Which is the best Mass Effect Game? Here, we rank all Mass Effect games from best to worst.

Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 3
Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 3

Nothing is more BADASS than flying from planet to planet and picking fights with huge world-ending foes.

What is Mass Effect?

Bioware is good at telling stories. From Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware is known for creating immersive environments that draw the player in and force them to be a part of their universe.

The Mass Effect series is an epic RPG that centers around Commander Shepard, a human soldier, and is set about two hundred years in the future at a time when humanity is still being introduced to the interstellar community. Like other sci-fi adventures, Mass Effect uses the stellar backdrop to tell a story that is riddled with philosophical questions and challenges to human nature. 

Commander Shepard looking longingly down his sights

Shepard’s goal is to eradicate a threat of invasion by a timeless species called the Reapers. The Reapers are a collective of minds that control colossal synthetic ships with the ability to completely wipe out galaxies. Unfortunately, because humans don’t possess much leeway with the ruling bodies of the galaxy, Shepard’s warnings of invasion fall on deaf ears.

The main theme of the Mass Effect series revolves around the cycle of death and rebirth and whether it's better to rebel against nature or allow it to take its course. According to the lore, every 50,000 years, the Reapers harvest and purge all intelligent life from the galaxy. It is revealed that the Reapers are the original creators of the Citadel and the mass relays. The Citadel is a hub for merchants and ambassadors to contact other alien races and is used to conduct many of the political dealings seen throughout the series. Because these are incredibly convenient platforms for intelligent life, all species begin to rely and adapt to the technologies. The Reapers then use this reliance to launch a killing blow to all species in the galaxy… until you show up, that is.

An army of Reaper ships looking generally ominous

At its core, Mass Effect isn’t really about gameplay. It’s about exploring a detailed spacescape and experiencing an epic story that has you at the center of the action. While the games generally allow you to explore planets, the story is somewhat linear with only a small focus on choices (when compared to other RPGs like Fallout or the Walking Dead series). The story is driven by completing specific missions in a specific order.

One of the more interesting set pieces of this universe is the mass relay system. A mass relay is a huge charged accelerator that allows ships to travel at faster-than-light speeds. The relays are connected like a train system, allowing the player to jump between different star systems. This separates the game from the true sandbox feeling of games like Fallout; however, by containing the star systems, travelling is much more streamlined and the player can focus more on driving the story and less on getting from place to place.

Commander Shepard is the only person who’s right for the job. With no one at his side but his team, he’s the galaxy’s last chance. So, let’s jump right in and find out which game is the best Mass Effect game.

Mass Effect 1

Commander Shepard and Ashley Williams

The Story

At the beginning of this story, we discover that the human race are the new kids on the block of the intergalactic community and have not gained much political power in the Council, which is a board of representatives from each alien race. While they also serve as a ruling body to the different Council race, they also operate elite soldiers, called Spectres, that are free to operate outside of the law to maintain order and neutralize threats. Representatives for humanity believe that if a human can clinch the position of Spectre, then humans can begin working their way into relevancy.

That’s where you come in.

Your name has been thrown into the running for becoming a Spectre. Since you are an impeccable soldier with glowing credentials, you seem to be humanity’s best chance at gaining political power.

While being evaluated by another Spectre, Nihlus, you uncover a mysterious plot. A rogue Spectre, named Saren, is using a race of synthetic droids, called the Geth, to destroy all biotic life. When the Council doesn’t believe Shepard’s pleas for help, he decides to take justice into his own hands and take down Saren. Shepard begins building a team of special agents to help him uncover and eliminate the threat.

Here’s Saren with a few Geth soldiers (snarky attitude not pictured)

During your journey, you face many different challenges and meet a ton of new and interesting characters.

You eventually learn that Saren has been indoctrinated and is working for a Reaper named Sovereign. Once Saren’s preparations are complete, he and Sovereign launch an assault on the Citadel. Once you defeat Saren and Sovereign, humanity gains a place on the council and the galaxy keeps spinning.

What Was Awesome

The universe is a vast place and you really get that feeling when playing Mass Effect 1.

All Mass Effect games include a large unique universe that can be explored freely. This first installment cleverly includes small land exploration segments during which the player can go down to the surface in a landcraft, called the Mako, and explore the terrain to find hidden secrets and interesting story supplements. This really helps perpetuate that feeling that the player is just a small grain of sand in a giant sandbox (which is exactly what a space RPG should do).

(These segments are replaced with a resource collection mini-game in later installments of the series.)

The first time I played through Mass Effect 1, I remember being astonished by how well-designed many of the maps were, specifically the Presidium on the Citadel. It really seemed to portray a bustling hub of different alien species. This really granted some depth to the universe by showing the cohesion between the different species which is a component that seems lost in the later installments of the series.

What Was Lame

While the vehicle sections did lend a sense of hugeness to the world, they were one of the most frustrating components of the game. Some of the missions revolved around navigating difficult terrain in a vehicle that handles like a drunk elephant. These segments were designed to be realistic as on-foot travel is not the ideal way to explore a planet, but at what cost? If the handling was better or if these segments were few and far between, it’d be much more reasonable.

Conclusion

Could this be the best Mass Effect game? Probably not. It seems like Bioware was still testing the waters and this first run has some kinks to work out.

My rating for this game: 4.4/5 stars

Mass Effect 2

Commander Shepard squaring off against a horde of "husks"

The Story

After Commander Shepard saved the Citadel from a full-out attack and defeated Saren, he continues to travel the stars. Twenty years pass when Shepard’s ship is attacked by a mysterious vessel. The dramatic sequence ends with Shepard sacrificing himself to save some of his crew and drifting in space to his/her death.

Once the title fades, we see discover that Shepard’s body has been recovered and he/she has been resurrected by a mysterious entity who we will later know as Cerberus, a pro-human coalition that some consider a terrorist group. Shepard awakens to an attack while on a Cerberus ship. Once he fights his/her way out, meeting Cerberus officers Jacob and Miranda along the way, he/she is treated to a meeting with the Illusive Man, a strange man who only communicates through hologram correspondences. The Illusive Man enlists the help of Commander Shepard to take down a giant threat by an alien race called the Collectors, who become the big bad guy of the second game.

The dramatic space dogfight cutscenes are really exciting and impressive

Once Shepard assembles his ragtag team of skilled fighters from different races and classes, he enacts a suicide mission to the head Collector ship through the Omega-4 relay, a previously deactivated mass relay. The climax requires Shepard to make a few decisions regarding what team goes where and, based on your attention to upgrades, who survives the suicide mission. In the end, you discover that the Collectors are using biotic life forms to feed a giant synthetic monster. This ending has that epic feel that you want in a boss fight ending.

What Was Awesome

The developers of Mass Effect 2 really seemed to put effort into fixing the issues of the first game. The gameplay was much cleaner and the graphics showed much higher resolutions on the models. You could really tell that they wanted to drift into the look of the other AAA shooter titles. The environments were polished and really added to the gritty tone of the series.

The character stories in this game have a little more depth than the first game. The dialogue and animation for the characters seemed more natural than the first game and didn’t try too hard to spout exposition every five seconds.

What Was Lame

Of course, the vehicle exploration of the first Mass Effect game was very difficult and tedious, but it’s almost like Bioware wanted to give us a time-out for being critical of those sections.

So, they gave us the resource scanning system.

Basically, you scan the surface of a planet looking for different elements. When an area of the planet has the substance, a graph responds accordingly and you can launch a probe to add the substance to the supply stores on your ship. The elements are then used to upgrade weapons, armor, abilities, and the ship itself, which then decide how successful the final mission of the game is. So, basically, Bioware managed to create an exploration mechanic that is more boring and tedious than driving around a desolate planet in a barely-drivable vehicle.

Also, the combat environments. Much of the combat is fought with the same chest-high walls in the same metallic corridors facing one of the same familiar enemies. Mass Effect 1 really paid attention to making the encounters feel fundamentally different. In Mass Effect 1, one minute you’d be fighting strange insect-like creatures on an ice planet that perpetually snows, the next you’d be surfing through the home of the deadly Thresher Maw, desperately trying to land a couple shots before dying.

Yet another mech fight where Shepard must spend 99% of his time behind a wall

Conclusion

Mass Effect 2 was a little rough around the edges, but it made some much-needed improvements to the original game. Of all Mass Effect games, this seems to be the one that lost touch with the initial feeling of an action space odyssey; however, this tone returns in the final installment of the game.

My rating for this game: 4.2/5 stars

Mass Effect 3

The Reaper invasion of Earth

The Story

Mass Effect 3. The epic conclusion to an epic adventure. The game begins with an all-out assault on Earth by the Reapers. Commander Shepard manages to escape but is there to witness the total destruction of his home. Shepard then moves to acquire an ancient alien weapon, called the Crucible. As always, Shepard must go around and recruit all the special agents he can if he hopes to stand a chance against the strongest force in the universe.

Of course, the Council is not willing to cooperate with Shepard leaving him, once again, to take matters into his own hands. Shepard travels the universe requesting the aid major alien civilizations to protect Earth from the incoming attacks. After a lot of back-and-forth and running around, Shepard can finally respond to the Reaper attack.

The Crucible must be connected to the Citadel to use. While Shepard and his team are en route to the Citadel, many are fatally-wounded. Once inside, Shepard is forced to confront his old commanding officer and friend, Anderson, who has succumbed to the influence of the now-hostile Illusive Man. After defeating the Illusive Man (and losing Anderson in the process), Shepard moves to the spire of the Citadel. There, Shepard is greeted by a child who tells him/her about the process of purging life and the cycle of nature. The child then offers Shepard three choices. One of the options would eradicate all synthetic lifeforms. This would include much of Shepard’s crew and Shepard him/herself. Another option would give Shepard the ability to control the Reapers. This was the intention of the Illusive Man and would require the sacrifice of Shepard’s human form. The last option is to synthesize a new strain DNA that combines synthetic and biotic code into one cohesive structure. This choice would destroy Shepard in the process.

Regardless of your decision, the mass relays are destroyed and some of the crew crash-lands on an unidentified planet. After that sequence ends, we are treated to sentimental moment between an adult, identified as “stargazer”, and a child. It is shown that the story of Commander Shepard lives on to become legend.

What Was Awesome

As the last installment in the series, it’s expected to be graphically-superior, but this game looked absolutely incredible.

Shepard about to turn some soldiers into ragdolls. This game really does look this good.

As far as gameplay, the mechanics felt much smoother and more natural. Take a look at this if you don’t believe me.

Combat was quick and required the player’s full attention. The enemy AI was obviously upgraded. It didn’t feel like you were fighting cardboard cutouts anymore. It really felt like every enemy was desperately trying to keep you from reaching your goal. When you combine such immersive gameplay with the already immersive story, you get an incredibly full experience. This is how an action RPG should play. In the Mass Effect 1 and 2, combat felt like a formality. You could tell that the developers really wanted to tell a story and they felt like the action segments and combat were par-for-course. In Mass Effect 3, you feel like combat and story are working together.

What Was Lame

I don’t even think I have to say it.

The ending.

For a game that touted itself on being choice-driven and epic, the series, unfortunately, ends with not even a whimper, but a death rattle. The player doesn’t get that fuzzy feeling of having resolved anything. Side-by-side, the endings might as well have been copied-and-pasted, with minor color changes.

Of course, you can get a more fleshed-out ending if you have the DLCs installed, but many fans feel shorted by the vanilla ending. Imagine if Star Wars just ended with Luke killing Vader, then going home, making some tea, and taking a nap. That’s what the Mass Effect 3 ending is.

Conclusion

While Bioware may have scuffed their knee on the ending, Mass Effect 3 is still a solid game. It’s fun and easy to make fun of the non-existent ending, but for what it was (up until the last five minutes of the game) it really knew how to integrate action and story while still giving the player a voice. Plus, if you do have all the DLCs, the ending is a little more fleshed-out and conclusive. So, in my opinion, the best Mass Effect game is Mass Effect 3.

My rating for this game: 4.6/5 stars

So, the winners are *drum rolls*

1. Mass Effect 3

2. Mass Effect 1

3. Mass Effect 2

However, this is just one man’s opinion. I’m a big fan of story and while Mass Effect’s story was incredible, the gameplay, at times, missed the mark.
So, what do you guys think?

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Gamer Since: 2000
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Fallout: New Vegas
Top 3 Favorite Games:The Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite, Mirror's Edge
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