It is full of fantastic characters in Bioware’s delightful Mass Effect universe, where I could easily choose several favorites to put on a podium. Murder, Wrex, Tali, Legion, Garrus, Liara, Illusive Man … it’s easy to lose count in this franchise. However, the most brilliant star in this galaxy is none other than Commander Shepard, who through three games has enchanted me as a player for several years. I know, I know – it may be strange to name a shiny role-playing character as his absolute favorite character in the gaming world, but the fact is that Bioware managed the feat to get the best of both worlds here: a malleable avatar combined with the studio’s storytelling magic to get the player to feel like the world’s toughest space agent, which is exactly what Shepard has managed to convey in three games now.
As a pre-built character, Shepard was an inspiring and selfless character from the beginning, and as a player, he was constantly bathed in the characters’ admiration and adoration, no matter how they played the character. Even though Shepard had already been given less leadership qualities, there was still room to reflect the player’s personality. If you wanted to be a diplomatic golden boy or a shooting-happy asshole – or something in between – the choice was always yours and it was fun to change mood swings according to the situation, especially when the Renegade elections could come from nowhere. I mean, snooping journalists do not beat themselves up! Like Shepard, you could also reflect on the best sides of your loyal crew members. A character is often defined by whom he chooses to be surrounded by and given the varied and fantastic crowd of companions he gathers during these games, it is no wonder that Shepard is so loved – both inside and outside the game’s universe.
Personally, I always prefer silent protagonists when it comes to role-playing games, where I thankfully avoid having to have my dialogue choices repeated by a voice actor and thus waste my precious gaming time. With Shepard, however, Bioware got a full hit in terms of voice acting, where both Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale excelled as guardians of the universe. These two giants are not just any voice actors – they were the exception to the silent rule as their performances were always a pleasure to listen to. Meyer’s commanding and characteristic voice gave Shepard a charismatic presence, contributed to a memorable achievement, while Hale – who was my personal favorite – both sounded and acted as an ideal mentor figure thanks to his soft and hard-handed sides. The best thing about their voice acting, however, was that their performance was monotonous enough to allow the player to interpret Shepard’s emotional world themselves, thus making the combination of player input and Bioware’s own additions to a superb interplay.
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Through Shepard, I also fulfilled my innermost science fiction dreams. Shepard brought out my inner Trekkie by exposing me to various ethical dilemmas and made me live out my wildest Star Wars fantasies by getting rid of the Force-like biotic abilities (however, no one can measure up to the biotic god). However, it’s those little things that make Shepard the beloved Reaper killer he is – little human things that you are involved in shaping as a player. Shepard can be as brutal in the player’s hands in the battlefield as being cash on the dance floor. You could be a Romeo who never fed his fish or play an unwavering workaholic who put fights in front of the fun and depending on who (or who) you choose to start intimate relationships with, it also shows the depth that the player can add to his already raw cool avatar. There is a reason why the character has also been an inexhaustible goldmine for meme creators, as Shep can assume so many different roles through the game series; he can tackle everything from playing seductive space spy, the devil’s lawyer and sensitive psychologist, which made Shepard an incredibly human protagonist. Shepard, that is, the player, is the best in the universe. You are humanity’s last hope. You are steadfast, strong and just generally cool. It’s an unbeatable feeling.
Shepard’s brilliance is also one of the reasons I reacted so strongly towards the end of Mass Effect 3, where much of Shepard’s strength was swept away in favor of a lousy written climax. Here it was clear that this was Bioware’s character more than anything else, which rhymed very badly with the studio’s promises about how important one’s choices were and how the player had to tailor his character right up to the end. The DLC Extended Cut, which was a reaction to the player base’s strong criticism, smoothed out the sharper edges of the end a bit and gave Shepard a bit of the player’s identity back by, for example, letting the player shoot the transparent bastard into the stuff. I appreciated this, although nothing could wash away the awful aftertaste that was the Mass Effect 3 finale and I loved how self-conscious Shepard became in the wonderful Citadel DLC. It is inevitable when you get tampas with your own evil clone!
With all that said, I do not know how I feel about Shepard’s potential return in the next four. It has been hinted in both the DLC patch and the four teaser trailer that there is a chance for the commander to return to the franchise, which would mean that Mass Effect is not ready to move on without its legendary Reaper killer if now the disastrous Andromeda were to be someone preferably indication. It is also possible that Shepard would remain a side character that one must not control given the events of Mass Effect 3. If, on the other hand, it meant that I would once again be allowed to sit in Shepard’s combat boots and fall into Talis’ arms again … then I’m ready to be Shepard again. At the time of writing, I am actually eager to leave the monster meat in Elden Ring and once again play the role of the gaming world’s best commander …