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Mordin Solus: Where Mass Effect 3 Gets Everything Right

Since the release of the “Extended Cut” DLC a couple of weeks ago, I have been studiously replaying Mass Effect 3. Yes, I realize I can just re-do the ending from my first trip through the game, and I have (the very last bits anyway), but I’ve been looking for an excuse to bring forward my renegade Femshep from Mass Effects 1 and 2 and this gave me that excuse. This post isn’t about the ending, however. You’ve heard all about that already and have your own opinion. This post is about Mordin Solus, whose storyline in Mass 3 I just wrapped up for the second time.

The Solus resolution struck me on a couple of fronts. One, he’s one of the more engaging characters in the Mass Effect universe. He’s an intriguing character in Mass Effect 2 and is even better here. What makes him such an interesting case study in Mass Effect 3, however, isn’t just that he’s a great character, it’s that his story can have such radically different results based on decisions you made across all three Mass Effect games. (Yes, all three.) More impressive than that is the fact that each of the three radically different outcomes I’m aware of, are universally well done. Mordin Solus is the face of everything the Mass Effect series is capable of getting right.

In the rest of this post thar be spoilers. Ye been warned…

The climax to Mordin’s story takes place on Tuchanka, the Krogan homeworld. The humans need Turian fleet support to defend Earth, the Turians require Krogan aid on their own homeworld. The Krogan, as a condition for their aid, want cured the Genophage, a bio-weapon inflicted on them in the past that prevents them from reproducing in massive numbers. Solus, a Salarian scientist who’s worked on preserving created the Genophage, has made the cure his mission. Throwing an added wrinkle into the mix is the Salarian government, who will withhold their own aid in the main fight against the Reapers if you do allow the Genophage to be cured. As Sheperd, it’s up to you to decide if you want to allow the cure to be sabotaged or distributed via a large tower on Tuchanka that is very near to collapse.

The fate of Mordin Solus can, at its simplest, be broken down into three big outcomes, though there are numerous smaller variations too:

– Mordin dies curing the Genophage (Paragon)
– Mordin dies failing to cure the Genophate (Renegade)
– Mordin lives, failing to cure the Genophage (Renegade + other criteria)

The first time I played through this sequence I helped Mordin distribute the cure. The portrayal of his sacrifice, going to the top of the unstable tower to prevent the Salarian sabotage from succeeding, was among the two most poignant moments in the game. When Mordin enters the elevator, turns to face Sheperd and says with genuine conviction and warmth, “Anyone else might have gotten it wrong,” I get chills.

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It’s a noble end to a noble character. The Krogan are cured and will be able to resume making babies, presuming the galaxy survives the Reaper threat. They’ll also lend their aid to the Turians, freeing the Turians to aid Earth. It’s a win-win-lose situation, however, because it also means Sheperd loses the support of the Salarian government. As Sheperd, you have to ask yourself, are all your so-called “principles” worth it if not getting Salarian aid means defeat at the hands of the Reapers.

(Note: the actual numbers, in terms of breaking down war assets, are a bit more complicated than I describe them here. I’m basing this on what knowledge Sheperd has at the moment he/she is making decisions. If you want a more specific breakdown of the actual consequences, check out the “Aftermath” section on this page of the ME3 Wiki.)

If you play out the Renegade path, Mordin discovers the Salarian sabotage of the Genophage cure, also realizing that you are complicit in it. He isn’t shocked by this revelation, just sad. At that point you can try to talk him out of going up the tower, but excepting some very specific circumstances, he won’t listen to you. From there you can only let him proceed or shoot him. If you shoot him, he still goes to the top of the tower, but doesn’t have the strength to drag himself to the control console before he dies. What’s wonderful about this choice is that if you’re really playing Sheperd as the renegade, and not as pure evil, there’s ample reason to shoot him. Throughout the series it’s easy to play Sheperd as pro-genophage. The Krogan are a very real threat. Support of the Salarian government can also be viewed as critical to the cause. If you sabotage the cure you get the aid of the Krogan (who don’t know the cure is sabotaged) and the Salarian. That’s a Machiavellan power-play that’s all too easy to see Sheperd willing to make. The only question is, are you willing to kill one of the good guys to make it happen?

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Compared to the Paragon sequence above, there are two brilliantly powerful lines from Mordin here. One, when he uncharacteristically shouts “I MADE A MISTAKE!” in regards to creating preserving the Genophage and then destroying Maelon’s research into a cure. Mordin is not a guy who makes mistakes. To hear the emotion when he’s force to admit this realization, out loud, is a stirring moment. It’s followed-up a moment later when he also uses the line “Anyone else might have gotten it wrong.” It’s the same line as in the Paragon scenario, but it’s a completely different context and delivery and the contrast is stunning. This isn’t bravery mixed with humorous resignation. This is anger and betrayal justifying precisely why he has to do things himself.

The fallout if you do this, which isn’t shown here, is also amazingly well done. The cure fails, but the Krogan have no idea. As Sheperd you look Wrex right in the face as he expresses his gratitude to you and his admiration of Mordin. When you return to the Normandy there’s an additional dialog with Garrus in which he, too, expresses his respect for Mordin’s sacrifice and you have no choice but to make like his was a noble sacrifice, all the while knowing you murdered him in cold blood.

It’s also an incredible moment because there’s an argument to made you’ve done the *right* thing. Leaders in a war have to make sacrifices. At what point do the ends justify the means? Role playing a Sheperd who will do anything for the cause ought to make these choices easy, but they were anything but. I knew what the Sheperd envisioned in my mind would be willing to do. But what was I, as the player, willing to do? It was genuinely hard to make the choice to pull the trigger, but the payoff in the story made it entirely worthwhile. I felt genuine remorse in the aftermath of the murder, but better than that, I could see that same bitter remorse reflected in my character on the screen.

The third scenario, in which you talk Mordin out of trying to stop the sabotage of the Genophage cure, is also striking in that it requires a very specific pattern of decisions on Sheperd’s part, reaching across all three games. In Mass 1 you have to have crossed and killed Wrex. In Mass 2 you have to have destroyed the cure research data of a corrupt Salarian scientist named Maelon. Doing so results in Eve’s death as Mordin attempts to finalize the cure. And in Mass 3 you have to keep secret the Salarian plan to sabotage the cure, right up until the end. If you do all that, and have a high Renegade rating, you can talk Mordin out of stopping the sabotage because the Krogan, without Wrex or Eve to guide them, are far too inclined to seek revenge for the existence of the Genophage in the first place. Even Mordin must acknowledge the cure is too risky. Mordin lives and becomes a war asset, the Krogan aid the Turians, and you get Salarian aid. This, in terms of pure war assets, is actually the best possible outcome and easily the hardest to achieve.

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When I think about how Mass Effect 3 ended, I’m not disappointed because the story took turns I couldn’t accept. I don’t like it because there’s not nearly enough of this. It’s a whole game devoted to the collection of assets for the final battle, but the battle itself is not notably altered based on your success in collecting said assets. The battle (not just the resolution) is not in any way a cumulative result of your decisions in Mass 3, let alone all three games. Mordin Solus’s story, conversely, is a blissful example of where Mass Effect 3 gets everything right. This is Bioware at their absolute best. Choices you’ve made through all three games come together in the final moments of a pivotal part of the story and, no matter what you do, the story executes on them flawlessly, each path pulling different emotional strings appropriate to the actions you’ve taken.


And just because no post on Mordin is complete without it…

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Mass Effect 3 Patch Inbound

Per the Bioware Blog, today (4/9) we should see the release of the first notable patch for Mass Effect 3, with the console version to follow tomorrow. The fix list includes the following:

– Fixed issues when in some cases Shepard’s customized facial features from ME1/ME2 may not be properly imported to ME3
– Fixed an issue when quickly and repeatedly selecting to Resume a Save could result in Player Level reset and a potential locking of powers.
– Fixed an issue when selecting Multiplayer in the Main Menu while under a poor network connection could result in an unresponsive state.
– Fixed a potential crash while accessing an in-game terminal from Eden Prime level.
– Fixed an issue when attempting to login while Server is down. It would display a Server Down message and accepting the Server – Shutdown message would shut down the game.
– Fixed a potential memory crash while loading a Quick Save of a custom FemShep.
– Fixed an issue when restarting missions and acquiring an above max amount of weapon mods results in displayed debug text on-screen.
– Fixed an issue when an unresponsive game state could occur during transition after the Conduit level.
– Fixed an issue when DLC game saves can be accessed from an account without DLC if another account on the same computer has access to the related DLC. (PC Only)
– Fixed an issue when saves from different accounts on the same computer may become locked if one account has access to DLC which the other account does not. (PC Only)
– Fixed an issue when potentially the game could enter unresponsive state when transitioning from the Holding Docks area to the Normandy Docks area of the Citadel. (PS3 Only)

Mass Effect Post-Mortem

Obviously, this article will contain many spoilers regarding Mass Effect 3 including details regarding its fantastic, divisive ending. So if you do not want to know that the Illusive Man is Shepard’s father, that Shepard was dead and a ghost the whole time, or that FemShep was actually a fully-featured man then I suggest you turn back now. If you’re not sick of hearing about Mass Effect 3 and the ending, which includes the shocking revelation that it’s only a video game, proceed.

I actually wasn’t a big Mass Effect fan until the second game. I played through the first one late in 2009, and I thought it was OK, suffering from some terribly clumsy design elements and of course those god awful Mako sequences. I rushed through to the end and that final, idiotic battle with Saren. I don’t regret avoiding most of the sidequests. I thought the game was OK, but the entire time I felt like I ought to be playing Knights of the Old Republic again.

But Mass Effect 2 hooked me. I loved the story, effectively a “let’s get the band together” yarn filled with specialist characters each with their own unique stories to tell. I loved that the game was episodic, with each mission wrapping up with a debriefing from the Illusive Man. This structure enabled the game to encompass many genres within a science fiction context. There were hard SF, courtroom drama, horror, detective, and political thriller stories. And the sense of fatalistic doom hanging over the inevitable suicide mission at the Omega Relay was delicious. Planet scanning, not so much.

So Mass Effect 3 has come and gone, and sure enough it’s another BioWare game and all that entails. For better or worse. It was a good game. In parts, like the sequence on Rannoch and the events in London, it was great. The scope was huge, and I liked that it was very much a game full of endings. You meet old friends, catch up, and either they die or they go on to better lives depending on the choices you make. There’s tragedy, pathos, hope, and ambiguity abound.

I thought the ending- at least as far as the story material goes- was great. No apology. I’m happy that BioWare went with a more thoughtful honest ending to Shepard’s story rather than the fireworks and medal ceremony. I wiped out the synthetics, which was a tough choice given that I had championed the Geth and spent the entirety of the third game teaching EDI how to be more human. But in the end, I felt responsible for the annihilation of the Quarians and Tali’s death so it seemed to be on balance. I rejected the idea of controlling the Reapers because I viewed Shepard as almost Captain Ahab-like obsessive, constantly pursuing the white whale Reapers.

But still, the entire time I took that long, slow walk to make the ultimate decision of the Mass Effect games, I reflected on everything that had happened up to that point. I thought about Liara, Garrus, the Rachni Queen, and the themes of the game. I thought about how cycles are a very big part of the story- cycles of racism, political discord, evolution, order (paragon) and chaos (renegade). I loved that the writers gave me the time to think before wiping out the Reapers- and presumably killing Shepard in the process.

In retrospect, I liked that the Reapers were a very Lovecraftian antagonist. They were the Great Old Ones, and the Illusive Man was very much like one of the misguided cultists in the Mythos that believes he can control or somehow contain cosmic forces beyond human comprehension. I liked that much of what they did or do is off stage, and there’s a mystery about them. I liked that the only way to beat them was to make an impossibly grim, no-win decision in the face of absolutely catastrophic devastation.

I don’t think the ending was sloppy at all, at least in terms of writing. I didn’t need the Return of the King epilogue, and I didn’t need an extra 20 minutes detailing what everybody did afterwards. Do you really need to be told? The story that matters- Shepard’s- ends with the decision you make. Nothing else matters from a storytelling perspective. What’s up with the jungle planet at the end? Who knows. It’s up for debate. I do have to say that I assumed my squadmates, who were almost always Liara and Garrus through the entire game, died in the run-up to the Citadel. But there they were with Joker at the end. The ending reminded me, rather strangely, of a post-apocalyptic picture called The Quiet Earth, and I think the ending as a whole was very reminiscent of some of the more challenging, thoughtful endings in the science fiction literature and in science fiction films.

What I did think was sloppy was how the concept of marshalling the galaxy’s races, technology, and materiel was largely irrelevant at the end, other than unlocking some other potential options leading up to the proscripted end. I don’t think BioWare really had a handle on how to incorporate that into the endgame at a mechanical level. Which is a shame, because I can imagine a component where you’re assigning resources and moving units around throughout the game to fight the Reapers. Almost a strategy game-within-a-game. But I’m sure budget and time prohibited anything so extensive.

Instead, we got BioWare’s trademark “kill a million bad guys” ending. This has been in the last several titles they’ve released. You and your party have to slog through wave after wave of enemies in a run-up to a final confrontation. It’s tedious. Please don’t do this anymore.

In reflection, I think the series as a whole represents some very good world-building and some frequently great video games writing. I love the look of the game, its hard-edged futurism. I love the music. And there is sometimes some good gameplay, but I can’t say that I’ve ever been completely enthralled by the action, regardless of all the cool guns and Biotic powers. It also seems like every single one of the games has some critical misstep or component that either doesn’t work or I just don’t like. Sidequests and filler content abound, and the insistence on silly romantic subplots and bizarro sex scenes come very close to making the series a joke.

I’ve heard Mass Effect called “this generation’s Star Wars” and I think that’s a little hyperbolic- at least until I recall this generation’s actual Star Wars films, which are bottom-of-the-barrel, cynical trash made by a creator that completely lost touch with his muse. Maybe they are after all. It’s good pop sci-fi no doubt. Definitely not something to get worked up in a tizzy over if you don’t like the way it turned out.

As for your choices- no, they didn’t matter. They never did. It was BioWare’s story all along. You were playing a video game, not writing it. Hats off to BioWare’s writing staff for retaining ownership. I just hope that their employer protects their integrity and artistic judgement by not fouling up the ending to suit the needs of entitled fans.

Now, with that said, I’m putting this series to rest and I never want to hear about it again. Good night, Shep. Garrus, hit the lights on the way out, would you?

This is a Warning

Congressmen Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) have introduced a bill that would require video games to carry a warning label similar to cigarettes, only in this case the warnings would inform consumers that video games have been linked to aggressive behavior.

Finally! It’s high time the government steps in and lets consumers know that every game ever made, including those violence mongering Dora cooking games, can cause little Timmy to explode in a fit of rage at the slightest provocation. Also, it’s about time that Congress take time away from such trivial matters as unemployment, staggering wealth disparity, the growing surveillance state and dependence on foreign energy sources to tackle something that really matters, informing consumers of nebulous ties between games and aggression.

Unfortunately though, for all that the warning does, I don’t feel that it does enough. I think that games need specific warnings so that consumers can be shielded from unpleasant experiences as much as humanly possible. What kind of warnings you say? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Read Dead Redemption – WARNING: You may think you’re about to embark on an epic Sergio Leone style western, but instead, prepare yourself to pick lots and lots of flowers. Yeah, flowers. Also, we hope you like bears!

Dragon Age 2 – WARNING: Bethany’s boobs are not really as big in the main game as they are in the tutorial. I know, right? Such a let down.

Halo: ODST – WARNING: Upon completing this game, you may feel like Nathan Fillion is your very bestest friend and that he will totally help you move on Saturday. Neither of these things are true. Alan Tudyk, on the other hand, may be able to help out, but only for like, an hour.

BioShock 2 – WARNING: Playing this game and making choices based on your own notions of child rearing may uncover what a truly terrible parent you are. Please return your children to their womb of origin immediately.

Dark Souls – WARNING: Failure to complete this game will brand you as a worse player than Bill Abner. No greater shame can be imagined.

Marvel vs Capcom 3: Ultimate Edition – WARNING: All of your wins have been against the AI. You are not ready to go online. No, seriously, don’t—see, I told you. Man, that has to be some sort of record.

L.A. Noire – WARNING: Actually, there’s not much game here. Carry on.

Cooking Mama – WARNING: This bitch is crazy.

Mass Effect 3– WARNING: This game may do nothing to assuage your fears that every choice you’ve made has been meaningless and that the yawning chasm of unfulfillment that exists at your core has been excavated by a lifetime of poor decisions. Also, you may be inadvertently exposed to gay sex. Icky!

Angry Birds – WARNING: Involvement with this game in any capacity may make you prone to hyperbole and to proclaiming the death of any game that isn’t sold at the App Store for less than a dollar.

New Super Mario Bros – WARNING: You are no longer eight. Failure to adjust your expectations accordingly may diminish your enjoyment of and/or ability to play this game.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – WARNING: While playing this game, you may feel like you’ve played it before. That’s because you have, like nine times.

Left 4 Dead – WARNING: Todd will shoot yo–oh. You’re dead. Told you.

Braid/Journey/Limbo – WARNING: Failure to enjoy these games may cause feelings of inadequacies as you wonder if you’re just too stupid to “get it”. Enjoying these games may cause feelings of blind allegiance to common gaming tropes simply because they’re presented as being artistic. Eff it. Go play Call of Duty.

Revisiting the Vanguard

Ah youth. It truly is wasted on the young. Who among us hasn’t said stupid, pigheaded things in their youth, only to regret it later when they’re older and wiser? Lord knows I have.

A month ago I made the following comments, comments that haunt my waking hours as they show the depths of ignorance that lurk within a man’s soul:

On a similar note, I was disappointed to see that my beloved Vanguard class is not going to be a viable option for me in Mass Effect 3. The specialized biotic power, the ability to catapult yourself, Cannonball style towards your enemy and stun them, was more of a liability than anything else in ME2 and the trend continues here.

If only a time machine existed so that I could visit that petulant, ignorant child and give him what for!

One of the best things about this site, other than my blinding wit, is the ability to have reasoned discussions in which people tell you in no uncertain terms what an uneducated lunkhead you are. Such was the discussion that took place after I stumbled through the Weeds of Stupidity, right into the Fields of Dumbitudiness and made the comments mentioned above. I appreciate that people felt comfortable enough to tell me that I was playing the Vanguard entirely wrong, because I was.

Now, I’m not a proud man, so when someone tells me that I’m doing something incorrectly, I’ll take into consideration. Nine times out of ten, I am doing it wrong and as much as it might pain me to admit it, corrections are necessary. After reading how I was playing the Vanguard incorrectly, I decided to stick with it in Mass Effect 3 and use the strategies given to me by the readers here. Man, what a difference that made.

I haven’t had this much fun in battle in any Mass Effect game since, oh, I don’t know, ever. Before, I was content to stick behind cover, pop off powers and whittle down my enemies’ shields and barriers before maybe charging in for the killing blow. Granted, at that point, it felt like overkill as the enemies were all dead save for one poor straggler who was down to maybe 10% of their health. Hard to feel like a mighty warrior when your squad does all of the work and you knock some poor, 3/4 dead soul into a wall.

This time though, I’m popping around the battlefield like an angry, murderous pinball. It doesn’t always work. Many the time have I charged into a combat engineer only to get lit up by the turret he just placed down but when that happens, I take whatever kills I got, stow them away towards the various achievements and try again. More often than not, I do get it right. A squad of unshielded Cerberus soldiers is a sight to behold, milling about, unaware that death stalks them on biotic wings. A charged attack, followed up buy a Nova slam usually does the trick. Anyone left standing gets a fist full of biotic fury. Shielded enemies, get the same only with a peppering of inferno shotgun ammo to help them along towards oblivion.

In fact, I like using my powers so much that I use them a bit too much. The aforementioned turrets pose a problem as I usually can’t blast them apart and they are more than happy to light me up while I take care of stragglers. Worse is that the engineers that put them down are cowards, unwilling to come out and face me, choosing instead to hide behind cover and let their smoke grenades and filthy turrets do all of their dirty work.

Part of what makes this combination of powers appeal to me is the reason I chose them in the first place, namely that they make perfect sense for the character I’m playing. Shepard is a Renegade in most cases, choosing only Paragon options when dealing with her crew’s personal matters. She is headstrong, confident and in your face. The Vanguard class fits this personality perfectly as Vanguards excel at getting in the faces of their enemies, always one step ahead of death, striking, picking new targets and striking again. The tradeoff is that it is very easy to get killed but it’s also very easy to stumble and piss off the wrong person as a Renegade, so again, it works.

The class also appeals to me because I am not, in any way, a take charge kind of guy. I understand completely that many of the great things that have happened to me over the years did so with very little effort on my part. My wife sought me out, I have fallen into excellent job opportunities and I’ve been lucky enough to be in the position to take advantage of various opportunities when they’ve arrived. That’s not to say that I don’t work hard, because I do, but anyone who knows me would never classify me as a go-getter. Obviously, I’m not on a quest to save the galaxy, and I’m not the type of person who does whatever it takes, friendships and alliances be damned, so playing as a female Renegade Vanguard allows me to be play as completely different a character as possible. In fact, the only thing Shepard and I have in common is that we both like women. I guess some stuff is too entrenched to get rid of easily.

So thank you, No High Scores readers, for feeling comfortable enough to tell me that I’m a gigantic idiot and for opening my thinking to the correct way to play a Vanguard. I can’t say that I’ll try an Insane run with this power set, but for now, it suits me just fine. The next time I charge a Krogan, I’ll be thinking of you, even if those thoughts are the last ones that go through my head.