Mass Effect 2: who is The Observer on Illium?

While not all members of the original Normandy crew have a major role in Mass Effect 2, everybody still alive goes on to at least make an appearance - and the most significant of that group is Liara, who is found on Illium and even has a couple of side quests devoted to her, including a quest called The Observer.

In ME2, Liara has spent the two years since Shepard's untimely almost-death working to undermine the Shadow Broker. Liara has a couple of small quests on the planet of Illium that you can undertake in order to help her in this goal, plus the DLC mission Lair of the Shadow Broker is all about the ultimate conclusion of her mission.

As a word of warning before we get into Liara's Illium quests, it's worth noting that if you have the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC installed, or have a version of the game where it's included as default like Mass Effect Trilogy or Legendary Edition, you'll have the option of picking a conversation option that starts the DLC from the moment you first talk to Liara. You should avoid doing this, as if you do you'll then miss out on Liara's standard Illium quests; they'll be marked as completed, but you'll miss out on both their story and their rewards.


Liara: Systems Hacking & The Observer on Illium

Once you complete the mandatory story mission on Horizon, as detailed in our ME2 mission order, you'll be able to head to Illium. The first time you meet Liara there, she'll explain where she's been at and what she's been up to - albeit with a bit of reticence. If you ask her for some help, you'll be given the mission Illium: Liara: Systems Hacking.

This first mission is pretty simple; you simply need to head to several terminals scattered across the Illium hub map. In fact, this is an ideal way to get to know the Illium hub world, as the mission will lead you right across it and past all the various shops and points of interest.

Once a terminal has been hacked, you'll need to locate the corresponding system quickly, with the UI displaying a number that shows your proximity to your goal. All of the terminals are located in the area where there's a bunch of shops all together. Once this mission is completed, you'll get a handful of experience, credits, and renegade points.

Next up, Liara steps things up a notch with her second and more interesting mission, marked in your journal as Illium: Liara: The Observer. Again, avoid starting the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, and instead agree to pick up this follow-up assignment from Liara. This time, she wants Shepard to hack five diffferent terminals. By hacking them, you'll uncover snippets of information that are clues as to the identity of The Observer, an agent of the Shadow Broker.

There are five possible suspects, one each of some of Mass Effect's races - a Batarian, Krogan, Salarian, Turian, and Vorcha. You must use the messages in the terminals you can hack to figure out who the Observer is. The more terminals you hack, the better your chance of correctly answering - but you can have a guess and tell Liara at any point - but there'll be consequences.

Below, we'll get into full spoilers about the identity of the Observer, for those who need a hand puzzling it out.


Who is the Observer in ME2 on Illium?

So - the time has come to work out who ME2's Observer is on Illium. First of all, there's five data entries you must hack and find on Illium as part of this quest, and each unearths a string of text that is a clue. Four of the clues are found For posterity, here are all five:

  1. “…trader tried to kill the batarian. Claims it was because he hates slavers, but the men were more likely fighting over money. Watch for now…”
    • This clue is located on the trading floor, near an Asari and Volus.
  2. “Smuggler and assassin have refused to work with the vorcha due to lack of trust. Odd to see scruples from the men at this point.”
    • This clue is found in the Eternity bar.
  3. “The turian's asking too many questions. Observer recommends terminating him and framing assassin or salarian contact.
    • This clue is found on the Trading Floor, near the hologram. 
  4. "Turian contact working well with the trader. Observer has rescinded kill order against him, given difficulty in securing contact with the trader through other methods.”
    • This clue is found near the Serrice Technology store.
  5. “Vorcha trader has requested no further contact with the salarian. Salarian is becoming more trouble than he is worth. Observer recommends a kill, but she may have a grudge.”
    • This clue is found right near the entrance to Liara's office.

If you read all of these statements clearly, you'll notice that various characters are ruled out. For instance, The Observer is recommending the Turian be killed, and that the Salarian be framed. So those two can be ruled out. It's also clear that the 'Trader' is the Vorcha - and the Trader can also be ruled out. We also know that the Batarian is a slaver - and that means the Assassin must be the Krogan. Do you follow?

Also - and this becomes important later - it's clear that all five of the suspects are male. This means that the more you read, the clearer it becomes: none of these suspects fit the profile.

So, that's the annoying truth. Who is the Observer? None of these guys. None of them seem to fit - so have Shepard tell Liara "None of the suspects fit." This leads to a conversation where Shepard's observations help Liara to realize something else - which gives her a satisfying end to the quest.

If you identify the wrong character - any of them - as the Observer, Liara essentially loses track of them and the trail goes cold. Regardless, Shepard will get Paragon points - though slightly more for correctly deducing that none of the five are the Observer. In the conversation following, whatever you choose, you'll be able to either try to ease or encourage Liara for Paragon or Renegade points.

Once you've finished the Observer quest, you'll get 5000 Credits and some experience; at this point, you're free and clear to start the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC whenever you want, though we'd recommend saving it for much later in the game. When you do complete it, though, you'll be able to unlock a Liara Advanced Training Bonus Power for Shepard.