It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I did everything right in Mass Effect 2. I slapped armor plating on the Normandy and equipped it with a shield. I gave it a big fucking cannon. I even tackled (most of) the game’s loyalty missions. I was ready for the final battle, and went through the Omega-4 relay expecting a cakewalk. Little did I know that, by the time the credits rolled, only half of my team would be alive.
Late last year, I discovered the joys of Mass Effect 2. (Yes, I’m a decade late to the party.) My colleague Ash Parrish, Kotaku’s in-house Mass Effect scholar, was thrilled to hear about someone else worshipping at the altar of what many consider the strongest entry in the series. We discussed its brilliance at length. I promised Ash I’d let her know how my story ended.
Recently, I finally beat the game. During the climactic final mission, five of my teammates—Thane, Jack, Legion, Tali, and my personal favorite, Garrus, who I totally thought had plot armor—kicked the bucket. I sent a screenshot of the resulting carnage over to Ash at an unreasonable hour of the night. She responded the following morning, in all caps: “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
The final mission in Mass Effect 2 sees you, as Commander Shepherd, travel through an intergalactic transit device known as the Omega-4 relay. Your goal is to squash a nascent threat from the Collectors, an alien race that keeps kidnapping humans by the thousands, including most of the Normandy’s service crew and support staff. It turns out the Collectors are in cahoots with an even more dangerous foe: the Reapers, a synthetic threat that pops up every gazillion years and wipes out all life. In the final mission, you storm a Collector base to rescue your captured shipmates. In the process, you stumble upon (and destroy) a newly constructed Reaper.
Throughout the mission, you have to make crucial choices at various points. Who’s going to lead the B-team? Who will you assign to hack through the door? Who will generate a forcefield that will protect your team from foot-long, flesh-eating insects? If you’ve completed character-specific “loyalty” missions, the character will be considered “loyal,” thereby unlocking high-powered abilities and increasing their chances of survival in the final mission.
Through conversations with Ash and a few of my other friends who played—plus a consultation of this definitive flowchart—I think I understand where I went wrong.
Going in, I thought I was pretty prepared. I completed the loyalty missions for everyone except for Jack and Grunt, because those characters didn’t interest me. (Side note: Jacob, while a relatively unappealing character, has an unexpectedly excellent quest.) I failed Thane’s mission due to a bug and decided to just move on with my life. Before I started the final mission, I lost Tali’s loyalty, following a conversation with her and Legion. But, save for Tali, Jack, Thane, and Grunt, everyone was loyal.
Following Ash’s advice, I also upgraded the Normandy with all the bells and whistles. I made it through the Omega-4 relay and touched down at the start of the mission without anyone dying. So far, so good.
I sent Legion into the vents and designated Samara as the fireteam leader. This was apparently a mistake. Even though Mass Effect 2 suggests someone with experience for a fireteam leader—something Samara has in droves—she’s a lone wolf. My poor choice resulted in Legion taking a bullet to the...computer...face...head...thing. And to think, I recruited Legion one hour of gameplay earlier. Now, I’d never hear his mechanized yet still so very human voice again.
At one point, you come across your captured crew. I saved half. I assigned Jacob to escort them back to the ship. Apparently, were he not loyal, he would’ve died. Also, I later learned that if I’d started the final mission just a bit earlier, I would’ve saved my entire crew. Oh well.
At one point, you have to choose someone to maintain a biotic (i.e., space magic) forcefield as you battle your way through a long walkway. I chose Jack, the biotic master. At the end of the walk, the forcefield faltered, and my dearly beloved Garrus was carted off by a bunch of giant bugs. This, for the record, was the most shocking moment. I played Mass Effect 3 back in the day and distinctly remember Garrus being a key part of that game. So much for that plot armor.
I directed Thane to lead the second fireteam. Apparently, only Jacob, Miranda, and Garrus can survive that role. When our fireteams regrouped, Thane got taken out. RIP, Thane. You, with your slick composure and GQ-worthy car coat, were my second favorite.
I brought Tali along for the final boss fight (which is really tedious, by the way) and left Jack as a member of the party holding the line. Neither were loyal. Both died.
My playthrough resulted in Commander Shepherd slowing down the galaxy’s demise but losing five friends and allies along the way. I’ve chewed over how this all went don’t and, honestly, still don’t know how I feel. On the one hand, all of Shepherd’s party members came along for the ride knowing full well what the risks were. On the other, they were Shepherd’s pals. As the good commander—and, let’s face it, any other virtuous protagonist—likes to say, it’s never worth it to trade lives. (To be fair, a Renegade-oriented Shepherd might not say that.) No matter how you cut it, I failed. That obviously doesn’t feel great.
“There are ‘canon’ runs with some casualty, but this is just too much,” Ash told me. “Just do it again! You gotta.”
I plan to. If anything, I can just chalk my first playthrough up as a dry run. A spruced-up version of Mass Effect 2 is included in the upcoming Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, a remastered collection of the original trilogy (plus all expansions) out later this year. In the interim, I’ll bask in my shame and internalize my shortcomings. Garrus won’t die on me a second time.