Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Top 16 Mass Effect Squad Members Part I: The Bottom Five

Like all good space operas, Mass Effect is just as much about the people as it is about alien worlds, cosmic mysteries, and shooting cosmic mysteries on alien worlds.

While the crew of the SSV Normandy (for the uninitiated, that's the name of your spaceship) is filled with lovable characters (all right, it's mostly just Seth Green as the lovable pilot and a non-licensed knock off of Scotty that are truly lovable, but that's beside the point), it's really the squad that matters most to the story. Being a video game, almost all of the exciting things and moments of drama occur when you're fighting on foot. Concordantly, most of your time will be spent on these missions. So its important for the squad members you fight with to be unique, memorable and interesting. While almost every squad member in Mass Effect 1 & 2 succeeds at the former, there's some struggling with the latter. Obviously, there will be spoilers ahead. If you were planning on trying out the best games of 2007 and 2010 but never found time to do it, stop reading now. Without further ado, let's dive into the first part of a comprehensive ranking of the best, the worst, and the most mediocre of what Mass Effect can offer.

16. Jacob Taylor (Mass Effect 2)

Remember when I said most of the squad members were unique and memorable? Well, Jacob Taylor is the reason why it couldn't be all the squad members. He is so bland, so devoid of passion and intrigue that when I initially discussed this article with the Bean, we honestly forgot he was in the game at all. The thing is every other character has strong principles and motives and display superb talent before they join your squad. But that's not the case with Jacob. Jacob winds up contradicting his own viewpoints a lot. He joined up with Cerberus (a radical pro-human group) because they get results. So he's an action first, damn the consequences kinda guy, right? But then he decides that he's super hesitant about following the orders of their leader. So he's a man of honor then? No, because before the game, he was a thug on the Alliance payroll who took missions the Alliance couldn't officially sanction. As for his abilities, he's probably the least qualified person on the Normandy in that he is neither a telekinetic crusader, spec ops veteran, or vigilante who simultaneously fought three companies of interstellar mercenaries to a stalemate all by himself, but he was the main character of the terrible iPhone game Mass Effect Galaxies. So I guess that was his main qualification. In a nutshell, Jacob can't decide if he's a rebel or a conformist, has no real interesting back story and is not particularly clever or smart. I guess he's supposed to be an everyman, but some convictions wouldn't hurt.

15. Kaidan Alenko (Mass Effect 1)

Hispanic? Caucasian? Italian? All of the above?
For point of contrast to Jacob, let's look at Kaidan Alenko. Sure, Kaidan is a generic blob of sentimental mush and abs so generically and omni-racially handsome that he is meant to draw a bit of affection from all the lady types, but he does have one great passion: whining about his past. Kaidan is what the game calls a Sentinel, a support class that is part engineer and part biotic (read: Jedi force powers). As a part of the first generation of human biotics, he got to be a part of the brutal learning curve as we discovered ways to tap into a person's psychic powers without making their own head explode. Every time you strike up a conversation with him, it inevitably steers towards his time at Jump Zero, a biotic boot camp, and how hard his teacher was and how his teacher always picked on him. Look, you survived and can now destroy things with your mind as well as having a proficient understanding of engineering and have served in some of the most prestigious posts. Most people would envy an educational background like that. Basically, I'm saying man up and quit your perpetual whining, you pansy! The other thing I hate about Kaidan is every time you talk to him on the Normandy, he wipes his brow. It feels like that scene in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy is loudly announcing how many times he's lifted his weights to impress the lady anchor. I'm sure it was very strenuous for Kaidan to stand in front of the kitchen table, not doing anything in particular. He's a poser in addition to being a pansy. No wonder your Turian drill sergeant hated your guts! You're a disgrace to R. Lee Ermey!

14. Samara (Mass Effect 2)
Weird. Suddenly, I can't remember why I disliked this character so much.
The bottom two squad members have both been dudes designed to make the ladies swoon. But, the English Muffin Power Hour is an equal opportunity offender. Samara is an asari justicar, a biotic of incredible power who has sworn to spend the rest of her life ridding the galaxy of evil and living her life to a strict creed. Naturally, that creed must dictate that you wear an outfit with a v-neck that plunges to your belly button. Nothing says "highly respected and disciplined warrior" than that! After all, it's not like there are any vital organs in the chest that you might want to protect. Oh wait, I forgot about the heart. Yeah, I suppose if you got shot there you'd sorta die in moments. But what do I know. I'm not the one whose spent centuries crusading against evil, immune to galactic laws. And that's the other problem with Samara. Evil is defined as"everyone who violates my creed". I'm pretty sure that's been the justification for some of the worst things humanity has ever done. Worse yet, they never really go into detail about the specifics of her creed or how you can avoid violating it. All I know is that at one point, she says her creed will force her to kill a cop, unless the crime gets solved by Shepard before the next day. So I guess she fights evil and corruption, unless someone else does it, and at the point "Meh". From a personality standpoint, she's about as interesting to talk to as Mace Windu. You might be tempted to say that would be very cool, but that's because you're mistaking Mace Windu for Samuel L. Jackson and they're not the same. One is a badass who yells at people and gets to hit them and has a lot of passion, the other just sits in his chair and says stuff about the Dark Side.

The other thing I dislike about Samara will take a bit of explaining. The real problem is she contradicts everything we know about the asari. For the uninitiated (or normal fans who don't remember tons of details of the dozen cultures of a made up galaxy), the asari are your prime example of a peaceful people. They're a species of all women who can live for hundreds and hundreds of years and they reproduce via psychic connection and intense feelings of mutual love. As a result, they can conceive children with other aliens and the child will turn out asari. This is encouraged from a cultural standpoint because the child gains the genetic strengths of the other parent's species. So there's a biological imperative for asari to be an open and accepting people. Why would a culture which reveres diversity and acceptance view a justicar as a good thing? A justicar, by definition, crushes a diversity in thought and does not answer to any diplomatic authority. Stunningly, other asari revere the justicars because "they would never abuse their power." That's the worst reason you could possibly come up with! None of it makes sense. On the other hand, her loyalty mission does have Shepard hit up a bar and mack on some fly space honeys. So she gets points for that. It's more than Jacob or Kaidan ever did for me.

13. Jack (Mass Effect 2)

Stupid Jack... Oh God, she heard me! Not my face!
 Jack aka Subject Zero was the result of a Cerberus Black Ops project to create the ultimate human biotic. As you might imagine, this involves doing many horrible things to a small child so they'll get stronger, Spartan style. Because they don't call them Ethical Ops for a reason. Like Kaidan, she keeps bringing up her traumatic childhood. Unlike Kaidan, she actually has an iota of passion for something: wanton destruction and chaos (also, tattoos!). When you recruit her, she's spending time in space prison for crashing a space station into a moon. Basically, her entire character arc consists of Shepard (depending on his or her own tendencies) that maybe being a raging sociopath all the time is the source of all your problems or that maybe you should be a raging sociopath with other raging sociopaths. Her loyalty mission is okay, but it has the contrived twist of there being other people at Black Ops Daycare and, of course, they had it significantly worse because they were not being trained to become the ultimate biotic weapon. Of course, underneath all the raging sociopathy is a sensitive soul that likes poetry and just needs a shoulder to cry on. I swear, Jack was written by and for all the people who listen to Linkin Park.

That said, she is internally consistent, consistent with the lore, and has a decent loyalty mission. It's just every line of dialogue she says makes me want to karate chop her in the throat.

12. Legion

I know where I'd shoot if I had to fight this guy.
 Legion is, potentially, an extremely interesting character. He's a Geth, the robots who were the bad guys in Mass Effect 1, but he fights on your side. The problem is he's introduced in one of the last missions in the game. There's no hints of his existence before this mission at any point in the game. Sure, he is featured prominently in the first teaser trailer, but that doesn't count. In the game, he shows up in one of the last few missions, joins your team, and decides a mission later that he trusts you completely and absolutely. In the interim, he does his best to contradict everything you learned in Mass Effect 1 about the Geth. I suppose you could call him "revelatory" but I call him "confusing". So the first thing he says which makes no sense is that the Geth are a peaceful race who have been taking care of the Quarian homeworld (the Quarians created the geth) ever since the Geth drove them into exile (in a giant gypsy armada called the Flotilla, which travels the galaxy, begging for scraps). Apparently, in the 300 years since this happened, no one actually asked the Geth what they wanted. And the Geth decided to be peaceful by maintaining radio silence and quickly destroying any ships that wander into their territory. Because of how peaceful and diplomatic they are. But no, in 300 years of space diplomacy, the Geth really didn't mention they didn't need the planet they took over and were keeping it tidy for the Quarians return. I guess they didn't see what possible benefit that could have in diplomatic negotiations. Then, Legion says that the army of Geth you fought in the first game was only about 5% of their population. So it sure was nice of the 95% of peaceful Geth to just let their radical brothers go and wage interstellar war in their name. By the way, that sure was an impressive armada the 5% of the Geth were able to muster for being such a peaceful people. Lastly, Legion is unique because he's the only Geth that's capable of operating efficiently by himself (long story short, geth share computing power to make their brains work, so more Geth are actually exponentially smarter). So I have to ask, why aren't all geth programmed this way. If you had the technology to run a computer intelligently by itself as well as in a group, why wouldn't you make that the standard for all your robots?

To Legion's credit, he raises some interesting questions and his loyalty mission, while coming out of nowhere, raises one of the absolute best moral dilemmas I've seen in any game. I'd comment on his personality or character growth, but he's just not around long enough for me to have a sense of either. It would be like if, at the end of The Two Towers, an orc came to help Aragorn at Helm's Deep because most orcs are good. It raises too many questions and leaves no time for answers!

That concludes the Bottom 5. Next up, we handle the Mediocre Six! The nitpicks shall abound as I try to differentiate between characters of similar quality. It'll be crazy!


Cloud said...

Never heard much picking apart of Mass Effect characters before but interesting and humorous points! Can't wait to hear more

Teachermedic said...

Agreed, however, I would have put Miranda and Jacob next to each other at the bottom of the interesting and effective character ladder. Miranda complains too much about how "perfect" she was made and how that's such a bother and strain on her AND she'll die because contrary to her own belief system, she's actually not that powerful.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit, Legion is one of my favorite characters. He even has a bit of humor in his dialogue which makes him even cooler in my mind.

And if you couldn't tell already, this is Brandon, who Eric has pegged as having weird tastes in all things video games/movies.

Dan Jones said...

In my opinion, I would use the same characters, but in different order. I think that having a lame backstory and being so constantly full of vitriol that she tells you to "F off" everytime she sees you is enough to put Jack in last.

Having no story, in my opinion, is better than Jacks story.

To top it all off, she's not even useful in game. Samara is far better a biotic (which is her only saving grace).

Hunter Barry said...

Cloud: The good news is it only gets better from here.

Mac: I'll get to Miranda soon.

Brandon: Legion was definitely the best written of the Bottom 5 and certainly one of the more interesting characters. The thing is he just raises WAY too many questions and is barely in the game. He would probably be higher if you got him at the midway point of the game.

Dan: You know, I'd actually forgotten all about that. Her entire personality is so grating that I honestly lost track of the hatred. However, at least she doesn't drag an entire culture down with her and, in universe, pretty much everyone hates Jack.

Charles McReary said...

I like Jack. Not at first obviously but when you peel away the layers of bitchiness and hostility she's got some redeeming qualities. Plus she's kinda hot and well voiced. As for Kaidan and Jacob, fuck em. They grade out somewhere between an elcor and a soggy napkin in terms of personality. Kaidan abandons you in the second game and bitches you out in the third. Jacob's just generally a huge prick when he doesn't get his way (Plus he cheats on Femshep like a giant toolbag).