Why Mass Effect 2 Isn't Actually Pointless to the Trilogy

I’ve been pondering lately the point of the Mass Effect 2 plot. At first glance it seems a little silly: these bug people have started kidnapping thousands of humans to make a new Reaper and Shepard stops them.

The summary sounds like a mid-sized expansion pack to the original game, a side quest to kill time, and instead they pull in Cerberus and the Lazarus project. Throw in a whole new cast you have to go recruit and you complicate a little series of side missions into a whole game.

After some thought, however, I realized they had two choices of what to do with the end of Mass Effect. Shepard said that it wasn’t over and we’re led to believe that the Reapers are still coming in some undefined way. What happens next?

Given the writers’ choice to have them drive over instead of teleporting, they could skip a few years with no real explanation and nothing for Shep to do, which seems unlikely for the savior of the galaxy. Alternatively, they could fill the time the cuttlefish droids take to get from dark space (wherever that is) to our galaxy with something dramatic, if not as epic, giving us more reasons to fear the Reapers, if you’ll forgive the pun.

While it may seem silly for EDI and Shep to be so surprised at the Collectors being mutated Protheans, it does underline something the galaxy should know (but apparently never gets told) about the Reapers: they don’t destroy all sentient races, they use some. In the previous cycle it was the Protheans who were deemed worthy enough to make into slaves for the next cycle. In this one, it’s the humans. It seems we’re fascinating enough not only to keep but to make into a new member of their species.

Now, I’m not arguing that the explanation makes sense. As I understand it, it runs thus: humanity has the most diverse genetic code in the galaxy. That’s why the Asari want to have our babies. The Reapers want the Collectors to round us all up, throw us in a blender, and make a genetically diverse baby Reaper. Perhaps they want to replace Sovereign, maybe they just make a new one every time they find a species that does something particularly interesting.

Why the divergence in genes makes any difference when making a mechanical construct, I don’t know. I somehow doubt the writers themselves had more than a vague idea of the mechanism for converting human slurry into a two-kilometer-long robot run by an AI. ME2’s plot would have made more sense if they wanted to steal Shepard’s brain and wire her up to increase the badass quotient of the species, if you can call the Reapers such.

That would have changed the flavor of the entire game, of course. One presumes that part of the reason for killing Shepard off and making Cerberus bring her back was to introduce The Illusive Man so that they didn’t have to explain who he was or why we should care in Mass Effect 3. I considered his glow-y eyes a ham-fisted sort of foreshadowing, personally, but for those who were fans the proof of his indoctrination seems to have come as an unpleasant surprise.

It would have been relatively dull to have the Collectors chase Shepard around the galaxy while she performed a hundred fetch quests, but that’s where beginning of the plot comes into play. They start nabbing colonies as traps. She starts chasing them, instead, recruiting one or two more people (ME2 wouldn’t be awesome without Mordin and Grunt, after all, and Wrex has places to be and a people to unite) but in general the whole game could have been something quite different with almost the same ending.

We’ll never know if that game would be as amazing and I’m at least temporarily convinced it sounds, because that Normandy has sailed. As a bridge between the events of Mass Effect and the last of the trilogy, it had to be something more than chasing Geth and bitching about how pointless it was.

The Collectors were a brilliant stroke, a reason for Shepard to go tearing off again without having to bring another Saren/Reaper combo to the forefront. It turned out that that’s exactly what TIM and Harbinger were but at least they had the decency to take it in a different direction.

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