I Wish Mass Effect Had Dragon Age’s Playable Squadmates

A turian sniper with an omni-tool worth its weight in eezo; a krogan bruiser whose fists are basically shotguns; a quarian tech whizz capable of making a hunk of junk reach FTL speeds faster than Silicon Valley techbros can say “we need to expand to Mars, man”. All of these characters sound phenomenal to play, which is why it’s more than a bit of a shame that you’re only allowed to run ‘n’ gun with an SMG and a biotic pull – Commander Shepard hasn’t got a patch on Kasumi’s Shadow Strike.

What I mean is, it’s always been extremely strange to me that Mass Effect opted for only allowing you to play as Shepard. I know they’re the protagonist, so it makes sense for them to be our primary playable character. In Dragon Age, though – Mass Effect’s estranged and less beloved but no less excellent fantasy sibling – this isn’t the case at all.

Even 2009’s Dragon Age Origins gave you access to the Warden – essentially Shepard but in dragon land – and three companions at a time, all of whom had their own distinct builds. I played as Zevran constantly in Origins, while Varric is a go-to combat coordinator for me in both Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition. Not being able to control Grunt, or Garrus, or anyone else… it’s just a bit disappointing. I barely used the Warden or the Champion of Kirkwall in the first two Dragon Age games, and while my Inquisitor was a bit stronger, he got the boot fairly quickly as well. As I already said, I’m team Varric all the way. Like, imagine not being able to use Bianca…

I know developing games takes an awful lot of work, and making all of these characters fully responsive to player input is no easy feat. The thing is, all of these archetypes exist in Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer anyway – drell assassin (Thane), turian agent (Garrus), asari vanguard (Samara, I think, as Liara is more of an adept). What’s more, most of them overlap with one of Shepard’s six potential classes, meaning it mostly boils down to rotating control away from the super space soldier and towards a different character with remarkably similar combat coding as them. Sure, the avatar still needs to swap over, but all of the character models are in multiplayer, too. Even if it wasn’t possible for the first two games, it’s all there in Mass Effect 3 and Andromeda, and would have made for a particularly fascinating and potentially consensus-shifting mechanic for the latter.

It might not sound like a big deal to some people, but it is pretty frustrating for long-time BioWare fans. I wrote about how Mass Effect characters are better than Dragon Age ones but aren’t used half as well last week, and this is just yet another instance of that. Getting to play as your companions in Dragon Age makes you much more invested in them and opens up an enormous amount of potential for varied, tactical combat. When I’m playing Lair of the Shadow Broker and Liara goes down for the fifth time in two minutes, it’s a bit like, here, instead of me directing you to point A or checking whether Singularity is off cooldown yet, just let me play as you for a minute, yeet everyone up in the air, and thwack them with a Heavy Charge. That would be much easier, significantly less frustrating, and way more conducive to creating solid character attachments. But nope – your choices are Shepard, or, er… Shepard.

To this day, this is something that the Dragon Age series legitimately has one over on Mass Effect with, despite the latter being way more popular. If you’ve already played Origins, 2, or Inquisition, you’ll probably – hopefully, potentially… please? – agree with me. Having the option to switch characters at any moment is a godsend in moment-to-moment play, and the fact your main character is still the focus in cutscenes and dialogue means you rarely lose sight of them and the story never falters for lack of focus.

Having playable companions is a brilliant way of making combat fast, fluid, and facile, and the fact it’s never been adopted by Mass Effect becomes increasingly strange to me every time I think about it. Here’s hoping Mass Effect 4 – or 5, depending on how you view Andromeda in terms of chronology – tries to implement a mechanic like this. I mean, at least that way we wouldn’t have to play as a human all the time, and if we finally got a hanar squadmate – which is actually plausible when you consider the cut hanar wars from the first Mass Effect – we could go full Blasto on the bad guys. That’s not to mention the possibility of getting a playable volus squadmate – all hail the Biotic God, amirite?

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