This has become something of a tradition. BioWare’s games tend to eat up a lot of my time, and the habit has become to dash out a post as I push myself towards the usually somewhat disappointing ending. I’m doing my best to keep my fingers in my ears to drown out all of the entitled whining, bitching, and moaning going on regarding Mass Effect 3, so before I reach the conclusion of an overall fascinating sci-fi trilogy, let me break up the crusty surface of cynicism that is current gaming-related writing and talk about something sweet.
Or rather, someone.
Back when I first played the original Mass Effect, I thought all of the characters had something going for them. Even if Ashley Williams was a horrible racist, she was interesting. Saren, despite being the villain, did what all good villains did and had nuances to explore and motivations that, while extreme and ultimately very wrong, one could understand from a certain point of view. But as much as I loved sniping with Garrus or headbutting with Wrex, over the appeal of a blue-skinned bisexual bookworm, I was taken by Tali’Zorah nar Rayya.
From the very start, Tali showed she was fully capable of taking care of herself in a galaxy poised to swallow up a young woman out on her own for the first time. Very smart, unflinching in combat, and with a wicked tongue adept at snark, Tali’s experience with machinery made her an invaluable asset in the fight against Saren and the geth. Indeed, her experiences not only helped her complete the Pilgrimage her people all took on the cusp of adulthood, but also allowed her to return to the Migrant Fleet with more information and confidence than she could have imagined at the start of it all.
My primary Shepard is male and is trained as an Infiltrator. This unfortunately meant that he and Tali shared some redundant skills, so the adventures they shared on that first outing were not as numerous as they would have been otherwise. I took the time to talk with her as much as I could on board the Normandy, at least, but there was no option to really get to know her better, not like there was with Liara or Ashley. And considering I wasn’t about to let Kaiden die if I could help it, that limited the infamous romance options to Mass Effect to exactly one.
And then BioWare announced the option to romance Tali would be in the sequel, Mass Effect 2.
Sing, choirs of angels.
Considering this was long before Lair of the Shadow Broker, it seemed that Liara would remain a distant figure throughout the second game. I was okay with this for two reasons. One, it added a lot of much-needed depth to her character and made a great deal of sense given her brilliant mind. The other one, of course, was that I could look into Tali’s feeling without feeling a great deal of guilt. That was my rationale for that play-through, at least, and it was worth it to hear Tali stammering a little when the subject came up. Seeing Tali grow between games into a full-fledged adult Quarian with responsibility and leadership skills was heartening. Tali’Zorah vas Neema (and, later, vas Normandy) continued to show exemplary skill in Mass Effect 2, and provided an emotionally charged loyalty mission that is still very much worth doing even if you’re not pursuing her romantically.
I know there are some out there who consider romancing Tali a somewhat creepy option. It’s possible to see her as just another video game damsel in distress, a fulfillment of some sort of juvenile male power fantasy involving a young and ineffectual girl unable to survive without the strong hand of a man behind her. When I look at Tali, though, I don’t get that. Setting personal bias aside, her first encounter on the Citadel has her brushing off unwanted attentions, easily evading capture through clever deception and explosives use, and immediate participation in the ensuing firefight. She can handle herself. She doesn’t need a man in her life. And being attracted to that capability, that bravery, and those smarts is creepy? Seriously, I do not get “cool” cynical hate-filled gamers sometimes. Making decisions in Mass Effect 2 specifically so she has no option but to stay with you, though, that is creepy, and a little sad.
Anyway, after a Hardcore play-through as a female Vanguard, I resurrected my Infiltrator to play through both games on Insanity. Revisiting the first game was fun, and also afforded me with an opportunity to make a few decisions differently, including deflecting advances from both female characters. Basically, I held out for Tali. And considering how things have turned out so far, now that I’ve completed events on the planet Rannoch in Mass Effect 3, I can tell you it was definitely worth it.
Games need more characters like Tali. Her presence is strong, a good mix of smarts and combat capability, with occasional touches of femininity and deep emotion that make her far more interesting than most obligatory video game love interests. To me, at least, she’s one of the best things about the Mass Effect trilogy in general, and this final game in particular. So far, at least. We’ll see how that bears out at the end.