As much fun and fully realized as they are, it’s hard not to get a little frustrated with your companions in Mass Effect Andromeda. Sure, they’re well designed with elaborate backstories and loads of context-specific dialogue to share. But they all feel like lesser versions of previous companions. Peebee is a more chatty, less sophisticated version of Liara (and kind of a female version of Mordin), Drack is just Wrex recycled (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and all of the humans are just terrible. I like completing quests with these guys but it’s hard not to miss my old crew back in the original trilogy. That’s why I’m grateful for Jaal in Mass Effect Andromeda; he’s new, original, and far-and-away your best companion.
It probably helps that Jaal is the only companion you meet who is local to Andromeda. All of your other friends are also immigrants from across the galaxy. He looks like a purple version of the Beast from Beauty and the beast and – much like that character – he’s also tough but sensitive. As the only local in the bunch, he spends a lot of the game learning about the lives of your crew and his dialogue tends to be funnier than everybody else’s. I’ve enjoyed every minute of his dialogue with the no-nonsense Drack. On the ship, his efforts to blend in with the crew are also pretty cute, particularly when he quizzes you about potential gifts for your other squadmates. His concern actually made me kind of reflective: he comes across as a lot more interested in characters like Liam and Cora than I ever would be, I started to think that maybe he should be captain.
What really sets Jaal apart from your other companions (as others have written) is the fact that his story is the closest to the game’s central storyline. In Mass Effect, you arrive in a far off galaxy looking for a place to settle. You and your companions (some who came with you and some who came before you) are all new to this world. You discover that a race called the Kett is at war with Jaal’s people and his fight soon becomes your fight. Further, fighting the Kett involves getting to know a lot more about Jaal’s people the Angara, which again keeps Jaal fairly front and center throughout the conflict. You learn about his society, his planet, his people, and his people’s history of battling the Kett (which is now your battle too). It quickly becomes clear that he’s a center character in this battle If there ever was a Mass Effect Andromeda movie, he would definitely be one of the most prominent supporting cast members.
Again, Mass Effect Andromeda’s cast does feel like a real disappointment as the previous games set the bar so incredibly high. Everyone here feels like a alternative future version of the characters I really enjoyed in the previous games. The only real original breakout star here is Jaal, doing his best to remind you how interesting Mass Effect characters can be. Maybe Mass Effect Andromeda 2 will follow Mass Effect 2’s lead and reset a lot of the main characters or start all over with completely new ones. If they keep one around, though, I’m hoping it’s Jaal. I’m not saying it was worth crossing the entirety of space to meet him, but he does make never ending fetch quests and loading screens a lot more tolerable.