Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Mass Effect's" Top Five Villains!

*Yes, you guessed it: SPOILERS EVERYWHERE in this post if you haven't played the games!*

They're as evil as anything you can imagine. They've given Shepard and his/her crew their fair share of nightmare situations. They're the top five villains of the "Mass Effect" trilogy! For the purposes of this list, we'll ignore the small fry and get to those whose evil intentions have affected the entire galaxy, and even threatened to change it for the worse. This focus on individual villains will also leave out the Reapers, even Sovereign and Harbinger. The reason for that is the Reapers might as well be a metaphor for Death itself in the mythos of "Mass Effect", virtual forces of nature in their power and ferocity, but as important as they are we still don't learn enough about them.

1) The Catalyst

A lot of fans hate the Catalyst for reasons that go FAR beyond its villain status, but I don't feel like talking about gaping plot holes or 'red-green-blue' right now. -_- As far as bad guys go, though, the A.I. that calls itself the Catalyst is the most monstrous in the history of the "Mass Effect" universe, because it came up with the idea of the cycle of extinction and creating the Reapers to make it happen. According to its twisted logic the created (artificial life) are fated to destroy their creators (organic life), which would result in the galactic extinction of all organic life. In order to keep that from happening -- stick with me here -- it created the cycle in which only the most advanced civilizations will be culled by the Reapers, and the least advanced allowed to evolve until the NEXT cycle. It's circular logic at its very worst, basically creating a timetable for genocide instead of letting it happen naturally. But that presupposes, of course, that the Catalyst is right and it's the natural state of things that the created will destroy their creators! And as we saw in the third chapter, the war between the Quarians and Geth finally ended with peace between the two! So the Catalyst isn't just crazy, it's flat-out WRONG. But Shepard still talks to the damn thing at the end and listens to it offer its 'red-green-blue' choices...agh, *I don't want to talk about that!* x_x

2) Saren Arterius

The first true villian with a face the player finds themselves fighting in the original "Mass Effect"...and if what Liara T'Soni theorized was true, echoing an old Human saying that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, easily the most tragic. It's hard to feel any sympathy for this Turian-born Spectre knowing his history before encountering Sovereign, though. Saren was a bigot, like many in the galaxy feeling that Humanity was advancing too fast and had no place among the established Council races. He also manipulated events during a failed operation so that David Anderson, who later became Commander Shepard's mentor, would fail as the first Human Spectre. Then at some point he encountered Sovereign, which was slowly preparing to bring its fellow Reapers into the galaxy from the dark space outside of it. Saren himself claimed he worked in partnership with the Reaper, bringing the Geth Heretics under its control, to pave the way for a supposedly bloodless conquest of the galaxy. But the Turian villain was also paranoid of his 'partner', fearing (rightly) that the Indoctrination the Reaper used to take control of Matriarch Benezia and others would one day affect him. But even if he wasn't Indoctrinated, he shot his friend Nihilus in the back, which makes him an all-around son of a bitch! Ultimately, the Reaper did Indoctrinate Saren, and even went further to transform the former Spectre into an organic-artificial hybrid...those depressed by the 'red-green-blue' options of "ME3" will remember uncomfortably that Saren claimed he was a preview of the future, in which all life would be thusly transformed. (That could be an echo of 'synthesis', or simply that anyone not processed would be transformed into Husks, but it's way too much to be a coincidence!) If you play a Paragon Shepard, though, you can talk some sense into Saren and make him take a good look at himself...and he'll commit suicide, a belated attempt to make all he did wrong right. Sovereign would take control of his body shortly afterward, however, transforming it into a hellish puppet that makes a last-ditch bid to kill Shepard. Fortunately, no dice!

3) The Illusive Man

Diplomacy. As far as priorities go, that's dead last on on the Illusive Man's list, the man who created the Human-centric terrorist organization Cerberus from an Alliance black-ops military force that fell far, far off the radar. We first get glimpses of an evil born from that old line 'the ends justify the means', as Cerberus goes to any lengths to keep its operations and existence secret. From killing military soldiers, even admirals, to experimenting on Rachni and Creepers for their own use, the terrorists are a shadowy yet sublime threat in the first "Mass Effect". It isn't until the second game Cerberus is given a face: its leader, the Illusive Man, is as concerned about the Reapers as Shepard, and he's willing to go to any length and use any tactic to ensure the Reapers are one day defeated. He isn't dumb enough to discount Shepard's skill and ability, and that he/she might be the one hope anyone in the galaxy has. That hope is almost snuffed out when the Collectors attack the Normandy and kill Shepard. Cerberus gets ahold of his/her body, however, and after two years under the ministrations of Cerberus operative Miranda Lawson, the hero is brought back to life. Shepard forms a cautious alliance of convenience with the Illusive Man and Cerberus to find out if the Collectors work for the Reapers, and why they have recently targeted Human colonies. The Illusive Man is one cool customer, however, the kind of guy who would make those who believe in 'acceptable losses' cringe! More than once he manipulates events and even puts Shepard and the crew of the new Normandy in harm's way to get the information they need. After the Collector Base is found in the deadly Galactic Core, Shepard can choose to destroy or salvage the base for Cerberus. Months later, whatever Shepard decided, things change dramatically between him/her and Cerberus.

The Illusive Man has a new gambit going by the third game, one in which Shepard would be in the way, and Cerberus becomes as dangerous a threat as the Reapers that have invaded the galaxy. Shepard barely beats the terrorists to the mostly-complete blueprints for a Prothean weapon that becomes known as the Crucible...they then begin a race for any information on the Catalyst, the only thing that can activate the weapon. As things become bleaker during the war against the Reapers, we discover how far the Illusive Man will go to secure Reaper knowledge for his organization's use. He once said strength for Cerberus means strength for Humanity, and he's obsessed with the idea that he can find a way to control the Reapers and secure Human dominance over the galaxy. However, in echo of Saren, he compromises himself in the name of his obsession, slowly losing what makes him Human by adopting Reaper technology into his own biology and changing his forces partially into Husks! And if you expect such a move might perhaps Indoctrinate the poor son of a bitch, make him an even bigger threat to those he swore to advocate and defend, you'd be right. And like Saren, it all ends in a confrontation between the Illusive Man and Shepard and Admiral Anderson. Shepard can convince the Illusive Man of the error of his ways, as a result making him kill himself, or Shepard can kill him. Either way, a villain who reached too far for forbidden knowledge will fall.

4) The Shadow Broker

As shadowy an influence as the Devil himself in the first "Mass Effect", the Shadow Broker was the ultimate end result of the truth that 'knowledge is power'. The Broker was the most powerful and secretive information broker in the galaxy: with his byzantine resources and legions of clandestine operatives across the stars, he had the power to end wars or begin them, topple galactic leaders, and send trade markets or entire governments crashing and burning into ruin. No one knew who the Shadow Broker was, male or female, what civilization they were from, or even if the Broker was an individual or a group working together. Even Shepard knew of the Broker, yet never had reason to encounter him (or them?) directly. That changed in "Mass Effect 2", when it was revealed that after Shepard was killed, the Broker was contracted to find and deliver his/her body to the Collectors for some terrible purpose. (Terrible in ways one can't imagine since the Collectors served Shepard's enemies, the Reapers.) The Illusive Man, however, strikes a deal with Liara T'Soni and a Drell friend, Feron, to secure Shepard's body and surrender it to Cerberus so they could bring him/her back to life. This got the Broker very angry, however, and he captured Feron. After Shepard was brought back to life, he/she reunited with Liara, and they ultimately worked together again to find the Shadow Broker and save Feron, who was being kept and tortured for the villain's amusement. They reached his secret headquarters and his surprising true identity was revealed: he was a Yahg, a member of an intelligent but savage pre-spaceflight species who Liara correctly surmised killed the original Broker and took his place long ago. After a brutal battle, the Shadow Broker was obliterated...and Liara took his place as the new Shadow Broker, taking control of his intergalactic information network!

5) Kai Leng

I haven't read any comics or books that are supposedly part of the canon of the "Mass Effect" video games. Even if I did, I doubt I'd learn more about Kai Leng than I did in the third game, which was precious little. It's strange that the writers of the series gave us so little insight into this guy, an assassin in service to Cerberus and the Illusive Man's right hand, which effectively dehumanized him. Not only that it's hinted that this killer has been given Reaper-brand upgrades, like most of Cerberus' forces, which literally made him less than human already. When Kai Leng leads an assault on the Citadel to kill the Council, Shepard arrives to stop him with the surprise help of Thane Krios. Leng mortally wounds Thane with his sword and escapes...Thane later dies with Shepard and his son Kolyat at his bedside. We as a result want that Cerberus bastard's head on a plate and then some, and Shepard obliges in a satisfyingly stabby moment!

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