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The beauty of Mass Effect 2's ending

...or "How Can the Suicide Mission Be So Awesome?"

Mass Effect 2 is the most universally adored part of the original Mass Effect trilogy, and despite its gameplay refinement and improved variety, Mass Effect 3 could never supplant its predecessor. Part two had something its sequel didn't: A mindblowingly epic ending that left every player in awe. But what exactly made the ending of Mass Effect 2 so amazing? Although the magnificent cutscene direction and musical composition contributed a lot to it, the key to the awesomeness of Mass Effect 2's endgame segment lies in the gameplay design and the story scripting of the entire Suicide Mission.

Spoilers ahead.


The main appeal, driving force, and resource of Mass Effect 2 are the thirteen recruitable companions (squadmates) of Commander Shepardnote . The entire game revolves around them, and the Suicide Mission is quite consciously a Final Exam Finale level, taking the form of a weird Puzzle/Deckbuilding Game hybrid. The deck-building aspect comes from the fact that the outcome of the endgame depends largely on what "deck" (i.e. which squadmates) you bring with you to the Omega 4 relay. The puzzle aspect is owed to the complex but static set of rules that determine your success or failure in the Suicide Mission—rules that are pretty obvious if you pay attention to your squadmates beforehand.

A bulk of Mass Effect 2 concerns the composition and enhancement of your "deck". This largest part of the game is very options-driven, meaning that you can do any missions in any order, mostly without fear of immediate harsh consequences. This part ends with the first true major choice of the game that finalizes the state of the "deck", namely, the choice of when to enter the Omega 4 relay. The entire Suicide Mission boils down to (a mere) ten more choices that determine its outcome, as you are repeatedly forced to put your squadmates (including ones whom you might need later on) at risk of a Plotline Death in order to advance the mission. Your task is made easier by the fact that for every choice, there are at least three possible winning decisions—although, of course, you may not have all of them in your "deck" at that point. However, the game also refuses to hold your hand in solving this puzzle with obvious hints and instead makes you rely on common sense and prior knowledge of the individual squadmates' strengths and backgrounds to make ideal decisions.

The interchangeability of squadmates in certain story-relevant roles and, conversely, the dependency of said roles' outcomes (success or tragedy) on the suitability of the actors is what gives the strictly linear Suicide Mission its amazing variability. Even though it doesn't matter much, for instance, which loyal squadmate escorts the Normandy crew back to the ship, the option to choose one and the palpable consequence of that teammate being absent for the rest of the mission give the players an illusion of controlling their own story. Moreover, the multitude of winning scenarios guarantees that most players end up feeling like they have been told a personal and unique story, even though everyone starts the endgame with roughly the same "deck" and experiences exactly the same Narrative Beats along the way.

Pre-endgame variables

Your "deck" at the beginning of the Suicide Mission is effectively represented by three mathematical sets and two variables.

Recruited squadmates (R*)

This set is the base of all other pre-endgame options. There are 13 items available for this set (Garrus, Grunt, Jack, Jacob, Kasumi, Legion, Miranda, Mordin, Morinth, Samara, Tali, Thane, Zaeed) but it can only contain up to 12 at any time. Recruiting a squadmate generally takes place in the course of a single Dossier mission, but with several particularities:

  • Two squadmates (Jacob, Miranda) don't have to be recruited, as you start the game with them.
  • Three more (Garrus, Jack, Mordin) are mandatory, since it is not possible to enter the Horizon Plot Tunnel without recruiting them first.
  • Two squadmates (Grunt, Legion) require manual activation after their respective recruitment mission before they can join as team members.
  • Two more (Zaeed, Kasumi) require purchasing DLC and join immediately after a brief dialogue instead of a full-length recruitment mission.
  • One squadmate (Morinth) can only be recruited by recruiting and then killing another during her loyalty mission (Samara).

Loyal squadmates (L*)

The set of loyal squadmates is always a subset of R*, therefore it likewise has 13 potential items but can only hold 12 at any time. Its membership is determined mainly by completing the so-called Loyalty Missions of the respective squadmates, with following particularities:

  • Four loyalties (Samara, Tali, Thane, Zaeed) can be forfeited by making certain decisions in the respective mission.
  • Two squadmates (Samara, Zaeed) can die during their respective loyalty missions, although in Zaeed's case, it is only possible after the Suicide Mission and is thus irrelevant to the endgame.
  • One squadmate (Morinth) is loyal immediately upon recruitment.

Additionally, two pairs of squadmates (Jack and Miranda, Tali and Legion) are scripted to get into a confrontation after the loyalty of both characters in a pair is earned. Unless you are able to persuade them to calm down, you are forced to support one side in the argument, losing the other's loyalty.

Ship upgrades (U*)

This set is a mix of story-relevant upgrades, gameplay-relevant upgrades, and even purely cosmetic upgrades (Med-Bay Upgrade). Only the three story-relevant upgrades (Heavy Ship Armor, Multicore Shielding, Thanix Cannon) have impact on the course of the Suicide Mission. The availability of all upgrades is directly derived from R*, since they can only be unlocked for purchase by talking with a specific squadmate. note 

Romanced squadmate (F)

The romanced squadmate is a singular member of the conjunction of L* and the fixed set of romanceable squadmates determined by Shepard's gender (Garrus, Jacob, Thane for female; Jack, Miranda, Tali for male). Of these, only one romance for each gender (Thane, Jack) has any effect on the course of the endgame, and that effect is purely cosmetic.

Delay between the attack on the Normandy and the Suicide Mission (D)

Since there is no In-Universe Game Clock in the game, the time is measured by the number of completed missionsnote  between two events, specifically, the kidnapping of the Normandy crew by the Collectors and the start of the Suicide Mission. In practical terms, this delay can have only three values: short (at most one story mission or assignment), middle (one to three assignments and no story missions), and long (anything above that).

Pseudocode of the Suicide Mission

Before passing through the Omega 4 relay, two variable sets are initialized: the squad survivors set (S*) is initialized with the current contents of R* and the crew survivors set (CS*) is preset according to D (if short, all kidnapped crew members; if middle, half of the crew; if long, only Dr. Chakwas). The following pseudocode is a more-or-less formal representation of the endgame puzzle:

  1. CUTSCENE: Passing through the Omega 4 relay:
    1. Victim1 = "Jack"
    2. IF "Heavy Ship Armor" not in U* THEN remove Victim1 from S*
  2. PLAYER CHOICE #1: Two party members for the fight with Oculus:
    1. SELECT P1* from S*
  3. CUTSCENE: Eezo core overload:
    1. Victim2 = FIRST( ( { "Kasumi", "Legion", "Tali", "Thane", "Garrus", "Zaeed", "Grunt" } in S* ) not in P1* )
    2. IF "Multicore Shielding" not in U* THEN remove Victim2 from S*
  4. CUTSCENE: Taking on the Collector Cruiser:
    1. Victim3 = FIRST( { "Thane", "Garrus", "Zaeed", "Grunt", "Jack", "Samara", "Morinth" } in S* )
    2. IF "Thanix Cannon" not in U* THEN remove Victim3 from S*
  5. PLAYER CHOICE #2: Specialist Technician in the vents:
    1. SELECT ST from S*
    2. IdealST* = { "Tali", "Legion", "Kasumi" }
  6. PLAYER CHOICE #3: Fireteam Leader during Infiltration:
    1. SELECT FL1 from (S* minus ST)
    2. IdealFL* = { "Garrus", "Jacob", "Miranda" }
  7. PLAYER CHOICE #4: Two party members during Infiltration:
    1. SELECT P2* from (S* minus { ST, FL1 })
  8. CUTSCENE: Sealing the doors after Infiltration:
    1. IF (ST not in L*) or (ST not in IdealST*) or (FL1 not in L*) or (FL1 not in IdealFL*) THEN remove ST from S*
  9. PLAYER CHOICE #5: Biotic Specialist to hold the bubble:
    1. Biotics* = { "Jack", "Jacob", "Miranda", "Morinth", "Samara", "Thane" }
    2. SELECT BS from (S* in Biotics*)
    3. IdealBS* = { "Samara", "Morinth", "Jack" }
  10. PLAYER CHOICE #6: Fireteam Leader during the Long Walk:
    1. SELECT FL2 from (S* minus BS)
  11. PLAYER CHOICE #7: Escort for the Normandy crew:
    1. SELECT ESC from (S* minus { BS, FL2 }) OR none
  12. PLAYER CHOICE #8: Two party members for the Long Walk:
    1. SELECT P3* from (S* minus { BS, FL2, ESC })
  13. CUTSCENE: Showdown with the Collector Swarm:
    1. Victim4 = FIRST( { "Thane", "Jack", "Garrus", "Legion", "Grunt", "Samara", "Jacob", "Mordin", "Tali", "Kasumi", "Zaeed", "Morinth" } in P3* )
    2. IF (BS not in L*) or (BS not in IdealBS*) THEN remove Victim4 from S*
  14. CUTSCENE: Opening the doors for the fireteam:
    1. IF (FL2 <> "Miranda") and ( (FL2 not in L*) or (FL2 not in IdealFL*) ) THEN remove FL2 from S*
    2. IF (FL2 = F) and (F in { "Jack", "Thane" }) THEN use different last words
  15. CUTSCENE: Checking up on the Normandy crew:
    1. IF ESC = none THEN CS* = none
    2. IF ESC not in L* THEN remove ESC from S*
  16. PLAYER CHOICE #9: Two party members for the final battle:
    1. SELECT P4* from (S* minus ESC)
    2. Implicit choice (squadmates holding the line): HTL* = S* minus P4* minus ESC
  17. PLAYER CHOICE #10: Destroying or purging the Collector Base
  18. CUTSCENE: Escaping the Collector Base:
    1. Remove (P4* not in L*) from S*
    2. Remove HTL Death Calculus(S*, L*, P4*, ESC)note  from S*
    3. IF COUNT(S*) < 2 THEN Commander Shepard dies
  19. CUTSCENE: Dialogue with the Illusive Man (changes depending on whether Shepard survives and whether Collector Base was destroyed or purged)
  20. ENDING:
    1. IF S* = R* THEN "No One Left Behind" AND "Against All Odds" AND "Mission Accomplished"
    2. IF (S* <> R*) and (Shepard lives) THEN "Against All Odds" AND "Mission Accomplished"
    3. IF Shepard dead THEN "Mission Accomplished"

Analysis of the endgame puzzle

As already mentioned, the endgame puzzle (the Suicide Mission) is all about intelligent application of the resources the player had a chance to collect throughout the game. These resources can be abstracted into two types: Primary (squadmates and their loyalties) and Secondary (Normandy upgrades). With that in mind, the puzzle itself can be then abstracted into three phases:

  • Phase I (steps 1 through 4) consists mostly of cutscenes and evaluates the player's initiative and readiness to go beyond the explicit instruction in preparation for the Suicide Mission—namely, to discover and to acquire Secondary Resources without an obvious indication to their usefulness. It punishes the insufficiently prepared players by handicapping them in phase II via the loss of some Primary Resources, but, ingeniously, makes this seem like a Plotline Death by denying the player any immediate agency in it, as well as giving only vague hints at how it could have been prevented. To further throw the player off-balance, loyalty, while essential everywhere else, provides no protection to crucial Primary Resources in this phase.
  • Phase II (steps 5 through 16note ) is a Final Exam Finale that repeatedly tests the player's common sense, as well as their knowledge of the setting, of the squadmates' backgrounds and personalities, and of the basic game rules. Failure in these tests leads to further losses of the Primary Resource, negatively impacting the player's capacity to overcome later tests, and ultimately, to an inferior ending.
  • Phase III (steps 17 through 20) once again consists mostly of cutscenes that rate the player's performance—only this time, they evaluate both the pre-endgame progress and the phase II decisions. The game then awards the player with one of three possible endings.

The Hold the Line death calculus

Team members don't just risk dying as specialists or by accompanying Shepard. The rearguard left to keep the Collectors off Shepard's back as s/he confronts the Big Bad can also lose their lives as a result of the player's choices. As with the run-in aboard the Normandy, the link between cause and effect is well enough masked that many first time players assume Mordin's potential demise is a Plotline Death. In fact, who (if anyone) gets killed is a function of the player exercising common sense regarding his/her team and what would constitute a cohesive defensive combat unit. But knowing the hidden game mechanic sure makes it easier, so here goes.

Each squad member has a hidden stat, used only for this part of the game, which can be called the "Hold The Line Score". The scores are as follows:

Characters — HTL Scores (Loyal/Not Loyal)

  • The Tuff Guys (Garrus, Grunt, Zaeed) can protect weak members — 4/3
  • The Regular Joes (Miranda, Jacob, Thane, Samara/Morinth, Legion) can handle themselves — 2/1
  • The Weak Links (Mordin, Jack, Tali, Kasumi) need protection — 1/0

The way the mechanism works, in brief, is to take the average of the scores of the Hold The Line team, and compare it to a table which indicates the number of casualties among them, based on the average score (in following: "HTL") and the number of defenders staying behind (in following: "Strength"). The Magic Number is 2. If the average is equal to or greater than 2, everybody makes it. Otherwise, the team suffers a specific number of casualties, as specified in the following table:

Strength HTL = 0 0 < HTL < 0.5 0.5 ≤ HTL < 1 1 ≤ HTL < 1.5 1.5 ≤ HTL < 2 HTL ≥ 2
1 1 (all) 0
2 2 (all) 1 0
3 3 (all) 2 1 0
4 4 (all) 3 2 1 0
5+ note  3 2 1 0

Once the number of KIA has been determined, the victims are taken, nonloyals first, in the following order:

Mordin, Tali, Kasumi, Jack, Miranda, Jacob, Garrus, Samara/Morinth, Legion, Thane, Zaeed, Grunt

Assuming loyalty, each of the Tuff Guys can "protect" two Weak Links ((4+1+1)/3 = 2), so leaving any two of the three will guarantee everyone's safety. If you do have loyalty issues, remember that Jack positively slaughters Collectors and Mordin's Incinerate is very useful against the final Boss, so bringing those two Weak Links into Shepard's party and sending Kasumi or Tali back with the crew survivors could well get the number high enough.

Note that Mordin happens is the first name on the list, but sending him back with the crew won't save a life- someone else will just die in his place. On the other hand, removing such a low-scoring member might just boost the group average over 2 so that nobody dies. However, sending Tali, Jack or Kasumi would accomplish the same thing.

The entire squad's Suicide Mission scores explained

The branching nature of the final mission allows for the player to split their party up into groups - as many as three. Each of the branches, in turn, presents a chance for Shepard to choose a single individual to play a vital role. So why do some of those choices lead to disaster, and some to success?

A Quick Word on Miranda:

Players may note that when Miranda gives explicit advice, she isn't always right: While she correctly recommends herself as fire team leader and warns against picking Jacob as tech specialist, she also approves of Samara and Zaeed as fire team leaders and volunteers herself as the biotic specialist, any of which will get somebody killed. Why is the XO, Shepard's second-in-command, who's been guiding the player all game, suddenly getting things wrong? Because this is the first test to see if you were paying attention. Miranda herself will warn players that being enhanced does not make her infallible, and that she can err and her errors can cause disaster. Moreover, Miranda is not in command — you are, and there is a reason for that. You are being asked to make correct decisions, not blindly follow what the game tells you to do.

The Distraction:

The first choice is to send all of the party members except for Shepard and three others off to divert the attention of the Collector swarms. Shepard must pick one person to serve as the squad leader for the other party members (which could be as few half a dozen alive or fewer, if you had no ship upgrades, never decanted Grunt, sold Legion, and didn't get the DLCs). The choices consist of the whole roster. So why are there only three right choices? Thane, Zaeed, Samara, and Legion all have extensive experience in fighting, as do Tali and Mordin. So why does picking anybody but the two Cerberus operatives and Garrus result in catastrophe?

The answer is in their history. Thane is a gifted killer, to be sure, but he always works alone. Why would he know how to best lead a huge, diverse team of badass powerhouses? Samara is a galactic-class biotic and ruthless fighter, who likewise always works alone. Zaeed has led men into battle many times... but almost always gets out as the sole survivor. Not great for leading a squad. Mordin has been a part of STG covert actions, but never as the person in charge. Tali has led two small, elite combat units before, on Freedom's Progress and Haestrom, but both times the teams were slaughtered trying to achieve objectives. Legion has experience in finding consensus, of course, but has been fighting on its own for two years.

Meanwhile, the three winning choices are all people who have extensive experience in leading combat teams for a long time. Miranda has her engineered smarts, and serves as one of the top three of Cerberus. Garrus, of course, led a team of a dozen killers on Omega for eighteen months, and survived the whole station being out to get him all along. Jacob seems like an odd choice, given that he has never served a command position according to Miranda, but Miranda is simply wrong. Jacob has served in command before: in the Corsairs. The Alliance Corsairs are deniable anti-pirate captains who hire their ships to the Alliance. Jacob used to be a captain himself! And his field? Ship-boarding, which is exactly what the team is doing now. Jacob was also an Alliance Marine NCO, which means small-unit tactical leadership.

The Tech:

While Shepard leads their trio through the station, they are protecting the Tech. The Tech is walking through a tunnel to a convenient egress point, where they can get doors open for the rest of the team. Why are there right and wrong choices here?

The only people who can do this without getting somebody killed are Kasumi, Tali, and Legion. Kasumi is a master safe-cracker, which is the exact skill being called upon here. Tali grew up in the engine rooms of the Migrant Fleet and got the best education her father could get her. Legion is 1,183 sentient computer programs working in parallel, more than a match for one tiny Collector machine.

The Escort:

As Doctor Chakwas points out, the crew and colonists the party rescues are in no shape to fight. The party now has to decide whether to return the crewers under protection, back along the mostly-cleared path that Shepard's fireteam took, or to send them back unescorted. Who are the correct choices to send? The answer is all of them, since you just cleared the path behind you. Who, then, to send? The Weak Links, who have little to contribute to the close-quarters battle that follows. Mordin is a popular option for this, not only is he the first weak link who will die, but he's a doctor. Of course he's an optimal choice for someone to send back to the ship with a bunch of wounded and traumatized prisoners.

The Biotic Barrier:

Keeping the party split at this point may not seem like the best idea, but if you want to keep the Collectors from focusing all of their firepower against the party at once, it becomes more sensible. So how do you know whom to put in charge of keeping the barrier going?Miranda volunteers herself, but think back to her previous mission appearances. When do we actually see her sustain such biotic power for long? The only time she displays any real potency of biotics is during her confrontation with Niket and Enyala. She holds Enyala up and throws her, but Enyala lands unharmed and immediately ready for more. Not a sterling endorsement of her skills.Thane doesn't use his biotics much in cutscenes, in his backstory, or indeed in his gameplay outside of simple powers. He's skilled and focused, but he never displays the power needed to hold back thousands of Seekers.Jacob does have barrier powers, true, but they only extend over his own body. He never shows much biotic potential in actual combat or in cutscenes, and indeed doesn't volunteer his services at this point in the Long Walk.Samara and Morinth, however, have extraordinary biotic power. Samara gets hers from her centuries of experience and training, natural talent, and meditative skills. Morinth gets stronger from killing, and she has killed many, many people. Either can keep the barrier up as long as they need to.Jack is the first or second strongest human biotic, and in her opening cutscene, kills three YMIR mechs with one attack. 'Nuff said.

The Fireteam:

Everything from The Distraction applies here. Garrus, Jacob, and Miranda are the ideal choices for this.

The entire squad's Hold the Line scores explained

Let's look at why the secret Hold The Line scores for all members, when loyal and non-loyal, are what they are:

Garrus - When loyal, his score is 4. Why is it so high, considering he was a bit of a Glass Cannon in the first game? Because a sniper who can also bunker down with an assault rifle and hold position is perfectly capable of fending off enemy assaults on his own. His score is higher than the minimum 2 needed to survive because of his effectiveness as a squad tactician. Even if not loyal, his turian dedication to duty will ensure that he will switch to long range kills as necessary to help keep others alive. However, if things go very badly, Garrus would be the type to sacrifice himself to save another, which is why his place on the Death List is much higher than the other Tuff Guys, Zaeed and Grunt.

  • If not loyal, he is distracted by the fact that he has unfinished business with Sidonis, but his dedication to Shepard and the mission is still high enough that he can still survive and help others survive without having done his quest. He is just that useful a sidekick to Shepard.

Zaeed - Health wise, he is tougher than Garrus with more experience under his belt. He is also a sniper who can bunker down with an assault rifle and hold position. His loyalty score is 4, not because he is a master tactician like Garrus, it is because he can tank and soak up fire away from someone else who can't. Also, his inferno grenades are very handy weapons for both crowd control and a medium range distraction. It is primarily with them that he can protect even the weak members.

  • His score, when disloyal, is 3, which also serves as his default. While Zaeed is enough of a Sociopathic Soldier to not really care about saving the weak members, dealing with or letting go of Vido tempers his sociopathy.

Grunt - His score is 4 for obvious reasons. He is an intimidating figure and a hell of a damage sponge that other weaker squadmates can bunker down behind. His inferno ammo is a terrifying, distracting crowd controller, and if everything goes to hell, Grunt will be the last one standing, which puts him at the bottom of the Death List.

  • However, if he has not been inducted into Clan Urdnot, he has no sense of loyalty to a team, which is why his score drops to 3. He is still enough of a soldier to protect the weak but trying, yet his apathy towards those slacking behind will get them killed.

Legion - He is an anomalous case. He is a very powerful sniper who inflicts the most damage, has the ability to wield an assault rifle like any other infantry soldier, can overclock shields and soak up damage, and has a force multiplying combat drone. These abilities would give Legion a 4, but unfortunately, he is only a 2 when loyal. Why? Because the other squadmates are still very suspicious of him due to his geth nature.

  • His disloyal score is 1 because he, and everyone else, is worried about him being reprogrammed by the heretics. The squad is fully expecting him to turn to the Reapers and betray them.

Jacob - He has tactical acumen as a squad leader, inferno ammo, a damage-soaking barrier ability, and wields a shotgun. Why is his loyalty score only a 2? Because he is purely a shotgun-wielding biotic shock trooper, not an all round infantry rifleman. He therefore cannot protect other people as he has to get in close to hit the enemies, thus depriving him of more situational awareness of squadmates in trouble.

  • That score drops to 1 because he is distracted over the mission regarding his missing father. He even lampshades it.

Samara - She wields assault rifles, has mercenary soldier experience and Justicar training and dedication, has crowd controlling biotic abilities, has Reave which boosts her health and has a strong duty to protect even weak squadmates. So why is her score only a 2? Because even with her health recoverable by reaving, she is still an asari. According to the Codex, the asari cannot stand up to a firestorm the way a human, turian or krogan can. So even if she wanted to help someone else, she would only endanger herself too.

  • Her score drops to 1 because she is distracted by Morinth still running around inflicting Out with a Bang.

Thane is another interesting anomaly. You would think that as a highly skilled sniper with damage dealing biotic attacks, he would be capable of protecting not only himself but others too? No, his score is only 2 because he was trained to be a slippery infiltrator and assassin, not as an infantryman. He may not recognize squadmates in tactical peril, and thus fail to protect them. Also, he has a degenerative lung disease, which affects cardiovascular performance. He therefore is incapable of tanking. Additionally, most of Thane's tactical advantages are reduced in effectiveness in HTL conditions - they aren't shown with a great deal of room to manoeuvre or outflank, meaning Thane's stealth isn't useful until things have already gone absolutely pear-shaped (explaining why it takes him so long to die in the mission despite his personal fragility), and while precision elimination of powerful enemies like Collector Guardians and Assassins will increase the squad's longevity, he can't disrupt their chain of command because the Collectors you face don't have one, they're all being controlled remotely from a target Thane can't reach.

  • His score drops to 1 because if Kolyat isn't turned away from a life as an assassin by that point, he just doesn't want to live.
  • On a side note, after Mordin, Thane is the single most useless squad member on the Suicide Mission: he isn't an ideal choice for any Specialist missions and his HTL score is low. That may be why he seems to be the default squaddie to report to Shepard in the checking-up-on-HTL cutscene—in an ideal playthrough, that's basically his only spotlight moment. Alternatively, this may be a way to encourage the player to run him in Shepard's main team: he may not be a good Specialist or at holding the line, but he's extremely good at slaughtering Collectors thanks to his barrier-trumping powers, armour-breaking sniper rifle, and shredder ammunition.

Miranda's score of 2 is surprisingly high. Why, since she cannot wield any heavy guns and doesn't have a detonating tech armor like Sentinel Shepard. Her Overload power is also useless against Collectors. So how can she survive on her own if loyal? Because she does have the One-Hit Kill Slam that can be cast very frequently and Warp to eat through barriers. Left alone, she can rack up an impressive number of Collector kills. Her score isn't higher than 2 because while she does have the tactical acumen to be an effective squad leader, other squadmates are not ready to trust her with their lives, not by a long shot.

  • Her disloyal score dropping to 1 could be due to her still worrying about Oriana. But more importantly, if Shepard sided with Jack, she doesn't have trust and faith in the Commander, and thus wants to bug out and go back to a more sympathetic Cerberus.

Jack is another interesting case. Her ammo power, shotgun ability, biotic powers including the shockwave that can wreak a path of destruction over an area, should make her an excellent squadmate for holding a position and saving others. But her loyal score is only 1 because she is the epitome of a Glass Cannon - can deal lots of damage but goes down like wet tissue paper. This is why she is an excellent candidate not for holding the line, but for accompanying Shepard on the end run to the central control panel. Additionally, Shepard may have tempered her hostility, but all that does is broaden her list of "people I care about" to herself and Shepard, meaning even at her best, she just plain doesn't give a damn about how anyone else is doing and so prioritises enemies threatening her over enemies threatening anyone else.

  • Her score drops to 0 if her loyalty quest wasn't done and her conflict with Miranda not resolved favorably because she is still on a Cerberus vessel with Cerberus crew and therefore feels like no one has her back. She therefore either wants to just die and get it over with or bug out.

Morinth has an assault rifle, standard crowd control biotics and Dominate that can turn some other poor Collector sap into a damage sponge and distraction. So why is she only a 2 and incapable of saving anyone else? Because she is a mass murdering psychopath with absolutely no loyalty to anyone except herself.

Mordin' slow Hold the Line score of 1 has already been explained in the Mass Effect 2 Fridge Brilliance section, but why does he drop to 0 if his loyalty mission hasn't been done? Because he is worried about the Krogan torturing a genophage cure out of Maelon, thus ensuring Krogan Rebellion Two. This Collector mission would therefore be a pointless distraction from the oncoming disaster.

  • As an aside, Mordin is perhaps the single least useful squad member during the Suicide Mission:note  even if loyal, he cannot be safely given any task (except the Escort, which is why most guides suggest to take that opportunity to send him to safety), and he's borderline useless for holding the line. Why? Because he has already returned on all of the investments that went into recruiting him and gaining his loyalty by allowing you to upgrade the Normandy and creating the Collector swarm countermeasures. Afterwards, he's just tagging along to see through what he started and trusts Shepard to keep him alive.

Tali ought to have survivability if not the ability to protect herself, since she does have a combat drone and is shotgun qualified, as well as having prior strike op experience from her time on the SR1. But her score is only 1 because in actuality she is devastating against synthetics but weak against organics. AI hacking is useless against organics, and getting close in to use her shotgun means she drains her shields, but unlike Legion who can just boost his shields, Tali has to drain something else's energy to boost her shields back up. Collectors are organics with biotic barriers, neither of which is a source of energy for Tali's shields. And once she is down to just her armor, she goes down very easily since all it takes is one suit rupture for the allergy to kill her. This experience may be why her Energy Drain works on barriers too in Mass Effect 3; experience fighting Collectors has taught her to prep for dealing with enemies other than Geth.

  • That score drops to 0 if her loyalty was lost because she is worried about her precious Migrant fleet either disintegrating due to political infighting or under threat from a Geth reprisal attack due to Legion transmitting data on Rael's experiments.

Kasumi is actually the worst squadmate for a combat mission like the SM, because being a Classy Cat-Burglar means she has no combat prowess at all. She has no armor, no health boost, shield boost or fortification to soak up damage, can only wield light weapons and her Invisibility Cloak is only for Stealth Hi/Bye not for maneuvering into position for a kill like Infiltrator Shepard - not much of a useful talent when basically pinned down behind a wall. Overload is useless against Collectors, while her shadow strike and flash bang grenades can only stun and incapacitate, not kill. Her abilities are therefore completely useless and ends up only being The Load for the rest of the squad. So, she deserves the measly 1.

  • Which is 0 if the Bekenstein heist wasn't pulled off because she's worried about the damage Hock could cause with the information from Keiji's graybox.

Although she isn't on the Suicide Mission squad, Liara was available as a temporary squadmate and rebuffed several attempts to recruit her for this mission. But what would her score and usefulness have been if she had come?

  • Liara has warp, a deadly homing ranged attack, she has Singularity which is the most effective crowd control ability ever and the very useful Stasis. This would have made her a devastating weapon against Collectors and husks, more so than Jack. However, she is as squishy as Jack, because this game removed the Barrier ability she had in the first game. Also, she can only use light guns and is not even military. Therefore, she would have been just like a loyal Jack - poor fire team leader, excellent choice for the biotic bubble, and a Hold the Line score of 1. Due to her experience as an archeologist, she also has some limited tech ability, which would have made her a possible choice but not a good choice for the vents.
    • Since she never would have even joined the squad if the Shadow Broker mission wasn't done, there would have been absolutely no possibility of her being disloyal.
  • By making her non recruitable and thus unable to die permanently in this game, the devs were saving her for the very important role she would play in 3. In fact, had Liara not been there, the Alliance and Council would have fought a conventional war - and lost. There wouldn't even have been beacons to Fling a Light into the Future and warn the life forms of the next cycle.

Likewise, for Wrex and the Virmire survivor who couldn't be recruited due to personal reasons their roles will likely be accounted for as well. What would they have brought to the field?

  • Wrex has Throw, Warp, Barrier and Stasis in 1 with Throw and Barrier being main staples, all skills geared towards fighting heavy duty foes one on one, ideal for destroying Collector Husks taken over by Harbinger. As Shepard had to persuade Wrex to back down on Virmire, he is loyal to Shepard from the getgo and would make for an effective Fire team leader as he managed to rally together the Krogan tribes against the radicals (and motivated to stay alive), poor choice for a biotic bubble and a Hold the Line score of 4 due to leadership and his resilience.
  • Kaiden has Reave, Cryo Blast, Overload and Barrier like Miranda. Given his experience, he would have made for an ideal candidate for both leading the Fire Team and maintaining the Biotic Field thanks to his L2 Implants. Compared to the other squadmates, their Hold the Line score would had been a wildcard, being a 3 if Romanced and remained faithful but a 1 due to distractions and being more geared towards covert action.
  • Ashley has Concussive Shot, Disruptor Ammo and Inferno Grenade, making her similar to Zaeed in combat performance. However what separates her from Zaeed is that she can command loyalty with her squadmates and has a genuine bond with her squad, which means she can lead the Fire Team and would have a Hold the Line score of 3 by default due to combat experience and 4 if she romanced Shepard and a desire to stay alive to make sure Shepard can escape, however if they were unfaithful her score will drop to 2. Clearly divided by Shepard decision to moving on.
    • For either Virmire survivors however, they would likely be the last to die as they play a vital role in the divided loyalties of Shepard and the decision to join Cerberus.

This game is in many ways like an evil mirror universe version of Mass Effect

Take a look at many missions and characters in this game and you realize that this isn't just a Darker and Edgier sequel, it is more like a Cain to the first game's Abel.

  • The first game attempts to show us all there is a wonderful new world to explore with interesting new species to meet, with humanity as a whole being viewed with the same curiosity. The second game shows us the dirty under bellies of all those wondrous new species and you get the sense that most of them actually have it in for humans.
  • In the first game, the Alliance is presented as a Federation like forward thinking organization. In the second game, that forward thinking organization is presented as a bunch of Head-in-the-Sand Management practicing inept bureaucrats. A terrorist organization that only racked up horrific failure after failure is presented as this hyper competent adaptable organization that gets things done.
  • In the first game, the authority figures you report to are presented as being out of their depth and obstructive, urging you to be cautious. In the second game, the authority figure comes off as extremely supportive and reasonable, giving you tons of resources and people to help, instead of just throwing you to the wolves.
  • The missions also do a complete 180 from their "counterparts" in the first game.
    • Expecting to save Freedom's Progress just like you saved Eden Prime? Not!! You get there too late, and this time the scared senseless lunatic who lived to tell the tale has reprogrammed mechs to attack you. And instead of gaining a squadmate, a former squadmate bitches you out and refuses to join you.
    • Thought Horizon would be another Feros where you save the day and gain an ally NPC? Not this time. The enemy ship that is the bane of the colony's existence leaves this time, having kidnapped a large portion of the colony. And this time a former ally turns his/her back on you, blaming you for having something to do with it.
    • After that all subsequent missions against the game's primary enemy is about you just surviving the encounter, not curb stomping them. The Collector Ship - a deliberate trap you were sent into, that you somehow had to extract yourself out of. The Reaper IFF - not the rescue mission you hoped it would be. The people you hoped to rescue have been indoctrinated, husked and are trying to kill you. The mission basically is to somehow find a way to escape.
    • Expected the Suicide Mission to be like Virmire where some simple acts of sabotage behind enemy lines can save most people? Expected to only sacrifice one person? No, this is evil universe Mass Effect. This time, there is the possibility that everyone dies.
  • In the first game, your asari squadmate is very young, with no combat experience and you must kill her Brainwashed and Crazy Evil Matriarch mother. In this game, your asari squadmate is an almost matriarch, wizened by a lifetime spent fighting and you must kill her daughter, who can make others Brainwashed and Crazy. And unlike the first game where you must side with your asari ally against her mother, this time you can betray your asari ally in her fight against her daughter.
  • This 180 flip extends to the locations you operate in too
    • Omega station is the Citadel's antithesis. Both places are seen as the "capital" of their respective territories, both places contain a diverse multi-species population and both of them have asari as de facto rulers. You even recruit Garrus and a very important tech expert in both places. Except, the Citadel is this supposed bastion of orderliness and harmony, while Omega is the most wretched of Wretched Hives. The Citadel presidium keeps itself well lit with a calming ambience, while Omega's hub is clearly dark and grimy, with club music blaring. Unlike the gentle persuasive collaborative system the asari set up on the Citadel, the asari ruler of Omega wouldn't be out of place in Goodfellas and is ruthless and autocratic within her own gang but laizzes' faire with the rest of the people.
    • Even the Terminus is the antithesis to Council space. Council space aspires to be this multicultural utopia, while the Terminus is the chaotic unstable ungovernable version of a multicultural society. Even your directives as a Spectre are flipped. In the first game, you are told in no uncertain terms to stay within Citadel space and keep out of the Terminus Systems, while in this game you are restricted to operate only in the Terminus Systems and admonished to not enter Citadel space.
    • Illium is in many ways the anti-Noveria. Noveria is known for its cold temperatures, isolation in the labs and the people there are very clammish, even giving you a "loose lips" speech. Illium on the other hand is hot, ostentatious and the people there aren't afraid to speak their casually racist, classist minds. You even meet a matriarch in both places. One was formerly a calming social butterfly type who normally advised cooperation and collaboration, but who was turned into this extremely hostile enemy you have to kill. The matriarch you meet on Noveria was an iconoclastic laughingstock who seems to be this bellicose hawkish type, but she is actually harmless and looks like she could be an important ally.
    • The Citadel itself underwent a large change. In the first game, it was a relatively calm place with side quests there comprising primarily of talking to people to Charm or Intimidate them to see reason, helping people out with certain mundane problems that do not necessarily involve killing, or make you do the killing somewhere off world. Even C-Sec is presented as this Obstructive Bureaucrat run but mostly benign force, not tolerating Cowboy Cop types or corrupt drunks. Attitudes towards humans are also generally welcoming except for two blowhards. Come this game, there is much more of an air of hostility towards humans, C- sec is a more intrusive, restrictive and aggressive police force, not above making people "squeal a little". Now you have to deal with a dangerous demagogue politician, a protection shakedown racket, an assassination attempt, even an entire mercenary base of operations. The former drunk cop who just skimmed a little here and there has now gone full blown criminal with some extremely powerful muscle, and even the helpful Avina terminal now tattles on you to C-Sec under certain conditions.
  • Your squadmates are also polar opposites of what you had in Mass Effect. Let's see how:
    • Miranda is the anti-Kaidan. Both are Sentinels, both are on your team in the very beginning and both are extremely loyal to their chosen organizations. But while Kaidan adopts more of a restrained, let's try diplomatic means first approaches and generally has a "they're no different from us" attitude towards aliens, Miranda is the cold calculating ruthless pragmatic type who believes strongly in a human survivalist ideology.
    • Jack is the anti-Liara. Both are extremely powerful biotics, both have to be rescued from containment fields, after which you get a tough Boss Fight and both express interest in you early. But while Liara is the socially inept book smart academic who preferred a more collaborative approach, Jack is street smart but book dumb, and is an extremely bellicose Blood Knight.
    • Grunt is the anti-Wrex. Wrex is old, wizened, adopts a My Species Doth Protest Too Much attitude, and is generally jaded about the future, while Grunt is a very young aggressive Blood Knight. Wrex genuinely cares about his people while all Grunt wants out of his people for now, is enemies to kill.
    • Samara is the anti-Garrus. Both believe strongly enough in justice to take up vigilantism, both are haunted by the one quarry that got away, and both in doing what they do, are considered either an iconoclastic renegade or a throwback by their own species. However, while Garrus is a charismatic leader in his own right who can rally people and inspire some loyalty, Samara prefers to close herself off, meditate, is not a good leader as proven in the Suicide Mission by choosing her as squad leader, and admits to have forgotten how to socialize. Furthermore, while Garrus is a Pragmatic Hero adopting an I Did What I Had to Do attitude, Samara adopts a Lawful Stupid mixed in with a little Rules Lawyer attitude and is therefore prone to committing a Senseless Sacrifice.
    • Legion is the anti-Tali. While Tali has the anti-synthetic bigotry typical to her species, Legion is actually very understanding and forgiving towards most organics. Tali seeks only to destroy the Geth while Legion from the outset only wants to understand why the Quarians acted the way they did. While Tali goes through this game having to undergo a lot of learning and Character Development, Legion actually forces us as the player to undergo a reevaluation of lots of premises.

Loyalty Hold-Overs

One of the big elements of this game is the idea of a squad member's Loyalty. As mentioned above, it is plot-relevant for this game and has effects on whether they live or die during the Very Definitely Final Dungeon. That said, there is a "Speed Run Golden Ending" route, described on Reddit, which allows the player to survive the Suicide Mission with all squad members but only makes a bare miniumum of them loyal.

One would expect this element to persist into the third game: if a character were to re-appear in Mass Effect 3, it would be possible for them to once again perish, depending on their Loyalty. In some cases, this is true, but in others it is not, as some characters do not have Plotline Deaths.

  • Garrus, Jack and Jacob cannot die over the course of Mass Effect 3, regardless of whether they were loyal. (For the latter two, this statement does require some Loophole Abuse, as — particularly in Jack's case — you can simply not do their Side Quest, abandoning them to their fates.) If you go help them, they survive to London — period. (Who gave Jacob Plot Armor?)
  • Conversely, Legion, Morinth and Thane cannot survive the third game, regardless of Loyalty. They do not live through the trilogy, period.
  • Mordin, Samara and Tali can die, but Loyalty is not relevant to their fates. For Samara, you prevent it with a Paragon interrupt. Tali's fate depends on the Robot War, but you're not locked into a choice; you get to make it on the spot. And Mordin is killed during the first game, before he's introduced: if Wrex survives Virmire, as he did in 94% of cases, Mordin locks in his Heroic Sacrifice. (You can convince him to become a War Asset if both Wrex and "Eve" are dead — did you know?)
  • Only Grunt, Kasumi, Miranda and Zaeed have "normal" Loyalty checks where disloyalty equals death in a one-to-one ratio.