The Definitive Ranking of Dragon Age and Mass Effect Companions: A second opinion
Editor's note: In November of last year, we published The Definitive Ranking of all 43 Dragon Age and Mass Effect Companions. It represented one writer's argument for the "proper" arrangement of the companions in Bioware's biggest games, ranked from worst (Anders) to best (Dog, obviously). Of course any such ranking is going to inspire controversy, and the article went on to become one of our most popular and highly discussed ever. The opinions expressed in the article were debated and criticized around the web, and the comments section here on GameCrate exploded (though sadly many of those comments were lost during a server migration a few months back -- R.I.P. comments).
One of the best and most articulate of the comments left in response belonged to Lucy Melocco, who offered her insightful take and constructive criticism, as well as providing some insight into her own rankings. We reached out to her for further discussion and encouraged her to write up her thoughts in more detail. The following article is the result.
Let this be a lesson to everyone out there to put some thought (and proper grammar) behind your comments online.
In The Definitive Ranking of all 43 Dragon Age and Mass Effect Companions, by GameCrate writer Rudy Kelly, readers are treated to a list of beloved (and not-so-beloved) Bioware companions, placed in order of likeability, along with a brief explanation as to the given character’s place on the list. Like all such arguments, this piece deserves a counter-argument. Together the two viewpoints may do these companions justice in a way a one-sided opinion simply cannot.
While this listing will not be able to tear itself away from subjectivity entirely, I hope that offering an alternate perspective be conducive to at least a semblance of a balanced opinion. All my arguments are made in that light.
So, without further ado, here is the list, given in its original ranking order for ease of comparison and with a revised ranking at the end of each segment.
Original rank 43. Anders, Dragon Age II
The first argument made against him is that his background story (possession by Justice) creates an element that wants you, the player, to believe that mages are oppressed, even though Dragon Age II is all about the complexity of this very question. The second argument is that Anders blows up the Chantry, and the toss-in third argument is that he approves of someone (Fenris) being sold back into slavery.
To begin, I would like to say that the pure concept of his character is a great one – you get to explore firsthand the result of an imperfect mix between a spirit of the Fade and a person, especially fascinating if you do not subscribe to Chantry lore on possession. The two entities are no longer simply in interaction, they become something entirely different than they were originally. Anders’ entire character is about this struggle to find a balance of concepts of right and wrong, arguably a perfect representation of moral concepts being reshaped and influenced in the human psyche, where something as abstract as "the spirit of Justice" can quickly turn into Vengeance.
As to the first argument: Anders is meant to be your deep-end representative of the mage side of things. The game’s complexity revolving around the mage-templar opposition is made that complex because you get two extreme perspectives – Anders on one side and Meredith on the other – and a whole host of in-betweens.
That lack of objectivity, however, is what makes us question the validity of Anders’ arguments – we are not forced to support mages, nor are we forced to support Meredith’s brittle, iron-thumb standpoint (which anyone could have told us would cause a revolt); instead, we are treated to two obsessed and disproportionately antagonistic elements causing a delicate situation to blow up, literally, and we see lots of people caught in the middle who did not want this. Anders, like Meredith, is a great plot enabler, because you literally cannot support either side without seeing their gigantic flaws.
This brings us to the second argument: Anders blew up a building full of people and then had the gall to stand by his actions. For this, I would say this is another case in point. With such a complex and unstable mindset that Anders obviously has, it is logically the only way to release the pressure that has been building in him over Dragon Age II’s ten-year span. Whatever you were doing to help or hinder him, the fact of the matter is that with a character as violent and merciless as Meredith, an equally ruthless element is almost required to balance things out. Arguably, Dragon Age II can be said to be less about mage-templar differences and more about the dangers of believing in a cause too much, or abiding by the "spirit" of a concept too much, and the inevitable rise and reciprocation of fanaticism.
The third and final argument, regarding Anders' attitude towards Fenris, I think is blown out of proportion. Anders and Fenris clearly hate each other’s guts – Anders isn’t a supporter of slavery, he’s a supporter of anything that will get rid of Fenris in particular. Considering Justice it may be seen as odd, yet even that is just another indicator that Anders has completely lost his small-world gauge of good and evil and has slipped down the slippery slope of "the greater good" – a concept that a lot of death and destruction can be attributed to.
Suffice it to say that Anders is multifaceted – love him or hate him as a person, as a character I would argue that he is excellent material.
My Rank: 4 (39 spots higher)
Anders' imperfect symbiosis with Justice and the concepts of morality and virtue in the psyche he represents make him a fascinating study. His contributions to Fade theory, magical theory, and overall lore regarding spirits, demons, and possession by virtue of his condition are not insignificant.
Original rank 42. EDI, Mass Effect 3
The best way to get people invested in the lives and interests of other beings, mechanical or not, is to fully anthropomorphize them. While EDI’s voice was an excellent atmospheric addition to Mass Effect 2, EDI’s transformation into a seemingly living, breathing human with relationships, expressions, questions, etc. forces players to truly consider the impact of their choice to potentially destroy all artificial intelligence in the galaxy.
While Legion does an admirable job of representing just how different and interesting a mechanical mind is, EDI has the opportunity to become almost completely integrated into organic life, which is a huge difference from any other artificial intelligence we have ever heard of in the Mass Effect universe, let alone the Reapers themselves, who represent the more classic "evil AI" that is seemingly bent on eradicating all traces of advanced civilization.
EDI becoming more humanoid, her relationship with Joker, and her being a full member of the team all are subtle hooks in the player’s mind that show an evolving artificial life form you can personally think of as you are about to make the Big Decision. Thus, I wouldn’t say her robot body is "silly" – it is a calculated move to make players think, even if they already decided their course of action at the start of the game.
My Rank: 20 (22 spots higher)
EDI is representative of the ‘good’ side of AIs in the galaxy as she achieves the true pinnacle of evolution, i.e. she is one side of the coin of what the geth may one day become, and the first AI successful in such an endeavor.
Original rank 41. Merrill, Dragon Age II
Our first encounter with Merrill leaves a vastly different impression than when she becomes our companion in Dragon Age II, yet the core of her is still the First who wishes to reclaim part of her people’s past. What might seem most jarring to players about her personality is her utter lack of familiarity with the life of city dwellers and humans in general, which is interpreted by some as lack of intelligence. Some of her vagueness can be attributed to her preoccupation with the Eluvian, though certainly her impressionable, almost naïve, worldview seems out of place for a mage of her caliber. Putting that aside, Merrill’s character manages to touch on a much more interesting dilemma of Thedas: magic and demons.
Merrill’s attitude towards demons and blood magic is spurned by not only the Andrastians but by the Dalish as well, yet as our lore regarding the Fade builds throughout the Dragon Age series, our room for speculation grows, and eventually even the view that blood magic is evil is called into question. Certainly, Merrill’s approach to demons is presented as reckless, yet it must be pointed out that it was not her actions directly that lead to the tragic events in Act 3 (Marethari’s possession and possibly the destruction of the Dalish clan), it is rather others’ reactions to Merrill’s deeds and intent.
My Rank: 22 (19 spots higher)
To me Merrill represents the tragedy of the Dalish in a sense: though they are prideful of their treasured elven history, it is the Dalish who spurn the one among them who would recapture such a significant part of that history. She also offers a thought-provoking dynamic between reviled blood magic and her tangibly innocent disposition, yet she is stubbornly blind in some important areas, which detracts from her character.
Original rank 40. Legion, Mass Effect 2
That brings us to the continuation of that story, which has far more spotlight time than a mere quick personal quest: while Mass Effect 2 may give us more thirst than a quenching of thirst, the Rannoch missions in Mass Effect 3 give us ample opportunity to stare and wonder: entering the geth hub and seeing their history, watching their interactions (if such a mild term can be applied) with their Creators and witnessing their differences from the Reapers – and that end battle is literally historic.
Also, given that geth exist in a hive mind, I think it is important to note that Legion as a character in Mass Effect 2 is more about the geth in general, not the platform itself, thus it can be forgiven that Legion as a unit of the geth collective gives us more in action than in personal dialogue. Even so, his evolution into true intelligence in Mass Effect 3 and his sacrifice to give that intelligence to all geth makes our brief acquaintance with the platform all the more bittersweet and poignant. It is the lost opportunities, the true realization of a thinking, feeling machine being cut short which makes Legion a compelling character whose loss we regret.
My Rank: 5 (35 spots higher)
Legion is a non-individual companion, he evolves into a true AI and completes the evolution of the geth, and finally he sacrifices himself the moment he completes his magnum opus. He is a unique hero whose actions force us to think beyond the consideration of "all mechanical beings are a threat" without giving us any assurances whatsoever of being truly benign, making trusting him a risky, exciting, and ultimately touching chapter of the story.
Original ranks 38 and 39. Morrigan and Liara, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3
The joint argument about these two is that they begin as outsiders sheltered from society who suddenly become powers pulling the strings behind thrones, actual and metaphorical, respectively. My counter-argument is that it is not as alien a concept as it may seem, in fact, these characters can be said to be the most dynamic of our companions for these very drastic changes, and that dynamism is quite natural considering the kernel of their personalities. To fully explain, it is necessary to take them apart from this paired grouping and examine their journeys to power and position.
Morrigan begins her life as a denizen of the Korcari Wilds, and though she has wandered out into civilization – insofar as Lothering counts as civilization – she is quite ignorant of many things, including "all the touching," as she points out. Her journey through civilization at the side of the Warden thereafter is quite a long one, and her guile cannot be attributed solely to the questing and side questing throughout Thedas.
As the daughter of Flemmeth, one must expect Morrigan to have considerable cunning (with a measure of ruthlessness, which comes in handy at the Orlesian court); as a malificarum, she would have to be a good manipulator to begin with or she would have never made it (her stories to the Warden about her forays into civilization prove that); and finally, as someone raised to be sensible and practical rather than sentimental, she is ripe for learning on her feet, and her character can only be fleshed out rather than hindered by her relationship to her son (and to the Warden, we should not forget: we are designed to be big influences in our companions’ lives).
My Rank: 13 (25 spots higher)
Morrigan has a lot of fascinating secrets. Her magical knowledge is unique and mysterious and she is a very dynamic character; even without explanations of what she does, especially with the Dark Ritual, she inherits knowledge that is unlike anything we, as any of the Dragon Age protagonists, know of in Thedas.
Liara has similar elements to Morrigan’s in the core of her personality, which make her life path towards power less occluded. Firstly, Liara is an archeologist – she already deals in secrets, even if those are just secrets of the past. What's more, her profession gives her the perfect mindset to reason out puzzles and be able to construct hypotheses based on clues. Her world view as an archeologist is, out of necessity, on a larger and longer scale.
Secondly, Shepard’s death pushes her into a place not dissimilar to Leliana’s evolution to ruthless spymaster: i.e. the element of fate that got her into dealing with the original Shadow Broker and being placed at the dead center of the game. Speaking of the hand of fate, Shepard him/herself helps Liara gain the position of the Shadow Broker; once again, our character affects our companions significantly, though I would place this argument aside in favor of the next, and last, one.
Finally, while Liara’s personality seems far more open and endearingly awkward than Morrigan’s, her position as a force in the shadows is a classic fit for the kind of introvert that she is. Where she might fail as a public figure or leader, she succeeds in observation and deviousness born of a basic attraction to approaching people from a hidden angle, seeing beneath the surface, as it were. She has made a study of groups of people: it’s not such a big leap to begin to apply her considerable knowledge of how people lived in the past to how they live now.
My Rank: 17 (22 spots higher)
She is the harbinger of knowledge, and both her rise to her position as the Broker and her transformation as an individual are well developed. She matures into a very useful, supportive companion and yet she also is not invincible despite the heights she reaches.
Original rank 37. Fenris, Dragon Age II
The knock against Fenris is that he hides away in his entropic mansion as nothing more than an alcoholic. The reason for his behavior was stated in the original article: he was a slave for most of his life. It goes without saying that, knowing Fenris’ backstory, we know that he underwent horrific abuse at the hand of his master and was forced to do equally horrific things at the behest of said master.
There is little to say that isn’t obvious regarding this subject: everyone is formed by the events in their lives, their environment, and what they are taught through action and word. Considering that Fenris’ abuse began during his formative years and continued through almost his entire life preceding his escape and arrival in Kirkwall, it would be impossible for his world not to be colored by this, not to mention the fact that he would be intent on finding a reason for what was done to him. To Fenris, because his abuser was a magister, it was magic that was at the heart of everything. He could have chosen to hate Tevinter, or hate men or people with stature, yet, since he was (literally) scarred most deeply by magic, it is unsurprising that his world, and his faith in people, would be reduced to ‘magic is a curse that needs to be crushed ruthlessly.’
As to Fenris ‘whining,’ his character is such that compassion and patience – not to be confused with blind agreement – is the only reasonable approach to truly understanding him and his behavior, and it is unreasonable to expect him to forget a lifetime of pain and suffering in the face of different perspectives that Hawke might have.
Fenris’ lifestyle and views could be considered as weakness or character flaws, yet the simple fact of it is that Fenris has next to no experience with living as someone without the ghosts of his past. Because Fenris wants to get away from his old life, instinct dictates that he hate everything his ex-master represents and that he glory in everything that suits that hatred. There is little else to Fenris because there is no room for anything else inside a life lived alternatingly in one or the other side of such an intense axis.
My Rank: 38 (1 spot lower)
Fenris adds to our Tevinter lore, though with a very biased perspective. He is unyielding in his position about magic and he changes only very, very slightly; all of this is understandable, yet considering the transformation of other similarly abused characters, it is somewhat disappointing not to be able to help him more. Also, it would have been nice to learn much more about his lyrium markings.
Original rank 36. James Vega, Mass Effect 3
I admit I am confused at the problem mentioned in the original article of Vega being an unknown character as the first companion in the final installment of the Mass Effect trilogy. There were also Ashley/Kaidan and Anderson right at the beginning, soon followed by the appearance of Liara – not to mention Joker and EDI – which should satisfy any desire for familiar faces to return first thing.
Vega gives us a different perspective on the war – another would-be hero fighting the Collectors and a potential N7 recruit. This adds flavor to a universe where, thus far, N7’s apart from Shepard him/herself seem few and far between, giving us the growing suspicion that Shepard is the lone member of the Alliance elite, whether as rogue or on the straight and narrow.
Vega is a typical soldier without too many complications. After so many companions who are unique, oddballs, and renegades, having a simple military companion on an Alliance ship that is the spearhead of the Alliance’s response to the war gives a comfortable sense of stability in a galaxy where order is fast crumbling down the incline towards complete chaos.
My Rank: 34 (2 spots higher)
He is an engaging, no-complications companion who is an exceptional Alliance soldier much like Shepard (finally another N7-select who we do more than meet in passing) yet he has no real dramatic quests that pertain to him, he doesn’t contribute to lore, and his more interesting past adventures are only briefly summarized and not really explored at all thereafter.
Original rank 35. Ashley Williams, Mass Effect 1 and 3
While I find the poetic barb in the original article, as well as the linked reference to the confusion regarding getting into/avoiding Ashley’s romance, amusing – I myself initiated it accidentally during my first-ever Mass Effect playthrough, which was certainly not my intention – I have to say that there is in all seriousness a lot to dislike about Ashley, and that Tennyson was possibly the best aspect of her character. Her religiousness and the obvious racism and suspicion in its curious, counter-intuitive mix can be set aside since it is an obvious trait of Ashley’s that instantly decides the like/dislike question for her character for most people.
The less immediate reason for what makes her even more dislikeable, however, is her conduct during your encounters following Shepard’s demise. After all the suspicion and cold-shouldering, Shepard has to coerce her to even stick around, let alone set the past into the past. Where Kaidan manages to seem apologetic and sincere in his desire to make amends, Ashley seems to have a black-and-white unwillingness to really think about Shepard’s difficult position in Mass Effect 2 and see things in that light; furthermore, the utter lack of trust she shows for Shepard is a plague that simply cannot be killed between them. This is a quality that is, at best, undesirable in a squadmate who is supposed to have your back and keep you alive.
My Rank: 42 (7 spots lower)
Ashley has very serious trust issues. She is bigoted, and narrow-minded. Her redeeming qualities are that she is the only other human Spectre (apart from Kaidan, of course), and that she reads poetry.
Original rank 34. Isabela, Dragon Age II
Isabela is the lynchpin of the Qunari situation in Kirkwall. Her origins give us some interesting insights into realms seldom explored in Dragon Age up until this point, albeit with Isabela’s humorous approach and reluctance to focus on lore, it hints more than it gives. Nevertheless, having a "strong female character" who is predictably spontaneous get increased attention is a nice breath of fresh air amidst the tempests of the extremist standoffs in Kirkwall.
My Rank: 36 (2 spots lower)
Though she also can betray Hawke as Zevran can, she is already an unreliable companion who is difficult to influence to any degree at all. Though she is a strong, amusing character who fits well into the story, she sticks far too closely to the "rogue pirate" stereotype.
Original rank 33. Leliana, Dragon Age: Origins and Inquisition
The issue with Leliana focuses on her mixed origins (a bard and a Chantry sister) and the fact that those two backgrounds are not a good fit for one another. While it is true that individually the two origins would have set forth an interesting character, my argument is that the combination has a perfectly legitimate foundation given her immediate past before joining the Chantry. Leliana can go in different directions based on the Warden’s influence, and it is up to the Warden to dig into the harsh reality of the true reasons behind her becoming a sister, or to support the fresh start that she so desperately seeks. I would argue that, based on the evidence of her slightly terrifying spymaster personality in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the truth of Leliana’s ambiguous relationship to the world is revealed in her as time wears on, indicating that her reformation did not take root, as one might assume, just based on her behavior in Dragon Age: Origins.
Leliana seems to be in the midst of a huge identity crisis at the time we first meet her in Origins, despite the image she projects. If pressed, Leliana admits that she had been seeking something in the Chantry, but that ultimately she has been denying her true self. This is the point where the Warden can prod her to go down the "innocent" or the "rogue" path.
Thus, it can be argued that Leliana has never really stopped being an Orlesian spy, and that her role in the Chantry was more of a desperate escape to keep her head down and lick her wounds. There is no doubt in my mind that she truly believed her conversion was true and that the Maker truly reached out to her, but that does not change the fact that she went down that path for repentance, for religious succor, and generally for a respite from her dark life. Her bright Chantry personality is at least somewhat intact during the first years following the end of the Blight, but we know that Justinia, who was originally responsible for Leliana’s conversion, needed her bard side more than she needed the innocent sister. Whatever path we might have led her down, the most that remains of her piety is that she is an Orlesian spy working for the Divine, exclusively.
So, when we meet Leliana again in Dragon Age: Inquisition – indeed, when we meet her as sister Nightingale in Dragon Age II – we see a woman who has gone through her healing and has rediscovered her more ruthless core. Now comfortable with who she truly is, Leliana’s true origins are not that muddled when viewed from this perspective – she was the bard in hiding all along, looking for big answers about who she was and what her purpose was in the world.
My Rank: 18 (15 spots higher)
She also has a paradoxical duality in her character. She can be influenced to go down very different paths, though the final form her dramatic evolution tends to lead to similar outcomes regardless.
Original rank 32. Cole, Dragon Age: Inquisition
In short, Cole’s presence in the Inquisition is a great opportunity to learn about the mechanics of Fade spirits (and demons, too) and by association, about the differences and similarities between the Fade and the physical world. His "whining" is merely an expression of an alien entity trying to grasp things in the world that for us would seem utterly self-evident and normal. That, to me, qualifies him as quite an interesting character.
My Rank: 6 (26 spots higher)
Cole is a true alien in the real world. His perceptions are utterly different (and insightful), and his incongruous profession and spirit make him a fascinating paradox.
Original rank 31. Jacob Taylor, Mass Effect 2
Jacob is listed in the original ranking article as an inoffensive yet boring character. For this character I will have to concede that there could have been a lot more substance to his story, though his personal quest is interesting enough and tallies with the kind of side quest we learn to love in the original Mass Effect. I take exception to his characterization as "inoffensive," however. I am offended by the standoffishness he, of all people, exhibits towards Shepard, given who Shepard is and given that Jacob is ex-Alliance himself.
Almost every line in the beginning of Mass Effect 2 is like a little slap in the face once he becomes a crewmate. Shepard wants to be informal? Well, he is OK with that (his tone implying that Shepard just lost his respect big time). Shepard wants to make friends? Well, it’s too bad that they’re not well-acquainted because that "innocuous question" (take your pick) is in reality way too personal (implying that Shepard is pushing the boundaries of decency and is being generally weird). Shepard wants an update on how we’re doing? Well, Shepard is really unconventional and casual (implying that Shepard is giving his crew so much slack they might fall apart at any second).
Jacob’s very first introduction at Lazarus station sets him up as an open, potentially loyal guy and from that point forward, he puts you through loops to gain ground that one could have assumed were already won there at the start. Besides, shouldn’t Shepard be the one who is paranoid and unwilling to divulge information to a known Cerberus agent rather than vice versa?
My Rank: 41 (10 ranks lower)
Jacob has trust issues, has no particularly interesting features apart from his loyalty quest, and he constantly gives misleading impressions of whether his loyalty is won or not.
Original rank 30. Javik, Mass Effect 3
Javik is listed as having only two interesting attributes: the fact that he is a Prothean and that he has lift grenades. Here is yet another character on my most-interesting list – and his being Prothean is only the tip of the iceberg. With all the historical and military information Javik has in his brain, his fascinating touch-based and other sensory abilities, and his curious perceptions, there is much potential in his character and I would say that he delivers. Even if some might not like his personality, I would still argue that he is a compelling character with his fill-in-the-blanks persona that stands everything you thought you knew about the Protheans on its head, not to mention his palpable disparity from any other living creature you encounter in the galaxy.
The Protheans in general provide some of the best material in the Mass Effect trilogy, with ancient secrets that reach from the silent catacombs of time to touch our protagonist and the traces of their mysterious omnipresence that was seemingly inexplicably abandoned mid-stream – and Javik, who only witnessed the end of his people’s cycle, embodies much more than we could ever have dreamed of learning about this moment in history, while at the same time providing shockingly less than what we would expect from this impossibility of a living Prothean emerging in the present come to pass. His personality is shaped by having been born and raised during a ceaseless war that was being lost – for someone living through that, there is little room for anything other than fight and vengeance. That, in and of itself, becomes an emblem of the tragedy of his people that makes Javik far from boring and so much more than "just a Prothean" – if ‘just’ can even be applied in all seriousness. A living, breathing Prothean!
My Rank: 2 (39 spots higher)
Javik offers significant contributions to lore; what's more, the magnitude of his existence, his abilities, and his overall dissimilarity to any other living creature in the galaxy all make him an incredible companion to have. Even if he wasn’t the last living member of a race whose existence and disappearance from the galaxy constitutes the biggest and most intriguing mystery of the galaxy, he'd still be a great addition to the team.
Original rank 29. Solas, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Solas is compared to Spock and is written off as not really all that memorable. I have to wonder whether this argument is really supposed to extend to the end of the game, where Solas is proven to be a tad bit more than "somewhat" memorable. Not to mention that replaying Dragon Age: Inquisition with the benefit of hindsight gives some fascinating, juicy hints throughout the somewhat minimal interaction we have with Solas. Without saying too much, Solas has quite a bit to offer even putting aside his backstory.
I am of the opinion that in this case less is more – the tantalizing secrets he harbors and his utterly out-of-place attitudes towards magic, the Fade, and elves are all puzzle pieces that send Dragon Age theory crafters on their way at a breakneck gallop (myself included) to a point where his personal likeability is a moot point. His refreshingly different, sometimes shocking, perspectives on the world, on what it could be or what it once was, are incredibly significant to Thedas lore, and while some might find him an awkward or standoffish character, or some might even revile him, I would argue that getting to know him changes the playing field of the ‘like/dislike game’ to dimensions never yet explored until now in Thedas. Besides, who can resist loving Spock?
My Rank: 1 (28 spots higher)
The amount of material Solas offers in terms of lore, current events, sheer character, and the amount of theory crafting he inspires warrants the top spot; like him or not, Thedas is a much more interesting place with him in it and at your side and I shan’t say a word more.
Original rank 28. Vivienne, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Vivienne is an intense character. The argument against her higher ranking is that between her and Dorian, she falls short in the fabulous contest – a fact that, even if true for some or most, should not detract from what she represents. As possibly the only mage in the Inquisition who stands for the traditional, templar-monitored Circle, Vivienne offers a perspective on Circle life that players have seen a sad lack of up till now, with the possible exception of Wynne (though she hardly qualifies, considering her possession).
The information we have on life in the circles throughout Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II comes down to ‘bad and worse’ turning into downright ‘nasty’ – from the Ferelden Circle’s transformation into a slaughterhouse packed with abominations and blood mages to the Kirkwall Circle’s tyrannical prison mentality descending into a blood-soaked revolution that spreads like a disease across almost all of Thedas. Getting the perspective of a mage who had comfort, prestige, and power through being a staunch supporter of the circles is almost strange, and a much-needed balance. Vivienne’s ideals, while not void of bias and riddled with a lack of experience in circles far more troubled than hers, do have a simple sensibility that is, if nothing else, a refreshingly new take on the events of the mage-templar war. Considering the company Dragon Age heroes ostensibly tend to keep, it is almost shocking that a character such as Vivienne is willing to look past this fact and work together with the Inquisition.
My Rank: 40 (22 spots lower)
Vivienne has an uncompromisingly narrow viewpoint and there is a lack of significant lore or magical contribution from her apart from her battle skills; she offers a necessary pro-circle perspective, but is unwilling to change her perceptions and she is unwilling to expound upon her reasons apart from a few general observations.
Original rank 27. Kasumi Goto, Mass Effect 2
Kasumi Goto’s flaws revolve around a lack of content following a great personal quest. I am in agreement for the most part, though personally I do not see her content as being all that much less than what we get from other companions. After a certain point in each chapter, all the characters can be gotten to the ‘repeated put-off line’ that might or might not have some variation to it. True, other companions get extra story and dialogue, yet I see no harm in having a companion who is unfettered by even more complexity than what we see at first blush during the companion quest – which is also true of the other, much beloved DLC companion, Zaeed. Kasumi is a little like the Isabela of Mass Effect – there are things to steal, laughs to be had, and hurts to be buried, and I can respect that lack of touchy-feeliness as part of her personality, including the fact that she is a non-romance.
My Rank: 33 (6 spots lower)
Kasumi's personal quest is diverting, as is her character, yet her DLC nature limits our interactions with her and we cannot learn too much about who she is and how she operates.
Original ranks 25 and 26. Sten and Oghren, Dragon Age: Origins
The argument against Sten and Oghren is that they have basically the same role, having gone through emotional trauma, both being two-handed wielders and having a single trademark trait. This generalization is based on the presumption that these are the only interesting qualities about these characters, though individually they both have the honor of being the lone representatives of their respective – and secretive – cultures.
First, let's look at Oghren. While dwarves do not necessarily keep people out of Orzammar, their culture is quite an interesting and insulated one – and once we get to know dwarven culture (perhaps more intimately than our Wardens wish, with all the gloriously inane politicking, the constant in-fighting and the monstrous goings-on in the Deeproads), having Oghren as their representative is irony at its best. Going on Orzammar hearsay, he is one of their best fighters from the warrior caste, he is married to a living Paragon and, despite these facts, his conduct is spectacularly uncomplimentary.
Though by becoming a surfacer he is expunged from dwarven society, Oghren seems like the perfect manifestation of a response to how seriously their society takes itself. Furthermore, his sporadic comments (or lack thereof) as a member of a race untouched by conventional magic is an excellent catalyst to thoughts on the nature of magic; he is no philosopher to discuss these matters, but he serves as an interesting reminder when taking him on missions that involve magic. Putting that aside, he is quite amusing.
My Rank: 26 (same spot)
Though Oghren does not add a considerable amount to lore, his story is an interesting one and taking him along during various quests introduces an interesting dwarven perspective; he is also one of the most stoutly loyal companions and he is one of the few companions who ends up joining the Grey Wardens.
As for Sten, his "grumpiness" is a gauntlet that must be traversed in order to earn his respect, and his lack of smiles and sunshine is both a nice clue about the nature of Quanari society and an indicator of the deep distress of his situation. Having a companion who does not necessarily think of the same things we do when we look at something is interesting, especially considering how outlandish some of his claims seem. While in Dragon Age: Origins we do not have a lot of reason to be too deeply invested in learning about Qunari, Sten’s uniqueness becomes interesting in and of itself – in all of Thedas, he's the only Qunari we meet, though we hear enough whispers of lore about their war with Tevinter and presence in Rivain, and it does leave one wondering whether Sten is a precursor to a more violent introduction to the Qunari.
My Rank: 25 (same spot)
As the only Qunari we know when we meet him, Sten is an enigmatic character who has very alien concepts to that of the Warden and the other companions of Dragon Age: Origins. Though he divulges little; he does, however, end up changing his disposition very dynamically.
Original rank 24. The Iron Bull, Dragon Age: Inquisition
As the original article states, The Iron Bull does, indeed, offer a different and interesting perspective on the Qunari, especially considering that Sten and the Qunari in Dragon Age II have, by this point, already set us up for having definite ideas on what the Qunari are like (though Tallis from the Mark of the Assassin DLC already puts a slight spin on things).
The Iron Bull has all the characteristic Qunari traits (though with a much more liberated sense than anything we have seen before from their people) yet his personality is interesting just for the astonishing desire to follow instruction bordering on insecurity – an observation that leads the player to contemplate the concept of free will and the burden of choice. As we help him make the big decision during his personal quest, he accedes to our suggestions without even a shadow of hesitation and that, paired with his otherwise obvious strength and confidence, is very telling of the Qunari in general. They are all about order and structure, beyond which there are no other considerations.
What is more, the Qunari are shown to have a culture where following orders is what you are supposed to do regardless of any feelings you might harbor. The choice The Iron Bull places before us is presented as a request for our instruction, yet I cannot shake the feeling that he really relies on our orders. I’m pretty sure that part of this is rooted in The Iron Bull himself, though, not the Qunari in general – I can’t see convincing Sten that the Arishok was wrong to consider forcing order on the world, so he could just go ahead and abandon them – but it does lead us to wonder about the true depth of mental fortitude and just how significant responsibility for one’s actions is.
My Rank: 24 (same spot)
The Iron Bull adds to lore and has an interesting perspective on life, though he also is more representative of the flaws of his society, in a way; his main detractive attribute is that he offers so little resistance to the Inquisitor’s influence, and though that is telling of him and his culture in and of itself, it is somewhat disappointing.
Original rank 23. Cassandra, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Putting aside her cited demon-slaying abilities, I would say that Cassandra is actually a great character, just for her utterly atypical piety. Going by description only, she would be classified as a run-of-the-mill devout knight or champion type of role whose most interesting attribute revolves around fighting skills and a constant focus on the divine and prayer, i.e. someone we don’t expect much more dynamism from than from any other textbook religious icon, yet Cassandra’s dry wit and lack of even a bone of zealotry marks her as what I would imagine is an exemplary Seeker: always skeptical about what is placed under her nose and not willing to accept dogma as a reasonable explanation for anything.
Her faith is unshaken – yes, her faith in her order crumbles, but her higher beliefs are clear and unfettered by what other people think a pious person should be like or act like. That is quite a charming and liberating quality to discover in a character that I initially approached with little enthusiasm, considering the type of protagonists I usually play.
My Rank: 23 (same spot)
Cassandra is an interesting character who strays from the stereotypes of a class such as hers and she has unexpectedly unconventional views that mix with a basic unwillingness to change too much about the original order of things – though she is refreshingly skeptical about it – yet she remains somewhat indecisive and changes only in small things overall.
Original rank 22. Alistair, Dragon Age: Origins
Alistair is listed as a good character, yet one who is defined as ‘unlikeable’ in the beginning. I agree that his character is well-written and I am appreciative of the drastically different directions his life can take based on the Warden’s influence, though his starting out as intentionally unlikeable, I find, is a very subjective qualifier. From my observations, many people hate or love him from the start, but this really is dependent on taste – personally, I found him funny and charming to begin with, and I know people who instantly detested him for the very same qualities. Yet, I agree that with the Warden’s influence, Alistair has the rare ability to change the player’s perception of him mid-game, which is a sign of a nicely fleshed-out character. All in all, Alistair is good at giving players what they want: those who want to raise him to the pinnacle – and, as a romance option, rise along with him – get their opportunity for a somewhat fairytale ending, and those who want to kick him can do so spectacularly.
My Rank: 8 (14 spots higher)
The player can influence Alistair on a huge scale, from the lowest to the highest, he gives the player what they want and he can potentially play a substantially significant role in Ferelden’s future either as the king or as one of the Grey Wardens who may slay the Archdemon, depending on player choices, all of which makes him an important figure to say the least.
Original rank 21. Tali, Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3
Tali’s stated flaws in the original companion ranking article include the fact that by Mass Effect 3 her character simply doesn’t stand out any longer, and her romance is accused of being a negative force that robs her of the little that remains of her uniqueness. Tali, high on my own list, has an increasingly prominent role in the Mass Effect universe, starting as a talented, lonely young quarian on a pilgrimage to finally rising to be an Admiral of the Flotilla – and one presiding over the retaking of the quarian’s home planet, Rannoch, no less – and in this evolution, I would say that the interpretation of her character as ‘mediocre’ is something of a misunderstanding of who she becomes. Moreover, I would argue that her romance makes a great chapter in Mass Effect 3 an even more deeply moving event that does quite the opposite of robbing Tali of her charm – rather, it offers a wholesomeness that is quite rare in the Mass Effect universe.
The player’s choices range from the utter destruction of either the quarians or the geth to brokering an incredible peace at the apex of the Rannoch missions, but regardless of the outcome and the presumable prelude to the player’s decision (heavily supporting one side or the other, or always trying to find middle ground), Tali is shown to expand from an individual to a completely integrated member of the quarians, her maturing evident in how her personal goals and her focus are slowly absorbed and narrowed to the considerations of her people’s future. I would argue that this adds to, rather than detracts from, her character, given that to quarians, the struggle of their civilization is such a ubiquitous part of their existence.
In short, that she doesn’t stand out I would attribute to Shepard being more and more acquainted with the quarian/geth plight and – especially in a Tali romance – his/her becoming an invested party; in a way, to know and love Tali, you have to know and love her people to a certain extent. That might rob her of the uniqueness of being the only quarian in your universe, but by learning more about what Tali’s heart is set on – her people, the geth, the war, all of that – we begin to truly know her.
This brings me to my second argument: Tali’s romance is about so much more than the infamous face-reveal or the reciprocation of a sweet obsession; the defeat of the Reaper on Rannoch, the tense decision point where the fate of the quarians and the geth hang by a thread, all of it is a monumentally exhilarating and nerve-wracking catharsis for anyone even remotely invested in the outcome for them. It was especially designed to put you on the spot if you are in a Tali romance, yet want to keep the geth alive as well, since you take such a gamble and hang your love interest’s life (and I mean that both literally and figuratively, given what I said about quarians above) on whether you can charm the Fleet or knock some sense into them. By this, you have shared something incredible with Tali, witnessing the culmination of centuries of fighting and reshaping quarian and geth history together with her – this is a character who you work together with to an extent where an unbreakable bond is guaranteed regardless of how the rest of your romance plays out.
Since love is often more about what you do together than an obsession with the superficial – something already made ambiguous by her necessity to stay in a suit – Tali’s romance is far from a fluff-fling with an exotic alien that makes her character more accessory than relevant. Rather, I would say she remains a strong character who is unyielding about achieving her goals and yet open and accepting enough to integrate Shepard fully, accepting support and giving it in return.
My Rank: 7 (14 spots higher)
Tali is a conduit to a society we can influence on what seems like a much more personal scale. Her companionship involves the kind of bond and historic events that are rare in their magnitude.
Original rank 20. Jack, Mass Effect 2
The original article doesn't go into much detail as to why Jack deserves this particular ranking. Jack represents some interesting concepts in Mass Effect with her skewed and sometimes surprisingly perceptive view of the universe, yet perhaps one of her best attributes is how dynamic her character can be. She is strong, yet much of her strength has to be reverse-engineered to truly help her evolve, and she is definitely a success story, depending on players’ styles, because of, or despite, Shepard’s influence.
My Rank: 21 (1 spot lower)
Jack transforms largely on her own to an incredible degree considering her childhood and she remains a strong female character who is active quite apart from Shepard, though we do not see the most significant stretch of that transformation while she is Shepard’s companion.
Original rank 19. Sebastian Vael, Dragon Age II
Sebastian is labeled as a great character due to three things: he hates everyone else, he cannot be romanced, and he wants to level Kirkwall. While this is an interesting take on Sebastian, I would say that "hate" is a strong word for what he feels about the rest of our companions, albeit some (namely: Anders) get quite a bit of ire from him at the end of the game, even then his true ire focuses entirely on subject of where his loyalties lie, which is far from a unique trait. The Kirkwall Chantry is blown up and as a Chantry brother I would have been shocked had he shrugged and said it was overdue for a renovation anyway.
I always felt that Sebastian was more exasperated with everyone than anything else. Besides, the amount of conflict he adds to the party hardly measures up to the amount of sparks struck among the rest of our companions, and there is enough of that all around to feed anyone’s hunger for an uncomplimentary perspective.
The claim that he isn’t romanceable is actually untrue, though his romance has no intimate element due to his vows of chastity. As to the final point – I think by that point the Qunari, templars, mages, bandits and whatnot already have done quite a thorough job of Kirkwall. What is more, Sebastian’s threat hinges entirely on whether Anders lives or dies, which – ironically – makes Sebastian more like Anders than either of them would ever admit, namely someone possessed figuratively by a spirit of Vengeance. Is Sebastian a great character, then? The arguments presented have not convinced me.
My Rank: 39 (20 spots lower)
Sebastian is lost to vengeance the same as his "archenemy" and does not realize it. He has an interesting personal quest and story, but adds little in way of navigating Kirkwall apart from comments that might be expected from a representative of the Chantry. He is atypical in this role, yet not really in a good way, as it turns out, as he is unable to prevent himself from becoming what he most loathes. While this is interesting, we see so little of this unfortunate transformation (since it happens at the very end of Dragon Age II) that it fails to be as intriguing as it is set up to be.
Original rank 18. Thane Krios, Mass Effect 2
As to his comparison to Dragon Age’s Zevran, my only comment is that their only parallel is their profession and their skill at it; apart from that, their substance and merit amount to so much more than such a simple thing, too much for this to be a worthy element to highlight. Besides, one could say that the fact that they are assassins is something of a moot point, considering that nearly everyone in both Dragon Age and Mass Effect does a lot of killing… and a portion of that for hire, no less.
Things that I find far more compelling about Thane (apart from his character development that we play a part in) include his drell heritage and his adherence to that cultural history, the drell’s semi-symbiotic societal relationship with the hanar and, finally, the fact that he is dying. Having an alien’s religious perspective on life and death is quite absorbing, and it is done in such an interesting way, considering that Thane is an assassin. As to his terminal illness: as with other characters, having a companion with such distinctions is laudable, giving Mass Effect a realistic element telling you that no matter how heroic you are, some people will die. This is particularly significant not because Mass Effect is lacking for sacrifice – far from it – but because the fact that our companions are not untouchable and immortal deepens our feelings and ability to connect with both the game itself and with its message. Thane’s death is tragic, yet from a story perspective I think it is a sweet sorrow. Not to mention that the way he dies is a perfect ending for his character, defending others and defying reason with his incredible skill, especially considering his sickness.
My Rank: 15 (3 spots higher)
Thane offers a fascinating mix of spirituality, culture, and the assassin’s profession. His biological traits also add an interesting twist. His is an incredible journey of transformation, and his final moments are poignant on many levels.
Original rank 17. Kaidan Alenko, Mass Effect 1 and 3
Kaidan is given much acclaim for his interesting backstory and his lack of complaints, yet he is named as the character ostensibly most often left behind on Virmire. I concede that Kaidan is a good character, though he gives us as much short shrift in Mass Effect 2 as Ashley does, the difference being that Kaidan, as someone who is rightly associated with letting the past rest in the past, is willing to make a fresh start. Moreover, he has the integrity to apologize for his hostility and unwillingness to hear Shepard out, which is far more telling of his caliber than anything else.
Personally, Kaidan only began to win me over after a few playthroughs of Mass Effect 3. I still would not rank him over a lot of characters farther down the line, particularly considering that beyond his history and his achievement of Spectre status after Shepard, Kaidan seems to be one of the characters least-invested in the war. While he does have concerns and, as a human, has the same core reasons for wanting to be in the fight, he is one of the few characters who is not implicitly connected to a major world-shaking chapter in Mass Effect 3, nor does he have any personal connections that take center-stage in the conflict. Having said that, he is loyal and steadfast after he extends the olive branch and his simplicity may be a soothing relief from the all the high-intensity story arcs of our other companions.
As to Virmire: given that Kaidan feels more fleshed-out with a Mass Effect 3 ending, I concede that his story is much better if allowed to play out.
My Rank: 37 (20 spots lower)
Though Kaidan becomes (finally) another human Spectre, and has dynamism and ultimately a very commendable loyalty, he seems more disconnected from the galaxy than our other companions do. Also, considering he is a Spectre by Mass Effect 3, we do not see a great deal of changes (if any), nor does this fact add in any way to our team apart from his personal presence as a team member.
Original rank 16. Miranda Lawson, Mass Effect 2
Miranda has the honor of being named one of the best characters, specifically for her story, her loyalty mission, and the fact that she begins by disliking Shepard, which provides an interesting perspective. Her loyalty mission gaining so much credence where Thane’s was brushed aside puzzles me, since both their loyalty missions focus on a loved one who is about to get into a very dangerous situation. Granted, Miranda’s loyalty mission has some twists to it, while Thane’s focuses more on the dramatic, yet of all the loyalty missions, I felt that Miranda’s is the one that meshes most with the rest of the game, featuring mercenaries, a Cerberus-type threat to an innocent family, some added complications designed to make your trust waver and/or give you an opportunity to go on faith with your companion and, finally, a satisfying ending with a swathe of corpses trailing behind you and your team. It is good, yet its composing elements are surprisingly… ordinary.
As to Miranda’s dislike of you, this is indeed a great quality in Miranda – you have to actually win her trust and she doesn’t give up her values right up to the very end; all her choices and her shift in loyalty are more based on her own experience of what the Illusive Man has wrought and what is actually going on in the background regarding the impending Reaper threat rather than hinging on Shepard’s values, which is a refreshing take.
My Rank: 31 (15 spots lower)
I admire Miranda greatly for her independence and strength and her changes of heart that come without miming Shepard, yet her personal quest is somewhat lackluster and conversations with her do not delve terribly deeply into the interesting facets of her character, such as her genes, her family, Cerberus, or the Lazarus project.
Original rank 15. Varric, Dragon Age II and Inquisition
Varric garners a lot of positive feedback from all quarters and it is no different in this ranking list; in his case, I concede all the points in the original article. He is an atypical, charming dwarf whose role in Dragon Age is integral without too much history trailing along behind him, i.e. the drama relating to him is experienced right along with him by Hawke, which makes him much more of a literal "adventuring companion" than any of our other companions are, whose backgrounds and stories you largely judge from a distance and/or spend time reacting to. Plus, he is excellent in the role of "physical narrator," the bard always present to witness and who, incidentally, is the narrator in truth for Dragon Age II. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the "consequences" quests that relate to him have a very different and welcome cadence due to the simple fact that we have actually witnessed the background events that these are the consequences of by playing Dragon Age II.
My Rank: 12 (3 spots higher)
Varric is unconventional, his personal drama uniquely takes place with Hawke present, and the results of his story in Dragon Age: Inquisition are therefore more personal for players.
Original rank 14. Zevran, Dragon Age: Origins
I would like to first point out that Zevran is actually an Antivan, not a Spaniard, and that the consensus regarding his accent generally falls closer to being an Italian one rather than a Spanish one, though Antivans in Dragon Age have been known to use both (as a linguist and as someone who has studied both languages, I, too, lean towards that, though I grant that the similarities between the languages gives just enough room for debate. Barely).
Putting that off-topic aside, Zevran is lauded for his nonchalance and his peace with who he is as well as with his past, both reasons that I can absolutely agree with. Zevran is a cheerful killer whose shameless charm tends to make him instantly likeable for a lot of people. Not only is he an assassin sent to kill you, but he also is a rarity in that he can directly betray you later on without batting an eyelash, if you fail to befriend him or seduce him utterly, that is.
The reasons for his likability in general are largely overwhelmed by a personality-based assessment of his character, and seeing as not everyone is won over by such a personality, there are elements apart from those listed above that make him interesting enough to warrant a high ranking. For instance, his cultural value, like other characters listed previously: his anecdotes reveal a culture where a guild of assassins has as much prestige, if not more, as their government does. This gives an interesting insight into their social and political structures and these tidbits we learn in and of themselves are an interesting counterpoint to the cultures we are more immediately acquainted with. As with Sten, Zevran offers an interesting perspective on life that has elements that may seem altogether strange, considering what the player experiences up till that point.
Other than that, Zevran offers a glimpse into the mind of an assassin: not simply someone who "wanders the countryside killing random strangers" as Dorian would put it, but someone who is utterly detached from moral implications, someone who deliberately plans an attack and does all of this for pay – indirectly, since the Crows don’t literally pay their assassins – and through all this, he manages to keep it together and even enjoys it without being an inherently evil individual. He also has a very interesting and surprisingly holistic stance on being "the hand of fate," as it were, which has philosophical connotations that by themselves warrant a more in-depth look at him. Now what would be truly interesting would be to analyze the assassin mentality from Zevran’s, Cole’s, and Thane’s perspectives, respectively, and compare them.
My Rank: 16 (2 spots lower)
Zevran represents an interesting question of the boundaries of good and evil, his existential views (and those of his people) are uniquely balanced, and he is a character who can actively betray you, despite efforts to win him over, if those efforts are insufficient in magnitude.
Original rank 13. Samara, Mass Effect 2
Samara’s ranking is slightly confusing: her biotic powers are her best attribute, apparently, as it is the only positive thing listed that could be taken as an explanation for her placing as number 13; but apart from a mention regarding the oddness of her loyalty mission, it is the only thing said about her.
So, to expound on the subject of Samara a little more: she is definitely a good team member and as a Justicar she represents an ancient order that offers a very unique glimpse into asari history and culture. The asari are far from a secretive race (neither Samara nor Liara are as reticent as, say, Wrex is about the krogans) yet the ancient order of Justicars happens to fall into the category of "archaic traditions" that are simultaneously revealing about their people and are also kept largely hidden from sight. Her family offers an even juicier puzzle regarding the asari that connects directly to Samara’s life path: the Ardat-Yakshi.
Putting aside the lore-centric enthusiasm and philosophical speculation, Samara is also unique in a way that doesn’t exactly touch her personality directly: her character can be "exchanged’" (i.e. betrayed) for her Ardat-Yakshi daughter, which is quite a salacious twist; for that alone I would say her loyalty quest is a great one. Besides, luring Morinth out is such a nice change of pace from getting through quests by shooting up the place. Not to say those aren’t enjoyable – they’re really great – but mixing what tools Shepard must utilize is even better.
My Rank: 19 (6 spots lower)
Samara offers an interesting dynamic of ruthlessly unequivocal justice in a galaxy that is anything but clear-cut morally speaking. She offers much in terms of knowledge regarding certain hidden facets of asari culture, history and genetics; moreover, she can be exchanged as a character for her serial killer daughter.
Original rank 12. Wynne, Dragon Age: Origins
Wynne is described as a pure character, a surrogate mother to the Warden and a character that has quite an interesting immediate history: all points that I tend to agree with. Though some may find Wynne to be an almost obnoxiously goody-two-shoes character, her dialogues are expertly written in a way that can easily deflect such notions and reveal some interesting things about Wynne without having to sacrifice her overall good-intentioned attitude. Aside from the sought/unsolicited pieces of advice, Wynne is a good stabilizing character to turn to who can lead the Warden into a more philosophical discussion about what is going on in the story, prodding our protagonist to exercise some overdue long-term thinking which goes beyond The Immediate Quest, which is quite a nice touch.
Of course, one cannot talk of Wynne and not mention the spirit-possession; she is but the first of several encounters we have with characters willingly possessed by a denizen of the Fade other than a demon. At least, it seems to be a willing possession. Given that she actually died, I would say it’s somewhat up for debate, though going by what we learn of spirit possession in Dragon Age: Inquisition, that would imply that she had to give consent at some point, unless the rules don’t apply to someone just crossing death’s threshold. Just contemplating that makes it worth getting her story and watching her part play out.
Regardless, going by Anders’ example, Wynne is shown to have an exceptional character since she is able to keep a balance in this state of existence, or at the very least it is indicative of a symmetry between this particular spirit and who she is as a person. Not to mention the fact that – as I mentioned in Vivienne’s segment – Wynne is shown to be more or less supportive of the basic structure of the circles, quite an interesting stance considering her condition. All in all, I would say Wynne gives rise to a lot of brain food quite apart from her motherly ministrations and healing abilities.
My Rank: 27 (15 spots lower)
Wynne is in a very interesting situation with her possession, and she provides the Warden with prompts to think about the larger scale and about the future, and as the only truly elderly companion, she offers a kind of wisdom that comes with the maturity of a full life behind her -- yet she also is somewhat uncompromising in her standpoints. Overall, I would have enjoyed a more in-depth exploration of her unique condition.
Original rank 11. Blackwall, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Blackwall’s near-top-ten position is attributed to his voice acting and the quality of writing; no specifics on the latter. His detracting quality is his stereotypical "gruff loner" persona, as his ranking description puts it. This loner attitude actually has a surprisingly saucy reason behind it and whether this is greeted with incredulous laughter or incensed fist-shaking depends on the player, but just approaching this question from a story perspective, I found his backstory to be a great plot twist.
However, just going by what kind of character is, I would argue that Blackwall’s virtues do not necessarily outweigh his vices; he has quite a few disturbing, shadowy corners in his mind that reveal a fascinating duality: an ingrained shadow side (who he actually is) and a heroic persona that he wholly invented. One can argue that at some point in the past he did become what he wanted to be by having integrated that heroic persona, yet it does not change the fact that his solution to his problems was to escape them, which was obviously not enough. The true realization of his heroic persona only happens later, once he recognizes that in order to fully become what he wants to be is to face the music and let the past catch up to him, which ironically would prevent him from pursuing that future (unless we intervene). All in all, I’m not entirely convinced he is a good person, yet I am convinced that he is worth a study and possibly a second chance, which, if chosen, unveils an entirely different Blackwall than the one we first meet.
My Rank: 14 (3 spots lower)
Blackwall is incredibly ambiguous, and there is a lot of the black-and-white dilemma in his character that is controversial and interesting.
Original rank 10. Grunt, Mass Effect 2
Grunt receives a great deal of appreciation for his abilities, his developing relationship with Shepard, and his general attitude. Overall, I would say I am in agreement. The krogans themselves are one of the most interesting species out there in the Mass Effect universe and Grunt as one "aspect" of this species is both unique and surprisingly ordinary in some other ways. More importantly, Grunt is a participant in building a strong fort of a story in the player’s mind regarding krogans, which ultimately leads to a wonderful, possibly terrible finish at the end of the trilogy.
As I said, krogans are interesting, with their obvious differences compared to humans, not to mention the fact that krogan culture as a whole represents a fascinating dystopian aspect of modern civilization in the Mass Effect universe. Yet Grunt can offer very little content to us in this regard, given the fact that he was raised in a tank and "fed" memories that are, at best, disjointed. Lore is more Wrex’s area of expertise.
However, Grunt does embody an interesting new page in the krogan histories: not only is he a science project of a warlord (who are renown for many things, science not being among them), but he is also oddly still carrying the genophage. Grunt not only represents the krogans’ struggling success, but with his deliberate flaw he also represents a very critical element that contributes to their continued failure.
Whether all of this warrants such a high ranking for Grunt I would call into question to a degree, though it is easy to understand that krogans have a unique, bloodthirsty charm about them that affords them some preferential treatment; if that is your kind of thing, of course.
My Rank: 30 (20 spots lower)
Grunt is emblematic of what it is to be quintessentially krogan, with his perfect genes and the genophage deliberately left in him, but sadly what he could offer in terms of lore or content in general about krogans is largely unavailable because of how he obtained it (in the tank).
Original rank 9. Aveline, Dragon Age II
Aveline, at rank 9, gets a similarly glowing report, albeit her merits seem a confusing list of things that are left somewhat unexplained, apart from the comment that she grows as a character. To expound on what I interpret from her description: her immediate past shows strength and her righteous character shines through her subsequent actions, especially her journey to rise to the rank of Captain of the Guard. She acquires a new shield (presumably this is the copy of the legendary Aveline’s Shield). And, finally, she gets drawn into a romance that turns into marriage.
It is true, Aveline’s resolve and strength of will and belief by themselves make her a person to admire, quite as much as one might admire the Aveline for whom our companion was named, though I would say her growth as a character is not quite the unit of measurement by which I would evaluate her. She is a dynamic character, she does change from when we first know her, but I see Aveline more as someone who grew into her predestined role.
Granted, from a more general gaming standpoint, Aveline is a character who actively has a job that does not involve working for you or sitting around at your beck and call, which is an automatic plus point in her favor. Though it is presumed that other characters do a lot of other stuff off-screen, Aveline arguably gets the most screen time that actively shows – and involves you in – our companion’s other job. She is also a character whose romance you have to fight for, in a manner of speaking: her romance (who is not Hawke automatically) is done in a way that that the story unfolds before you, as opposed to most other companion hookups in both Dragon Age and Mass Effect (where such non-protagonist pairings existed at all), which is a nice change of pace from only hearing of it in party banter.
All in all, these are good points in her favor quite apart from her moral fiber. Yet, they are not qualities that are great enough to get her into my own top 10 – Aveline is great, but I simply think a lot of other companions are better.
My Rank: 32 (23 spots lower)
Aveline is another strong character and her independence in work and everything else is refreshing, yet she is also somewhat static and her relationship to Hawke lacks variety: since Hawke is potentially more akin to an outlaw than anything else, possibly an apostate of all things, it would have been nice to see distinct differences in how the Captain of the Guard can reconcile a firm belief in the law with her friendship to Hawke.
Original rank 8. Zaeed, Mass Effect 2
Zaeed’s merits include his general awesomeness, his bounty hunter profession and the skills he possesses as a result, and finally the fact that we love him despite the fact that his character’s design doesn’t sound as awesome as it really is. Zaeed definitely has a surprising charm considering that he is mostly a static character and the fact that (being the other DLC companion for Mass Effect 2) his content mostly involves a lot of non-dialogue storytelling and sporadic comments rather than actual interactions. His personal quest offers an intense opportunity to be faced with a very stark paragon-renegade choice, but overall, Zaeed’s interesting qualities, including his past with the Blue Suns, are largely chopped down to revenge and lots of killing. There are really no new aspects to the mercenary line of things, nor any added content due to Zaeed’s presence apart from a comment here and there and a few extra lines from the mercenaries you quiz if you take him along to find Archangel. In this, I would say that Zaeed, though he is a character who is easy to love, could have been so much more.
Putting the story elements aside, Zaeed is definitely good to have along just for his skill and his gruff attitude, delivered in a wonderful voice with expertly crafted lines, though we hear so little of it. In terms of character, I would say Zaeed falls somewhat into the Isabela category, a stereotype that might just work in the Mass Effect universe.
All in all, apart from a practical standpoint and a personality-based fondness for Zaeed, my verdict would have to be that he offers much less than other characters. He changes very little, his interactions are brief (if fun), and his contributions to lore, culture, or society are limited to an exposé about his obsession with his assault rifle, Jessie.
My Rank: 35 (27 spots lower)
Zaeed could have offered so much more about the Blue Suns, the galaxy’s underworld in general, or he could have offered more options in many situations (especially on Omega), so despite being a good, amusing character, he offers very much less than one could wish for or expect.
Original rank 7. Dorian, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dorian is one of those who finally gets recognition for his role in lore, alongside his charmingly witty personality and his foreigner’s perspective. Dorian’s Tevinter background is quite a sumptuous bite to chew for those interested in immersing themselves in Thedas and for once I only have a little to add and nothing to contradict. While Dorian does indeed offer a great deal of fill-in-the-blanks regarding one of the most enigmatic cultures in modern Thedas (what with Tevinter’s undeniable prominence in history and our various encounters with Tevinter elements in Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition), there is also a lot to be said for both Dorian himself and his controversial opinions, both in comparison to his homeland and to what we’ve grown accustomed to hearing while roaming Ferelden, Kirkwall and Orlais.
We can be forgiven for making the assumption that all Tevinter mages are the Danarius-types, yet Dorian obviously has good intentions and this dynamic alone makes him a great character. Aside from that, his conversations offer great opportunities to rethink absolute positions that players might have developed in the previous installments of Dragon Age, plus his perspectives on everything you encounter are plentiful and fascinating, both for where his Tevinter-based opinions intersect with those of your other companions and where they do not, most especially his opinions about magic.
Given all this substance, Dorian already has a high rank in my book, but there is more: the magic. Tevinter has always been a cautionary tale for our protagonists, but it certainly offers a certain quality that is missing from the rest of Thedas as we know it: the freedom to practice magic. This may seem like the seed to spark the mage-templar war all over again just by contemplating it in-game, yet there is no need to go to that level when one simply considers what a startling difference there is in how Dorian wields his magic and how any other mage companion does it, including yourself. Most of it is inferred through your discussions and party banters and I do not speak of technique per se (though it is implied that there are quite a few differences there, too). I speak more of the thoughtless confidence and range of abilities that not even apostates or the Dalish can quite convey; not to mention the stolen heritage it represents, hiding a veritable mountain of speculation regarding ancient elves. Along with Solas, Dorian offers realms of magic that go so much farther than everything we know up till that point. The only thing comparable is Flemmeth and by association Morrigan.
All in all, I can agree that Dorian definitely deserves a high rank.
My Rank: 3 (4 spots higher)
Dorian's contributions to magical lore, historical lore, magical theory and practice, and sheer amount of content all make him an excellent and fascinating companion.
Original rank 6. Wrex, Mass Effect
Wrex’s description basically revolves around how much better than Sten he is, which is justified with their common qualifier of "giant oaf" with a recent tragedy in his past and who gave up on his people. The detailed (paraphrased) reasons: Wrex is better in combat, his tragic story is related later and he offers the first big emotional choice to the player, where Sten only challenges your leadership halfway through the game. While I grant that there are similarities between them, I wouldn’t equate Wrex’s value as only relevant in comparison to his loosely-defined Dragon Age counterpart.
I hesitate to base any part of a ranking on relative combat skills. Not just because there is so much more story and personal content to each character than what they do in the field, but also because the entire system is different. While comparisons can be drawn between melee/ranged styles, and magic and biotics are comparable to a very basic point, the fact is, everything about how you control a battlefield is ultimately different in the two games. My experience shows me that most Dragon Age companions can be really great if you use them the right way and actually plan your tactics to complement both their preferred style and that of the rest of the team. In Mass Effect, you use different logic: for instance, you have much more mobility in using the terrain to your advantage, but your biotic options have a lot less variety and combination power than magic does in Dragon Age. So to slap Sten down for his two-handed sword skills versus Wrex’s combined gunpower and biotic skills really doesn’t tell me more than that someone is trying to play Mass Effect while playing Dragon Age.
Finally, the leadership challenge: Sten’s challenge is actually quite specific, i.e. as soon as you enter Haven, and the outcome actually offers more paths than Wrex’s altercation does. You can send Sten away at this point, but it may never even come to making that decision if you focus on raising his approval high enough before Haven, which shows a dynamism in your relationship to Sten if nothing else. In comparison, Wrex finally shows us his true depth of caring for the future of his people and gives us the option to talk him down or kill him regardless of anything before that point. This is not to say that Wrex’s decision challenge is less, just that it’s very different, beyond the base similarity of challenging you in the first place. I grant that the fact that you can kill him at all is good, yet let us not forget that, when it comes down to it, you can actually kill off, leave behind, or send away a great deal of your Bioware companions.
My Rank: 29 (23 spots lower)
Wrex is a born leader who lacks the typical krogan narrow-mindedness. He has vision, yet he does not offer much in the way of exploring the krogan aspect of the galaxy. His dynamic is increasingly interesting as time passes, yet while he is our companion in Mass Effect 1, there are not a lot of related quests or dialogue that truly digs into the krogan people.
Original rank 5. Shale, Dragon Age: Origins
Shale is described as having one of the best personal stories, and on this, I would agree: not only is Shale’s backstory intriguing, but the truth we learn about golems is inextricably intertwined with her. While we learn little about golems in general from conversation, both the memories she rediscovers by your side and her personality make her an excellent companion who contributes significantly to your lore knowledge by just existing. There is little more reason that need be given for her to have a higher rank, though I’m sure I could fill many pages detailing more reasons should the need arise.
My Rank: 10 (5 spots lower)
Shale offers tangible insight into the fascinating and enigmatic history of dwarves. She has been uniquely touched by magic, she provides a more personal connection to the already dramatic Anvil of the Void plotline, and she gives rise to important further speculation regarding lore, magic, and the origins and past of dwarves on a larger scale, who arguably have the most occluded past due to the tragic destruction of almost their entire empire.
Original rank 4. Sera, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Considering that Sera is number 4 on the original ranking list, I would have liked a little more than that Sera’s personal story inspires the Inquisitor to "champion the little people" and that she’s got most of the funny moments. On Sera, I would like to go in two directions: from my observations, she is another one of those characters who a lot of people either intensely dislike or really like, so it would be interesting to take a look at the good and bad views on her character.
First, let’s start with the positive: Sera has a kernel of philosopher in her (a rude one, of course) and she constantly keeps you on your toes by not letting your head get too swelled to remember the little people, as she puts it. Not to mention her knack for finding the weak spot in almost everyone you encounter, which is great for putting people off balance and also for gaining insight, lest you be sucked into someone’s power-scheming intrigue. She can be fun to have around as long as your character is partial to at least some of her philosophies in life.
Given the serious overtones of the entire game, it is good to have Sera as a kind of "reality check counterbalance." Also, she happens to be a quite unconventional character given everything we presume to know about elves, presenting a unique dynamic in interactions with her that makes her yet another great companion in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Plus, if you like winning by beating people at their own game, Sera is your girl, hands down.
Next, something to dislike: hypocrisy. First, there are many points where one gets a taste of Sera’s ridiculously disproportionate insecurities, bordering on obsessive denials, which, while interesting, do hinder getting to know her unless you agree with her absolutely. I label it hypocritical because Sera is all about transparency, equality, justice and – most relevant to this – pricking other peoples' bubbles with a blatant disregard to the discomfort, anger, or pain her opinions might cause. Yet, she is unwilling to hear of it if you challenge her or try to give her a different perspective. Aside from netting massive disapproval, one generally won’t feel like their opinion is respected unless it falls in line with her beliefs.
Second, Sera accuses nobles and their ilk of running roughshod over the little people universally, yet she applies the very same blanket-disapproval of everyone who even has a modicum of power, regardless of whether they try to do good, are palpably evil, or just happen to be born into nobility. Her personal, vengeful loathing of people with high rank is just as biased and closed-minded as what she accuses the nobility of being like -- and you can’t tell her this if you want to stay on her good side.
Whether you find her negative aspects acceptable or her positive aspects as overbearing as her flaws, Sera's unique, sometimes counter-intuitive mix is definitely interesting, and worth at least a good rank, despite her detracting qualities. Her character is very much about subjectivity, however, so I would say there is no right answer for Sera.
My Rank: 28 (24 spots lower)
Though Sera has fascinating contradictions in her character, she is difficult to dislodge from her own world and is uncompromising and hypocritical. Her reactions are unpredictable, which is largely a good and interesting quality, but she is also incapable of reconciling herself to many elements of the world that you encounter, making her disappointingly static.
Original rank 3. Mordin, Mass Effect 2
Mordin is praised as a character whose storyline presents "the good stuff" in terms of the signature Bioware moral choices, not to mention that his story is good no matter what choices are made in connection to him. On Mordin, again, I would offer little more than an expansion on what has already been said. Discussions with Moidin are indeed thought-provoking and present us with one of the best perspectives on the genophage: the one coming from someone who actually participated in the later stages of its development (or modification, to be accurate); what is more, the perspective of someone who did so without any malice towards the krogans.
Mordin’s final story arc and the direction it takes based on your actions all offer serious considerations, seeing as almost no aspect of this entire question can be simply taken as a black-and-white good versus evil decision, considering what the krogan are like, how the original decision came to be and Moridin’s observations on their culture and society – truly the stuff of a good story. Even better, the genophage question – with Mordin’s valuable insight – is not to be taken lightly, despite the fact that the popularity of Wrex and Grunt ostensibly offers a heavy bias to players as to what their final decision may be, which makes Mordin’s satisfyingly complex position even more significant. No counter arguments here.
My Rank: 11 (8 spots lower)
Mordin is truly a representative of the utter lack of black-and-white morality in the Mass Effect universe. His knowledge is incredibly valuable and whatever his story’s outcome, it is epic.
Original rank 2. Garrus, Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3
Garrus is qualified as "the ultimate space bro" who can be influenced to stick to a lawful, more paragon outlook or to go completely renegade (presumably as Shepard is in this scenario), though his sudden ascent to power by Mass Effect 3 is met with some bewilderment in his original ranking description. While Garrus is one of my personal favorites, he offers more than merely being the trigger-happy buddy he’s made out to be.
Firstly, as with other companions, he, too, represents insight into his own culturre. Actually, he’s the only representative we really get standing for turians (until the Omega DLC, that is, and that is much more succinct than what Garrus offers). This is significant in that, unlike Tali’s and the quarians’ case, we get very little about turians in the Mass Effect series, despite the fact that we meet them all over the galaxy and even converse with some. In terms of societal/cultural traits, what is interesting about the turian hierarchical worldview is seeded in Garrus as well. The way he is willing to mold to Shepard’s outlook is a good indicator of this.
Secondly: Archangel! Garrus is good leadership material, which he amply proves if you give him a chance to show it, and which he does prove even if you don’t give him a chance during his time as the elusive vigilante on Omega, going up against a whole lot of clever (and not so clever) mercenaries largely unscathed. The fact that he was betrayed does not detract from that, whatever he says; in fact, owning his mistakes and doing something about them is part of what makes Garrus both a great leader and a great character.
While Garrus is not really one of those who adds a great deal of lore or intricacy, he is a force to be reckoned with in Mass Effect that is good to have on your side and to encourage.
My Rank: 9 (7 spots lower)
Garrus is the ideal companion in many ways, both on the field and in general. He is leadership material and he provides some of the only knowledge we learn about turians, with whom humans have such a violent and significant history.
Original rank 1. Dog, Dragon Age: Origins
While amusing, I’m not sure I can take Dog’s ranking quite seriously. He is described as loyal and uncomplaining, a companion who has no side quests, rips throats out and, after a while, becomes a "welcome handicap" because he cannot use equipment. I agree, Dog is great for all these reasons, but to add a modicum of seriousness to the matter, I do have a couple counter-arguments anyway.
On Dog’s approval: his unwavering 100% friendship is nice, yet part of the complexity of Dragon Age – and Mass Effect, for that matter – is the ability to have changing opinions from characters around you. The less narrow our choice horizon is, the better it is if our companions have a say about it. It’s what makes them compelling, regardless of whether we like them or not subjectively. The fact that we even care, that we are upset or thrilled by their contributions, is a major part of what makes Bioware games engaging. Having said that, Dog is unquestionably a loyal companion and one can never have too many of those, though as the original description points out, his ability to be useful in a fight tapers off after a while.
On the lack of side quests: to this I would say much the same as above, with the addition that personal quests are great opportunities to better get to know not only our companions, but also the worlds themselves. First, however, this allegation that Dog has no "annoying" personal quest isn’t even entirely true: you meet Dog by doing a fetch and retrieve quest to save his life, or in the case of a noble background, you hunt rats with him. While much easier to complete overall (and in the latter case, it’s an amusing quest), there really is not much more to say or do with Dog. With any other companion, this would be a major detracting quality.
I would argue that your companions play a very significant part in what makes a good game. If we accept this, having more is definitely better: a quest that focuses not on your main task but on who the people you take with you and trust your life to are. We make the choice of whom to take with us on missions not just based on their skills, but also on what they can add to our experience, whether in positives or negatives, and this factor should not be taken lightly.
No matter how much we love Dog subjectively, it does Dragon Age and Mass Effect a disservice to place him at the top of a ranking list that is supposed to equate all our various companions’ virtues and vices in the context of these games and of our participation in these worlds.
My Rank: 0
Dog simply cannot be compared to the other companions.
While this concludes my counter-ranking of The Definitive Ranking of all 43 Dragon Age and Mass Effect Companions, more still could be said about most of these companions. This account does not give a truly adequate picture of how the revised ranking would look, despite the provided suggested ranks – I would say that were such a list to exist independently, I would add our Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening companions who have sadly been neglected, including a new perspective only hinted at about Anders and Justice, as well as Oghren and the brilliant, exclusive companions: Nathaniel Howe, Sigrun, and Velanna. Not to mention the fact that Loghain was completely omitted (he was only optionally a companion for a very short time in-game, yet the sheer concept of one of your archenemies becoming your ally is a brilliant move that would deserve a mention somewhere).
Thank you for your attention.
Which ranking is better? What would your ranking look like? Let us know in the comments below!