A face by any other name would apparently not look as sweet, not when it comes to Mass Effect. After three games of watching the young Quarian Tali’Zorah nar Rayya grow from an adolescent trying to prove herself into a full-fledged Admiral of the Migrant Fleet, mysteries still remained at the close of Mass Effect 3. Not the least of which was the fact that she’d done all the maturing behind an opaque face mask.
As had the entire race of Quarians, and with Mass Effect 3‘s Extended Cut DLC, BioWare decided to show that masks are a thing of the past. However, the reveal they conjured up shows that they still aren’t showing as much of the Quarians as fans would likely hope.
It’s hard to disagree with the coy approach taken by BioWare, since the studio came under fire when they actually did show Tali’s face in a photograph acquired if she became a love interest of the player’s. Fans of Tali and all Quarians called the developers “lazy” for merely photoshopping a stock image to appear more in keeping with an alien physiology. While those attacks may have been justified given the high level of work put into other characters’ appearances, no actual facial modeling, or in-game reveal is not necessarily a sign of laziness.
In fact, the developers have come up with more than a few ways to play on audience hopes of seeing the Quarian unmasked, most notably when Tali’s mask was removed in a romantic scene of Mass Effect 2. Conveniently kept out of frame or sight except to Commander Shepard, players around the world had their hopes raised, only to be dashed. At the time though, it’s hard to think there wasn’t as much frustrated laughter as actual disappointment.
The reaction from fans was to come up with versions of Tali that better fit the spirit of the Mass Effect universe themselves, creating truly breathtaking fan art not motivated by a need to quell debate or put a nice end to a romantic cut-scene. A debate could be held on whether the individual player’s mental image of Tali is any more right than that of BioWare, but an official reveal was without a doubt the top priority for many players.
If there was ever a time for the developers to finally show what the three-fingered, spacefaring species looked like from the shoulders up, the Extended Cut was it. The fan reaction to their photoshop skills was an open wound many still carry, and an actual drawing (from scratch) of Tali’s face by one of BioWare’s own artists would be much easier to accept as ‘official.’ And according to the game’s fiction, one of the side effects of a possible Geth/Quarian alliance was an accelerated immunity system in the inhabitants of Rannoch, making their suits no longer necessary after a short period of time. So now that the Extended Ending showed an unmasked Quarian on Rannoch, the mystery was over, right? Wrong:
Unfortunately, it seems BioWare is still unwilling to show the Quarians with faces free from obscurity, as a slight profile is all that’s visible. Two eyes, a nose and a mouth can be checked off the list, so the alien race can also be added to the alarmingly long list of those distinguished from humans by the slightest of variables. The reveal still does live up to its name, since the face is unmasked, but perhaps BioWare’s hesitancy to show all their cards is a sign of things to come.
We know the Mass Effect universe is far from over, and the changes brought with the new endings show that the storytelling spark is still present among the writers. Anyone familiar with BioWare can already imagine the possible explanations for Quarians clinging to hooded clothing, or even masks as shown in the image’s background. Perhaps the clothing and masks (and heightened sensitivity to body language it brought) have become fundamental to Quarian culture, not ready to be removed just yet. Or for those who saved both Geth and Quarians and brokered a peace between the two, perhaps the wearing of indistinguishable masks is a sign of friendship and commonality with the hive-mind sentient race.
If BioWare does intend to feature the Quarians or Rannoch in future games and novels, then perhaps the newer, unmasked version of the race is something they’re intent on keeping separate from Shepard’s adventure. Whatever the case may be, it seems that fans of the series will have to use their imagination just a little while longer.
After all, keeping a little bit of mystery in Mass Effect 3‘s conclusion isn’t a bad thing.
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