What if?: Shepard agreed with TIM on Mars (ME3)

(I am considering a "What if..." Article series where we discuss alternate stories in games based on a change in the story. If you enjoy this article, make sure to tell us on social media! Also, if you enjoy Mass Effect, check out our dedicated Mass Effect Channel, @masseffectinfinite )

Mass Effect is my all time favorite video game franchise, and in my opinion the greatest game series ever made. I have the rare opportunity to re-experience this universe like new again with the Legendary Edition, and it has got me thinking. One of the things that makes Mass Effect so great is that the story is different for everyone. Your story might be very different than mine. While other games offer choices or not, few offer the custom story that Mass Effect does. Dozens of characters can live or die at different points. My Shepard could have different friends and allies than yours, a different personality. It is so craft-able. One of the things that I would love to see made true by Bioware is for them to declare that the countless Mass Effect divergent paths are ALL canon in some form of official multiverse. I want some clue in a future installment that every possible combination of Mass Effect is canon in it’s own timeline. Mass Effect should be its own multiverse, and I hope future stories confirm that. Mass Effect offers so much branching path, that seeking out more may come off as ungrateful; but, I just love Mass Effect so much that I want to see every possible timeline.

There are a few timelines, a few “what if’s” that are impossible to explore in the games. That doesn’t mean I can’t wonder about them. Having these variant paths (hope the TVA doesn’t come for me) doesn’t mean I am unsatisfied with the games. These are just an area of the Mass Effect multiverse I would love to see explored in a book, show, or comic.

What if...

TIM supported Shepard on Mars Priority (ME3)

Playing recently through Mars Priority had me think of a what if scenario during a piece of dialogue. Near the end of the mission, Shepard asks TIM to join him. He asks TIM to give him control of his resources and together they could destroy the Reapers.

In the game, TIM acknowledges that Shepard would do better than most, but he doesn’t want the Reapers destroyed, but controlled. Shepard rejects this idea and the two are put at odds against one another. This kicks off the events of much of ME3.

I completely stipulate that my alternate scenario wouldn’t work for the game itself. TIM and Cerberus as a antagonist is needed for much of the game. Without them, entire missions disappear, entire large branches of the story would deter too much to be practical for the game’s development. Not to mention, they add enemy type variety where without them we mostly only have Reaper ground units. The game would be much more boring with less enemy types.

This being said, I would love to see this explored in a comic or other medium. What if Shepard succeeded in convincing TIM in this moment? What if they were just a bit more diplomatic, a bit more open minded? Let’s stipulate that TIM is not indoctrinated at this point or maybe never will be. Let’s stipulate that Shepard has been forgiving and diplomatic towards his attitude of Cerberus in ME2 and his responses to TIM in ME2. His relationship with Tim is less adversarial. Let’s also add that he gives Cerberus the base in ME2. Let’s establish that he has established and maintained some rapport with TIM.

Also, let’s look at the stakes here. The Reapers have literally just invaded Earth and so far they have barely a plan. Liara only shared the Crucible plan with Shepard minutes prior, and they don’t know much about it. At this point, Shepard has no way of knowing how they will stop the Reapers. I always played Shepard as the ultra diplomat, the one to convince anyone of anything. He always is open to diplomacy. At this point Shepard “should” really be open to hearing all ideas, especially since the fate of the galaxy is at stake. Shepard should be open to multiple ideas on how to stop the Reapers. Why should Shepard put all the cards in Liara’s plan? Why should we not hear TIM out?

In this "what if" story, I add a “blue charm dialogue" here where (after TIM says Shepard would do better than most but he doesn’t want the Reapers destroyed). Shepard says, “Maybe they can be controlled. After all, They are just machines. They must have an off switch! What if we work together? The future of humanity could depend on it. I promise to investigate means of control as well as destroy. For what’s at stake, I am open to all ideas.”

As someone who usually chooses “Control” in the end, I actually see much of ME3 as wasted conflict. In the game, in this moment, Canon Shepard is somewhat out of character (for my playstyle) adamantly against even considering other solutions, a solution that ultimately is awkwardly a viable option in the end. Had Shepard been more open minded and more diplomatic in that moment, I think there’s a chance TiM would not have necessarily seen Shepard as an enemy, perhaps avoided indoctrination.

TIM thinks for a moment, and agrees. He praises Shepard for being open to his idea. He tells Shepard that Dr Ava will accompany him on his mission, and resources and intel will be sent his way.

Shepard eventually still succeeds in getting the Krogan to get along with the Salarians, Turians, and Asari, and the Quarians with the Geth. Balancing the political drama with having TIM be present at the War Summit, would have only enhanced the drama. It would have proven a greater challenge to unite more factions. We add a scene where Anderson and Hacket confront Shepard about brokering a deal with Cerberus, they are very hesitant. Shepard succeeds in reasoning with them.

Hacket: “I just got word you brokered a deal with Cerberus, I didn’t believe the message Shepard. Can you explain yourself?”

Shepard: “Anderson, you ordered me off world to make allies, bring back a fleet to save Earth. They were the first to offer to be allies. Earth, the Galaxy is at stake. We can’t turn away help. It’s going to take everyone to stop the Reapers.”

Anderson defends Shepard, “I don’t like Cerberus as much as anyone, but I trust Shepard to get us allies. We need all the help we can get. Sometimes that means picking the lesser of two evils."

Shepard: “Liara thinks she has a Prothean device schematic that could destroy the Reapers, but Cerberus thinks there might be a way to control, to reprogram the Reapers. I want to have as many possible end solutions as possible. We don't know if either plan will work. I don’t think we will win this war in a traditional way”

Anderson and Hacket are convinced of Shepard's "eggs in multiple basket approach" to stopping the Reapers.

This timeline, Cerberus actually becomes an dangerous Ally in the Reaper War, Dr Ava replaces EDI as the Cerberus AI Squadmate, along with a Cerberus Fleet at the final Crucible Battle. Cerberus and Dr Ava are added to the war table.

This timeline, Kai Leng is not sent to kill the Council or Miranda. The Citadel and Santurary attacks are later handled by Reaper forces. Thane (or Kirrahe) are killed by Reaper forces attempting to kill the Council instead of Kai Lang.

In this timeline, Cerberus mission on Sactuary is revealed earlier to Shepard, where TIM shares he is studying methods of Control. This TIM is not indoctrinated, and therefore not performing human experimentation. This means the research is also ealier and not very far along.

This timeline adds unique dialogue to the Leviathan mission, where TIM suggests the Leviathan might add clues to how to control a Reaper.

This timeline adds different dialogue for EDI. EDI never gains access to a mobile unit, and remains an non-embodied voice of the Normandy. She also never takes a romance with Joker.

Major Cerberus fought missions like Grissom Academy, Eden Prime, still occur in this timeline, but are very different as they happen slightly delayed with the Reaper forces eventually arriving instead of Cerberus. The Reapers can not use indoctrinated forces to attack certain locations and must engage directly.

In this timeline, with Cerberus “de-criminalized”, Miranda feels less like a fugitive. She is more trusting and less like someone on the run. After completing her mission, she feels safer to join Shepard on the Normandy as a Squadmate. Shepard is given a new conversation, to repair Miranda and TIM's relationship.

In this timeline, Omega is under Reaper control, not Cerberus, and Shepard aids Aria in forcing Reaper forces off Omega.

In this timeline, the end of Thessia is different. Kai Leng does not show up, and Shepard obtains the prothean data earlier.

In this timeline, the final assault on Cerberus headquarters is replaced. TIM informs Shepard that research on Reaper reprogramming is nearly complete, and they know it. Cerberus is building a piece for the Cruicible that will aid in control. TIM says a Reaper fleet is heading for Cerberus headquarters. Shepard can at this point decide to help TIM defend the base, or say he has changed his mind and will instead focus on Liara’s solution of destroy. If Shepard refuses we get a battle cutscene where Repaer forces attack and overwhelm the Cerberus fleet, destorying the station. This action also removes the Control option from the end all together as Shepard is no longer willing to entertain the idea. This action also removes Cerberus as a War asset, and they are no longer present at the final battle.

In my timeline, Shepard agrees to help and the Normandy fights Reapers alongside Cerberus ships. Shepard battles his way across the station and saves TIM from Reaper assassins. TIM gives Shepard a componant for the Cruicible. This component makes the best version of Control ending require far less war assets to work.

Completing this mission and aquiring the Cerberus component, adds a dialogue to the conversation with Liara. She asks Shepard if he plans to destroy the Reapers or use Cerberus’s plan. He tells her he is unsure. He wants to keep his options open. He wants to see what happens when the Crucible is turned on. If Shepard has insufficient reputation, non-blue/red dialogue choices, Liara will accuse him of not trusting her plan and making a mistake. This will end any friendship or romance they have, and Liara will refuse to speak to Shepard.

Completing this mission and aquiring the Cerberus component, adds dialogue to the conversation with the Catalyst.

In the end, while we have a vastly different story along the way, the galactic ending options we reach are the same, and therefore don't need to be unfit for future stories.

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