Illium. Wish we could see more of it (and maybe we will a bit later with the Shadow Broker missions), but it['s still every bit as cool a little area to run around in as the monstrous Citadel was in the first game. Illium has everything, lots of shiny lights, multiple merchants selling high-priced gear (we'll be broke almost immediately again - Shepard needs a credit account - he's the savior of the Citadel, he should at least have an Amex), a couple of great recruitment missions (The Assassin and the Justicar), a bunch of great side missions, and a grip of encounters with minor and major characters from the first game.
What clinches Illium as fantastic for me, and is one of the first things that I bring up when someone mentions this game, is the random conversations that you overhear while running around. There are a bunch of funny, well-written discussions going on that you can eavesdrop on that flesh out a bunch of information of the races, add a ton of humor and color to the universe, and even though these NPC's are always in the same place, no matter how many times you stroll through, what they are talking about makes the whole area, from the marketplace to the bar, feel like a vibrant area. Bioware just kills it with this kind of stuff, as they did in ME1 and in some of the random back-and-forth conversations between companions in Dragon Age. The bachelor party discussion in the bar here with a Turian, Salarian and Human talking while an Asari dances on the table is great, as is the Turian trying to console/pick-up his Quarian co-worker at another table, but my personal favorite is the Volus who is asking about high-end equipment from the Asari merchant, making himself sound rich and important, who then backs off when he actually hears the pricetag. A terrific piece of flavor that has nothing to do with the story, but gives a sense that there are so many other existences going on in this universe, outside of Shepard's hero -story.
We land on Illium, and are greeted by a friendly blue lady who lets us know that our old flame, Liara T'soni, is here on Illium, that she's an information dealer, and that she wants to see us. You know she does, since once you go Shepard, you never go back. We'll go check in with her in a few minutes. First, we need some upgrades - ahhhh, yes, sweet upgrades, I need you. After indulging an a few, I think a medi-gel supplement, and a Assault Rifle damage boost, we're flat broke again, and there's more stuff we could use here. Shepard needs some cash, and he's got a former flame in town, so let's swing by and see if she can loan us a few buck.
Well, we meet up with her, and she's kinds of distant and cold, and now she's hunting down the Shadow Broker. She won't just give us money, which sucks, but she does need some help, and will pay us a little for it. This sounds alright, let's just repair to the boudoir, and Shepard can work his magic - oh, she means actual work. We knew that.
The tasks that Liara wants done involve finding a lieutenant of the Shadow Broker, known as The Observer. First, she asks us to hack some terminals, and then open access to some other terminals. After that, she needs us to mine some data from some other terminals, which will provide us pieces of a logic puzzle to help us narrow down which of four aliens - A Turian, A Vorcha, a Salarian and a Krogan, is the observer.
This little mission set is a lot of fun, and I wish that they had done in other missions, such as the Kasumi heist mission we did earlier, had incorporated stuff like this. It was a nice change, to have the logic puzzle to try to decipher, after the more traditional hacking minigame. We figure quickly who The Observer is, tell Liara, and pick up some scrillah for our troubles. We do some other wandering and shopping, and then we go to check in with a woman named Seryna, who Liara believes knows something about our next potential recruit, the elusive assassin, Thane Krios.
Thane is stalking a corrupt asari, Nassana Dantius, who is hiding out in her corporate towers, protected by mercenaries. She is tipped off that someone is coming after her, so she has locked herself up in the penthouse of the finished tower. We're going to have to bust our way up, through the unfinished tower, across a bridge to where she is, and then up to the penthouse, looking for an assassin, Thane, all the time.
I'm trying not to be full of myself here, I but ran game on this mission, rolling through mercenaries like it wasn't no thang at all. Bringing Miranda and Mordin with me, we warped everyone we could, incinerated any armor, overloaded shields, and mowed people down with submachineguns. These mercs, the LOKI and FENRIS mechs with them, are just no ready for the tactical hotness we are bringing at this point. We're using powers in combo to strip harsher enemies or singularly to keep crowds of advancing enemies from coming on too quick, and putting multiple pieces of cover between us and the bad guys, so that squadmates can be ordered to fall back to multiple positions, instead of staying where they are when enemies are standing next to them, shooting them. Even the areas that were supposed to be rough, such as an elevator that shows up full of shielded engineers and a jacked-up Krogan Bounty Hunter, or the bridge between the two towers that is under fire from two robot rocket drones firing down it's length? No issues, just the most fun this combat has been yet, feeling strong and confident, but still being careful, because that's how it has to be played. Good times had by all, expect those we killed. They had a less than good time.
We reach the top of the finished tower, and walk in on Thane's target, Nassana, and the last of her bodyguards. We've been wiping out droves of them, but we've also been running into groups of cowering salarian construction workers who have been locked into safe areas, or protected by an unseen assassin, who saved them from extermination at the hands of the mercs (Nassana is getting paranoid, and seems to have order her workers killed as her mercs swept the area, to ensure no one was in the tower.), so we know Thane is somewhere around. As we talk to Nassana, and try to convince here that WE aren't here to kill her, Thane drops in, takes out a couple of guards behind her, and then, as Nassana spins around, he unloads a shot right into her midsection, settling her dying body carefully on the console behind her - the man is an artist. After a little soft-talk and introspection, Thane joins up.
Thane is my favorite. He's badass without being cliched, he's introspective without being a whiny turd, he's spiritual but practical, he's just damn cool. His backstory is a little confused, and we'll look into that a bit more in his loyalty mission, but suffice to say that Thane is very up front about his life as a killer, how he makes peace with what he is, and the culpability that he feels for his actions, even if they are merited. Also, the design of the drell character is familiar, yet foreign enough to keep surprising you; in conversation with Thane, his huge dark eyes, can be very unsettling, and every once in a while, when the membrane snaps over them when he blinks, it's odd, because he's so very humanly philosophical in his thoughtfulness that you often forget he's a new alien species to the ME universe. I think he's just a brilliant character.
Thane is also useful in combat, as he commands two useful weapons, the submachine gun and the sniper rifle, as well as some useful biotic abilities in Lift and the ever-useful Warp, which we can upgrade to heavy Warp. Thane will be coming along with us on many of our adventures for the remainder of the game.
Ok, some quick book-keeping items. One, I meant to post more the last few days, but I am away from home, visiting my girlfriend's family in Pennsylvania. As such, I haven't been able to find tons of time to write, as I have been eating local fried, baked and meat-filled cuisines, nor have I continued to play (although GB user Plague102, who is my girlfriends younger brother, was playing Mass Effect 2 on his own console, and bearing witness to his custom Shepard's was scaring the hell out of me - one looked like a dirtbag, older, paler Vin Diesel, and the other was a blond version of Keanu Reeves in Point Break. "Saren, bro, I'm a CIT-A-DEL AGENT!!").
The good thing is, I did have some catching up in this blog, so I have one more entry to bring us to where I actually am in my playthrough, and it is rife with drama - I almost cheated out of the playthrough, or quit altogether, things were going so badly. I will try to get that one up before we head back, Friday or Saturday, but no promises.
i should also tell you to check out my next post, especially if you are a meat-eater and grill hound. Thanks,