Home > Gaming, Media > What Kai Leng Should Teach Us about Mass Effect 3

What Kai Leng Should Teach Us about Mass Effect 3

Spoilers, as usual, will be all up in this post.

So I know I’ve talked about ME3 a lot, but as I said in my last post (about gamer entitlement), I’ve been playing the Mass Effect games, so it’s on my mind.  I’m actually considering doing a review (story only) of the game, mostly because I think I have something unique to say about it: In reality, ME3 is a pretty mediocre game.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love playing it.  It’s the same reason I will accept that the Star Wars prequels exist, even though they were a huge disappointment.  I may even watch them sometimes.  Similarly, I’ll enjoy playing ME3, but every time I do there are things that just rub me the wrong way.

The gameplay, graphics and all the technical pieces are there, and in fact it’s probably my favorite of the three games to play.  I credit BioWare with fixing the gameplay issues from ME2 in ME3.  I know some people have issues with how it has kind of turned into a generic cover shooter, but I’d disagree.  That, however, is really just taste.

What I don’t credit them with is the story.  While people have been quick to talk only about the ending, there really were a lot of holes in the story throughout the game.  As I played ME3 I frequently found myself asking “what the hell” to various events.  I told myself that, hey, the general story is good enough that I can look past it.

I can look past a great many things, but there was one thing in all of ME3 that just pissed me off to no end.  This post is about that, so let’s get to it.

Crass Commercialism

Kasumi Goto

“I hope you see the inherent hilarity of me being a master thief, and my DLC being just another way for BioWare to sneak money from your wallet.”

Beyond all of the story issues with ME3, you have the blatant commercialism throughout the game.  Consider the quest with Jondam Bau (the Salarian spectre) to find the traitorous Hanar.  If you didn’t get the Kasumi DLC for ME2, you have to choose between letting the Hanar homeworld blow up or saving Bau.  If you have the Kasumi DLC everybody lives and you get extra war assets.

Or how about Arrival and Lair of the Shadow Broker DLCs?  If you didn’t get those for ME2, you’re basically left in the dark as to why Shepard was stripped of rank and how the hell Liara suddenly became the Shadow Broker.

I find that to be incredibly crass.  After all, not everybody wants to pay an additional $60 to get ALL the DLC from ME2 just so that they can have a better experience in ME3.  In fact, given that I spent $180 on the game, I shouldn’t have to buy anything extra to enjoy the games.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that BioWare wanted to add additional value to the DLC packs by referencing them in ME3.  But referencing should have been it.  The fact that a lack of DLC pack (Kasumi) drastically changes how certain events happen in ME3 is ridiculous.

But you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about all of this in a post titled “What We Should Learn from Kai Leng”.  Especially since I haven’t talked about him at all, at least yet.

Recall how I just said I spent $180 on all three Mass Effect games—probably more for many people who got all the DLC—and consider that for Kai Leng to make sense, you need to have read books.

You see, Kai Leng makes his first appearance in Mass Effect: Retribution and makes a second appearance in Mass Effect: Deception.  Let me tell you right now, I am not a huge fan of reading books based upon video games.  I’m all for people fleshing out the universe around the games, especially in a universe as vast and interesting as Mass Effect.

“Hey guys, I think I’m lost. I’m looking for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Could you point me to the right game?”

But considering that each game is an easy 40-50 hours and $60 (if, like me, you purchased them at release because why wouldn’t you), I feel like I’ve done enough with just the games. But then, you have to buy and read a book to understand this character?

When I talk about crass commercialization in video games, Kai Leng is the poster child.  His existence should have been relegated to the books and should have never crossed paths with the video games.  I’m not sure if people just really liked Kai Leng or if BioWare just had their heads too far up their asses to consider that many of the people playing ME3 wouldn’t have read the damn books.

In comparison to the other examples I put forth above, this is by far the worst transgression.  I can totally understand BioWare giving extra to people who paid for and played the DLC.  I do not understand BioWare expecting me to give a good god damn about Kai Leng because he was in some book.  That is especially true when one of those books has a 1.5 star review on Amazon.  Furthermore, Deception has so many errors that BioWare has announced that it is of dubious canon until a revised copy is released.

The answer is that I should never have to do that to fully understand a video game.  Again, expanding upon a universe is all fine and great, but that’s an expansion of the universe and shouldn’t be a necessary part of the game.

Kai Leng Sucks (And Is Out of Place)

What this post really comes down to is that I hate Kai Leng.  I don’t hate him in the way BioWare intended me to, though.  It is clear that BioWare intended Kai Leng to be Shepard’s foil, the man who stands a chance of besting Shepard.  So if I hated him for that reason, hey congrats BioWare you did your job.

I want to make clear I haven’t read the books.  However, in looking into the information for this post I read the entries about Kai Leng on the Mass Effect Wiki.  That wiki states that Kai Leng “became the Illusive Man’s most trusted agent, working as an infiltrator and assassin.”

But if you read that post further, Leng repeatedly fails to succeed in his missions in both Retribution and Deception.  In fact, all of Retribution is about how Leng is an abject failure.  Deception (which again, is apparently one of the least researched books ever written) features Kai Leng using a goddamn cane to walk, though apparently in this he does a little bit better and succeeds at a mission for once.

Oh, wait.  He can.

I can understand that BioWare wanted to put someone in this game who could “best” Shepard and add tension to the game.  Shepard can never really go one-on-one with a Reaper without getting his ass kicked.  But for there to be any real tension, we need someone standing in Shepard’s way throughout the game.  Previously nobody has really been a match for him.  Saren was kind of a joke and the only time you fight him you kill him; the Harbinger, when he took a Collector body, was kind of a joke himself.

So it makes sense that Kai Leng is introduced as the dangerous face of Cerberus (after all, who seriously thinks the Illusive Man would be hard to kill once you actually found him?).  It makes sense.

But I had no idea who the hell Kai Leng was in Mass Effect 3.  He shows up on the Citadel in support of Udina’s attempted coup.  We aren’t told his name, he just shows up out of nowhere and tries to kill the Salarian councilor.

In our first introduction to Leng, he is bested by a terminally ill Thane.  When he finally stabs Thane he is so smug and self-assured.  Let me tell you this, if I fought and killed a cancer patient, but had my ass handed to me on the way to doing so, I would never brag about it.

Reaper on Rannoch

Oh, and this.

The thing that shocked me most about Kai Leng is his appearance.  He looks like something that snuck out of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and got lost in Mass Effect.  His cyber-punk ninja act is totally out of place in ME3.

I’ve heard people say he’s just the king of the phantoms, but they, too, were completely out of place in ME3.  While they are fairly dangerous adversaries at close range, I’ve rarely had a phantom get close.

You see, it turns out that these things called “guns” can hit stuff that’s far away.  Almost every phantom I’ve encountered in the story I’ve taken out with a headshot from a sniper rifle.   Kai Leng, being the king of these buffoons, brings a sword to gun fights repeatedly and only ever succeeds because BioWare forces his story upon you.

The Trash Talk

The trash talk is, far and away, the worst part of Leng’s persona.  In no way does Kai Leng ever actually best Shepard.  He manages to outwit or outmaneuver him at many points, and that certainly means a lot when that rarely happens to Shepard.  But to have Kai Leng spend half the game telling Shepard how awesome he is and how Shepard sucks is just annoying.

When he gets back to Chronos Base, he’s totally going to brag so hard about that time he killed some dude who was totally terminally ill.

But every time Shepard encounters Leng after the Citadel, Leng does nothing but talk shit about how Shepard is inferior to him.  Let me make light of this every way I can: Kai Leng can only stand up to Shepard and two of his companions by having a fucking army and a gunship fighting by his side at all times.  The gunship, really, is the only reason he ever stood a chance.  The moment it’s gone, Shepard wins.  And yet he happily talks shit like he is better than Shepard.

This doesn’t make him anything other than fucking annoying.

Consider the fight on Thessia: even on a high difficulty setting Leng never once even hurt my shield.  I, on the other hand, was so busy handing him his ass at every opportunity to really pay attention to how little he seemed to hurt me.  On my first play-through I kept getting frustrated wondering why the hell the game was punishing me for killing him when, apparently, I am not supposed to.

Let me make one thing clear: there’s no such thing as “fighting fair” in war, really.  Maybe back when armies marched at each other in a clearing and shot you might have had some concept of honor.  But in general someone should take every advantage he can to survive in a war environment.  So I get that Kai Leng uses a gunship to keep Shepard under control.

In BioWare’s collective mind this fight was as good an idea as just changing the color of the explosion for the endings.

Where BioWare made a huge misstep is by making Leng brag about how much better than Shepard he really is.  If Kai Leng got into a bar fight with you it’d play out like this: he’d fight until he might get hurt, then have his five body-builder friends beat the crap out of you.  When the fight was over, Kai Leng would then brag about how much tougher than you he is.

Then there’s the e-mail Kai Leng sent to Shepard.  The one where he basically brags about how it took a gunship and countless soldiers to keep three people under control.  In the world of missteps, that one is second only to the terrible ME3 endings.

In fact, I have a story.  Once when I was about ten I got into a fight with this kid.  Neither of us really “won”, but that didn’t stop the other kid from somehow getting my phone number and calling me to taunt me.

So congratulations, BioWare, you’ve turned Kai Leng into a twelve year bully.

When I finally beat Kai Leng, I didn’t celebrate because I took down some big challenge that kept standing in my way.  I celebrated because BioWare wasn’t railroading me into being “bested” by someone whose first encounter with a terminally ill Drell almost ended badly for the one in perfect health.

I celebrated because I knew that I wouldn’t be dealing with Kai Leng ever again.

What to Learn from Kai Leng

I’m not sure what, exactly, motivated BioWare to put Kai Leng in the game at all.  In this post, the first reply notes that “[a]fter getting used to him in [the books], he feels like a natural fit in ME3”.  So I guess that’s great, except for those of us that never read the books.

So perfect.

In fact, I couldn’t find anything giving me insight into the official reasoning for Kai Leng ever showing up in the game.  I have to assume that BioWare, again, felt he would make a good foil to Shepard.  That’s fine and great, but if you’re going to give someone a foil, you should do so properly.

Instead of a foil, Kai Leng felt like an attempt to cash-in on the books.  More than that, I think it just goes to show how out-of-touch the BioWare story guys are with what we wanted from ME3.

At the start of this post I suggested that ME3 was kind of a weak game overall.  The story in general kind of sucked.  Kai Leng is where I think the best evidence comes for BioWare not having a goddamn clue what they were doing with ME3.

While we hear things like “artistic vision” in reference to the story as a whole, Kai Leng is the strongest argument I can think of against the idea that BioWare had any clue what they were doing or that they had planned anything out.

You see, if you look at the games only we end up in a tough spot with Cerberus.  Without Miranda or Shepard they really are just a bunch of terrorists.  The Illusive Man has a ton of resources but is himself not much of a fighter (he’s really kind of a coward).  But with Shepard walking away from Cerberus in ME2, and leaving the Illusive Man pissed right the hell off, Cerberus was a natural choice of enemy in ME3.

On the other hand, the Illusive Man might secondhand smoke you to death. That’s threatening, right?

So you see, Cerberus isn’t much of a threat to us.  After all, Shepard has taken down Saren and the Collectors, what chance does Cerberus stand against him?

It is logical, then, that BioWare wanted to look for some new enemy to put as the face of Cerberus in ME3.  Instead of coming up with some new threat and introducing it to us in the proper way, we instead get Kai Leng—Deus Ex Cyberninja Extraordinaire—shoehorned into the plot to stand in Shepard’s way.  After all, why create an all-new bad guy when you’ve got a series of books that has one already in there.

But don’t stop there, put in a reference to the events of the book so that people are left wondering.  After that, they’ll be sure to go buy the book!  That idea = cash moneys.

If the story of ME3 are darts, the ending would have been the dart that hits three feet to the side of the board.  Kai Leng would be the dart you drop on your foot, the one that leaves you with an infected sore and a gigantic hospital bill.

What I’m trying to say is BioWare fucked up.

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  1. Nachtigallerator
    August 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Seriously, what? I never understood Kai Leng as a “Foil” in the sense of an opponent who is Shepards equal. He interferes with Shepards missions personally, and he is a huge asshole who can order troops around, is competent enough to kill Shepard’s allies (which is no mean feat) and is willing to get the Reaper implants, nothing more. Is he a twelve year old bully? Yep, he totally is, and I don’t mind him being one. That’s why he is the right-hand-man to TIM, not his top operative like Miranda or her father. He’s ultimately a blunt instrument used for dirty work, and consistently portrayed as such.

    I *would* mind if Bioware put in an enemy who bested Shepard in a fair fight out of nowhere, because they always painted the Commander as a threat you need to throw superior resources at to even stand a chance.

  2. foo
    April 28, 2014 at 3:45 am

    I decided to play ME3 a second time recently with a female Shepard and I just had to stop playing to come to google and search exactly this. ME1 and ME2 felt like real science fiction plus adventure. His kung fu crap makes it feel like cyber punk mixed with space opera. He reminds me of NFC on phones. If you can communicate two devices from a distance, why the eff would you ever bother bringing them close and touching them. While NFC has that one excuse of being secure, Kai leng’s sword melee has no excuse at all in an age of guns. Why do they have to mix ninja shit into everything and ruin it.

  1. May 22, 2012 at 7:19 pm
  2. May 22, 2012 at 7:20 pm

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