While You Were Romancing Space Racists In Mass Effect, I Was Busy Saving The Galaxy
I had never played Mass Effect before the release of Legendary Edition – although I did once guess the plot from ten random screenshots – but I’ve certainly heard a lot about it over the years. From the way people talk about these games, I understood them to be high budget dating sims with a dash of running and gunning to just mix things up. I expected some amount of interplanetary political intrigue and zero-g fisticuffs just from the box art, but all anyone has ever really told me about Mass Effect is that the ending sucks and there’s loads of cool aliens to bonk.
Imagine my surprise then when I reached the climactic battle in the first Mass Effect and realized that not a single man, woman, or whatever Wrex is had made even the slightest pass at me. Not one wink, not one lingering brush on my shoulder, nothing. It’s made me terribly self-conscious about my Shepard, and frankly, rather confused. The crew of the Normandy has nothing but the utmost respect for my Commander Shepard and his position as a Spectre, but as far as I can tell, all of his relationships are purely professional and strictly platonic. Meanwhile, the rest of you seem to be out there having space orgies and putting the ass in Mass Effect. What gives? Was it something I said?
I checked the guides afterward, like you do, and discovered that the difference between a thriving romantic relationship and inceldom is nothing more than a couple of casual check-ins back on the Normandy. I now understand that if I had just popped in on Ashley to ask her about the weather now and then, I very well could have found my soulmate. It doesn’t seem like it would have been much trouble, but in my defense, there was a lot going on at the time. I hardly think it’s fair to expect me to keep up with non-critical path fraternization when the fate of the galaxy is at stake.
The opening of Mass Effect does a lot of setup in a very short amount of time. We’re introduced to Shepard, a tough-as-nails veteran whose next mission will prove whether or not he’s got what it takes to join an elite group of government agents with total authority. That mission turns out to be an absolute nightmare as Shepard and his crew blast their way through waves of synthetic soldiers and zombified civilizations while an ancient cosmic threat looms overhead. A new ally is assassinated, and his betrayer, Saren, is revealed to be the game’s main antagonist and conspirator against all organic life in the galaxy. All of this before Shepard receives a vision from the beacon and becomes the chosen one.
The Eden Prime mission sets a frenetic tone that carried me through the rest of the game at an exhilarating pace as I went on to oust Saren from the Council and quickly work to uncover his wicked scheme. The stakes couldn’t be higher and time is clearly of the essence, so my question is, at what point during the course of my mission to save the galaxy from the Reapers was I meant to stop and ask Liara if she’s having a good day?
It isn’t just that stepping away from my work would have felt inappropriate given the circumstances, it also would have been totally out of character for Shepard. I took the Paragon route and I showed compassion whenever I could, but there’s no denying that Shepard is a pretty no-nonsense kind of guy. Maybe I would have seen a completely different side of him had I took the time to stop and smell the space roses, but after a dozen hours of indiscriminate killing and shouting his credentials at people all across the galaxy, I never once got the sense that there was anything going on in Shepard’s mind beyond the task at hand. I can’t even imagine Shepard and Liara bumping and grinding at Flux, nor do I have any idea when they would have found the time to go clubbing. Would that have been before the Thorian was enslaving the colonists at Zhu’s Hope with mind control to use them as meat shields against the geth, or after? Maybe I could have ignored the distress call from Virmire for a while and let Captain Kirrahe get slaughtered by his own indoctrinated men while I put the moves on Ashley. I don’t know, I just went and did my job instead. Guess I’ll die alone.
If I’m being honest, I probably would have ignored Ashley and Liara even if I had known when and how to romance them. Neither one of them really seemed like my type, and there’s two more games ahead of me so I don’t mind keeping my options open. I’ve heard that the romance scenarios are built out a bit better in the sequels, but if they don’t find some way to, at the very least, set the stage for new relationships somewhere in the main campaign, there’s a good chance my Shepard will continue to stay focused on fighting the good fight, blissfully unaware of all the romantic opportunities passing him by. This may say more about me than it does the game, but if one of these lovely ladies wants to give Shepard a smooch, I’m going to need her to just come right out and say it. I got 99 problems, and they all work for Sovereign. Miss me with the optional small talk, please.
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