Lee has an embarrassingly deep love of all things "Mass Effect." Her favorite is the original first game.
The other day, I was playing Andromeda when I realized everyone on the ship had a best friend except for Ryder. Vetra and Drack are besties before they even meet Ryder. Then Peebee and Vetra become best friends later and are frequently seen huddled together on the Tempest. There's also Liam and Jaal, who become good friends after Liam makes an effort to welcome Jaal to the crew, and Kallo and Suvi openly call each other "best friends" while cutely chatting on the ship. Hell, even Gil had Jill.
And as I walked through the ship, observing the crew and their friendships, I started to ask myself who the hell my Ryder's best friend was. It felt . . . lonely.
The Designated Bestie
Typically in BioWare games (at least the first ones to get picked up by EA, such as Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2), there's always a best friend who's "assigned" by the writers. And by "assigned," I mean that they choose a character who they decide is the protagonist's best friend and then push them on the protagonist throughout the story.
In Dragon Age 2, the designated best friend was Varric. And in the original Mass Effect trilogy, the best friend was (ugh) Garrus. Hilariously, I loved Varric because we were actually given a choice about whether or not we liked him, and also, Varric is just a likable person. I never felt Garrus was remotely likable outside of being a kiss-ass who always stood by Shepard without any real buildup for an actual friendship (in other words, his friendship was very contrived).
Even when BioWare didn't assign a best friend, I still always chose one. I actually accepted Varric back in DA2, and in the original Mass Effect trilogy, Wrex was my chosen best friend.
Because of this, my squad would always consist of the best friend and the lover, and if it was a Dragon Age game, the third slot was reserved for the plot-relevant follower (in this game Jaal was the rotational follower due to his plot relevance).
But in more recent BioWare games, shoving a best friend down the protagonist's throat was something the writers (thankfully) stopped doing. Dragon Age: Inquisition didn't have a designated bestie because you were roleplaying as a larger-than-life holy figure who most people were intimidated by, and in Mass Effect: Andromeda, your protagonist is very similar in status, minus the holiness.
I think the developers wanted the best friend for Andromeda to be Liam. They set him up as a sort of caricature of Garrus and had him sit back and sip beers with you and everything. But again, it felt a little forced, like getting the bottle shooting scene with Garrus without any real buildup. At least this time we were given the choice to ignore Liam without him acting as if we were best friends for life.
I also feel that Liam is best suited as Jaal's best friend, not Ryder's (I really can't stand Liam), so that left my Sara Ryder kind of out in the cold. It was a little sad, walking through the ship and realizing everyone had a best friend except her.
And then I remembered Cora.
BioWare Is Bad at Female Friendships
It sounds funny that I would have forgotten or not realized, but Cora was my Sara's best friend the whole time. This didn't hit me until the end of the game, when I took Cora with me to Meridian and she became upset that Ryder had been hurt from using the Remnant tech without SAM.
I think the reason it didn't really occur to me that I had become best friends with Cora is because . . . Her friendship path wasn't done well. Like, at all.
When it comes to female human squadmates, BioWare always prioritizes their romances so that most of their character development is locked behind a romance with the male protagonist. This means that the female protagonist never really becomes close or even good friends with the human female squaddie.
It happened with Ashley, it happened with Miranda, and it happened with Jack, who won't even talk to female Shepard after a certain point and just assumes female Shepard is only talking to her for sex! I can still hear "Go away, lesbian!" in Jack's voice every time I see her homophobic face (treating female Shepard like trash because she assumes Shepard wants to sleep with her is, yes, homophobic).
It's almost like BioWare thinks two women can't be friends? Or at least not with the protagonist. But I feel like they made an attempt to rectify this with Cora a little, even if the execution wasn't perfect.
For one thing, you start the game with Cora and she's the only squad mate you knew before the prologue, as even Liam is first meeting Ryder when he wakes up on the Hyperion and not before.
Cora Was There From Day One
During the prologue, you have a locker room chat with Cora (annoyingly about Scott and Alec) that comes off kind of buddy-buddy and kind of sets you up to be on friendly terms with an established rapport from the very beginning.
I say "annoyingly" because most of the time, when two or more women are alone "on-screen" in the media, be it a book, a movie, or a video game, all they can manage to talk about are men for some reason. In this instance, Cora and Ryder talk about Scott because I chose Sara (so I'm aware that it's just the game mechanic), but then they talk about Alec, and it just feels like that old sexist trope of women's lives centering around men.
Thankfully, there's an optional conversation Ryder can have with Cora about the excitement of exploration that is cute (see image below). If Ryder chooses to have this conversation, she will reference it later to Liam during the prologue.
Cora Cares the Most
Cora also seems to care about Ryder more than anyone else on the ship, even Liam. I feel like Liam is a very caring individual and, yes, he paces over Ryder as she's dying during the prologue and even sits next to her so she doesn't wake up alone. But Liam also does a lot to screw things up for Ryder and takes advantage of her friendship and trust to do it. Cora never does that.
Also, I love it when followers ask the protagonist questions, instead of the relationship just being one-sided. It shows that they are interested in learning about the protagonist as a person and brings them to life, making them more than mere walking codex entries.
Cora is one of the few people on the Tempest who actually asks Ryder about her past, her reasons for joining the Initiative, etc. The only other person who does this is Liam, and to a lesser extent, Jaal. Even Peebee doesn't try to know Ryder, though it's largely due to her character arc.
To me, the fact that Cora stands by Ryder even after being passed up for Pathfinder says a lot about her as a person. She chose to stay and support you when she could have easily bailed like the rest of the Pathfinder team (Harry, Greer, Hayes, Fisher, etc). Initially, her choice was about doing what she thought Alec Ryder wanted, but eventually, it becomes about looking after her friend.
And she does look after Ryder a lot. When the Nexus leaders tear Ryder apart, Cora will support her, telling her that she's doing fine (this conversation only happens, however, if you speak to her on the Nexus before leaving the first time).
She also comforts Ryder after Alec's death while visiting the Nexus for the first time, and when you talk to her on the ship, it becomes obvious that she's there to protect you and not because she actually thinks you're a leader worth following.
This is . . . understandable. Ryder is an untested twenty-two-year-old kid who has never led anything before, let alone a Pathfinder team. It makes perfect sense that Cora would try to help Ryder find her feet. And she does this in the only way she personally knows by (annoyingly) sending Ryder asari manuals.
Cora's asari manual emails were grating, but they fit her personality perfectly. I think a lot of people were annoyed by her before getting to know her (and even after).
As I mentioned in my Drack article, I loved Cora's introduction. She literally flies in to save Ryder from Zero G and comes off like a superhero with her confident voice, powerful shoulders, and X-men hair . . . only for our expectations to be subverted when she turns out to be this lost, lonely person.
Cora's entire arc is about self-discovery. Typically, people discover who they are in their adolescence and early twenties, but because her parents abandoned her and didn't nurture her, Cora never had a chance to do that. Even her hair screams "experimental teen."
But because of Ryder, Cora finally realizes that she can choose who she wants to be (a gardener), instead of going along with what her mentors and parental figures want (asari commando, Pathfinder).
And all of this sounds great on paper. I just wish the friendship path with Cora had been given as much attention and detail as her romance path. Instead, I always felt like I was looking for clues that Cora actually cared about Ryder as a friend or even loved her as a sister.
A few things I picked up on:
- Cora is protective of Ryder. She growls for the Archon to back off when he grabs Sara by the throat on his ship.
- When SAM kills Sara on the Archon's ship, Cora is the only companion I've seen to actually be miserable about it in the moment by saying in a low voice, "Not again . . ."
- Cora clumsily tries to comfort Ryder about her father multiple times, even if she has no idea how. Cora can't relate to Ryder's grief because she never had a loving family. But she still sends emails, comforts Ryder in dialogue, and insists on supporting her.
- Cora becomes frantic and tries to stop Ryder from using Remtech after losing SAM. Cora is also the only one who tries to make sure Ryder is actually capable of doing it without endangering herself. She steps close and asks "Can you keep doing that?" and appears upset when Ryder's nose starts bleeding.
. . . Actually, all of that is great in hindsight. I'm not sure what more I expected from a BioWare friendship. It just felt like it was missing that something extra to make it more meaningful.
I'm Glad Cora's Straight
As a final point, I'm not one of those lesbian fans who's pissed that Cora is straight and un-romanceable by Sara. This is largely because a) I don't think having short hair automatically makes someone gay (because it doesn't), and b) Cora is not my type . . . She looks like a soccer mom in her thirties going through a midlife crisis (that hair!). I think Cora's hair was supposed to signal an identity crisis, actually, and not that she was "butch."
Though to be fair, I understand where these lesbian gamers are coming from. BioWare almost never allows their human squadmates to be gay, so it's kind of frustrating that gay women are only allowed to romance aliens or non-squad characters with half-assed content (Suvi, Peebee).
It also says something unfortunate (aka homophobic) that the only gay and bisexual women in BioWare games are feminine and therefore more palatable to the straight male audience. All of that is a deeper conversation that I don't have the energy for on this article, though.
For me personally, I love Cora as Sara's best friend and nothing more, and I wish BioWare cared more about writing stronger friendship paths for characters you can't romance or chose not to romance.
Because romance isn't everything, and sometimes the protagonist is more in need of a good friend than a good lay.