The concept of the “dynamic duo” is an old one. Though the term now is largely attributed to Batman and Robin, the origins of it are much older. Critics would tell you that having a hero being tagged along by a sidekick is a convenient trope. Every well written hero, it is argued, needs a weakness. For the idea of overcoming said weakness is what makes a character heroic in the first place. Giving the hero a partner that can negate or at the very least, compensate for this weakness makes the job a lot easier. The partner can also be used as a point of reference, a way of showing how the hero’s trials and burdens have changed him.
I’m not sure if that is what the writers at Bioware were trying to do but damn if they didn’t succeed.
The Mass Effect series was a turning point for not just Bioware, but the games industry as a whole. It marked a real shift in the way the company was crafting its RPGs. the emphasis on cinematic presentation and the heavy use of digital actors and voice overs shook things up in a major way. It also polarized the RPG community for a while. The obvious leaning towards the console market, as shown by the heavy emphasis on action and cover based shooting etc. along with the ditching of standard RPG features such an inventory management and stats made many purists see red.
One thing that no one in their right mind can argue though is how well written the supporting casts of the games were. I have always maintained that Bioware has a knack for creating some truly fantastic characters and if anything, the Mass Effect series is their best effort till date. As the protagonist, the player’s experiences are primarily focused on the actions of Commander Shepard. Human, naval officer, Specter and intergalactic badass. In many ways, the story of Mass Effect is the story Commander Shepard above all.
That being said the list of exceptional characters in the series is long. Wrex, Tali, Mordin, Liara, Legion, Thane…. I could go on. But the one person that makes it to the top of this impressive list is Garrus Vakarian.
Ah yes, good ol Garrus. On the surface, compared to what the other characters bring to the table, this Turian rebel almost seems shallow. A cop with authority issues? Nothing new there. But given a little time, this idea is squashed fairly quickly. It does not take long for Garrus to cement his place as the guy to have your squad. A large part of his appeal is ofcourse, his voice work. Executed to perfection by actor Brandon Keener, it instills Garrus with a very believable personality. That slow drawl coupled with his acerbic and witty attitude make him unforgettable. As far as writing goes, it’s hard to do it any better.
He loves a challenge almost as much as he loves challenging you. It’s fair to say that I found myself hoping to live up to his expectations just as much as he wanted to live up to mine. His loyalty is unquestionable and there is never any doubt that this military trained sharpshooter always has your back. It’s the perfect bromance regardless of Shepard’s gender.
Nothing Commander Shepard does is ever easy and many of his/her decisions end up becoming hard choices. Decent people die, bad guys are allowed to live for the greater good and laws are broken with impunity. None of this matters to Garrus as long as it gets the job done. All of this makes him the perfect side kick. He is Starsky to your Hutch. The Sundance Kid to your Butch Cassidy.
He was one half of a perfect whole.
So it was only apt that when a rare chance of relaxation shows up, Garrus decides to turn that into a contest. By this time, the bond between us is so strong that it makes me do something that I would not even consider with anyone else: I decide to let my opponent win. It’s a poignant moment and one that clearly illustrates just how likeable a character he is. When was the last time you were ok with “losing” in a game?
Towards the end of the trilogy, when Shepard and his squad are going to embark on what is clearly going to be their final mission, his choice of words sums it up perfectly:
“There’s no Shepard without Vakarian”