Our Favorite Characters: Saving the Galaxy with Liara in Mass Effect

Our next “Our Favorite Characters” takes look at—you guessed it—the favorite character of yours truly. This week, the character underneath the figurative spotlight is Liara T’Soni, the mild-mannered archeologist-turned Shadow Broker. Of course, we’re all aware of the unique (to this day) narrative structure of the original Mass Effect trilogy. One of the results of having consistent narrative through-lines is that you get to truly see the growth of the characters who join you on your adventure. Liara is a shining example of that.

Right from the moment you meet Liara, she’s a fascinating character. Looking to the past instead of looking ahead like everyone else, she also has a personal connection to the central conflict of Mass Effect the rest of the Normandy crew doesn’t have. Her journey down a path of continuous darkness, while still having the same charm that introduced us to her, makes Liara one of our favorite characters.

Looking to the Past

Liara’s presence in the galaxy itself is an interesting one. She’s the offspring of two Asari, a union that’s usually frowned upon in their culture. Firstly, the Asari believe that this does nothing to advance the race as a whole. Second and more important, this increases the chance of an Asari becoming an Ardat-Yahksi, which is essentially an Asari who kills everyone they mate with. Thankfully, Liara doesn’t have to worry about that. However, it doesn’t help that she’s the daughter of one of the most revered Asari of her time.

Matriarch Benezia is a highly-respected Asari’s figure even before Mass Effect, and her status is partly the reason Liara went off to live the solitary life of an archaeologist. Unfortunately, Benezia fell to the indoctrination of Sovereign, corrupting her and leading her to become Saren’s second-in-command. Though Benezia is ultimately offed relatively early in the story (before the events of Virmire), her fall gives Liara a personal investment the rest of Spehard’s squad don’t have.

You could say Liara’s confrontation with her mother is what sparks her dark turn throughout the rest of the series. If you brought Liara to Noveria (and if you didn’t…how dare you?), mother and daughter get one final moment together before the latter falls. Liara can later meet her father during Mass Effect 3, though you actually end up meeting Matriarch Aethyta in Mass Effect 2. A successful reunion ultimately benefits Shepard’s efforts to stop the Reapers, and shows Liara that she’s not completely alone in the galaxy, despite her unique upbringing.

A New Shadow Broker Arises

Lair of the Shadow Broker is generally regarded as one of the best pieces of DLC in a video game. It simultaneously ties a few loose ends while setting up fascinating developments for Mass Effect 3. While—spoilers—Liara becomes the new Shadow Broker in Mass Effect 3 regardless, playing through the DLC helps inform that change of character for players. Plus, it lets us catch up with our favorite Asari (please don’t yell) after an absence during most of Mass Effect 2.

Of all of the characters in the Mass Effect series, Liara’s trajectory has to be among the most complex. Even before she became an information broker on Illium, she got tangled with the terrorist group Cerberus, ultimately being the one who gave Cerberus access to Shepard’s dead body. When players first meet Liara in Mass Effect 2, she’s colder than she ever was in the first Mass Effect. This ends up being simply a ruse, though the change in demeanor is striking. She’s on a mission to take down the Shadow Broker once and for all, and she’ll do whatever she has to do. Even if it means becoming a completely different person in the process.

Thankfully, becoming the Shadow Broker doesn’t completely throw Liara completely off the deep end. In Mass Effect 3, she sets up shop on the Normandy, and actually uses her numerous connections across the galaxy to aid Shepard’s efforts against the Reapers. Though she has a much more cynical view of the galaxy, there are shades of the old Liara here, and she even goes back to her archeologist routes somewhat. Unfortunately, she also has her fair share of hardships, too, like witnessing the fall of her homeworld firsthand. It doesn’t help that what should be the greatest moment in her life ultimately backfires.

Never Meet Your Idols

One of the biggest pieces of Liara’s character development is from a storyline some people may miss completely! Sure, you can say what you want about Mass Effect 3’s day-one From Ashes DLC (that’s definitely not a conversation for here), but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it contained some of my favorite plot developments in the series.

With the presence that the Protheans have had throughout all of Mass Effect, perhaps it’s not surprising to see one become a fully-fledged party member. After all, we had a geth party member in Mass Effect 1. However, when Sheard and Liara discover Javik, who had spent centuries in stasis, they get a lot more than they bargained for. Javik turns out to be a pompous, arrogant pain who looks down upon other, “less advanced” species.

Of course, this comes as a crushing blow to Liara, who dedicated the better part of her life researching the Protheans, and coming to revere them. Being face-to-face with a real, living Prothean, but ultimately realizing he couldn’t care less about her, or her kind, creates a true internal crisis for our favorite Asari. The Protheans were brilliant, yes, but if they were this terrible, did she waste her time giving her life to them?

Things truly come to a head after the disastrous mission at Thessia. Despite losing her homeworld to the Reapers, Javik offers nary a sliver of sympathy. Of course, things eventually smooth over between the two of them, and Javik offers some slight condolences. However, it’s a real wake-up call for Liara, who faces the true reality of the people she idolized for so long. Liara may be hardened after seeing some of the galaxy’s worst, but her optimistic nature is still there, and she got to meet a Prothean!

A Galaxy Full of Stories

Honestly, there’s so much I could say about Liara. There’s three games’ worth of development, after all. However, these hit the main points of what make Liara such an engaging character. The Mass Effect games are full of characters that are just as worthy of a piece like this. However, Liara’s journey is possibly the most interesting of all the characters featured within the original trilogy. From her humble beginnings as an archeologist, to becoming the Shadow Broker, to actually meeting a living Prothean, Liara’s lived it all. And the best part is, she’s only in the beginning of her life. She still has centuries to see the galaxy change and evolve. Let’s hope no one else tries to destroy it.

What are some of your favorite Mass Effect characters? Let us know!