A lot of words spring to mind when I think of Mass Effect 3. Compelling, moving, missed opportunity…many others. All in all, Mass Effect 3 was a great experience for me. Most of the story was satisfying, and helped to tie up some loose ends of some very important story arcs. I won’t go in depth about the endings in this particular article, suffice to say that I wouldn’t have concluded it in that fashion. Still, it was a fun game, with much improved combat mechanics that finally came into their own, some of the most emotionally impactful moments in the entire series, and a delightful and surprisingly rich multiplayer mode that kept me playing well into the following year. That last bit was the most baffling, as I am in no way a great fan of the typical multiplayer focused games of the recent generations. I definitely felt that I at least achieved my money’s worth by the end of the experience as a whole.
However, when I look back on my personal experience with the end of the Mass Effect trilogy, I find myself getting a sour taste in my mouth. That is largely because for all of the things the game does great, there are equal amounts that were not well hashed out, and seemed like very confusing choices for a stellar company like Bioware to make at the tail end of their best selling IP to date.
A lot of people first think about the endings, true. I can’t blame them. It’s a big issue, and it has snow-balled into one of video games’ biggest controversies. Then there was all of the business with the galactic readiness not making much of a difference, the toned down conversations and lack of substantial bonus quests. I’m not going to talk about any of that.
Bioware have always been touted for having immensely deep characters with complex personalities. For the most part, they did an amazing job of getting me hooked on these people and falling in love with their personalities. So much so, that it is very difficult imagining myself enjoying any future entries into the series nearly as much without the neurotic goofiness of Mordin, the charming kid sister dynamic of Tali, or the ultimate bromance with my ultimate wingman, Garrus Vakarian.
That being said, I think this is one of the largest areas that Mass Effect 3 suffers. In a way, they sort of pigeon-holed themselves with the complexity of the suicide mission from the previous game, offering players so many variables, with so many resultant possibilities. It was impossible to guarantee that any of Mass Effect 2’s phenomenal character roster would be returning for the sequel. On the other hand, this is an excuse that is often used in defense of Bioware in the final roster of usable squadmates to take with you, and it doesn’t make sense.
GARRUS AND TALI. Garrus and Tali are fully capable of dying in the suicide mission, yet they remain as the two constants in your squad for the entire series. If they die in ME2, their places are blocked out in the squad select screen, damning you to settle with the remaining other 3 (or 4, assuming you acquired the From Ashes DLC) members of an already limited group. Truly the darkest timeline.
Why then, were we not allowed to utilize these people who we worked so hard in cultivating friendships with, learning their backstories, and ultimately ensuring they survived? It just felt wrong. If we managed to keep these people alive, the best we could hope for was some one-off little quest that essentially explains what they’ve been up to and you go your separate ways. Oh, and your war assets increase, of course.
What we got to replace these individuals was so…unsatisfying. Aside from your OG crew from ME1 (which I totally understand and love their inclusion,) and Javik, of course. The new introductions to your squad so late in a series, and with so many other potentially better candidates to include, was jarring, to say the least.
James is one of the worst squadmates in any Mass Effect game, even worse than the emotionally vacant Jacob Taylor in my eyes. Freddie Prinze Jr. actually voiced James adequately (unlike his inconsistent attempt at Iron Bull, from Dragon Age: Inquisition,) and he was provided with a moderately interesting story and a fresher perspective of the Mass Effect universe. He had much more personality than Jacob, did. However, it was so much so that it was unwelcome, and felt hugely out of place with the tone of the rest of the game. What is weird is that he is pretty useful in combat, and his abilities synergize well with the rest of the team. Still, once the Mars mission is complete, I never have anything else to do with him. He is just a big ball of bro-ey, Jersey Shore, douchey stereotypes, and it’s really a shame. He talks a lot, but there is no substance there. He tries to be witty, and to add a flair of comic relief, when multiple characters pull it off better. I don’t think I would hate him nearly as much if he were introduced in an earlier game. We just didn’t need that at all. The fact that he took the place of several other characters I loved and helped save in ME2 broke my heart a little. It sucks, because its clear that Bioware was invested in this character and worked a lot on making something appealing to ladies or newcomers to the series. It was just the most unnecessary use of energy that could have been utilized elsewhere.
Then we have EDI. I don’t know. I just, didn’t care at ALL about her story arc. Her presence in physical form existed solely as a plot device. To reinforce this theme of uniting organics and synthetics in glorious harmony (which was already beautifully handled with the Geth/Quarian conflict,) EDI’s inclusion seemed unnecessary, and a little too creepy, and at other points entirely stupid. First, her body is entirely hypersexualized. We already had the Asari to ogle at, which were of dubious design to begin with. Including an interesting character in the shell of little more than a sexbot was kind of insulting. It was even a little insulting that they would force this romance between EDI and Joker upon us. I get that a lot of people thought it was cute or whatever. I just kept thinking that the developers didn’t have any respect for Joker, and that the only way he could achieve a meaningful relationship was through an AI with a robo-bosom. Her relationship with Joker seemed little more than a scapegoat to open our eyes to the prospect of Synthesis, which I still maintain to this day is super weird and disturbing. This is another instance of adding something new when there was already rich content to utilize. A trend that Bioware would see all the way through to the conclusion.
My main gripe with EDI, though, stems from one scene in particular that was added into the Extended Cut DLC. During Priority: Earth, when you make the final push to the beam, Bioware decided to add a little segment in to justify your squadmates’ presence on the Normandy during the epilogue of the game. Harbinger’s laser flips over a Mako, which causes an explosion that ends up injuring the ground team that you have brought with you. The Normandy somehow leaves combat out of the blue, lands right in the thick of the action, and picks up your injured crew. There are several things wrong with this. The Normandy arrives on scene immediately, so fast that it was basically impossible. Harbinger doesn’t attack you or the ship and even lets it fly away after the ship and the Reaper seem to stare down each other. It’s the most important part of the whole game, and your team wouldn’t just leave you alone to do it no matter what. They wouldn’t risk the lives of the entire galaxy just because one person is injured. Anderson even insisted that there could be no retreat. The biggest problem of all, though, is that if you bring EDI with you and SHE gets injured, the same thing happens. Shepard risks the lives of everyone on the Normandy to help evacuate this robotic platform. If EDI’s platform were destroyed, nothing would happen. Her entire consciousness is uploaded ON THE NORMANDY. So, even bringing the ship (EDI’s REAL body) down to Earth to rescue EDI’s humanoid platform is just obnoxiously ridiculous. I was kind of embarrassed when I found this out, because it was clear that Bioware didn’t care about detail or logic when trying to cover up their own plotholes. I don’t know about you, but this ruined the game even more for me.
I could write a book about my issues of the game. As I said, all in all I enjoyed it.
Because I think a major issue with the game was with your provided squadmates, I decided to compile a list of much cooler characters that I feel would have made for a more interesting party. These character suggestions would essentially just be replacing James and EDI, because I didn’t have a problem with anybody else. In a perfect world, we’d be allowed as extensive of choices as we got in the second game, but I’m getting off topic again. I’ll include people that were in the actual game, and reason why they weren’t added in the squad as well. These are in no particular order.
(1) Urdnot Wrex
Wrex came to mind immediately. He was a part of your OG crew that all returned from the first game, but was not included in your party. How you aren’t provided with a Krogan, one of the coolest alien races in the whole damn series, is beyond me. Granted, I can understand the reasons for potentially not utilizing Uncle Urdnot. First, many people may have killed Wrex way back on Virmire, so he may not have even been accessible. I understand that, but you also lose either Kaidan or Ashley on Virmire as well. I’ll also again reference the suicide mission, and how Garrus and Tali were included in your squad despite their potential for dying. There’s also the genophage, which if Wrex is still alive, plays a major part of. He’s a busy guy, I know. Leading an entire race and what not. Still, once you complete that genophage arc, why the hell not? The fate of the GALAXY is at stake. Who better to help you mow through Reapers than a dude who killed a Thresher Maw single handedly? Tali is still part of the group, and her entire people are entangled in a threat of war with the Geth. I just don’t get it.
(2) Urdnot Grunt
This is another no-brainer, and ultimately who James Vega ends up replacing. Grunt may have been a simple character, with arguably one of the least complex character arcs in the series. Still, he’s damn good fun. He’s bred for combat, and shows his mettle when facing off against the Ravagers inside the lair of the Rachni queen. I can’t see James pulling that off. His inclusion just makes more sense. Why waste time creating this other character with similar abilities when you have it all right there? They could have taken the opportunity and flushed out Grunt’s story even further. Instead we get yet another human, further limiting the diversity of the entire squad in a game universe literally ripe with awesome alien races.
(3) Ka’hairal Balak, the Batarian Terrorist
This would be one of the more interesting choices in my eyes. If you don’t remember Balak, he was the leader of the Batarian terrorist group that hijacked an asteroid in the Bring Down the Sky DLC from Mass Effect 1. He was an extremist who wanted to avenge the people who died by the hands of the Alliance during the Skyllian Blitz, and the retaliatory strike on Torfan. If you play the DLC, you help stop his attempt of driving the X57 asteroid into the human colony on Terra Nova. If you let him get away, Balak pops back up again in Mass Effect 3, threatening to kill Shepard for all he’s done to his people. Based upon your character’s backstory, you were either part of the Skyllian Blitz, or the raid on Torfan. He holds you accountable for that, as well as thwarting his plans back on the asteroid. He spouts a sad story about how he is now the highest ranking officer in the Hegemony, and laments at the loss of most of his people. As Shepard, you can either kill him, or convince him to contribute his remaining forces to the war effort. The reasons for including him in your squad are numerous. You could finally learn about Batarians, who aside from the limiting codex entry, are fairly unknown to the player. They get a bad rap from pretty much everyone in the galaxy, since many of them are slavers and pirates, but Balak had the opportunity to open up a different perspective on this potentially misunderstood race. There would also be an interesting dynamic there for story development. Unlike most of your other squad in the entire series, Balak hates your guts and everything you stand for. It would have been great to see them unite over time and find common ground, and learn more about who Commander Shepard was before the events of Mass Effect 1. It just would have been immensely cool, and could have been one of the best squad interactions in the entire series.
(4) Mordin Solus
This is pretty much a no-brainer. Mordin was one of my favorite additions to Mass Effect 2. He was quirky, yet dangerous. Pragmatic and logical, yet a fan of singing show tunes. As one of the main scientists involved with the Krogan Genophage, Mordin provided an interesting window on the other side of the conflict. Your time spent with Mordin helps to change his views, resulting in him coming to the conclusion that the Genophage was a mistake, and needed to be rectified. I can’t argue that his moments in Mass Effect 3 are some of the best of the entire series. That scene in the elevator before he activates the Shroud was amazing. I’m not saying that shouldn’t have been there. I just think the scene would have had even more of an impact if you could have played with him as a member in your party up until that point, and you had to deal with his sudden absence after the fact. It would have been a sad reminder, and could have further tied into Shepard coping with the losses of war, which was a heavy prevalent theme in the game.
Instead of using EDI as a scapegoat for the Reapers flawed design, Bioware could have relied on their number one piece of compelling evidence that shows their assumptions were false. Legion and the Quarian/Geth conflict were some of the most interesting story elements in the Mass Effect series. Including Legion could have further hashed out the lore of the Geth, and would have helped to make his sacrifice on Rannoch all the more meaningful. While some may argue that including characters in your party just to kill them off doesn’t make sense, I really think it would have added a new element to the story. Instead of the Suicide Mission, where you can successfully make it out with your squad intact, Mass Effect 3 could have forced you to lose some from your character select along the way. Garrus even mentions that there will be casualties. I think I would have preferred something like this.
Same reasons that I have for Legion and Mordin. Sadly, Thane’s presence felt really tacked on. Most of his time in Mass Effect 3 he is just waiting by a window in the Huerta Memorial Hospital on the Citadel, and then sacrifices himself to save the Salarian Councilor in a unnecessary but cool fight with the equally tacked on Kai Leng. I wasn’t a fan of that whole sequence. The whole thing just felt sloppy. Thane deserved better than that.
I think you may be seeing a trend here. Including pretty much any character from Mass Effect 2 (aside from Jacob and maybe even Miranda) would have been an improvement over what we got with EDI and James. I just really enjoyed the discussions I had with Samara, and wanted to learn more about the Justicars. They’re basically Jedi, why wouldn’t you want that on your team?
(8) Major Kirrahe
Ahh, Virmire. The good times of Mass Effect, back when I felt like my choices really mattered. The Virmire mission really helped Mass Effect stand out as a stellar representation of what a story-driven RPG could be. Captain Kirrahe (later promoted to Major) led the Salarian Special Tasks Group teams on the assault of Saren’s Krogan breeding site. He provides an epic speech about how before they were known for covert ops, the Salarians were soldiers who held the line. Providing his team lives, Kirrahe shows up again in Mass Effect 3 to aid in support on Sur’Kesh. Kirrahe would just be an interesting team addition for potential synergy with other squad members, and could provide new and interesting information on the inner workings of the STG and Salarian culture, which is surprisingly untouched upon (considering they are one of the main council races.)
While most Quarians seemed to have a mix of Middle Eastern/European voices, Adam Baldwin contributed his gruff American voice to the tenacious Quarian Soldier Kal’Reegar. For some reason, it worked! Willing to lay his life on the line for his men at all times, and not one to shy away from a rocket launcher, Reegar would have been a great addition to the squad. All we got from him in Mass Effect 3 was an upsetting news report describing his valiant death. He would have been a much more interesting crew member than James, and could have had interesting demolitions related powers that could have added more variety to the squad combat. Sort of like an N7 Demolisher, if you were familiar with the Mass Effect multiplayer.
(10) Admiral Anderson
If we have to have ANOTHER Alliance soldier, then why not include your OG Captain from the first game? It would have been great to see a grizzled, former Spectre hopeful take it straight to the Reapers side-by-side with Commander Shepard. Instead, he foolishly…nay, INSANELY stays behind on Earth to fight there. Why? It’s clear that Earth is being decimated. What is a group of ground troops going to do to Reaper ships? It’d help take the series full circle back to the original. Plus, we’d get more Keith David. Who the hell could argue with that?
What about you guys? Any particular characters you would have liked to see as squadmates? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!