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Return to Mass Effect: The Compassionate Shepard

April 17, 2013

Karen Shepard in action on Ferros

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Mass Effect (ME) franchise on gaming and entertainment.  Some refer to ME as the most important science fiction narrative of our generation. Yes, ME and its two sequels have sold millions of copies, but if we consider the narrative itself, we realize that it is also an exploration of human nature as it relates to choice. I chose to play ME again, but this time I deleted all my game saves from ME2 and ME3. This way I could start fresh and my choices would matter all over again. What a difference that made!  I have been playing Mass Effect 1 almost like the first time, taking my time and finishing every mission while engaging in all conversations.

My main goal, since I know how the story ends, was to watch the character development across all three games.  Of course I have my theories as to which games and missions bring the most out of the characters, including my Shepard, but it is still interesting to see these stories as they emerge.

Of course my Shepard is center.

At the beginning of ME1 I already know her as a war hero and as a woman who has overcome a rough upbringing.  She is confident, though quick to let others know she expects the best from them.  She is compassionate to the point where she will try to avoid a fight if at all possible.  Exploration runs in her blood, even with the fate of millions resting on her shoulders.  Her curiosity gets the better of her.  Finally, she is loyal to her new crew.

I have found that this crew, however, is only really developed through dialogue.  Where as in ME2 the player has the opportunity to flesh out Miranda Lawson, Jack, and others through missions, ME1 relegates most character development to conversations aboard the Normandy.  Wrex and Garrus Vakarian are the only exceptions.  At first I took every instance to see what my companions had to say, but they quickly began repeating themselves.  Not much help there.  Still, I am careful to cultivate strong friendships, especially with Ashley Williams and Liara T’soni.  It will be interesting to see my relationship with Ashley deteriorate over the course of the games.  On the other end, I always look forward to a romance with Liara and all the great moments that spring from it.

The indoctrinated Saren on Virmire.

The indoctrinated Saren on Virmire.

Having said all that however, it was only after I finished ME last night that I realized the real development/evolution came from Shepard (or rather from me).  In thinking back, I now realize I played Shepard differently from the way I did previously. From the beginning of my time with my Shepard (back in 2007) I took pleasure in having her be compassionate.  Whenever possible, she would talk her way out of a fight with the  paragon option.  This time I even went so far as to save the council, because this is what she would do.  I realize now that letting the council die in order to advance human interests is not what my Shepard would do (even if that is what I would do).  All these years I pulled her out of character with that one choice. This is the Shepard that convinced Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams to not sacrifice her self in order to regain her family honor.  This is the Shepard that persuaded Saren Arterius he could fight indoctrination.  I had never before convinced him to shoot himself rather than fight me.  It didn’t matter that he had betrayed all organic life in Citadel Space.  It didn’t even matter that we fought on Virmire.  All that really counted for me in our final confrontation on the Citadel is that I felt I could give him a chance to redeem himself.  It was sort of the “I know there is still good in you” moment from Return of the Jedi.

So now Shepard has saved the Council, the Citadel, and humanity from the Reapers, at least for a short time. In going down this road (again) she has helped me realize that of all my trips through ME this one was the most satisfying as I know have my Shepard, now complete, ready to battle the Collectors in ME2.

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