Intergalactic Politics and Cosmic Strategy: Mass Effect 3

Posted: July 19, 2012 by bafriedman in Uncategorized

[Mass Effect 3 Spoiler Warning]
Probably without intending it, the Mass Effect 3 development team built the game as a crash course in coalition warfare and grand strategy on a cosmic scale. As the game opens the Reapers, a biologic/synthetic race far more powerful and advanced than any in the galaxy, attack the homeworlds of the major races with the bulk of their forces (their main effort) attacking Earth. After the opening scene, the player is tasked with escaping from Earth and rallying the rest of the galaxy to attack the Reaper main effort in the Sol System.

This is no easy task, as the Milky Way is in turmoil. Every race has their own Reaper offensive to worry about and the pre-war fears, honor, and interests remain despite the threat of galactic extinction. The player turns first to the Turians who possess the largest and best military in the galaxy, but their homeworld is as bad off as Earth. The Turians want help from the Krogan, but Krogan honor and interest demand a cure for the genophage, a bioengineered disease that wrecks their population growth (all but one in 10,000 baby Krogan are stillborn.) The Salarians, who designed the genophage, can provide a cure but fear a resurgent and vengeful Krogan race. On another front, standing in for Israel and the Palestinians, are the Geth and the Quarians. Quarians can provide a massive fleet and technical specialists, but want their homeworld, Rannoch, back from the Geth, who conquered it generations ago. The Geth can help if they are released from Reaper control and do not have to worry about reprisals from the Quarians. Oh by the way, you’ve also been marked for assassination by Cerberus, a pro-human, anti-alien non-state actor with vast resources (Space-KKK).

Yeah, we’re going to need some help with these guys.

This isn’t just a canned story, though. The player must make all these choices. Do you give the Krogan what they want and risk a future war or deceive them and condemn them to a slow genocide? Do you appease the Salarians in order to gain their advanced technology and science skills or ignore them in order to gain Krogan ground troops? Do you restore Rannoch to the Space-Palestinians and gain their fleets, side with the Space-Israel and gain their fearless, artificial intelligence ground troops, or do you use diplomacy to end their war that began three hundred years before you were born? Why is President Jed Bartlet in charge of the SpaceKlan?

The Illusive Man, Grand Wizard of the SpaceKlan (voiced by Martin Sheen)

This is an accurate representation of coalition warfare. Take World War II for example. Britain is under dire threat from Nazi Germany, but US interests prevent American entrance into the war until Pearl Harbor. Once the US is in the war, the Soviet Union is a powerful ally against Germany, but they are a communist nation and assisting them could make them stronger in a future war. A more contemporary example is the United States’ shaky relationship with Pakistan. The Taliban and other militant groups are a threat to the current Pakistani government, but Pakistan is probably more worried about a stable Afghanistan that aligns with India than they are extremist groups. For Pakistan, the fear of India trumps their interest in regional stability and strains their relationship with the US, even in the face of a mutual threat.

This is the reality of coalition warfare throughout military history. Fears and interests are not left on the battlefield’s doorstep but rather carry through and affect the course of strategy. Most high-level strategic functions will involve allies of some sort, and Mass Effect 3 offers a primer on the balancing act of coalition warfare. Thrown into this mix are the personal relationships developed between the player and characters on all sides (Shepard’s team includes a Salarian, two Krogan, a Turian, a Quarian, and a Geth). This also reflects reality. The warm relationship between FDR and Churchill was very different than their sometimes icy relations with Joseph Stalin. Again, these are the issues that ME3 deals with that are rarely present in other war games. There are no Call of Duty missions that require you to establish peace in the Middle East before the fighting even begins. Certainly, other works of science fiction have delved into these issues in an intergalactic construct, but most of these are books, movies, or tv shows. The beauty of games is that you get to control the strategy rather than be a silent observer.

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Comments
  1. Don says:

    I would love to read this post, but I only just finished Mass Effect 2. Don’t want any more spoilers.

  2. […] Mass Effect Series. Already featured on Blogtarkin, this is too time-intensive to assign as reading, but the epic scope, durable […]

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