Everyone knows by now how Mass Effect 3 ends: you push one of three buttons and depending on the choice the story ends in a slightly different way. In my previous Mass Effect article I somewhat give an explanation as to why that happens, but there’s a second reason: the Reapers were just too powerful. That is the biggest sin of Mass Effect, because it makes it very difficult to come to a solution that isn’t a deus ex machina.
Before I begin; credit where it’s due. I had a discussion with Analyze about this at one point where he stated he wasn’t surprised that Mass Effect 3 had such a bad ending, simply because he too felt the Reapers were too strong. And we see that in the first game. It takes the entire human alliance navy to defeat Sovereign. To make matters worse, the only reason why the big ship bites the dust is because it was controlling Saren, who ended up getting destroyed by Shepard. This weakened the ship enough that the Alliance could destroy it by firing everything they had at it. The reason I bring this up is because this goes to show you that one reaper can only be destroyed if very specific criteria are met. Had Shepard lost to Saren Sovereign could’ve easily destroyed the entire fleet without so much as a dent, unleashed the reaper fleet and fucked everyone in their asses. Apocalyptic stuff like that. Pretty gruesome, all that.
There are three other reapers that get destroyed throughout the series: Mass Effect 2 revolves around dealing with the Collectors and figuring out why they’re kidnapping human colonists. Turns out that said colonists are used as nutrients to make a Human reaper, which you get to destroy. Personally I always save up my M960-Cain for this job, simply because I want that BOOM! But the only reason shepard and two others are capable of destroying it is because it’s not even baby. EDI likens it to an embryo, so you are literally performing an abortion. It even roars when you destroy it’s tubes! Poor embryo. 🙁
In Mass Effect 3 you get to destroy two more reapers. The first one is a Destroyer type Reaper (weaker than Sovereign) that bites the dust (literally) when the mother of all Thresher Maws kills it. This would’ve been the first indication that Reapers actually are beatable by the current races, as it’s strange how one creature could destroy a Reaper. It’s sad that they didn’t expand on it beyond setting it up as a helpful guide to deal with those icky reapers invading Tuchanka. Like a lice killing the flea that is trying to steal the pelt it lives on.
And finally, the last reaper (who isn’t even important enough to get its own name; probably says something) is destroyed during the Rannoch questline. This one is destroyed by a combination of the Quarian fleet all firing down together to deal with it. One Reaper versus the second strongest and biggest fleet there is. This is a clear indication that while the Reapers ARE killable, they’re just so powerful that you’d have to try and hit them one by one by a full-on weaponised collection of ships of various sizes. And the second any reaper fights back the fleet is screwed, because there’s no way to defend against their molten metal beams.
The fact that Shepard is semi-responsible for the death of four Reapers is exactly why Harbinger views him as a major threat. Before the current cycle we’ve only ever heard of one dead Reaper corpse and it’s stated in ME2 that the civilisation that did it was destroyed in the proces.
So let’s do the math: Harbinger was created from the Leviathans a billion years ago. Every cycle lasts 50,000 years. The Reapers generally turn one or two of the most advanced civilisations into a reaper, which means that the full Reaper fleet exists of 20,000 ships at minimum. Twenty fucking thousand ships threatening the entire galaxy. In all that time we know of only FIVE dying. Can you realise just how ridiculously overpowered these organic AI’s are?
And we haven’t even discussed Harbinger, the most powerful Reaper of them all. Just how would you have destroyed it? It was the only Reaper created from the Leviathan, so that arguably means that it reaped the civilisations of the first cycle on its own. Yeah, that’s right, one ship managed to destroy an entire galaxy of spacefaring civs…
If you look at all these facts, one starts to wonder why Casey Hudson didn’t plan for a way to beat the Reapers from Mass Effect 1. He’s been the head developer from the start, but honestly the games don’t feel like they have a coherent plot that follows from one game to the other:
ME 1: Deal with a spectre, find out about the Reapers.
ME 2: Deal with a new (but old) species, find out how Reapers reproduce and kill the embryo. But no real insight on how to deal with the Reapers. We know that they are coming, we know there is no way to deal with them. It seems to me that the Collector Base could’ve given some information that would’ve been handy on dealing with the Reapers.
ME 3: Oh, we’ve got this crucible plan that might work, but we don’t know for sure. Let’s bet the entire galaxy’s existence on it, because even admiral Hackett knows a convential war is pointless.
Now, ME 1, 2 and even 3 are pretty good stories. They explore the themes and lore of the Mass Effect very well, but you have to admit that they’ve wasted opportunities to set up ways to make the Reaper threat seem ominous, but also in some way, if very specific criteria are met, manageable. The fact that the Reapers are these omnipotent organic machines is scary and definitely sets up a great enemy, but at the end of the day you have to wonder just how one human would ever have been able to stop them without resorting to a deus ex machina
- The Creeping Voice in Your Mind – Discussing the Indoctrination Theory in Mass Effect 3
- The Original Sin – The Vampire Diaries’ Biggest Sin
- A Regrettable Retrospective – Season 3’s Missed Opportunities in The Originals
Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the game series Mass Effect. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The Mass Effect game series belongs to Bioware and EA Games.