After taking a detour to stop a Batarian terrorist plot we rejoin Kylie Shepard as she makes her way to Noveria. The icy world, sitting just outside of Citadel space, is a hot spot for corporate research that would be deemed illegal under the laws of the Citadel. Shepard has reason to believe Saren’s top lieutenant, Matriarch Benezia, is visiting one of the labs on the planet and she intends to hunt her down.
When Shepard first arrives on Noveria she is informed that she will need a garage pass to follow Benezia to the Peak 15 research facility. For Kylie Shepard getting the garage pass gave her a crash course in how things work on Noveria. After a brief meeting with Administrator Anoleis goes nowhere Shepard is tipped off by the administrator’s assistant, Gianna Parasini, to speak to a Turian named Lorik Qui’in.
It turns out Anoleis has been granted control of lab rents on Noveria and is taking bribes for them; Qui’in has proof in his office. Anoleis has found out however and is using Noveria’s security forces to ransack and search Qui’in’s office. Qui’in offers his garage pass in exchange for the evidence. Shepard makes her way into the office, dispatches the security and retrieves the evidence. As Shepard leaves the office Parasini asks that she meet her for a drink before delivering the evidence to Qui’in.
During that meeting she reveals she is a member of Internal Affairs and is investigating the administrator for his corruption, which has angered Noveria’s corporate overlords. She asks for your help in convincing Qui’in to turn over his evidence and testify against Anoleis. Shepard easily convinces Qui’in to testify and collects her garage pass. She also gets to witness Parasini arresting a defiant Anoleis.
The first part of the mission on Noveria is very different from the other missions I have played up to this point. Both the side and main missions have focused heavily on combat. Dialogue is used sparingly, usually to present the player with a choice to make. Noveria flips that on its head and instead has only one minor combat encounter while focusing on the dialogue and corporate intrigue.
The first half of Noveria showcases the game trying to execute a “quieter” moment. This is a problem that can’t be solved by going in guns blazing and until now that hasn’t really been the case. While it’s a relatively simple story it’s a welcome break from the previous mission structures. The biggest disappointment for me was how brief this section was, taking only 20-30 minutes to finish, before it reverted back to more combat driven gameplay. While it wasn’t flawless there was some genuine interest in the corporate drama they were building. I would have loved to spend more time exploring the politics surrounding Noveria.
On bugs and boss battles
After reaching the Peak 15 research facility Shepard is greeted by a few insectoid aliens. While she doesn’t know it yet, she is facing off with the thought to be extinct Rachni. To catch up those who may not remember, the Rachni were an extremely aggressive insect race that brought the galaxy to its knees during the Rachni Wars. Ultimately the discovery and uplifting of the Krogan brought an end to the war. The Krogan, who could survive harsh climates, took the fight to the Rachni home world and wiped the entire race out.
The trip through the first half of the research facility is pretty much your standard Mass Effect dungeon, although this one does come with its own Tower of Hanoi puzzle. After completing the puzzle and reactivating the tram Shepard takes off for the laboratories.
Once there Shephard finds a group of scientists and security personnel fighting for their lives as the Rachni have gotten loose in the facility. With supplies and morale running low they are at their wit’s end and could really use some help. In exchange they can let you into the sealed areas where Benezia has gone. After running some errands for the trapped scientists (and staving off an assassination attempt) Shepard finally reaches Benezia.
Benezia has been talked up throughout the game as one of the most powerful and influential Asari. Her strength in biotics in particular has been mentioned. The immense respect other characters have for her makes the fight with her that much more disappointing. Rather than fight you directly, she sends waves of Asari commandos and Geth soldiers after you while occasionally freezing Shepard and her party in place. After defeating a few waves of soldiers she collapses in the center of the room.
The whole sequence feels bizarre and anti-climactic. I assume she collapses from exhaustion but she did so little during the fight that it just makes her seem weak, especially in light of the way she has been described. It also highlights a common and valid criticism of the game: boss battles. Another previously blind spot in my adoring love of this game, I expect to confront it a few more times before it’s over. In the end what could have been an interesting and dynamic encounter is resolved in a very unsatisfying way. A character that I had been told to respect and fear wasn’t given the opportunity to showcase her power and the entire encounter felt like no thought went into it.
With Benezia “defeated” Shepard interrogates her and finds that the Peak 15 research team found and hatched a preserved Rachni egg. The egg turned out to be that of a Rachni queen and Saren hoped to use its ancestral memory to find a lost mass relay. Benezia also reveals that Sovereign, Saren’s ship, has the ability to weaken the will of those who come in contact with it. The Indoctrination allows Saren to more easily manipulate his followers and the way she speaks about it makes it sound like mind control. Having played through this series multiple times it was a nice bit of nostalgia to remember how huge series spanning concepts like Indoctrination got their start.
After Benezia passes away the Rachni queen uses the reanimated corpse an Asari soldier as a mouthpiece to speak to Shepard. She tells her that because she was separated from her children they went insane and became violent. She knows the Rachni’s history and has no wish to attack the other races. Instead she wants to be freed to live a hidden, peaceful existence. Shepard is given the choice to kill the Rachni queen or let her go.
This is arguably the most interesting choice in the game. For most of the choices there are pretty clear “good” and “bad” options; very rarely does the game touch on grey areas. When it does it usually presents pretty clear outcomes for those decisions. This decision is shrouded in mystery and the repercussions are truly unable to be deduced based on the information given. As the series was always planned as a trilogy BioWare promised that decisions made in this game would carry over to the next and their outcomes may not always be evident right away. This key choice was exactly the kind of thing I was excited for in the lead up to release.
In an effort to try and analyze this decision I took some steps to prepare for it. I noted down all the mentions of the Rachni to this point as well as the context. I also took time to reread the Codex entries involving the Rachni beforehand as well. The idea was that I wanted to go into this decision armed with all the information presented in this game regarding the Rachni and frame the discussion around that. In the end I couldn’t find any point where the Rachni were portrayed in a positive light. Even discussions about their extinction at the hands of the Krogan centered more on the inevitability of the decision rather than any real remorse for it.
This actually helped to really put pressure on me, and by extension Shepard, to think about the decision. The game had not presented any argument that the Rachni were more than mindless killing machines. This attitude is reinforced throughout the mission as every Rachni the player encounters is hostile. The consensus is that Citadel space is only threatened by their existence. At the same time the game asks the player to commit genocide. Killing the queen effectively dooms the race to extinction for the second time. Ultimately Shepard couldn’t bring herself to decide the fate of an entire species but it’s not a decision she feels good about.
With another major mission down the conclusion inches ever closer. Shepard has made some startling discoveries and some far reaching choices. I continue to enjoy the game although I am also a little shocked that I overlooked some of the more glaring flaws for so long. I am almost into the last third of the game, which I remembered as the best part, and time will tell if it still holds up.