Hi and welcome to the latest in our ongoing series of game discussions. This time we thought we’d try ourselves against a big-name, relatively recent title.

If (like us) you live under a rock and don’t keep up with modern gaming, Mass Effect is an action-RPG from the prolific Bioware. It uses third-person cover-shooter type gameplay, and also gives you control of up to three characters at any one time. It’s also known for the epic scifi-story that takes place over three games, and for the range of colourful sidekicks who join the lead character.

Warning: this discussion is totally spoiler-iffic. (Of course if you already know what happens you didn’t need me to introduce the game, heh).

Stoo: Okay well, to start, I think this game was to some extent new ground for both of us. You’re not a huge RPG fan, and while I have played quite a few, I somehow missed the Bioware boat entirely. Except for Baldur’s Gate, which is a lot older than this one.

Rik: Yes, I would guess something like Knights of the Old Republic represents a mid-point on the way to Mass Effect, although I never played it.

Stoo: So I guess we might have a bit of a different angle to hardened fans of KotoR, Jade Empire etc. That or just look clueless. But that’s half the fun of these articles.

Rik: My RPG experience is basically: Dungeon Master when I was 10, Deus Ex, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic…and Alpha Protocol. The latter follows the same ‘modern RPG’ template as Mass Effect.
 

Choose your hero(‘s haircut)

Tweak sliders for ages, and for what? Chuck Norris Jr.

Tweak sliders for ages, and for what? Chuck Norris Jr.

Stoo: Okay so first item I have on my list is: Our hero(ine) Shep. Did you agonise over design choices, or just wade in?

Rik: I agonised a little bit. I decided fairly early on that I’d be a soldier (the combat based character). I tinkered with the appearance slider, also. But it made my Shep look a bit like Chuck Norris. Which is worrying, seeing as I was trying to make him look like me. [edit: I don’t look like Chuck Norris – Rik]

Stoo: Those sliders stress me out. It’s a trend in modern gaming that’s totally wasted on me, having 453 options to control facial features. I can prat around for hours and not come up with anything I like. In the end I took Female Shep and… changed her hair colour.

Rik: I was torn between male and female Shepard. But I guess it means we can compare notes regarding the difference it makes.

Stoo: It affects romance choices a bit (we’ll get into that later), altho you can have mind meld sex with Liara either way. I went for an Infiltrator cos it looked like the nearest to a sneaky character, even if the game doesn’t really do stealth. I figured I could just hang back and snipe people. Except that… really didn’t happen early on.
 

Afraid of Krogans

Stoo: Which leads me to… combat! How did you get on with that?

Rik: It was okay. It’s got the modern ‘use cover’ gimmick. Which works well sometimes. But at other times, it gets a bit clumsy and crap. Sneaking up to a crate or wall, then ducking out of cover and shooting is quite cool. But sometimes your enemies just rush you. And then it sort of goes wrong.

Stoo: I actually found it pretty stressful early on. Maybe I just wasn’t expecting cover-shooter dynamics in an RPG. That sort of fast paced action on top of having a party to control. So I tended to panic as things went wrong. I found that, an awful lot of the time, I got rushed. That or, some geth with a rocket launcher would just insta-kill my guys.

Rik: I guess, having played Alpha Protocol, I had a clue of what kind of thing to expect. Also, I know what I’m good at in games, and sneaking around isn’t one of those things. Guiding colleagues through a battlefield isn’t one either. In fact, the team-based element almost scared me off. In the end, I just left them to their own devices. Save for one or two times when I used Kaiden’s biotics.

Stoo: Looking back it would have helped to use them more effectively from the start. It is handy that you can issue orders while the action is paused. Biotics are really useful to put the heavyweight baddies down, but, sometimes I’d just open a door and BOOM someone’s down. While I go “waht”??

Rik: What difficulty level did you go for?

Stoo: Normal…

Rik: Me too. So we’re comparing like with like at least.

Stoo: The hardest bit was that mission to rescue Liara. There’s a fight outside against geth, with a big walker thing [edit: it’s called an Armature] and some snipers. The big walker will casually one-shot you.

Rik: Oh, on the red planet? [edit: Or ‘Therum’, in the Artemis Tau cluster, as it’s also known]. There’s a cut-scene immediately before. Which you have to watch again and again after you die each time?

Stoo: Yes that is a frequent annoyance, unskippable cutscenes before a fight.

Rik: I’d also nominate that mission as the most annoying of the game. In the end, I ducked off to the left and let the Geth go after me. But I must have watched that cut-scene of your heroes witnessing the Geth arrival and looking shocked about 20 times.

Stoo: It is demoralising when you get blown to crap so fast you barely got your bearings, then have to watch a cutscene before you can try again. There was another fight on that mission, with a Krogran Mercenary where I died OVER and OVER…

Rik: I think that one went okay, for me. Is it the one when you’re escaping the crumbling site?

Stoo: Yeh, there’s a circular chamber, and another cutscene, and a conversation that’s utterly pointless because he fights you whatever you say.

Rik: I was going to say, that’s also annoying. Especially once you realise it doesn’t make any difference what you do.

Stoo: Even worse, one time you get a cutscene in the middle of a fight! Note to developers: Don’t be dicks. Always make cutscenes skippable. [edit: that may not be a real word].

Rik: Sometimes it auto-saves after the cut-scene. But most of the time it, er, didn’t. Why, I don’t know.

Stoo: Thing is, although it sounds like I’m whining a lot, I found the game got a lot easier after those early missions.

Rik: I think we agree on the hardest bit. The only other time I had serious trouble was at the very, very end…

Stoo: Maybe I just got the hang of using the character’s abilities more. Also you’re badly under-geared on early fights. But honestly the latter… 60% or so, I’d say I rarely had to try any fight more than twice. And sniping works a lot better when it’s skilled up and your scope stops wandering around so much…but if you’re referring to the last boss fight? That was pretty tense.

Rik: I suppose it wouldn’t matter so much, if you were allowed to quicksave whenever you want. But you can only save when there are no enemies around. Unless you’re in a lift.

Stoo: Honestly, on that fight I think I just ran in circles a lot and fired my pistol and drain-shields power wildly.

Rik: If you specialise in assault rifles, you can use a geth gun at the very end. But it was still tough work.

Stoo: I couldn’t really use assault rifles – any time sniping wouldn’t work, I had to rely on pistols. Well that and using my team to help out, when I remembered. They seemed to get better at not dying, later on.

Rik: So, [Stoo’s character class] an infiltrator is…(checks manual) a ‘tech-savvy warrior’. Just reminding myself.

Stoo: Yeh it’s like half fighter, half tech.

Rik: Which characters did you take with you on missions?

Stoo: I liked Wrex. He brings the biotics and he can use all weapons.

Rik: Did you change it up or keep them the same?

Stoo: Wrex became a regular.

Rik: I think Wrex and Garrus were mine. Sometimes Liara, sometimes Kaiden.

Stoo: Well I took Liara sometimes as I thought a fully biotic type would be powerful. But on the other hand she’s got no weapon skillz.

Rik: I took her on the mission involving [Liara’s mother and enemy boss] Benezia – but that didn’t help much. To be honest, I just concentrated on gunning people down myself. Although my team-mates got a lot better once I realised I had to give them better equipment!

He means outside. I think.

He means outside. I think.

Stoo: I did tend to tell my guys “okay stand over THERE out of trouble”, and try and take on the fight myself wherever I could. I always get stressed when my guys die, even if it’s not permanent. But again, it’s worth remembering to call on them and use biotics if a huge krogan is bearing down on you. Throw and Lift can be lifesavers.

Rik: You could get that power to revive your team-mates mid-battle, though.

Stoo: Yep, true. I just felt rubbish when I failed to keep them standing.

Rik: Would it be fair to say in an ‘old-school’ RPG, if a character died, they died, regardless of what the story required? But here, they just come back to life again and again?

Stoo: Well in an old school RPG death wouldn’t be permanent usually, but it could take more effort to fix. You might have to use expensive magic items, or return to town and find a priest.

Rik: This is where I’m slightly ignorant…

Stoo: But anyway I guess overall, the combat works fairly well. It’s got the whole tension of hiding behind crates waiting for an opening. I just thought it had an odd difficulty curve. The party members do add
something, definitely. I mean sometimes they stand around uselessly. Others I’d think oh shit, Geth Colossus! But Wrex was already on it doing a Throw – thank you, Wrex!

Rik: Yeah, I have no complaints really. It’s never going to work in a completely choreographed way like in a movie. Going seamlessly from one bit of cover to another…there’s going to be the odd bit where you’re stood prone firing madly. Perhaps more precision is necessary on higher skill levels.

Stoo: Especially when you get rushed up close, it’s easy to panic.

Rik: Those flying drones often did for me, on some god-awful boring side-mission (which we’ll get onto, I guess) – I would be hiding by a wall, then 10 of these bastards would just come and shoot me to pieces.

Stoo: Krogan up close was definitely my biggest fear. Rocket geth as well, altho later on i could 1-shot them with sniper rifle.

Rik: Krogan die once and then come back! Sometimes my rifle would overheat due to over-zealous attempts to finish them off. Bastards! And if they ever got you up close, you were in trouble.

Stoo: They would take a few hits, even with a high end rifle. Which reminds me, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out all the assorted upgrade, and weapons and versions. The game rains gear on you. Also the inventory is horrible. Especially the “selling stuff” screen, as it just dumps everything in one mega-list.

Rik: Yes, all the add-ons for weapons etc. My main problem was picking up too much stuff. And then having to go through it all. “Reduce this item to Omni Gel?” YES (repeats 1000 times).

Stoo: Yeah I had so much omni-gel by the end, the hacking skill was almost superfluous.

Rik: My tech skill was too low to hack lots of stuff. And any basic or average encryption was pretty easy to hack through. I don’t know what use omni-gel is otherwise. Except to repair the Mako. And speaking of which, there seems to be quite a lot of anecdotal hate for the Mako.

Stoo: It has its own, weird, laws of physics. Otherwise the only problem is I tended to associate it with boring side missions. On the upside it basically serves as an easy mode for outdoor fights. You can blow stuff away with ease, but you get less experience points.

Rik: Especially with the cannon. I loved just vapourising geth soldiers (I’m 31 years old). I honestly didn’t have much of a problem with the Mako at all, overall.

Stoo: My problem was navigating really rough terrain on the side-mission maps.. When I had to go drive up a bunch of vertical walls to reach some point, and it would turn weirdly, or the jump button would just fling it away uselessly.

Rik: Left and right was sort of like strafe. It didn’t just turn the wheels. It actually drove you right or left. I mean, I’m not saying it was great, but I’d read something saying it was the worst bit about the game and I was expecting something really terrible!
 

Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see (and other scifi references)

Stoo: Ok so that’s the combat related matters. Moving on, there’s the story! It’s not terribly original. And the sci-fi setting is like, every space opera you’ve already seen, but it is very well put together.

Rik: I’d draw a parallel with something like Wing Commander. It’s not original, but it is well done. There’s a million references or nods to sci-fi films – trying to tame an alien species and use it as a weapon (Aliens), or developing robots to do all the dirty work, until one day they’re so advanced they decide they don’t want to do it anymore (Blade Runner)…

Stoo: (Battlestar Galactica). The Big Terrible Enemy is, well, the Borg or the Shadows from Babylon 5. Big monstrous supership crushing its way through galaxy, good guys make a desperate stand against it.

Rik: The ‘Prothean Dream’ images that Shepard keeps having reminded me of Event Horizon. Where they decode that last transmission from the ship. Various horrible images stapled together…

Stoo: DO YOU SEEEEE? I think the writers must be sci-fi fans and decided just to unapologetically create something that feels quite familiar.

Rik: There’s elements of The Thing there too, in the colony where they’ve all been infected. I mean, it’s all very familiar, but that’s not a criticism at all.I enjoyed all the references and nods. And I didn’t find it predictable, in terms of the major twists and turns. It was more, after they’d happened, you could see the influences.

Stoo: Agreed. Also within that framework, there were a lot of great dramatic or personal moments.

Rik: Those first couple of missions – Feros, and Noveria. They were really cool…landing somewhere, not really knowing what was going on. Then having a whole mini-story unfold for you.

Stoo: Right, the plight of the colonists on Feros, and you realise they’re not just under geth attack. There’s something else weird going on.

Rik: Well Noveria was my favourite mission I think. Intrigue at first. Then weirdness, betrayal and a big boss fight at the end.

Stoo: Benezia?

Rik: Yep. I think that mission was where I began to really get into it, after quite a slow start. There’s a lot going on when you’re first at the Citadel. Loads of people coming up to you, asking you to get involved in minor errands. I spent hours there walking about, talking and doing mini quests

Stoo: My RPG instincts tell me in places like that, to do all errands possible. It’s like in a fantasy game, you’ll usually hit a big city early on. So you go do minor missions and errands for the people there, just to build up experience, cash and gear. So as to better prepare for more challenging tasks in the wider world, later on. But you’re right, it’s not the most thrilling experience spending a few hours doing taksks like helping ambassadors find their door keys.

Rik: For little or no tangible reward.

Stoo: Well, for $50 and a rifle upgrade that may or may not be useful. But yeah, events pick up a gear in Feros or Noveria, which you can do in either order. Actually what stood out for me is that mission later on where you attack Soren’s research base, and join up with a bunch of Salarians. Who basically agree to go on a suicide mission just to help you out. Their boss gives this motivational speech. You know these guys are more about infiltration and the subtle approach, they’re not natural warriors like the Krogan, but they’re going to charge in anyway.

Rik: There’s definite bad vibes about that mission. I had the ‘uh-oh’ feeling…

Stoo: Yep, and your instincts are correct, it’s got the most emotional impact.

Rik: When you had to volunteer a member of your squad. I was thinking, “Who do you want to volunteer for DEATH?”

Stoo: It’s one of those places where your choices really matter, and you have to make some tough calls as a commander.

Rik: As we’re mentioning it, who did you choose [to save]?

Stoo: I was totally cold about it. I kept Williams for her soldiering ability, as I had biotics covered by others.

Rik: I suppose I was the same, but made the other choice. I was a soldier, So had no need for Williams really. Also, I found her kind of annoying, and racist at first. Obviously, you find out some of the reasons for her attitude later. But still, I didn’t warm to her at all. [Kaiden] Alenko seemed like a loyal, number 2 character. Neither were my favourites so I just made the tough call based on abilities. Although Kaiden’s voice is REALLY ANNOYING. Clear your throat, man, for God’s sake.

Stoo: it is a blow when you lose one of them, though.

Rik: Yes, definitely. My instinct was to save Williams. As that makes most narrative sense. You’ve gone off to find her, and then Alenko radios in. If it was a movie, you kind of sense, you’d promise to come back for Alenko but he wouldn’t make it. But I never expected to have the choice. I thought as soon as you volunteered someone to fight with the Salarians, that would mean death later. Also, knowing that you can carry your choices into the next games in the series makes the decision weigh more heavily.

Stoo: Also, on that mission, did you manage to talk Wrex down? I think if it goes wrong you end up fighting him.

Rik: Yep, I did talk him down. I put a lot of points into charm! And generally chose non-aggressive answers in conversations

Stoo: Same, I dumped it all in charm, ‘cos 50/50 charm/intimidate seems fairly pointless. But it was another quite powerful moment. Like, this research base is a major hope for his race, to be able to breed again. And you have to tell him, this guy who’s been your ally through so much, that you have to blow it all up.

Rik: Even if you handle it well, you feel like the arrogant Human dick-colonial-oppressor.

Stoo: Yeah I felt terrible about it, and I was so relieved Wrex backed down.

Rik: At the beginning, I wondered if Wrex would turn on you later in the story. I was hoping not though.

Stoo: He does give that vibe, you’re really not sure at first if he gives enough of a damn to be reliable. Did you take the time to talk to the characters between missions?

Rik: Definitely yes. Although I couldn’t find Tali at first [edit: Navigation -1].

Stoo: You learn a lot about them and their backgrounds. Really helps develop them as characters. Also, these sessions pace the game in between missions.

Wrex isn't really a big talker.

Wrex isn’t really a big talker.

Rik: That’s the main reason for playing, for me. Good to have lots of conversation, because there’s a lot of action. You feel like you earn story. Again, going back to the Wing Commander games, you’d do a mission, and it would be quite annoying in places. But you know that completing it would get you a couple more conversations and some more story. I was reminded of that here.

Stoo: That was when I started liking Wrex. When I realised the tragedy of his people, for all their “scary brute” imagery. Also Tali tells you all about her race being homeless after the geth destroyed their worlds. This stuff is probably all in the background material too, but it’s more engaging to learn about the backstory this way.

Rik: Definitely. I don’t see the point of playing if you’re not going to talk to your crew. And other NPCs as well.

Stoo: Oh for sure. Ultimately the story, for all it’s high stakes “struggle against coming darkness” wouldn’t be half as enjoyable without the contributions from your team

Rik: Unless of course when you make conversation and they give you boring chores…

Stoo: Actually speaking of chores, I felt bad when I had to kill some guy on a side mission, and Garrus really wanted to come along cos he had some burning personal agenda against the villain. But I TOTALLY forgot. And Garrus was all “it’s ok… no big deal….”

Rik: I remembered to bring him along. I said the evil doctor should be arrested, then he ran off. So we shot him anyway.

Stoo: But I think it’s a sign of good writing and acting when little personal moments like that stand out.

Rik: The problem for me was, lots of boring side-tasks are presented as interesting when you’re given them, and significant in some way. But then the mission is boring and the pay-off isn’t what you’d hoped. I was glad I did the Garrus and Wrex missions, but others were just disappointing.

Stoo: The side missions are, overall, pretty weak. They’re pretty much all the same. You drive around a totally barren patch of land (and if you’re me start swearing at the Mako as you try to find a navigable path between mountains). You find some smuggler’s base or research outpost, all of which use one of three maps.

Rik: Shoot outer defences. Go inside. Shoot baddies and/or drones. Get rewarded with text.

Stoo: Doing the side missions does give you a bit of freedom but there’s not much sense of exploration as it’s always a just a bit patch of totally barren land.

Rik: Also, I have to say, the whole main story is presented as an urgent quest, so you feel like you should be getting on with it. I’m not saying there should be a time element. But you could do a crucial story bit saying “HURRY”! or whatever. And then spend hours searching planets for minerals.

Stoo: I agree, although it’s pretty common in RPGs. Like, the great dragon Alduin threatens all of Skyrim! but I’m going to spend 3 months hanging out with mages, poking around haunted tombs and building a nice house.

Rik: I found the Hackett missions especially boring. But because he appeals to your sense of duty, you do them. For no thanks. And no story payoff (or very little anyway). I guess in the old days you’d be tipped off by a lack of voice acting. [edit: in this case he’s voiced by Lance Henriksen! Shame to waste such an actor on a minor character you never see – Stoo].

Stoo: I did every side mission I could, because I’m OCD like that and also wanted to build up my guys for the finale. But yes, they’re frequently dull. Also, they pad out what would otherwise be a pretty short game.

Rik: You’re right there. Well, not short exactly. But it soon goes from ‘search for Saren’ to ‘you’ve found Saren’. I was surprised by the brevity of the main campaign. I did make a concerted effort to do side missions, but after finding they were all the bloody same, I resolved to just get on with the good stuff.

Stoo: I have to admit for all the ominous themes, the core plot thread about the Big Bad somehow didn’t engage me. Like, a big robot ship wants to kill ALL LIFE because… just because.

Rik: It’s definitely the journey that’s enjoyable.

Stoo: Although, the reveal that Saren was just the puppet of a greater evil, caught me by surprise a bit.

Rik: You could guess from the start that you’d be fighting Saren at the end. But the little bits along the way were great.

Stoo: I did like the theme of humanity trying to earn its place amongst all these aliens, and not have asari and salarians look down their noses at us. It is a great moment when the human fleet saves their asses at the end…did you rescue the council?

Rik: I didn’t first time around, but then I died and forgot to save. And decided to go for it.

Stoo: I’m keen to see what sort of impact that has on the story in the sequel.

Rik: I think it feeds through to ME2 and 3. So, yeah, keen to give them a go. I have ME2 already.

Stoo: Still thinking about story choices, another bit I remember is the Rachni queen.

Rik: I let her go…

Stoo: Like, you could just exterminate her, it’s the simpler option. But yes I had a crisis of bleeding heart conscience and let her go. And really hoped I hadn’t unleashed some new terror on the galaxy.

Rik: I did wonder whether there could have been more moments when naivety could be punished. But being a good guy generally pays off.

Stoo: It is possible to go through being very moral and proper and only rarely feeling that wasn’t the best course of action. I could never bring myself to be an asshole so I dunno how that works out!

#TeamLiara

#TeamLiara

Rik: No, me neither. What about romance?!

Stoo: I… I may or may not have made Shep have mind meld sex with a blue alien lady.

Rik: Femshep?

Stoo: Yes…

Rik: I chose Liara over Williams. Although the love triangle seemed to develop very quickly indeed. You barely speak to them and then they both decide they love you. It seems a bit embarrassing. Doesn’t Alenko pursue Femshep?

Stoo: Yeh, you can take that option. I found the whole romantic side kind of awkward though. Possibly I was embarrassed over making a female avatar and have her pursue lady loving, like some sort of teenager looking for titillation. Although, Shep is so sensible and military and no nonsense. I mean, I’ve said liked a lot of the interactions and personal moments but scenes of her being intimate with someone, didn’t quite work.

Rik: It seems a bit forced. None of the available responses seem appealing. You basically either go for it or reject their advances. It’s embarrassing all round. I’m reminded of Wing Commander 3 where you have two women interested in you. I was just nice to them both all the way through. And then I had to choose one. It seemed so harsh! It was no problem choosing Liara over Williams, because the latter was quite annoying to me. But, I was uncomfortable with the fact they both loved Shep. After not very long. Plus, two of three female crew fall in love with you? Seems a bit wrong.

Stoo: I think it could have worked without overt romantic elements. We could have just shown characters getting close without falling head over heels in love, and I doubt the story would suffer. Okay so, anything else we want to bring up?

Rik: Er [consults list] do we agree that Udina’s an asshole?

Stoo: The ambassador?

Rik: Yep. I favoured Anderson over him.

Stoo: While I’ve praised the choices the story offers… WHY would you choose Udina for the council seat? Is it just to troll Anderson? Unless there’s some subplot I missed, it’s baffling.
 

Kind of retro-synthy

Rik: The only other thing was, did the game crash at all for you? Or have any other technical glitches?

Stoo: Not that I recall.

Rik: The game crashed several times for me, and lost sound on several occasions. Maybe it was just my setup. Although I had the boxed retail version, not the Steam pack.

Stoo: We haven’t really discussed technical matters much, but, I guess it’s all pretty good on that count?

Rik: Yep…

Stoo: I mean it’s pretty standard 2007 graphics, not much blew me away but it never looked bad. I guess character models could have shown more expression. High note would be that world with the secret Prothean base, and the gate back to the Citadel. That was quite spooky and atmospheric in a “long dead secrets” kind of way.

Rik: Graphically, it was all good. And ran quite smoothly too. I also quite liked the music, which is kind of retro-synthy. I liked the fact that it sounded like computer game music, rather than a movie score.

Stoo: Ok so, how do we summarise this? We pretty clearly both came away with a positive view.

Rik: This is the template for lots of very similar games of recent times – glossy, epic, and enjoyable.

Stoo: It’s definitely slick and accessible. The cover-shooter stuff was new to me but I can see it broadening the appeal. The RPG details aren’t too cumbersome except for maybe juggling all the goddamn rifle upgrades.

Rik: Ultimately none of it gets in the way of you progressing – there’s nothing too scary here.

Stoo: The points-allocation to build up Shep is pretty self-explanatory, and you can set party members to auto so don’t have to micromanage them [edit: I was playing on normal, maybe you have to decide more carefully on harder settings]. I think ultimately this won’t ever be my favourite type of RPG. I’m more a fan of either Elder Scrolls type stuff, or older-school styles. But again, I can see how this is a more up to date and broadly appealing way forward for the genre.

Rik: I think it’s the only kind I’ll ever be able to play.

Stoo: Also, it’s an engaging scifi tale, even if not an original one. The characters and some good dramatic moments lift it above averageness. Also the choices you can make, even if you have to play the sequels to see the full impact for some of them. Choice in games is often illusionary because you can’t have 8 different main plots but here I did feel like I was making tough decisions, or doing something that might have consequences down the line.

Rik: It’s something I’m looking forward to in the sequels.

Stoo: Yep, I have ME2 prepped to go sometime soon as well.

Rik: I’d also recommend Alpha Protocol. Now, that’s one that puts you on the spot! You have a timer on dialogue. But yes, Mass Effect is very good. Made me wonder why I left it in my cupboard for the best part of four years [because you’re an idiot – FFG reader].

Stoo: So yeah a solid recommendation from us, I reckon.

Rik: Agreed.