I figured I would end out the week hyping up the release of Mass Effect Andromeda by spending an entire segment talking about some of the most intense moments thus far that have occurred in the series. Take note, however, that when I say worst, I don’t mean objectively bad. These are moments that made your heart sink or made you cry. Obviously, there are spoilers, so read with caution!
Mass Effect is very beloved by myself and a couple other mods of NWG, so we’ll be discussing it as much as we can of it next week as well. But if you’re just as excited as we are, take this time to relive some of my best and worst moments from the series!
#5 Worst: The Beginning of Mass Effect 2
Now remember; these bad moments aren’t always about critique, but about feeling. One of the worst moments in the Mass Effect series is the attack of the collectors in Mass Effect 2 that is seen in the game’s opening cinematic cut scene. The brutal explosions and death of the crewmates are hard enough to watch. But then you realize you’re watching your own Shepard, that you made and crafted and love, plummet into the depths of outer space as they suffocate to death. After that moment, when the game’s title appears before the infinite blackness, you’re wide eyed and confused. Scared, unsure. What’s going to happen? Who are these monsters who have just killed the main character of the game? You’re only choice is to keep going.
The moment is made even more painful when you realized that Shepard basically sacrificed themselves to save Joker, your snarky pilot who stays with you throughout the series. The player can’t help but grieve for Joker, as the guilt about inadvertently causing Shepard’s death must certainly be overwhelming.
It’s a great moment, but one that causes a lot of anxiety and concern to the player in regards to how the series would progress at that moment. BioWare’s team deserve a round of applause for the amount of fear that they caused in such a short amount of time.
#5 Best: Shepard Solos a Reaper
After the original Mass Effect’s Sovereign, even thinking about fighting a Reaper is bone chilling. But nothing gets held back in Mass Effect 3, and that is definitely a good thing. One of the greatest things about the No-Holds-Barred approach to Shepard’s last game is that you get to be Shepard as they literally take down a Reaper single-handedly.
Your heart rate is through the roof as you direct giant lazer beams and use space particle guns to blow up this giant metal culling machine and dodge its terrifying eye of death. But this scene was made even more satisfying since the Reaper you decimate was, in the previous cutscene, telling you/Shepard that defeat is inevitable.
Shepard’s defiance of the Reapers, and of feeling like it’s their duty to save the galaxy, is exemplified in this scene in such an intense way. The fast-paced atmosphere, the screaming from all the characters, even the camera placement all comes together to make an easily dismissed metaphor. After it’s over, it seems that both Shepard’s and the player’s hope that the Reapers will not win is rekindled. And from that point on, no one in game our out can say Shep isn’t a badass.
#4 Worst: Virmire’s Agonizing Choice
The first Mass Effect game is the weakest game of the series, but despite that, it has one of the most grueling plot decisions in all three games. The plot reveals that Saren’s home base is located on Virmire, and a bomb is planted to destroy the base along with Saren’s army of geth robots. But, sadly, there are too many geth for the team to defeat. The bomb must be protected. So, to save the galaxy from Saren and Sovereign, Shepard must choose to sacrifice one of his beloved squad mates.
This choice was unbearable for me. Particularly as someone who played a female Shepard and romanced Kaiden the first time around. One of the reasons why the choice is so difficult as there are so many reasons to choose either Ashley or Kaiden to live and die. On one hand, Ashley is a more well developed character, but it’s hard to get over her racism towards non-humans. Kaiden himself is kind and funny, but he’s not as well-crafted a character as Ashley, and his backstory is lackluster. The pros and cons are stacked evenly against both characters, and I fully believe it was an intentional move on Bioware’s part.
But the fact that you must tell one of these individuals that you’re not going to save them is not easy for some people. The icing on the cake is that there is no way out, no dialogue combo or secret side quest that can keep this from happening. Ashley or Kaiden’s heads are on the chopping block no matter what. I had to walk away from the game for a day to decide my choice. And I know I’m certainly not the only one who felt the same.
Rest in Peace Kaiden/Ashley.
#4 Best: Saving the Quarians
A lot of the moments on this list seem to come from Mass Effect 3, but that game was so intense; can you blame me!? One of those intensely amazing moments from Mass Effect 3 was the fact that you actually saved the Quarian homeworld. And not only did you save the Quarian homeworld, but with the right finesse, you can manage to get the Quarians and the geth to come together again. That’s some heavy stuff. But it’s not just the fact that Shepard manages to save the Quarians and the geth, but what it takes to get it to happen and the results from it.
Shepard infiltrates the hivemind of the geth in this weird segment where he relives the flashbacks of what the Quarians did to the geth, which is honestly upsetting. It makes you sympathize with the geth and understand why they rebelled against the Quarians. But it’s difficult because even though the Quarians treated the geth terribly, they’ve been homeless and drifting for so long. They can’t even live without a special suit to protect them. Haven’t they paid their dues?
Then you’ve got Legion’s sacrifice, which is so heartbreaking considering he wanted to reconnect with the Quarians and befriend Tali. Then you’ve got the Quarian’s distrust of the geth. And sweet, sweet Tali! She just wants to help her people. Even after all the disrespect that was shown to her from her fellow Quarians in Mass Effect 2. But BioWare manages to handle this plot line gracefully. You have to pay attention; you have to understand both sides. With patience and care, you actually manage to do the impossible. You find a solution where everyone is happy. And that’s what makes this moment in Mass Effect feel so damn good.
Rest in peace Legion! You have a soul you darling robot, you!
#3 Worst: Losing Mordin and Thane
The character deaths in Mass Effect 3 were absolutely devastating to a veteran Mass Effect player. While some characters sacrificed themselves for the greater good, others were killed in battle in an attempt to save what little hope they could. But the two deaths that really resonated with me were the loss of Mordin Solus and Thane Krios.
Thane’s death wasn’t really surprising, as his Kepral’s Syndrome already had him with one foot in the grave. But there are two factors that make Thane’s death more upsetting (which I believe were intentional factors): 1) If it wasn’t for Kai Leng, Thane might have lived longer. I detest Kai Leng, and when his first real run-in with Shepard is to stab one of his comrades, that’s when you know this guy is gonna be an eyesore. But the fact that Thane was too sick to recover from the wound meant that we had to sit there and just watch our beloved Drell (some that people actually shipped with their FemShep) die on a hospital table.
2) What makes Thane’s death even more heart-wrenching was the fact that the last thing he wanted before he died was to have his son ask their god to forgive…Shepard. When Kolyat tells you that Thane’s literal last wish was to bring Shepard peace and for their sins to be absolved, can you really stop the waterworks at that point? Overall, I’m glad that BioWare decided to let Thane do something amazing before he died, but it certainly didn’t make it any less painful for those that loved him. I definitely shed some tears.
However, it’s Mordin’s death that not only came as a huge surprise, but still hurts like a fresh wound no matter how many times you see it. The comfort Mordin seems to feel in that moment (“Would have liked to run test on the seashells”) The guilt that he seems to vaguely side-step about his work on the genophage. The entire scene before he dies is just so emotionally charged: you feel disbelief, powerless, and an deep anger towards that powerlessness. There is nothing you can do to stop it, so you must watch. The feelings the player has in that moment, the ones that BioWare tried to evoke, were the feelings that Shepard had throughout the entire series.
What brought on the waterworks for me, what made me cry over his death more than others, was watching his face as he sung his song from Mass Effect 2. There is a slight smile on his face; a kind of peace that can only be reserved for the moment you know you’re going to die. And it’s clear that Mordin’s peace comes from knowing that even though he was the one who helped ruin Krogan civilization, he did everything he could to make it right. He paid the ultimate price to ensure the Krogan could be free of their curse, and it makes us love Mordin all the more for it.
Rest in Peace Mordin and Thane. My heart still aches for you both.
#3 Best: Curing the Genophage
The curing of the genophage in Mass Effect 3 was a huge moment in Mass Effect 3, and it’s one of the most thrilling chapters of the story despite it being the first major plot point in the entire game. The hope and sorrow that permeates inside of Wrex, Eve and Mordin during the entire Curing the Genophage quest-line is something no Mass Effect player will ever forget.
From being trapped in a dark cave to the giant alien monster battle, what it takes to cure the genophage certainly puts a lot of stress on the player. Not to mention the fact that it makes the player hate the stubborn Salarians who seem adamant about controlling the Krogan race. Stopping the Dalatrass’ schemes is one of the most satisfying moments while you’re working to cure the genophage. But the most satisfying moments come in the reflection that happens afterward.
Though Mordin died, and that wound will never heal, it’s comforting to know that Mordin and Shepard/the player have saved an entire race from possible extinction. The difference between curing the genophage and the Quarian/Geth conflict is that I feel the Krogan were treated far worse and their integrity as a species was all but destroyed because of what happened. Though the Quarians had no home, but they were unified; they remembered who they were. The Krogan had no purpose without their ability to produce offspring; unification was not achievable. The Krogan had no way to preserve their culture, no way to prove themselves to be anything but killers. And with the cure of the genophage, it gives the entire Krogan species a change to start over.
It might be a morally ambiguous choice if you’re unfortunate enough to have Wreav be the spearhead for the Krogan, but if you’ve got Wrex, then there’s no doubt that the Krogan are on a better path with him at the helm.
The Krogan deserved a second chance just like the Quarians. But the Krogan had paid for their dues tenfold.
#2 Worst: Kai Leng Ruins Everything
Kai Leng. That name alone is enough to send me into a blind rage. Kai Leng goes down in my book as one of the most hated villain flunkies of all time. Because every time this douche canoe showed up, he usually made all Shepard’s plans fall apart.
Don’t get me wrong; Kai Leng is a great villain. But the fact is that everything he does to stop Shepard gives the player a serious lust for vengeance. It was Kai Leng who struck the blow that Thane couldn’t recover from. Who couldn’t hate him after that? For me, I was out for his blood right after that scene.
But it was the moment on Thessia, when the Asari homeworld was being overrun by Reapers, did Kai Leng truly become a terrifying villain that had to be put down. While Shepard attempts to recover Prothean data, Kai Leng appears and (guess what?) ruins everything. He takes advantage of the explosion at the Temple of Athame and escapes with the important data Shepard needed to help the Crucible. But not before manhandling Shep’s crew.
What makes this moment one of the worst is the fact that everything you’d worked so hard to do as a player, as Shepard, comes crumbling down on you and you cannot stop it. And now there are millions of innocent Asari that are going to die. The desparate screams of Shepard’s name, the a mount of Reapers consuming Thessia; it’s almost too much to watch. It’s made all the more bitter after returning to the Normandy; the cocky bastard Leng sends you a message saying he’s gunning for your death, and you find Liara laying in her room with tears running down her face. The Asari homeworld is no more.
You kill Thane? All right, you’re dead. You kill Thane and make Liara cry? Now I’m going to make you wish you were dead.
#2 Best: Defeating Sovereign and Saren
We’re taking it back to the first Mass Effect for the second best moment in the game, and that’s the final battle when Shepard and the combined alien forces manage to take down Saren and Sovereign.
When Saren and Sovereign are defeated, it makes such a huge impact on the player because of what the two had been telling Shepard throughout the entirety of Mass Effect. That Shep’s defeat was certain, that it was better to just submit and become part of something greater. And there’s nothing more gratifying then proving someone who seems so confidant that they are dead wrong. The victory that the player feels after they know that Saren and Sovereign have been stopped is unparalleled.
While some might claim this moment has lost a bit of its luster due to the progression of the series and the amount of reapers, I don’t think that is the case. Sovereign and Saren were still very unique villains as they were designed to be independent from the rest of the Reaper horde. Sovereign seems much more cunning than the mass of other Reapers; Saren is simply his pawn, and he shows this by controlling Saren loosely. Saren has enough free will to seem innocent but he’s indoctrinated enough to still carry out Sovereign’s will.
And Saren himself is cunning, cruel and effective. He’s the ideal pawn for any evil scheme, and we haven’t seen a villain that matches him since the first Mass Effect. It’s these traits that make their defeat all the sweeter for Shepard and the player. Taking down a notorious and skilled Spectre as well as a crafty lone Reaper will never not be exciting.
#1 Worst: The End of Mass Effect 3
I’ll warn you now that the top two moments aren’t going to be very surprising. The end of Mass Effect 3 has caused so much anger, bitterness, confusion and disdain in the Mass Effect fanbase that EA and BioWare had to release a free DLC update to expand upon the end in order to make sure people would keep buying Mass Effect 3. It is one of the hottest topics that still has not really lost it’s fire between those who still discuss what should and should have not happened in Mass Effect 3’s final moments.
Here’s a quick refresher: after Shepard returns to Earth and manages to confront the Illusive Man and speaks to an entity known as The Catalyst, Shepard is offered three choices: to destroy the Reapers, to control the Reapers or to “Synthesize”. Regardless of the outcome, the ending is controlled based on your Effective Military Strength, and the endings themselves, all eight of them, were unworthy of the series.
And man, were ME fans pissed. The EMS needed was impossible to get without playing the online multiplayer. If you were playing on Xbox 360 (like me) and didn’t have Xbox Live because you were poor (like me) you could kiss the best endings goodbye. But, at the end, the endings weren’t really that different? Shepard only “lives” in one scenario, and you must choose to destroy the Reapers in order to get that ending. If you Synthesize or Control, Shepard dies no matter what.
The lack of control the player has, the ambiguity of the endings and the fact that the end of Shepard’s story isn’t affected by the choices you made in the game amalgamates and becomes the literal worst moment in Mass Effect history. This is the only bad moment that is on this list not just because it’s bittersweet, but because it was a terrible choice by the writers and the devs.
There have been arguments that the purpose of the end was to impart upon the player that some things cannot be prevented no matter what you do, but I find that excuse to be a weak one. The ending does not coincide with the spirit of Mass Effect. Mass Effect was about choice, variety and giving more control to the player. Mass Effect 3’s ending threw all of that away.
Hopefully BioWare has learned their lesson with the impending release of Mass Effect Andromeda. Fans cannot stomach another ending like that.
#1 Best: The Suicide Mission
Again, is this really a surprise? Unlike Mass Effect 3, the final mission of Mass Effect 2 is one of the greatest moments in video game history. It was the last push through ME2 that really put this series on the map. I could gush forever about how thrilling and perfect it was, but I’ll try to condense as best I can.
Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission is terrific for all of the reasons why Mass Effect 3’s ending was terrible. How successfully the mission went was entirely depended upon the player. There were puzzles and choices that hinged upon smart decisions; you had to remember your team and decide what was more important. The lives of your comrades were in your hands.
The decisions you made in the game after certain points affected the amount of innocent people you could save at the end of the game when they were kidnapped by the Reapers. The connections you made with the characters dictated whether or not they were able to survive the Omega 4 Relay. And there is nothing that compares to the rush of triumph that you feel when you beat Mass Effect 2 with no casualties. That is what a rewarding ending is supposed to feel like. ME2 will always be the best installment in the trilogy because of that ending.
This is why I think that the lack of control the player had in Mass Effect 3 was supposed to serve a purpose. BioWare remembered how miraculous ME2’s end was, and the only way they felt they could top it was by turning it on it’s head. But what BioWare has realized now is it’s that control we do have that makes it great; we feel like a champion because we overcame an obstacle. It’s not just about defeating a boss. It’s about smart calls and careful planning; it can be just as fulfilling.
Here’s hoping that Andromeda can recapture some of the magic BioWare had in Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission.
That’s all for this week’s Top 5 Best and Worst. Look out for more great posts from NWG!