It’s been a long road, but I think we’ve finally reached the part of the game where Morgan can finally begin having agency within the story. Up until now, Morgan has simply been opening doors so she could open the next so she could reach the next door. While this was going on, she was gradually learning the story of Talos-1. She knew all of this stuff at one point, but the neuromod stripping robbed her of the knowledge and context to make sense of things. Now that she’s opened up the station and Alex has promised to stop opposing her, she’s basically all caught up on current events and is now in a position where she can start making informed decisions about things beyond her immediate survival.
Actually, not quite. There’s one last piece to the puzzle.
Your Own Worst Enemy
Alex invites Morgan to his office. Alex motivates her by offering his arming key. Morgan needs both arming keys – hers and Alex’s – to blow up the station. It’s very sporting of him to do this, since she had no means of obtaining it.
Morgan’s office is a spacious room with a large window overlooking the lobby. It’s impressive, but it’s basically a broom closet compared to the setup Alex has. Alex’s office is a lovely penthouse that sits high inside the domed Arboretum of Talos-1. Morgan has a nice window view of the reception area, while Alex has a friggin’ balcony that wraps all the way around this office / mansion, and which is surrounded by a vast sea of green. From up here you can see all the little people scurrying around below. Or you could, until they were all killed by the Typhon.
When Morgan arrives, she discovers that Alex is a no-show. He’s not ready to poke his head out just yet, just in case someone has some hard feelings about the whole “Death of 93% of the population of Talos-1” thing. Instead, he leaves her with another Looking Glass video. This one was recorded in the same location as the one we saw at the start of the game, where Morgan gave herself the job of blowing up the station. The difference is that Alex is present for this recording, and we’re seeing an even earlier version of Morgan.
I’ve already spoiled the Big Secret here, simply because it made the analysis easier. But this is where we learn that the story of Talos-1 isn’t a struggle between the virtuous and heroic Morgan vs. her cruel and duplicitous older brother. This is where the game makes it 100% clear – in case you missed the earlier clues – that this place was a team effort between Alex and Morgan.
(And later – if Morgan chooses to help Mikhaila Ilyushin and retrieve information about her father’s death – we can learn that not only was this place a collaboration between the Yu siblings, but that Morgan was the nastier of the two. Alex was in charge of lies and propaganda, while murder and unethical research was Morgan’s purview.)
In fact, this recording is Alex’s idea. He can see his sister is changing. Her personality is shifting. This, combined with the fact that her memory is constantly being wiped, creates a certain danger for Alex. He knows that one of these days Morgan might wake up and see him as an enemy. This recording is his way of avoiding that. If she ever turns on him, he can point her to this recording and show that she’s just as culpable as he is.
As he says when the recording ends, “All I’ve done is everything you asked.”
A More Empathetic Morgan
I’ve been glossing over it during this write-up, but you don’t have to play Morgan as the hero. You’re free to allow people to die. You can ignore Mikhaila Ilyushin’s sickness and refuse to fetch her medicine. Elsewhere you’ll encounter Dr. Dayo Igwe, trapped in a cargo container and quickly running out of air. You can help him reach safety, or you can ignore him and he’ll die in a few minutes.
Not only are you allowed to let people die through neglect, but you can take things one step further and outright murder people for giggles if that’s what you’re into. You’re free to play Morgan as a full-on psycho if you like.
But despite this freedom, I think the game designer intends – or at least expects – for you to go around acting in a more or less heroic fashion. Statistically, this is a pretty reasonable assumption. I don’t know about the Real World™, but in videogames people strongly favor taking the high road. 92% of all Mass Effect players went Paragon. While I wouldn’t take that 92% figure and attempt to smear it across all players and genres, I doubt anyone is surprised to find out that the masses choose heroic fantasy as their escapism of choice. If the Marvel movies have shown us anything, it’s that people enjoy worlds full of colorful heroes where the line between good and evil is nice and clear and the good guys always win in the end.
But a virtuous Morgan presents an interesting puzzle, thematically. We know that past-Morgan was a cold-blooded murderous jerkface. We know that her personality has drifted as a result of experimentation with technology based on the Typhon. We know the Typhon themselves are heartless and amoral.
Even before the game starts, Morgan has installed more neuromods than anyone else. And after the game starts? Hoo boy. I don’t know about your playstyle, but on my version of Talos-1, neuromod printer go BRRRRRRRRR.
So in a game where Morgan is heroic, it creates a bit of a mystery. Somehow Morgan’s repeated exposure to these uncaring aliens and their derived technology has resulted in a personality shift that turns the evil Morgan of the past into a self-sacrificing hero.
We don’t have to give the Typhon credit for making Morgan heroic, but then who does get the credit? What brought about this change? Was it the neuromods themselves? The constant memory-wipes?
Or perhaps we want to blame it on random chance? Perhaps if you were to try the same process again with a different test subject, you’d get all kinds of wacky outcomes. Heroic personality. Villainous. Sentimental. Whimsical. Eccentric. Megalomaniacal. Neurotic. Childish. Apathetic. Perhaps stripping out mods randomizes your personality a little bit, and we were just lucky that the dice-roll nudged her towards “hero” rather than “needy self-absorbed temperamental basket case”.
Or maybe this is yet another detail that needs to be explained away by the twist ending. I notice that idea is coming up a lot, which is possibly a bad sign. I dunno. We’ll get there when we get there.
Since I brought up Igwe, let’s talk about him. He provides an interesting counterpoint to Danielle Sho and ex-girlfriend Mikhaila Ilyushin.
Ms. Sho apparently hates the Yu siblings. Both of them. She’s hated them since long before the disaster, and despite the fact that she was never privy to their worst crimes. She hates and distrusts them so much that I often wondered why she stayed on the station. Money? Her career? She didn’t want to have to find a new roleplaying group? She doesn’t seem to be aware of Morgan’s Cerberus-style research program. I get the impression that if she ever caught a whiff of a rumor regarding Morgan’s hobbies, she’d lose her shit.
For contrast, Igwe does know all about the experiments in Psychotronics. He knows about the Typhon, the “volunteers”, and Morgan’s experiments. He knows where neuromods come from. He even seems to know about what happened to Mikhaila Ilyushin’s father. And he’s fine with all of it. Even after the station falls. Dayo Igwe remains #1 Yu fanboy. He seems to regard the fate of the human test subjects with a shrug. Meh. That’s just what you gotta do. No biggie.
Both Mikhaila and Igwe find themselves in time-sensitive predicaments where they’ll die without Morgan’s help. Mikhaila will die without her medicine, and Igwe will die if you don’t dock his cargo container with the station before he runs out of air. Rather than hanging out with the other survivors in Cargo bay, these two head for Morgan’s office and hang out there until the end of the game.
If you tell Mikhaila the truth about her father, then Igwe will actually attempt to justify Morgan’s actions to her. He tries to explain that it’s okay, because Papa Ilyushin “volunteered”. He does such an amazingly bad job of it that I wouldn’t blame Mikhaila if she shot him dead on the spot. Igwe’s unnflinching support of the Yus seems almost delusional.
So Danielle Sho hates Morgan. Dayo Igwe is a huge fan. Mikhaila Ilyushin regards Morgan with affection, but will turn on you if she finds out that Morgan killed her father. That’s interesting. We’ll have more to say about these three when we get to the ending.
Alex promised us his arming key if we played along, but now he’s altering the deal. A bit.
I haven’t talked about it yet in this series, but the Weaver enemy type is in charge of building these glowing orange filaments all over the place. The crew has taken to calling this stuff “coral”. It runs down passageways, fills up rooms, passes through ductwork, and wraps itself around major structures. You can walk though it without being harmed, although your vision seems to blur a bit and there’s a soft tingling sound when you do so. The game doesn’t say what the coral feels like, but it’s clear it creates some sort of sensation when you touch it.
Since breaking containment, the Typhon have been very busy expanding the coral. It was confined to a few areas in Psychotronics at the start of the game, but since then it’s been growing at a steady rate. Every time we come back to the lobby we find the coral is a little bigger, a little denser, and a little more imposing. By the late game, the station itself is wrapped in coral.
Apparently, old-Morgan studied this coral and worked out that it consists of “mumble-jumble neurons mumble-bumble consciousness“. She didn’t know what it was for, but she did work out how to destroy it, because that’s just how old-Morgan did things. She called it the “Nullwave Device”, because old-Morgan was a classy lady and “Alien Genocider” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Well, the work isn’t quite done. There are still a few hanging decimal places in the calculations and we need to make sure this all balances out. Alex wants Morgan to go on a spacewalk around the station and scan a few more nodes of coral just to finish off the research and complete the Nullwave Device. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? Just because the outside of the station has been sheathed in a glowing mass of alien brain matter in the space of a few hours doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily going to find yourself armpit-deep in Weavers and other high-tier foes out there!
Fun fact: Did you know that if a Technopath blasts you during a spacewalk that it will also disable your jetpack, effectively paralyzing you, on top of disabling your weapon and liquifying the fillings in your teeth? I don’t know why I brought that up. I’m sure it won’t be a problem.
After you do these scans, Alex will totally give you his arming key. For realsies this time.He totally won’t.
 He totally won’t.
Who Broke the In-Game Economy?
Why are RPG economies so bad? Why are shopkeepers so mercenary, why are the prices so crazy, and why do you always end up a gazillionaire by the end of the game? Can't we just have a sensible balanced economy?
The true story of three strange days in 1989, when the last months of my adolescence ran out and the first few sparks of adulthood appeared.
id Software Coding Style
When the source code for Doom 3 was released, we got a look at some of the style conventions used by the developers. Here I analyze this style and explain what it all means.
A programming project where I set out to make a Minecraft-style world so I can experiment with Octree data.
The Best of 2019
I called 2019 "The Year of corporate Dystopia". Here is a list of the games I thought were interesting or worth talking about that year.