Arguably the highlight of every Mass Effect and Dragon Age game since Bioware was acquired by EA and fundamentally changed its approach to storytelling, has been the companions. Each game sets up a grand, overarching plot that consists of a mostly personality-less protagonist running around a massive world (or galaxy) collecting resources and allies to fight an ultimate bad guy. While the overarching plot is ostensibly the driving force behind the games’ narrative, story beats are typically spread out over a massive RPG game packed to the brim with dozens of characters, environments, and hours of play time. So Bioware resorted to the companion system as a means of keeping a steady drip of interesting sub-plot character developments to fill the gaps between central plot beats.
Whether due to having different writers or just an easier task, Bioware companions nearly always end up more interesting as a whole than the game’s main plot. They tend to be interesting conduits for world building that fill in the minute details of what it’s actually like to live in a crazy sci-fi space opera or medieval fantasy world. Plus the arcs and emotions of unique characters directly affected by the main plot provides a much greater sense of emotional gravity to story events, even more so than talking to random peasants. As a result, Garrus, Tali, Mordin, Wrex, and Legion have certainly left a more lasting impression on the Mass Effect fan base than pretty much anything else in the series.
So how does Mass Effect Andromeda carry on Bioware’s legacy of fantastic companion characters? Here is a review for all six Andromeda companions:
WARNING – Character spoilers ahead, but no major plot spoilers.
By Mass Effect Andromeda, I think the Krogan are pretty much played out. They are a great species with a lot of interesting culture and issues, but from a storytelling standpoint, the players have seen all they have to offer by this point. Krogan have been a key part of every Mass Effect’s plot in a way that no other species has. We’ve seen them support the bad guys in ME1, we’ve seen their cultural rituals in ME2, and we’ve seen their leadership and saviors in ME3. We’ve met plenty of thuggish asshole Krogan who constitute the majority of the population, reformer “good” Krogan like Wrex and Eve, and even an errant poet Krogan in ME2. Apparently the writers couldn’t even figure out how to make an interesting Krogan companion for ME3.
When Drack first showed up in Andromeda, I had low expectations. I just didn’t know what else they could do with the Krogan, and his first appearance gleefully slaughtering Kett on Eos made him look like just another war-hungry jerk.
My expectations were greatly exceeded and then some.
Drack isn’t just interesting, cool, funny, and fun, he’s also… sweet.
Drack’s whole thing is that he’s a 1,400 year old bad-ass veteran of every war in the Milky Way (even the Krogan Rebellion!) who can’t believe he’s still alive and so just continues living his hard lifestyle way past his expiration date with the full expectation that he could die at any moment, but…underneath it all he’s a big softy. And I know the “tough guy with a heart of gold” is one of the oldest clichés in the book, but Andromeda completely pulls it off with Drack by taking the reveal slowly.
When we first meet Drack and speak with him, he acts like the usual Korgan stereotype, and won’t even join your squad until he sees you kill a bunch of Kett in action to prove your worth. But as you learn more about Drack you see his other side. You learn from Dr. Lexi that Drack is running out of spare organs to lose in combat. You meet Kesh, his granddaughter (and surrogate daughter) on the Nexus, who lives comfortably as a civilian and worries about her tough-as-nails grandpa overexerting himself.
Best of all is Drack’s relationship with Vetra (this is probably the best companion paring in the game). Their connection is ostensibly tenuous: Vetra is Drack’s granddaughter’s…military agent/friend. But at the same time, since Kesh is a civilian and Vetra is military, Drack and Vetra feel a natural kinship which Drack doesn’t quite have with his granddaughter. At first, Drack and Vetra have some delightful conversations about living adventurous lives but eventually they get more serious. Vetra sees the way Drack loves his granddaughter and given Vetra’s own history of being abandoned by her parents, she also begins to see Drack as the supportive father figure she never had in her own life.
All of these great relationships come together to make Drack a familiar but lovingly rendered character. Special consideration must be given to Drack’s excellent voice actor who makes it all work. He evokes a memorable combination of Sylvester Stallone and Andrew Dice Clay but also gives Drack a constant undercurrent of irreverence which reflects Drack’s reckless tendencies. But when Drack does finally come around to reconciling his death wish with all he stands to lose in life, the voice actor perfectly sells a man confessing to what he always knew to be true but never had the courage to say.
Pelessaria ‘Peebee’ B’Sayle
I’d bet my right hand that Peebee and Drack will end up being the fan favorites of Andromeda. I personally think she’s neck-and-neck with Drack, but I’ll give her the slight edge for being a tad more original in the Mass Effect series.
Peebee is an Asari who doesn’t act like an Asari. The species’s most notable characteristic, besides looking like hot blue humans, is its lifespan which can last up to 1,000 years. With such long futures ahead of them, Asari tend to be cautious and collected. But Peebee is the exact opposite. She is consumed by a passionate drive for exploration of Remnant tech and her own pet projects so deeply held that she recklessly puts herself and others in danger. This makes her simultaneously endearing and also rather annoying to the other squad members. It’s a great change of pace from stoic past Asari companions, Liara and Samara.
While Peebee is always fun to have around, she also has depth. Her quest for knowledge leaves her with little time for lasting bonds. She lives nomadically, moving from place to place and staying only so long as it suits her. She’s the only Mass Effect companion I can recall who doesn’t unconditionally accept a spot on the Normandy/Tempest, but instead declares her position temporary and constantly subject to renewal or cancellation at a moment’s notice.
Peebee’s interactions with other companions are consistently the most funny. Drack commends Peebee for being the most “Krogan” Asari he’s ever met and Peebee characteristically takes this assessment as a compliment. Jaal is consistently baffled by pretty much everything Peebee says and does. Even Ryder has some great spontaneous moments with Peebee, like their lightning-fast game of “I Spy” and being lured into escape pod to be involuntarily launched on a dangerous mission.
But Peebee’s best interactions are with Vetra and Cora. From a writer’s perspective, Peebee could easily get away with just being cute and annoying, but her character is wisely mined for depth when it counts.
Peebee and Vetra immediately establish a rivalry seemingly based on conflicting world views of personal responsibility: Peebee is a free spirit who follows her passion even at the expense of herself and others, while Vetra has forever operated within the self-imposed responsibility of raising her younger sister for her whole life. But gradually Peebee and Vetra apologize and come to a reconciliation, wherein it’s revealed that Vetra’s resentment stems from a deep seated feeling of regret for not being like Peebee. As much as Vetra loves her sister, she also knows she has missed out on an alluring life style that Peebee gets to enjoy every day. It’s a great moment for both characters, and has far-reaching implications into psychology and life goals beyond the confines of the game.
Meanwhile Peebee and Cora are also opposites, but in another way. Peebee is an Asari who doesn’t act like an Asari and doesn’t care for Asari traditions (ie. has no interest in long term bonding, seeks other Asari mates to bond with, etc.). Cora is a human who has lived and worked with Asari for most of her life, and subtextually seems to wish she literally were one. This fundamental difference leads to some of the funniest and best sniping, quipping, and just plain good writing in the game.
I don’t know if Peebee quite stands alongside the likes of Garrus and Mordin in the pantheon of great Mass Effect characters, but along with Drack, she is as close as Andromeda gets.
Vetra is a Turian who after being abandoned by her parents dedicated her life to taking care of her younger sister. Eventually she found it most profitable to dip into illegal activity, and she would go on to become a sort of smuggler extraordinaire.
So Vetra does shady things for a good cause. But not a grandiose cause like “saving the galaxy,” but rather a very personal cause. She has one image as a dirty bottom feeder who survives through deception and corruption, but another image as an almost saintly figure who has sacrificed her own well-being time and time again for the sake of a loved one (see her conversations with Peebee). This leads to some interesting complications as Vetra’s sister, Sid, tries to take after her sister by entering the smuggling trade, only for it to backfire.
This is a really cool basis for a character and produces a lot of great moments which were already covered with Peebee and Drack. But the reason I think Vetra isn’t as good as those two characters is the execution. Vetra’s voice actor and writing aren’t bad, but they don’t live up to the potential of the character.
I never got the sense that Vetra spent most of her life in the dark corners of interstellar espionage. She’s too clean. Too nice. Vetra does a great job portraying her love for her sister, especially how she has evolved into a surrogate mother who (rightfully or wrongfully) tends to treat Sid like a child. But the other half of her character, the delving into unsavory work to support Sid, is never adequately explored or conveyed.
I still like Vetra, and as mentioned, she has some fantastic character moments, but she works best when paired with other great characters. On her own, she is merely decent.