Romance is a core aspect of the Mass Effect series, and has become a major part of the Bioware brand overall. Integrated with their strong character writing, the romantic options for players are often at the forefront of player interest, and may shape who and how they play. In light of the new, incoming cast of Mass Effect: Andromeda, we’re revisiting some of our favorite romances and why we enjoyed smooching these particular characters.
Mass Effect has a variety of romances across the course of the trilogy, from the original trio of Kaidan, Ashley, and Liara to a breadth of crewmates in Mass Effect 2 and 3. Some of the romances in the later games feature characters from the first game who were not initially romance options, while others are completely new characters that only appear in 2 and/or 3. We’ll be focusing on our personal favorites: Garrus Vakarian, Tali Zorah vas’Raya, and Liara T’soni.
Garrus was the young, hot-headed turian sniper in the original Mass Effect, having left C-Sec to join Shepard in their mission against Saren. A romance option due to overwhelming fan support of his character, Garrus reappears as the vigilante, Archangel, in Mass Effect 2. Having abandoned either Spectre training or C-Sec, (depending on if/how you dealt with his personal mission in the first game,) after the Council discredited Shepard’s efforts and warnings against the Reapers, Garrus wound up on Omega–a lawless station in the Terminus Systems, beyond the reach of the Council. Shepard discovers him cornered, his new team dead, and helps him hold off three merc bands until they can escape.
Wearing scars new and old, Garrus is older and more bitter than the player remembers him as. Two years have passed and he’s changed, as has the dynamic between he and Shepard. Where the original Mass Effect established a mentor/mentee relationship between Shepard and Garrus, Mass Effect 2 turned that dynamic on it’s head, pushing them forward as equals and peers. Playing as female Shepard, he becomes a romance option, their strong friendship growing into something more should the player choose to flirt accordingly. What makes his romance so appealing, however, is the bond shared between he and Shepard as two soldiers and friends, and the depth of his character that is only revealed by a romantic involvement. Garrus is cock sure, confident on the surface, always preparing for the worst and ever the pragmatist. He has a few vulnerable moments with male Shepard, but the depth of his insecurity and of his fear to hope is only revealed in his relationship with female Shepard. It’s first seen in his incredulity at Shepard’s proposition, when she makes initial overtures at romance: Garrus goes from sharing a story about he and a scouting recruit sparing and having a ‘tie breaker’ in his quarters, to fumbling and pacing as he considers Shepard’s offer for a ‘tie breaker’ of their own. It resurfaces again, when he offers Shepard an out before the final mission in Mass Effect 2, and again during the romance scene itself, when his fumbling attempts at flirtation fall flat and he admits that, “I just… I’ve seen so many things go wrong, Shepard. My work at C-Sec, what happened with Sidonis… I want something to go right. Just once.” Even in Mass Effect 3, when he’s the Primarch’s Reaper Advisor and has generals saluting him, he expresses discomfort in the position of leadership, and offers Shepard an out of their relationship, always planning for the worst case scenario that she’ll change her mind, even when he comes to hope she won’t. This pragmatism and hesitance allows for players to empathize with him, and draws them into a romance that feels natural and organic, as easy as their interactions in the field. He is a true, believable character, and the bond he shares with Shepard is one that makes their romance so satisfying to play through.
Tali is another of the original crew-turned-romance option at the behest of the fans, returning after her role in the original game as a young Quarian woman on Pilgrimage (the Quarian coming of age journey). Tali provided the needed evidence to convict Saren in the original Mass Effect, and returns in Mass Effect 2 as a researcher well integrated into the Quarian Flotilla. She re-joins Shepard’s crew after her team is decimated, researching the influence of Dark Matter on Haestrom.
Tali’s grown a great deal since her days with Shepard on the original Normandy, no longer the naive, curious engineer Shepard once knew. She’s become a leader in her own right, supporting her people and leading teams to delve deeper into the Quarian struggles with the Geth and how they might consider reclaiming their home world. When she rejoins Shepard’s team, it’s later in the game, and she’s a romantic option for male Shepard. In pursuing her romance, the sweet, young woman that Shepard knew two years previous still exists, stronger for her experiences with Shepard and her time spent since she returned to her people. She’s smart as hell, quick witted, and the history shared between them can make Tali and Shepard close, fast friends. Tail is initially hesitant, reluctant to reveal the depth of her feelings to Shepard, given that he’s her commanding officer and has been surrounded by other options (and may have been in a relationship in the first Mass Effect). With some gentle reassurance and affirmation, Tali opens up and shares herself with Shepard, expressing her struggle with her desires in the face of a lifetime of putting her people, the Fleet, first. Quarians must always worry about the impact of their decisions on the crew, given the insular nature of their ship-based community. They’re all that each other has, and Tali’s relationship with Shepard is new, and could have consequences both for her personally, and for the mission as a whole. Her care is endearing, doubly so as the romance scene is triggered before the final Mass Effect 2 mission and her nervousness gives way to a passion that matches Shepard’s own. That partnership continues into Mass Effect 3, as Tali meets him as an equal, an Admiral of the Quarian fleet. Shepard can choose to reaffirm their relationship, or cut it off, but the growth of Tali and Shepard together touches on the vulnerable need for support in a world that’s falling apart as the seams. Tali continues to be a touchstone for Shepard as they progress into the final leg of the game, as Shepard proves to be a support for Tali in return. The sweet give-and-take of their relationship pulls at the core of the player, and draws them in for a kind, fulfilling romance born out of friendship and mutual respect.
Liara is a fan favorite from the original Mass Effect, and is also the only original romance to have substantial content between all three games. A young archeologist (by asari standards) in Mass Effect, Liara returns in Mass Effect 2 as a proficient, ruthless information broker hunting a ghost-broker who kidnapped her friend, known only as the Shadow Broker. She appears again in Mass Effect 3 as a potential romance, now the Shadow Broker herself (a position earned with Shepard’s help, if the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC was purchased and played, and also where Shepard could affirm or deny their previous relationship).
Liara’s growth as a character influences her dynamic with Shepard across all three games, from her naive fascination to her more aggressive manipulation of information. A romantic option for both male and female Shepard, their relationship begins with a mutual interest, Liara finding Shepard’s assimilation and comprehension of the Prothean Cipher (a byproduct of their interaction with a beacon at the beginning of Mass Effect) fascinating, while Shepard finds Liara and her history interesting in and of itself. Liara is, initially, very curious and highly intelligent, which appealed to many Shepards across the board. She was interesting to talk to, and Shepard and Liara spend much of their time learning about each other, their backstories, before ultimately stepping into the relationship. In Mass Effect 2, Liara plays a prominent role as the information broker Shepard interacts with on Illium, providing leads on both the ‘Recruit the Justicar’ and ‘Recruit the Assassin’ missions. It also is revealed, provided Shepard completes the personal mission Liara provides, that Liara is the one who handed Shepard’s body over to Cerberus, and is why Cerberus was able to resurrect Shepard at the beginning of ME2. Her growth into Mass Effect 3 builds on her intelligence and capability, drawing players in and also providing them with the opportunity to see the culmination to a relationship that has grown over three games and 100+ hours of gameplay.
To be fair, there is much to love about all the romances in Mass Effect, even though we only touched on three here. Garrus, Tali, and Liara are just a sample of the breadth of characters one can romance in the original trilogy, and offer a taste of what (hopefully) awaits in the romance options in Andromeda. Our original romances will always have a special place in our hearts, and make us eager to see who we’ll get to know in the Andromeda Galaxy.
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