Breakin’ Down: Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard

Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect series

Did you miss Commander Shepard? Well, he's back! Read the analysis of BioWare's intergalactic soldier below.

With the release of Mass Effect 3 just a few days away, I think it’s only natural that we spend some time with the head honcho, the man front and center throughout the entire game: Commander Shepard. There’s no denying it–he has become a symbol of hardened strength and heroism beyond belief, but how believable are these character traits? Is this fictional man lacking something…well, human? 

Yes, alright. In Mass Effect, you, the gamer, can choose to make Shepard a complete bad-ass, whose lone goal is to harass store clerks and steal ice cream from little kids; on the other hand, many players also choose to act as a paragon, conversely traveling the galaxy with another, more agreeable agenda in mind. However you want to look at the situation, Commander Shepard is still saving humanity and the rest of the universe for whatever reason. What really disturbs me is what isn’t disturbing Shepard! All throughout this intrepid journey he experiences horrible tragedy and trauma left and right, like the death of his beloved teammates, even the destruction of very worlds beneath his feet. Soldiers, indeed, are trained to keep emotions under lock while fighting for their lives, they more akin to well oiled machines than actual Homo sapiens. That’s understandable, if you’re a normal gunner.

Do you honestly think someone wouldn’t be scarred in the worst ways possible had the weight of various civilizations been placed upon their shoulders? Shepard struts around with an unemotional swagger, nearly desensitized to most people and events. For example, when he just brought Legion, a highly intelligent Geth, back to the Normandy, there was little surprise, or even intrigue, on his part. It seemed like every facet of his character, his demeanor, dialogue options, and voice, were completely bland, inexpressive. No shock, no disbelief, no excitement. Nothing. While I do observe the fact he is supposed to be somewhat stoic, I don’t believe that permits an utter lack of emotion.

Mass Effect 3's Commander Shepard and his crew

Yes. I will save millions of lives and slaughter anyone in my path...I'll even do it all with this silly, "oh-yes-I-am-constipated-thanks-for-noticing" look on my face.

Furthermore, I think that Shepard should’ve appeared more vulnerable, since he, obviously, has a beating heart and isn’t made of metal and wires. There’s only so much one person can take before they’re thrust over the edge. The game as a whole might have benefited from this, especially because it would have exposed the Commander’s humanity, how even he, a hard-edged militant, could articulate any misgivings he’d been bottling up.

The other aspect of Shepard and his decision making that bothered me was the clear-cut options of either a paragon, renegade, or neutral remark. Having some direction, via the “good and evil” meter, was refreshing and did help establish where Shepard stood in the morality department. I still find myself feeling skeptical towards this concept, as there wasn’t a true “gray zone” when it came to critical choices. Each scenario presented in Mass Effect is complicated, the imagination behind said happenings impressive, too…but certain resolutions came off so distinct and clear to the point that no longer was Shepherd calling the shots. The shots, the vital options, were more so dictating him. If any of you have played Bioshock, then I think you’ll know what I mean.

Final Character Analysis:

Commander Shepard is truly a man among sniveling little boys, though this steely attitude of his makes me question his integrity as a protagonist, a true leader, and a (fictional) human being.

In closing, I ask you, the audience, this: What do you think of the Mass Effect series? And Commander Shepard, how do you feel about him? Are you excited for ME3? Leave your comments below.

Rebecca “Jobe352″ Buza

Check out the newest ME3 trailer here:

About The Author


Rebecca "jobe352" 
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Born in the flames of the darkest and deepest pit, Rebecca, otherwise known through the alias of Jobe352, writes for AlterGamer and is an avid gamer herself. She hopes that everyone enjoys whatever she may post there, but, just in case, she wanted to ask you a simple, little question: "Would you kindly?"

7 Responses to Breakin’ Down: Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard

  1. Tony says:

    I realize this article is old now, but being that I am new to the ME series, this article still has meaning for me as a gamer. (sorry Rebecca, this may be another long comment lol)

    A friend of mine convinced me to buy ME2 a couple months back, and I, being the science fiction fan that I am, said “why the hell not?” So, upon receiving my copy of the game in the mail, I anxiously popped it into my PS3 and began to play through the opening sequence. Now, if I had to judge a game by its initial opening scene, Mass Effect 2 wouldn’t have scored very high for me. The main reason for that is because I was overly distracted by the look of space around the Normandy. It didn’t feel like space. It looked like a back drop and felt very claustrophobic. At one point you can even see shadows being cast onto this “backdrop.” I shuddered at the sight. One thing that makes science fiction space stories/adventures so exciting is the fact that it takes place in the infinite expanse that is our (or another fictional) universe. Lucky for me those traits of space seem to emerge after I played a little longer.

    Now, to discuss the topic in the article. I will be honest and say that I have yet to complete ME2, but I intend to. Eventually. I will say that the 20 or so hours I have put in have been very good, but something began to feel a bit stale and I think that this article nails it on the head.

    I noticed, as well, while playing that Shepard’s responses feel very flat, regardless of the dialogue choice. Shepard responds with a very simple, yet stern tone. There also seems to be a lack of emotional features in the face, and when there is one it often looks hokey (Dragon Age Origins also suffered from hokey facial expressions). All of this feels even more strange when you play as a female Shepard.

    The dialogue choices are just as the article says, too black and white. I agree that there should have been some “gray area” when making choices. I understand that Shepard is suppose to be a hardened soldier, but even a soldier’s emotions crack a little when someone close to them dies, or an event affects their life in a big way. That’s all part of being human. So, I definitely agree that at times Shepard feels like a wooden talking mannequin. No emotions. Just yes or no. No room for a maybe.

    • Rebecca Rebecca says:

      I’m glad there’s someone else out there who sees all of the occasions where Mass Effect 2 missteps. To address the lackluster opening scene: I wasn’t so off put by the space draped around the Normandy as I was by the strange character animations and dialogue.

      Besides the total lack of emotion on Shepard’s part, I only had one other major complaint, it being the horrid “mini-game” where you have to guide some ship around various environments. Those segments totally ruined the experience for me. Gosh! It still makes me mad when I think about it…

      (Dragon Age! Yes, even in Dragon Age 2, I remember Anders always looked so cheesy. Ah, good times.)

      I love getting comments, as I’ve said before. It’s extremely helpful when readers tell me their thoughts on both the article and the game being discussed. Thank you, Tony! :)

  2. Tony says:

    Once again, I’ll have to agree. The “mini-game” involving the ship was a bit drab and definitely took away from the experience as well.

    I am not sure how old you are, but you definitely sound like an old school gamer at heart Rebecca! I’m guessing you’ve seen your share of NES, SNES, and more. Even if you haven’t played older games, it still doesn’t change the fact that you seem to think old school. I actually would be curious to hear what you think about the portrayal of women in gaming. In my opinion, I haven’t seen a strong female character in a game in a long time that wasn’t scantily clothed or just too feminine. I guess we have Lara Croft to thank for the objectification and Princess Toadstool to thank for being the helpless pampered girl all those years ago with Super Mario Bros. lol

    And you are very welcome Rebecca! :)

  3. Rebecca Rebecca says:

    Let’s just say that my first handheld was a Gameboy Color and my first console was a PS2. To be completely honest, I had to look up both NES and SNES to make sure what you were talking about! I really didn’t grow up on the real classics, but I was addicted to Pokemon, Sly Cooper, Spyro, and other similar titles.

    That’s a great idea for an article. I just finised one about youtube and am in the processing of reviewing the flashgame, Ib. Maybe that should be my next project.

    And, finally, the first strong female characters that came to mind were Sheva Alomar (Resident Evil 5) and Hawke and Morrigan (Dragon Age). Damn you Toadstool! :D

    P.S.: Forgot to add Yuna (FFX). She was pretty badass when she wasn’t dancing.

  4. Tony says:

    OK, so this may seem like I’m dating myself, but I’m really not that old (26 to be exact). I grew up playing the NES and SNES. I was even lucky enough to play an Atari 2600 for a little while before it decided to move on to greener pastures. I’ve owned PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP, Original Gameboy (and slim), Gameboy Advance, Nintendo DS, Gamecube, and an XBOX 360 (phew). So, to put it simple– I consider myself very lucky to have played all these systems.

    I use to like the Spyro games myself, but I began to lose interest in them after Enter the Dragonfly. I have only played one pokemon game and that was on Gameboy. I have never played a Sly Cooper, but anyone who has played them has told me that I missed out.

    I never got into Resident Evil enough to stick with it, so to be completely honest, I don’t know who that is lol. I also only played Dragon Age Origins, so my knowledge really extends that far in the DA universe, but I will agree that Morrigan is a strong character in regards to her straight forward hard headed demeanor haha.

    Final Fantasy has definitely had its ups and downs with female characters. Yuna is a strong character (as long as you only talk about FFX and not FFX-2), but I think a lot of that comes from her being structured with a strong sense of stoicism. She is very obedient to her cause for most of the game with little to no emotion. Tidus (more like a teenage American) breaks her away from her strict structured life and shows her that it doesn’t have to be so simple. Personally, I like Lulu over Yuna, but that is because Lulu is a very wise woman hardened by experience.

    I don’t know if you played FFXIII, but I will say that I thought Fang was a strong female character. She was cocky, straight forward, and probably most important, willing to defend Vanille even if that meant defending her against others who were friends. Some people think that Fang and Vanille have a “lesbian” relationship, but I never once saw it like that (which is probably a miracle since I am a guy lol). I only ever saw the connection as mother/daughter or possibly older sister/younger sister given the fact they weren’t too far apart in age. Which ever you go with, Fang is overcome with her strong desire to defend Vanille against anything, despite the cost.

    As far as a good article idea, I am looking forward to reading that article once you complete it! I won’t dare touch the idea as an article for nerdtrek, given the fact that I couldn’t possibly write from a woman’s perspective. But, with your gamer wit, I am sure you could put together one hell of an article! ;)

  5. WriterX says:

    Hope you do not mind if I drop in my five cents… this is regarding your very first Comment Tony. In Mass Effect 1 near the ending you have a choice to make. I am a fan of strategy games and the choice was (without trying to spoil anything): 1) Save important political figures or 2) Engage the enemy, sacrificing the Political figures in the process. When I sat down and looked at the situation I was aware that everything was put on the “If we do not win this, we lost the war” card, so I naturally ordered all of the forces to engage the enemy. To my astonishment I received Renegade points, because apparently preserving a government is more important than making sure we actually survive…

    Silly Mass Effect…

  6. Anestis says:

    I know I am replying to an old article, but I think you shoudl play Female Commander Shepard (FemShep), Why? In my opinion, Jennifer Hale’s voice-acting is more emotive and far superior, and gives Commander Shepard that extra bit of depth.
    I, along with many other people, have called Bioware out on primarily using Male Shepard to promote the Mass Effect Series when the game can be clearly played with either gender.
    Unfortunately, their PR department has decided that Male Shepard is their Mascot for the game.

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