Why Mass Effect 2’s Suicide Mission Is Still the Best Moment in Gaming
Mass Effect 2 came out in 2010 and instantly became people’s favourite game in the series, a distinction that most fans still hold today. In a series known for character development, interpersonal relationships, tough choices and thrilling combat, Mass Effect 2 still stands above the first and third games. And the pinnacle of Mass Effect 2‘s success is still the “suicide mission” at the climax of the game.
In the suicide mission, you and your team storm the enemy’s base to rescue kidnapped civilians. Depending on the choices you make, you and your squad mates can die and the enemy can win — without you getting a game over screen. The game’s commitment to letting you lose was a huge surprise at the time, and it’s still a choice that other games haven’t really repeated.
(Light spoiler warning for the Mass Effect trilogy follows. If you haven’t already played it, you can play the Legendary Edition on Game Pass now.)
It’s the Anti-Game Game Mission
In Mass Effect, you play as Commander Shepard on a mission to stop the Reapers, a mythical, highly advanced machine race who eradicate all organic life in the galaxy every 50,000 years. Over the course of three games, you recruit a team of soldiers and scientists to help you fight back, and by the end of Mass Effect 2, most players are pretty attached to their squad mates. The suicide mission is so good because it threatens to tear those bonds apart forever.
Games like to make their characters to say drastic things like “We might not survive this” but you can be pretty sure the game’s going to swoop in and save you when things look dire. Mass Effect 2 warns you that the final mission will be dangerous, and it follows through on that threat. It’s still the only game I’ve played that dared to kill off so many of its main characters without serving you a game over screen. If a squad mate dies in the suicide mission, they don’t appear in Mass Effect 3, leaving a gaping wound in your team’s morale — not to mention your efforts to save the galaxy.
It’s hard to keep everyone alive during the suicide mission, and that’s the way it should be. Knowing your squad mates can die makes the threat of the Reapers feel much more real than a lot of other game villains. And knowing that these deaths aren’t scripted — they only happen if you make the wrong choices — makes them feel more personal. Everything about the suicide mission goes against traditional game design, which is why experiencing it for the first time is so thrilling. Finally, a game that surprises you by being different to every other game.
The first Mass Effect hasn’t aged very well. The combat is clunky and the 2007 graphics show their age, even in the recent Legendary Edition remaster. But it laid the groundwork for Mass Effect 2, and that’s most evident in the suicide mission.
In the first game, two of your squad mates are pinned down and you only have time to help one. You have to play through the rest of the trilogy knowing that you effectively sentenced the other to death. In Mass Effect 2, every teammate is in danger during the suicide mission, and there’s a lot more that goes into it than an A or B decision.
If you don’t put in the work to earn your squad mate’s trust, they can die. If you haven’t paid attention to your squad mates, you might choose the wrong one to put in charge of a mission with catastrophic consequences. If you wait too long before starting the suicide mission, the people you’re there to rescue will have already been killed. If you don’t invest your limited resources in upgrading your ship and your team’s gear, they can die. Now there are guides you can follow to make sure everyone survives, but there isn’t a simple checkbox you can tick off to guarantee success.
The first game also laid the groundwork for the relationships you form with your squad mates in Mass Effect 2, which are the whole reason it’s so devastating when they die. In Mass Effect 2, every squad mate has a loyalty mission that tells you more about them and their backstory. In between missions, you’re encouraged to wander around your ship and talk to them. You help them solve disputes and reassure them when they’re anxious. You can even form romantic relationships with them over time.
The Mass Effect games are dark, but your squad mates are one of the small sources of happiness in your character’s life. No game has put as much effort into its supporting characters only to risk letting them get killed. It’s why Mass Effect 2 is still considered the best game in the series, and one of the best RPGs ever made. The suicide mission is unique, surprising, and scary in a way no other game is.