The Mass Effect trilogy of games is, hands down, my favorite video game series of all time. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve played it, either on PC or PS3, and I continue to hope that we will get a remaster or remake sometimes soon. However, in all my play-throughs, I had never played as a Renegade.
Having just completed a Renegade campaign, I can now tell you exactly why that is…
My absolute favorite thing about this trilogy is how the writing makes every play-through feel like coming home to friends and family. Each mission is like visiting a familiar place and each battle feels like you’re making a difference as you fight to protect all that you love.
Playing as Renegade Shepard felt like I’d effectively neutered the trilogy of this experience.
While most of the overarching plot plays out similarly to a Paragon or even a Paragade play-through (choosing between Kaidan or Ashley, working with Cerberus, getting the galaxy to band together), the moments that make the game so memorable to me were gone.
The moments that hit the hardest didn’t exist.
Helping Mordin in his personal quest to make things right for the Krogan and his involvement with the Genophage (a Salarian-made bio weapon that causes stillbirths); fostering Legion’s self-awareness and individuality, agreeing that yes, that darn unit has a soul; being the voice of reason that helps broker peace between the Quarians and the Geth, seeing Tali and her people regain their home world; and supporting Wrex as he unites feuding Krogan clans in the hope of a better future for his people.
When you play as a Renegade, these beautiful character moments are all lost in your blind quest to defeat the reapers. Building relationships with the people and races you meet is no longer an option, as you ruthlessly put down any opinion that you don’t agree with, bully those weaker than yourself, and ignore the fact that your actions WILL have consequences.
I was forced to shoot Mordin before he ascended the tower. He knew that I had sabotaged the cure and because he wouldn’t stand for such an atrocity, he dies, dragging himself forward as he tries one last time to cure the Genophage. He fails, dying within an arm’s reach of the console.
I had to watch Tali commit suicide after Shepard allows the Geth to destroy the Quarian’s Migrant Fleet. Immediately after Legion sacrifices himself so that the Geth can know true freedom, Tali throws herself off a cliff, overcome with grief at the loss of her people and their only chance to return home.
And Wrex? Well, I got the distinct displeasure of a fight to the death when he confronted Shepard on the Citadel about the Genophage. Even after I lied about my role in the cure not being viable, he knew something wasn’t right, and so I killed him. He never has children, never gets to see the Krogran start families and rebuild their world. Without him or Eve (who also died), the Krogran have zero chance of surviving long enough to see the Genophage cured.
I’m not going to lie, I cried a lot during this play-through. In real life, I’m generally a nice person and that usually translates over into my style of gaming, so it was really difficult to be an asshole who didn’t give two shits about the people they were hurting.
I made the mistake of saving Ashley on Virmire during my Renegade play through and hated it.
As Renegade Shepard, you don’t really care about your crew or how they are doing. I never connected with Ashley about her family history with the military, her sisters, or even the way her views on alien species change over time.
When she was injured on Mars, I never even visited her in the hospital.
As such, I never re-connected with Thane (who is one of my favorite characters). His final prayer for Shepard felt like a desperate plea for me to see how far I’d fallen and how little I cared about those I claimed to be fighting for.
I really hate this because I had been excited to see Ashley’s growth as a character. Usually, I save Kaidan, because he’s always been more relatable to me, but I wanted to give Ashley the chance for redemption… I just shouldn’t have done it on a Renegade campaign, because you never get the chance to get to know her.
Shepard’s own body begins to show the effects of his actions.
The scars on his face are vicious wounds, red from (probably) infection and the rejected cybernetics underneath his skin.
In a nightmarish vision, his eyes begin to glow, visible in the dark and through his face shield in a way that leaves no doubt…
He is no longer a hero.
At the end of the day, Renegade Shepard is a thug and a bully. Does he still defeat the Reapers and save the galaxy? Yes, but for me the cost is too high.
While it was interesting to see how truly loathsome Shepard could be, I probably won’t play as Renegade again and I can’t say this one time was worth it.
The story deserves better. The galaxy deserves better. Shepard deserves better.