If there was only one thing I could choose to critically destroy the Mass Effect series through, it would have to be banter.
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of Bioware’s character stuff is solid. Character interactions with Shep are great. Character reactions to situations are fantastic. Several of the character arcs in both games are very, very good. But when it comes to interpersonal chatter amongst your squadmates?
For point of comparison, let us look back at Dragon Age: Origins or even Dragon Age II (much as there are a number of people who absolutely revile that title – but that’s a discussion for another day). Let me ask you a question. What did Morrigan and Alistair think of each other? What about Fenris and Merrill? How did Oghren and Sten interact? Merrill and Varric? Wynne and Alistair? So on and so forth.
While it isn’t perfect by any means, I am relatively sure that each of those mentions should have triggered at least a little bit of memory.
Now. How about Garrus and Ashley? Kaidan and Wrex? Mordin and Tali? Miranda and Jacob?
Not ringing so many bells now, are we?
The reason for this is fairly simple. Dragon Age go out of their way to add a lot of ambiance conversations between characters while you aren’t doing anything. There are quite a few of them, as a matter of fact, and several between each set of characters. DAII took this a step further by giving you the chance to walk in on characters when they were interacting with characters if you visited their home. You would just be trolling around town and suddenly Morrigan and Alistair would have a little spat or Oghren and Sten would – so much as either is capable of it – interact in some good natured ribbing.
This? This is a very good thing.
It gives you a lot more freedom to explore different facets of the characters because you are no longer constrained by the questions that would be on the main’s mind and you are allowed to well… observe them and see how they react to a different set of pressures. It also helps give them a sense of life by showing that they exist outside of the watchful eye of the main character. They are allowed to be ‘real” people with their own motivations and their own lives.
Unfortunately, Mass Effect more or less relegated these to those god-awful elevator sequences (please, never again) and Mass Effect 2 had some that were only really put in terms of character X vs character Y.
This? Not so good.
Honestly, this is kind of an issue with a lot of media. Since the focus tends to be on a few central characters (or, as is the case of Mass Effect, a central character, we tend to end up with everything focused on the relationship between main and side characters. You see this in a lot of jRPGs as well, honestly. Since the focus is on… say… Cloud Strife or Yuri Hyuga… you tend to lose out how the other characters stand with each other.
And I think, especially in longer titles, this is a sad loss.