Reviews: Marauder Shields

If you hate Mass Effect 3 canon...

What would you expect from a webcomic that its author describes as a "better ending" to a critically-acclaimed RPG with a highly-praised storyline?

Would you expect a premise that ignores the lore of the series?

That's what Marauder Shields delivers. Created by someone who disliked the ending to the blockbuster videogame Mass Effect 3, Marauder Shields has...well, what does it have?

Very little, to be frank. As already stated, the author believes it to be a better conclusion to the series despite its frequent contradictions with the established lore of the series, most notably the titular sentient turian husk working against the Reapers. The plot is practically nonexistant and the webcomic lacks any humor to be entertaining.

What Marauder Shields contains plenty of is passive-aggressive rage about the ending; if the characters in the webcomic are anything to go by, its author believes that everyone hates the ending deep down inside just like they do. For all its focus on bashing the ending, the webcomic provides little reason as to why we should think that instead of the nigh-universal acclaim for the conclusion.

Interestingly enough, one of the earlier "non-canon" comics (which are even more pointless than the main comics, being nothing but insisting that the ending is bad without giving any reasons why) gives the impression that the author's hatred of the ending comes from the fate of a major character in the series.

If there is one pro to the webcomic, the art is good. It's a shame that the artistic talent is being wasted on a webcomic which consists of nothing but bitterness over the success of a game with an ending which they couldn't accept.

Powerful and incredibly written - a new perspective

I found about Marauder Shields from a Bioware tweet about it, saying it's powerful stuff and pointing to koobismo's deviantart. I think that these words remain the best description for the series: POWERFUL STUFF.

Some nitpicky people here try to prove it's not entirely compatible with the Mass Effect canon because Nihlus turns out to be on Earth. I find it a limiting view. I think it is more than compatible - it expands the perspective of the series. I don't think the "Nihlus is the secret Marauder" plot is a stretch in the world of Mass Effect (it has been explained rather meticulously), as it keeps with Mass Effect's narrative style and approach to probability. The Mass Effect trilogy itself is built on accidental events that happen against all statistical chance, which koobismo even emphasized in his latest installment, citing chaos theory and deriving agency from the life's constant struggle with established systems and rules.

What happens is this: Saren's mind tries to fight indoctrination and in the moment of madness he orders his Geth to take the body of Nihlus. The explosion of the Prothean beacon (something we never see again in Mass Effect and do not know the results of) damages the dragon's teeth in the vicinity, with the teeth closer being shut off completely, the ones further (including the one Nihlus is on) to a smaller degree. This gives a moment of pause in the process going on with Nihlus, enabling his reactivated body to save the "state" of his mind, something koobismo said to be derived from the conversation with Benezia we have in Mass Effect 1, where she does the same. Saren then leaves the marauder as his elite troop to guard something in the heart of the Citadel during the attack on it in the end of Mass Effect 1. They are reactivated when Reapers take control of the Citadel. In fact, when you think about it, the fact we never learn how Reapers take control of the Citadel or are able to transport it to Earth is much more contrived than anything koobismo does.

Why I don't read this comic anymore

I disliked the ending of Mass Effect 3. Giving my precise opinion of it would take an entire separate review, but to put it briefly, it was confusing, railroaded, and lacked adequate foreshadowing. Like many other people, I found myself drawn to various alternate-ending Fix Fics, most notably "koobismo"'s webcomic Marauder Shields.

Over the course of the year, however, I gradually found myself growing more and more discontented with Marauder Shields even as the praise for it grew more and more extravagant. As of today, I've effectively abandoned reading it altogether. I'm not trying to make anyone else do the same, but given the existence of all that praise, I felt that I ought to explain just what it was that I found so problematic about Marauder Shields that it drove me to the rare decision to completely give up on a series I once enjoyed.

The Good

It would be remiss of me to explain why I stopped reading Marauder Shields without explaining why I started reading it in the first place, and make no mistake: there are a lot of reasons to like this comic. Marauder Shields is much, much better written then the average fanfic (especially the average Fix Fic). The storyline is well-constructed and paced, and the Codex entries at the end of most strips add a lot - to someone like me with an interest in setting and backstory, they might even be the best part. The art is generally fantastic and in keeping with the style of the parent series - I'd say it looks much more like Mass Effect than any of the official comics ever did. The author, "koobismo", has also shown a willingness to listen to criticism that is somewhat rare both in the fanfiction community as a whole and among authors who are as wildly praised as he is. The comic, in short, is a very "classy" production.

The Bad

However, all of the creative talent behind Marauder Shields - at least as far as I'm concerned - is ultimately unable to overcome its major problem: the premise. By that, I refer to two things. One is the nature and backstory of the title character. It's entertainingly done and has a fair bit of justification done, but ultimately there is nothing that can convince me that Nihlus-Kryik-as-sapient-turian-husk is a plausible plot twist in a series that claims

Incredible series, whether you likes ME 3's endings or not

Everything I have to say about Marauder Shields has been summed up perfectly here:

I never expected it to be anything than a bit bitter commentary about the ME 3 endings fiasco. And I was surprised. It's an incredibly well written series, full of little nuances and logical connections that are often hidden underneath the first layer of text (just check the dialogue lines of Nihlus to learn the full story behind his resurrection - including the canon-inspired connection to Saren, which connects him emotionally and makes him spare the "broken" Marauder). The codex entries add a lot to the experience and are often separate little stories, always with a meaning concerning either the current comic or one of the previous ones.

In recent weeks the comic has been publicly praised not only by Bio Ware, but also Chris Avellone, the creator behind Planescape Torment and many beloved RPG games. He called it "heartfelt". I call it "incredible". You should check it out by yourself, as the emotional, well written story is a good fit for people who hated the original endings and the ones who liked them as well. It's a series made by a great storyteller for an audience willing to dig deeper beneath the first layer of context - and that's incredible!

A LOT better then it sounds...

When I first saw this webcomic, I thought it was just another 'Mass Effect 3's ending sucks!' vent from fans that were unsatisfied with the ending just like myself. And indeed, the story did started off pretty strange and silly with two Marauders talking to each other and everything. However, Genre Shift kicked in after a few issues and the series transformed into a fully developed Fix Fic on par in terms of quality with the Tiberium Wars fanfic series, with detailed in-universe codex entries, well written character interactions, and numerous references to other popular sci-fi series.

Unlike most fanfics that attempt to create an alternate ending, the author managed so far to stay within the established lore from official materials, since conventional victory has been stated to still be impossible and things are looking really bad for the heros. it will be interesting to see how things will go on from this point with the Crucible no longer being an option.

As a final note, a audio book series with fully licensed soundtracks has also been produced for a few of the more popular issues. The voice acting in them are really well done and almost makes you forget at time that this is fan material that is available for free.