I have been waiting with bated breath for five long years for the next installment of the “Mass Effect” franchise. While “Mass Effect 3” may have had a lackluster ending, it’s the journey of the trilogy as a whole that sticks with me. As I’m writing this, I’m about 90 minutes into “Mass Effect: Andromeda”; by the time you read this, I’ll be significantly farther, I’m sure. I already love the new game; it’s everything I could have asked for in a new Mass Effect, but time will tell if it’s that good or if I’m just excited. Before we try to find a new home for humanity, here’s a look at my picks for the ten best missions of the original “Mass Effect” trilogy. And watch out for spoilers, obviously.
I’d be remiss not to mention “From Ashes,” and I’m sure anyone who reads this list is wondering why it isn’t included. I love “From Ashes,” both for its implications on the history of the world and for the addition of Javik, the lone survivor of the extinct Prothean race who previously fell to the Reapers. But it doesn’t make this list because of its nature as DLC. A lot of gamers evidently didn’t realize this as it was a pre-order bonus, but when you take a look at the game as a whole, it becomes apparent. Since he’s DLC and therefore not required for any missions, Javik is somewhat displaced from the game as a whole, really only offering insight via off-hand comments and short sequences back on the Normandy. Given what his every existence means for the world of Mass Effect, that’s a devastating blow. We get a few glimpses into the Prothean life and how the species of the universe have evolved, but honestly, Javik and “From Ashes” should have been included in the main game so that he could directly impact the story better.
What better place to start off your sci-fi franchise than an exploratory shakedown of an idyllic paradise? Eden Prime is an Earth-like planet, with lush green environments and non-hostile creatures. But the peaceful walk will have to wait, as you make the first contact with the Husks and quickly realize that anyone can die at any time. Eden Prime and it’s following hour is honestly a bit of a slog on repeat playthroughs, but for first-time players, this mission leaves an imprint.
It’s hinted early on in the game that the Citadel looks like it was built to repel invaders. You could never have guessed that you would be the invader. As the Reaper ship Sovereign closes in, you’ve got to make choices quickly to determine who to save and if they’re worth saving. Most memorable is wave one of your final encounter with Saren, a fight you can win by speech checking him so hard he shoots himself. “Race Against Time” puts the pressure on the players by making them assault a location they’re intimately familiar with and delivers a final hour that you’ll never forget.
What starts as a generic vehicle mission quickly becomes a full-scale assault with the most lasting impact of any mission in the franchise. Urdnot Wrex, Commander Kirrahe and his strike team, Kaiden Alenko and Ashley Williams all place their lives in your hands for this mission. Make the right choice, and only one of them dies. Make the wrong choice, and you’ve got an uphill battle for two games as you try to rebuild alliances. Virmire is the moment that cements Mass Effect as a classic franchise, and the unexpected final moments are still lauded for giving players no other choice but to sacrifice one of their own to save the galaxy.
Thane Krios, one of the cover art characters for “Mass Effect 2”, just looks like a somewhat strange alien at first. But his introductory mission quickly lets you know he’s a big deal. A Drell assassin who can perfectly recall any moment in his life, your introduction to Thane is chasing the bodies up a tower as he makes his way to an assassination target. Thane has a rich, mysterious backstory, and it’s obvious from minute one that there’s more to him than you realize. Dossier: The Assassin is but a glimpse into the background of one of Mass Effect’s most interesting characters.
The Quarians fled their homeworld and the Geth. Now the Reapers have set up a base on Rannoch. In the aftermath of the fight, your Geth squad mate Legion wants to use the Reaper AI to achieve sentience for his people. Your Quarian squad mate Tali wants her home back. Choosing one race means the extinction of the other. Are the Geth monsters or victims? Are the Quarians entitled to their home or is their fear of the Geth unfounded? Can you somehow save both? Priority: Rannoch forces players to question everything they know about two races they’ve fought alongside (or against) for two games. Whatever your choice, the consequences will be dire.
In “Mass Effect,” players were introduced to (and destroyed) Sovereign, one of the fabled Reapers who destroyed all life in the galaxy. In “Mass Effect 2”, players learned Sovereign was not alone, and that Reapers create a new Reaper in the image of those the life they will eradicate. By “Mass Effect 3”, the Reapers had arrived, and Earth was in peril of being destroyed. We didn’t know much if anything about the Reapers until “Leviathan,” where Commander Shepard ventured to murky ocean depths and discovered the Leviathans, an ancient race hiding in the sea which created the first Reaper. “Mass Effect” has some of the best DLC missions in all of gaming, and “Leviathan” is no exception.
Mordin Solus is one of the most memorable characters of “Mass Effect.” He’s a bit manic and goofy, but the Salarian scientist you recruit in one of the game’s first missions is wiser than he looks, and he hides his pain well. “Mordin: Old Blood” is one of the earliest loyalty missions you’ll likely attempt, as you head to Tuchanka to rescue Mordin’s protege, Maeleon. What follows is a twisting, violent mission where Mordin’s sins are laid to bear. Much like Thane, there’s much more to Mordin than meets the eye. How you choose to help him confront his murky past has lasting repercussions, both for Mordin and the people of Tuchanka.
First teased in “Mass Effect,” the mysterious Shadow Broker is never seen or identified to the masses, a shadowy figure with a hidden agenda. But your former squad mate, Liara T’soni, has been hunting him. And she’s getting close. The chase not only leads Shepard and his team to one of the greatest resources the galaxy could have, but also answers one of the most pressing questions in “Mass Effect 2”: how did Cerberus recover the body of Commander Shepard after it was ejected into deep space? Reveals aplenty for both the Mass Effect universe and your squad, and significant changes for Liara, who gains one of the best character arcs in the franchise here.
While on shore leave, Commander Shepard is attacked. With his team on-hand, Shepard gives chase and discovers it’s a rogue clone of himself, somehow having been created by Cerberus. With his reputation at stake, it’s all hands on deck in a rare mission where every squad member gets to participate. Released one year after the launch of “Mass Effect 3” and the final piece of DLC, “Citadel” is a poignant farewell to the original Mass Effect trilogy, packed with humor and heartwarming (or, depending on how you played, heartbreaking) moments. The mission itself is a blast, but it’s the final sequences where Shepard and crew have a party that’s truly a love letter to the fans.
The Reapers are coming. From beyond the Omega-4 Relay, they’ve got something nefarious in the works. Shepard’s been tasked with finding them, but there’s a catch: no ship that’s gone through the Omega-4 Relay has ever returned. “They call it a suicide mission. Prove them wrong.” said the game’s marketing. Build your team. Earn their loyalty. Upgrade the Normandy. Choose wisely. Don’t dawdle. If you miss one thing, someone will die…and it won’t be who you think. Lose too many squad mates and get the harshest, non-standard game over imaginable: the entire team, including Shepard, die trying to stop the Reapers, who are still on their way to Earth. No mission raised the stakes or defined the importance of making decisions like the final suicide mission of “Mass Effect 2”, and no mission is going to stick with you like it does either. Fight for the lost. Just don’t become one of them