I’ve logged over 500 hours into the Mass Effect trilogy. I’ve freed the Rachni Queen, cured the genophage, rescued the Council, united the geth and quarians, and determined the fate of all sentient life in the galaxy half a dozen times.
Across all those campaigns, there remains only one moral dilemma that I continue to struggle with: Do I shoot the bottle, or do I let Garrus win?
The dilemma in question happens in Mass Effect 3. Garrus Vakarian, former C-Sec officer and a constant companion throughout the trilogy (unless you let him die in Mass Effect 2, you heartless monster), invites you to break 137 regulations with him by having a shooting contest on top of a tunnel overlooking the Citadel’s bustling Presidium district.
Garrus and Shepard reminisce about old times while engaging in a bit of target practice using an M-92 Mantis sniper rifle and some drink bottles. The two of them have been through a lot: uncovering the ancient Reaper conspiracy, destroying the secret Collector base hidden deep inside the perilous galactic core, and now struggling to win the biggest war in history.
Then, with the final bottle, Garrus declares that this shot will determine who is the best sharpshooter on the Normandy. As Shepard, you get to choose whether you nail the shot or miss on purpose. This, to me, is the hardest choice in the entire trilogy.
I’m not alone in feeling this way. “The Shot” has been the most heavily discussed dilemma in the Mass Effect community for years. This one small, slice-of-life scene between two buds has inspired more spirited debate than curing an entire race or dooming it to slow genocide, abandoning or saving the most important leaders in the galactic civilisation, or deciding the destiny of the Milky Way. It’s been analysed, deconstructed, and reinterpreted through hundreds of different takes, but not a month goes by without it surfacing yet again on the Mass Effect subreddit.
This passion for The Shot makes sense. Shepard is both a close friend and mentor to Garrus. When the two first met in Mass Effect, Garrus is a hot-headed junior cop and Shepard is an older, more established military officer in command of their own ship. Throughout the series, Garrus is deeply shaped by Shepard’s actions and input, more than any other character in the cast.
In Mass Effect 2, Garrus quits C-Sec and becomes the legendary Archangel, leading a crack squad who become the most feared mercenaries on the lawless asteroid city of Omega. This is no doubt influenced by Garrus growing under Shepard’s leadership in the first game. Garrus’ fandom among players is so strong that he was made into a romance option for Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, even though he was never intended to be. The Mass Effect: Legendary Edition even cheekily named one of its additional options menus with a reference to him.
And that speaks to the real magic in Mass Effect. Nearly a decade after Shepard’s story concluded, the most persistent topics within the fandom aren’t the big decisions you make about trillions of beings or the future of evolution: It’s always about the characters. Who did your Shepard fall in love with? Remember how warmly Wrex greeted and embraced you on Tuchanka? Had to be me — someone else might have gotten wrong.
Like the rest of the fandom, I am also guilty of feeling overly attached to the crew of the Normandy. For the Legendary Edition, I recreated the first Shepard I played in 2007. He grew up as a city orphan on Earth and enlisted into the Alliance military on his 18th birthday to escape poverty and gang life. As an Infiltrator, he was the finest marksman and tactician in his battalion, but that wasn’t enough to save his squad from a thresher maw attack on Akuze, which he emerged from as the sole survivor. When my Shepard met Garrus, a consummate sniper and strategist in his own right, they became fast friends. In Garrus, my Shepard met both a professional peer and treasured comrade.
When Garrus hurled the bottle and the option to hit or miss flashed before me, I sat and deliberated. For the sixth time, I recalled my journey with Garrus and weighed the options before me longer than I have for any other decision in the game.
We’ve known each other for years and fought dozens of battles alongside each other. Would Garrus know if I missed on purpose? If he did, would he appreciate the gesture or would he have felt patronized? If I hit the shot, would he respect that I never hold my best from him? Or would hitting the shot hold Garrus back, establishing me firmly as his commanding officer even though I considered him an equal? I remembered the dossier I read on Garrus in the Shadow Broker’s ship, which described him as an exceptional leader who would never be able to reach his potential as long as he stayed in my shadow.
Again, I’m not alone. I would bet that much of the rest of the fandom is also more invested in the well-being and future of our friend Garrus than the Reapers, the Citadel, or even Earth.
After half an hour, I finally made my choice: I hit the shot. My Shepard may dance like a drunken varren sliding across ice, but put a rifle in his hands, and he becomes an unstoppable god of war who obliterates Reapers and bottles alike with inconceivable precision.
But I wish I could’ve said more to Garrus after I did. I wish I could’ve said that I’ve seen him tag way harder targets than this, like the time he got a Banshee right between the eyes just after she teleported thirty paces away. I wish I could’ve told him that after we beat the Reapers together, we should come back here every month — I imagine that over time, our record would come out to 50-50. I wish I could’ve told him that I look forward to seeing him becoming a far greater leader than me, returning to Palaven to rebuild the Turian Hierarchy.
I hit the shot because Garrus always gave me his best, so he deserved mine. I hit the shot because, in my Mass Effect, there is no Shepard without Vakarian.