It’s funny but whenever two people are discussing a recent BioWare game canonical question that always gets asked first is: “which character did you sleep with?” Mass Effect 2 is no different. In fact, it provides you more romantic options than the previous game. In ME1 a male character had a choice between romancing Liara (an Assari archeologist) or Ashley Williams (a human action girl). The former seemed to be the default relationship route for most people which is why I sort of went with the latter. Besides, Ashley was just a cool chick. She was tough as nails, brave but also somewhat introspective. She read poetry and philosophy and quoted her favorite works from memory on occasion. She had a family, sisters and crazy childhood stories she would share with you. She was also not devoid of flaws – among other things she tended to be a xenophobic loudmouth who distrusted all the aliens. She was a well rounded, well written, down to earth character. Liara was interesting but perhaps not as well defined as Ashley – at least in my opinion.
In Mass Effect 2 a male character you can flirt with the 4 female companions: Miranda, Jack, Tali and Samara as well as with Kelly Chambers – the Normandy Yeoman. The most popular romance option seems to be Miranda: a Cerberus operative with a figure and personality of a barbie doll and a major superiority complex and daddy issues. You see, Miranda is profoundly unhappy because she is just too perfect. Her incredibly rich and powerful father arranged for her genome to be custom-tailored to produce a prodigy child who would take over his legacy. She loves to complain about her shitty childhood almost as much as she hates being the smartest, prettiest and the most amazing person in the room. She often wishes that she could be super lame like all the other crew members, so that people would notice her for her personality rather than the stunning looks or brilliance she was gifted with. I can see where she is coming from, but I can’t really sympathize with her on that. She is stuck up, bitchy, self centered and spoiled brat. Good character concept but a lousy person.
Jack is on the other end of the spectrum. She is self destructive, nihilist with deep intimacy issue. Jack was hurt, betrayed and screwed over so many times she is permanently and almost irreversibly broken inside. She knows everything about pain and suffering, and nothing about love or friendship. She is a bit of a cross between River from Firefly and Chiana from Farscape. Like River she spent her childhood locked up in a lab being experimented on and trained to be the ultimate weapon. Jack however did not have a loving brother who could bust her out and take care of her – she had to rescue herself. She spent most of her life as a fugitive running away from something – her past, the law, relationship. Like Chiana she is tough, individualistic, strong minded and irreverent. She plays by her own rules and does not care about moral or social norms. She treats sex casually, and runs at the first sign of commitment. I found her genuinely interesting to talk to.
In fact, romancing Jack is a bit different from the usual BioWare formula. Usually you can win over every girl by being a super nice guy. With Jack however, you have to be a bit of a dick. If you are nice to her, she will just insult you. Actually, she will insult you no matter which dialog option you pick. But if you are confident, persistent and refuse to take shit from her she will slowly open up. Of course once Jack opens up to you, the game puts her on the relationship track. I never really intended to sleep with Jack to begin with. She was extremely unstable and emotionally damaged. It was clear to me that she wasn’t looking for a heated romantic fling. What she needed was normalcy and a genuine human connection. I just wanted Sheppard and her to be friends – not lovers. I wanted Jack to see that she was a valuable member of the team, and that someone can be interested in her as a person – with no strings attached. It seemed as if sex would actually cheapen the relationship the two of them have developed. The problem with scripted dialog trees is that they often don’t cover everything you would want your character to be able to say.
In fact, there is no “nice” way to let jack down. The best you can do is to have Sheppard blurt out something about having “other options” and Jack being a bitch for not putting out – which is probably the worst thing you can say to emotionally volatile woman who just let her guard down for the first time in her life. For the rest of the mission Jack would only say two words to me. One of those words was “you”. The other one was “fuck”. I really felt bad about this… But alas, I really wanted to pursue Tali’s romantic subplot.
You see, I always liked Tali. I thought she was a great character. In ME1 is was basically an idealistic teenager undergoing her right of passage. In ME2 she returns as a fully fledged member of Quarian society. However she is still the same polite, shy, introverted young woman. She tends to babble when she gets nervous, she probably understands machines better than people, she names her combat drones after Baldur’s Gate pets – let’s face it, Tali is a bit of a geek. In a good sense. Also unlike the other two characters I described above, she doesn’t have some major issues that plague her. She is just young, and inexperienced girl. She tends to be optimistic, cheerful and pleasant to talk to – as opposed to moody, obscenity spewing jack, holier than thou Miranda or fatalistic Samara. Tali is just Tali – competent, driven, reliable, idealistic.
The Quarian environment suit gives gives her that mysterious quality. For all we know, she can be a stunning beauty underneath that mask. Sadly, most of the time we can merely glimpse outlines of her eyes and her nose through the helmet. Her predicament reminds be that of Rogue from X-men. Intimacy and closeness are never casual for her – they carry great risks. She can never touch or kiss anyone without some preparation, and risking a serious infection.
That said, the “love scene” was rather underwhelming:
I was really hoping they will at least show us her face. I guess they didn’t feel like spending a long time modeling her head from scratch for a few seconds of optional cut scene. Perhaps they didn’t want to ruin it for us. I mean, by the end of the game, most people probably imagined how she might look underneath the helmet based on the outlines visible through the semi-transparent face shield. No matter how pretty or interesting they would make her look, it would probably be a let down. Maybe it it’s a little bit of both. It’s a cop out though – I was disappointed.
I didn’t really have a chance to unlock all of Samara’s dialog options or get to the romance part because she was the absolute last person I recruited and did a loyalty quest for before the suicide mission. Then she died eaten by the collector swarm for absolutely no reason. Similarly, since I played a nearly straight paragon I didn’t even have an option to recruit Morinth.
I also found it funny that you can blatantly flirt with Kelly – your Yeoman and personal assistant and she seems to love it. Half the lines you can say to her would count as blatant sexual harassment in most professional and military type environments. But one of the first things she lets you know when you board Normandy is that Cerberus does not really have any strict fraternization rules. She will also dance for you and feed your fish – gotta love that girl. And she seems to swing both ways, unlike other ladies of ME2.
On my second run through the game I was really bummed out that not a single female character had a lesbian romance option. That’s seriously lame my friends. My female renegade Sheppard is into ladies. This is why she made sweet, sweet love to Liara in ME1, and wanted to sex either Miranda or Jack in ME2 but the game wouldn’t let me. Sleeping with a dude would be out of character for her. Thank God for Kelly at least.
Who did you romance in Mass Effect 2 and why?