Show don’t tell is an important rule in writing, especially in a visual medium like video games. However, it’s also a rule taken too literally by some writers, who think everything has to be action in order to show rather than tell. Taken literally, dialogue would seem to be telling instead of showing, but in reality good dialogue can show a story far better than any action ever could.
There’s a perfect example of this when comparing Mass Effect and Mass Effect: Andromeda, in how they introduce their Krogan companion.
This is how Drack is introduced to the player in Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s a serviceable entrance, obviously throwing a wraith through a window showcases Drack’s strength and brutality.
“Who are you?” – Drack
Drack’s interrogative singles him out as a hostile, but commenting on his “cool” entrance makes him lower his guard. Then he immediately grabs Ryder by the collar and asks again, who Ryder is. So either he sees through the bullshit flattery of Ryder and is annoyed by it, or thinks it’s a method of subterfuge, because he seems really pissed that Ryder doesn’t announce himself.
You’ll excuse me if I didn’t just trust a stranger from the Nexus, they haven’t exactly treated us Krogan well. – Drack
Now this is expository dialogue, meaning that instead of the dialogue being there to characterize the person speaking it, it’s there to convey important plot information. As expository dialogue it works, it gets across the information Bioware wanted to convey, and yet it’s also so dry that it doesn’t do much else.
In fact, I’m not really going to tackle the rest of the dialogue, because it all serves to establish three things about Drack as a character:
He’s an effective warrior, as evidenced by throwing a wraith through what I imagine is not ordinary glass.
He enjoys battle, relishes in it, perhaps even driven by it.
Is suspicious of non-Krogan.
That’s a respectable amount of information to start with. As I said, this is a serviceable introduction. Not good, not bad. It does its job, but there’s no imagination to it. Showing a Krogan loves battle and violence by throwing something through a window is, well, a bit obvious. Even worse though, is that all of the character traits this dialogue reveals are just “no duh” moments, they’re all stereotypically Krogan. You could have safely assumed all this just by looking at him.
The absolute worst part of this whole exchange is that Drack’s dialogue isn’t true to his character. When you meet him, Drack is dismissive of the Pathfinder’s ability and hostile to humans in general. Yet the moment you bring him on board your ship, Drack is one of the friendliest Krogan you’ll ever meet and affectionately refers to the Pathfinder as “kid.”
Now Wrex’s introduction [0:20-0:40, a mere 20 seconds] conveys so much information about his character that it’s actually a brilliant piece of writing.
“Witnesses saw you making threats in Fist’s bar. Stay away from him.” – C-Sec Officer
“I don’t take orders from you.” – Wrex
Right off the bat we see Wrex needs to establish dominance in any conversation and immediately lashes out against authority figures hoping to control him. We later find out this is in keeping with Krogan cultural norms, where asserting dominance is often the difference between life and death. To submit to the demands of this squishy human would be an intolerable weakness.
“This is your only warning, Wrex.” – C-Sec Officer
“You should warn Fist: I will kill him.” – Wrex
This one line of dialogue conveys not only information about Wrex as a character, but also important world-building information. First of all, Wrex is comfortable with killing and is confident in his ability to do so. Secondly, he wants people to know that Fist is marked for death, which makes perfect sense and leads into the world-building.
The Shadow Broker hired Wrex to kill Fist for betraying him, but Fist won’t make an effective example if he just vanishes one day. The Shadow Broker sent Wrex because he wanted to send a message to everyone that you don’t betray the Shadow Broker. This establishes the Shadow Broker in the player’s mind as a powerful and dangerous entity. I love this line in particular because it shows you don’t need to resort to sloppy expository writing like Drack’s dialogue in order to convey important information to the player.
“You want me to arrest you, Wrex?” – C-Sec Officer
“Heheh, I want you to try.” – Wrex
That one line reveals so much about Wrex’s character it’s almost ridiculous, because the fact of the matter is, Wrex is bluffing.
Wrex knows he could easily kill the unarmed C-Sec officers surrounding him, but there’s no way he could fight his way out of C-Sec Headquarters and murder Fist, let alone escape the Citadel. Yet Wrex is also a consummate professional and he has a target to eliminate, so he can’t have C-Sec constantly harassing him. So he bluffs, go ahead and arrest me, Wrex is telling them, but I guarantee it won’t be worth the trouble. Wrex’s words here speak legions about his character.
Even though Wrex is capable of amazing feats of strength and brutality, he doesn’t use brute strength as a first resort. He thinks strategically, he plans his moves carefully, and sizes up his opponents. He’s a brutal warrior who knows when not to reach for his weapon.
This twenty seconds of dialogue establishes multiple facets of Wrex’s character:
He’s a warrior confident in his abilities and has no problem killing.
Though he’s comfortable killing, he takes no pleasure in it unless he has a personal motive. Otherwise, it’s just business.
He’s cunning, and will plan his strategies multiple moves in advance. Shooting his way through a problem is both a last step and last resort.
He’s able to quickly size up his opponents, both in courage and in strength, and will seek to bluff and intimidate before resorting to violence.
Wrex needs to establish his strength and dominance in a conversation.
Proud, cunning, dominant, violent yet not for it’s own sake, and even diplomatic in his own way. That’s a pretty respectable number of character traits for a twenty second conversation.
Even better, what we learn here in this scene does reflect the character we come to know. Through the course of the game we find out that Wrex is an old warrior, who has seen centuries of combat so it makes sense that he not only knows how to kill, but is completely comfortable with it. Yet we also learn that Wrex wants to reunite the Krogan and restore their once proud heritage of bravery, sacrifice, and strength. He hates the modern Krogan ideals of mindless bloodlust, so it makes sense that he would reject the glorification of pointless violence.
Wrex’s introduction is how a great example of how a light touch and subtlety can more effectively introduce a character than some flashy, yet empty action scene. Drack’s introduction is a microcosm of Andromeda‘s overall problem, it’s too obvious, unimaginative, and unpolished to successfully carry the story they were trying to tell.
In the end, there’s only two types of writing. There’s Wrex writing and then there’s Drack writing.
So today Bioware released the Extended Cut DLC for Mass Effect 3, and I have to say…I’m impressed. Given the horrific mess that were the original endings, Bioware has done an excellent job making these Extended Cut endings both thematically consistent and emotionally satisfying. In a previous post I said I thought this Extended Cut would be like trying to put a new coat of paint on the smoldering ruins of a car, but Bioware has instead performed a magic trick; using smoke and mirrors to make the endings something that can be enjoyed by drawing our attention away from the flaws. Those smoke and mirrors are some excellent writing and a firm grasp of storytelling basics, something I thought Bioware had lost given the absolutely broken original endings. Whoever was responsible for the catastrophe of Mass Effect 3’s original ending clearly had nothing to do with the Extended Cut DLC.
Two of the biggest issues I had with the original endings was the lack of resolution and the core themes of the game being abandoned for pure nihilism, and Bioware has managed to fix both of these. And 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
3. Lack of Resolution – FIXED!
Yes, I’m very happy to report that the new endings do give the audience a feeling of accomplishment and resolution. You no longer get a stupid 15 second clip of your team crashing on a planet and fading to black to spare you the sight of your friends slowly cannibalizing each other. Instead you get a rather touching moment in which your crew hangs your name (Commander Shepard) on the memorial plaque onboard the Normandy, right alongside all the others who fought and died alongside you, including Anderson. This is an important moment because it shows us the characters we’ve all grown to love sharing a moment to mourn the death of their friends, and for us, we can mourn with them because this represents the end of our journey together. Their story is over, and our time with them is done. That was the moment we needed, the moment we were all denied in the original endings.
Equally important is that we get some closure on the universe we’ve lived in for five years. Each concluding video gives a great narration by one of three characters, depending on which ending you pick, who give their unique view on the situation. Not only do these narrations give us some closure on what happens in the Mass Effect universe after the defeat of the Reapers, but also expand on what is happening in the endings themselves, helping to solve the next huge issue on my original list.
2. Abandoning of Established Themes and Characters – Fixed!
This was the biggest issue for me. All three of the original endings were so thematically different from the entire series that they felt like the endings to a totally different game. Now, however, thanks to the expanded endings reveal what the hell is going on in these endings.
Of all three endings, Control was the one that really confused me. Yes, the Reapers flew off after Shepard took control but what the hell happens after that? It didn’t make any sense to me because what was happening wasn’t really explained aside from “yeah, you’ll control the reapers, just trust me.” Do the Reapers just fly off back into Dark Space? Do a little song and dance on Mars? What?
However, now, I think the Extended Cut Control ending is my favorite ending to the game:
Narrated by Shepard, or rather the collective consciousness born of Shepard’s personality merging with the Reapers, he explains what’s happening and why. The great thing about his narration is that, it not only gives us closure as to Shepard’s fate, but makes the control ending fit thematically with the rest of the series. All of the original endings featured Shepard dying for no real apparent reason. It was sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice. It didn’t fit because Shepard, while always willing to sacrifice, didn’t simply do so just for the heck of it. In this video though, we see what his sacrifice allowed for:
I will rebuild what the many have lost. I will create a future with limitless possibilities. I will protect and sustain. I will act as guardian for many.
So basically its Shepard doing what he was always doing, only this time his personality is superimposed on the Reapers, turning them into a fleet of invulnerable Shepards. I can live with that.
Similarly, the other big theme that was abandoned by the original endings was the Strength through Diversity theme. This was why I had such a huge issue with the Synthesis ending, because it seemed like the solution in this case was basically “make everyone the same so they don’t fight!” which is a horrible idea. However, the new Synthesis ending suggests that this merging doesn’t make everyone the same so much as it grants everyone a new perspective. With both organic and synthetic beings woven together, they each gain an understanding of the other’s view point. That’s something I can respect, and it could be argued that it’s perhaps the best ending. I still have an issue with the idea of forcing such a radical change on a galaxy of billions without their consent, but the ending doesn’t have that same undertone of racial hygiene as the original ending, so that alone makes this whole DLC worthwhile.
Strength through Diversity is a theme further reinforced by the new cutscenes, where we actually get to see Krogan, Turian and Asari celebrating as the Reapers fall silent across the galaxy. Finally we get to see something other than just humans triumphing in this conflict. The new Destroy Ending features Admiral Hackett saying that the victory wasn’t won by a single species or on a single world, but through the collective strength of all of them. Finally, good to see everyone else getting some credit.
1. Introduction of New Elements and Characters – Not Fixed
The bottom line, however, is that at the end of the day this still isn’t the ending that Mass Effect deserved. It’s infinitely better that the originals, and the Extended Cut endings are even pretty good in their own right. Had these been the endings that came out with the game originally, Bioware wouldn’t have had to deal with a month of outraged fans pouring hate onto their forums. I think there would have been some mild disappointment, but I can live with these new endings. They’ve fixed 2 out of the 3 crippling problems of the originals, and honestly, that’s good enough for me.
Yes, we still have the stupid God A.I. retroactively screwing the plot of the original Mass Effect and the added dialogue doesn’t do anything to make this section any less horrible. They could make the God A.I.’s explanations ten thousand words long, but at the end of the day, the explanations and logic are still flawed, overwrought and stupid. Adding more explanations to a wrong answer doesn’t make the answer any less wrong. Similarly, the new Refuse ending seems a little half-assed to me as well; I’m glad they chose to add a refuse option but it definitely doesn’t feel like they put any kind of effort into it. You get a small 20 second clip of Liara’s time capsule and that’s it. I would have hoped for a cinematic detailing the last stand of Sword Fleet, as everyone desperately fights to the last man.
Still, like I said, these endings are good. Thematically and emotionally they’re very satisfying. They aren’t the epic endings to a massive saga that I would have liked to have seen, but these at least I can live with. I can now play Mass Effect 3 without feeling like there’s a guillotine hanging over my head, and when I finally finish my second run-through now, I know I’ll have a worthwhile ending waiting for me.
So yes, the new endings are a bit of magic trick. Underneath it all, the ending is still fundamentally broken due to the inclusion of the God A.I., but as Michael Caine said in The Prestige, the thing about a magic trick is that “you want to be fooled.”
Damn right I do, especially when the trick is this good.
First of all, a huge thanks to everyone who has made this post such a success. According to the WordPress tracker I’ve received over 30,000 views over the past three days, as well as hundreds of messages in my email, twitter and comments. When I wrote this article I never thought it would get this much attention, of course I secretly hoped it would and am overjoyed that hope has been fulfilled. That said a lot of comments and emails, while all overwhelmingly positive, did point out a few mistakes I made in the first article. Others have brought up issues with Mass Effect 2 that would be helpful to explain. So let’s get right down to it:
The Logic of the Catalyst
So what little negative feedback I did get was about my use of the Meme picture, and that I wrongly interpreted the Catalyst’s intentions. And they were entirely correct. In my defense, the Catalyst AI God had so flabbergasted me that, in all honesty, I wasn’t paying that close attention to what he was saying. However, instead of retroactively changing my original post and in the interest of full disclosure, I decided to leave it as is and address this mistake here.
So initially I said that Catalyst was seeking to destroy all organic life in order to save organic life from synthetics, a completely circular argument. However, what the Catalyst actually says is that they destroy advanced organic life in order to keep them from developing synthetic life which would in turn destroy all organic life, regardless of technological advancement. So no, it’s not completely circular, but the logic being employed is still incredibly faulty since the Catalyst is relying on either highly speculative or downright false information to come to its conclusion. The Catalyst asserts that organic life will inevitably create synthetic life, and then further asserts that all synthetic life will eventually try to wipe out organic life. Therefore the Catalyst and his Reapers seek to avert this situation entirely by destroying organic life before it can create the synthetic life that would lead to its own destruction. Let’s try and break this thought process down, and see where it goes wrong:
First of all, the Catalyst says synthetic life will always wipe out organic life. Now this is demonstratively false, not only through evidence such as EDI and the Geth working in harmony with organic life, but through the Catalyst’s own existence! See the Catalyst claims that they seek to preserve organic life in the form of Reapers, and the cycle is meant to protect undeveloped organic life. But the Catalyst is a synthetic life form itself, some kind of sentient AI…so by its reasoning, shouldn’t it be trying to wipe out organics anyway? The very fact that the Catalyst is trying to preserve organic life is evidence against its own argument, since he (a synthetic life form) isn’t trying to wipe out organics. Well, okay he is trying to wipe out organics, but only to advanced organics before another Synthetic does it to all organics. If he’s capable of understanding the value of organic life, why does he think all other synthetics would be unable to come to this conclusion?
The only evidence given in support of the Catalyst’s thinking is anecdotal, he tells us a story of how the Reapers were once organic beings being wiped out by synthetics but became the Reapers to destroy them. He doesn’t really give us anything other than his opinion as to why Synthetics would want to destroy their creator, there was the possibility for some cool dialogue to tell us the Reaper’s perspective on things. Instead we’re just expected to believe him implicitly, which we have no reason to do since he controls the Reapers currently exterminating humanity. By all accounts Shepard has the closet organics have ever come to defeating the Reapers, and now the Catalyst has every reason to lie, but we’re expected to believe him?
And even if we accepted the argument being presented, there are several less complicated ways to go about preventing this situation. Why not have the Reapers move in only on the condition that some synthetic life form actually becomes hostile, and a threat to the galaxy. Or better yet, why not just stick around, greet the new species at the citadel and tell them the dangers of creating synthetic life forms. Act as a galactic police department as it were, and slap down any species attempting to create synthetic life. There are plenty of ways to go about preventing the Synthetic vs Organic holocaust, nearly all of which don’t involve the wholesale slaughter of billions.
Finally, if the Reapers are merely galactic gardeners doing what must be done, why do Sovereign and Harbinger seem to relish the slaughter so much? In Mass Effect 1, Sovereign seemed to think Organic life was inferior and unworthy of his attention…but yet his mission is really to safeguard organic life? Why so hostile if the end result is benevolent? Harbinger was even more psychotic, with several lines in ME2 referring to genetic abnormalities and weaknesses, furthering the conclusion that Reapers view organic life as inferior. So are the Reapers all hapless pawns, not even realizing their own objective is to help organics? If so, that just neuters the menace of the Reaper’s even further.
So yes, the Catalyst’s argument isn’t circular, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid or flawed.
I Don’t Hate Bioware
And they should totally hire me
So the rest of the negative feedback focused on what other people saw as a hate fueled rage against Bioware, so I just want to get out there that I don’t hate Bioware by any stretch of the imagination, nor would I hate anybody or anything simply for ruining a game. My criticism may have been harsh, but it wasn’t meant to sound angry. I chose a somewhat irreverent tone because a purely professional tone would have bored a majority of my readers, and sure I threw in a few expletives for the sake of humor, and maybe poked a little fun at the writers at Bioware, but by no means was it meant to convey contempt. In fact, if I didn’t like Bioware I wouldn’t have gone through all the trouble of writing out a huge step-by-step post about how the ending went wrong.
Some of the comments that I didn’t allow through all usually came down to flame bait or simply screams of rage about my picking apart of the ending. For those people, I’m not censoring all attempts at disagreement, but if you’re going to disagree, at least do it in a respectful and at least partially coherent way. For instance reply #193 in the comments on the article, was extremely well written and didn’t devolve into name calling, while at the same time disagreeing with me entirely.
There was one comment in particular that bothered me, however, that I’d like to address here: “I like how your 2nd edit was basically asking them to hire you when you essentially called them idiots.”
Well first of all, the comment was only half-joking, I don’t seriously expect an offer from Bioware. My only qualifications are as a writer, and since I have no prior experience working in the gaming industry, it isn’t realistic to expect a job offer. That said, if ever I were to apply to Bioware, I would certainly be using this article as part of my portfolio since it speaks to my ability to reach a large audience and write in an entertaining and informative way.
I believe Bioware, and the people who work there, have the emotional and professional maturity to accept the criticism of their work. If they didn’t, I doubt Bioware would have gotten this far. An essential part of writing, or really any creative endeavor, is to accept criticism of your work and not take it personally. If you start taking every criticism as a personal attack you’ll go absolutely insane. I also don’t believe I called Bioware idiots, and in fact I think I praised them for the story telling in Mass Effect 3 aside from the ending. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone screws up occasionally. Being able to accept that and move on is part of being human. You learn from the mistake and use what you learned to do better in the future. Bioware didn’t get to where it is now by failing to learn this basic lesson.
So to the person who left that comment: Your belief that Bioware would refuse to hire me based on a post criticizing their work does Bioware more disservice than my critique does.
Mass Effect 2: Shadows of Things to Come
A lot of people have said they found Mass Effect 2 equally flawed as a game, and while I agree it was flawed I don’t think it was as badly flawed as Mass Effect 3. However, there were several large flaws that created a ripple effect and led to some of the problems we saw in Mass Effect 3, such as:
So a lot of people wrote in about how they thought the Crucible came right out of left field, and they’re right, it did. Right after Shepard’s escape from Earth, he heads for Mars where some Prothean Archives apparently hold the secret to defeating the Reapers. Why this information was never discovered before is never adequately explained, with Liara making vague references to using the Shadow Broker’s assets to locate this information. Mass Effect 3 also fails to mention how this Crucible is supposed to work. In fact the lack of information originally had me thinking the Crucible was nothing more than another Reaper ploy, getting all the races to waste valuable time, resources and manpower constructing a useless weapon. I thought that would have been an awesome twist. But okay, it docks with the Citadel and the Catalyst says the Crucible has allowed for new options and gives you your red/blue/green options. There’s never any explanation as to why the Crucible has allowed for new options or what exactly the Crucible does upon firing.
So why does this relate to Mass Effect 2? Well, because if Bioware wanted to introduce the Crucible, the time to do so was in Mass Effect 2. Whereas Mass Effect 1 focused on introducing the Reapers and the threat they posed, Mass Effect 2 should have focused on Shepard’s attempts to find a way to stop them and when I first played Mass Effect 2 I thought it had.
There was some pretty heavy foreshadowing in this section of Mass Effect 2, taking great pains in letting the player know that Haestrom’s Star was dying faster than it should be. When I originally played the game, I thought this was going to be the galaxy’s salvation. After all, if Dark Energy was capable of killing a Star, surely a Reaper would be even easier to kill. I thought perhaps Mass Effect 3 would focus on the galaxy’s attempt to harness the Dark Energy into a weapon capable of killing the Reapers. Now, the original writer of Mass Effect 2 has come out and said that the original plan was for Dark Energy to be the poltergeist of the universe, and the Reapers were trying to stop its spread. I can see why Bioware abandoned this idea, because it is a bit weird. However, Haestrom itself was a great way to subtly introduce a salvation for the Galaxy. In fact, it would have been so easy for the Crucible to merely be a Dark Energy weapon, that I’m surprised that Bioware didn’t simply run with that idea from the start. The foreshadowing was already in place, and it wouldn’t have been any more ridiculous a solution as having the Crucible found on mars.
Part of the reason I think Mass Effect 2 failed to introduce a plausible way to stop the Reapers, was because it focused too much of its energy on setting up Cerberus as a secondary villain. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Cerberus made a great villain and personally I thought Martin Sheen just plain kicked ass as the Illusive Man. However, Cerberus also goes from being a small, but well organized and funded organization in Mass Effect 1 to a huge conglomerate capable of funding a ridiculously expensive reanimation process right along with providing enough funding for dozens of other operations, not to mention the cost of creating the Normandy SR2. It goes even further in Mass Effect 3, with Cerberus apparently having the infrastructure to possess a highly sophisticated army and fleet capable of launching attacks on multiple targets. This all took took Cerberus from a small, but credible, threat to an enormous larger than life organization that was just as dangerous as the Reapers. The trouble is that the Reapers were such an immense enemy, they demanded a lot of time to properly flesh out, characterize, and eventually, lead us to a solution to defeating them. Unfortunately, if you think about Mass Effect 2, most of the time was spent going about the intricacies of Cerberus’s operations, and only occasionally broken up by fights with the Collectors.
The point is, most of the time was spent doing stuff completely unrelated to stopping the Reapers, whereas in my opinion, that needed to be the focal point of the entire game.
There’s nothing wrong with having another villain in a story, but you cannot give both villains the same amount of screen time with diluting both of them, which is what happens in Mass Effect 3. If you think about it, a lot of Mass Effect 3 is actually about fighting Cerberus rather than the Reapers. In fact the very first thing Shepard does after leaving Earth is go fight Cerberus on Mars, and with every mission focusing on stopping the Reapers, there is another plot critical mission to stop Cerberus. The missions come in rhythm of fighting Reapers and then Cerberus, the only break in that 1-2 rhythm is the Perseus Veil missions.
Earth Mission – Reapers
Mars Mission – Cerberus
Palaven Mission – Reapers
Sur’Kesh Mission – Cerberus
Tuchanka Mission – Reapers
Citadel Mission – Cerberus
Perseus Veil Missions – Geth, with Reaper finale
Thessia Mission – Reaper and Cerberus
Horizon – Reapers and Cerberus
Cerberus HQ – Cerberus
Earth Finale – Reapers
As you can see, the end result is that no one really gets enough screen time to fully realize their independent plots. Cerberus’s ultimate plan was never really fleshed out, and I was genuinely excited to see where it went after the Horizon mission and saw Cerberus had acquired the ability to disrupt Reaper signals on the ground. It seems like that was an important plot point that would be brought up again in the final battle, but unfortunately it is never mentioned again. When Shepard finally confronts the Illusive Man on the Citadel, he never really reveals how he was planning to control the Reapers, and it was clearly mentioned on Horizon that Cerberus had only learned how to disrupt the Reaper signal to Husks and related fodder, they were still unable to disrupt a full-fledged Reaper. Now we can chalk that up to the Illusive Man being indoctrinated, but in the end, it seems like Cerberus’s story line just petered out. In the end it was as if Cerberus served not other function than to merely slow down the player from completing the story line too quickly…it felt like filler.
By comparison, not nearly enough time was given to the Reapers and the main plot line: how to stop them. Harbinger, who played a significant role in Mass Effect 2, isn’t actually seen until the finale of the game…and even then he doesn’t speak or do anything other than blast Shepard with his Beam. The Crucible, and how it works, is subsequently never revealed. In the end it felt like two unfinished plot lines that, instead of getting tied up, frayed into a thousand different fibers at the end, like a rope pulled too taut.
Now I can see why they did this from a game play side of it, after all, constantly fighting the Reapers would eventually get boring and Cerberus presents the player a new set of challenges to keep them interested. However, I think Cerberus needed to play a much smaller part, and in fact I think Cerberus was done perfectly in Mass Effect 1. It was a small, but highly organized and well funded organization that was constantly on Shepard’s radar, and yet was ultimately insignificant compared to Saren and the Reapers. You could go through the entire plot of Mass Effect without ever doing a Cerberus mission, and that’s how they should have kept it. Purely optional missions to help flesh out the world, and give the player something interesting to do if they got bored fighting the same enemies.
In the end, however, Mass Effect 3 was a result of it collapsing under its own weight by trying to carry two huge villains at the same time. In my opinion, Cerberus should have continued being a small, optional threat you had to deal with on the side but otherwise having no actual impact on the main plot. However, there was just so much time invested into fleshing out Cerberus in Mass Effect 2, that it was almost unavoidable that they would be included in the main plot.