Name: Mordin Solus
Game: Mass Effect 2 (2010), Mass Effect 3 (2012)
In His Own Words: “Never experiment on species with members capable of calculus. Simple rule, never broken it.”
The fate of the most educated character in an ensemble fantasy or science fiction cast is often employment in the dead-end job of Exposition Monitor. In this role, the character with the most expertise must tirelessly churn out context, backstory and history; things that are awkward to convey through more entertaining means, like gun battles or sex scenes.
Typically, the job turns such characters into irritating know-it-alls like Hermione Granger or C-3PO, whose dialogue you soon learn to dread as much for its smugness as for its tedium. The most impressive thing about Mass Effect 2’s Mordin Solus, therefore, is not just that he manages to be amusing while adequately fulfilling the role of Chief Exposition Officer, but also that he manages to run away with every scene he’s in, a feat when you consider the size of the egos, personalities and cleavages boasted by his shipmates.
The cast of Mass Effect 2, when it first assembled in 2010, was at once a breath of fresh air and an assault on the well-behaved culture of dialogue-heavy RPGs that came before. Its predecessor, Mass Effect (2007), was a carefully-written science fiction epic that used a core group of six characters to illuminate, with precise dialogue, the tensions that marbled the galaxy. There was nomadic outcast and earnest mechanical genius Tali, cynical ex-cop Garrus, wide-eyed ingénue and tightly-armoured daughter of a race of galactic nymphomaniacs Liara, and Wrex, a belligerent Krogan, doomed to watch as biological warfare doomed his species to infertility. The cast was rounded off by two humans, xenophobic soldier Ashley and humourless Ben Affleck look-alike Kaiden.
Between them, these six characters acted as mouthpieces for most of the political and racial grudges that complicated the whole Reaper issue. It’s just that while they were hugely important sources of information, each of them lacked the edge required to transcend their roles as well-rendered almanacs (nigh-on indistinguishable from The Citadel’s virtual tour guide Avina) and become intriguing characters in their own right. After all, it’s hard to believe in the impact of galactic difficulties when you’re hearing about them from someone who sounds like they’ve rehearsed their grievances in front of a mirror.
With an admirable, but ever so slightly staid cast, Mass Effect is the concert pianist who plays all the notes perfectly but without expression, the tennis player who wins in straight sets without leaving the baseline, the dutiful older sibling who works hard, pays the mortgage and raises a happy family but gets completely overshadowed each Christmas when its younger, better-looking and more irresponsible sibling returns from Asia, charming elderly relatives into thinking that on some people, tribal tattoos actually look quite dashing.
In short, it’s not Mass Effect 2.
Perhaps spurred on by the respect and acclaim garnered its predecessor, Mass Effect 2 swaggered into our lives boasting an edgy cast of inventive, dangerous eccentrics. Tali and Garrus were back, having rejected their sensible pasts, Liara and Wrex had used their experiences to wrench power from the hands of their elders and betters, and the Normandy had several more berths for characters who’d teach the player about the galaxy in an altogether more exciting way.
Whether these characters overwhelmed us with a sexuality missing from the previous game (hi, genetically-modified Miranda and walking six-pack Jacob), unnerved us with their dark pasts and alien weirdness (stand up, abused child prodigy Jack and spooky-eyed lizard assassin Thane) or simply gave us a sense of an unimaginably old and vast galaxy (thanks, improbably-stacked Asari nun Samara), they lured us in with their charisma before boggling our minds with their incredible stories.
Yet somehow, their outrageousness made them more convincing. These were meant to be the most elite, extreme characters in the galaxy, remember, so doesn’t it make sense that they’d live on the edge?
Every member of the crew Shepard must recruit in Mass Effect 2 is intriguing, but the best, and the subject of the first ever “Character Select” is Mordin Solus, the Salarian scientist and ship’s doctor. At first glance, Mordin is just the first Salarian in the series to get a major billing, serving the same purpose for that species as Tali, Garrus and Wrex did for the Quarians, Turians and Krogan in the previous game. The Salarians are a short-lived yet highly advanced species that like to cram as much conversation as possible into their brief lives by speaking quickly, eschewing grammatical conventions in favour of clipped sentences that convey crucial information, nothing more.
The Salarians’ speech is but one example of BioWare’s flair for alien dialogue. Others include the religious Hanar, whose scrupulous modesty means they always refer to themselves in third person, and the slow-talking Elcor, whose voices are so inexpressive that they’re forced to announce their tone of voice to other species before speaking.
Mordin initially comes across as a similarly well-thought out representative of a verbose alien species, but it’s not long before you realise that even within his remarkable brethren, he is exceptional. His style of speech is a perfect expression not just of Salarian culture, but also his own ruthless, slightly absurd, yet principled character. “Have killed many, Shepard,” he declares at one point. “Many methods. Gunfire, knives, drugs, tech attacks, once with farming equipment. But not with medicine. Never with medicine”.
For Mordin is a scientist, governed entirely by reason and a few clearly-thought out principles that it is beyond him to subvert. Every decision he makes has an entirely rational basis, and however unfeeling his actions may seem, they’re driven by a firm belief that the greater good is always more important than the fate of the individual. Still, though never swayed by emotive issues, Mordin is not amoral. He feels remorse when confronted by the results of his past work on the Krogan honeworld of Tuchanka, but the purity of his decision-making process keeps him secure in the knowledge that he acted for the right reasons. His certainty in the present allows him to look upon his past without question. In short, he lives a life without regret.
A good thing too, given the length of it. If you’re given to comparing yourself to fictional characters, there’s something inspiring about Mordin, who has achieved great success the only way someone with such a minute lifespan can; by making firm decisions, committing to them utterly and spending every waking moment working towards his goals. Each member of the second Normandy’s crew is an obsessive of some sort, but Mordin is perhaps the most clear-headed and at peace with the implications of the way he’s chosen to live. When you’ll be lucky to see 40, you’re all to aware of the fact that every moment of self-indulgent introspection is a moment you’re not fully living.
Had he been given a starring role in the first game, this might have been Mordin’s defining characteristic, but in Mass Effect 2, he’s also allowed to be subversive and give the player a unique doctor’s perspective of an elite crew under particular stress. Ask him to talk while he’s busy and he’ll reply, testily: “Perhaps later. Trying to determine how scale itch got onto Normandy, sexually transmitted disease only carried by Varren. Implications…unpleasant.”
You don’t have to know that Varren are grotesque dog-like creatures bred by Krogan to find this amusing. The detail is entirely unnecessary to the plot or your understanding of the Mass Effect universe, but the amusing insight it gives into a crew facing an uncertain future is priceless.
Fortunately for the player hell-bent on pursuing one of BioWare’s infamous romantic sub-plots, Mordin’s also got some safe sex advice that’s a little less retrospective. Should a female Shepard show an interest in scaly Turian Garrus, Mordin will warn her not to be too enthusiastic. “Sexual activity normal stress relief for humans and Turians,” he says. “Still, recommend caution, warn of chafing. Turians based on dextro-amino acids, human ingestion of tissue could provoke allergic reactions. Anaphalactic shock possible, so don’t, ahem, ingest.”
Children of the internet will know how creative fans of science fiction franchises can be when it comes to filling in the gaps of their favourite interspecies romances, but Mordin’s practical advice beats them to it. His wise words are more than just advice to an amorous Shepard, they’re an acknowledgement of awkward mechanics that video games with noble intentions can still be a little too polite to mention. However, when messy realities bleed into video game worlds, they make them feel just a little bit more real than those that keep their space suits firmly zipped.
Of all the characters in Mass Effect 2, Mordin does the most to make the world feel real. He has a smaller role in the third game, which brings his darkest deeds and his role in the genophage that devastated the Krogan to the fore. Yet even then, Mordin stands by his decisions, secure that he made them for the right reasons. For all his questionable deeds, and for the part he has to play, for better or worse, in the fate of the galaxy, Mordin Solus’ is a (short) life well-lived.
Character Select is a fortnightly feature here at GodisaGeek.com – So expect another wonderful new column from Mary then!