Knowledge is power
The Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is finally out, bringing the whole Shepard trilogy onto new consoles with a fresh tune-up. For a lot of long-time Mass Effect fans, the build-up to release has been a rosy and nostalgic journey through all the reasons we love Mass Effect: compelling characters and tough choices, with ramifications that can ripple through all three games.
For newcomers though, the thought of making the “wrong” choice might seem a little daunting. My first point of encouragement is don’t worry so much. Your Shepard’s journey is your own, and there’s no wrong choices to make—well, some are fairly morally deficient, but they’re still your choices to make.
That said, I’ve played through the original trilogy numerous times, and guided a number of newcomers over the years in terms of what’s good to know going into each game. This isn’t a detailed walkthrough of Mass Effect 2‘s suicide mission or anything; rather, it’s just a smattering of tips that should help guide you a bit.
Mass Effect 1
- Mass Effect has the infamous Paragon and Renegade system, which basically determines whether your space-commander is more of a Captain America or a Jack Bauer. Paragon choices are colored blue, while Renegade actions are red.
- There’s also Charm and Intimidate, which are somewhat synergistic with Paragon and Renegade, respectively. The easy way to think of it is that the more Paragon choices you choose, the more levels of Charm you’ll be able to put points into and more blue-colored dialogue choices you can make, and the same for Renegade and Intimidate. Keep this in mind if you want to see some of the special dialogues or avoid some battles with your charisma.
- Feros is an early mission where, if you want to earn Paragon or Renegade points in particular, you’ll need to make certain gameplay choices. Remember that you can mod grenades, and also that melee is—at least in this context—non-lethal (and it has its own button this time around, so no more accidental shotgun blasts).
- Wrex and Garrus have side quests if you talk to them a bunch. Do them. In fact, it’s generally a good practice to establish early on that, between major story missions, you should run around the Normandy and chat with everyone. There’s a lot of lore and world-building hidden in those dialogues. Also they’re all great pals!
- Virmire marks a pretty big turning point in the story; it’s not quite the “point of no return,” but a lot about your playthrough can change there, so handle all your business prior to setting off for it.
- In terms of romance, there are only a couple options. Male Shepard players can romance either Ashley Williams or Liara, while Female Shepard players can choose Liara or Kaidan Alenko. (It’s worth noting that Kaidan is a romance option for Male Shep players in Mass Effect 3 as well.)
- Fool around with ammo mods. The first Mass Effect specifically has a lot of modifiers you can put on both armor and weapons, so don’t be afraid to build the explosive-round pistol of your dreams. This is also the only game to use heat rather than “clips,” so mods are one way to make that assault rifle’s heatsink last for longer.
- The side quests range wildly in terms of necessity to see before moving on to the next few games, but I’d definitely recommend a few alongside Garrus and Wrex’s missions. Citadel: Asari Consort, UNC: Rogue VI, UNC: Strange Transmission (later Major Kyle), UNC: Missing Marines, UNC: Asari Diplomacy, Citadel: Homecoming, Citadel: Presidium Prophet, and the various side quests related to your individual Shepard’s background and with each major mission hub. Also, UNC: Geth Incursions is a bit more of a time investment, but leads to a nice scene with Tali.
Mass Effect 2
- Paragon and Renegade are back, but this time it’s a zero-sum game: the system works on percentages rather than total points earned, according to various fan wikis, and there are several points at which you could have Paragon or Renegade maxed out and still fall short of the requirement for some dialogue. Basically, if you want some dialogue options—and in this game especially you will—you’ll need to commit to one or the other.
- Building your crew is up to you, as you’re free to recruit the various additions to your motley Normandy crew in any order. Really, just chase whoever you want to bring aboard first.
- That being said, there is one mission in particular that will put you on a “timer” of sorts. Basically, if you’re not ready to do any endgame stuff, hold off on the Reaper IFF mission once it becomes available. Following that excursion, you’ll only have a couple missions’ worth of leeway before consequences become dire—so if you want a “pristine” playthrough, be cautious.
- New to Mass Effect 2 is the idea of Loyalty missions, which are big side quests you can undertake in order to gain a crewmates’ loyalty. Not only will they expand a bunch on that character’s story, but they’re also important for endgame reasons. It helps to have a loyal crew, right?
- Upgrade the Normandy. Seriously, don’t forget that you can also beef up the ship throughout the course of the campaign. Other upgrades are great too, but consider those Normandy upgrades priority-one.
- Let’s talk about romance. There were only three romance options available in the first Mass Effect—either human squadmate (though only opposite-gender pairings, disappointingly) or Liara. While those can carry forward, Mass Effect 2 ramps the count up significantly. It’s worth your time to get more involved with the crewmates, though the options are slim if you’re looking for queer romance. (Mass Effect 3 will thankfully somewhat rectify this, and mods have made more options available.)
- Probing for minerals! If the Mako was Mass Effect 1‘s most divisive element, probing is Mass Effect 2‘s. I find that scanning around the planets is very soothing, but if you’re frustrated with it, just start at one pole, do a full circle while occasionally hitting the scan to see if anything is spiking, and work your way down like you’re peeling an apple. Put on a podcast! Relax. This is the most calming thing the Normandy crew ever gets to do.
Mass Effect 3
- Galactic readiness. This is the bar that looms over everything you do in Mass Effect 3, detailing how prepared you are for a counter-assault on the Reapers. Many choices in Mass Effect 3 will result in varying degrees of readiness, and choices you made in the previous games can actually contribute to this number as well. Keep an eye on that bar.
- Play the side missions, I cannot stress this enough. Some missions in Mass Effect 3 are essentially single-player versions of multiplayer maps, but others are actual story missions—Mass Effect 2‘s Jacob, for example, has his side mission under a fairly innocuous name. It’s worth jetting off to these so you don’t miss out on that extra content.
- There are a few cutoff points you should be aware of. The first is Priority: Tuchanka—try to wrap up any side missions on the planet, as well as at the Citadel, before this point. The second is Priority: Horizon. Try and get to where you want to be, endgame-wise, before heading off to this one. You should play a specific planet’s side missions before doing its big capstone end-mission just as a best-practice, and also explore the Citadel a bit and talk to NPCs once you get access to it.
- Carry over to help with the tough choices. Seriously, there are some resolutions to major arcs in the Milky Way galaxy throughout the course of Mass Effect 3 that can hinge on, among other things, your Paragon and/or Renegade level and previous choices in the first two Mass Effects. Luckily, carrying over a Shepard will give you a pretty sizeable boost, both in terms of charisma and combat prowess. I mean, carrying one Shepard across all three games is kind of the draw in the first place, right?
- Balance your loadout. Mass Effect 3 lets you seriously load up your commander for combat, but at a cost: cooldowns take longer the more weapons you’re carrying. It’s best to strike a balance between guns and any abilities you have, as both have pretty critical use cases. A word of advice: have a heavy weapon and a basic sidearm at all times. The former will be crucial for some big fights, and the latter will be a treasure when you burn through all your assault rifle or shotgun ammo.
- Play Citadel. Seriously, if there was ever a piece of DLC so crucial to a game, it’s Citadel to Mass Effect 3. It’s essentially two pieces of content in one: a standalone story campaign with some great moments and returning faces, and then a separate section with just mountains upon mountains of time spent hanging with all the Normandy crew you’ve come to love. All of Mass Effect‘s DLC is pretty solid, but Citadel is the absolute must-play. (But also Lair of the Shadow Broker.)
- Enjoy it. Okay, I’ve done a whole list of points, so this is where I dump it all down the drain and say, have some fun. If this is your first time through Mass Effect, you’re in for a real journey. Plenty of games have some level of carryover between their entries, but few, if any, have the sort of trilogy-spanning stories that these games have. So take some time, chat with your squadmates, hunt a thresher maw, and feed your fish. It’s a wild ride, and that’s why Mass Effect fans are pretty eager for another go.
- Oh shit, I forgot, feed the fish!