Like most sci-fi RPG fans, I can’t help but be endlessly enamored by the Mass Effect series. Maintaining a rich, fulfilling narrative in an extensive setting with gut-wrenching depth is no small feat, and Bioware’s trilogy has left many inspired and touched.
To the fans of this series, the experience as a whole is precious. But ask anyone who left their heart in 2186 and you’ll find that a number of events represent the very apex of what the series is all about. As with any list on the internet not based on stats or voting, this is entirely subjective and full of spoilers. It’s meant to inspire warm memories for fans, and that’s about it.
Honorable Mention: Mordin Sings
Of course I have to bring this one up. Mordin singing is one of those great, rare moments in which you have to look up to the screen and ask, “did I really just see that“. It was such a surprise that I still remember getting messages from a number of friends completely independently once they came across this moment wanting to share their amusement.
That being said, I didn’t include this in the main list because I didn’t exactly care for how this inside joke became a blown-out deal by Mass Effect 3. It didn’t feel like such a secret anymore, and that’s too bad. Still one of my favorite surprise the games had in store for me.
#5: Turning on Legion
If I had to choose my favorite side character from Mass Effect (and this is a difficult decision, because the side characters MADE Mass Effect for me), I might go with Legion. While their background isn’t quite as relatable or personable as Thane’s or Garrus’s, Legion offered insight into an area of Mass Effect that had effectively been left in the dark the whole time.
Up until Shepherd’s discussions with Legion, the Geth just seemed like a mindless filler enemy, one with little interesting qualities besides “evil, voiceless robot.” Turning Legion on added depth to the Geth almost instantly, as their manner of speech and insights into their unique perspective expanded the synthetic race extraordinarily. With one character, we were able to find the Geth almost understandable and sympathetic.
By the end of Mass Effect 2, the character I always looked forward to having post-mission conversations with the most was Legion. Every time it felt like a world of intriguing information was opening up to me. It may be because I personally nerd out over wacky sci-fi stuff like that, but I can’t imagine I’m alone.
#4: Exploring the Galaxy
I suppose it isn’t exactly fair to call this one a “moment,” exactly, but it remained one of my favorite aspects of the experience up until Mass Effect 3 stole some of the fun out of it. Aimlessly exploring the galaxy with that kickass exploration music was so incredible fun and made for the perfect source of downtime, an element essential for any big RPG.
I loved reading interesting planet descriptions, and managed to do so for hours. Many, including my personal favorite that described geometric light patterns on a certain planet’s surface that disappeared without a trace once approached, managed to deepen my immersion into this believable, mysterious, and compelling universe.
And then, of course, there were the discoverable side missions that I loved just stumbling upon. Finding a strange reading in need of investigating was always thrilling, even if the enemies were usually just husks.
This was all downgraded a bit in Mass Effect 3, once the fuel depots were destroyed making exploring a little less carefree. I didn’t feel as nearly compelled to lose myself in the planets now that that too involved some level of conflict. Oh, and forget about stumbling across mysteries to solve now that side missions are streamlines into map-based fetch quests for random people on the citadel. It’s not like I wanted to go down to the planet surface or anything… baka.
#3: The Citadel DLC (all of it)
Trying to find a specific moment in The Citadel DLC, the final piece of content from the entire trilogy to ever be made, is completely and utterly futile. My enjoyment derived from this complete package was so overwhelmingly evenly spread that isolating one moment would do a tremendous injustice to the rest. The whole damn DLC pack is fantastic.
And yes, it is complete and utter fan service, but only in that it unabashedly services fans. It has pretty much everything a diehard Mass Effect fan could possibly want, from a fun combat narrative against a new range of enemy types, to a party with all your friends in which Grunt gets drunk and mumbles nonsense in the shower, and even some nerd fueling additions to the lore. Blasto even makes an in the flesh appearance, which probably wasn’t an easy thing to do, considering they had to make a new Hanar model with the ability to hold guns.
The Citadel is not only a great piece of DLC because of what it offers, but also because of what it represents. Clearly the Mass Effect team loves what they’ve made as much as we do. Every corner of the experience expands the world, its characters, and your love of all of it in some way or another, and I can’t think of any other DLC that deserves that kind of praise.
#2: Sovereign’s Reveal
When compared to the games that came afterwards, Mass Effect 1 is a little clunky. Its mechanics are only marginally functional, classes weren’t really balanced, and the inventory system isn’t one that’s missed by many. But if there was one thing the game did right, maybe even better than the other two games, was its storytelling.
I loved that Mass Effect 1 offered a compelling antagonist with logic that actually made some sense. In the end, his goal of evolving life to match that of the Reapers is fulfilled by choosing the Synthesis ending in Mass Effect 3, so his words are never left insignificant. Of course, Saren was never the true antagonist of the first Mass Effect, and when Sovereign revealed itself to be the true force behind the evil, players everywhere found that the rabbit hole went much deeper than just the geth.
This scene on Virmire was the twist that the game desperately needed. It’s what separated Mass Effect from a pretty good RPG narrative to an unprecedented one, and certainly opened the floodgates for what would eventually be a drawn out story covering three games.
#1: Mordin’s Sacrifice
I’m coming near the completion of a second full trilogy playthrough, the first time for me to play all three games in close succession. While I still maintain some broad issues with the third title (mostly unrelated to the ending), I’ve been finding new appreciation for it as the third and final chapter of a long narrative, instead of merely a standalone game.
If there’s one thing I’m coming to appreciate a lot this time around, it’s how powerful some of the character development can be. By far, my favorite aspect of the Mass Effect games isn’t the combat or even the story. It’s the characters that feel so fleshed out I often forget that their dialogue was written and recorded in a sound booth somewhere. Garrus is a real person DAMMIT, and no amount of art books or director commentary will change my mind!
With that being said, one moment in Mass Effect left me with streams of tears, representing emotional areas I usually don’t let myself fall into over fictional things. Mordin may not be my absolute favorite team mate, but his sacrifice on Tuchanka was one of the saddest goodbyes I’ve ever had to face in a game.
And it’s not just that he dies, but that he dies saving a race of people from a slow extinction, whilst a giant thresher maw devours a reaper whole. The Tuchanka level in Mass Effect 3 is one of my favorite levels in all of Mass Effect because it touches every narrative extreme. A big thing gets eaten by a bigger thing, a close friend dies while saving the day, and what was once a mindlessly violent race shows a side the proves they’re more than just post-apocalyptic victims.
While I’m sure that many of you will find these moments just as powerful and enjoyable as I did, I’d be curious to hear what other moments you wished I’d touched on, or at least moments that would be in your top 5 lists. Mass Effect truly has too many great moments to count, and there are plenty I know I wish I could have touched on further. In the end, it just goes to show what an amazing, expansive, and deep series the Mass Effect trilogy is.