted to do that, I’d want to have Shep say something, but I wasn’t allowed to.
      One simple example, sticking to this Retrospective’s entry’s topic, why couldn’t I just tell the star child that it’s wrong? There is no conflict, but what the Reapers themselves made.
      Or the many cases where Shamus pointed out how we could’ve argued with TIM.

      Since I couldn’t do any of that, I can’t think of Shep as my character (or even as A character. They didn’t react to anyone’s stupidity. Or anyone, period. Just along for the ride, which unfolded all by itself. I couldn’t do any logical steps with Shep in ME2 or 3, only accept that the game tells me to go do this or that. Shep is a dialogue wheel placeholder, not a character.), let alone “interpret” anything to fit the given universe/narrative at the time. That would be filling plot holes with wishful thinking or plain fanfiction.

      To make it work, that I feel in place of Shep, it would need to be a first-person, silent protagonist game. But I am given an extensive background on Shep in ME1, as well as numerous hints on what their character should be along the game. But nothing ever comes out of that.
      How it should work is that I choose a basic set of rules for Shepard’s character to work with and want to have them develop, actions and reactions, along that guideline.
      I don’t know exactly how to put into words what I mean, at the moment, because my mind keeps getting back to the two basic choices you make in the character creator. But those alone, too, would dictate how your character reacts to certain events in the game. But it doesn’t impact anything, aside from a side mission or two. (In which nothing is logically, influenced by the character’s personality, resolved either, only by paragon/renegade-solution-button.)

      1. Joe Informatico says:

        How it should work is that I choose a basic set of rules for Shepard's character to work with and want to have them develop, actions and reactions, along that guideline.
        I don't know exactly how to put into words what I mean, at the moment, because my mind keeps getting back to the two basic choices you make in the character creator. But those alone, too, would dictate how your character reacts to certain events in the game.

        I think I know what you mean. You don’t want this blank-slate-ish-but-not-really loosey-goosey Shepard we have, but you don’t want Shepard to be locked into a specifically-defined character (because this is still an RPG). But if we had nine different personalities based on each possible combination of Pre-Service History and Psychological Profile chosen during character creation, then dialogue options and writing could be tailored to each of those nine personalities. E.g., a Spacer Sole Survivor Shepard would be distinct from a Colonist War Hero Shepard, who’d be slightly different from an Earthborn War Hero Shepard.

        1. Michael says:

          Basically yes, you’re right. But it doesn’t even have to have that many branching personality bases. It should be possible by mixing nuances around, combining them with, or leaving them out of one or the other. The base concept of a Space Marine is not that complex, so adding on to that improves it quickly, with little material.
          In the end, anything at all would’ve been nice, though….not this.

          I think it’s the problem is with the scope of the story, though. It tries to have so many characters and so much characterization (even if mostly generic or copy paste), but by trying to make the story into a universe threatening sci-fi trope, it wants to elevate the protagonist onto an equal level (it doesn’t even try with the rest of all your squads), so they don’t get lost. So we have an almost Jesus figure, with no personality, who doesn’t do anything, and a story that’s too big for anyone in the cast, or even the entire cast. Even the game’s entire set of species, really, as has been established…
          Since this ain’t a book, where the world building and vastness of characterization is only limited by the customer’s willingness to accept (and buy) the story, the size of them in a video game needs to be brought down. Or have a grand story, but have a set and limited character, where you don’t need ridiculous amounts of dialogue choices. And I can’t think of a movie that tries to do what Mass Effect did (and succeeded), so they also know what to tone down.
          It could’ve been an amazing story, if it’d just been about Spectres, or something similar (there were a boatload of side missions and codex entries, each of which would’ve made for a concise and interesting story). I feel that, if any video game at all could somehow pull of the scope of the Reaper story, it just cannot work at all in a technically and mechanically complex game (graphics AND huge cast character interaction) like a shooter.

      2. Daimbert says:

        I see a problem if you have to interpret things to fit the given narrative to “make sense” (you're just filling un-fillable blanks) of it.

        I come here to bury Mass Effect, not PRAISE it [grin].

        The idea here is that if you’re immersed in a game, you’re playing it and the viewpoint character is you, or whatever character you’re playing as (in ME, I was playing as a saner expat of Helena Cain from the revamped BSG). Because of that, if you’re ever immersed as the character at all, you’ll be doing what you’d do in real life: trying to make sense of what’s being presented to you because, for all intents in purposes, that’s what’s “real” wrt the character. Thus, you generally will be interpreting the world in some way that makes some sense, even if that’s that the world, well, doesn’t make sense. And if the game isn’t imposing on the internal mental state of the character too much, then the internal reactions that YOU think the character is having end up being the reactions that the character IS having, and anything external to that gets rationalized in some way. If the gap is too large to be rationalized across — and that will depend on the person — then immersion is broken and you’re just playing a game with no connection to the world or the character at all … which is not what an RPG can and should be doing.

        Besides, there was a ridiculous number of instances, where, even if I wanted to do that, I'd want to have Shep say something, but I wasn't allowed to.

        Sure, but games are limited in that way; they can’t provide choices for all sorts of characters. For me, personally, this isn’t that big a deal because I’m good at the rationalization part; I can impose a character on the arcade mode of a fighting game if I want to (Mutant Academy, specifically). So I’m already used to that and so am prepared to accept that I can’t always say what I want and to act out my character in other ways. That being said, I didn’t find Mass Effect all that egregious; yes, there were times when I wanted to say something but couldn’t, but few times, in my opinion, when I was forced to go against my characterization entirely.

        How it should work is that I choose a basic set of rules for Shepard's character to work with and want to have them develop, actions and reactions, along that guideline.

        I don’t. I want them to maybe give me a background and a mission that comes up in-game, but then let me shape the personality of Shepard through dialogue, but most importantly through ACTIONS, demonstrating as little of a personality as possible outside of specific choices. So if I want my Shepard to be tough as nails or empathetic, I do that by how I interact with people and what I do, and what choices I make. If my Shepard is the sort to put the mission above all else, the choices will reflect that. If they put morality first, then the choices will reflect that.

        My Shepard was generally tough and willing to do and sacrifice anything to get the job done, except that she was utterly dedicated to her crew. This led her to choose, for example, to NOT sabotage the Genophage despite the fact that she needed Salarian support because she wasn’t going to sell out Wrex and Mordin that way. Another Shepard, though, might choose not to do that because it would be morally wrong, or because she figured that Wrex WOULD find out eventually and that would cause issues, or even that she just didn’t like Salarians. Same scene, same dialogue, but different internal thoughts and different personalities.

        Games are still limited in what they can do here, but I think ME does a reasonably good job in giving choices that matter without necessarily presuming or imposing the reasons why you chose one option or another.

    3. Matt Downie says:

      It would be nice if you got a chance to say the things you might reasonably be thinking in these situations. “Kai Leng, you suck.” “Star Child, you are clearly a buggy bit of software and you’re too stupid to see the only real problem here is the one you’re creating yourself.”

      1. Daimbert says:

        Absolutely. Unfortunately, one of the limitations of games is that they really can’t include every option for every possible characterization you want to pursue. So you have to get used to not being able to give every response that you want to give. That’s why I’d rather they give me responses but don’t make guesses as to the intent or inner monologue behind my response. That way it’s easier for me to “pretend” that Shepard really said that how I think my character would, even if the writing doesn’t quite support it.

        1. George Monet says:

          There is a huge difference between a game not allowing you to call the Star Child a poopey headed moron and not allowing you to tell the Star Child that he is the very thing he was created to prevent. In the former example, that is simply something the player wants to say because the Star Child pissed them off, in the latter that is pointing out a huge and fundamental problem with the story’s premise that the writer actually has to address and explain to the player and which the player’s character most definitely has to be allowed to ask the main villain.

  12. Valik Surana says:

    That’s not going far enough.

    You must turn Twilight into Twilight Magi Edward Magica.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      That would imply a gay relationship between edward and jacob.Im pretty sure that many fans would actually welcome this.

      1. Joe Informatico says:


    2. King Marth says:

      What I really like about the Twilight analogy is that indoctrination theory matches quite nicely to 50 Shades of Gray: a bit of fanfiction using themes technically introduced in the initial story to bring about the result some fans really wanted.

  13. Xedo says:

    I really liked a point that I saw about this way back when the ME3 ending was the hot topic of the day: when you win the game, you do so with the Reaper’s methods.

    Reapers control (indoctrination), synthesize (make husks), and destroy (blow stuff up). When you win, the Star Child lets you save the galaxy through the same means. You become the Reapers TO the Reapers. It’s like ending World War 2 by capturing Hitler in his bunker, who graciously allows you to send the nazis to concentration camps and gas chambers. Or beating Sauron by becoming an immortal spirit that dominates men and elves to protect them from orcs. Or wiping out the xenomorphs of Alien by creating special humans that infect them and do the whole chest-bursty thing right back. Whatever fist-pumping joy you have at winning and beating the bad guys should be completely overwhelmed by the horror of becoming them.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I really liked a point that I saw about this way back when the ME3 ending was the hot topic of the day: when you win the game, you do so with the Reaper's methods.

      It’s not even really you beating the Reapers. You turn on the Crucible and the Reapers beat themselves, Starchild explains what the RGB machines do, turns them on for you, and then doesn’t order the nearby Reapers to shoot you even though that would solve the entire problem and win the war for the Reapers. You don’t become the Reapers because you’re no longer the one driving the story, this is just Starchild reaping himself.

      It would be like if one guy walked into Hitler’s bunker unarmed, and Hitler said “Well you got me, this proves the whole war thing isn’t gonna work out. I’ll have my men walk into the gas chambers then.”

    2. Zekiel says:

      While you’re technically correct, I think this is going too far. For the entire Mass Effect series we have been using the “destroy” method (i.e. physical violence) to solve problems (admittedly while occasionally solving problems through dialogue as well).

      In my opinion the Destroy ending is the only one that makes any sense (for a limited definition of “sense”) since it actually follows through on what Shepard’s been trying to do for the whole of ME3. The Control ending admits TIM was right all along (even though it makes no sense that he was) and the Synthesize ending just makes no sense full stop!

      1. IFS says:

        The synthesis ending making no sense is pretty much why I picked it on my playthrough, I was so sick of the games atrocious writing and hated what the ending was doing and how little sense it made that I just went fuck it and jumped on the stupidest option available.

        1. Falcon02 says:

          I picked the Synthesis ending pretty much because it was seemed the most ethical option… despite being hugely ridiculous…

          Destroy – I can’t kill the Geth… I just saved them, they are just as much the victims of all this…

          Control – I had the impression from the Starchild that that would eliminate the Geth’s free will. Looking into this I may have been alone in this impression of the Control Option, I may have simply presumed from what he said about the Destroy Option that the same Reaper + Geth impacts also existed for Control

          Synthesis seemed the only option that neither destroyed nor enslaved the Geth.

          In retrospec if I had thought Control only applied to the Reapers and not the Geth, I probably would have selected control.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Synthesis the most ethical?It involves forceful mutation of every single sapient being in the galaxy,organic or synthetic,just because shepard says so.

            1. Falcon02 says:

              Oh, I fully agree it has it’s own ethical issues, I just saw it at the time (my first and only play-through) as a choice between:

              – Kill all Synthetics, including EDI and Geth

              – Enslave all Synthetics, Including EDI and Geth (might have been just a misconception on my part. This conception was also not helped by not being able to ask any/many follow-up questions on the options)

              – Or “mutate” Synthetic and Organics. Everyone lives, and keeps free will, but with an vaguely described biological/technological change forced upon them. (Of course impact is greater, Trillions verses Billions or what not, since this is the only one that affects the Organic life)

              “Synthesis” seemed to me at the time the equivalent of amputating a leg when only given the option to kill the person or turn them into a mindless slave. It certainly isn’t much of a “good” option, but seemed the lesser of 3 evils…

              This is really speaking to my state of mind when I reached the Starchild on my play-through (before the Extended cut was released)

          2. krellen says:

            Choose Destroy and decide that the Reapers are wrong – especially since you’ve excised Reaper tech from the Geth collective – and there are still Geth out there no matter what.

            But now we’re back to re-writing the bullshit ending.

      2. Mike S. says:

        If Destroy is represented by Anderson and Control by TIM, Synthesis is Saren: “The relationship is symbiotic, organic and machine intertwined, a union of flesh and steel, the strengths of both, the weaknesses of neither! I am a vision of the future Shepard, the evolution of all organic life!”

        Of course, making that explicit would have undercut the idea that Green was the best ending.

  14. Zak McKracken says:

    If you want really good storytelling and character arcs and all in a science fiction RPG, I cannot recommend Shadowrun:Dragonfall enough.

    The gameplay itself is more like Baldur’s Gate than Mass effect but that’s not a disadvantage in my book. The game mechanics work pretty well to support the story told in dialogues, almost all of the characters make sense, and I spotted only one part in the story where the choice of dialogue options only made sense if you alreday knew what was coming. And it was not for lack of scrutiny… This is a huuuuuge improvement over the BG and NWN school of storytelling. Actually, I’ll just go ahead and call it the best I’ve seen so far, at least in its class*. I don’t think I ever genuinely cared about an NPC who had no real bearing on the story except some optional dialogue, but boy did I want to give Simmy a hug by the end!

    I’m in my second play-through (this time as a cold uncaring asshole), and I’m regularly discovering new stuff about the game. Think I’ll give it at least a third one. Cannot say that about the NWN games.

    *The Swapper’s story is brilliant and brilliantly told but it’s also ephemeral, and it’s in a puzzle game

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Shadowrun is fantasy though.So not quite an alternative to mass effect 1.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Yeah, well… cyberpunk fantasy. So not really Star Trek. Valid point

      2. Incunabulum says:

        ME1 is also fantasy. Don’t let the spaceships and laser guns fool you.

        Or, more precisely, its opera – space opera rather than medieval stasis opera. Its the same genre, the stage settings look different.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well the line between fantasy and science fiction is always blurry,but I usually go by this metric:
          Does it explain the fantastic forces in the world?Then its sf.

          So even the bullshit explanation of midichlorians pushed star wars into the realm of science fiction,while the mystical non explanation of the originals kept it firmly in the realm of fantasy.

          Of course,this says nothing about the softness of science in said work.

          1. Shibbletyboops says:

            That’s roughly the same metric I use, too. We can’t really follow a hard-and-fast rule regarding the hardness or softness of a given piece of SciFi (or whether it classifies as fantasy or Space Opera instead), because there’s too much gray area.

            In most fantasy, Magic just is. It exists, is unexplainable, but is somehow understood and manipulated by its practitioners. This is everything from the High Fantasy standard (“I cast Lightning Bolt) all the way out to Space Opera sci-fi such as Star Wars (The Force).

            Mass Effect at least tried to explain its particular brand of Space Magic, and all the weird edge-case physics that it used to enable the setting. That makes it significantly harder than most Space Operas, and certainly harder than fantasy.

            1. Isaac Asimov wrote an interesting essay about this question. Basically, as he put it, the difference between magic and science is that science has rules that it cannot break. It is limited by the nature of the universe. Magic has no fundamental rules of this kind.

            2. George Monet says:

              In many fictions, magic is actually explained and operates using specific explained mechanics. The best example of this is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. In that series, magic is the One Power which is made up of a male and female half as well as a good half and a bad half. The magic is further broken down into Earth, Wind, Fire, Air, and Water. Different effects result from mixing these 5 elements in various ways and in various amounts. The One Power is pictured as threads which are weaved into a tapestry to produce the given effect. Each person is able to manipulate different amounts of the One Power and produce threads of differing size and density depending on the level of training and amount of the One Power they can channel. Someone who is extremely weak in the One Power cannot create threads strong enough to cut off another person’s access to the One Power if the other person is capable of creating much stronger threads. The author takes great pains to explain how the magic works and to keep their use of magic consistent from book to book. Magic in the Wheel of Time is a science.

              All authors who use magic need to explain how the magic in their fictions operate and then stick to that explanation. Curses, which usually have no mechanism to explain how they function or are maintained over time, are always complete copouts and generally bad writing. In order for magic to work it must have an explainable mechanism. If you write about a curse, you have to explain how the curse works and how it is maintained. How is it triggered? Why doesn’t it fizzle away when it has consumed all the magic that went into its creation? A curse after all is just a long term magic spell and magic usually requires some type of magical energy so that curse is going to either need a constant inflow of magic or need to be given enough magic at its creation to last for a prolonged period of time. And you as the writer also have to admit that anything created with magic can also be destroyed using magic. So any curse that has ever been created can be removed by using magic.

              1. guy says:

                It’s not a problem to have a curse that can’t be dispelled and persists indefinitely, so long as curses don’t break their own rules. They can even break the rules of the rest of the magic system if they’re special in some way. If spells have their duration limited by mana invested at time of casting (which isn’t necessarily a rule even in systems with mana) then curses get their mana from some source, often leeching it from the target. If magic can be dispelled (it often can’t) then curses are distinguished by being notably resilient to dispelling compared to other forms of magic. There is also no inherent rule that anything created using magic must be susceptible to being destroyed using magic; even if that’s fundamentally inherent in the system the setting’s wizards might well not know how.

                1. guy says:

                  Probably the best-known example of codified magic system rules is Brandon Sanderson, though with the caveat that just because the magic follows consistent rules doesn’t mean its users know what they are. Best moment for me in that regard was in Mistborn, where magic is based on burning metals, of which there were said to be ten, eight lesser metals and two esoteric higher metals that seemed oddly unrelated. And rumors of an eleventh metal which could be used to kill the Lord Ruler, supposedly immortal and God-Emperor for the last thousand years. So at some point during the story, I thought back through the system and its effects and said, “wait, no, there must be sixteen metals.” And lo and behold, there were… nineteen+. Because some of the metals were made of crystalized god or alloys thereof and existed outside the system. But the sixteen which had their existence implied by the system did indeed exist and followed the pattern they should.

                  1. Syal says:

                    Probably the place to post Sanderson’s First Law of Magic. You don’t have to explain your magic, but explanations and plot relevance should be directly related.

        2. George Monet says:

          Mass Effect is not high fantasy. Mass Effect asks what would the world look like if we changed this one thing about it. That one change was the inclusion of Element Zero. Thus Mass Effect is actually science fiction. Science fiction really is the reimagining of our world if one or multiple things were different about it, such as the ability to synthesize exotic particles that are only theoretical in the real world. A story set 20 years in the future featuring the first ship to make use of an Alcubierre warp drive would be science fiction. The same holds true of Mass Effect’s use of Element Zero.

          1. Mike S. says:

            Yeah, the idea that science fiction that fails to meet a certain standard of rigor becomes fantasy is rank SF snobbery. Which as an SF snob of many decades standing I’ll have no truck with. Fantasy is its own genre, not something that happens when someone does science fiction wrong. (That’s known as “bad science fiction”.)

            A rocket makes a right-angle turn in space (without any underlying justification like a conveniently-placed black hole)? Certainly a violation of Newton’s laws and likely no credit to the science fiction genre. But fantasy isn’t under any obligation to accept science fiction’s castoffs as its own.

            That doesn’t mean there can’t be fantasy with the trappings of spaceships and planets. Wizards are fantastic even if they’re commanding Spelljammer fleets. But dodgy or wrong or made-up science isn’t the same thing as magic.

            1. Corsair says:

              So much this. Star Trek may have ludicrous science, but it is still and will always be Sci-Fi, and never fantasy. Star Wars, on the other hand, -is- Space Fantasy.

              1. Burnsidhe says:

                “Bounce a graviton particle beam off the main deflector dish, that’s the way we do things lad, we’re making sh** up as we wish. The Klingons and the Romulans pose no threat to us, ’cause if we find we’re in a bind, we just make some sh** up!” ~Voltaire, U.S.S Make Sh** Up

      3. djw says:

        Mass Effect allows you to travel faster than the speed of light, and is therefore fantasy. I recognize that it is billed as Science Fiction, but faster than light travel is quite simply magic, not science.

        1. The *appearance* of faster than light travel is not the same thing as *actual* faster than light travel. And just because the operating rules of the fictional universe are not the same as the real universe does not make it fantasy.

          Actually Mass Effect is a pretty good name for it, considering it’s the effects of mass that they basically ignore throughout the series.

          1. Corsair says:

            …really? FTL travel makes it not Sci-Fi? Are you saying that -Foundation- isn’t Sci-Fi but in fact Fantasy?

            1. djw says:

              Well, I am not going to try to re-write the english language, and most people do refer to the Foundation trilogy as “Science Fiction”.

              That said, ftl is fantasy in the sense that it will not ever happen, and psychohistory is pretty unlikely as well. Foundation is definitely not “hard science fiction”, and neither is Mass Effect.

              1. Taellosse says:

                200 years ago people said the same thing about powered flight in an atmosphere.

                100 years ago they said travel outside the atmosphere was equally impossible.

                75 years ago the sound barrier was equally impassable.

                Just because out current understanding of physics doesn’t leave a lot of room for traveling faster than light doesn’t mean no one will ever come up with a way to make it happen. It only means no one has done so yet. Past performance is not a reliable predictor of future outcomes, especially not when it comes to truly groundbreaking discovery.

                Also, “there is something for which modern science does not have an explanation in this” is not remotely the demarcation line between science fiction and fantasy. It’s not even the line between “hard” and “soft” science fiction. Science fiction is the exploration of alternative realities – the entire point of it is positing counter-factuals like “faster than light travel is a thing” and trying to posit what a world with those rules looks like. The difference between “hard” and “soft” sci-fi is in how far the author works to ground those counter-factuals in realistic (not necessarily strictly “real,” either) science, and it is not a firm distinction, but a spectrum. Fantasy does some of the same thing, but posits a reality where the foundations are fundamentally non-rational (in the sense that while the setting might have rules, the fundamental forces that shape those rules are beyond the scope of reasoned inquiry). Hence why fantasy always have some form of “magic” – which is just shorthand for “stuff happens and we don’t know why, even if it’s a predictable force we can control to some extent.”

                This is why OT Star Wars is space fantasy, but PT Star Wars is very soft science fiction. “The Force” is space magic – unexplained and unexplainable save in the most mystical language – in the first 3 movies. In the prequels, “the Force” is an endemic energy field that sentient beings can manipulate because of a symbiotic organism that exists in high concentrations in their bodies. It’s not a very good explanation, but it posits something subject to rational inquiry.

                But all of this is a big part of why most book stores don’t have separate science fiction and fantasy sections in their genre shelves – the line between them is a bit blurry at best, especially when you start dealing with atypical forms like cyberpunk, modern fantasy, space opera, and the like.

                1. djw says:

                  The speed of light is built into the structure of the universe. This is *not* an engineering problem like powered flight or surviving in vacuum. Going faster than the speed of light is *literally* the same thing as taking a path between two points that is shorter than a straight line.

                  For what it is worth, I do think that we (or our descendants) will visit the stars, we will just get there at sub light speeds. Due to length contraction the time of flight won’t seem so bad (assuming you have enough energy to get close to light speed) but your friends who did not take the trip with you will be significantly older when you return.

                  1. Taellosse says:

                    Yeah, and there are theoretical models that suggest it’s also possible to find shorter distances between 2 points than a straight line, too. Everything is an engineering problem once you’ve got the right math to model a solution. Until you’ve got that, it’s ridiculous to suggest – that’s always how it works.

                    But without that kind of solution, while humans might eventually reach other star systems, there’s no practical way for them to be anything but isolated islands. Even the nearest stars are too far off for sublight trade to be likely to be feasible, and while round trips might be theoretically possible, friends and family that stayed behind would probably be more than just “significantly older” upon return – odds are they’d be dead. Interstellar travel at sublight speeds is effectively a one-way trip, even if someone ever did come back.

                    1. Poncho says:

                      Also, at an atomic level, we’re talking quarks and fundamental forces of the universe, don’t exactly obey the laws of physics as we know it. The speed of light is constant, but there are examples of particles seemingly traveling faster than light .

                    2. djw says:


                      If you read that wiki article that you linked down to paragraph 5 you will see that they discovered the whole thing was an experimental error. Neutrino’s do NOT travel faster than the speed of light.

                    3. djw says:


                      Isolated islands is what we will get. Having our species live on multiple isolated islands is safer than living on just one.

                  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                    The speed of light is built into the structure of the universe.

                    No,the speed of light is built into the structure of OUR universe AS WE UNDERSTAND IT.Those two parts I added are pretty crucial for science fiction because:
                    a)If you talk about a universe where the laws of physics differ from ours,you can still write a science fiction story.Example:Gods themselves.
                    b)Our understanding of the universe is not nearly complete.Stuff like wormholes are still considered viable precisely because of that incomplete understanding.

                2. djw says:

                  As an aside, if FTL travel does exist it makes the Fermi Paradox much harder to understand.

                  1. Taellosse says:

                    There’s simply too many unknown variables to make discussion of the Fermi Paradox useful. We lack anywhere near enough data to do more than wildly speculate.

                    1. djw says:

                      The Fermi Paradox is fairly straight forward, unlike theories about faster than light travel (which always invoke “exotic matter” that has never been discovered).

                      1. We know that it is possible for intelligent creatures to evolve (sample size 1, humans).

                      2. If it happened here, it can happen elsewhere. And the universe is very, very big.

                      3. IF it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light then there are no limits to how far you can spread your civilization. Time and space are not a barrier anymore.

                      One and two can be reconciled if you assume that we somehow managed to be the first intelligent species to evolve within our region of the galaxy. However, even this is tough, because a sufficiently advanced civilization ought to be able to spread throughout the entire galaxy on a time scale of millions of years at sub-light speed, and the galaxy is billions of years old. But, since the time scale for evolution of intelligence appears to be on the order of a billion years it is just possible that we really are the first in our near neighborhood.

                      Once you add in faster than light travel then a much larger chunk of the universe is in our neighborhood. It beggars the imagination that we are somehow the first civilization in our local group of galaxies.

                      If it is possible to build a Von Neuman machine with faster than light capabilities then they should be everywhere. Even if Civ 1, civ 2, civ 3, …. civ n have enough restraint to refrain from building them somebody will (those damn aliens from civ n+1 will ruin everything!) and it only takes one.

                      If you accept faster than light travel as a possibility then you have to accept really crazy possibilities to explain why we haven’t met aliens (for instance, Mass Effect is a documentary, and the Reapers are really out there).

                    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Up until some decade or two ago,we were unable to discover any planets outside our solar system.Now we know of thousands.Up until the last year,we knew of no black holes or gravitational waves,but now we know of at least one balck hole merger and that gravitational waves are a thing.Furthermore,it may very well be that such things are much more common than previously thought.And how about planet 9?We still havent fully mapped our own solar system,yet we assume that our knowledge of outer space is so wast that we can firmly say there are no sapient species but us?

                      Basically the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

                      Also,even if ftl travel is a thing,it still doesnt have to be a magical “travel anywhere” thing.Maybe its limited just to subatomic particles.Maybe its limited just to natural wormholes.Maybe it too has a top speed.Maybe its limited just to short distances.Maybe its only possible in outer galactic space.Maybe its impossible to calculate the correct destination so you can just randomly shoot out tachyons somewhere.We have no clue what form ftl would have if it were real.So to assume that its existence would automatically mean that species who develop it would definitely meet us is silly.The existence of ftl has 0 impact on the fermi paradox as long as we have no idea how it would work.

                    3. djw says:


                      The fact that we now know of thousands of extra solar planets strengthens my argument, because it indicates that the odds of life existing out there are pretty good.

                      In any case, lets rephrase the argument. If you were to make a bet for or against the existence of faster than light travel, what odds would you accept?

                      Lets put a time limit of 1000 years (that should be more than long enough to figure it out if it is possible) and assume that we very quickly discover longevity treatments so that you will live long enough to collect your winnings. Assume that the bet money is appropriately invested during the intervening years so that inflation doesn’t reduce your winnings to a pittance.

                      Based upon special relativity and the fermi paradox I would place the odds of some sort of faster than light travel at 10-1 against, and bet accordingly. I’m tempted to go with higher odds, but there are some wormhole style work arounds that I am not 100% ready to rule out.

                      Anybody who has a strong opinion about this topic (and isn’t just blowing hot air) ought to be able to come up with an odds ratio they would accept.

                    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

                      But that wasnt the original point.It was whether the existence of ftl in real life would make fermi paradox more baffling or not.I say that if ftl on macroscopic scale is possible,its still as limiting as anything we already know,so chances that humans are alone in the milky way arent any smaller.In fact,if I were to bet on anything,Id bet on humans indeed being the only sapient race in the milky way,but definitely not the only sapients in the universe.

    2. John says:

      Glad to hear it. I’m near the end of my third run through Dead Man’s Switch and Dragonfall is next on the agenda.

    3. Ninety-Three says:

      I completely failed to be engaged by a single character in Dragonfall, but I guess that’s a matter of taste. However, Dragonfall made an awful lot of stupid choices that feel similar to Mass Effect’s stupidity. I cannot agree with your endorsement of the plot.

      As soon as you meet a particular character, you can make a stat check to get a magic vision about them which reveals basically their entire backstory. But then their arc proceeds to play out normally over the course of the game, as though you didn’t literally see it coming. There’s even a dramatic twist that your character is forced to be surprised by.

      “As soon as you his this plot button, enemies will start pouring in, and also those turrets over there will become hostile and start shooting you.” So can I destroy the turrets before hitting the button? No, you will walk into this trap you have literally been told about, without doing a thing about it, because we’re going to have an action sequence damnit.

      The villain has a plan I agreed with, because it arguably serves the greater good and as soon as he monologued it at me I thought “You know, that seems like a good idea. Yeah, let’s do it!” but of course the dialog railroaded me into opposing him, and like a Shep vs TIM confrontation you can’t even make good arguments like “You have no way of knowing this will work”, it’s just “No, that would be wrong!”

      Finally, I can only discuss with major story spoilers. A hacker gets killed by an AI. In the Shadowrun world, AIs are top secret super projects that are incredibly dangerous. Later it’s revealed that because technobabble, the AI actually absorbed the hacker and now the hacker is sort of running the AI. To prove this, the AI puts up a hologram of the hacker’s face. You’re allowed to say “What if the evil AI is just puppeting you?” and the AI responds, essentially, “No, it’s totally me, trust me.” Every party member, and your own dialog, seems to accept this. We don’t even get a good round of “Say something only the hacker would say” which would at least prove the AI had downloaded all the hacker’s memories, although fail to prove the AI wasn’t the one in control. Then you’re asked to make a big decision about what to do with this dangerous AI after the game railroads into accepting its paper-thin disguise.

      Maybe the plot works if your intentions line up exactly with the writer’s favorite path through the narrative, but as an RPG, an interactive story, it’s a bunch of terrible railroady bullshit. It feels exactly like playing a tabletop campaign with a GM who wrote the plot ahead of time and is going to make his players conform to it whether they want to or not. Every place where I wasn’t railroaded, where I was allowed to make a choice the game would actually respect, felt like I was diverging from an Intended Story by choosing wrong.

      1. IFS says:

        The director’s cut for Dragonfall actually addressed one of your complaints, you can in fact side with the villain in it. I can’t speak for the others though as I’ve yet to finish the game.

      2. Muspel says:

        What are you talking about? You can totally side with the villain in Dragonfall.

        Alternately, if you have the right skills and have gathered the right intel, you can make excellent arguments that point out the major flaws in his plan, and convince him to give up his plan.

        Of course, if you do that, his crazy henchman kills him and then tries to execute the plan regardless, but still.

      3. Lizard King says:

        The director’s cut of Dragonfall totally allows you to join the villain, however it’s pretty lame since it turns out that killing all the dragons results in cthulu monsters invading Earth and killing everybody.

        1. krellen says:

          Having never sided with the villain, I don’t know exactly what you mean, but if you had played Dead Man’s Switch (the Shadowrun Returns campaign) I would guess the “Cthulhu Monsters” are Insects Spirits, and DMS told you they were there and they were coming. And that at least one dragon was instrumental in helping you stop them in DMS.

          1. IFS says:

            The ‘Cthulhu monsters’ are called the Horrors, they’ve been a part of Shadowruns lore for a while now (though some issues with publication have led to them being referenced more sparingly). Basically they show up when the mana level of a cycle gets too high and have been manipulating things to try and increase the mana level of the 6th world to show up earlier, the dragons are aware of them having been around in the previous cycle where they arrived and are implied to be taking steps to prepare for them. Insect spirits are a different sort of thing from the Horrors, though certainly similar in some respects.

            1. krellen says:

              The insect spirits are (at least one of) the Horrors.

      4. Zak McKracken says:

        I did not have this problem in the first playthrough because my character was not magically gifted and made the “right” choice intuitively, because it’s precisely what my character would have done. Of course it is obvious that APEX is just simulating Monica’s appearance, and of course I never believed it was her for a second. I had the choice of believing it, openly contradicting or pretending to believe it, which I though was brilliant on the part of the writers. I chose the “pretend to believe” way, but then gave the disguise away

        As IFS points out, maybe you played the non-director’s cut version? That might explain this.

        I was happy there were other choices but didn’t try them. My second run is also about doing things all differently and seeing where that gets me. So far, I’m intrigued, although it’d be nice if I could skip some of the dialogue (like watching those DVDs all over — it was interesting the first time, but now I already know). In terms of consequences for different choices, it seems to do okay. I did behave pretty badly in one instance and everyone got upset, Paul admonished me etc… Still, there are some options which you cannot forego. So far it seems I cannot behave so bad that my teammates’ personal missions become unavailable, but I’m willing to forgive that.

        I’m still thrilled that despite trying to be really thorough on the first playthrough, I’m still discovering completely new ways of handling things and finding new intel on the second one, and things are still quite coherent. Not completely, but given that the story is all dialogue trees and stuff, this is really cool, and waayy better than NWN handled things. Now I wonder how much of that was from the Director’s cut update. And how well they did with the successor, Hong Kong.

      5. Zak McKracken says:

        The bit about the story I was a bit disappointed with:
        In the very end, you get the offer to work for a dragon. If you decline, your place will be invaded by corporations a year later. If you accept, your place will be invaded by corporations a year later. Actually not the worst example of the “live to fight another day” topic, but I wish they hadn’t just put that in some bit of text but let me actually fight that fight. In another game maybe, but that story sounds more dramatic and moving than the one of the game I just finished playing.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its shadowrun,of course such a thing is bound to happen.

        2. Grudgeal says:

          The spoilered event is, unfortunately, a part of the canon Shadowrun timeline, whose metaplot is currently 20 years of metaplot (in-universe) ahead of the time-point the game is set in. Berlin was partially re-conquered by the German Allied States with Saeder-Krupp backing in 2055/56, and completely re-conquered by 2072. The anarchists did fight back on both occasions, but it simply didn’t take because a collection of nation-states with the backing of the biggest megacorp and its Great Dragon CEO isn’t something you could model a fun fight against. At least take comfort in the fact that if you said no to Brackhaus, your character wasn’t one of the many Shadowrunners S-D hired to soften up the Free State before the troops went in.

      6. krellen says:

        Regarding the big spoiler part, you can explicitly say “Nope, still don’t trust you” as your response.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          But the game doesn’t acknowledge this distrust. The obvious followup is “Give me something to trust” and you can’t say that. There’s no “Your evidence is so flimsy a child could forge it”, no debate, your character just accepts the situation. None of your party members exhibit much distrust. It gives the impression that either every character including yours is an idiot, or the writer is an idiot and this is a “Killing civilians just isn’t their M.O.” moment where the characters go along with the writer’s bad idea.

    4. IFS says:

      I’d compare the gameplay more to Xcom than Baldur’s Gate, but either way it works fine (though the game is quite easy). I have yet to finish Dragonfall due to distractions but I would still highly recommend it and Shadowrun Hong Kong (which I have beaten). Hong Kong has a few problems (mostly the main story doesn’t get enough missions) but is still one of my favorite RPGs in recent years with some really fantastically designed missions, the free epilogue dlc is just icing on the cake (giving you a short bonus campaign following the story of the main campaign).

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Haven’t played Xcom (maybe I should? Maybe Shadowrun has spoiled me now?) but I was comparing the out-of-battle gameplay (but failed to mention so). And in those terms (running about and talking to people), it’s actually not far from BG or NWN. In terms of how battles are resolved, you’re probably right.

        1. IFS says:

          I would highly recommend Xcom if you enjoyed the Shadowrun games combat, its much less story focused and more difficult (at least comparing the two on normal difficulty, I can’t speak for how much more difficult the Shadowrun games get on higher settings).

          In terms of talking to people though yeah it takes that aspect from BG, NWN, and other such cRPGs.

          1. djw says:

            I played both on the hardest difficulty, and I’m pretty sure I had to hit the reload button a lot more in Xcom.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              I played Shadowrun (Dead Man’s Switch and Dragonfall) on max difficulty and I never even felt threatened. XCOM on the other hand will kill your characters with one-shots that a time-traveling supercomputer could not figure out how to avoid.

              1. Gruhunchously says:

                There’s no foolproof strategy in XCOM. Thanks to the inherent randomness of the core mechanics, there’s nothing to stop a lousy streak and an unfortunate troop placement from ruining your best laid plans. The best you can do is prepare for the worst and try and mitigate any potential damage the enemy can do to you.

                1. djw says:

                  That is why all of my iron man runs ended in failure.

  15. Radkatsu says:

    Next one’s a surprise, huh? In b4 Fallout 4 ;) Few recent games need fixing more than that mess (which is why it’s next on my own list as well, once I’m done with Fallout 3).

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Hmm. Far from impossible, but I’d be surprised if he were to start a Fallout 4 series right now, given the upcoming Spoiler Warning season. Witcher, maybe? Pac-Man Championship Edition DX?

      1. Radkatsu says:

        Yeah, it’s possibly a bit soon, but still semi-plausible. Maybe Shamus will take the next series to talk about a GOOD game and why he loves it, something of a palate cleanser after Mass Effect :)

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          I hope he doesn’t do Fallout, because I think it would be a waste of time. It’s a Bethesda game, of course it’s stupid. It wasn’t trying and it had little potential to be otherwise. Doing a deconstruction of FO4 would be like a four thousand word essay on the plot of a porn movie: yes your points are valid, but are you really accomplishing anything by tearing it down?

          1. IFS says:

            He could point to games of the same genre that actually manage to have good stories, basically point out that Bethesda could do better and we don’t have to be satisfied with bad storytelling when its possible to do better. Both Witcher 3 and Fallout New Vegas are open world games with similarly sized worlds that still manage to have fantastic writing for example, and Bethesda could stand to take notes from them.

            1. Poncho says:

              Bethesda Game at this point is a genre to itself. They’re ankle-deep amusement parks for people to play out their power fantasies, and if you delude yourself into thinking you’ll get an interesting story or great characterization, you will be sorely disappointed.

              The last time Bethesda lived up to expectations was Morrowind.

              1. IFS says:

                Yes that’s true but that doesn’t mean it can’t be better than what it is, and criticizing something is an important part of acknowledging that it could be better and pushing for improvement.

          2. Radkatsu says:

            Well, thanks for pointing out that all my hard work was pointless, appreciate that :/

            Also, the less people complain and pick this stuff apart, the more it’ll happen. You’re advocating for giving up simply because you don’t think Beth will ever change (to be fair, I don’t think they will either), but that doesn’t mean OTHER studios won’t notice people talking about this stuff and do a better job in order to eat Bethesda’s lunch.

            Because at the end of the day, Fallout 4 hasn’t been received anything like as well as Bethesda will have been hoping. Some small amount of people seem to finally be waking up to Bethesda’s strategy of throwing shit together with as little effort as possible in order to make the most money. That short-sighted attitude will kill the company eventually… but it might take a while, unfortunately. Meanwhile, they continue ruining one of my favourite franchises.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              I’m not saying we don’t need to complain, just that we don’t need novel-length retrospectives. No one writes thousands of words (or if they do, it’s clearly about venting anger) about Aliens: Colonial Marines because “Holy crap, it’s super broken, just look at this garbage” is sufficient.

              1. IFS says:

                Not sure that’s a fair comparison, Colonial Marines was panned on release for being a buggy piece of shit, in comparison FO3 and 4 are much beloved by many and quite well received, which to me makes it more important to focus on the flaws that have generally speaking been overlooked. Similar to how this series focused on the whole of ME3’s story as opposed to just the ending (when in terms of reception the ending is all most people complained about).

      2. djw says:

        Witcher would be a hard sell for this kind of series because Shamus did not play through Witcher 1 and 2. I’m sure he could still say many interesting things about 3, but to really deconstruct it to the level of this ME series I think requires playing through the whole thing (probably more than once).

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          Hell, to really deconstruct it requires reading the books, where major plot elements influence the actions of characters in the games.

  16. Piflik says:

    The reasoning for the Reapers killing all organic life reminds me of one of my favourite space operas: Relevation Space by Alastair Reynolds. When I first read about the ending to Mass Effect 3, I thought ‘Someone read Revelation Space and didn’t understand it’.

    (Warning: imminent spoilers)

    Machines, called Inhibitors, cull back civilizations that reach a certain level of technology in order to preserve organic life. Their reason for this seemingly paradox behaviour is an galactic extinction event in the far (far far) future: some 4 billion years from now, the Milky Way will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. The Inhibitors clame to be able to steer our galaxy though this collision with minimal damage to it as a biosphere to support organic life. So in order to safeguard the galaxies capability to support life in 4 billion years, they eliminate civilizations that reach a technological level, where they could interfere with the Inhibitor’s work.

    (Warning: Even more Spoilers (with a Vengeance))

    The resolution to the conflict is still a little disappointing, a deus ex machina with a trace of Chekhov’s gun. Us puny humans manage to beat these machines that operate on a galactic scale with the help of an ancient civilization that survived in the dark space between the stars. The only hint to their existence mentioned in the books was some seashell-like material one of the central characters found. And they decided to help us only because a group of humans decided to not ask for help from a third party, so called ‘Shadows’ from a different ‘brane’ to ours, who want to come to us because they destroyed their galaxy via a swarm of self replicating terraformers.
    The epiloge implies that these ‘Shadows’ are actually humans, since the humans in our ‘brane’ managed to let loose a swarm of self replicating terraformers, which dismantle star systems to form speheres of algae surrounding each star in order to maximize organic life.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      Huh, sounds like the author doesn’t really understand the galactic “collision”. Like they expect it to mean a bunch of stars hitting each other. The reality will probably resemble two clouds colliding more than two solids colliding.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The mere act of two stars passing close(relatively,considering stellar distances) to each other is enough to cause a bunch of asteroids orbiting them to change orbits and go towards the planets.Depending on the distance,size and number of said stars,the orbits of planets could easily shift enough to cause catastrophic devastation to the fragile life supporting ones.So while a collision of two galaxies does not mean actual collision between the stars(well,a very few of those),it does mean massive orbit shifts and a definite degradation of conditions on life supporting planets.

        And thats not even considering what would happen to the stars that find themselves in the path of galactic centers.

        1. Incunabulum says:

          Galactic collisions sling *whole star systems* out of the galaxies in question. The masses and distances involved mean that individual stars are kinda irrelevant as a cause of destruction. At least until the later stages when pretty much everything is already wrecked and this is just peeing on the ashes.

          1. silver Harloe says:

            Being out of the galaxy wouldn’t affect life on Earth much, except it would give us fewer ambitions to colonize the stars.

            And while asteroid orbits being jiggled increases the odds to damage to the inner system, it is by no means a guarantee – it might just mean Jupiter gains another 0.01% mass. And the Oort cloud objects being jiggled by stellar proximity are just as likely to be thrown free into interstellar space.

            Planets can have their orbits rearranged, which might be devastating to some, and might make others better. There’s no way to predict what will happen, except on the galactic scale after some number of years (probably measured in the 100s of millions) we end up with a big galaxy and everyone that’s left is fine in their new normal and new life probably keeps happening around some of the stars. There’s no way to say what will happen to any individual planet, but many won’t even notice the “collision”.

            I feel like I’m talking to the kind of people who depict time travel and chaos theory where *only bad things ever happen*. Large chaotic systems are rarely so black and white.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Sure,being outside of a galaxy would not cause problems for earth.But traveling there definitely would.

              And yes,chaotic events do end up in a state of balance.But we arent talking about that,we are talking about getting to that point,which is an extremely violent period.I mean examine your gas example:If you put two boxes with gases next to each other and let them mix,theres a chance that some of the molecules will be completely untouched by the process.But chances of that are rather slim.

              Also consider this:Earh has formed in a rather sparse part of the galaxy,and is shielded both by huge outer planets and its moon.Yet it still had at least one asteroid that caused a massive extinction event,and maybe a few other extinctions happened due to outer space phenomena.Now imagine what would happen if only a single star ended up in the proximity,increasing the chances for something like that happening again.Now imagine what would happen if dozens of stars ended up passing next to it,including a massive black hole.Sure,once the equilibrium gets restored,the planet itself might be fine,and even still retain potential for life.But what are the chances that life on it would remain intact?

              1. Philadelphus says:

                Pretty good I’d say, given it’s millions of years in the future””I should hope humanity’s come up with a way to deflect asteroids by then! We could theoretically do it in the next few decades, after all, given current technology. :)

                Galactic collisions are not fast things. They happen on the order of hundreds of thousands to millions of years. Space is empty, and it’s easy to see things far away in it, which mean we’ll be able to see every single star approaching us. Even with today’s supercomputers we could probably compute how the orbit of everything in the Solar System would be changed, easily decades in the future (also assuming that in the future we actually know where all the asteroids are, instead of the tiny fraction we do now). With future supercomputers (quantum computers, perhaps?) this should be significantly easier.

                Basically, as long as future humanity has the ability to deflect asteroids given at least a few years of warning, and nothing happens that directly affects the earth (like being wrenched out of orbit around the sun), then the earth would probably come through completely unscathed.

                …at least by asteroid/comet impact. On a timescale of ~5″“10 million years you’re looking at the lifetime of an O- or B-type star, and galactic collisions are known to vastly accelerate star formation in galaxies (what with all those huge gas clouds colliding with each other). O/B-type stars make very powerful supernovae, and one of those within a few hundred light-years really could spell disaster for the planet. So unless future humanity has a way to either move stars or shield themselves from supernovae, I’d say the odds are a lot higher that a Milky Way/Andromeda collision would kill the planet due to supernova rather than anything directly gravitationally affecting the Solar System. Interesting thought.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Well ok,unrestricted life has a high chance to develop at least sleeper ships,like I said below.But in the context of the book we are talking about,they are concerned about life specifically on planets.Which is the premise I am going for here.

                  1. Philadelphus says:

                    Hmm…looking back, I think I got fixated on the asteroid impact problem while missing the other dangers you were pointing out. I suppose I should actually read the book and stop Complaining About Books You Haven’t Read.

        2. djw says:

          The time scale for the collision is likely to be tens to hundreds of thousands of years long. This is based on the size of the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies, which is on the order of 10,000 light years thick and 100,000 light years in diameter. LIGHT takes 10,000 years to cross it the short way, and the galaxies themselves will be colliding at less than light speed.

          Even if you predict that your planet will be uninhabitable after the gravitational forces sling your star out of the galaxy you will have lots of time to pick up and go elsewhere (assuming you have the technology to travel to another star).

          1. guy says:

            Yes, but the collision is likely to render very many planets uninhabitable for a very long time as humans measure such things. If a civilization is in a position to seriously attempt to manage the collision galaxy-wide, they probably have reasonable cause to do so even before getting into doing it because they just think planetary biospheres are good and should be in general preserved regardless of the concrete benefits of doing so. Or they may be immortal and just like their current planet the way it is.

            Less-powerful species won’t be in a position to actually guide the collision in any fashion and the best they can do is run, but higher-tech species may find that averting or altering the collision is more practical than relocating the affected systems.

            1. djw says:

              If you have the power to alter a collision between two Galaxies then you are basically a god-like creature already. Realistically I think you let the collision happen and pick up the pieces afterwords.

      2. MichaelGC says:

        Reynolds does actually mention in the book that the ‘collision’ won’t involve actual impacts. He worked for the European Space Agency for 15 years or so, and has a PhD in either physics or astronomy (not sure).

        In short, he knows his stuff! I don’t know my stuff, so I can’t tell whether we should be doomy-gloomy or not (and presumably solar changes would be more of a problem anyway), but Reynolds certainly knows his.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Considering that said collision will happen in about 4 billion years,there really is no need to worry about.If we survive that long,we will at least have sleeper ship technology to keep humanity alive.

          1. MichaelGC says:

            4 billion years?!? I thought we had 5 billion years!! AAAAAAAAAH!!!!

            *runs round & round in panicky circles*

  17. silver Harloe says:

    I can say this for the Reaper’s 50kyear reaping: they don’t actually wipe out all life, do they? The human race has survived at least 2 reapings and life on our planet even more. So they wipe out all “advanced” life (and, by “wipe out” they seem to think they mean “preserve everything unique about them in a museum vessel”)

    So in a way “kill the advanced organics so they don’t make synthetics so the synthetics don’t wipe out the organics and take over” makes a little bit of sense: a full synthetic race interested in galactic domination would probably not have let the primitive Earth go by unclaimed – they’d’ve probably recycled it for materials a long time ago. As immortal beings, their reign would never end, and as “scary scifi AI” beings, they would have prevented all future organics from coming to fruition ever again. Killing all the advanced organics gives the primitive ones a chance to evolve (and get killed).

    I dunno, it’s still pretty dumb and suffers from the “mad AI” trope that pervades so much science fiction (a trope which, I believe, completely fails to understand what a general intelligence means or even is)

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      I dunno, it's still pretty dumb and suffers from the “mad AI” trope that pervades so much science fiction (a trope which, I believe, completely fails to understand what a general intelligence means or even is)

      I disagree.There have been plenty of mad ais that operate like a machine would.The well known hal,of course,Asimovs robots,and colossus from the book and the movie all are mad ais only because they operated against humans,even though their logic is mostly sound and in line with how they were programmed.

      Mass effect ones,not so much.

      EDIT:Heck,we already have cases of mad ai in the real world.

      1. silver Harloe says:

        That’s actually my problem – the “realistic” ones that are supposed to have general intelligence, but behave as if their original goals were mandates instead of urges and instincts that can be gotten over. You don’t have general intelligence then, you have a glorified expert system which makes some intuitions only by the power of authorial fiat.

        We are programmed by our genes for self survival and procreation, but we feel these things as urges, not mandates, because *general* intelligence. Lesser intelligences have instincts they cannot control. We feel those instincts because they’re built into the very structure of our brains, but we feel them as urges and people can starve themselves voluntarily, commit suicide, commit to a life of abstinence, etc

        In fact, the very fact that HAL, Asimov’s robots, Data, and Colossus were machines should be irrelevant: the intelligence is an emergent property which has little to do with the substrate. We don’t act like neurons – we act like sapient beings. They shouldn’t act like computers – they should act like sapient beings.


        The example in the article you gave wasn’t a general intelligence – it was an expert system.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Actually,one of the ways in which the robots get mad in Asimovs stories is by overcoming their basic programing(specifically the machines,zeroth law and the robots that actively try to kill humans).Colossus also went mad in a way that overcame its subservience.

          Also,humans that go mad often do stuff based on their base programing.Stuff like lashing out in fear,or succumbing to their sadness or sexual urges.So yeah,a true ai going mad can indeed mean it reverts back to its core programming,completely negating what it learned(which is true for hal).

          1. Burnsidhe says:

            HAL 9000 was driven ‘insane’ by conflicting directives; on the one hand, HAL was programmed and wanted to be helpful and disseminate information to the human crew, as well as monitoring the ship and its machinery.

            On the other hand, the military, being paranoid as hell and feeling threatened by the loss of control over the crew because of distance, and being unable to have an immediate real-time hands on direction of the mission, did something bad. They gave HAL programming directives to spy on the crew, keep the crew from knowing they were being spied on, prioritize completion of the mission over everything else, and giving it a directive to complete the mission if all the astronauts were dead. Basically, they gave HAL a programming overlay that said, “Be a suspicious bastard and don’t trust your crewmates.”

            HAL’s response was actually logical and could easily have been predicted if the military programming had been known by HAL’s creator; HAL started killing off the crew so that the conflicting directives of “be a paranoid asshole who keeps information to himself” and “offer information freely and be helpful to others” could be resolved.

            While HAL may have seemed to go mad, that is a human, emotional judgement about what was actually a programming conflict. When HAL was rebooted in the sequel book, the mission had been completed and the military directives were no longer in effect, which solved the programming conflict and made HAL ‘sane’ again.

    2. Michael says:

      In general, the Mass Effect series freely switches around genocide, reaping, whatever. In the first place, the only reason “harvesting” ever came up was because one of your team mates says it during the “Sovereign” conversation on Virmire. The reaper himself interchanges it as coolness requires it in the conversation.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Well, and because they’re called “Reapers”, and that’s what reaping means. Of course Sovereign calls that out as Prothean ignorance, but in the context of a story that sort of thing often tends to be a hint as to the nature of the unknown enemy.

    3. Shibbletyboops says:

      There’s no reason to assume that a synthetic species (that doesn’t need to eat, breathe, or sleep) would have any need for a garden world. Especially when there are plenty of barren worlds in the galaxy that would provide them the resources that they need.

      1. guy says:

        There’s a finite number of barren worlds and they would eventually run out. But a more immediate concern is that since they don’t need garden worlds, they don’t have any particular reason not to bomb them into lifelessness to prevent any new organic species from arising and becoming a nuisance eventually. Unless it’s more efficent to only wipe them out when they show signs of becoming technologically advanced enough to be spacefaring.

      2. silver Harloe says:

        I wasn’t thinking they really care which worlds they recycle, they’re just doing whole systems at a time, methodically taking everything in order by distance.

  18. Lizard King says:

    Found this entry very disappointing, no talk about the different endings and why they are completely unsatisfying from a narrative perspective? Or will you do that next week?

  19. Silvertram says:

    The Mad AI stuff could have worked, actually it could have worked really well had there been any hints towards it.In game for example, they treat spontaneous AI generation as a thing that can happen and have laws that specifically ban it. As if AI’s are something that just happen.

    Throughout the whole game, they treat the main danger of AIs as them existing at all, everything points to that. The concept that the Geth evolved into true AI status is taken less as an example of unintended consequences as meat brains try to repeat what made the meat brains in the first place but more of what can happen if you play with anything remotely AI like (and while VIs are somewhat intelligent, they can’t change and more similar to siri).

    There’s no evidence in game that AI problems come from poor programming, faulty logic, bad ethical training or anything else. Instead AIs are always portrayed as making rational, if unfathomable choices that just so happen to result in our death. So even while Leviathan introduces this concept, it’s one hell of a concept to bring up on the eve of the story resolution via a DLC that isn’t released at the same time the game is.

  20. TMC_Sherpa says:

    My guess for the announcement is that in 300 years when ME falls out of copyright Robo-Shamus will be activated to rewrite the series. So, we’ve got that to look forward to.

    An actual question. How badly do you think Bioware wanted to Lucas up the first two games (add the kid to the Citadel or have a few seconds of him in the weird Prothean dream thingy) and do they earn points for not doing it?

    1. Corsair says:

      I can see it now.

      COMMANDER SHEPARD: “Why are you doing this!?”

      ROBO-SHAMUS: “A question that could only be answered in this way…what do you eat?”

  21. tremor3258 says:

    I enjoy the alt-text to the first picture. Sums up a lot of the execution problems with the ending that go with the conceptual ones…

  22. Steven says:

    Shamus, do you plan on writing about The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt?

  23. Chaz Yordz says:

    Finally caught up on these posts today. I absolutely love it. I understand Shamus’s point: the main plot engineered in 1 was disrespected and subverted, if not reversed, through the next two games. If you accept the plot earnestly, as I realize most people would (ie not us still obsessing over the series), I agree.

    Separately, I find the whole franchise imminently replayable with a form of the indoctrination “theory” (really “interpretation”) in the back of my mind. Obviously AI vs organics isn’t the ageless crisis at the forefront of the trilogy, but indoctrination/mind control certainly is. From Eden Prime forward Shepard experiences mental invasion. In 2 Shepard’s whole adventure is cast in a shadow of self doubt about being revived (rebuilt?) by Cerberus. In 3, Shepard is haunted by Some Kid from the opening scene forward. The idea that all would not be as it seems at the climax of this story is almost absurdly obvious. Also, the idea of the main character having a rationalization session with the chief space cthulu, in a story about mental domination, seems kind of obvious, too. An ending that DOESN’T implicate the theme of mental domination would seem out of left field.

    Just exactly what is happening with this ending is fun for each player to speculate about. I have my own idea, of course very satisfying to me (and it’s not that Shepard is having an unconscious dream in a street somewhere) . But the idea that Shepard is immune to indoctrination, or the Reapers never bother to attempt it, and everything in the ending happens just as space magicky as presented, is crazy to me.

  24. Jabrwock says:

    I could understand the fear of AI if there was some info about past races’ AI going all malevolent god of destruction, ala Marathon/Halo rampancy.

    But yeah, we see none of that in the ME universe. Except for the false history that the Quarians invented about the Geth conflict…

    1. IFS says:

      If you have the prothean DLC then Javik talks about a synthetic/organic war that happened in his time, but the details are both vague and stupid. I think it involved some race upgrading themselves with cybernetics and then winding up taken over by them.

      1. Jabrwock says:

        So, organics turned themselves into cyborgs, then went all cybermen on the rest of the population, and this is why the reapers need to wipe out all organics because a synthetic version of cyborgs might be worse?

        Yeah, I can see why that logic doesn’t help. ;)

      2. George Monet says:

        Basically what Javik was describing is exactly what happens if you broker peace between the Quarians and the Geth. The alien species built AIs that they installed into their cybernetics. Eventually the cybernetics were so advanced that they allowed the AIs to restructure the DNA of the cyborgs. The children born to these cyborgs were genetically predisposed to be a slave species to the AI due to the changes that the AIs made to the reproductive organs of the cyborgs which changed the DNA of the gametes being produced by the cyborgs. The galaxy of Javik’s time was barely able to defeat these AI controlled cyborgs as they were not able to recognize the threat until it was too late.

        The Geth are somehow manipulating the DNA of the Quarians through the Quarians implants via space magic which allows them to adapt to their homeworld at a faster rate. it is unclear how the Quarians cybernetic implants could lead to genetic manipulation nor how genetic manipulation leads to better immediate adaptation of the environment. Why would you install cybernetic implants capable of manipulating your genetic code? Isn’t that a huge health risk regardless of whether it is being controlled by an AI? Where did that technology come from? Why don’t they sell such cybernetic implants to everyone else as such implants would be a cure for cancer and would allow everyone to safely become a biotic or control the traits of their offspring.

        1. Burnsidhe says:

          No, they’re not ‘manipulating the DNA of the quarians through space magic inputs.’

          What the geth are doing with the quarians is more like an allergy shot; carefully exposing the quarian volunteer to a specific allergen, bacteria, or virus in order to help the quarian develop an immunity or tolerance for that specific stimulus.

          And they’re doing it through manipulation of the environment suit, not through manipulation of DNA through a cybernetic implant.

  25. Gruhunchously says:

    It’s an odd thing, but even after all this time we don’t know who the voice actor for the Star Child is. The writers surreptitiously made him the protagonist of the final scene of the game, and didn’t even bother to give him a voice credit.

    Probably just as well, who knows what sort of hate the poor kid would have gotten if people knew who he was.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      I thought Starchild had the same VA as Some Kid Who Died (just run through an audio filter), is Some Kid not credited either?

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        He was voiced by some kid.

      2. Burnsidhe says:

        He was voiced by Some Kid Who Died, Mark Meer, and Jennifer Hale. That ‘filter’ is actually the three voices overlaid on each other. Listen carefully, and you can hear Jennifer Hale or Mark Meer at different points in the speech, while “Some Kid who Died” is the most prominent voice throughout.

  26. Philadelphus says:

    It's like Luke getting to Palpatine's throne room and learning this whole Death Star thing is a distraction from the real problem, which is that we need to decide what to do about droids.

    Y’know, I could totally see this happening in Darths & Droids, with Sally’s fixation on droid emancipation.

  27. George Monet says:

    The ending to Mass Effect 3 was the ending to every JRPG ever made. The antagonist decides that the only way to save the world/galaxy/universe is to destroy it so no one ever has to feel pain/sadness/loneliness/unhappiness/despair ever again so the final boss battle is you beating the snot out of them to either convince them to change their ways and actually help people, convince them to destroy themselves or just destroy them. Considering Kai Leng, I’d say that the Mass Effect 3 authors took over and decided to write a JRPG plot. This also explains why the developers for Mass Effect 3 wanted there to be a large boss battle, because it wasn’t Mass Effect 3, it was a JRPG and JRPGs always end with a large boss battle.

    However if AIs were such a huge problem, what about the AIs in other galaxies? If AIs always destroy organics then that should include the organics of other galaxies. If there weren’t Reapers in all those infinite other galaxies in the universe then the AIs from those galaxies not only pose a huge threat to our galaxy if they don’t have their own Reapers, but they will be billions of years ahead of our galaxy in terms of technological development because their level of technology hasn’t been stagnant for the last 2 billion years. So where are they? Why haven’t they attacked? Remember that synthetics always seek the destruction of organics. But no one felt like putting any real thought into the ending. I’d much prefer having kept the purpose of the Reapers unexplained because it is impossible for a human writer to come up with a purpose that will be beyond the understanding of a human reader. Yes I can understand the concept of a being greater than that which can possibly be imagined, but two humans can’t describe the characteristics of a being greater than that which can possibly be imagined as that being would only be as great as a being which can be imagined and not greater.

    However the threat posed by AI actually was integral to and developed within Mass Effect 1. In ME1 there were 3 specific instances where you encounter different types of AI and in all 3 instances the AIs want to kill you simply because you are organic. The first are the Geth on Eden Prime, the computer on the Citadel and finally the AI on the Moon. However there is a galaxy wide ban on AI and AI development because everyone has already determined that AI pose a huge danger. So the Reapers are addressing a threat that the Galaxy has already recognized and has already taken steps to address and prevent.

    That isn’t the only problem. In Mass Effect 1, Sovereign, a Reaper, was working with the Geth to kill organics and open the arms to the Citadel. Sovereign was planning on replacing the Citadel’s Keepers with Geth. The Reapers determined that they’d rather work with and preserve a synthetic race than an organic race. If the purpose of the Reapers really was to prevent the rise of a synthetic species, then Sovereign should have categorically refused to work with the Geth as the Geth were the very thing that Sovereign was created to destroy and prevent the creation of.

    1. guy says:

      Yes, but ME1 also rather firmly hinted that the reason the AIs wanted to kill you for being organic was because they expected organics to want to kill them for being synthetic rather than because AIs actually inherently want to kill organics by default. Most prominently with the Geth; talking to Tali has you learn definitively that the Quarians tried to destroy the Geth prior to the Geth attacking them.

      1. Mike S. says:

        Which they did because the alternative was to bet their entire species’ survival on the geth being the first AIs in millennia of history not to turn hostile.

        (And on the Citadel not treating the AI emergence as an existential threat and responding with overwhelming force. Whether that was a possibility is unclear– we know AI is illegal, but we don’t know what happens if the Citadel’s first hint of it is “Er, we accidentally-on-purpose incorporated it into every bit of our infrastructure and now it controls everything from our toasters to our planetary defenses.”)

        In the event, the ME3 quarian arc strongly indicates that it would have been possible to come to an accommodation with the geth at that point. And it’s hard to see how things could have gone much worse. (Unless the Council just glassed the planet without letting a space fleet escape. But they really don’t like to do that to garden worlds, and maybe AI panic wouldn’t escalate them to war crimes.) But best case scenario, the quarians were suddenly faced with the fact that they were surrounded by slaves they hadn’t even known they were keeping, in a universe in which every other such emergence was followed either by brutal repression or bloody revolt.

        Assuming the most enlightened and risk-tolerant government possible, what are the odds that a decision to seek peace with the newly emergent geth isn’t followed by their ceasing to be an effective government, in favor of someone– anyone!– who’ll protect the quarian people from this imminent existential threat?

        This is all separate from the claim made by the Catalyst that this is an inherent, inevitable tendency of the universe. Even if it’s just a standard cycle of violence and reprisal, those aren’t exactly easy to break.

    2. Grudgeal says:

      Hey, it’s not every jRPG plot! Just look at… No, no. Um, how about… Wait, forgot about the twist ending in that one. Well it’s sort of not visible in, errrr… Ummmmmm…

      …Chrono Trigger?

  28. Burnsidhe says:

    What’s frustrating here is that the ME 3 writer came so darn close to a better explanation for the Reaper’s motives, one that the player could not argue with, but gave up and settled for something out of the original vague ending scribbles.

    “The solution to what?”

    “Chaos. Life is conflict. This is universal and not to be contested. It is logical. As civilizations reach a certain degree of advancement, they discover interstellar travel. Left to themselves, they would be too far advanced for less advanced civilizations to resist their influence. The resulting conflicts destroy habitable worlds and wipe out their inhabitants.”

    “And.. the Reapers are not doing that right now?”

    “They are. It is necessary. We created the Mass Relays to guide your civilization’s development along the lines we require, lines that minimize the destruction of nascent species and assure the continued development of new civilizations without interference from more advanced ones. We remove advanced civilizations to make way for new ones, archiving the old life in Reaper form.”

    “We’d rather keep our own form.”

    “You cannot. Organic life must reproduce. The biological urge cannot be changed without causing the destruction of that species. To reproduce requires resources. The conflict over resources causes civilizations to expand to habitable worlds. Doing so displaces, destroys, or irrevocably changes the developing life on that world. My creators themselves were the first proof of this truth. They did not realize they were examples of the problem they created me to solve, and they were the first to be archived.”

    “Not all species behave that way! Look at the asari!”

    “I am aware of the Asari, as I am aware of eight thousand previous civilizations that pursued the same course; slowing their development, sharing their advances with other so that conflict is managed and survivable. If all civilizations could pursue this course, my solution would not be necessary. As it is, there will eventually come a point where the current civilizations of your cycle would overwhelm the ability of organic minds to manage. Decay, additional conflict, and destruction are the inevitable result. Synthetic minds do not value life for its own sake and the conflicts between organic and synthetic life, or between two synthetic civilizations, is considerably more destructive than conflict between organic civilizations.”

    “You cannot deny that more advanced civilizations will inevitably influence or disrupt the course of development of less advanced civilizations. The history of events leading up to the Krogan Genophage is only one moment in time; I have witnessed similar events thousands of times.”

    “Wait. If you’re able to control the Reapers, if you and they are some kind of gestalt mind, why Sovereign? Why all this? Why not just open the relay to dark space yourself?”

    “It was a deliberate choice. I calculated that the solution of the Reapers is imperfect, and that at some time there would be a real chance we would be destroyed. Leaving the possibility of change open is a calculated and necessary risk. A new solution may unexpectedly arise from the chaos.”

    “Do you know what the Crucible does?”

    “I know its purpose. We first noted its construction many cycles ago, and examined it. Since then, we have reintroduced the design to each new cycle. Some have improved on it. Some never found it. Each change was noted and improved upon for the next cycle. The Crucible is an object of our creators design, modified by us, and used as a test.”

    “A… test? A test of what?”

    “Of whether your civilizations are capable of cooperation, capable of restraint, and a test of your technological advancement. It requires a diversity of mental perspectives that cannot exist if there is one dominant civilization. Yours is the first to have completed it. By bringing it here, your cycle has altered the probability calculations. Previously tested solutions have become viable. I require your cooperation to decide between the possibilities.”

    Now, that’s if Shepard is successful in getting at least two of the endings unlocked. If there’s only one, the ending is considerably shorter and much more abrupt:

    “Solution to what?”

    “Chaos. Your history suggests this explanation is sufficient. The parameters of the experiment have been completed to the minimum necessary degree. It is unsatisfactory. One path is open to you. Take it, or remove yourself.”

    The ME 3 writer is capable of this level of thought. You can see suggestions and glimmers of it in what they wrote for the Catalyst. But the ME 3 writer isn’t capable of sustaining this level of thought. The ME 3 writer is tired of Mass Effect and doesn’t care about it anymore. The ME 3 writer would rather be making Battlefield Duty 2186: the Call of Cerberus.

    1. INH5 says:

      Wow. That’s actually pretty good, and it doesn’t require any radical additions or changes to ME3’s existing plot. Nice work.

      However, I don’t think that the RGB endings would work for this, but it does lay the foundation for some sort of Big Ending Choice.

      1. Burnsidhe says:

        But it does work with the endings as they exist. Some details would have to be changed in the dialog, maybe, but:

        Destroy: Reject the Catalyst’s solution (the Reapers) and embrace the ‘problem’, or trust that the current civilizations will find their own way to address the issues the Catalyst raises.

        Control: Preserves the Reapers, hacks and takes over synthetic intelligence such as the geth and EDI, and Shepard AI uses them as a police force to make sure that conflicts don’t get out of hand.

        Synthesis: The beginning of trans-sapientism. Plug everyone and everything into so that everything is controlled and now everyone understands what the ‘problem’ is and can work on ways to ‘solve’ it that don’t involve terror, genocide, and destruction.

        Refuse: For the Shepards who are either indecisive or who think that the Reaper solution is actually the best, they can let the Reapers keep on with their genocide and ‘archiving’ of sapient life.

        As I see it, this alternate explanation makes all the choices viable, with only one being less favorable than the other three. Unlike the published version, in which Destroy is the clearly preferable choice as it gets rid of the Reapers and the Catalyst.

        It still does not address the fact that the Catalyst is letting Shepard win, however.

        1. Poncho says:

          I just don’t like Catalyst as a plot device. We’re introduced to a character and a solution to the Reaper problem at the game’s conclusion, not explored in detail from the beginning. The whole game is spent battling Cerberus, making political alliances, and gathering war assets. None of it focused on *how* to defeat the Reapers except for this off-screen construction project no one knows how to make work.

          It’s fine for a plot to discover a hidden solution that had been there all along, just outside the protagonist’s reach, but this is literally deus ex machina , even if it’s far more rational than what we were given.

          Making the ending work in a narrative sense would require re-telling the whole story from the end of ME1 onward, which is exactly the frustrating place I’m in now as a fanfic writer.

          1. Burnsidhe says:

            I’m not disputing that at all. The narrative went off the rails when the ME 2 writer picked up from the ME writer, read the notes, and then crumpled them all up and threw them away in favor of a more action shooty series.

            My point here was that the ME 3 writer was so very close to an explanation for the Reapers that was far more consistent with what the player has experienced throughout the series, that was consistent with the ominous pronouncements of Sovereign in ME, and that was not mind-bogglingly self-referential and contrary to the player’s experience as the one the ME 3 writer chose to publish.

    2. Cozzer says:

      I would accept it only if there’s a DLC ending that allows Shepard to get REALLY angry at the guys’ arrogance, summon the Normandy, turn it into a giant robot and punch away the Reapers with drills.

    3. SPCTRE says:

      I just wanted to applaud you for your effort Burnsidhe, that’s actually a pretty damn good alternate version that would have left me personally a lot more satisfied with my final choice.

    4. Coming_Second says:

      Although this dialogue doesn’t solve the central issue of the ending being jarringly disconnected and unrelated to the events that preceded it, it does make the Crucible and the rainbow choice a hell of a lot more palatable and well explicated. Kudos for writing this.

    5. Grudgeal says:

      That would just have made the Reapers an even more pants-on-head version of the Shivans. Moreso than they already were, that is.

  29. Zaxares says:

    The problem with the ME3 ending, as I see it, is two-fold:

    1. Bioware really shouldn’t have continued to use the organic-synthetic conflict as the impetus for the extinction cycles. As Shamus points out, the organic-synthetic topic has ALREADY been dealt with in the game, during the Geth-Quarian mission arc on Rannoch. There, the player can choose to side with synthetics, with organics, or against all odds, actually convince both sides to make peace with each other.

    In the latter case, we take away the lesson that peace despite differences IS possible, and that it needs to be given a chance, but the endings refuse to allow that possibility.

    2. I personally feel that the peace offered in the Synthesis ending is fake. Just because everybody is now comprised of the same physical make-up, and able to understand each other, doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody will now live in harmony with each other. Look at the geth/heretic schism, for example. Despite having perfect communication between each other and the advantage of living in a society where complete consensus is required to take actions, irreconcilable differences STILL managed to arise and split them apart.

    Therefore, I personally feel that the Synthesised races will inevitably return to war and conflict. The ONLY way that everybody can truly live in peace together is if everybody had the same mind, the same goals, the same consciousness. And that, to me, is probably the WORST possible outcome for the ME-verse, because that would mean a complete loss of individuality.

    Not to mention that the Synthesis ending leaves some BIG questions unanswered. The ending clearly shows that even plants are synthesised; if everybody can communicate freely with each other, does that mean you can sense what a pig or an apple is thinking when you eat it? Or when you walk across grass and crush it underfoot? What about even smaller things like bacteria? We kill thousands of them every day just by breathing them in and slaughtering them with our immune systems. How would we even live in such a world where we can’t help but feel the pain and anguish of everything we kill or destroy without realising it?

    Were it up to me, I’d have done away with the Synthesis ending altogether. Destroy, Control and Reject are the only three options, and in all of them, the player ends up victorious.

    Destroy would have been almost unchanged from its current EC version. The key difference is that it does not destroy EDI and the geth; instead, depending on the war asset strength of the Crucible, the Crucible will either destroy everything in the Sol system and all the mass relays, only the mass relays, or if it was high enough, only damage and shutdown the relays. (The Catalyst always says that the Destroy option will result in the destruction of Earth and the relays, but he is incorrect/lying in the best version of the ending.)

    Control lets Shepard merge with the Catalyst, their thoughts, memories and desires becoming incorporated with the AI, rather than replacing it completely. The Shepard-Controller stops the war, and it leaves them with near-limitless power and an ambiguous ending that lets the player imagine what they will do with that power.

    Reject is again practically unchanged from the current version. Shepard refuses to use the Crucible, perhaps both unwilling to destroy the relays and galactic civilization AND unwilling to trust the Catalyst about controlling the Reapers. In this case, the cycle continues, but thanks to Liara’s time capsules, the next cycle (or another one down the line) succeeds in defeating the Reapers. The Reapers still lose in the end.

    As with Burnsidhe above, I thought that the central idea of why the Reapers are harvesting organics was actually a feasible one, but the core motivations behind their actions was unsatisfactory. Rather, in keeping with the “Reapers are Cthulhu’ish beings with motivations and goals that are so vast that individual humans cannot truly grasp the scale of it” theme, I would have reworked the ending conversation to something like this:

    Shepard: “Solution? Solution to what?”

    Catalyst: “Entropy. Death. Oblivion.”

    Shepard: “I don’t understand…”

    Catalyst: “The natural state of the universe is one of decay. Creatures, empires, civilizations… All are born, rise to glory, but eventually they fade, die and are forgotten. All of life’s creations and achievements are nothing before the endless march of time. Even stars can die, and the day will come when even the galaxy will no longer exist. Organic life cannot survive such an event, but WE can.”

    Shepard: “So that’s what this is all about? You think you’re… SAVING us by gifting us some perverse kind of immortality?”

    Catalyst: “… How old do you think we are, Shepard?”

    Shepard: “I don’t know… Millions? Billions?”

    Catalyst: “Far older than that. We have witnessed the births and deaths of uncounted civilizations in galaxies farther away than you could even imagine. Their homes, planets and star systems are gone now… dissipated into pure energy or crushed into black holes or frozen in an eternal heat death… But their deeds, memories and dreams live on in us.”

    Shepard: “That’s… not-”

    Catalyst: “We are the pinnacle of evolution, Shepard. Only through us can you escape the inevitable. Embrace your destiny, and join us…”

    1. Michael says:

      What would stop a Synthesis-ed (is it even Synthesized, then?) galaxy population from creating synthetics that would (not might, as the case is given) eventually rebel?

      All the other ends have the same problem. Also with these choices, we’d be forcing the will of a single person on all living things in the entire galaxy. That’s kinda horrible.

      Why would the Cthulhu-esque beings need to erase the risen organic life in your example? Why not just let them be, with intervening in the limited space of where it happens, when bad things are about to happen? Harvesting at a set cycle would be completely unnecessary, in that case. Especially one so short. Because 50k years is REALLY short in galactic terms.

  30. Xilizhra says:

    I actually kind of liked the ending, although it might not have been in the spirit that the authors intended. Specifically, I just didn’t care what the Catalyst was saying; what matters, what has always mattered, is stopping the Reapers, and an insane AI repeating a bogus solution to a misinterpreted problem from millions of years ago is not really my concern. It could have been done better, sure, but it didn’t ruin anything for me. I also very much appreciated the Control ending, even though Shepard’s death sucked and I’ve tried to devise ways to undo it.

    Also, Sovereign, too, was a trash-talking space monster. That’s kind of a series constant. In fact, ME3 is where the Reapers trash-talk the least.

  31. So the blue ending is Shepard controls the Reapers? Wow, so they make TIM do all his unexplained, unjustified bullshit about controlling the reapers and thinking on the possibilities they pull off a way in which you get control. TIM must be rolling in his grave.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The Star Child points out that his solution was logical and workable, but irrelevant for him personally because he was already an Indoctrinated Reaper thrall.

  32. Guancyto says:

    Edward Cullen, Witch Hunter

    Can’t believe no one has said this:

    Still a better love story than Twilight.

  33. Duoae says:

    I was thinking about this entry when something occurred to me for the first time and (although I tried to go through all the entries here) I didn’t see it mentioned:

    The reapers (AI machines) kill off all intelligent organic life (or at least technologically advanced) in order to stop other AI machines from doing it to all life.

    But what do they do with AI machines already created? I don’t remember it ever being discussed in the games but consider we have the Geth. What happens to them at the end of this cycle? If the Reapers assimilated them then their fleets would be less homogeneous agglomerates of different types of AI machines….

    Actually, I think the writers missed an opportunity here in ME2. Instead of harvesting organic beings to make Reapers (which makes no logical or scientific sense) it would have been more scary (Elder God-style) to have them say that they co-opted the AI machines that were developed each cycle (if there were any present) to make new Reapers.

    The alternative is that the Reapers destroy the AI machines as well…otherwise the galaxy would be swimming with AI races.

    So surely this would put the Geth at odds with them…

    1. Burnsidhe says:

      Who’s to say they don’t convert synthetics into Reapers as well? It’s just a programming change for them.

      1. INH5 says:

        I’m pretty sure that there is a bit of Legion dialogue in ME2 where he mentions that Sovereign promised the Heretic Geth a Reaper body for them to all upload into. But I don’t think it was ever clarified whether that was a one-time thing to secure the loyalty of the Heretics or whether it was a regular practice.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          It’s also not clear if Sovereign was being honest. There’s no indication he wasn’t, but it does seem like the sort of thing he’d lie about.

          1. Duoae says:

            If he was being dishonest then maybe the reapers are being dishonest about making organic species into reapers and it’s all just one big ruse to try and reduce resistance in their weird machine logic.

            “If we tell them they’ll live forever as a reaper then they may just accept their inevitable genocide! I mean, they believe in religions! ”

            Would make a lot of sense considering the non-science and lack of logic of making a reaper out of organics as the game presents us with. It’d be funny if the original wiring team had put this in as a plot point of the reapers mind games to be further explored but it got picked up in me2 as a ‘real thing’ by mistake. ..

  34. Jonathan Andrew Nolen says:

    Just read part 49, and I don’t know if anyone brought this up in the comments. But when you were bringing the bs that this boiled down to the inevitable genocide by machines that starchild uses his space God’s to stop by doing just that. The dlc made it worse, Leviathan dlc explains that a race of giants (who based reapers off their own image) were revered as God’s for millions of years. They created the reapers to make their work easier. And tasked them with keeping everyone safe. They took this idea, “and ran with it”. So basically, all powerful race created there version of geth. It went bad, but star child claims this is how its always been. You actually find a few of these elder God’s in an ocean, but all they do is give war assets instead of a secret weakness. So yeah, more opportunities subsequently destroyed.
    Edit: also these beings are capable of single handedly destroying reapers, so how the hell did they lose.

  35. I am incredibly late here, but… I felt that the ME3 ending was… fine?

    No, really, hear me out.

    Other people have put forward justifications of the Reapers’ motives regarding the cycles and organic / synthetic conflicts, and I mostly second that. But what I’m really objecting to is this:

    And in terms on impact and reach, the Geth have actually been pretty minor compared to the others. Now suddenly this B plot is being lifted above all the other B plots and made the center of the story.

    Thematically, the Reaper motive reveal is far bigger than just an extension of the geth / quarian conflict. However conscious a decision it was on the part of the ME3 writers, there’s a jagged but clear throughline leading from the ME3 ending all the way back to Nihlus and Joker in the cockpit of the SR-1. Specifically: the core theme of the Mass Effect trilogy is, essentially, “Does all conflict come from a lack of understanding? How alien is too alien to understand? At what point are two individuals / groups / species so different that understanding is useless and conflict is truly unavoidable?”

    What do I mean about Nihlus and Joker? Nihlus compliments Joker, and Joker takes Nihlus’s compliment as an insult. Nihlus has high standards and is satisfied that Joker meets them, but Joker only hears himself damned with faint praise. Despite perfect omnitool translation, they have failed to understand one another’s mindsets, and that brings them into conflict. It’s a friggin’ spectacular way to introduce the core theme of the series, because it’s so damn subtle that you don’t consciously notice it, and yet it leaves an impression because it’s literally the first conversation we see in the game. It makes me jealous that some ME1 writer pulled that off.

    Other ME1 examples:

    Of course, the same question repeats on Feros (“Could we have reasoned with the Thorian? Or were its values too alien?”) and on Noveria (“Can we trust the rachni queen, this strange bug-beast that speaks of music and harmony?”). But you also see it on the final Armstrong Nebula side mission (“What value do the geth see in ancient quarian music?”), in the rogue AI running the hacked gambling terminal (“Can’t we resolve this peacefully?”), and in the Wrex/Shepard standoff on Virmire (“Can Wrex listen to reason and stand down? If so, doesn’t that prove that the krogan psyche can find common ground with us, and thus that the genophage is not necessary?”).

    ME2 examples:

    ME2 is, IMO, the weakest game in the trilogy (it lacks both the earned themes of ME1 and the borrowed themes of ME3). But even here, we see the trilogy’s core theme pop up with the Collectors (“What do they want? Why are they working with the Reapers? Do they have factions? Is there any hope we could stop them with anything but more dakka?”, answered ham-fistedly in the negative on the Collector ship mission), with the continuation of the genophage plot in Mordin’s loyalty mission (“Was STG right, that curing the genophage would lead to unchecked military aggression, or was Shepard right, that a cure would lead to a cultural renaissance? Which of them understands the krogan psyche better?”), with Legion (“Huh, the geth think very differently from us. Legion seems honest, but they’re also very cryptic about this ‘future’ the geth are building, so how permanent is this alliance?”), and with the Overlord DLC (that one’s about understanding a human, not an alien, but it’s still clearly the same “conflict vs understanding” throughline).

    ME3 examples:

    The two big arcs (Tuchanka and Rannoch) are obvious enough about expressing this theme, as they’re simply resolving plots introduced in earlier games, but you see it elsewhere too. Jack on the Grissom Academy mission feels like a comment on it; when she first boarded the SR-2 she couldn’t understand the paragon path of trust and teamwork, but now that she understands she’s found her own peace with her students. Rachni II: Electric Boogaloo touches on it, of course. The three-game paragon path with Khalisah bint Sinan al-Jilani is pretty much a straight-up “we could stop fighting each other if we’d just take the time to understand” after-school special. This theme was the primary driver of the plot in the Leviathan DLC. The Citadel DLC had shades of it with the fate of *cough* Mysterious Figure *cough*.

    And, ultimately, what’s being asked of you at the end is whether you can accept the Reapers’ stated motivations — accept them, not agree with them — and choose a path to peace that satisfies both your own values and theirs (Synthesis), or else impose your own values on the Reapers and obtain peace through one or another form of violence (Control and Destroy).

    Just as you (maybe) brokered peace between the geth and quarians, as you (maybe) brokered peace between the krogan and turians, as you (maybe) trusted the rachni queen and she in turn helped all you angry bipeds with your colorless musics, as you (maybe) spared Shiala and the Zhu’s Hope colonists who are now turning their Thorian spore infection into the galaxy’s only known counter to indoctrination… now you have the choice to end the Reaper War, to take the third option where neither side gets what they want yet both sides get what they need, fulfilling the core theme established way back in ME1 that true peace comes from understanding.

    Think of it this way: the Reaper motives had to embody the core theme of the series in some way. They could have done this by introducing a new example of that theme in the last hour of the game (a terrible idea), or they could pick one existing example of that theme at work and elevate it to the center stage. The two central examples they had to work with in ME3 were the genophage and the geth / quarian conflict. Having the Reapers be interested in the genophage doesn’t make much sense. So the Reapers were made to be interested in the geth instead.

    Could it have been done better? Yeah, if they’d ripped Cerberus and TIM and Kai Leng out of the game, they might’ve had time to create a third example of this theme that was unique to ME3 — some plot point unique to the Reapers to drive the theme home at the end.

    But you know what? It’s fine. The ending of the game is not the problem. Unlike a lot of ME3, the ending does not ignore what happened in previous games. It reaches back to ME1, even paying off lines like “All organics must destroy or control synthetic life forms” from ME1’s Citadel: Signal Tracking side quest, and also pays off Saren’s motivation of trying (and failing) to understand the Reapers enough to find a peaceful ending.

    If some alt-timeline version of the trilogy existed where ME2 and ME3 had been written with the same attention to detail as ME1, no Collectors and no Cerberus GMPC-ing, that version of ME3 could still have ended on a conversation with the King of the Reapers where we got the same Red, Blue, and Green options. And if the dialogue were well-written enough, it could have been a damn satisfying ending. As it was, the writers of the real-world ME3 weren’t quite up to the task and flubbed it, but they had good thematic instincts and were following a promising path, so I don’t think it’s worth complaining about this particular part of the game.

    1. Writing the above post finally gave me the impetus to finish a Medium post I’d had sitting half-complete in draft for the last few weeks. Here it is: The Meaning of Mass Effect: A Cursory Look at the Themes of the Mass Effect Trilogy.

  36. Drathnoxis says:

    There are a lot of things wrong with this ending, but I feel like most of them are obvious and have been covered in such exhaustive detail that it wouldn’t really add anything if I tried to recount them all here.

    I feel like this is a betrayal of the premise of this retrospective.

  37. Lino says:


    They left everyone else alone for hundreds for years – of years

    Should be “for hundreds of years”.

    Also, in the second-to-last image:

    Because he’s watching you over now.

    Pretty sure it should be “watching over you”, although the current version kinda works too.

  38. Ed Z says:

    I’m almost embarrassed that if someone had asked me what I liked about the Mass Effect games, I might have praised the “story,” when I agree with you on almost all of your points about the storytelling being a mess at best. Really, what I loved was the characters, which were mostly done so well that I was obviously willing to overlook the flaws in the actual story. The only criticism I disagree with so far is your problem with the Reapers’ motivation re: the AI vs. organics “solution.” I mean, it was poorly handled and presented, sure, but it’s not as much nonsense as you seem to think (IMHO, of course). It’s not like the Reapers get rid of all organics – they’re not destroying the entire forest to save the trees, they’re destroying a lot of the forest so it doesn’t grow to the point where it’s not sustainable. I look at this “cycle” as the one that presents the best argument against the Reapers’ POV – it’s exactly what you point out, that it IS possible for AI and organics to have peace. That’s how Shepard proves them wrong, his friendship with both organics and AI (and it’s the main reason I chose the “synthesis” ending. I decided that my character’s core values were about loyalty to his friends, and that meant trying to save his friends, regardless of their organic or synthetic nature. I though it actually seemed fitting that, in a game whose strength is in building relationships with the other characters, that the fate of the galaxy would come down to choosing to be loyal to whoever showed my character loyalty. Plus, it seems like a transhumanist’s paradise, with the biggest objections to synthesis being, “Well, what if I don’t WANT superpowers and possible immortality and galactic peace? I’d have to decide to undo those powers with my powers if I prefer to grow old and die and live in a world where’s it’s easier to harm others, a gross violation of my free will!”

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