Since we’re running through some of the most difficult decisions players have to make across the whole Mass Effect series, there are obviously major spoilers ahead!
Save Ashley or Kaiden – Mass Effect
Although Mass Effect players already had to make plenty of tough decisions leading up to this moment, this was the first that would directly influence a major part of the entire Mass Effect trilogy narrative. With both squadmates under heavy fire and in need of immediate support, the player had to choose whether to save Ashley Williams or Kaiden Alenko. Only one could survive.
This choice was especially difficult because it hit on two fronts. While there was plenty about both characters not to like – Ashley was an army brat with racist inclinations, and Kaiden’s niceties felt like a facade hiding something darker – both had been with Shepard since the beginning of the game. There was a kinship between the three characters, a bond which made it tough to say goodbye to either of them.
Not to mention, players had devoted skills points to both characters by the time this decision reared its ugly head. Losing a squadmate meant writing off all the XP either character had earned and all the useful skills that might come in handy later in the game. Ashley was a competent mid-range fighter who could keep enemies off Shepard. Kaiden could use biotics to change the enemy layout on the battlefield, as well as tank a decent amount of hits.
Save or Kill the Rachni Queen – Mass Effect
This was a decision that really challenged the player’s moral compass. When Shepard encounters the Rachni Queen, she claims that her children were being controlled by an unknown signal and did not mean to start a war nor desire to start another one anytime soon. She asks that Shepard free her from her cage, promising that she and her children will hide away and never bother the galaxy again.
The Rachni had terrorized the galaxy once before and forced the Turians and Salarians to use the Krogan as living weapons to stop them. The effect of this war left a lingering impression on the galaxy. It was the reason why the Krogan genophage was ultimately introduced, and why humans weren’t immediately welcomed when they first met the other species of the Milky Way.
Deciding whether or not to trust the Rachni Queen is a tough call. Up until that point, the horrific descriptions of the Rachni are entirely based on second-hand accounts. The consensus is that Rachni are a menace, but there’s no way to prove their actions weren’t coerced. One thing is for certain though, the Rachni Queen hardly encourages any feelings of sympathy. Her voice, a low guttural whisper, communicates through the minds of other species, sounding creepy and quintessentially villainous.
Rewrite or Destroy the Geth Heretics – Mass Effect 2
Near the end of Mass Effect 2, Legion reveals that his people, a race of sentient machines called the Geth, are split in religious ideologies over a force called the Reapers. As it transpires, the Reapers are a group of sentient machines that cleanse the Milky Way Galaxy of nearly all organic life every 50,000 years. One Geth religion worships them as Gods, while the other, of which Legion is part of, believe they should be destroyed.
Understandably, Shepherd isn’t too keen on the idea of all organic life being completely annihilated. Siding with Legion, the player engages in a mission to wipe out the Reaper worshipers for good. It is later discovered, though, that instead of killing them via a virus, the virus could instead be rewritten to convince the Reaper worshipers to side with Shepherd and Legion. They don’t have to die.
On paper, this seems like the obvious choice. Making someone believe the truth sounds a lot better than committing genocide, right? Perhaps not. Sure, Shepherd saving the Geth would ensure their survival, but by fundamentally changing their beliefs, the player was stripping away their very identity. Plus, more pragmatically, it bolsters the Geth ranks, a group that up until Legion, had been purely antagonistic. Maybe it’s better to be safe than sorry…
The Suicide Mission – Mass Effect 2
Okay, this may be cheating as this was a series of choices, but the overall goal of all of these decisions is the same: stop the Collectors and make sure Shepard’s entire team gets out alive.
Players must make several decisions, assigning different characters to everything from who to lead each fire squad to who should escort the Normandy survivors back to the ship. There’s a lot to get through in a short amount of time, and the pressure is intense. A wrong choice might lead to squad mates losing their lives and erasing them from the narrative. For this mission, Mass Effect 2 activated a permadeath system (only for the choices, thankfully, not the gameplay), so any teammate lost in this section of the game could not be brought back. The pressure of the moment and the threat of losing a valued companion made this a particularly nerve-wracking moment in the series.
Reveal or Hide the Salarian Duchess’ Deal – Mass Effect 3
The Krogan genophage was created by the Salarians to cull the Krogan population explosion. To secure the Krogan’s help against the Reapers, they ask Shepard to help them cure the genophage. Shepherd obliges, but before leaving to disperse it, he is informed by the Salarian Duchess that there is a way to trick the Krogan into thinking the genophage was cured without actually doing so.
The player is then faced with a multitude of different possible options: save the Krogan and tell the truth, save them and lie, or condemn them and lie. There’s no inherent benefit to telling the truth. In fact, it could potentially flare up a disastrous conflict between the Krogans and Salarians. After all, the Krogans are hardly known for their diplomatic prowess. The choice essentially boils down to whether the player thinks the Krogan deserve saving, and whether they are mature enough to not go to war after finding out that they almost faced a second artificially created genophage.
Save the Geth or the Quarians – Mass Effect 3
Prior to the events of Mass Effect, the Quarians created the Geth to act as a new type of intelligent robotic slave. But when the Geth started questioning their own existence, the Quarians realized they had created AI and attempted to eradicate their creation. The Geth took up arms and drove the Quarians from their home world, Rannoch. The Quarians became nomads, forced to live inside suits that protected their weak immune systems from the galaxy’s diseases. Other races are distrustful of the Quarians, believing them to be scavengers and thieves.
In Mass Effect 3, the Quarians want to reclaim their homeworld from the Geth. Shepard steps in to help, hoping to achieve peace for both sides and secure an alliance from both species in the fight against the Reapers. But things don’t go smoothly, and players are forced to choose which race survives the ensuing conflict.
What makes this decision so difficult is that it’s easy to feel pity for both sides, as each endured hardship but also committed their own share of atrocities. Shepard also has squad mates that hail from both sides, and your choice condemns at least one of them to death.
There is a way to keep both sides alive if the player consistently worked for peace between the two species across the campaigns for both Mass Effect 2 and 3. However, even if peace is achieved for both sides, this decision would still force you to permanently say goodbye to at least one of Shepard’s trusted companions.
How Will Shepard Save the Galaxy? – Mass Effect 3
Quite possibly the most infamous of “choices” in the entire Mass Effect franchise: how should Shepard save the galaxy. The end of Mass Effect 3 has gone down in video gaming history for some as being one of the greatest disappointments. After all of the branching narratives, impactful story-telling, and clever writing of the series, the outcome of the trilogy ultimately boiled down to four final possibilities. There was some nuance to each choice, but you need to use your imagination to get the most out of it, as the game doesn’t do a whole lot to show you how it pans out even after an update provided a little bit more detail.
Shepard could save the galaxy by destroying all synthetic life, seizing control of the Reapers, synthesizing all organics and synthetics into a new species, or rejecting it all in hopes that the next galactic hero would have better luck. All but one choice leads to Shepherd’s death, so there’s that to factor in as well.
Destroy the Kett Facility or Save the Angaran Survivors – Mass Effect Andromeda
In this instance, players must determine whether to save the minority or to secure the future of the majority. The Kett facility on Voeld transforms Angara into the monsters trying to conquer the Andromeda Galaxy. It surely needs to be destroyed, but doing so would sacrifice the innocent Angara trying to escape. Even so, it’s awfully tempting to wipe this terrible facility clean off the map.
That being said, it’s hard to justify its destruction if it kills hundreds of innocent people in the process. Harder still to justify leaving it to continue its terrible operation. If we ever get a sequel to Mass Effect Andromeda, you can be sure whatever decision was made will have a big impact on its story.
Save Pathfinder Raeka or the Krogan Scouts – Mass Effect Andromeda
Pathfinder Raeka is everything a Pathfinder should be: brave, strong, and resourceful. With her back on the Nexus (Andromeda’s version of the Milky Way’s Citadel), she’d help Ryder find additional habitable worlds, get the Nexus leadership to work together, and secure an alliance between the Milky Way colonists and Andromeda’s Angara. Still, it’s a tough decision to come to her rescue when confronted with the choice of saving her (one person) or several innocent Krogan scouts (that work for your squad made Drack) captured by the Kett.
Under heavy enemy fire and being told that there’s only enough time to save one, the whole moment plays out like a homage to the Ashley and Kaiden decision from the original Mass Effect game. It’s easy to justify leaving the Krogan behind, as Ryder doesn’t know any of them, and has been working closely with Pathfinder Raeka to take back the Salarian Ark. Raeka is also the more logical choice, providing a clear set of skills that the people of the Nexus desperately need to survive. However, it’s Raeka’s brash choice that put her into the tight spot she needs extraction from. Ryder warns her about the danger, but she charges ahead anyway.
The decision is made even more difficult if Drack is on the mission with Ryder. As a Krogan, he urges Ryder to save the scouts. And given that earning Drack’s trust is one of the hardest challenges in the game, there’s the added weight of potentially spoiling that relationship. He’s also the grandfather of one of the Nexus leaders who has supported Ryder from the beginning of the game. It’s not easy getting the Nexus leadership to like you (they’re even more stubborn than the Citadel’s Council), so losing the support of one of their members will only put more roadblocks in Ryder’s way going forward.
Romantic Partner – Every game
Choosing whom Shepard and Ryder ultimately romance shapes several scenes across all four games. The choice shouldn’t be made lightly as they influence who Shepard and Ryder are, from their sexuality, to their moral code.
The type of Shepard who’s willing to consistently journey to the depths of their ship to talk to Jack and comfort her broken psyche is different from the Shepard who’s able to see the nervous, albeit passionate, person behind Tali’s expressionless mask. The Ryder who shares Suvi’s love for science and belief in God is different from the Ryder who chucks responsibility to go adventuring with Peebee.
These relationships go on to influence how the player will make Shepard and Ryder act in almost every single decision (including the ones on this list). It’s hard to make a difficult decision when you believe option one is the right call, but you know that Shepard or Ryder’s romantic partner would want to go with option two.