Late in the game you can find video files on Project Lazarus leading to this:
I don't remember anything. Maybe they really just fixed me... Or maybe I'm just a high-tech VI that thinks it's Commander Shepard...
The first time you see Thane Krios in this game. He's in the hospital, throwing punches for exercise, and he's so much weaker than he used to be. Just six months has drained him so much. And he's utterly accepting, apparently unbothered, by the knowledge that he'll die soon... Think of how a romanced Thane wept as he confessed that he was afraid of dying, and a Shepard who was with him could only comfort him with "Be alive with me tonight". Romanced or not, he had to get to this point on his own.
Thane's death, you knew it was coming, but it still eats at you.
Not only that, but you administer last rites personally to him on his deathbed, alongside Kolyat.
It's worse than that. Afterwards, when Shepard asks about it, Kolyat explains that the prayer they recited wasn't for Thane, who'd already had last rites before Shepard arrived. It was a prayer for Shepard.
Thane: Kalahira, mistress of inscrutable depths, I ask forgiveness. Kalahira, whose waves wear down stone and sand—
Kolyat: Kalahira, wash the sins from this one and set him on the distant shore of the infinite spirit.
Kolyat: Kalahira, this one's heart is pure, but beset by wickedness and contention.
If you either play renegade or play Shepard as being conflicted about the cure, when Mordin blurts out "I MADE A MISTAKE!" In that one, crystallizing moment, his entire character snaps into perspective. All the logic, all the rationalizing, all the denial and neurosis takes on a whole new context when you realize that Mordin really is overwhelmed with guilt.
As mentioned in the Mass Effect 2 entry on this page for Mordin, this is one of the few times he EVER uses a personal pronoun. He didn't say "Mistakes were made!" or even "We made a mistake!", he said "I MADE A MISTAKE!". He truly blames himself for this and wants to repent for it in the only way he can at any cost. The guilt must have been wracking him for ages and he finally has the chance to make it right.
If you convince him to stay alive and use the Paragon explanation for not curing the genophage, he admits that he was thinking short term, again. Short-term thinking created the genophage, and now short-term thinking, his guilt, could ruin their chances of defeating the Reapers. He could cure it after the Reapers are defeated, and in the meantime get the krogan help, salarian help, and have him help build the Crucible.
What completes the scene is the optional Paragon Interrupt that appears as Mordin approaches the elevator (appears if you inform the others of the sabotage right away), which prompts Shepard to try and persuade Mordin not to go through with it. It doesn't change anything, which is pretty huge considering how many rash/regrettable actions you can normally prevent through the Paragon Interrupts.
Shepard: I'm sorry.
Mordin: I'm not. Had to be me. Someone else might have gotten it wrong.
If you took the Renegade choice while wishing Mordin good luck, he has an alternate, but equally poignant line: "Genophage cured. Krogan freed. New beginning. For all of us...." (BOOM!)
"Would have liked to run tests on the seashells", if you spoke to him enough before that mission.
It's even worse if you go the Renegade path. Warning: This video will almost assuredly cause massive depression.
The real hammerblow is when Shepard walks away after shooting Mordin. S/he throws the pistol away, as if enraged and horrified and disgusted at him/herself by being forced to go that far. Proving that they are more than willing to twist the knife just as far as it can go, BioWare had the gun in that scene be the Carnifex, which some gamers might remember as the pistol that Mordin gave him/her in Mordin's Mass Effect 2 recruitment mission as a "sign of good faith." Possibly an even bigger hammerblow is that Mordin lingers, and desperately crawls his way to try and fix the cure, but dies an arm's reach from the console.
The music. When the cure is dispersed, the music used? "Vigil." The same one that played in the first game when you met Vigil and hope was restored. The song that symbolizes love and hope across all three games, playing in the aftermath of Mordin's sacrifice and wonder-filled expressions of the krogan as they witness the genophage finally being cured.
Then there's the option of sparing Mordin, and convincing him not to spread the genophage cure if Wrex and Eve are dead. Mordin says accusingly, "You knew." Shepard replies s/he was telling Mordin now because s/he wasn't sure he could trust the krogan, but s/he did trust Mordin.
Legion's death. And if you don't resolve the Quarian-Geth conflict peacefully with the genocide of the quarians as a result, then it's made even sadder by Tali's subsequent suicide.
Legion: Tali'Zorah...does this... unit... have...
Tali: Yes. Yes, it does.
And the best ending makes it no better.
Tali: Legion... the answer to your question... it's yes.
Legion: I know, Tali. But thank you. Keelah se'lai...
More heartwrenching upon the confirmation that, yes, Legion had just recently become its own 'person'. It was an individual, not just part of the geth collective. The entity known as Legion truly did die.
It's even worse right afterwards: When Shepard talks to EDI after the mission, she is the only one who is visibly saddened at Legion's death. There's a slight pause in her response to Shepard, but you can hear the inflection in her voice that shows that she'd lost a friend (who, just like her) wanted to be alive. Then there's the Endgame Legion's sacrifice was in vain if Shepard chooses the Destroy option, because he/she kills all of the geth - and EDI.
Siding with the Geth and not convincing the Quarians to cease fire only makes the scene all the more heart-wrenching. Legion still dies, but you get "treated" to a cinematic showing the Geth return to full strength, with Geth fighters, now fully concious individuals, willingly sacrifice themselves to save their capital ships by intercepting the Quarian gun barrage, and then the capital ships return fire in self-defense just as predicted, and the glass cannons of the Flotilla are promptly ripped to pieces. Back on the surface, Tali sobs as she watches what's left of the Flotilla burn up in the atmosphere of their own homeworld, listening to Captain Kar'Danna vas Rayya issue a distress call, and if you played the first two games, then you know that wasn't just any ship to the Quarian formerly known as Tali'Zorah nar Rayya. It doesn't help that it goes like this:
"This is Captain Kar'Danna vas Rayya! We have multiple hull breaches! Rayya's drive core is offline! All ships in range, please assist! Please assist! Escape pods not responding. All hands, prepare for impact."
Then Tali takes off her mask and looks back at Shepard, possibly the first time Shepard ever sees Tali's face, and if it wasn't then she was Shepard's romantic partner in Mass Effect 2. Either way makes what follows all the more heart-wrenching as their eyes meet, and then...
There's a paragon interrupt here. Even it can't save her.
Also note that this comes right after taking down a Reaper for the first time under your own power. This should have been a Crowning Moment Of Awesome, but losing Tali and Legion just minutes afterward, and over nothing more than one stupid admiral's vendetta, makes it feel so utterly empty...
The crew's reaction to Tali's suicide will make the sob fest even worse. Joker is devastated and has to turn off the comm channels because of all the calls for help, following by static signaling the deaths of all the quarians. If Ashley is there, she is in tears and utterly heartbroken; if you talk to her, she says that Tali was like her little sister. By far the most tear-inducing moment, however, is Garrus's reaction:
Garrus: I know you had your reasons for choosing the geth, Shepard, and I'll respect them. But Tali's choice... that will be harder to get over. She was a good friend. I never did see her face, but I always imagined there was... what do humans call it? An angel behind that mask. And now I hope she's resting with them.
Even the music through the entire cinematic following your choice to side with the Geth rather than the Quarians sounds like angry sorrow rendered into music. And what's the track called? "I'm Sorry"
An additional level of tragedy? This is the moment when the geth lose what they'd been trying to preserve for hundreds of years: the lives of their Creators. They revere the quarians to the point of maintaining everything from before the war to keep it in pristine condition, and actively choosing not to respond to all the quarian attempts to eradicate them because they're deathly afraid of the implications of killing the people who created them. When they come back online after Legion's sacrifice? As far as they're concerned, the quarians have crossed their own Moral Event Horizon. They murdered millions of geth by destroying the sphere, attacked while they were confused and afraid, thus forcing them into the Reapers' slavery. And then tried to butcher them when they were temporarily offline. After hundreds of years of hoping that, one day, their Creators would reach out to them with something other than the barrel of a gun, they finally see that they have no choice. They didn't have the ability to hold off the quarians without killing them unless they let their own race die, and it was all because the quarians took that ability from them. How often does a race of machines lose their innocence? Because that's more or less exactly what happens here.
And if you side with the Quarians, Legion gets pissed off and tries to throw you off a cliff. Tali intervenes and saves you, and Legion is on its knees. It looks up at you with these... almost puppy dog eyes. And taking the Renegade Interrupt, you shoot it. It doesn't die, it still looks at you with those puppy dog eyes. You have to repeat this several times before it goes down for the count... with those damn robotic, table lamp face, puppy dog eyes!
The very sight of Earth under siege by the Reapers. Everything you've fought for coming to naught.
While Shepard and Anderson are trying to get off of Earth, you come across a little boy hiding in the vents. The kid doesn't cheer up at the sight of Shepard; he merely says "You can't help me." when Shepard says he wants to get the kid somewhere safe. Said kid eventually is seen getting on an evac ship and it looks like he'll make it out okay, until a Reaper destroys the ship the kid is on. Shepard's, regardless of alignment, look of abject sadness really hits it home.
Just that whole scene, coupled with the music If it doesn't make you want to turn every single Reaper into scrap metal, nothing will.
Shepard's expression before the Reaper destroyed the ships. S/he's watching the little kid as he struggles to climb into the evac shuttle because he's only small with this look that screams "someone help him!" - Shepard knows s/he can't reach the kid, and s/he's physically willing someone to do something.
This video. It begins with so much death and destruction, and the Normandy being torn apart, Pressly and the ensign dying... The 0:47 mark hits, with a montage of all of your crew, past and present, set to soft, sad music. Then you see the Reapers waging their assault on Earth, tearing it apart. It just has this feeling of hopelessness. Then the music swells in a Hope Spot... before it fades out, and Sovereign says his final words:
Sovereign: You exist because we allow it. And you will end because we demand it.
If you live in London, seeing the Reapers attacking it, the scope of the invasion and the attack really hits you.
Not just London. Any human being can have a strong reaction to the Reaper invasion of Earth.
It's doubly terrifying for Londoners - and Vancouverites. As Vancouver's getting torn apart, it just looks so much like Vancouver. Those mountains right up against the water, and the colours they used? Vancouver has a special kind of aura and BioWare captured it perfectly. And then they trashed it!
It's just a brief moment in the demo, but running into the Virmire survivor before Shepard goes in to talk to the defense committee. It's especially a Player Punch if they were your character's love interest.
By definition, having a Prothean squadmate. After all, his race has been gone for 50,000 years, and the only remnants are Collectors, which have about as much in common with them as humans do with the Rachni. Seeing just how devastated Javik is when he realizes all of his people's plans to preserve their empire and live to fight the Reapers another day were for naught is heartbreaking. The part where he realizes that the current cycle had forewarning to the Reaper invasion he was born into yet did nothing to prepare is heartrending Even fully subsuming himself into the role of the Avatar of Vengeance is rather sad-he literally has nothing else to live for, apart from seeing the Reapers meet their just end.
The squadmate's Character Development should you stick with Paragon options and not convince him to touch the memory shard is very poignant in this regard. In the final mission, he will confide in Shepard that not only does he have absolute faith in him/her to stop the Reapers, but that he looks forward to the peace that will come afterward. After dealing with his Cultural Posturing, Fantastic Racism, and Social Darwinist tendencies through the whole game, hearing him admit that his own cycle never had anything like this and that he looks forward to exploring the galaxy and seeing what peace looks like is absolutely heartwarming. It seems he has found something more to live for than mere vengeance, after all.
If you allow him to view the shard, later he admits that after the Reapers are defeated, he'll go home and commit a peaceful suicide, joining his friends. It actually makes sense, since he only chooses this if Shepard tells him to access the memory shard. Turns out the suffering of the last Protheans was too much, even for him.
This live-action ad for ME3 features Shepard kicking all sorts of ass, but before then, you see people in a panic over the Reaper invasion, including a store owner cowering under the counter as looters raid the place; a family watching the events unfold on TV, huddled close together; and a church congregation crying for salvation before the roof starts to collapse on them.
This tweet from Emily Wong's Twitter feed covering the invasion of Los Angeles:
Hell, all of Emily Wong's tweets. Poor girl is live blogging the REAPER APOCALYPSE. Worse, in the end she goes kamikaze on a Reaper! 3/5/2012 10:46 PM EST: <SIGNAL LOST>. Masterfully brought to life here.
The entire #solcomms twitter board is amazing. People are trying to link up with family, organize resistance. Governments and the Alliance are losing control and coordinating increasingly ineffectual evacuations. Military units are being overwhelmed. Shepard- these are the people who need you back. Don't let them down.
During the Rachni Nest Mission, you find a dead krogan who has a message left for an asari on the citadel. The message begins with the words "O Blue Rose of Illium". Charr's poetry got quite a bit better...note For those who don't get it: During Mass Effect 2, one of the mini-quests on Illium involves a surprisingly soft-hearted, poetry-spouting krogan who is in love with an asari maiden, with the quest being whether or not the asari accepts his love or rejects him. If the player convinces her to accept him, he moves to Tuchanka with her. The poem he spouts as part of his courtship? "O Blue Rose of Illium"..
Even worse,judging by your interpretation of the message it seems to imply that Ereba was either carrying Charr's child or had already had children with him. It also makes Ereba's doubts about marrying him from ME2 (that krogan are as long lived as the asari, so it could be a millenia-long commitment for her) tragically ironic.
Made even more painful if you meet Ereba on the Citadel Presidium floor when she's at her shop before that mission. You can overhear her defending her husband and all the Krogan when a shallow Asari customer insults them by calling them "brainless barbarians". Needless to say the strength she needed to have to be the wife of a soldier COMPLETELY shatters (look at her face) when you give her the message from Charr.
During the Rachni mission, regardless of what you do, Grunt will have a You Shall Not Pass moment where he charges an army of Ravagers. You know what's coming. You realize you can't stop it. And as Grunt charges into the middle of the fusion of two of his species' greatest enemies, quiet, mournful music begins to play as he is ground down, bit by bit, until he falls. It could also be an aversionprovided he was loyal in ME2... If Grunt does survive, he emerges, covered in Rachni blood, and Shepard runs over to him. All he says is "Anyone got...something to eat?" And then he just falls into Shepard's arms, completely unselfconscious, and lets Shepard all but carry him to the shuttle. Grunt, the definition of an alpha male (remember, he's a tank-bred in charge of the Krogan version of Delta Force, or Navy Seals), just lets himself be helped so overtly. It becomes all the more poignant when you realize that Grunt has never allowed himself to be helped that way: he's had to prove himself, over and over and over again, for what amounts to his entire life. First, he had to prove he was worthy to himself, being tank-bred. Then he had to prove himself to the Krogan in his Rite of Passage, and many didn't want even to give him the opportunity to prove himself, because he was perceived to be less than true Krogan. Then, he had to prove himself to Aralakh Company (Krogan Navy Seals) to become their leader. He had to do all of this virtually on his own. And he has positively excelled in culture that despises and punishes weakness of any kind. Essentially, he's one of the strongest people in the galaxy. And yet he just lets himself be helped by one of the only people he trusts. He doesn't worry about looking weak or losing respect, things he has to worry about literally all the time. Some Fridge Heartwarming: He doesn't have anything to prove to Shepard. He and Shepard really proved everything they need to to each other. Shepard's part of Grunt's Krantt.
Before that, if Shepard sacrificed Aralakh company to allow the Rachnni queen to escape, Grunt will curse Shepard out, sounding very betrayed, and it's painful to see Grunt's subsequent last stand, now that he's lost his men at the orders of his prior battlemaster.
Various instances amongst the populace of the Citadel (including the influx of refugees):
A senile old woman repeatedly asking an asari clerk in the Embassy office about her son who "hasn't called" in a long while, with the clerk frustrated and disheartened by the old woman's inability to cope with the loss (and that the old woman doesn't remember all the previous times she's asked). At first, she only says her son should date someone like the nice asari; afterwards, she keeps mistaking her for his actual girlfriend. At one point the woman just says she has something important to do but can't remember what, and she has all these papers but can't remember what they're for...
She even seems to forget which of her memories is which, as after mistaking the clerk for his girlfriend and asking her to call her by her first name, she goes back to thinking she's a stranger and gets offended when she calls her "Teresa" again. Not only does this make the scene even more sad, but it makes one wonder where the woman's degraded mental state will take her.
Alliance Navy grunts lamenting the Heroic Sacrifice / Kick the Dog death of one of their comrades at the hands of some cerbie-heads. All the more so because said comrade is the son of Dominic Osoba, a man on the Embassies level. The man does not know what happened to his son and he's desperate to know one way or the other; he knows the squad returned but they won't look him in the eye or talk to him.
An asari seeing her turian spouse off to war. Even worse in hindsight, since she intended to take their children to Sanctuary.
A turian C-Sec officer assigned to the refugee camps in the wards, and the young human girl he finds alone and waiting for her parents. He knows they're dead, but continues to handle this scared girl alone in the camp with a protective tenderness.
The Alliance Private and Sergeant arguing about Reaper vs Cerberus deployments outside the docking bay. It seems like just another hot-headed soldier wanting to be where the REAL action is, not fighting this wannabe enemy. But if you pass by enough times, she mentions how she has a little brother, who she loved but who always ran with the wrong crowds and would get into trouble. He'd sent her a message recently about how he was finally turning his life around, and had found a wonderful new job with great pay and awesome benefits... and attached a picture of the uniform he got along with it. A white and gold uniform.
Even worse, on one of the missions where you have to clear out a Cerberus base, you find a datapad with an internal Cerberus memo, signed by the private's brother.
And if you approve the transfer request, the Alliance Third Fleet war asset suffers a small drop in value because of casualties due to a lack of engineers like Private Talavi. It's a small issue, but a case of Not Quite The Right Thing, in which the "ideal" solution is to force a soldier to face the possibility of killing her own brother.
A couple of hospital nurses off duty are broken down by the work they're doing. They're tired and their hearts are breaking... and they're still going to volunteer for double shifts, because it's not like they can sleep anyway.
A soldier's wife is cheating on him with an asari, and not just cheating - she wants to leave him for her. That's kind of scummy considering the timing of it all, but during the conversation it becomes clear that she wants to be with the asari because she wants to feel loved, which she didn't with her husband - and she finds out that the asari doesn't feel the same way. To paraphrase a heartbroken fem!Shep who romanced Jacob only for him to go for someone else, "Doing what we do... it's crazy to hope for anything real."
A human soldier has an asari spouse who has been shipped off to war. The human is about to be as well. They had a child but the human's family won't accept the child for safe-keeping (Damn xenophobia). What does the human soldier do? Asks someone at the embassies if she can send her child to Thessia, to stay with her asari mother's family. It takes some doing, but the embassy worker takes pity on her and goes the extra mile, finally succeeding in arranging transport to Thessia for the girl. Her human mother's extremely relieved and grateful. What makes this a Tear Jerker instead of a CMOH is what happens to Thessia shortly thereafter: Reaper invasion. Kid's most likely dead now. All because her grandparents wouldn't accept her.
In the hospital, Shepard can, over repeated visits, listen to the horrifying story of a PTSD-stricken asari Huntress named Aeian T'Goni, who was deployed to a human colony called Tiptree, where she spent a day or so getting to know a farming family. When she off-handedly bemoans how she hasn't had a chance to get anything better than a sponge bath due to constant combat, the farmers' fifteen-year old daughter, Hillary, offers the use of their shower. She accepts, and as she comes out, Naeira, a would-be paramour if not for a low-potency Ardat Yakshi condition, walks in... huskified into a Banshee. Everyone except Aeian and Hillary is dead in minutes. They spend the next two days surviving in the wilderness with no armament besides Aeian's biotics (though Hillary manages to kill more than one Husk with a stick), before realizing that as the farmhouse was overrun, evac isn't coming unless they radio for it. Which happens to be back at the farmhouse. They sneak in, find the barn filled with human captives, then decide to set them free before going for the radio... only for them all to start screaming for the husks - they're all indoctrinated! Aeian manages to wipe them out, blowing an entire wall out of the barn in the process (and is nearly driven to madness by the adrenaline surge of tearing apart such soft targets with her biotics), but Hillary breaks her leg. They hide under the wreckage... and then the Banshee comes close and Hillary can't stop whimpering from her shattered leg... so Aeian kills her to keep her quiet. At the hospital, she refuses to bathe, constantly and desperately checks the color of her eyes, and refuses to stay near humans. There's even a human nurse who looks a lot like Hillary at the hospital, and Aeian starts screaming whenever she's around (she's one of the overworked ones mentioned above, and she's really feeling guilty about it, too). Perhaps the most screwed-up part of the whole story is that evac was able to gain highly useful intel when they pick up Aeian, and the asari give her a medal. Aeian herself, however, is pretty much another casualty - she blames herself for the entire fiasco due to being in the shower sans radio and gun when the Husks showed up, and insistently keeps applying for a Citadel firearms license that keeps getting rejected because the shrinks think she's a suicide risk. If you use your Spectre status to authorize it, you'll find out they're right.
It gets worse than that. After the fall of Thessia, Joker will, if asked, mention his father and sister are on Tiptree and though he hasn't heard from them yet, he's hopeful because he's heard the planet has been evacuated of non-combatants... such as teenaged children...like his sister...Hillary.
And if that's not enough, Joker acknowledges in a conversation with Liara that in the best case scenario, his father will be dead.
Liara: I'm getting reports of refugees landing on salarian colonies. I don't have names, I'm sorry. It was... mostly children.
Joker: Well, Gunny- Hillary, my sister, Gunny's mostly a nickname she's had since- she's only 15, so If it's children, then maybe I only lost my dad. Kind of an asshole thing to hope for.
Liara: Jeff... right now, take any kind of hope you can get.
It turns out that the endings were actually quite sad because of how it ended and how appropriate it was for the trilogy to end in this light. Shepard reaches the Crucible....and finds out what s/he must do. Most, if not all of the Mass Relays are sacrificed to stop or control the Reapers, meaning that Galactic travel will be crippled. The scene of Shepard's friends flashing before him/her, along with the sad music that plays in the background, makes it sadder, as you know that s/he might not make it out alive. But in the end, there is a glimmer of hope, and the cycle may be broken. The Normandy lands on a lush jungle planet, and her crew is alive in the best ending, and if the final scene of the Grandfather (voiced by Col. Buzz Aldrin himself) telling the story was something to go by, it implied, that eventually society gets better and space travel is restored to its original capacities, and society gets back on its feet. If you've seen this coming since ME1 (as some people did), then it pulls the trilogy into "Full Circle".
Even the fandom's theory onthe ending holds no solace. Throughout the game, there are very subtle hints that the child Shepard sees isn't really there, and the dreams he/she has are his/her mind telling him/her the child will be the death of him/her. This all gathers up into one large Player Punch in the end where the entire ending is Shepard in a fight for his/her very sanity and soul against Reaper indoctrination. Two of the choices would result in Reaper domination while another, while risking almost everything Shepard fought for, will be his/her final push to break out of the fantasy the Reapers built around him/her.Whether you believe it or not, it shows just how much trauma Shepard really has put up with throughout the entire game.
Even Shepard turns out s/he's not weathering the initial, devastating attack well-the first time you leave the Citadel, s/he actually has a heartwrenchingNightmare Sequence about that kid who was killed by the Reapers. Through it all, he's hearing voices, the voices of people who have died. to get Shepard where he is right now. The Virmire survivor will be heard most often, whispering Shepard's name or saying what they said on the radio before they died, but anyone who died is fair game. Extremely sad ones are Tali or Legion, if Rannoch is not completed peacefully, since you'll be hearing them begging you not to commit genocide on their race. Or Mordin's Ironic Echo of "had to be me, someone else might have gotten it wrong. Even people Shepard may not have killed him/herself, like Eve, will speak. An enterprising Youtuber compiled the various voice clips here. See how long you can make it through.
The very fact that it's this game where we see that Shepard is finally being ground down by everything happening in the war. For the past two games s/he's basically been an unstoppable Bad Ass that didn't seem to be affected by anything, and now you finally see him/her starting to break down under the stress.
For female Shepards, Jennifer Hale's performance after the fall of Thessia is almost painful to listen to. The weight of everything finally taking a noticeable toll on Shepard is played beautiful, so justified, so strained, and the moment when Joker talks about being the one charged with looking after Shepard— the voice actors brought the A-game and then some.
If you sent David Archer to Grissom in the Overlord DLC, and then fail to save the academy in the second game, you meet up with his brother in a later mission. He asks if anyone knows what's happening with his brother. And when Shepard tells him the academy is lost, he pulls out a pistol. Says he was saving it if Cerberus caught up to him, or if he needed to "escape this nightmare." Then he walks off, and you hear a shot ring out. His last words:
God be with you, Commander Shepard. He was never with me.
The mission where you meet Morinth's sisters it is heartbreaking to see one sister trying and failing to save another. Samara then commits suicide if you don't stop her. And it's entirely possible to then mercilessly gun down Falere right over her mother's body. Seeing an entire family get slaughtered in the space of minutes is heartbreaking, and it's so callous that it might just make you hate a Shepard that does it.
If you chose not to kill Morinth in Mass Effect 2 you can access some letters that she sent to her sisters but were never read by using Liara's terminal.
Mixed with Crowning Moment of Heartwarming. Liara comes up to Shepard's cabin and reveals that she's making an archive that she will leave behind for other species to find should they fail, to preserve history and warn them of the Reapers. She then tells Shepard that she's making an entry specifically for him/her. And she's letting Shepard decide how s/he wants to be remembered. Even better s/he can leave it up to Liara in turn saying, "You know me well enough Liara."
On Rannoch, while rescuing Admiral Koris, you encounter a dying quarian, Dorn'Hazt. His last words are to tell his son Jona that he made it to the homeworld. Where do you remember "Jona" from? From Tali's loyalty mission in ME2, where you come across a video of a quarian woman making a recording of her own last moments, her last words were to Jona, saying "mommy loves you very much" before she got gunned down. Poor Jona's an orphan now.
If you bring Tali along on that mission, as he passes away, she calls him "Dorn'Hazt vas Rannoch." The first quarian in centuries to have the homeworld as part of his name.
A possible ending with Conrad Verner. If you did the Jenna side mission in ME1 you get a funny scene. If not Conrad calls out an undercover Cerberus operative who tries to shoot Shepard. Conrad takes the bullet by diving into the line of fire and then as he bleeds out asks if he got to be the hero. Shepard tells him he did as Conrad dies in his/her arms. Oh Conrad. He really did have it in him.
At the end of the final push toward the beam connecting to the Citadel, Harbinger arrives and blows away the troops surrounding Shepard, leaving him/her sprawled on the ground, alone, bloodied and battered and in half-molten armor, struggling along with a pistol, gunning down husks as they rush up toward him/her. Just the image of Shepard, the unstoppable, unkillable badass who smoked mechs and armies and Reapers, being forced to slowly limp along, struggling to keep on going through raw willpower through pain and injury and despair....its pretty damned moving.
The sense of ancient sorrow upon reaching the Catalyst; the controlling intelligence behind the Reapers. It reveals itself as the child Shepard has been having nightmares about throughout the entire campaign, sadly informing Shepard that the cycle of extinction is of organic origin, not synthetic. "The created destroys the creator." Every cycle has seen the rise of organic intelligence, which eventually builds synthetic intelligence, only to destroy it or be destroyed by it when it attempts to assert itself - often destroying entire worlds in the process, preventing new organic intelligence from evolving. The Reapers were simply the best solution the Catalyst could come up with; upload spacefaring races into Reapers every 50,000 years to preserve their civilizations, either forcibly like the Terminus colonists or willingly like the heretic geth, leaving younger races to develop on worlds unspoiled by war. Salvation through destruction. Imagine being a child that had to kill your Abusive Parentsin self defense, only to find the same abuse and death repeating itself over and over again wherever you go, leaving only destruction in its wake. The Reapers were born from the ultimate Freudian Excuse. And the worst part is that Shepard's use of the Crucible not only made the Catalyst itself vulnerable to direct attack by organics(as they've obviously left behind blueprints on how to build new ones on their own versions of Prothean Beacons), but possibly even proved that organics and synthetics could make peace, meaning it was All for Nothing. So the choice is left in Shepard's hands.
That gets undermined by what happens in the Leviathan DLC. Turns out, the Catalyst's creators were gigantic jerks and the Catalyst's decision to do what it does turns out to be poor programming. The only sympathy the Catalyst gets is that of a broken tool unable to fix itself.
If you ignore the Cerberus force going after Grissom Academy, you will meet Jack later. Except she's now an indoctrinated Cerberus Phantom who you have to kill.
Before you fight her there's also a recording... That must have been the worst thing imaginable. Jack, who's softened a little with time and responsibility, back in Cerberus's hands, knowing they have the students she's so protective about...
(after killing Jack!Indoctrinated)
Garrus: Damn it! Jack...
Shepard: It wasn't her. Not anymore. That's just one more thing Cerberus will answer for.
On the Crew deck in the Normandy, there is a memorial wall dedicated with the names of those who served in the ship and gave their lives doing so, such as Pressly and whoever died on Virmire. It's not just simply a nice, sympathetic touch: the list will get longer as you progress. Thane Krios, Legion... and those are just the unavoidable deaths... The worst part is that it's right there when you get off the elevator. The game will never let you forget the cost of your actions.
You can meet Kelly Chambers on the Citadel, and talk to her a few times. When you return after the attempted coup, if you didn't convince her to change her name, she's gone. You can overhear a conversation where someone says that Cerberus troops walked up, asked if she was Kelly, and killed her.
Kelly can become Driven to Suicide if you get angry with her during a conversation. The once chipper Yeoman has turned so incredibly fragile.
Before the Grand Finale, Shepard and Garrus can have one more chat and make plans for the future. Retiring, living off the vid royalties, going somewhere warm. Even adopting a few krogan babies. Seems fun and cute, but given the undeniable bleakness and the way she and Garrus are obviously leaning hard on each other to keep hope, it feels like Garrus trying so damn hard to keep them going even when death's almost a certainty. And given that no matter what, they will be separated and Shepard will almost always be dead, it's even Harsher in Hindsight.
Even without the romance, seeing Shepard telling Garrus "There's no Shepard without Vakarian" does pull a few heartstrings: especially since you can interpret Garrus obvious admiration for Shepard as a form of inferiority complex: he finally see the person he always tried to live up to -probably thinking he was nothing but a pale shadow of his model- telling him that s/he would be nothing without him and always saw him has their equal millitary ranks be damned.
The final talk with a romanced Tali, when she finally breaks and whispers the one thing she desperately wants most in the universe. Just the way her voice cracks is devastating:
Tali: "I want... more time."
Shepard: "I know. Whatever happens..."
Tali: "I know."
Then her real final goodbye in the Extended Cut. Shepard and co get struck by debris, which injures Tali and the other squadmate. Shepard calls the Normandy, hands Tali to the less injured squadmate while holding her over his shoulder, and tells her to leave. Tali, crippled, stained with blood, and on the verge of tears, very clearly doesn't want to leave.
Shepard: I need you to make it out of here alive Tali. Get back to Rannoch. Build yourself a home.
Tali: (clearly about to cry) I have a home.
Shepard: (turns around to leave)
Tali: (reaches out) Come back to me.
And speaking of that whole "final conversations" sequence ...
Boldly they rode, and well, Into the Jaws of Death, Into the Mouth of Hell.
Wish they'd had the previous lines: Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them, cannon in front of them volleyed and thundered. Stormed at with shot and shell...
"I can't lose you again."
"When this is over, I'm going to be waiting for you. You better show up."
In the very end, when TIM is dealt with, Anderson is gone, and Shepard closes her eyes, looking at rest, having done what needed to be done, Hackett calls and Shepard just says "What do you need me to do?" It's so tired but determined. How unfair it is that even after all Shepard has done, the world demands more. How utterly broken Shepard looks as s/he crawls across the floor, clearly dying, covered in (and, if the voice acting is any indication, choking on) his/her own blood, is just plain heartbreaking.
All those people on the Citadel? All those people with hopes and sorrows, victories and losses. All those people you helped, listened to, worked for, fought for. While Word of God says at least some people may have survived, how many of them do you think got away when the Reapers came?
Anderson will never be able to make good of his intention to get back together with his old flame, Kahlee Sanders. His death was heartbreaking - just him and Shepard gazing at Earth, watching the allied fleets tear into the Reapers, finally content that his work was done.
That entire scene is so quietly emotional. The two of them just look so exhausted.
"God...it feels like it's been years since I just...sat down...."
Also, Anderson's last words to Shepard. The fact that he chooses to call Shepard "child" or "son" (depending on gender) also really reinforces the whole father-figure dynamic... perhaps that Shepard was the son/daughter Anderson always wished he'd had, given his relationship with his own sons seems to be less than perfect. The Shadow Broker files mention Anderson's sons seeking his approval/recognition - and here he's chosen to give it to Shepard. In any case, acknowledging Shepard in such a way makes the line that much more heartbreaking.
Calling femShep "child" is almost more sad in a way, as he's probably one of the few/only people who would see her in such a light after everything she's done. It reminds us of her vulnerability.
Anderson: "You did good, [child/son]. You did good. I'm proud of you."
The dialogue alone in that scene tugs on your heartstrings. Add in the music, and it rips them right out. The title of the track? "I'm Proud Of You"
Even worse, the cut dialogue has Anderson asking him/her if she would like to settle down now that her work is done, assuring her that s/he would be a great parent and how proud any child would be to have her as a father/mother.
The Illusive Man indoctrinated and dying at Shepard's feet who is just moments away from ending the Reaper conflict by confronting their main control center telling Shepard that he wishes Shepard could see the Earth the way he does, see how beautiful and truly perfect it is. Earth is Humanity's home, symbolic of everything Cerberus has fought for and in his final moments the Illusive Man has a genuine, passionate expression of his feelings, showing the humanity that he had been hiding behind that cold, logical, and emotionless persona. Shepard looking upon the Illusive Man with genuine sadness after this exchange seals the deal.
Illusive Man: There... Earth. I wish you could see it like I do, Shepard. It's so... perfect...
It makes it even worse if Shepard has been a full Paragon all this time and has been trying to convince TIM to stop trying to control the Reapers and join him/her in stopping them. At Chronos Station, when Shepard extends this offer for the final time:
He sounds sincerely admiring of Shepard, and even gives a hint of sadness. This really bites the player, especially if they have read the Mass Effect: Evolution series. The Illusive Man used to be a normal man and soldier named Jack Harper, who seemed to be very similar to a Paragon Shepard. This makes his death many times more sad and tragic.
Remember Aresh, the troubled biotic who tried to restart the Paragia project that created Jack? If you had Jack spare his life, in Mass Effect 3, you get a news report that Aresh was piloting a shuttle fleeing a Reaper-invaded colony. According to the report, Aresh had "a history of drug abuse and criminal activity", but single-handedly took on a dozen or so Reaper creatures, and managed to save the shuttle though he was eventually overwhelmed and killed.
Wrex reminiscing at the Hollows after you cure the genophage how, long ago, his father had tried to murder him there during what was meant to be a peaceful meeting on sacred ground (as a burial place, violence is forbidden at the Hollows), which was when he realised how the genophage had reduced the krogan to animals.
The whole Krogan mission, seeing the ruins of the Ancient Krogan city, their art, their history and that they once had the ability to build wonderful structures... and all of that has been lost in the wake of planet-wide nuclear war and the genophage.
An elcor diplomat on the Citadel asks you to help get some elcor troops back to their homeworld to defend evacuating civilians. When you do it and go back to him, you can ask how many got away. His answer: A simple "Not enough." He doesn't specify his tone. He doesn't need to.
The whole conversation with that elcor suddenly puts their method of speech into a different place. Up till now they were kinda funny. Now it feels like the man is screaming and nobody around him can hear it.
If you read the mail between Garrus and his sister, you see that his mom was sick. During ME3 when asked about his family he only mentions his father and sister. Meaning his mother likely died between the 2 games. Combine that with spending a lot of time worrying if they evacuated Palaven or not.
After rescuing Admiral Koris the first thing he does is checking if he can still save his crew, only to hear geth communication on the radio. You can see he is devastated, only hoping they found rest on Rannoch.
The memories that play during Shepard's trip into the geth server are heartbreaking. They pretty much turn the Geth from savage, faceless killing machines into "profoundly naïve, yet unimaginably wise" children who don't understand that their parents are fighting over whether or not to get rid of them.
One shows two quarian scientists running tests on a geth platform, trying to figure out what's caused the change in its behavior (as in refusing to be turned off), while the obviously confused geth keeps saying it's still capable of serving and asking what it did wrong so it can correct the problem.
Another shows a quarian fighting to protect a geth platform from a group of quarian soldiers. The geth states outright that, even in spite of the quarian's insistence, it had deemed the situation too hazardous to his (the quarian's) life, and therefore would surrender itself to the soldiers. The quarian tries to stop it, but is killed by other quarians by some manner of explosive. What makes it particularly heartwrenching is that the geth platform survived the explosion, and its first action (while visibly damaged, no less) is to ask the quarian if he's alright. And because geth are fully capable of simply moving from platform to platform and thus are largely immune to traditional 'death,' the idea of actual death is completely alien to it.
Legion commenting on the Quarians who protested the attempted genocide against the Geth and actively tried to protect them from the rest of their race. It notes that, while the Quarian have largely forgotten about these protesters, the Geth have never forgotten their sacrifices.
Another shows "a simple agricultural platform" arming itself with a Widow sniper rifle to defend other platforms from a quarian death squad. Shepard mentions that the rifle that platform carries is the same one that Legion used to carry. The geth can share memories and experiences, but you can hear Legion's hesitation before merely commenting that it's a reliable model. That was one of Legion's memories, or at least the memories of one of its runtimes. Part of Legion used to be a humble farmer.
The fall of Thessia and how devastated this leaves Liara. Made worse in that they withheld the fact they had a Prothean Beacon, which also contained information that could have prepared the galaxy against the Reapers. Javik later admits the Asari were the ones the Protheans believed would end the cycles. He may have been lying to motivate her though.
There's also how the asari Councilor, Tevos, has a visible Heroic Blue Screen of Death at the news. She'd been so sure that Shepard was contacting her with good news, greeting the communication with a smile and then... Made even worse by the fact that the Councilor had finally put her full measure of faith in you. She fully expected you to get the job done, and you let her down. And then after she disconnects, Shepard quietly says, "I'm...sorry."
On the subject of Thessia, hearing Kai Leng trash-talk whoever he killed on the Citadel is heartrending and infuriating. It's as if Bioware knew just how to make us hate this character. After all the evil he's done, watching Shepard gut him with an omniblade is one of the most satisfying moments of the series.
A small background event on Thessia: the sacrifice of an asari gunship pilot to give Shepard and his/her companions time to reach the temple. The pilot shows no fear and even talks with humor - all the time fighting goddamned Harvesters and knowing full well she'll never live it through. Her last words "Talon-5... going down"... It's the voice acting that did it for me. She sounds sad and determined, as if she's bidding Shepard goodbye and wishing luck. And we didn't even know her name.
Javik touching the memory shard. He remembers the destruction of all that he held dear, and for once, there's no anger in his voice. All he has is sadness and despair. He sounds utterly broken.
Javik: "I once commanded a ship like this one. A loyal crew with many friends. It was captured. Only I escaped. [They were] Indoctrinated. The Reapers sent them against me. Year after year, battle after battle, I was hunted by my own people. Every encounter a reminder of my failure as a soldier."
Despite Diana Allers' status withinthe fandom, just before assaulting Earth talking to her came out with this line, that in one instant gave her some actual character depth.
Diana: I'm a colony kid, Shepard. Bekenstien. The Reapers didn't even harvest it. Just a few shots on their way through. You know, cos they attack manufacturing plants, and we have factories that make binoculars. [beat] HAD factories.
If you sabotage the Genophage cure, Wrex will catch on The entire fight is heart breaking, especially the last line where Bailey says they probably won't have a coffin big enough for him, and will have to space him. Wrex never deserved such a fate.
It's even more of a gutpunch if you take the conversation route normally reserved for the non-blue paragon when Wrex confronts you at the Citadel and Shepard insists that nobody died as a result of his actions. Wrex's response? "Everyone but my unborn son!" Nice going there, you nice-talking baby killer.
To the masochists, here is the full sequence of murdering Mordin and Wrex to secure salarian support, along with Shepard confessing to Garrus. And the fact that at 7:20, you just know that Garrus figured it out and knows what you did.
If he escaped (or you never played it) during ME1's Bring Down the Sky, Balak makes an appearance on the Citadel, with a gun to Shepard's back. He still places full blame on Shepard for the deaths of the batarian colony in Arrival, and also verifies the theory that the Hegemony had been destroyed from within by indoctrination resulting from the Leviathan of Dis. But the tearjerker of it? He's the only reason what remains of the Hegemony military is still capable of fighting. He's been feeding them intelligence on the Reapers from the Citadel, and he's the highest ranking officer left in the Hegemony. Sparing him (and convincing him of Shepard's side of the story) will cause him to give Shepard the full support of what remains of the Hegemony's forces. The sound of hopelessness in his voice is a stark contrast to the bombastic self-assurance he'd shown previously, and being confronted with the reality that the person in his sights isn't to blame for the death of nearly his entire race nearly breaks him.
The scene where you're in the hospital on the Citadel, talking to the Virmire Survivor as they lie there, unconscious and badly hurt from Mars. If Ashley is your VS, listening to Shepard talk to her, knowing that she probably can't hear him and not knowing if she was going to be okay or not makes you die a little inside. You can buy her a book written by Albert Tennyson, her favorite poet from the Sirta store. That book, and only that book out of all of them in the Sirta store, will add one point to the hidden "trust counter" that gets cashed in during the standoff at the end of the Citadel coup; an extra little bonus to those who remember her conversations in the first game.
It's just as heartbreaking with Kaidan, when Shepard tells him he can't die, that the Alliance, and Shepard him/herself, really needs him. Particularly heartbreaking after how the huge chasm between them during their arguments on Mars.
Ashley/Kaidan nearly getting killed by Eva Coré at the end of the Mars mission. The whole scene is just so brutal and hard to watch, especially if you're in a romance with them.
If you are in a romance with Liara, she will come to your quarters right before the assault on the Cerberus base. Before she and Shepard get their thing on, they both lie back, hold hands and look at the stars, and she comments on how easy it could be for a single ship to simply get lost out there, and for someone to potentially find a place with just peace and happiness. Later on, before the mission to rush the Citadel beam in London, you can approach Liara for a final chat, during which she will telepathically share a fantasy in which the two of you share a kiss while floating alone amongst the stars.
"It can also be a way to say farewell" Cue massive amounts of tears.
After Thane's death Shepard says something that hints that the strain of what s\he is going through is so much s\he becomes a Death Seeker.
Goodbye Thane. You won't be alone long.
The idea Shepard might be talking about the billions who will die against the Reapers is not much better.
Miranda'sdeath.Especiallyif you romanced her.N-Not everything...Nobodys perfect...At least Oriana's safe... She really did change during her time with Shep...
The fires of Palaven. They're visible from Menae, Palaven's moon, a chunk of just orange that looks a little larger than Earth's moon when viewed from Earth's surface. Which means all of that is ON FIRE. And that's where Garrus's family lives.
Garrus: See that blaze of orange? The big one. That's where I was born.
Lieutenant Victus'Heroic Sacrifice was pretty bad—but it's not until Shepard returns to the Normandy and speaks with the Primarch, his father that the true meaning of that event hits you.
Victus' comment on how his son died with honour, and that his actions would have made any Turian father proud is downright painful to hear. The crack in his voice and the resignation in his body language speak louder than words-however proud Tarquin had made him, he's heartbroken, and with the war raging on, he doesn't even have time to mourn.
Amazingly enough, Udina. Dealing with the fall of Earth and the destruction of Arcturus Station strips away most of his Jerk Ass demeanor and leaves a very tired man trying to save as many of his fellow human beings as possible, any way he can, just like Sheperd. Eventually it leads him to assist Cerberus in their coup of the Citadel in desperation. Ironically, to forgo all the bureaucracy that kept him from sending everything at Earth. He probably remembered the good they did with Sheperd to save the colonies when no one elsewould. Then he dies in vain, the only thing accomplished: destruction.
If you talk to him after arriving on the Citadel for the first time, he will express some of his own anxieties to Shepard and admit that he has friends on Earth he is worried about. It really drove home the fact that, while they have never gotten along, Shepard and Udina are ultimately on the same side, especially now that they are fighting for the survival of their entire race.
Shepard and Garrus' goodbye.
Shepard: Goodbye Garrus. And if I'm up there in that bar and you're not- I'll be looking down. You'll never be alone.
Hale sounds on the edge of tears herself and then Garrus gives this little gasp like he's holding them back and your heart breaks for both of them. Hale herself has actually stated that this was the dialogue that nearly sent her over the edge.
As you're walking through the base in London, near where Liara is, you can listen to a Alliance doctor talking to a civilian woman over the radio. She's hiding with an unconscious soldier who is bleeding out but their field medic was killed in action. The doctor guides her through applying medi-gel, but the soldier dies anyway. Moments after that, she sees Reaper forces approaching. She doesn't want to be discovered and turned into a husk, so she takes the dead soldier's gun and kills herself, despite the doctor's desperate pleading. All while you listen. You can hear her voice progress from near-panic, fear, then finally to resigned calm as she says goodbye to the doctor.
After the mission to Tuchanka, Shepard has another nightmare, of him/herself chasing after the small boy who died on Earth. During this though, it is the first time Shepard begins to hear the whispers, whispers of those who had died to get Shepard to where s/he is today, starting with Ashley or Kaidan, whomever died on Virmire, you hear their last words before they died. After Shepard wakes up, you can talk about them with Liara. If Ashley died, Liara attempts to cheer you up, but if Kaidan dies, the lines are just...utterly heartbreaking.
Shepard: Kaidan. He died on Virmire to buy us the time we needed to stop Sovereign. Looking back on this now, I wonder if he'd think his sacrifice was pointless.
Liara: Kaidan would never think that.
Shepard: I know. And that makes me miss him more.
EDI once asks Shepard about human behavior, brought on by seeing feed of people on Earth imprisoned by Reapers. Reporting another prisoner's escape attempts would extend a prisoner' life, but there were few instances of this, and some prisoners fed false information to the Reapers, at the costs of their own lives, to help people they didn't even know. Shepard is visibly struck by this.
Shooting and killing Ash or Kaidan at end of the Priority: Citadel II mission. It's actually something that's very easy to avoid, you can avoid it ever coming up simply by coming to visit them in the hospital, when they send you a message saying they want to talk to you. It can only come up if you completely ignore them, when they're trying to mend fences with you about the incident on Horizon. Even without that, you can talk your way out of it, and only have to kill them If you just say screw it and try not to explain that you're pointing a gun at a Councilor.
Then there's the dialog, and the Virmire survivor thoroughly rejects you harshly.
Shepard: Dammit Ash , he was with Cerberus.
Ashley: So were you. I hope the Reapers send you to HELL.(dies)
Shepard: You stood up for the wrong man, Kaidan.
Kaidan: Better then killing the wrong man. (dies)
It gets even worse if it's looked at from Kaidan/Ashley's point of view. Their conflict with Shepard all started with them being Locked Out of the Loop. They attempted to get answers from a trusted superior only to get stonewalled. Then everything falls apart when they act on what little information they did have. The person who locked them out of the loop in the first place made no attempt to correct things and doesn't even seem to be aware of her contribution to the whole mess. Finally, they make one last attempt to reach out and settle everything, only to be written off, so they continue to act on what they do know. In the end, they died because everyone that they should have been able to count on suddenly and inexplicably decided that they weren't important enough to know what was going on.
Coming across Cortez grieving while listening to a recording of the last conversation he had with his husband. He was working construction south of a colony when the Collectors attacked, and Robert sent a message to him urging him to save himself. Cortez did, but six months later is still devastated by it. You find him in his place, watching the message and silently crying.
If Legion died in the Collector base, a sort of backup of it serves the same role. It remembers nothing of its time with Shepard and has a general attitude of being less willing to trust organics or phrase things in more human ways - it doesn't call anything beautiful, for example. Shepard repeatedly calls it Legion and is told "We are not Legion" every time, which really starts to get to him/her - as s/he says, "Legion was my friend!" - but it never makes any attempt to reach out. Poor Shepard.
You can walk in on Garrus talking to his father and sister over the commlink while they are trying to find a way off the planet in the middle of the Reaper invasion, and his sister has a broken leg on top of it all. The sheer desperation of the scene is overwhelming to what essentially amounts to background chatter. Fortunately you'll later find out that they made it.
If you couldn't save the geth, you can go talk to EDI and Joker and step into a conversation where EDI questions your decision, at least partially out of self-protection. What's heartbreaking about this scene is that EDI eventually accepts the necessity. She is a synthetic organism and has just seen an entire race of them get wiped out... and, regardless of the implications on her own fate, she admits that it may not have been the wrong choice. You can hear her grow up years in these moments.
Oddly enough, the destruction of the Reapers qualifies, at least to some people. After all, they think they're doing the right thing. Moreover, they are all that's left of many species. Destroying them is destroying what they were made from. Third, wiping them out is genocide, plain and simple. That said, [[spoiler:each one of the Reapers is responsible for genocide the scale of which no being alive has ever witnessed. There are no innocent Reapers. And the genetic material from the Reapers could likely be retrieved from the Reapers, most of which died intact. Even then, it's a better fate for all those individuals than perpetuating the same recurring mass murder that ended them. Sometimes, Blue and Orange Morality isn't enough of a justification...
Not only that, but you're destroying several billion years of work in the push of a button. The Reapers didn't even get to go out in a blaze of glory, just a colored energy wave. As terrible as the Reapers are, there's still a sense of respect deserved for the unbelievably ancient constructs.
In the Forward Operating Base in London, at one point you walk past some soldiers huddled around a radio, listening to the latest status reports—one of which is that one of their outposts has been completely wiped out, and that the defending forces will likely run out of food supplies in the very near future. It really gives a sense of dread and foreboding for what is to come.
Spacer!Shepard: I grew up on ships. Lose one, you could always move to another. Liara: But you'd still remember.
Earthborn!Shepard: The city on Earth where I grew up was hard and dirty. I can see it as a warzone. Eden Prime doesn't deserve this. Liara: Nobody does.
Sanctuary. Think from the point of view of one of the refugees. The entire galaxy is at war, you probably lost many people that you love, or maybe will lose them, you are scared, but there is this place, where refugees are all welcomed, safe. It's a Hope Spot in a galaxy that is going to hell, and you want to protect you and your family. So you get there. You might just have spent the last of your savings, if any, just to get there. You are in this somewhat beatiful place, alongside many people that are in the same situation as you. Your family is there with you, maybe you conviced a friend to get there. Then people start to dissapear. They are called in, and they don't go back. Elderly, women, children, no matter, they all dissapear. Then you are called. You get in a line, and start to hear the screams. You want to get the hell out, but these soldiers in white armor keep pushing you. And then you finnaly see, a Husk corpse. You get put into the capsule, and you firgure it out that not only you are going to have the same fate that you were trying to run away from, but they are also going to do the same thing to your family and your friends. And it could be your fault.
Shepard's final words to the Catalyst in the Refusal ending.
Shepard: I fight for freedom, mine and everybody's. I fight for the right to choose our own fate. And if I die, I'll die knowing that I did everything I could to stop you. And I'll die free.
Then there's Liara's Fling a Light into the Future message. Especially considering that earlier in the game she can realize to her horror that with her lifespan she might get to see the entire harvesting cycle, and watch things get just as desperate and horrible as they were by Javik's time. In that ending, that happens.
The updated endings combine this and Heartwarming all at once depending on your outcomes. (I.E: Seeing the Krogan rebuild, the baby Krogan especially knowing the history behind that, the allies you gathered in their corners of the galaxy). And the real Tearjerker arrived upon seeing the faces of those who died from Legion, to Mordin, to Thane. Especially when it shows the romance option hand Shepard's name among the list of fallen.
The Extended Cut has another: when Shepard has made a choice, and the Crucible begins to power up, the game cuts to a shot of the Normandy, flying by as the structure lights up. We then see the cockpit, with Joker frantically tapping at the controls as the order to retreat comes over the comms. The member of the squad that accompanied Shepard the most (and is still alive) will moves to pull Joker away from the helm.. He/she then gently rests a hand on Joker's shoulder.
Garrus/Liara/Javik/etc.: Joker... we have to go.
Joker: [forcing back tears] Damn it.
The story behind the creation of the Reapers. A civilization created the Catalyst to help them find a solution to the (in their minds) inevitable Organic-Synthetic war. The Catalyst's solution was to render them into genetic paste and create the first Reaper, and though the creators objected, the Catalyst went through with it anyway. Harbinger stands as the last legacy of that species, and hearing the Catalyst recount how he mercilessly slaughtered his own creators shifted it from a vaguely sympathetic entity.
The Leviathan DLC, however, reveals that the Catalyst's creators the Leviathans were powerful, domineering, callous beings who ruled the galaxy and used their powers to subjugate the lesser races. They created the Catalyst not because they actually cared about the lesser races, but because the Leviathans found it annoying that their slaves kept building synthetics that destroyed them. When Shepard asks why they created a machine after seeing what happened to the other races, the Leviathans admit they didn't bother to actually examine the problem, and to them, the Catalyst was just another tool, no different than the slave races. So really, any sympathy for them goes right out the window. Even after Shepard gets their support for the war, the Leviathans flat out state that they're doing this for their own survival and not because they owe the lesser races anything.
In the EC ending, during the final push towards the beam, one of your squadmates gets severely injured by Harbinger, trying to get out of the way of a truck hit by Harbinger. Shepard promptly calls for evac, and the Normandy swoops in to pick up your comrades. Regardless of who was injured, they will all show their desire to stay. The conversations with Shepard's love interest (if they are present) are particularly moving, and truly show the bond the two have developed. See, for example, Garrus's version:
Shepard: No matter what happens here, you know I love you. I always will.
Garrus: Shepard, I...(whispering) love you too.
Shepard: I need you to get out of here, Tali. Get back to Rannoch...build yourself a home.
Tali: I have a home. (whispering) Come back to me.
Though this ends on a much more upbeat note than the vanilla ending. The Extended Cut changes the ending so the mass relays aren't destroyed and the Normandy crew doesn't get stranded. Word of God says that the best ending, the Destroy ending with the "Shepard breathes" scene, means that Shepard survived and is one his/her way back to reunite with his/her friends and love interest.
Hell, just some of the squadmates reactions even if they weren't romanced - for example, Kaidan pleading with Shepard to let him continue, looking absolutely heartbroken when they order the Normandy to leave.
If your EMS isn't high enough? Both sqaudmates barely get out of the way, and die in an explosion when another beam hits the tank & causes it explode.
Hell, it's worse if no-one in your squad was a romanced character as Shepard basically orders the Normandy away, seemingly admitting they plan on taking the Reapers down with them and don't expect to survive.
Shepard: I need to know someone got out of here alive.
In the low EMS endings (both before and after the Extended Cut), you get to see the original version of the Normandy trying to escape the wave, but failing. The Normandy is then seen in the jungle, having crash landed as in the original ending... Except when the air lock opens, no-one comes out.
In the Extended Destroy ending, when Shepard has flashbacks while shooting the crucible, EDI appears, hammering in that you've just sacrificed her & the Geth.
To make matters worse, she's actually nodding, as if to say she understands why you're doing it. The very fact that she'd be able to feels like the reason you shouldn't.
If you recommended that Jack's students fight on the front lines, then in Jack's ending slide of the Extended Cut, you see her looking mournfully at a lot of graves, the implication being that her students, some of the few people that she has ever cared for, were all killed in battle.
This is especially sad is you romanced her as well, due to her long history of surviving even those close to her. She reaches out and becomes a better person but is still cursed.
This is after she gives you a beseeching glance on the escape shuttle from Grissom Academy after Kahlee said that they're ready for frontline duty, and Jack expressed doubts that she couldn't show to her students. She implicitly begged you not to put her kids directly into the meat grinder, and you denied her.
If you romanced Miranda, during her ending slide in Extended Cut, rather than working together with Oriana, she was seen waiting alone... waiting for Shepard. If the EMS is high enough and you chose Destroy Ending, then this is mitigated that Shepard can visit her again and fulfill the promise to reunite. If not? Miri will be left alone and waiting forever...
If you screw over the Krogan, In the Extended Cut, you see a devastated Tuchanka, with barely anyone there amid the ruins. If Eve / Bakara is still alive, you get a surprisingly powerful still of her sitting in the rubble, alone and with her head bowed. For all the hope you bring everyone else, the Krogan still get screwed.
The Synthesis Ending. Oh god the Synthesis ending. Nearly every problem in the galaxy is fixed, potentially even mortality. But then, EDI, who is narrating the ending, mentions that no matter how far civilization advances, they will never forget the ones who died to bring them that moment. There's a quiet, subdued memorial service then at the Memorial Wall, where Shepard's love interest places his/her name just above Anderson's. After the love interest finishes, the camera cuts to EDI, who is quite upset. The two embrace. This is especially poignant with what the Catalyst says earlier, that synthetics would gain a full understanding of organics and their way of thinking. She is experiences death, pain, and loss for the first time ever. Heartbreaking.
That whole ending is very heartwearming, but the real Tear Jerker part is the last part:
In the low EMS Destroy ending in the EC, the Catalyst notes that the Crucible has been heavily damaged en route to the Citadel, and unleashing its power will cause an unstable, destructive chain reaction not limited to just synthetic life. Most modern technology will be wiped out in the blast, along with most organics. "Few will survive the blast; even fewer will survive the days to come." If Shepard goes through with this, the ending plays much like the pre-Extended Cut version. Most organics are wiped out, the Mass Relays and Citadel are destroyed, and the Normandy's crew is presumably killed in the crash, as mentioned above. Admiral Hackett's narration changes, reflecting the Pyrrhic Victory that the galaxy has "won". So in reality, the apocalyptic ending still remains; it's just a well-hidden worst-scenario ending.
Leaving the real Rachni Queen behind to die. During your conversation with her, she sounds angry and forceful, trying to convince Shepard that she hates the Reapers and wants to help fight them. Then, when Shepard decides to let her die as the sounds of the frenzied Ravagers are coming closer, she just bows her head and calmly accepts her fate. All she wanted was to live peacefully with her children, but the Reapers captured her, indoctrinated the rachni she produced and turned them into monstrosities. Her dream destroyed, she dies alone, abandoned by everything and everyone. And if that wasn't enough: compared to the earlier angry and forceful tone in her voice, it is almost as if she whispers her last words.
Rachni Queen: Leave us, then. We... embrace... the silence...
It's quite possible that she only sounds forceful at all because she only had krogan to help her speak. If you compare it to the Rachni Breeder, she sounds quite sorrowful and weak in comparison!
When Shepard confronts the dying batarian terrorist in the refugee sector, who then proceeds to angrily blame Shepard for what happened in the Bahak system. Shepard then admits that s/he still feels guilt over what s/he did and while s/he doesn't expect the batarian, or any of them, to forgive him/her, s/he at least wants him to know that s/he is truly sorry. Even though Shepard knows that it was completely necessary, s/he still feels that innocent blood is on his/her hands. It's a minor one but it only further highlights how much of a Hurting Hero Shepard is in 3.
During the Cerberus coup. Thane, when Shepard talks to him over the radio he is running, barely able to breathe and he just keeps going. Just because you asked, and even before Kai Leng stabs him. Anyone else with Asthma knows just how hard he's working, and he has it worse than we do.
After the mission to Palavan's moon, Liara can tell you that when she was very young she visited that planet and spent a few weeks in a particular mountain range, where a turian teased her by saying they went on forever. Being very young, she believed him. When on the mission, looking at the world, she could see those mountains burning.
If Kasumi didn't destroy the graybox in 2, then she says during her quest in 3 that she doesn't want to join Shepard and fight because it would cut into her time with Keiji, implying that she spends all of her free time hooked up to the graybox full of his memories. It's like what Thane says about perfect drell memories and how tempting it is to slip into solipsism, losing yourself in the past. This appears to occur to Shepard, too, as s/he says she doesn't think Keiji would want Kasumi spending all her time doing that. Kasumi just says that he shouldn't have died, then. It makes sense - just by keeping it she's going against his wish, so she might as well keep going. But it's sad, too. She's not going to move on. In the Extended Cut, if she survives Control or Destroy she's shown alone in a dark room with the graybox, reliving the same things again and again.
However, if she survives the Extended Cut Synthesis ending and if she kept the graybox, this tear jerker is somewhat nullified—because a simulacrum of Keiji is resurrected from the graybox's memories, so Kasumi gets to be with Keiji after all (well, sort of)!
The Extended Cut Control ending. despite disproving the indoctrination theory, it makes it absolutely clear the the Shepard you have played for three games now is dead, and the new one is simply based upon the old one.
One specific line:
"Through my birth, his/her thoughts are free."
That one, brutally truthful line, proves what we all suspected: Shepard wanted to die. And in death, Shepard finally found his/her peace.
Just the Control Ending, particularly Shepard's final moments. The other endings shows the Commander defiant in refusal, or in destroy being determined and dying in a blaze of fire, or it can even look vague in synthesis. But Control has Shepard falling to their knees as their skin blisters, until finally, they just quietly dissolve into ash.
From Leviathan, Ann Bryson's reaction to learning of her father's death.
The reworking of the track David that plays in the following scene back in the lab certainly doesn't help matters.
The whole s/s romance with Kaidan is rather sad. Dialogue hints that their romance is rather out of the norm for the both of them and both are aware of the brief time they have together. The latter hurts especially when you remember the Citadel date, where Kaidan tells Shepard that he's been restless because he's fallen in love with him sometime during the course of the series. In the EC, when you send your squadmates off to the Normandy, Shepard will tell Kaidan, "I love you" possibly for the first and last time.
Leviathan adds an extra gutpunch;
Kaidan: Let's make sure we never let time just slip by us, okay?
The idle conversation between Aria and Shepard in Omega, if Mordin died on Tuchanka.
Shepard: This place looks familiar.
Aria: I preferred it when Mordin Solus was here shooting up looters.
If you did the Overlord mission in Mass Effect 2 and Paragon'd your way through the end, there's a tear-inducing moment on Grissom Academy. You know the one:
Shepard: How've you been, David?
David Archer: Good. I've been counting.
Shepard: Anything in particular?
David Archer: The number of days you lengthened my life.
A meta-example doubling as a bittersweet heartwarming moment, with Bioware announcing the ME3 Citadel DLC—the very last addition, after the trilogy going for nearly six years. In their blog post, they write, "They say that parting is such sweet sorrow, but as we near the end of the Mass Effect 3 adventure, we’re giving fans a fitting send-off in the form of two final pieces of DLC."
Another meta-example: The Feb. 22-24, 2013 multiplayer operation, Tribute, has two objectives: Score 50,000 points with the M-8 Avenger and score 50,000 points with inferno grenades. The M-8 Avenger and Inferno Grenades are the two signature weapons of Zaeed Massani, whose VA, Robin Sachs died earlier in the month. This operation is BioWare's tribute (get the name now?) to him.
There was almost a collective outpouring of Tears of Joy regarding a tweet after the announcement of the Citadel DLC - Robin Sachs completed voice work on it prior to his passing. One last round with the guddam old soldier.
Thane's memorial service in the Citadel DLC, organised by Kolyat for Shepard and the crew to pay their last respects to their brother-in-arms.
Becomes one in-universe for Shepard herself if Thane was romanced. This marks the only time in the entire series where Shepard is brought to tears. Shepard is viewing a series of video logs Thane left for her, recounting his life in between the events of Mass Effect 2, and his time in Huerta Memorial. Every now and again, there's a closeup of Shepard quite clearly holding back, when the line below is what finally sets her off the edge.
Thane: I once had no reason to live, then suddenly I had two: you and Kolyat.
And at the end of the DLC, Shepard says one more goodbye to Thane's spirit if she romanced him.
The very end of the Citadel DLC is both this and Crowning Moment of Heartwarming. It has the whole crew looking at the Normandy, realizing that party might be the last they throw. But they note that even with all the bad, it's been a great ride. The meta-subtext does not help, the thought that this is the final sendoff for this amazing cast of characters.
Squad Member: It's been a good ride.
Shepard: The best.
What makes it worse? The guarantee that at least one of Shepard and EDI won't be making it out of the ending means that the crew will never be together like that again.
Despite being evil, one has to feel sad for Clone Shepard being Driven to Suicide after Brooks abandons them, while Shepard's squadmates rush to save him/her. You can see the look of dawning realisation that the answer to their previous tirade about what Shepard has that makes them so special... is friends who would do anything for them. The clone has nothing and no one. S/he only existed in the first place for Shepard's "spare parts", and was awoken to take Shepard's place, not have his/her own future. When Paragon Shepard offers the clone a chance to live, s/he replies "For what?" and falls.
It's a meta-example, but it must be said - the realization that, as of Citadel, Commander Shepard's story is complete. The Commander and his/her crew have had their last adventure together. This is the end of the line. And what a ride.
Mordin's datapad, namely the last entry in what has been a hilarious recollection of Mordin's past antics...and, in the end, a song. You should know the tune. You may weep now.
Jack has a scene if she is Shepard's confirmed love interest. She decides to make a tattoo on Shepard's back. He asks her what brings this about and she comments that while fighting, Rodriguez, one of her students, was buried under a mountain of dead husks and if Jack hadn't recognized one of her boots, she would have died buried under there. She gives Shepard the tattoo because she knows he's going to extremely dangerous places and if something ever happens that someone can't recognize him anymore, she wants him to have that so that someone knows he belonged to her.
In a meta-example, hearing Robin Sachs as Zaeed again in the Citadel DLC and then remembering that he recorded it shortly before his death.
ThisDummied Out dialog for recruiting Gabby and Ken at a bar. If Gabby died at the Collector Base in Mass Effect 2, Ken will be a complete wreck when you meet him, haunted by guilt and regretting that he never told Gabby about his feeling towards her.
In Citadel, if you stayed true to Samara in Mass Effect 2 despite her rejecting you, her and Shepard finally are able to talk about their feelings when he invites her up to their apartment. The fact that the usually very calm and collected Samara sounds like she's about to cry at any moment as she tries to reject Shepard a second time is both really heartwarming and sad, because you can tell she just wants to be with Shepard too, but can't because she's already given up on everything in her life, including romance. Thankfully, though, you can convince her to make an exception for the code she's been conditioned to follow until death, which in itself is a CMOH because she cares about Shepard that much.
The line in the Citadel DLC where Jack mocks Miranda for having trouble with "a guy with a sword" becomes a lot harsher if you'd previously done a playthrough where you failed to warn her about Kai Leng, resulting in an agonising, drawn-out death from internal injuries.
If there's ever a Book Ends feel to Citadel DLC, it's when Liara plays Vigil's Theme on the piano, and it feels like her way of saying "goodbye" without even realizing it.