LOL, I shot myself in the foot yesterday. Not literally, obviously, because I don’t own a gun and don’t plan on owning one ever, but figuratively, because I accidentally spoiled today’s post.
I’m not going to let that get in the way, though, because I feel like I might be able to expand a bit on what I had to say about Harbinger, the most useless Reaper in Mass Effect.
In ME2, Harbinger was like the Emperor in Empire Strikes Back: you saw images of him, he was obviously the mastermind behind the Collectors, he literally took over Collector bodies … like, dude was scary. Then, in Arrival, DLC that was released about a year before ME3, he was ominous (see: above image) and giant.
Then, like I said yesterday, he appeared and then just went away. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a ME1-style fight like the one with Saren as the avatar for Sovereign because that would have been boring, but it’s not nearly as satisfying with any of the three endings. Other than controlling the Collectors, who only show up again in multiplayer on ME3, what did Harbinger really do or add to the story? He didn’t really provide unique gameplay and served more as an image of the threat the Reapers posed. The freaking Banshees were scarier than he ended up being.
Bioware just really dropped the ball here. I don’t necessarily need to fight Harbinger in the Normandy, but I kinda do? Or even just a cut scene like they did with Kalros destroying the Reaper on Tuchanka. Something. But nope, we got three colors, an annoying child, and lots of talking. Gross.
If you had asked me this question a few years ago, my answer would have been the Collectors. It should have been Harbinger, but I was severely disappointed there. Like, okay, I’m going to deviate from the topic a bit here because I am still upset about this. Harbinger was supposed to be like ME1‘s Sovereign but ten times more badass. We piss him off in ME2 by blowing the Collector base all to hell (or saving it, depending on how much you trust the Illusive Man), and he’s there in the finale of ME3, with his Laser of Death, but then he just … flies off. And Shepard goes to talk to the Star Child or whatever. It was just so anticlimactic.
Anyway, like I said, I probably would have chosen the Collectors as the best antagonist of the three games, but after playing the games for going on ten years now, I realized something: they present a real threat, but what exactly that threat – beyond kidnapping colonists for science experiments – is isn’t ever really explained. What were the Reapers trying to do with them? If what EDI said in ME2 is true, the entire fleet of reapers should have drastically different appearances, depending on what cycle they came from, but in ME3, they all look fairly similar. Sure, the Collectors are a major clue into what the Reapers ultimately do, but other than that, they’re little more than a plot point.
With that in mind, I’m gonna have to give this award to Cerberus, more specifically, the Illusive Man.
These assholes are there from the very beginning. They’re amoral, xenophobic, and just so damn mysterious. I wasn’t really sure what their purpose was in the first game, but I absolutely loved the side missions that I ended up going on. It was clear that they were pretty much evil – they kill Admiral Kahoku, guys! – but I figured it was just one of those organizations, like the mercenary groups that pop up every now and then, that wouldn’t necessarily tie into the story that much.
And then, boom, they’re my allies in ME2.
Well, as much an ally as the Illusive Man, their leader, can be, I guess.
I like Miranda’s statement that “he’s no saint and he’ll be the first to admit it,” because I think that’s what makes the Illusive Man so great. He’s not just blindly searching for power; it’s both a perk that he’s able to earn and a requirement to continue his “great work.” He obviously isn’t too concerned with receiving the credit, seeing as he goes by a pseudonym the entire time, and enjoys the role of behind the scenes guy way more, a la the Shadow Broker (also a really cool villain). He stays fairly neutral throughout most of the second game, more or less recognizing that his relationship with Shepard is a marriage of convenience, and even if you save the Collector base in accordance to the Illusive Man’s wishes, you don’t really get the feeling that he’s going to stay friendly for long. He’s got shit he wants to do, and whether or not you and your crew are a part of it isn’t super important to him.
Finally, in ME3, both the Illusive Man and Cerberus are pretty solid secondary antagonists to the Reapers. They represent humanity’s tendency to be its own worst enemy, ruthless and callous in the face of adversity. While Shepard and crew are trying to unite the galaxy, Cerberus is working with the devil and sacrificing the very people it’s wanting to save. And for what? Control. Predictability. Power. Honestly? Probably some of the best writing that Bioware has ever done.
Despite my deep and abiding love for the krogan, I would be lying if I said that I would ever want to visit Tuchanka. It just seems … unpleasant, even if there are secret lush and green areas now. Although having my own pet varren follow me around and beg for pyjak meat is almost enough for me to change my mind (I absolutely adored Urz in ME2).
But since I am a fleshy creature that is not entirely cut out for the harshness of radioactive rubble, I would definitely have to choose Illium.
I absolutely love the color palette Bioware developers chose for Nos Astra, the capitalist’s wet dream of a capital city. It reminds me of a futuristic Miami Vice.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend all of my time in Nos Astra. According to the Wiki page, Illium is a hot garden world, and cities have to exist in bubbles if they are close to the surface or near the equator. Like, this is why I love Bioware so much. We never see those cities, but dammit, we’re gonna know they exist because of all the codex entries.
I’m going to give Bioware a ton of credit here. They’re incredibly consistent in creating games where gender* doesn’t significantly change things beyond dialogue. Besides giving FemShep breasts, the developers don’t have her hips sway more when she walks or have said breasts jiggle every which way, which is honestly probably more of a time- and money-saving choice than anything else, considering how much time they spend on making Liara as girly as possible (not that there’s anything wrong with that – I’m just saying that, if they really wanted to, they could do it).
All of that said, though, I have to admit that I prefer FemShep, and not just because I’m a woman. I mean, that is a part of it, of course; there’s something so cathartic about seeing a woman shoot a gun like a man in a video game (see also: when Rey first grabbed Luke’s lightsaber). I have played as BroShep and found the game just as enjoyable – in particular, the relationship with Tali because it was so freaking cute, as I’ve stated before – but I just connected more strongly with FemShep. Jennifer Hale’s performance was such a huge part of this, too; she just blows anything Mark Meer (BroShep) does out of the water, although he does improve by ME3.
I’ll just leave you guys here with this as just an example of why Jennifer’s performance just made the character for me:
* One of the major issues recently is how to approach a game with nonbinary genders, and I think that Bioware has a long way to go here, as is true of most entertainment media, but that’s another discussion.
Before I get into it, I need to wish my Sister Person a happy 34th birthday! She’s taking a social media vacation for the time being (she hasn’t said when she’ll be coming back or, well, if she will), but you should hop over on Twitter and wish her the best day ever!
Alright, back to the post. Just look at this art. LOOK. AT. IT.
As if this was ever in question. Seriously, the krogan are quite possibly the best race ever created. Like, ever. As it’s mentioned in the game (by Thane, I think???), there’s almost an innocence about them. The krogan are the id to the asari superego and the turian ego, embracing their violent nature with such a pure vigor that it’s almost … admirable?
The krogan have very obvious similarities to the human race: we have a tendency to fight each other over resources, resort to violence when there might be better, more diplomatic paths to take, ready to destroy our planet for short-term glory, revel in self-gratification instead of viewing the group’s benefit. Even Bakara admits that these characteristics, although augmented by the hopelessness of the genophage, existed prior to salarian interference. I can only see the krogan as a cautionary tale, kind of like Battlestar Galactica‘s examination of the effects of near-extinction on humanity. Could we ever reach that point of annihilation? I certainly hope that we can look at their example* and decide that, no, we will take the higher ground.
On a much less serious note, the krogan are my favorite to play in multiplayer. They’re so damned tough and, despite their diminished maneuverability and complete lack of subtlety, versatile. The battlemaster is one that I consistently play (not as often as my turian saboteur or salarian engineer, though), but the krogan sentinel and soldier are so much fucking fun. It doesn’t hurt that they laugh maniacally and bellow “TUCHANKA!!!” at random times. They’re definitely not for newbie players, but once you learn the mechanics of the characters, you can clean up pretty much any enemy post haste. I love it when my entire team is comprised of krogan. There’s usually a lot of head banging going on and plenty of competition to kill as many opponents as possible, more so than if you have a mixed squad. At the hands of an experienced player, a krogan can easily reign over the other classes in kill counts, especially when going up against more difficult opponents (ugh, Collectors, UGH).
Anyway, there you have it. The best species of the entire game series: the fucking krogan. And yes, I do include Andromeda in this. I don’t care how shitty that game was.
Mass Effect has some of the most memorable NPCs in all of gaming throughout its run, from the rogue AI that wants to blow up the Citadel in the first game to Major Kirrahe to Conrad Verner. They’re all so vividly imagined, and even though it’s a little difficult to narrow it down to one, I managed to do it.
God, I love Gianna. She is just so damned badass and no-nonsense. A part of me kind of wishes that I could do what she does: corporate espionage. I’m sure that, at some point, I’d completely lose my shit and just go rogue on the complete lack of humanity that thrives in such environments, but Gianna handles it expertly. And she gets such pleasure from nailing criminals, using her gifts – ones that could easily reward selfish desires – for the greater good.
In the first game, Gianna recruits Shepard to retrieve information about Administrator Anoleis (which you can choose to do or not), and in the second, you can help her (again, or not) convince an asari to show you some prototype mods that she stole back on Noveria. You learn quite a bit about her: she grew up poor but was surrounded by wealthy kids, so she figured out how to fit in with them without revealing her own background. She wanted to be a cop but wanted to help her family with bills, so she went with what would pay those, hinting at a much more tender version of herself that she doesn’t present to just anyone. Oh, and she also hates skirts.
Sadly, Parasini doesn’t return in ME3, which I found disappointing. It wasn’t like corporations stopped being greedy just because there was a war on. I mean, in the second game, there was a volus on Illium that was “short-selling prefabs” for monetary benefit, even though he was profiting from the misery and paranoia of the human colonists that wondered if their colony was next. Hell, she could have even been a contact for Shepard, finding information that hinted at Udina being dirty, therefore setting up the Cerberus takeover of the Citadel a bit better. Plus, Shepard had plenty of side missions that had absolutely nothing to do with the Reaper War, so it wouldn’t have detracted from the story, and we’d have had the chance to see her one last time. Damn, even Emily Wong sent an email, but from Gianna? Nothing. It was like she just disappeared.
Honestly, I just loved interacting with her. There was obviously some sort of unresolved sexual tension there, regardless of Shep’s gender, but for the most part, she kept it friendly and professional. Both Parasini and Shepard were fighters, albeit a different type, and there was a mutual respect present that could have made for a very interesting relationship, romantic or otherwise. I kind of hope that Dark Horse does a series based on Gianna. While I haven’t really enjoyed everything they’ve put out in their Foundation series, I would think that someone would jump at being able to do a Corporations Are Evil Featuring Gianna Parasini story. I know I would. Hey, Dark Horse! HIT. ME. UP.
Art Credit: eTeknix, this picture was on bioticarmitage’s tumblr, but I can’t find them on there anymore 😦
When I was first compiling a list of questions I wanted to address during this challenge, I was going to have a least favorite of each (mission, loyalty quest, and DLC), but then I got to thinking. Which one do I absolutely loathe playing? I mean, yes, I am annoyed that I have to waste my time aboard the corpse of the Estevanico; I don’t enjoy updating Thane every time Talid moves during his loyalty mission; driving the bulky Mako over all of that stupid terrain to get salarian IDs, resources, asari matriarch’s writings, etc. is mind-numbing. But I shrug and just do them. Because they, for the most part give me war assets in the end (not the Estevanico one, but whatever – it’s a quick mission, and those museum people send me a nice email afterward).
Not so with the Firewalker DLC for Mass Effect 2. I actually whine whenever I choose to complete them, and you know what? It’s not even necessary to the plot to do any of the missions. I am often reminded that I could just skip it altogether, but the completionist in me sometimes gets the better of me.
But anyway, where to start? Well, I hate the Hammerhead and was so fucking happy when I found out, via Cortez in Mass Effect 3, that it had probably been destroyed in a Reaper attack. The damn thing cannot handle enemy fire – it gets shot, like, two times and then starts smoking – and anytime I need to pick up supplies, it was so unwieldy that I just gave up on most. I mean, it’s not like I don’t already have a ridiculous amount of ore already. Racing around on that ice planet was purely maddening, and I found myself actually missing the Mako.
Second, the missions are … kind of boring. I am all for exploring different stories that don’t necessarily pertain to Shepard’s main goals, but good gravy, Bioware missed the mark on this one. The plight of Dr. Casey and Dr. O’Loy just didn’t do it for me, and that little orb (that we find out in ME3 was one of the objects the Leviathans use to control people) was a letdown in terms of rewards.
This DLC just didn’t really add anything to the game. I guess it kind of introduce the Leviathans, but instead of making want to know more about whatever they were trying to hint at, I ended up mainly just staring at the screen, wondering why I wasted my time on it. It’s a video game, I know, but still. I expected better from the people who were able to wow me with DLC like Lair of the Shadow Broker, or hell, even The Price of Revenge (Zaeed).
Okay, so I’m gonna start this with a disclaimer: i had initially titled a lot of these entries as “best,” but I ultimately decided to go with “favorite” instead. “Favorite” and “best” are two completely different animals, even if they’re both subjective, and this entry is a great example of that. The best Mass Effect DLC that Bioware put out, obviously in my opinion, is Lair of the Shadow Broker from Mass Effect 2. The story is great, the character development for Liara, who was arguably one of my least favorite characters in the first game, pushed her up into my Top 5, and I legitimately adore the soundtrack:
But my favorite is 100% the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3. Is it full of fan-service? Yes. Is it silly? Oh, most definitely! Is it a proper send-off to the Mass Effect series? Without a single doubt.
So much of the third game is mired in the reality of war, a war with a seemingly inevitable loss against an overwhelming force, and to have a short respite from all the desperation was welcome, as I imagined the characters would have felt. You know, if they were real and everything. I loved having the ability to bring the entire squad along with me (even if they weren’t on my squad), and every scene – except Ashley’s, oddly (or not so much, I guess, considering my general dislike of the character) – that I got to spend with my teammates separately was cherished. I really did feel like I’d gotten to know these fictional characters through the now countless hours I spent flitting around the galaxy. And the party? It’s like Bioware sat down in my brain and answered all of my questions.
What’s a krogan like when he’s drunk?
What’s a prothean like when he’s drunk?
Do Wrex and Grunt get along?
Is Samara always uptight?
Who would hang out together when they aren’t on a mission? What would they talk about*?
Will Jack** and Miranda ever get over their issues with each other?
Is Shepard really that bad of a dancer?
Sure, the story leading up to the party is a bit hokey, but I mean … I wanted something fun at this point in the game, right before heading into the resolution of the trilogy, and Citadel provided that in abundance.
As far as I remember, only Mass Effect 2 had loyalty missions. I mean, sure, you could help Wrex find his family armor, or you could locate Dr. Heart for Garrus in the first game. You could also choose to assist Tali on her pilgrimage by providing her geth data to send back to the quarian fleet. But none of these actually had any result on who lived or died like it did in ME2, and thank god developers kept loyalty missions out of ME3*. That game was already packed to the gills with stuff to do.
But anyway, out of all of the loyalty missions in ME2, my favorite was probably Mordin’s. It has a perfect mix of action, research, character development, and storytelling. As the layers of the mystery surrounding Maelon’s disappearance and “capture” by the krogan clan Weyrloc are slowly peeled away, we start to see a different side of Mordin: caring, spiritual, and remorseful in regards to his involvement with the genophage, even if he isn’t ready to admit it just yet. One of my favorite scenes is when he and Shep discover the body of a deceased female krogan and Mordin says what amounts to a prayer for her soul; as he stares at her corpse, he starts to realize the repercussions of his work. His actions in ME3 are a great extension of what happens in his quest – he’s able to start making up for it by tipping off Wrex (or the other krogan if Wrex is dead) and he wants to make life better for the krogan.
Dealing with Maelon presented an ethical dilemma for me, considering the choice given to me on the Collector base at the end of the game: do you keep the data from such horrific events, or do you deem it too tainted to be useful? Only one of my playthroughs ended with the Collector base intact, but I was surprised at Mordin’s reaction when I talked with him after the mission: he completely disapproved of my actions, even though we’d done the very same thing with Maelon’s data. Perhaps the writers meant to convey that Mordin didn’t trust the Illusive Man (a well-founded distrust, of course), but it seemed inconsistent with his character.
Of course, Mordin does happen to be one of my favorites of the whole Mass Effect series. His character arc, from his first appearance to his last, is one of the more well-developed ones, connected to the larger story through that of the krogan, and it began right here, shooting our way through the cavernous abandoned hospital on Tuchanka.
I love sandbox games: the more optional content, the better. Well, the more optional content that gives me a greater feel of the game’s universe, the better.While Mass Effect may not be a sandbox game like, say, Fallout: New Vegas, it does have a pretty extensive set of side missions that, while not necessarily required to complete the game, they shine lights on characters’ histories, worlds’ mysteries, and they give you experience points. Now, instead of choosing just one side mission, I’m going to list my favorite from each game, which I think is a bit more doable than narrowing it down to a single one.
Poor, poor Talitha.
If Bioware was trying to desensitize people to the annihilation of the batarians at the beginning of Mass Effect 3, this was the most effective way to get that ball rolling. After living the life of a batarian slave from a very young age, Talitha manages to escape but does not know how to exist in a world where she isn’t considered an animal, a thing. True, there’s no shooting or running from a volcanic explosion, but hearing Talitha tell her tale with the mental state of a victim is just as engrossing. Despite the short time I spent with her, I was delighted to get that email from her in ME2.
Shepard, I don’t know if you remember me. I had a gun and you stopped me from hurting myself. My doctors say I am doing better. One of them works with the people you work for. He told me he could get a message to you. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t talked to me that day, but the doctors are helping me. I am getting better. They put me in a special school, and they say I am doing good. The doctors say that other people are getting taken like I was. I hope you can help them like you helped me. Thank you, Talitha
It actually reminds me of when I worked at the Department of Human Services. A nineteen-year-old girl came into an interview with me, very nervous, and when she refused to explain how she was paying her rent, she nearly broke down into tears. She then just started babbling, saying that yes, she did turn tricks, but she never put her babies in any danger. I took a deep breath and told her, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to set you up with a three-month certification period for your food stamps and Medicaid and get you an appointment with our Families First department, so they can help you get a job. But until you do get a job, I need you to keep receipts. Or a ledger. It doesn’t really matter what you write on it, either, just as long as I get an idea of how much money you make, okay?” She was so surprised that I didn’t threaten to turn her into the police, and eventually, she did stop prostituting. But that wasn’t the best part. About a year and a half later – she had been working at a Wendy’s, if I recall, but still needed help covering food costs, childcare, and medical insurance – I got a phone call from her, and she proudly announced that I could shut off her food stamps.
“Well, I most definitely can do that! What happened?”
“I got me a real job! I’m now a legit massage therapist!”
She then went on to explain that, because I had treated her like a human being, she felt confident in herself and had gotten a scholarship to attend a tech school. It just filled my heart with joy knowing that I had any affect on that young woman’s life so that she could, ever so gradually, realize her worth as a person. Probably one of my favorite moments from my life.
Mass Effect 2
Say what you will about Conrad Verner, but I absolutely adore him. He’s just so gloriously naive and foolhardy, and he seems so blissfully unaware of everything that it’s amazing he can figure out how to put his armor on. Or walk in a straight line, for that matter. I love that we find out in ME3 that he has a doctorate in xenoscience. It’s just like, “Of course he does.”
I look forward to this side mission on Ilium every time I play the game, and I’m not exaggerating. Seeing him pretending to be Shepard (even if it’s not accurate to how my Shep treated him in the first game) in the bar is just so damn delightful, and honestly, I never had the heart to be mean to him, so I always leave him to remain ignorant of the fact that he’s a dumbass. I think I need to go watch videos of how a renegade can handle him, though – even if I’ll never be able to do it.
Mass Effect 3
I’m nothing if not consistent when it comes to the krogan, I guess. Not only do I resolve Char and Ereba’s relationship from ME2, I get to see Grunt again! This mission is also why I chose to kill the rachni queen in the first game; I didn’t want Grunt mad at me because his whole team is lost. Unlike the other two side missions on today’s challenge, this one focuses more on action than story, and I’m actually okay with that. I mean, this is Grunt, after all. Plus, without this mission, we’d never get to see this: