Monday, 14 Jun 2021

We Should Have Spent Longer In The Krogan Ruins In Mass Effect 3

The Mass Effect trilogy sends you to a lot of different places. Another writer here recently wrote that the first game focuses on open natural terrain, the second on more intimate urban settings, and how the third lacks identity so much that it doesn’t really do either. I understand what he means, but he also considers Mass Effect 3 the worst in the trilogy by a distance, while I have it as a contender with Mass Effect 2, and on the contrary, I feel Mass Effect 3 has the strongest identity – it’s a game about loss and destruction, and so every place we visit is unified by shared pain, hopelessness, and annihilation.

Of course, there are some downsides to millions of people in the galaxy being brutally murdered by the metal sky squids. It’s the only game where we see Thessia, and by that time, it has been brutally eviscerated. Thessia is the pinnacle of galactic advancement, and the fact we only glimpse it in this state dulls the spectacle somewhat. We’ve been told Thessia is a place of magnificence, but without seeing it for ourselves, it’s hard to quantify the loss. When we head to London, it’s obvious. With Thessia, less so.

All this is what makes Tuchanka the most interesting planet in Mass Effect 3. Successive nuclear wars have already left it destroyed, but as we venture through the untouched land of the Thresher Maws to reach the Shroud, we head into parts of the planet that have been undisturbed for centuries. We see statues, temples, intact architecture, and luscious plant life. Eve calls it Tuchanka’s hope. During this mission, you need to explore the catacombs of the krogan ancients. Here, you see krogan artwork and culture never before displayed in the trilogy, although explore is perhaps the wrong word. You’re in there for all of five minutes before you make your way out to the surface for another firefight.

This is another way in which Tuchanka establishes itself as Mass Effect 3’s best planet. Part of the reason some might feel the third game struggled for an identity is because you’re flung from place to place so quickly. You never stay in one place very long, because you’re usually rescuing people from the brink of death across the galaxy. If you don’t hit Grissom Academy early enough, it is destroyed. While the Citadel can be returned to several times throughout the campaign, but Tuchanka is far more intriguing. There’s missions to rescue Primarch Victus’ son, to disarm a planetary bomb, and fight off a Cerberus ground assault, as well as the headline event of stopping the genophage. While these missions are linear, you still get to explore far more of Tuchanka than you do of any other location bar the Citadel.

Despite all this, the krogan ruins still get shafted. There’s the hint, just as you’re about to cure the genophage and uplift the krogan once again – or, if you do choose, sabotage it and keep them living under genetic oppression – that the krogan were once much more than the blood soaked warriors you see before you. Wrex and Eve are more thoughtful than the typical krogan caricature that many others – like Wreav – live up to, but they’re still part of the current generation of krogan, a generation hardened by the genophage, war, and the scorn of the rest of the galaxy. In the ruins, we see them in a completely new light. It’s a perfectly timed peek into krogan history, but it is a peek nonetheless, and with the krogan as playing a vital role in Mass Effect 3, it’s a shame we don’t get a bit more.

I’m not sure when this should come. Any earlier and it takes away from the impact of learning new depths of the krogan right before you spare them from a slow and agonising genetic genocide. Any later and, well, why are you pissing about playing Tomb Raider when the Reapers are here? Maybe it’s not that we should’ve had more in the original trilogy – you could argue your actual time in the ruins could have been longer, sacrificing the high-octane ground assault on the Reaper by luring the Kalros Thresher Maw from below ground, rather than above. Maybe instead it’s that whatever happens in the next Mass Effect, this side of the krogan needs to be included.

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