The first scene, where you see your beloved Normandy go down. Even knowing it gets replaced by the SR-2 doesn't do much to take the edge off when it happens.
Veetor goes / continues to be insane if you send him to Cerberus instead of letting Tali take him. But you have to be a real jerk to keep him with Tali pouting at you to let him go.
Ashley's/Kaidan's rejection of you on Horizon. Seeing your former girlfriend/boyfriend/best friend completely disown you... Then reading their email afterwards... Christ, that's sad.
Even more sad is how they react just before meeting you. They chew out an ungrateful dockhand who's nasty to Shepard, and then, when Shepard is alone with Ashley/Kaidan, they walk over to you, smile, and shake your hand (or hug if you romanced). But they don't sound happy, and then they flip out. Then it hits you: You've been gone for two years: Ash/Kaidan had to cope with that for two years, a death so traumatic Kaidan equates it to losing a limb, and then you just drop out of the sky when they've tried to move on with their lives. Even without being with Cerberus, they've been severely emotionally damaged by what happened. The fact that you're with terrorists can truly be considered a betrayal, in their eyes.
The reunion with a romanced Liara isn't much better. For Shepard, it was only weeks, maybe days ago that they were together...and then you start to realise how much Liara's changed because of interim events. Like with Ashley and Kaidan, it's the whole concept of waking up one day to find that two years have gone by, and the person you loved has moved on without you.
The payoff is that if you remain loyal to your Mass Effect 1 romance, before the Suicide Mission, Shepard picks up the photograph of your loved one and looks at it with a small smile.
The the reunion scene uses "Vigil" from the first game. Thinking about the connotations of the track, even just the name, gives one chills. Such loneliness... * sniff*
The Lair Of The Shadow Broker DLC finally shows Shepard letting everything out. When Liara visits she asks Shep to tell her how s/he truly feels. The options are either cautiously hopeful, frustrated, or truly scared. The way Meer and Hale deliver these lines is heartbreaking because it truly shows that even Shepard, under that cool commanding persona, can be just as frightened as the everyone else about the threat or frustrated that everything s/he is doing to stop the Reapers is in vain. Even more striking is that this is not a Paragade choice but strictly based on how Shepard truly feels.
Getting back together with Liara in Lair of the Shadow Broker is a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming, but the conversation Shepard and Liara have on the Normandy afterwards has a moment that really makes you tear up:
Liara T'Soni: I spent two years mourning you. So if we're going to try this, I need to know you're always coming back.
If you didn't tear up during Tali's mission when she finds her father's body, you aren't human.
Not to mention her tirade against Shepard if s/he suggests colonizing a different world. It really drives home just what the Quarians are going through. Liz Sroka's voice-acting was superbly done here.
Tali: (to Shepard) You have no idea what it's like! You have a planet to go back to! My home is one hull breach away from extinction!
Shepard: You've got a place here, Tali. Don't throw it away in a war you don't need.
Tali: Don't need? Shepard, if I don't wear a helmet in my own home, I die! A single kiss could put me in the hospital! Every time you touch a flower with bare fingers, inhale its fragrance without air filters, you are doing something I can't!
There's a bit of Fridge Sadness in that statement, too. Back at the beginning of the game, Jacob tells you that she was on the first Normandy when it was destroyed. So that line about her home being "one hull breach away from extinction?" That's not hyperbole; she actually watched it happen once.
Additional Fridge Sadness if you're playing as a male Shepard and romance her later, specifically relating to the line "a single kiss could put me in the hospital!". She at first awkwardly makes a pass at Shepard, and is overjoyed when he returns her feelings, but after thinking about it more, she tries to turn Shepard down because she doesn't think he could be happy in a relationship with aBubble Girl. Makes one wonder what was going through her head when she said that.
Tali's breakdown upon finding her father dead on a geth-infested quarian ship, and the Paragon interrupt that lets you hug her.
Don't hug Tali during her loyalty mission. Can't do it? Don't worry, this guy did it for you. The scene is painful enough with the hug; not taking the interrupt takes the tear jerking Up to Eleven.
As has been stated elsewhere on this wiki, no one with a soul can resist giving her that hug, including the player who made that video. After recording the cutscene without the hug, he reloaded his save file to do it right.
In that loyalty mission there's also a part of the Alarei's Apocalyptic Log that you can find. (About 4:42) It's a female quarian who's recording a message as the geth cut into the room she's in. As the video ends, she says (to her own kid) "Be strong for daddy! Mommy loves you very much!" as the geth blast into the room and shoot her.
If you get the evidence and tell Tali that since her father is dead, he won't need her to protect him, her response - particularly the way her voice cracks, is heartbreaking.(And if you reveal to the admirals that it was all his fault... well, you are an asshole.
Tali: They'll strike his name from the manifest of every ship he ever served on! He'll be worse than an exile. He'd be a traitor, a monster to be held up to children in a cautionary tale! I can't let all the good he did be destroyed by this!
Everything about Tali is a tear jerker. She secretly fell in love with Shepard during the first game, but couldn't bring herself to tell him, so she possibly had to watch him become romantic with another crew member. Then, she spends two years convinced he's dead. After you meet her on Freedom's Progress, her entire squad gets massacred through no fault of her own. When you meet her on Haestrom, another squad under her command has been slaughtered. Then, after you take her onboard, she gets charged with treason, then finds out in one of the most painful ways that her father is dead, then learns he was breaking essentially every quarian law by building geth aboard his ship and has to choose between condemning her father or being exiled from the fleet. And this all happens to one of the sweetest, most likable characters in the game.
Taken Up to Eleven when you speak to the members of the Admiralty Board and learn that Tali is only being accused of treason to determine whether or not the entire Migrant Fleet should try to take back their homeworld from the Geth.
Shepard: Do whatever you want with your toy ships, but leave my crew out of your political bullshit!
The geth even get one, albeit a very subtle one. Tali's father and his coworkers were doing what would qualify as horrific experiments on them, first piecing them together from dozens of broken geth platforms and then trying to figure out ways to most effectively destroy them. While some of the videos left by the quarians are tearjerkers, the mother begging for her child to be good for her father before being gunned down by the geth? That's the geth executing one of the scientists who had been effectively torturing them for an unknown period of time with goals of racial genocide. And then Shepard and Company come through and kill all of them.
The ending of Kasumi's loyalty quest, where she gets her boyfriend's last message. The cocky and upbeat character is finally brought to tears. She even tries to hold the image of her boyfriend, Keiji.
The DLC where you explore the wreckage of the Normandy. Collecting the dogtags, all the little flashbacks... a clear example of Snow Means Death.
At one point, the player finds the deceased Navigator Pressly's journal. In the first game, Pressly is distrustful of your alien crew members when you first meet him. However his journal reveals that by spending time with the crew, he came to trust the aliens just as much as any human. The final entry states that Pressly would gladly give his life for any crew member, regardless of species.
Not to mention being able to find the dogtags in the wreckage because they were glowing. It was like you were collecting their souls and they were just waiting to be found and brought home. No one gets left behind under Shepard's command.
The fact that you take no squad members with you on this assignment (no need, there are no enemies). That also means there is no dialog. Just Shepard, silently wandering the remains of his/her ship. And because there are no conversations, that also means that this is pretty much the one time both Paragon and Renegade Shepard react to a situation with exactly the same behavior; reverent silence.
When you find the destroyed crew section. Most of the time, Shepard's flashbacks are of the way the ship used to look. When s/he finds the crew section? A picture of whichever squad member died on Virmire. One wonders if Shepard will ever forgive him/herself.
A surprisingly potent one at the end of the game, when Harbinger releases control of the Collector General for the first time in the entire game, and it looks around before slumping in a dejected manner as the station explodes around it...
Doubly so if that was one of the original Collectors- in other words, a Prothean. After 50,000 years, he's finally free... only to die right after.
In Mordin's personal mission, you can have a conversation over the body of a dead krogan female, and Mordin states his rage and anger over the senseless loss of life that was going on in the facility, and whispers a prayer to the dead female. He sounds so distraught and passionate about his ethical issues and feelings of guilt and the sadness of what had to be done, and it's one of the most moving and well-written moments in the entire game.
In that same scene, if you've already played through Mass Effect 3, one quote he says is even Harsher in Hindsight: "Had to be me. Others might have gotten it wrong."
In the same mission, the speaker of Clan Weyrloc makes an impassioned, enraged speech about the piles of stillborn Krogan children caused by the Genophage. Even though the guy's a total Jerk Ass and tries to kill you immediately afterwards, you can hear his voice giving out when he mentions the stillborns. It's pretty clear from his speech that he feels like he's got nothing left, and he's lashing out at the galaxy the only way he knows how. It's hard not to be moved by the situation that all Krogan have been left in, by events that happened centuries past.
The end of the quest, where you learn that his student didn't get kidnapped, but allied himself to the Krogan from his free will so he could try to find cure to the genophage? That doesn't sound too bad, but when your party fails to convince him that the Krogan might start a rampage from ensuing power trip, Mordin pulls out his gun and shoots him if the player doesn't use a Paragon quick-time event and prevent him. Just listen his voice after that...he's so disappointed and crushed.
Mordin: Apologies, Commander. Misunderstood mission parameters. No kidnapping. My mistake. Thank you.
Poignantly, this is one of the few times in the game where Mordin uses a personal pronoun (or a pronoun at all) while serious. He doesn't say "Made mistake." or some such, he says my mistake. It's something he can't quite distance himself from.
If you let Mordin kill Maelon, then the above quote is absolutely heartshattering. After spending the entire mission trying to convince himself more than Shepard that he did not kill needlessly, Mordin murders Maelon in cold blood because once again, he had no other choice.
Knowing this, his line after using the Paragon quick-time provokes also to wipe eyes. It really shows how much of effect the mission had on Mordin. Again, the tone of his voice really tugs the heartstrings.
Mordin: No...not a murderer. Thank you, Shepard.
How about the small details, the tiny additions that just hit you straight in the heart? On Tali's quest when you find the final recording of the Quarian female speaking to her son. Or the fact that the way they played the recordings, the very last one you find (before the evidence) is the female Quarian saying how happy she is that the project is going to be a success? Or finding the asari on Illium who won't help the Zhu's Hope colonists, and realising you knew both her daughters, and both died? Losing any member of your squad in the suicide mission, and knowing it was because of your own stupid screwup? ME2 is loaded to the brim with tearjerkers.
Samara's mission. She has to kill her own daughter, because she's an out of control murderer. And that's mostly because of her genes, which are also partly Samara's genes. The way she is after it all...
That Samara describes Morinth as the best and brightest of her daughters implies that she disagrees with the treatment of Ardat-Yakshi and loves/takes pride in Morinth trying to be an individual. But that she also realizes that Morinth had already taken one step past the point of no return and simply could not be saved. And that for all that, she wants to have children, to make the world better, she realizes that all she will ever give birth to (in all likelihood) are prisoners. And then after, when talking to Samara, she politely makes a wayward comment about putting the mission in front of feelings and such.
This line from Samara: "There are three Ardat-Yakshi, I have three daughters. It is as it sounds" She delivers it very matter-of-factly but you can just tell she's absolutely crushed inside.
Samara: Killing Morinth had been the reason I became a Justicar. For the first time in over four hundred years, I am free. I am a ruined vessel of sorrow and regret, but I am free.
It's even worse for Samara's other two daughters. Both of them have accepted their fate to being isolated, but are pained that she never visits them. When she agrees to being a Justicar, to accept the Oath of Solitude, they give a tearful goodbye because they love their mother, have been good daughters and done what is expected of them as Ardat-Yakshi. It's because of Morinth that they'll never be able to see her again. One daughter, Rila, barely even speaks during their final conference call together. Her other, Farele, calls her out on her decisions:
Samara: The life of a justicar is dangerous. I will make enemies and they would seek to use you -
Falere: That I understand. What is not clear is why you do this in the first place. Is it not enough that we live a hundred light-years away from you in a dark fortress? That we have no communicator of our own but must use this communal one? Do you know what it means to us to hear your voice?
Samara: I am sorry, Falere.
Falere: And now you take that away.
It's even worse when you consider both of them are in their early 40's, which for an asari is mid-teenage. Imagine two fourteen year old girls who are sent into what is essentially a nunnery to never see their mother again. Is there any other reason the final words Farele tells Samara before hanging up is "Catch her (Morinth). Just catch her"?
You may be morbidly curious as to how Shepard is able to die, considering how much Bioware played up the Anyone Can Die angle. Well, it only happens if you screw up the suicide mission so badly that every single one of your squadmates die. Once that's happened, Shepard will make the final leap to the Normandy, but Joker can't pull him/her up. Shepard tells Joker to warn everyone else, and despite Joker shouting "You tell them! You're not doing this to me again!", Shepard will lose his/her grip and fall to his/her doom. The anguish in Joker's voice and his face is palpable in the following ending scenes; he sounds almost broken when he speaks to the Illusive Man in Shepard's place. Seeing him looking at all those coffins is absolutely soul shattering, especially when he places his hand on the coffin with the "N7" symbol on it. The part that makes it is when Joker stands alone in the Normandy's hold, looking into space with a mixture of sadness, uncertainty, and determination as the music reaches its crescendo and the Reaper fleet mobilizes in deep space.
Not to make it worse but... the cutscene actually seems more like Shepard willingly lets go in order to save Joker. At that point, Shepard knows that Joker isn't going to willingly leave him/her behind but that Joker can't possibly pull him/her up between Joker's condition and the Collector's firing at the ship. Shepard knows that. So s/he lets go to give Joker a chance to escape so that the message gets out.
Even worse: this is the second time he's seen Shepard die, and once again it happens as a result of something Joker did/couldn't do. Even though the worst ending is absolutely Shepard's fault, that kind of bookend can't have gotten past Joker's notice.
If any of your squadmates die, during the final scene in the cargo bay you'll be treated to a panning shot showing their coffins, laid out in a row. The shot shows not only the losses you've suffered and the good lives have been lost, but also the implication that you could have saved them. Even worse when you realize there's no way some of their bodies were recovered. Those coffins are empty. Devastating.
All of the death scenes during the suicide mission. All of them.
Mordin's death scene is quite poignant, as he asks Shepard to "Tell them... I held the line." This is in reference to the fact that he worked with the STG under Captain Kirrahe from the first game, who was fond of his epic speeches of awesome where holding the line was their job, at all costs.
Legion's death scene. He may be a machine and thus it might be somewhat possible to bring him back to life again, but it's utterly heart-wrenching to hear him cry "No carrier! No carrier! No carrier!"
A case of Fridge Horror when you realize that he was Trying to upload his programs to the rest of the Geth collective; a vain attempt to survive. He cries out "No Carrier" because there aren't any nearby Geth stations or satellites to pick up the programs, so his programs; the very essence of Legion's soul, simply fade away. Legion dies not with a bang, but with a sigh. And to boot... since Legion operates much much faster than an organic, their death isn't the fast death others might get. When you can do a billion calculations in a second, even getting killed in a quarter second can be forever.
Grunt's death scene was bittersweet at best. On the one hand, Grunt's death is just as sad as the others. But on the other hand, he dies the way all Krogan should die; he died fighting.
Grunt: Good fight Shepard..........Good Fight.........
If you select Miranda as your biotic specialist, when you see how she fails to protect your team despite claiming in theory any biotic would've been a fine choice suddenly reminds you of a previous conversation on the Normandy when she claims that when she does make mistakes, the consequences are severe. It's only when you experience it, you truly realize she wasn't exaggerrating.
Particularly heartwrenching is that no matter who you lose, or what they mean to you, you don't have time to mourn. Even Miranda, the Ice Queen herself sounds choked up when she has to tell Shepard, who is standing over the body of a friend, possibly even a lover that they have to keep moving.
The worst is when someone dies offscreen while you're fighting the Human-Reaper. You hear that all surviviors have made it to the Normandy, then it cuts to the dead body of whoever died, surrounded by Collectors. Especially ball-punching if it was someone you were romancing; while most of them stand a good chance of surviving, Tali stands a pretty high chance of getting killed.
If you don't upgrade the Normandy, the Oculus blast the ship and kill crew with each shot. And Jack is the first to go, taken out by an explosion in the engine room. That she doesn't even get a last fight, just unceremoniously killed like that, after everything that she has gone through... And of course, there isn't even time to mourn. And that goes for every death during the suicide mission.
Leave it to BioWare to work a Tear Jerker into random NPC background chatter. On the world of Illium, loitering by the souvenir kiosk lets you eavesdrop on the conversation of a salarian and his asari stepdaughter as they look for a souvenir for her mother. At first it's funny to listen to the salarian quoting silly taglines from t-shirts and postcards, and the asari being so obviously bored... until you listen longer, and realize that he wants to find a souvenir because he's nearing the end of his approximately forty-year lifespan while his wife and stepdaughter will both live to be a thousand, and he just wants some assurance that they're even going to remember him. The last few lines of their conversation ("You'll make sure she keeps it?" "...Yeah. I'll make sure.") are heartbreaking.
Maybe more so because he seems only quietly bothered by the lifespan discrepancy, but his daughter goes from bored to obviously holding back tears.
On a similar note, there's an asari when you first get to Illium who is distraught about losing a precious memento from her bondmate. During Miranda's loyalty mission, you can find a locket containing a picture of an asari and a human male. Hearing the asari's "Oh...Steven." when you return it is already enough to make it tug at your heart, but when she explains that Steven recently passed away, and that the locket is all her daughter has to remember her father with... Worse, humans have only been on the galactic scene for somewhere around thirty years at this point... meaning that he probably only met her sometime in the last few years. This wasn't some ageless being like another asari, or a krogan (Wrex is 1,400, after all), this human... with his short, little life, came into her life... and gave her a daughter. A daughter that this asari will raise for years and years to come... and she'll forever be reminded of this one alien who blitzed his way into her heart, gave her nothing but happiness for a brief flash of an instant... and then faded away. And then you realize: This is the fate of almost all who love asari. It's a really poignant reminder that even for a race as powerful, and ageless, and wise... there are still some things that can lay us all low.
Another one on Illium. Having the conversation with the asari who lost her wife and daughters as a result of all the violence in the galaxy, getting her to open up and break down in tears about this terrible tragedy and the pain it still causes her, and convincing her to honour their memory by forgiving the aliens she holds responsible... only to overhear two racist asari thoughtlessly bitching about her and her family, because she's pureblood and she married an asari. "She's pureblood. They're all like that."
Just to make this one a tiny bit worse: It's implied that Shepard may have met both of her daughters on the Citadel. One was the Presidium receptionist; the other worked for the asari Consort.
Legion replaying the first memories of the Geth Collective to Shepard:
It's absolutely 'heartbreaking if you stop Legion from uploading the Reaper data into the rest of the Geth collective in the third game. Tali stabs him, and if you don't take the Renegade interrupt, Legion asks before dying, "Does this unit have...." Tali tearfully replies, "Yes, you do."
Jack's story about Murtock during her romance sidequest. The crack in her voice as she describes his dying message is the clincher.
Jacob gets a tear jerker moment after his loyalty misson, even when playing as a Male Shepard. After it is revealed that Miranda told him the location of the planet his father was on, he and Shepard have a conversation about Miranda. His final words are heartbreaking. "She...deserves a better man than I."
If you played a Paragon Shepard in the first game, in the second you get occasional letters of thanks from the people you saved with updates on what they did with their lives. That includes Talitha, the girl from "I Remember Me," if you had the right background. Probably the nicest touch in terms of giving your choices lasting emotional impact in the game.
The Paragon decision to nudge Miranda into introducing herself to her sister. Even as a Renegade, it's totally worth it, as it's the one time you'll see Miranda genuinely tear up.
In Mass Effect 2 your toast with Dr. Chakwas after bringing her a bottle of good brandy, especially the To Absent Friends toast.
Lots of little downer moments, including:
Seeing your previous love interest's photo on your desk and realizing that they might not even know you're alive. There's also how Shepard studies said photo as a downbeat remix of the ME1 love theme plays, just before the Suicide Mission starts.
The sidequest to get the Zhu's Hope colonists out of a rather onerous medical research contract. The corporate rep you talk to is vehemently anti-alien, and then you find out why: her mate died on the quarian homeworld during the geth uprising, and both of her daughters (who were NPCs you talked to in the first game) died in the attack on the Citadel.
How about the email "Can you help?" from a (presumably) Horizon colonist named Robyn Reeve after the Collectors escape with over a third of the colony's population. "I know you're looking, but so many people are just gone. Every family lost someone. The children are the worst. ... The Alliance isn't doing anything. The Council isn't doing anything. If you can find our people, I'm begging you to do something. Tell me something I can do. Tell me anything." The obvious desperation and pain in the letter is pretty damn sad.
And, unfortunately, it gets even worse than that: When you enter the Collector ship later, your party will mention that, due to the ship's main power being off, all the pods have cut out and show zero life signs. So all the abducted Horizon colonists are dead. And while you initially think Turian ships disabled it, it turns out to be a trap by the Collectors, meaning they shut off their own power knowing it'd kill all the abductees. Thanks a lot, you alien bastards.
Two krogan talking on Tuchanka. One of them thinks that one of the children kept away with the female tribes for protection is his son. A surprisingly touching moment from the race best-known for mindless violence. Even more moving when he asks if he should apply for right of parentage and his friends says "you know you've sired a son - leave it at that." He's worried that his friend might be wrong about siring a son, and doesn't want him to be disappointed.
Another one on Tuchanka, a krogan is talking to his companion about a vid about the Citadel, wishing he could see it in person, while the second krogan berates him for looking at it because he's never ever going to get off his radioactive, warring Death World of a planet. Same krogan also expresses interest in science (of the intellectual sort instead of the BOOM sort)and documentaries . Hearing the other (bigger) krogan crush the smaller ones dreams is hard to listen to. One hopes that the little guy gets a chance to tell Wrex that he's interested in being smart not just strong.
The salarian workers that you meet during Thane's recruitment mission, especially the first one. The shell-shocked way he says "we're just night workers..." just tugs at the heartstrings, and he follows it with the horrible story of what Nassana did, including how some people were jumping off of ledges to escape the dogs (and note that 'dogs' in this case are FENRIS mechs armed with tasers- at least with organic dogs, you could hurt them and maybe get them to back off.) As several characters have noted, you never get used to seeing dead civilians.
When you realize that the whole time he's been screaming "MAKE IT STOP" at you...
If you decide to take David from the facility, you're treated to a extended scene you wouldn't see otherwise. You focus in on his face, eyes pried open by clamps, tears flowing, the camera moving closer and closer as the mission draws to a close as he repeats the same equation over and over again, mimicking his elder brother's words as he spoke about what he had done to him...
Archer could be seen as a sad character too. He cares about his brother and knows what he did was wrong but at the point Shepard shows up its too late to stop. "What I have done to David is unethical. If he dies it is unforgivable." That's undermined by his near-immediate attempt to stop Shepard from taking him away, but he does eventually get it, going so far as the tell The Illusive Man when he wanted to repeat the experiment to piss off.
You spend a decent amount of time trying to stop the "VI" from Uploading itself offworld. It becomes Fridge Horror when you realise it's not trying to infect other systems, but David, trying to get away from the noise.
Being too late to save Kelly and several other crew members.
If Gabby from engineering dies, but Ken survives. Seeing him down there, alone, and hearing him say that it was so weird without Gabby makes you tear up, especially knowing all of the history they had.
The woman in the crew's quarters who was always talking with a male crew member about his family, especially his baby daughter. Their first conversation that you hear has him telling her about how he's never actually seen his daughter in person yet, but he has a recording of her giggle. If half of the crew is killed, the woman is sitting alone at that table, and says quietly, "I'll make sure she knows her father was a hero." You could have prevented that, you bastard.
Heck, the angry, tearful What the Hell, Hero? you get from Dr. Chakwas if you take your time doing the rescue.
The nameless, faceless tank-bred krogan on Korlus made me start bawling when he said he would not move from his position, because "has a purpose." Not to mention the way he kept repeating that "I am not perfect." He just sounds so...lost. It gets even worse when we ultimately learn that Okeer essentially created an army of rejects and discarded the poor guy, and he's likely going to stay where he is until he starves to death or a Blue Sun finally kills him. The entirety of his seven-day life has been spent fighting, and he's going to die for a lunatic krogan warlord who dies a half-hour later, and there was absolutely no reason for any of it.It's worse because that krogan will stay there until he's killed by the Blue Suns.
Thane reuniting with his son at the end of his loyalty mission is sad enough, but the achievement for it is called Cat's in the Cradle. It's the name of a song. Youtube it, and make sure to look for the Harry Chapin version. You will cry.
The conversation with Thane where he asks for your help has a few. Shepard can ask how a raw rookie could be hired for a contract killing. Thane theorises that someone saw that they have the same name, and thus the same skills, but he can't figure out why Kolyat would do it in the first place. Shepard can suggest 'To be closer to you, maybe?' to which Thane responds:
That thought haunts me more than any other.
Speaking of Thane, his breakup scene if you choose to end a romance with him. There's a reason that most of the comments on the Youtube video of the breakup dialogue are variations of 'YOU MONSTER!'.
There's an option to select "I can't love a dying man" on the dialogue wheel, and Shepard says, "I don't think I can do this. Love you now only to lose you later. I'm sorry." Thane is taken aback and says that they made no vows and he wouldn't wish to be a burden to her, and then the player can change their mind.
If you fail to track Kolyat during Thane's loyalty mission, he gets away with the hit. Thane becomes even more depressed and more of a Death Seeker now that he has absolutely nothing in the world to live for and hasn't even managed to put any good into it. Its heartbreaking to watch/hear his dialogue back on the Normandy.
During Legion's loyalty mission, when Legion realizes the heretics have been spying on the true Geth and gives one of the saddest lines in the game (from a supposedly emotionless synthetic, no less):
Legion: How did we become so different? Where did we go wrong?
There's a massiveMood Whiplash when you go through Miranda's dossiers. Most of them are records of her conversations with possible partners on a extranet dating site which are mostly Crowning Moment of Funny. Then you get to the last one, and it's like a punch to the gut. Miranda is completely barren, and the clinic that she went to can neither confirm nor deny if it was due to her genetic engineering.
Miranda's also may earn a Fridge Horror moment when you realize her father made her to be flawless. We know he's greedy, controlling, and manipulative so it is possible that he created Miranda to be unable to have children as another way to control her. Which means her father actually thought ahead that he didn't want his daughter to be able to become pregnant and possibly pass on her "flawless" genes.
Even MORE fridge horror (after a long line of funny instant message logs) when you realise that she was probably only using the dating sites to solicit sex (hence her abrupt disconnection after giving her address), and possibly only to the end of impregnating herself. Coupled with the obvious way she looks after her sister like a daughter, it's clear, (regardless of your feelings on how well she'd do) that Miranda very badly wants to be a mother...especially since a child is the only person she could love without reserve, without worrying if she'd be betrayed or was being manipulated. This, likely along with the desire to never do to her child what her father did to her.
Samara's is even worse, just how the stupid quirk of genetics has ruined her life and her daughter's lives. They're going to be prisoners for a thousand years and Samara herself has given up everything to hunt down her rogue daughter. Also there's something sad about learning Morinth's real name, like she was trying to escape the fate forced on her at birth. It makes their confrontation even sadder. Morinth never uses her real name. Samara calls her Morinth. Whoever Mirala was, she's long gone to the both of them.
The things she "bequeathed" when she became a Justicar include a "personalized “Happy Birthday Mom” travel mug with photo of Samara and children (handle cracked and repaired, some glue marks visible)"
If Shepard is romancing Thane, there's a extra file on his dossier; It's a goodbye letter meant to be delivered to Shepard after his death from his diseace. That alone is depressing but it tips to heartbreaking once you read it further and he declares, that he'll rather face a machine-bound, long and painful death in the hospital bed than get himself killed as he originally planned if that means he can be together with Shepard just a few months longer. The whole thing will make you wibble, but the final line is the killer: "I will await you across the sea."
Jack's dossier. When she was a baby, her mom went to the local medical facility because a doctor said that baby Jack needed a checkup. Apparently, all that doctor wanted was a reason take Jack away from parental custody since he is a Cerberus operative and Jack was exceptional. So the bastard lied to the mother, made up some sob story about how her kid had seizures due to biotics, told the mom that the government did this, and tricked her into releasing custody of Jack. Right after that, Jack was sent to Pragia.
Tali's dossier, which includes a keystroke log of Tali attempting to write a letter to the family of one of the quarian soldiers who died protecting her, constantly erasing each line she writes because she can't find anything that will justify it.
Ronald Taylor's final letter to Jacob, telling his son how proud he was of him. He explains that the reason he took up his job was so that he could finally settle down comfortably with Jacob and his mother. The Final punch was that he wished for Jacob to find comrades he could rely on in the Alliance just like he found Hugo Gernsback. Considering all the horrors that happens during Jacob's loyalty mission, it makes it that much more tragic.
In Legion's dossier, there's the conversation he has with EDI. She's the only other AI on the Normandy, and he's trying to communicate with her, and she politely informs Legion that even if she were capable of exchanging data with another AI, she would not do so with him. There's an uncomfortable pause in the conversation that lasts all of a second, but to an AI of Legion's level of sophistication, well... he must have been truly taken aback by her comment.
And then there's the records of the extranet games he plays. Although the purpose of it was probably observation, there are just weird little hints of a personality, like the infraction report that states that Legion was reprimanded for unsportsmanlike behaviour. Think about it: Legion got an infraction for TAUNTING other players, an inherently human reaction. And then there's the note that, despite the fact he's logged several days into the game, he got an absolute crap score at a Quarian dating sim. It's like it was trying to see what would make the Quarians love them again, but no amount of consensus and research could find out what is required for the peace between both races.
The fact that Legion purchased a game entitled, Geth Attack: Eden Prime Fundraising Edition, and has a 'donation level' of Ultra Platinum, and yet has logged zero hours into the game. Of course a geth wouldn't want to take part in a simulation of killing their own, but the fact that they/it want to help the damages on Eden Prime so much that they'd do that is touching, to say the least.
The dossier gets worse if you actually traded Legion over to Cerberus. They literally took him apart, and the implication is that he's trying to put himself back together ....
Poor, poor Anderson. Even if you don't pass him over in favor of Udina, leaving him a Buttmonkey, the files on him reveal that the stress of being councilor, seeing the guy who murdered hundreds to screw him out of a respectable position and tried to sell the galaxy out to an Eldritch Abomination being painted as a misunderstood hero, or how said Eldritch Abomination was merely a myth despite blowing away most of the Citadel fleet two years ago has led him to drinking.
Mordin's mission dialogue about the mission in Tuchanka which was expanded in the folder, how he was delivering the modified genophage and how he had to kill female Krogan and how Maelon was complaining about the ethics of the mission and he simply dimisses it. In fact when he talked about killing many, his major highlight in his life was the genophage deliveries, most of his acts of violence were part of the whole Genophage mission.
The one on Garrus... The entire chatlog with his sister Solana is painful to read, but the lines about his activities on Omega really feel like a kick in the teeth:
Solana: You lose your C-Sec job, and what about that contract job you were doing up until recently?
Garrus: Yeah, it ended badly.
Solana: Damn it, you haven't even bothered to sync up for video chat since you lost that damn job. If you're so ashamed to look me in the eye, then why are we even talking?
For those who're a bit behind, he's refusing to sync up for video chat with his sister because a gunship blew off half his face, which was patched with prosthetics meant for a species with less in common with him than a camel spider.
It's so sad, when you know perfectly well what Garrus has been doing—trying to help the innocent and punish the guilty, usually in hilariously ironic manners. But then you realize just how much he's sacrificed... not only a comfortable, respectable, and likely rewarding (from an emotional point of view, not just money) position as a C-Sec officer, but also his entire family. His mother is dying and his entire family thinks he just abandoned them to run off and be some merc for hire. And then you find out that he and Mordin secretly worked out a deal with the STG to fund the clinic where his mother's being treated, so she can get the treatment for free... well, that is just a giant Crowning Moment of Heartwarming for both Garrus and Mordin.
The Broker's video files, much in the same vein as the dossiers. Some are hilarious, others are heartbreaking.
Matriarch Aethyta staring at a photo, drink at hand and clearly drowning sorrows. A Personal Effects Reveal and Tear Jerker all in one.
If your Shepard stayed faithful to Liara, the entire ending and epilogue of Shadow Broker DLC are tearjerking CMOH at its finest. Liara has struggled so much with her quest for revenge and with her mourning for Shepard, and it isn't until the very end, if you've hit all the right conversation points, that Shepard finally manages to get across that he/she is back for real and in it for the long haul.
Liara's breakdown after killing the Shadow Broker. It really underscores how much crap she went through in those two years. You even get the option to hug her while she's sobbing. Those who romanced her will get the option to kiss her as well.
Hell, just the thought that Liara spent two years on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge for what the Shadow Broker tried to do to Shepard whether s/he was a love interest or not.
The romance scene between Liara and Shepard at the end of the DLC. You barely see anything but they just seem so happy. It's really a testament to Bioware's writing that they are able to make a love story, let alone an Interspecies Romance so convincing.
If you chose to romance Thane, and he dies while leading the second squad on the suicide mission, his dialogue changes.
Thane: I hear it. The sea...you look beautiful, my siha....
If you romanced Liara in the first game but took another love interest in the second, Liara notices and gives a sharp comment before you go after the Shadow Broker's base itself. Most of them are funny and sound like sharp-edged humor hiding pain; she says Garrus is doing more than calibrating the guns, that now Shep prefers Jacob or Miranda or Jack or is trying to get into Tali's helmet. But her comment about Thane is harsh.
Yes, you came back, and now you're trying to take the place of a dying man's wife!
Thane's pre-loyalty mission dialogue, when he says the memories of despair of the hardest to get away from. He was right, from the days when he was more concerned about an upcoming hit then playing with his son to the way he talks about his wife's funeral and how Kolyat was extremely upset about how he could leave her to die and how he wasn't ever there, it's just completely devastating to watch..
Often overlooked as a shallow brute, gun for hire by many. Zaeed Massani is at his core, a tragic individual. Zaeed is the living example of what Garrus could have become if he did not have Shepard at his side. Betrayed and left for dead, Zaeed spent 20 bloody and brutal years seeking revenge against a man who he had once counted as one of the few friends he'd ever have. He's become so desensitized to dealing death that he's not at all afraid to die himself. Something that is core to being human. He's become so used to his lifestyle that it scares him to imagine a life where he can settle down. To the point where he'd rather kill himself.
Yes, Zaeed was a ruthless bastard, and yes he's a goddamn murderer. But when you take the Paragon options on his loyalty mission and gain his loyalty, he shows a lot of depth in that he regrets a lot of the thing's he's done over the years being a brutal sunnuvabith. But even then, when he talks about the shit Vido had done with the Blue Suns organization, which Zaeed had originally intended to be rather honorable and fair, the anger in his voice at the stuff Vido did showed a more decent side to the guy.
Zaeed: This could be it. If this Illusive Man's money goes through, it's time to get serious about buying a property. Got to narrow it down to a place I can stand for more than a year.
Elysium? Only if the Alliance gets serious about taking out the batarians in the Verge, so not in my lifetime. Illium's an easy place for a man to disappear whether he wants to or not. Think I'll pass. Earth's still too bloody crowded. Bekenstein? Decent weather, good food, mostly human. Good choice if I can stay under the radar. Eden Prime? Best garden world in the galaxy, but nothing's rebuilt but the farms.
Hell, maybe I should just buy a ship full of explosives and commit suicide by Omega. Easiest retirement plan I've come up with so far.
It's even sadder if he dies during the Suicide Mission. All he says is "Too many of them. Shields couldn't hold up. Figured it might end something like this." Now take into account what his Shadow Broker dossier says and you realize that when he says that he's relieved.
Han Olar, a character from the original Mass Effect who is stricken by guilt over having allowed an Asari to die to save himself, writes a letter to Shepard. The end of it speaks for itself.
But maybe you're not really back. Maybe I died. Maybe I didn't close that door in time. Maybe I held it open to give her a chance, and the rachni ripped my suit open, and I died of exposure there on Peak 15. Maybe I'm a martyr, and this is an ugly hallucination before a glorious afterlife.
But if I'm not, then thank you.
While Jacob's loyalty mission itself evokes more anger and disgust than tears, the email you get afterward fits.
My words are coming back. I can talk well. Reading is hard but I am getting better. I have to get better. Taylor wanted me like this. He wanted my words gone. I have to show him that he lost. I am not weak. He did things to me, and he can't now. He can't take away my words. He can't make me not me anymore.
During Miranda's romance, once she acknowledges how much she cares about Shepard, she begs, "So don't die! You promise me, damn it!" The sheer terror in her voice at the thought of losing Shepard shows how much he means to her — a far cry from her Ice Queen beginnings.
The ending of Arrival. 300,000 lives, gone, in a flash. And Shepard pushed the button. While s/he did it with the best of intentions and bought the galaxy valuable time it still doesn't take away from that fact that 300,000 are dead and s/he's going to take the bullet for those lives. And this probably won't be the last time we'll need to sacrifice the countless nameless to fight the Reapers. Yes, for now, we can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that we've delayed the Reaper's invasion, but it doesn't cushion the fact that Shepard's now a mass murderer
How Shepard just stands overlooking the Galaxy map. And then the system turns red. Guilt much? It's even worse because you can try to warn them - try to save somebody, even if it's not everyone, even if it's only a handful of handfuls, but the message doesn't get out.
It's worse if Shepard has the colonist background. Humans and Batarians already have a hostile relationship with the other, and for Shepard the hate is personal, everyone they ever knew was taken their parents included to live and die as slaves to the Batarians. Yet despite all this, a Paragon Shepard will STILL try and warn these people what's coming so they can evacuate. The amount of effort that Shepard must have put into trying to be the better person is nothing less than saintly. And Kenson ruins EVERYTHING, turning what could have been a CMOH into... this
When you first meet Garrus AKA Archangel in Mass Effect 2 seeing how much he's changed and how cynical he's become is a real punch in the gut. This is especially heavy on Mood Whiplash because it goes from joy from realizing who Archangel really is, to sadness when you see how much he's changed, to all out crying when he gets injured. Seeing him on the floor in a pool of his own blood is heartbreaking, and it just gets worse when you get his Shadow Broker file and realize what else was going on before you found him.
What strikes most about the reunion with Garrus is just how tired he sounds when you finally get him face-to-face. He's so exhausted by everything that's happened to him in the last little while (physically and mentally) he just doesn't have it in him to be happy to see Shepard again.
The infected area on Omega is pretty horrifying, but there's one room that's just awful. Two Turian plague victims were locked in a room together by the Blue Suns to try and halt the disease spread. What really makes this bad is the audio logs one of the Turians left behind.
Turian: Daelus died last night. He's still talking to me though. It's good to hear his voice, the company is nice...Nobody should have to die alone...
Another, far more subtle Garrus moment. When confronting Sidonis, if you take the what-seems-to-be "Paragon"-option and don't let Garrus take the shot. The increasing desperation in his voice with every missed opportunity, the look on his face, makes you feel like one more person betraying him. It was the very last line, the broken way he tells you to "Just- go. Tell him to just...just go." makes you want to just hug the poor guy. The voice acting sells that moment. That entire mission overall, in fact, as you see the extent of just how much Garrus has changed and how broken that betrayal really made him.
Alternatively, if you hold Garrus off at first, but then choose to let him take the shot after Sidonis talks about how his life has gone downhill and how he's haunted by his betrayal of his comrades, the last words spoken are heart-rending.
Sidonis: No more sleepless nights.
Garrus: For either of us, Sidonis.
The Collector ship attack. The attack itself is too frightening and chaotic to count (and, uh, rather darkly funny at one point) but the after, when Joker is picking himself up and everyone is gone. Dragged away kicking and screaming or killed trying to defend themselves, the ship, and the crew. Your efforts saved the ship, but was too late to help anyone else. And after, while Joker just watched his girl be attacked a second time, watched people- some of which he knew or even cared about- be taken or murdered horribly, and is clearly not doing well for it, the first thing Miranda does is light into him for it, attacking and blaming him.
Even worse, early in the game before the attack but after the mission on Horizon, during one of the background conversations between two of your crew members, one of them reveals that they lived on Horizon before joining Cerberus and the new Normandy crew, and if he hadn't then he would have likely become another victim of the Collectors. After playing the game once, it becomes so much more Harsher in Hindsight, since you now know this still winds up happening to him, and even worse, if you don't go to the base immediately, then more than likely he won't be rescued either.
One thing that rarely gets acknowledged is that EDI was forced to watch the whole thing. She's grown rather fond of the crew of the Normandy but since she's still shackled she couldn't do anything but watch as every single member of the crew, save for Joker, was killed or kidnapped, dragged screaming in terror to what seems like certain death.