The best and worst BioWare companions
This article was originally published on August 25, 2014, but to celebrate BioWare's 20th anniversary we're reminiscing again about the characters we love (and don't). Warning! The following article contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for the Mass Effect, Baldur's Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age series.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.