The maw hammers tolled in unison, sending shockwaves and a low hum through the ground. Commander Shepard could feel the earth trembling with each hammer fall and peered out from behind a ruined pillar. The bug-like Reaper was still circling the Shroud, protecting the distribution of its poison into the atmosphere. Its red eye scanned for the source of the disturbance, the ground shaking with each step. Its pincer-like legs brushed aside the crumbling Krogan architecture like dead leaves and, at a shout from Garrus, Shepard threw himself out from behind the pillar and rolled to cover as one of the Reaper’s legs hit the pillar and sent it toppling to the ground.
‘Commander!’ Javik shouted, pointing out towards the wasteland. ‘Look!’
Shepard slid into cover beside the prothean soldier and looked, but the dust rising from each of the Reaper’s steps had veiled the surrounding landscape around the base of the Shroud.
‘What is it?’
But his question was soon answered. There was another tremor, but this time not from the hammers or from the Reaper. This was a long, sustained rumbling that was progressively growing stronger by the second. Loose rocks and bits of debris all around them were shuddering, and whatever Javik had spotted had clearly also drawn the Reaper’s attention.
The ancient machine uttered its soul-shattering war cry, a low blast of terrifying sound, and manoeuvred its body to face the oncoming threat. There was an explosion of earth and the mother of all thresher maws, Kalros, burst from the ground, its pincers wide, its savage jaws open and angry. The Reaper fired but the thresher maw collided with its metallic shape and clung on tight, sending the Reaper’s laser firing perilously close to Shepard’s position.
‘Move! Move!’ he shouted.
The red beam sliced through a raised walkway, then the huge shape of Kalros’ body came crushing down, decimating what once may have been a road. The team leapt across a ruined bridge and scrambled up the opposite side of a narrow ditch as the two leviathan shapes battled above them. The Reaper’s war cry blasted angrily as it tried to shift the hold of its long centipede-like attacker but Kalros held it tight. Struggling, the Reaper shook itself violently and swung the thresher maw hard against the Shroud itself. Kalros released a piercing cry and its hold on the metal bug slackened. Its tentacles retracting in pain, the giant monster retreated back underground.
No! Shepard thought, despairing.
They had worked so hard to get the hammers working, summoning the giant legend to help them against the Reaper. Now the ancient machine was repositioning itself defiantly in front of the Shroud once more, its red eye searching from side to side for any further sign of trouble.
‘What now?’ Garrus asked. ‘We can’t get to the Shroud with that thing still there.’
‘Wrex,’ Shepard said into the comms, ‘is there another way to the Shroud from our position?’
‘At the end of the—’
The earth shuddered dramatically once more and Shepard, Javik and Garrus all lost their footing. Shepard spun around and looked in the direction of the Shroud to see Kalros rearing out of a new explosion of dust and debris, its bloodied tentacles fiercely lunging towards the Reaper once more. Caught by surprise, the Reaper crumbled under the weight of the thresher maw and its steady hold on the ruined city was gone. Its laser fired once, twice, three times, but the shots all missed its attacker. Kalros spun its huge body around the downed machine, twisting and crushing it like a snake, its smaller legs holding the monstrous metal body secure. Explosions erupted across the Reaper’s body and red lightning flickered outwards from its laser-like eye as Kalros squeezed it and dragged it under the ground.
‘Good enough for you, Shepard?’ Wrex’s voice broke through the comms, followed by a laugh.
‘It’ll do!’ Shepard replied. ‘Okay, Javik, Garrus—get back to the truck, I’ll take care of the cure! Go!’
The turian hesitated, but then nodded and hurried off towards the raised skyway with Javik. Shepard turned towards the Shroud, which was still emitting its poison into the atmosphere, took a deep breath and broke into a run.
When he reached the control centre at the base of the tower, Mordin was already there, furiously typing on a terminal. Above them, small explosions were breaking out across the Shroud’s exterior.
‘Mordin, is the cure ready?’ Shepard asked.
The salarian glanced towards him, but then returned his gaze to the terminal.
‘Yes. Loaded for dispersal in two minutes. Procedure traumatic for Eve, but not lethal. Maelon’s research invaluable.’
‘Heading to safety now. Her survival fortunate. Will stabilise new government should Wrex get any ideas. Good match, promising future for krogan.’
There was a great boom from above and a piece of the damaged Shroud came toppling down close to the terminal. Shepard shouted in surprise and alarm, and looked up at the tower. It did not have long.
‘Control room at top of Shroud tower. Must take elevator up,’ Mordin said, barely flinching.
‘You’re going up there?’
‘Yes, manual access required. Have to counteract STG sabotage. Ensure cure dispersed properly.’
‘Mordin, this whole thing is coming apart!’ Shepard argued. ‘There’s got to be another way!’
‘Remote bypass impossible,’ Mordin said, looking up at the tower. ‘STG countermeasures in place. No time to adjust cure for temperature variance.’ He paused and his large eyes looked back at Shepard. ‘No. No other option. Not coming back. Suggest you get clear. Explosions likely to be problematic.’
The salarian strode over towards the lift.
‘Mordin, no!’ Shepard cried, going after him.
‘Shepard, please. Need to do this,’ the scientist said, turning back. ‘My project. My work. My cure. My responsibility.’ He closed his eyes and sighed, somehow managing a smile. ‘Would have liked to have run tests on the seashells.’
Shepard shook his head, but did not try to convince his friend any further. He knew Mordin well enough to realise that his mind was set.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said instead.
‘I’m not,’ Mordin said. ‘Had to be me.’ He turned and engaged the lift. The screen came down, and the salarian turned back to look at Shepard once last time. ‘Someone else might have got it wrong.’
The lift began to rise and Shepard watched it go until his friend was out of sight.
‘Warning: temperature malfunction detected. Warning: temperature malfunction detected,’ said the control centre’s VI.
Glancing back, he saw the lift reach the top of the tower. He began to run. As he leapt over the debris and ran as fast as he could back to the skyway, he heard Mordin’s voice through the comms.
‘Ah, classic bypass. Standard failsafes. Excellent work. Yes, yes.’
Shepard began to hear humming and then, as the signal began to break up, words of the scientist’s song.
‘I’ve studied species turian, asari and batarian…’
‘Temperature now in acceptable range,’ said the VI.
He ran on, his eyes clouding with tears. He could see the skyway up ahead and a convoy of trucks. Garrus and Javik were there, waiting for him.
Shepard looked up and saw a mist with a yellowish hue now spreading out from the top of the spire, replacing the Reaper’s poison. It spread quickly and wide across the sky.
‘Genophage cured, krogan free. New beginning… for all of us,’ Mordin said.
Shepard felt the earth tremble as he continued to run. More explosions began to dot the exterior of the Shroud. Up ahead, he could see Wrex getting out of one of the trucks.
‘My xenoscience studies range from urban to agrarian…’ the scientist sang to himself. ‘I am the very model of—’
An explosion ripped through the control room at the top of the tower and the comms signal went dead. Shepard ground to a halt and looked back. The top of the Shroud was aflame. The cure was still defiantly spreading across the sky even as the tower disintegrated.
Particles began to fall around him as the cure was dispersed. It was like snow. He reached out and a piece fell into the palm of hand and disappeared. Behind him, he heard cheering—the krogan celebrating their freedom, their hope and their new beginning. The cure that the salarians had manufactured and the turians had helped to disperse many years before was now no more—and both turians and salarians had given their lives to make it happen.
The Mass Effect trilogy is, hands down, my favourite suite of games. The reasons for this are threefold. Firstly, the story, of course. The progression from a simple military commander on a semi-routine mission to literally gathering whole races of galactic species together to face a civilisation-ending threat is amazing, captivating and inspiring. Secondly, the combat. I’m not a huge fan of shoot ’em ups, so the fact that I actually enjoy the combat systems in this game is quite a feat. The way you can weave shooting together with biotics and tech skills means each fight isn’t just a mindless jaunt down a corridor, shooting and throwing grenades. Your team works together, their skills complementing yours, and when you pull off a biotic combo and see your enemies dramatically expode mid-air, there’s nothing more satifsying, in my view. The final reason is the characters. I will unashamedly admit that playing Mass Effect feels like hanging out with friends. (I do actually have real friends, by the way, so don’t say that’s sad!) The characters are so deeply crafted, they have their own individual mannerisms, they make jokes, they’re sometimes hard to strike up a conversation with, they’re tragic, they’re annoying and they’re your bros—just like with real people.
One of the best things about the story of Mass Effect is how you can craft it. Yes, you’ll always be facing down Reapers at the end—nothing you can do can change that—but how you get there is extremely important. Moral choices are peppered through each mission: Do you kill this person because they’re blocking your way, or do you let them live and take the long route? Do you try to convince your friend not to punch someone in the face, or do you egg them on? Do you allow your buddy Mordin Solus to sacrifice himself to save an entire species or do you convince him to pretend he’s released the cure, save his life, and then risk your fragile alliance with the krogan? There are many choices in the series that leave me paralysed, but this one was different. The answer was obvious—cure the krogan. And that meant saying goodbye to one of my favourite companions, but I console myself with the knowledge that Mordin would have wanted to go out this way. Sniff.