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Mass Effect’s decadelong FemShep saga finally comes to a close

Enoch, a stormtrooper whose battered armor has been repaired with pieces of a gold-colored metal, including the faceplate of his helmet, which has been replaced with a gold mask depicting a semi-realistic human face in Ahsoka.

An Animal Crossing character stands on Redd’s boat

Sigil’s Lady of Pain, with an elaborate headdress, stands before a collection of odd characters from the latest adventure from Wizards of the Coast.

You might miss it, but if you look closely, you might see that the standard Commander Shepard model for women in Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a little different. Easier on the eyes — at least, according to BioWare.

During a hands-off presentation detailing the changes coming to the remastered version of the sci-fi trilogy, environment and character director Kevin Meek noted that the iconic female version of Shepard wasn’t introduced until Mass Effect 3. This, he said, came with an inherent disconnect: You could have played the first two games looking one way, and then boot up the final game only to look entirely different. The remastered version won’t have this problem, as the default FemShep we all know and love will be available from the get-go.

And she’s been touched up.

“I think she was a really good example of an ME3 character that, you know, had still some room for improvement,” Meek said. The team decided to do “another pass” on her where they slightly modified “some larger forms of her face, or adding some medium and fine details like wrinkles and pores and specular breakup.”

The average player might not see the difference, he admits, but the hope was that the newer model would “catch the light better.”

“She competes more with the iconic male Shepherd in terms of overall quality now,” he continued.

Polygon inquired if the male version of Shepard will also get a face lift, but has yet to receive a response. Cynically, one could look at this as a tacit admission that BioWare didn’t put enough work into the original FemShep model. At the very least, it’s a spiritual continuation of the strange beauty pageant that brought FemShep into existence in the first place. Back in 2011, BioWare held a voting contest where fans could choose what they wanted FemShep to look like, both as the standard in-game model, but also in marketing materials like trailers. There was also a second follow-up vote held by BioWare to determine FemShep’s hair color.


The new Mass Effect: everything BioWare has said and teased

At the time, the initial contest was a bit of a triumph for fans who had urged BioWare to give FemShep her due, but the way it actually unfolded felt strange. When the votes were tallied and the Blonde Shepard won, you couldn’t shake the feeling that people just wanted the most Barbie-like conventionally attractive woman available. For BioWare to then come back years later and continue modifying her, while Male Shepard apparently stays the same, is a tinge off-putting.

Or perhaps there’s a more optimistic way of looking at this. We can’t change what unfolded back in 2011, but in 2021, there’s no vote, no massive fan campaign to get BioWare to even consider highlighting FemShep.

Quietly, FemShep was just in the big reveal trailer that announced the release date for Mass Effect Remastered. It’s only a few seconds near the end, and yet, it feels monumental. Don’t just take it from me. Just look at how FemShep’s voice actor, the indelible Jennifer Hale, tears up after watching her own character be the star of the show from the get-go.

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