I never buy a game at the release date anymore. In the current gaming industry it’s all too apparent that companies make the games as fast as they can and release them with a helluva lot of bugs. I think nobody will disagree that Mass Effect Andromeda had those early-release bugs: terrible animation and ugly faces leading to Bioware releasing patches to solve them. And apparently now the game’s not half-bad. I hear some mixed reviews about the plot and characters, but to some extent I’m not worried. Why? Let’s discuss…
To start I will explain why I’m writing this article despite not knowing what the hell I’m talking about. I want to see if my thoughts on why the Mass Effect trilogy was so good are valid. I will write a follow-up article after I’ve played the singer player campaign of Mass Effect Andromeda. I will also state that I will write Shepard in the male form, just because writing him-/herself is incredibly tedious. I’m lazy, come at me brah!
The Friendly Ingredient
With that out of the way; here’s why I think Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 are so good: the companions. Let me ask you a question: when you think of Mass Effect, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For me it’s Tali, Liara, Garrus and Wrex, because the game series has dedicated a huge amount of time on the people accompanying Shepard, far more so than the protagonist himself. In fact, Mass Effect 3 is the only game where we actually start focusing on the psyche of Shepard himself and Bioware tried to make him a unique character, as much as is possible in a RPG. In ME 1 and 2 the player determined who Shepard is: the staunch paragon, pragmatic paragade or ruthless renegade. A lot of people have complained that you have fewer dialogue choices in ME3, but I feel it makes sense considering that Shepard was supposed to be a person under a huge amount of stress. After all, the main themes of the game are that “war requires sacrifice” and “you can’t save anyone”, which the writers explored through the protagonist.
But because Shepard could essentially be who you wanted him to be, the companions got a lot more time to explore their characters arc. This arguably happened the least in Mass Effect 1: we had the companions who followed you, said stuff during missions and half of them had companion quests. And two of those were nothing more than collecting the right item and giving them to the person: the Urdnot family armour for Wrex, the geth data for Tali. Garrus was the only one to actually require you to move somewhere and talk him into a certain action: kill doctor Heart or not. I guess you can argue that Virmire was the Kaidan and Ashley personal quest, but I feel the sacrifice was often motivated by whom you disliked (the most) rather than whom you bonded with. Liara was part of the main storyline, but she was the damsel in distress. A beautiful one, but not a lot of opportunity for you to bond with her.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked the characters, but they were fairly static. They were quickly introduced and it was shown they had certain personalities. They retained said personality until the end of the game.
And then comes Mass Effect 2. The game focuses on two things: the Collectors/Reapers and building a team. It was in the main storyline for you to collect people to fight with you and you had a very strong incentive to help these people resolve their psychological problems. Because otherwise they’d die and that was bad, mkay. And the cast was pretty varied. You had the femme fatale, plain nice guy, paradoxal doctor, psychotic survivalist bitch, surprisingly conflicted Krogan, ruthless mercenary, quirky thief, spiritual assassin and loyal Geth. And there’s a reason I just played the pronoun game. Did you get all of them instantly? Pretty sure that’s an indication you like and bonded with them.
When Companions Become Protagonists
But far more important in my opinion: you saw what happened to your old team and how they had changed over the two years. Garrus had become a vigilante because of his frustrations with C-sec. Tali had grown into a strong, if slightly insecure, leader of her people. Liara had turned into a shadow broker because she cared strongly for Shepard and Wrex was uniting the Krogan clans, despite his pessimism in the first game. You saw the impact Shepard, you, had on them and that made me connect with them even more. A lot of the time I played the second game with just Garrus and Tali on my team, simply because it made sense that Shepard would rely on those he trusted greatly and had spent time with already. I feel that this game also contributed into the fact that I didn’t care for Kaidan and Ashley. You had one scene where they chastised the commander and they were gone. No real insight into their personality beyond a few lines and even romanced Shepards had no impact.
Then Mass Effect 3 came and suddenly all of the original characters had leadership positions of their own. They all wanted to help Shepard with the Reaper crisis and you saw once again how they had changed both because of Shepard and for themselves. These characters were there for you this time, as the game explored how Shepard felt. You could feel the strong friendship and trust Shepard and his original squad shared for each other. You could see it through all the jokes they made or the casual way they dealt with Shepard. Even the Kaidan/Ashley arc was done rather well. You can take the time to build up the trust again or ignore it, with its varrying results.
A lot of people also complained about the fact that the ME2 characters got very little screen time in the third game. Is that not another indication that people had bonded with those characters? That the companions were a very important part of the game series? They’re right, the ME2 characters were tossed aside with only a few scenes for potential romances and some plot. That is, until “The Citadel” DLC was released. I’m not ashamed to admit I laughed a lot during that DLC, because it was written to take a piss on itself and all its seriousness. And of course: it focused on how much the companions meant to Shepard and gave the game a nice ending with all of the friendships and romances you had built over the four years that the trilogy had been in the works. I feel it even redeemed the terrible ending, because it gave me some semblance of closure. Then again, I played ME3 with the extended cut and DLCs. Probably helps as well.
So why am I stating the obvious here? Because so far I’ve heard that the companions in Andromeda are boring. Are you really surprised, when Mass Effect has dedicated three full games to the people accompanying Shepard? The writers had a pretty high standard to overcome and so far it seems they failed. It becomes very difficult to come up with new characters that have unique stories in a crapsack world that takes place between Mass Effect 2 and 3. Especially when the writers already did that for Mass Effect 2, with the long list of unique people. Considering that Bioware has a fetish for the social outcasts and underdogs in general, it becomes pretty difficult to keep creating unique content out of the same barrel they’ve been fishing in for a long time now.
Of course, I could be completely wrong on the subject. I’ll find that out when I actually play the game and find out if what I said is correct. But for now there’s a certain beautiful Quarian waiting for me in her chambers. Later all. 😉
- The Creeping Voice in Your Mind – Discussing the Indoctrination Theory in Mass Effect 3
- When Work Really Pays Off – Re-imagining the End of the Mass Effect Trilogy
- Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler – New Orleans After the Mikaelsons
Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the game series Mass Effect. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The Mass Effect game series belongs to Bioware and EA Games.