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* * Spoilers for Mass Effect 3 within. * *
It's the end of Priority: Earth, the final mission of Mass Effect 3. Shepard and their squad are on the move for the beam to the Citadel, other ground forces alongside them. The Crucible has not activated, and boarding the Citadel seems to be the best bet. Before they can reach the beam, Harbinger appears, unleashing a blast of molten metal. After the attack, Shepard regains consciousness, greviously injured, and continues towards the Citadel.
But wait! Remember Nihlus Kryik—the turian Spectre who accompanied you to Eden Prime and was killed by Saren in Mass Effect 1? Turns out that he was turned into a Marauder, one completely uncontrolled by the Reapers, who just happens to be loitering around the beam. As Shepard approaches, Marauder-Nihlus shoots Shepard, preventing them from using the Crucible as the entire game has been building up to.
This isn't the ending to Mass Effect 3. This is Marauder Shields, a webcomic inspired by a meme about some players' dissatisfaction with the ending of Mass Effect 3. The author, Koobismo, created the webcomic as an alternate ending to Mass Effect 3. He regularly insists that the webcomic is accurate to the lore of the Mass Effect series and that it is a better ending to the series.
However, when one takes a mere glance at the first few "canon" episodes of the webcomic (the first five "episodes" are simply propaganda-esque strips that insist that the ending of ME3 is bad without bothering to give reasons why), those claims quickly fall to pieces. In fact, the falsehood of these claims are so evident that one has to wonder why anyone actually believes them. And this review will go into detail as to how the webcomic not only fails at being a good story but how it also fails at being a Mass Effect story. Because one story cannot be an "alternate ending" to another story when the two stories are completely incompatible.
Derailing the Story
The main plot of Mass Effect 3 focuses on the Reaper invasion of the galaxy and galatic civilization's attempts to fight the Reaper forces. The plans for an ancient device called the "Crucible" are discovered, a device which may bring an end to the Reapers' cycles of destruction. As the story progresses and Shepard sorts out the problems of many people and races, they gain allies to assist in the construction and defense of the Crucible. The story culminates with Priority: Earth, where the forces of the galaxy have learned the final step to activating the Crucible—through combining the Crucible with the Catalyst within the Citadel. In the ending of Mass Effect 3, once Shepard boards the Crucible, they learn that the Catalyst is an AI created to prevent organic/synthetic conflict. To do so, it created the Reapers to convert galatic civilization into new Reapers, allowing new life to flourish and preventing synthetics from rising up against organics as the Catalyst believes synthetics inevitably will. Shepard's presence convinces the Catalyst that the Reapers are a failed solution to this problem, and thus assists Shepard in activating the Crucible. Based on Shepard's success in gathering allies, there are one to three choices for the Crucible. The Catalyst will instruct Shepard on how to carry out the options they were told of previously—destroying the Reapers or taking control of them—and may provide its own option: Synthesis, combining all organic and synthetic life into hybridization of organic and synthetic life. Whatever option is chosen, the Reaper cycles are brought to an end, but at a great cost, including damage or destruction of the mass relay network and Citadel.
Needless to say, the activation of the Crucible is the climax that the entire story builds up to. And as such, the ending is foreshadowed throughout the story. The two primary options, often referred to as Destroy and Control, are advocated by distinct factions. Anderson and the united fleets of the galaxy seek to destroy the Reapers utterly, while Cerberus under the lead of the Illusive Man wants to control them—an option that was also sought by a group of Protheans in the previous cycle, as you learn from the Prothean VI, Vendetta. Vendetta also gives you a wealth of information on the Crucible's functionality, including how the Crucible's energy is spread via the Citadel through the mass relays. The VI also exposits that the Reapers are the servants of a cycle, but it does not know what the purpose of its cycle or the creator of the Reapers are. While Synthesis is not implied to be an option with the Crucible, it does not come out of nowhere: the advocate for Synthesis is the Catalyst, the creator of a race of organic/synthetic beings with the ability to convert others into organic/synthetic beings.
So where do the events of Marauder Shields fit into the story? To put it bluntly: nowhere. The titular Marauder has no foreshadowing whatsoever, for Nihlus Kryik having been converted into a Marauder or a sentient turian husk that is somehow not controlled by the Reapers. Everything we know about indoctrination and husks tells us that husks are dominated by the Reapers, that the idea of a sentient husk working against the Reapers is impossible. The beginning of Marauder Shields implies that Shepard is indoctrinated and that the Reapers want the Crucible to be activated; neither of those ideas have any grounds to support them in the events prior to the ending of ME3.
Let's take a look at some common criticisms of the ending of ME3: that the Catalyst comes out of nowhere, that your choices have no impact on how the ending plays out, that it contradicts the lore, that it makes no sense, that it is a deus ex machina. Acknowledging information in the story that is plainly given to you disproves many of these arguments; a simple bit of research disproves many others that aren't obviously incorrect from a simply playthrough of the story.
But these are some of the anti-ending movement's most common arguments. The anti-ending movement commonly referred to as "Retake Mass Effect" that Koobismo is an ardent supporter of. And while these arguments are completely inaccurate when used against the real ending of Mass Effect 3, they are valid criticisms of Koobismo's webcomic. Because of a character that comes out of nowhere to turn the plot around and who makes no sense in the context of the series's lore, everything you've done to further the main plot was in vain. The titular Marauder is undeniably a deus ex machina; he is introduced into the story with no foreshadowing or prior mention in order to provide a sudden and contrived solution to a problem. But Marauder Shields isn't a solution to the characters' problem; it's a solution for the author's problem of finding a way to derail the real ending. And as any good storyteller will tell you, using a deus ex machina to force a story to go in a completely opposite direction of where it was previously going just because you want it to go in that specific direction is not good storytelling.
After all, one needs to only look at the name of the webcomic. Mass Effect referred not only to the in-universe phenomenon but how the player's choices throughout the series shaped the face of the galaxy. One needs only to see that the webcomic is named Marauder Shields to know that it is not about Shepard, not about decisions with massive consequences, not about everything that you've worked for in the series, but the titular character who derails the plot the very moment he is brought into it.
The Fallacies and Lore Inaccuracies
Koobismo proudly insists that the Marauder Shields webcomic is completely compatible with Mass Effect lore. And were it so, it could be considered as an "alternate ending". It would still be poor storytelling, but it would be compatible with the storyline of the series. Perhaps even a small lore inconsistencies could be handwaved while preserving the integrity of such a claim.
The problem with the claim that Marauder Shields is accurate to ME lore is the titular character. And this is a huge problem, because it means that the author is claiming lore accuracy on a storyline that only happens because of a character that contradicts established lore.
Let's look first at who Koobismo reveals Marauder Shields to be—Nihlus Kryik. I'll be blunt: the first time I read the webcomic and saw that Koobismo had turned Nihlus into Marauder Shields, I wanted to yell profanities at my laptop screen over the idea that a turian who had been dead for at least three years happened to have been turned into a Marauder that was somehow working against the Reapers and just happened to be just before the beam to the Citadel. We'll get to the idiocy of having a husk working against the Reapers in a bit, but even if it were possible, do you think the Reapers would not notice that one of the Marauders isn't under their command?
Is the concept of Marauder Shields being Nihlus Kryik impossible? We don't know exactly what happens to dead turians' bodies and what specifically happened to Nihlus's body. The idea of Nihlus being converted into a Marauder is still very, very unlikely, especially given that there are no turian husks until the events of ME3, but not impossible based on our knowledge. But what is the point of Marauder Shields being a redshirt from the first Mass Effect game? There is seemingly no point, because there is no foreshadowing in any of the Mass Effect games for Nihlus being turned into a Marauder.
Now, to the crux of the problem with the character of Marauder Shields. What do we know about indoctrination? It is the process of Reapers subverting organic minds to their will, gaining influence and control over others. While one can resist indoctrination for a period of time if their will is strong, it cannot protect them forever from succumbing to indoctrination. We see this with Matriarch Benezia in Mass Effect 1, who tried to keep part of her mind free from Sovereign's influence while the Reaper used her as a pawn. Ultimately, she knew that she would never be able to overcome Sovereign's indoctrination and died at the hands of Shepard and their squad.
And now the topic of husks. They are converted servants of the Reapers, twisted physically and mentally for the Reapers' purposes. One thing that is important to note is that we do not see Marauders in Mass Effect 1. Until ME3, all we see are Husks and Abominations, which have a distinctly-human appearance. Based on where you encounter husks in those games, it is safe to presume that the Husks and Abominations were humans. We have no evidence to support the idea of other races being converted into husks prior to the events of ME3, especially turians.
More importantly, there is no evidence to support the idea of a husk becoming sentient and working against the Reapers. All of the husks we see throughout the Mass Effect series are tools of the Reapers, mindless servants. And based on this idea and the permanent nature of indoctrination, it is absurd to advocate the position that a turian husk working against the Reapers is accurate to the lore of Mass Effect.
Which, when the catalyst of your story is a turian husk working against the Reapers, makes claiming that your story is accurate to the lore of Mass Effect a problem.
"Oxygen never existed before its existence was proven"
In his "Explaining Marauder Shields - The Instructions", Koobismo argues how Marauder Shields fits with the lore and canon of Mass Effect 3. Unsurprisingly, Koobismo refuses to acknowledge the Catalyst by its real name and goes with "Starchild". According to the page, the "Starchild" does not exist in Marauder Shields canon.
However, its existence in Mass Effect 3 lore is canonical. Koobismo's argument is that it isn't part of Mass Effect canon because its existence is confirmed in the real ending which Marauder Shields supplants. And if the "Starchild" does not exist in the canon of Marauder Shields, then it is incapable with Mass Effect canon.
The reason is simple. Something does not only become reality the moment it is explicitly confirmed. Something does not cease to be reality if you disregard the moment it is explicitly confirmed. If the Catalyst exists within the Citadel in the ending of Mass Effect 3, it means that it always existed within the Citadel in Mass Effect canon. It is the same as arguing that oxygen never existed before its existence was proven.
To give an example using the lore of Mass Effect, let's look at a line spoken by Mordin Solus in ME3: "Asari-vorcha offspring have an allergy to dairy." If you were to write an "alternate" Priority: Tuchanka, then that line might be omitted. After all, one would not hear the line at all if Mordin died during the Suicide Mission in ME2. However, that does not change the fact that asari-vorcha offspring having an allergy to dairy is an established fact in the Mass Effect universe—one has no reason to believe that Mordin doesn't know what he's talking about. If you were to omit that line from Priority: Tuchanka, that would not allow you to claim that an asari-vorcha offspring would have no allergic reactions from dairy.
Incidentially, Marauder Shields has Shepard being "the true Catalyst". Shepard has never been called "the Catalyst". The Reapers have never called Shepard by any term like that. There was nothing in the story to connect the idea of "the Catalyst" to Shepard. Which leads into another plot hole: if the Reapers want Shepard to reach the Crucible, then why were Reaper forces fighting them all of the way there? Why were the Reapers attempting to destroy the Crucible? The Reapers' goal on Earth in Marauder Shields is completely the opposite of their behaviour during Priority: Earth in Mass Effect 3; a failed attempt to retcon their plans. Because when you pride your webcomic on lore accuracy, why should you bother keeping the antagonists' goal true to the series?
While we're on the topic of Koobismo's "Explaining Marauder Shields" page, there's one paragraph that's worth quoting:
""Plotholes" - You may consider some of the developments introduced in the MS comic as "plotholes" at various stages of production... But keep in mind that this story unravels gradually, without showing everything at once."
I personally cannot read this as anything but "if there's a plothole in my story, then I'll just handwave it later". There's two problems with that approach, however:
1. If Koobismo makes up an excuse for how their webcomic fits into the lore of the series, that excuse does not exist in Mass Effect lore.
2. If Koobismo needs to make up excuses for how their webcomic fits into the lore of the series, isn't that a very good indication that it's not accurate to lore?
Hope! Hope! Hope, I tell ya!
In his review of the Leviathan DLC (which is plagued with numerous misunderstandings about the ending of Mass Effect 3 and Leviathan), Koobismo expresses his belief that a work should have one and only one major emotion throughout it. While this is a very questionable stance, let's not argue it. Koobismo argues that hope is the major emotion of the Mass Effect series, but hope is absent in both the ending of Mass Effect 3 and Leviathan.
We'll not touch upon ME3 or Leviathan, but focus on how hope comes across in Marauder Shields. How is hope expressed in the first few episodes, where the hero has been shot by Marauder Shields not too far from their destination, their goal. Shepard has been stopped from reaching the pinnacle of the galaxy's hope of defeating the Reapers, the device that galatic civilization united together to construct. Their hopes have been dashed. So how does the webcomic reinforce the emotion of hope?
Simple: by having the titular character repeatedly insist that there is hope.
What makes hope an effective emotion in the Mass Effect series is that it isn't repeatedly told to you; it is because the characters' actions in the face of overwhelming odds—and their success against those odds—are what reinforces the hope in the series. The characters never give in, never allow themselves to be defeated. Even when Harbinger blasts Shepard with its beam, Shepard doesn't lose hope that reaching the Citadel will end the Reapers.
Marauder Shields, on the other hand, shows us Shepard being defeated, being prevented from accomplishing their goal, unable to prevent the inevitable curb-stomp battle between the united galaxy's fleets and the Reapers, and all we get is a character who is essentially an antagonist telling the hero that there is hope.
When one takes even a brief look at the goals that the author wants Marauder Shields to achieve and how they go about trying to do so, the webcomic simply fails on every level of being an alternate ending. It is completely incompatible with the storyline of Mass Effect 3, throwing away everything that the plot has been building up to and derailing the focus of the story away from the Crucible and Commander Shepard to the titular Marauder. It is completely incompatible with the lore of the Mass Effect series, as the titular Marauder contradicts what we're shown and told about husks and indoctrination.
The most egregious aspect of this, however? Koobismo could have adhered to the lore of Mass Effect while derailing the ending to their own purpose. There was a perfectly valid way to have Shepard prevented from using the Crucible, one where the author would have had no need to suddenly force in a contrived character that makes little logical sense and ignores the lore of the series.
That solution? Just use a plain, ordinary Marauder. It's as simple as that. Have an ordinary Marauder shoot Shepard as they approach the beam. Have Shepard's squadmates come to their rescue. It would not have required a blatant perversion of an established character and the series's lore to accomplish the same result as the beginning of Marauder Shields.
But by turning a character into a sentient turian husk working against the Reapers, Koobismo has demonstrated that he does not care to make his webcomic fit with the lore of Mass Effect. And one story cannot be considered a "better" or even "alternate" ending to another story when the first thing it does is to establish itself as completely incompatible with the other story.
And now, with this out of the way, I have to get to work organizing a new movement. One that does not stand idly by while others besmirch the lore of Mass Effect with outlandish claims about the lore. One that stands against the presentation of blatant lore inaccuracies as true to canon and one that stands against twisting characters to suit the author's purpose. A movement that will let Koobismo know that his false claims and poor storytelling will not go unnoticed.
Retake the first Spectre. Retake the final Marauder.
Addendum — 10/24/12
Out of mild curiosity (and after finishing the Old World Blues DLC of Fallout: New Vegas again and thinking that it would be hilarious if the handwave for Marauder Shields was the same handwave that occurred in the DLC for the Courier not becoming like the mindless Lobotomites), I decided to read further ahead in the webcomic to see if Koobismo had given a reason as to why Nihlus Kryik wasn't a slave of the Reapers. As we've discussed in this review, Nihlus being a sentient turian husk working against the Reapers makes no sense and is a massive hole in the webcomic's claim of lore accuracy. You would think that, with such a glaring plothole, Koobismo would address the inconsistency quickly. Instead, the explanation comes in Episode 21. The first five "canon" episodes, 6-10, involve Marauder Shields. Episodes 11-20 have no connection whatsoever to the titular character, and a few are just plain filler. Given the paragraph regarding plotholes that I quoted from his "Explaining Marauder Shields" instruction page, I'm certain that it just took Koobismo that long to come up with an excuse.
So anyway, the explanation? Nihlus's body was taken and converted into a Marauder, but the Reapers' control over him was broken when Commander Shepard caused the Prothean beacon on Eden Prime to explode.
...okay, I really, really, really wish that Koobismo had stolen the handwave from Old World Blues. This only serves to bring up more questions that only show that Koobismo has no concern for the webcomic adhering to Mass Effect lore or how his own lore fits together. There are two glaring problems with this handwave:
1. Apparently the geth made one single turian husk, one single Marauder. And then not another Marauder was made until the events of ME3. There is not a single Marauder when the geth attack a location that would have a large quantity of turians—the Citadel—yet when one single turian dies on Eden Prime, they convert it into a husk.
2. There's absolutely no impact from the Prothean beacon's explosion on the husks we see in Mass Effect 1. Seemingly, only Nihlus became un-controlled by the beacon's explosion. Koobismo makes up a Codex entry with Episode 21, "The Eden Prime Hybrid", in an attempt to establish the Prothean beacon having an effect on the husks on Eden Prime by saying that Nirali Bhatia's body was found half-transformed and several husks were deactivated as a result of the Prothean beacon's destruction—only Bhatia's, despite the player seeing numerous humans upon Dragon's Teeth. The problem is, as this review has already pointed out, adding in information to the lore of the series to justify how your handwaves make sense a) does not make that information part of Mass Effect canon and b) only proves that the handwave is completely incompatible with Mass Effect canon.
The author needed a reason as to why a character who died in the first hour of the first game comes back in the ending of the third game with no foreshadowing to derail the story from what it had been building towards previously. So he took another element from the first hour of the first game and tacked on an illogical twist that only comes up after it's allowed the story to be derailed.
In addition, there's three lore inaccuracies in the Codex entry itself:
1. The Codex entry refers to "Servicewoman Bhatia"; however, she is always referred to in-game as "Serviceman Bhatia". Evidently, the term "Servicewoman" isn't used by the Alliance military.
2. The Codex entry states that omniblades were developed from research on Nirali Bhatia's body, "specifically designed to shatter a husk's synthetic bone structure." However, the ME3 Codex entry on omnitool weapons states that omnitools had been used for melee combat for almost as long as omnitools have existed.
3. The Codex entry claims that a fake body was returned to Samesh Bhatia and that Nirali Bhatia's body was kept by the Alliance to help develop weapons. However, if you have her body returned to her husband in ME1, a news report in ME2 will state that Alliance recruiting quotas are down because of lack of faith in the Alliance's ability to counter geth technology.
In attempting to provide a handwave for how a completely illogical character was able to derail the plot in the first place, the author only demonstrates a lack of foresight and apathy towards adhering to the lore of the series, despite all of his efforts to promote Marauder Shields as accurate to the lore. Even worse, in stating that they developed a melee weapon as a counter to a specific enemy who is only a threat at close range, Koobismo has painted the "Alliance Science Corps" as a bunch of complete and utter idiots.
Perhaps we need to retake the Alliance Science Corps as well?