As a series, Mass Effect is predicated almost entirely on choice. Paragon or renegade? Red, blue, or green? To bang or not to bang? But Mass Effect occasionally appears to restrict your agency. For instance, at one point in the first game, you’re presented with a series of choices, and no matter what road you go down, you end up killing an apparently fully cognizant salarian. You’re not given a say in the matter.
Spoilers for the first Mass Effect, which turns 14 years old this November.
Following last month’s release of Mass Effect Legendary Edition—a bundled collection that includes remastered versions of all three games from BioWare’s defining space RPG trilogy—I’ve finally gotten around to playing through the first Mass Effect. So far, it must be a McDonald’s happy meal, because I’m loving it. But I raised an eyebrow during the main mission on a planet called Virmire.
Read More: Musings Of A Mass Effect 1 Newcomer
While on Virmire, a hilariously impractical string of events go down. You’re chasing Saren, the primary villain, and follow a distress call to the planet. You find a marooned group of salarian soldiers, and what’s that? They’re a skeleton crew because half of their contingent was taken out? And there’s no backup coming? Turns out, the only plan for success is a suicide mission, which you’ve gotta assign one of your squadmates to undertake. Furthermore there’s a cure for a species-damning genetic illness that’s caught in the crossfire...And, because this is a game made in 2007, no matter what outcome you prefer you still have to blow the place to smithereens.
Near the end of the mission, you come across a bunch of salarians locked away in cages. Most of them are “indoctrinated,” their brains overwritten by reaper space magic to the point where they’ve lost any and all cognizance and now operate as mindless husks. Two aren’t quite gone. Of those, one seems fine, claiming to have been a control for the experiment, thus leaving his mind untouched. The other, an anxiety-stricken salarian named Menos Avot...not so much. (Your teammates will literally remark that something “seems off,” in case the game didn’t hold your hand enough through that stretch.) I chose to leave Avot in his cage, which was the right call. Depending on your conversation choices, he either attacks you or runs headlong into the door in a futile attempt at attacking you. Rude, even for a salarian.
And then there’s one salarian standing alone in a cage, pictured in the above screenshot. This salarian doesn’t exhibit the low moans of their indoctrinated comrades. They do not say a word. They’re just there, alone with their thoughts. Unlike the other two solitary salarians, you’ll see no interaction prompt.
At first I honestly thought that was a bug. (Though Legendary Edition offers spruced-up versions of the first three Mass Effect games, it’s still, like every modern game ever, not entirely devoid of bugs. Funniest one I’ve found: Flipping the Mako over completely prevents you from exiting the vehicle, if you can’t get it unflipped.) I reloaded my game. No dice. Still couldn’t strike up a conversation. I consulted wikis and walkthroughs, and poked around for old forum posts. As far as I can tell, this salarian does not exist on the internet, and debatably does not exist in the world of Mass Effect beyond the indignities of set dressing.
Based solely on their demeanor (chill, or at least resigned) and their situation (alone, rather than in a group), it’s safe to assume the lone salarian is not fully indoctrinated. The scenario has all the trappings of one in which you get to play god, as in so many other Mass Effect scenarios. But in this case you can’t do a damn thing. Bummer. I dawdled for a while, seeking a way to make something, anything happen. Truth told, I don’t know whether or not I would’ve opted to save the poor fellow. I’d have to have a chat first.
Bidding a silent farewell to the unknown salarian, I continued the mission, blew up the facility, and went on my way, taking a notable step toward saving the galaxy at the expense of one civilian casualty beyond what I initially calculated.
Hell, I didn’t even get any Renegade points.