Epic. That’s the best word to use when describing the expansive sprawl of the narrative found in the Mass Effect trilogy. Epic in scale, epic in scope, and epic in meaning.
Few games have been able to captivate us on the same level as Mass Effect, and I’d be hard pressed to imagine a game doing it in quite the same way ever again. Everything from the player’s choices to their connection with the game’s myriad characters was compelling and fascinating from the game’s curious start to explosive finish.
It’s a series known for fantastic plot twists, epic set pieces, and an overall abilitiy to completely immerse you in the events of the Reaper invasion and Shepard’s campaign to stop it at all costs. While it could be argued that nearly any moment in the Mass Effect trilogy is epic, here are the twenty greatest moments to happen during the game’s three-title sprawl.
(Note: This list is based entirely on my own opinion and personal playthrough of Mass Effect 1-3. As such, many of the plot points and events might be different than those of others.)
*WARNING: SPOILER CITY AHEAD*
Playing as Joker (ME2)
Joker is one of the more interesting characters of the Mass Effect series due to his character’s past and his convictions. He’s a crippled soldier who managed to find his niche in the Alliance as the pilot of the Normandy. And throughout the series, he proves time and time again that he’s more than adept at what he does.
Playing as him when the ship is under attack during Mass Effect 2 was truly an amazing moment, because it took you out of the role of all-powerful character and instead put you in control of a small, vulnerable man struggling to reach the other side of the ship without getting attacked. His slow gait lent an incredible amount of tension to the moment and really helped you connect with his character as whole.
Meeting Legion (ME2)
Your first encounter with Legion in Mass Effect 2 was somewhat off-putting. A good Geth? I’d just spent nearly the entire first game fighting hordes of Geth, and now Legion comes along and proves that maybe they aren’t so bad after all. It went completely against everything I’d come to know about the series and rocked the foundation the game stood on, making it an epic reveal. That is, until he tried to backstab me in Mass Effect 3. Not cool, Legion. Not cool.
Mass Effect 2′s Opening (ME2)
If there’s anything that can be said of Mass Effect 2′s opening, it’s that the game delivers a master class in introductions. The beginning grabbed you by the throat from the start and wouldn’t relinquish until the striking final moment of the Normandy’s destruction and the death of Shepard. The words that can best sum up the intro to Mass Effect 2 were uttered by my brother when he watched me play it for the first time.
“Holy cow. That was crazy!”
Indeed it was. And that’s what made it so great.
Curing the Genophage (ME3)
Being that its such a massive plot development in both the Mass Effect story and the game’s expanded universe, when the idea of curing the genophage was introduced in Mass Effect 3, I was caught a bit off guard. Could we really do it? More importantly, did we want to? I’d always sympathized with the Krogan and their dying race, but the idea that their affliction could be cured was an amazing prospect to say the least.
That’s why there was something epic about the moment when Mordin Solus jumped on the platform to get to the top of the shroud tower to disperse the cure. In my playthrough, he didn’t sing as he worked on the temperature controls. Instead, he delivered quite possibly the most amazing speech given by a character in the triolgy:
“Genophage cured. Krogan free. New beginning…for all of us.”
In that simple collection of words, Mordin summed up the action and made right the wrongs he’d previously been involved in by paying the ultimate price. If that’s not good dialogue writing, I don’t know what is.
Encountering the Human Reaper (ME2)
While it wasn’t the most challenging of boss battles, the encounter with the Human Reaper at the end of Mass Effect 2 was no less epic. It was a great set design that conveyed an overall sense of doom, thanks largely in part to how small and insignificant one felt in its presence. But taking down the massive creature not only felt amazing, it proved that organic life was capable of more than anyone had considered.
Meeting Sovereign (ME1)
Your first meeting with Sovereign was both terrifying and awe-inspiring. Here was this massive sentient machine, announcing its plan to destroy all organic life and using creatures like Saren as a means of accomplishing its twisted goal. In many ways, it’s the ultimate evil, shown to us on this grand, epic scale as a gargantuan creature who isn’t afraid to accomplish its goal by any means necessary. The only thing more terrifying than Sovereign was the fact that there were many more machines just like it, all fearlessly dedicated to the same cause.
The Final Showdown with Saren (ME1)
The final battle with the re-animated Saren on the Citadel still stands as one of my worst rage moments of all time (with a close second being the final battle on Earth in Mass Effect 3). While I found it incredibly frustrating, it was still an eerie and revealing moment that showed us what lengths the Reapers were willing to go to in order to achieve their end goal of exterminating all organic life in the universe.
Wrex’s Meltdown (ME1)
Wrex’s meltdown on Virmire was a moment that was both shocking and heartbreaking. When he learns there is a possibility to save his species thanks to a possible genophage cure, he goes into a rampage, demanding the cure be obtained and taken back to Tuchanka for use on his people.
His breakdown here really showed the game’s strength of making choices and dealing with consequences. In my first playthrough of Mass Effect, I didn’t want to kill Wrex at all. In fact, Wrex was a frequent addition to my squad. But being that I’m no master negotiator, I wasn’t able to successfully diffuse his anger and Ashley fired a bullet into his head in a moment that felt ripped straight out of a Clint Eastwood film. He was an interesting character who really lent a great deal to the game’s story arc, and his death set the tone for how the game would deal with loss and consequence moving forward.
The Death of Ashley or Kaidan (ME1)
It could be argued that Virmire was one of the most important missions your crew could go through in the first game, based on all the direct influence it had with the crew’s makeup and dynamic afterward. After all, your decisions can lead several of your crew members to their deaths, leaving you to deal with the immediate results. So, no pressure.
Depending on who you send with Kirrahe on Virmire, either Ashley or Kaidan would ultimately die at the end of the mission. It’s a heartbreaking and epic sequence to watch as Shepard tries desperately to save both of them, but ultimately has to accept that fact that one of them will not be coming back to the Normandy.
Meeting the Illusive man (ME2)
Few villains are quite as crafty and evil as Cerberus’ Illusive Man. The ends always justify the means for him, and he’ll do whatever it takes to achieve it…no matter the cost involved. For that, he’s a dangerous individual with a lot of power at his disposal who first encounters Shepard indirectly toward the beginning of Mass Effect 2.
Meeting him was epic, because of his infamous status and the power of his character. He’s willing to do whatever, use whomever, and play with fire in order to preserve the human race. In hindsight, his intentions are good, but marred by a fanatic reasoning that drives him half-mad. He’s a villain you can both understand and hate, making him one of the strongest and most compelling characters in the Mass Effect universe.
Becoming a Spectre (ME1)
The moment when the council makes Shepard a Spectre is somewhat cheesy, but still epic in its own right. Being that you are the first human Spectre and that you’re taking on the responsibility of only responding to the council and taking the matters of the galaxy’s brewing conflict in your own hands was a pretty awesome moment that set the tone well for the first game in its early stages.
Now, if only they’d kept the importance of the Spectre position in the narrative later on in the trilogy…
The Final Showdown with the Illusive Man (ME3)
Meeting the Illusive Man in person on the Citadel at the end of Mass Effect 3 was one of those amazing, mind-bending moments great sci-fi stories are known for. Seeing him under the effects of Reaper indoctrination and finally understanding the depth of his madness really rounded him out as a character and made it one of the most meaningful moments in the series. Like Mordin, his dying words at the end of the Renegade option brought his character to a perfect and fitting end:
“There…Earth. I wish you could see it like I do, Shepard. It’s so…perfect.”
Learning About Cerberus’ Experiments in Sanctuary (ME3)
The mission to Sanctuary in Mass Effect 3 was great because of what it taught us about Cerberus and the horrific lengths they were willing to go in order to achieve their end goal of controlling the Reapers. Putting upa front of being a refugee camp, then turning around and doing twisted experiments on the refugees themselves? The reveal of their Husk creation proved that Cerberus’ radical ideology made them one of the most corrupt and evil organizations in the galaxy, and possibly as big a threat to the galaxy as the Reapers themselves.
Meeting the Catalyst (ME3)
While the Mass Effect 3 ending is hotly contested and isn’t necessarily the most satisfying, it was still an epic moment when Shepard collapsed on the ascending platform and found that the Catalyst wasn’t the Citadel itself, but rather a sentient being who controlled the Reapers and used them as a means to prevent the spread of chaos. Meeting the Catalyst was somewhat similar to meeting a god, an all-powerful being who regarded organic life as a pawn used to spread order throughout the Universe. While the events that took place directly after meeting the Catalyst weren’t quite as rock-solid, the first time you see its shimmering child form approaching Shepard on the platform is still pretty awe-inspiring.
Morinth vs. Samara (ME2)
While all of the crew loyalty missions of Mass Effect 2 are epic in their own ways, Samara’s request for help in dealing with her daughter Morinth is by far one of the most twisted and unique.
Morinth suffers from a rare genetic disorder that leads her to killing her romance partners after seducing them and joining with their minds. It’s a bit CSI: Galactic, and that alone made it interesting.
After finding Morinth and going back to her apartment, Samara confronts her, leading to an outbreak between the two that ultimately results in Shepard making a decision of who lives and who dies. If Mass Effect has proven anything through the years, it’s that it knows how to drive home the importance of player choice and shaping your own narrative based on tough decision-making. There’s no bigger choice than who lives and dies, and Mass Effect 2 did a masterful job in conveying this idea in this specific mission.
Deciding the Rachni’s Fate (ME1)
This was one of the first major decisions in the original Mass Effect that had far-reaching consequences on the narrative as a whole.
The Rachni Queen wasn’t a character that you had any vested emotion in, but the idea that you decided the fate of her species based on whether or not you killed her was a phenomenal development. I specifically remember sitting and considering my decision for a solid few minutes before ultimately letting her die on Noveria, a decision that was made based on the actions of the Rachni in the past. It was a moment like this that really showed players what eventual effect they had in the Mass Effect universe, and that alone made it incredibly important.
Udina’s Death (ME3)
Learning of Udina’s betrayal of the Citadel really wasn’t anything surprising to me. He’d always seemed like a slimy politician anyway, and hearing of his cowardly move made me all the happier to see him die.
Still, he was an important character that Shepard had regular interaction with and relied heavily on for support and guidance. His betrayal marked a time in the universe when everything was truly falling apart, and his death alone served as an exclamation point to that very fact.
Suicide Mission (ME2)
Going into the Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2 was one of the most tense and unique moments in the series. The odds were stacked against you, with virtually everything in the galaxy going straight to hell. What would happen? Could you possibly come out of this alive?
Well, no, actually. There was a chance you could lose anyone and anything if you hadn’t played your cards right, and seeing your crew members drop like flies, characters that you’ve spent hours upon hours getting to know and becoming attached to, was absolutely heart-wrenching. The end of Mass Effect 2 was a bittersweet one thanks to the events of the suicide mission. Sure, you obtained what you needed and were ready to take the fight to the Reapers, but at what cost?
Extended Cut DLC (ME3)
While it may still leave much to be desired in the minds of fans, the Extended Cut DLC of Mass Effect 3 is no less epic. The end of the war, the massive set pieces, and the results spread across the galaxy all summed itself up in one long cutscene of epic proportions. Along with the ending of Mass Effect 2, the Extended Cut DLC was one that saw a bittersweet ending of triumph and loss all rolled into one.
Thresher Maw vs. The Reaper (ME3)
With the likes of curing the genophage and enemy encounters on the planet, the entire level on Tuchanka is arguably one of the most epic missions in Mass Effect 3.
But the idea of using the Thresher Maw to take out a Reaper was an incredible sight to behold. Like something out of a slightly less cheesy Japanese monster movie, the moment when the Thresher Maw burst from the ground and destroyed the Reaper was not only a spectacle, it proved that the sentient machines had vulnerabilities and could be taken out. This marked a hopeful instance in the game moving forward that would be repeated several times over throughout the course of Mass Effect 3.
Got different picks for the greatest moments of Mass Effect? Share them below!