“And I’m going to do what you brought me back to do. I’ll fight and win this war without compromising the soul of our species.”
This is our list of the top 25 female characters of all-time. We’re into the top 5 now, and counting down one by one until we reach the best of the best on Sept. 30.
3) Commander Shepard (Mass Effect) – 7 votes/467 points
Chris: Commander Shepard ended up being one of the biggest problems in our lists. Most of the characters we considered as a group have easily defined genders. Mario is male, Zelda is female. Easy breezy. But what do you do with Shepard, the most fleshed-out and open-ended character in video game history?
Our answer was to put Shepard as two separate characters, because people identified so differently with the two versions. Maybe you don’t agree with that decision, but it happened. When we release our combined list next week, bridging the gap between genders, Shepard’s combined support counts as one spot, and the top 25 will react accordingly.
I’ve never played a male Shepard, but I do have experience with the female version. To me, it seemed cool to be a badass chica going through various galaxies and kicking ass. We’ve already got characters like Master Chief and Marcus Fenix and Isaac Clarke doing cool things in space, so why not a female representative? (I suppose Darth Revan has an option to be female as well, but canonically, Revan is male.)
My FemShep stopped evil in its tracks at every turn. She chose not to punch a reporter in the face — though tempting — because that was too easy. It was far better to speak so eloquently that the reporter questioned why she ever doubted me in the first place. She had a brief romance with Garrus, but the calibrations didn’t work out, so she fell in love with Traynor in the third game instead. She mourned the loss of Gabby Daniels despite saving almost everyone else at the end of ME2.
To me, the ending of the trilogy was a debacle (and the extended cut doesn’t fix the original problems). But I prefer to think of the events of London as the finale instead. There, Shepard reminisces with former squadmates through the telecom system, fights through a seemingly endless array of enemies, and delivers an impactful speech to her most important allies. That’s the Shepard I know.
Joseph: Does this even count? We already had Commander Shepard in the male category, so it would seem unfair to include him/her again. Sure, there are differences, like voice acting and relationship options, but those seem insignificant compared with the sum total of the commander’s choices and character, most of which aren’t gender specific. If you ask me, we should’ve picked the better Shepard and made them the only option of the two. In that case, the female side would have won because of the talents of Jennifer Hale alone. But because of the unique malleability of the character’s gender, I think we should have stuck with one or the other. Or even put them in a different Top 25 list.
Shaun: Part of me agrees with Joseph, but there is something to be said for how the player’s experience was defined, which is why this choice was hard. Personally, I played as Male Shep, and while I don’t think one experience is necessarily better than the other, the panel needs to vote for what meant something to them. With that said, FemShep is universally regarded as having the better voice work, which goes a long way to defining the trilogy. I went into detail on our male list about how important of a character Shepard is, and the same goes here. Rarely in gaming has the protagonist elevated an entire experience, but that’s what happened through all three Mass Effect games. That means that while I’m excited for the future of the series, I’m a little bit apprehensive about any title that isn’t endorsed by Shepard.
Jason: “I’m Commander Shepard, and this…”
Yeah, never mind.
What is there to say about Commander Shepard? What isn’t there to say about Commander Shepard? Stellar voice acting, stellar writing, stellar story and gameplay… There is a reason the Mass Effect series is considered one of the best trilogies in video game history, and playing as Femshep is the best way to experience it. She’s a woman who gets things done. A leader, a tactician, an elite combatant. Shepard is a character who was exactly what the player wanted her to be while still being an entity all her own.
While some “strong” female characters hide behind their space armor and disguise the fact that their a girl, Shepard didn’t give a shit. She’d make love to whoever she damn well pleased, be they male, female or alien. She owned her sexuality and had no reason to disguise that she was a woman, and what’s more no one treated her any less because she was one. Part of that is because Shepard, the character, could have been male or female; but the other part of that was just because Shepard just kicked too much ass to be denied.
Video gaming needs more character like Shepard. Period. And thankfully with Mass Effect being such a huge commercial success, we might just get some.
Cary: I played through the original Mass Effect several time. Twice I tried playing as BroShep — one attempt was a success, the other was a failure. Playing as FemShep just spoke to me more, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one I created. However one, my Vanguard paragon Alexandra, made the cut through all three ME games. She was a firecracker who could dish it out as well as take it. But she also cared about the relationship between humans and aliens, and she tried to bridge that gap by forming a relationship with Garrus. Sure, they had to figure things out once the armor came off, but…ummm… … …never mind. FemShep all the way.
Christine: Playing as FemShep is by far my favorite experience with all three games of the series. I currently have a game in progress with ManShep, and while I don’t have any real complaints with playing as him, my story canon will forever be FemShep. Maybe it’s because I naturally gravitate toward playing as a female when the option is available, but more than that, Jennifer Hale’s phenomenal voice acting makes Shepard very real to me. Hale will always be Commander Shepard in my mind.
Commander Shepard is a playable character whose personality and decisions are shaped based on how you play the game, but she leaves a lasting impression. You go on a journey with her, you care about her, and she’s the kind of person you aspire to be — a woman who’s strong, courageous, and will strive to do what’s right for the good of the entire galaxy, even if it means she has to sacrifice her own life to save billions. Shepard is fearless, but she also has her moments of vulnerability and doubts. What keeps her going are her strong friendships and the love she has for your chosen love interest (mine was Kaidan).
I know the same can easily be said about ManShep, if you played as him, but I played as FemShep first and she resonates with me more than ManShep ever will. That’s the beauty of the Mass Effect series, Shepard will be many different things for each player. No experience will be exactly the same. Your game is all your own and it’ll feel special to you alone. Playing through Mass Effect 3 has got to be the most satisfying and saddest gaming experiences I’ve had. Everything was a little more poignant and more emotional as I got through it. The endings to Mass Effect 3 could have been handled better, and the Extended DLC somewhat makes up for it after legions of fans cried foul over the whole endings controversy, but putting all of that aside, I was amazed by how much this series has left its mark on me. It’s one of the few gaming experiences I’ll never forget, next to Dragon Age: Origins. I have Commander Shepard to thank for letting me be a part of her journey and I’m at peace with where she is by game’s end. It has been one hell of a ride, Commander.