Leviathan, Cerberus and Beyond: Exploring the Future of Mass Effect
Phil Owen writes about the venues of potential exploration Mass Effect has to offer in future DLCs.
Leviathan is not what we needed, but there is still time for Bioware to give us substantial Mass Effect 3 story DLC
Recently we were graced with the Leviathan DLC for Mass Effect 3, a generally pleasant gameplay experience capped off by a meeting with members of the species who created the Catalyst AI, who is responsible for the Reapers wiping out all advanced civilizations in our galaxy every so often. The main thing we got out of this meeting is the knowledge that the Reapers look the way they do because they were modeled after these "Leviathans."
It is information that sheds no new relevant or interesting light on the Reapers whatsoever. Was there a group of fans out there who were really pushing for that information? Doubtful. More likely the purpose of this DLC was to introduce the Leviathans as characters before they become major players, probably antagonists, in the next Mass Effect game.
It's a shame that this DLC wasn't more substantial, because there are many things in the Mass Effect universe that we would like to know about that haven't been touched upon thus far. The purpose of this essay, then, is to point out two aspects of this universe's lore that would be truly worth exploring in future downloadable content.
First and foremost, we need a new look at Cerberus. Having just replayed Mass Effect 3 for the fourth time, it has become ever more apparent that we don't really know what is going on with Cerberus during this game. Here is what I can infer, but cannot prove based on the text:
Cerberus is acting as the Reapers' agents in this game, a la Saren and the Geth in the original Mass Effect. The Illusive Man is indoctrinated, and has been the whole time (see Mass Effect: Evolution), and by implanting Reaper tech into his followers he can get them to follow his counterintuitive orders that support the Reapers' war effort, like attacking the Citadel and Sur'Kesh and Tuchanka. Like Saren with his base on Virmire, though, the Illusive Man is looking for ways to counteract the Reapers on Sanctuary and elsewhere. Ultimately, however, he is the Reapers' and the Catalyst's tool. He's just not 100 percent under their control. The big difference between the Illusive Man and Saren is that Saren knew he was working for the Reapers, and the Illusive Man does not.
Throughout the game, Cerberus' stated goal is to build the Crucible and use it to control the Reapers. He sincerely believes he can do this, even though there is no evidence whatsoever that supports that thought. I initially believed that he was indoctrinated to think that, as that would jive with the Prothean VI Vendetta's account of a splinter group from his time trying the same thing. Vendetta speaks of a cycle of time orchestrated by a higher power that sounds an awful lot like something out of the Sacred Scrolls from Battlestar Galactica. Like the example, the implication of Vendetta's stories is that the cycle features people playing specific parts in the story over and over again, like having a group try to control the Reapers every cycle, rather than simply being a war that plays out in many different ways. Yes, there are variations, but there are restrictions placed on the way events play out by the Catalyst or some other being. Since the Catalyst specifically states that the Illusive Man was his, I assume that means he is the higher power.
But there could be more to this. The Protheans tend to know more about the Reapers — they seem to have had more knowledge of previous cycles than we do — and it could be that there was more information on Mars about the Crucible than we know but that Cerberus does know. After all, Cerberus found out about the Prothean beacon on Thessia from the Mars archives, while we only found out about it from the Asari councilor much later.
This could be worth exploring because, as I said earlier, you can only infer what was really going on with Cerberus during the game. I compared the Illusive Man to Saren because that makes sense to me, but Saren's story was clearly laid out. We got to see in the first game what was really going on in his head. Throughout Mass Effect 3, the why of Cerberus's actions is treated like a mystery, but that mystery is never resolved clearly. We just have it confirmed that, oh yeah, Cerberus is "indoctrinated forces," and that's that. DLC that delves into what was really going on with them during the game could be quite enlightening, particularly if we find out why the Illusive Man knew that controlling the Reapers was a viable option when no one else in the present day even knew how to use the Crucible.
Speaking of the Crucible, I am far more interested in its origins than I am the origins of the Reapers. Here we have a device that someone created to harness the power of the mass relays to do… something to the Reapers, and which over millions of years has been perfected until the point when, today, finally, we can properly use it. If it is possible for Shepard to have a face-to-face meeting with a life form that is a billion years old, then there has to be more information we can find out about the evolution of the Crucible. After all, the Protheans seemed to have some idea of its history, so we should be able to learn more than we know now. Sure, the Catalyst brushed off your question about the creators of the Crucible as irrelevant, but if we're going to dive into all this information about events long past, the story of the Crucible seems worth looking into. It feels like a tale of an epic struggle over time, and that's one that I want to hear that could actually add to our understanding of the events of the 2186. Too, learning about those beings who made our victory possible does not feel like a waste of time.
Discovering things about the Crucible and Cerberus could happen at the same time, if Cerberus is the source of the information on the Crucible. I mentioned before the possibility that Dr. Eva dug up more information on Mars about the Crucible than we know, and I imagine that a DLC that manages to show us more about the mind of the Illusive Man while also giving us a history lesson on the Crucible would be happily embraced by fans.
Cerberus DLC, I think, is absolutely essential to our understanding of what is going on in the game. We need something that really lays out all their dirty laundry. We need to see into the mind of the Illusive Man and find out what his deal is. Crucible DLC is not so important, but since Leviathan demonstrated that Bioware wants to tell us about weird lore stuff that isn't necessarily immediately relevant to the story they're trying to tell, they ought to go for something that we might actually like to know. That said, any new knowledge about the Crucible would likely be far more substantial than finding out why the Reapers look the way they do.
Image credit: "Illusive Man" by Spiritius on DeviantArt