The Helmet Question

The Helmet Question

In Mass Effect 2, your space-faring hero can wear a helmet. It’s not mandatory. I choose to have my character not wear a helmet. What’s that signify?

Wearing a helmet provides statistical advantages which can make a tough fight easier or a resistant conversationalist pliable. Should Commander Shepard don the Breather Helmet, she’ll enjoy 5% improvement to her health. Wearing the Death Mask, she has a 10% boost in negotiating power.

But wearing any helmet obscures Shepard’s face. This leaves her incapable of visibly emoting during Mass Effect 2’s many close-up interactive conversation scenes. It also makes her look over-armoured and as coolly detached as someone who talks to you indoors without removing their sunglasses. With her helmet on, I can’t see Shepard frown or smile. I just see her metal-encased cranium nod or shake, her voice muffled.

When I started Mass Effect 2, I had Shepard wear a helmet. I wanted the statistical advantages that came with any one of them. That’s a choice of math over aesthetics, of course, my standard priorities while playing a game. That’s a sound strategy for success in a virtual world: Be better at something; don’t care how you look doing it.

But not seeing Shepard’s face bothered me more with each muffled conversation. I realised that I valued emotional expression in Mass Effect 2 over a 5% health bonus.

Some games don’t bother you with these choices. The creators of Gears of War have already made the functionally illogical decision for us. They portray their games’ heroic super-soldiers in heavy armour suits that have no accompanying helmets. The Gears people must know it makes no sense for Marcus Fenix to fight a war with his head shielded only by a do-rag. But they must also know that a helmet-free Fenix is a character with whom I can better empathise. Leave the stoic coolness to the eternally strange Master Chief, whose Halo helmet disguises any and all emotion. As a friend of mine recently observed, there’s a reason Iron Man movies tend to include shots of Robert Downey, Jr. in his suit but without his helmet.

Mass Effect 2 is, like many Bioware games, celebrated for the choices it offers its players. Those choices reveal something about those who play the game, illuminating a gamer’s decision to plumb their darkest desires or walk a path of virtue.

I had not expected this game to also test whether I cared about numbers more than I do faces, about survival advantages more than I do facial expressions.

I’ve learned where I stand. More importantly, I’ve learned that I stand without a helmet on my space-hero’s head.


  • I did annoy me at first that I couldn’t wear the custom preorder armours or any helmets in the game as they obscured Sheperd in cut scenes or conversations.

    That said after seeing some of the rage on places like the Bioware or Steam forums on the matter where people were going as far to say the game was ruined or were demanding refunds or threatening boycotts I decided I wouldn’t let it bother me anymore as I didn’t want to be pegged in the same group of helmet haters as those yahoos.

  • Go for the HUD Visor thingy – it’s the only way to go, really. See my emotions but still look like a sci-fi bad ass.

    • Precisely. I love being able to see Shepherd’s face, but I lamented the lost stat increases. Then the visor thing came along. +10% headshot damage (or something similar) worked well with my sniper class, and only minimally obscured Shepherd’s head.

    • Yeh, that was the helmet I defaulted to. Gave you a nice stat bonus and let you see Shepard’s face.

  • I was pleasantly surprised when in dragon age, my dwarf berserker ever so politely removed his helmet when talking to anyone. such a charmer

    • One does have to wonder why they didin’t do the same in Mass Effect. I mean loading both the helmeted and non helmeted head into memory and then swapping them between cutscenes can’t be that system intensive, surely?

  • This situation was just plain silly in ME2. People kept recognising you regardless of what you were wearing- like how Tali recognises you straight away even though you might be clad in the Blood Dragon armour, so she has absolutely no way of recognising you? That’s just absurd.

    What’s even worse is that ME2’s sister game, Dragon Age, handled this issue absolutely perfectly- automatically remove the helmet for the duration of the cutscenes. Why in the world couldn’t they use it here, too?!

  • There’s no need to overanalyse it. It means that the content displayed when a helmet isn’t worn is deeper and more enjoyable than the content displayed when a helmet is worn. Most choices a user takes in a game are directed at maximising their perceived enjoyment of game content; sometimes there’s something deep to say about our perceptions of fun but more often it just means the devs did one content fork well and bollocksed the other one.

  • While I’ve yet to play ME2, in ME1 I tended to remove the helmet in non-combat situations and put it on when head protection would be a priority, such as when wandering through a crumbling prothean ruin. While the helmet was purely cosmetic, toggling it was a pain and doing so made me feel ashamed of actually paying attention to it I felt that it made sense to adapt to certain situations. I’ll probably do the same for ME2, even if it means losing a stat bonus.

    • IIRC you could simply toggle the helmet in ME1 by hitting the LB button in the menu or something…? It doesn’t work like that in ME2, the only way you can remove it is to go to your ship, travel to your quarters and remove it there. Constantly switching between it isn’t really an option.

      • Ah, this issue makes more sense now. In that case I support both the Dragon Age method and/or the addition of a toggle button for ME3. I guess I’ll probably keep my hemet off for ME2 though.

  • The problem is that you’re playing as a girl. The game is designed to be played as a man – because only a man is capable of saving the galaxy, and without pansy emotions getting in the way.

  • Why not just do what WoW does? Have the option of having the helm visible or not, but you still get any stats it would grant you.

  • I really hate how you can’t remove the helmet on the pre order armour. I wish they did what Dragon Age Origins did and have the helmet disappear when you are talking to someone.

  • I went helmet-less as well. I wanted to appreciate the amount of work that went into the cutscenes, and felt I couldn’t have done so without seeing the emotion on Shepherd.

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