Commander Shepard is returning this month to chart the course of the galaxy in the Mass Effect Legendary Edition, and there are no doubt going to be a number of returning players ready to chart it all over again.
You, as Commander Shepard, will make a number of choices in the game, whether you're resolving centuries-old conflicts or settling personal disputes. Choosing the destiny of everyone in the Milky Way is practically the central mechanic of the series! There are lots of these choices that are designed to spark debate, to challenge perspective, and to get you to see the world from a different point of view.
That said, not every choice you make in the game is a good one. Some of them are arbitrary, are presented too suddenly, or are so obviously skewed in one direction that it boggles the mind. With that in mind, here are the best and worst choices you'll make as Commander Shepard.
5th Best Mass Effect Decision: Save hostages or kill Balak
Bring Down the Sky is a Mass Effect story DLC that's built around a single, challenging choice, the two outcomes of which almost perfectly illustrate the differences between Paragon and Renegade, the two moral alignments for Shepard. A Batarian terrorist named Balak is planning to crash an asteroid into a very large human colony to reignite war between the two species. When Shepard thwarts his plan and catches up to him, he gives you the option of either rescuing a roomful of hostages but letting him go, or killing him but sacrificing hostages.
Both choices have their pros and cons. What can you live with more easily: Saving several innocents but letting a terrorist go free, or killing the terrorist but dooming the innocents? It's neither the first nor last time Shepard's called upon to make hard choices, but this is one of those that sticks with you precisely because neither way is right or better in the game. The only determining factor is what you, personally, think is the right thing to do.
5th Worst Mass Effect Decision: Cure the genophage or sabotage it
I'm starting the worst list with a choice that's confusing under a particular set of circumstances, albeit ones that I think most players will be likely to have for their playthroughs. Depending on whether you save Wrex on Virmire, either he or his brother Wreav will be the krogan leader on Tuchanka who demands you cure the genophage to earn the Krogan's help. A Salarian leader (who you don't know, by the way) contacts you and offers you help if you instead sabotage the cure so the genophage remains.
Now, if you're only doing this because you want to save Mordin in a playthrough with Wreav, taking this option is a bit more forgivable. However, if either Eve or Wrex are alive, then the only way you can sabotage the cure is to kill Mordin yourself — and Wrex later discovers your subterfuge, forcing you to kill him as well. It's a horrible, messy way to end this mission chain and I don't see what incentive any player who was attached enough to Wrex to save him on Virmire would have to take this path.
4th Best Mass Effect Decision: Rewrite or destroy the heretics
One of the most interesting things about Mass Effect is how it treats the alien races around humanity. They each have their own values and culture, and the series repeatedly gives the player the option to meet them on their own terms. One of the most obvious instances of this is in the Geth Legion's loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2. Legion has discovered the home base of the faction of its people that sided with the Reapers, and tells Shepard they can either destroy them or, with a software patch, get them to rejoin the peaceful majority of the Geth.
Shepard immediately characterizes the latter as brainwashing, but Legion points out that they're seeing it as if the Geth are human, which they're not. It even says "Treating every species like one's own is racist. Even benign anthropomorphism." So you have the opportunity to look at the issue separated from humanity. It's an interesting decision to contemplate for that reason alone, and especially so because of how the Geth as a race see themselves. It's not something that'll challenge you on an emotional level, but it does provide a good thought exercise.
4th Worst Mass Effect Decision: Kill or spare Falere
Shepard, being the arbiter of life and death in these games, has the capacity to kill a lot of people. I don't just mean within the bounds of gameplay; there are several NPCs that Shepard can execute or spare at their discretion. For some, it makes sense, and there is a case to be made that it's safer to kill them — see, for example, Shiala, Fist, or Helena Blake. For others, it seems unnecessarily cruel to do so.
Falere is one of the daughters of Samara, and unlike her sister, has been living a quiet life until the Reapers show up to harvest her and her convent. Shepard and Samara (assuming Samara survived the events of ME2) rescue her, but are too late to save her sister Rila. As Falere is sobbing over her sister's death, Samara tries to commit suicide so she won't be forced to kill Falere. You can allow her to do so, then execute Falere yourself. It's one of the saddest and most pointlessly nasty things you can do in the game, and feels entirely unnecessary.
3rd Best Mass Effect Decision: Save Ashley or Kaiden on Virmire
This list of the "best" choices doesn't always mean the easiest or the one with the best outcome. These are sometimes the decisions that truly make you stop and think. The decision to pick either Kaiden or Ashley was a tricky one to include on this list because for many people I've spoken with, it wasn't a difficult decision at all. I've seen so many people who chose to not save Ashley because she's xenophobic, or Kaiden because he's "boring," or didn't feel strongly about them either way.
It'll all come down to how well you've connected with the characters, but if you had come to love them as your friends and members of your squad, then realizing you can't save both comes across like a punch to the gut. While there are other big choices later in the game, this feels like the one big choice the entire game was building towards.
3rd Worse Mass Effect Decision: Kill Samara or Morinth
There are some decisions in Mass Effect that appear to have been thrown in for no apparent reason than to have a choice exist, to remind players now and then that this isn't intended to be a strictly linear action-adventure story. The rather sudden choice at the end of Samara's loyalty mission, in which Shepard is offered the choice to kill either her or her daughter Morinth, feels like one of those.
It's worth pointing out that Morinth is a serial killer with 400 years' worth of victims to her name. Luring her out and then killing her is the entire point of the mission, and you get to see firsthand how nasty she is. So why would Shepard, who is on a mission to save the entire galaxy and who already has a powerful Asari they can actually trust sworn to their service, choose Morinth? I've heard some say it's in keeping for a Renegade Shepard's character, but I've always thought of Renegades as ruthless-but-pragmatic, and there's nothing pragmatic about Morinth.
2nd Best Mass Effect Decision: Save the Council or the Alliance Fleet
During the final battle on the Citadel, Shepard has to make a snap decision to either save the Destiny Ascension, which has the Citadel Council aboard, or to let the ship be destroyed by telling the human fleet to focus on destroying the Reaper Sovereign. It's a decision with galaxy-wide consequences, which can affect humanity's place in the political order for decades to come.
This choice is especially tricky because, unlike the others on this list, you can choose an outcome based on pure spite. The Council have been consistently uncooperative towards Shepard, refusing to listen to their warnings or help humanity unless there's a clear benefit to them. So when the Council's necks are on the chopping block, Shepard can turn their back for that reason, choosing to save their fellow humans instead. Do you want to be the bigger person, or do you want to save the people more likely to have your back?
2nd Worst Mass Effect Decision: Anderson or Udina as Councilor
The very, very last decision you make at the end of the first Mass Effect is who will take a spot on the Citadel Council to represent humanity's best interests. Your options are Donnel Udina, a stuffy career politician who is kind of a toolbag, or David Anderson, a morally upright military officer and one of the few people who trusts and respects Shepard without question.
I don't mean to be rude to Udina, but Anderson is Shepard's former CO, meaning the player has spent more time with him, and he's gotten the lion's share of positive characterization. Also, he's voiced by Keith David. He's just too appealing a choice. But what makes this choice extra questionable is that it ultimately makes no difference: Even if you choose Anderson, Udina is the councilor by the third game.
Best Mass Effect Decision: Kill or spare the Rachni Queen
If Mass Effect is about challenging your perceptions about what's right and what's just in a world of complex political and social situations, then this decision is practically the game's thesis statement. Shepard meets the Rachni Queen, the last potential mother to the dying Rachni race, who've been built up as this galaxy-threatening menace who had to be put down in the ancient Rachni Wars. The Queen, who's effectively confined to a gas chamber, gives you two choices: kill her then and there and end the Rachni threat for good, or let her out and trust that the race she intends to rebuild will be peaceful from that point on.
The best decisions in the series are the ones where there's no obviously "correct" or favorable answer. There are multiple things at play: Do you believe the Queen when she says her people are naturally peaceful and won't hurt anyone? How comfortable are you committing genocide with the touch of a button? Shepard gains nothing from this decision: It's all on you and what you think is right. I've often heard choices in games referred to (sometimes derisively) as morality systems, but this is one of the few times in a game where a decision has truly felt like a question of morality.
Worst Mass Effect Decision: The final choice
If you've played the games, you probably knew this was coming. The endgame choice in Mass Effect 3 was infamous at launch, and it's still infamous today. After spending a whole game constructing the Crucible weapon, risking life and limb to point it at the Reapers and press the big button, Shepard is suddenly transported into a dreamy, heretofore-unseen area and told by the space-ghost of a child that they actually have three options: destroy the Reapers (the red ending), control them (the blue ending), or synergize all life in the galaxy by fusing organic and synthetic life (the green ending).
The problem with this final outcome is that there's no real case made for any of these three endings. If the game had established early on that these were your choices, and you had the characters you've grown to love and trust — Anderson, Liara, Garrus, Hackett, all of them — giving you input on what each choice would mean, then it might, might feel like a choice with some philosophical weight behind it. Instead it boils down to what you, in that moment, think sounds the least objectionable. It's a huge letdown for the series.
New and returning players have the chance to carve their legends across the Milky Way when the Mass Effect Legendary Edition launches on the Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, and Xbox One on May 14. Let us know if any of these choices stuck with you. Who did you save on Virmire? Who did you choose to romance (an underrated by still important decision)?
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