Mass Effect has become one of the highest profile video game franchises in recent memory. It has touted ambitious games with exhaustively detailed stories, settings and characters. At their best, they’ve given gamers some of the most memorable, personalized, exhilarating and hilarious moments of the last two gaming generations.
But they’ve not been without flaws. In fact, the Mass Effect games have won so much love from fans that their missteps have been correspondingly more disappointing. Sometimes the technical and story elements gel together and sometimes they just don’t, pulling the player out of the experience. For this tough love list, we’re looking at some of the times when Mass Effect was off its game, with dubious writing, unintentional humor and baffling developer choices. Full disclosure, we’re not going for all the low hanging fruit from Andromeda... just some. You’ll find the whole franchise has plenty of cringe to go around when we examine the 15 Most Cringe Worthy Moments in Mass Effect!
15 SHEPARD DANCING
Dancing was always a source of jokes in Mass Effect. The earliest one might have been during one of Joker’s earliest conversations where he says he can make the Normandy dance while at the helm... but just don’t ask him to dance unless you like to hear ribs shatter. Shepard was the one who ultimately got saddled with the memetically terrible dance moves.
At first it was a cringy preset animation that Shepard went into if you danced in Flux on the Citadel with your squadmates in Mass Effect. It was so bad that it was played on again in Mass Effect 2. During Samara’s loyalty mission, Shepard has a chance to attract Morinth’s attention in a number of ways in a club on Omega. Shepard can saunter up to an attractive Asari dancing by herself and impress her with enough charm points. If not Shepard will flail around and embarrass her. This long-running joke goes all the way to the Mass Effect 3 Citadel DLC, when the whole crew roasts Shepard’s terrible dancing at the party.
14 “ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH THE APPLICATIONS OF TUNGSTEN?”
The first piece of DLC released for Mass Effect 3 was ‘Leviathan’. It was like a Cthulhu detective story in the Mass Effect universe that provided some context to the twists that came in the controversial ending. Mentions of a colossal mysterious creature called the Leviathan had appeared in the trilogy even in Mass Effect 2, but in this DLC, Shepard actually goes looking for the fabled creature.
The investigation leads them to a mining asteroid held by T-GES Mineral Works. Reaper forces are already trying to breach the facility when Shepard arrives. When the coast is clear and Shepard gets inside, none of the staff seem alarmed at all, or particularly relieved. The miners’ behaviors seem strange and unnatural. They all seem to be going through the motions of what an alien would think visitors to the mine would expect. This leads to some hilarious lines in a stoned-Stepford tone, like “Are you familiar with the applications of Tungsten?” Sure enough, it turns out that Leviathan had these miners in thrall for almost 10 years.
13 THE SHEPARD VI
Shepard’s celebrity status in game had already become an in joke in the Mass Effect series by Mass Effect 2. This was probably best captured by the “I’m Commander Shepard and this is my favorite spot on the Citadel!” meme. Also, in Thane’s loyalty mission, Shepard finds a petty criminal on the Citadel peddling unauthorized copies of a Shepard Virtual Intelligence that mimics their personality.
Shepard didn’t get to meet the VI of themselves until Mass Effect 3. Even then the copy is damaged from spillage. But Shepard is still in for a world of self-conscious cringe if they activate it. The game tracks Shepard Paragon or Renegade morality score and their reputation in the galaxy, so the VI takes Shepard’s morality and turns it up to 11. If Shepard is overall Paragon, the VI will be this unbearably straight-laced coach. “There’s nothing this galaxy can’t beat if we all work together!” If Shepard is overall Renegade, the VI will be this obnoxious gung-ho troll. “I find the best advanced battlefield strategy is to have more bullets than the other guy.”
12 GARRUS FLIRTING (SOMETIMES)
Maybe it was the tone combined with the treble in all Turian voices. Maybe it was the way that Garrus’s outlook about law and morality was influenced by Shepard’s conversations with him even in the first Mass Effect. Or maybe it was the proud carapace and mandibles. Whatever the reason, fans got the chance to romance Garrus in Mass Effect 2.
Shepard takes more of the lead in the Garrus romance. “We could test your reach, and my flexibility.” Garrus’s self-conscious nerves lead to some hilarious and/or cringe lines depending on how charmed you are by him. “Your…hair looks good. And your waist is…very supportive?” Even in the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3, if Shepard tries to hook Garrus up with a Turian female, he’s still hopeless. You can nudge Garrus to be more polite or more of a bad boy but he’ll still talk too much or shove his foot in his mouth.
11 The camera staring at Miranda's butt
Miranda Lawson differs herself immediately from Ashley Williams as the starting female squadmate in Mass Effect 2. Miranda is cool and calculating while Ash was brash and hasty. Ash comes from a big though disgraced military family and Miranda is the genetically engineered prodigy of the galaxy’s human elite. And Miranda is purposefully much more striking in terms of her looks, to put it politely. Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 do an admirable job of fleshing out Miranda’s character with some depth and agency, but there’s no denying that visually Miranda Lawson is pure fan service.
The camera knows it too well. There are plenty of shots in Mass Effect 2 that show of the curves of Miranda’s jumpsuit, regardless of the tone or context of the scene. We even get exaggerated looks at Miranda’s legs and backside throughout the quest where Miranda is rescuing her younger sister from her manipulative father. It doesn’t help the player take her seriously when the camera is so preoccupied with “admiring her body.”
10 JACOB AND THE “PRIZE”.
The Jacob romance in Mass Effect 2 has Shepard making some serious first moves and persuading Jacob to see her as a love interest. It’s a curious contrast from how the romances worked in the first game where the squadmates were the most suggestive or flirty. Eventually Shepard and Jacob get into a groove of teasing and playing while the pressure of their mission keeps the breaks on things.
Jacob has all kinds of lines about showing Shepard how he feels and making it abundantly clear, without words. “You won’t need to hear it. Everything I do will show you. For now we got a job to do.” It’s like Jacob (and the writers) were trying to strike a balance between making Jacob a no-nonsense guy and Barry White. But the romance culminates in a hilariously over the top line a Shepard’s cabin that had many players rolling their eyes. “Like sneaking into the captain’s quarters. Heavy risk, but the prize…” His baritone drawl is just too much.
9 ACCIDENTALLY ROMANCING ASHLEY OR KAIDEN.
The first Mass Effect didn’t do a very good job of conveying when the player had ‘locked in’ a particular romance with a squadmate. In fact the term ‘locked in’ only came about after Mass Effect debuted and fans starting figuring out for themselves exactly how the romance conversations worked. Often in the case of Ashley Williams and Kaidan Alenko, the player would pick the dialogue option that would lock in the romance for the rest of the game without realizing it. This led plenty of players to the impression that Ashley and Kaidan could be romanced just by being nice to them.
This would be especially awkward if you intentionally romance Liara and unknowingly romanced Ashley or Kaidan as well. The scene where both Liara and the other love interest confront Shepard is a confusing and unpleasant surprise if you were under the impression that you were only romancing one of them.
8 SAREN AND SOVEREIGN’S TANTRUM
So you’re playing Mass Effect for the first time and you’ve just stopped this intimidating, obviously villainous Turian from blowing Eden Prime to smithereens. You’ve got the mysterious beacon and your new characters and setting pulling you in. Then we get a cut away to “Saren” aboard the big metal cuttlefish. Some buxom blue woman reports to Saren what we just played through ourselves. Saren just wants to know about the beacon, and hears that we may have ‘used’ it.
Berserk button. Saren shakes with rage and sends furniture flying across the room, then shoves Benezia against the wall with a feral growl. It’s one of Mass Effect’s earliest hilariously over the top moments. It gives some dimension and menace to Saren but it becomes even more hilarious in hindsight when you consider that it’s Sovereign expressing it’s incomprehensible rage through Saren’s tantrum as well. Also the animation and timing of the growls give extra unintended laughs.
7 SARA RYDER TRYING TO FLIRT
If you thought Garrus or Tali or even Shepard were awkward flirts from time to time, you should see the Pathfinder Sara Ryder try to get close with some of the Andromeda Initiative team members. This is one of the areas where most fans felt Mass Effect Andromeda’s writing was the most lack luster. It seems as though some awkward testing of the waters was meant to be built in to Sara’s character, but it rarely if ever comes across as endearing or cute.
The worst offender is the Sara-Suvi romance. In one particular conversation. Sara has the option to fess up about her appreciation and romantic interest in Suvi that sounds like this; “I think you’re cute and I like seeing you up here…Also, the accent. The accent is…I mean. It’s not the only thing, but, uh…”. Kallo Jath’s reaction to the awkward flirting is at least fitting. “Kill…me…now.”
6 SHEPARD AND CREW’S REACTION TO STEVE CORTEZ’S DEATH
Steve Cortez was introduced in Mass Effect 3 as Shepard’s new shuttle pilot. He is also one of the earliest possible casualties in the final mission on Earth. Unfortunately, the way his death works is really counter intuitive to a big emotional payoff. His death will only happen if you don’t talk to him enough before the end game. But the less you talk to him the less likely you are to care about him dying anyway.
But don’t tell that to Shepard and his squad when they see his shuttle get shot down over head. Both male and female Shepard have loud name calls even if Shepard isn’t romancing Steve. The squadmates are on whole other level. All of the squadmates have some variation on “You’re going to pay for that you bastards,” followed by what is supposed to be a war cry. But their deliveries are hilariously over the top. The blood curdling rage is totally out of character for Kaidan, some fans think that Ashley’s cry sounds more like she’s climaxing and James sounds like he’s in the stands at a Football game.
5 THE MAKO’S HANDLING.
Ah the Mako. In hindsight, nobody can say that the Mako sections in Mass Effect didn’t make the game feel distinct, at least. Being able to dive around on all the side quest and main mission planets gave the galaxy a tangible sense of bigness and uncovering real mysteries during the journey. The Mako’s main guns were also powerful, letting the player incinerate weaker enemies in a single blast.
But the controls were a pain. The idea might have been to make the vehicles’ handling feel like you were navigating an alien outer-space environment but poor controls are still poor controls. Piloting the Mako was like trying to drive a drunken beach ball with rocks inside. You could never tell for sure which inclines the Mako would be able to handle and which it couldn’t. Keeping the vehicle going straight or moving precisely was next to impossible. Thankfully the Mako would upright itself if you were ever foolish enough to use the repulsion lifts on an incline.
4 KAI LENG AS SEPHIROTH
Having a Cerberus Lieutenant who acts a foil and antagonist for Shepard in Mass Effect 3 was certainly a good idea on paper. Kai Leng had been a prominent character in Mass Effect comics and novels and there was plenty of hype surrounding his debut in the main games.
His overall role in the final game was disappointing to most fans. His design was too stylish and his character was loathsome without being compelling. He’s petty and cowardly while being overpowered in cut scenes where the player can do nothing to stop him from killing any number of fan favorite characters like Thane or Miranda. Not to mention they got Troy Baker to voice Leng and then gave him next to nothing of any interest to say. The worst offender is the cutscene at the end of the Thessia mission where Leng casually walks through rocket fire from his gunship. At least you get to gut him like a fish with the best Renegade Interrupt in the trilogy.
3 THE DESIGN OF EDI’S MOBILE PLATFORM
The body that EDI comes to inhabit in Mass Effect 3 was originally used by a Cerberus A.I. It was meant to pass for an organic women and successfully infiltrated the Alliance team on Mars, then killed them before Shepard arrives to find the plans for the Crucible. EDI eventually purges the Cerberus A.I. and takes the body for herself.
It’s like Miranda’s painted-on clothes all over again. This time even more characters in the game itself weigh in on how absurdly sexualized EDI’s body looks. Joker is over the moon. Javik is disturbed and Legion is critical. “Your new mobile platform is inefficient. It has low volume hydraulics and is top heavy.” EDI even has dialogue on the Citadel where she inquiries about returning to the Normadny sooner rather than later because she is getting propositioned with increasing frequency. It’s almost impressive how blatant the fan service is while exploring all the various ways it makes various characters amused or uncomfortable.
2 “MY FACE IS TIRED.”
Fans have made numerous videos roasting and critiquing Mass Effect Andromeda’s mess of facial animations. Besides glitches that make the characters heads and necks twist in all kinds of unnatural ways, most of the disturbing missteps come in at the eyes. They’re oddly positioned with too prominent pupils and they seem to be incapable of tracking whoever the character is talking to.
The undisputed memetic king of Andromeda’s animation mess is Foster “my face is tired” Addison. Her rigid, bug-eye expression while chastising Ryder for their father’s death has been parodied and mocked more than any other moment in the game. It’s the perfect encapsulation of how the game’s hit or miss dialogue and broken animation utterly rob the game of much of its dramatic punch. It was so bad that Bioware released a patch that reanimated and reshot the entire sequence, among other arguable improvements. The scene plays much more believably now, but fans won’t forget this depressing, unintentional hilarity anytime soon.
1 MASS EFFECT 3’S ENDING
This one goes beyond cringe. The uproar over the ending of Mass Effect 3 is still one of the most tumultuous events in the modern history of video games. There’s no denying the disappointment fans felt when Bioware delivered on none of their hype and promises for the culmination of their player driven space opera trilogy.
The Extended Cut was an appreciable effort to deliver the variety and closure that fans desperately wanted but it didn’t change the problems that were baked into the ending already. A bespoke A, B or C ending offered by a new, literal Deus Ex Machina character.
All of the ending choices, which still make the most impact over anything you’ve done throughout the trilogy, are still distasteful. So we can have peace if we summarily wipe out an entirely category of sentient consciousness including the Geth? Or we can transform ourselves into synthetic hybrids and ignore our unique strengths and histories? Or Shepard can just become a Reaper. Not even the chance to shoot the Catalyst feels satisfying.
Are there any other major moments of cringe you remember from the Mass Effect games? Vent about them in the comments!