Once you’re out in the Normandy serving as a Spectre, the game gives you three leads to chase. My instincts are always to chase what would make the best story, and I always choose to get Liara on my team first. For one thing, I’m a character guy before anything, and so I prefer to build up my cast at the first chance I get. For another, Liara is actually trapped in a Prothean security device when you find her, and it seems cruel to me to leave her trapped for too long (I’m told that if you put off rescuing her until the end of the game, she’s slightly loopy from being stuck so long, which is hilarious but not who I want to be). From a logistical standpoint, the reason you’re after her is because she’s the daughter of Saren’s sidekick; at minimum, she’ll know things about Benezia and Saren that could be useful, and getting to her before he does would be a coup. This makes her a living MacGuffin, and another example of the game pushing itself forward with a mysterious thing we don’t fully understand the properties of. I feel like this game is suffering for leaning so hard on mysterious black box technology, especially this early on; I get that the overall point of a MacGuffin is that it doesn’t matter what it is and it forces choices on the part of the characters, but this game keeps its MacGuffins so mysterious that there aren’t really any stakes, especially because a new player doesn’t know what the rules of this galaxy are yet. I know what a briefcase full of diamonds or state secrets or illicit photographs means; a Prothean beacon actually does require a little explanation, or we’re floating rudderless through a void.
The other reason I go for this mission first is because gameplay-wise, it’s the least interesting main mission of the first game. The game design is at its best conceptually interesting but deeply flawed; it aims for a more tactical spin on the cover shooter system of Gears Of War, where you have a set of powers to choose from, and your allies each have their own sets of powers, and you choose from them in a quick-pause menu at your convenience. In practice, it marries a mediocre shooter with a turn-based RPG’s tedium of whittling down your enemies. On top of this, the game often gets you to drive to your destinations in a vehicle called a Mako. I think what they were going for was a slow, exploratory pace, in which you could study the land around you inbetween fight scenes, but what it actually created was the video game equivalent of dead air. This is something that’s all through the game, but it’s especially exacerbated by the pacing of this particular mission. Shepard is this game’s secret weapon; every other mission is structured around her choices, and that always brings a joyful forward energy to the story even when it doesn’t strictly matter from a plot perspective. In “Find Liara T’Soni”, Shepard only really has a choice about which one-liner she drops.
That said, Liara herself is a wonderful addition to your crew. She is an asari, making her a riff on both Space Elves (lets go with Star Trek‘s Romulans) and Green Skinned Alien Space Babes – collectively, the species is known for both a mystical diplomacy, and the fact that they’re monogendered pansexuals able to mate with any race (originally, the asari were intended to be androgynous, but in the final game they all have breasts and female voice actors). She’s also an archaeologist, making her a riff on characters like Daniel Jackson from Stargate: SG-1 (as well as Indiana Jones, etc). Specifically, she’s an expert on the Protheans, and so her joining up with you is as much about her getting the chance to learn more about her chosen field as it is to both contribute to the mission and hide out from Saren. In terms of personality, Liara is a riff on the socially awkward genius. She talks in the too-formal fashion associated with aliens and scifi (see Spock from Star Trek, see Teal’c from Stargate: SG1), but this is partially because she’s just not much of a people person; when she seeks her out for casual conversation, She can lightly tease her.
The great thing is that from this point onward, the quality of the game kicks way up and as such so will my enthusiasm. The game is still deeply flawed, but there’s always at least one great idea pushing everything forward from now on, and it’ll be fun to break those ideas down. In terms of plotting, this game could be thought of as literary, with jazz-like recurrence and development of ideas; the main idea Liara introduces is the idea that the Protheans were not the first galactic civilisation, and the galaxy is built on a cycle of extinction, which isn’t terribly exciting on its own – again, having a better centre of gravity to the whole thing probably would have helped this Idea Toppling Everything Down – but will come back in a big way.
- Shepard gets Liara out of the trap by blasting under it with a mining laser. Shepard is many positive things, but “sophisticated” or “subtle” isn’t one of them; I get a real kick out of my Shepard particularly not being that ‘smart’ a person. She hires other smart people and gets them to come up with plans for her. Hilariously, this is a detail that will come back in an important way next game.
- When the mission ends, you can personally report to the Council, and as your Stupid Chief they’ll tear your ass off for taking in Liara and destroying the ruins. Thus begins the hilarious running gag you can indulge in by hanging up on them.
- Endearingly, Shepard uses “On the double, Mister!” when calling in Joker to rescue them from the collapsing ruins.