The Men of Mass Effect
If you read my two-part series, The Men of Thedas, you'll know I like role-playing games (RPGs) that allow me to live vicariously through a created character, romance included. Thus, it should come as no surprise that this article is about the men of Bioware's RPG sci-fi trilogy, Mass Effect.
In these games, you play as a human named Shepard, leading an eclectic crew of humans and aliens to save the universe from evil synthetics hell-bent on destroying all sentient, organic life. It's a third-person shooter, which initially daunted me, but it's also a Bioware creation, so I knew the characters would be engaging and well-rounded. And yes, some of those characters are potential love interests, too.
Unlike The Men of Thedas, which covered all the romanceable male characters, The Men of Mass Effect will only cover the ones I like best. We'll begin with a human, before we plunge head-first into the alien and potentially life-threatening experience of interspecies romance (anaphylactic shock is nothing to scoff at).
"Fifty thousand years to figure this out, and it's down to twenty-five mutineers. Way to go, Team Milky Way."
Kaidan Alenko is a human Marine who joins Commander Shepard's squad in the first Mass Effect game. As a powerful biotic, he has element zero nodules embedded in his body, which enable him to generate mass effect fields that he uses in combat. In other words, he is telekinetic. Biotics are incredibly effective, but, depending on the type of element zero implant (L1 vs. L2 vs. L3), they can cause brain damage. Kaidan is one of the lucky ones; although he has L2 implants--the most dangerous type--, the worst he suffers are migraines.
Despite being a soldier, Kaidan is generally a gentle and sympathetic soul. He is initially reluctant to use his biotics on living targets, and he believes in equality and fair treatment for alien species. He cares deeply about his friends and crew mates, going so far as to offer himself up as sacrifice to save the rest of the crew. He fights for the innocent and urges others to do the same. That strict moral code, however, can also make him critical and closed-minded. For all his acceptance of alien species, Kaidan can be incredibly judgmental if someone strays from his rigid morals. A little obtuse, too.
Kaidan is romanceable by a female Shepard, whom he is quite taken with from the start of Mass Effect 1. He protects her, supports her, and comforts her, but he also challenges and questions her, if he thinks she's making the wrong decision. My Anastasia Shepard romanced Kaidan and was quite happy with him...until he blew it in Mass Effect 2.
"Can it wait for a bit? I'm in the middle of some calibrations."
Garrus is, without a doubt, my favorite male character in Mass Effect. As a turian, Garrus certainly looks alien--more avian than humanoid, though that similarity is really only aesthetic. Turians' most distinguishing physical feature is perhaps their metallic plating, which evolved to protect them from their planet's high levels of solar radiation, but, as a whole, the species is rather hard and tough.
Turians place high a value on their military. They begin their training at age fifteen, and Garrus is no different. He excels, particularly with the sniper rifle, and follows in his father's footsteps to join C-Sec, the primary security force in Council space. He quickly becomes jaded with the bureaucratic red tape, however, and leaves C-Sec to join Shepard's crew, because he believes that Shepard would actually accomplish something. Consequently, Garrus respects and admires Shepard, regardless of the commander's sex.
While he shares his species' militarism and can be quite ruthless in battle, Garrus is otherwise calm and sympathetic. He's the ultimate bro, if you will, easygoing and content to shoot beer cans (okay, maybe they're not beer cans) with Shepard. Garrus is likable and even gets along with the species that many turians view with animosity (e.g., krogan and humans). He's quippy, oddly charming, and open-minded, though he is also prone to arrogance and cold efficiency. He believes in justice--"an eye for an eye"--, but not necessarily in the Council's brand of justice. If the rules impede his ability to protect the innocent or to apprehend a criminal, he'll happily buck them. And, if your Shepard builds up a rapport with him, Garrus follows him/her to Hell and back.
Garrus, as I said, is my favorite male character in the game, so it should come as no surprise that my Shepard romanced him as soon as she could (Mass Effect 2). In many ways, Garrus reminds me of Dragon Age's Cullen Rutherford, particularly in the romance department. He's confident when interacting with Shepard as a colleague or superior, but throw flirtation into the mix, and that surety transforms into an awkward yet endearing jumble of compliments and innuendos. And some of those compliments are just downright strange: "So...your, uh, hair looks good, and your waist is...very supportive." However, once he and your female Shepard get past that, Garrus is a devoted lover. He just as easily comforts Shepard as watches her six, and, despite being a different species, he also understands her.
It's clear he cares deeply for her, even going so far as to envision a future with her. So, if you manage to pry Garrus away from his seemingly perpetual calibrations, he'll reward you with one of the most satisfying romances Bioware has ever created. Just ask Cassandra Lobiesk.
"Laser dot trembles on the skull. Spice on the spring wind. Sunset eyes defiant in the scope. A bystander noticed my spotting laser and threw herself between me and the target. She couldn't see me...but she stared me down."
Another non-human member of Shepard's crew is the drell assassin Thane Krios. The drell are a reptilian-humanoid species that were rescued from their homeworld of Kahje by another alien species (the hanar) and now work for them to repay their debt and gratitude. In Thane's case, that work is as an assassin, and he is rumored to be the best in the galaxy. Assassinating a target is a personal thing for him; he prefers to kill up-close, combining stealth, guns, hand-to-hand combat, and biotics, rather than sniping from a distance. He is a confident and talented killer.
Despite his profession, Thane is a good man, er, drell. He says a prayer for every target he kills, asking his deities for forgiveness, yet he still harbors guilt, due to his species' eidetic memory that forces him to remember every assignment in lifelike detail. His perfect memory is not all bad, however, because it also allows him to relive happier times. As Shepard gets to know Thane better, we learn that he's a widower with an estranged son named Kolyat. Part of his plot line even involves reuniting and, ideally, reconciling him with Kolyat.
Thane keeps to himself, but he does confide in Shepard, opening up the possibility for romance. Unlike Garrus, Thane has experience with serious relationships, so he approaches one with Shepard much more confidently, though he confesses that it's the first time he's ever been involved with a member of a different species. If your female Shepard shows romantic interest in him, he will call her siha, which is a drell term of endearment. He also says lines like "Time is short for me, siha, but any I have is yours to take" and "I love you. If all else whispers back into the tide, know this for fact." Swoon. But beware. As the first quote suggests, Thane's story may end in tears. Nevertheless, if I hadn't already been so fond of Garrus, Anastasia Shepard would have romanced Thane in a heartbeat.
"Have killed many, Shepard. Many methods. Gunfire, knives, drugs, tech attacks, once with farming equipment. But not with medicine."
As the quote suggests, Mordin is a highly capable killer, but he's also a highly capable doctor. That may seem rather paradoxical, until you get to know him better. Mordin is a salarian scientist and a former operative in the salarian Special Tasks Group (STG), where he performed reconnaissance and, yes, where he likely killed people. During his time with the STG, he certainly participated in controversial medical practices, so his moral character appears to be consequentialistic, which means he believes that the ends justify the means. He does not, however, condone killing without good reason.
"I am the very model of a scientist salarian." Yes, he is. The salarians are a warm-blooded, quick-thinking amphibian species, with a short life span (about forty years). Mordin, like most of his kin, thinks fast, talks fast, and moves fast, so he is the perfect person to have on your crew if you need to do the scientific impossible and don't have a lot of time to do it. But Mordin is much more than a brilliant mind; he's friendly, honorable, helpful (particularly if you require information on cross-species interactions...ahem), self-assured (with good reason!), and disarmingly funny. But what surprised me most was his kindness. Sure, he's committed some controversial medical practices, but, depending on how you play Shepard, he may regret his actions and revise his opinion, potentially leading to a heartbreaking decision that still makes me sad when I think about it. Mordin was so affable that Cassandra, our editor-in-chief, went to great lengths to prevent that sad thing from happening to him. No spoilers.
Although Mordin is not romanceable, that hasn't stopped him from endearing himself to Mass Effect fans all over the world. He's probably the most entertaining of the crew members, and also one of the most complex.
"I don't like this. Fury is my choice, not a sickness."
The final "man" of Mass Effect we're going to cover is a genetically engineered krogan named Grunt. The krogan are reptilian bipeds with a penchant for violence and war, and Grunt, though bred in a tank, is no exception. As a result, he looks different from his kin--younger, a little "softer", and even somewhat baby-like. But don't let his seeming innocence fool you; he was created to be the perfect krogan. So, yeah, he's going to like killing things.
Contrary to expectation, krogan are not stupid. Krogan scientists and doctors do exist, and although Grunt is not one of them, he's nevertheless intelligent and well-spoken. The fact that he tends to talk intelligently about hurting others is beside the point... That, however, does not stop me from wanting to hug him every time Anastasia Shepard talks to him. But don't tell Grunt that; he'd probably chuck me through the ship's bulkhead.
Violence is a big part of Grunt's personality, but it's not the only part. If Shepard chooses to free him from his tank and help him on his personal quest, he becomes quite loyal, going so far as to proclaim Shepard as his "battlemaster." He could have ditched Shepard for his own clan of krogan but instead sticks around until Shepard's task is done. I'm sure the plentitude of enemies is a big draw, but it's certainly not the only one.
For all his toughness, however, Grunt is apparently a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. There's a scene--probably my favorite scene--in Mass Effect 3 (in the Citadel DLC) where Shepard discovers Grunt passed out in his/her shower, drunkenly mumbling such gems as "damn your lettuce", "are you a wizard?", "sharks!", and "I'm a pretty bird." He also, rather adorably, cleans up the bathroom the next morning. Like Mordin, Grunt cannot be romanced--not because he lacks the, uh, urges (unlike Mordin), but possibly because he has a crush on a certain blue lady on Shepard's team...