Tips From a Grandmaster: Mass Effect


We’re quickly coming up on the release of Mass Effect 3, an event I’m pretty excited about. There’s a lot Bioware could do wrong, and of course there’s even more they could do right. But we’re not there yet. Perhaps you’ve just recently heard about Mass Effect and want to start at the beginning to give yourself the best advantage for understanding what’s ahead. Excellent! That’s where I can come in and help. I played through the first Mass Effect twice, once the wrong way and once the right way. If you want to know how to get through the game the fastest and most painless way, read on for these Tips From a Grandmaster.

Choose Your Shepard Correctly:


default shepards

One of thse choices is correct. Here's a hint: She's the best.

Far be it from me to tell you the right way to select your Commander Shepard…but I really don’t know how to finish that sentence. If you’re looking for the greatest chance of enjoying yourself, don’t view Mass Effect whatsoever like a game where you can create you yourself in the game. The character appearance creator isn’t fantastic, and nothing could be worse than getting an hour into the game and realizing that your Shepard looks like derp. Firstly, pick one of the presets and then just change the hair color to suit you best.

And by pick a preset, I mean pick the female preset. Mass Effect is a series best played through as a female Commander Shepard thanks entirely to Jennifer Hale’s amazing voicework. Go ahead and give the girl a go, and strongly consider going all Renegade for this as that’s where the most interesting dialogue choices crop up.

Alright, I’m not really going to tell you to just pick a Shepherd that looks cool and go from there. More importantly is picking a class you can really do some damage with. On my first playthrough, the wrong way, I picked the Soldier class. This will let you upgrade your specialty with all four types of guns, but you get no Biotic powers. Wrong, wrong wrong. Mass Effect is built around these biotic abilities, so picking a class that has none is asking for an uphill battle, or at least a dull pew-pew game.

Instead, pick something like the Vanguard class as it gives you good abilities with the pistol and a handful of strong Biotic powers, such as Lift or Throw (though be aware that the Vanguard class is a bit of an all-or-nothing class that may be difficult in higher difficulty levels). Basically, you’ll want to be able to utilize your abilities correctly, otherwise you’re just going to be restarting from checkpoints over and over again.

Pick your Team and Stick with Them:


Mass Effect Team

Don't mix things up; there's just no need.

Which class you pick for your Shepherd will very much affect how you should structure your team. The game will give you the choice of two for each mission between a pool of six characters and it acts as if the best option is to mix-and-match to see who works best together. This is an extremely poor choice as it will increase the amount of micromanaging you’ll do, the number of guns, armor, and accessories you’ll be carrying, and make it impossible to get the achievements for using specific characters for the majority of the game (if you care about that).

For instance, during the wrong playthrough, my male Solider just grabbed whoever looked like a fun character at the moment. I was forced to stop the game every time I stopped in the Normandy so that I could optimize each character, never really got a good sense of any character’s worth, and frequently found myself in a situation where a tech specialist was needed but found only battle strength.

To make things simple on yourself, pick a team of two and stick with them, no matter what. On my second playthrough I had a team that consisted of Ashley (strong combat skills), and Tali (strong tech skills). You will always want a team with either Kaiden, Tali, or a tech specialist Shepard as you will frequently need to hack doors and consoles in order to get specific things. I can’t tell you how many times I was near the end of a mission, only to discover that I couldn’t open a safe with presumably high-level items just because I didn’t have a team member who knew any tech.


Here are three teams that compliment each other well:


Solider Shepard, Liara, and Kaiden


Vanguard Shepard, Ashley, and Tali


Engineer Shepard, Wrex, and Garrus

Learn How to Specialize:


biotic lift

Are you giving your characters specific tasks? Well you should.

Now that you have your team picked out, do not change them. Ever. Also, decide which guns they’ll be using and stick with them for good. My setup on the smart playthrough had Shepard exclusively using a pistol, Tali exclusively using a shotgun, and Ashley exclusively using an assault rifle.

What this does is eliminate tedious equipment management as you’ll know exactly what sort of weapons and armor to keep and what to sell back. With my team, I knew I could always sell Turian and Krogan armor as soon as I got it, sell all of my sniper rifles, and sell all of the extra add-ons that didn’t immediately improve upon what my characters already had built in to their guns and armor. By the time I was hardly a third through the game, I had enough money to buy absolutely anything I ever encountered, my team’s weapons and armor were insanely powerful, and somehow Tali was firing rockets from her shotgun. I don’t know how, I think just because she was so happy I wasn’t bothering her with pointless item management.

With every upgrade to my team, I knew that Tali needed to be strongest with tech, Ashley needed to keep doing her thing, and Shepard needed to increase her Biotic abilities. I was able to survive most encounters just by simple tactics and sending characters to their assigned task of disabling (Tali), constant fire (Ashley), and high-powered assaults with Biotics (Shepard). Speaking of which…

Use Your Abilities Constantly:


liara using singularity

The Asari are monsters in Biotic combat. Don't let that go to waste.

While a simple reason for using your abilities comes down to unlocking achievements for doing so, I learned white a lot in terms of how effective constantly using abilities actually is. Mass Effect’s abilities work like any standard action RPG in that they can be used and then have a cooldown time relative to their strength. Dumping skill points into an ability will make it more powerful, but that alone isn’t enough. Determining how to effectively spam your attacks in a rotation will go a long way toward making you a real beast in combat.

For instance, my Vanguard Shepard would hit a strong enemy with Lift, causing them to hover in the air completely helpless for a period of time. While this was happening, I’d pump pistol shots into said enemy until the Lift period stopped or he died. If Lift hadn’t cooled completely, I’d use Adrenaline Boost and reset my cooldown times, meaning I could use it again, instantly. Liara’s Singularity is also ungodly powerful for stopping enemies in their tracks and letting you pull off shot after shot.

Search Like a Pro:



Wrex will search for your fear. And he will find it. And he will crush it.

Once you’re out and about, you’ll probably get the urge to find more and more items in order to continually get stronger and stronger. If you’re like me and you can’t stand leaving any area unchecked, you’ll want to take advantage of the game’s generous targeting reticule. You’ve probably noticed that it will help you aim your gun and adjust your line of sight, but if you haven’t been paying attention, you might have missed its other feature: pointing out items directly in front of you.

What I mean is that if an item, say a security safe or something, is directly in front of you in a straight line, your targeting reticule will point it out, even through some walls and other things obscuring it from view. This allows you to scan a room or an area a bit easier as you can discover something across the room that you wouldn’t have thought to go hunt for. Snagging every piece of equipment you can get your hands on will overall just make the game simpler since weapons and armor are found at higher and higher levels, so you’ll want to keep on the hunt no matter where you are.

And that’s really all you need to know to succeed in the first Mass Effect. Take these tips into consideration and you’ll be a tough spaceship commander to deal with. However, none of this applies to Mass Effect 2. Perhaps you should come back next week to learn how to pulverize the further adventures of Commander Shepherd.


About Author

Chris was the former Head Writer/Editor of Toy-TMA. He did a great job overseeing the site and getting new content published regularly. Always more than willing to respond to a comment or two, but pitiless with trolls! He has since moved on from TMA, and we wish him the best.

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