Mass Effect is a series comprised of moments. Epic ones, sad ones, heartfelt ones...whether it's interacting with one of your squad members or watching a disaster unfold, the Mass Effect trilogy is one that has undoubtedly reached its grubby hand into your soul and tugged on a nerve or two.
While cataloging every single one into a reasonable written feature is nearly impossible, let's take a look back as we prepare for the release of Andromeda and appreciate some of the most emotional moments in Mass Effect history.
*Major Spoilers for Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 Below*
Mordin is a tragic hero, a character whose redemption is found only in ultimate sacrifice. A salarian scientist, Mordin was one of the minds behind the genophage that rendered the entire Krogan race sterile and unable to reproduce. He later admitted to making a grave mistake with the creation of the genophage, blaming his decision on short-sightedness and irrational thinking.
When given the chance to make things right, Mordin accepts the chance with quiet, powerful resolve. While there are ways to prevent Mordin's demise, most paths lead to him enacting the dispersion of the cure into the atmosphere of the Krogan home world Tuchanka. But, since his predecessors rigged the tower to explode, Mordin knows it's a one-way trip to manually activate the systems inside the tower to filter the Krogan cure into the air. With a nod, he tells Shepard it has to be him, saying "someone else might have gotten it wrong."
Solus is lovable and quirky, a fast-talking researcher who tends to converse more with himself than anyone else. This moment marks a powerfully complex one for Mordin, who has spent his career helping people whenever possible, only to see his life end to try and fix his biggest mistake. Watching as he ambles up to the computer, either singing or speaking calmly to himself, it's hard to not feel a twinge of admiration and grief for the loss of the scientist salarian.
You're likely to run through a few different judgements when meeting a character for the first time in Mass Effect: will they be useful on my team? What are their strengths? What's their personality like? And, arguably most important: are they attracted to me?
Romance is a meta game within BioWare RPGs, specifically within Mass Effect and Dragon Age. And in Mass Effect, the romantic options are weirdly satisfying, especially when Shepard is able to flaunt their charisma and make just the right dialog choices to woo the person (or alien) of their desire.
And when the stars align and you're able to coax them into your private quarters, it's a winning feeling on par with that of defeating the Reapers.
In the original Mass Effect, the first character death the player has a hand in deciding comes when both Kaidan Alenko and Ashley Williams are sent to two different points during a fight. Depending on which order Shepard makes, one of them will inevitably die on that mission, leaving you saddled with the guilt of the first of many character deaths.
While they'll stick with you throughout Mass Effect 1, they're noticeably absent in Mass Effect 2, since they're still working with the Alliance and have no idea whether Shepard is alive or dead. That is, until you encounter them while on the human colony Horizon.
This moment was particularly strong if you romanced them during the first game, feeling very much like encountering an old partner for the first time in years after not speaking, or -- in Shepard's case -- not being entirely alive. It's also an uncomfortable one to sit through, because they immediately start blaming Shepard of betrayal when they learn of Shepard's ties to Cerberus. It's a bittersweet reunion and a peek into the complex politics of humanity in a galaxy filled with more than one dominant species.
Thane Krios is the smooth, honor-bound drell assassin who serves as something of a moral mentor to Shepard. A principled killer, Thane is calm and collected, often staying cool in the most intense of situations.
During a fight with known jerk and discount anime protagonist Kai Leng, Thane sustains a grave injury and is rushed to get urgent medical attention. Go to visit him in the hospital, and you'll be given the worst news: they're able to patch him up, but his terminal illness is making it impossible for his body to replicate the blood he lost from the wound. The hospital usher allows you time to say your goodbyes, and in one final act of selflessness, Thane, asks his son and Shepard to join him in a prayer for salvation.
Once Thane peacefully passes, however, his son Kolyat informs Shepard the prayer was not intended for his father's soul -- it was for the commander's.
Losing Thane to Kai Leng is a bummer enough, but the charismatic drell's final act of preservation for his dear friend was enough to make the moment an emotional gut punch.
The moment the Collectors board the Normandy and begin scooping up the human crew members and taking them away is already bizarre and unsettling, but it's made even more tense when the player is put in control of the ship's hotshot pilot Joker. Because of the brittleness of his bones, Joker has difficulties with walking -- which makes his desperate attempts to stop the Collectors all the more nerve-wracking. Players are left on edge as they gradually guide Joker through a living nightmare where humans are murdered and dragged away at the hands of the giant, insect-like creatures just a few feet away.
It's the small touches that make this scene; Joker's intermittent gasps and hushed obscenities, NPCs promising protection shortly before falling victim, and the handful of times Joker narrowly escapes capture in order to manually access the deeper reaches of the ship's mechanical interior.
Mass Effect 2 is a game about vulnerability, a game constantly leaving you feeling prone to losing any one of your team members in a horrible incident. Watching the Normandy's crew collapse under the pressure of the Collectors through the eyes of one of Shepard's closest friends was especially heartbreaking.
Mass Effect 2 is made up mostly of missions exploring the stories of individual crew members aboard the Normandy, each with their own set of tragic or troublesome circumstances. But none are quite as heartbreakingly sad as Jack's.
Abandoned from a young age and picked up by a researcher branch of Cerberus, Jack was a powerful biotic subjected to endless tests and psychological torture. She became a formidable, fearsome figure at the facility where she was housed, and the other subjects suffered more traumatizing tests and experiments because of her strength and power. While the story remains foggy, she had a hand in the murder of many residents of the facility, faculty and fellow students alike.
Driven to developing psychopathic and antisocial tendencies, Jack has lived a life in the shadows, forever shunned to exist outside the law. Her tattooed skin chronicles the many hardships of her life, and her hardened exterior and unwillingness to trust serve as protective efforts to maintain her composure and autonomy. Jack is a valuable and relentless ally for Shepard, and standing next to her while visiting the now-abandoned facility and thwarting attempts to revive it was a gruesome, sobering moment in Mass Effect 2.
Mass Effect 2 takes the idea of a strong opening and cranks it up tenfold, creating a powerful opening that sees the Normandy completely destroyed, accentuated only by the raspy, labored breathing of a slowly-dying Shepard.
This opening is especially impactful because of how it takes everything the player is familiar with and literally blows it up. Gone are the beloved companions you rolled with for the last 30 plus hours in game one, replaced by a string of new allies you're not entirely sure you can trust. It also sets up for a fun get-the-gang-back-together sequence within the first few missions, helping the Commander assemble a strong crew of friends old and new while also grappling with working for a morally questionable organization. If ever there was a way to exceed expectations, Mass Effect 2 did so from its very beginning.
The Omega 4 relay is the looming boogeyman of Mass Effect 2. So little is known about it, including the reason why ships that pass through rarely return. At the other end of the Omega 4 relay is the main base of the Collectors, which -- as some theories posit -- may be the reason why so few ever successfully return.
Once it's discovered, the Omega 4 relay rests in the back of the player's mind as they're constantly reminded they have to go through to put an end to the Collector threat. Once all side missions have been completed and all preparations have been made to keep as many members of the crew alive as possible, you're then able to give the thumbs-up and travel through the relay, which proves to be just as dangerous as initially feared. The constant concern about what it is that may be found on the other side makes the Omega 4 relay an especially creepy aspect of Mass Effect 2, and the passage through it is fraught with tension and anticipation as the crew prepares for the absolute worst to greet them on the other side.