James Vega is the shipmate I never thought I’d like.
By the time you get to Mass Effect 3, you already have your team and your friends. Some of them have even been with you since the first game. It doesn’t matter whether or not you romanced Garrus because when you run into him on Palaven’s moon, you know he’s got your back because it’s Garrus freaking Vakarian. Liara may have gone through some drastic characterization changes over the years but you know she’s there for you no matter what. Vega though… Lieutenant James Vega is the new kid. He hasn’t hunted down Saren or gone through the Omega relay on a suicide mission with you but right now, he’s the guy you’ve got watching your back as you’re forced to abandon Earth and start forming yet another team to take on the Reaper invasion. As I slowly rebuilt my team, I figured I’d start phasing him out from my ground team and yet somehow, he kept going out more often than not.
To be frank, Vega isn’t really the sort of character I’m inclined to feel strongly about. He’s the muscle. The burly bro with an emphasis on the bro.
Except he’s not because that boy has layers.
James is the guy who does pull ups for fun and knows he’s putting on a show. James is the person you really get to know for the first time as you practice spar and beat the crap out of each other. James is the friend who flirts with you outrageously and then panics every time you teasingly say, “You ever gonna follow through with any of this?” James is the soldier who looks up to you and who comes to you for advice when he’s offered admission into the N7 program not just because you are N7 but also because you know what it’s like to lead people and feel responsible for getting them killed.
With James, it’s not a matter of cracking a hard shell to reveal the vulnerability beneath. It’s more about looking at all of the layers who make him who he is.
There’s something about that hand clasp between James and Shepard in the apartment that seals everything this friendship is about especially when it’s repeated once again on Earth before the end. He cares about what you think about him and not just in a superficial ‘you’re Commander Shepard’ or a ‘Lola is sexy’ sort of way. Perhaps they feed into it but it’s ultimately about respect and respect isn’t something I automatically associate with a bro who looks like he cares more about his muscles than other people. (And let’s be clear: James Vega cares way more about his friends than his muscles even if he’s incredibly proud of his peak physical form. I’m pretty sure he’d deck anyone who dated Steve Cortez only to break his heart.)
James being new to the crew even ends up being an unexpected gift especially when you’re doing a Renegade play through. One of Mass Effect’s strengths is absolutely the way it builds history between you and your squad mates and it carries over from game to game. That said, your relationship is refreshingly uncomplicated amidst all that history even with all of his layers. He’s Vega and you’re Shepard. The most complicated it gets is when he gets serious for a moment and asks if his flirting is getting in the way between you and your love interest. (It’s not.) I took him with me on missions probably 80% of the time during my last play through and not just because he’s a tank who’s hard to knock out. I brought James with me on that very last mission on Earth because I knew he’d do whatever I asked including getting Garrus back on to the Normandy so I could make a desperate run for the beam. He knows what it’s like to make the hard calls.
No one likes being wrong but I can admit that I was wrong to judge Vega by his ridiculously large biceps. He should be judged by the sum of his parts, as should anyone. I’m glad my Shepard made it a point to keep checking in with him and to build that relationship that’s part mentor/mentee, part recreational flirting, and 100% friendship. Mostly though, I’m glad he’s there with me to face down the end of the world.