For my first ever Bioware game, part of me was a little upset that the pedigree of the game was somewhat compromised by the writing that had gone into it. More than the glitches or the tendency for characters to look hilariously expressionless while in the midst of clearly good voice acting (seriously, Natalie ‘Margaery Tyrell’ Dormer is voicing Dr. Lexi… how cool is that?!) The writing was a mess of being either too earnest, too lazy but sometimes just completely cheesy and cliched during the main campaign, but really, what kept my attention on the game was the side missions… or more specifically, the missions you do for your squad mates.
In an age where diversity is revered more often than not, I’m finding that you really can’t get more diverse than a Mass Effect game. After all, your team consists (nearly) all races, human and alien, all sexualities, realistic approaches to relationships… the only thing missing (unless I haven’t come across a character like it yet) is a transgender character – though I am aware that Dragon Age: Inquisition has that covered. Its not a necessity, and it definitely does not detract from the experience at all, but perhaps I haven’t found them, or that’s a character for another time. I get the feeling Bioware doesn’t really shy away from those kinds of issues concerning identity and sexuality for very long. Getting back to your team, one of the things that surprised me was the fact that you really can flirt with everyone in the game, but rather than it turning into one poly amorous love spaceship, the characters react based on what they identify as.
Liam and Cora are straight as poles, but Gil and Suvi will respond to your flirting if you’re the same gender as them. Peebee is just… Peebee, and you will have to choose carefully if you want to have a meaningful relationship with her rather than a casual fling. Vetra will respond to your advances whether your male or female as a slow burning romance, but Jaal is only interested in female Ryder but again you will have to work hard for his trust before you can romance him properly. Drack and Lexi will just brush you off, and as far as I’m aware, Kallo just isn’t interested – I think he’s married to the The Tempest in his heart of hearts so why get in the way of a good thing. But it goes more deeply than that; they actually respond to what kind of Ryder you are. A Ryder who follows her heart more often than not is going to do better with Jaal than a Ryder who acts like a conquering douchette while on Aya – and seriously, if you go down the Jaal route, prepare to have your heart go through the wringer, since the Angara wear their hearts on their sleeves and aren’t afraid to hide their soft sides. Also prepare for the fact that Jaal is basically the perfect gentleman that will make you go a little gooey inside – and that he has one of the more intimate love scenes. On the other side of the spectrum, Cora responds better to the logical and professional male Ryders of Mass Effect just so long as they aren’t being professional poopheads to her since the ‘not-being-made-Pathfinder-after-Daddy-Ryder’s-death’ is a sore spot for her initially. Oh, and that Asari ark needs to be high on your priority list, and it has to be dealt with delicately. There are romances that respond better to a casual, wise-cracking Ryder, there are romances that really like the logical but sensitive Ryder… and then you get a romance that your whole squad just thinks you’re an idiot for going there (*cough*Reyes*cough*).
More than that though, its also developing your relationships with the crew, whether you want to romance them or not, is what’s more interesting than the actually main story. I find myself wanting to just speak to Drack more often than not to hear the grizzled soldier talk war stories, and also because he and my emotional/casual Ryder just get on like a house on fire. My Ryder and Lexi respect each other, but they don’t necessarily see eye to eye on how best to approach certain subjects since Lexi is the realistic logic to my Ryder’s heartfelt optimistic. She respects Suvi’s spiritualism, enjoys bantering with Gil, talks shop with Kallo, has close friendships with Liam and Cora, did flirt a bit with Peebee and Vetra to begin with but now enjoys their friendships more, and is getting closer to Jaal. And with every loyalty mission completed for them, with every message left in the crew’s chat channel (there’s a funny one about Cora being put out at the poor performance during a fire drill… and Peebee’s retort that she lives in an escape pod), with every email sent to you by them, you find that the crew of the Tempest have become your lovable family of space oddities who won’t let you down.
Even missions you take on for minor NPCs are interesting little snippets on daily life in Andromeda. From the colonist on the Nexus who requests you place a memento of his deceased brother at his favourite spot on Eos, to solving the first murder in the Initiative, to even making the first steps towards setting up trade relations between the Angara and the Initiative, each mission adds just that tiny bit more colour to the new galaxy – some missions even give little nuggets of dialogue gold, like a romanced Jaal freaking out about the human birthing process or Vetra shutting Liam down constantly if they’re in the field together with Ryder. Cora even tells you off for your driving of the Nomad if its particularly bad, or particularly dangerous (yes I may have once or twice gunned it with the Nomad off a cliff). But the best thing in the game in my honest opinion is the little asides that you catch snippets of. Whether its just overhearing a conversation between two NPCs about current events or listening to the crew talking to each other on the Tempest, some of the best dialogue is saved for those moments, serving to colour the relationships between everyone else. Life is going on without the need of you to witness it, with the only thing influencing it being the major decisions you make at critical points. Do you detonate the Kett base with hypnotised Angara and the Resistance members still inside, or do you put the captured Angara’s safety first? Do you spare the Cardinal or shoot her? Its choices like these, both part of the radial and the split second instinctual button prompts, that help shape the Heleus cluster and your Ryder’s experiences of the world. And that’s a beautiful piece of mechanic right there.
That… and the still very hilarious glitches that are appearing every so often in the game. You almost wonder if these were deliberate.