Here we are at the endgame. All of my previous nitpicks were just objections over consistency or demands for more solid justification. It could all be patched in a sequel. But here are the gripes that caused me to write this series in the first place. This is where the story fell apart for me, which is a bad thing to have happen during the climax.
I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that this will be spoilers, so I shouldn’t need to warn you about that.
The Final Boss
|Imma firein’ mah lazer!|
Your team arrives at the collector base to find out they have been kidnapping tens (or hundreds) of thousands of humans, liquefying them, and then using the organic ooze to build a giant humanoid robot. The robot isn’t complete (it’s just a head and torso) but it looks like the plan was to make the whole body.
1) Why use ORGANIC slush to make a METAL robot? Yes, the audience can speculate, but when something really crazy and jarring happens in a story you need to either explain it or acknowledge it as a mystery. But the only dialog we get is:
EDI: My readings indicate it’s a Reaper.
SHEPARD: A Human Reaper.
ME: Bwahahaha! WTF?
2) There is an excuse offered up that this is sort of how Reapers reproduce. But what is a robot-made-of-slurpee able to do that a straight-up engineered robot can’t? This system is actually more inefficient, convoluted, and time consuming than anything an organic species might go through to reproduce or build a warship. Why don’t they just build a ship and load it up with Reaper tech? It might not be a full-fledged Reaper, but it should come close enough to get the job done. Remember the goal: 1) Reach the Citadel and open the relay to let the other Reapers through. 2) Win! For all the effort they put into rounding up people and playing “will it blend?” with them, they could have gone a long way to making a pretty good ship. Or ships.
3) Okay, so it’s a Reaper… somehow. What is the utility of a kilometer-tall robotic space-faring biped? Walk around in space? Punch spaceships? Bite stuff? Embarrass the enemy with its massive space genitalia? This is the OPPOSITE of what a machine race would do. This is adding inefficient organic cruft to a machine.
The problem with the Reapers as they are portrayed in this game is that they’re terrible at using their resources to meet their stated goals.
The Final Choice
At the end of the game, you have control of the colonist-liquefying Slurpee Maker of Doom. You have a conversation with the Illusive Man and you are offered a choice:
1) Keep it so that Cerberus can study it.
2) Ignore the Illusive Man’s request and obliterate the base.
The idea is that you can use a neutron bomb to wipe out all life on the station, and then Cerberus can come in and pick through the technology at their leisure. According to the game designers, this is an unambiguously evil move. Every single member of your crew – including the amoral Krogen, the nihilistic Jack, the pragmatic pro-science Mordin, and the pro-Cerberus Miranda – will approve of you destroying the base. This isn’t a brilliant shades-of-gray decision like we see elsewhere in the game, this is a black-and-white choice where the whole crew agrees that the paragon course of action (option #2) is the right one.
If you choose the paragon option, Shepard decides to blow up the base saying, “I won’t let fear compromise who I am.” And later, “We’ll beat [the Reapers] without sacrificing the soul of our species.”
I find this line of reasoning to be lazy and infantile to the point of being offensive.
1) Proof. By this point you have now spent two whole games trying to convince the rest of the galaxy that the Reaper threat is real. One of the major reasons the battle is so desperate is because you’ve been working alone. Here is unambiguous proof of an advanced enemy with hostile intentions.
2) Memorial. Keeping the facility is crucial for understanding who died here, and how. If nothing else, looking for bodies and dogtags to send home would have been worthwhile and offer some families a sense of closure.
3) Technology. Yes, study the technology. Just because the Slurpee machine of evilness is horrible doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t understand how it works and why. Particularly when you’re in a war and the enemy has you outmatched in both numbers and tech. The idea that we shouldn’t understand a technology because it has been used in evil ways is a line of reasoning that borders on primitive superstition.
4) Intel. How does the enemy communicate? What is their history? What are their plans? Up until now the Reapers have been a great big question mark, and this is our first chance to fill in some blanks by digging around in their computers and reading their mail.
Even if there was some unforeseen danger to keeping the station, we could blow it up anytime we want if it turned out to be a problem. This isn’t a decision that needs to be made on the battlefield.
|The illusion of choice: Sometimes not very convincing.|
Keeping the facility harms no innocent civilians or does anything else that might be considered cruel, mean, or even just rude. (Anyone left on the station will die either way.) There is no reason to blow this thing up. Doing so is the most idiotic and self-defeating decision you could possibly make. If studying the Collector base is evil, then what do we say about those Allied forces that captured Auschwitz instead of blowing it up? They had far less need to keep that place than Shepard & crew need the Collector base. (And the death toll was higher by almost an order of magnitude.)
If it’s so evil to give the Collector tech to Cerberus that doing so would “sacrifice the soul of our species”, then Cerberus is simply too evil to work with. If Shepard is going to walk away from the base saying “We’ll find some other way” without even having an alternate plan, then he should have said the same thing to Cerberus at the very start of the game. You can’t have it both ways.
But the main problem problem is that the game will only let you give the tech exclusively to Cerberus. This is a false binary choice: Give the Slurpee tech to Cerberus, or blow up the most crucial source of tech and intel since the war began. The most responsible, sensible, and pragmatic course of action is the one the game won’t even let you consider: Keep the station and show it to the Alliance, the Council, and whoever else might want a tour of the place. Since your ship is the only one with the tech to get here, it should be up to you who gets to visit.
I haven’t seen a moral dilemma this forced and this false since the end of Fable, where you could DISCARD SWORD or TAKE SWORD AND STAB SISTER, but not TAKE SWORD AND WALK AWAY. For shame, BioWare. You’re better than this.
The idea presented in the first game is that the Reapers are sitting in the void somewhere beyond the galaxy, camping a Mass Relay connected to the Citadel. Their original plan was that that relay would open and they would pop through and kill everything, destroy all the colonized worlds, then hop back through the relay and wait for the next batch of sapients crawl out of the ooze and start building jetpacks, taco stands, and movie studios. With the Citadel relay switched off, they’re apparently screwed out there.
Of course, if the Reapers were stupid enough to travel into the void with only one Mass Relay to bring them back, then they are comically short-sighted. This is a problem that I’d hoped they would address in Mass Effect 2, but instead of filling in that hole they poked a few new ones.
But even if you accept all the events that I’ve nitpicked in this series, the worst part of Mass Effect 2 is that nothing happens. The plot does not move forward. It moves sideways, loops through a cul-de-sac, and ends right where it began. By the end of the game we’ve got the same captain, same ship, same problems, same setup. Council is still useless. Alliance is still apathetic. Shepard & Co are the only ones who care. The Reapers are still out there. And if you did the paragon ending, you don’t even have any proof or tech to show for it. (Which means that the choice will very likely have minimal consequence in the next game.) None of the important questions posed in Mass Effect 1 are addressed.
In a trilogy, I don’t think Act II is disposable like this.
Despite the last ~5,000 words berating the plot, Mass Effect 2 is still an incredible game. The plot I’ve outlined takes up a very small portion of your playing time, and the rest is BioWare doing their best work: Self-contained, character-driven stories. Mass Effect is like the best season of Star Trek ever: The premiere was lacking and the finale was a slap in the forehead, but everything else was stellar. It’s not like yawning plot holes and incomprehensible screwball moralizing are anything new to fans of space opera. If Mass Effect 2 had come out just a couple of months sooner, it would have been my Game of the Year for 2009. In the end I enjoyed it more than Dragon Age. (I’m suffering from an acute case of Fantasy Fatigue. I could really use a break from castles, Orcs and magic. Oh crap.)
Next time we can talk about the fun parts.
There are two major schools of thought about how you should write software. Here's what they are and why people argue about it.
Steam Summer Blues
This mess of dross, confusion, and terrible UI design is the storefront the big publishers couldn't beat? Amazing.
Video Compression Gone Wrong
How does image compression work, and why does it create those ugly spots all over some videos and not others?
Trashing the Heap
What does it mean when a program crashes, and why does it happen?
Let's ruin everyone's fun by listing all the ways in which zombies can't work, couldn't happen, and don't make sense.