I imagine that at some point in the mid-16th Century, a random painter wandered into the Sistine Chapel, took one look at Michelangelo’s frescos, and said “why the fuck do I bother?” before returning home and throwing out all of their easels. I wouldn’t blame game developers for feeling the same way about Tali’s loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2.
Loyalty missions as a collective are up there with the Lair of the Shadow Broker and the Citadel DLC as the high point for Mass Effect, especially with the games understanding character as plot. The spotlight is often shifted from the main narrative onto smaller stories that explore the cast in depth, and that’s why these stories – ones that scarcely affect the overarching Reaper storyline, but deeply impact the lives of your crew – tend to hit the hardest.
While the headline here is slightly tongue in cheek – please don’t stop making games, I have a spoilt cat to feed – Tali’s loyalty mission is not only my favourite mission in Mass Effect, it’s my favourite across all of gaming, and I’m slightly jealous of everyone getting to play it for the first time in the Legendary Edition.
For those of you who have played it, I understand that you might right now be thinking “Eh?”, and I admit that Tali’s mission is not the most show-stopping. Kasumi’s is a glamorous heist, Grunt goes and kills a Thresher Maw, while Jacob’s is literally the only interesting thing that ever happens to him. But Tali’s is such an excellent distillation of what makes Mass Effect great, and the sudden pivot to courtroom drama – with a bit of combat seamlessly folded into the middle – wouldn’t work in most other games. Along with Mordin’s and Legion’s, Tali’s loyalty mission is also one of the few that sets up events in Mass Effect 3 as well. Other missions get referenced, but your appreciation of the wider story and the quarian struggles require you to complete Tali’s loyalty mission.
The mission is called Treason, and it revolves around her being summoned to the Migrant Fleet to answer charges of indecent exposure. Just kidding, she’s being tried with treason. Tali sent her father some broken geth parts to enable his research – the quarians initially created the geth and then were forced out of their homeworld by an uprising, so the two races are intrinsically linked. However, Tali is charged with sending functioning geth to her father, and thus endangering the lives of the Fleet, rather than the disabled and broken parts she claims.
The mission starts off with Tali returning to the Fleet and finding out that her ship name has been wiped and replaced with vas Normandy. Essentially, the quarians are telling her she is no longer one of them, but is an outsider working on a human ship. Tali is devastated by this, but holds it together when she realises this means Shepard is now her designated defender. The case then begins, which is where Tali learns of the specifics of her charges, and vehemently denies them. Shepard interjects here, and can either be respectful or dismissive of the quarian process while arguing Tali’s case, but nothing really matters at this point. It’s all set up.
Midway through the case, Tali learns that her father’s ship has been overthrown by the geth, and the Fleet has lost contact with him. He is presumed dead, and due to being charged with treason, Tali had not been informed. At this point, Shepard, Tali, and whatever mug you brought along to sit in the bleachers offer to clear out the ship in order to discover the truth. The court expects Tali to die, but says the charges will be dropped if she falls in action. I took Garrus, since Garrus and Tali belong together, and away we went.
Here, Tali makes a weighty discovery – she is not the traitor, her father is. While she did send disabled parts, he was deliberately activating them in order to experiment on them. You find his confession on his corpse, explicitly stating that Tali had no knowledge of his activities. The confession clears Tali’s name, but dooms her father’s. Tali begs you not to show the tape in court, but the choice is up to you.
If you show the tape, Tali’s name is cleared, but her father’s entire military record is posthumously expunged. She is not loyal – the mission tasks you with clearing her name, but doing just that results in failure, because this mission is bigger than ‘go to this place and kill these dudes’. As for the other options, you can either claim you found no evidence, and have Tali be exiled but loyal, or – and this is the optimum way to do it – you can take the time to learn of the quarian unrest in court and use that to clear Tali’s name without evidence. As much as I love Mass Effect, it does have a habit of boiling complex situations down to binary choices – choices that are already made for you because of the game’s requirement that you commit to Paragon or Renegade early on. Treason is the best example of the game subverting its own flaws.
After all that, it isn’t perfect. You need high enough Renegade or Paragon points to complete the mission properly, and it can take a long time to rack them up. Tali’s loyalty mission should be one of the last that you do, and you need to do some Omega and Citadel quests, too, to ensure that everything is rosy. That’s a bit counterintuitive, since Tali is your closest ally on the Normandy, so thematically speaking, it makes sense to do hers as soon as it becomes available. This almost certainly will lead to failure, however, so many people may come away from the mission frustrated when they lack the stats necessary to charm or intimidate the quarian court into siding with Tali.
Still, while the mission’s brevity means I’d always say the much chunkier Citadel DLC is my favourite Mass Effect experience, Tali’s loyalty mission remains its high point. It was the thing I was most looking forward to in the Legendary Edition, but I was also fearful that I was viewing it through rose-tinted glasses. It’s just a bit of dialogue – it can’t really be that good, right? Certainly playing the first Mass Effect game, I watched the nostalgia dissolve before my eyes. Noveria was harder work than I remembered, not so much in the difficulty as how much faff there was. Meanwhile, Feros seemed far less dramatic than I was anticipating from my near-decade old recollection of it. Tali’s loyalty mission lived up to my expectations, though. It’s true that it’s mostly dialogue, but it’s some of Mass Effect’s best, and is a keystone in Tali’s arc. Before the Legendary Edition, I felt like Tali had the best story of any character in the game, despite never really being a personal favourite of mine. I need to play through Mass Effect 3 again before I commit to that judgement here, but so far, it’s right on the money, and her loyalty mission is a big reason why.
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