Mass Effect 2 has a large cast to say the least: ten crew members in the normal game, one more in downloadable content, and a twelfth to be added in more DLC in the future. As with any story with such a large cast, it can be difficult to find the time to fully develop each character into someone interesting. Mass Effect 2 takes a smart approach to this problem by giving players optional side quests tailored to each character. These “loyalty missions” are the primary means of character development for most of the cast. The Normandy is going on a suicide mission, and everyone onboard knows that. These loyalty missions show how each character comes to terms with their past and is able to face death without remorse. In some cases, we must earn a teammate’s trust. In others, we must help them fix a past mistake, but whatever the case, we’re given a detailed look at what each of them holds most dear in life.
Since the game has such a large cast, and in the interest of keeping this post at a somewhat manageable length, I’m going to split it up. This week I look at the missions concerning Miranda, Mordin, Thane, Tali, and Zaeed.
Miranda is introduced to us as a cold woman. Despite having dedicated two years of her life to bringing Shepard back, she’s suspicious of him. So doesn’t know why the Illusive Man has taken such an interest in him. She doesn’t trust him as a leader, and she doesn’t like him.
Miranda’s loyalty mission shows us a very different side of her. We see her as a caring, selfless protector. We learn that her father was harsh and egomaniacal and that he “didn’t want a daughter as much as a dynasty,” which is why he created her from his own genome and why she doesn’t actually have a mother. He also made a second “daughter,” who was an infant when Miranda finally ran away. She hid her sister with a foster family to protect her from a harsh life under their father’s rule. For years, Miranda has watched over her sister, Oriana, in secret. She’s been a guardian angel, keeping their father off Oriana’s track, a stressful, difficult, and entirely thankless job. Oriana’s safety is her life’s work, so when it’s threatened, she turns to Shepard for help.
The safety of her sister is all that matters to her. Once we finish the mission and Miranda sees that her life’s work is once again safe, she can relax and focus on Shepard’s mission. In her case, the loyalty mission is about gaining her trust. By helping her when she needs it most, you prove your worth to her. She then respects you as a leader and is willing to follow you in the face of certain death.
It’s fitting that Mordin’s loyalty mission revolves around the genophage. His work on that biological weapon is his most significant contribution to the galaxy. It’s his legacy, and he’s rightfully proud of it. The stated goal of Mordin’s loyalty mission is to save a former student of his, Maelon, who worked with him on the genophage. Despite that aim, Mordin’s true goal is not so altruistic whether he himself realizes it or not. There’s a good chance that the Krogan are forcing Maelon to cure the genophage, which means Mordin’s great legacy is at stake and that’s what this mission is really about.
Whenever confronted about the genophage, Mordin defends it as a necessary weapon against the Krogan. He actually has a very strong ethical code, one built around his duel roles as scientist and soldier, and the genophage is a solution that perfectly satisfies this code. He uses science to solve a military problem without violence. He wants to stop the Krogan from gaining power, so instead of killing them, he just prevents more from being born. Since the genophage fits so well into his code, he’s able to defend it against any outside accusations of immorality. But during the mission when we discover Maelon isn’t working under duress, that he’s willingly helping the Krogan reverse the genophage out of guilt, Mordin’s defenses weaken. One of his own has turned against their work and that opens his eyes to the possibility that his actions were unethical.
We gain Mordin’s loyalty by helping him resolve this inner struggle over the genophage. Whether you reaffirm his beliefs that it was right or you convince him it was wrong, you gain his loyalty because you help him accept that conclusion as part of his legacy. His work as a scientist is what he cares about most in life. He wants to be proud of his work. Help him resolve his feelings towards his work, help him be proud once more (either proud of his work itself, or proud of the opportunity to reverse it), and he’ll be able to face death.
Like Miranda, Thane wants to save a family member from going through the same hardships that he did, but he’s driven by guilt as well as a sense of responsibility. When we first meet Thane, he’s already dying and already in the process of making peace with his past. He’s already accepted responsibility for his mistakes, and he knows how to reconcile his dark past with his future. He wants to stop son from becoming an assassin because Thane’s life as an assassin is what broke his family apart.
Family means a lot to Thane. He was released from his compact as an assassin with the Hanar in order to start a family, but his assassin upbringing gave him a skewed sense of responsibility and didn’t properly prepare him for family life. He continued to freelance as an assassin and eventually his wife was murdered as retaliation. In response, Thane hunted down and killed everyone involved in his wife’s death, but in order to do so, he abandoned his son. He left his family in order to avenge his family. He reacted to his wife’s murder the only way that he knows how — as an assassin — and those actions drove him from his son.
Thane has since acknowledged this contradiction in his life. He realizes that it was his violent job that ruined his life, and he wants to stop his son from going down a similar path. Before he dies, he wants to rebuild his family. He wants to act like a father once more. If Shepard helps him get back that old life, Thane will have no more regrets and can die in peace.
Tali’s mission begins with a mystery. Why is she accused of treason? The gravity of the accusation says a lot about quarian culture, and therefore, Tali’s beliefs as a quarian. Since the entire race lives on the Flotilla, they are a very close knit people and everything that they do revolves around the greater good of the community. Treason is the worst crime that a quarian can commit specifically because it affects the whole community. Tali therefore has a very deep bond with her people, so much so that she would willingly exile herself if she found out that she was guilty of even accidental treason. Community is everything to her.
So it’s surprising when she puts family first. We learn that her father was building geth, which got out of hand when they killed him and took over his ship. After Shepard retakes the ship, Tali wants to hide the truth. She’d rather be convicted of treason herself then let her father take the blame. It’s important that the only thing at risk here is her father’s reputation, so her desire to protect her family is not quite the same as Thane’s or Miranda’s. Tali’s loyalty to the people she cares about extends even after death, and she cares about her father more than her connection to the Flotilla. She’ll give up community to protect family.
This choice shows that however much she may identify herself as a quarian she values personal relationships more than that identity. It makes sense then that she would be one of the few crew members to return to the Normandy. Even though she’s suspicious of Cerberus, she’s staunchly loyal to Shepard as long as he shows a similar loyalty to her, like Miranda. If we help Tali lie, if we prove our own loyalty even in the face of great consequences, she’ll return that devotion without a second thought.