By Kyle B. Stiff
Back when I finished the Mass Effect series and began studying Indoctrination Theory like a madman, I heard a theory concerning Rio de Janeiro. The theory was that BioWare originally intended Rio to be the site of the final battle against the reapers; when the idea was cut, assets from the map were used for the multiplayer map Firebase Rio. I didn’t give the theory much thought at the time, as it felt like players were desperately scraping the bottom of the idea barrel. Now that I’ve had time to move on and put my “real” life back together again, the idea of Rio finally hit me like a krogan in a breeding frenzy. Yes, readers, it turns out that whether they planned it that way or not, Rio should have been the site of humanity’s showdown with the reapers.
As it is now, the final battle takes place in London. London is dark and dreary and in ruins. The thing is, most of the third game is dark and dreary and in direct opposition to the optimism shown in the first game. Imagine this: The final push ended in failure, Shepard ended up lying in a pile of rubble, and the Catalyst proved to be an elaborate red herring. Coats ordered a withdrawal and Shepard was pulled out of the rubble. London fell and the crew of the Normandy ran with its tail between its legs. Just as Shepard was about to despair, Hackett told her that the Alliance always had a backup plan: Rio de Janeiro, where all elite N7 operatives are trained and tested – including all those fancy new anti-reaper classes that we only see in multiplayer mode. For the final scene, we would leave the dark ruins so common in ME3 and find ourselves in a lush area bathed in a golden red dawn.
How amazing would it be for the final battle to take place where Commander Shepard was first trained to be what she would become – a heroic slayer of reapers? (This theme of “going to the beginning” was also done on Mars, where the team returned to the place where humanity found its first prothean (or reaper) artifact which helped us develop mass effect technology.)
When I first thought about Rio, I wondered just what sort of weapon the Alliance would hold up its sleeve. Would it be a big gun, a reaper-smasher? Rio could have a few of those lying around, sure, but when we consider that the reapers have most likely pulled off millions of harvests against species capable of using advanced technology and powerful weapons, then of course a big gun or two aren’t going to surprise the reapers. The idea I had was to implement indoctrination into the final battle and humanity’s ultimate victory. Think about it like this: Indoctrination has been in the background since the beginning, and it’s so terrifying that it is barely mentioned in the final game. What if the final rush in London, and Harbinger’s subsequent flight without finishing off Shepard, only proved to the Alliance brass that Shepard was in fact tainted by indoctrination?
If so, perhaps they could somehow use her indoctrination against the reapers. They could hook Shepard up to some kind of fancy tech they’ve been developing in Rio, cross their fingers and hope that her force of will can keep her from becoming totally indoctrinated, and then somehow project their own anti-indoctrination signal at the reapers in such a way that their big, non-slimy brains would be scrambled. The final battle could include Shepard’s teammates trying to hold Rio before it is crushed and Shepard trying to hold onto her mind (and soul!) before it is taken over by Harbinger, all in a desperate gambit to give the Alliance time to perfect their “Shepard salvation” signal.
To make things even more perfect (or perhaps to make technophiliac nerds uncomfortable), there is even a giant statue of freakin’ Jesus, complete with arms outspread, standing on a mountain overlooking Rio. Rio de Janeiro literally means “River of January” in Portuguese. Humanity has many, many myths about the prime sun-god dying in December, during the darkest depths of winter. The month after December is of course January, the beginning of a new year, when the sun-god rises once again to shine its light on this beaten, scarred, troubled world. During Shepard’s confrontation with Harbinger – and yes, Shepard does need a direct confrontation with the Prime Reaper – Harbinger could even smash through the statue of Christ during his shrieking, violent death as a way to make every God-fearing (or God-bothering) player intensely uncomfortable.
Shepard could also be up and moving around while her indoctrination-tainted mind is being analyzed and “boosted” by the Alliance black ops science team. During the final battle, many of her foes could disappear or reappear in strange places, and many buildings could change in strange, dreamlike ways as a result of her battle against indoctrination. In the end, the player might not even be sure that the reapers are truly dead, due to Shepard’s hallucinations and the problem of an untrustworthy narrator. Shepard’s main love interest could say that the battle is over, but maybe Shepard knows that there is no cure for indoctrination… except death. Shepard may be expected to commit suicide at the end of the battle. The player could be fucked with at this point: We know that a paragon-leaning person might kill themselves if Hackett or Anderson implied that it was necessary, thus a paragon-leaning player might have to avoid suicide in order to win, but a renegade-leaning player, who would naturally cling to their individual existence no matter the cost, might have to kill themselves at the first opportunity.
So what’s the big deal with using Shepard’s indoctrination-tainted brain as a weapon against the reapers? Why would this surprise the reapers any more than a big gun or a better shield or anything else that could have been invented and re-invented during a million different cycles? I think a weapon like this could surprise the reapers because the idea of doing anything other than fighting off (or suppressing) indoctrination runs counter to the survival strategies of any organic species. Most people have a shadow, a dark side, that they suppress or try to control. Most people will do anything to keep their dark half in the closet because of their fear that it will completely take over their personality. But if a species allowed their finest member – like our Commander Shepard – to undergo this identity-erasing trial for the salvation of the entire species, then that very well could take the reapers by surprise. It would use their greatest weapon against them.
I don’t think an idea like this is complete bullshit that I’ve dreamed up on my own. We already know that the BioWare team didn’t have an ending planned when they began the third game. (From a writer’s perspective, this is completely idiotic; you should have the ending in mind before the beginning is set in stone.) One of BioWare’s original ideas was to have the reapers somehow fighting “dark space”, and when humanity defeated the reapers they would have to combat this problem on their own. Thankfully this idea was leaked and trashed, but a showdown in Rio could have been on the idea board for a while; why else did it make it into multiplayer? Unfortunately BioWare must have concentrated on the beginning and middle of the game while still working out the “kinks” in the ending – and then run out of elbow grease. As it is, if they’d spent a little more time in pre-production, they could have concentrated on the beginning and the end and then padded out the middle as time and resources allowed… which is how most video game stories should be developed.
Just imagine if the Battle of London was the darkness before the dawn, and the end of the series was a battle as dramatic as the one at the end of the second game, incorporated the terror of indoctrination hinted at throughout the series, and took place on a bloody battlefield in a land of flowers fed by a shining, scarlet sun, and was dusted with the rubble of a statue of a shepherd from ages past…
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Hey readers! I’ve got some other Mass Effect stuff available for your perusal. For instance: An outline for a game called Mass Effect 4: Indoctrination Theory. I’ve also got some random Mass Effect speculation and bitching available HERE. If fanfiction is more your thing (and why shouldn’t it be?), then you can check out some stories based on the Destroy, Control, and Synthesis endings.
If you liked this post, you should check out some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.