Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ME2, pt.3: A Hive Enemy


Update: in this post, I forget that Collectors are Protheans warped by the Reapers; an important and interesting plot point. I'll leave my post unedited, and let you decide whether my complaint about the Collectors is still valid. Many thanks to CalKi for pointing out my error!

While on the topic of story, I wanted to bring up some thoughts about the Collectors as a primary enemy. The early premise of an advanced species on the edge of known space, so rarely sighted as to be considered myth is really intriguing, but I have two complaints about the Collectors: (1) an advanced, mysterious enemy is only frightening for as long as it maintains this mystique, at which point (2) an enemy needs to get personal to stay interesting, which is hard to pull from an insect.

Advanced, Mysterious, and Personal
An example of doing this right, interestingly, can be pulled from Mass Effect (1). In ME1, the Reapers maintained their threat as sentient, super-advanced giants capable of handily wiping out every species in the universe because I only fought them by proxy. Saren made things personal. Not only was I angry with him for putting humanity at risk, but more personally important, for putting my profession at stake and acting as an obstacle to humanity's inclusion in the intergalactic council.

Naughty Bugs
A personal enemy was even more important in ME2 because I already defeated a Reaper. Unfortunately, the Collectors were chosen to fill the bill. Yes, they showed me a Collector General that took control of enemies on the battlefield, and yes, the Collectors stole my crew, but because I never met this character face-to-face or more importantly, believed it had a motive more interesting than an insect's, it was like trying to get angry at a hurricane for blowing things over. I can only get so angry at a bug for doing bug things.

I find it interesting that in my last post I complained about the Reapers, and in this post describe Saren as an interesting diversion that make them work. Perhaps my previous complaint was just an ME2 problem caused by the absence of a personal enemy. So what might be an alternative?

Let me throw out some personal preferences to guide things. First, I liked the Illusive Man but hated being under his thumb and having my past achievements rendered null by being blown up. Second, I wish the Reapers seemed more scarily active, rather than waiting to be rebuilt. Third, I really liked the "Legion" character and plot points. Finally, I liked where ME1 ended.

What If...
ME2 starts shortly after ME1, with Shepard doing miscellaneous tasks for Ambassador Udina (human Council member) as a Spectre. His missions begin with a focus on the Illusive Man, who is causing problems for human representation because of his radical activities. Shepard discovers a connection between the Geth and the Illusive Man. The Illusive Man appears to want the power of the Reapers to who-knows-what-end. What Shepard learns through enough missions is that the Illusive Man has discovered the "good Geth" that are fighting against the Heretics (bad Geth), who have new, subversive tools acquired from the remains of the Reaper you destroyed in ME1. The Heretics essentially have control over the human council, either directly (through implant) or through manipulation (understanding and manipulation of human psychology, or the ability to look like humans (why not add Cylons)). Having identified humanity as the greatest threat against their cause, they attempt to setup the Illusive Man (humans) to wipe out a human (and good Geth) threat while simultaneously setting the stage for the removal of humankind from the council. At some point, Shepard must rebel, incriminate mankind to join the Illusive Man (and his weird eyes; a byproduct of the good Geth experimenting on the Heretic connection with humans) and stop the Heretics and the Reapers. If the Collectors are necessary, they act as an example of what happens when the Heretics (bad Geth) assume control of a species, the same way they are beginning to influence (the much more socially complex) humans. Perhaps the connection to the Illusive Man is only discovered when investigating the Collectors, as the good Geth are present to find out how control was assumed over the insect race.)

This scenario might unravel for a host of reasons familiar to those closer to the Mass Effect universe. Regardless, it's a fun exercise to try reestablishing the Reapers as an advanced and mysterious threat (e.g., by manipulating humanity) while offering up a personality to get under your skin (e.g., initially through the Illusive Man, and then Udina, who works to unravel everything you worked for in the previous game; the progress of humanity, your status as a peace keeper, and the safety of the universe). I'd prefer that over a mindless bug, especially given the franchise's emphasis on choice through dialogue.


  1. [Spoilers abound]

    Alan you seemed to have forgot to mention that the Collectors were actually a certain and important alien race that had undergone centuries of DNA manipulation by the Reapers to look the way they did. The ghastly insect look may have not have personalized the experience at first but once I realize their back story I felt more intrigued.

    I really like the "good" vs Heretic Geth 'what if' though, I was actually enthralled by the idea that the Geth we spent all this time blowing to bits in ME1 were actually renegade offshoots from a highly intelligent and marginally peaceful synthetic race(if you can call them that)

  2. [More spoilers]

    The Prothean connection! I did forget! By my experience, you are right on both points: that that was an interesting (and important) plot point, and didn't do anything to make the experience more emotionally engaging, apparently to the point of my forgetting where they came from. Oi.

    Thanks for the reminder. I'll comment tomorrow about your comment!

  3. Actually, I decided to add an update to this post. I thought it would be bad to separate the correction from the bad content in the post. Thanks again for pointing out my error!

  4. No worries at all man.