[Editor’s note: This article is very spoiler heavy. If you haven’t played the first and, to a lesser extent, the second Mass Effect and have been avoiding any plot reveals about the third and wish to not know how things pan out, I would recommend not reading this.]
I’ve played through the original Mass Effect multiple times. At least five complete playthroughs, in fact. One thing that spending so much in the universe has done has given me is a deep connection with the characters. While some of these connections are more trivial than others and others are less than enjoyable, I’ve found myself going back and thinking of some of the characters and how they start out from the first time you meet them and how they change as the game ends and even continue to change in the sequel.
One character I always held some hope for was Ashley Williams, one of your squad members in the first game. Seeing as how your Shepard is a blank slate in terms of abilities and you can make him or her into the sort of warrior that fits your style best, Ashley is the only “normal” character, human and non-human, in your squad. With no tech or biotic abilities, she relies purely on muscle, instinct, and how hard she pushes herself. To be fair, she’s had a few minor implants to correct some minor genetic abnormalities but nothing that really enhances her performance. How can you not like someone like that based on principle alone? The answer to that is, sadly, Ashley also has a personality.
While she seems like she should be the one you can relate to the most (unless you’re some sort of military experiment, no one has biotic or tech abilities in real life) in terms of combat, she comes across as little more than a xenophobe outside of it. Shepard, Kaidan Alenko, and Ashley Williams are the only humans that you can use in your combat party. That is until events in Virmire unfold and you’re forced to make a decision that ultimately ends in the death of either Ashley or Kaidan.
While Kaidan can come across as a little wooden, his past experiences have led him to see that aliens are “human” too, capable of both the greatest good and most despicable of evils. Ashley tends to see the world as humanity and everything else. While not an outright racist, or even a human supremacist like the group Cerberus, she still doesn’t see the other races that become part of the Normandy crew as total equals.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention someone else aboard the Normandy that has those same views: Navigator Pressly. While he does come across even more xenophobic than Ashley does at times, he, as the game goes on, learns to appreciate and respect everyone on board. He eventually doesn’t just think of them as crew members but as family. Nowhere else is this more apparent than in one of the side missions in Mass Effect 2 where you go down to the SR1 Normandy’s crash site and find his personal data logs. Without even playing the first game, seeing his transformation through a few simple pages of text really speaks to the game’s writing.
Sadly, again, this is where Ashley falls flat on her face. With almost no growth through the entirety of her voyage with you in Mass Effect 1 and her minimal involvement in Mass Effect 2 gave her little opportunity to grow more (like the 50 hours in the first game wasn’t enough time). This left me with doubts and regrets about leaving Kaidan behind and not romancing Liara in her stead. Facts I’m rectifying as I play through both games again.
While I’m intrigued to see how things turn out with Ashley at the end of the saga, I’m more looking forward to know how things turn out with Kaidan, not Ashley, as the newest addition to the Spectres Seeing how my three game love affair turns out with Liara, who initially starts the journey as a diminutive scientist with some latent biotic abilities and turns into the battle hardened, powerful biotic and confident information broker sounds more interesting than seeing how the romance pans out with Ashley.
I really wish I wasn’t so down on Ashley. Again, in terms of combat, she’s the only one of the characters from Shepard’s initial squad that I could (reasonably) fill the role of in combat. Seeing the other human and non-human crew members with more abilities, intelligence, and strength than I do makes Ashley more of a better avatar at times for me than my own Shepard. Sadly, her views and attitude leave me with little desire to do more than leave her on board when I go planetside to handle the whole saving the galaxy thing.
Maybe my disdain for Ashley is another testament to the writing of the staff at BioWare. Few characters I dislike have ever made me think of them much beyond my actual time while playing the game. I will see how my original’s Shepard’s story with Ashley as both alive and my romance interest plays out, but knowing what I know now, I’m more interested in seeing Kaidan alive and well and continuing to knock boots with Liara’s blue ass than I am in seeing Ashley continue her bullheaded thought process.