Saturday, 21 April 2012

Mass Effect Storyline

ATTENTION - THERE ARE SPOILERS APLENTY FOR EACH MASS EFFECT GAME


Hello.


As I recently mentioned on a previous blog a long, long time ago - yesterday - I've got quite the level of love and affection for Bioware's Mass Effect series.


Now by the look of this blog and taking a bit of a scan through the previous posts, you would be forgiven for thinking that I tend to appreciate the computer game medium. That would be because you'd be right.


Some people love films, or books, or certain TV shows, or music, or comics etc etc. They are all amazing as well of course, and heavily established parts of day-to-day life for almost every person on the planet. Be it just loving a certain TV show (my daughter has quite the obsession with Dora the Explorer), loving certain films (my lad has quite the obsession with Harry Potter and Star Wars) or being obsessed with a certain singer or band (a very good friend of mine has an almost unhealthy obsession with Jared Leto and 30 Seconds to Mars...poor mentally ill thing that she is) but my obsession is undoubtedly Mass Effect.


Everything about the game is outstanding. If the company gets their Extended Cut DLC right in the summer then I could easily go as far to say that the games are in fact - perfect.


Anyone who has played a Bioware game knows that they stand out from the rest, in no small part because of one incredibly vital component - Story. Be it Baulder's Gate, Dragon Age, Neverwinter Nights or even their own take on Star Wars in the 2003 classic Knights of the Old Republic or The Old Republic; Bioware are heavily focused on the story-telling aspect of video games.


Mass Effect is no different. It is probably the most intensive story that I have seen unfold before my eyes. And the extra sprinkle of greatness comes from the way you can shape your story, the way you can make it unfold the way you want it to - to a degree. If you read a book or watch a film, you are told a story. When you play a computer game - especially Mass Effect you are part of that story, telling it as you go. This is probably why you can't help but be so absorbed while playing.


I strongly encourage anybody who wants to learn more about any and all facets of the Mass Effect Universe to visit the Mass Effect Wiki.


Anyway, let me give you a bit of background in the game's own words...


In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time.


They called it the greatest discovery in human history.


The civilizations of the galaxy call it...


MASS EFFECT.


Already a nifty little slice of story pie. Basically, the first game is a tale of treachery, a bit of "cat n mouse" chasing, decisions, elevators, old secrets, twists, turns, elevators, massive revelations, elevators, new secrets and more elevators. In essence, you find out through a rogue Spectre (top level agents of the Citadel Council "the left hand of the Council, both our first and last line of defense"), Saren, that there is a secret, impossibly ancient race of sentient machine/organic hybrids called Reapers, that hide in dark space (the space between galaxies) for sentient life to rise from the primordial muck, develop the ability to fly spaceships really fast, colonise most if not all of the galaxy and to reach a certain point in their own development before coming out of dark space and harvesting all advanced sentient life in the galaxy through brutal force, efficiency and through the insidious means of indoctrination. Saren believes that by cooperating with the Reapers, that they will find a place for useful beings in during the inevitable harvest of all life. Oh I mustn't forget, along the way you stumble across this little terrorist group in a couple of side-missions called Cerberus who apparently are just out for the advancement of the human race. They do this through some brutal experiments and highly unethical methods - the ends justifies the means style. One of the main thing's they're trying to accomplish in this game is create a (cliche induced) Super Soldier from various aspects of other species. Below is a picture of Sovereign taking off from Eden Prime.




The way in which the Reapers know when to come out, is that they leave a single Reaper behind in the galaxy, a vanguard called Sovereign, who periodically observes the sentient races of the galaxy to establish when they are ready to be reaped. Sovereign then sends a signal to the Citadel - a massive space station of their own construction left to be discovered in order to be a natural hub of galactic politics and centre for all the races of the galaxy. The signal it sends to the Citadel converts it into a massive Mass Relay (a high-tech slingshot, many of these were again left by the Reapers, which flings spaceships from system to system across the galaxy) which links to the thousands of Reapers in dark space, they then flood through, and decapitate every race's government while also having immediate access to all records and census information in order to then systematically harvest all advanced life in the galaxy.


This pattern has been repeated over and over again, over millions of years. However during the last cycle, the Protheans (the previous dominant race in the galaxy) discovered exactly how this happened, and through a secret world untouched by the Reapers (due to no records being kept on it) they created their own mass relay called the Conduit that linked to the Citadel. After the Reapers thought they had finished their harvest, the last handful of Protheans travelled to the Citadel through it's newly created back door, and altered the signal to give some hope for the next cycle - us.


This time around, when Sovereign signaled the Citadel, nothing happened. This caused Sovereign to enlist help within the galaxy - how? How does a giant spaceship thingy ask for help? Not exactly the sort of ad you'd expect to see at your local Post Office..."HELP WANTED: SENTIENT MACHINE/ORGANIC HYBRID BY NAME OF SOVEREIGN REQUIRES HELP TO LET HIS FRIENDS INTO THE GALAXY IN ORDER TO HARVEST ALL ADVANCED SENTIENT LIFE. NO CRANK CALLS, SERIOUS OFFERS ONLY."


Sovereign does this through that little thing I mentioned before, indoctrination. It allowed itself to be discovered by the Spectre, Saren, who then boarded Sovereign, and eventually became it's slave. Sovereign also enlisted the help of a race of AI machines - the geth. It acknowledged them as useful tools to find out what happened to the Citadel's signal. They knew it had to be something to do with the Protheans from the last cycle, so hunted for knowledge on them - anything that was left. Below is a picture of Saren and some of his geth followers.




Then started the cat and mouse chase through the galaxy, Shepherd and his crew hunting for clues just a step behind Saren and his geth, travelling to the worlds of Noveria and Feros and also searching for a Prothean expert in the Artemis Tau Cluster. All the while, the Citadel Council - the effective rulers of the galaxy - maintain that all you're doing is hunting Saren, attempting to bring Saren in, and believe all of your talk of Reapers is elaborate bullshit spouted by Saren to trick you and try to help him.


Eventually however, you find the secret world of Ilos - the secret world I mentioned - home of the last few Protheans before they all died out. They find the Conduit - the prothean built mass relay to the Citadel - and the means of altering the signal back so Sovereign can call his chums in. After fighting through Ilos, Shepherd travels through the Conduit in pursuit of Saren, almost instantly moving the fight from Ilos to the Citadel. 


While Shepherd n Co and Saren with his geth are battling through the citadel to the top of the presidium where it'll all go down - Sovereign and it's geth slaves attack the Citadel's fleet of ships, in preparation for the rest of the Reapers to flood through.


A battle ensues in space around the Citadel and on the Citadel itself. Ultimately Shepherd beats Saren, and the Citadel fleet - spearheaded by the humans - defeats Sovereign and the geth. Yay! We're safe! For now. The Reapers will still come. One Day. Oh and after the final battle, you stand before either the Council or the human ambassador - surely now after a Reaper sat on top of the Citadel they're going to start believing you and preparing for the inevitable Reaper invasion. Yes. Brilliant, they know what they need to do! Prepare, ready themselves while they can! And they do! Below is a picture of Sovereign being destroyed inside the Citadel arms beside  the presidium.




Well not quite. They originally say all that I'm sure just to placate you, it's soon apparent in ME2 that they no longer think this, and therefore are not really preparing at all. 


Anyways cue Mass Effect 2. We start with the hero Commander Shepherd doing some sweep n clear ops on geth when suddenly a massive weird looking spaceship/hive/asteroid looking ship appears, destroys the Normandy and kills Shepherd. The spaceship belonged to an enigmatic race, thought by many to be a myth called the Collectors. Below is the SSV Normandy being ripped asunder by the Collectors main gun. 




So, Shepherd dies. If only it was the future and there were super duper futuristic methods of resurrecting corpses. Wait a minute...


You know that little terrorist group I mentioned before? Cerberus? Well it turns out they're not so little, and not strictly speaking a terrorist group, more a splinter group of the human race. Well they manage to recover Shepherds body, and they kick start Project Lazerus to turn the pile of "meat and tubes" that is currently the good Commander, and restore him into the man he once was. It's a slightly laborious project, taking a good 2 years to complete. But they do it, they bring him back from beyond the brink and return him to active duty, with a new spaceship - a bigger, better version of the original Normandy, some old friends and a mission. Below is a screenshot from the game showing the inside of one of Shepherds veins, being injected with some miracle formula to regenerate his blood.




Well this time around, the Collectors, the lot that killed you at the start, have been abducting entire human colonies. Leaving them in a kind of massive version of the Marie Celeste. Your mission, is to find out why, and stop them. You are guided by Cerberus's mysterious leader, known only as The Illusive Man or commonly known as TIM in forums online. He wanted you resurrected and unaltered in order to help lead humanity against the Collector and eventual Reaper threat, which is being largely ignored by the races of the galaxy. This is because they all now think - or want to think - that Sovereign was just a massive ship of geth design. And nothing more. Below is The Illusive Man, it may be the 22nd Century, but smoking still looks cool apparently.




Along the way, you'll need a crew - unfortunately most of your crew from the first game went their own ways after the Normandy was destroyed and you died. However the old ship's Doctor (Doctor Chakwas) and Pilot (Flt Lt Jeff "Joker" Moreau) joined up with Cerberus in order to work with you on the new Normandy SR-2. Along the way, you just so happen to reunite with some of your old crew and make some new friends along the way (characters will be touched upon in another blog) while investigating the Collector threat, you find out that once upon a time the Collectors used to be Protheans, re-purposed into the Collectors by the Reapers. They are controlled by a single Reaper - Harbinger - who has the ability to "assume direct control" of them from Dark Space across the galaxy.


The Collectors live beyond the unmapped Omega-4 mass relay, a relay which has seen thousands of ships through the years pass through but none return - apart from the Collectors. Through various investigations, you find out the means upon which the Collectors come and go through the relay, and manage to pass through yourself. You do, which brings you to the Collector base, where all of the harvested humans are being taken. You crash land on the base and enter, it is here you find out that all the humans are being turned into sludge, and pumped through tubes and vats to create a new Reaper. In game it is hypothesised that this is the Reaper version of reproduction - and the ultimate fate of all harvested races throughout all of the cycles. Below is a picture of Shepherd looking at the Human-Reaper, according to EDI - the Normandy's AI - this Reaper appears to still only be in an embryonic stage.




You end up destroying the human-Reaper and escaping the base as it is either destroyed or radioactively purged of all life - your choice. No matter what happens, Cerberus ends up being able to send lots of scientists and researchers in to find out what they can about the Reapers and how to defeat them...


Afterwards, as per the Arrival DLC, you are called into action by the Human Alliance in order to rescue a secret agent from prison. You do so, and find out that the Reapers are about to enter the galaxy through the system that you are in. The secret agent found this out and planned to destroy the system's mass relay by flinging a massive asteroid into it - even if the resulting explosion would be comparable to a supernova that would destroy the entire system and hundreds of thousands of civilian aliens. Well, as I said, you rescued this secret agent, and returned her to the asteroid which they want to propel into the mass relay...except they only know the Reapers are coming there because they found a Reaper artifact...which has indoctrinated all the people on the asteroid into not wanting to stop them coming. They proceed to capture Shepherd, and wait for the glorious arrival of their Reaper saviors. Except you're Commander Shepherd - qualified badass. 


You escape your captors and proceed to turn on the engines to throw the asteroid into the mass relay, taking out swarms and swarms of enemies along the way. You manage to escape, but not before having a little conversation with Harbinger who tells you the usual chuff about it all being inevitable, and a line I enjoy, "like dust struggling against the cosmic winds". Anyway, as I said, you are picked up at the last minute by the Normandy and escape by the skin of your teeth through  the mass relay just as the asteroid collides and eradicates the entire system. Below is the aforementioned asteroid colliding with the Mass Relay. 




You are informed by Admiral Hackett - another certified badass - that although he agrees that there was no other alternative, that you must return to Earth to face trial for this, as the batarians (the race of people who you have wronged slightly by destroying a mass relay and killing about 300,000 of them, again the Races of Mass Effect will be touched on in another blog) will want blood for this. Hence we begin Mass Effect 3. If you have yet to play ME3 but plan to, and are avoiding any spoilers, then do not read any more. Nice to see you here visiting, come back soon!!


Mass Effect 3 starts about 6 months after the events of Arrival. You're holed up on Earth, awaiting trial when you are summoned to face an Alliance defense board. Apparently a lot of very large things have appeared on long-range scans, and they're a bit worried it could be the Reapers. Maybe. Well they kind of dismissed the threat in the last game, and now they're thinking that maybe they were wrong to do so. And how right they were to be wrong! Not long after the meeting starts, you find out that the Moon has gone silent, and the UK is in the middle of a bit of a shitstorm of some descript. That's when all hell starts to break loose in the city of Vancouver. Below is a picture from one of the many cinematic pre-release trailers. It shows a few of the Reapers landing on Earth.






In short, Shepherd manages to flee Earth in the Normandy, and is tasked with going to the Citadel to rally the races of the galaxy to retake Earth. However just before leaving, you see a small boy that you tried to help die in an explosion which seems to definitely have an emotional affect on Shepherd. 


First however, you must stop off on Mars, the location of the massive Prothean archives mentioned in the very first opening scrawl because there could be something there that could point to a way of defeating the Reapers, since conventional warfare might take a couple out but wouldn't be sustainable or possible to defeat them all.


So you head to Mars and go to the archives, where you meet an old friend and find out that Cerberus is there in force in an attempt to get the data as well. After a lot of fighting with Cerberus troops and a trudging battle through the archives, you find out that the Cerberus troops have been heavily implanted with Reaper tech to improve their effectiveness, loyalty and strength. Eventually you find yourself at the central archive, but unfortunately Cerberus is there first. They not only have taken all of the data, but have started to destroy it as well. You manage to salvage some of the info, luckily the info required and you find out that the Reapers are not the only bastards to be messed with in this final war, but Cerberus will be a thorn in your side as well.




You find out that the Protheans had plans for a super-weapon, one capable of destroying the Reapers completely, called the Crucible. The Human Alliance starts to tentatively pick through the plans for the Crucible in an attempt to understand it, and to eventually build it. Meanwhile, you head to the Citadel.


At the Citadel you're told by the other races that they just cannot help the humans or assist in retaking Earth, a bit of a bummer since it's currently being bummed by the Reapers. However mission after mission, favour after favour, you manage to get a lot of the other races onboard as they see more and more how desperate the situation is getting. Every now and then, you find yourself having disturbing dreams where you are chasing after the small boy who died on Earth, only for him to burst into flames when you catch up to him.


(Side note: I could delve into a lot more detail on the story, like the way the turians enter the war or the krogan with their genophage, but if I do I'll end up writing more of a novel than a blog, and it's already looking pretty large! More details on the Races will come later.)


After getting some of the other races onboard, you find out that the human Councillor is assisting in a Cerberus coup led by the Cerberus Assassin, Kai Leng, to kill the Council and take control of the Citadel themselves. However after some heartbreak and some intense fighting at a location that was always a safe haven, you stop the coup and gleefully kill the human Councillor. Trust me. He's a douche. This is a bit of a wake up notice for the races of the galaxy, one of which promises support in the Crucible and the retaking of Earth as a direct result of this.


You manage to rally more races, through more missions, possibly most importantly you manage to gain geth support. (Side Note: I should have mentioned, it turned out that the geth antagonists in ME1 were geth heretics, who joined with the Reapers or Old Machines to be given their future. True geth decide their own future.) In gaining geth support you also resolve a centuries old balls up, after the creators of the geth - the quarians - are able to return to their home planet after being forcefully evicted by the geth centuries before. Below is a picture of a quarian and a geth prime after resolving their conflict.




(Side Note: Listen, I understand that there is an awful lot of information to take in and that I might seem like I'm rambling. However know this, I'm taking all this information from my own cortex and not referring to any source online whatsoever. This is how much the story just invades your mind and takes center-stage.)


Nearing the end, you find out that the Crucible is almost finished, the fleets of the universe are gearing up for a final battle over Earth and more and more people are signing up for the cause. You find yourself at another Prothean Archive, hidden for thousands of years by the advanced asari race. They are under heavy assault by the Reapers, and know that time is of the essence if they are to salvage anything from their own homeworld - Thessia. Below is an image of the Statue of Athame, which you can see starting to crack. Hidden within is another Prothean Archive.




Now the reason you need to go to Thessia, is because while building the Crucible, they find out that they need a second component - the Catalyst. Without it, the Crucible is a giant white elephant, so they need the data from this second archive to establish what the Catalyst is.


You arrive on Thessia and fight your way to the archive, only to be royally fucked in the eye-hole by Cerberus yet again. You find the archive, and even start to speak to it's Virtual Intelligence when Cerberus assassin, Kai Leng, arrives, takes you and your squad down and takes it away before you can get the info you need.


Balls.


You return to the Normandy and tell the asari Councillor that Cerberus beat you to the punch, and depressed you address your crew. Luckily, one of your crew is able to pinpoint where Kai Leng went. To the world of Horizon, the home of Sanctuary - a location that is constantly mentioned in the background as a supposed safe haven from the Reaper War.


You arrive at Horizon and find that indeed the assassin is there - you also find that Sanctuary is a Cerberus front. It's actually a massive lab, where the thousands, if not millions of refugees are tricked into coming and then brutally killed in horrific experiments to figure out methods of controlling the Reaper ground forces - and eventually the Reapers themselves.


If ever there was a single example of how evil and brutal Cerberus is, this is it. Preying on the fear and desperation of scared refugees, they manage to find out that it is possible, in theory to control the Reapers. A former crew mate is already at Horizon, and will let you know that she placed a tracker on the Cerberus assassin who has been a pain in the arse this game - which leads you directly to the secret HQ of Cerberus. You still need to find out what the Catalyst is, so to Cerberus HQ we go.


You arrive at Cerberus HQ, and have to obliterate all resistance in your path. You eventually find yourself at The Illusive Man's cool spacey room, where the prothean VI is. You have to kill Kai Leng before you can finish up here, and unfortunately you find out that The Illusive Man has fled to the Citadel so he's still in the picture.


Speaking of the Citadel, you find out that that is the Catalyst. In a bit of a twist, TIM has informed the Reapers that everyone now knows what the Citadel is and what it can do. So logically, the Reapers come to the Citadel, and take it away, in orbit over the Earth. Where they can defend it heavily.


Hence the final battle. Below is an image of the combined fleets rallied near Earth.




So the final push arrives. The combined fleets of the galaxy descend to our little planet in an attempt to retake Earth and to set up the Crucible with the Citadel/Catalyst. You also find out that the Reapers have set up a direct link, again called the Conduit, to the Citadel from London. Therefore in order to get inside the Citadel to activate it with the Crucible, you need to go to Old Futuristic London Town and enter the Conduit.


So that's what you do. Using the Normandy's stealth drive you manage to get your boots on the ground in London where you fight your way through wave after wave of Reaper forces until you reach the Conduit - see the picture below. The Normandy meanwhile joins the massive fight in the space around the Earth. Below is the Conduit in London.




Well this is where things get a little hairy in the story department and has caused massive controversy, and resulted in Bioware declaring that an Extended Cut DLC will be available in a few months to expand the ending. It is all very much up for debate but this is my take on it - as well as many other people.


You and the ground forces start to charge at the Conduit, unfortunately the Reaper, Harbinger (from ME2) is standing guard over it, and destroying everything that comes close. Eventually destroying a thick path in front of you, which results in you being knocked out.


You wake up to hear over the radio that all ground forces were obliterated, and that nobody made it to the Conduit. Shit bags. Looks like it's up to Shepherd to limp there. After limping there and taking out a few enemies along the way with your pistol that has a seemingly never-ending supply of ammo, you hit the Conduit and are transported to a weird central chamber in the Citadel.


Again you're knocked out for a short while, but when you come to, you find that Anderson - your mentor through the trilogy and leader of the resistance on Earth - is there as well, as he is communicating with you through the radio.


You limp your way through the long corridor, which resembles various locations throughout the trilogy, and find yourself in a central chamber where Anderson is already at a console - but seemingly partly under the influence of the Reapers.


As you start talking to him, The Illusive Man appears, and whenever he talks near you, black shadows crawl in from the sides of the screen - seemingly showing the signs of indoctrination on you. Eventually both TIM and Anderson die in the resulting conversation, and you are contacted by Admiral Hackett that the Crucible is in place with the Citadel but nothing is happening. You need to do something on the Citadel.


You crawl towards the console that Anderson was at, when you collapse and the floor underneath you raises up to another area. Upon entering this area, you are greated by the ghostly apparition of the small child who you saw die on Earth, who has haunted your dreams. This StarChild informs you that he is the Catalyst, and that it lives on the Citadel. It informs you that he created the Reapers (synthetic beings created from harvested advanced organic races) in order to protect advanced organic races from their apparent eventual demise at the hands of their own synthetic servants (like the geth...who are helping you and now living in peace with their creators. Or EDI - the Normandy's own AI that inhabit's a saucy robot body...who wants nothing but to help and support the crew of the Normandy, who has said that she would die for them)...cue funny picture. Below is actually an accurate representation of what the purpose of the Reapers is.




However, then you're given the option to either Control the Reapers, which doesn't kill them, but gives you total control of them. Destroy them, which...will destroy them. Or depending on your playthrough - Synergy. This will bind your DNA with the Catalyst and result in all beings - synthetic and organic being merged the same DNA. The result, no matter what you do is this video:




Essentially whatever you do results in the same thing - except the colour of the explosion. There are many questions and many flaws in this ending, which is why Bioware are going to address it in the Extended Cut coming in the Summer.


IN SUMMARY


The story of Mass Effect is amazing. It's action packed, filled with hundreds of decisions which directs the way you look at the whole game. I've just played through the trilogy as a nice lovely guy, and as a complete bitch and it does make the game feel quite different. Except that at the end all the Mass Relays get destroyed which - as is confirmed in the Arrival DLC - destroys the entire system that the relay is in. So it kind of makes you feel like all of the decisions that you might have mentally fought yourself to make, had absolutely ass all effect. In spite of this, I will play through the games again and again in the hope for now that things are clarified in the summer. Even if it doesn't make a lot of difference - I'll still love them. This trilogy of games for me cannot be ruined by the last moments of Mass Effect 3.


Thank you for reading through this blog which has been a labour of love today!


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