Mass Effect Win: Awesome things that aren’t FemShep

Okay, guys. I promise this will be my last post about Mass Effect for a while. I just wanted to round up with some non-FemShep related awesomeness, lest people think that the only reason I played the Mass Effect games was an unholy obsession with Jennifer Hale.

Now I’ll have to add here, since I do mention some of the ME2 DLC, that I was pretty selective in what DLC I was willing to pay for. I didn’t pay for extra costumes, even though it would have been a worthwhile investment for Samara, Jack, and Miranda. I also didn’t spring for the Kasumi DLC. So if there’s something that you like particularly about a DLC not mentioned, it’s probable that I never played it.

Lair of the Shadow Broker: SO MUCH WIN

Okay. So I’ll confess that Liara wasn’t exactly my favorite character in the first Mass Effect. She was pretty useful mechanically, since my first playthrough was as a soldier, and it wasn’t like she was actively offensive like Ashley. (I know, I know. Some people love Ashley. Her xenophobia completely turned me off.) But I couldn’t escape the feeling that she was a bit fetishized for male audiences since her innocence and youth were constantly played up and the dialogue between her and Shepard is decidedly awkward in many places.

So I was definitely pleasantly surprised at the transition Liara had apparently undergone between the first Mass Effect and ME2. Rather than being some awkward innocent pining after Shepard, Liara had come into her own as an independent character with her own goals – goals that didn’t necessarily align with Shepard’s. That was great in and of itself – it’s always refreshing to encounter female characters who have goals of their own rather than just being like I WANT WHATEVER THE HERO WANTS TEE HEE.

But the thing I especially loved about Liara’s motivations in Lair of the Shadow Broker is that the mission is essentially a “save the damsel” mission turned on its head. I love the fact that Liara is out to save Feron, her (male) friend that helped recover Shepard’s corpse and was captured by the Shadow Broker in the process. What’s even better is that Feron is just Liara’s friend, not anything more. It turned the “save the damsel” stereotype on its head in every way possible, which was thoroughly enjoyable.

Yes I realize how weird this makes me.

The premise of the mission completely rocked, and BioWare delivered on execution as well. I wouldn’t have believed that the Liara from the first Mass Effect could have been capable of becoming the new Shadow Broker, but I could certainly believe it of the Liara you encounter in ME2. The emphasis that they placed on Liara’s biotic powers was certainly cool, especially when she pulled stunts like jumping two stories out of a window. But I also really appreciated, again, the fact that Liara was being written as someone who had found an identity separate from Shepard, despite their interests coinciding for the sake of the mission.

There were also some really great character interactions between Shepard and Liara, one of my favorites being the car chase and the banter between the two of them. It was something straight out of a comedy action film, and I found it especially cool while playing FemShep since it’s the sort of banter you associate with either Male-Male or Male-Female action heroes. Certainly not the kind of dialogue you’d expect out of two women.

In addition to badass Liara, we also got to see a female rogue Specter-turned-terrorist – yet another example of an non-typical gender role. I realize this is dating me, but I was a bit reminded of Dennis Hopper’s villain from Speed – the cop-turned-terrorist. The Specter in Lair of the Shadow Broker might have had slightly more noble intentions (possibly), but the fact remains that “terrorist” is a role that still gets cast almost exclusively as male. Calling the Specter a “rogue agent” makes it a bit more normal for her to be female, but the fact that she isn’t sexualized at any point during the mission still makes her atypical in my books and pretty awesome as a female villain.

And of course, who could forget the completely fucking awesome moment at the end where Liara is standing in front of the bank of monitors as she takes up the mantle of the Shadow Broker?

It was so unbelievably epic and very well done. And the whole mission really gave Liara a new depth that you don’t see often with female characters. So from start to finish, Lair of the Shadow Broker gets two thumbs up from me.

Tali: simultaneously competent, endearing, and pretty badass

So I know that there has been the assertion on the part of some that Tali is an attempt to appeal to moe fanboys. And here’s the thing. If anyone said that about Liara in the first Mass Effect, I’d probably nod and say “yup”. But Tali? No friggin’ way.

Here’s the thing. In the first Mass Effect, Tali is definitely a bit naive, and certainly displays signs of having been sheltered. But when you think about Tali’s background, having been raised in an isolationist environment as part of the Quarian Migrant Fleet, her actions in the first game are very much consistent with the logic of her background. But even while I would call Tali from the first game sheltered, I would never call her “vulnerable” or “incapable” or “cute”. As a Quarian newly on pilgrimage, Tali decided she needed to take steps to take down Sarin, the biggest threat in known space besides Sovereign at the time of her pilgrimage. Just to put that in perspective, that would be like an Amish teenager deciding that they wanted to take down, I don’t know, Osama bin Ladin (if he weren’t dead) or Qadaffi or something.

Also, please remember that while anime and gaming are both subsets of nerddom, the overlap is NOT as high as you might think. Being an ex-anime geek and a gamer, I know that the vast majority of gamers in my sphere of friends are not at all conversant with anime tropes. And for the most part, anime tropes don’t translate well to Western culture. So the whole Tali = moe? I’m not buying it. Especially not when you consider the Tali you encounter in Mass Effect 2:

In Mass Effect 2, Tali has outgrown the uncertain, sheltered worldview that she had in the first game. She is a competent, confident leader in her own right. During her recruitment mission, almost her entire team dies helping her to accomplish the objectives set out by the Quarian Admiralty Board. But rather than beating herself up, the only moment of regret that Tali evinces is when she says that she hopes that the data she obtains was worth the loss of life. At no point does Tali beat herself up, at no point does Tali whine that she made mistakes, or that this is proof that she shouldn’t have lead the mission. She doesn’t question her skills, and she doesn’t second-guess herself. Tali’s team members willingly die for her, which establishes her as the kind of leader people trust enough to sacrifice themselves to preserve.

That sort of quality isn’t common. Miranda outright says that she doesn’t have it, and Samara often talks about how she’s used to working alone. So the fact that Tali is someone who can command that sort of loyalty from her own people gives her extra dimension and makes her a very excellent female character.

(I lied a little) The romance with Garrus

Okay, I lied a little when I said this was non-FemShep related win. So I’ll keep this part brief. In my Renegade playthrough, I had intended to romance Jacob, but he is apparently super-difficult to romance and something went wrong. So I wound up romancing Garrus, since I decided my FemShep would be more likely to trust someone she knew from before.

Anyhow, I found the romance with Garrus to be very cool because it was a nice reversal of typical romance gender roles. Shepard, being Shepard, was of course very smooth, very confident, very self-assured. And Garrus was, endearingly, unbelievably awkward in his responses.

It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen much in typical romance stories. Pretty much every romance comedy ever has arrogant or very self-assured male characters romancing nervous, insecure, or outright neurotic female characters. So seeing the tables turned was cool, and very, very funny. Yet another instance of good writing on BioWare’s part too, since I’ll admit that I was reluctant to romance a non-human, but in the end it wound up feeling very genuine.

And that’s enough of that.

I promise that now that I’m done rambling about Mass Effect that I’ll move on to other topics.