People in fandom debate fiercely about numerous parts of the Mass Effect narrative and how “good” they are. Yet no one seems to argue about how great the series is at giving its players that found family goodness (and if there’s someone who does argue about it, they’re wrong). Much of this highly prized content come from the protagonist’s krogan squadmates—Wrex, Grunt, and now Drack—but on my way to find the “Shepard bails Grunt out of jail for partying too hard” fic that I wanted, I found another sort of fic which nevertheless embodied so much of what it meant to be part of Commander Shepard’s team on the Normandy. The only problem I had with it was that I read it too early in the day and my emotions weren’t steeled enough to keep me from bawling over my favorite characters.
I’ve been feeling a little nostalgic lately, perhaps in part because I’ve been trying to remember a time where the world wasn’t covered in snow. Oh, those were the good old days. What’s better for these cold parts of winter, though, than curling up and re-playing a good RPG? So, riding on the coat-tails of this North Eastern bullshit blizzard and the not-bullshit-at-all Femslash February, I managed to discover a fic that delivered on the warm feelings from Mass Effect, a series near and dear to my heart, while not ignoring the consequences of a galaxy-wide threat that almost destroyed civilization.
Maybe I’m stretching a little bit: I know Mass Effect (2007) isn’t exactly old enough to be considered “nostalgic”, and this fic stems from the last game in the series, which came out in 2012, which makes it even less so. Still, The Good Shepard by Wifeofbath invokes these feelings of nostalgia by the sense of home it has in its tone. However, home isn’t always free of conflicts.
While watching Game of Thrones a couple nights ago (yes, I’m late to the party, don’t judge) I had a startling revelation: I never finished my ‘Top 5 Side Characters’ series for Mass Effect. D’oh! But stay in suspense no longer, for I have returned after playing the latest DLC—Citadel—and my Mass Effect writing muses are ready and raring to go.
As in previous installments (found here and here) I defined a side-character as a character who is “not involved in the main quest in any way what-so-ever”. For Mass Effect 3, this standard becomes essentially impossible because even the hordes of stupid scanning side quests still directly affect the main quest. As it stands, the third installment of this series is so narrow (which is fitting since the galactic war is coming to a head) that I’m going to have to say “influences the main plot the least”, but even then I can’t keep my own rules as you’ll see soon enough. Also, as this is the final installment in Shepard’s story, the cameos from past games are so numerous that many of my favorite side-characters are not from Mass Effect 3, but have made a return from the previous games. It also stands to reason that there aren’t that many interesting side characters unique to this particular game anyways.
Not like that stopped me from having way too many favorites to begin with—narrowing down the list was still difficult and I’m still not entirely happy with it, but I don’t think I’d ever be satisfied with a ranking until it became “Top 100 Characters” or something. No one wants to read that. If you think I missed someone or if you agree/disagree with me, leave me a message in the comments and let’s chat.
For the longest time, fans of Mass Effect have reveled in the backstories, culture and xenobiology of the various alien races that comprise the universe, and while to say that the game doesn’t have its fair share of badass females would be a gross understatement, a problem remained: where are the female aliens? Of course, there are the asari, but for all intents and purposes, they’re blue human females with magic. And there was the Dalatrass (a female salarian), but that was only one blatantly female character out of the entire race. The fans want more. We want to see what both genders, if viable, of the species look like. Bioware seems to have heard our wish. On November 27th, Bioware is releasing the anticipated Omega DLC pack which features a female turian.
Out of every race, turian seems like the most obvious in showcasing both genders. For one, we already know that female turians exist as your crewmate, Garrus, speaks of one that he trained with before joining C-Sec. For another, the design and their place in the culture have already been determined. In opposition to, say, a female drell which we know exists but nothing more, female turians are known to be held to the same societal standards as their male counterparts and are just as involved in their war-hardened mindset. At first glance, this seems to be the case with this new character, Nyreen.
In fact, Aria herself describes her as ex-military. This puts her on footing with Garrus and gives her that renegade sense. What made her leave her blood-given post? Did she find something inherently wrong with the system, or did Nyreen just want to do things her way without the military bureaucracy breathing down her neck? Whatever it was, she would have to be a total badass to have the recognition from Aria that she does. Let’s not forget that Aria was the previous boss/mayor/queen (if you’re feeling dramatic) of the dirty, gang-run city of Omega who was only forced from her throne when Cerberus troops ambushed her, and not without leaving dent in said troops. So the fact that Nyreen has a past with this powerful woman (and is still alive) speaks volumes about her character. The universe can never have enough kick-ass women, after all.
Now, while the fandom is having a field day picking out everything they can from the trailers and forming their own early headcanons, there’s also a bit of a controversy going on with her character design. This being that Nyreen seems to have breasts.
Turians, as a race, are largely based on tweaked avian physiology and as a non-mammalian race, the use for things such as breasts would be non-existent and thusly (hopefully) removed by eons of evolution. Also, given that turians previously have stated that breasts are “funny bumps that get in the way”, the implications of turian females having these bumps are potentially canon-breaking. Seriously, this series doesn’t need any more of that, especially not after the trainwreck that was the Deception novel. Beyond this, however, is the implication that to be considered female, one must adhere to certain standards derived from the human male gaze. Why would an alien female have breasts? Because, in the mindset of the target audience, boobies are awesome and fun to look at. That is essentially the reason for the asari to have breasts: it’s said in the lore that the appearance of asari change based on what each race finds attractive, but for an evolutionary stagnant race like the turians, there is simply no excuse to have them.
For now, Patrick Weekes, senior writer for Bioware, has released a tweet saying that what looks like breasts is just armor plating, but it is arguable that he’s just trying to cover someone’s ass. Despite this, I am truly looking forward to playing the DLC when it’s released. Then and only then will I be able to return Omega to its rightful owner and lay this worry to rest, once and for all.
Earlier this month, Bioware released their first large-scale DLC for Mass Effect 3: Leviathan. All that was known before it came out is that Shepard was dealing with something that had the capability to destroy a reaper and seriously, when your side of the battle can’t even take out one reaper without a whole lot of trouble, finding something that can—no matter how dangerous it is—starts looking mighty good. Yet now that I’ve played through it a couple times I can’t help but feel that it was somewhat lacking, both in its design and its story. [Spoiler Alert]
Finally, the glow of Mass Effect 3 has worn off and after getting my ass thoroughly handed to me by three banshees in multiplayer multiple times, I can safely return to contemplating the meaning of life—I mean, ranking the side-characters in Mass Effect 2 (it’s like the same thing, right?). In my previous ranking for the first Mass Effect, I defined a side character as not “involved in the main quest in any way what-so-ever”, however this is somewhat more difficult to define, since loyalty missions—a new inclusion in ME2—can be ignored despite the fact that your teammate will end up dying from it. However, for my sanity, I won’t be allowing the inclusion of those in this list either.
Forming this list was still extremely hard as Bioware really upped the ante in terms of likable characters. Even in ambient dialogue! And with three new hubs/cities to explore, finding out more about the races in and of themselves was so interesting. Now I’m digressing (and this could go on for ages) so I’ll just start the list. Disagree? Remember someone I might have forgotten? Leave me a comment and we’ll chat. Oh, will we chat.
I don’t know if you know, but there’s a little game that just came out called Mass Effect 3. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Whether you’re one of those people that loath the ending or take out the RP elements entirely, I think one thing that everyone can agree on is that Bioware can make some damn good characters. The fact that they can keep an audience on for a trilogy of somewhat complex sci-fi space warfare games with said audience growing with each installment proves that (it sure as hell isn’t because of EA trying to make it a CoD rip-off). Unfortunately, despite my burning passion for this game I can’t play my shiny collector’s edition until July. So, I’m stuck here reminiscing about the past until I can recruit Garrus—I mean, until I can save the universe from the reapers.
Upon looking back, I’m surprised at just how many characters manage to stick in my mind, even when they’re not all that terribly important to the main plot. So, that’s what this article is: a celebration of the unsung characters of Mass Effect. As the title states, this is a list purely for the side characters. Not secondary characters. The way I differentiated between the two is as follows: if they are involved in the main quest in any way what-so-ever, then they can’t be on the list. This means no Captain Kirrahe. No Gianna Parasini. And no Lorik Qui’in or Nhilis, the two of which are my favorite characters in Mass Effect so that was rather painful to say. No, readers, we’re digging down deep and picking out the hidden treasures of this first installment. This is entirely my opinion, so if you totally disagree with me or have someone you think I should have put instead, drop us a line in the comments.
So, without further ado, let’s begin the top five side-characters of Mass Effect. Why top five? Because I had to cut myself off somewhere.
First off, I want to give an honorable mention to the Elcors of this game. None of them made the list, unfortunately, but these adorable, monotone mammoth-like aliens always have something to add to a conversation. They may not hold a seat on the counsel, but they hold a special place in my heart. Keep on truckin’, big guys.
5: That Hanar Preacher in the Presidium
Ha! Bet you thought you’d never see this guy again! I told you I was picking out
side-characters and damn it, you can’t get much more ‘side’ than this space jellyfish. He shows up at the very beginning of the game right outside the exit of the ward access in an offshoot mission that you don’t even have to do. He’s causing a problem for one of the C-Sec [Citadel Security. See: Police] officers because he doesn’t have a permit to be preaching. Now, he’s probably been there for a while, being ridiculed by the other passerby’s on the Citadel and has most certainly been kept a sharp eye on by the officer, but he keeps on with what he’s doing. Whether your Shepard allowed him to stay there and preach or sent him on his merry way, there’s something to be said for that Hanar’s perseverance.
If you remember anything about Flux, you remember this Volus’ voice wafting through the air with one thing on his mind: “We have some Quasar machines in the back, if you’re interested.” Although this self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades seems only interested in getting Shepard to gamble their money away, he’s actually very considerate of his customers and employees alike. The first quest in which you meet him, he’s helping you find one of his past employees, a girl named Jenna. She’s taken up a job at another club, the sketchier Chora’s Den, and although he’s not overtly anxious he still worries about her well being (of course, it probably helps that she was his best employee).
The second time, Shepard may or may not be implementing a cheating device in his Quasar machines. What I find interesting about this quest is that if you give Doran the cheating device, he doesn’t even go after the guy that made it even though he knows exactly who it is. Rather, he just expresses his disappointment. Either Doran is seriously trusting or there’s more to him than meets the eye. I’d place my bets on the latter. Besides that, Doran’s an excellent dancer. What can I say? I like a guy that knows how to boogie.
3: Emily Wong
Emily is one of the few side characters that manages to make her way back into the series during both Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 (though I can only trust the wiki for anything concerning the third one) and with her peppy, can-do attitude it’s easy to see why. With so much of the universe seeming corrupt, Emily is a pillar of honesty and a pure desire to make just one thing in the universe better. A pure desire that sometimes blinds her to a smarter way to go about her job.
Shepard first meets her in the Citadel as she tries to get a big break covering a story concerning corruption in the Citadel and Saren (the big bad of ME1). She asks Shepard to give her any information they can and at this point Shepard can choose to give her a OSD (‘Optical Storage Device’: think jump drive) from the skeezy club owner, Fist, who just either got beat down or shot in the face. You would think that holding onto this information would be somewhat dangerous for an unarmed reporter. Especially considering all the gangs on the Citadel. But, she doesn’t really seem to grasp that sometimes there are repercussions to actions. Nope. She’s just pleased as punch with her little find.
Helping her this one time apparently forms a bond between the two of you because later on she asks another favor of the space marine. This time she wants you to plant a bug in the traffic control center in C-Sec so she can expose unfair working conditions. Now the morality in this can be called into question, of course, but this ambiguity of motives (does she really want to improve life on the Citadel or does she just want a promotion) just makes her more interesting. I was more than elated to hear from her again in ME2, but you’ll have to see if she makes my ‘Top 5 Side Characters of Mass Effect 2’ list to hear about that. Or, you know, just play the game.
2: Rear Admiral Kahoku
Of all the quests in this game, I think Kahoku’s hit me the hardest. Shepard first runs into Kahoku in the Citadel Towers trying to gain audience with the Council so he can find out what happened to his platoon of marines. Upon discovering that they were all lured to their doom, Kahoku goes out on his own to seek revenge and closure. This ends poorly for him. Especially so since he was going against Cerberus, a richly funded, high-tech space terrorism—depending on the sector, this is debatable however—group.
The wiki states that Kahoku “fought with distinction against the batarians, earning the loyalty and respect of his men” and it’s clear by how Kahoku acts concerning his marines that he felt the same. They were his family: a clear parallel to Shepard’s own military family. I know that if my team happened to get abducted or tricked by another faction that I would go after them with no hesitation. However, while Shepard has the backing of several other people, Kahoku only has Shepard (if you choose to help). He is a man on a mission and he is forced to suffer alone as the Council refuses to even hear him out. He is the most tragic character in Mass Effect and seeing him go will never get any easier for me.
1: Stingy Turian Shop Employee
If there’s one character that my brother and I always talk about it’s this jaded sales associate on the Citadel. Don’t try looking for him in a quest: he’s not in one. He’s just a part of the ambient dialogue in the market sector along with his counterpart, ‘human guy that just wants a refund’. Amidst all of the serious plot going on, it’s nice to have little moments of humor that take no brain power to comprehend.
Despite the general consensus that these characters are awesome, there’s no good video on YouTube that goes those through their entire exchange. This was the best I could find, unfortunately.
And thus, we come to a close on some of the characters that you may have forgotten. If that’s the case, I hope I reminded you how awesome they were and that it sparks an urge for another play through or even an interest in picking up the game. Tune in next time when I look through Mass Effect 2 for another sack of hidden treasures.