Revisiting Mass Effect: Part 6

If you missed any of the previous entries you can check the whole thing out here.

Kylie Shepard has finally pieced together all the clues in her hunt for Saren and Sovereign. However instead of racing after Sovereign, Shepard has been called back to the Citadel on the Council’s orders. With grudging acceptance Shepard obeys the command.

Grounded

Why should we let our Spectre do her job?

When Shepard arrives at the Citadel she learns that she can’t leave. The Council, with the support of Earth’s ambassador Udina, has grounded her. While the Council does believe Saren is a threat they still don’t trust Shepard’s visions of the Reapers. The Council doesn’t want to risk a possible diplomatic incident – or worse – by allowing a Citadel ship to enter the Terminus Systems. Shepard is angry, but her warning falls on deaf ears.

Thankfully, Captain Anderson has a plan to get Shepard off the Citadel. He meets Shepard at the nightclub Flux to present his plan. He can either sneak into C-Sec and override the order or he can “hack” Udina’s computer and rescind the lockdown. Shepard, fearing an armed C-Sec response, suggests that he use Udina’s terminal. It’s in the next scene that we learn that Captain Anderson doesn’t know what hacking is. His “hack” of Udina’s computer is to walk up to the ambassador while he is logged in, punch him in the face and then use his computer. The whole thing comes off as a “grandpa doesn’t understand computers” moment and endeared Anderson to me a bit more. The captain succeeds and Shepard jets away from the Citadel.

This choice is one of the prime examples of the game’s – and ultimately series’ – lack of consequences for several of the choices. Both Shepard and Anderson express some concern about the possible outcome for Anderson if he goes through with his plan. Treason is brought up during the conversation. However, other than a different cut scene, there aren’t any consequences I saw (or that I remember from my numerous other playthroughs). This trickles down through the series as minor decisions have no consequence or only receive a quick email callback in later games. In the context of the series, and especially the ending of Mass Effect 3, this moment epitomizes a lot of those feelings. Shepard has the illusion of choice but the outcome is the same regardless of the decision.

The chase is on

After a brief detour Shepard and the Normandy are back on track.

With the Normandy free again, Shepard wastes no time venturing through the Mu Relay. Ilos is unlike any of the other major planets seen so far. While it has Prothean ruins, with some similarity to Feros, it has lush plant life and feels more alive than any of the other locales. Of course, our old friends the Geth are here and it isn’t long before Shepard is having another firefight in ancient alien ruins.

After battling through waves of Geth, Shepard eventually opens the way forward. As she is chasing after Saren she is stopped by an forcefield and meets Vigil, a Prothean virtual intelligence. Vigil informs Shepard that the facility on Ilos was the Prothean’s last ditch effort to stop the Reaper invasion. The Protheans, much like current society, based themselves out of the Citadel which gave the Reapers easy access to their government and leaders. The Protheans discovered the Keepers, the Citadel’s enigmatic caretakers, were responsible for signaling the Reapers. The Ilos research team developed a way to sever the Keepers’ ties to the Reapers and this time no signal was sent. The Conduit that Saren has been chasing is actually a mass relay on Ilos that links to the Citadel. Without the Keeper signal, it is Sovereign’s only hope of regaining control and signaling his brethren.

With the major info dump out of the way Shepard goes on an action packed Mako chase. This is the best Mako sequence in the game as its tightly paced and doesn’t overstay its welcome unlike some of the others. The sequence ends with a race to the mass relay, with the Mako crash landing right in front of the Citadel tower.

The final confrontation

Remember, don't look down.

As Shepard arrives at the Citadel, Saren has already made his way to the Council Chambers and taken control of the station. Sovereign also moves into position atop the tower and closes the arms, separating the Reaper from the Citadel fleet. When Shepard’s elevator is stopped halfway up the tower she isn’t deterred. Instead she blows the elevator open, jumps out and begins climbing the tower on foot. This is the best set piece in the game. You can see Sovereign in the distance and you climb the tower and the Geth throw everything they have at you, resulting in some of the toughest encounters in the game.

Reaching the top, she finds Saren and they chat. Shepard finally convinces Saren he is a pawn and the Reapers have no intention of honoring the agreement he made with Sovereign. Saren makes one final sacrifice, taking his own life to stop Sovereign from gaining control of the Citadel and opening the door for the Reaper invasion. Sovereign had other plans, and shows that even after death the Reapers still controlled Saren. Using his cybernetic augments, Sovereign reanimates Saren’s body and has him battle Shepard.

You don't look well Saren. You should probably get that checked out.

In what would later become a Mass Effect tradition, the final boss is anticlimactic. After the reveal on Virmire that Sovereign is a Reaper, and in turn the big bad, the desire is to battle him. Obviously, there are some issues with scale. How do you make a battle feel compelling between a tiny person and giant sentient spaceship after all? Even with those issues it still feels like a bit of a cop out, especially when defeating Cyber-Saren inexplicably causes Sovereign to become vulnerable. It doesn’t help that the final battle is simple and doesn’t offer any meaningful challenge.

Shaping the galaxy

After defeating Cyber-Saren Shepard opens the Citadel arms again, coinciding with the arrival of the Alliance feat. It is at this moment that she is faced with the game’s and most important choice. The Destiny Ascension, the flagship of the Citadel fleet, is carrying the Council and under heavy fire. The Alliance fleet could save the ship but it would have to divert resources away from the battle with Sovereign to do so. It isn’t explained why Shepard is making the call instead of Alliance command, but they leave the decision to her.

This decision has always seemed like a no-brainer to me and I’ve always been troubled by how its portrayed. The Renegade option is focusing on Sovereign. In my (and Kylie’s) mind that is the only choice. There is no data on the Reapers beyond what Shepard has seen in a vision or just learned on Ilos. No one knows how much force it will take to defeat this thing, and in fact for much of the battle the fleet wasn’t even able to damage it because of its immensely powerful shields. The Council doesn’t matter if there isn’t a galaxy for them to govern. On top of that, the government can’t be so fragile that the death of the Council causes it to collapse. There are certain to be detailed succession plans in the event something happens. Losing all three Council members at once would certainly be tougher than losing one but there must be some contingency in place.

Things are about to get rough for you Sovereign.

For Kylie Shepard, the choice was easy. If Sovereign calls in the rest of the Reapers none of this matters. She advises the fleet to focus everything on taking out the Reaper. The Council is lost but the fleet prevails and Sovereign is destroyed, although not without the wreckage causing severe damage to the Citadel. With the Council dead humanity is ready to step into the void and lead a new Council. Shepard is then given the final choice of the game, deciding between Udina and Anderson for humanity’s Council representative.

This was a more difficult decision than I expected it be. In the past, I have never really thought about this decision. Instead it’s always been a Paragon/Renegade choice, with Anderson representing the Paragon option. Kylie Shepard needed to think about it. While she doesn’t particularly like Udina he has been successful in his post. Humanity has continued to gain more power and responsibility during his time as ambassador. He is also a politician, rather than an idealist, and would be able to better navigate that side of the job than Anderson. Anderson’s biggest claims are that he has a strong moral center and is a respected military leader. You can trust that he will always try to do the right thing and his military experience will be valuable. With a war against the Reapers looming it would be helpful to have a decorated military mind leading the Council.

In the end, Kylie’s background pushed Anderson over the top. She was a space born kid, growing up on military vessels and joining the Alliance as soon as she was old enough. She has been in the military chain of command her whole life and respects it. While she doesn’t favor military rule, I think she values Anderson’s leadership and the black and white nature of military command over Udina’s grey areas. After dealing with the political ramifications of her actions Shepard can finally go back to what she does best, hunting Reapers.

Epilogue

The first chapter in Kylie Shepard’s story has come to a close. It was an eye-opening experience both in-game and out. Writing these pieces has forced me to look at Mass Effect with a closer eye. It led me to realize the game I love is rough in a lot of ways. I can better understand the criticisms of the game having experienced a lot of them first hand. This playthrough also allowed the game to surprise me again. I was pleasantly surprised both by the number of things I remembered (some even line for line) as well as the things I forgot. The game, even after all the time I have put into it over the years, still managed to elicit emotional responses throughout.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Kylie Shepard. Perhaps she will continue her journey to save the galaxy but I also wouldn’t be surprised if this is her only adventure. Either way she has helped me view one of my favorite games in a completely new light.