Mass Effect 2 Broke the Franchise

By Shamus Posted Tuesday May 25, 2021

Filed under: Column 263 comments

So the Legendary Edition of Mass Effect is here. This means that millions of us will be taking yet another trip through Shepard’s universe, all the way from our initial drop point on Eden Prime to the baffling and disjointed conversation with the Star Child at the end of the third game. It’s a long journey and the voyage is filled with adventure, discovery, friendship, and brilliant character moments. But we know where it ends. We know how it ends. And sooner or later every player winds up standing in outer space with no helmet, arguing about robots with the hologram of a ghost of a ten year old boy. 

And then the player asks, “How did we get here?”

The conventional wisdom is that the story of Mass Effect was great right up until the ending. The idea is that things were fine, except the writer went suddenly crazy in the last half hour and messed everything up. Critics of the series usually explain the ending in terms of plot holes. They’ve got a long list of unexplained contradictions, and so therefore the ending is bad because the writer didn’t explain things properly.

But I believe that the big problem with Mass Effect is one of structure. For me, the problems didn’t appear out of nowhere at the end of the third game. Instead they began at the very start of Mass Effect 2. 

Link (YouTube)

This is hard to talk about, because Mass Effect 2 is a really popular game. It’s the most popular entry in the franchise, and so you’re usually not allowed to say bad things about it. The Internet doesn’t know how to parse nuance, so everything is either absolute perfection or total garbage. 

But if we’re going to talk about what happened to Mass Effect then I need you to at least be open to the idea that Mass Effect 2 had some non-obvious structural flaws. Yes, Mass Effect 2 features some of the best characters and sidequests in the history of the series. Mordin Solus is pure gold. Samara’s loyalty mission is a brilliant crime thriller told exclusively through dialog. Tali’s loyalty mission is an amazing courtroom drama with high emotional stakes. Legion’s mission offers the most interesting moral conundrum in the entire series, and that’s really saying something. But mixed in with those great stories and lovable characters is a story that creates tons of problems for anyone trying to write the third game.

But before we can talk about where Mass Effect 2 went wrong, let’s talk about the story that the first game set up. The story in Mass Effect is a really interesting hybrid of two different genres: Space Mystery, and Cosmic Horror.

Space Mystery

Space mystery stories are the kind of stories we associate with things like Star Trek. And to be clear, I’m talking more about individual television stories and less about the movies. In these stories, we’re usually focused on solving some sort of puzzle. In the end, the goal isn’t so much to win a fight with the bad guys, but to think your way out of the fight. The goal is to find the secret to end the conflict, break the cycle, clear up the misunderstanding, placate the wayward computer, shut down the old technology, satisfy the ancient being, or something else along those lines. While the story might feature a lot of fighting, in the end the heroes win through brains instead of brawn by gaining some insight, knowledge, or by adhering to an idealistic moral code. 

You can see this pattern over and over again in Mass Effect 1

Feros is a mystery thriller where you need to figure out why everyone in the colony is behaving so oddly. And once you learn about the Thorian creature that’s mind-controlling the people, you need to go underground and confront it. Your goal isn’t to just kill the thing, but to gain access to the ancient knowledge it has about the Protheans. 

Noveria is a horror mystery where you have to explore the labs and discover the creature that’s been killing the science staff. At the end your goal isn’t to kill the creature in a gunfight, but to learn what it has to tell you. The same holds true for Matriarch Benezia. Yes, you need to beat her in a gunfight, but when it’s over you don’t just drop a one-liner and walk away. In her final breaths, she teaches you things you need to know to beat Saren.

When you finally reach the mystery planet of Ilos, your goal isn’t to fight some oversized boss monster to unlock the conduit. Instead, the big payoff is a fifteen minute conversation with an old computer that wants to explain what the Reapers are.

Mass Effect 1 is, at its heart, a quest for knowledge, and the story it set out to tell was also a quest for knowledge. It asks the question, “Given that the Reapers are immortal gods with technology far beyond our comprehension, how can we stop them from killing us?” Just in case that’s too subtle for you, Shepherd’s final line of dialog in the game underscores this by explaining what the following games would be about:

SHEPARD: "The Reapers are still out there. They're coming. And I'm going to find some way to stop them!"

He’s going to find some knowledge to stop them. Not necessarily defeat them or kill them, but stop them. Shepard just wants to find the secret that will prevent them from destroying the galaxy as we know it.

The other major ingredient in Mass Effect 1 was… 

Cosmic Horror

If you’ve ever played Bloodborne, or if you’ve ever paid attention to the Cthulhu mythos, then this should seem pretty familiar to you. The Reapers are obviously tapping into a lot of the same design cues that inform the cosmic horror genre. The twist here is that it’s being done in the context of a science-fiction space adventure rather than a Victorian-style world of swords and primitive firearms. 

The Great Ones of Bloodborne are strange tentacle monsters with vast intelligence beyond our comprehension. The Reapers are the same deal, except they’re tentacle-covered spaceships. 

Cthulhu stories generally feature death cults where people worship the old gods, even though those gods seek to eradicate humanity. The Reapers have indoctrinated followers, who serve the exact same purpose within the story.  They serve the old god, even though the god is here to kill them.

Cthulhu stories often feature characters who have been driven insane by exposure to knowledge not meant for the minds of mortals. In Mass Effect, Reapers give off an indoctrination field that has basically the same effect. If you spend too much time around a Reaper, you’ll either become a brainwashed slave or a gibbering madman. 

Again, this feeds into the space mystery theme. Cthulhu stories don’t end with the protagonist beating the old gods in a gunfight. They generally end by closing the door to the otherworld, or by getting the old gods to go back to sleep for a little longer, thus buying us mortals just a little more time.

So that’s the setup that the first game gave us. Now let’s talk about…

The Plan

In various interviews, the developers have made it clear that they didn’t know ahead of time what the Reapers wanted or how Shepard was going to stop them. But while the designers didn’t have the big mysteries planned out, I don’t think it’s fair to say that they didn’t have any plan at all. The designer of Mass Effect 1 might not have nailed down the specifics, but they deliberately designed the world with some built-in tools to make their job easier in future instalments. I want to highlight six things the Mass Effect 1 writer did to set up the later games…

1) Spectres

Shepard is a Spectre, which means he’s a sort of independent agent. It’s a bit like the 00 designation for James Bond stories. He supposedly works for the government, but he’s free to choose his goals and pursue them however he sees fit. 

SHEPARD: “Sounds like we should head for the Artemis Tau cluster.”

Anderson: “It’s your decision Shepard. You’re a Spectre now. You don’t answer to us.

(Emphasis mine.)

He doesn’t need to call his boss and ask for permission to shoot some random dipshit in the middle of a mission. 

This is an incredibly useful setup from a storytelling perspective, because it allows our protagonist to have agency. Read any book on screenwriting or creating fictional worlds, and you’ll find the general writing advice that

“Character is revealed through action.” – Your high-school lit teacher.

It’s the most basic tool of storytelling. You show a character doing something, and that action tells us who they are and what they value. When Frodo volunteers to take the Ring to Mordor, it tells the audience that he is selfless and courageous. This wouldn’t be nearly as clear or dramatic if Frodo was a footsoldier and his commanding officer simply ordered him to take the ring to Mordor. 

In Mass Effect 1, you need to decide what to do about the Rachni Queen. Do you let her go free, possibly unleashing war on the galaxy once again? Or will you kill her, thus genociding her species forever? This decision carries a lot more weight when the player is the one to personally carry out the decision. You might not trust the Rachni Queen, but are you personally willing to press the button to end her species forever? Are you willing to open her cage yourself, accepting the future consequences for that choice?

You can imagine how much less interesting this moment would be if Alliance Command just ordered Shepard to kill the Queen and he did so in a cutscene without any player input. 

It’s not that you can’t tell a story where the main character is part of a strict chain of command, it’s just way easier if the protagonist is independent. This explains why so many Hollywood stories so often feature soldiers that rebel, go AWOL, or end up seperated from the larger command structure. 

My point is that having a designation like 00 Agent or a Council Spectre gives the writer the best of both worlds. 

Asari Councilor:
You have the authority to act as you see fit.

Salarian Councilor:
If you truly believe that Sovereign is the real threat, you must take whatever steps are necessary to stop it.

The main character works for some sort of governmental structure that can supply them with intel and resources, while at the same time it leaves the hero free to make decisions that drive the story and reveal their character. It allows our protagonist to be the central agent of change within the world.

2) The Cipher

In Mass Effect 1, Shepard gains the cipher. Through multiple visions and mind-melds with various Asari, Shepard becomes the only person besides Saren to be able to understand the Prothean beacons. 

GARRUS: Sounds like some kind of message, but I don’t recognize the language.

LIARA: It is probably in Prothean. This recording must be 50,000 years old! 

LIARA: No wonder we cannot understand it.

SHEPARD: The message is all broken up, but I recognize some of the words. It’s a warning against the Reaper Invasion.

LIARA: Of course! Between the beacons and the cipher,  an understanding of the Prothean language would have been… transferred into your mind.

Nobody else in the galaxy can do this. Shepard can understand Prothean Beacons, communicate with their computers, and even understand their language.  That’s an incredibly useful tool for someone on a knowledge quest. 

If the writer needed, they could even use the Cipher to say Shepard is able to use Prothean devices or open doors that nobody else can. This gives the writers a free pass to put Shepard at the center of any effort to learn about the Reapers. Large-scale RPG’s always have the question: “If the fate of the world hangs in the balance, then why is the main character the only person dealing with the problem? Why don’t they send in the army?”

Mass Effect 1 carefully constructed a scenario to address this problem. You don’t need an army to investigate ruins and look for clues in deep space. You need a small team of explorers, and Shepard is the most logical leader for that team. Boom! No need for a “chosen one” trope. Shepard just happens to be the person with the skills and knowledge to do this, and it has nothing to do with fate or superhuman ability. Instead, he’s the protagonist because of the things he earned in the first game.

3) Liara’s Research

Liara has spent a century studying the ancient past. Her studies aren’t just focused on the Protheans, but on the cycle of galactic death and rebirth that’s been running for millions of years. We may not know the names of the species that came before the Protheans, but Liara is the first person to see the pattern and study it in earnest. 

Right there, built into the core of the squad, is the perfect character for dispensing exposition and quests. Do we need to send the player somewhere? We can say that Liara knows about some ruins there. Let’s say we want to have Shepard explore a ruin with an alien door that’s been sealed for 50,000 years. We can use Liara as an excuse for why our heroes can find and open this door when nobody else could. Liara can read symbols and explain why we have to do the requisite door-opening puzzle. Her career is directly relevant to the plot in a way the other characters aren’t.

And as a bonus, she is one of Shepard’s closest friends, and possibly even Shepard’s lover. Together, Liara and Shepard make the perfect team for looking for answers and learning about the ancient past. 

4) Closed Relays

Thanks to the Rachni wars, most of the mass effect relays in the galaxy are closed. This gives the writer an incredibly powerful tool to create fantastical new places and a sense of mystery. We can have Shepard go off the edges of the map anytime we want, just by opening a new relay and entering a new uncharted star system. 

5) Reapers have Been Revealed

At the end of Mass Effect 1, the Council got to see a Reaper up close. Maybe they believe in the doomsday legend and maybe they don’t, but they have witnessed first hand that there is a massive new military threat in the galaxy. Udina even says… 

UDINA: “The races are scared. They’ve never faced anything like this before. They don’t know what to do. They want us to step forward.” 

The council also might have died and been replaced by one that’s human-influenced to some degree. The writer has leeway to make them provide you with help if the story calls for it, or leave you to conduct your search alone if that suits gameplay better. The only thing this ending doesn’t allow for is that the leadership would dismiss Shepard and decide to do nothing.

6) Unique Super-Ship

The Normandy is a one-of-a-kind stealth ship with the best pilot in the Alliance. Do we need to send the crew where nobody has ever gone before? The stealth ship and Joker’s skill can explain why the journey is possible for us even though it’s impossible for others. On the other hand, the stealth systems aren’t a cloaking device and the ship can still be spotted visually. So the Normandy is as visible or as hidden as the plot requires, to allow or gate progress as needed. 

These six things can be thought of as scaffolding for the sequels to build on.  You don’t HAVE to use Liara’s research to move the plot forward. You don’t HAVE to make the cipher central to Shepard’s character. It’s not MANDATORY to open new relays.  But these six elements give the future writer lots of options to work with. 

Taken together, these plot elements make for a really good setup. Even if the writer didn’t have a destination in mind, they clearly had a direction. The first game created a mystery, and it also contained a bunch of tools for how the heroes might solve that mystery in future installments.

And then…

Mass Effect 2 Happened

Most Trek movies blow up the Enterprise at the END, but whatever.
Most Trek movies blow up the Enterprise at the END, but whatever.

Shepard left the Alliance and the Spectre program, and instead of having lots of agency within the story he winds up taking orders from a sketchy new character that the audience doesn’t trust. 

The Cipher is completely forgotten about and is never useful again. Instead, Shepard is the main character because, as Miranda says…

MIRANDA: “He’s a hero. A bloody icon.”

Instead of being the main character because of his knowledge and experience, he’s now the hero because he’s a famous badass I guess? 

Liara’s research is jettisoned from the story. She forgets all about her life’s work, changes to a new personality, gets a totally new career, and even leaves Shepard’s crew. 

The closed mass effect relays are never mentioned again. 

The Council not only ignores the Reapers, they forget all about the massive attack on the Citadel at the end of the first game. Udina claimed that widespread fear was pushing the galaxy to action, but the second game erases that idea and once again has everyone believing that the Reapers are a myth and acting like the attack never took place.

The only thing the writer keeps from the first game is the Normandy. Well, they blow up the Normandy and then have to contrive a duplicate ship and also contrive a way for Joker to leave behind his prestigious career to work for criminals so he can continue to pilot the Normandy. Again, this burns screen time just so we can end up back where we started with the same ship and the same pilot. Even if you like the new setup, this is a horribly inefficient way to tell a story. We spend hours of screen time adjusting Shepard to his new status quo, and when it’s all over we haven’t made any progress on the Reaper plot.

The criticism at launch was that the plot of Mass Effect 2 “Doesn’t go anywhere”, but that’s really underselling the problem. The first game provided these building blocks for whoever wound up writing the sequel. Mass Effect 2 very deliberately went out of its way to reject, retcon, or even destroy those building blocks so they could never be used. Then it told its own self-contained story that left nothing for the writer of Mass Effect 3 to work with. Nothing that Shepard gains or learns in the second game is used in the sequel to help resolve the Reaper plot. 

It’s like a superhero movie where the writer spends the first act on the origin story, and then when the second act rolls around they hit the reset button and begin another entire origin story. Maybe you like the second origin story or maybe you don’t, but either way it means it’s going to be very hard to write a coherent and satisfying third act.

But wait, it’s worse! Not only does Mass Effect 2 bulldoze the structure created by Mass Effect 1, and not only does it refuse to build its own framework to move the story in a new direction, but it actually saddles the third game with additional hanging plot threads that need to be resolved. The third game still needs to suddenly introduce a way to stop the Reapers, but it also needs to resolve the conflict with Cerberus, resolve the conflict between Shepard and the Virmire Survivor, deal with Shepard’s choice to keep or destroy the Collector base, and give closure and screen time to the dozen or so new squad members Shepard recruited, none of whom are ultimately useful in finding a way to stop the Reapers.

Mass Effect 2 didn’t just fail to use the ideas of Mass Effect 1, it actively made it harder for the writer to resolve the trilogy in a satisfying way. By the time we reach the opening credits of the third game, the writer has been painted into a very tiny corner. They need to come up with a resolution for the impossible invasion of space-gods, they have tons of obligations weighing them down in the form of dangling plot threads, and they have almost nothing to build on. Mass Effect 2 isn’t just a plot that goes nowhere, it’s a plot that makes it harder for the sequel to go anywhere. 

In Mass Effect 1, Shepard said he was going to walk to Mordor. Then in Mass Effect 2 he sawed his legs off and ate his map. Then just before the closing credits he announces he still needs to get to Mordor. I WISH Mass Effect 2 was a do-nothing plot that went nowhere. That would have been a huge improvement over what we got.

Over the years, lots of people have made suggestions for things that would have improved the third game. They’ve come up with different explanations for the Reapers, different ways of beating the Reapers, and different possible choices for the player to consider at the end. A lot of these ideas have been good, but no matter how you end the series it was always going to feel rushed, arbitrary, and contrived, because the ending didn’t get any buildup or foreshadowing in the middle entry of the trilogy.

Shilling My Book

This is my proof copy, which is why it has the ugly NOT FOR RESALE across the front. Your copy won't have that.
This is my proof copy, which is why it has the ugly NOT FOR RESALE across the front. Your copy won't have that.

So that’s my problem with Mass Effect 2. It tells an anthology of great short stories instead of telling the one story it’s supposed to. This isn’t the only place where the writing went wrong in the Mass Effect franchise, but it’s one of the major faults with the series and for me it’s the one that hurts the most.

I know I’ve covered all of this in exhaustive detail here on the blog, and I’m sorry if this material feels too much like a re-run. I really wanted to take a video to promote my book, and this article comes from a couple of my favorite chapters.

And speaking of my book, it’s out now. You can get the Kindle version (cheap) or the print version (expensive) on Amazon. I know I talked about a “pay what you want” type deal. I’ll do that eventually, but I wanted to release the book while the Legendary Edition was still relevant and I’m basically throwing this all together at the last minute. If the given options are too expensive for you, just wait a bit. More options will be available later. Also, the original is still there if you’re looking for maximum convenience.

Also, please consider sharing this video in whatever groups might be receptive to it. I know Mass Effect 2 is a beloved game and not everyone is open to the idea that it caused problems for the series, but anyone who likes this line of thinking is probably going to like the book.

FYI: 'Horror' stories and 'horrible' stories are two different things!
FYI: 'Horror' stories and 'horrible' stories are two different things!

In any case, this needed to be said. If you’re a AAA development studio and you want to announce that you’re making a trilogy of games to tell a single overarching story, then you REALLY need to make sure your team understands the basics of story structure first. I’d love to see someone else try to tell a three-game story, but I really don’t want to end up with another frustrating ending of nonsense and contradictions.


From The Archives:

263 thoughts on “Mass Effect 2 Broke the Franchise

  1. Wrex says:

    The fact that the closed relays never become relevant again truly irks me, because it’s literally the perfect plot hook. Sovereign indoctrinated the Rachni, causing the Rachni war and the Council to outlaw exploring new relays. Why did Sovereign do that – what’s out there that the Reapers didn’t want us to see?! (It’s also the perfect excuse to set up actual, sensible conflict between Shepard and the Council, which ties into humanity’s newbie status and the themes of ME1. But no, instead we get TURIAN AIRQUOTES) It’s set up so perfectly that it’s inconceivable to me that it wasn’t supposed to become relevant at some point… but then TIM barged in, and the interesting parts of the setting were forgotten about.

    Love to see you got the book out! Checking out the ebook version now :D

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I always thought Sovereign had just failed to predict what would happen when our up-and-coming species started doing things, not totally under his control. So the closure of the gates was just us trying to protect ourselves from Sovereign and their allies coming through those gates, rather than them trying to stop us using the gates to see other, grander things.

      1. ShivanHunter says:

        That characterization of Sovereign is certainly in line with the Reapers we see in ME3, when they keep forgetting they can fly. But just going off of ME1, I prefer a much more intelligent version of them; they’re superintelligent god-machines, and they’ve been doing this for eons. Failing to predict the actions of our puny, mortal societies is not something Reapers should be doing. (And, if it wasn’t trying to scare us into abandoning the rest of the relay network, what was Sovereign trying to accomplish with the Rachni war?)

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          what was Sovereign trying to accomplish with the Rachni war?

          Wait, what? I don’t recall the Rachni War having any tie to the Reapers…

          1. stratigo says:

            The rachni war was caused by indoctrinated queens

            1. Sartharina says:

              Why do writers sabotage their own work like this? There was already a perfectly good reason for the Rachni War – a species of self-important Space Bugs found themselves suddenly invaded by bio-mechanical horrors from beyond the stars, and in their fear of extinction, drove out the terrifying invaders and counter-invaded in a desperate war to expand the hive and defeat the threat of the Council Races (which they have no idea are actually multiple species of individually-sapient organisms instead of a single diverse swarm of specialized breeds directed by a hove-mind)

              1. Shufflecat says:

                This reveal happened during the conversation with the queen in ME1, so they weren’t retconning an explanation they already had. This WAS the explanation they already had. The kill/release the queen dilemma hinged on it.

                In fact I’m not even sure where you got that alternate explanation you think was ruined/retconned, as nothing like that was in the game. That conversation with the queen was literally the first time anyone had gotten the Rachni’s POV on the war. Before that all anyone knew about them, both in and out of story, was that they had acted like implacable, inscrutable space-locusts.

                1. Chad+Miller says:

                  I looked it up as a result of this conversation and according to the wiki, Reaper involvement was never confirmed. Although there were hints about mind control that I never noticed (which, to be fair, if you picked up on that then Reaper indoctrination is indeed the natural assumption to make)

                  Either way, I agree that makes them less cool. Given this is a background event that happened offscreen, the idea of this war directing the course of galactic civilization and having nothing to do with the main conflict was something that made the universe feel bigger than the plot.

                  1. ShivanHunter says:

                    The queen’s dialogue is pretty unconventional, but if you go anywhere in the left side of the dialogue wheel, she tells you about “songs the color of oily shadows” and the “tone from space” that “forced the singers to resonate with its own sour yellow note”. It seems pretty obvious what happened if you know about Reapers and indoctrination, but maybe not every player will by this point; all you’ve definitely found out is from Benezia that “Saren’s ship” has some kind of mind-control capabilities. This, at least, will be fresh in the player’s mind when talking to the queen, which is likely intentional.

                    Personally, I prefer the narrative that the Milky Way – as long as the Reapers are involved – is a sort of walled garden of theirs, and nothing really happens without them knowing about it or having a hand in it. Maybe it makes the galaxy feel a bit small, but it also builds up the Reapers as a threat; not only can they mind-control individuals over time, but they’ve been manipulating organic civilizations for eons, and have become exceedingly efficient at it.

                    Also, it serves as another reason this cycle is different from the others. If the Reapers are always watching the galaxy closely, then this newfound freedom after having killed their vanguard is likely very rare – possibly it has never happened before. We could stop them this time because we’re uniquely positioned to do so, rather than because we’re super-badass and just that good at shooting things from behind cover.

                  2. Shufflecat says:

                    Eeeeeeeh, it’s only “never confirmed” because the queen never explicitly mentions the Reapers. She wouldn’t, of course, because she wouldn’t have the knowledge or contextual framework about them that someone from an alliance species would. Everything she describes is a big obvious neon sign saying “REAPER INDOCTRINATION” though, which is its, and by extension Novaria’s, entire story purpose (see below). So to my mind anyone playing the “not confirmed” card is being intellectually dishonest. The writers’ intent is communicated clearly, and the execution was internally consistent.

                    That said, I can see why this backstory for the Rachni is less satisfying for some. It could be said to have a bit of that “Darth Vader built C3PO” incestuousness to it… from a certain point of view.

                    Personally I don’t see it as a negative though, as:

                    1) The ME galaxy is chock full of creative stuff that doesn’t loop back to other things or the Reapers in that way, so I don’t feel this actually shrinks the galaxy any. Unlike with Star Wars, this wasn’t an “another straw on the camel’s back” situation. This worldbuilding had plenty of overhead in it’s scope to absorb an interconnection or two. Treating this like an issue feels extreme: like insisting that nothing should be allowed to be connected, which is just as weird as having an overabundance of connections.

                    2) It serves the purpose of laying down in-universe foreshadowing of the reaper threat. In fact, that’s the entire point. Eliminate that connection, and you basically remove the entire Novaria segment of the game (or at best reduce it to a weirdly huge non-plot relevant sidequest). Plot-wise the entire planet of Novaria is to get you to the Rachni queen, which in turn is to escalate Shepherd’s awareness of the extent of the Reapers’ influence on the galaxy, and thus the player’s suspense. It establishes that the Geth weren’t the Reaper’s first attempt at grooming a hench-species, and by extension that the threat has actually been here and actively laying down roots for centuries before anyone noticed.

                    Without that connection, the Rachni would just be another a codex entry, and the game would be missing its second-act escalation.

                    IMO in order to see it as a downgrade, you have to be both hyper-focusing on the worldbuilding to the exclusion of the story, and hyper-focusing on that specific element to exclusion of the rest of the worldbuilding.

                    1. Syal says:

                      Nah, in order to see it as a downgrade you just have to think it makes the Reapers less threatening. Suddenly we learn that the Reapers have tried to conquer the galaxy before, and were defeated without people even noticing them. And it brings up the question of why the other races weren’t indoctrinated; why were the humans left alone, to join like usual and pick their own fights? Much better to have the previous fights be unrelated.

                    2. Xilizhra says:

                      Actually, it’s implied in the Leviathan DLC that it was the Leviathans, not the Reapers, who mind-controlled the rachni.

                    3. Kavonde says:

                      What Xilizhra said; Leviathan pretty explicitly lays out that he mind-whammied the Rachni in the hope that, as a hive mind species with late-cycle tech, they’d have a shot at defeating the Reapers.

        2. Taellosse says:

          It’s entirely possible that the closed relays was not the primary objective at all. Given that the Citadel was under the control of a multi-species government already, it could simply be that Sovereign foresaw the Rachni joining the Council as dangerous to the maintenance of the Cycle – they’re an adaptable and EXTREMELY prolific species, receptive to concepts of harmony while also capable of mobilizing for violence both rapidly and very efficiently. Had the Asari and Salarians contacted the Rachni peacefully, on top of the Reapers being denied control over the Citadel, a successful invasion might well have been impossible.

          Even if the Rachni threat weren’t itself so dire, keeping much of the galaxy disconnected from the relay network’s central hub helped drastically limit how strong of a resistance the organics could mount. Doubtless there were numerous civilizations in the unexplored regions of the galaxy that never had the chance to integrate with the Council races, meaning they were both easier to destroy peacemeal when the invasion came and also never able to contribute their resources to the more central battle the Council mounted. It’s your basic “divide and conquer” design, really.

          Seems to me that’s a pretty sensible move, from Sovereign’s perspective, given that the baseline plan of starting from the Citadel might well be unavailable to them.

          1. Terradyne says:

            It’s not even necessarily that they’d be dangerous, it’s clear that at some point prior to ME1 that Sovereign had tried to ring the dinner bell and got no response. They may well have been the first tools that he tried to use to take back the Citadel to try and understand what had happened.

            1. Shufflecat says:

              This had been my read as well. The Rachni were Sovereign’s first (known) attempt at building a local power base. Basically exactly what the Geth were later, only the attempt with the Rachni failed because the indoctrination was still flawed or incomplete when the Alliance walked into them.

              Problem with that is ME2 shows that the Reapers already had a fully functional local hench-species all along with the Collectors. Though that can be shoveled into the “ways ME2 screwed with ME1” bin, rather than blamed on anything ME1 did.

              Maybe the reapers thought they needed a diversity of tools instead of one? Buuuut they already had an eon of experience tinkering with the Collectors, with multiple sub-varients to show for it, so I dunno why starting over from scratch was seen as better than just making more collector variants.

              1. Pax says:

                I’d say the Rachni failed because Krogan. My reasoning over the years has been that, like has been said, Sovereign tried to activate the trap, failed, and decided to try and take the Citadel with brute force by indoctrinating the Rachni queens. But the Council species found the Krogan and managed to fight them off, so Sovereign decided to wait and try something a bit sneakier instead.

                And I don’t really consider the Collectors to have been a reasonable alternative to the Rachni. As far as we know, they’ve got the one ship as well as however many ground forces (which aren’t really relevant in space fights), while the Rachni were already a massive colonial force in their part of the galaxy with numerous forces and ships. And best of all, they had no link back to the Reapers, meaning that when they failed, there would be nothing to link them back to Sovereign.

                The Collectors main benefit seems to have been that they could sneak around a make a new in-galaxy Reaper to try and activate the Citadel again somehow once Sovereign failed.

              2. Terradyne says:

                The Collectors themselves aren’t exactly an issue. By themselves they could be some kind of automated contingency, and they don’t really have the numbers to support themselves, or they’re too stupid because indoctrination robs them of higher thought. Some kind of Reaper thralls might have worked, maybe.

                No, the real problem is that they have a direct line to Harbinger. Which means that for centuries Sovereign was apparently too embarrassed to go there and report the problem. I mean, I know he doesn’t want it to look bad on his galactic-annual performance review, but there are some things that just go too far.

                Because as ME2/ME3 shows…the Reapers could apparently just scoot over in a few months. He could have called them up at any time and had them run everyone over. But didn’t, because the writers wanted another Reaper, their first one was dead, and they stopped caring about internal consistency.


  2. Mr. Man says:

    I think the way ME2 actively worked against it’s predecessor can now, years later, have parallels drawn to the whole new Star Wars trilogy fiasco. Both sought to contradict everything the installment before them did and as such, there was never a chance for the third installment to be satisfactory in any way. I’m not necessarily drawing a comparison between the quality of these products (please let’s not do that), I’m just saying that there is a parallel in how the first installment that was meant to set up a longer story for the next two was overridden in the next one, making the whole concept of a trilogy… pointless.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      This is indeed one of the major criticisms of TLJ: that it does away with plot setups from TFA but then doesn’t replace them with anything that works to advance the story. And I’m sure the people who love it do it for the same reasons the people who love Mass Effect 2 do so: they’re taking the entry on its own, but not really worrying on how it works as a part of a trilogy.

      I will admit that I would like TLJ much more if it was a standalone movie set in its own universe. The majority of the issues I have with it are precisely on how bad it fits as the middle chapter of this three-part story and in the larger universe of the franchise.

      1. Rho says:

        Even then TLJ has serious issues. Without the Star Wars name it could have a consistent style, but probably not much public interest in the film. Disney has been saying that a standalone film by Rian Johnson would come though.

      2. MerryWeathers says:

        This is indeed one of the major criticisms of TLJ: that it does away with plot setups from TFA but then doesn’t replace them with anything that works to advance the story.

        I still maintain TLJ doesn’t do away with what TFA setup and actually does setup its own potential plot points for the third movie, just not mystery boxes.

        The majority of the issues I have with it are precisely on how bad it fits as the middle chapter of this three-part story and in the larger universe of the franchise.

        I think that’s just an extension of TFA’s problem where the worldbuilding was barebones and the entire conflict is just a repeat of Rebels vs Empire with the exact same iconography from the OT. The ST era is the least interesting out of the three in the saga.

        1. Dreadjaws says:

          Yes, TLJ sets up potential plot points, but you don’t do that in the middle chapter of a trilogy. You follow through on existent ones and build up on them. For TLJ’s plot points to be properly developed we would have needed at least two more films. This is why the next movie just outright ignored them, because it was considerably easier than try to build on them and provide a proper conclusion to the trilogy.

          1. stratigo says:

            This is making big assumptions on JJ Abrams setting anything up at all. This is mister empty mystery box.

            1. Brian says:

              Mr no ideas himself. As with the Star Trek films his ideas was “steal plot points from the original seies (though with the Star Trek films that ended up being one liners as much as plot points) and add lense flares and remove anything that requires thinking”. He doesn’t make his own media he makes inferior copies of other people’s.

          2. MerryWeathers says:

            But those plot points do follow and build up on existant ones, you may have not liked or agreed with how it was continued in TLJ but it still did.
            I also don’t think it would need two more films, just one long three hour film which wouldn’t be that inappropriate for the finale to a nine movie saga.

            This is why the next movie just outright ignored them, because it was considerably easier than try to build on them and provide a proper conclusion to the trilogy.

            TROS didn’t just ignore them, it sought to contradict TLJ as much as possible in a comical and misguided attempt to appeal to and win back the disgruntled side of the fandom.
            The result gave people the impression that the ST’s main problem was the lack of a plan (despite nothing in SW ever having a plan) and not that each film wasn’t given enough time to be properly fleshed out and developed just so they could meet those Disney deadlines.

      3. Nobody says:

        TLJ wouldn’t really work as a standalone movie since so much of it’s plot points require knowing the trilogy that came before to have any sort of meaning to them, relying heavily on metatextual context of the fandom surrounding the previous movies and what the creator *thinks* they want. Despite how much I think it botches Star Wars, it heavily relies on being a sequel to Star Wars.

        1. Taellosse says:

          “Botches” isn’t really the right term, though – that implies an inept or unintentional failure. TLJ – love it or hate it (and personally I hate it) – is a deliberate and conscious deconstruction of Star Wars. The reason that was a terrible idea is precisely because it was the middle chapter of a trilogy intended to be a celebration and advancement of Star Wars (leaving aside for a moment the fact that Abrams lacks the storytelling chops to actually advance anything narratively) – a middle chapter needs to be the binding between the introduction and the climax, and it can’t do that if its busy taking everything around it apart – you don’t make glue out of solvent.

          1. Gethsemani says:

            I see your point, but I also think that the middle chapter is the ideal place to deconstruct something. TFA was a straight re-hash of ANH and just like ESB subverted a lot of expectations (Luke was still an untrained novice, Han hadn’t stopped being egotistical, the Empire was as strong as ever) so did TLJ play with what audiences expected by not giving them that. Had RoS continued the trend it would have (re-)constructed “Nu Star Wars”, a modern reimagining of what Star Wars is or could be. Instead it scrambled to revert everything and in the process it made both itself and TLJ worse. Because love it or hate it TLJ would have been a much better movie if it had gotten a proper follow through. On its own, with a sequel that undermines it at every point, it just sits awkwardly with a lot of unresolved plot points.

            1. Taellosse says:

              I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis of TLJ, but ESB isn’t a deconstruction. For one thing, at the time, the only Star Wars was the 1st movie – there isn’t that much to deconstruct. For another, merely subverting a few expectations isn’t what makes something deconstructive – for that you need to be identifying the central themes and assumptions of a work and subjecting them to critical analysis (among other things).

              ESB isn’t a deconstruction of ANH, it’s a sequel designed to raise stakes and tension by putting the big victories of the 1st movie into a larger context (The Empire is bigger than a single superweapon, learning to use the Force is more than 1 lucky shot, and being heroic takes more than 1 selfless act in an emergency).

              Which, incidentally, is why TLJ isn’t a reiterating of ESB like TFA is of ANH – where ESB evolves, TLJ discards. The mystical Skywalker lightsaber is refuse to its previous owner, who is not a great sage on a mysterious quest but a failed teacher wallowing in guilt. The secret villain is not really that great a threat, but instead a paper tiger, easily dispatched. Etcetera. And, as you say, in the process of not merely subverting expectations but deconstructing the entire edifice of Star Wars, there’s no room left to actually be a useful sequel. It wouldn’t have been impossible to follow up TLJ – it left room for more stories after it, to be sure – but only by actually following the threads it laid down after burning all its bridges back to TFA. The reason TRoS is such a mess is Abrams chose to cut most of those threads and try to rebuild those wrecked bridges back to his 1st movie at the same time. The result is an incoherent mess.

              1. MerryWeathers says:

                The mystical Skywalker lightsaber is refuse to its previous owner, who is not a great sage on a mysterious quest but a failed teacher wallowing in guilt. The secret villain is not really that great a threat, but instead a paper tiger, easily dispatched.

                And an entire storyline in the movie is dedicated to get that previous owner out of his current mindset and be the hero everyone believes him to be, which he does and is why he wields the blue lightsaber against Kylo, his father’s sword which kicked off his hero’s journey in the first place. (A lot of people seemed to miss the point of this and complained why didn’t he use the green lightsaber instead). His stand against the First Order becomes a legend and inspires not only the Resistance but the entire galaxy as well to keep on fighting, becoming a literal new hope.

                Kylo was always the main antagonistic focus and Snoke’s death dropped the pretenses and fully put him into the limelight. His volatile and petulant nature would naturally lead him to becoming an incompetent ruler of the galaxy and this could have been the ultimate cause for the First Order’s downfall in the next film. Maybe this could even feed into a potential Finn arc where he inspires and rallies a mass stormtrooper rebellion, who have become disillusioned with the masters they serve because of Kylo.
                The First Order’s destruction stems suffering an internal collapse rather than the heroes simply blowing up a big thing they have up.

                So I disagree that TLJ discards, it did build on TFA and it could have been built on in Ep IX.

                1. Geebs says:

                  Not sure either of those points work for me:

                  1) nobody saw Luke’s stand against the First Order apart from the main cast and the ten other guys who survived the rest of the film. Also I’m not sure that “oh, and he didn’t actually bother to show up in person and then died of a Force aneurysm” is going to inspire much in the retelling.

                  2) Kylo’s personality depends on character assassination of the OT’s main characters; his father is an irresponsible scrub, his mother is a wet blanket, and his uncle is a mopey loser who doesn’t know how to Force good. That’s not an argument, it’s just contradiction.

                  3) I’m not sure I can forgive Rian Johnson for what he DID to Finn. I have Opinions on the way he was turned into the incompetent, bumbling comic relief and the tropes involved there. I’m probably being unfair and it’s just Johnson being bad at writing. Probably.

                  (TFA wasn’t good either – and only gets worse on repeat watching – and I didn’t find any of the mystery box stuff compelling. But I don’t buy into the stupid Abrams vs. Johnson argument. One incompetently executed film doesn’t excuse another)

                  1. Taellosse says:

                    What Geebs said.

          2. Nobody says:

            I think botches is the perfect term because, to deconstruct something, you need to actually display an understanding of what you’re deconstructing, and TLJ seems to not really understand much about Star Wars or it’s fan base. For example, Luke’s points about the jedi (no matter if the movie wants you to agree with them or not) are made as a plausible challenge to the image of the Jedi Order. It’s trying to deconstruct the ‘fandoms’ view of the jedi, but has little basis in or out of universe because the movies nor the fans really treat the jedi as the creator’s think they do. The OT presented them as magical knights that served the force and the PT exposed the human flaws of their order.
            TLJ does this with a lot of it’s deconstruction, where it awkwardly tries to force out-of-universe antidotes into an in-universe context. The characters change, not because of natural character development, but because the story needs them to be transformed into mouthpieces to supposed fandom expectations. Kylo and Rey are suddenly obsessed with her lineage because people speculated about her having a special lineage. Luke got high off his own hype despite his journey being one of the most humbling and self-confidence torpedoing experiences, because the fandom being hyped to see Luke do cool things was interpreted as expecting him to be an unstoppable god. Snoke suddenly starts treating Kylo like the internet treats him. Ect.

            1. MerryWeathers says:

              It’s trying to deconstruct the ‘fandoms’ view of the jedi, but has little basis in or out of universe because the movies nor the fans really treat the jedi as the creator’s think they do. The OT presented them as magical knights that served the force and the PT exposed the human flaws of their order.

              Luke’s views on the Jedi Order was commonly shared among the fandom as it is based on the PT’s depiction of the Jedi as a flawed organization who hubris led to their downfall.
              It’s even shared in-universe if you’ve seen The Clone Wars (which was canonical even before Disney), various characters criticize what the Jedi had become and there were even arcs revolving around this (Umbara and Ahsoka on the Run specifically).

              Kylo and Rey are suddenly obsessed with her lineage because people speculated about her having a special lineage. Luke got high off his own hype despite his journey being one of the most humbling and self-confidence torpedoing experiences, because the fandom being hyped to see Luke do cool things was interpreted as expecting him to be an unstoppable god. Snoke suddenly starts treating Kylo like the internet treats him.

              I agree with you about Rey suddenly caring about her lineage, it was a bit forced but Kylo wasn’t obssessed and bluntly told her that she should let go of her past and forge her own path, even before the “reveal”.
              I interpreted Luke’s line as him solely taking on all the responsibility and burden of representing and heralding the next generation of Jedi which led to some familial neglect of Ben and failing to detect that the rising darkness within him was ironically because he too was pressured by having to live up to the Skywalker legacy.
              Snoke barely had any personality in TFA and I don’t think it’s forced for him to point out that Kylo lost to Rey, got even worse after killing his father, and is essentially a whiny child cosplaying as Vader.

              1. Nobody says:

                I realize I don’t have the energy to continue another TLJ debate, so I’ll just agree that you make some good points anyway. Oh wait, that’s not how internet discussions are supposed to go. Uh… I got it!

                *Insert insulting response about I’m too good to defend my points and that you’re childish to do so, while assuring that I won’t respond (as an attempt to shame you into not responding) in order to get the last word.*

            2. Taellosse says:

              Well, including audience reactions to a work in the critique isn’t inherently a bad deconstruction – part of the point of deconstruction is accepting the reality that a work does not exist in some pristine thought-space, unaffected by the audience’s response to it. Nor, indeed, can it be accurately captured by treating any given snapshot of that response as more valid than any other – art, the critical response to it, and the ensuing debate are essentially all one, continually evolving thing, to the deconstructionist.

              That said, employing straw man versions of a given critique is still bad argumentation within the deconstructive rubric, so you still have somewhat of a point. I don’t claim that TLJ, taken solely as a deconstruction of Star Wars, suddenly becomes a tour de force (though on that score it does have a few good moments). It retains more than its fair share of serious problems even so. I’d merely say that, allowing for what it was trying to do means that “botched” is perhaps too strong a word – “significantly flawed” might suit better.

  3. Joshua says:

    A sci-fi story where the second entry decides to jettison the structure and a lot of the hooks because it wants to tell it’s own story, and as a result we ended up with a trilogy about nothing? This sounds familiar.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Given the mess that resulted, I think it was less that they were held back by the remnants of the story that didn’t match their own, and more that they had no clue their idea was stupid in the first place.

  4. ShivanHunter says:

    (Lol I forgot to change my username from “Wrex” earlier)

    I forgot that Amazon was literally Cerberus.

    For anyone else stuck: You might need an old version of the Kindle PC App to run on Win7 at all, and you’ll need version 1.17 to have it download the MOBI ebook rather than the DRM-locked KFX format. Once downloaded, you can convert to PDF via Calibre as usual.

  5. tmtvl says:

    I always find it funny that there are many people claiming ME2 is a great game when I thought it was so bad I didn’t bother getting ME3.
    Dragon’s Age 2 also was maligned, seems EA-era Bioware has problems following games up.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      To Be Fair™, I’m sure the majority of the people who like the game do it because of the gameplay rather than the story. The game was, after all pushed more into the action genre in order to attract a larger audience. On the other hand, a lot of people praise the story and I guess they just look at it from the perspective of the smaller, self-contained stories within rather than the larger plot.

      1. EOW says:

        well, it’s not like there’s nothing to like about ME2. The characters are fantastic and the side quests are genuinely the best in the series, so when people talk about a good story they mean that.
        Most people aren’t into worldbuilding or rpgs, so if you just serve them anything with above average writing (which me2 is) they will think it’s the best thing ever written, by sheer lack of knowledge (which is not to mean they’re stupid. At all. It just means they haven’t yet accrued enough experience in the medium).

        Also many actively skipped me1, especially on ps3 till the collection. Doesn’t help the series got big with that game and most people just play the most popular without really thinking too much about “hey, should i play the previous game?”

        1. Thomas says:

          Also if you play ME2 first, then that’s your first encounter with the tone, style and the world building elements like relays and the genophage. So for those it was ME2 that sparked that excitement.

          A lot of ME1-ME2 problems take on a different light if your first encounter was ME2. You here Miranda describe Shepherd as ‘a bloody icon’ and you notice that the very first mission in ME1 is about how Shepherd is going to represent all of humanity as a symbol by becoming the first human spectre.

          Instead of noting the idea of it being about discovering a solution, you focus on Anderson’s last line in the ending ‘Together standing side by side, we will fight the Reapers and drive them into dark space’ (That’s the paragon ending, I will say the renegade ending is unambiguously about fighting the Reapers rather than about ‘stopping’ the Reapers)

          You don’t notice the dropped plot threads of Liara and the Cipher and unopened relays because they weren’t relevant in ME2 so you drop them on sight. You only really craft those as theories if you’ve been waiting a long time after ME1 for ME2 to come out and ponder the ending – they aren’t obvious if you know the ending. I went ME2 to me1 and I didn’t consider the cipher as something that would continue, it’s only when Shamus pointed it out that I realised that that absolutely makes sense.

          The one thing that still stands out even from the ME2 to ME1 direction though is that ME2 really doesn’t fit in with the plot of the Reapers at all. You won’t notice during ME2, but you can’t miss it when you play ME1. And the collector story still feels very weak and useless.

          But if you like the side stories and the characters and the gameplay of ME2, you might put aside the plot problems, in the same way if you like ME1 you put aside the brain dead encounter design in all the sidequests.

        2. Khizan says:

          The reason a lot of people skipped ME1 is because it aged very badly.

          I tried to play it after having played ME2 first and I found it damn near impossible. It was a cover based shooter, where the cover system was half broken. It was a shooting game with incredibly janky shooting mechanics, so much so that to this day I remain convinced that ME1 had infinite ammo guns because the shooting was so bad that they couldn’t believably give you enough ammo refills to get through the game, and if they had an ammo counter you’d realize that killing a handful of rachni took you 50+ shots. The powers had such incredibly long cooldowns at first that they were basically non-existent.

          The combination of these things just made the game feel incredibly bad to play. I started as an Adept, because I had been one in ME2, and what did that give me? A pistol I could barely use because the reticle was a ~4 inch circle. Throw and Warp, each with a 1m cooldown. Light Armor to go along with the bad cover system, so that each several minute long encounter proved to be a dice roll on whether I could survive it.

          It doesn’t matter how good the story is when the gameplay experience is so damn miserable. I wanted to play Mass Effect 1. I tried.

          And that’s just the actual combat. It’s not getting into the horribly clumsy navigation caused by their attempts to design around the limitations of the hardware available at ME1 release. Even in the Legendary Edition, a lot of ME1 is painful to get through. And it’s painful by design, because they wanted the irritating twists and turns and doors and such to cut sightlines and reduce rendering requirements. They went out of their way to make the game less pleasant to get through, when you get down to it.

          There’s a lot of reasons people didn’t play ME1 after coming into the series at ME2, and a lot of them have to do with the fact that while the story was great, everything else about ME1 was terrible.

          1. Kand says:

            Personally I believe that ME1 aged a lot better than ME2 mechanics wise, though you have to be willing to ignore a bunch of the mechanics that don’t work, like the cover mechanic. But replaying both games right now, ME2 just feels incredible clunky compared to what they were trying to achieve. You are forced into cover, but the cover is janky, you get stuck in weird positions, on corners or simply don’t get into cover at all. The shared cooldown system is still a massive downgrade to the first one and on Insanity most powers are simply not worth the point investment or CD.
            Of course this isn’t helped by the fact that ME1 got at least some adjustments in the Legendary Edition while ME2 still plays exactly as it was released.
            ME1 was pretty unfocused, but you had a bunch of freedom to play with the systems, ME2 was very focused but it’s really rough around the edges.

            1. Trevor says:

              I agree, but I think that’s largely because games got a ton better at making cover-based shooters and no one ever tried to make a game like ME1 again. It’s weird but in its own way. Nothing clearly surpasses it whereas quite a few games do what ME2 does, and better.

              As much as Andromeda is maligned, I think it got the combat right. It’s really noticeable how much of the original trilogy you spend in combat with the game paused, directing your squadmates’s power usage.

            2. Thomas says:

              I think you can only have that view if you ignore every mission that happened outside the main story structure. The fights on the sidequests on the Mako planets are so bad, I genuinely think they didn’t have a functional AI when they designed those encounters. Because they just don’t work. In some enemies stand midway through a room of boxes, motionless whilst you fight the rest of the room, and then you can pick them off before the AI starts making them move.

              In others every enemy in the room just zerg rushes the entrance hallway – sometimes forcing the player back out into the entry corridor where you slowly take them out whilst the AI struggles to understand how to move through the corridor.

              They have these rooms filled with crates and cover and mazes of boxes, but in practice the AI can’t handle any of that, and either forces the fight to take place right at the start, making the rest of the room redundant, or it just sort of gets stuck and isolated.

              I think they designed the layouts of the rooms before they had built the AI, and then when they built the AI they realised too late that it didn’t work with the rooms.

          2. GoStu says:

            Hey, don’t forget the godawful loot/inventory system. Deluges of trash loot to sift through, what fun!

          3. Geebs says:

            OTOH ME1 has levels large enough that sniper rifles actually make some sense, mixed vehicle/foot combat, grenades, ammo types that provide a bonus but which the player never actually has to bother with, and doesn’t insist that you have to shoot the yellow health bar with the yellow gun.

            I think it helps that I grew up on Marathon and Deus Ex and am used to coping with really inaccurate weapons as a gameplay mechanic, but even ignoring the slightly too RPG-focussed combat in ME1, ME2 is just a second rate Gears of War combat-wise and ME3 is more of the same but with even less interesting enemies and irritating unblockable insta-kills.

            1. Sabrdance says:

              The Geth outposts in the Armstrong system are so much more interesting because of the open world. Find a spot on a mountain where you can snipe, or try to find a covered approach to use the Assault Rifle and shotgun. Nothing in ME2 compares.

              1. Coming Second says:

                …Or you can just run them over with the Mako. Like everyone does.

              2. beleester says:

                These comments are making me realize there’s two types of players in ME1: People who played a Soldier, and people who played anything else. I would have loved to try sniping or assault-rifle-ing my way through some encounters, but unfortunately I played a Vanguard and so the two long-range guns I had strapped to my back were dead weight for the entire game. Shotguns, pistols, and biotics are all pretty useless beyond mid-range, which made for some really terrible combat encounters.

                ME2 was when the devs realized “if we’re going to restrict a class to a particular weapon, maybe we ought to give them a power that synergizes with that weapon?” and gave the Vanguard a gap-closer ability. And also generally rebalanced the classes so that guns and powers were both first-class options no matter which you specialized in.

                1. Coming Second says:

                  Playing Infiltrator will also give you a sniper rifle, but I’m here to tell you that sniping dots from a bare mountain top two miles away isn’t all that fun. Also most ME1 maps are specifically designed to stop you doing it.

          4. Utzel says:

            I played in release order, and had to same problem. My sniperdude Shephard from ME1 became an Infiltrator and had no chance in most ME2 encounters, because with only a few shots for said sniper rifle I was forced to get into close combat with a pistol and try to find some thermal clips for my main weapon. The SMG was the nerf gun you describe from ME1, but again, this time you don’t have infinite ammo for it. Four or five hours in I had enough and rerolled as a soldier and played on easy, no more ammo problems.
            I don’t like cover shooters though, so I even preferred the janky RPG shooter in 1 for myself, even if 2 has the better gameplay

            1. Coming Second says:

              I never liked the heatsink change but I didn’t have that problem with Infiltrator. The only thing you can’t do is stay in one spot clicking on heads in slow-mo forever, you have to move to pick up more ammo. That’s exactly what the cloak is for.

              1. beleester says:

                ME2 in general has a bit of ammo starvation – ISTR hearing that it was intentional to make you switch weapons and use powers more often. And to be fair, if I had infinite ammo I would have gone through the entire game with nothing but charge->point blank shotgun.

    2. Taellosse says:

      The failings of DA2 are VERY different from those of ME2, though. Almost all of what’s really wrong with DA2 can be chalked up to a dramatically truncated development cycle – EA forced them to make the thing in only 15 months, and there were a LOT of corners cut to make that happen. It actually fits into the metanarrative of the series reasonably well, though.

      1. Thomas says:

        I agree that DA2 doesn’t cause any issues for the series, but it’s looking like the Dragon Age ‘quadrilogy’ might turn out to really be a standalone game (Dragon Age: Origins), followed by a trilogy of games DA2 to DA4. The events of DA2 are much more tightly bound to Inquisition then they are to Origins.

        1. Taellosse says:

          Well, yeah, but that’s kind of to be expected. DAO was made to do 2 things: be a complete game in itself and effectively establish a setting. And like most first installments, it kind of needed to be able to stand on its own to a greater degree than any of its successors, because there’s no guarantee, when launching a new franchise, that there will BE successors. So its fine to lay out threads of what could become future plot points, but they can’t draw too much attention from what’s going on in the main story without feeling distracting or sloppy. Once something proves successful enough to get the franchise treatment, it’s generally assumed to be safe to bank on more than just 1 sequel, so it’s easier to introduce plotlines that will develop without also resolving in a single installment – and your audience will be more accepting of them because they’ve bought into it as a series too.

          Besides all that, DAO had, by far, the most time to be shaped into a refined version of itself. It was in development, to at least some degree, for something like a decade – they first began development of the setting around ~2000-2001, and it finally released in 2009. Granted a fair bit of that time was spent on worldbuilding that kept paying dividends for the sequels, but still, that’s an order of magnitude more time than its sequels.

    3. Whisky+Tango+Foxtrot says:

      It wasn’t a great game but the gameplay wasn’t completely broken and the writing consisted of more than the characters stiffly reading from their species’ Wikipedia entries and endlessly refrencing to the same four historical events (which were apparently the only things of note to have ever happened in the galaxy,) so it was head and shoulders above the first game.

      The third game then descended into military-worship and action-movie cliches (which were always there, but got far worse in ME3.) They finally got things right with Andromeda, but since it discarded a lot of the tone of the previous trilogy (for the better) the fandom hated it.

      1. CloverMan-88 says:

        Really? Andromeda had good writing? U only played the demo, but found dialogues to bo so, so stiff, internally inconsistent and unfunny that I just couldn’t force myself to play further.

        Like, in the first scene you meet the new aliens, Ryder specifically says to their team “this is a first contact situation, don’t open fire unless they start any trouble”. Then the aliens execute human prisoners, and start shooting our team. After the fight one of your teammates wonders why the aliens are so aggressive. And Ryder answers “Do you blame them? If we were put in their situation, we would do exactly the same thing*. But…You just WERE in the same situation! And you didn’t do the same thing! This is the part that broke me.

        1. Whisky Tango Foxtrot says:

          As far as you knew at the time, the Kett were the native inhabitants of the Heleus cluster, which would mean that your situations were absolutely not the same since they’d be the ones defending their home from invaders. Later, you find out that that isn’t the case, but Ryder’s response makes sense from the subjective perspective of someone operating with limited information (unlike the exposition-dispensers of the trilogy.)

  6. Ninety-Three says:

    If you’re a AAA development studio and you want to announce that you’re making a trilogy of games to tell a single overarching story, then you REALLY need to make sure your team understands the basics of story structure first.

    I continue to complain that you let Mass Effect 1 off the hook. It was a well-written complete story that did not plan for sequels and the problem starts there. The whole cosmic horror story structure sets up “here’s Cthulhu and he’s going to kill us all” as the third act reveal: you can’t make players forget about Cthulhu from the last game but you also can’t drag out that third act across two entire games. See the conversation with Sovereign: “You cannot grasp the nature of our existence” and “We have no beginning, no end, we are infinite”. These lines play up the cosmic horror theme and work great in the moment but they’re not meant to hold up for sixty more hours of game. You can’t have the reapers actually be incomprehensible or at the end of the third game everyone will complain “I didn’t comprehend it”, but if you make Sovereign a liar then the Reapers are suddenly way less imposing, either arrogant braggarts or concerned enough about puny humans to try to psych them out with lies.

    Imagine a Lovecraft story that ended with “Cthulhu’s still out there, waiting for the stars to be right. And I’m going to stop him!” No! That’s not how cosmic horror works, the whole point is that humanity is insignificant and even if you avert the immediate crisis of Cthulhu waking up right now, he’s still going to do it eventually and then you’re just doomed. If you’re dead set on making a cosmic horror game about stopping Cthulhu forever, then the proper mood for Shepard’s final line is desperate terror not triumphant confidence: we have to stop them, not we’re going to stop them.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Except that, like Shamus said, this isn’t just Cosmic Horror. It’s a combination of Space Mystery and Cosmic Horror and therefore it needs to compromise between the two. And, in any case, it’s perfectly feasible to make the Reapers incomprehensible and still find a way to stop them. You might not be able to destroy them, but surely you can find a way to end their threat. Just because you can’t think of a way it doesn’t mean a good writer can’t.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        The thematic conflict between space mystery and cosmic horror is the problem. Mass Effect 1 didn’t have to compromise because it was short enough and the cosmic horror really only comes in in the third act, but when you stick with those elements for two more games you get bad solutions to hard problems, like ME3 deemphasizing cosmic horror to focus on fighting the Reapers with pure military might.

        1. Thomas says:

          Yes and people would never accept a cosmic horror style ending after playing 3 full RPGs about solving problems with your friends. If people didn’t like ME3’s ending as it was, they would have loathed ‘Shepherd went mad, everyone is suffering, and the Reapers have stopped but they will be back’

          You absolutely have to collapse the cosmic horror angle eventually, and it’s a lot harder to collapse it than it is to set it up.

          1. Thomas says:

            Saying that, enough people are happy with the extended cut ending that people would have probably accepted some kind of weak ending where the Reaper problem is solved. Perhaps you have to choose between killing the Reapers and the eventual collapse of the universe or something.

            1. Cubic says:

              End: The Reapers are running away from … something worse.

          2. BlueHorus says:

            If people didn’t like ME3’s ending as it was, they would have loathed ‘Shepherd went mad…’

            Well, you say that….but I point you to the Indoctrination Theory…


            1. Sleeping Dragon says:

              I loathe the indoctrination theory not because it’s a bad idea in principle but because there’s a subset of ME fans who took refuge in it, declared it canon and will reject any criticism of the series by basically shouting you down claiming that IT explains everything and if you don’t agree you are not smart enough to graps the sublime genius of Bioware writers.

              1. Chad+Miller says:

                On the other hand, I will denounce indoctrination theory as a bad idea in principle.

                Popular fanon that amounts to “here’s a way to retcon any arbitrary amount of the main plot” is effectively a concession that the plot as written didn’t work. See also: Squall is dead, the Sole Survivor is a synth.

                1. Shufflecat says:

                  Fan theories are a minefield. My observation has been there’s no continuity error or plot hole so great that someone can’t invent a convoluted explanation that is technically totally consistent. It really does just come down to how much spin you feel to be a bridge too far.

                  I think my favorite brands of BS fan theory are the “protagonist died in scene X, and the rest of the plot is his/her death dream”, and “protagonist is actually mentally ill, and we are seeing their delusion”. These are both completely useless because they can be applied equally to literally ANY story, with NO alteration or interpretation. AND they’re meaningless, since the recontextualization doesn’t actually change or add anything thematically. These kinds of theories serve no purpose other than to make their proponents feel clever (falsely: since they can be seamlessly overlayed onto ANY story with zero changes or effort, doing so for any given story is no accomplishment at all).

                  And hey, look at that: the Indoctrination theory is exactly one of those.

                  1. Syal says:

                    Not to mention “it was all a dream” is just the worst plot twist possible*. Worse than Zero Time Dilemma. Zero Time Dilemma’s twist was unreasonably stupid, but at least it didn’t actively discard arbitrary amounts of what came before it.

                    *(Now games that begin with “it’s all a dream” can be really good**. But the dream has to, y’know, mean something, and resolve something.)

                    **((Yes I’m plugging Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass again. Also Omori. But mostly JatPM.))

                  2. Joshua says:

                    This is why I tend to stay away from the “Headscratchers” sections on TV Tropes. People will post various plot holes, and many other people view them as personal challenges to come up with *any* theory that would cover it, as if the original poster had thrown down the gauntlet to say “there’s no WAY you could explain this!*.

                    As opposed to “There’s such a large story gap here that any reasonable explanation should have been covered within the work itself, so it seems like the writers were just cutting corners.”

        2. Dreadjaws says:

          Hard disagree on that. A good writer could have easily come up with a solution had they not been painted into a corner.

    2. Pax says:

      Similarly, I’ve always thought a great flaw is the expectation that the Reapers will arrive no matter what, and that they then do in 3. The Reapers arriving is the fail state. Once they’re here, we’re boned. Hence needing to invent the Amazing Space MacGuffin to fix the problem what can’t be fixed.

      1. Thomas says:

        That’s a narrative problem that you see everywhere. If you introduce an unspeakable threat, people expect to see it on screen at some point despite the fact that should be the end of everything

        That’s why so many movies have a climax where the big bad is just stepping through the portal when he gets sucked back into it.

      2. Rariow says:

        I remember being shocked when all the promotional material for 3 was about fighting the Reapers head-on. Sovereign almost managed to solo the Citadel fleet. Just the fact that the Earth fleet is managing to put up anything resembling a fight against a fleet of Reapers exponentially diminishes their threat level. I was convinced the story was going to be about finding a way to turn the Reapers back – maybe talking them out of it somehow, maybe some sort of incomplete victory like closing off the Relays and just delaying the inevitable by trapping them in dark space for a few million years, maybe something properly dark like tricking them to go conduct their cycle on another galaxy instead of ours. Cosmic horror is about how if C’thulhu wakes up, you’ve already lost, not “well we’ll take a few losses but we can eventually build a big enough gun with three different colours of bullets to choose from”. ME3 is my personal favorite in the series (an unpopular opinion, especially on this site), but its premise is bad on a foundational level.

    3. MerryWeathers says:

      the Reapers are suddenly way less imposing, either arrogant braggarts or concerned enough about puny humans to try to psych them out with lies.

      The first game already did that all on its own, there are certainly lovecraftian elements to them like the indoctrination ability and the harvest cycle but eldritch gods wouldn’t boast about their apparent incomprehensibility (in the context of the game, it just comes off as smug gloating that they’re superior to the galaxy’s species for not knowing the “why” to their plans) and saying shit like “You cannot hope to stop us, we will be your doom!” which is what Sovereign did.
      That was the point where they seemed more like an evil extraglactic alien force than lovecraftian elder gods.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        “We have no beginning, no end, we are infinite” is very specifically Lovecraftian, it doesn’t even make sense as a boast. That line’s function isn’t to establish the Reapers as big space badasses but as weird, threatening in terms beyond “their guns are bigger than ours”. If they wanted the Reapers to be merely arrogant they could’ve just as easily written a “You’re beneath me, I don’t care to explain” line rather than locking themselves in to the petty, badassery-undermining realization of “Wait, that plan was perfectly comprehensible, does the evil space robot just get off on lying to strangers?”

        1. Falling says:

          In regards to Cosmic Horror, I always found the visions Shepherd sees as been very much in this vein. They reminded me of Event Horizon (which is amazing for the first two thirds and has an extremely flat final third). But it also has these visions you get the sense that they are truly horrific and beyond your comprehension that you cannot really parse them.

      2. Thomas says:

        The fact that the Reaper plan was to knock out the Citadel to disrupt the Protheans, and even then took 100 years of fighting to wipe out the disconnected factions does hint that the Reapers are less powerful than they say. Does an Eldritch god need to disrupt the lines of communication?

        1. Chris says:

          Space is big and completely eradicating a galactic civilization takes a long time no matter how powerful you are. That it took a century only demonstrates that the reapers aren’t magically omniscient, nothing more.

          1. Thomas says:

            They very specifically take the Citadel to throw the Protheans into disorganisation though. The whole first move of the Reapers is always to make sure there isn’t a centralised government to oppose them, and that the fleets of the galaxy can’t unite through the relays. Why do that if opposition is futile?

            It’s the moves of a powerful group, but not an unstoppable one.

            1. Syal says:

              A single Reaper can be killed by massed fleets. Less organization means fewer Reaper casualties. Especially important if we accept the later nonsense that the Reapings are about building a handful of new Reapers to preserve information forever; you don’t want to lose as much as you gain.

      3. Sam+Agyagi says:

        I never thought that part was a boast, or smug, or anything. To me it sounded like a simple declaration, almost annoyed, but more bored, rather. Stating simple facts. There isn’t even any emotion in the voice, so I never picked up on any arrogance. And that made it terrifying, how utterly certain they seem in it, how unchangable our course.
        And then the more we learned of the Reapers the farther we got from this impression and less and less scary they seemed. (As often the case with cosmic horror. It is frightening because it is unknowable, unconceivable, without risk of madness. So if you get to know it and you did not go mad you kinda feel let down.)

    4. jurgenaut says:

      Because it’s science fiction, there are no beings of infinite power. That part of ‘cosmic horror’ is not applicable to this subgenre. Any threat that projects its strength via space ships can be defeated by bigger, better or more space ships.

      Technically, we did stop them in the first game. If Sovereign was their wake-up alarm that starts the reaping, and we stopped Sovereign, there could be thousands of years before any contingency alarm notices that the reaping is overdue.

      They also said that the reapers were dormant in darkspace (in between galaxies). Without a specific relay to bring them back, it could take millions of years for them to return in sublight speed making the entire thing moot. A galaxy unreaped for a million years would likely have produced things stronger than the reapers (or reaped itself, who knows).

      Or the reapers could be controlled by a centralized system somewhere hidden, and we could knock that out – or corrupt the messages it was sending out. Hell, then it would make sense for Cerberus to try to take that.

      There are many ways they could have gone about for Shephard to prevent the reapers from returning – without it having to end with a big space battle with the galaxy versus all the reapers. The ME2 DLC (“Arrival?”) did this, where the reapers were supposed to jump in via a relay, and Shephard destroyed it.

      1. Syal says:

        Thinking about it, this might have been the way to go; assuming we’re stuck with the “we have to stop them” lines, just… don’t? Do what Lovecreaft did and bring in new unfathomable cosmic horrors; everybody tries to figure out how these tie in to the Reaper threat, and maybe only Shepard realizes killing Sovereign already stopped the Reapers and this is something entirely different. Hell, maybe it’s The Thing The Reapers Are Preventing*. Make it into a Cosmic Horror Of The Week kind of setting.

        *(T-T-TRAPs, for short.)

    5. BlueHorus says:

      Eh, as others have said, (including Jurgenaut, above): fine, ME1 isn’t Cosmic Horror as you’ve defined it. There’s nothing incomprehensible about the Reapers; Sovereign just can’t be bothered to explain themselves and/or is engaging in smack talk when he’s adressing Shepard.

      Not sure I see the problem, though: the Reapers are still scary, becuse they’re giant space locusts that want to kill / mind control us all, but they ARE comprehensible, they have goals we can understand, they can be stopped. Great.
      As you said, it’s not a fun computer game if the enemy is truly unbeatable.

      You could easily draw out sequel games from this premise – finding out the origin of the Reapers, identifying a weakness, constructing a way to exploit that weakness, a race to use your countermeasure before it’s too late.

      1. Chris says:

        The goals can be understandable. “Kill everything” is a reasonably common cosmic horror goal. It’s the motivations (and sometimes the means) that must be unknowable and incomprehensible.

        Of course, me2&3 botched that bit up too.

        1. Bronnt says:

          I really would have tried to come up with something to fulfill the promise of incomprehensible motives. Even if it abandons the idea of Space-Cthulu and cosmic horrors, try to figure out what happens to a super-advanced AI that has somehow gone insane. Not just rogue, but literally insane; code is fractalizing. And yet they’re still super-intelligent, logical, so there’s a weird, twisted sort of logic underneath it. Something the player can almost, but not quite, grasp.

          I have a couple of ideas, but speculating on how to answer the final questions and characterize the Reapers has been done to death already. It’s still possible to pay off the ideas presented by Sovereign in the first game. You’d never truly hold up the pure Lovecraftian elements of it, so maybe it would have been disappointing, but you didn’t have to utterly abandon the Cosmic Horror concepts either. It’s very easy, if you can connect with the player, to invoke horror by simply invoking in them just how utterly massive the universe is and how small each individual life is. Really thinking about that stuff can keep a man up at night. If you can engage with that, a lot of your work is done for you.

    6. JMobius says:

      Way back when the game first came out, I honestly found that whole “conversation with Sovereign” to be an immensely stupid moment which heavily undercut much of the game, precisely *because* of the cosmic horror elements. Space-Cthulu shouldn’t be bragging about it’s epic beyondness to lowly individual humans, it should just *do*, as unconcerned with the antics of humans as you might be a handful of ants. People (as in characters, not players), even its worshipers, should be left to make up their own interpretations of its motivations and purpose. A quest to understand profoundly powerful but non-communicative entities has plenty of basis in Star Trek, and could have made the first entry stronger, IMO.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        The scene does a little work to justify itself because Sovereign does the bragging in response to player questions rather than completely unprompted, but it still strains the basic premise of what Sovereign is that he’s bothering to say anything to primitive creatures of blood and flesh. I think it’s one of those Bioware RPG things that the writers are just hoping we’re willing to go along with, like the question of why the hell an Alliance commando is recruiting all these random alien strangers for his top secret military mission.

      2. RFS-81 says:

        Yes, it’s pretty silly writing there.

        They don’t have to be completely incomprehensible for cosmic horror. Not even Lovecraft does the pure distilled Lovecraft tropes all the time. Highly advanced aliens are a thing in Lovecraft stories, like the Great Race of Yith or the Mi-go.

        But having them announce how incomprehensible they are is a setup for failure.

        1. MerryWeathers says:

          They don’t have to be completely incomprehensible for cosmic horror. Not even Lovecraft does the pure distilled Lovecraft tropes all the time.

          I don’t think even Lovecraft lives up to the unknowable aspect of lovecraftian stories, the only exceptions to this I remember was “The Colour Out of Space”, “At The Mountains of Madness”, and “The Music of Eric Zann”.
          Most of the time, the horrific creatures that appear at the end of his stories get described and explained in some way.

          1. Shufflecat says:

            IMO there’s an “unreliable narrator” undercurrent in a lot of Lovecraft’s stories that I think a lot of people don’t pick up on.

            A lot of the “explanations” in Lovecraft’s stories are just the POV character either spitballing ideas, or abruptly leaping to a conclusion based on a knee-jerk emotional reaction rather than (or even contrary to) evidence. There’s any number of times where the POV character is either shown to be either wrong or overreaching, but it’s never actually called out because the text is their own POV.

            Pop culture is dumb: it always latches onto the simplest image of an idea, even if that image is wildly inaccurate. Thus captain Kirk is a womanizer, Kzin are cats, and what Cthulhu cultists think will happen when/if Cthulhu wakes up is exactly what will happen.

            Are Mi-Go lying to the protagonist, or were they telling the truth and they just suck at communicating with humans in a non-creepy way because they’re aliens? The protagonist pointedly runs in terror from the question alone.

            Everything we think know about Flying Polyps comes from their enemy: the affably-evil Yithians. The one time the protagonist actually encounters one for real, it saves his life in a way reminiscent of a person rescuing a spider from the sink.

            Everything we think we know about both Elder things and Shoggoths comes from a dodgy translation of an egocentric narrative written by the former.

            95% of everything we think we know about Deep Ones comes from a drunken rambling tale told by someone who in ANY community would be expected to have lurid views about how the all the world’s governments are secretly run by Reptoid aliens and/or “the Jews”. The remaining 5% is the actions of a community that the ending demonstrates had every reason to be paranoid of discovery regardless.

            Given the level at which Cthulhu is said to operate, how can anyone at our level claim to know what will happen if/when he wakes up? When you get up in the morning, an ant under your bed has no way of even conceptualizing whether you’ll go to the store, or burn your house down for the insurance, much less assume one over the other. Everyone knows the cult’s party line, but it’s just as likely he’d immediately fuck off into space and leave the cult holding the bag.

            Some of his stories really are face-value (The Hound, for example), but IMO Lovecraft rarely has real explanations. Usually what he has is a panicky, one-man version of the “imagine what you’ll know tomorrow” conversation from Men in Black.

            1. Tom says:

              Well said! And now I feel a session of binge-rereading ’em all coming on…

    7. stratigo says:

      I think people get way too hung up on cthulhu (who might just be the high priest and not actually an elder god. Certainly getting bonked by a steamboat is kind of a lame was for a god to be defeated) as the mythos and ignoring the 90 percent of lovecraft’s works where the motives of the beings aren’t incomprehensible, they are just horrible. The actual incomprehensible things aren’t usually dwelled upon (for obvious reason). Also, man, so much of the horror in lovecraft’s work is “OH NO! I AM NOT A PURE WHITE MAN, BUT PART MONSTER INSTEAD! AAAAAAH!”. Which is only horrible to, uh, people of lovecraft’s particular neurosis.

      The cosmic part of cosmic horror isn’t that the horror is unknowable, but that it derives from something alien. The colors from space twist and corrupt and slowly consume in a way that is disturbing by how alien the environment they are consuming is. But, in the end of the day, it’s just eating yo.

      1. Lino says:

        cthulhu (who might just be the high priest and not actually an elder god. Certainly getting bonked by a steamboat is kind of a lame was for a god to be defeated)

        I think you’re missing the point of that story. The point isn’t that a steamboat can kill Cthulhu. Lovecraft wrote that story in 1928. The most powerful and advanced mechanical device available to humanity at the time was a steamship – thousands of tons of steel with a massive engine as big as a house, able to move all across the planet.

        What Lovecraft was trying to show was that the most powerful thing humanity had couldn’t stop Cthulhu. It could only briefly delay the inevitable. Had he written the story in the 1950s, it would have been a nuke that couldn’t stop Cthulhu.

        1. Syal says:

          I really didn’t like Call of Cthulhu as a story. The first half is completely unrelated to Cthulhu’s awakening, and then he wakes up, gets hit by a boat and dragged down by an undertow. If he was trying to show the boat couldn’t stop Cthulhu, it probably shouldn’t have stopped Cthulhu.

          (I’ll add, one of my favorite Lovecraft stories (though I can’t remember the name) was similar to The Colour Out Of Space, but it was just a buried sleeping vampire draining people’s essence through proximity. So, agree with stratigo, not about incomprehensibility really.)

          1. The+Puzzler says:

            My headcanon is that Cthulhu got up, looked around, saw that the Stars Were Not Yet Right, and returned to the waters to wait for his time. He barely noticed the temporary destruction of his physical form.

        2. stratigo says:

          It did stop him though.

          But the schtick is, cthulhu is possibly not even what pop culture things cthulhu is for lovecraft. It’s ironic because cthulhu isn’t even the most eldritch and strange of lovecraft’s possible gods. And being unstoppable and being unknowable are very different.

          But the vast majority of lovecraft’s stories do not involve things that cannot be known. A lot has to do with madness already in man (and, again, a lot of that is “I AM NOT ACTUALLY WHITE! OH NO!” That said, the rats in the walls is my favorite lovecraft work and the family secret there is luckily not that they had sex with an ape that one time)

          The cosmic terrors aren’t often that unknowable. They have motivations that can be clearly explained. The Mi-go are just colonists. The colors is just a predator. Even Nyarlahotep is just trying to drive humanity to self destructive entropy.

          1. Shufflecat says:

            The thing that’s meant to be scary-unknowable about the Mi-Go isn’t “why are they here”, it’s “It might not be safe to talk to them enough to know if it’s safe to talk to them, and they REALLY want to talk”. I kinda want to make a mild comparison to Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, where the main theme is “alien life might be so alien that it’s legit impossible to communicate, and you might have to just to accept that”. Mi-Go have just enough of that going on to form a risk/reward superposition speed bump. They MIGHT be fine, or they MIGHT be dangerous, but they’re too alien for you to tell without without risking everything… and they’re not going to let you solve this dilemma by walking away.

            The thing that’s meant to be scary-unknowable about the color isn’t “what does it want to do to me?”, but rather “how do you cope with a hazard that doesn’t seem to be operating on the same laws of reality as you?”. A poison, a disease, or a radiological contaminant can be approached as a scientific puzzle, but this defies that. In this respect it’s maybe more akin to a ghost story, but without even the superstition or dream logic based understanding/solutions that supernatural elements often offer.

            Nyarlathotep is kind of unknowable, in that we know he likes to screw with humanity, but we don’t actually know why or to what end (It’s important to remember that Lovecraft’s protagonists’ theories are often not necessarily any more correct or complete than the worldviews they’re refuting, they’re just very slightly less wrong). This makes him IMO one of the less interesting Lovecraft entities, since on a narrative level he basically functions as The Devil with a new coat of paint.

            1. RFS-81 says:

              “It might not be safe to talk to them enough to know if it’s safe to talk to them, and they REALLY want to talk”

              Don’t worry! Transferring the brain to a vat is a very safe standard procedure. Don’t you want to see the universe? We can show you where Cthulhu came from!

            2. Tom says:

              After you linked Solaris to the Mi-Go, and then also referenced the Colour out of Space, I simply must ask if you’ve also read Roadside Picnic, and highly recommend it if you haven’t – you’ll love it. You’ll probably also really like Blindsight – now there’s both a (possibly) unreliable narrator, and unrelatable aliens, to end them all.

              1. Lino says:

                Goodreads came up with quite a lot of books for both Roadside Picnic and Blindsight. With regards to Roadside Picnic, it this the book you’re talking about? And for Blindsight, is it written by Peter Watts?

                I’d like to know, because I’m a huge Lovecraft fan, and any books in that vein are totally up my alley.

                1. Kincajou says:

                  Roadside picnic is indeed the one written by the Strugatsky brothers, I don’t know much about the particular edition you found but it may be good…
                  When I read it I had this edition:

                  I really enjoyed the fore- and after-words, I found they were really useful in contextualising the book.

                  1. Lino says:

                    Thanks! The one in my link was just the first one that came up.

                2. Tom says:

                  Oops, sorry I omitted the authors! Yes, that would be the Strugatsky brothers and Peter Watts, respectively.

                  Roadside Picnic was quite influential; Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky, who directed the first Solaris film (the good one), directed an adaptation of it called Stalker, and the game STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl clearly traces its roots back to the book and film. Metro 2033 also apparently has a shout-out where one of the player companions remarks approvingly about it upon spotting a copy on a ruined bookshop shelf.

                  1. The Rocketeer says:

                    It’s in Moscow State Library near the end of the game.

                  2. Lino says:

                    No worries! Blindsight was already in my Want-To-Read list (Goodreads’ recommendation algorithm is surprisingly good), but I had never heard of Roadside Picnic. Based on what you and Kincajou said, it’s definitely going up on my priority list!

      2. Ninety-Three says:

        A huge theme in Lovecraft is not just that the monsters are horrible but that their existence reveals humanity to be completely insignificant: there is no Power of Friendship or excellence of the human spirit that can save us from the cold uncaring universe. A lot of his stories have threats which aren’t that functionally different from your average monster movie, but it is a significant difference that Cloverfield is not interested in any reaction beyond “Oh no, the monster’s gonna eat me.” You could make a version of At the Mountains of Madness where the whole ancient civilization thing was just a framing device to introduce scary monsters, but in the version Lovecraft wrote it’s absolutely doing more work than that.

    8. Taellosse says:

      Except the Reapers aren’t set up as an ACTUAL eldritch horror, but as ASPIRING eldritch horrors. The heroes of a Lovecraft story don’t get to TALK to Cthulhu in the 3rd act – they are as ants to an elder God, and beneath his notice.

      It’s kinda the inverse of the bit from Ghostbusters: if someone bothers to tell you that they’re an unstoppable god, they’re trying to cover for their actual mortality. Real gods don’t need to brag.

    9. Sanchay says:

      I think the “cosmic horror” aspects are overstated. We know far too much about the Reapers, and their ability to zap us as living spaceships demotes them from any kind of elder god status.

      At most, they’re “horror” in the way that The Borg are “horror”. And that’s ok. It’s a video game and we’re supposed to have someone to shoot at. You’re not stumbling around trying to avoid going mad from inscrutable godly knowledge. You’re shooting at the very powerful bad guys, and you do some problem solving and detective work along the way.

      There’s a tried and true formula for horror: a hero stops them before they can wreak complete havoc. But they always come back, due to some supernatural loophole or human error. And each time, they are thwarted again, only after learning just a little more about where the horror truly came from.

      It would be very easy to make 3 games about that. Heck, they made 8 alien films, let alone a dozen each of Freddie and Jason. Not to say it would inherently be brilliant, but it’s easy to imagine a coherent formula.

      They sorta pissed it away when they focused the second game on the collectors, and switched their means from indoctrination to straight-up grinding human bodies. It just makes no sense.

      1. Taellosse says:

        True enough. The Reapers reference eldritch horror rather than exist as an example of it. They’re powerful without being omnipotent, malignant without being inexplicable, and relentless without being truly immortal. That’s kind of what I meant, too – they see themselves as gods, even while they really aren’t.

        1. Taellosse says:

          Sorry, thought your post was a reply to mine, and didn’t realize my mistake in time to delete it.

          1. Sanchay says:

            It’s well put nonetheless! I agree.

        2. stratigo says:

          I think people misunderstand eldritch or cosmic horror

    10. Sartharina says:

      I think it was pretty obvious what the Reapers were – the coalesced, combined memories achievements, and wills of the great civilizations that had come before, harvested in their prime to continue the cycle, cultivating the next civilizations by clearing out the ripe and overripe ones and guiding them with revelations of Ezo and Mass Effect, rather than let one come to prominence, and, over aeons, strangle the life and resources from the galaxy before collapsing and leaving the whole place a desolate interstellar wasteland.

      Had it not been for the Reapers placing Mass Relays and seeding the world with Ezo, our disparate species would be trapped alone in a world where FTL travel was impossible. And if they didn’t clear out the old, our species’ would have been stunted and strangled by the first Interstellar Empire.

      Armed with this knowledge, the final options of the trilogy should have been “Surrender, Snooze, Defiance, Destruction”.

      Surrender, so that our civilizations would be preserved and awakened as new Reapers, and are welcomed into a greater collective existence among the ones who came before, minus those we destroyed in our blind resistance. The Indoctrinated weren’t insane – they understood our place in the greater cosmos. And now that the greatest civilizations of this era are assembled at the peak of their glory, upon the precipice of their decline, the time for the harvest is at hand. We will finish what Sovereign started.

      Defiance – We reject the cycle completely. We are looking out for ourselves – the dead civilizations of the past can stay dead, and it’s not their right to say our time has come. Existing as a space squid drifting in dark space reliving past glories is no existence at all. We take the galaxy as it is, and forge our own fate through it, on the backs of that which came before, as all have. We will not go gently into the night. We will stand against this threat, and destroy the Reapers or die trying (insufficient galactic readiness results in obliteration).

      Destruction- The Reapers and all they provided shall go. We can’t face them on the battlefield and prevail. But with this weapon we have built, we can destroy the Reapers for good in one pulse, though it will destroy the Mass Relays and render all Ezo inert. The cost will be nothing short of apocalyptic, with our civilization ceasing to exist. But there is a chance we will survive, adapt, and forge a new future.

      Snooze – The Reapers misjudged the significance of human emergence onto the galactic scene, and Sovereign’s failure was a catalyst that should have bought the galaxy a few more centuries to play out – in fact, that was the plan, with Harbinger and the collectors keeping a closer eye on the galaxy and investigating Humanity. Had the harvest come a few hundred years earlier, Humanity would have been able to flourish in the next cycle and reach its potential. A few hundred or thousand years later, and they’d have been as ripe and complacent as the rest of the galaxy, their growth accelerated then stunted by their neighbors. The current aggressive, destructive harvest that ruins as much as it salvaged was not supposed to happen, but was forced by Humanity’s interference in the process. But confronted with the very real threat annihilation and loss of all in the face of this weapon, combined with Shepard’s knowledge of the Reaper’s nature and task, they are willing to return to Dark Space, allow the civilizations to continue to grow, and… reassess their directives now that the cycle has been thrown askew.

      1. Matt says:

        Interesting ideas, and I say that as someone who disliked the idea of the Reapers as the preserved remains of past civilians. That always seemed so goofy to me, perhaps because of the liquefied humans and campy Terminator-looking proto-Reaper we got in ME2. What you’ve written is compelling enough to make me reconsider the idea in general.

        1. Tom says:


          I can’t help but make comparisons to the endings of Deus Ex, though, which I still think is the gold standard for how to give a game multiple endings that are meaningful – many have complained about how perfunctory the endings of that game are, but the thing is, if you’ve been playing the game properly, they don’t need to be any longer or more detailed. You don’t need the consequences of your choice spelled out for you, because by that point you should know damned well exactly what they are. The entire game has prepared you for that moment by submerging you in a detailed and, crucially, scrupulously self-consistent world, so that by the time you get to make your decision you probably won’t even hesitate, whichever one you go for – you’ll know in your heart what you want the future of this world to be. In ME3, everyone just gets yanked out of everything they were invested in and subjected to an abrupt and incomprehensible choice for which the entire trilogy has laid no groundwork whatsoever, then told to pick one of three endings that, whilst no more perfunctory than Deus Ex’s, are infinitely less satisfying because they do not connect with or grow out of the entire preceding experience in any logically or emotionally meaningful way.

          To do Sartharina’s proposed endings right, the entire game trilogy would have to have done a lot more to explore and illustrate the implications of the various possibilities within the narrative and gameplay space – fortunately, the “Planet of Hats” nature of the Mass Effect games would actually lend itself really well to that; various scenarios and ethical dilemmas structured like, say, the Thorian colony encounter could, with some care, have been written to illustrate on a smaller, more intuitive scale, the greater implications and subtleties of the final choice.

    11. GoStu says:

      I think you’re selling Mass Effect 1 short when you say it didn’t plan for any sequels. At the end of the game they’d:

      – Created a protagonist who can discover information nobody else can (interpret Prothean Beacons with the Cipher)
      – Given the protagonist reasons they can legally/illegally go places nobody else can (Specter status)
      – Outfitted a ship that can get places most others can’t (Normandy’s stealth abilities)
      – Collected a crew that can open a lot of narrative doors (Tali’s Geth experience, Liara’s knowledge of Protheans) and give you leads (Wrex’s connections, Garrus’s different connections).

      They’d also established that this Cycle has a bit of extra time and an advantage that might matter. (Keeper sabotage), and that there’s a lot of galaxy out there and information yet undiscovered behind closed Mass Relays.

      I do think that there was stuff left undecided; why exactly the Reapers were going to do what they do, and how exactly Shepard & Co. would prevent this… but it’s an extremely uncharitable take to suggest that the team working on ME1 left nothing for a sequel.

      There are definitely some hooks – you see them crop up again in ME2 on Tali’s mission to Haestrom. I recall from some interview that a writer discussed that maybe Reapers wanted to exterminate sentient life because they contribute to entropy or something, but they permit it to live in some way because it’s the only way they have to interact with dark matter? At any rate, something was in the cards and SOMETHING was drafted… it shows up in vestigial form in ME2 before being amputated and forgotten.

    12. Geebs says:

      I’m not sure I buy the argument that not slavishly replicating every last one of the features of a given trope is somehow a failure of writing. Anyway, even in the original Lovecraft stories, humanity doesn’t really just lie down and die, e.g. the Alert.

    13. Chris says:

      What about something like this

      Sovereign: you cannot understand us
      Shepard: sure we can, just explain
      Sovereign: well, you will soon develop a technology that will age stars rapidly and the universe will suffer a heatdeath in a century, so we chose to kill you because then more species will end up living for longer
      shepard: Well you dont have to kill us, ill just explain to everyone whats up and we wont use this new tech
      Sovereign: I told you you dont understand, do you think we did not try that before?

      This would also make the ending more interesting. Killing the reapers and saving the universe means that everyone might wipe themselves out with this fancy new powersource that drains stars. But surrendering to reapers means everyone is gone.

      1. Cohasset says:

        Something like that certainly would make for an interesting idea, particularly since it’s possible in game to bring peace between the Geth and Quarians yet that outcome has no effect on the ending even though it’s an example of the flaw in Reaper logic. The only problem is something like that means any ending would be grey at best even if somehow the Reapers were overcome. Still it would have been more of a thought-provoking discussion than what we got.

  7. Dreadjaws says:

    Welp, I got the physical edition of the book. Now to wait a couple of weeks until it arrives to the southern hemisphere so I can give it a 1-star review for talking crap about the perfect game that is Mass Effect 2, how dare you?

    But no, seriously, I’ve been literally waiting for a physical edition of this thing for years. And now I’m gonna force anyone who visits my home to read the whole thing if they want snacks. Kidding again, I don’t get any visits, probably because I refuse to give people snacks.

  8. Robbert Ambrose B. Stopple says:

    Having completed the Legendary Edition just a few moments, my personal ranking of each game remains ME2-ME1-ME:A-ME3. I won’t dispute that the narrative of the third game was heavily constrained by the developments (or lack therof) in the second. A solution I proposed years ago on the offical forums was to have the third game split into two parts, with the ‘A’ part focussing on the Tuchanka and Rannoch plotlines in addition to introducing new elements that set up the final Reaper coflict. Meanwhile the ‘B’ part could focus practically entirely on the conlict itself, The Cerberus plot from the third game would be jettisoned entirely. I actually could suspense my disbelief while sitting through the catalyst on my first playthrough, everything between the end of Thessia and the final confrontion with TIM ammounted to the worst the series had to offer in my view.

    Mass Effect 2, was in many ways a reinvention of the series, with Mass Effect 1 being akin to a semi-connected pilot episode. Both games could pass for the first game in the series. In another scenario the series would have ditched the Reapers completely after ME1, as that way ME2 could remain the badass-recruting and collector-stomping adventure, just with an irrelevant overarching villain behind pulling the strings. The third game could would require a total rewrite outside of Rannoch and Tuchanke, but that wouldn’t make me unhappy.

    1. Adam says:

      I like the concept of ME1 as a “pilot” – I wonder what TV shows had a pilot episode that was better than the actual show?

  9. DaveM says:

    Surprised to find the paper back version of Mess Effect available from Amazon UK! Promptly ordered as an upcoming 50th Birthday present to myself. Thoroughly enjoyed the series the first time round, and it really cemented my newly discovered love for in-depth game critique. My only worry now is that once I’ve read the book, I’m going to end up buying the remastered version…

    Thanks Shamus for all your work on this.

    1. RFS-81 says:

      Same for Amazon DE (though I got the ebook). I guess if it’s print-on-demand anyway, they can print it wherever you want.

  10. Lino says:

    Great video! I really hope it gains some traction. Gaming culture needs more calm and measured critiques. I’ve shared the video on two subreddits:

    Feel free to give them an upvote so it gets higher and gets more people to watch the video. Also, if you’ve made a post with a better title, post it here – sometimes a good title is all you need to get to Hot (and I’m not too crazy about my post titles). Also also, what other subreddits do you think we can share the video there, too.

    1. MerryWeathers says:

      Seems like it already got removed from r/games because it’s not popping up on my feed, even with the “latest posts” filter on.

      1. Lino says:

        I just checked the links, and you’re right! The one on r/Games says it’s awaiting mod apporval, and the one on r/MassEffect says it’s been removed by a moderator :(

        Maybe it’s because I’m not a member of the subreddits in question? I’ll try joining and then sharing the video on r/MassEffect. I’ll wait and see what happens to the post on r/Games.

        1. Karthik says:

          What rule did the submission break on r/MassEffect?

          1. Eric says:

            Probably either Rule 3 or 5. The post is just a link to the video, so it’s low-effort. OP said they aren’t a member of the subreddit, so I imagine that mods would consider them inactive.

          2. Lino says:

            They never told me. But Eric’s comment above sounds like a plausible reason.

    2. ivan says:

      T’was a good try but both of those already got removed :(

    3. Lino says:

      Ok, so r/Games told me my post was removed because it was in violation with Rule 8 – Posting Promotional Content. I tried to post it again to both subreddits, but it told me that this link has already been shared. I really hope I haven’t made it so nobody can ever share that link to the subreddit. If I have, is there any way of fixing this? I rarely use Reddit, and I don’t know – is there a way of contacting the mods in a case like this?

      1. tomato says:

        That sub is so stupid.

      2. Thomas says:

        The bit you got done by was probably this ‘No more than 10% of your reddit account’s submissions may be about a given topic or source, such as about one particular game, content from one particular website, or articles from one particular author.’

        Lots of subreddits have rules stating the you need to make X posts about different content before you can post something from the same series, or that you have to make Y many comments in that subreddit for every X post. That can end up frustrating, but it’s basically to prevent fans of every content producer posting lots to a subreddit without taking part in the community.

        I don’t think the link will not be able to be posted by anyone else, but I’m hazier in that area.

        EDIT: I’ll have a go at it and see what happens.

      3. Shamus says:

        Thanks so much for trying!

        These days, it really seems like external attention is the way to get your video noticed. YT just doesn’t send me traffic the way it used to. (Or there’s so much competition that I can’t get noticed in the deluge.)

        My Fallout video really spread after it hit /Reddit, so I’m always hoping that lightning will strike a second time.

        I guess there’s nothing to do but keep my fingers crossed and keep putting up content.

        Thanks also to anyone else who tried.

        1. Thomas says:

          It’s a pity YouTube doesn’t offer A/B testing for titles. I skimmed a Google search and a couple of third parties offer it, but I’m not sure they do it in a way that makes sense.

          My guess from the Reddit comments is that this title was one step too controversial this time – perhaps ME2 is more widely beloved than Fallout 3.

          Titles are such a minefield. It feels like the people who watched the video liked the actual video. There’s quite a few ‘I love ME2 but you’re right about this’ comments on Reddit and YouTube, which has got to be a home run if you’ve even convinced ME2 fans.

    4. Dotec says:

      I’m not familiar with r/MassEffect, but I wouldn’t be surprised ‘critical videos’ like Shamus’ get barred from entry and can only find homes on their r/freefolk equivalents.

      1. bobbert says:

        Reddit has always creaped. Like, it is some kind of giant hazing ritual.

    5. Grimwear says:

      I managed to find the video posted on the Mass Effect subreddit. And it was downvoted to oblivion. Man I despise reddit. It’s one thing if you post something and people disagree with it but it fosters discussion. But instead it’s always “this guy no like what I like downvote goes brrr”. They don’t watch it, don’t have an opinion on it, just downvote and move on. Thanks for showing up guys.

      1. Thomas says:

        That’s Reddit in a nutshell. It reminds me why my love-hate Reddit addiction is normally more hate than love. You get much more high quality discussions on forums.

        There’s a whole genre of Reddit comment that goes ‘I said this thing which has happened will happen [link to 1 year old comment with 40 downvotes]’

      2. Lino says:

        I managed to find the video posted on the Mass Effect subreddit

        Well, that’s certainly a relief. As for Reddit’s response…. well, honestly I’m not surprised. And I don’t think I can blame them. Long ago, I used to watch Zero Punctuation – for those who don’t know, he’s a game reviewer most famous for his “outrage as performance art”-style game reviews where he’s extremely critical about even the most minor shortcomings of the games he reviews. Even when I was a huge fan of his, I never watched his reviews of games that I liked, because I really, really hate when someone dumps on a game/movie/whatever that I love.

        I like to think that nowadays I’m more mature about these kinds of things. For one, I try not to get into comment wars as often. But I still don’t like reading and watching content that is severely critical of things I like, or of things I know some of my friends and family are really passionate about. I still want to jump in and “correct” people with my “correct” opinion.

        So instead of doing that, I just don’t watch/read it. I think it’s been good for me, but the side effect is that social media makes me feel extremely miserable. With Reddit in particular, I’ve even got numbers to back me up – browsing Popular, on average it takes me 2.5 minutes before I start feeling like shit :(

      3. Gabeed says:

        I frequent the Mass Effect subreddit and am thus in a constant state of self-loathing and frustration.

  11. pseudonym says:

    No epub version? That is unfortunate. But I will happily wait :-).

    Very nice video by the way. Very good title. I enjoyed it. I bet it will get lots of views. Somebody is still playing Mass Effect: more than 19.000 somebodies as of this moment.

    The ending music “Protons” is very nice too. Is that one of your newer tracks? It sounds very polished.

    You could also say your video is adequately timed. Now everybody just finished the remaster and is throbbing with rage and looking for justice on youtube again ;-).

  12. Rho says:

    I believe one ought be able to improve on bad writing, and it occurred time a vast improvement on ME2 would be if it simply began on the mystery resurrection lab. Shepherd wakes up, but like player has no idea what is going on. Then instead of being handed the Normandy 2 you assemble you squad with a less cool, but still pretty good ship. When meeting old allies, they should all doubt, deny, or reassure you that you are Shepherd. The player can wonder about it themselves. Did they really survive the disastrous battle with the Collectors, or are they really a manipulated clone, etc?

    Basically, this setup transforms the external quest to stop the Reapers into a personal one to reclaim identity, place and meaning.

    1. pseudonym says:

      I believe the desire of the writers to have Shepard away from his crew for 2 years was a good decision. It allowed characters such as Tali and Garrus independent growth. This was good for them, and it made them more interesting.

      How it was handled however was very bad. Letting Shepard be dead for two years. I think it would have been much better if they took a lesson from history. Governments don’t like it when their heroes die, so they are often recalled from active duty. Shepard saved the known fricking universe at this point, so there is ample justification to give him some safe job: ‘Head of training new N7 recruits’. Boom: Shepard is in a safe place. The tutorial mission: Shephard shows recruits the ropes, and announces what he is doing and why over the radio, before he actually does it. This way Shepard does not only train the recruits, but also the player.

      Between trainings Shepard can call his old crewmates to get what they are up to. Great moments for roleplaying. Is Shepard frustrated that he is in this place? Resignation? Anger?

      From here Shepard has to escape his current situation in order to do something about the reapers without Alliance approval. That sounds very doable with the allies he has: The Council (that he saved, or helped instate, either way, they owe him and he is still a spectre!).

      There are a 100 ways of handling this. I find it so strange they took such a terrible approach in ME2.

      1. bobbert says:

        I don’t know why, but I sort of imagine n7 training duty looking a lot like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.

    2. RFS-81 says:

      I want to play that game!

    3. Sartharina says:

      I think that would be miserable and overly-convoluted. The intro we got was fine aside from the lack of a “He’s also our best shot against the Reapers as well as excellent PR”.

      What should have happened is the council shouldn’t have been so dismissive of the Reaper threat – they should have been “We know, and we have our too guy and newest Human Spectre picking up where your death was left off. Please continue following the Collector lead with Cerberus – and keep an eye on them. We’ll let you know if Kai Leng needs help on his leads, and vice-versa” It’s kinda hard to be in open conflict with the guys who gave you your life, guns, crew, ship, and direction for your mission. Not working with Cerberus is as stupid as sabotaging Project Purity to stop Colonel Autumn in Fallout 3. We also could have established Kai Leng earlier as someone comparably competent as Shepard.

      1. Rho says:

        Sure but the author hadn’t invented Kai Leng yet. The advantage is that doing ME2 this way *doesn’t* require any substantial changes, just a little dialogue update. But discovering that Shep was dead retroactively affects how the player character views him/her- self, without just borrowing twists from older Bioware games.

  13. Philadelphus says:

    the second game erases that idea and once again has everyone believing that the Reapers are a myth and acting like the attack never took place.

    Feel free to delete this if it transgresses the no-politics rule, but I suddenly find this depressingly more believable than I would have a few short years ago.

    1. Thomas says:

      I’m ready to take that one as a fundamental aspect of human nature. There’s all those cases where close calls with hurricanes made people _less_ prepared for a hurricane in the future.

      ME2 takes it way too far though, as the game admits, they’re still cleaning up buts of Sovereign from the citadel! Sure no-one but Shepherd actually saw any evidence that Sovereign wasn’t just a very large ship, but you’d expect a faction of ‘Reaper true believers’.

      I do think the fact that Shepherd ‘died’ a couple of weeks after the attack helped. That would leave Anderson and the Normandy crew as the only people who even knew about Reapers. And maybe the council

      1. Shufflecat says:

        IIRC it’s established several times throughout the series that even “dead” fragments of Reaper tech emit an indoctrination field, so after getting shotgunned with debris from Sovereign, the wards should have been been pockmarked with Reaper cults.

    2. Trevor says:

      I’m not an admin on the site or anything, but I don’t think this transgresses the “no-politics” rule. After all, this phenomenon of people being willing to handwave an existential threat is the core of the conflict in Jaws. The economics of the beachfront community mean that it’s easier for everyone to just ignore the shark threat and declare victory when the shark hunters pull the first shark out of the water.

      The problem is that ME2 (or ME1) hasn’t really prepared us for who would be the Reaper skeptics. The town of Amity depends on summer tourism dollars to function. It’s easier for the Mayor to pretend everything is fine so the money keeps flowing in. You understand his motivation even if (as the movie shows) he’s wrong. In the world of Mass Effect, the game needed to argue why the Council might be focused on some other thing and so it’s in their interest to ignore the Reaper threat or say that “Well, sure the Reapers were a threat, but Sovereign was their only card to play and Shepard stopped that, so we’re all good now.” Instead the Council ignores the Reapers, ignores the Collectors, and kind of… does nothing? You have no idea what their motivation is at all and so this denial of the existential threat doesn’t work as well as it does with the Mayor in Jaws

      1. Syal says:

        The Mayor is also a small town figure, not the leaders of nations, and the shark is a freak of biology, not a weapon capable of mass-production. You expect the leaders of nations to be very concerned about mass-produced weapons in hostile hands, even if their answer is “there’s nothing we can do about it.”

      2. Tom says:

        The denial of the existential threat probably also doesn’t work as well in ME2 as it does in Jaws because (notoriously, due to mechanical problems with the shark prop), the lurking, distant, ominous adversary isn’t constantly in the dead centre of the screen, fully lit and in full view, repeatedly spouting the same two or three cheesy combat taunts in the audience’s face in a rather sad “look at me, I’m scary!” 1950s B-movie sort of way, being ultimately swatted out of the way in combat every time, for the entire duration of the experience. “Harbinger,” on the other hand…

        1. Tom says:


          Every time the shark actually has a scene in Jaws prior to its ultimate defeat, several important things happen: 1) either someone outright dies, or you’re left with the unshakable feeling that they just barely made it out of there alive, 2) it never shows a hint of weakness, 3) you never get a good look at it, but 4) you have this palpable sense that it’s definitely out there, and just maybe awfully close by, and 5) despite this, you’re not quite entirely sure if it actually was the shark at all – even if it’s there, maybe it didn’t actually do what you think you just saw it do.

          ME2 achieves none of these.

    3. Dreadjaws says:

      I mean, sure, there are always going to be deniers; it has happened for every tragedy that has occurred in history, but they’re always a vocal minority. They’re certainly not the overwhelming majority, as it happened in ME2. Granted, this sort of story is possible. Harry Potter does it, for example, when the Dark Lord makes a return and the majority of people don’t believe it because the government tries to paint the hero as a liar, and it does it out of cowardly and a refusal to believe their comfortable life could be in danger.

      The difference there is that there’s literally only one witness to the event and there’s all the strength of the government trying to deny it. At the end of ME1 there’s a major battle in the entire galaxy’s nexus. There’s absolutely no excuse for this stuff to be not believed, let alone be kept a secret.

      1. Thomas says:

        There’s only a small handful of witnesses that it was Reapers though, and not just Geth

      2. Trevor says:

        Agreed. There would have to be something major to deflect the attention of the Council because – unlike the Ministry of Magic – they are portrayed in ME1 as largely competent. I’m sure there exist examples, but I can’t think of too many governments in video games that are portrayed as more competent than the Council in ME1.

        My thought has been that there should have been some kind of war in ME2 that demanded a ton of the galactic resources. The Council would need something to distract them since the large scale denial wouldn’t work. A war, or something similar, would be an immediate threat that would make it so that Shepard couldn’t keep going on the path the end of ME1 lays out for him. The Alliance would want the Normandy 1.0 to go fight in this war and would really rather not give it to Shepard to pursue his Reaper obsession (and you could have someone in the Alliance military suggest that “maybe it was just Sovereign and that’s the end of it”). Then TIM could come along and say to Shepard “Hey, I believe you and I heard you need a ship…”

  14. Zaxares says:

    Hmm, I don’t know if I would agree with your assessment of what constitutes Cosmic Horror. For instance, take “Cthulhu stories generally feature death cults where people worship the old gods, even though those gods seek to eradicate humanity.” In truth, with the exception of a few Great Old Ones (especially Nyarlathotep, who seems to have some kind of malicious interest in guiding humanity to its own self-destruction), most of the Great Old Ones are actually apathetic towards humanity, at best. For me, the key concept behind Cosmic Horror literature and gaming is instead the slowly dawning realization that humanity is but a tiny, insignificant speck in the Universe, like a spark that jumps away from a campfire and is gone before we can even blink. We think ourselves mighty masters of our own fate, but the truth is that the Universe is so much bigger, so much older, and filled with beings of such absolute and incomprehensible power that they take no more notice of us than we do the ants crawling under our feet when we walk down the street. One day, when the Great Old Ones arise and the Earth is destroyed, it is not because of malice or cruelty that the Great Old Ones strike us down, but more like Earth was an ant’s nest that the Great Old Ones paved over to make a parking lot for a new mall. We didn’t merit any consideration, didn’t even factor into their calculations at all.

    So the cults worshiping Cthulhu or Hastur and trying to gain their favour or attention, are ultimately engaging in futile behaviour. They engage in self-destruction and hasten their own demise, but the being they are trying to placate or appease is so far beyond them that it merits maybe only a perfunctory glance. That, I feel, is the ultimate draw and fear behind Cosmic Horror; that we don’t matter. Nothing we do matters, will EVER matter. One day we will be gone, and the Universe will not even notice that we were even here at all.

  15. Smosh says:

    I have an admission to make.

    I never played ME2 3. I sometimes pretend I did, because I saw so much of it via youtube and some weirdo’s blog posts about it, just so I can take part of the conversation.

    I played ME1, and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t a spectacular experience, but it was solid. Great writing for a video game, you could say. Game mechanics that weren’t terrible, but nobody plays ME1 for how great the shooting feels. I was a little lukewarm on parts of it, but I did finish it, and I was looking forward to where the story was going. I was definitely on board.

    Then ME2 came out, and – like it was fairly common at the time – I pirated a copy due to lack of funds. This is important. If I had paid money, I would probably have finished it. But I was unburdened by buyer’s remorse. Guess how far I got? I didn’t make it past the extended tutorial. Seeing the Normandy get destroyed put my suspension of disbelief into the ICU. Resurrecting Shepard dropped a nuke onto the hospital. I quit somewhere between “A bloody icon” and TMI being a complete idiot while my dialog wheel got replaced with a meme version of it (where all the options say the same). Having lost the need to see where the story was going, I closed the game, and deleted it.

    All the great moments and characters? I missed out on those, because the intro to ME2 is the worst intro in all of gaming, period. It took a while, but I’m glad someone agrees.

    1. Henson says:

      I occasionally attempt to once again play through both ME1 & 2 in sequence. The first half-hour of ME2 still infuriates me every time I get to it, even after all these years.

      1. Daimbert says:

        This seems to be more common than people might expect, because my first exposure to the series was with ME2, when a friend recommended the series but ME1 wasn’t available anymore. So I started playing it, got at least part way through the tutorial, and then quit and never picked it up again. I only played ME2 in full later when I got the entire trilogy for PS3 and had finished ME1 first, and so was on a mission to finish the entire trilogy. So that intro seems to be pretty problematic, even for people not coming from ME1.

    2. Philadelphus says:

      My entire experience of the Mass Effect series comes from when I, with a fresh new Steam account looking for new games to add to it, downloaded the demo for Mass Effect 2, played maybe half an hour, and went “Eh, not for me.” That hasn’t stopped me from reading every one of Shamus’ posts about it.

    3. Shufflecat says:

      I’ve played ME1 to completion 3 times, and tried unsuccessfully to play ME2 to completion 3 times.

      After the first 2 times, I thought it was the forced tedium of planet scanning that was burning me out on ME2 before I could finish, but on the 3rd try I used a mod to trivialize/remove planet scanning, and realized that wasn’t it.

      I always peter out at the same point in the game: right around when the crew gets kidnapped. My last attempted playthrough I realized it’s because at that point I’ve completed all the squad character story content, so the only thing left is the last 1/4 or whatever of the main story missions.

      The main story is inane. Even on my first time playing ME2, I basically zoned out through the opening missions ’till I was in command of the Normandy again, because I just did not buy for one goddamn second any of this shite about Shepherd being killed and immediately resurrected (unearned drama) or being even remotely cool with working either with or for Cerberus (No. Fuck you. Shoot Miranda, Ignore TIM’s call, bail in a shuttle and nuke the station behind you: that’s the level of cooperation Cerberus warrants). The game does get better after that, (well, the non-main plot parts) but I can understand how someone familiar with the first game might ragequit after the intro missions if they weren’t otherwise invested.

  16. Silverwing says:

    Ah well. I really wanted to buy a paperback version but I kinda forgot (GoT snarky reference unintended) the additional price of shipment across half the planet will make it rather steep. I still want it though, I will just have to wait until I actually order something else from US and then have it delivered together.

    As for the ME2 Weirdness topic, it is fascinating to me how ME2 did the same mistake as Final Fantasy X-2 in that the really important things (both plot and character-wise) are optional and potentionally missable altogether while the much less interesting B plot is constantly taking screen time and is shown as mandatory no matter how silly it gets (looking at you, Yuna selling tickets to NPCs for a concert held by mentally challenged moogle cosplayer – and a Big Terminator Fight!)

    You would think FFX-2 would focus more on machina equivalent of Sin, lurking in Spira underground, or on new leadership who might be controlled by pyreflies of a millenia-old vengeful spirit who has recently escaped Farplane (who also wants to steal and control the said machina to end Spira permanently, and who is Tidus look alike). But no. Let’s play dress ups and sell tickets to a lame concert, and that important stuff I mentioned earlier? Optional cutscenes in case players step on the bridge leading to Bevelle during the time there is no active quest whatsoever, or visiting a sealed a cave which you can only enter with ten magic spheres scattered randomly throughout a story without any hint of just how important they are.

    ME2 has a similar problem, where events of Arrival and Leviathan should have been parts of main quest (because they elaborate on main villains’ new attempt to reach Milky Way and their origin story, respectively) but instead they are both DLC, while the main campaign is a battle with space invaders in their homeworld (something that would be more fitting as a huge DLC side story with brand new enemies to shoot).

    I have no idea what happened to either of the creative teams. It is like they thought the the main plot was such pure gold it had to be carefully hidden so that only those who walked an extra mile or paid extra cash would be able to witness it, and everyone else got the BS excuse B plot instead.

    Oops, that sounded more bitter than intended. It’s just really strange and disappointing in both cases.

  17. Henson says:

    Mass Effect 2 should have been Mass Effect: Subtitle, starring Garrus Vakarian.

    1. Tom says:

      Given one noticeably common theme shared by damned near all of the much-lauded companion side quests in ME2, my preferred alternative title was always “Daddy Issues IN SPAAAACE!”

      The loyalty missions for Jacob, Miranda, Thane, Samara, Jack, and Grunt are all built entirely upon very slight variations on the theme of parental abandonment. They also shoehorned two of the three major returning characters from ME1 into that same template, for good measure: Tali’s relationship with / perception of her father is explored part of her loyalty mission, and we just so happen to bump into Liara’s “paternal” mother tending a bar where she can keep an eye on her offspring, and have an in-depth conversation with her about that, as well.

      Granted, dialogue in ME1 had already alluded to similar themes with a couple of characters (notably Wrex & Ashley’s backstories), and Liara’s estranged relationship with her “maternal” mother is another plot point, but these were secondary or tertiary elements of their characters at most; they were also fleshed out in multiple other ways. ME2, by comparison, just went completely monomaniacal, and seemed to make “relationship-with-parent” pretty much the only characterisation any of the aforementioned companions got. Only Garrus & Legion manage to escape this treatment (even then, only barely; IIRC, you get glimpses of Garrus’ strained relations with the rest of his family whilst snooping on his emails at the end of the Shadow Broker DLC), and Legion scarcely counts as a counterexample because the parent-child relationship is effectively a non-concept for him*; ironically, exploring the implications of that on his development as an independent entity would probably have made for a really interesting dialogue! Kaidan & Ashley only have absurdly brief cameo appearances, so they don’t count as counterexamples either.

      *So this constitutes yet further evidence, as if we needed any more, that Garrus will forever remain the best character in the entire franchise.

      1. Tom says:

        EDIT: Somehow, I completely forgot about Mordin, who also somehow entirely escaped the Daddy Issues motif*, and whom most seem to regard as the only other companion who could give Garrus a run for his money as the most beloved character in all of the Mass Effect series. Coincidence?

        *and he still might also not count as a counterexample, because Salarian mating & child-rearing practices are heavily implied to be rather impersonal, perfunctory and reptilian, so it may be a total non-concept for them too!

      2. Also Tom says:

        Minor nitpick: both DLC characters–Kasumi and Zaeed–also managed to avoid being hit with the parental abandonment stick.

        1. Tom says:

          Ah, I should perhaps have clarified there – I know DLC is de rigeur these days, but I’m old-school and prefer to judge a game in its as-released state. If it’s an integral part of the experience, then it shouldn’t be DLC, or else you’re effectively just selling people an incomplete product and then expecting them to pay more than the advertised price to get the rest of it.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      I heard there was a plan to release a spin-off, called Mass Effect: Vakarian, but there were a lot of bugs…in the end the project needed too many calibrations to go through with.

  18. Karthik says:

    Is there a DRM-free version of the ebook I can purchase? I don’t own a Kindle or use the Kindle app, and would like to read it on my E-reader.

    1. Shamus says:

      It’s in the works.

      1. Karthik says:

        That’s good to know.

        BTW Shamus, I was reading the preview on and I think the canonical pronunciation of Nilus is Nihlus, at least according to the game’s subtitles.

  19. The Big Brzezinski says:

    Mass Effect LE has created fresh hell for me, even though I’m not interested in playing it. Most of my favorite streamers are either trying it again or for the first time in an atmosphere of acute spoiler-phobia. I have to sit there and make only the most banal comments. Instead of coming along for a journey, I’m sitting and waiting for us to reach the destination so I can finally talk. It’s no fun, and it’s no way to watch a stream.

    1. ivan says:

      Yeah I’ve had that experience a bit. A streamer who’s said she’s played the series more than 10 times is streaming it again, now, and no one’s allowed to talk about anything. I had to sit and watch the scene with the Rachni Queen (ME1) play out, without being able to make any comments at all about how shittily that choice is treated in 3. How meaningless 3 makes it. Sad times, because that is something worth saying, and it’s something best said as it’s experienced in 1, not as it’s ruined in 3.

  20. The Rocketeer says:

    I never deny the possibility that I’m being dense, and I’ve never claimed to have my finger on the pulse of the greater gaming zeitgeist, but… is it actually the conventional wisdom that Mass Effect was basically intact as a series right up until Star Child tells it how it is? Are the non-obvious structural flaws in ME2 not obvious because they’re hiding behind the glaringly obvious structural flaws in ME2?

    I don’t share Shamus’ assumption that disliking a game is reasonably upsetting to people that like it, unless you’re tacitly acknowledging a fanatical thin-skinnedness among that group. So I don’t mind confessing confusion that ME2 isn’t the premier infamy of the series. From being instantly killed and resurrected as a cyborg slave of an incompetent arch-villainous human supremacist terrorist organization to the continuing debasement of every galactic institution other than bloody icon Shepard & harem to the embarrassing simpleton’s chess championship versus the Collectors all the way to the revelation of the giant space Terminator of digitized human corpse slurry, rationalizing ME2 as anything but a dirty bomb rendering the immediate vicinity of the franchise effectively uninhabitable is the only call obvious to me.

    I also don’t feel it necessary at all to hem and haw about the “good parts” of ME2, due to the structure of the game. In a brilliant, forward-thinking nod to the material necessities of our own likely near-future in space, ME2 features a modular, plug-and-play construction in which a series of self-contained plot elements can be simply slotted in with no actual meaningful connection to the larger events of the game (and are often at their worst when directly alluding to the main plot), and by that same virtue could be effortlessly yanked out and slotted into something totally different. There is no conflict or reluctance at all in slagging ME2 for its narrative and franchise level problems, because there is no actual identifiable tradeoff or symbiosis between these elements and, if we’re being frank, the four pages (double-spaced) of hermetically-sealed character writing that isn’t fucking embarrassing.

    I want to emphasize that I’m focusing here on franchise-level problems, problems created by but extending farther out from this single entry, foreclosing and corrupting better and more interesting components and possibilities while digging a deep mass grave for past and future entries to try and fail to claw their way out of. It shouldn’t be glossed over that ME2 also looked and played like complete shit, but those are problems much more easily quarantined and in fact I did enjoy ME3’s gamely much more.

    But it was that larger franchise-level dereliction, not only failing to establish but energetically cleaving and cautetizing any possible route to a sensible or satisfying conclusion that made the road ahead all but certain. There was no safer call between the releases of ME2 and ME3 than that the latter would be a tonally-nauseating marvel that would attempt to somersault from the necropolis of ME2’s status quo with an eye-watering Hail Mary pass to the end zone of raw, dripping contrivance. Although ME3 still deserves considerable and particular blame for the debauched specifics of its frenzied flight from nowhere to nowhere else, I am actually somewhat inclined to relative charity to ME3, as I never foresaw any possibility of a meaningful escape from the hopeless task that ME2 had thrust upon it. When Dorian Gray withers into a broken husk at the moment of his suicide, we understand that the knife is only the proximal cause of his transformation, and that the real tragedy of his life was his decades of debauched prodigality. Likewise, while not at all glorious in itself, a casual survey of the landscape makes clear that the great sense of loss after ME3 was not because it had “killed” Mass Effect but that it had at last foreclosed any doubts that Mass Effect had been dead for years and was possibly stillborn.

    But Shamus suggests that this is… NOT the consensus, uncomplicated, baseline appraisal of Mass Effect 2’s place in the series, and that is… truly awesome. Again and again each day I am delighted and humbled by the irreducible vastness of the human experience, and my dedication and conviction to the saving necessities of compassion, gratitude, respect and charity for the diversity and dignity of human life is never wanting reinforcement.

    1. Tetsubara Kaori says:

      It is the conventional wisdom. Many people consider ME2 and 3 to be masterpieces. With the Legendary Edition out, I’ve seen many posts from people saying they’ve never played the series, and they always get a ton of replies saying things like “I’m so jealous of you” and “Mass Effect is one of the best gaming experiences” etc.

    2. Coming Second says:

      ME2 didn’t look like complete shit, certainly not relative to ME1. I would argue that its glossiness and cinematography was key to its success.

      As far as playing like shit is concerned, it’s aged probably the worst of all three games, but that third person cover shooter was the zeitgeist a decade ago, and at the time the consensus was that it was better than ME1’s awkward fusion of RPG and cover shooting elements.

  21. MikailBorg says:

    Bug report: I cannot get the footnote links to work in Kindle for macOS or for iOS.

    Otherwise, once again enjoying my journey through your thoughts about the overarching story failures of the game. I think there are lessons here for any writer.

    1. Liessa says:

      Same problem here with the footnotes, both on the Android app and Kindle Cloud Reader for Windows desktop.

      1. fungus says:

        They don’t work on Kindle Oasis either.
        I have tried looking around, but I don’t see anything that even could be footnotes in the text – usually they are in separate chapter or at the end of any given one.

        1. Shamus says:

          Shit. So the only place they work is on the platforms I used for testing.

          I don’t even know what to do about this.

          1. Attercap says:

            I’m on Kindle Fire and have the same issue with footnotes not working.

            This thread is a year old but might have some insight…

          2. fungus says:

            If you need any details or help with testing, let us know.

            I have tested on iPhone 12, iOS 14.5.1, Kindle app, and on Kindle Oasis with firmware 5.13.5.
            I also purchased from in case the region matters.

            Fingers crossed that you’ll find a solution!

          3. Liessa says:

            What is supposed to happen when you click/tap on a footnote? Should it appear as pop-up text, or take you to a link somewhere else in the document? Right now they’re just not reacting at all.

            1. Shamus says:

              It’s supposed to do a pop-up.

              And it’s not like this is something I have control over. I just feed it a book with footnotes and the resulting ebook just automagically does the popups. There aren’t even any settings for me to adjust on my end.

              Is this a client platform limitation? An Amazon platform limitation? A conversion problem?

              I dunno.

              1. fungus says:

                I’d guess it’s a conversion problem. I don’t think kindle really does pop-ups, so probably the conversion just isn’t right. But I am neither an expert nor do I know the details of the process.
                Google only shows

                1. Shamus says:

                  I’ve made an epub version. Works on my test equipment.

                  But I don’t want to push it live and break things for people and there’s no good way to test.

                  Damn it. My book needs something like steam Early Access. Or at least a beta program.

                  1. RFS-81 says:

                    Can’t you just put it up at some “secret” URL? It won’t do any harm if you were going to make it “pay what you want” anyway, right? I have a non-Amazon e-reader that I can test it on.

                    About the Kindle version, is there some automated way to put the footnote text at the end of each chapter and make the footnotes link there? That’s how other books I have on my Kindle handle footnotes.

                    1. Shamus says:

                      Can I email you at the email used in your comment? I’ll send you the download link.

                      Anyone else want in on this test? Just reply to this comment and say so.

                    2. Lino says:

                      I could test it, too. I have a Kobo Clara, if that makes any difference.

                    3. RFS-81 says:

                      @Shamus Yes, you can use that email!

                    4. Attercap says:

                      I can test on my Kindle Fire and Android if you need more eyes.

                    5. pseudonym says:

                      I found 9 epub reading apps on F-Droid (free/libre software android apk repository and install client). I can check these out and check which are also available on the google play store. I can report back to you the ones which are pleasant to use and work with your book. If you are interested of course. This is a bit of a niche.

                    6. fungus says:

                      I can test on my Kindle Oasis.

                      Though I wonder how representative that is, I suspect manually uploading a file and getting a book from Amazon services might not be the same thing. Beta tests for book releases, it’s great living in the future ;)

    2. Aevylmar says:

      I’m having this problem on Kindle for iOS, the same as everyone else.

    3. RFS-81 says:

      On my old keyboard Kindle, I can see the footnotes, but I can’t click on them. They look like they should be a link, but I can’t move the cursor on them to actually select them. The footnote text is all displayed in a giant blob at the very end of the book.

      That might just be a limitation of the device, maybe my Kindle doesn’t do pop-ups.

  22. MarWes says:

    The thing that gets me about Mass Effect 2, is that the underlying structure of its plot could very easily serve as a proper continuation of the quest for knowledge that was set up by Mass Effect 1.

    Consider, Shepard needs to find out more about the Reapers and how to stop them. With limited knowledge of what to expect, recruiting a team of not only badass warriors, but also experts of various disciplines, would probably be a good idea, because it makes it more likely that the team is able to prepare for whatever challenge they may end up facing. Consider Mordin and his countermeasure for the Collector’s mass-paralysis; yes, the way it actually plays out is somewhat contrived (Mordin finds a Collector bug and develops a countermeasure entirely off-screen?) but the concept by itself is pretty solid, Shepard recruiting a new team member with a very particular set of skills, and being rewarded for it by said team member making an important contribution towards overcoming a challenge.

    You wouldn’t need to do this for each and every team member, that would probably seem a little contrived, but have a few major members of the team make such contributions, tied to their particular set of skills, at vital points in the story. Not only could such moments serve as strong character moments for said team members, but if the initial recruitment was also portrayed as having been done on Shepard’s initiative (rather than at the behest of TIM), then Shepard suddenly comes across as a proactive and resourceful protagonist, an actual Commander with agency who tries to stay two steps head.

    You could largely keep the underlying structure of the plot of Mass Effect 2 intact, and just reframe it as “Shepard is being proactive, recruiting various experts and badasses for the purpose of hunting down leads on the Reapers”. Then, have it all culminate in the Suicide Mission, but let it be a mission to find a weapon/knowledge that could help the galaxy against the Reapers. We could keep the Mass Effect 2 we already know, with its recruitment of a large team, loyalty missions, and Suicide Mission; all you need to do is to recontextualize it and drop Cerberus from the picture.

    1. Richard says:


      ME2 had good sidequests, great character development quests, really enjoyable gunplay and… an utterly abysmal opening, ‘main’ storyline and ending.

      1. Tom says:

        I partially disagree; aside from the memorable exceptions of Mordin, Legion and Garrus, ME2 had basically only one other character development quest, retold in six variations of “resolve troubled relationship with parental figure.”

        It’s not so much a case of “see one, and you’ve seen ’em all,” as “see ’em all, and it feels like you’ve seen one.”

    2. MarWes says:

      Just to give an example of how I envision it, let’s consider indoctrination. Shepard would know from Saren that indoctrination is a powerful weapon of the Reapers, and it would be naive to undertake a quest to stop the Reapers and entirely ignore the threat of indoctrination. Finding a way to counteract it should be an important consideration for Shepard and crew.

      So, let’s have Shepard recruit a scientist team member (who coincidentally also happens to be proficient with guns/biotics), for the express purpose of researching and finding a way to counteract indoctrination. Maybe the scientist is on the Citadel, already studying the fallout of Sovereign’s attack. Shepard’s dialogue tree with the scientist is focused on what happened to Saren, Saren’s research, and making sure that they don’t fall into the same trap as Saren did themselves.
      Let’s say that the mission to investigate the Derelict Reaper still exists in some capacity. During the mission, the early stages of indoctrination are starting to take root, which threatens an unknowing Shepard and the crew, but the scientist recognizes it and finds a way, not to counteract it permanently (we don’t want to take away the threat of indoctrination entirely, after all), but to at least negate it for a time, saving everyone.

      Not only would this serve as a strong character moment for said scientist team member; it would also serve to validate Shepard as a proactive protagonist, who is actively taking steps to combat the Reapers and acting on knowledge acquired in Mass Effect 1. Instead of forgetting about Saren, Shepard actually learned a lesson from him.

  23. Leipävelho says:

    Will the book be available from somewhere that is not Amazon?

    1. Shamus says:

      The plan is that it’ll be available here on my site as “pay what you want” for a DRM-free PBUB. (And maybe as PDF?)

      1. TactfulCactus says:

        PDF sounds good. :)

  24. Joe says:

    Speaking of Mass Effect, is Bob Case/MrBTongue’s hypothetical ME4 series over and done with?

  25. Poobles says:

    After watching the video I had a thought about how to fix the game while keeping most of it the same, I came up with this:
    1. Change the intro, have a captains log explaining the Normandy is hunting a Prothean MacGuffin that could be used against the reapers (the crucible), but when they show up the collectors appear and destroy the Normandy but have Shepard survive and be forced to explain how he lost the ship on a wild goose chase and started a war with a dangerous new enemy. Have them revoke Shepard’s SPECTRE status and imprison Shep.
    2. Opening mission is Cerberus jailbreaking Shep and then Illusive Man explaining that he is the only one taking the Reapers and the Collector threats seriously, you are forced to make a deal with the devil. Or willingly take the deal if you are renegade.
    3. Collectors aren’t Prothean, but an older race who discovered the Reapers won’t go near the galactic core, so they hide out there and sometimes pop out to steal tech or people who they think can help them destroy the Reapers. Their motives for abducting human colonies is because they discovered a potential resistance to indoctrination in humans and want to harvest humanity and turn them into genetic paste to enhance themselves. End boss is a Human/Collector hybrid guy and not a stupid skele-reaper thing.
    4. Ditch Jacob, replace with Kei Leng make him the only one capable of always surviving the suicide mission. Have him be the renegade advocate on the ship, build a begrudging respect for Shep or hatred for Shep through the game.
    5. At the end return to Earth with the plans for the MacGuffin and a potential “safe haven” to set up ME3

    1. bobbert says:

      That sounds like a fun game.

    2. Zekiel says:

      I mean, I see the sense in it, but I don’t think I can get behind adding MORE Kai Leng into Mass Effect…

      1. Poobles says:

        I think the problem with Kai Leng is he just shows up and has plot armour, making him an annoying/bad character. I figure having him be an ally in 2 would fix that somewhat.

        1. bobbert says:

          Also, him being an ally means you can take his space-pants away watch him die a lot.

        2. Cohasset says:

          The problem with Kai Leng is that Shepard acts stupid in his presence so that Kai Leng can seem really awesome and cool. It would have been better for the story if Kai Leng was either also in 2 or Shepard encountered him between 2 and 3 while he was still with Cerberus so there would already be this conflict between them by the time of 3 instead of Kai Leng just being thrown at the player with Shepard acting against what the player wants to do the entire time.

          Also your suggestions for the second game would have likely made a far better game than what was delivered as it would answer some of the questions the player has of why Shepard goes along with all the nonsense of 2.

    3. john says:

      I really like this. It keeps the same structure as ME1, but gives us a new threat with the Collectors. They’re creepy and unknown, like the Reapers were, but they don’t eclipse or replace the previous threat. The Reapers keep their prominence in the plot without becoming boring or over-exposed. Cerberus and Kai Leng are less intrusive.

      One thing I’d add is that the Normandy-2 here isn’t a Cerberus project, but an Alliance one. Cerberus steals it, using human supremacists and Shepard sympathizers to open holes in security for Shepard to act. Maybe this comes halfway through the game, with your loaner ship simply not up to the task, and your Paragon Shepard reluctantly conceding that the stakes really are that high (Your Renegade Shepard is all over this shit). Hell, maybe even make it a preview for the final mission, where you assign whatever teammates you’ve recruited to various tasks, and this determines how much collateral damage you cause to the Alliance. It’s already been established that Cerberus has ties to the Alliance military and political scene; arranging a heist is less crazy than becoming a galactic superpower in a few years.

    4. Coming Second says:

      Only problem with this is Shepard being an out-and-out renegade from the law makes it difficult to justify returning to key locations such as the Citadel. Could be written around, but I’d instead propose:

      The opening scene of ME2 happens exactly as it already does, except Shepard doesn’t die, he’s just badly wounded and is recovered by the Alliance. Whilst he’s out of commission, his enemies in the Council and the Alliance pounce. Anderson/Udina do their best to protect him, but by the time he gets out of hospital his team and crew have been broken up, and absolutely no-one is willing to bequeath him another incredibly expensive cutting edge stealth ship to gallivant around the Terminus with. The Alliance order him to return to them and take up a paper-pushing role.

      He’s still trying to absorb what’s happened when Miranda steps up to him and goes “Hillo there Shipird. I’ve got a proposal for you.”

      It all still involves Cerberus where I would be urgently looking at a way of cutting the elastic band murder-clowns out of the story entirely (maybe by using the Shadow Broker), but it still would make the beginning of ME2 a lot more justifiable.

  26. Gautsu says:

    But we know where it ends. We know how it ends

    With Bioware fucking up the in development Mass Effect 4?

  27. Aevylmar says:

    I feel as if you’re underestimating the role that interwar naval diplomacy (compare the ME1 codex entries on number of battleships permitted to the species with the Washington Naval Treaty; there’s even a 5/5/3 ratio between the Great Powers and the country stuck with 3 designing new super-cruisers because of the battleship limits) had in shaping the setting. When they designed the world, they were very clearly thinking about the ‘balance of powers’ idea that really persisted up until WW2; not a single Galactic Federation, but multiple distinct species, all with their own ideas in how things work, trying to make things work via a League of Nations style setup that usually didn’t work very well. That kind of setting was clearly part of what they were thinking of for ME1, and it sort of… vanished in ME2.

    (Also, my favorite theory for where the post-first-game’s version of Cerberus comes from is that they’d originally planned to make the Systems Alliance the main villains of the series after the Reapers, and EA went with “you’re protecting the aliens from humanity? Um, no” and they had to come up with a new idea double quick.)

    1. bobbert says:

      That sounds really cool. I should have tooled around in the codices more.

    2. Tom says:

      Considering how much else seemed to have been cribbed from Deus Ex by the end of ME3, having the seemingly-benevolent organisation that you originally worked for turn out to just be another flavour of bad guy part-way through, that the rest of the galaxy must then be protected from, would have been pretty consistent with that.

      1. Aevylmar says:

        Eh… you’re working for the Citadel, after the first two episode of ME1. And two-thirds of your crewmates are aliens. But you do *start out* working for the Systems Alliance (er, that’s humanity, right? I did use the right term for that?) before gradually moving to your boss being the Citadel Council.

  28. Sanchay says:

    I like to imagine a series where they basically swap the plots of ME3 with ME2 (which has the bonus of making the Cerberus stuff irrelevant).

    In Mass Effect “3-as-2”, the Reapers start to invade despite your best efforts. (Maybe not a full invasion. But enough to raise the stakes.) You still have to find “the conduit”, an inter generational solution to the reapers. You still have to rescue your allies and resolve some of the politics between them. The game ends when you figure out what the conduit is, after another big reaper battle.

    By Mass Effect “2-as-3”, you realize the conduit is actually a way for you to invert the Reaper invasion: you would have a way to travel to their space while they still sleep. You still need to prepare your suicide mission, which is now truly a suicide mission. You can also reuse the “transponder” subplot where you need to reverse engineer a Reaper to imitate its signal, and avoid detection when you warp your forces to Reaper space. The collector base is now the Reaper HQ. And you get on board the thing and solve the damn problem. Whatever feels satisfying — you fuck up their wake up call, you detonate the base into a wild chain reaction, the conduit is space magic, or you infect them with a computer virus.

    Sure it’s schlocky. But it’s literally using the schlocky plots we have now, just rearranging them so they actually make coherent sense. I raise this not because it’s the best idea (that would require a lot more imagination), but it would be economical use of what we can already see. You could even imagine a fan-mod of ME:LE that does this, by swapping the order, changing Cerberus mooks to indoctrinated aliens (even the Geth are fine enemies), and skipping/deleting any of the Cerberus-related cut scenes (go “in media res” if you have to).

  29. Mr. Wolf says:

    “…arguing about robots with the hologram of a ghost of a ten year old boy. ”

    Six or seven, as I recall. If you don’t think that’s a significant mistake then ask a ten-year-old how they feel about being six, or vice-versa.

  30. Kestrellius says:

    I’ve been gradually building a rewrite of ME2-3 (plus some tweaks to 1) in my head for quite a long time now, and I think my version of ME2 is fairly interesting,

    So it’s some months after the Battle of the Citadel. Nobody is sure whether the Reapers are still coming or not, but the possibility is strong enough that the galactic government has gone all-in on preparation. The Council is throwing embarrassing sums of money at anything that even looks like it might improve the galaxy’s chances of resistance. Massive fleet construction, development of new weapons and technologies, indoctrination research, studying Sovereign’s carcass – you name it. The cost of failure, after all, is extinction. The powers-that-be are taking this very seriously.

    Shepard, meanwhile, has spent the last several months being ruthlessly debriefed by every researcher the Alliance could scrounge up. His brain has been well and truly scraped clean of data concerning Sovereign, the Geth, the Protheans, and anything else unusual that he experienced.

    He wants to get out there again, gather his team. Liara and the Virmire survivor are still around, but Garrus has departed to either join the Spectres or become a vigilante, Tali has returned to the Migrant Fleet, and Wrex is back on Tuchanka. Shepard wants to round them up and head out to study Prothean sites. Learn all he can of the Reapers from those who fought them. Discover, if possible, whether that phantom fleet out in dark space is still active, or if Sovereign’s death has left its brethren to sleep forever.

    But the establishment doesn’t see the point. The Protheans lost, after all. Their last gambit was the deactivation of the Citadel relay, and that’s over and done with. What more can the galaxy expect to learn? And so Shepard is refused, kept in offices and auditoriums to be an inspiration to the masses.

    Then something changes. The teams assigned to study the secret functions of the Citadel have discovered the mechanisms powering the hidden relay. They’ve figured out how to turn it on. They can make absolutely certain that nothing can get to the Citadel from dark space – but there’s more. They think they know how to send something in the opposite direction.

    They’ll send a ship out beyond the galaxy, to the lair of the Reapers. There, it will gather any data it can – ascertain the nature of the Reaper threat. If possible, it will neutralize it. There’s probably a Mass Relay, or something like one, on the other side of the link. The Omega Relay, if you will. If it could be destroyed, the Reapers might well be trapped.

    But that’s a suicide mission.

    Now the calculus has changed, and the powers-that-be reconsider. The Shepard model – assemble a collection of hypercompetent wackos, give them a fancy ship, and send them off to make the problem go away – worked out pretty well last time. Maybe this is just what they need for the dark-space mission. They’ll send Shepard out with the Normandy – let him gather his old friends, and a few more besides. If he wants to look at dusty Prothean stones out in wild space, let him. It’ll give his team a bit of experience in working together. And then they’ll shoot him off to meet the Reapers. If he and his team die, so be it. Compared to some of the other things they’re doing, this will cost nothing at all.

    And so we have our setup. The council establishes new branch of the anti-Reaper project, under the direct command of the asari councilor Tevos. Shepard’s task is to recruit specialists across a broad range of domains, and assemble them into a functioning team – all while studying whatever Prothean sites and relics can be found. When he’s ready, the Normandy will head to the Citadel and make the jump.

    Now we have two metrics established – maybe visible to the player, maybe just running in the background. One is team preparedness. This functions like the loyalty system, though probably a little more granular – tracking the readiness both of individual squadmates and of the party as a whole. You increase preparedness by bringing the team together, and dealing with the individual problems of its members.

    The other metric is ancient knowledge. This is what you obtain by visiting the ruins of civilizations past (many of them, perhaps, behind inactive relays; h/t to ShivanHunter for this notion) and plundering their secrets.

    These two metrics trade off against one another. You can focus all your attention on team preparedness, or on ancient knowledge; you can split the difference, or, if you arrange your playthrough just so, you can maximize them both.

    When you feel you’re ready, you begin the Suicide Mission.

    The Normandy emerges into dark space not far from a Mass Relay. It is not an ordinary one. It is black and skeletal and stark, bathed in the crimson glare of its eezo core. Absent are all the cosmetic niceties that serve to make the relays of the Milky Way palatable to the Reapers’ prey.

    The ship drifts closer, under maximum stealth. The team’s task, if possible, will be to board the Omega Relay, reach the core, and destroy it. As they approach, the squadmates wonder at the stars that shine so brightly around them. Aren’t they beyond the galaxy? Shouldn’t the starlight be dimmer here?

    Joker checks the passive sensors. Those aren’t stars.

    Yes, the Reapers are here – in the hundreds of thousands. But they’re dormant, so far as the sensors can see. Either Sovereign was needed to awaken them, or something else is going on.

    All of this, the team reports to Councilor Tevos. The Normandy is equipped with a quantum entanglement communicator[1] leading straight to the councilor’s office, so as to deliver as much information as possible before the crew’s likely demise.

    The Normandy edges close to the relay, and the team boards. The Omega Relay is totally uninhabitable, of course – its decks, such as they are, exposed to hard vacuum. But with helmets sealed, the party makes its way to the core. There is no resistance. There is no one present at all.

    They reach the core. There are computer systems here. With Tali’s expertise, the team hacks in and begins gathering data. This, they discover, is not the only relay in dark space. There are others, though distant. Shepard attempts to report this to the councilor, but the quantum communicator has stopped working.

    This is supposed to be impossible. You can’t jam a quantum connection. But the team is given little time to think on it.

    Every Reaper in the swarm goes active, and a massive mechanical terror swoops down to land atop the relay.

    It speaks to them. Omen, it calls itself. Reaper war machines emerge from the walls and floors and ceilings, and the team can only stand and listen and do its best to respond as the Reaper batters them with its presence.

    Meanwhile, on the other end of the quantum connection, Councilor Tevos finally answers.

    She was indoctrinated from the beginning, of course. She has been in full communication with the Reaper armada since this mission was first conceived – and, indeed, it was the Reapers who conceived it. Its actual purpose was merely to transport the Normandy, Commander Shepard, and a handful of the most competent individuals in the galaxy into the Reapers’ sphere of influence, so that they could be indoctrinated and set to the true mission for which the councilor has been grooming them: to infiltrate the Citadel, reach the control system, activate the relay, and let the Reapers through.

    That panel is under the highest security. No one, not even a councilor, may access it unattended. Saren tried to use it; he failed. But the great Commander Shepard, Saren’s killer – he, surely, will fare better.

    And so Omen’s indoctrination begins. And if Shepard has come unprepared, then it succeeds. The team falls to Reaper influence. They escort a Reaper machine – intended to interface with the Citadel’s systems – onto the Normandy, massacre the un-indoctrinated crew, and pilot the ship back through the relay link.

    Then they take the Citadel. This occurs in gameplay. You sneak and shoot and hack your way through the Presidium and up the tower, past the best security the galaxy has to offer – but then, you have a team custom-tailored to the task. You reach the control station. The machine works its magic. The gate opens. The Reapers pour through.

    The end.

    But ancient knowledge has its perks. If Shepard has it, he can resist. Enough, and he can break free, and his team with him.

    So you fight your way out, through defense systems and alien machines and the biomechanical remnants of eons-old races. You do what you came to do – set the Omega Relay to explode. It is not easy. If you sacrificed your team’s preparation for the knowledge you wield, then many die.

    But alongside whoever is left by the time you reach the Normandy, you beat back the Reapers’ interface machine, get aboard your ship, and blast yourself back toward the Citadel just as the Omega Relay detonates.

    The Reapers, you know, will be coming. The next closest relay is many light-years away, but even under their own power, the Reapers are fast. You estimate their speed. You calculate the time.

    They will reach the galaxy in nineteen months.


    Some time later, the Normandy drops out of FTL. It is nowhere near the Citadel, and it is heavily damaged. Being inside a relay’s mass-effect corridor when it explodes, it transpires, is not good for one’s health.

    The damage is critical. The Normandy is dying, and so is her crew. Without aid, no one aboard will survive. But in the distance, a ship appears.

    It is geth.


    [1] Which as I understand it is not actually a thing that can happen, by the way, but whatever.


    Kestre, you motherfucker, what part of “brief overview” do you not understand? This always happens! Look at this shit! You’ve written a goddamn fanfic in the comments section!

    Ah, well.


    By the way, ShivanHunter, if you’re reading this – you should totally come back and hang out with us at HLP. There’s been a ton of cool stuff happening. There was this huge burst of MediaVPs activity in 2020 – we got new models for all four of the Terran and Shivan destroyers, plus a whole bunch of other ships, and I’m talking really nice models. Plus there’ve been new campaigns, new remastered cutscenes, some new music, tons of new SCP features… It’s good stuff. You should come check it out.

    1. bobbert says:

      I like the image of Shepard being thoroughly sick of brain-probing.

      ‘The Hypercompetent Wackos’ is, also, a great title for his unit. :)

    2. Daniil Adamov says:

      For what it’s worth, I really liked it. Obviously you would need some opposition for the pre-suicide mission missions. Maybe a Reaper cult or something, in addition to the usual mercs? Oh, and Cerberus. Set some plot threads up for the good ending sequel.

      I also wonder how the trade-off between preparedness and knowledge would work. Some of it would presumably just come from completing every quest, but it would be interesting to have some actual trade-offs – you can help a teammate resolve a problem for good or chase after a rare opportunity to learn more, say. Might even be a good way to work in a much smaller-scale collaboration with Cerberus – you COULD choose to work with them and learn what they know at the cost of team tension, or you could help one of your new allies get revenge on them instead. But it’d be your choice.

  31. DWeird says:

    ME1 is my favorite, but I think the case may be somewhat overstated as to how poor ME2 is as part of the overall structure.

    In terms of the three-act, it does pretty well as the lowest midpoint – you lose autonomy, authority, and even your friends think you’re kind of suspicious now. The want to get it all back so as to get back to solving the Big Problem of Reapers was very real, and works pretty dang well with the RPG-with-companions formula.

    I’m also seeing a major structural issue with the major proposed alternative. Say we keep explorer-Shephard, we dive around for secrets using the full capabilities of our team and past experiences. Assuming we want a third game in which the Big Problem of Reapers is actually resolved, we can’t actually do it in the second game. So, under this, we’re stuck with Shephard either doing bubkus in the grand scheme of things despite having every capacity to do get things done, or resolving the main conflict of the series in the second instalment of three.

    They instead chose to have Shephard doing bubkus after having lost every capacity to get things done, which is pretty alright as far as solutions go. It’d be neat if the “after” in the last sentence was a “because of”, but I’m willing to chalk that up at least partially to the inherent difficulties the medium has with protagonists failing on screen.

    1. Gethsemani says:

      The third solution is to introduce a major hurdle that Shepard must overcome in order to uncover the secrets of the Reapers. Maybe Shepard finds out that an important precursor ruin is located right on Bataria (or whatever the Batarian home world was named) but they are not having any of Shepard’s nonsense and don’t trust any council races. The whole arc for ME2 would then be Shepard’s struggle with the Batarians and when she finally resolves that, we are treated to some important revelation about the Reapers. ME3 can then have its invasion and see Shepard scrambling to find a way to use or implement the ME2 revelation to stop the Reapers.

      This is a far superior solution to hitting the reset on what ME1 set up and going off on a mostly unrelated tangent that somehow comes together magically in the end but still leaves Shepard set back from where ME1 left off.

  32. Karma+The+Alligator says:

    Or will you kill her, thus genociding her species forever?

    Well, until ME3, at least.

    1. Coming Second says:

      If you kill her in ME1 the species has no hope – the thing you meet in ME3’s just a reconstructed husk. If you don’t kill her, and then don’t kill her again in ME3, they (presumably) have a chance.

  33. Adamantyr says:

    Purchased the print version on Amazon! And it’s not that expensive… I’ve seen indie books having to charge $50.

  34. Sabrdance says:

    Much like several TV series I used to like -Mass Effect could have survived every mistake up to the end if they had just stuck the landing. The reason the extended cut works for so many people is it turns the complete wipe-out into a step. A large step -but just a step. The landing was more or less made.

    For myself, I think the series could have recovered after ME2 by focusing on the thematic thread. ME1 sets up that the Reapers control the galaxy via controlling the evolution of civilizations. They created the mass relays and they seeded the galaxy with Eezo. They also know where this society ends: civilization achieves its perfection and then prevents the rise of new civilizations -so the Reapers sweep in and preserve the old civilization at perfection. This allows new civilizations.

    They keep everyone existing in perfection after the civilization has gotten past the Relays stage by using indoctrination.

    We see this happen to the Council. The Council is ossified -not even opening new relays. They aren’t allowing new members. They aren’t colonizing new space. They are an impediment to the next race (humans) and anyway -they are so bureaucratically controlled they all practically think the same anyway. A little indoctrination ray, a little harvesting -and boom. A galaxy ready for the next civilization.

    ME2 shows a bunch of variants on this theme. Mordin’s entire thing about the genophage being the best idea at the time, all the family issues about how the desires of parents on their children shaped the children’s lives, and most critically -Legion’s confusion at the possibility that there could not be consensus among the Geth. These episodes could make it possible to understand the Reapers in human terms.

    In my mind -the Reapers are, themselves, ossified and rely entirely on the fact that nothing has ever changed in billions of years. They aren’t omniscient -they are Paul Atreidies remembering how the future will unfold after losing their eyes.

    And the Protheans changed the future, and the humans are challenging the Council and changing the galaxy -and the end of the story is the Reapers either recognizing that the world is different and they are no longer clearing out deadwood, but clearcutting the forest -or else being so blind that they can’t stop the galaxy from beating them.

    But instead we got Star Child.

    My current computer can’t run ME:LE -but when I get a new one I might be interested in running it. I will almost certainly install one of the ending mods that either goes full blow “happy ending” or just cuts the star child. Goes from “you did good kid” to the destroy ending or whatever.

    1. Tom says:

      Ever played Vampire, The Masquerade: Bloodlines? I think you’d enjoy how the ending was handled in that – if you can make it all the way to the end, that is, because it has the literal opposite problem to ME3: the whole third act of of the game as-released is clearly a rush-job and basically unfinished* except for the ending, which had clearly been well planned right from the start.

      Crazy as this may sound, I personally found it to be worth the effort, particularly of being a total munchkin with my build so that I could grind through the Obligatory Act 2 Sewer Level and 100% roleplay-free final slog – it’s one of those rare and hard-to-pull-off endings that somehow, deliciously, manages to be both everything one hoped for and nothing one expected.

      *The most recent fan-made patches fix a multitude of sins, however.

      1. Sabrdance says:

        The fan made patch is also necessary to run it on Steam on modern hardware -so I have played it exactly once all the way through. It’s a long game. I did love it. (Plaid through as a Ventru -would have loved to do a Malk run. Not as excited about a Nosferatu run.)

    2. mickomoo says:

      Yeah, I think that’s right. While it’s true that the tone shift from ME1 to 2 put it squarely into more action territory as opposed to a thought-provoking scifi franchise with concise and conscientious worldbuilding, I think that had ME3 ran with the building blocks that were established in ME2 we would have gotten a more consistent storytelling experience.

      At the end of the day, the people disappointed with 3’s ending are complaining about what is an inconsistent and jarring conclusion. Although as everyone here already knows this problem starts long before Star Child, but I think even Shamus in his retrospective series points out that had 3 had at least delivered on a “happy ending” or a starchild-less ending people could have walked away without that sense of dissonance that comes from a poorly defined deus ex machnia circularly solving a problem it created.

      Based on the story we’re left with today, my canonical ending is with the JAM B mod ending (John P’s Alternate Mass Effect Happy Ending Mod – version B). It’s a long story but from what I’ve heard the original happy ending mod was itself jarring for folks because it shifted the tone too much in the opposite direction and also featured amateur voice acting. John P (apparently) stepped in and created his own version of the happy ending mod. JAM version B simply cuts Star Child and gives you an ending based on EMS. If it’s high enough, EDI and the Geth don’t die. I’m currently doing another trilogy run (without JAM B but with a different ending mod), but this time with mods that make the EMS requirements much higher, I am curious to see what experience that might bring.

      Hope you get a rig capable of playing LE one day. Modding the ending might be out of the question though because the modding scene seems to have splintered from LE. Original trilogy mods involved modifying the file directory of the games; LE uses new files and a new file structure so some of these mods might not be able to be remade. In some cases too, the creators are long gone, as is the case with JAM B which hasn’t been updated in over 7 years IIRC; though is possible that someone else might come along and put in the work to port it (or something similar).

  35. palker4 says:

    The council willfull ignorance of the Reaper threat seems to me much more believeable in light of certain recent real life event and the reaction of governments all around the world to it.

    Anyway after reading this it’s clear to me how Mr.Btongue(forgot his real name) ended up posting on this site.

    1. Karma+The+Alligator says:

      RE: the willful ignorance, it’s one thing to do that publicly to not cause a panic, but another entirely to do, in private, with the one who stopped the threat.

  36. Adrian Lopez says:

    Will there be an audiobook version? Sorry, I know I’ve been hounding about wanting to produce your audiobook, forgive me Shamus!

  37. Luka+Dreyer says:

    It’s great to see you back in action, Shamus. From one unknown Internet dweller, I hope you are recovering from your ordeal and that you and your family are well.

    I’ve only ever played Mass Effect 2, getting sucked into the very successful advertising around its release in 2010. While I generally enjoyed the game, it hasn’t left much of a lasting impression beyond its rather excellent companion characters and side quests. I honestly can’t really tell you what the game as a whole was about or what any of it meant and this video essay helps to place that feeling of vague meaninglessness into the context of the overall series. Now more than ever, I’m tempted to check out the original Mass Effect.

    As an afterthought, between Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2, 2010/2011 certainly seem to represent the years wherein Bioware’s artistic identity pivoted dramatically.

  38. Lino says:

    It appears my post to r/MassEffect has been approved! If you feel like it, give it an upvote – ot might help it climb to Hot –

    Also, if any of you have a post with higher upvotes, post it here! Let’s get this thing to Hot!

    1. Shamus says:

      “Sorry, this post has been removed by the moderators of r/masseffect.
      Moderators remove posts from feeds for a variety of reasons, including keeping communities safe, civil, and true to their purpose.”

      That was quick!

      1. Cilba+Greenbraid says:

        Yeah, r/masseffect’s mods aren’t going to allow a book that’s even mildly critical of Mass Effect to be advertised there.

  39. Bubble181 says:

    Quick info for Europeans: lists the price as about $40 including customs. sells it for €22.90 and claims there won’t be any customs/import fees because it’s solddirectly by Amazon.

    1. Bubble181 says:

      I have now received the brick…err, book. There’s no import fees or anything because it’s a reprint by Amazon Fulfillment in Poland.
      As far as I can tell there’s nothing missing or misprinted, though obviously I haven’t read through the whole thing :-D

      First thing I noticed when I was leafing through it was “The characters with a plot relevant mission are circled in a multicolored rainbow” underneath a black-and-white picture (about the ME2 sidekick missions) and now I need to go back to the original to check whether the joke’s the same on line or not.

  40. Bubble181 says:

    Oh, also: the book is currently number 9 and 12 (Kindle and paperback, respectively) on computer & internet strategy guides. Congrats!

  41. EOW says:

    bought the book instantly, so i guess your shilling was worth something. Had yo buy it off of amazon since it was the only store in my country that sold it.
    Your retrospective is one i hold dear to my heart, after your posts on fallout 3’s story i was hooked on your blog, but it wasn’t until i read this that i really started looking at worldbuilding and stuff like that. You managed to put the right words into my mind and i could develop proper critical thinking.


  42. Zeta Kai says:

    Hey, do you get more of a cut for the digital version of your book or the print version? Or are they basically the same, in terms of what you make on the back end? I’m curious about which is more profitable for you.

    1. Shamus says:

      It depends on region. In general, I make about one or two dollars more on the print version. Although, some regions I might make less and occasionally actually make nothing for one or the other. (Expanded distro networks where Amazon essentially sells the book to a company that sells the book. It’s weird. I could opt out of those regions, but sales will be in the single digits so who cares?)

      The Amazon backend is MADNESS, and there’s a ton of stuff that makes no damn sense. Like, LOWERING my royalty from 70% to 35% can RAISE my cut by 40 cents. There are so many situational fees and region-specific costs that its too complicated to really get a handle on.

      So… I probably make a little more from print, but print is almost 5x more expensive for you, so YMMV.

      Personally, I’m just happy people are buying the dang thing, regardless of platform. :)

      1. Bubble181 says:

        I’ve never gotten around to playing any of the ME games (despite loving KOTOR and such…I still think ME1 would’ve been right up my alley but I never got around to it) and I still bought this just for the writing.

    2. Cilba+Greenbraid says:

      The best thing for Shamus if you don’t actually want the print copy as an heirloom would be to buy the digital version (or wait for Shamus to put up the DRM-free version and cut Amazon out of it altogether) and just paypal him $20. :)

  43. Grimwear says:

    Well according to Amazon my copy should be arriving next week! I’m pretty psyched.

  44. Asbjorn says:

    I think it’s worth mentioning though that there WAS a game-plan for ME2’s plot and how it would tie into ME3, but then Drew left and I think ME2 as it launched was like 50% his idea and then 50% a final draft confused rewrite of the idea with dropped plots. I can make sense of some of it. We were going for the Dark Energy plot-line, whether we like it or not. That was Drew’s game-plan as he started figuring out how to take ME2 to a trilogy finale. How?

    The Illusive Man: Knows a suspicious amount about the Reapers and wants to help but isn’t clear about his long-term goals. He’s sitting in his office, with knowledge of a derelict Reaper which his men are salvaging it. He’s staring at a dying sun, with knowledge of the Reapers. He wants to fight for the “advancement and preservation of humanity.” Illusive Man knows how they think, so he’s primed to be indoctrinated, and his Cerberus motto is a clue to what the Reapers are doing: Advancing and preserving humans into Reaper form, “in defense of humanity”, but against what? If the Reapers are doing it, what are THEY defending against? It’s the sun. It’s dying, and so is the universe.

    There’s foreshadowing everywhere in ME2 that the larger plot is that the Mass Effect itself has been running amok and that the Reapers are some sort of ancient AI construct misfire that set in motion this plan to do whatever made sense to them, as machines, to stop the spread of Dark Energy, and if Drew Karpyshyn had stayed and if Casey Hudson had respected his vision, then that is where the third game would’ve went.

    It would not have been just a straightforward “Total war” where Cerberus returns as the big enemy army. No, I rather think it would’ve placed Shepard back into his Spectre shoes, or at least Cebrerus outfit, to go chase leads and then as the plot progresses it becomes more and more evidence that the galaxy itself is in some sort of decline, and Shepard would find out about this long before you hit the final mission and ending of the story, and perhaps they would’ve kept Cerberus’s indoctrination under wraps until you stood at the precipice. Get confronted by Illusive Man influenced by the Reapers: “Do you really think stopping the Reapers is worth it? If you think about our kind – humanity – you must know that what the Reapers are doing is preserving us, albeit in Reaper form, in order to keep our remains intact against the death of the universe. They have also chosen us as the saviors of the known world because humans are the most biologically diverse species in our galaxy. We are the chosen ones!” and then prime the player for the outcome where you had to choose between the future of “existence” versus the future of living beings who think and feel.

    I don’t really care whether I liked that Dark Energy premise or not, but the fact that it was going to be seeded into the story, as it had already been foreshadowed strongly in ME2, is enough that I don’t think ME2 does what it does for no reason. I think it was sabotaged largely by project leadership and a change in the old guard of writers who had other ideas but only being concerned with how “cool” it would be and not how well it would tell a story.

    I still think we would’ve cured the Genophage and done something about the Quarians, but I think under Drew K’s leadership they would’ve turned out significantly different. Instead, using the Genophage arc to showcase the dangers of growth and technological advancement, and using the Geth to explore how AI can come to emotionally unreasonable conclusions that serve a larger purpose, and then extrapolate both subplots onto the Reaper super-plot and prime you for that destination.

    Instead there’s NO foreshadowing and suddenly you beat that Reaper on Rannoch for Shepard to randomly go “Organics and Synthetics don’t need to destroy each other!”. In other words, they had no preceding plot to base ME3 off of, because they decided to change it before they started. They abandoned whatever the point was of Shepard dying and possibly not “being himself” to only confusedly remind you of it in the penultimate ME3 mission and then throw it in as a convenient aside when the Catalyst explains Synthesis.

    But if you actually look at the symbolism they put in ME2 and consider it maybe a half-draft that was warped midway through to downplay the Dark Energy aspect of the Human Reaper and all that, you can actually see how they were setting up the big conflict that would need to be revealed and then resolved in ME3. Instead they dropped it and focused on “the war, where we must DEFEAT the Reapers.” By gathering an army and a decide that no one knows anything about.

    1. Radkatsu says:

      You’re forgetting the most important part of why they changed it: the script was leaked. That’s the point where the whole story was changed to the nonsense we got.

  45. Aquarion says:

    Rereading this (and the relevant bits of Mess Effect) after playing ME2 legendary edition, and the only conclusion I can reach is that somewhere very shortly before narrative-lock they decided to do the “Liara becomes the Shadow Broker” DLC, and suddenly changed the Illusive Man from being The Shadow Broker to being Cerberus; the rest of the plot being wrenched into place with minimal dialog changes or patched-in with existing dialog from elsewhere.

  46. beleester says:

    I have a hunch the decision to destroy/resurrect both Shepard and the Normandy was driven by gameplay rather than story.

    “Hey, we’re going to completely redesign the combat system. A lot of players will probably want to completely change their class or build to try out some of the new stuff. Also, we really want to redesign the Normandy – the new game has a lot more characters and it’ll be easier to stage scenes if we have a bigger and roomier ship. Can you come up with some sort of story justification for that?”

    “Uh… geez, that’s a lot of changes… fuck it, let’s just blow everything up and start over.”

    1. Also Tom says:

      Thing is, there’s other ways to do that.

      For example: It’s a month or so after the Battle of the Citadel. Shepard is still getting debriefed, and he, Anderson, Udina, and Hackett are figuring out where to go from here.

      Then there’s a terrorist attack on the council–if it’s still multispecies, have it launched by batarians; if you killed the council and made it humans-only, have it be salarians or turians. Shepard stops the attack, but basically jumps on a grenade to do it. Meanwhile, whoever struck at the Council also attacks the Normandy and, while failing to destroy it, inflicts very heavy damage.

      Shepard is in a coma for months. Meanwhile, Hackett sets to rebuilding the Normandy so it’s more suitable for the mission Shepard’s going to get once they’re out of the coma, because they’re the only person with the Cipher in their head–trying to find some way to prevent the Reapers from wiping out everything. Boom, roomier ship justified–the Normandy is going out for long cruises, not just in-and-out raids, and needs better living quarters and more cargo space.

      Towards the end of Shepard’s coma, a very attractive woman (Miranda) disguised as a nurse sneaks into his hospital room and injects him with technobabble. Then you have justification for class and power changes.

      Then the main story is about A. Finding and securing Prothean artifacts (with Liara as your quest-giver) and B. Trying to stabilize the galaxy so that if the Reapers attack we can present a united front (with Hackett as your quest-giver), and occasinally having to trade-off between these goals. Have the Collectors as the initial villains, using their tech to increase interspecies tensions and going after human colonies. Have Cerberus as frenemies, occasionally helping you out while obviously pursuing their humanity-first agenda and engaging in Mad Science. All of this leads up to an endgame culminating in the equivalent to the Arrival DLC, where you have to blow up a star system to delay the Reapers.

      This then means that your choices can matter in ME3, as your efforts, or lack thereof, to gather knowledge and resolve disputes bear their fruit.

      But instead they went with what was basically a reboot.

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