Lifelong Mass Effect superfan Marsden Dawn fell for Garrus because of his loyalty. So many seedy characters float in and out of Commander Shepard's centrifugal orbit. There's the suave, tortured assassin Thane, the psychotechnic edgelord Jack, the fast-talking, cold-blooded Mordin Solus, and the robot-who-learned-how-to-love Legion. All of them are vital components of the rollicking culture in the Normandy, and each of them add their own eccentricity and expertise to the ship's harebrained, Ocean's 11-like schemes. But there's only one of them who truly stuck with Shepard through thick and thin: That's right, the man with the lizard face.
"When we think about Mass Effect, loyalty is everything amongst the crew but the bond between Shepard and Garrus is on another level. At the end of the day it almost feels like in some ways Garrus's world revolves around Shepard," says Dawn. "When he believes Shepard dead he literally runs off onto a suicide mission of his own. Garrus Vakarian is literally on the brink of death and ready to die on Omega until he sees Shepard and then it's like he gains that will to live again. When you romance him, of course Shepard and Garrus are lovers, but they're more than that. They're partners, two sides of the same coin fighting together until the very end."
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, the long-awaited remastering of one of the greatest trilogies in modern videogame history, has released on Steam. I can't wait to revisit BioWare's blockbuster era, and the studio's indelible cocktail of '80s synth fuzz, dialogue-tree clapbacks, and long, elliptical conversations with your buddies in the inky blackness of deep space. Mass Effect was always about the people. The biotics and munitions are fun, the sidequests are pitch-perfect, but mostly, we're just excited to see all of our friends and lovers again. And in the nine years since the conclusion of the Shepard arc, there is one character that's separated himself from the pack. Garrus and Shepard are the headcanon, at this point. Nobody comes close.
Just look at these Reddit threads: "Who's your favorite squadmate, and why is it Garrus?" "What made Garrus awesome?" "Garrus is one of the best teammates I ever had." For the slightly more lascivious Mass Effect fans, who want something more from Garrus than just his devoted camaraderie and councilship, here's a 2017 Kotaku story entitled, "Why women want to have sex with Garrus." ("He’s confident in his job, loyal and fierce as a friend and squadmate, but unsure and gentle as a lover," reads one of the quotes. "He's got a pretty hot voice," reads another.) The chemistry runs deep, and it's only grown more profound after a decade away.
Most fans, including myself, herald Mass Effect 2 as the inception point for their Garrus infatuation. He was around in the first game—ardent and thoughtful as ever—but like the rest of the original cast, remained slightly wooden and stilted compared to the pulpy, genre-flick flair that BioWare pumped into the rest of the series. When he appears after the cataclysmic opening of the middle chapter, in which Shepard is killed in a space battle and resurrected by a shadowy paramilitary group called Cerberus, it's quite the sight for sore eyes.
"He's a familiar face and a safe presence in a sea of new-and-different," says Prolix, a 32-year-old Garrus stan who I contacted over Reddit for this story. "Most of your other Mass Effect 1 squadmates don't join you in Mass Effect 2. They don't trust Cerberus, or they have bigger priorities. Not Garrus. He's here for you. He doesn't care about whether Cerberus is trustworthy, he cares that this is where Shepard is, and trusts Shepard completely to be making the right call. I think that's when I really got heart eyes."
Prolix echoes Dawn when he speaks about Garrus' loyalty. They note that even the other most devout figures in Shepard's crew—like Tali'Zorah nar Rayya, a fan-favorite herself—always tend to possess a few higher callings that take them away from the Normandy. (In Tali's case, she must constantly attend to the flotilla and the fate of the Quarians.) Garrus, meanwhile, is resolutely all-in. He believes in the mission, he believes in Shepard, and he never gets in his feelings about the way you go about your business. In many ways, Mass Effect is a game about a dysfunctional group of malcontents who are constantly self-sabotaging and bickering even when the literal Milky Way is at stake. Garrus is one of the few reprieves from the endemic cattiness.
"Almost everyone else leaves you or messes with you at some point. But no matter what he's doing, Garrus is always ready to drop everything and charge into the hell of Shepard's choosing, at their side," says Prolix. "He's always there for you. He's a constant lamp in the fog of war, and he clearly feels the same way about Shepard. That's special. While other crewmates are always getting themselves into trouble and needing to be bailed out, or making demands that of course go terribly sideways, or starting fights, or endlessly hitting on you, there's never drama with Garrus.
"When you're Femshep and you romance him, that dynamic kind of puts them in this role of the 'Normandy Mom & Dad' in Mass Effect 2 and 3, which is adorable also."
Of course, none of this gets around the fact that Garrus also has a granite exoskeleton, flapping, unseemly mandibles, and a massive scar carved across his face. Mass Effect is a horny videogame, and its universe has no shortage of sexy aliens in the Captain Kirk tradition, but Garrus does not fit that archetype. He wasn't romanceable in the first game, but Liara, who belongs to the Asari—a species who've been given lore justifications for being extremely hot—absolutely was.
As far as Dawn is concerned, Garrus's scarred beak is part of his appeal. He wouldn't be the same without it.
"I know I’ve basically gushed over the emotional and personality aspects of Garrus Vakarian, but that voice, those scars? I’ll take one Turian over a hundred Asari any day of the week," she says. "Those scars are pretty cute too, totally drives the ladies wild."
So good luck to Garrus Nation, as their husband finally returns from war. Perhaps someday BioWare will retcon the end of Mass Effect 3 completely, and we can witness the salad days of Garrus and Shepard: both of them retired and chilling beyond the outer rim, with no simmering interpersonal feuds tearing up the Normandy chemistry. Until then, we will always have those first three games, and the only man we could ever count on.