In BioWare tradition, the Mass Effect trilogy offers rich, complex companions… so it can play with your emotions and take them away.
Having finished a playthrough of Mass Effect Legendary Edition this week, I sat back in the aftermath of the final scenes and wondered not about the fate of my own Commander Shepard, but the fate of her companions. What became of Shepard was inconsequential; I only wondered what my allies would have thought about my final choice. Would they understand? Would they accept what I’d been forced to do?
The companions of BioWare games are always my favourite part of the story. They anchor us to the world and the larger plot, offering us windows into their unique cultures and dilemmas. Through our interactions with them, we understand the bigger picture and form closer human attachments to it. (BioWare’s writers do this so they can hurt us later, by hurting our new virtual friends.)
Amongst the nearly two dozen allies that can join Commander Shepard’s party, I’ve narrowed the cast down to Mass Effect‘s five best companions, based on their utility, their arcs, and their overall personalities. Here are the goodest boys and girls:
Honourable Mention: Jeff “Joker” Moreau
Joker isn’t a proper companion, as he never joins you on missions. However as the helmsman of the Normandy, he’s the longest-serving ally in Commander Shepard’s corner. Others come and go, but trusty Joker almost never leaves your side. He’s even briefly playable in Mass Effect 2, in a short but nonetheless harrowing sequence that has an indelible impact on the trilogy. Seth Green’s performance is the icing on the cake, especially in Mass Effect 3‘s Citadel DLC and in his relationship with EDI.
5. Urdnot Wrex
Wrex, the gruff krogan mercenary, didn’t make a big first impression on me when I first played Mass Effect, even after the earth-shaking events on Virmire. It wasn’t until the second game, when the krogan genophage took center stage, that I really came to appreciate him; and even now, on my latest playthrough, a series of bad decisions led to a traumatic showdown with him in the third game that nearly made me reload a much older save file.
Through Wrex we learn about the krogans and their tragic past, feeding a major decision point in Mass Effect 3. But it’s through his absence—both his mandatory exit as a party member after the first game, and especially if you let him die at some point and are left with his subpar replacements—that I truly realized how much I valued him. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that in the relatively brief time he can be in your party, he’s an absolute unit.
4. Mordin Solus
Mordin’s recruitment mission in Mass Effect 2 nearly paints him as a corrupt or jaded physician with shaky ethic, but as Shepard gets to know him over the rest of the trilogy, the true complexity of his moral compass begins to show. He’s arguably the Spock of the series, able to see things from a higher perspective most would not come by naturally. Yet he’s also conflicted about his past deeds. The genophage haunts him and shapes not only his arc, but also Shepard’s whole mission by extension.
The hardest decision I had to make when playing a Renegade on this last playthrough was the one that decides Mordin’s fate. Neither outcome is ideal, but the Renegade path was the biggest dagger I put in my own back this time around, and the ghost of it chased me for the rest of Mass Effect 3. It wasn’t just his skills in battle that I missed, but his tactical insight and his comradery—yes, even in those awkward conversations about safe sex before you consummate your relationship with a love interest in the sequel. Add in his hidden singing talents and he has everything Shepard could want in a companion.
3. Tali’Zorah vas Normandy
It’s not entirely a coincidence that the rest of this list consists of long-serving allies. Tali is met early in Mass Effect and quickly makes the leap from information source to team member. Her species, the nomadic quarians, have a fascinating culture in themselves, and Tali serves as Shepard’s lens into that society as they try to earn their support, while also being a helpful companion when fighting synthetic or shielded enemies.
However Tali’s strongest element is perhaps her arc. Starting as a timid young pilgrim, she grapples with the core struggle of her people in Mass Effect 2 while also questioning her father’s actions, and can ultimately achieve a quarian’s greatest dream—setting foot on their lost homeworld. Her loyalty mission in the sequel is one of the best in the entire series in my book, with Shepard truly able to stick up for their companion. Quarians use the name of the ship where they reside as their last name, and Tali’s decision to take Shepard’s flagship as her own surname, “vas Normandy,” was one of the most powerful resolutions to a character’s storyline.
(Just… don’t get her bad outcome in the third game. Please. It’s the worst.)
2. Garrus Vakarian
Paragon or Renegade, Commander Shepard is a bit of a loose cannon, and they need a companion who can watch their back no matter what. That’s where Garrus comes in. One of the first allies you can recruit in all three games, there’s almost no Mass Effect without him (unless you’re in the slim minority that somehow never recruited him, you friendship-hating monsters).
Knowing the series’ lore makes this friendship all the more special, as turians were the first aliens humanity encountered in the galaxy, and the result of their meeting was a quick, bloody war. Shepard and Garrus, however, take on a very interesting relationship. Garrus often seeks out Shepard’s advice and looks up to them as a commanding officer, yet he also offers the harshest of dad-style disappointment speeches for making certain (Renegade) choices.
Depending on your class, Garrus is a great complement in battle with his rifles and suite of shield- and barrier-shredding powers. But it’s his attitude and demeanour that might be most worthwhile in a firefight, always cheering Shepard forward and swapping good cop/bad cop roles with them.
1. Dr. Liara T’Soni
Liara has a character arc comparable to Tali’s, and her loyalty to Shepard outshines even Garrus’, making her the ultimate Mass Effect companion. We meet her as a naive, booksmart researcher and watch her confront one of the biggest personal demons in the series, her mother Benezia. She leaves the Normandy to assume one of the most powerful seats in the galaxy in Mass Effect 2‘s DLC. When she returns to the fold in Mass Effect 3, she has resolved these two parts of her character to become the best version of herself. (The “From Ashes” DLC takes this even further by putting her face to face with the reality of her research.)
Romanced or not, no one sees Shepard’s potential like Liara. She’s the reason there’s anything left of them to rebuild after the sequel’s intro, and her quiet insistence on preserving Shepard’s legacy as the trilogy’s end draws near is moving. Games will often tell you your character is important, but Liara truly shows it.
So it’s fitting, on multiple levels, that Liara is one of the few trilogy characters to speak in Mass Effect Andromeda, and that she was front and center in that teaser BioWare showed us for “the next Mass Effect.”
Regardless of their rankings, Commander Shepard’s allies are one of the best batches of misfits in roleplaying games. There’s no one we’d rather trash a classy sushi restaurant with.