Ash has been video playing games since she was twelve and began playing online games in her twenties.
BioWare is a game developer that is well-known for their RPGs. They have a reputation largely for their good writing (which used to be, let's face it, not common in video games) and their inclusive practices regarding representation in their games.
Unless I'm mistaken, they are the first video game developer to include gay and bisexual characters, Juhani from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic being the first. And again, their games have pretty intriguing stories.
But that's not what I'm here to discuss this time. To be clear, the tropes I'm about to list can be found anywhere in fiction and it's not like BioWare invented them. I'm merely listing the tropes BioWare has chosen to use over and over (and over . . . ) in their games.
Let us begin.
The Ice Queen
The first trope? The ice queen. You know her. She's cold and aloof, rude and insulting, and she's usually the first woman you can recruit in a BioWare game. She is usually annoying and pretends to you hate you, but if you put up with her B.S long enough, she eventually breaks down, shows her softer side, and admits that she loved you the entire time!
Morrigan is the first female character you recruit in Dragon Age: Origins. She's actually pretty polite when you meet her, and so long as you're polite back, she stays that way. All the same, she's still pretty cold and aloof, doesn't believe in love and scoffs if the Warden insists on discussing those dreaded icky feelings.
In my opinion, Morrigan isn't as bad as people make her out to be. Yes, she begins kind of rude and dismisses you when you try getting to know her. But so long as you are polite to her and patient, she can easily become your best friend, even when you do things she doesn't agree with.
Another Ice Queen in the Dragon Age series was Inquisition's Cassandra.
I love Bastila.
Bastila is the Ice Queen from BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic, a game set in the Star Wars universe. She is a kickass Jedi who is very powerful but (like Liara in Mass Effect) finds herself in the humiliating position of having to be rescued.
Like Morrigan, I don't find her that bad, even if she is an Ice Queen. She's angry and cynical and argumentative when you first meet her, but like all Ice Queens, that's just a cover for the fact that she actually likes you.
I think what people don't seem to realize is, Bastila is uppity and tries to take command because . . . she's the protagonist of the story! Bastila is the hero and Revan is the villain! The way she tries to take command after you rescue her from the bike gangs makes it pretty clear.
BioWare decided to put a spin on the classic Hero's Journey by having the villain lead the story, with the baffled protagonist on the side, still powerful but still kind of useless, and forced to follow the villain's lead, all without immediately realizing that they are, in fact, following the villain.
I thought it was so well done.
Forming a relationship with Bastila is very amusing if you constantly joke when she talks to you. She gets annoyed and impatient but over time admits that she actually likes you and actually enjoys how your humor lightens the otherwise grim atmosphere.
Even when you're playing an evil character, Bastila loves you and wants to rescue you from the darkness. It's all very sweet and even better if you romance her.
The canon in Star Wars is always that the light side wins, so Bastila's arc with Revan is supposed to be a redemption story, one where she guides her friend and/or lover back to righteousness.
It's actually a beautiful story and . . . It bums me out that, as ever, the best romance with a connection to the overall plot was saved for straight people.
Thank god I was allowed to be a big fat lesbo with Liara, at least.
Like everyone else in Mass Effect 2, Miranda has Daddeh Issues, so she is desperate for the love and acknowledgement of The Illusive Man, who she sees as a father figure.
But, of course, The Illusive Man only seems to care about Shepard. Miranda, as a result, is jealous. The prologue even straight up tells you she is by having Shepard hear a diary log from Wilson, who says that Miranda is jealous of The Illusive Man's obsession with Shepard.
Wilson even puts a lampshade on it by calling Miranda a cold-hearted bit*h.
And unlike the other Ice Queens I've listed here, Miranda actually is pretty mean and nasty. She's not just rude or flawed. She's straight up cruel.
If Shepard tries talking to Miranda during the sequence before Freedom's Progress, Miranda coldly tells Shepard that she actually considered putting a control chip in her brain. She then snaps for Shepard to get out of her face and continues working on her computer . . . .
This is cruel because Shepard has just come back from the dead. Her freewill and personhood were violated to make such a thing happen (she did not ask to be resurrected in her will), and now she is faced with the tremendous pressure of adjusting to having lost the last two years, her career, her friends, her lover, her reputation, her entire life . . . And on top of that, Miranda is being a petty, mean asshole to her out of childish jealousy.
Mass Effect 2 didn't handle it very well, but there was no doubt that Shepard was going through some poor mental health after being resurrected. TIM knew she would be, which was why Kelly, an actual therapist, was assigned to the Normandy.
So in light of all that, Miranda being self-centered and mean makes her out to be a really crappy person. She was designed to be a perfect human but was still deeply, deeply flawed regardless. And it doesn't stop there. If Shepard has an Akuze background (where her entire squad died in a Cerberus experiment), Miranda is unapologetic about it to Shepard's face.
Honestly, I thought her friendship with Jane Shepard was written a little poorly. Their transition from frenemies to friends was not believable, likely because they focused more on Miranda's romance, which was meant to be just sex from Shepard's perspective.
Also, Miranda did nothing to make my Shepard like her except cry about how hard it is being perfect and rich while giving Shepard backhanded compliments like, "You came from nothing and somehow you're better than me!!!"
Miranda's problems are the epitome of "rich people problems," which makes her a really unlikeable character on the surface. Again, that's how Ice Queens are supposed to be, but Miranda always felt like an extremity of the trope. Like, she was so hateable that you had to actually make an effort to push through her B.S. to find an actual person.
It was seeing Miranda cry because she wanted to be friends with her sister and couldn't that made me warm to her character. Finally, I got past her cold, fake exterior and found a person inside her.
I think the writers intended for all of the romances in Mass Effect 2 to be temporary and about casual s*x for the simple reason that anyone could die during the Suicide Mission, even if you romanced them.
The tragedy of Miranda is supposed to be that no one sees her as a person, a human being. Instead, she is constantly used like a thing by all the men in her life. First, her father wants to use her to continue his legacy. Then Jacob sleeps with her and dumps her after he gets what he wants (see my Jacob article). Then TIM uses her to rebuild Shepard. Then Shepard has the potential of doing the same to her as Jacob, which is why Miranda always dies if Shepard dumps her. For Miranda it's just . . . too much, not having ones humanity respected.
This is ironic given the fact that Miranda has zero respect for Shepard's humanity. It doesn't even occur to her what a hypocrite she is until Mass Effect 3, where she apologizes to Shepard about the control chip and acknowledges that she was ready to violate Shepard's freewill while complaining that her father had violated her own.
Yes, I love Miranda. She might be the best written BioWare Ice Queen, and yet, she was meant to be little more than a tragic side character in a sequel.
Though, to be perfectly honest, I'm kind of sick of the Ice Queen trope.
The Good Girl
The Good Girl in BioWare games is typically a female follower who is sweet and good, supports all the character's "good" choices, and typically has a character arc where she goes dark for a bit, only to be brought back to the light by the protagonist, who she's usually in love with.
Oh, and The Good Girl is usually bisexual or gay.
Liara from Mass Effect had an entire Good Girl arc where her suffering after Shepard's death drove her to a dark place and she became violent and crazy. Shepard had to bring her back from the brink in Mass Effect 2 and she returns to form in Mass Effect 3.
In Dragon Age, Leliana is a sweet, seemingly innocent bard who can be led down a dark or a light path in Origins. By Inquisition, however, she has drifted into darkness again and it's up to the Inquisitor to save her.
There is also sweet, nice Merrill in Dragon Age 2, whose entire arc is about pulling her back from the darkness.
Juhani in Knights of the Old Republic is a good woman who falls to the dark side after she is led to believe that she has killed her master. Like Leliana, she can either be killed or brought back to the light. Once brought back to the light, she cannot be swayed to darkness again.
The Lesbian Option
The Lesbian Option is a female character who can be romanced by the female protagonist. She is not always a lesbian herself (sometimes she's bisexual) but she exists for the option of a F/F romance. She typically comes off as a good girl with a dark side and has an accent that stands out in the setting.
She is also typically not human or not white in an attempt to make her (ugh) more "exotic" and different from the straight male option for romance. And if she is human and white, then you can guarantee she will have red hair.
Unlike the Good Girl, who is usually intended for a male protagonist with horrible animations for the female protagonist to prove it (Liara, Leliana, Josephine), the Lesbian Option is meant to be romanced by a female protagonist (typically thought to be controlled by a male player).
Sometimes a female character can be a cross between the Lesbian Option and the Good Girl. Examples would be Leliana and Josephine from Dragon Age.
Typical BioWare Lesbian Options include Juhani from KotOR, Leliana from Dragon Age: Origins, Merrill and Isabela from Dragon Age 2, Josephine from Dragon Age: Inquisition (Yes, Josie has a ruthless side. It's just . . . all on paper), Sera from Dragon Age: Inquisition, Kelly from Mass Effect 2 (kinda), and Samantha Traynor from Mass Effect 3.
To be perfectly honest, I kind of hate this trope because the Lesbian Option is always never done right. I'm always left with the feeling that she was written for dudes to ogle and not for actual lesbians to enjoy (and that feeling has been correct for most, if not all, of the games I've played).
Traynor from Mass Effect 3 is a huge example of this. Patrick Weekes was her writer and he swears he tried to write her as a person and not merely entertainment for men. And yet, her entire romance seems to be just that. She's always in the shower or naked and there's this constant s*x toy joke about her toothbrush. Just . . . ew.
And she's only written like that because she's an actual lesbian. Bisexual characters like Liara or Leliana or Josephine were written more like actual people (they were not always naked and oversexualized) because they were written with a straight romance in mind and thus, they were taken more seriously. Meanwhile, Traynor was treated like a po*n show.
Even when the Lesbian Option exists, I always wind up installing a mod so that I can play a woman and still romance the female character who was created for the straight male protagonist. I've romanced Bastila, Morrigan, and Cassandra all with mods. I even thought about romancing Miranda and Ashley with mods, though that would have been tricky with Mass Effect being a trilogy (those romances wouldn't carry over and Mass Effect choices kind of matter, unlike the other games).
I realized recently that I do this because the Lesbian Option is almost always boring (Juhani, Josephine, Leliana) or skeezy in some way (Traynor). And it's always optional content that has nothing to do with the main story, which makes it way less meaningful than having Liara go in your head and fall for you in Mass Effect or having a shared connection in the Force with Bastila.
Hell, most of the time, the Lesbian Option can be killed (Juhani, Leliana, Kelly).
As a lesbian, it just bothers me. In fact, I hate it. Mostly because I've spent my entire life being treated the exact same way in real life by straight men. I can't even make a dating profile on a website without some dude asking me to bang his girlfriend for his entertainment. It's like the whole world thinks lesbians are s*x toys solely here for the entertainment of straight people, and not people with desires and lives of our own.*
I think this is partly why I just always wind up hating this trope in every BioWare game, to the point that I stopped recruiting Juhani, Leliana, etc after a while. Because it's not there for me . . . It's there for men.
I guess they aren't all tropes we "know and love."
*I was already asked to change the article once months ago and I already said no. I will not. The "anecdote" is important to me. People read my articles because they are personal, honest, and humorous. I'm not going to start writing a bunch of cold, clinical, informative essays, and I don't care if people (including editors) are offended by me calling out homophobia. Just remove the article from Levelskip already and leave me alone.
The Prophet is a character who basically predicts everything that happens in the story (and sometimes across the entire series), but because they are deeply flawed themselves, people seldom listen to them.
I'm not talking about someone with actual psychic abilities who can see into future, like Flemeth or Sandal from Dragon Age. I'm talking about an ordinary character who is typically mentally unstable or some kind of bigot, and yet, they correctly predict everything that happens. But like the real Cassandra of Greek myth, no one listens to them.
The Prophet is typically the Good Soldier as well. They are not psychic, just highly perceptive, with a troubled past to back their perception.
Anders from Dragon Age 2 is a Prophet. I did an article here this year (2020) about how replaying Dragon Age 2 made me realize he was right about basically everything. Everything. Not just the bomb, which he knew about because . . . he did it. But he was right about Meredith and Hawke's mother and Merrill and pretty much everything going on at the time. He was a truly perceptive character, and yet, no one listened to him because he was a crazy mage with a spirit living in his head.
Even though Anders is not a Good Soldier, it still sort of made sense for him to be the Prophet because he's just Mage!Alistair, and Alistair is a Good Soldier trope.
A lot of Mass Effect fans also love pointing to Ashley Williams and using the fact that she was right about the council as proof that she wasn't racist. It's true that Ashley was correct about the council using humans as cannon fodder. She was also correct about Cerberus. That doesn't mean she isn't racist, though. Ashley is like Sister Petrice in Dragon Age 2. She's the pot calling the kettle black.
Sister Petrice hated the qunari for brutalizing mages and predicted that they would invade Kirkwall and threaten the establishment. She was 100% correct but also too much of a bigot herself to really be pointing fingers. Because of this, no one listened to her.
Likewise, Ashley predicts everything that happens in the series, but because she's such an ignorant racist toward aliens, no one listens to her. Also, Commander Shepard knows about Cerberus and also has to interact with the council a fair bit. So she is aware of the issues. Ashley doesn't really predict anything that Shepard herself wouldn't be aware of.
And of course, there's Carth Onasi from KotOR, who predicts basically everything and is correctly suspicious of Revan, the council, Bastila, and everyone involved. On paper he's a very tragic character, but making him angry in the game is so fun that it's hard to feel sorry for him . . . (At least for me). I really enjoy him as a character because his tantrums are just hilarious. If Kaidan had been half as interesting in Mass Effect, I may not have hated him.
The Good Soldier
The Good Soldier is an honest guy caught up in a mess and typically the first person you recruit in a BioWare game. He always wants to do the right thing, isn't afraid to criticize the protagonist, and is usually secretly in love with the female protagonist. The Good Soldier is also usually male, but on the rare occasion, is female.
Kaidan from Mass Effect and Carth from KotOR are both Good Soldiers and they are both voiced by Rapheal Sbarge. Oh, and they're are both (somewhat justly) hated as annoying and whiny by fans.
There was also Ashley Williams, Jacob Taylor, and James Vega from Mass Effect, three Good Soldiers who are recruited during the prologue.
Alistair, Cullen, and Carver from Dragon Age are also Good Soldier tropes, though technically, Cullen can't join your party (and you only get Carver if you play mage). Alistair and Cullen are also hated by the fandom for being whiny and/or annoying. Ditto for Carver.
I think being annoying is a part of the Good Soldier trope. These are good guys at heart, so they're suspicious and tend to criticize everything you do, even if you have the best intentions.
They are characters within a story, so they have no idea that you are the protagonist and that you are scripted to win. So Alistair is furious if you don't live up to his idealistic standards of what it means to be a Grey Warden, Cullen sees the Inquisitor as a holy figure no matter what they insist to the contrary, and Carver gets pissed when Hawke is selfish or seemingly cruel.
The Good Soldier doesn't understand pragmatism or the greater good. His world is black and white. There is no in-between, and he will screech every time the protagonist does anything to blur the line.
Given that these are BioWare games, the protagonist is often asked to do dubious things for the greater good. So you can imagine why the Good Soldier would just get annoying after a while with his unrealistic harping about duty and honor.
Interestingly enough, Cassandra from Dragon Age would also fall into this trope.
Probably the most fun thing about the Good Soldier trope is playing a woman. The writers always expect the female protagonist to be emotionally invested in the Good Soldier, so they do things to make him suffer, in order to create drama for her arc. But when the female protagonist doesn't give a crap, it just winds up being hilarious.
In KotOR, during the torture sequence, Saul threatened to torture Carth, and my evil Dark Side lesbian was like, "Go ahead. I don't even like Carth." Saul didn't believe her and Carth was tortured anyway, but my character just not caring made it so, so funny.
The entire scene was set up to give you drama if you romanced Carth, but if you didn't, it just became a funny scene. Something similar happens in Mass Effect and again in Dragon Age.
In Mass Effect, Shepard has to choose between sacrificing Kaidan and Ashley on Virmire. There's an assumption that female Shepard is romantically involved with Kaidan and that the sacrifice is painful if she chooses him. Shepard is a hero and will feel bad regardless of the choice, but me as the player? I did not give a crap. Virmire was not remotely emotional because I didn't care about Kaidan at all.
Then in Dragon Age: Origins, Alistair can be beheaded or exiled at the landsmeet, even if you romanced him. It's supposed to be shocking and abrupt, but none of the characters have a reaction and no one seems to care (ha ha).
Also in Dragon Age 2, Carver has the potential to be kidnapped. But Hawke can straight up say they don't care and/or make a joke about how the kidnappers must not realize she hates her brother.
BioWare is aware that most people probably don't care much about the Good Soldier simply because the trope is designed to be annoying. And it's pretty fun when it's acknowledged in the game.
Another thing I've noticed about the Good Soldier is that they always betray the protagonist during their crisis scene. By "crisis scene," I mean that this is a moment where the protagonist needs support the most, but supporting the protagonist usually requires the Good Soldier to go against what he believes.
In Mass Effect 2, Shepard is abandoned by the Virmire Survivor when they discover she is working with Cerberus. The Virmire Survivor is the character that Shepard didn't sacrifice on Virmire in the first game, which means that either Kaidan or Ashley (both Good Soldiers) will be the one to abandon Shepard while choosing their morals, principles, and duty first.
Of course, this is awful because Shepard needs support the most in that moment. She has just been raised from the dead and is working against her will for her mortal enemy to protect the colonists. She's lost everything and is completely isolated. But the Good Soldier does what they do best by dismissing her struggles and putting all the blame on her.
Both Kaidan and Ashley fulfill the Good Soldier trope to a T by being the only ones to criticize Shepard repeatedly for Cerberus to the very end of the trilogy. This was majorly annoying to the vast majority of fans (and rightly so).
The Warden's crisis scene is the landsmeet at the end of Dragon Age: Origins. Depending on whether or not Alistair is hardened, he will disown the Warden if they don't execute Loghain. If he's not hardened (a game mechanic that makes him more pragmatic) and not in line to be king, he will abandon the Warden before the final battle and become a wandering drunk. If he is hardened and has agreed to be king, he will stay, but he will leave the Warden's party and hate him/her for the "betrayal" at the landsmeet.
Carth in KotOR has a similar moment. Revan's crisis scene is toward the end of the game when it's revealed that she is actually a Sith Lord. Carth is horrified and seems to come pretty close to leaving. Staying and supporting her would go against everything he stands for, and he argues against all the other party members as they defend you.
To be honest, I find Carth's objections pretty reasonable. Especially if you play Dark Side Revan and he spends weeks watching you gleefully kill people and steal from them. As the other followers defended me, I remember thinking, "Are you people serious right now? I'm evil!"
I guess it was in-character. Mission is a naïve kid, and Zaalthar has a blood debt to you. Canderous and HK-47 are evil, T3-M4 doesn't care, and Jolee, Bastila, and Juhani all think they can coax Revan to the Light Side, just like the other (foolish) Jedi.
Carth may be annoying, but he's also a voice of reason.
During Revan's second crisis scene, if Revan choses to become a Sith again, Carth is the only one who abandons her by straight-up running away. He doesn't even try to fight her. Even Mission, depending on circumstances, can stay and refuse to backdown. Carth, being the Good Soldier, is the only one who runs without hesitation, choosing his morals over the player.
This is perfectly in line with the trope.
I think the trope was subverted a bit with Carver.
Hawke's crisis scene is at the end of Dragon Age 2, when Meredith tries to attack her with the lyrium sword. Up until that moment, Carver had been going along with the guidelines of the trope: he turned his back on the protagonist and stood for what he believed. But suddenly, he does a complete 180 and leaps in front of Hawke to defend her.
Cassandra from Inquisition also subverts the trope by staying with the Inquisitor to the very end, even if she hates them and everything they do.
The Stoic Exile
The Stoic Exile is typically a warrior you meet almost immediately after the game's prologue. They're silent and mysterious, don't talk unless you dig it out of them, and then you discover that (gasp!) they're an exile whose family hates them, and the only way they can return home is if you find some ceremonial weapon or piece of armor for them.
Wrex is depressed about his people being oppressed and the fact that he was exiled from his planet. You have to coax the story out of him, but the more his affection grows for Shepard, the more he talks, until you discover that he was exiled from his planet after killing the chieftain, his father, in self-defense. If you kill Wrex in the first Mass Effect (you monster!), then his crappy brother becomes chief (and all hope for the krogan is lost).
You also have to find Wrex's armor before he can go home.
Zaalbar in KotOR is likewise a silent guy who refuses to talk to you but follows you because he owes you a blood debt. Eventually, you visit his planet and discover that he is an exile for attacking his crappy brother, who is now chieftain. Like the krogan, his people are all really rude and see Revan as an annoying outsider who is just there to laugh at their misfortune.
You also have to find a legendary sword to settle the dispute among Zaalbar's people.
Sten in Dragon Age is a qunari soldier who hates talking and grudgingly talks to you more over time. Like all Stoic Exile tropes, he is an exile and can't go home unless you find his sword. Once you find it, he's your loyal puppy dog forever.
Iron Bull in Dragon Age: Inquisition would also technically fit this trope, even though he's more open than the typical Stoic Exile. Iron Bull will have drinks with you, but you can spend twenty minutes talking to him only to realize you still don't know anything about him as a person because he's that damn good at holding back. Later, depending on your choices, he can become an exile of the Qun. (At least we didn't have to find his sword.)
Then there's Fenris in Dragon Age 2. He also hates talking but, interestingly enough, will freely chat with Hawke, even if she's a mage. But apparently, he doesn't really talk much to anyone else in Hawke's group, not even Isabela, who can begin a romance with him. Also, there are a lot of in-game jokes about him brooding in silence, and we eventually discover that he, too, is an exile from his home, having run away from his slave master, Danarius.
Unlike the other Stoic Exiles, Fenris has no desire to return to his point of origin, nor does he give a flying frick about helping his people. In fact, he seems to hate and despise his people, whether Dalish or city elf, and he's very easy to get to know. If anything, he's a deliberate subversion of this trope.
A last note about the Stoic Exile: they tend to try to kill the protagonist. Usually for a perceived or actual betrayal. Sometimes just because they think it's right. And even if they don't attack first, sometimes the protagonist can just kill them to begin with.
Wrex in Mass Effect will try to kill Shepard two times in the series. Once is automatic and the second time depends entirely on her choices. In the first game, he can be killed by Ashley after trying to kill Shepard. In the third game, he can be killed by Shepard if she sabotages the genophage cure and dooms his people to eventual extinction.
Zaeed from Mass Effect 2 won't attack Shepard, but she can leave him to die at the end of his loyalty mission.
In Dragon Age: Origins, if you bring Sten along during the quest for Andraste's ashes, he will attack you and try to take command. You can also leave him to die in his cage.
At the end of Dragon Age 2, Fenris will attack you if you don't gain his friendship and side with the mages. You will be forced to kill him.
In KotOR, if you side with Bastila and embrace the Dark Side, you will have to kill or exile more than half your followers. If you didn't make friends with Mission, then she will runaway with Carth. Revan can then order Zaalbar to kill Mission. Later, Zaalbar will attack Revan in revenge.
Or (and this is the scenario I always get), if you make friends with Mission, then she will refuse to believe you are evil (because you were so nice to her) and she will refuse to runaway with Carth. You can order Zaalbar to kill her, and he will refuse. You will then be forced to kill both of them.
The Cute Thief
The Cute Thief is usually female, very young, and sometimes (not always) has a crush on the protagonist. As far as game mechanics go, if this were a Final Fantasy Game, she would fit the thief role in the wizard, warrior, thief triad. Largely because she is able to pick locks, is lithe and small, and usually has some tragic past often involving having lived on the street.
You typically can't romance her and she has an adorable voice. And you usually met and recruit her around the same time you recruit the Stoic Exile.
Tali and Kasumi from Mass Effect are Cute Thieves. They pick locks, they're small and young. Kasumi is an actual professional thief, while Tali's entire arc is about her being homeless and living on the Citadel for a time (so living on the streets), until Shepard unknowingly rescues her. Tali wasn't romanceable until the second game (basically fan demand), while Kasumi couldn't be romanced because she was still in love with her dead boyfriend (and also, eww, Jacob).
You recruit Tali and Kasumi about the same time as you recruit the Stoic Exiles. Tali is recruited after you recruit Wrex and Kasumi can be recruited about the same time you recruit Zaeed, another Stoic Exile from a DLC, who can't return to the Blue Suns because they betrayed him.
Mission in KotOR was a Cute Thief, an orphan whose deadbeat brother abandoned her on a crappy slum of a planet. She is cute, barely fourteen, and can pick locks for you. You recruit her the same time you get Zaalbar.
In Dragon Age, the Cute Thief is Sera, and you are introduced to her at the same time as Iron Bull. She is small, lithe, grew up an orphan on the streets (for a time), and can pick locks for you. But Sera subverts the trope a little. For one, she's a lesbian, so she only has a crush on the protagonist if she's female. For another thing, she's not objectively cute (nice body . . . but her face). And finally, her voice is not cute. In fact, it's one of the most annoying things about her.
But then, I'm biased. I'm not a Sera fan.
Leliana, though a Good Girl trope, also falls into the Cute Thief trope, except for the fact that she is deceptively young. In fact, after Wynne and Shale, she is probably the oldest person in your party. Even Sten might be younger than her, as he is only a basic sten (the qunari word for "soldier") who hasn't had a chance to move up in the ranks of the Qun.
Leliana picks locks for you in Origins, has a sweet singing voice, has a crush on the Warden regardless of gender, and is recruited at the same time as Sten, the Stoic Exile of the game. Like Sera, she also became an orphan when her mother died and lived with her mother's employer afterward. (I've always had a theory that Leliana's mother was an elf who used to sing her the song she is known for in Origins.)
The Promiscuous Partier
The Promiscuous Partier is more prominent in the Dragon Age series than any other BioWare franchise. This is typically a bisexual character with low standards who will bang anything that moves. They exist to make sure the player has at least one person they can romance, while also providing insight and perspective, given the way they can see past the deceptions of the other party members.
The Promiscuous Partier usually has a dark past, is quick to accept sex but slow to open up emotionally due to this past, and finally, will betray the player at some point if they don't befriend them.
Zevran, Isabela, and Iron Bull are all Promiscuous Partiers in Dragon Age. Iron Bull differs somewhat in that he's not a rogue class and his past, while painful, isn't tragic. But he will still bang anything and will betray the Inquisitor if his personal quest doesn't go the way he wants.
Jack from Mass Effect is another Partier. She has a tortured past, is quick to accept sex, and thinks Shepard only cares about sex regardless of their gender.
This is something I didn't know in the beginning, since I could never bring myself to play the male Shepard for very long. As a result, I got to Mass Effect 2 and had Jack screaming at me that I was a lesbian (literally yelling) and to stay away from her, which, without context, felt like homophobia, so I hated her instantly.
Later, I learned that she thinks everyone is out to sleep with her, but I think the damage was already done. Hard to forget her screaming "Get away, lesbian!" now. Even years later.
I actually really hate Jack as a character. She's jealous of female Shepard for having a dark past but not turning out messed up like her (especially if female Shepard is from Mindoir and a biotic) and that jealousy leads to her treating female Shepard like crap for two games, as if she weren't already dealing with enough.
She also won't shut up about what a victim she is. It's kind of pathetic the way she allows her past to dictate who she is now. She's exactly the opposite of Miranda for this reason.
In Mass Effect 2, Jack's an asshole who won't talk to you because you're gay, and in Mass Effect 3, she assaults you with a punch to the face while childishly blaming you for the Cerberus attack on the academy. Ugh . . . I hate Jack. Kill her every time.
Also, Jack is bisexual. She reveals later that she was wary of Jane Shepard because of a bad relationship with a woman in the past (ugh, not an excuse to hurl threats and abuse at someone) and compliments Miranda's breasts in the Citadel DLC.
Ugh . . . Just such a cringey character all around.
I can't believe it, but I almost forgot Kelly Chambers.
I've always resented the fact that there were no official gay romances in Mass Effect 2 aside from Kelly, whose romance isn't even taken seriously. A lot of fans mock Kelly, but I have always absolutely loved her. She's sweet and innocent and wants the best for everyone in the galaxy. Her naivety is what allowed TIM to manipulate her and she becomes another of his victims unless Shepard can protect her.
Kelly fits the Partier trope perfectly in that she is intelligent, provides apt insight about your followers, is bisexual, and will basically bang anything that moves. Every time you talk to her, she's going on about how attractive your new crew member is. But of course, she really wants Shepard.
And as far as tragic pasts go, Cerberus becomes Kelly's tragic past. She also betrays you by spying on you for TIM, something she admits in the third game if you romance her and keep talking to her.
The Violent Robot
The protagonist in BioWare games always tends to have some sort of robot-like companion. The Violent Robot tends to be, well . . . violent. They are witty and sarcastic and love to kill. Also, they hate all humans except for the protagonist.
Shale was the Violent Robot of Dragon Age. Golems are basically constructs of stone built over living sacrifices. They are the closest thing to robots in a fantasy world. Shale fits in the trope in that she loves killing and seems to hate everyone except for the Warden, who is an exception to the other squishy beings and their little houses.
A lot of people compare Shale to HK-47 from KotOR. HK-47 begs to be bought from a droid store because he hates his master. Once bought, he loves Revan and finds them superior to most "meatbags." He is a delightful companion to have around if you are playing a Dark Revan because he loves violence and being ordered to kill. Before that, he was sitting around collecting dust. (Yes, a lot of similarities with Shale.)
Legion from Mass Effect is a slight deviation from the trope. Compared to the other Violent Robots, he's a lot nicer as a person. His dossier in the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC shows that he enjoys viciously killing but contains those feelings to video games and doesn't gloat about slaughtering real people.
He also thinks his people are superior to organics (at least before Mass Effect 3 ruined him) by often criticizing organics to Shepard in conversations. But of course, Shepard is a glowing exception to the rule, to the point that he wears a piece of her old armor welded to his body and spends all his time looking for her in an attempt to save her after the Collector attack.
Out of all the Violent Robots, Legion is my favorite. I think his voice acting had a lot to do with it, though.
I almost want to count EDI as a Violent Robot, but her traits subvert the trope. She doesn't idealize Shepard or hold her above other organics. In fact, she's in love with Joker, a human. She also doesn't relish in killing, and while she has a great sense of humor, she has enough sense to know when a joke has crossed the line. She has empathy and compassion for organics that most robots in the games don't, and that's likely because (unlike Legion, HK-47, and Shale) she is pretty much a "baby" in Mass Effect 2 who, like Shepard, has just been resurrected and never had enough interaction with organics to resent them, even when she was on Earth's moon.
The Mother Figure
The Mother Figure in BioWare games is typically a female character who isn't actually related to the protagonist and serves as a parental figure. The Mother Figure is always (obviously) female and somewhat older than the protagonist. They look after the protagonist's feelings, are usually the only one to ask after them, and give them advice.
The Mother Figure, depending on how she's depicted, can be really annoying or really awesome. For instance, Wynne and Vivienne from Dragon Age were pro-Circle mages who were widely hated by fans because they were both extremely condescending and hypocritical (they think mages should be locked up while they roam around free). Neither of them can be romanced (who would want to . . .) but enjoy making unwanted commentary about the player's romance ("unwanted" because it often comes in the form of unasked for "advice").
Meanwhile, Aveline is the Mother Figure of Dragon Age 2. When Hawke's actual mother dies, she is the only one who tries to give her advice about it, rather than just comforting her. Hilariously enough, she can't see why this would be annoying given that Hawke can be made to say specifically that she doesn't want to talk about her mother.
Like all Mother Figures, Aveline can not be romanced. But because she's closer to Hawke's age, the player can roleplay Hawke as having an interest while still being completely ignored (barring one circumstantial kiss on the cheek).
In Mass Effect, the Mother Figure was easily Dr. Chakwas. Most fans (myself included) love Dr. Chakwas because she has real affection and respect for Shepard and is loyal to the commander across the entire trilogy, even sticking by Shepard during her forced service to Cerberus.
To be fair, Shepard is older than the protagonists of Dragon Age. In Origins, the Warden is supposed to be somewhere around nineteen, which is why Wynne is so condescending (still crappy of her, though. The way older people treat the youth in our society is all messed up in general). And in Dragon Age 2, Hawke begins the game at her mid twenties, which is still fairly young. And the Inquisitor can be any age you want, just about.
But Shepard's age is set at 29 at the start of Mass Effect. She opens the game with age and experience and that is respected for the most part. Which is so . . . .nice.
Obviously, most fans like the Mother Figure when she's not preachy and annoying because no one, no matter their age, likes being treated like an idiot. Wynne was hated because she treats the Warden like an incompetent child, takes credit for her efforts ("I had help"), and preaches at her non-stop, all while purporting to know more about the Grey Wardens than the Warden (she doesn't).
Vivienne was just an asshole.
I liked Aveline fine, although like Wynne and Vivienne, she was a real hypocrite about mages. She was pro-Circle and wanted mages to be locked up because she can't resist demons. . . . Ugh.
All the Mother Figures in Dragon Age are annoying on some level. They were all pro-Circle, preachy, wanted to tell you what to do. But at least you could avoid Wynne and Vivienne. You were forced to recruit Aveline. Which I guess wasn't so bad since Aveline herself is okay.
The Mentor, like the Mother Figure, is a parental figure who is there to offer comfort and guidance to the protagonist. But unlike the Mother Figure, the advice of the Mentor is often wanted or even sought out, never given condescendingly or in such a way that boundaries are crossed.
The Mentor is often the one who taught the protagonist what they know, recruited them, or helped them achieve fame and prestige. They are typically male and (for whatever reason) not white or sometimes not even human. (Star Wars had Yoda, Lego Movie had Vesuvius).
In Mass Effect, the Mentor is Anderson, an older black man who has great affection for Commander Shepard. He is probably my favorite mentor in any video game ever, to the point that I often imagine he rescued my Shepard from Mindoir. A lot of fans love him but, as ever, there are those with a (hilarious) hatred for him.
In Dragon Age: Origins, the mentor was Duncan, a Rivani (so a brown man) who was similarly so polarizing that half the fandom loved him and half the fandom hated him. We, the players, don't spend long enough with Duncan for me to personally hate him one way or the other, but some of my characters despise him and some are indifferent.
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the mentor can either be Solas or Varric, depending on how you play your game. Like most Mentors, neither of them are white human males. Instead, one is an elf and the other is a dwarf. They both play a guiding, fatherlike role toward the Inquisitor. Varric is like the fun dad and Solas is the stern dad, and they are both there to watch over you, each for their own personal reasons. Solas is directly responsible for the Inquisitor's rise to fame and prestige, while Varric is partially responsible (he hid Hawke, so it wound up being you who was chosen. He also released the red lyrium).
Another of my favorite Mentors is Jolee from KotOR. Jolee is an old black man who has a sort of hate-love relationship with my Dark Side Revan. He's always trying to warn her about the Dark Side by giving her rambling stories that she doesn't care about. It's so hilarious.
He told this one long, really boring story that ended with the villain getting chopped up or something (I can't really remember, this is an ancient game) in an attempt to warn her. At the end of the story my character said, "I hate you, old man."
Ha ha ha.
You can't make your protagonist talk like that anymore in today's BioWare games. You can't mock your followers, insult them, or even argue with them. Being the Inquisitor felt like being such a doormat. In older BioWare games, the protagonist felt so alive (ironically, even though they were silent and with no animated facial expressions).
The Loyal Pet
This trope doesn't seem to be used that often, so there's isn't much to say. Basically, the loyal pet is some kind of creature that loves the protagonist and sticks by them no matter what they do, however horrible.
In Dragon Age: Origins, Dog (aka Barkspawn) is the Warden's loyal dog, who loves them no matter what and stays with them always. He has a weird but funny friendship with Morrigan, who (oddly enough) probably loves him more than any of your party members.
In Dragon Age 2, Hawke has a dog that is a summonable pet. I think the dog was reduced to this because having it following you around in Origins was a huge waste of a character slot. It was much better to have the dog as a summonable creature. And there's even a mod for it.
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, there is no dog because well . . . We've got Solas.
In KotOR, we have T3-M4, a little robot that unlocks doors for you, loves you, and doesn't give a crap what you do. Like Dog from Dragon Age, it's also not as useful in battle.
Sadly, Shepard never had a pet. There were so few followers in the first Mass Effect (like five or something) that it would have been a waste of a follower slot to have a creature that can't talk and is weak in battle following you around. In Mass Effect 2 there were already a crapload of followers, and Mass Effect 3 was supposed to be a welcome back for the original squad.
At least Commander Shepard had a hamster. Ten times better.
The Corrupt Council
In BioWare games, there's almost always a group of seemingly benevolent figures who rule the fictional universe (or some lower tier of it). They are supposed to be on the good side, but the player always eventually discovers that they are selfish and corrupt in some way. This is often done to demonstrate that people are corrupted by power, no matter how good their intentions.
In Mass Effect, the Citadel Council is a bunch of racist aliens who use humans as canon fodder by assigning them to planets surrounding Citadel space as a sort of living shield. Aside from this literal act of evil, they disrespect Shepard on a regular basis and are indifferent about the crimes committed against humans by space pirates and terrorists.
They also fear humans enough that they gave humans a few planets that were inhabited by batarians, purposely starting an endless feud between humans and batarians that would distract both groups from turning their wrath on the council.
The Mass Effect council isn't necessarily evil but it is corrupt. People love using their inevitable behavior in Mass Effect 3 to "prove" Ashley isn't racist. But Ashley is just the pot calling the kettle black. Her calling out the council doesn't make her less racist. It just makes her hilariously un-self-aware. Because as we see during the Citadel Coup, humans aren't perfect either. The human ambassador, Udina, proves to be just as corrupt as his alien counterparts, using the Virmire Survivor as his own lapdog in a manner no different than the alien council members using Shepard.
There's also the quarian Admiralty Board, a group of rulers among the quarian people who turn out to be corrupt in Mass Effect 2. It's obvious they are manipulating Shepard into securing the flotilla so they can get their hands on the technology there, and Tali is the leverage.
The Admiralty Board behaves in a manner no less deceitful and manipulative than the Illusive Man, who likewise is manipulating Shepard into securing the Collector Base for him. Renegade Shepard can call the quarian Admiralty Board out (with a very hilarious speech) and in Mass Effect 3, she can even lose her temper and finally hit one of them.
In KotOR, we discover that the Jedi council on Dantooine is manipulative and corrupt. Once the protagonist discovers they are Revan, it's disgusting to look back on the training montage scene and realize how much the council manipulated and lied to you, all so they could butter you up and send you off on a suicide mission, where you would do their dirty work in killing Malak (and hopefully get yourself killed in the process).
It's a situation no different than Shepard in Mass Effect, where she is sent off to kill Saren, the belief being that she would die and the council could wash their hands of humans later. This is exactly what happens in Mass Effect 2 when the human councilor is ignored and it becomes clear that he's just there to placate humans and isn't a councilor in any official sense. Humans displayed how powerful they were in killing a reaper. The council took note of this and did something to placate them out of fear, not respect.
Likewise, in Dragon Age: Origins, the Bannorn is the name for the lower nobility and their lands in the lower regions of Ferelden. The banns are somewhere just above the knights and just below the arls on the social hierarchy of nobility, and yet, they are the ones the Warden has to turn to for aid during the landsmeet, as most of the arls are either dead or missing thanks to Howe. Meanwhile, Loghain (the only teryn) is completely insane, while the king is dead and the queen is as much a captive of the politics as the Warden.
Basically, the human nobility is in complete disarray with everyone fighting for power when the Warden arrives.
In Orzammar, it's the same deal. The dwarven nobility is too busy fighting over who gets to wear the crown to fight darkspawn when the Warden shows up. If the Warden is a dwarf, then they became a Warden directly because of corruption in the leadership.
And finally, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, we learn that the Evanuris were evil elven leaders who massacred their own people. Meanwhile, we also discover that the Inquisition itself has become corrupted from its original purpose, with spies and backstabbings, while the Inquisitor themselves may or may not have been a tyrant (depending on the somewhat evil things they could do).
Again, the point of the Corrupt Council trope is to show how people in power are almost never innocent. In fact, they either did bad things to get where they are or else they started doing bad things to stay where they are.
Never trust authority figures in BioWare games.
The Conflicted Villain
In BioWare games, there are always two villains per game. First there's the cartoony muhaha villain we usually feel remorseless about killing, and then there's the conflicted "realistic" villain who we kinda feel bad about killing . . . but not really.
The Conflicted Villain is the second one. They are not one-dimensional cartoons but actual people with motives and damn good, even compelling reasons for attempting atrocities. Unfortunately, their reasons are never really good enough and almost always amount to mass murder.
In Mass Effect, the reapers were the cartoony evil. They killed organics and preserved them as goo like, well . . . preserves . . . because they misunderstood a directive. They were coldly, insanely evil, dumb, robots.
Meanwhile, the Conflicted Villains of the series were Saren, The Illusive Man, and Tela Vasir. These were people who firmly believed they were committing atrocities for the greater good. In the end, they turned out to be wrong:
- Saren thought that submitting to the reapers would "save" people (ha, sure as strawberry jam, maybe).
- The Illusive Man thought getting his hands on the Collector Base (and violating Shepard to do it) would mean uplifting humanity. In reality, fiddling with reaper tech has only ever indoctrinated people, driven them mad, and turned them into husks. We are shown this in the series over and over, which is why it's dumb and irresponsible to give Cerberus the Collector Base. The only time Cerberus succeeded in using reaper tech was when they resurrected Shepard, and they only succeeded with that because well . . . it's Shepard. (Even EDI backfired on them.)
- And I have a whole article about Tela Vasir, so I won't repeat myself here.
In KotOR, I've always felt as if Revan, the actual protagonist, was the Conflicted Villain rather than the hero of the story. They are a villain who is canon-wise on a redemption arc but who could (in the player's alternative universe) decide to become a Sith Lord again. Meanwhile, the evil cartoony villain was easily Malak.
Dragon Age: Inquisition had Corypheus as a cartoony villain, while Solas was a Loghain-esque Conflicted Villain, fully convinced that he was only protecting his people. We all like to hate on Corypheus for being so horribly written, but to be honest, he was a ridiculous cartoon even back in Dragon Age 2, where sarcastic Hawke makes fun of his confusion upon waking with,
"You're a darkspawn. Darkspaaaawn."
In Dragon Age: Origins, the cartoony evil villain was the Archdemon while the Conflicted Villain was Loghain, a delusional and paranoid man whose madness nearly destroyed the world. Loghain is conflicted because he believes he's doing the right thing, but he's utterly wrong.
History repeats itself in Dragon Age 2. The evil cartoony villain is the red Lyrium, which can't really be stopped. Meanwhile, there are actually three Conflicted Villains.
First, there is the Arishok, who believes he's doing the right thing when he takes over Kirkwall and brings order to the chaos. He does it from a place of good intention, believing he can end the people's suffering. But trying to help people by force is always going to be wrong (freewill should be respected), and so, Hawke defeats him in combat (or gives him Isabela so he leaves. Whatever).
Then there's Meredith, the knight commander of the templars. Meredith's sister was a mage who became an abomination and went on a rampage. Because she witnessed the death of her crazy mage sister, Meredith is conflicted about the harm she imposes on mages but deems it entirely necessary. She projects her one experience onto all mages and tries to kill them all, which is wrong.
And finally, Anders is technically a Conflicted Villain (even though I feel he was right). Things had gone so insane in Kirkwall that it would take a villain, not a hero, to force the situation from a stalemate.
Oh. And there was also Ethina, who felt conflicted about defending the mages. It was her belief that a handful of people should suffer so the rest could leave free from magic tyranny . . . And yet, mages were terrorizing people anyway. And why should all mages suffer because a few are bad?
This sort of thinking made Ethina a villain for the simple fact that she looked the other way while people were suffering, even though she had the power to do something about it. She was perfectly willing to unnecessarily sacrifice some people for the pseudo peace of all people. She's really no better than Meredith in that regard, so I guess that's four Conflicted Villains for Dragon Age 2.
Five if you count Orsino, who was buddies with the guy who killed Hawke's mother.
Those are the tropes. If I think of more, I'll edit this. Some of BioWare's games (like Baldur's Gate) are not fresh enough in my memory to be included. Maybe one day.
I think BioWare games are charming simply because they follow a formula and are a tad predictable. It's not always a bad thing to follow a formula in a story. The Hero's Journey is a thing for a reason. But . . . It would be interesting if in the next game BioWare subverted some of their all-too-often-used tropes a bit.
Just a bit.