Hypothetical ME4: The Moral of the Story

By Bob Case Posted Saturday May 16, 2020

Filed under: Mass Effect 38 comments

After the events on Eden Prime, the original Mass Effect sent its players to the Citadel, which serves as their introduction to the broader world of the setting.

I know I used this last time, I just like the map.
I know I used this last time, I just like the map.

This Citadel section isn’t perfect – in particular, there are pacing problems; Shamus covers them and others here in his retrospective on the series – but it accomplishes several goals:

  1. It serves as a breather after all the shooting on Eden Prime, as well as the frustration of not being taken seriously by the Council.
  2. For the first time, the player is given a measure of freedom and autonomy, giving them a sense of ownership over the story’s outcome. The game also tries to get them in the habit of being self-directed, gradually removing the rails found in the early part of the story.
  3. We see the wealth and resources of the Citadel government. The Presidium Ring – the swankiest, most upscale neighborhood on the station – looks like a five-star hotel. It’s certainly nicer than the utilitarian, military-style corridors of the Normandy. We get the sense that Shepard is lucky to even be here. One of my favorite throwaway details of the series is a conversation you can overhear in the second game, in a different section of the station, between two Krogan. They’re talking about the Presidium, a place that neither of them has ever been, and one mentions that he “heard an Urdnot went up there once.” Those who know their Krogan tribes will figure out that that was probably Wrex, and also realize that for even one Krogan to be admitted into the Presidium is considered a rare, noteworthy event (to them, at least). The game deftly communicates that the Presidium is a place of great power and security, but that it also has an exclusive, snobbish, authoritarian quality.
  4. The quests in the area involve us taking on a local nightclub owner and crime lord, showing that all is not necessarily law-abiding, even here at the heart of the Council’s power. We meet Garrus for the first time in this part of the game, and his initial introduction is as a sort of hard-boiled cop archetype. Later, we can recruit Wrex, initially introduced as an amoral mercenary. We also meet Tali, who’s regarded with suspicion by the authorities because she’s a Quarian. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of the recruitable party members in this section (a cop not taken seriously by his superiors, a Krogan gun for hire, and a member of an exiled and distrusted diaspora) are outsiders of one kind or another.
  5. Certain mysteries within the story are introduced here. Players will encounter both the Keepers and the miniature Mass Relay that will eventually feature in the Ilos mission. Both foreshadow later revelations about the Reapers.

Between all this, I believe that Mass Effect‘s Eden Prime and Presidium Ring sections serve as an effective introduction to the game, despite their pacing problems. A comparable section in a hypothetical Mass Effect 4 would seek to accomplish similar goals. As the Presidium Ring gave us a sense of the state of political/diplomatic play in the Milky Way before the Reaper invasion, its Mass Effect 4 incarnation should do the same for after.

The last entry introduced three aspects of the setting going forward: a refugee crisis, technological regression, and cultural tension. Now it’s time to show the player what these actually look like up close, which means it’s time for us to discuss what we want the moral of the game to be.

Thou shalt crouch behind waist-high walls.
Thou shalt crouch behind waist-high walls.

Some of you may be apprehensive after reading that last sentence – after all, are games supposed to have morals, like they’re interactive Aesop’s Fables? On the one hand, no. Your typical RPG aspires to be less hamfisted and preachy than the word “moral” usually implies. On the other hand, the Mass Effect series has usually endorsed a pluralistic, inclusive approach to its own universe. Characters espousing any kind of essentialist view of this species or that one are consistently framed as being in the wrong. And though it seems like a thousand years ago now, it’s actually only been thirteen years since various news entities sounded the alarm about the game supposedly being a “lesbian sex simulator.” Bioware has endured, and occasionally even relished, conservative backlash against its games.

In short, the series shares more than elements of its visual aesthetic with Star Trek – it also shares a deliberate, self-conscious attempt to put a hard (or at least hard-ish) sci-fi future into an idealistic frame. Note that an idealistic frame doesn’t disqualify dark themes – if anything, it makes them more dramatic thanks to contrast. The refugee crisis/technological regression/cultural tension aspects of the setting are inevitably going to wander down some poorly-lit alleys. It’ll be up to the writers not to allow excessive cynicism or nihilism into the script.

With that extensive preamble out of the way, let’s get back to the concept of the series having a “moral.” If I had to summarize what I consider to be a key message of the series into a single phrase, it would be “diversity is a competitive advantage.” In the first game, that message is borne out by the composition of the council. It consists of Turians (noteworthy for their military prowess and capacity for discipline and self-sacrifice), Salarians (noteworthy for their scientific achievements, curiosity, energy, and ingenuity), and Asari (noteworthy for their diplomatic skills, patience, perspective, and skill at administration).

Each of these qualities is shown to be the product of historical/social/anthropological circumstance, and an asset to the Citadel government as a whole. A council that had only Turians, or only Salarians, or only Asari, would not be as effective. Furthermore, in a trope that’s almost universal in sci-fi, each of the three council races are depicted as being culturally homogeneous. Meaning that, with very few exceptions, Turians/Salarians/Asari each have a single, universal language, culture, and broad set of historical/religious assumptions, rather than many. This is not necessarily “realistic” from a world/galaxybuilding perspective, but simplifies the setting in way that’s useful for storytelling purposes.

Humans, by contrast, are still diverse. Mass Effect is set in the relatively near future, and the setting presumes that, thanks to the discovery of Prothean remains on Mars, humans achieved space travel before their species united culturally, not after. In the first Mass Effect, for example, we meet Kaidan and Ashley, each of which has a very different personality, cultural background, and way of viewing the world they inhabit. Both have reasons to be resentful towards, or at least suspicious of, aliens. And yet, in both cases, their character development consists of them moving away from prejudicial attitudes.

Unless it's prejudice against HP-sponge mobs with three health bars.
Unless it's prejudice against HP-sponge mobs with three health bars.

I can’t speak for others, but I always felt that, within the context of the setting, humans’ fresh experience with bridging cultural divides (resulting from the unique timing of their technological advancement) was intended to be among their decisive advantages as a species. The text of the game never quite made this explicit, but I still consider the reading to be sound, and to be a potentially effective campaign hook.

If we decide to foreground this particular concept, we can use it to set up one of the game’s main themes: different species working together vs. different species working alone. This series’ last entry mentioned “cultural tensions” as being an inevitable result of post-Crucible circumstance: the various races of the Milky Way rallied to the cause of defending earth, succeeded, and proceeded to get stuck here in what would have quickly become desperate circumstances.

No matter how well humans managed to treat them, they would have cause to feel snubbed and underappreciated. Not only that, they would have cause to want to go home. No exile wants to live in Babylon forever, no matter how nice the Hanging Gardens are. This would, quite organically, lead into a second source of conflict and drama: the question of whether to reactivate the Solar System’s Mass Relay.

For the inhabitants of post-Crucible Earth, this question would be rich in complications. The details of the setting support the idea that to this is a decision fraught with risks and uncertanties. The activation of a dormant Mass Relay was what, once upon a time, led to the Rachni invasion, a major event in the Council’s history, leading to the elevation of the Krogan, and, eventually, the Genophage. Anytime you open one, there’s the risk that something terrifying will show up from the other side. The inhabitants of Earth (both human and otherwise) would, quite reasonably, wonder if maybe the Reapers themselves were still out there somewhere. They were, after all, an overwhelming, implacable, and inscrutable opponent. A lingering fear of them would likely persist long after their defeat.

Meanwhile, Earth’s stranded alien populations would want to go home. In the original series, one of the most affecting stories was that of the Quarians – the race whose callousness and hubris had led to their exile, and whose biology, immune systems, and sentiment prevented them from simply settling down on another planet. Post-Crucible, all of the stranded communities of Earth would be in similar circumstances, leading to similarly fraught emotional circumstances.

With all this in mind, we can design a gameplay area to introduce the player to all of these conflicts: species working together vs. working alone, displacement/homesickness, and the question of whether to reactivate the Solar System’s Mass Relay – and its attendant opportunities and fear of the unknown – or not. The hope is that, taken together, the various disparate elements of the new setting could combine to produce some of the “domino” worldbuilding that made the series so intriguing and durable in the first place.

Some of the more cynical among you might, at this point, assume that worldbuilding of this type is beyond Bioware’s current creative capabilities – that the only arrows they have left in their quiver are badly-worn cliches and generic “epic” storylines. However, I suspect that Bioware’s talent for storytelling is not yet exhausted – that some of their more recent games contain evidence for hope of a revival. More on that in the next entry.


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38 thoughts on “Hypothetical ME4: The Moral of the Story

  1. NotetheCode says:

    Your typical RPG aspires to be less hamfisted and preachy than the word “moral” usually implies

    A lot of recent RPGs ended up hamfisted and preachy, though, despite (or because?) of the best efforts of their writters/producers.

    a source of conflict and drama: the question of whether to reactivate the Solar System’s Mass Relay.

    I don’t see how it would be a source of drama, since unless you add information that, post-crucible, the relays aren’t safe anymore or lead to a new destination, I don’t see any downside for opening the relay. I mean it would allow to regain access to the rest of the galaxy, who would be against that?

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I don’t see how it would be a source of drama, since unless you add information that, post-crucible, the relays aren’t safe anymore or lead to a new destination, I don’t see any downside for opening the relay.

      Oh, there’s an easy way to do that: make rebuilding Mass Relays expensive and/or dangerous. There are only so many engineers, only so many rare resources…and millions of refugees, who all want THEIR Relay restored first so that they can go home before the others.
      It’s a great way to create conflict and drama without necessarily having a bad guy, since the big problem is just a lack of resources or – essentially – a natural disaster.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Limited time & resources really is an underused moral dilemma in games, and I’d love to see it used more.

        One of the best (IMH) quests in KOTOR 2 used that with… visas, passports, something? Papers that let people leave the current world safely and legal-ish, at any rate.

        Even if you’re a saint with a shining halo or demon clawed freshly from its pit, there’s simply only so many papers—real and false, you can get during your short stay there, and you need one for yourself. Staying, or fighting yourself out, simply are not realistic options given your quest and the current blockade.

        So… do you give those papers, pro bono, to what seems to be a terrified mother and children for nothing but good vibes? Do you trade one for the unique force artifact even your ultra cynical mentor is shocked still exists and vouched for being real, the one you’ll never get a second chance at seeing? Or do you just… find the black market, and get yourself ill-gained money… that might genuinely be the edge you need to save the galaxy?

        And no matter what you pick, there’s like… 5-6 people and/or options you’ll have to pass by. Because there simply isn’t enough of that limited resource to go around.

        Just great ‘make you think’ type stuff. All in one tiny side-quest, and what’s technically a fetch-quest at that.

      2. Vinsomer says:

        Also, you might not find new aliens behind relays, but you could find warlords, mercenaries or any number of other threats.

        It’s one of the reasons why the Council was reluctant to settle the Attican Traverse or anger the Terminus Systems. Not every threat is some strange concept. A lot of the time it’s just people with guns and the willingness to use them to get what they want, and that played a huge part in Mass Effect Andromeda’s story.

      3. Guile says:

        That’d be a good one. I’m not sure you could swing a game which involved repairing the relays to only one or two alien homeworlds, effectively aligning yourself with them; it’d be like writing five different plots, and only using one or two. The choice would be huge and affect lots of variables.

    2. Zaxares says:

      Part of the problem is that the Mass Relays are advanced enough that up until now, the Citadel races still have not unlocked the secrets of how they were constructed. You could argue that the work on the Crucible and the knowledge gained thereof might have provided the final crucial keys to get the technology working, but there’s no guarantee that the scientists with that knowledge are there on Earth; the Crucible itself was built in an ultra-secret location far away from Sol. So, it might be that the issue isn’t that people don’t want to repair the Relay, it’s that they can’t. They just don’t have the know-how, or perhaps lack a sufficient quantity of Element Zero to power it.

      1. Cbob says:

        That’s the way I remember it too. Everyone here’s talking like reopening the relays would be a choice, like just switching them back on, but…

        At the end of ME3 they’re not just deactivated, they’re damaged. And ME1 establishes that none of the races know enough about how they work do do anything with them other than use them as-is. IIRC in ME1 there’s an Asari NPC on the citadel you can talk to (in the presidium bar during the Advocate questline IIRC) who’s a scientist trying to get funding for reverse engineering relay technology. She specifically says no one knows enough to know how to fix them if something goes wrong, and she thinks that’s a huge liability. She was having no luck finding funding, because no one (with power/money, at least) takes the idea of a mass relay breaking down seriously.

        The idea of opening the relay being a strategic or moral dilemma is a good source of story conflict, but first you gotta get to the point where it’s even an option according to the lore.

        … Which can be a legit thing in it’s own right. I’m thinking of a trilogy structure where:

        First game involves trying to juggle the local stuff. A lot of attitudes have probably changed about the wisdom of researching mass relay tech, but due to the generally Bad Situation, convincing people to direct resources at a “blue sky” research project will still be very tough. I’d play this kind of like a cross between “The Postman” and “Children of Men”. Things suck hard right now, but with perseverance the right people with the right attitude can make things better if they can see past the suck.

        Second game deals with the dilemma of actually opening the relay after the efforts of the previous game have borne fruit. This is basically the game Bob Case is describing, so I don’t need to go into detail.

        Third game deals with what happens after the relay is open. Basically all the arguments in the second game (Bob Case’s examples) come to fruition. You have to move out into the galaxy from one relay to another, repeating your “The Postman” shtick on a larger scale. One relay opens to a system that’s in very good shape, but is not keen on rejoining the galaxy if it means sharing the wealth. Another opens on a system that’s devolved into a warlord-run hellhole you have to fight or reform just to get to the next relay, and/or to prevent them from using the relay you just opened to pillage the previous system(s). Another opens into a system even more desperate than Sol was, and thus helping them threatens to bog you down instead of opening the next relay. Opening the next relay would be the best help if the next system is in good enough shape to share the load, or it might make things worse. And of course some systems (of varying needs, wealth, and cultural values) would be eager to rejoin/reform the galaxy… but refactoring the nu-council to incorporate them can cause chaotic shifts in your mission perimeters & resources as the powers above you have their priorities shifted about.

    3. Syal says:

      post-crucible, the relays aren’t safe anymore or lead to a new destination,

      You could do that fairly easily; there’s no guarantee the Relay it was pointing at is still there, and no one knows what happens when you use a Relay that’s not pointing at anything. Does it drop you at a location you can’t get back from, or does it just… not stop, and you effectively disappear, or does it find another Relay at random with potentially xenocidal aliens on the other side?

      Alternately, in a resource-scarce environment, there’s the threat that you’ll open the Relay to a formerly friendly nation and they’ll just send an army in to take your stuff. So the refugees are calling for the Relay to be opened and the locals are scared it’ll mean the refugees take control. And you’ve probably got your post-Cerberus* faction calling to do exactly that, open the relay and raid whoever’s on the other side of it.

      *(Probably don’t want it to actually be Cerberus. What’s another famous dog? Clifford, maybe?)

      1. BlueHorus says:

        (Snoopy. Perfect name for a spy agency)

    4. Gndwyn says:

      Can Earth communicate at all with the rest of the galaxy? How does Earth know the Reapers haven’t wiped out most of the galaxy and maybe only the dead relay has kept them safe (for now)?

      1. Nimrandir says:

        I would presume the same quantum entanglement shenanigans which let Shepard talk with Hackett and the asari Councilor are still available. Of course, I may have put more thought into that sentence than BioWare would have done for the question.

  2. Christopher says:

    This is a bit on the side of the project, but since I don’t have any better considered thoughts on the story than you do: I really hope an eventual Mass Effect 4 doesn’t use the old combat system. The second image made me groan inwardly. Gears of War are about the only ones still lugging around that last-gen staple and it would be lovely if it remained that way. Maybe it’s a tall order to ask the refugees to develop beyond ME Andromeda jetpacks and lightsabers or whatever, but surely some collective of interspecies nerds could get together to invent some really entertaining new modes of gameplay. Would only strengthen the message, really. The batarians are over here moping behind their chest-high walls in unison while I’m anti-grav dancing on the ceiling with my alien chums.

    Anyway, I like the picture you’re painting. It was a bit foggy in the first entries, but now that it’s coming into view, I hate to say it, but it’s starting to make me eager for a new Mass Effect. That’s an achievement considering what Bioware has actually been putting out.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think it’s less the combat system, and more a combination of enemies and weapon-choices. Chest-high-walls, circle-strafing, acrobatics, sniping, or grenade-lobbing are pretty much the options for real-time combat. Chest-high walls and grenade-lobbing, are the things that work well with a hectic squad-fight going on, especially when al lthe enemies are ranged. I only played the first two games, but from what I read, I don’t think the third or Andromeda did much differently either. What could help is some different enemy types, attack patterns, and behaviours. Bull-charge enemies, flanking enemies, enemies with destructible directional armor[1], enemies who pop down anti-ranged shields that you can walk underneath, enemies that leap around like frogs on the ground or onto walls and ceilings – there’s lots of things like this happening, in many different genres of games, from Crypt Of The Necrodancer, to RTSs[2], to games like Risk Of Rain 2 with its shield-dropping engi-class[3].

      [1] I think the first Dead Space is the first time I saw this in a big-budget game, with the big bull-charge, armored melee enemy.

      [2] The shields in Supreme Commaner (I think with the expansion) resisted artillery and lasers well. but you could walk short-ranged units underneath them. You could stack small, medium, and large ones on top of each other to bypass their recharge-times, but that was more of a design/balance issue for an RTS with upgrades, than a problem that a Mass Effect-style game would need to deal with.

      [3] although you’d want this behaviour on the enemies, not just your team

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Mass Effect 3 had Brute and Banshee enemies who would close distance with you, so bull-rush enemies did appear later. I haven’t gotten far enough in Andromeda to know if exalted Krogan behave this way nor not. The problem, of course, is that Brutes and Banshees are both Reaper units, and the closest Cerberus analogues are the stupid biotic ninjas.

        Funnily enough, the first Mass Effect had its geth hopper enemies to do the Spider-Man thing, but they didn’t have any cousins in the later games.

        1. Geebs says:

          IMO the Geth were actually the most varied, interesting and entertaining Mass Effect species to fight. It’s such a shame that they did the Halo thing and turned the best – and least morally ambiguous – enemies into good guys. Enjoyed fighting the Elites because of their great combat AI and general villainy? Well, here’s some Brutes for you, instead. Yes, they will just keep charging you like a less entertaining Flood. They ended up having to make a prequel to fix that problem.

          All I want from Mass Effect 4 is to be a Space Cop and solve Space Crime without having to save the universe for once. And also shoot some Geth.

          1. Echo Tango says:

            But who will buy the game if you’re not saving, the, WORLD?!? There’s no room in this world for space-cops!

            EDIT: Booooo, this comment-box doesn’t allow for tags.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              That one feels like a case of learning the wrong lesson, given what happened when BioWare went for a smaller-scale story in Dragon Age II.

  3. GoStu says:

    Certain mysteries within the story are introduced here. Players will encounter both the Keepers and the miniature Mass Relay that will eventually feature in the Ilos mission. Both foreshadow later revelations about the Reapers.

    Can we take a lesson from the aforementioned mini-Mass Relay? It ends up being plot-relevant later in the story, but it’s super out of the way. I think I’m more of an explorer and conversationalist in this kind of game than most, and I still managed to miss this thing. You really have to detour to even see it, and only one squad member’s comments on it (Kaiden’s) gives even the slightest hint that it’s anything but a statue.

    I do appreciate that they didn’t want to make it OBVIOUS FORESHADOWING so the lack of commentary is fine, but it could have been centralized a bit. As it is I doubt even one in ten players noticed it at all.

    1. Chad Miller says:

      Truth be told, not only do I only know about that statue due to the Internet, I’m not sure I even know exactly where it is. Like I remember being sent to a mass relay in the Mako but for all I knew it was just stuffed in the floorboards even after the fact.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        You have to be careful with that sort of stuff, however, or it becomes a shining neon sign for anybody with even a tiny speck of genre savvy.

        Think moving the statue a bit more centrally would have been a good idea, though. Either that, or have a few side-quest reference it, but only on the level of a local landmark. ‘Meet me under the array statue,’ or ‘the dead-drop is under the sculpture in the plaza,’ or some-such.

        Don’t think that would have even been that costly, truth be told. Given how so many conversations in ME#1 has two people sorta just stand there, without interacting with the environment in any way, I mean.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Yeah, it’d have been cheap if they’d placed it right beside some main quest locations, and it’d be relatively resistant to genre-savvy with a few red-herrings. Like, you need to go talk to Important Person, and look at that – right beside them is a little museum with historical curiosities. A diorama explaining the times different races became members of the council, our not-a-statue minature relay, a recording showing some historical battle… Just let players think it’s normal like everything else, and you could get away with a glowing sign on the door for Big Jim’s Super Amazing Museum, Only Fifteen Space-Bux!

        2. GoStu says:

          Even just having a couple quests having you walk *past* it would have been something. It’s at the very end of the Presidium (which is a loop), and if my memory serves you can access any other objective without walking past it.

          Move it a bit closer and put something or someone past it, and put up a couple other pieces of ‘artwork’ as red herrings to make the relay ‘sculpture’ blend in a little better. I know there’s a Krogan statue but another couple things would make it less obviously foreshadowed while being more physically prominent.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            One of the Keepers for Chorban’s side quest is in front of it, along with an Avina terminal that will talk to you about the ‘statue.’ I noticed it on my first pass, since I’m a completionist and was a sucker for Story Time with Uncle BioWare back in 2007. Looking at the map in-game, I think they could have moved Barla Von’s office to draw more attention to the relay.

            A big part of problem is engine-related; they needed the relay at the Citadel Tower, but they had to put the Tower transit point in the Council chambers to avoid a double dose of loading screen.

  4. trevalyan says:

    In a world where borders have slammed shut thanks to disease, the idea of everyone just getting along after the Collapse is optimistic- at best. First off, I doubt Earth has any sort of major dextro food supply. Maybe the quarians can hand wave that away, but maybe not. Secondly, while Wrex saves the krogan from genophage and becomes a very skilled leader, it’s possible to be dealing instead with his asshole brother Wreav. Thirdly, have we forgotten how the peaceful and open asari basically hoarded Prothean knowledge as the seat of their power since the last Reaper cycle?! How the salarians schemed to keep the krogan neutered, a scheme you may have agreed with? How the quarians planned to stab the geth in the back, and how some of the geth cut a deal with the Reapers?

    By this point, it should be axiomatic that alien races have their own (understandable) agendas: and that resolving those agendas will end in violence, even with the best will in the world. On post-Reaper Earth, it’s entirely possible that humanity will be the poverty stricken wretches, while most of the quarian flotilla has survived to assert dextro supremacy. Or maybe not. The point is that even with the most hopey playthrough of the Mass Effect series, humanity is stuck in their own war-torn system with a broad coalition of terrified and armed aliens, many of which have excellent reason to absolutely destroy each other. It’s a horrific subversion of the idea tomorrow will be better than today, if only we all just get along. You can’t hope to keep all your allies fed on a brutalized world that might not even support their biology, much less keep them from killing people while you try to activate technology you barely understand.

    If Bioware knew how to square this circle, they would not have made Andromeda.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Thing is, the universe doesn’t have to BE an egalitarian utopia, it just has to be POSSIBLE for it to be one. Remember that in Star Trek, most of the action took place outside of the Federation, because life inside it was pretty good.
      Hence the Enterprise(s) went out to meet new aliens, Deep Space 9 was on the border, and Voyager got teleported to the ass-end of nowhere, where they met non-Federation species.
      Half the stories were about the enlightened Federation trying to spread their ideology to others – getting the Klingons to the negotiating table, keeping the peace between Cardacia and Bejour, etc etc.

      Secondly, while Wrex saves the krogan from genophage and becomes a very skilled leader, it’s possible to be dealing instead with his asshole brother Wreav.

      Hah, yeah, BioWare really screwed themselves over with their unsustainable promises about meaningful choices and consequences, didn’t they? Can’t really say I pity them…

      have we forgotten how the peaceful and open asari basically hoarded Prothean knowledge as the seat of their power since the last Reaper cycle

      On the one hand: hypocrisy in the seat of enlightened power? That right there – is a story hook! It’s up to Nu-Shepard to decide whether to expose the lie and risk the political fallout, or hide the truth and (hopefully) preserve the fragile peace that exists.

      …but on the other hand, that ‘plot twist’ was dumb, ill-thought-out, stupid, and suffused with the stench of Kai Leng. Like the Crucible plot, the Illusive Man and the Star-Child, BioWare could do a LOT worse than just pretending it never happened.

      1. trevalyan says:

        Yeah, most of Star Trek was about either exploration or moving to the frontier. Mass Effect did that too, once, but ME3 was about focusing on things we were relatively familiar with. The climax, if you will. I’d be great with an egalitarian ending, Lord knows quite a few of my playthroughs leaned that way, but it’s not what we got. You could improve the series by declaring the events of Thessia non-canon: in fact, treat Thessia as the cliffhanger ending and you just might have a salvageable series. But that’s impossible.

        For that matter, if someone brought Roddenberry, Berman, or even Braga an ending where the primary antagonist is defeated, just as long as you genocide the Andorians or Betazoids? Any of those men would have rolled up the script and whacked the writer with it before he terminated them. If by some anti-miracle the idea made it into production it would have done severe damage to the Trek brand.

  5. Lino says:


    the idea that to this is a decision

    Should be “that this”.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      But, they correctly used One the one hand, so maybe they get a pass. ;)

  6. Thomas says:

    I love the idea of re-opening the Mass Relay as a conflict. It’s loaded with the kind of themes I just eat up. Opening the Mass Relay is about believing science and progress are ultimately good, about not retreating as a species, about exploration and co-operation, rising above fear and taking a bold leap forward again.

    If the game is set far enough in the future that people have become hazy about how the galaxy works beyond the relay, they’re remembering the Turian first contact war more than the later alliance, with spasms of fears about the Reapers … are they really dead, is there something else like that out there?

    You could use some of the Prothean angle, or revisiting the wrecks of the Reapers, or the bases where humanity first opened the relays as the plot thread. Done well that could slide right into a bigger mystery.

    I don’t know if other people would play that game (even if it’s juts for the first couple of hours), but I would play the heck out of it.

  7. Asdasd says:

    What I like about this series is that it takes the approach that the story doesn’t need to be resurrected for the sake of additional instalments, but that the ending(s) of 3 left questions and loose threads in the setting that only a sequel would be able to resolve. I’m much more interested in what happened to the galaxy than I am with what happened to Shepherd, and I’d definitely be interested to see how this tense refugee crisis story plays out. It reminds me a little of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

    How would you handle divergence with the reopening of the Mass Relay? I guess the choice has to be in the hands of the player, but for the sake of the developers’ sanity the Relay opens either way? (Ie if you choose to leave it closed, some terrorist/rebel organisation does it anyway.)

  8. MerryWeathers says:

    However, I suspect that Bioware’s talent for storytelling is not yet exhausted – that some of their more recent games contain evidence for hope of a revival. More on that in the next entry.

    What did Anthem have that gave you hope that Bioware still had an ounce of creative juice?

    1. Vinsomer says:

      Anthem was Bioware trying something completely new. And while Andromeda was a bust, Inquition was good, ME3 was good besides the ending, and ME2 was a genre-defining classic.

      Bioware’s issue is a lack of direction and poor management, not a lack of talent.

  9. Grimwear says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about the “diversity as a competitive advantage” moral. Now I agree with it but at the same time in ME1 it really feels almost like cronyism. The Asari and Salarians were there first therefore they get to be on the council and stay there. The Turians get brought in because they have all the military might and therefore can essentially force themselves in if they wanted. But I mean why wouldn’t you want a Volus on the council? They’re the bankers and economists. Sounds like having them on would be a competitive advantage. But instead we have a situation where all these other races: the Krogan, Elcor, Hanar, and Volus feel like outcasts and ignored. They can bring problems to the council but the council can ignore them if they want. It’s the council’s space and all the other races just get to live in it. It’s only when the humans show up that things get interesting because on the whole humanity is used to fighting for their place. So we’re persistent and the council doesn’t know how to deal with us. Thus the whole push for Spectre and finally joining the council.

    Mechanically diversity is a competitive advantage works since having crew members with biotics or a strong constitution makes a fun play experience and while the “good” ending involves humanity joining the council at the end rather than leaving them to die it still doesn’t fix the issue of all the other races feeling slighted and ignored. I’m just unsure how important that diversity is. It feels like they made all these races because it’s a sci-fi game so obviously you need a bunch of aliens (I really like having that aspect, if I have the choice I never pick a human character) but at the same time the writers decided to focus their time and effort on the Asari, Turians, and Salarians so all the other races just got shoved into a corner. Honestly in ME1 the Salarians feel relatively ignored as well. Their displeasure is noted in the story, but you can’t influence it in any way.

    It honestly makes me wish that ME2 involved deciding how humans would react to being on the council. Do you take over the council and turn the other members into puppets or do you reform it thereby making it more diverse and finally getting these fringe races a voice on a galactic scale. Quest: Get the support of the Volus. If renegade: Use their financial and economic prowess in order to blackmail a council member to agree to whatever you want. If paragon: Have the Volus save an essential industry to one of the council member races in order to prove their worth and have them looked at more favourably. I’m sure you could do something with the Elcor and Hanar as well. Give them deeper lore. Heck maybe you could show the benefits of the Hanar religion and how those philosophies could potentially help others in need. Not sure how but I’m sure they could come up with something. But nope instead we got Space Jesus and Thane.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      A game full of tiny Voli would be the best – tiny dudes in pressure suits all over the place!

  10. LCF says:

    That was a nice read, thanks.

    “No exile wants to live in Babylon forever, no matter how nice the Hanging Gardens are.”
    Come on, we don’t just have the Hanging Gardens, we also have the Great Library, the Temple of Artemis, the Oracle, and we’re about to finish Chichen Itza in the next eight turns.
    And we’ll get a Great Engineer after that one, so the next wonder will be quickly done.

  11. DayFly says:

    I do not buy the diversity thing, other than for the first game. The subsequent installments always had to put (the most boring vanilla strain of) humanity first, either explicitely via the Illusive Man’s endless diatribes or implicitely by having Collectors abduct humans, the final showdown happening on Earth, fighting more Cerberus mooks than Reapers, and so on. Maybe there were small moments, but by now I am more willing to believe they were a chance occurrence that made it into the game by accident.

    Any sense of wonder and excitement I had due to the game’s colorful diveristy during the first game was significantly reduced in the second, and all but eliminated in the third. For this, I would not blame EA, or some other evil corporate entity that people like to fault if only to absolve their precious Bioware from incompetence. No, this was squarely decided by the game designers themselves who never had an idea where to go and defaulted to the old standby. I also do not believe Bioware to be capable of delivering a game I would consider diverse, as modern day Bioware would be far more likely to invest in tokenism usually regarding gender or sexual identity. If you do not believe me, ask yourself which installment of either the Dragen Age or Mass Effect titles still made a concious effort to explore the different and new and which of those titles reverted to the old and familiar?

    For Mass Effect, this is pretty clear and I do not really need to point to Shamus’ retrospective in this comment section.

    But just consider for Dragon Age Inquisition (a game with the dubious distinction of being the last Bioware game I will ever buy). The main villain of Dragon Age 3 is a DLC villain from 2 and the mage-templar conflict is still the primary source of conflict, barring the villain himself. One could have showcased the Qunari, or if one is too afraid of placing a non-human species at the center, the Tevinters and look at their culture of perpetual war and slavery/brain washing from a different (and dare I say perhaps even sympathetic) angle? Instead, the only new thing I learned about these two cultures is that bloodline obsessed Tevinters do not like gay people and that the Qunari are surprisingly tolerant towards transsexuals, if only by “accident”.

    Finally, to conclude this rosy post: there is no salvaging Mass Effect, barring declaring ME3 non-canon, which will never happen. I get where the idea is coming from, but these types of games are only as good as their adversary. The main enemy is gone, and replacing them with tensions in a post-Catalyst era will not succeed. Which dispute would not feel trivial and shallow, following what happened? Clearly, it is realistic that some species may feel underappreciated or even resentful, but turning these former allies into adversaries will not make an understandble source of conflict interesting as a plot foundation. To wit: You can always raise stakes, but you can never decrease them.

    I think we should come to terms with the fact that Bioware completely and irreparably dropped the ball with Mass Effect 3 (there was still coming back from 2) and we should sink Mass Effect along with Dragon Age and modern day Bioware in the Marianas Trench. We would all be a lot happier.

  12. aa547 says:

    There’s a couple of plot points that I see not a lot of people jumping on that I think could be fun to play around with.

    Destroyed/Damaged Reapers and Reaper Drive: Yes, the relays were ‘damaged’, but there are now plausibly quite a few reaper husks floating around, and we know that the Reapers didn’t use the relays. Sure, people are going to be leery about picking over Reaper bones, but they are also going to be desperate to find a usable form of FTL. Maybe people are using jury-rigged reverse engineered Reaper drives (which are only half understood / stable) to travel, or maybe they’ve used Reaper tech to to jury-rig the relay network. Or maybe both. Heck, maybe there is some limited travel because of Reaper Drives, but the focus of the game is on turning the relay network back on so you can get back to the shipping economy that existed prior to the Reaper invasion.

    Earth has ALL the military: So when everything collapsed afterwards, and assuming a lack of interstellar space travel, the military remnants of most of the major species were stuck near Earth. Ideally, if we want to start in a pretty diverse world, we would end up in a situation where no individual species has the tech and ships lefts to take over, but they all have enough firepower so none of them is really powerless : a five-way detente between the humans, turians, asari, quarians, and salarians, with humans having a home field advantage. But who knows what happened to the homeworlds of these species WITHOUT their military? Did they collapse totally, or rebuild? Are most of them in thrall to a newer power? How would they feel about a ‘return’ of the descendants of these forces a century later?

    The way I see this eventually playing out is to begin with a quest to restore the status quo (with Earth as the default Council world because so many species live their now), but have obstacles rise in the form of resentment on the alien worlds towards the military that ‘abandoned’ them and tension on Earth between humans and their ‘guests’ (we are being crowded off our own world vs. we all saved your home planet while letting ours burn and now you owe us). Once players get out into the universe you could have another faction that appears to be building their own power: maybe a ragtag group of space visigoths made up of remnants of the other species looting and conquering, but being backed/supplied by a mysterious more powerful force that could become the threat for an entire new trilogy (my money would be on a precursor race who sealed themselves away millions of years ago with the idea that someone would one day defeat the Reapers during a cycle, and that they could then freely conquer a Galaxy exhausted from the effort of doing so).

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