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title="Permanent Link to The best and worst BioWare companions">main

Warning! The following article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the Mass Effect, Baldur s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age series.

With a new Dragon Age on the way, we've been reminiscing about our favourite, and least favourite, BioWare companions. Interesting buddies, and sometimes enemies, have been a staple of BioWare games since Baldur's Gate, and the studio is famous for creating people you actually care about. So I decided to ask the entire PC Gamer team who among the vast pantheon of BioWare NPCs they hate, and who they love. Some of the answers may surprise you. Especially Chris Thursten's.

Andy Kelly

Loves... Minsc (Baldur's Gate)

One of BioWare s most beloved characters, Minsc is a massive, tattooed ranger who wields a two-handed sword and travels with his faithful companion, Boo, who he says is a miniature giant space hamster but is probably just a regular hamster. Minsc typifies that anarchic sense of humour that pervaded the Baldur s Gate games, and his eccentric battle cries ( Go for the eyes, Boo! GO FOR THE EYES! ) are the stuff of RPG legend.

It wasn t until Baldur s Gate II, when BioWare realised just how much fans loved him, that his character was given more dialogue and depth. He became more sympathetic after the cruel death of his partner, Dynaheir, at the hands of evil sorcer Irenicus. Minsc is not as rich or nuanced as many of BioWare s more recent creations, but he makes up for it with sheer personality.

Hates... Tali (Mass Effect)

People love Tali, and I don t know why. She s just so goddamn earnest, telling endless, boring stories about the her pilgrimage, droning on and on about quarian tradition and how hard life on the flotilla is. The only interesting thing about her character is that she wears a mask, and even that s just a cheap way of making her seem mysterious.

I genuinely cared about the majority of the cast in Mass Effect, but I avoided Tali at every opportunity. She has a loyal following, including former PC Gamer writer Rich McCormick, who replayed 25 hours of Mass Effect 3 just to prevent her death, but I really don t understand the love for her. One of the dullest characters in BioWare history.

Chris Thursten

Loves... Ashley Williams (Mass Effect)

I know, I know. Ashley the space racist. Ashley who only survived Mass Effect 1 because she s not as boring as Kaidan. I ve heard every argument against Ash in the last couple of years - often the same argument, over and over - but she s still one of my favourite BioWare characters. She s a rare example of a love interest for a male protagonist that doesn t really need anything from him. Ashley s background is defined by stable, positive relationships - with her sisters, her parents, her religion.

Her motivating crisis is a smear on her family name that she s had to struggle with to get where she is in the Alliance military, a struggle that she s already largely overcome by the time she meets Shepard. It s a sore spot, but also a point of pride. In a series largely defined by people that Shepard fixes , Ashley demands to be understood on her own terms. I respect that. As for the space racism: well, yeah, she says some unfortunate things. But it s not who the character is. If you bring her with you when you encounter the Terra Firma rally on the Citadel, she ll angrily condemn their leader for using political pragmatism to disguise the racist element of his party. People tend to forget that about her.

Hates... Sebastian Vael (Dragon Age)

I struggled with this one, because there aren t really any BioWare characters I truly don t like. Jacob Taylor is boring, yeah, but his arc pays off in Mass Effect 3. I m a bit tired of the quirky little sister template (Imoen, Tali, Merrill) but all of those characters have their moments. So I m picking Sebastian, the launch-day DLC character for Dragon Age II who more or less totally fails to get on with any of the other characters in the game. Despite its faults, DA II portrays its companions as a diverse but closely-knit circle of friends: a revolutionary cell that grows out of natural affections and affiliations.

Sebastian, the Chantry-dwelling, revenge-chasing former dilettante doesn t fit into that family. He s too posh to slum it with Varric or Isabela, too straight-laced to indulge in the anger that motivates Anders or Fenris. He shows a bit of fire in the game s final act, but by that point I was too invested in literally everybody else to side with him. He s that guy you see in the hallway at work that you have nothing in common with but you feel obligated to talk to anyway; he s your friend s boring boyfriend from university; he s the person you invite to your house party while secretly hoping that they don t show up.

Tom Senior

Loves... Alistair (Dragon Age)

Dragon Age is a very serious game. You're juggling issues of lineage that'll decide the fate of the entire realm with the threat of impending genocide at the hands of an ancient evil. A little laughter goes a long way, and Alistair shines as the self-aware bastard contender for the throne. A great comic vocal performance and a bottomless bucket of quips instantly earned him a permanent role in my party, but his capacity of sudden seriousness gave him an interesting edge. At heart he's a nervous hero forced into a position of remarkable pressure, which makes him enormously sympathetic, especially in the final act when the kingship is decided.

The kicker is that he's probably not good King material. I ended up accidentally exiling him from the kingdom while attempting to put someone more decisive in place. The fact that I still feel bad about that shows how much I came to like the poor man. I hope he's running a thriving tavern somewhere, entertaining his regulars with some of the finest one-liners in Ferelden.

Hates... Samara (Mass Effect)

Samara has a fascinating backstory. She's been hunting one of her three vampire daughters across the universe for hundreds of years, and now enforces the pious rules of her order with lethal force. This is great for driving plot, especially when her laws clash with the local customs of the planet you're exploring, but her personality has been entirely subsumed by the code.

Her outlook and actions are bound to a list of rules that she can never break, and she'll tell you that relentlessly during your observation deck chats during Mass Effect 2. She's a boring space paladin. You're interacting with dogma, rather than a person, which means there can be no evolution to your friendship with her. She could kill a dozen enemies in seconds with her mind, but ended up leaving her to her cross-legged meditation in the observation bay. I think we both preferred it that way.

Samuel Roberts

Loves... Varric (Dragon Age)

Varric wins out for me because he s the closest your main character gets to an actual best buddy in a BioWare title (other than maybe Garrus in Mass Effect). He s just good to have around, and also has the interesting distinction of being one of Dragon Age II s narrators, so his perception of Hawke is oddly important to me as a player. I love that he frequently refers to his crossbow, Bianca, in third person a la Jayne s gun Vera in Firefly (but slightly less silly), and that he s technically spent years in Kirkwall s pub, The Hanged Man, by the end of Dragon Age II.

Controversially, I think Dragon Age II might have my favourite set of companions or possibly tying with Mass Effect 2. I must point out, though, that picking one BioWare companion I love is nearly impossible. I have a list of twelve names here that I ll spare you from, but the thought of Varric being around again in Inquisition is pretty exciting to me.

Hates... James Vega (Mass Effect)

James Vega is an easy target for least likeable BioWare companion he s not that bad, and I wouldn t say I hate him by any stretch. I think it s because I got it into my head that he was a cipher for Call of Duty players picking up Mass Effect for the first time with the third instalment, and couldn t handle sci-fi unless they had a way in via standard soldier guy.

That was a bit too harsh, and I think Freddie Prinze Jr does a fine job with the character s performance, but aside from beating him up in the shuttle bay of the Normandy, I can t recall enjoying his company that much. I just don t need someone being that grumpy on my Normandy. I would have put up a sign, politely asking that anybody trying to brood sexily on my ship has to get off at the next civilised star port. I ve been saving the party sequence from the DLC Mass Effect 3: Citadel until I m finally ready to say goodbye to Mass Effect, and I m told Vega s attendance is mandatory. Aww.

Phil Savage

Loves... Garrus (Mass Effect)

Characters my character has loved in BioWare games: Aerie, L'iara, Thane and Alistair. But the character I loved was never a romantic possibly. Well, technically he was in Mass Effect 3. What I mean to say is that he was never a romantic possibility for my Shepard. Like Sam with DA2's Varric, Garrus filled the role of best pal. By Mass Effect 2, he's reinvented himself in Shepard's image, and that leads to a common understanding between the two. He's got his shit together, even when he hasn't.

Many have criticised Mass Effect 3's actual ending. The truth is it was a game filled with endings, and many of them were note perfect. Garrus's ending takes place before the final battle, shooting cans with Shepard at the top of the Citadel's Presidium. It's a scene laced with humour, rivalry, sadness and, yes, friendship. The best way to remember BioWare's best companion.

Hates... Khalid (Baldur's Gate)

Poor Khalid. You didn't really deserve to die every time I played Baldur's Gate. You were, I guess, fine. Adequate. Non-offensively present. My disdain for your life is really down to the way the first BG handled party members. Many of them were paired up their inseparable buddy being a requirement to them joining your adventure.

If you wanted Jaheira, you had to take Khalid, and, in a game filled with interesting characters and variables, I really didn't want to waste one of my five companion slots on the cowardly complaining of an effete fighter. And so you were sent to your certain death; one of the few ways you could part these pairings without pissing their partner off. It was an inelegant solution, but a necessary one. BioWare, it seems, agreed, and in Baldur's Gate 2 they removed such dependencies. They, like me, killed Khalid off.

Ben Griffin

Loves... Thane Krios (Mass Effect)

Everything about Thane is fascinating. He s a Drell, a reptilian species rescued from their dying planet by the Hanar. Unfortunately Drell aren t suited to their new world s humidity, and many develop a respiratory disease called Kepral's Syndrome. Thane has it, and he agrees to Shepard s suicide mission as a gesture of penance. He s an assassin, you see, and thanks to his photographic memory an adaptation to an environment where Drell must remember the location of resources across vast distances Thane involuntarily relives his kills in vivid detail.

This weighs heavily on his conscience, and it s not unusual to catch him praying in his private quarters. I never feel more badass than rocking up to the Citadel with Thane. I remember him once commenting on the 14 flaws in C-Sec security that a skilled assassin could exploit, and how eight of them were there ten years ago.

Hates... Kaiden Alenko

Who? Ohhh yeah, that guy. That s the reaction Kaidan Alenko usually garners, for me the only forgettable companion in the Mass Effect games. Just look at his boring face. In a galaxy featuring psychic purple jellies, bright blue seductresses, and monotone elephant men, here s this...dude. His backstory is dull a biotic born into a military family and his conversations with the captain are unremarkable. I guess he s just too similar to male Shepard, his role already served.

I play Mass Effect to interact with strange new beings, not hobnob with brown-haired white guys. Literally everyone I work with is a brown-haired white guy. In the first Mass Effect he shares an interesting conflict with Ashley, her a pro-human xenophobe and him an equal rights advocate, and as Shepard you can persuade him to be either less or more sympathetic to alien races. It s an important subject to explore, but Kaiden feels superfluous to it. Ashley gets the job done.

Tim Clark

Loves... Liara T'Soni (Mass Effect)

Lovely Liara. It s testament to the skill of BioWare s writers that she isn t reduced to just being the drippy, peace-loving, science-y one. I mean, she s all those things, but she s also more complex. Old by human standards, but a child in terms of Asari lifespan, she s naive and hopeful, but at the same time proud of her people and conflicted about her relationship with her mother.

She wants the best for the universe but fears the worst. I ended up taking Liara on most missions, partly because I liked having an all-girl Charlies Angels-style squad, but also because her enthusiasm and curiosity invariably added nuance and emotion to the plot lines that was otherwise lost with the more workaday companions. Her arc, leading up the excellent Lair Of The Shadow Broker DLC, is also some of the most interesting stuff in the series. Damnit, Liara, it was always you. You made me want to be a better Shepard.

Hates... Thane Krios (Mass Effect)

Look, I wouldn t say I hate Thane pity, maybe it s more that I can t think about him without feeling the intense embarrassment that only comes with a truly disastrous one-night stand. After Liara was sidelined for Mass Effect 2 my Fem Shep couldn t be expected to live like a space nun, could she? So, reasoning that she was an experimental girl of the galaxy, I decided to bunk up with Thane. Largely to cheer him up because, hoo boy, badass assassins have rarely been more depressing.

Whether it s moping over his dead wife, praying for forgiveness after whacking some schmuck, or musing on what a terrible dad he is, Thane is just a big green cloud of glum. (Bonus bad times: he s also slowly dying of Kepral s Syndrome, the specifics of which I forget and have no desire to Google.) After the sex he s awkwardly grateful. Which, honestly, is a sure sign you ve made a terrible romantic mistake. Ugh.

Evan Lahti

Loves... HK-47 (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)

For all the well-rounded, nonarchetypal, and sensitive characters BioWare has thrown at us, I delight in the silliest, most murderous, and one-dimensional partner they ve written. HK-47 is more bloodthirsty than Jack or fellow assassin Thane, and most reliable source of bad advice in BioWare games.

He s essentially a bad-ass, malicious one-liner dispenser ("Observation: We can begin by slaughtering the inhabitants of this building, master. Would that be impressive?"), but he also shows us a dark side of droids not seen in the Star Wars I grew up with--compared to the placative C-3PO, HK-47 shows zero concern for the needs of humans. The Star Wars wiki is a fine source of HK-47 quotes, most of them containing meatbag as a perjorative.

Hates... Miranda Lawson (Mass Effect)

Miranda is the closest to furniture that a BioWare character has ever been. What do we remember about her, other than her skintight bodysuit and the way Mass Effect 2 s camera suggestively frames her hips? Her loyalty missions were among the least interesting, and her fluctuating relationship with Cerberus, which could ve been a great opportunity for genuine betrayal in the series, never made me feel uneasy.

Tyler Wilde

Loves... Mordin Solus (Mass Effect)

Mordin is great for the following reasons: One, he s a scientist, and science is neat. Two, he blinks upwards. Three, he speaks in sentence fragments, and it is a proven fact that omitting pronouns is super endearing. Four, he is the very model of a scientist salarian. Five, he gives practical sex advice and totally doesn t judge. Six, he has a cool thing around his neck.

My cynical side says Mordin was designed to be quoted by fans more than be an interesting character, but he s a very interesting character. His practical, logical morality is a bit Data-like, but unlike The Enterprise s android, he s emotional. He s just so sure of his pragmatism that he can stay upbeat despite the weight of his actions and then he s not. It breaks my heart when he yells I made a mistake! in Mass Effect 3. Even if he was still talking about variables and potential outcomes, there s regret and hope there, too.

Hates... Jack (Mass Effect)

Jack has lived a ridiculously shitty life. She s been experimented on, tortured, and used and tragically, all that abuse turned her into a boring character who sucks. She s that garden variety violent psychopath who s always wiping something off her lip with the back of her hand (saliva? blood?) after saying shit. She s mad, and she should be, but her conflict with Shepard isn t interesting. It s just she s mad. She s really mad, and that s about it.

Her grisly past means she doesn t have any interesting space culture to talk about, either it s just a story about how Cerberus is bad and we shouldn t like them. That insane chest belt costume from Mass Effect 2 didn t help, either, and neither did the equally-stupid Biker Mice From Mars-inspired look in Mass Effect 3.

Cory Banks

Loves... Aveline (Dragon Age)

For most of my time in Kirkwall (after a long absence, I m only just now finishing the game), Guard Captain Aveline was merely an interesting character: stoic, hard-nosed, a fine example of how DA2 s rivalry system can work. She often didn t agree with my actions, but our mutual goals united us. We re not friends, but we re companions.

Her companion quest is what turned me around. In most BioWare games, your goal with companions is to make them like you more and most likely, fall in love with you enough that they ll join you in an awkward, unromantic sex cinematic. Aveline s quest is different: she has a crush on a subordinate guardsman, and wants your help to get his attention. The captain of the guard is awful at flirting, however, which leads to an amusing series of scenes where you entertain Aveline s future boyfriend while she works up the nerve to talk to him.

It works because it s not really about you, but about the character who is supposed to be your friend, and it s one of the most realistic character moments in a game that s supposed to be all about character. Now, not only is Aveline the best tank I can bring to a fight, but she s also an actual friend.

Hates... Yoshimo (Baldur's Gate II)

I ll never forgive BioWare for Yoshimo. When I first met him in the game s starting dungeon, he was a welcome help to the party good in a fight, great with a lockpick, and the only pure-class thief players get in the game. I kept him around in the team because I needed him, but also because I liked him. But then it turned out that he was Jon Irenicus puppet, and was forced to betray me to save his life. Not that it helped, because I had to kill him. It s a very Joss Whedon move, to make me kill a character I love, and while that might sound like praise for BioWare, it doesn t make me any less angry about it.

Wes Fenlon

Loves... Niftu Cal (Mass Effect)

Over the years, BioWare has written tons of interesting companions who journey and grow along with you. Characters with depth and humanity. In Mass Effect, those characters are often aliens with detailed and unique physiologies. But how many of them are biotic gods? Only one. Only Niftu Cal, the funniest throwaway character BioWare ever created.

Hates... Carth Onasi (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)

It takes Knights of the Old Republic all of five minutes to pair you up with the most self-righteous soldier in the galaxy. There I was, walking through the streets of Taris, just trying to help out the local alien races by relieving them of their credits. That money was just weighing them down! And then here's Carth, lecturing me. So what if I goaded someone into a fight and killed them, just for the fun of it? What gives you the right to guilt me, Carth?

I loved to hate Carth in Knights of the Old Republic, sneering at his honor and reason and that smug, holier-than-thou voice. He was an uncool Han Solo. Even playing as the most honest light side Jedi warrior, Carth was too bland for my tastes. I grew to hate him so much, I kept him around just so I could ignore every piece of sage advice and insult him at every opportunity. Carth's voice immediately made me angry. I'd recognize it anywhere, so as soon as he showed up disguised as Kaidan in Mass Effect, I knew that he'd be off the squad. Ashley may be a xenophobe, but she's better than the most annoying man in the universe.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Mass Effect director Casey Hudson leaves BioWare">caseycropped

Casey Hudson's long career at BioWare took him from a technical artist on Neverwinter Nights and MDK2 to the head of the Mass Effect franchise. Now, after 16 years, he's decided to call it quits, saying that it's time for "a much-needed break."

Hudson's credits at BioWare also include Baldur's Gate II and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but his greatest impact undoubtedly came by way of the sci-fi RPG epic Mass Effect, on which he served as the project director from the beginning to the end. But in a letter posted in full on the BioWare Blog, he said it's time to move on.

"This is without a doubt the most difficult decision of my career," Hudson wrote. "BioWare is as magical a place today as it was when I started. The projects we are working on are some of the most exciting and prestigious in the world. The talent in our teams is second to none. And the people here are some of my closest friends. I ve spent more time with many of you than my own family, and I have enjoyed every day of it."

He also acknowledged the fans, saying he's "profoundly appreciative" of the part he played in making so many memorable games. "The very idea that so many of you have enjoyed spending time in the worlds we ve created is the defining achievement of my career, and it s your support over the years that made it all possible," he wrote.

His departure is unexpected and surprising, but Hudson said that with development on the next Mass Effect well underway and the Edmonton studio ready to begin preproduction on a new IP, this was the best time to make the move. He offered no hint as to what he'll get up to next, however, saying only that he wants to "get perspective on what I really want to do with the next phase of my life, and eventually, take on a new set of challenges."
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to BioWare’s Mass Effect Comic Con panel is now on YouTube">Bt6Aj6PCIAIZYRL.jpg large

A full-length recording of BioWare's Mass Effect panel at Comic-Con has been turned loose on YouTube. "Charting a Course: Developing the Next Mass Effect" doesn't reveal anything we didn't already know, but die-hard fans with 30 minutes to spare will probably want to check it out anyway.

Despite its half-hour running time, the video isn't a massive info-dump by any stretch of the imagination. As Mike Gamble puts it in the introduction, BioWare wants to share information with its fans but "we're years from being able to say, 'This is the exact game we're making.'" The Q&A that takes up the final two-thirds of the video is a bit flat for that reason too, and in fact the moderator almost immediately warns people to stay away from story-related questions because they can't be answered.

A few tidbits do make it through, though: Gamble said the game will feature "new races" and promised that the female casual outfits will be more in line with the male character's this time around. The highlight, though, has to be the crowd reaction to the news that the Mako is returning: It seems the old off-roader is a lot more popular than BioWare expected.

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Mass Effect Comic-Con panel reveals N7 connection, return of the Mako for next game">Mako

UPDATE: Footage of the panel has appeared online, along with a few more details, including confirmation that you'll be playing as a human character. You'll find it below.

The Escapist has video from the event, which includes footage of the Mako in action (BioWare appear determined to make it less horrible to control than the old one, thankfully), some nice conceptual art, and speculation that the game will take place within Shepard's lifetime (although it won't star Shepard). If you saw EA's conference at E3, you'll know that this all part of their new approach to game reveals: ie to reveal things much earlier than before. The next Mass Effect is still years out, according to BioWare, and a lot of this stuff is still up in the air. It does seem like Mako customisation is currently included the game though. Here's the video:

Original story:

It's natural to expect the big game-related news to emerge out of E3 or Gamescom, but BioWare just revealed a load of new details about the next Mass Effect in a panel at Comic-Con, which they reiterate is totally not called Mass Effect 4. The mighty Nerd Appropriate were on hand to take sneaky images, and thanks to their sterling work we now know that the first game's infuriating/awesome spacecar the Mako will be making a return - they even showed footage of the thing in action, although sadly video hasn't leaked of that yet. More details after the break, which may or may not include the letters 'N7'.

Firstly, that image up there, courtesy of The Escapist's Andrea Rene (Thanks, Joystiq). The Mako is back! Along with the words "Your Mako", suggesting an element of vehicle customisation. Similarly, the words "Your hero" were emblazoned above images of male and female player characters that appear to be clad in N7 armour, as seen here:

If you're thinking, "Wait, didn't Shepard wear N7 armour?" you're right, but BioWare reiterated that this isn't Shepard's story, despite the implications of you wearing getup reminiscent of that famous dudette/dude's iconic garb. GameFront's Phil Horshaw was also at the event, and quoted BioWare as saying "our hero has something to with N7", ruling out my pet theory of the player character being a gangly Hanar.

Other titbits, courtesy of Nerd Appropriate: familiar characters might reappear in Not-Mass-Effect-4, while the game's multiplayer component will likely focus on co-op, and have players assuming one of a variety of races. More details are likely to spill out over the next day or so - until then, we'll be reliving our best/worst Mako memories, and imagining how an ME1-style planet might look rendered in the Frostbite engine.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Listen to Bioware’s GaymerX panels on romance and inclusiveness">Dragon Age table

The second GaymerX the LGBTQ-oriented gaming convention took place last weekend. In addition to workshops, parties and more Pokemon-themed competitions than you would think possible, the event also featured a number of guest speakers. Among them, Bioware's David Gaider, Jessica Merizan, Robyn Th berge, Karin Weekes and Patrick Weekes who participated in two panels: "Building a Better Romance" and "Freaking out the Neighbours". Bioware have now uploaded the audio from both talks to YouTube.

Here's Building a Better Romance, described as, "a discussion of how romances came to be in BioWare games."

The second talk, Freaking out the Neighbours, focuses on representation, inclusiveness, and the negative reactions such topics can provoke. "What is 'good representation' in games and why would anyone be opposed to it?" asks the talk's description. "Considering the romance elements in BioWare games, we've heard it all, and it's worth discussing where some of these feelings come from and how it's possible for a developer to be inclusive in a way we can feel good about."

Each talk is just under an hour, but they're both interesting topics and ones that reveal a lot about Bioware's approach and thinking.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Hey, you, get out of here! We're done with you.

BioWare have spoken openly about making another Mass Effect game for over a year now (not that it was ever in doubt). They’ve told us that Shepard’s story is over, that it’s time for someone new, and that it’s not called Mass Effect 4, but that’s about all. Surely, one might think, that by E3 2014 they’d be ready to say something solid about the game. Perhaps a cinematic teaser trailer. A few plot hints. A name, at the very least. They named it, didn’t they? Well, no. But BioWare have shown off a few seconds of “conceptual prototype” footage and some model renders.

They’ve also announced they’re working on something entirely new and no, they don’t have much to say about that either.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to BioWare teases new Mass Effect game with “new stories, new characters” at 2014 E3 EA press conference">Mass Effect

BioWare teased the future of Mass Effect during EA s press conference during the first day of E3 today. BioWare Montreal is working on the next Mass Effect game, which will feature new locations, new characters, and new stories.

BioWare Montreal sees it as a clean sheet, a chance to build a new Mass Effect series without being beholden to the story and characters that have become so celebrated in the Commander Shepard games. BioWare won t reveal any details of what they re working on just yet, but it s encouraging to think that we ll get to spend more time in the Mass Effect universe and see it with fresh eyes. The prototype footage shown included a roaring Krogan.

While BioWare Montreal works on the next generation of Mass Effect stories, BioWare Edmonton is developing a completely new, so far unrevealed, concept.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to On The Level: The Normandy, Mass Effect">On the Level - mass effect

Every week Andy celebrates a great map, level, or location from a classic PC game in On The Level. Warning: spoilers ahead for the entire Mass Effect series.

The Normandy is the most advanced military starship in the galaxy, but it s also home. The hum of the engines, the beeps and chirps of the computers, and the murmur of the crew are the sounds of solace in the Mass Effect series. It s where you regroup after a mission, battered and bruised, and plan your next move. It s where you confide in your crew, reminisce with old friends, and consummate your romances. And even though millions of people have played Mass Effect, it s your ship.

Games like Star Trek: Bridge Commander and Artemis are better at simulating the experience of being in command of a starship, but Mass Effect captures the romantic feel of it; of exploring alien worlds, getting involved in space-politics, and saving the galaxy. It also helps that the Normandy looks so cool. Not just the exterior, but the interior too, which has a hard 70s sci-fi edge to it. This is not J.J. Abrams shiny Enterprise; it s cold and functional, fitted for its military purpose.

Until Cerberus get their hands on it, that is. What I love about Mass Effect is that even though you re always in command of some version of the Normandy, in each game it has a very different ambience. The original model, the SSV, was built by the turians and the Systems Alliance, which explains its utilitarian military design. But when Cerberus rebuild it in the second game, naming it the Normandy SR2, they make it a little more hospitable. They add a bar, luxury quarters for Shepard, a spacious office for Miranda, and brighten the lights with a warm, orange glow.

But in Mass Effect 3, where Cerberus become the enemy, the SR2 falls into the hands of the Alliance, who don t hesitate in getting it back up to military muster. The warm lighting is gone, replaced with colder tones, reminiscent of the SSV. Wires hang from loose panels on the walls and ceiling, showing that this was a hasty retrofit. The Reapers are coming, after all: hardly time to worry about tidying up. Some comforts remain, namely the bar, which now has a card table, but this is a far cry from the cosy SR2. The Alliance obviously don t want soldiers getting too comfortable in times of war.

BioWare have a long track record of manipulating players emotions, and they use your love of the Normandy against you on a number of occasions. The second game opens with it being unceremoniously destroyed by the Collectors. Later you visit the crash site, picking through the shattered remains to find your sadly departed crew s dog tags. Then, near the end, the Collectors board the ship, snatching the crew as you sneak Joker to safety. It feels like a home invasion, and suddenly your safe haven doesn t feel so safe anymore. If you didn t drop everything and immediately go through the Omega Relay to rescue the crew, you must have a heart of stone.

Does the Normandy sit alongside the likes of the Millennium Falcon and the Enterprise in the pantheon of great fictional spaceships? Maybe not, but it means more to me than either of them, and this is coming from a pretty huge Star Wars and Star Trek fan. We all played the same game bar a few branching paths and moral choices and commanded the same ship with the same layout and crew, but Mass Effect feels like a curiously personal game to me. When I think about the series, I don t think about Shepard or the Reapers or the grand space opera; I think about the soothing purr of the drive core, the spinning galaxy map, and the stars streaking past the windows.

Here's the Mass Effect edition of Andy's video series, Other Places. Andy recently wrote about some of his favourite scenic walks in gaming for The Guardian.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Nathan Grayson)

I hope they add a stretch goal that lets us vote for a better name than Epoch: Return

As long as this planet continues to spin, there will be a new Intriguing Kickstarter From Folks Who Used To Work On Major Triple-A Franchise X Of The Day. In this case, that Kickstarter is one for Epoch: Return, and the games that once – at least, in pieces, like so many tinker toys scattering from a bucket – emerged from developer Innate’s collective brain are Mass Effect and Dragon Age. But to be perfectly honest, Epoch doesn’t really bear much family resemblance to its distant BioWarian cousins. It takes place on a colossal, open planet that’s ripe for exploring, and you traverse it by way of high-flying momentum-based leaps that strike me as a midpoint between Mirror’s Edge and Tribes 2. It still looks rather floaty, insubstantial, and, well, early, but I definitely like the idea. Watch below.

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