Posted on November 11, 2014, Phil Owen Quarians vs. Geth, And The Standard We Must Hold BioWare To
Mass Effect 3 has long been maligned for its ending, and deservedly so. It was undercooked and poorly thought out, a trilogy capper that left so many players thinking, “That’s it? That’s what this was building toward?”
But while the ending Mass Effect 3 didn’t ultimately come close to living up to the promises of meaningful choices with consequences made by BioWare before the trilogy began, there was one part of the game that delivered something we long wanted from BioWare games. In a single portion of Mass Effect 3, BioWare set the high-water mark for themselves and other developers who seek to branch a plot across multiple games.
I’m talking about when the geth and quarians went to war.
In Mass Effect 3, the quarians decide at a rather inopportune time to attempt to retake their long-abandoned homeworld from the sentient machines they had created, and who nearly wiped them out, centuries earlier. In response, the geth take assistance from the marauding Reapers, and both sides settle into a protracted war that Commander Shepard is going to have to end, one way or another.
This part of the game has been praised extensively for being a subversion of typical “A.I. versus people” stories — it turned out that when the geth initially became self-aware, the quarians tried to destroy them, and the ensuing war between the two peoples was largely a result of the geth merely defending themselves. The geth are key boogiemen in the Mass Effect series up to this revelation, but it turns out their villainous role was largely an illusion perpetuated by other civilizations’ fear of them. The geth aren’t aggressive; they just, like another intelligent beings, don’t really want to die.
But where the geth/quarian portion of Mass Effect 3 really excels is beneath the surface. It’s the only scenario in the entire Mass Effect series that truly can be called dynamic, and a big part of that dynamicism comes from the game never explaining how the scenario actually works.
Mass Effect always tended to hold your hand very tightly when there were several possible outcomes in a situation — see, most notably, the loyalty missions for your squad in Mass Effect 2. The game constantly reminds you that you need to do them so everyone will be psyched up for the final battle. You’d have to specifically ignore the game’s repeated instructions to screw up the suicide mission.
But the battle at Rannoch in Mass Effect 3 never explains itself, and decisions made in Mass Effect 2 can make it impossible to resolve this conflict peacefully. Indeed, even when they do everything right before the pivotal final moment, many players might never know that Shepard can resolve it peacefully. And if you played the game without importing a save from Mass Effect 2, then it’s definitely impossible.
The requirements for making peace between the quarians and geth call for a lot of things to go right. Shepard’s past actions as they relate to what’s going on above and on Rannoch carry behind-the-scenes point values, and if you’re below a certain threshold number (five points), you’re not going to be able to pull it off. Those items are:
1. Destroying the heretic geth instead of rewriting them in Legion’s Loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2 (2 points). This is simply a practicality. If there are fewer geth in Mass Effect 3, the quarians will be less terrified of them and more open to the possibility of peace.
2. Shepard must have prevented Tali from being exiled and also not tarnished her father’s name in the process (2 points). Basically, if Tali is loyal to Shepard and an admiral in the quarian fleet in ME3, she can help broker the peace.
3. Shepard must have used a speech check to settle the argument between Tali and Legion in Mass Effect 2 (1 point).
4. You must complete the mission “Rannoch: Admiral Koris” (1 point)…
5. …and actually save Koris during that mission (1 point).