Romances, ME3, and Why I Still Want More Thane

It suddenly dawned on me why BioWare shoved the ME2 love interests out the air lock, as it were. They couldn’t explain, otherwise, why they waited 95% of the entire timeline to leap back into bed with the Commander. I haven’t played my lone Garrus-mancer yet and I never romanced Tali so I don’t know how they handle that but if Thane, Jacob, or Miranda were part of the crew why on earth would they be anywhere but sharing Shepard’s cabin? Damn, I’m going to have to do some research on this.

It’s only been six months since any of the second game’s love interests saw the last of the Commander. Why wouldn’t Tali or Garrus be right back into it, especially if they were on the mission that landed Shep in jail in the first place? All of the “three years apart, you worked for Cerberus and I’m a loyal Alliance soldier” trust angst that Kaidan and Ashley have for (completely believable) excuses fail in the face of anyone that accompanied Shepard on the ME2 journey.

So they get Jacob a new woman, which is okay because it always seemed like a fling rather than a romance to me. They give Miranda massive family issues (and then massive internal injuries) that keep her away from the Normandy. And Thane? Thane they kill, with some nonsensical dialogue and a scene that seems beautiful until you realize someone who didn’t develop a relationship with him got the exact same lines save one (admittedly touching) difference. (Yes, it’s metagaming. I can’t help it. I ran my Thane-mancer first. The second time around with someone else really took the heart out of the scene.)

The point is that the new characters from ME2 got removed for reasons of consistency in the romance track in ME3. That sucks but I suppose it made it easier on the writers and kept things equitable as far as content with the love interests in the first two games: you wait the entire time and get one night together. I don’t really understand that particular habit of BioWare’s but it’s been long-established.

Having a recurring character like Commander Shepard, however, presents a new difficulty. The forced separation between Mass Effect 1 and 2 explained why a relationship with the Virmire survivor would need to be rekindled but a new one without those causes for caution wouldn’t make sense should not require such a wait for the renewal of intimacy that ME3 enforced. Taking Thane, Jacob, and Miranda out of the equation removed the need to deal with that question. Yet Tali and Garrus, staples of the series, returned as companions.

The immediate assumption, the conclusion to which it’s so easy to leap, is that the game was rushed. I don’t doubt that, but I also recall the explanation Dave Gaider offered in response to some questions on how Dragon Age development worked. He said that the game, when financed by EA, get a word budget. They have a limited pool of resources, one that must stretch to cover not only the plot but the interpersonal issues that make Commander Shepard’s story so engaging.

Spreading the pool thin enough to encompass three more full companions (and explain why they don’t pick the romance back up where it left off) would make not only their conversations but those of every other character more of a puddle, with just as much depth.

BioWare did many things in ME3 I didn’t enjoy. I hated how Kaidan became an aggressive steroid junky, how Ashley turned glamour girl, how Thane gave up on life. But when I think back to my favorite moments of the game, I wonder how much weaker they might have been. What would I have given up in the last moments with Anderson, in the end conversations with Garrus and Wrex?

In truth, I would have given up the EDI/Joker relationship thing to have Thane back as a companion but I know a lot of people really enjoyed it and it seems like a story the writers intended from the beginning of ME2. It also gave a lot of context to the choice at the end, watching an AI develop from a computer to a physical being with moral conflicts and emotions—and a sense of humor.

I’d have given up Liara’s failed Shadow Broker garbage, too, but again that’s subjective. She has plenty of rabid fans and they had to provide some continuity from where they went with her in ME2. I just wish they’d have made her seem much less inept.

I also wish they’d have given me the option to tell everyone to suck it up after Thessia, having recently seen my own planet overrun by Reaper forces and having just discovered the depths of Asari pride and treachery. Did Garrus get fawned over when we plucked him off that moon? Did other companions stop me in the hall to express sympathy for how hard it must be for him, even though his family was still on-planet and in imminent peril, unlike the Blue Waifu? Nope.

But now I’m complaining rather than making my point, which was that the writers had a limited number of words to use. I may not agree with how they chose to use them, but the times they really mattered to me make me appreciate that what I didn’t might be someone else’s favorite conversation. While I might have rather talked to Thane more and missed out on Tali’s “emergency induction port” conversation I can’t deny that it added a lot to her character.

I’d have given up the entire Aria bullshit for the chance to shoot her arrogant face in a back alley on the Citadel. Yet people love her and without her the “take back the empire of filth” DLC could not have happened. (Can you tell I haven’t bought it? I hear good things but I can’t stand Aria.)

Sure, we could have done without some of the ambient conversation, some of the inter-companion chats that you encounter around the ship but at what cost to making the Normandy feel like a real place? Garrus, in particular, in his banters with James and an un-romanced Tali, and the poker game helped create the feeling of a team rather than a disconnected, distrustful bunch of people like you had in ME2.

All in all, a large part of my disappointment with ME3 lay in the fact that it simply wasn’t epic enough. It needed to be bigger in every way. Let me see the Crucible under construction. Let me have my ME2 lover back. Let me discuss implications and plans more. Let me decide how a given Shepard reacts to things rather than forcing an emotion on him or her. Give me more branches for dialogue that let me ask for more background or build consensus. More!

Sadly, that’s all water under the bridge. The moment has passed; the ship has sailed. I still love the Mass Effect series and have a fresh Shep under way. I just mourn the things that I know cannot happen now that her story has a defined scope that sort of fizzles in the end rather than exploding like a real, united galaxy fighting off an unknowable enemy should have. Or maybe I just enjoyed too many fireworks last night with the love of my real life and wanted more for the characters in whom I invested so much.

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