The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 14
has been counting down the days, and we’ve finally reached that inevitable
moment: the Reapers are on the horizon, and will invade the planet Earth this
March. Mass Effect 3 will be upon us, and all of the galaxy’s Shepards – both
male and female- will begin their journey to conclude the current gen’s most
definitive RPG franchise. This blog series will pay tribute to the franchise as
we brace ourselves for the upcoming finale by chronicling my own journey and
experiences with the Mass Effect series. We’ll continue this series with a look
at the five squadmates (including one honorary one) that we love to hate. With
a second opinion, readers will hopefully be able to see these characters in a
new light. DUE TO THE NATURE OF THE
REVIEW, SPOILERS MAY BE PRESENT.
because I can drill you between the eyes from a hundred meters, doesn't mean I
can't like sensitive stuff! But don't spread it around."
misunderstood character is an Alliance soldier with a storied family history of
military involvement. You first meet Ashley Williams on Eden Prime during the
invasion of Geth forces. Depending on your playthrough, she may have sacrificed
herself to guard the nuke on Virmire. If she survived, you'll meet her again on
Consensus: Ashley Williams
is a whiny, racist, and annoying brat with a personality that grates on your nerves
whenever she's in your squad.
Merits: Ashley Williams is
devoted the Alliance, and as a result, she is a soldier that respects rank and
the commands you dole out, no matter how deeply she disagrees. She's an
excellent soldier to use in combat, a confident and uncompromising woman with
the experience to prove it, and has a compelling backstory that's often
Flaws: Ashley Williams
is very distrustful of other alien races, and as a result, a turn-off to
players who identify with Shepard's alien crewmates. She also has an unhealthy
obsession with reciting poetry. Ashley also has the tendency to come off as
self-righteous. Combined with her tongue-in-cheek and unapologetic persnality,
Ashley is commonly-cited as a character players intentionally killed off during
their playthroughs. I must confess that even I am guilty of this habit.
The Real Story: Ashley Williams
is only racist in the sense that she's wary of aliens, due in no small part to the
shame her family incurred during the Battle of Shanxi: her grandfather
infamously made history as the first human to surrender to an alien during the
First Contact War. This permanently affected how her superiors treated her, in
spite of all the talent and skills she possessed, and drives her personal work
ethic; a "Williams," has to be better than the best, after all. While it
doesn't excuse her occasionally misguided views of aliens, it does provide the
necessary context the player needs to understand why Ashley doesn't trust the
Council or believe Humans should focus primarily on coexistence politically.
She however, as your experiences with her in the first Mass Effect show,
clearly has no problem with cooperation when the occasion calls for it, dismissing
the Terra Firma party's extremist views as anti-alien rhetoric that completely
misses the point of the sacrifices Alliance soldiers made for Humanity. After
Virmire, Ashley transforms as a character, aiding Shepard in the Battle of the
Citadel to not only stop the Reapers, but also to reclaim the honor that her
family had once lost.
retrospect, Ashley's tough demeanor is clearly a façade that she uses because
of the pressures she faces in the Alliance and as a role model to her sisters. There
are times when she displays a compassionate side, such as when she recounts
Nirali Bhatia's service in the 212 to her husband Samesh Bhatia, and as a
Romance interest, with witty and introspective dialogue that never ceases to
catch the audience's interest. Her love of poetry is an interesting quirk that
helps distinguish her from the typical female soldier trope, and the way her
experiences in space inform her personal beliefs is touching. Give her a
chance, and she'll melt your heart.
"I'm not afraid to die. I guess I just want to be remembered by more than a few trinkets in a ruin somewhere."
Kaidan Alenko is an Alliance marine and biotic who was one of the many people
experimented on with controversial neural implants. As an initial squadmate
alongside Shepard and Corporal Jenkins in the Eden Prime mission, Kaidan
assists Shepard throughout the entire campaign. Depending on your playthrough,
he might even sacrifice his life to protect the nuke on Virmire. If he
survives, he appears on Horizon instead of Ashley Williams.
Consensus: Kaidan is a
needlessly whiny, bland, and forgettable character who's completely self
Merits: Kaidan is a
Sentinel, and possesses very useful biotic abilities; he's also loyal to
Shepard and the Alliance, and serves as an excellent counterpoint to Ashley
Williams. He's one of the moral centers of your crew on the SSV Normandy,
always reminding Shepard not to take the easy road when it comes to important
decisions. Kaidan is also an expert at keeping his emotions from interfering
with his duty, and with others when appropriate. He in fact is excellent at
assessing the status of the crew.
Flaws: Kaidan is
notorious for being cited as the Mass Effect equivalent of Carth Onasi, who
coincidentally, is also voiced by the same actor. While not as polarizing as
Ashley Williams, his complaints about various political issues make him a
character most critics tend to avoid. His insecurities relationship-wise are
also factors that can make romancing him somewhat of a grind to players.
Players often avoid sacrificing him as often as Ashley purely because he, to
most critics of his character I've spoken with, see him as the lesser of two
The Real Story: Kaidan Alenko is
a character that is essential to building an understanding of many of the
events occurring in the Mass Effect universe. Once you get past his extremely
guarded personality, you're introduced to a character with the most intricate
and detailed history in the first Mass Effect; Tali is a close second. In
addition to suffering from the unstable L2 implants that can cause excruciating
migraines, Kaidan also has a brutal history of personal struggle, due in no
small part to his experiences in BAaT with Vyrnnus, an uncompromising Turian
instructor with an unrelenting hatred of Humans. Yet, in spite of the mental
abuse he suffered, Kaidan never chose to judge Turians or other races with
blanket statements; instead, he judges each person as an individual first:
"they're jerks and saints, just like us."
trust issues also originated from the connection he developed with Rahna, which
was severed after the unexpected death of Vyrnnus. It's clear, based on his
conviction to the things he values both personally and professionally, that if
he's going to invest in a relationship, he isn't going to do so lightly. Thus,
his concerns often reflect his desire to preserve the things he cares about
most. Players then see the occasionally melodramatic character soften up and
admit what he's been hiding all along; his love for Shepard: "The galaxy will
just keep going. Everything, even the Reapers, will come around again... This is
what will never happen again. Us."
3) JACK (SUBJECT
"I figure every time someone dies and it's not me, my chances for survival go up. Simple."
Description: Jack, commonly
referred to as Subject Zero in Cerberus dossiers, is a powerful biotic that
players later rescue from the prison ship Purgatory. She assists Shepard in the
fight against the Collectors, and may or may not survive, depending on various
Consensus: A nearly
plagiarized version of the character Jack, from the Chronicles of Riddick
series, with a penchant for reckless and foul-mouthed behavior.
powerful biotic; adds the necessary sass and conflict to Mass Effect 2's roster
of characters. Her impulsive personality has merit, considering her history
Flaws: She looks like
Jack, except with tattoos; a relentlessly off-putting and brutal person. She's
also considered to be an unrealistic and stereotypical caricature by some
critics; I suspect her clothing style plays a factor in this. There's also
little, if any, true character development - unless you're romancing her - that
critics also cite as a complaint. Her remorseless personality also makes it easy
for players to kill her off in the Suicide Mission.
The Real Story: Love her or hate
her, Jack is merely the product of the environment in which she was raised.
As a survivor of the harrowing experiments Cerberus did on her and other
children at the Teltin facility, Jack has a history of emotional and physical
abuse, neglect, and betrayal that fuels her immense distrust of people. She has
a void filled with pain that she's only been able to express through violence,
and as a result, has extreme difficulty establishing lasting relationships with
other people, especially Miranda, the Cerberus "cheerleader" who in essence
symbolizes the only concrete way she can vent against the infamous organization
and its leader.
a tragic anti hero, Jack's exploits are tantalizing and outlandish. Unlike the
archetypical heroine, she's followed her instincts, and has a provocative
backstory, filled with deeds we've always fantasized about despite our moral
convictions. She's fearless on the surface, with tattoos for each of these
influential moments; they reflect a woman who has experienced far more than her
sometimes immature character suggests, let alone should be able to digest psychologically. While
easily provoked and just as quick to do the same, players will learn that much
of her actions mask a hidden personal motive.
torment Jack wrestles with, in addition to her fears of being hurt again, paint
a portrait of a person that has the certainty of another's death as the only
promising comfort - and solution - to the problems she's faced. Her assertive
and forceful personality also reveals a woman who has painfully learned that
trust isn't always as simple as we'd like it to be. In some cases, it's a
negotiation, especially when it becomes intimate: "You don't have to know someone
to sleep with them. You just have to know where to put it." While a banal
statement, it nonetheless rings true if Shepard's interest in her is shallow
and purely material. Those who resist Jack's initial advances however, will
prove to Jack that Shepard's compassion exceeds below-the-belt private
importantly, Jack is an example of a character that doesn't have to be liked to
be compelling. She's a polemic that challenges our own notions of taste and
decency, qualities that reflect a character that lives and breathes rather than
confines us emotionally. Even by the end of Mass Effect 2, she retains key
idiosyncracies that define her: she's still conflicted, angry, and
dissociative. Yet, she's a person who's given you her trust if you've earned it,
and that's a bond worth fighting for.
2) CONRAD VERNER
"You wanna see how far I'll go? I learned how to shove guns in people's faces from... Commander Shepard?"
Description: Conrad Verner
actually isn't a squadmate in any way, shape, or fashion, unless you count the
fact that he routinely tries to impersonate you after your death. You meet him
in the first entry of Mass Effect, and if he doesn't end up getting killed
trying to prove you wrong, you'll meet this honorary Spectre on Illium. He's
expected to appear later in Mass Effect 3 as well if he hasn't killed himself
in some suicidal mission (see what I did there, hehe?).
Consensus: Conrad Verner is
one creepy guy. No seriously, he is.
Merits: He's a
relatively earnest and good-natured man, as well as Shepard's own personal
mascot. That's about it so far.
Flaws: He's probably
more annoying than the Fan you had in Oblivion, except he doesn't follow you
around and isn't invincible. He's also not a squadmate.
The Real Story: Verner, while
misguided, is possibly one of the funniest NPC's I've ever met. While he
probably will never play a significant role in the narrative of Mass Effect 3,
he nonetheless remains a person that epitomizes the light-hearted side of the
series. Conrad's a constant reminder, for those that entertain him, of the
importance of our roles as Shepard. One could even interpret Conrad as the
incarnation of everything we love about Shepard, if not our nostalgia.
real life, we'll never be Spectres slaying Geth and Reapers. We, like Conrad
Verner, will never romance Asari babes or any other alien races. Fans won't get
a chance to trek fascinating and exotic worlds while building life-changing
bonds with people that comprise a spectrum of personalities, beliefs, and
philosophies, and we certainly will never get to punch a certain annoying
tabloid-esque reporter in the face twice - and possibly, a third time. However,
we can live out these experiences through Shepard, as our choices and own
personal quirks characterize the savior of the galaxy. It's a powerful,
unifying emotional response, if you consider all of the real life events gamers
participate in just to express ourselves through the digital medium. Thus
Conrad, in essence, is a character that symbolizes the imagination and wonder,
however naïve, we experience when we role play as Shepard. Yeah, I just blew
your mind, didn't I?
Verner, in all his ludicrous antics, is a character we have a duty to love and
respect, given what and who he represents. Sure, he wears fake armor and is
gullible to the point of embarrassment; however, Conrad reflects one
inescapable truth: Conrad may be nothing without us, but as an inspiration and
reflection of the unending adoration we have for our imagined heroes, Shepard
would be nothing without him.
1) JACOB TAYLOR
"I want it. I want you. Before we win, lose, whatever. I love you."
Description: Jacob Taylor is
a biotic and former Alliance marine, that later resigned after the Geth attack
on Eden Prime. He has an extensive and well-decorated history as a hero who prevented
a Batarian terrorist attack on the Citadel. Eventually joining Cerberus, he was
a member of the cell responsible for the Lazarus Project. Jacob later assisted
Shepard in the defeat of the Collectors and may or may not have survived,
depending on your playthrough.
Consensus: Jacob Taylor is
a terrible, annoying, and bland squadmate that is notoriously ridiculed for
having the worst Romantic monologue in the Mass Effect franchise. He's also the
least popular - by countless polls - of Mass Effect's characters.
Merits: Jacob's a
decent, well-balanced squadmate that requires time and skill to master. His
passive ability is essential to balancing out his uneven health, and when
combined with a fully-evolved Barrier, turns him into a tank that can take the
punishment enemies dish out easily. Character-wise, Jacob is a relatively stable
character that has an interesting backstory.
Flaws: The Priiize. No
seriously, his rather standoffish demeanor and lack of a character gimmick make
him the most polarizing character in the series thus far. A limited and shoddy
weapon arsenal - in spite of him specializing in other firearms in Galaxy -
also makes him a character most avoid playing with.
The Real Story: It's obviously
not a secret that Jacob is criminally underwritten in some aspects as a
character. While players learn about his experience with Batarians briefly,
Jacob's story really isn't fleshed out in that aspect. Jacob's time as a
Corsair isn't developed either; his experiences on Eden Prime are also
something that lack exposition. Topping this off, apart from the infamous line,
is Jacob's romance with Shepard, which many players feel was poorly handled as
well - especially in terms of how FemShep interacts with him. He also isn't
much of a talker, which adds to the overall distaste for him. Aside from this, other
motivations for dislike of Jacob tend to be baseless and irrational - such as
his supposed physical resemblance to Kanye West.
spite of his weaknesses, I have to say that Jacob still remains an intriguing
character; certainly not the most fascinating, but convincing. The biggest
detriment to his reception perhaps is that his lack of a serious character flaw
causes him to be overshadowed by the game's more notorious characters. I mean,
we have the perfectly-engineered woman with an existential dilemma; the young
and crazed biotic with a potent grudge against Cerberus; there's the perfect
Krogan, born with the weight of his race on his hump; and then there's the
Asari Justicar with a dark and violent secret she wishes to bury... literally.
These characters don't even comprise half of the crew, with stories just as
gritty. Thus, it's inevitable that players will gravitate elsewhere. Yet, I'd
argue that the Mass Effect franchise needs characters like Jacob, who don't
kowtow to our desires and remain composed in the midst of conflict.
of the most striking characteristics about Jacob is his stern professionalism,
which I feel reflects the extensive service history that he has, as well as his
maturity. It's also a breath of fresh air, when you consider the amount of
conflict and melodrama Shepard will experience with other characters. While
he's not afraid to offer his own cautionary advice and opinions of things he
disapproves of, Jacob is also one who doesn't allow his personal thoughts or
feelings to taint his mindset or distract him when on-duty. His behavior nonetheless
displays his commitment to Shepard. As we later discover once his concerns
about his father are resolved, Jacob is also one who isn't afraid to bury the
past and move on. We even catch chance moments of wit and introspection that
reveal, in all his slights, his occasionally cynical side: "Good deeds are like
pissing yourself in dark pants; warm feeling but nobody notices."
Jacob's not guarded and hesitant to express his feelings because of arrogance
or obnoxiousness. His past relationship with Miranda - a failure, based on his
refusal to discuss it - undoubtedly contributes to this, as well as the
problems he experienced while serving in the Alliance. Yet, it also makes the romantic
relationship he develops with FemShep especially meaningful; the player knows
that by choosing to be intimate with you, Jacob's taking a chance that goes
against his normal convictions. Players even get the normally withdrawn
individual to confess his love for Shepard during
the prelude to their romance scene. Contrary to the meme, Shepard becomes more
than a "prize" to be discovered, and players see Jacob finally relinquish his
doubts and evolve as a person willing to risk it all in spite of his uncertainty. Even as a mere friend, Jacob changes and begins to think
optimistically, instead of always dwelling on the negatives of a situation: "If
we live, we'll get loud, spill some drinks on the Citadel." It's not as much
consolation, but it's definitely a promise I look forward to keeping.
players will eventually recognize his worth to the fiction of the series, and perhaps it will begin with the third entry. Jacob may be widely-vilified, but he's also
widely-quoted, which illustrates his relevance, in spite of what all the
naysayers would claim. Regardless of whether you entertain him or not, Jacob
succeeds as a character in the franchise, and as a nearly unshakable man of
integrity and honor, he epitomizes what a good friend should be.
defines a good character? Is it their personality alone; how attractive they
are; their personal growth or lack thereof? Or is it how extensive their
history is? These are all questions that writers of fiction in myriad narrative
formats have debated since time immemorial. What perhaps is most important is
that we, when evaluating the merits and flaws of these figures, must take the time
to move beyond simplistic responses as "I like/dislike this person." Those
remarks reveal nothing to us, and there are many a great character one can
probably find that they did/n't like, hero and villain included.
closing, this was a moment to reflect on these individuals and consider them,
as integral aspects of the narrative of Mass Effect, on more than simply
unfounded opinion. While it's never a bad trait to have characters one
identifies with strongly, we must remember that these figures are good because
they are successful at conveying some aspect of the human condition, and in
some cases, granting us the necessary perspective to understand others. Often,
the realest and most compelling characters are those we don't identify with or
feel satisfied by. So, let's use the examples I've presented as a way to
appreciate the unfamiliar in exciting and new ways, especially with Mass Effect. There's more to come
in this journey.
THAT YOU DON'T LIKE IN THE SERIES? FEEL FREE TO MENTION THEM!