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Mass Effect 2's Final Mission Was the Apex of the Series

MASS EFFECT REVISITED: Why the grand finale still hasn't been topped.

Analysis by Kat Bailey, .

Warning: Spoilers, obviously.

The Mass Effect Trilogy has many outstanding moments, but one stands head and shoulders above them all: The Suicide Mission. Much as everyone argues over Mass Effect 2's relative merits, I think almost everyone can agree that, final boss notwithstanding, its grand finale is amazing.

In many respects, it is a master class in how to bring a massive game to a satisfying conclusion. The entire game is spent building to the moment that you take the plunge and bring the fight to The Collectors—a powerful race with mysterious motives. Where most triple-A games run out of gas by their midpoints, Mass Effect 2's story reaches a crescendo when you dive through the Omega 4 Relay for the final mission.

Spooky.

Its stakes are the secret to its success. When you embark on the Suicide Mission, it's with the knowledge that literally anyone, even Shepard, can die. Its a potent source of tension that is absent in nearly every other game—the sort that drives successful shows like Game of Thrones. If you have the nerve to play without a guide, it's a white-knuckle experience until the moment that Shepard safely jumps back aboard the Normandy.

BioWare are aware of this tension and take steps early on to begin building it up. The Omega 4 Relay becomes accessible once you obtain the Reaper IFF, but you don't have to enter it right away. Instead, you are encouraged to gather materials to upgrade your ship, find the best weapons, and complete loyalty missions before diving in. It's reminiscent of Chrono Trigger in the way that you can take on the final battle pretty much whenever you want, but with dire consequences if you decide to head in too early.

Highlighting the Omega 4 Relay early has the effect of heightening its sense of danger. It encourages you to wonder what you will find on the other side, and whether you are prepared to take it on. When you finally decide to dive in, it's with some trepidation. Have you done everything you need to prepare? Are you ready to end the game? Mass Effect 2 puts the power to pull the trigger on the ending in your hands, but asks, "Are you absolutely sure?"

Just to give you an extra push, The Collectors kidnap several of your crewmembers and spirit them away through the Omega 4 Relay, including Kelly Chambers—the charming yeoman you can get to feed your fish. You can go after them immediately or choose to wait and prepare, the implicit understanding being that choosing to wait will result in them suffering a horrible death. Whether you're ready or not, it's pretty much go time.

When you opt to enter the relay, you are reminded that the Normandy may not survive, and that includes your squad members. More than likely, you will find yourself attached to at least a few of them, and you won't want to lose them. I was sweating bullets at the prospect of sending Tali, Mordin, Jack, Garrus, and Legion to their deaths.

But in the end, there's nothing for it. You take a deep breath, close your eyes, and hit confirm. And it's on to Mass Effect 2's amazing finale.

The First Mass Effect is a Great Game Not Just for its Time, But for All Time

THE MASS EFFECT TRILOGY REVISITED: In the first of our three essays revisiting the Mass Effect trilogy, contributor Doc Burford makes an argument for the original game being the best.

The Mass Effect Trilogy Vinyl Soundtrack Review: Future Sounds on Vintage Tech

It may not be an HD remaster, but this best-of music compilation offers a satisfying way to revisit BioWare's RPG hit.

The Suicide Mission

The finale begins, jarringly enough, with sex. When you trigger the Suicide Mission, the crew member you've been hitting on through the game will approach for a quick roll in the sheets. It doesn't play well here owing to the urgency of the situation—your subordinates are literally about to be liquified—but it's a BioWare tradition for the obligatory sex scene to take place on the eve of the big battle. With that out of the way, it's off to Collector space.

When you enter the relay, the first thing you see is the familiar blue hyperspace tunnel—a moment for you to catch your breath and reflect on what you're about to see. Then you're suddenly in the middle of a massive debris field: remnants of other ships that have tried and failed to pierce the veil. The Collector defenses come alive and begin hammering the Normandy as it twists through the debris field, testing its new plate armor as you go. Even with the Normandy's fancy new defenses, which you painstakingly build up by mining a multitude of planets over the course of the game, the enemy still manages to breach the cargo hold, forcing you into a quick firefight. If you don't upgrade your ship, say adios to a couple of your squad members (Tali will get straight-up vaporized, which is terrifying).

I love the moment of tension as you fly through the relay that's punctuated by a wave of debris.

After a brief but wild ride that sees you take some revenge on the Collector ship responsible for destroying the original Normandy, you crash into the enemy station and prepare to move out to the goosebump-raising tune of the main theme. Mass Effect's music, I should mention, is never better than it is here. It accentuates the fear and mystery of entering Collector space with a low, rumbling synth, then slowly builds as you plunge further and further into the heart of their space. Mass Effect's soundtrack is great in general, but in my opinion, they really nail the music for the Suicide Mission.

Before heading out, you gather your team and make your first choice: how do you get into the central chamber? You are confronted with a number of options, the best of which is choosing a ventilation shaft through which to send a team member. Miranda heavily suggests a tech specialist, which makes the decision easy enough, but there are still some nerves involved. What if Tali or Legion don't make it? The next choice is harder: Who will lead the second team? You are told to pick someone who will command "loyalty through experience," making the choice a bit less cut-and-dried.

It's worth watching the Suicide Mission in its entirety just for the music.

After making your choices, the descent begins into the heart of the Collector base with the team that you've painstakingly assembled over the course of the game. The Collector base is an eerie series of winding tunnels filled with organic technology, drones and other, more powerful, enemies lurking throughout. As you fight, your chosen specialist will announce that the path is blocked, and you will have to hurry to open a series of valves so they can proceed while the legend "Specialist in Danger" flashes on the screen. Meanwhile, the alternate squad will send periodic updates, heightening the sense of urgency as you press through the base. If you haven't taken the time to build up your characters, you may find yourself bogged down in firefights, and that's when things get really hairy.

Once you're finally through, you find your crewmembers, but it's an open question of whether you were fast enough. You see a Horizon colonist melted into black sludge in a horrible sequence; but if you opted to leave in time, the rest of the crewmembers will be safe (if not... well...). It's here that you learn still a bit more about the Collectors, as well as make your next important choice: a Biotics specialist who can hold off seeker swarms while you advance. The sequence that follows is another firefight as you hide within your chosen specialist's bubble and work your way forward.

Oh you poor lady.

At last, the truth becomes clear: The Collectors are using the organic material from the humans they capture to build a Reaper. A Human Reaper. It's a little silly in hindsight, but that doesn't make your first sight of its massive, Terminator-like skeleton any less effective. Knowing how dangerous a single Reaper can be, the stakes rise that much further.

Alas, the battle that follows is one of the weakest in the series, as you go full Contra on the Reaper and shoot out its weak points. It's not very satisfying, but if you think of the entire mission as one big final boss fight, it gets a bit better. When it's gone, you are confronted with a seemingly important choice: Blow up the Collector base or risk leaving it with Cerberus? It seems like an easy decision given Cerberus' sketchiness, but in the heat of the moment, without Mass Effect 3 to guide you, it can be a tough choice. I ultimately opted to blow it sky high, as I imagine most people did.

The final scene finds Shepard and company sprinting across the exploding base to leap back to the Normandy. And this is what I love: Shepard can actually fall to his death! Even better, if he falls to his death, the game isn't over! Instead, Joker addresses the Illusive Man and Shepard's story is finished. If you want to play Mass Effect 3, you'll have to roll a new character (imagine if you could play in a world with a dead Shepard?) It's a really remarkable ending; something I can't remember seeing in any other game. And that goes for the rest of the mission.

Even the rather disappointing final battle with the Reaper isn't enough to detract from the greatness of the mission as a whole.

The Suicide Mission ultimately works because it has something that other games of its ilk lacks: actual stakes. Triple-A setpieces are a dime a dozen these days, but they rarely hit as they're supposed to because there's no actual sense of danger. You know that if you screw up and die, you can just revive and try again. It makes the experience rote and frankly boring. But in Mass Effect 2, you know that if you lose a squad member, they're gone. And when you load into Mass Effect 3, they'll still be gone.

To be sure, the danger in Mass Effect 2 isn't as high as it could be. BioWare telegraphs pretty heavily what you need to survive your trip through the Omega 4 Relay, and the final battle makes what should be optional Loyalty Missions pretty much mandatory. If you're paying attention, you should be able to make it through the Suicide Mission on your first try without losing anyone.

Nevertheless, the Suicide Mission continues to stand out in my mind as one of my most memorable gaming moments. I played the original Mass Effect, but it was in Mass Effect 2 that I really bonded to my Shepard and her motley crew. Playing without a guide or any real knowledge of what was to come, the final mission was a harrowing ride as I made snap decisions on the fly and just prayed that nothing would go wrong. In the end, I got everyone out alive, but I knew plenty of people who didn't (and then reloaded and did it again, but if you're willing to accept the consequences of your actions...) If you're reading this, you've almost certainly already finished the mission yourself. But for your sake, I hope you managed to avoid spoilers, because it's so much better without them.

With that, I would suggest that Mass Effect 2 is the closest the series has come to putting forth a scenario where all of your decisions actually matter. Once you're through the Omega 4 Relay, Mass Effect 2 presses down on the accelerator and doesn't let up, delivering on the promise of the battle that it hypes throughout most of its story. It's a great example of build-up in a game, allowing you to recruit and get to know your team at your leisure, then putting their fate in your hands.

I feel like people will argue until the end of time about whether or not Mass Effect 2 is a good game; but for me at least, it's my favorite game in the series, and the Suicide Mission is a big reason why.

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Comments 17

  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #1 chaoticBeat 8 days ago
    Yeah! Great to see this game getting some love! It is my favorite too <3. That last boss always made me think of some cheap, weird X-Men villain for some reason. Like, a boss they could fight and destroy but it's not actually Mr. Sinister, it's just his latest attempt to thwart them. I agree the final mission was excellent! I liked how I had to choose the right person for the job or I was going to lose someone.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #2 Kat.Bailey 8 days ago
    @chaoticBeat I think Mass Effect 2 gets more love than most ;)
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  • Avatar for Thetick #3 Thetick 8 days ago
    Love this one. It was a bit more relaxed in atmosphere. 1 had the man vs the universe vibe where everybody was watching you. 2 gives you more freedom and i do personally think suicide missions are cheap, but lots of great characters and missions
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  • Avatar for AstroDemon #4 AstroDemon 8 days ago
    That "human reaper" end boss was garbage and while I liked Mass Effect 2 as a whole, due to the great characters, the overall story was phoned in, and the game mechanics were dumbed down to make it play more like a shooter. Being a merc rather than a Citadel Spectre was pretty lame, though I thought the Elusive Man was interesting, and the starting sequence of the game was neat.

    The first game in the series was epic, with the best soundtrack and artistic design. Despite some of its janky mechanics, I think ME1 was the best in the series, and I'm okay being among the minority in this, though I know some of you readers agree with me, but just aren't as vocal as the ME2 fans.

    I also liked the ME3 ending that was patched in. I thought it fit nicely with the universe, better than most sci-fi TV shows or movie trilogy endings. The multiplayer in ME3 was also very good, and I spent 100+ hours just playing that aftyer I was done with the single player.

    Make no mistake, the entire trilogy is awesome, but I personally think ME2 was the weakest entry story-wise and less interesting gameplay-wise, though most folks disagree with me, which is fine.Edited 2 times. Last edited 1 weeks ago by AstroDemon
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  • Avatar for retr0gamer #5 retr0gamer 8 days ago
    What the hell happened to Harbinger though? I'm not as big on Mass Effect 2 as everyone else but I really loved Harbinger as an antagonist. They just ignored him in mass effect 3.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #6 yuberus 8 days ago
    The music was so good! My old GM would put on the suicide mission music whenever our scifi game characters were heading into something unknown but exceptionally dangerous. Perfectly tense.
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #7 NiceGuyNeon 8 days ago
    Mass Effect 2 works for me when you approach it as a series of short stories, some better than others. If Mass Effect was about a grand plot, Mass Effect was about character exploration in short bursts with an over-arching plot in the background. I was initially disappointed by this but came to terms with it and enjoy the game for what it is.

    I do think the action gameplay was better in Mass Effect 3 and the level design was certainly better as well. But, the Suicide Mission is RPG perfection, the final boss notwithstanding.

    It's pure role-playing, from the team you select, the tasks you assign, whether you completed loyalty missions or not. You can lose everyone and die yourself, or you can save everyone, or something inbetween those two. There aren't enough games with a finale this strong.

    But again, despite it's ending controversy, I found Mass Effect 3 to be the better designed and more fun entry out of the trilogy. I'm curious to see what's written about that game.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #8 VotesForCows 8 days ago
    I played this blind, and at a time when I was very thorough with games. So the suicide mission ended up being very low stakes - I think I'd probably have got more from the experience if I'd been less prepared and some people had died! Still a great concept, and an amazing way to end the game (the only ME I've played actually).
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  • Avatar for photoboy #9 photoboy 8 days ago
    I adore the Suicide Mission, it's got to be one of the coolest gaming moments ever. It's amazing how badly they screwed up Mass Effect 3's final mission by comparison, but then I think pretty much everything in ME3 is inferior to ME2 (and I'm still not sure if I'm going to give Andromeda a shot because of that). I even really liked the Terminator Reaper, in fact I don't really get all the hate for it!

    I think I got at least half my team killed the first time I tried the Suicide Mission mainly because I assigned tasks based on who I trusted the most in the squad rather than who was most qualified. I soon rectified that on my second play through of the game and everybody lived! Now that's how you end a game. ;)
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  • Avatar for Mr.Spo #10 Mr.Spo 7 days ago
    Entirely agreed with this. Playing without a guide at 1 in the morning and getting the achievement for getting everyone through the suicide mission was satisfying in a way few games manage. There's actually a chance some of your characters can die while you fight the final boss, regardless of your decisions in the game, which surprised me on a repeat play-through. I made the fire-team decisions that had worked last time, but Mordin died holding off the Collectors while Shepard fought the boss. It's actually sensible to either send Mordin back to the ship with any surviving crew, or take him with you to the boss-fight. There are a bunch of variables at play with the squad you leave behind while you take on the Reaper.

    The suicide mission works for me because there's a mechanical, in-game cost for your choices, and you actually get control over those choices in the end-game. That's where Mass Effect 3's final mission fell apart for me; the war assets system was too abstract compared to you deciding when to do loyalty missions, who would go in which team in the Collector Base etc.
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  • Avatar for dnard410 #11 dnard410 7 days ago
    One thing you didn't mention was how some crew members will die if you don't do their loyalty missions. Also, if you're a male Shepard and Miranda and Jack get into a fight, whichever one you side against will not be as loyal to you (even if you do their loyalty mission). So on my playthrough it was impossible to save Jack.
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  • Avatar for matthewcooley77 #12 matthewcooley77 7 days ago
    The reason I liked ME2 the best of the three was the way it was built around characters. It felt sort of like a prestige television series, with each character quest being an hour long episode.

    Building out your crew was so satisfying that I wish there had been even more to it (and that they had designed a ship that didn't need so many loading screens to move around in!). I wish there had been more practical and immediate advantages to building out your ship, and even deeper dialogue options for all the characters and crew. It would have been nice if they moved around, too, Bethesda-style, instead of being bolted into place.

    I also think the boss battle complaints are overblown. I do remember being kind of confused by the whole concept of this cyber-baby thing, but boss battles are almost always a let down.
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  • Avatar for yuberus #13 yuberus 7 days ago
    @dnard410 If your paragon or renegade score is high enough you can shut down their argument without losing loyalty. Same with Tali and Legion.
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  • Avatar for FalcoT #14 FalcoT 7 days ago
    I can easily wind up my friend to this day talking about this mission. He maintains that Zaeed, a mercenary commander for decades, made perfect sense as the second team leader. Should've relied on Garrus - even if he did lose his renegade group on Omega - otherwise you would've had a perfect run too dude!Edited 1 weeks ago by FalcoT
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  • Avatar for Nuclear-Vomit #15 Nuclear-Vomit 7 days ago
    @Kat.Bailey It gets so much love from me, infact, I made my avatar after my Mass Effect 2 character. He's too badass.

    Also... I liked that the Terminator showed up at the end.
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  • Avatar for Megamoppy #16 Megamoppy 6 days ago
    First time I did this two people died. Then reloaded did a perfect. Next time I played through it I triggered the crew kidnap and didn't have enough time to max out loyalty for a few members so they died. They died!

    Also the character import was brilliant it made my humanish looking femshep into a beautiful world saver even if it did remove my beloved scar from the first game.

    Just wish kotaku didn't spoil the incredible opening twist for me and I enjoyed being a goody two shoes over a cerburus lacky any day.
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  • Avatar for skreshma #17 skreshma 4 days ago
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