(Archived video available here).
In this short part, we will travel to Therum, and run the Mako gauntlet there.
Time to select our first mission! Any of the major quest lines could be pursued here, as could any side-quest currently available to us. I choose to head to the Artemis Tau cluster in search of Liara for the simple meta-reason that she is the last squadmate we can pick up, and I’d rather get her as soon as possible. Unfortunately, I feel this makes little sense, as of the three leads given us, this feels like the least likely to produce meaningful results. In any case, I will complete this quest first, then tackle as many side quests as possible before advancing the plot further. Of note, sometimes simply reaching a system will automatically open a quest to us, mostly through a timely transmission informing us of some outstanding circumstance.
The Artemis Tau cluster, dedicated to the ancient Greek goddess of the Hunt comprises four systems, named after city states/kingdoms of Ancient Greece. Upon selecting the Knossos system we are treated to another (unskippable) cutscene of the Normandy departing from the Citadel, smoothly transitioning into the Relay jump scene. Once we are in the destination system, we can explore it’s various objects through the map. Most planets have interesting descriptions, which I will try to at least briefly show on the video. Some planets have resources that can be harvested, and some of those can also be found hidden within asteroid belts. In general, at least one planet per system offers an option to land. Most have some kind of quest available; major planets will have their own custom maps, but otherwise, the mako is free to travel across a square set of the surface, looking for resources or points of interest. There are five types of collections that can be completed: asari writings, salarian medallions, turian insignas, prothean data discs, valuable minerals. All of them amount to busywork for no payoff, with the minor exception of the asari writings, and only a long time down the line from here. As such, that will be the only collection I will go out of my way to finish.
After we finish exploring the Knossos system, we decide to land a party on Therum, the heavily industrialized planet with Prothean ruins on its surface. For this mission, we will take Wrex and Tali along, the beginning of us regularly rotating through our squadmates. As is often the case, our planetary landing is executed within the Mako, our environmentally sealed, undestructible, all-terrain combat vehicle; the Mako has a love-or-hate reputation among players: it’s tanky, floaty to drive, and many, many maps seem designed to test a driver’s patience with it. I do personally like the experience of driving around novel planets in it. It is armed with a machine gun (that can overheat), and a cannon that only refires after a substantial delay. In the original game, there is a sizeable loss of experience points for killing enemies with the Mako; while this makes some sense, considering it is a lot easier to dispatch enemies with this vehicle than on foot, the reality is that in a game where the amount of experience is limited, this essentially pushes players to discount the fighting-from-the-Mako mechanic, opting instead to maximize the amount of xp gained – though for large enemies, only delivering the killing blow on foot is a viable, if cheesy, strategy. Because a) I want to show this gameplay mechanic to its fullest, b) there is already more than enough personal combat in this game, and c) in order to expedite the pace of the play somewhat, I have decided to edit the .ini files so that kills with the Mako do not incur a penalty to the amount of experience gained. If this feels like cheating, all I can say is that the same results can be easily obtained by stepping off the vehicle, but at the cost of taking considerably longer. It is therefore a tweak to gain time, not to gain experience unfairly. If this is still offensive, I apologize for my conduct.
Once we land, the game gives us a short stretch of terrain to learn the basics of driving around while Joker informs us something ahead is wrong. Soon enough, we are ambushed by a geth dropship – thankfully unarmed – and its cargo of geth armatures; these are easily taken care of by dodging their slow-traveling blasts, while alternating cannon and machine gun fire.
Once we approach a reinforced gate, Wrex offers some tactical advice; unfortunately, a metaphor is only effective when the receiver shares the terms and their connotations with the utterer, so while we do understand the general terms, I cannot help but feel we are missing out a little of context… Nonetheless, we take Wrex’s advice, and we sneak in from the backdoor, laying waste to the geth there, and only having to step off the Mako to open the gates. From here onwards, it is a simple matter of following the path, dispatching the relatively light resistance we encounter – among it, a geth colossus, a souped-up version of the armatures – until we are forced to leave the Mako and continue on foot.
On Krogan biology
Links to the Codex entries on Krogan in general and their biology. From a literary perspective, Krogan present an interesting reversal of players’ expectations when it comes to their biology. Their massive size, their aggressiveness, their Blood Rage and their organ redundancy, everything conspires into creating the impression of a highly competitive predator, firmly sitting at the top of its food chain; instead, they evolved in such a competitive environment that their original place has been in the middle of the food chain, up until their intelligence pushed them into becoming the dominant species on their home planet – and even then, as we will be shown later, they still have to share some of their territories with other formidable life forms. This discrepancy between expectations and reality is perhaps better shown by using the r/K selection theory, an outdated attempt at explaining some of the different approaches to reproduction and population dynamics found in nature – a model now supplanted by the more robust life-history theory. r/K posits two ideal strategies sitting at the extreme of a spectrum of possibilities: “r” species tend to not be competitive in a crowded environment, but instead rely on reproducing fast and creating big numbers of offspring, often distributing them over a wide area; in other words, these species prioritize growth rate. On the other hand, “K” species prioritize survival: they produce fewer offspring, but afford them more care, they grow slowly and often for long periods of time, and generally do better in competitive environments, in niches that are close to carrying capacity, that is to say where all, or almost all, resources are being exploited. This theory has been found to be too simplistic in its approach: for example, it is much better suited for observing animals than plants (trees, obvious “K” strategists, produce mind-boggling amounts of seeds, even within the vegetable kingdom), and many species display traits from all over the spectrum; however, its simplicity will serve nicely for our present purpose. The Krogan’s reproduction rate, along with their stated place in their native foodchain, clearly points to “r” strategists; all their aggression is geared towards surviving poor odds. Their disdain for each other could be an evolutionary trait, stemming from intraspecific competition – other Krogan share the same niche, and are therefore the most dangerous competitors for food/shelter/mates. All these points apply for K strategists as well, but the added pressure of being actively preyed upon would exarcebate one or more of these traits, prior to the Krogans attaining any degree of civilization. This last point is crucial, because the Krogan represent a very rare case of a sentient species having evolved from an “r” strategy – what happened to them on their own (their nuclear winter), and what happened after they were uplifted (their unchecked expansion, and the consequent rebellions), all can be explained in terms of their evolutionary strategy: to expand as quickly as possible, and to outbreed superior predators/competitors; in other words, “r” strategists make for extremely volatile sentient species, prone to population explosions, and poorly prepared to handle the environments close to carrying capacity their growth inevitably lead to.
In closing, I want to return to how the Krogan’s appearance fools players into instinctively considering them “K” strategists, a mistake the players seem to share with the Council races; this is, in my opinion, very much what the writers intended. By giving us access to a most unusual Krogan, calm and collected, and for all its threat of violence, loyal and steadfast (it is certainly debatable that Wrex is as much of a paragon as any Krogan could be), the game puts us in a constant state of doubt on how to view this species, and that makes the Krogan interesting, saving them from relegation to the role of brutes/barbarians; “can the Krogan be saved from themselves?” is a question that features prominently throughout all three games; like most interesting hypothetical questions, the answer we choose to this question will say more about ourselves* than it will about the Krogan.
* this statement of course holds true for the Shepard with whom players are framing the narrative with! Though I believe most players will ask themselves this question, the answer they give in the game world does not necessarily mirror their own opinion on the matter.