Monday, May 16, 2011

My Grand Plan to Fix Mass Effect 2's Story [Updated]

[This is a post from a year ago, rewritten because I saw the ad for "Prothean Squad Member" DLC and got kinda pissed off. I ended up buying anyway, so congrats, EA. I'm a sucker. But still, they haven't yet taken away my right to be an Angry Internet Nerd.]

Well, the plan grand as far as I'm concerned, mainly because it's a single change that I think would have made the whole affair much easier to swallow.

I'm not going to bother will all the messy details, because was almost entirely inspired by Shamus Young's legendary three-part dissection of Mass Effect 2's plot holes. Read it. He's one of the most crotchety writers in the scene, but he's more often right than wrong.

Once you're done with that, you might think that yeah, Mass Effect 2's main story is pretty bad, and thankfully it's inconsequential enough that it doesn't do damage to the rest of the game, but Mass Effect 3's story must must must do better than this and make good on a lot of the holes they poked into their own franchise.

Now that 3's out and most folks have already seen the leaked endings (I haven't, so don't you dare spoil them), it's a bit too late to fix everything that was wrong with 2.

Oh yeah, making Mass Effect 2's bad plot easier to swallow. All those problems aside, you know what would have been great and made it all a less bitter pill, and even opening new opportunities for spinoffs and all the side material they're so fond of these days? My grand idea, that's what.

In one sentence it goes as follows:

Divorce the Collectors from the Reapers.

That's all they needed to do. That's it. With that, everything is begrudgingly forgiven (by me).

To details.

The big problems with the Collectors were already outlined by Shamus. Their very existence diminishes the Reapers' mystique and flies in the face of what we know about them, and the circumstances of their defeat and its aftermath hold absolutely no consequence for Mass Effect 3's resolution.

But. But! We can fix all that by separating the Collectors from the Reapers. Cut the ties, burn the bridges, make these horrible organic creatures their own horrible organic creatures.

Think of it this way:

In the game, these are three of the four primary facts about the Collectors:
  1. The Collectors serve the Reapers.
  2. The Collectors use mostly organic (or organic-looking) technology.
  3. The Collectors are building a Reaper out of human slurpee juice.
But fact #4 is the most important:

4.The Collectors are former Protheans.

They're Protheans, the last, greatest civilization destroyed by the Reapers. Up until the very end of Mass Effect 1, and even through to 2, the Protheans were thought to have created the Mass Relays, which form the backbone of galactic civilization.

As we know it was the Reapers and not the Collectors, but even then, the Protheans were definitively one of the greatest powers known. Unless you reveal their secret connection to Halo's Progenitors, of course. Even the current Citadel government apparently pales in comparison.

They still stood no chance against the Reapers, but (but!), were still powerful enough to temporarily escape extinction, by sabotaging the Citadel relay, and establishing the cryo-sanctuary Shepard visited in Mass Effect 1.

What if the Collectors were not Protheans that were captured and converted into slaves by the Reapers, but Protheans that escaped the Reaper genocide, hiding in a sanctuary behind the Omega-4 relay, on the edge of a black hole, in a place even the Reapers would have trouble getting to?

It's plausible. They were an awesomely great galactic superpower. They built the beacons. They built Vigil. They built the tiny duplicate Mass Relay that teleported the Mako into the Citadel for that big final fight with Saren.

But tens of millenia is a long time. A long time for the Protheans to have thought of ways to survive, to defend themselves against the Reapers when they came again.

Here's another what-if: What if the Protheans decided that the best way to survive the next Reaper invasion was to build their own Reaper? Fire vs. fire, Reaper vs. Reaper. So they duplicate the Reaper concept, maybe based on a Reaper they managed to disable way back when (Hint: it's the derelict Reaper Shepard gets his IFF from).

Maybe they decide to copy that. They see that Reapers aren't robots, but techno-organic constructs that incorporate exceptional traits from the civilizations they destroy. Maybe the Reapers are like the Borg or Brainiac, who evolve and reproduce by copying/assimilating their best foes, then eradicating them. Like the Machines from The Matrix, every time they destroy Zion/galactic civilization, they get better at destroying Zion/galactic civilization.

So, they observe the species that crawl out of the muck, the ones with the greatest potential. They hide behind the relay, occasionally hanging out in the Terminus systems to trade cool organic guns for genetic samples of rare fauna and your preorder dollars.

Then some human goes and manages to blow up a Reaper! Sweet, that's the species they need. Plan A goes into motion! Slurpees for all! Kidnap a bunch, then into the tubes they go!

See? The Protheans are suddenly deep, nuanced and compelling:  A species fallen from grace, turned into villains by the desperation of their circumstances. They did what they thought needed to be done, and what needed to be done was to kill one civilization to save their own, to make slurpees out of others rather than be vaporized by unknowable space-gods hiding in the cold depths. They picked the galactic-scale Renegade option.

There. Now they matter. Now Shepard can justify blowing up their base, because the Protheans chose to become the Collectors for the sake of survival. If humanity does the same, they lose the soul of their species. There's a Paragon choice for you.

And then Cerberus is a proper villain, like they apparently are in 3 now. They wanted to do Renegade, but Shepard did Paragon. Plus, if Shepard himself/herself went Renegade in the last decision and preserved the base (I know I did), then maybe the Illusive Man wanted to go ahead with the Prothean solution. And Shepard, as a beacon of hope for humanity, is a liability. After all, he was defending all the people Cerberus would now have to abduct and Jamba Juice. This would be the perfect motivation for them to try hunting Shepard down.

Mass Effect 2: fixed. You're welcome.

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