This article contains spoilers for romance options across all three Mass Effect games.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is a comprehensive overhaul of Commander Shepard’s interstellar exploits across three iconic games, the first of which landed on store shelves in November 2007. At the time, George W. Bush was firmly ensconced in the White House, Fergie was still relevant, and same-sex marriage wouldn’t be federally legalized in the United States for eight more years. Mass Effect 2 appeared in 2010, and 3 hit just two years later.
Shortly after the launch of the first Mass Effect, Fox News aired a segment called “Sexbox?” where hosts discussed the immorality of the title’s sex scenes with wide-eyed shock. The talking heads falsely claimed the game featured full digital nudity, and they were appalled at the inclusion of a non-straight romance option, where players could seduce Liara T’Soni, a mono-gendered alien.
This Fox News bit permanently altered the trajectory of Mass Effect lore. According to Mass Effect 2 writer Brian Kindregan, the sequel was poised to feature at least one pansexual character, Jack, including the ability to seduce her as either a male or female Shepard. This element was scrapped late in the development of Mass Effect 2, in direct response to Fox News criticism, Kindregan told TheGamer in January 2021. In the end, she was only available as a romance option in male Shepard playthroughs.
“At the time... maybe more people in the world thought that there was a connection between reality and what gets discussed on Fox News,” Kindregan said. “The development team of Mass Effect 2 was a pretty progressive, open-minded team. But I think there was a concern at pretty high levels that if Mass Effect, which only had one gay relationship, Liara -- which on paper was technically not a gay relationship because she was from a mono-gendered species -- I think there was a concern that if that had drawn fire, that Mass Effect 2 had to be a little bit careful.”
Mass Effect Legendary Edition, which lands on May 14th, is a chance for BioWare to revamp the original games for modern hardware and sensibilities. Some fans have been holding out hope for a wider range of non-straight romance options, considering the progress that’s been made in regards to LGBT+ rights and visibility in the US since 2007. However, while developers are tweaking things like combat, textures and lighting, they’re not touching the story. The trilogy’s original romance options will carry over into the 2021 edition, homophobia intact.
BioWare didn’t address same-sex romance options in the virtual press event it held last week, despite a handful of specific questions. After the event, a spokesperson told Engadget, “The series's narrative options have not changed from the original trilogy to Legendary Edition.”
With the launch of Mass Effect 3 in 2012, BioWare implemented same-sex romance trees for male and female Shepards. In terms of non-heterosexual relationships, here’s what the Mass Effect series -- and the Legendary Edition -- has to offer:
Mass Effect: Male and female Shepard can have sex with Liara T’Soni, a mono-gendered asari character, and receive the Paramour achievement.
Mass Effect 2: Female Shepard can have sex with female character Kelly Chambers, though this doesn’t result in a Paramour achievement or preclude other relationships. Male and female Shepard can try to sleep with the asari characters Morinth and Samara, though Morinth kills Shepard before they actually do the deed, and Samara ultimately rejects the advances.
Mass Effect 3: Male Shepard can have sex with Steve Cortez or Kaiden Alenko, while female Shepard can sleep with Samantha Traynor, Kelly or Liara, receiving the Paramour achievement for each. FemShep can also have sex with female character Diana Allers, though it doesn’t result in an achievement.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition is an overhaul of the entire trilogy, including the Extended Cut ending for the third game and every bit of series DLC. The games will run in 4K UHD with HDR; character creation has received a comprehensive upgrade, and combat in the first title has been refined. The Legendary Edition will also address longtime series gripes, like ridiculously long elevator rides and a lack of gamepad support on PC.
During the media event last week, environment and character art director Kevin Meek described the importance of getting representation right with the Legendary Edition’s revamped character creation system.
“One of the first things we really wanted to do was, throughout the trilogy, unify the options,” he said. “If something exists in 3, we want it to exist in 1, and we want that to be able to be consistent. And then also we wanted to really expand choices for things like skin color and hair styles that just weren’t wide enough originally to support the diversity of our player base or give fans the opportunity to create that Shepard they really wanted to play as.”
Actually playing as that character will be a different story -- or, rather, the exact same one.