Ten of the Best Mass Effect Characters
***THERE ARE NO MASS EFFECT 3 SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE. MINOR MASS EFFECT 1 AND 2 SPOILERS MAY BE INCLUDED***
Mass Effect 3 is now in the books, so what better time to look back and explore the characters that have made the biggest impression on us?
Below is our list of ten of those characters, although we could have easily included twenty or more. The nature of the series means that the characters included here may have had a bigger impression of you then they did even on us, or they may have made no impression at all.
That’s the beauty of Mass Effect, it’s your Mass Effect.
Those characters included in this article are not listed in any specific order, so don’t go thinking we like one more than the other. We like them all and we’re sad to see them all go now that the trilogy is over.
Our Mass Effect 3 review can be found here.
The Illusive Man
The Illusive Man is exactly that… illusive. What’s his real name? Where is he based? What exactly does he want? What is he willing to do to make it happen?
He’s an enigma, claiming to want the best for humanity but more than happy to potentially make it suffer along the way for the greater good. Like all of science fiction’s best characters, The Illusive Man is not easily categorised as wholly good or wholly bad. More than a person he is an idea. An idea that, depending on your political, emotional and ideological outlook he will mean different things to different people.
Unlike many Mass Effect characters, and no matter what your own actions may be, The Illusive Man plays a long-standing and striking role in your quest to save the galaxy. There’s no denying the fact that, no matter what you think of him, he has demonstrated immense intelligence and determination to position Cerebus as such a strong force in the galaxy. I rather like him, despite his questionable methods. He’s a man with a plan, and he’s not afraid to act on it.
And, in case you’re wondering why he always sounds so good, he’s voiced by Martin Sheen.
One of the original cast members, Garrus initially seems just like every other Turian in the galaxy; lacking a sense of humour, harbouring an enormous sense of honour and able to masterfully wield any and all weapons that you put in front of him.
Very soon, though, he becomes more than that. Of all the Mass Effect characters, it’s Garrus that became our closest ‘friend’. He’s the one we always want by our side in the toughest of fights, he’s the one we trust and he’s the one we know full well will never turn on us or knowingly let us down. Depending on whether you play as a male or female Shepard, Garrus is the ultimate bromance or romance. He is for us anyway.
What we’re still confused about however, is that, with a mouth of that shape, how is he managing to form English words so perfectly? I’m not sure his anatomy would be capable of such a thing. Then again, that could be said for many of Mass Effect’s species. Best not to think about it and stay safe in the comfort that he’s got your back.
Ah, Wrex. The biggest, meanest Krogan in the galaxy. Always ready for a fight and pissed off if he doesn’t get one. If you were going to a dodgy bar or walking through a gloomy alley in the dead of night, you’d want Wrex by your side.
As a Krogan, Wrex is angry and aggressive much of the time as it is. But add the genophage that the Salarians and Turians used to sterilise his species to prevent them from spreading any further and kicking up new wars, his anger and aggression is even higher than it might be. Despite that, Wrex shows more intelligence and forward-thinking than his fellow Krogan which turns him from simple brute to possible saviour.
His primary goal is to cure the genophage and it’s that (as well as a warrior’s respect) that convinces him to join Shepard on his/her travels. Like the majority of the Mass Effect cast, Wrex does away with the usual stereotypes. It would have been so easy to make him the typical ‘muscle’ of the group, interested in nothing but combat. But, over the course of three games, that would not have held our interest.
Instead, Wrex is multifaceted and has one of the most memorable, difficult and rewarding character arcs of any character.
Despite being little more than an incidental character in Samara’s recruitment mission, this little Volus caught our attention for being… well, funny. Drugged up on biotic enhancers, you could barely get a single line into the conversation before he started proclaiming himself a “biotic god” and shouting that he could smell his greatness.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he led to a Paragon/Renegade choice: you could either convince him to sit down and rest – by tapping him lightly, which was more than enough to send him toppling over – or encourage him to charge at the Asari biotic that acted as the boss of this particular mission… and who, naturally, tore the stumbling little guy apart, after his own biotic attack fizzled in front of her face.
Were any of you actually cruel enough to do this for any reason other than to see what happened? We weren’t, because he’s fantastic, and we felt unbelievably guilty when we did it on a subsequent playthrough just because we didn’t the last time. For a tiny side character, Niftu Cal is marvellously memorable.
Yes, him: Harbinger, the Collector General. This mean chap – the primary villain of Mass Effect 2 – makes this list for two real reasons, and the fact that he became a meme isn’t one of them.
The first is that, after playing through the game on Insanity, he scares the dickens out of us. On lower difficulties, Harbinger’s habit of possessing and powering up the Collector drones that you face on regular occasions was a bit of a pain. On Insanity difficulty, his absurdly powerful biotic attacks – which could even penetrate cover – combined with devastating melee attacks, and full armour and barriers, made him a walking nightmare.
The second is that it was actually quite a change to face off with a game’s primary villain long before the final battle. Harbinger cropped up regularly: whenever you fought the Collectors, you could guarantee that he’d join the fight by possessing a drone.
While you might argue that regularly beating a villain diminishes how threatening they seem, Harbinger’s ability to possess drones and keep coming back really just made him seem implacable. You could take out his puppet and kill the rest of the drones, but he’d keep coming back, again and again, until you finally fell.
With a silly voice, a silly face and a silly metal thing around his neck, Salarian genetic scientist Mordin Solus plays a key role aboard the Normandy and certain aspects of the bigger story.
With his fast-talking, impersonal sense of logic and fancy for Gilbert and Sullivan musicals, it would be easy to write out Mordin as a cliche of juxtaposed elements connected to form the ‘silly-but-smart’ member of the crew. But he’s so much more than that. In some ways, Mordin shares certain traits with The Illusive Man in that he strongly believes in the ends justifying the means and that sacrifices are inevitable along the way. However, unlike The Illusive Man, Mordin is not quite so taken with the idea of ending lives so freely.
As a key member of the team that developed the Krogan genophage, he was never likely to become best friends with Wrex or Grunt, who were the Normandy’s resident Krogans at various times. And while I wouldn’t back Mordin in that fight, his incinerate ability would at least leave a nasty burn.
We was wrong-footed by BioWare, in that Jack’s initial appearances in trailers and previews did absolutely nothing to convince us that she was going to be anything other than an eye-rollingly sweary, ‘edgy’ character, with her tattoos and naughty words and lack of clothes.
Which she was. Sort of. Except that, in a fine example of what BioWare is capable of when its writers really try, there was a damn good reason for all of this: she was a fundamentally broken human being who had been abused and traumatised many, many times.
Jack has probably one of the best single character arcs BioWare has ever written, particularly across a single game. You could suggest that Garrus has a better arc across the first two Mass Effect games, or that other characters have finer individual moments, and these statements are subjectively true – but if you played a male Shepard, Jack gave you an opportunity to actually change a character depending on whether you played Paragon or Renegade, and for once it made the sex scenes something other than a dubious and clunky animation. If you haven’t tried romancing Jack, then you really, really should.
Legion’s a guilty pleasure of mine. He’s one of those characters that seems aimed so squarely at pleasing the fanbase that we want to hate him, but… we just can’t. He’s adorable. And that’s not a word we’d normally use to describe a faceless, human-sized mechanical killing machine.
Legion’s ‘use’, we suppose, is to introduce players to the concept that the Geth are more than just the foes from the first game, and to get across the basics of how the Geth actually work as a society of programs. This worked fine, but it’s coupled with a bizarrely sweet personality.
Legion has no concept of guile. Legion is very bad at lying. Legion, for an emotionless robot, gets very embarrassed by any indication that he – a collection of over a thousand programs working in concert, might actually have emotions. Attempting to draw him into explaining why he decided to patch himself up with Shepard’s old N7 armour has him pause, repeat some rather evasive statements, and then pretty much start ignoring the questions outright if you continue to press him, and it’s easily one of our favourite moments in a game full of moments. For a robot with no real qualms about destroying life, he can be surprisingly childlike and innocent.
In fact, it’s incredibly like watching a small child covered in mud stare at some point past your head and proclaim loudly that they weren’t outside in the rain. Like we said: adorable.
Ok, so the Normandy is not officially a character in the usual sense. But it is with you from the very beginning, it undergoes some major changes along the way and without it you wouldn’t stand a chance.
The most radical transformation of your trusty ship occurs between the first two games, during which time The Illusive Man rebuilds it and upgrades it to become the most advanced ship in the galaxy.
Further, the Normandy houses the likes of Joker and Enhanced Defence Intelligence (EDI). Give it the time and EDI becomes an extremely interesting character, posing the classic cyberpunk questions of what are machines without artificial intelligence and what will humanity’s role be in the creation, sustainability and co-existing with it?
If you want to go down the geek-route, you could like the Normandy for its Thanix Cannons, its stealth shield, its Tantalus Drive Core, its Extended Fuel Cells, its Modular Probe Bay and its Antiproton Thrusters. We like those things, but we like it more for simply being the primary facilitator of our quest and for growing up as we grow up. There really isn’t a better ship in the galaxy.
Your Commander Shepard
Considering that the entirety of Mass Effect has so far been about Shepard, there’s no way we could leave him or her off the list.
What makes it problematic is that our Shepard isn’t your Shepard. Your Shepard is unique to you, and if you’ve been getting sucked into the game world and agonising over decisions, your Shepard is probably a fundamental part of the experience and quite possibly your favourite character in the series.
Your Shepard might be male or female. Your Shepard might be a bipedal tank, or a sneaky sniper, or something in between. Your Shepard might be willing to make massive sacrifices for the common good, or your Shepard might be unwilling to compromise their ideals even in the face of annihilation. Your Shepard might’ve managed to save almost everyone, or might be scarred by the loss of multiple teammates. Our Shepard might have been lovingly nicknamed the Intergalactic Mega-Bitch, but yours might be a paragon of virtue and diplomacy.
The opportunity to build up a character across multiple games is an incredibly rare thing, and it’s even rarer for all of those games to hold up as well as the Mass Effect series does. How will your Shepard’s story conclude in Mass Effect 3? There’s no single character, from the entire series, that we’d rather have by our sides for this final battle than our Shepards. To be totally honest: without him/her, Mass Effect 3 wouldn’t be Mass Effect at all.