Dictator's Top 10 Mass Effect Moments

Welcome back to my third, and final, reflection on the Mass Effect series as part of the lead up to Mass Effect: Andromeda. Every game has those moments that you will always remember, whether it is a mission that’s fun to play, a point where the game just came together, a cutscene that you will always remember, or a lesson that you will always remember. The Mass Effect Franchise is no exception, so the following is my list of the Top 10 Moments In Mass Effect, in roughly chronological order.
Once again, a few disclaimers, before I start. This only includes characters from the main 3 games, it does not include characters that are exclusive to the books or graphic novels or side games. Second, there are major spoilers, so if you have not played the games yet, proceed at your own risk. Of course, if you’ve been following along, you should know all this already.

The First Time You Open the Galaxy Map (ME1)
After a few hours of wandering around the Citadel doing various fetch quests and learning about the universe the game is set in, you finally get approval to chase after rogue Spectre agent Saren Arterius. And to chase after him, Shepard has to have his/her own ship, so they get handed the keys to the SSV Normandy. To select your future destination you cue up the Galaxy Map, and that’s a pivotal point in the series. Up to that point in the game, you were restricted to where you could go, but now you are turned loose to do what you want. It really shows BioWare’s commitment to world-building too, as they generated various planets for every solar system and cluster in the Milky Way galaxy. And even the worlds that don’t contain exploration or missions contain interesting little tidbits of history. For example, did you know that the running joke, in-universe, is that the planet Pietas will evolve its own life before the Council gets around to approving colonization? Or that Quana is covered in long-empty Prothean cities and mines, connected by destroyed mag-lev rails, all picked clean of anything of value? On Bothros there is evidence of an unknown, space-faring, primate-like race, ranging from molten chunks of metal to preserved bodies wearing EVA suits. The cities all show evidence of being bombarded from orbit with railgun-like weapons, making you wonder if they were victims of Reapers or some long-forgotten war. It’s all there, if you’re willing to dive in and lose hours of your life as you read every planet’s description. And it even pays off, as hints towards future games can be found scattered about, such as how the planet Klencory alludes to ME3’s ending. The information also changes as the series progresses, reflecting how scientists have learned more in the time that’s elapsed, like how it is realized the Great Rift on Klendagon is not a natural formation, but the impact mark of a huge mass accelerator weapon constructed by some long-extinct species as a last-ditch effort in their own fight against the Reapers. And of course, there is the unforgettable Galaxy Map theme as well.

Virmire

Up until the mission to Virmire, the original Mass Effect had not really impressed me. The graphics were a little murky, the controls felt like a slightly clumsier version of those of fellow cover-based shooter Gears Of Wars and the story felt very slow and meandering. Then you hit the mission to Virmire and the game seemingly transforms.  Shepard and the Normandy are sent to backwater planet Virmire to rescue a beleaguered Salarian Task Group and investigate the facility they found. The Normandy inserts the team aboard the M-35 Mako APC (Which actually behaves itself on this mission, the flat terrain mitigating it’s notoriously ill-handling traits) to disable some anti-air cannons and then the Normandy lands at the STG’s camp and is briefed on the situation. Saren has built a facility that is working on curing the genophage, to create a loyal army of krogan to go alongside his army of geth. This leads to a tense standoff with Wrex, when he learns that Shepard and the STG plan to destroy the facility and the cure, and unless Shepard can talk him down, Shepard is forced to kill Wrex.  Then the joint forces launch an assault on the base, with the STG causing a distraction for the Normandy to slip in. Don’t disable enough geth defenses or take too long reaching the objective and the STG leader, Captain Kirrahe, will get killed by enemy fire. Once inside the base, Shepard realizes that Saren’s personal flagship is not a geth cruiser but an actual Reaper, and then actually speaks to said Reaper and learns its objectives. This is followed with a conversation with Saren, in which you realize that he may not be an out-and-out villian, but is rather trying to save organics from the Reapers in a different method. Then the game gives you your first major choice: do you save staff lieutenant Kaidan Alenko or gunnery chief Ashley Williams? No amount of Paragon or Renegade points allow you to open up a third option. You have to lose a teammate. And that's a big part of why this was such a big moment: up until now, your decisions largely just mattered on whether people were happy with you or not, or paid you for a fetch quest or not. But Virmire ratchets up the stakes: decisions made here cost people their lives and have ramifications that last throughout the series. Between that and the gameplay just feeling right, Virmire is the biggest moment of ME1. Also, I would like to apologize at this point for misspelling Virmire in my previous 2 articles.

The Beginning (ME2)
Coming into the start of ME2, Commander Shepard and the crew of the SSV Normandy are feeling pretty good. Shepard became the first human Spectre, he/she killed rogue turian Spectre Saren Arterius (considered the best Spectre ever), rescued colonists on Feros, killed a bunch of geth and geth and krogan, destroyed the Reaper vanguard Sovereign, delayed the Reaper invasion and saved the Citadel. Sure, the Council still doesn't believe that the Reapers are a real thing, choosing to believe that Sovereign was a geth cruiser, but Shep still has to be feeling pretty good. Then, while patrolling for geth incursions, a mysterious ship attacks the Normandy and instantly rips it to shreds, killing Commander Shepard and a number of other less-important crew members. It's such a brutal slap to the face. I remember wondering if I had made some poor choice in ME1 that resulted in my instant death, but, nope, death was unavoidable. It's a great way of showing you that despite everything you have done, in the face of the Reapers and their allies (the Collectors, in this case) they are still a massive threat. It also helps set the story up. While Shepard is dead, the Council decides to ignore any of the evidence of the Reapers and move on with things, and all your allies return to their homes and their normal duties and become wrapped up in various activities. So when you get revived by from the dead 2 years later by Cerberus, the shady pro-human organization that you crossed paths with in ME1, you get a new ship (the larger, more-powerful SSV Normandy SR-2) a new crew full of mercenaries, assassins, genetically-engineered superbeings and a few old friends. It also means that you are treated with suspicion by some of your previous allies and people that you encounter throughout the galaxy. All in all, it's one of the most daring openings to a game that I've experienced.

Any Time You Perform a Renegade Interrupt (ME2/ME3)

Okay, so this is kind of a collection of small moments, but this is my article and my rules, so it counts,. Interrupts were a system first introduced in ME2, playing off he Paragon/Renegade persuasive conversation options from ME1. During conversations, a prompt to perform an Interrupt would appear and you could press the correct button prompt to have Shepard immediately take a special action, although you are not alerted to what the actual action is until it happens. The Paragon Interrupts tended to be fairly wholesome or altruistic, such as comforting a friend, and as a result are pretty predictable. But with the Renegade Interrupts, you never really know what to expect. It could simply be something as simple as telling someone to shut up, or going on a rant. Or it could be that you punch out a reporter. Or headbutt a krogan. Or punch that reporter out again. Or push a mercenary out a window and follow it up with a snarky one-liner. Or punch out a quarian admiral. Or blow up a fuel tank that a mouthy krogan is standing on. Perhaps Shepard could do with some anger management classes. You never really know what is going to happen, you just know that it's likely going to be pretty badass. Anytime that I saw a Renegade Interrupt prompt I found myself mashing the trigger and laughing with preemptive glee. Maybe that says something about me as a person. I was saddened to hear that the Interrupt system is being revived for ME:A and will be more clear about what your action will be. No more accidentally punching half the galaxy.

Jacob: The Gift of Greatness (ME2)
In my last entry, I pretty much verbally assassinated Jacob Taylor, but I made mention of his personal mission, and I would like to touch on that here. Every time I play this mission (and I have around 10-12 playthroughs of ME2) it still disturbs me. The plot is that 10-13 years prior to ME2 (Jacob's accounts and the in-game codex have a bit of a discrepancy on the years) Jacob's father, Ronald Taylor, shipped out aboard the MSV Hugo Gernsback, a privately-held human frigate, as XO and shortly after the ship vanished with all hands aboard presumed lost. While serving on the SSV Normandy SR-2, Jacob receives word that the distress beacon to the Gernsback has been activated and he asks Shepard to investigate. They head to the planet Aiea and find the crashed remains of the Gernsback, as well as the distress beacon, which they learn was damaged in the crash, then fixed shortly after but left inactive until 10 years later, for reasons unknown. Exploring the area, they soon learn that although Aiea's fauna can be consumed by humans, but an unknown toxin causes “nueral decay” that results in females to revert to a child-like mental state and males becoming feral animal-like “hunters”. Reading various datapads and journals left around eventually brings the details to light. A faster-than-light travel navigation error resulted in the Gernsback crashing, the beacon being damaged, the original captain dying and Ronald Taylor becoming acting captain. Not knowing how long it would take to repair the beacon, Ronald Taylor decided that the officers would live off the ship's rations while lower-ranking crew members would eat the local food, so that someone would be left to signal for help. As time went on, the officers began physically abusing some of the affected crew (and perhaps worse, as one data recording hints at) and exiling others, divvying up the survivors among themselves. Eventually the beacon was fixed, but Ronald Taylor decided it didn't seem like a good idea to shed light on what had happened and continues abusing his power, eventually having all the other officers killed off. He finally signals for help when the “hunters” start to push back, looking for a way out of the hell he created. After uncovering the atrocities he committed, Jacob and Shepard are left with the option to either kill Ronald Taylor, bring him in for arrest or let the hunters kill him. This still remains as one of the darkest, most disturbing moments in all of BioWare's games.

The Suicide Mission (ME2)
I had not played anything like the final mission of ME2, the Suicide Mission, and to this day have yet to play anything like it. It is truly a special moment in gaming. After putting together a new crew, upgrading the already-improved SSV Normandy SR-2 and acquiring a Reaper-derived IFF transponder, Shepard and friends are finally ready to hit the Collectors at their own base, which lies through the never-before-traversed Omega-4 Relay. Launching the mission immediately triggers an awesome cutscene (although sadly the Xbox 360 struggles playing it) in which Joker pits the Normandy against several Collector “Oculus” fighter craft and the same cruiser that wrecked the original Normandy, although the Normandy SR-2 fares much better and exacts revenge. Then you land on the Collector base and go in on foot. This is where it gets unique. As an example, in the first segment you have to split the team up, a tech expert in the vents to unlock doors, a distraction team to draw the Collectors' attention and an infiltration team. While Shepard heads the infiltration team automatically, you have to choose the tech expert and someone to lead the distraction team, and who you choose matters. Choose someone who isn't as proficient at hacking as Tali or Legion and they take too long to get the doors open and get people killed. Choose someone who isn't as strong a leader as Garrus and the distraction team crumples and you lose teammates. It requires you to really examine your team members as the people that they are, not just what weapons they care or abilities they can use, and makes you think. Also, the mission shows the chilling reason that the Collectors have been abducting humans, a part that always manages to make my jaw drop, no matter how many times I play. Sadly the team selection mechanic never returns in ME3, but maybe it's for the best, because it'd be less special if it was overused.

The Beginning (ME3)
Similar to how ME2 slaps you in the face with Commander Shepard instantly dying, ME3 has the Alliance instantly losing Earth to the Reaper invasion. The game kicks off with Commander Shepard under house-arrest and facing possible court-martial after the events of ME2's Arrival DLC, which, interestingly, canonically happens whether you played the DLC on your imported save or not. Almost immediately the Reapers arrive on Earth and begin tearing through the Alliance defenses, prompting Shepard and Admiral Anderson to make a break for the Normandy, all set to the backdrop of Reapers demolishing buildings and decimating Alliance warships. This is a big moment for several reasons. To begin with, this is the first time in the series that you get to actually set foot on Earth, surprisingly. Second, it shows you what you are fighting for, the whole reason you are about to depart on a galaxy-wide quest to unite the various Milky Way races. Third, this is the first time that you see the sheer power of an army of Reapers. Before this, you only saw a single Reaper, Sovereign, assaulting the Citadel and wiping almost anything in it's path. Now there is thousands of them descending on Earth, cutting through the Alliance fleet without any real resistance. And finally, it introduces the infamous child. At the very beginning, Shepard spots a child playing with a toy Alliance fighter craft in a park. At that point I am reasonably certain the child exists. Later, while fleeing the Reaper assault, Shepard spots the child again, hiding in a vent, and tries to coax it to come with them. When Shepard looks away, the child seemingly vanishes and Anderson doesn't seem to notice the child or wonder who Shepard was talking to. Later, while boarding the Normandy, Shepard witnesses the child clamber aboard an Alliance dropship, without any of the soldiers noticing or helping, before the dropship gets gunned down by a nearby Reaper. Shortly afterwards, Shepard begins having nightmares involving the child dying. But the question is, was the child real and the fact that it just vanishes at one point and no on else seems to notice it just the result of wonky writing? Was it a metaphor for all the innocent people being slaughtered by the Reapers? Was it the one death that finally pushed Shepard over the edge and began haunting him? Or was it some form of low-level Reaper indoctrination, with the child a being an image of what the Reapers planned to do to all advanced lifeforms? It's not really clear, it's never really explained in the game and BioWare has stayed silent on the subject.

Priority: Rannoch
The battle for Rannoch, the quarian's homeworld that they were forced from 300 year ago, is a noteworthy point in the Reaper War, because it is the first major point where Shepard and friends push back and fight. At Palaven, they just ran a rescue operation to retrieve the turian primarch and get him to the Council race summit. At Surkesh, they rescued a female krogan vital to creating the genophage cure and then got out of the area. At Tuchanka, they took down a Reaper with help from the massive mother of all thresher maws, Kalros, but their main objective was to cure the genophage, not liberate the krogan homeworld. But when Shepard goes to recruit the quarians to join the fight, there is only one way to get the quarian assistance, and that is to take down the hostile geth, who have turned to the Reapers for assistance. The mission to Rannoch has the team fighting through swarms of Reaper-enabled geth to destroy what is believed to be a transmitter that is broadcasting the signal powering up the geth. It turns out to be an actual Reaper instead, which leads to Shepard literally facing off against the Reaper, dodging beams from it's main cannon while trying to get a lock on the Reaper with a targeting device synched to the entire quarian fleet over Rannoch. After blasting the Reaper to death, Shepard has a quick chat with it before it dies, gaining further insight into the Reapers' motives. This is followed by one of the biggest choices in the game. With the Reaper dead, the geth are temporarily thrown into disarray and the quarians have a chance to make a counterattack and retake Rannoch. At the same time, allied geth Legion reveals that he has a version of the Reaper code that would give the geth true independent AI, instead of the hivemind consensus that they operate on, and allow them to break free of the Reapers and determine their own future, but that they will likely annihilate the quarians in self-defense. Do you side with the geth, who you have now learned have really been the innocent party all along, and bring a sizable fleet and formidable ground troops to the fight? Or do you side with the quarians, who have the largest fleet in the galaxy and have been friends with Shepard? Do the geth deserve justice and a future? Or is the idea of letting an entire race of organics get killed by a race of synthetics too much to bear? And, with friends on both sides of the conflict, don't expect them to just be okay with whatever decision you make. Or does it even have to end in violence? Is there a peaceful way out, one that results in cooperation? This mission's decisions are similar to Virmire's from ME1, but the stakes are cranked to 11, with the fates of entire races in the balance, and that's a large reason why this mission stands out. That and Shepard practically 1v1-ing a massive sentient starship.

Citadel DLC (ME3)
While Mass Effect 3's other large story DLCs (From The Ashes, Omega and Leviathan) were no slouches, the final DLC, Citadel, stood head and shoulders above the rest. Essentially 2 parts, the background is that the Normandy is sent to dry dock for repairs and in the downtime Shepard is taking a little shore leave on the Citadel. The first half is more action-oriented, dealing with an attempt on Shepard's life by unknown mercenaries, followed by their identity getting stolen all as part of a plot to hijack the Normandy. Even though this is the more serious part of the DLC, it's still pretty humorous. It's full of inside jokes that diehard fans of the series will enjoy, such as a whole conversation where Shepard suddenly realizes that their parting phrase (“I should go”) is really strange. It also marks the return of Wrex as a selectable teammate, albeit temporarily, and he makes up for his absence with a vengeance, spouting instantly memorable quotes (“This is why I love hanging out with you guys. Why shoot something once when you can shoot it 46 more times?”). And amid all the wild hilarity, there is actually a pretty solid plot. After taking car of the would-be Shepard usurper, then it's time to settle in and enjoy shore leave for the second half. Basically you run around the touristy Silversun Strip hanging out with all your old friends and fellow crewmembers before capping it off with a big party at Shepard's apartment. As a whole, the DLC doesn't really fit the tone of the game, but maybe that's part of why it works so well, breaking up the intensity and pressure of the rest of the game for a few hours. Also, as the final DLC, it's a fitting sendoff to the characters that you've come to know. The ending has a definite sense of bittersweet finality to it, as at this point it was confirmed that Shepard and friends were not returning for future installments. All in all, it's a brilliant bit of fanservice that feels like it's designed entirely for long-time Mass Effect enthusiasts.

The Ending (ME3)
The ending of Mass Effect 3 was a huge controversy. Love it or hate it, okay, tolerate it or hate it, I don't think anyone loved the ending, it was certainly polarizing and it was widely discussed when the game came out, and is still being talked about to this day by Mass Effect fans. After 3 games and making all these decisions, hoping that they would determine the ending, you instead get stuck with a multiple choice test that those previous decisions didn't really directly factor into. Not only that, but the events that transpire were just absolutely bizarre and came out of left field (except for if you read the description of the planet Klencory) without any warning or buildup and not particularly well explained. In it's original form, it also didn't provide much in the way of closure either. The Leviathan DLC explained things a little better and the Extended Cut DLC improved the ending cutscene, but it still just felt like the writers had gotten near the end of the game and had no idea how to wrap things up. Like the child from the opening of the game, BioWare has never really expounded on the ending, apparently choosing to leave it up to the community to decide. Unfortunately, this ending, along with the launch day DLC controversy, came to largely define ME3's, and even the entire franchise's, legacy in some people's minds.
Those are my 10 biggest moments from the original trilogy and that wraps up my review of the Mass Effect series as it currently stands. I'm both anxious and maybe a little nervous to get my hands on Mass Effect: Andromeda, as it has a lot to measure up to, but I'm hoping for the best. And I hope to see you all in the Andromeda galaxy.
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