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Mass Effect 2: Friends or Foes?

My gigantic assembly of party members in Mass Effect 2 has me a little perplexed.

See, I like them all. They’re a fascinating bunch. Even the evil bastards that I don’t agree with are interesting (I’m looking at you, Jack).

But I can’t help but think that there’s something missing.

This is not a comment on the quality of the characters themselves. I have previously said that I think Mass Effect 2 has a high quality cast and I stand by that statement, but something feels off about the assembly.

It took me a little while to put my finger on it. My moment of revelation came when I finally got my old friend Tali back in my party again. It was nice to see a familiar face.

And that’s when it struck me. I don’t feel any camaraderie here. We may be a bunch of capable individuals working toward the same goal in a broad sense, but I wouldn’t dare call us a team yet. Hell, the only people I even trust so far are the two that were with me in the last game. I guess newcomer Jacob seems like a decent guy. Cerberus goon though he may be, his head seems to be in the right place at least. Miranda, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about. And she’s not the only one.

I think there’s just one too many shady individuals in the game for my liking. They may be interesting, but they’re not friends. Even some of those I didn’t spend time with in the first game came to feel like they were good buddies (Garrus, Ashley, Kaiden).

Now, on top of the fact that I’m stuck with a huge number of people I don’t even know if I can trust, some of the precious few remaining party members I loved so much from the first game are either drifting away or turning on me entirely.

Talk about a stab in the back.

Ashley is a good example. She wasn’t my favorite from the first game, but I came to like her well enough. When I met up with her in the second game, our wonderful reunion lasted for about two seconds until she started throwing accusations at me that I wasn’t even presented with adequate dialog options to refute. Trust me, I looked for the, “I don’t trust Cerberus either you fucking idiot, now stop accusing me of being in bed with them because it’s not my fault they decided to spend stupid amounts of money bringing me back from the dead, you coldhearted bitch,” but alas, I couldn’t find that choice and she walked away in a huff, apparently thinking I was just as untrustworthy as the people I now find myself surrounded with.

And don’t even get me started on the changes they made to poor Liara. She seems like a completely different person now and I didn’t even get to see the transformation. My first discussion with her in the game is a point I can officially mark down as the first painfully awkward conversation I’ve had in a game. I was uncomfortable because I wasn’t sure who I was talking to anymore. How many times have you been able to say that about your relationship with a game character?

Come to think of it, I suppose that’s a notably important point, but it’s certainly not a pleasant one. I wish I at least knew what sparked the change in her personality.

Maybe the lack of unity is the entire point. I’ve only completed one of the much-lauded loyalty missions, so maybe my ragtag, not-even-complete group of heroes isn’t supposed to feel like a team. Maybe that comes later, once I’ve won them over and we’re all trusting and friendly and happy.

I certainly hope so, as that would be one hell of a compelling story arc if they could pull it off, but I have my doubts.

Bioware seems to be very fond of these shady, hard-to-read characters. I can’t blame them. They’re certainly interesting and much deeper than what you find in most games.

But I miss the unity. I miss having a squad I can trust. Even Wrex, the aggressive Krogan killing machine from the last game, felt like he belonged on the team. The new Krogan threatened to kill me the second I let him out of his damn tube.

Things just aren’t the same.

I can already feel myself desperate to keep Tali on my team simply because she’s a friendly face. I know I can trust her and that she agrees with me. She’s not a Cerberus lackey who might turn on me, or a psychotic lunatic killing machine, or a self-interested mercenary, or any one of a number of other compelling character archetypes that force me to keep one eye turned behind me to watch out for the knife that might come sailing swiftly at my back at any moment. Tali’s just a friend.

I want to feel like I’m the leader of a unified group of badasses working toward the greater good, not some ragtag group of strong dudes looking out for themselves (or for the interests of the Illusive Man, as the case may be).

I want my team back.

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