To play or not to play Mass Effect 1.X – Therum, Krogan Battlemaster; plus, on Quarian Government

Liara: I was exploring the ruins when the geth showed up, so I hid in here. Can you believe that? Geth! Beyond the Veil!

(Archived video available here).

In another short part, we will tackle two difficult fights, then head into the Prothean ruin, meet Liara and attempt to rescue her from the pinch she put herself in.

I generally don’t mention my leveling up much – though I will go into more detail on the system in general once I hit level 20 – but it is worth mentioning now that I have unlocked the “Lift” talent, which is incredibly useful in this game for disabling priorities threats. Hamletic Shepard is by now coming into his own as a Sentinel, whose powers can damage, debuff and disable enemies.

We will now have to test our fighting prowess in a series of encounters – this main quest is very straightforward with no role-playing or side-quests in the way of the action, but is very challenging, especially when tackled early. The first sequence is not too bad, as long as we take cover and stop the geth from flanking us. The next bit however can be very troublesome. I was lucky here in that the two shock troopers turned the corner and approached me before I had to expose myself to the sniper and rocket trooper shooting from the tower and the high ground respectively. The bit of cover on the right of the opening looks tempting, but rockets can still damage players there. Storming the open ground and taking down the geth on the basin, then dispatching the sniper before moving up and taking the last two geth is the best option available. This would be a nice, tense fight, if not for the fact that a lot of cover is not viable, and it is not immediately apparent which bits are safe and which are not, which inevitably leads to a lot of trial-and-error, and the attached frustration of being punished seemingly haphazardly. This is even more true in the next fight, which is widely considered one of the hardest in the game. The armature is capable of one-shotting anyone with its cannon, but it’s a non-issue as long as you are behind cover. The combination of the advancing shock troopers, the hard-hitting snipers, and the annoying geth hoppers however can provide a lot of frustration. The strategy I use here is to take cover immediately on the left-hand side of the battlefield, neutralize the shock troopers first, then take the snipers out, and finally deal with the hoppers before turning my attention to the armature. Another viable strategy is to immediately retreat all the way down to cover, and then take out the geth slowly while they advance; a bit cheesy, but feasible for a character with long range capabilities. This is again a fight that can lead to a lot of frustration: being out of cover at the beginning, with laser sights honed in can mean that Shepard is downed before the player can even begin to assess the situation. Compounding the problem is the issue, unfortunately quite pervasive in this game, of having an unskippable cutscene right before a tough fight. A cool concept in theory, but one that quickly becomes hair-rending as the reloads begin to pile up.

Wrex: Sterile white. Protheans sure build things homey.

Once we deal with this fight, we can access the tunnel leading into the Prothean ruins. A few geth forces here turn out to be little more than speedbumps; as we reach the bottom of the excavation, we finally meet Liara T’Soni, who appears to be in something of a bind: she activated the ruin’s defenses when she realized there were geth around, but “must have hit something [she] wasn’t supposed to” and is now trapped in some sort of force field. Liara possesses features that make her quite interesting to characterize; while she has lived for a substantial time – 106 years – for humans, she is considered very young by her species’ standards – Asaris can live up to a thousand years. The writers have to aknowledge both sides of this equation: young, but having had time to build a considerable storage of knowledge. They decide to portray her as a somewhat stereotypical “young and forgetful scientist” – an archetype that is sadly overplayed in female characters – completely absorbed in her specific field, and quite naive when it comes to everything else. This setup works quite well in the present game: she is to become our resident expert on all things Protheans – actually fulfilling this role is vital to achieving the final goal of the game, which is why she is in a plot-vital quest; additionally, her naivete on most topics regarding humans allows Shepard to expose on subjects that would otherwise be considered trivial, and her inherent goofiness becomes an endearing trait, a much needed breath of fresh air in the otherwise serious and militaristic atmosphere on board the Normandy – though how much one agrees on this last point will depend on how positively or negatively they react to the stereotype from which she is moulded. Her growth trajectory throughout the trilogy will be one of the steepest of all characters however, and perhaps problematic when it comes to matching her species’ longevity: often long-living organisms are portrayed in fiction as slow learners – both because of wanting to ponder things as fully as possible or because their long lives remove urgency from their curiosity – and while this claim in never directly made when it comes to the Asari, its opposite is made in relation to the Salarians: their life-span of only 40 years makes them hyper-active in the eyes of other, longer-lived species. This unfortunately clashes with Liara’s personal development, and we will have to assume she is an extremely peculiar Asari in respect to her learning capabilities.

For now, however, she is just a young scientist over her head in her present situation, and we will do our best to help her. Her surprise on meeting geth is a refreshing reminder of just how extraordinary the situation is – something the player might begin to get assuaged to; however, her blunt reaction to the mention of Benezia’s name – a person of which we know nothing about, sounds abrupt and a little out of context; why would she react so strongly and so negatively to her name, as well as Saren’s? Nevertheless, our path forward lies in helping her. Said help is in fact remarkably close at hand, in the form of a mining laser that we can use in order to break through the foundations of the Prothean ruins, bypassing the barrier curtains. All we have to do to use it is to defeat a few geth, then discover the priming sequence (which is randomly generated and so needs to be found by trial-and-error), and presto! the way forward lies open to us.

I am not sure that’s a good way to prevent unintended use of dangerous field equipment.

On Quarian Government

Links to the codex for Quarians and Quarian Government. Most forms of government portrayed in the Mass Effect universe are molded after more or less recent, real-world civilizations. In the Quarians’ case, there are obvious ties with the nomadic lifestyle of the Romani people, up to and including the negative connotations attached to them by more sedentary civilizations – the unsettling of the local balance, the distrust of their motives, and a fear borne out of the (perceived) economical disadvantage at which the nomadic populations are. The key differences are based on the superior technological expertise of the Quarians, derived in most part by the special necessities in maintaining their aging ships and excelling at deep space engineering, and their continuously militarized state, a direct consequence of having to abandon their homeworld, and presumably their desire to re-occupy it.

Once we start looking into their government however, we realize that the codex’ claim that “government is somewhat autocratic” rings quite false; government is in fact based on modern, stable, democratic, constitutional models. When making allowances for the strong ties Quarians have for their ships – for example the almost absolute power of a captain aboard their own ship – and their formal continuous state of militarization, their government is based on a typical legislative/executive split – we will not see their judiciary system in action until the next game; ships, as is the case for example for states within the US, exercise a great deal of power over their internal affairs (while a ship captain, unlike a state governor is not elected, the civilian council counselling it is). Matters affecting the whole Flotilla are dealt with by the Conclave, which forms the core of the legislative branch of government. As is the case for the USA’s House of Representatives, the crew size of a ship (the size of a state’s population) determines the number of its representatives within the Conclave; a structure similar to the Senate is formally missing, but the mention in the codex of the Clans (big ships) versus the Outriders’ Coalition (many small ships) implies that a system of checks and balances is in fact in place, so that the concerns of all ships can be properly addressed. The executive branch is composed by the Admiralty Board; having the top military officers being in charge of the executive branch is obviously not something that happens in real-world democracies, though it bears remembering that the Quarians are, due to their very peculiar circumstances, in a constant state of military alert; furthermore, it is true that the President of the USA is formally the “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States […]”. Though the game (thankfully?) does not go too much into details, we can assume that the Admiralty Board does have some outstanding powers, and it is not elected, but rather based on military meritocracy. However, it seems that the system of checks and balances is in place here as well, as the penalty for making full use of their power is quite drastic – immediate resignation of the whole Board.

I think it is interesting that in a galaxy where most civilizations are in an  expansion phase (and a reckless one when it comes to humans), it is the Quarians, stuck in a situation devoid of expansion possibilities, that have a gorvernment type similar to our modern, western constitutional societies: a representative system with a clear separation of powers, and a series of checks and balances to help prevent abuses of power and position. Whether this was done consciously and intentionally by the writers, or is purely a case of “picking something close to home”, it remains an interesting piece of commentary: for all their trouble, the Quarians have remained remarkably cohesive and stable throughout their three centuries wandering the stars.

One thought on “To play or not to play Mass Effect 1.X – Therum, Krogan Battlemaster; plus, on Quarian Government

  1. Pingback: To play or not to play Mass Effect 1.X – Therum, Prothean Ruins; plus, on Quarian Government – Hamletic Tortoise

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