To: Bioware, From: Your Stepson

sheppardWhen you’re a toddler, there’s nobody bigger than your dad. He towers above you, glowers in a scary way when he’s angry, but he can pick you up and toss you so high you feel like Superman. To you, he is immortal. To you, he is infallible. To you, he is the greatest human being ever created.

One of the first steps of growing up is realizing that he is really not any of those things because one of the tenets of life is: Nobody’s perfect.

It could be a bitter pill to swallow, but it is a necessary one, and if you’re lucky, you figure it out in your early teenage years rather than visiting your dying father in a hospital bed.

I’ve been gaming for nearly 30 years, my father is Ralph Baer. Unlike life, with gaming, you could wind up with a ton of stepdads, like Shigeru Miyamoto, Will Wright, Tim Schafer, Ken Levine, and of course, Bioware.

Bioware is the latest and to my mind greatest stepdad a gamer could ask for. Beautiful looking games, fun to play, well plotted, all around the greatest gaming developer ever created.

Until last night.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still Bioware’s bitch, but I do think that giving yourself over to any game company puts you into fanboy territory. I have voiced my disdain for these types of individuals on more than one occasion, and I always found it funny that no one ever called me on my irrational love of Bioware.

Perhaps most people agreed. Perhaps I’ve demonstrated that I don’t completely give Bioware a pass. Either way, I’m here to deconstruct my stepdad a little bit, simply because I noticed something quite distressing while playing Mass Effect last night.

A plot hole.

The unfortunate thing is that Bioware prides itself on its plots, so it was a bit of a shock realizing that the central plot of Mass Effect is flawed. It is because of my love of Bioware that it took me two years to figure it out, even though it is glaring and obvious.

In case you’re wondering, that was your Mass Effect spoiler warning. FULL spoilers ahead.

I’m not kidding.

Really, this is your last chance.

Okay, this is your last chance.

You’ve been warned.

Let’s start with Presidium early in the game. Eden Prime has just been attacked, Saren assassinated Nilius with only one unreliable witness. Humanity has failed to find any solid evidence to support Saren is working with the Geth, so your first task is to find that evidence.

This leads you to Tali’Zorah nar Rayya, a Quarian whose race originally built the Geth long ago. She is attempting to barter information about Saren with the Shadow Broker and is picked up by Shepard when the deal goes bad. (The Shadow Broker is an information gatherer, we learn nothing more about it in Mass Effect other than he or she exists.)

Tali, as she likes to be called, then lets us listen to her surveillance tape of Saren and Lady Benezia, an Asari matriarch, and it went something like this:

Saren: Eden Prime was a major victory, we’re one step closer to the Conduit.

Benezia: And one step closer to the return of the Reapers.

This information was obtained from a disabled Geth whose memory unit hadn’t completely been destroyed; now let’s break this down, shall we?

Tali found a Geth whose memory unit hadn’t been destroyed. Said Geth’s destruction was recent enough that it occurred after the battle on Eden Prime and before the Normandy arrived on the Citadel. (Easily explained, Shepard had been unconscious for days, Tali could have found or personally disabled a Geth in that time.)

Tali finds the information and comes to the Citadel to try to broker the information. (We’re not made clear as to motivation, but I’m giving this a pass simply because it may payoff in her character later in the series. It is also possible she was seeking Saren as part of her pilgrimage.)

Because the Geth are part of a neural network, the disabled Geth didn’t have to actually witness the exchange.

As to the conversation itself, this is where the first fail occurs.

If this had been a recording of the characters speaking over subspace relay, the structure of the conversation could easily be explained, however it was established that shortly after Eden Prime Saren was on Sovereign when Benezia personally came to tell him that a human may have used the beacon before its destruction. This implies that Benezia was on Sovereign when the attack on Eden Prime occurred — meaning the entire conversation is pointless.

Why would Saren have to say something to Benezia that she witnessed first hand? It’s a decent chink in the armor of the plot. It’s not a killer by any means, I’m sure someone can come up with an explanation that may fit, but right now I can’t find it.

You want my hunch? During the early days of Bioware showing off Mass Effect, there was a scene where Shepard manhandles a bartender at Flux, and this bartender sends him to an Asari who gives information about the Reapers. I can only assume that the investigation into Saren was originally supposed to take longer and due to time constraints had to be shortened.

In the gaming business that’s not too unreasonable an explanation. It’s a ham-fisted way of doing things, but a decent compromise to get the game shipped on time.

The problem of course is, once I saw one tiny flaw in my stepdad, I had to wonder if there were more.

Yes, there are, and it’s a big one.

Saren seeks the Prothean Conduit, which is assumed to be a weapon but is actually a miniature Mass Relay that, in this case, allows travel from Ilos to the Citadel. Saren wants to use the Conduit to infiltrate the Citadel and start the process that turns the Citadel into a Mass Relay to let the Reapers into this universe and begin the purge again.

However, at the start of the game, Saren is a Spectre who answers only to the council and gets carte blanche wherever he travels. He is also resourceful and cunning, yet his best idea to activate the Citadel is to go on a quest that could be discovered. This seems very out of character, and while you could argue that Saren’s partial indoctrination with Sovereign could have affected his judgment, that would only then serve to show that Reapers are idiots.

Consider the end of the game: Saren gets into the Citadel, makes it to the tower, meanwhile a Geth fleet, led by Sovereign, has begun an attack on the Citadel defense forces. Sovereign itself smashes through those defenses like a bear fighting gnats and makes it to the center of the Citadel to join with it when Saren hits the switch and closes the arms around it.

Considering that originally the Keepers did this, why did Saren need the Conduit?

He’s a Spectre, he could have just gone to the tower after hours on “Spectre business” and activated it while Sovereign and the Geth came into Citadel space. No one would have been the wiser until it was too late.

He didn’t need the Geth army to back him inside the Citadel, because again, he was going after hours when the guards are low, using his Spectre status to push his way in. The whole quest, and by that extension the whole game, is pointless.

You could argue that since Saren was trying to find ways of fighting indoctrination, he was also trying to delay the Reapers return. Hence the big ol’ quest, but that also fails because Sovereign should have easily seen through his explanation for the necessity of the Conduit.

Another argument could be made that he wanted to find the Conduit to destroy it so it couldn’t be used again, but this is something he could have done after the Reapers returned.

The only real argument you can make is that he didn’t know what the Conduit actually was and was looking into it to make sure it wouldn’t interfere with the Reapers return. This would be a rational and plausible explanation, but the game offers no real insight into it. There is no moment in the game that fully explains Saren’s motivation with finding the Conduit, instead Saren makes his task increasingly difficult in his quest to find it.

This diminishes both Saren’s character and the threat of the Reapers if they can so easily be distracted by something that, in the end, will have no bearing on the results they seek.

Maybe I’m missing an angle, or perhaps a bit of dialogue that would have explained away this rather large discrepancy, but as of right now this is what I see. I’m rather sad about this bit of knowledge, because it is a plot hole, and it invalidates the entire reason to play the game.

Perhaps I’m being too picky, and should just enjoy the big picture rather than point out when the headstones move, but plot is one of my favorite parts of gaming, and it is one of the reasons I gravitate toward Bioware.

Take that away, and what I’m left with is a fun but flawed game.

Of course I still love the game, the characters are really well fleshed out, as is the universe they inhabit. I love the combat and the missions, and I was genuinely crushed when one of my decisions led to a death, so of course I’m on board for Mass Effect 2

But this flaw is a good way of keeping me grounded, it’s also a good way of letting Bioware know that we’re watching them and we won’t be taken for fools.

A father, as I well know, just wants to be the best he can for his child. It’s something I never understood till I heard my son cry for the first time. I have no doubts Bioware wants to be the best, but, like a father, they are human and make mistakes. We as gamers need to hold them up to their mistakes so they don’t make it again, just as my son holds me up to mine.

I still love you very much, stepdad Bioware, but I’m a little bit skeptical about you.

Prove me wrong, please. Make it right this time.


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  • Snaven Shake

    Dropping a comment to let you know I will be reading this in it’s entirety later today.

  • Draemen

    The reason Saren is looking for the Conduit is because he needs to find out why when Sovereign sent the single to active the citadel it didn’t work.