Vetra, Drack, Peebee, Jaal, Cora, Liam … That is my present list of favourite party members in order for Mass Effect: Andromeda, roughly 80 hours in. You think this will be about Vetra? You would be incorrect. Whilst I can rant on how Vetra’s character is woefully neglected in spite of her badassery, how Jaal’s emotional openness is at first swoony but then a little too strong, or how Liam is just a damn tool (thank you for that apt description of him, Gil), I have found myself both bored by, and yet drawn to #5 Fav: Cora.
The following will contain spoilers for Mass Effect: Andromeda, mainly Cora and her loyalty missions.
In Mass Effect: Andromeda, Cora Harper is a biotic commando and part of the human Pathfinder team. Second-in-command to Pathfinder Alec Ryder, she was the original choice for his successor until fate prompted Alec to choose your own personal Ryder instead. Cora is at first confused, unsure where that leaves her, then resentful she was passed up, but ultimately comes to accept the circumstances as they’ve played out.
The main distinction of Cora’s character is that she is a biotic. We’ve seen biotics in the Mass Effect universe before and Ryder even has the chance of being one themselves. But Cora is “large weapons-grade” biotic—as a child, she had the same weaponised power as a missile. And that scared the shit out of everyone. Whilst enlisted into the Alliance, she was assigned to an asari commando group to better learn how to control her biotics. Finally finding a group that didn’t fear her but embraced her abilities, most of Cora’s moral compass and life lessons evolved from her time with the unit.
Frankly, I often find her character boring. Sure, she’s pleasant enough; she and Ryder get along pretty well and have seen eye-to-eye on most things in my playthrough. Sometimes she spouts too much asari military philosophy, almost like religious doctrine, but she is genuinely trying to be helpful. But the small personal interactions with her are just … bland.
So where is the draw? It took a back-and-forth with another WWAC contributor, Wendy, for me to realise. Whilst Wendy doesn’t like Cora, and I fully understood, I felt the need to defend her. I just called her boring! Why did I want to defend her? It was through this exchange that I saw a lot of the parallels between Cora and myself that made me want to “protect” her.
One of the largest parallels I found with Cora was in a major complaint about her: she doesn’t seem like her own person, but is rather a follower. She is always looking for a mentor, a leader, to show her a great plan and utilise her within it. She needs someone more experienced than her to guide her and show her the “right path.” When I met Cora and saw her idolisation of others—first Alec Ryder and then Sarissa—I could see from a mile away where it was going. She first loses Alec, only to find that the torch meant for her has been passed over to someone else. She then meets her asari heroine, Sarissa, and discovers that she broke all of her own teachings (she literally wrote the book on being an asari commando) rather than follow her duty. As the old saying goes, “never meet your heroes.” Cora is shaken by this and takes time to self-reflect on what she does from then on.
Let’s have a flashback—it’s 2009 and I’m sat in a restaurant with my mother. I’m beginning my third year of university and don’t know what to do. My “mentors”—school and parents—have taught me that going to university for my degree is the “right path” and that following it would yield success. But this has not been true. The path is all wrong and I feel trapped in a program that won’t help me get a job in my field. I tell my mother that I want to leave university and go down to a two-year college nearby instead, that whilst the degree is lesser, the knowledge and skills gained would be greater as their program was better than my university’s offering. She tells me that it would be a shame to lose the years I had done so far and go “backwards.” To her, a Bachelor’s degree means so much and I should strive to finish mine. I defer to her, feeding my detrimental hunger for approval, and continue at the university.
Playing Cora’s Loyalty Mission, you are faced with a choice. It is revealed throughout the quest that Sarissa, whom Cora idolises, let the previous asari Pathfinder die in order to retrieve data she was ordered to leave alone. The action causes Matriarch Ishara to die, which elevates Sarissa to Pathfinder, but also causes the asari ark ship to be chased mercilessly by the kett. Civilians die as a result and everyone left is soon to follow when Ryder and Co. find them in the nick of time to help. This action is in violation of all that Sarissa’s teachings espouse, and all the teachings that Cora has tried to live by.
You and Cora are then faced with a choice—do you keep Sarissa as Pathfinder or do you replace her with the next in line? There will be some argument that Sarissa did what needed to be done, that the data she stole was invaluable to helping the cause. Her experience gives her the edge of authority. Your alternative choice is to choose Vederia, a young asari commando with much less experience than Sarissa, but who stays true to the teachings of the asari and recognises that the ends do not always justify the means.
Back in that restaurant, I chose Sarissa. I deferred to authority and those whom I thought knew best. I followed the path of more certainty. And I have regretted that decision ever since. Certainty is an illusion—none of that degree path worked out, despite earning that lauded BA degree. I have grown resentful of letting someone else’s opinion weigh more heavily than my own, especially when I disagreed with that opinion. I followed, and I feel deeply that I was led astray. It wasn’t malicious; I know they tried to guide me in the way they thought was best. But ultimately, that doesn’t mean that it actually was. And it turned out it wasn’t. I knew it in my gut, but I was afraid of that uncertainty, where my “mentors” seemed so sure they knew.
Like Cora, I have always looked to someone else to show me the right way, to guide me to the promised land. I worry about self-learning anything in the assumption I will learn the “wrong way” and make an absolute fool of myself. I deferred to the “approved” way of doing things and pursuing goals. And like Cora, I finally realised it after that choice. I was letting someone else hold the reins, even though I was the only one that had to endure the ride, wherever it took me.
That may be why Cora is so far down in my favourites list. Despite feeling that her personal characteristics are lacking, I find something of myself in her, but it is not a reminder I wanted. I feel reminded of all the times I let someone else’s judgment choose for me, and how that has gotten me almost nowhere.
We did our dues and yet things did not go to plan at all. Alec passed over her as the next Pathfinder, and I did not get the “great success” everyone promised me getting my Bachelor’s degree would yield. Sarissa tried to sway Ryder and Cora that her decision was in the best interest of everyone (despite many dying as a result), and my mother tried (and succeeded) to convince me that staying in a program I hated was ultimately for the best.
And like Cora, all I can do is try to learn from the revelation. If you choose Vederia to replace Sarissa, Cora becomes Vederia’s mentor and aids in her training, both as an asari commando and Pathfinder. Similarly, my younger brother has just completed the same program I wanted to take at that two-year college and I am trying to my damnedest to counter my mother’s well-meaning-but-ill advice from misguiding him as well. I endeavour to be someone he can approach for aid and with whom he can share ideas, whilst avoiding making him feel forced in a particular direction from me.
In Cora’s final part of her Loyalty Mission, she asks you to accompany her to Eos. Together, you both spread soil treatment on the once-irradiated ground to leave way for her garden project. The rose garden she plans to have is just that—HER plan and no one else’s. She has come to follow her own path and wants to see see where it leads. As she says, “I don’t need someone else’s plan. Just a good beginning. The first seeds of a garden.” I hope future games will come to show Cora achieving things for herself and not by anyone else’s design. I hope she grows the first roses in Andromeda. Because if she can, then maybe there’s hope for my metaphorical garden, too.