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Mordin Solus: Where Mass Effect 3 Gets Everything Right

Since the release of the “Extended Cut” DLC a couple of weeks ago, I have been studiously replaying Mass Effect 3. Yes, I realize I can just re-do the ending from my first trip through the game, and I have (the very last bits anyway), but I’ve been looking for an excuse to bring forward my renegade Femshep from Mass Effects 1 and 2 and this gave me that excuse. This post isn’t about the ending, however. You’ve heard all about that already and have your own opinion. This post is about Mordin Solus, whose storyline in Mass 3 I just wrapped up for the second time.

The Solus resolution struck me on a couple of fronts. One, he’s one of the more engaging characters in the Mass Effect universe. He’s an intriguing character in Mass Effect 2 and is even better here. What makes him such an interesting case study in Mass Effect 3, however, isn’t just that he’s a great character, it’s that his story can have such radically different results based on decisions you made across all three Mass Effect games. (Yes, all three.) More impressive than that is the fact that each of the three radically different outcomes I’m aware of, are universally well done. Mordin Solus is the face of everything the Mass Effect series is capable of getting right.

In the rest of this post thar be spoilers. Ye been warned…

The climax to Mordin’s story takes place on Tuchanka, the Krogan homeworld. The humans need Turian fleet support to defend Earth, the Turians require Krogan aid on their own homeworld. The Krogan, as a condition for their aid, want cured the Genophage, a bio-weapon inflicted on them in the past that prevents them from reproducing in massive numbers. Solus, a Salarian scientist who’s worked on preserving created the Genophage, has made the cure his mission. Throwing an added wrinkle into the mix is the Salarian government, who will withhold their own aid in the main fight against the Reapers if you do allow the Genophage to be cured. As Sheperd, it’s up to you to decide if you want to allow the cure to be sabotaged or distributed via a large tower on Tuchanka that is very near to collapse.

The fate of Mordin Solus can, at its simplest, be broken down into three big outcomes, though there are numerous smaller variations too:

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– Mordin dies curing the Genophage (Paragon)
– Mordin dies failing to cure the Genophate (Renegade)
– Mordin lives, failing to cure the Genophage (Renegade + other criteria)

The first time I played through this sequence I helped Mordin distribute the cure. The portrayal of his sacrifice, going to the top of the unstable tower to prevent the Salarian sabotage from succeeding, was among the two most poignant moments in the game. When Mordin enters the elevator, turns to face Sheperd and says with genuine conviction and warmth, “Anyone else might have gotten it wrong,” I get chills.

It’s a noble end to a noble character. The Krogan are cured and will be able to resume making babies, presuming the galaxy survives the Reaper threat. They’ll also lend their aid to the Turians, freeing the Turians to aid Earth. It’s a win-win-lose situation, however, because it also means Sheperd loses the support of the Salarian government. As Sheperd, you have to ask yourself, are all your so-called “principles” worth it if not getting Salarian aid means defeat at the hands of the Reapers.

(Note: the actual numbers, in terms of breaking down war assets, are a bit more complicated than I describe them here. I’m basing this on what knowledge Sheperd has at the moment he/she is making decisions. If you want a more specific breakdown of the actual consequences, check out the “Aftermath” section on this page of the ME3 Wiki.)

If you play out the Renegade path, Mordin discovers the Salarian sabotage of the Genophage cure, also realizing that you are complicit in it. He isn’t shocked by this revelation, just sad. At that point you can try to talk him out of going up the tower, but excepting some very specific circumstances, he won’t listen to you. From there you can only let him proceed or shoot him. If you shoot him, he still goes to the top of the tower, but doesn’t have the strength to drag himself to the control console before he dies. What’s wonderful about this choice is that if you’re really playing Sheperd as the renegade, and not as pure evil, there’s ample reason to shoot him. Throughout the series it’s easy to play Sheperd as pro-genophage. The Krogan are a very real threat. Support of the Salarian government can also be viewed as critical to the cause. If you sabotage the cure you get the aid of the Krogan (who don’t know the cure is sabotaged) and the Salarian. That’s a Machiavellan power-play that’s all too easy to see Sheperd willing to make. The only question is, are you willing to kill one of the good guys to make it happen?

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Compared to the Paragon sequence above, there are two brilliantly powerful lines from Mordin here. One, when he uncharacteristically shouts “I MADE A MISTAKE!” in regards to creating preserving the Genophage and then destroying Maelon’s research into a cure. Mordin is not a guy who makes mistakes. To hear the emotion when he’s force to admit this realization, out loud, is a stirring moment. It’s followed-up a moment later when he also uses the line “Anyone else might have gotten it wrong.” It’s the same line as in the Paragon scenario, but it’s a completely different context and delivery and the contrast is stunning. This isn’t bravery mixed with humorous resignation. This is anger and betrayal justifying precisely why he has to do things himself.

The fallout if you do this, which isn’t shown here, is also amazingly well done. The cure fails, but the Krogan have no idea. As Sheperd you look Wrex right in the face as he expresses his gratitude to you and his admiration of Mordin. When you return to the Normandy there’s an additional dialog with Garrus in which he, too, expresses his respect for Mordin’s sacrifice and you have no choice but to make like his was a noble sacrifice, all the while knowing you murdered him in cold blood.

It’s also an incredible moment because there’s an argument to made you’ve done the *right* thing. Leaders in a war have to make sacrifices. At what point do the ends justify the means? Role playing a Sheperd who will do anything for the cause ought to make these choices easy, but they were anything but. I knew what the Sheperd envisioned in my mind would be willing to do. But what was I, as the player, willing to do? It was genuinely hard to make the choice to pull the trigger, but the payoff in the story made it entirely worthwhile. I felt genuine remorse in the aftermath of the murder, but better than that, I could see that same bitter remorse reflected in my character on the screen.

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The third scenario, in which you talk Mordin out of trying to stop the sabotage of the Genophage cure, is also striking in that it requires a very specific pattern of decisions on Sheperd’s part, reaching across all three games. In Mass 1 you have to have crossed and killed Wrex. In Mass 2 you have to have destroyed the cure research data of a corrupt Salarian scientist named Maelon. Doing so results in Eve’s death as Mordin attempts to finalize the cure. And in Mass 3 you have to keep secret the Salarian plan to sabotage the cure, right up until the end. If you do all that, and have a high Renegade rating, you can talk Mordin out of stopping the sabotage because the Krogan, without Wrex or Eve to guide them, are far too inclined to seek revenge for the existence of the Genophage in the first place. Even Mordin must acknowledge the cure is too risky. Mordin lives and becomes a war asset, the Krogan aid the Turians, and you get Salarian aid. This, in terms of pure war assets, is actually the best possible outcome and easily the hardest to achieve.

When I think about how Mass Effect 3 ended, I’m not disappointed because the story took turns I couldn’t accept. I don’t like it because there’s not nearly enough of this. It’s a whole game devoted to the collection of assets for the final battle, but the battle itself is not notably altered based on your success in collecting said assets. The battle (not just the resolution) is not in any way a cumulative result of your decisions in Mass 3, let alone all three games. Mordin Solus’s story, conversely, is a blissful example of where Mass Effect 3 gets everything right. This is Bioware at their absolute best. Choices you’ve made through all three games come together in the final moments of a pivotal part of the story and, no matter what you do, the story executes on them flawlessly, each path pulling different emotional strings appropriate to the actions you’ve taken.

Bravo.

And just because no post on Mordin is complete without it…

Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and proceeded to spend over 16 years as a development editor for Pearson Education, publishing books, videos, and digital learning products under the Que and Sams Publishing imprints. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd has also been a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets. Follow him on Twitter @ubrakto or check it out his website at ToddsFoolery.com.

21 thoughts to “Mordin Solus: Where Mass Effect 3 Gets Everything Right”

  1. I totally agree. This character is the high point of the ENTIRE Mass Effect series. My favorite memory about playing through all of the games is the discussion with him in the second one about his ethics. What was really compelling about it is that as I was engaging in the dialogue, I realized that _he was changing my mind_ about the situation with the Krogan. That’s very, very powerful game character writing. It encouraged a level of dialogue well beyond simple menu choices and trying to figure out which ones lead to certain outcomes.

    It was also great SF writing, and I’d much rather have had more of this stuff and much less of the Booty Call in Space crap.

    1. “I totally agree. This character is the high point of the ENTIRE Mass Effect series. ”

      Agreed. 100%. ME is easily at its best with Mordin’s storyline.

  2. Yeah, that part was a definite highlight of Mass Effect 3. Really, really well done.

    My favorite part in the trilogy, though, is related to my overall favorite character (Mordin Solus is second place in my favorite characters list, mind you): Liara T’Soni. Near the end of Mass Effect 3, in London, you get a moment to effectively say goodbye to her. That was the most emotional moment in the Mass Effect series to me by far (with Mordin Solus’ death being the runner-up). Though the way I role-played Shepard has a lot to do with making that moment so important (I can elaborate in another comment, if you want).

    Anyway, excellent post, Todd, as usual.

  3. I think you really hit the nail on the head here. Personally that is why I found the end such a punch in the gut, you see great story telling through the game. When you get to the end and there is the scene with TIM which is a powerful throwback to the first game and anderson telling you what a good job you did. Then the star child comes out of the rafters to kick you in the nuts. It was such an insult to all the excellent writing that came before it.

  4. Agreed. Did Paragon first and couldn’t afterwards bring myself to do a full Renegade playthrough because I didn’t think I could actually bring myself to shoot Mordin. Best moment in the whole series, for my money.

  5. Yes. This is the section where everything worked. I had no idea how many alternate outcomes there were in Tuchanka until the Bioware panel at Pax East, where they focused particularly on that section (wise in the direct aftermath of the ending brouhaha) and the difficulties of accounting for so many previous choices.

    I remember the choice regarding the research in ME2 to be the one time I had to put the controller down and think for a few minutes before committing. So glad it had such interesting payoff.

  6. YES! So pleased to see others agree. Mordin an astonishingly rich and complex character who I liked far too much to betray. I can’t think of another bunch of pixels that are so characterful. A really impressive achievement. And thank you for setting out the various outcomes.

  7. This kinda ties into my thoughts on power fantasies in games undermining the story. This part works so damn well because it doesn’t make you some uber dude who can fix everything with a gun.

    The central beats of this arc take place without you as the center. I mean that as both you (Shepard) and you (human). It gives the setting a real sense of weight and reality. It picks up a story beat that establishes the universe as a thing that happens, where humans aren’t some super master species. In fact we are late to the party. It makes the races seem real, and gives them distinct personalities and motivations. (kinda like the Bedchel test, but for species not gender)

    You can see the gears of a coherent narrative turning. The Rachni start making a mess of the Turians. They ask the Salarians for help. They uplift a hearty, aggressive, fast reproducing, sentient species to space tech for their shock troops. Rachni get beaten back by bigger threat. Bigger threat gets greedy and takes over stuff. Salarians make genophage to curb Krogans. Throughout this whole series of events you only ever get bits and pieces after the fact. These things happen without the player, giving the universe a sense of history. The fact that these things happen without humans being involved makes the other races feel real, rather than just plot devices.

    When Bioware had the strength to make you just a good (wo)man able to do what is needed because they were in the right circumstance, rather than being ‘the chosen one’, the story stood strong. The elements where they felt the need to make humans the special species, and you the ultimate ‘only hope’ for the galaxy, are where the story flies apart. This is why the first ME was a better story and my favorite of the series. ME2 had better gameplay and characters, but the subtlety and authenticity of the first make it the better game IMO.

    1. I totally agree. The series was set up really well to curb that old sci-fi cliche of humans being the centre of everything that happens in the universe, a la the Federation in Star Trek. I loved the universe building that went on in the first ME game. I really don’t like the sole saviour of the universe crap going on the later ones, even though the gameplay is much improved over the first.

    2. I had the relatively unique experience of playing through ME3 using the default save, rather than loading my saves from ME1 and 2. Long story short, my console died about 1/3 of the way through ME3, losing my saves in all the games and I didn’t want to go back and replay the earlier ones. Anyways, the default save makes for a really interesting and depressing story. Nobody is already loyal from actions in the previous games. Nobody really even likes you that much. Everybody you see ends up dying and there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it.

      That did a really good job of undermining the power fantasies in the typical narrative (although, then it doesn’t make any sense why everybody is telling you that you’re the only one for the job, because you’re screwing it up, every chance you get).

  8. You can thank John Dombrow and Patrick Weekes for Tuchanka missions. It was their section of the game to work on (mainly Weekes from what I understand).

    Couple of nit pick corrections though. Mordin didn’t have anything to do making the Genophage. Salarians only live 30-40 years & the Krogan Rebellions took place 1400+ years earlier than the events of ME1. Mordin was part of a STG team that “maintained” the Genophage so that it didn’t make all Krogans infertile (when then Salarians needed to adjust the phage because of Krogan resistances to it). They way the dialog breaks down does make it seem like Mordin & Maelon were the two mochachos responsible for it all when they weren’t. If you let Wrex & Mordin die & didn’t do Mordin’s loyalty mission, the Renegade options fall in line better Dalatrass Linron (getting the job done at any cost idea).

    Over all though, the Paragon way of Tuchanka (all missions) fell perfectly in line with the previous games Paragon story arcs. It was very satisfying & in stark contrast to the rest of the ME3.

  9. I agree 100%. This sequence was sublime – I think it was matched only by the ending of Mass Effect 2. The similarity between the two situations is that you had a choice to make and what was on the line was not plus or minus some number – it was plus or minus characters that had been with you for some time.

    I also agree that one of the reasons that I did not love the rest of ME3 was that this bit set the bar so high that the rest fell short in comparison. Bioware showed what they could do, but then didn’t follow through on the rest of it.

    1. Well, Quarian-Geth story arc was really good if you ask me (and also had couple of interesting outcomes), second best only to this Krogan/Salarian stuff in ME3.

  10. Honestly, this scene was probably the most powerful piece of storytelling I’ve seen in a Western RPG. Hats off to those of you who could bring yourselves to take the Salarian’s bargain; betraying Mordin was too tough of a pill for me to swallow.

    Great piece overall (apart from the minor goofs that Helios mentioned).

    1. I agree. Anything having to do with Mordin in both games and this part in ME3, in particular, were fantastic. The whole mission was perhaps one of the most emotional and enjoyable experiences I have had playing a computer game. Just grand stuff.

      While the Mass Effect series is far from perfect, it’s still my favorite RPG series of all time. It had enough really great moments, characters, and bits of dialogue that it stands above the rest.

  11. Like a lot of folks here Mordin was my favorite sidekick, and I was blown-away when he died. I just remember thinking it was the most important moment in the game, and when I got to the end and saw everything that was getting everybody bent out of shape the only thing I could think was, ‘why weren’t folks lighting up the bulletin boards over Mordin’s death?’ In my world his death was a bigger shock than the pick-a-door ending.

  12. Did anyone else notice a subtle difference between the Paragon and Renegade outcomes for this scene? If you cure the Genophage, it has that familiar piece of calm, soothing music playing while the cure is being dispersed. It creates a tone that’s somber for Mordin’s death, but also hopeful for the future that was just created for the Krogan.

    If you don’t cure the Genophage, however, there’s no music playing at all. The total silence leaves you with nothing but your own thoughts, more or less forcing you to contemplate what you’ve just done, and whether or not it was worth it. I think it’s a pretty nice touch to an already fantastic moment in the trilogy.

  13. I agree, this part was amazing. Except in the event that Mordin dies during the suicide mission. If Mordin is not there, Pardok Wiks takes his place. That is almost as stupid as Legion being replaced by a VI if it died.
    I never felt like there was any real consequense for letting characters die in ME2. The same things happen, with only slight differences. For a game so much about choice and consequense, that is very disappointing.

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