If there’s one thing BioWare, the studio behind Mass Effect and Dragon Age, is good at, it’s pulling at the heartstrings. With Mass Effect: Andromeda on the immediate horizon, now is as good a time as any to reflect back on the many ways the original trilogy managed to put a pit in our stomach.
You might want to grab some tissues. Ready? Okay.
WARNING: It should go without saying, but this list is full of spoilers for Mass Effect 1-3!
10. Leaving Ashley or Kaidan behind
This one’s a bit divisive. Arguably, people hate both Ashley and Kaidan. There’s some good reasoning behind it, but even if you don’t like either character the fact that to make sure a bomb explodes is moving enough. Like, “left behind” and “not coming back,” which is still a relatively uncommon design choice, especially so when considering that downed party members regularly get back up after typical fights regardless of whether they were exploded, shot, or anything else.
9. Saren wrests control away from Sovereign
There are few moments from the original Mass Effect that really stand up to the test of time when it comes to this specific consideration. Given that the second game involves a suicide mission, and the third wraps up every loose end it can get its hands on, that makes sense.
But the final battle of the game, where primary antagonist Saren confronts Shepard and crew, earns a spot if only for when he’s convinced of the evil of his ways and shoots himself — only to then stand back up and continue fighting as a Sovereign-controlled puppet.
8. Samara confronts Morinth
There’s a lot happening in Mass Effect 2, but for heartbreaking moments there is none more difficult than when Samara, an asari justicar, confronts her wayward daughter, Morinth. Being an Ardat-Yakshi — Mass Effect’s term for an asari with a genetic disease that kills partners during their psychic mind-melds — Morinth is a danger to literally everyone if allowed to live.
The confrontation between the two is brief, and Shepard makes the call on which to support, but Samara is the one that ultimately kills Morinth. It’s not so much the scene where she dispatches her that hurts the heart so much as every other scene with Samara afterwards.
7. Shepard says goodbye
If Mass Effect 3’s Citadel DLC is the trilogy’s real swan song, the last chance for Shepard to speak with all their companions in the main game before heading off to the final confrontation is a way of really saying goodbye. The quality of the little hologram conversations varies wildly, but it’s nice to be able to really tie a bow on things.
6. Literally everything about the Citadel DLC
If we were being frugal, the moments packed into the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3 could still fill a list like this three times over. It very much feels like a moment for the franchise to look back on everything, or at the very least Shepard’s journey, and the developers stuffed it to the gills with little tidbits to find. There’s the group party, talking with everyone individually, playing with old companions in the arena, and more.
Heck, Mordin’s little notes to Shepard alone would have earned the Citadel DLC a spot here.
5. Thane sacrifices himself to stop the assassin
When Shepard first meets Thane, Thane is dying. He’s been dying, and will eventually die. That’s something you learn fairly early, but it’s still a shock when Mass Effect 3 rolls around and he’s more imminently dying. The final straw for Thane, under a specific set of circumstances, sees him confront Cerberus assassin Kai Leng — and ultimately dying from his wounds. There’s a short prayer that’s said — Thane’s son explains the meaning — that is rough all around.
4. Legion willingly gives up his identity for the sake of all geth
Legion is a peculiar geth construct. While technically made of thousands of individual geth consciousnesses, he also projects a kind of selfhood. Legion is a person. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking when he intentionally gives it up, spreading the bits that make up his singular existence in order to prevent mass extinction.
3. Tali’s plunge
A series of events in Mass Effect 3 can cause things to swiftly turn horribly, horribly wrong. See, the quarians are fighting the geth in orbit, and two of your companions, Tali (a quarian) and Legion (a geth), are on the ground with Shepard trying to pick up the pieces.
When Legion spreads his consciousness to the geth fleet mentioned above, there’s an outcome where the geth totally annihilate the quarian fleet — which essentially means the extinction of Tali’s people. Overcome with grief, she removes her mask before hurling herself over the edge of a nearby cliff.
2. Mordin would have liked to run tests on the seashells
Several deaths in the final game are avoidable, and there’s certainly a set of circumstances where you can convince Mordin to not go up the tower and cure the genophage, sacrificing himself in the process. But the little moments of his sacrifice, and the greater meaning behind it, is maybe the easiest tear-jerker of all. It recalls several close moments he and Shepard shared, and is maybe the the most emotionally honest moment the franchise has ever constructed.
1. The final moment with Anderson
There’s about a minute and a half after the final showdown with the Illusive Man on the Crucible where Shepard and Anderson basically just sit there, injured but alive, and watch the Earth from their vantage point. Shepard’s surrogate father says a couple words about taking it all in, and tells Shepard that he’s proud of them. And then he quietly dies.
It’s possibly the shortest moment of those included here, but it’s the weight of all the decisions and tragedies that have come before it that really sell Anderson’s death. There’s a lot of Mass Effect 3 represented here, and for good reason: it concludes the original trilogy, tying up loose ends. And the loss of Anderson is that final, terrible nail in the coffin.
What are your favorite Mass Effect tearjerkers?