This post will contain many many many Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 spoilers, just in case anyone wants to frantically press Alt-F4 now :)
I was thinking the other day about the potential imported decisions into Mass Effect 3; and how much the eventual outcome of the series will depend on the decisions we've made in previous games. I can only assume that their impact will be huge; for a number of reasons that are already becoming clear in the course of ME2.
Firstly, I am assuming (perhaps mistakenly) that a large portion of Mass Effect 3 will be devoted to preventing or indeed combating a Reaper invasion. My money is closer to the 'preventing' side, for a number of reasons:
- It is likely Mass Effect 3 will begin relatively soon (i.e. within a few weeks or months) of the end of Mass Effect 2. Bioware cannot pull the stunt of killing Shepard yet again, and given the threat of the Reapers Shepard and his allies (whoever they may be after 2 games) cannot afford to wait around. Even if the Reaper ships are incredibly fast, it will take them some time to get to inhabited space, presumably longer than the time-frame I established above of a few weeks or months.
- There is no point, story-wise, in starting the game with a Reaper invasion. Not only does this severely restrict the traditional RPG elements of building a character or exploring (since the mass relays are apparently the first target of any attack); but given what we know of Reaper history they wiped out with apparent ease every galactic civilisation in the past 40-odd million years. The combined fleet of every organic race in the galaxy barely destroyed one Reaper, they wouldn't stand a chance against an entire fleet, or at least not without some warning.
- If we assume then that the Reapers will not arrive in force immediately, due to time and plot constraints; we have to guess that Shepard will spend time jaunting around the Milky Way looking for some way to stop the eventual invasion. Inevitably, this will involve gathering allies, ideally (in my mind) a mixture of your squad from both games. Introducing new party members has been done once (in ME2) and would be a gimmick in a third game. Shepard already has, supposedly, the 'best of the best' in his ME2 squad; Bioware would be stretching the bounds of credibility if they were to suddenly conjure another 6-10 heroes, unless they were very specific (perhaps a rachni squad member, for example).
There were several hints in Mass Effect 2 that some kind of large-scale battle with the Reapers would be present in the third game; and that assembling allies or contributors to a united fleet would be a goal (if not the main aim) of Mass Effect 3.
- For those who saved the rachni queen in Mass Effect; her offer of future help in ME2 is not the kind of idle line that gets thrown in at the last minute. I'm taking it as virtually guarenteed that the rachni will appear in a large way in ME3.
- Players were given the option of destroying or preserving the genophage cure developed by Mordin's colleague - possibly a precursor to developing the krogan population for Mass Effect 3?
- EDI's line (I think it was EDI?) in Legion's loyalty mission - that rewriting rather than destroying the heretic geth would significantly boost their combat potential - is, in my mind, a very clear indication that the 'true geth' would be a partner in the third game. Notice the clever retcon that Bioware conducted: the geth we fought in ME, as part of Saren's army, were perhaps only 5% of the total geth forces (interestingly, everyone only assumed, but was never told, that all geth followed Saren). This move simultaneously acts as an excuse to make the remainder of the geth potential allies for Shepard (uniting against a common enemy) and also, in one moment, boosts the 'true' geth strength by some 20 times what was seen in the first game. Far from being defeated. the geth are revealed to have a gigantic armada and are neutral if not friendly to Shepard's goals.
- The decision to destroy the Collector station at the end of ME2 was arguably one of the most important of the game, and in my mind will probably set the scene for the beginning of ME3. It was instructive to listen to Jacob's dialogue after the credits, something along the lines of "You sure know how to make enemies," after I destroyed the base and told
Martin Sheenthe Illusive Man where to stick his cigar. I predict that this will significantly affect the opening of the game, if not its progression; as Shepard fights not only the Reapers but alo Cerberus as well.
The difficulty, obviously, is where these decisions from Mass Effect 2 must be combined with the original decisions from the original Mass Effect, and what effects these combinations of choices will have in the final game.
It is easy to imagine, for example, the outcome of killing the Council, installing Udina and then supporting Cerberus to the extent of dropping Reaper technology in their lap. It is harder, though, to work out a more complex web of options. For example, would the genophage cure work, or could a krogan army be assembled, without the leadership of Wrex on Tuchanka? Could humanity really count on massing the asari, turian and other council races' navies if Shepard pursued a rabidly pro-human agenda throughout ME and ME2? If the player simply didn't do an important 'loyalty quest' in ME2 (for example Mordin's, with the genophage cure), will the game assume an outcome for the player?
In this way; Mass Effect 3 must reference the choices from the previous games without depending on them to drive major plot points. It would be ludicrous to make having the rachni (or geth or krogran) as allies a mandatory condition for beating the Reapers; since a significant part of the player population would not have any of these species on-side. Thus; I predict that they will provide benefits and perhaps affect in some way the ending of the game (for example, lessening the initial devestation of the Reaper assault) without actually being a major contributor. To compensate for their lack of allies, xenophobic players (for example) may even be told early on in the game that the human-controlled council has been rapidly building up armaments, and so players who went on a renegade spree are not penalised for their choices. This is only an example, but an indication of the difficulty involved. Bioware cannot endorse any particular option (rewarding genocide would sooo impress the media), so instead players must be given bonuses appropriate and equal to any decision they could have made.
I predict, ultimately, that this combination of choices and outcomes will work in a way that is broadly similar to the end of Mass Effect 2 - if Shepard's allies are not strong enough, or his support not large enough, the game will end badly, or at the very least end 'well' but with catastrophic consequences (for example, the defeat of the Reapers but at enormous cost and perhaps Shepard's death). Obviously, the game will have to have an option for those players who have done no side-quests and killed off every race they could get their hands on; and in this scenario I believe the default option would be the defeat of the Reapers through some kind of deus ex machinima (for example, a miraculous Reaper-killing computer virus). The difference between the 'default' ending and a more positive ending would be that in the latter; the players' allies (whether human, Cerberus or alien) would have stopped the Reapers from inflicting catastrophic damage on the galaxy. Like in ME2, the mission is accomplished either way - but the player who invests in allies and 'ties up' the story of the previous games will be rewarded more positively (in that they are still alive, for example).
With this in mind; it seems fairly obvious that the number of 'endings' to Mass Effect 3 would be significant and complex; necessarily including and tying together perhaps dozens of decisions and actions from all three games. Whether this can be accomplished well, or with merely a veneer of sophistication, will remain to be seen. By a 'veneer of sophistication', I mean the situation whereby it appears that all your decisions over three games have had an effect, but in reality it boils down to a boss battle or big final decision to close out the story. A nuanced approach, weaving the decisions of all three games into a massively effecting conclusion, would be a significant challenge and a worthy way to send off the series.
Thanks for reading my assorted ramblings.