Mass Effect 2 remains one of my favorite all time games and the entry in the series that turned me from a Mass Effect player into a Mass Effect fan.
Its release in 2010 came at a watershed period for me recognizing video games not just as an artform but as a potentially emotional piece of media. There are games much older than Mass Effect 2 that could genuinely move me to tears like Silent Hill 2 that arrived nine years prior. But I didn’t play that game back in 2001. I don’t think I even knew what Silent Hill was.
Mass Effect 3 is the king in the franchise for compelling a emotional reaction from me and most people, and contrary to some amount of popular belief, for the intended reasons. Certain moments in ME3 arguably drive me closer to tears than anything in ME2. And yet, ME2 came first and it really showed me how invested one can get in an interactive medium’s world and its characters. Especially since here you have control to extents big and small on where they will be going. There are some outcomes to many characters in the Mass Effect sequels that I will never allow to happen, even under the auspices of viewing it for “replay value.”
Mass Effect 2 opens by throwing the mother of all curve balls to the player: killing Commander Shepard. There remains some debate as to whether it was really necessary or added anything to having the player character killed and later scientifically resurrected. I think it adds flavor to the context you can bring to who your Shepard now is.
With this first sequel, do you continue your Shepard’s moral path as renegade or paragon from the last game? Do you want to change their skillset? Their appearence? Their worldview as expressed by the player? Or as intended by Martin Sheen’s Illusive Man, the leader of Cerberus the shady organization that revives you, do you come back and act exactly as you were left at the end of the first game? It opens up food for thought this development in the narrative and to the trilogy’s credit, it is an element not forgotten as Shepard continues into Mass Effect 3. If they survive.
The conceit of Mass Effect 2 is absolutely brilliant and one of the smartest choices for a sequel to have an escalation not just in scope but stakes: assembling a team for a likely suicide mission.
Cerberus, a human supremacy group which is proven to have both xenophobic beliefs and a share of immoral activities as a host of side missions from ME1 can attest, has a job for Commander Shepard. No matter Shepard and the player’s feelings on that organization, what they are fighting against is incontrovertibly bad and must be stopped: the Collectors.
In the two years since Shepard’s death and subsequent time being brought back to life, that mysterious alien species has been attacking human colonies throughout the Milky Way and abducting thousands of colonists, through means that leave the colonies remarkably devoid of any wrongdoing. Save that all the humans are gone, as if they were raptured.
Given the resources to build that suicide squad including a brand new vessel, the Normandy SR2( which kicks the ever-loving ass out of the original Normandy from the first game) and with it a new crew with a couple of familiar faces, Shepard essentially has no choice but to use Cerberus to find and defeat the Collectors once and for all.
As I opined at the start of part one of this review, Shepard is only as strong as the men and women that serve alongside them. Before we get to all 12 of them, let me give a non-party member his due finally. Jeff “Joker” Moreau, played by the near inimitable Seth Green.
Joker is the pilot of both the Normandy SR1 from the first Mass Effect( which is blown the hell up alongside Shepard) and the Normandy SR2 for both ME2 and ME3. He is the most direct example of comic relief and god bless him for that for as the trilogy progresses, you will need someone to lighten the mood.
He is never at tonal odds with the narrative and is keenly aware of how dire the circumstances his and Shepard’s life get over the games. Could very well be a coping mechanism, as before he became the man who flies a vessel to the most dangerous places in the galaxy, he was born with a real ailment called Vrolik’s syndrome or Brittle Bone disease.
Basically, all of his bones are much weaker than the average person and even the smallest misstep can lead to “CRACK”. Thankfully, Joker lives in the late 22nd century and a combination of medication and bionic augmentations is able to mitigate but not cure the illness. He is most certainly good enough to pilot the Normandy, to the point he is considered one of the best human pilots if not one of the best pilots in the galaxy period.
Joker’s condition and how he perseveres with help from a snarky sense of humor acts as commentary that Mass Effect is remarkably kind to treating those with physical and mental illness with compassion, even stating they can be heroes, and hardly just for one day.
This line of thought probably wouldn’t have made it into this essay had I not read an article by happenstance about how in the article’s words: “Mass Effect is something of a virtual paradise for the chronically ill“. Characters like Joker alongside Tali, Kaidan and to some extent Shepard themselves all have conditions that would bring low other people, let alone people that are tasked with well, saving the galaxy from giant robot cuttlefish. And those aren’t the only examples off the top of my head. One of the ten new party members, Thane, is perhaps most explicit about this thesis holding water.
Tali’s immune system is super weak, which makes even the act of opening up her mask a danger ( more on that later). I mentioned Kaidan’s migraines which the guy never complains about because he’s professional dammit. As for Shepard, the player can choose to give the Commander psychological baggage by giving him/her some messed up origins involving a family lost to alien pirates and his entire squad being decimated by a sandwor—thresher maw, a giant worm-like creature.
Shepard never really shows outwards signs in the first two games of how much those traumatic events hurt them, should the player choose that for them. They are a soldier that made it into N7, the very toughest military training regimen imaginable so their will is clearly strong and perhaps coming to terms with that tragedy helped them find an inner strength to push on.
By Mass Effect 3, it all begins to finally add up with the utterly grave stakes of that game and you will want to give a (paragon) Shepard a hug for how they are approaching and nearly make it to the breaking point. So, yeah, the biggest badass in the galaxy suffers from PTSD eventually and nothing can stop that. But it doesn’t stop Shepard. It doesn’t stop his friends with issues physical and mental. And maybe, it shouldn’t stop you from trying.
The 12 party members all have their issues and in order to increase their chances of getting through the suicide mission, Shepard can lend them a hand and in one powerful instance give them a hug. Let’s meet them.
Miranda and Jacob: the Cerberus operatives
Echoing the first game, the first two team members are human and are both part of Cerberus. Perhaps because you are meant to spend time with them, they are also not as extreme as the organization they are part of. Miranda is in denial about how far they have gone and Jacob is aware and concerned. Like Shepard, he feels stuck to them due to that organization being the only ones willing to save the colonists and fight the Reapers.
Jacob Taylor shares a similar spot to Kaidan in being the male human love interest who isn’t bad as a character but is undeniably not as compelling as many others in the roster. Considering Mass Effect 2 might have the largest lineup of party members in Bioware’s history, someone has to fall through the cracks of recognition. Poor Jacob ends up there.
I feel sorry because barring one real dick move he pulls on Femshep in the following game if he is romanced in this one, Jacob is arguably the nicest character of the bunch. Only Garrus, Tali, Thane and Kasumi come close in terms of genial nature being a notable tenet.
Again, 12 characters plus Shepard and Joker so someone gets overlooked in the shuffle though due to being a member of Cerberus, Jacob is always at the center of the story relating to the conflict against the Collectors. Jacob’s time to shine comes in his loyalty mission. Loyalty missions were another ingenious idea that was borne not only out of ME1 having side quests that were directly related to a party member (Wrex, Tali, Garrus) but were perhaps inspired by one of the most influential and beloved role playing games ever made: Final Fantasy VI.
The loyalty missions in ME2 have a mechanical purpose beyond having a spotlight shined on one of Shepard’s growing team. Like in Final Fantasy VI, they are meant to showcase the character’s greatest regrets, hopes and fears and are the best moments to understand the character, maybe even come to like or love them. I have no idea if FFVI’s quests surrounding party members could lead to an improved or better ending but it definitely did wonders on player investment by the time you confront this guy: basically the Joker having become an evil God.
For such an under-considered character from the playerbase, it is generally acknowledged that Jacob’s loyalty mission, which is often the first played due to how the game prompts it be so, is fantastic. And very, very depressing.
Jacob’s father worked on a merchant freighter going out and about space, not unlike the Nostromo from Alien. Fear not, the kinds of horror Shepard and Jacob encounter is markedly different than a xenomorph. Instead, Jacob’s father Ronald and the crew of the Hugo Gernsback ( named after one of the founders of “science fiction”) crash land on an unsettled planet. For the next decade, things went south, south, south. Overtime, Ronald made himself essentially a king amongst the survivors, taking all the unspoiled food and letting the rest of his crew eat the compromised rations, which in combination with being unused to the planet’s environment and cyclical patterns, drove them insane to the point of mental regression. No better than cavemen in some ways.
Ronald had the opportunity to call for help much earlier and could have spared his crew considerable pain and misery. But for his own selfish desire to play into a power fantasy he was accidentally gifted, he didn’t. He only re-activated a distress beacon once the safe food was beginning to run out and he couldn’t keep the fantasy going anymore.
Jacob is horrified and disgusted at what his father has become and the game gives you three options in how to resolve the matter, all of them satisfying in their own way. More importantly, it ends the least favored ME2 party member’s loyalty mission on a haunting note that is anything but forgettable.
Miranda Lawson, who is both the Cerberus operative who led the project that revived you( appropriately called Lazarus) and the XO of the new Normandy is one big ME character that you either get or you don’t. Out of all the many attractive and sexualized figures in the series, Miranda is the one that stands out the most.
The game handwaves Miranda’s sexed up appearance through her background. She is a test tube baby, genetically the sole product of her evil, evil father, a ruthless tycoon who will do anything to leave a mark on the galaxy. To that end, not only is her daughter not naturally created, but he made sure to have every aspect of her life be controlled. While she got the very best in intelligence, strength, resilience and obviously looks, it was all to serve a sociopath who doesn’t actually have any fatherly love to give back.
Miranda was looking for a purpose free from her father, so Cerberus offered her a place and her inherent set of skills made her into the organization’s best operative. Miranda does have a great background to her story and like with Jacob and every party member, it is best realized in the loyalty mission.
Miranda is not the only daughter of Henry Lawson. There is also Oriana, her genetic twin, though not in appearence or in age. Miranda is just as desperate to insure the safety of her innocuous sister as she is in stopping the Collectors and by extension the Reapers. The loyalty mission involving a rescue of her sister is where my sympathies with Miranda were at their strongest. Not enough to make me love this character but understand her as being genuinely written to be deeper than just eye-candy or the most obvious romance option for a male Shepard.
Miranda is voiced and facially modelled after Australian actress Yvonne Strahovski, who is most well known outside of Mass Effect for being in Chuck. Interestingly enough, that spy comedy also features a super attractive female secret agent.
Miranda is considered a good romance choice by many especially for a Shepard that is framed as falling for the character not for her sexual appeal but everything else including her sisterly struggle and desire to be free of what is one of the most loathsome characters in the series, especially on display in Mass Effect 3. Of course, I imagine many players chose to romance Miranda for the obvious reasons. But I would think it was more satisfying doing it for the more wholesome reasons.
Aside from Miranda’s personal struggles, the best aspect of Miranda is placing her in juxtaposition with another squad member, who is in most respects the inverse of her. Before we get to that character, let’s deal with the next two figures: one that was intentionally made to be a sex appeal character for the ladies in the playerbase (and a successful one at that) and our newest Krogan addition, voiced by the man behind Spike Spiegel of all people.
Thane and Grunt: The Half-Monk/half Hitman and the Orange people-beater
Thane is another popular figure in the Mass Effect series, enough so that he gets to be on the cover of Mass Effect 2 and many were saddened that ,one, he couldn’t be a party member for ME3 and ,two, that he was never given the chance to have a cure for his terminal illness.
At the end of one of the most visually and conceptually impressive recruitment missions in the game: a fight up two luxury skyscrapers under construction in the middle of a Coruscantesque metropolis at sunset, you meet Thane. He has just killed his contract as the master assassin he is. Right after, he starts praying for himself over the hit he committed.
In this instance, his target certainly deserved her fate, but to Thane Krios, he still brought someone to their death. He has started targeting those he and most others would consider wicked and wants to leave the galaxy, in his words, a little brighter before his fictional Kepral’s syndrome claims him. When Shepard tells him they have been searching for him to recruit for a suicide mission, Thane gladly accepts without asking for any money. What better way to end his life and use his ill-used skills than to take one for the galaxy?
Thane is one of those richly written characters that I wish I was a bigger fan of. He has a considerable following among the female playerbase as Bioware intended. Thane’s appearence draws on certain physical aspects that are more appealing to the female inclination than not. His chest being partially open, well toned but not too much, his raspy voice which is both a result of his species way of sounding( the Drell) and that his incurable disease is respiratory. Fish lips and deep black eyes give an exotic alien feel that plays much in the same way that Liara and Tali have alien features that are nontheless attractive too.
Mass Effect 2 gets away with having obvious sex appeal as a factor through the added three-dimensionality for its characters. If it wasn’t enough that Thane is a remorseful hitman and possibly the most religious character in the series, he is also a family man. He deeply loves his estranged son Kolyat, grieves for being unable to protect his wife from assassins out to get him and aside from his commitment to doing good by helping bring down the Collectors, he would very much want to reconcile with his son before it is too late.
Thane emphasizes why the loyalty missions mean so much on a thematic level. The motley crew you acquire overtime have these issues on their chests that can and will distract them from committing to a job that needs to be focused on. It’s both to get to know them better and to help prepare them for a job that is do or die.
When it comes to Thane as a romance option for Femshep, he is a very popular choice. While there is an undeniable appeal I suppose in having Femshep fall for an ailing man who seeks redemption before it is too late, the whole “being a father to a teenage son and already having a wife in his heart” is a turnoff for me. Once you go down the path to have Femshep and Thane fall in love, the latter gradually starts calling the former “siha”, the Drell word for “beloved”.
While the game does a great job of making me believe that Femshep and Thane are indeed falling in love, my discomfort comes down to the fact that Thane already had a deceased wife that he still cares for. Due to Thane’s religious conviction, he believes that upon death, he will re-unite with his lover “across the sea” in the afterlife. Eventually, assuming you move forward with the relationship into ME3, Thane all but says that he will no matter what await Shepard in the afterlife. Awww.
The problem I have is what about Thane’s wife Irrikah? Will Thane reunite lovingly with her too or has Femshep now become his true love to wait beyond death, forget his wife? Because of that, no matter how romantically compelling Thane is as a character, I don’t like the idea of Shepard replacing his wife and the mother of his son in that way, especially since Thane’s loyalty mission is all about getting father and son back together.
Thane is also victim to the fact that he along with three other members arrive after a certain I wouldn’t say midway point but a major threshold in the story where there is generally less time to mess around unless you know a certain trick. The recruitment missions naturally dry up and is replaced with loyalty missions or DLC.
Depending on your preference, Thane may end up late to the party and late to witnessing much in the way of content, though one of my favorite party members period gets that so much worse. Tali is one of those three other recruitable members and obviously my bias and wanting to stick to earlier characters brought in like Garrus may compound that. Again, it could be my subjective preference but I rarely get the chance to hang out with Thane as much as I would like.
Thane, regardless of your interest in him, does have an emotional part to play in ME3 should he make it through the suicide mission. It’s almost enough to make him one of my favorite characters but for whatever reason he rarely gets his due when I’m involved.
Grunt is another character who should also be one of my favorites but for unclear reasons never gets as far as Garrus, Tali and the soon to be talked about Mordin, Legion and Zaeed do in favorite ME2 party members. He seems to be the perfect character for my enjoyment.
He’s a Krogan like Wrex, is even more gleeful in his love for battle than him and he has an interesting setup for being the kind of Krogan he is. Also voiced by Steve Blum and has one impressive deep throated giggle. “Hee, hee, hee.”
Grunt, like Miranda, was artificially created to be something akin to a Krogan eugenics super-soldier. While nothing can remove the Genophage from him, he is in every respect meant to be the perfect Krogan. Genetic traits of all the best Krogan throughout history run in his veins. From birth practically, he is ready to get up, grab a shotgun and raise hell. Now, it’s your job to point his Krogan knack for destruction in a creative, helpful direction.
Grunt gets further brownie points for having a loyalty mission that boils down to getting through a peculiar form of puberty, through killing a whole bunch of monsters to prove to himself and all other Krogan that he is a true specimen of his people, no matter his method of birth. All while making Shepard and friends his battle-tested brother and sisters in arms. If you go through his offbeat loyalty mission, you basically become his mother or father and the Normandy and its crew are the village that raised him.
It’s a darkly comic yet earnest exploration of how to nurture a being who craves battle over all else into something not quite evil, yet not quite good, but still true to itself. Grunt doesn’t care one way or the other about why he is put in Shepard’s squad. So long as he gets to kill something tougher than him or prove himself, he is a happy, happy camper.
Grunt, like Thane, comes close to being in my dream team of ME favorites, but perhaps because of how uncomplicated he is and that there are other characters that cut a more emotional profile, Grunt is a firm member of the B-team and he still looks good doing it.
Jack and Samara: The Master Biotics
Jack is the character that is meant to be the inverse foil to Miranda in almost every way. She is clean shaven unlike Miranda’s considerable perm, mostly naked unlike Miranda’s jumpsuit, aggressive and angry unlike Miranda’s ice queen demeanor, loathes Cerberus due to the horrible wrongs committed against her while Miranda owes much to that organization.
Jack is only out for herself due to her horrifying life having drilled in her that only she can be relied upon while Miranda comes to naively believe she found something that cared about her and her gifts. And yet, both share tragic backgrounds, misgivings about who they are and what purpose they have and both do indeed want something truly meaningful in their lives.
The differences and similarities that connect Jack to Miranda and vice versa have made them one of the fandom’s favorite unofficial couples, with an expansion for ME3 even poking fun at the idea that the vitriol between the two can be resolved with them getting together, not unlike how Star Wars’ Han and Leia yelled at each other initially to hide the feelings they mutually shared. Shepard even brings that up to them and they take that consideration from the fans and laugh at it.
Those two will never be a couple because they’re both straight. But perhaps you can convince them to stop hating each other and recognize where they are alike than not. As for the purposes of their role in Mass Effect 2, you have to compel them to work together instead of working the other over.
Jack is the most explicit example of a warning bell to how actually evil Cerberus is, assuming you forgot, were willing to overlook or didn’t experience related side missions in ME1 or Sheen’s Illusive Man charmed you well enough. Jack’s loyalty mission is simple. She finds out after you let her access Cerberus archives where the facility she was raised in is. From the time she was a young child, she was a lab rat to see how far humanity’s biotic potential could go. She was the best candidate and all the other children kept there were…used to help her realize her potential.
She would become one of the most powerful biotics in the galaxy through a cruel, torturous childhood where she was her happiest lying hidden underneath her bedroom’s desk, hoping that today would not be as painful as the last. An accident occurs at the facility which allows Jack to escape and the program, which went too far even for the Illusive Man, is shut down.
It’s fun bringing along a Cerberus team-member like Miranda to see this appalling side to Cerberus and actually factors quite well in her having an eventual defection from the organization that culminates at the assault on the Collector base.
How Jack factors as a romance option is interesting though some have complained that her story arc and becoming a better person isn’t well realized enough if you don’t have Shepard fall for her. I tend to agree though inbetween the events of ME2 and 3 ( assuming her survival), she becomes a teacher of biotic students and becomes in truth a motherly figure who will do all she can to insure that kids like her never go through the hell she did. So in the long run, Jack goes from a hardened criminal with a “zero f**ks” attitude to the rough around the edges, very rough in combat, but otherwise good-natured person she wanted to be at her core. And this happens with or without her and a male Shepard getting together.
That being said, if there was a no. 2 choice for my M/Shepard’s love of his life, I would choose Jack. She’s interesting enough, uniquely presented enough and does have a very heartwarming story arc that is especially potent if you play Shepard as a paragon. There is a renegade alternative for Shepard and Jack that results in meaningless sex and nothing else.
It’s an interesting dichotomy in how your moral path for Shepard can lead to different relationships that isn’t explored enough or at all with the other romance options in the series save for Miranda. For instance, it can be jarring to have say, a very renegade Shepard engage in a relationship with a character like Tali who is so nice and ethical that that relationship feels harder to accept.
Samara is a frustrating figure for me. She has an interesting background surrounding an absolutist to a fault code of justice, is an impressive biotic character on your team and her own story has an undeniable melancholy to it.
She probably also has the most unique-in-execution loyalty mission in the game. Along with Thane, it is a refreshingly combat free affair. Shepard’s mission to recruit her aligns with what the loyalty mission entails: hunting her serial predator daughter Morinth, more or less a sci-fi succubus. When first encountering her, she was in the latest chapter of what has proven to be a centuries’ long hunt. Her species of Asari (same as Liara’s) live for roughly a thousand years and Samara has reached her final “matriarch” stage of her life. Time is running out to finish the job.
After helping her get more information on her whereabouts, Samara agrees to join Shepard’s mission, all too happy to dispense justice on the Collectors, some of the worthiest in the galaxy for that. However, knowing that she is likely in for a one-way trip, she hopes Shepard can help her find and finish Morinth once and for all.
The loyalty mission is entirely dialogue based and considering Samara’s philosophical mindset that thematically tracks well. After finding clues from Morinth’s latest victim, a poor teenage girl, Shepard and by extension the player must use the information from that crime scene to determine the daughter’s interests, like what her favorite music or art is. At a night club and after causing a ruckus in many humorous ways, Morinth meets Shepard and invites them over to her table. Using those clues properly allows Shepard to express the same interests as Morinth, which in turn will get you invited to her apartment.
Miss the cues or intentionally antagonize her with topics she doesn’t like( like law, order, mommy dearest) and Morinth leaves and Samara loses her chance. If you do get to the apartment, Morinth begins her creepy seductive mind control on you that will result in her burning your synapses out with pleasure. Depending on how high your paragon or renegade score is, Shepard can actually fight the brainwashing and be in a strong enough mind where should the player desire, as Samara and Morinth go toe to toe with one another, can proceed to betray Samara and let Morinth win and kill her.
Due to her uncanny resemblance to her mother, Morinth masquerades as her and takes her place in your squad. It’s a really messed up possibility the player can be rewarded for having a high morality score but it’s not really an appealing option unless you’re playing the douchiest Commander Shepard possible.
Samara’s arc with regards to having bared Ardat-Yakshi, the type of Asari Morinth is, is explored further in Mass Effect 3 when we get to meet her two other daughters of the same biological manner though anything but of Morinth’s nature. What happens there can take the consequences of Samara’s absolutist ideology and make it into one utterly sorrowful scenario in an already sorrowful experience.
So, why do I find her frustrating? Well, take a look again at Samara’s appearence. The giant boob window kinda distracts from the otherwise expert elegance and intrigue that she brings to the table. More so here than with Miranda or Ashley’s appearence in ME3 is where the obvious sexual pandering to a male audience gets too distracting.
I’m not the biggest stickler to saying overtly sexual appearences or content is wrong and sometimes as in Saint’s Row’s case, it can be a part of the near bottomless level of expression you can have in a video game. Why yes, I will create a character with a giant breast size, tiny head and huge muscles. Not just for probable self-gratification but because I can. In that same game, I can make the most comically ugly thing ever in my custom character creator. Expression is not the problem.
It just feels as if Samara’s appearence, namely around her chest and to be fair nowhere else, is at odds with how this character registers to me thematically. Miranda’s sexual appearence is part of her background in a way that feels more intriguing than merely excuse. Samara didn’t need to look that way, but again she’s not my creation so maybe I should shut up somewhat.
Like with Thane, Samara has the misfortune of being a recruitable party member somewhat late in ME2’s overall length. When you combine the awesome surprise party member that comes along later and that Tali is in that wave of squadmates to collect, she is another otherwise interesting character that I often underutilize. She certainly has her share of great banter or ponderings to be had when out on the intergalactic road. In that respect, Samara is a tragic character for unintended reasons. That’s not to ignore or dismiss the many players who did utilize Samara as part of Shepard’s team.
Zaeed and Kasumi: The DLC recruits
Zaeed is a simple, seen-it-before concept done so right. He’s an aging mercenary hell-bent for revenge on the business partner that stabbed him in the back by way of shooting him in the eye and aside from that sees little point to his existence. The more inquisitive player can learn that one of Zaeed’s “retirement plans” is ramming a ship into a space station.
What makes Zaeed one of my unlikely choices for favorite squadmates, enough so that he is featured on my custom art for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is through the performance of one Robin Sachs. Aside from doing voicework in other Bioware titles like Dragon Age, some might remember him for having played several characters on the 90s’ cult sci-fi series: Babylon 5 ( appropriate considering the telling similarities between B5 and ME). No huge role, but definitely enough that he stands out even under pounds of make-up. It’s his British voice which does wonders on making him recognizable.
Tragically, Sachs died in 2013 at the relatively early age of 61 from cancer and his last work was contributing to ME3’s last and best expansion, Citadel, itself a going away party for an era of the series. At the same time, ME3’s multiplayer held a timed celebration to honor Sach’s contribution to the series.
It’s how Sachs plays this familiar convention and how Shepard can respond to his vendetta that makes Zaeed such a fun character. He is probably one of the most if not the most renegade of the party members Shepard can recruit in the trilogy. He did co-found the Blue Suns, one of the merc groups that Shepard and co. battle throughout ME2. According to him, it was meant to be a nobler class of mercenary company. It was ironically striving to be at least a lesser evil that drove one Vido Santiago, the other founder, to betray and leave Zaeed for dead.
Against all odds, Zaeed survived. He got a new eye and began a new, bitter life as a bounty hunter, hoping that one day he’d get a job that involved a rematch with Vido. In that time, the closest relationship he developed was with an assault rifle he named Jesse.
Zaeed is a DLC team member along with the soon to be discussed Kasumi. For the vanilla version of ME2 back in the day, those who didn’t have an online account like I did, the squad could only number 11, including Shepard. Right before ME3 arrived, I got all the DLC for ME2 and was able to after the fact add Zaeed and Kasumi to the team.
It really sucks that elements as important as party members would be locked behind a paywall and this became absolutely egregious with the DLC character of Javik for Mass Effect 3, a member to the team who is far more narratively valuable to the story than Zaeed and Kasumi are. With the Legendary Edition, the three DLC characters are available to acquire without getting out your wallet, as it should have been in the first place. One ugly reminder that EA is the one that publishes Mass Effect and I imagine Bioware were not terribly happy with the practice.
Zaeed’s loyalty mission, which along with Kasumi and Legion is accessible immediately after you recruit them, really sees if you are paying attention to the morality path you are choosing Shepard to go down. Midway through the mission which involves bringing down Vido, Zaeed in his fury to finally gut the bastard causes some damage to the fuel refinery the mission is set in.
As you would imagine, the circumstances get a whole lot hotter and now a bunch of innocent workers are at risk of burning alive, all because of Zaeed’s desperation to get revenge. In many earlier playthroughs, my paragon Shepard would agree to let those poor people die to chase after Vido just because I thought there was no way to gain Zaeed’s loyalty without it.
Turns out, you can get his loyalty by saving the people and letting Vido go. If you have enough paragon or renegade points saved up, you can persuade Zaeed to let his grudge go and focus on getting the suicide mission done. This is one area where I think Shepard’s potential social skills are played as contrived.
Considering what Zaeed has been through for decades, a couple of sentences however eloquent, shouldn’t get through to him. And yet, he will not only be loyal to Shepard, he will never ever complain about Vido again, including if he survives the suicide mission and makes it into ME3.
The player can interpret from here on out, if you play as a paragon Shepard, that Zaeed becomes a less cold and more altruistic figure. He still grimly snarks going forward, but helping Shepard face a threat that is supremely grave in the Collectors and Reapers and maybe just being around more positive influences improves Zaeed as a person. It might remind him of the kind of guy he was before Vido ruined everything.
I suppose seeing the things Zaeed would see with Shepard would put everything in a new perspective. The end of sentient life in the galaxy would make even his burning hatred for Vido seem petty and pointless. Besides, Zaeed must figure with the way the galaxy is heading, his old “friend” won’t be around much longer anyway. It is this inferred character growth that makes me like Zaeed so much in spite of being one of the more tertiary party members to the overall narrative. It’s strangely comforting to think that a guy like that can come to fight gladly for the benefit of all at the possible expense of his life.
The other DLC squad member, Kasumi, stands out in that she was made available in an expansion after ME2’s original January 2010 release while Zaeed and Javik were accessible on release day. Again, aside from EA’s questionable business practices or Bioware not being ready to have Kasumi at launch, it makes little sense otherwise why she is excluded initially.
Her loyalty mission is more elaborate than usual, starting with Shepard masquerading as an arms dealer at a swanky ball for a ruthless crime lord called Donovan Hock. You start initially mingling at the party, finding various ways to get through Hock’s security system to break into his vault and steal a treasure that is absolutely personal to Kasumi.
It does a great job of getting what Kasumi is about, both as a character and as a mechanical part of gameplay, but also clues you in to how she can be of use during the suicide mission. Kasumi is a wise-cracking, sly thief archetype, not unlike Arsene Lupin or for video games, Sly Cooper and Nathan Drake. Despite being an unrepentant theft-based criminal, she is one of the friendliest characters you can come across and is also so, so eager to ship you with love interests, especially Tali.
I have wondered how realistic the gentleman/woman thief is to real life, if it’s even possible at all. The trope suggests that figures like Kasumi do it first for the thrill and challenge and the money an often distant second. After all, it’s what she’s good at and do we not often encourage people to play to their strengths? Kasumi also uses her thievery skills to help the unfortunate and needy and never dares steal from people below her. Self-justification or not, it does succeed in making me like her more than despise her.
Kasumi’s stake in the job against Hock that Shepard helps her with to gain her loyalty is due to the dead. Namely, her beloved partner-in-crime Keiji, who if I’m being honest looks butt-ugly. But, I suppose a person like Kasumi would care more about the person inside than the person’s appearence, though of course, she’s quite the looker even if her hood blocks most of her face.
The item that is to be stolen is a “gray-box”, basically a sci-fi gizmo that stores information up to and including a person’s memories and even identity. Or a copy of it. Keiji is dead but with that graybox, Kasumi can “be with him” again. It’s a rather sad conclusion even if Kasumi’s loyalty is always assured no matter how the mission plays out.
Kasumi certainly looks like a romanceable figure but isn’t. The loss of Keiji is too fresh and getting the gray-box back means that she will remain fixated on him rather than move on. Sure, Femshep can get together with an alien widower in Thane but the death of his wife was many years ago, so I suppose that is the reason it’s deemed acceptable.
The other reason is that both Kasumi and Zaeed cannot have conversations with Shepard back on the Normandy like you can with the other ten. All you can do is have them tell you stories or comment on what’s happening on the ship without the dialogue wheel ever popping up. On one hand, having an attractive looking party member never be romancable is commendable on Bioware’s part. Not every person is going to want to be with the Commander. At the same time, I will remain forever curious what could have been if it were possible.
Mordin and Legion: The coolest characters you can never romance
Mordin Solus is awesome. He is a scientist, professor and doctor with a dark past that he’s often in denial about but always, always ready to help someone out, either out of penance or just because he’s so damn good at it.
What makes Mordin immediately lovable is his speech pattern. Likely due to a head injury he suffered while part of STG, his species’ SAS essentially, he always speaks in short, analytical sentences, often speaking longer on the subject than he should while ultimately, intelligently coming to a correct conclusion.
He is effortlessly funny, even when he doesn’t intend to and he’s always ready to give advice to Shepard once he gets aboard the Normandy. The game often stresses that he should be the first party member to recruit due to him being the guy who runs the Normandy’s lab. With the lab unlocked, the player can unlock upgrades for everything from improved defense and offense capabilities to improvements to the Normandy that are MANDATORY if you want everyone to survive. Even without him being one of the easiest characters to love, he has an inherent utility both mechanically and narratively.
So great was Mordin’s popularity, especially when you learned that he knows how to sing patter songs like his own version of “Modern Major General”, that on the pretense of him surviving the mission against the Collectors, he will become an essential player in an act of Mass Effect 3 to be discussed later on. The same also applies to Legion in this respect.
Mordin is unique that in all the characters that are old or are getting on in years, like Samara and Zaeed, Mordin is most apparent in this respect. His species, Salarian, only live to be roughly 40. Mordin is somewhere in his 30s, only somewhat older than Shepard in a literal sense (Shepard, despite having been resurrected from his/her death at 29, is stated to be 31 in ME2).
Mordin’s eagerness to assist Shepard against the Collectors, along with running a free clinic on Omega, ME’s very own hive of scum and villainy, is played as desiring redemption for what he did earlier in life. As much as Mordin patently denies it right up until the end of his story in ME3.
He is responsible for having modified the Genophage, the sterility plague I mentioned in ME1 and that affects every last Krogan. He handwaves it as being necessary, using reasons both old and contemporary for having done the right thing for the galaxy. His pupil, Maelon, vehemently disagrees, and Mordin’s confrontation with him in his loyalty mission, is one of the most consequential.
Without prior knowledge, many won’t realize how deeply important Mordin’s encounter with his former student is. Mordin and Shepard discover Maelon on Tuchanka, the Krogan homeworld. Through a series of brutal experiments that cause both to recoil in disgust, Maelon is attempting to find a cure for the Genophage. He’s hoping that bringing back fertility for the Krogan and by extension giving them a future will make up for the barbaric methods he used and his assistance with the modification with his once adored professor.
In spite of Maelon being clearly framed in the wrong for how he goes about searching for a cure, players are still given the choice to keep the blood-stained research, on the off chance it could be useful later. Oh, you bet your ass it is.
On moral grounds, players could make one of the gravest mistakes in the trilogy, especially if they’re interested in helping Wrex and Grunt’s species from going bye-bye one day. It’s a rare but powerful example that sometimes the paragon or “right” choice may not actually be the right choice at all. It’s here where the title of “mass effect” means something especially well.
Even with Mordin’s grim history, it’s impossible for me not to love him as one of the best characters in the whole franchise. Even without the redemption arc he goes down in ME3 (which the player can sadistically cut short), Mordin is also fun to bring around on excursions that involve your party members bantering. While Garrus and Tali are the ones I bring most often, Mordin is always tempting to bring, not for what he offers in combat but in what he brings to the conversation.
Legion, like Mordin, is an essential figure to an act of Mass Effect 3 and is more important than Mordin for one of the overlying themes of the trilogy: can organic life co-exist peacefully with synthetic life? It’s at the heart of what the Reapers are about and the reason they harvest civilizations every 50,000 years: that no, we can’t or the possibility has not been created.
Legion is a Geth, the artificial intelligence race created by the Quarians( Tali’s race) and one of the major enemy types of the original Mass Effect. His presence and what he or in truth they are about, throws one giant spanner into what Shepard and the player had assumed the Geth were up until that point. And God bless Bioware for that new found complexity.
Legion, up until one possible outcome of the character’s story arc in ME3, is not an individual. He is in fact a physical construct that houses over a thousand programs that are Geth. Essentially, a small town’s worth of people lie within Legion. They have all come to the conclusion that Commander Shepard is the bee’s knees.
After Shepard’s death from the Collectors at the opening of ME2, Legion was the first one on the scene, having been tracking Shepard ever since the inciting incident at Eden Prime at the very beginning. It sustained serious injuries in his quest to meet Shepard in person, and so used the Commander’s N7 armor to help with repairs. It now has Shepard’s old armor as a permanent fixture. Shepard in turn asks why out of all the options to use in repairing it’s body they chose that particular option. They respond uncharacteristically shyly with “No data available.” Aww.
In truth, all the Geth that Shepard fought in ME1 were “Heretics”, rogue Geth that had broken away from the original Geth that Legion is part of. These Geth were seduced by Saren and by extension the Reaper Sovereign with the promise of survival and purpose. Legion’s Geth knew this was a terrible idea but a schism occurred anyway.
Shepard and the player learn that all this time the somewhat 2-dimensional Geth are involved in a civil war and you have the chance to gain the loyalty even friendship of the “good Geth” in the process. Or, once you find them on a super important story mission by happenstance, you can sell Legion to Cerberus. Like destroying Maelon’s data, this is a choice that will give you nothing but pain down the road. But the choice is still yours to have a concerning lack of both foresight and curiosity.
Legion is originally just called Geth, due to the aforementioned 1000+ programs residing, but in order to better communicate with Shepard and the Normandy crew, they choose “Legion” from the Bible, due to that also involving an individual with over a thousand beings residing inside itself. In spite of the ominous correlation, Legion is unequivocally one of the most trustworthy figures Shepard can meet, so long as they express trust in return.
In fact, once you reach the major event surrounding Legion, the Geth and by extension Tali and the Quarians in ME3, you will feel like a rat bastard for turning on him, even if your reasons have an unfortunate understandability to them. I’ll delve more into that moment in the next part, but be grateful there is a way to avoid a binary choice of choosing one species over the other. One choice will leave you feeling awful, the other will leave you crying, especially if you play Mass Effect like I do.
Garrus and Tali: The Semper Fi squadmates
I will be ending each character run-down for each part with Garrus and Tali because, well, they deserve it. These two characters as I mentioned in the first part are the only characters to be in Shepard’s team in all three games. No matter what one can say of other widely loved members like Liara, Wrex, Thane or Miranda, they can never fill the role these two do simply for being able to show up for their best friend Shepard and in time, maybe more than that.
Garrus was having a bad time right after Shepard’s death and not just because Shepard died. Knowing what’s coming with the Reapers and all, Garrus felt utterly helpless. What could he do? His job at C-Sec was just as unfulfilling as it was before Shepard maybe even more so. So, everyone’s favorite Turian said “F**K IT” and became a vigilante.
He assembled a team of 12 other like-minded figures from across the galaxy and of varying species and backgrounds to go to Omega, the worst place in the galaxy and clean it up as much as they could. They made sure to avoid pissing off the “big cheese” of Omega, the Asari crime lord Aria T’loak, played with a delightfully cool passive-aggression by Trinity herself, Carrie Anne-Moss. Instead, everyone else was prime-grade acceptable for some extrajudicial justice.
Considering how lawless and broken Omega is, the wider galactic community shrugged more than anything else with Garrus’ team taking the law into their own hands. Under the new human-inspired moniker of “Archangel”, Garrus was doing great. He pissed off Omega’s underworld so bad by the time you come to recruit Archangel for the suicide mission and learn it’s in fact Garrus, the three biggest crime syndicates have joined forces.
Garrus could’ve handled it without Shepard, but wouldn’t you know it: there was a Judas in the team and it results in all but Garrus dying in an ambush. The traitor, revealed to be a fellow Turian called Sidonis, flees and Garrus fights all by himself against overwhelming odds. Until Shepard comes to the rescue.
It’s a testament to how much Bioware knows the fans love Garrus that they give him possibly the best, most epic recruitment mission in the game with the only other contenders for best going to Thane and Tali. The setup is beautifully considered. Shepard and two of their squadmates sign up to be freelance mercs assisting the three big crime groups in finishing off Archangel. After reviewing the situation with the mercs on the ground (and optionally sabotaging them along the way) Shepard and friends begin the assault on Garrus’ hideout only to reveal themselves to the hapless mercs whose side they’re really on. They enter the hideout and greet Garrus, happy to see he really isn’t alone in the galaxy.
You then assist Garrus in holding off three distinct waves based on each of the crime groups, resulting in a fight against a helicopter that ends in Garrus grievously injured. You win, but nearly lose the fan favorite just as you reunite with him. Garrus’ plight is especially emotional if you plan to have a female Shepard romance him later on.
Obviously, Garrus never dies in this sequence though he does get his face messed up but hardly enough to make him no longer able to join Shepard’s squad. He proceeds to enter internet meme legend by becoming the member of the crew who manages the Normandy’s armaments and he is often unable to chat with Shepard because he’s “in the middle of some calibrations”. That unintentional gag wouldn’t go unnoticed by Bioware and they were damn sure no one would forget it in Mass Effect 3 that he is the “master of calibrations.” The options for adjusting Mass Effect: Legendary Edition even goes so far to call it “calibrations.” How cute.
Aside from Garrus’ commitment to helping his old comrade fight the Collectors, Garrus’ big dilemma relates to the man that betrayed him. Letting Sidonis run around out there definitely becomes a distraction and in order to insure Garrus’ loyalty, he must be dealt with, one way or another.
Like Zaeed, Garrus wants plain old revenge. Unlike Zaeed, it’s more about not being just personally slighted or betrayed, but that 11 other people were betrayed and killed over it. Is it vengeance or justice? Should how Shepard allows Garrus to take care of Sidonis reflect that?
I already elaborated on Garrus as a romancable figure for Shepard in the first part, so if you want my thoughts on that angle to Garrus, go back and check it out. It’s so very sweet and it’s a nice example of Bioware willing to give Shepard types of love interests whose appeal was not just because they look sexy, but that they are attractive for reasons more than skin deep.
Garrus’ appearence is quite alien. Why he is so preferred as a potential lover for Shepard is not.
Tali has become a hero to her people since she returned from her pilgrimage. Helping kill a hell of a lot of Geth and stop Saren has done wonders. And yet, it is not enough, especially for her distant, wayward father. In spite of the whole “collectivist by necessity” nature of the Quarian people, Tali did feel somewhat alone. She had a loving surrogate Aunt, Admiral Raan, but she never knew her mother until her death at an early age. Her father, also an admiral, was obsessed even for a Quarian with getting his people back to their homeworld of Rannoch.
Tali in turn did all she could to get her father to notice her, get him to show her love the way she tried to show him. More so than making her people proud, she wanted to make him proud. Again, countless Geth destroyed, the galaxy spared the Reapers’ onslaught (at least for now), what more will it take?
Much like how Indiana Jones’ estranged relationship with his dad made Indy in turn more self-reliant and independent, Tali became a remarkable machinist, almost a genius. Some mistakes here and there, she was quite capable of being by herself and eventually becoming an invaluable member of the first human Spectre’s team. And yet.
Tali, unlike Garrus, gets to reunite with Shepard well before her recruitment mission, soon after their resurrection. She is leading a team of Quarians trying to find one of their own in a colony hit by the Collectors. Sadly, her entire team is killed and it was not her fault. But she does find the Quarian she was looking for.
When you recruit her on the Quarian colony world of Haestrom, now an outpost for the Geth and also victim to a star that is in it’s last years, making every part of the level on Haestrom that isn’t shaded a lethal hazard, she again gets almost her entire team killed and again it is not her fault entirely. A combination of bad military intelligence, Quarians not being suited for field combat and not knowing the nature of Haestrom at that point being responsible that time.
With help from Shepard, one of her team can survive ,Kal’Reegar voiced by Firefly’s Adam Baldwin. She then happily returns to Shepard’s crew. She’s not leader material. Not yet. That alone makes her a sympathetic figure even if you start with Mass Effect 2 and never played the original.
The nature of Tali’s loyalty mission not only directly ties into the narrative surrounding the Quarians and Geth in Mass Effect 3, it’s where Tali is thrown into one hell of a round of turmoil. First, she learns that she has been accused of treason against her people, something she would never do. The message announcing her treason and to show up for trial won’t even tell her why she’s been charged.
When you arrive to represent Tali at her trial, she’s then told why she has the charge: she’s accused of bringing active Geth parts onto the fleet, compromising the safety of the 17 million that live in the nomadic armada. She’s stunned: again, something she would never willingly do.
In front of both the Admiralty Board, which is the government for the Quarian race, and in front of a crowd, the charges are thrown at her publicly and then if that wasn’t enough of a battering on her self-esteem, is then told that her father’s ship has been taken over by Geth. And everyone on board including her father is almost certainly dead. She doesn’t take it well.
Shepard convinces the Board to head over and clear her father’s ship of Geth, find out if there any survivors and see if Tali is actually guilty of the charges. What she finds there is no comfort. At. All. It’s here, whether you intend to or can romance Tali or not, give her a well-needed hug.
When you get back from the ship, what Shepard can decide to do next can amount to either one of the most heartwarming or sociopathically cold actions in the entire trilogy. It’s safe to say the latter option does not get you her loyalty and if I’m being honest, it might just make Tali’s near certainty of death in the suicide mission to come a case of seeking death. And it will all be on you.
In fact, choosing to screw over Tali as a male Shepard takes on a whole new disturbing level when you factor in the romance that is otherwise possible if her loyalty is gained. Trying for a relationship with Tali (which is a no-brainer if I’m playing a straight Shepard) reveals that she had developed feelings for Shepard ever since their first meeting in Mass Effect 1. Why? Well, I’ll let her explain.
“What could I possibly be suggesting? I mean, a young woman gets saved by a dashing commander who lets her join his crew and then goes off to save the galaxy? How could she possibly develop any interest in him?” Couldn’t have explained it better myself.
Is that one reason why I find Tali the extremely easy if maybe only choice for M/Shepard’s love? Yep, but it’s also that Tali, in spite of almost always having a ludicrous bodycount by the end of the trilogy (goes with the territory of being a video game, yadda-yadda), is one of the sweetest, friendliest and most deserving characters of having a happy resolution to her story.
Having someone that outwardly cares for her as much as she wishes her father did also factors in. Even the best case scenario for how Shepard and Tali’s love story can go is bittersweet but I will wait on discussing that.
Another angle that adds to that romance’s quality is that there is a drama to it that is unique. Due to the circumstances of the Quarian people’s health, the prior mentioned poor immune systems, having a Quarian open their mask or any part of their suit will involve risk. So, it wouldn’t take a genius to guess that any kind of personal relationship Shepard could have with her could be in Mordin’s phrasing “problematic.”
There is an option for Shepard to forgo a physical relationship with Tali both because he cares too much for her safety and/or because there is an already risky mission to destroy the Collectors on the horizon. However, Shepard and Tali can find a way to make this otherwise stupid risk into a case of two people putting trust in one another and going through with it right before the suicide mission. It’s safe to say that a kind of subjective magic takes place with what comes next, where for once I experienced a moment in video games that is as close to perfect as it can be.
And the best part, this magic doesn’t stop at Mass Effect 2. It leads to one of my personal favorite “squee” moments ever in Mass Effect 3. But like the best things about the Mass Effect trilogy, you’ll have to be patient.
So, anyway, that’s 12 characters looked into. Damn, that took awhile. So, um what next? Well before I finally delve into the culmination of all the therapy Shepard can and should commit to, let’s talk about the three big DLC offerings and how they factor into Mass Effect 2’s pacing.
Mass Effect 2, without the DLC is possibly the longest game in the series. Sort of appropriate seeing as how it’s the middle part of a three part story, so naturally the most stuff would happen in the middle chapter. However, the three major expansions: Overlord, Lair of the Shadow Broker and Arrival, can make the best Mass Effect game into a potential pacing nightmare.
It’s hard enough there is a point of no return after a certain portion of the base game, at least if you want to ensure everyone on board the Normandy gets to live. There is a lot of stuff that is crammed in before that point of no return if you’re looking for an entirely loyal squad, which for the average player will be the common approach.
Now, we have the expansions. None of them are terribly long independently, but they can definitely add to the pressure of doing all things Mass Effect 2 in an orderly pace. Thankfully, unlike ME1 and ME3, where the game stops after the end credits, Mass Effect 2 keeps going assuming Shepard survives the suicide mission. They can keep on exploring the Milky Way as much as they see fit.
Once the game opens up a DLC expansion, it can be performed at any time in the game, before and after a survived Collector Base Assault. Two of the expansions actually make more sense if done after the suicide mission. The first, Overlord, makes the most narrative sense before.
The conceit of Overlord is that a Cerberus cell that works on artificial intelligence has gone dark. The Illusive Man wants Shepard to check it out. This cell, run by a very British Dr. Gavin Archer, was running experiments on connecting human cognitive activity to the Geth, perhaps as a way to create a new defense against them. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, you certainly discover what did and it’s one of the most haunting, disturbing adventures in Commander Shepard’s career, possibly the most disturbing before the Reaper’s invasion and the suicide mission. I should take this time to remind my readers I am a high functioning autistic man and that autism is a spectrum. Another high-functioning autistic man could be quite different than the kind I am.
Why did I bring up this personal side to me apparently out of the blue? Well, the heart of the problem, the particular person that was sent to connect with the Geth’s network of intelligence, is an autistic man. Dr. Archer’s poor, poor brother. His side of the spectrum gives him incredible intelligence when it comes to mathematical matters, but he also has the same repetitive behavioral tics I am generally accustomed to and a sensitivity to loud noises, which I am gratefully not.
What happens to David is one of the most f**ked up moments in the franchise. I come the closest to tearing up here in relation to something not regarding the main group of characters than anywhere else. It’s so egregiously awful that a paragon Shepard is rarely as furious at the end of Overlord than at any point in the trilogy. Even a renegade Shepard is put off. It says a lot that a paragon Shepard can pistol whip Dr. Archer for what he’s done.
In the interest of leaving some shocking things unspoiled, I won’t tell you what Gavin did to David but…..Jesus.
Lair of the Shadow Broker has been called one of the best DLC expansions of all time and for good reason. Even without being a fan of Liara of which it is directly centered around, it’s fantastic. It’s so good, it almost made me a fan of Liara. It puts her in a position going into Mass Effect 3 that is more interesting and appropriate than she was before. At least by this point, I wouldn’t hesitate to call her a deserving friend of Shepard, if I can’t bring myself to elevate her to a lover.
As you can imagine, it’s about Liara hunting for the Shadow Broker, an enigmatic figure first mentioned in ME1 and was actually responsible for getting the dirt on Saren that Tali then gives to Shepard to incriminate the rogue Spectre.
In-between ME1 and ME2, Liara fights tooth and nail to ensure Shepard’s remains following their murder is kept out of Collector hands. She uses the Shadow Broker for assistance and one of it’s agents, a Drell named Feron helps her out. However, the Broker is quite a crafty bastard and has plans for Shepard’s carcass that would not be good, to say the least. Feron turns against the Broker to help save Shepard and is then captured by other agents. Liara gets Shepard to Cerberus where you know what happens then.
Liara goes to the unfettered capitalist nightmare of Ilium, the Coruscant-looking planet and becomes an information broker. In her efforts to avenge what she imagines is now a very dead Feron, she becomes a much colder, grimmer person. When you meet her again as Shepard in the vanilla version of ME2, her change in demeanor is alarming.
The DLC gives Shepard information on the location of the Shadow Broker’s base and they in turn give it to Liara. What follows is not only a chance to finally have Liara temporarily rejoin the crew, but you are also treated to a fun mixture of genres. Noirish mystery, explosive corporate espionage, high speed action and one brutal and memorable fight with a tough as nails (redacted for spoilers not worth spoiling).
You then proceed with Liara to assault the Shadow Broker’s cool as hell floating fortress, inside a stormy gas giant. Once inside the ship, you confront the Shadow Broker, revealed to be a brand new alien species that has a dope design. Then, one of the most cleverly designed boss battles in the trilogy. You celebrate your victory over the Broker with a sweet ship to explore with cool Easter eggs, a chance to talk with Feron and Liara one on one and basically bask in accomplishing a piece of DLC that you can’t quite anywhere else, save for ME3’s Citadel. And for those interested, you can strike up an old relationship with Dr. T’Soni.
A DLC so well made, it has something for almost any discerning Mass Effect player. Hear hear, Bioware. Hear hear.
Arrival is the final expansion, released over a year after ME2’s original launch and after the official announcement of Mass Effect 3 being in development. More so than Shadow Broker, this DLC feels like it’s meant for after the suicide mission once every other thing you want to do or have to do has been accomplished. It ties in neatly with where we find Shepard at ME3’s opening.
So you can imagine how frustrating it can be to have the Arrival DLC not only be unlocked halfway through Mass Effect 2 but the game forces you into a cut-scene where you speak with Admiral Hackett, seen in person for the first time and played in his gravelly best by Lance Henriksen. I wish there was some way to make it so that Arrival is only accessible once the Suicide Mission is accomplished. But in the interest of player freedom, Bioware allows it be playable beforehand.
Admiral Hackett wants Shepard to search for a Dr. Kenson, a friend and colleague of his who was doing something that Shepard wishes all of his/her government was doing: looking into this whole “Reaper” business you won’t shut up about.
What follows is Shepard first rescuing the doctor from Batarians who had captured her for attempting an unusual form of terrorism and then Shepard going to her and her likeminded scientists base of operations: a meteor that is big enough to destroy a mass relay.
Turns out Dr. Kenson not only believes the Reapers are real and coming, they’re coming to our galaxy in a couple of hours. Destroying the relay is the only way to stop the invasion, but even that is a postponement of what will inevitably happen in Mass Effect 3: War of the Worlds for a crap ton of worlds. Doing so has Shepard wipe out a solar system with over 300,000 people. No matter your moral alignment for Shepard, this is one morbid action that you must take.
The only way for Shepard to avoid doing this is if you skip the expansion altogether, which can happen. Somebody else will take Shepard’s place in destroying the relay but nothing can change that it takes 1/3 of a million people to just slow down the Reapers. That is one reason the Reapers rank as one of the best video game antagonists in recent years. No matter what you do or why, they will make you and Shepard hurt. If that wasn’t evident in the first two games, Mass Effect 3 is borderline cruel in rubbing it in.
Now, at long last, the Suicide Mission that concludes more or less Mass Effect 2. For some, it isn’t so much Mass Effect 2 but the Suicide Mission inside the game that is the current peak of the franchise. While emotions can and will run distressingly high in Mass Effect 3, in terms of the narrative and the gameplay being married to capture emotion, the Normandy’s voyage through the ominous Omega 4 Relay to the Collector base is the summit of ME as an achievement. It’s a rollercoaster that will make a player stressed, fearful, awed, thrilled, and in the best case scenario, satisfied in ways few games I’ve played have ever matched.
Let me set the mood with one of the most badass tracks in video game history.
So, it’s time to put your work or lack of it, on the line. Got your squad all leveled up and loyal? As many upgrades made including to your ship? if yes, now it’s a matter of judgement from here on out. If not, prepare to cry and perhaps die.
I will spare you much of the details of what happens or can happen in the Suicide Mission because more than anything else it is an experience you will want to go into as fresh as possible. If you don’t want to actually play Mass Effect 2 or don’t have the time, then I have no gripes with you watching a playthrough. You’ll still get something out of this. Just watching a first time player of this particular moment and seeing how badly or not they can screw up is a fun time in itself.
What makes the Suicide Mission into prime rib melodrama is first that you develop over a lengthy game and even to some extent your experience from the first game a powerful connection to your Shepard and the people in their life. The ups and downs, the triumphs, the failures, who you have decided to have Shepard get together with or not. Well, now it’s time to put your commitment to one hell of a test.
It’s the behind the scenes math of the Suicide Mission’s design that makes it into such a brilliant piece of work. There are certain numbers appointed to each and every party member that will determine if they survive. The highest level is four for a loyal member though this can fluctuate or be lower depending on how strong the party member is individually, who they are in company with and so forth. There are special tasks that Shepard must assign a party member that, loyal or not, must be dependent on their skill sets in relation to the task. Otherwise, you might as well be sentencing a party member’s death warrant.
It can sting bad if you are partial to that team mate or am having Shepard romance them. What makes it worse is that either the manner of death is fast and sudden which gives you and Shepard barely any time to register that they are gone for good and that you never have any time to mourn, only to somberly acknowledge and move out.
It’s in potential moments like this that the power fantasy of wanting to be like Commander Shepard can twist around into being a case of “careful what you wish for.” Especially expressed in the next game, Shepard’s life sucks. And that can and will be the case in the best outcomes.
The Suicide Mission at its core has three basic outcomes: (1) No survivors including Shepard though the Collectors are still defeated for good. (2) Shepard and enough of his team survive to make it possible to continue the journey into ME3. (3) Quoting Christopher Eccleston, “EVERYBODY LIVES. JUST THIS ONCE.” And I cannot tell you how good it feels to get option 3, let alone the first time.
Did I get everyone out my first playthrough all the way back in 2010? Nope. For some reason, I didn’t give the Normandy its upgrades and I lost three of my team before we even landed on the base: Jack, Thane and Legion. No kidding that rattled me. However, once I was in the base, I managed not to lose anyone else.
Following your survival of the Collector base, the game ends with Shepard and the Normandy crew giving The Illusive Man and Cerberus the finger and doing some reconnaissance of the outer edges of the galaxy. What do they see?
So yeah, I did want to play Mass Effect 3 the second I finished 2.
Was the wait worth it?
Actually, yes. And in some particular ways, sort of no. But it’s a “no” that is very much worth experiencing, if only to understand if not feel what it was like when Bioware unintentionally set the Internet on fire in a manner they very much didn’t desire.
Next time, the conclusion of the trilogy, hopefully in less than 10,000 words.