This guide will provide tips and first-hand experience on how to have the best experience playing Mass Effect 1. I will also address how to best mold your character for ME2 and ME3 without providing any spoilers.
Consider this your ‘How to get started guide’ in the Mass Effect universe.
Welcome to my Steam Guide for Mass Effect. My tag is sinewav and the purpose of this guide is to help any players new to the Mass Effect 1 world have a good foundation of spoiler-free knowledge to have a better first experience with this game or who just wants some helpful pointers. I will also make some spoiler-free suggestions to parts 2 and 3 of the Trilogy where it will be helpful.
By now this game has been out a long time now and while there’s already plenty of guides online with the new Steam Guides feature I felt it would benefit at least the Steam community have a quick beginner guide to help get you started with this great game.
This guide will be organized into four main parts, character creation, character progression, main quest, and general gameplay. I made sure to give you as much advice as possible for character creation since this is perhaps the most crucial point where this advice is needed and then some tips to help ensure you continue to enjoy the game to its climactic finish. As I come up with more ideas I will add to the guide and of course any helpful feedback I receive on how to improve the guide I will incorporate as well.
Thank you all for taking an interest in my guide and I hope any of the tips here help you enjoy Mass Effect 1 to its fullest potential.
I have received a lot of great feedback so far and I have been adjusting my guide with some of the best suggestions as time allows. Thanks for those who have contributed.
Please Note: Now that the guide has been out for several months now I noticed that despite my best efforts some spoilers are making their way into the comments section. As a result all readers especially new players should use caution when reading guide comments if they wish to completely avoid potential spoilers. I will regularly update the guide with the best spoiler-free feedback so if you prefer you can avoid this section until you complete the game.
Character Creation Tip
Choosing your backstory
Mass Effect is known for having lots of voice acting, so much that it’s surprising how much variation they accounted for when creating your character.
One of the ways you experience the unique voice acting is through your first major decision (aside from choosing a first name) when creating your character is deciding what their back story and pysch profile will be prior to the events of Mass Effect 1. On the surface it appears to be a straightforward choice as there are only 2 questions with 3 options each to choose from so how bad can it be right? Consider the following for each character you create:
- You can change your class in Mass Effect 2 & 3
- You can change your appearance in Mass Effect 2 & 3
- You can change your paragon/renegade alignment in Mass Effect 2 & 3
- You can’t change you back story ever again
While some may argue that the choices you make here are only superficial and to some extent that is true (aside from access to a unique side quest), you owe it yourself to choose a backstory/profile that most closely matches you or the person you are role playing as it will have some affect on your experience. Enough dialog is changed to the point that if you don’t choose the right one it can take you out of the experience. So if your character’s personality is ruthless for example choose the back story that fits. With only 3 options to choose from it may be hard to find the perfect match but it is is easy to find the closest one.
Of course it’s fun to try out all the options on later playthroughs but that’s another topic…
Choosing your class
After you decide your backstory/profile you will next choose the class you want to play as which will determine what abilities and access to weapons you will have throughout the game. As is common in RPG’s you won’t be able to change your class for the remainder of the game so you may be wondering what may be the best or better classes to use or even which ones to avoid. You’ve come to the right place, below I will list all the available classes in Mass Effect 1 along with my recommendations for each:
Soldier – Trained to use all weapons, high weapon damage output in exchange for no biotic or tech abilities. Ideal for FPS or shooter focused players. Only class that can gain access to heavy armor. A good starter class. Always bring an engineer or biotic member when venturing out.
Vanguard – An excellent biotic/soldier hybrid class. Trained to use shotguns & pistols. Ideal for those who want access to advanced armor & weapons and want to kick some tail with biotic powers as well. Excels at close quarters combat. Medium armor & barrier give you lots of protection making it a good starter class. Always bring an engineer with you.
Adept – The pure biotic class. Trained in pistols. Good if you want to throw enemies around and feel like a powerful badass. Every biotic ability in the game is at your fingertips and all are useful. Light armor means you should bring squad members with access to heavy weapons & armor & tech abilities.
Infiltrator – A great tech/soldier hybrid class. Trained in sniper rifles & pistols. Aside from Soldier the only other class for those who prefer head shots. Access to Medium armor & good shields makes it great for beginners who can handle the sniper rifle. Personally I wasn’t fond of the sniper rifle in ME1 but other players have enjoyed this class. Bring a biotic specialist with you & a soldier that can take the front line.
Engineer – The pure tech class. Trained in pistols. A good beginner class for those who want a different approach than biotics or weapons to wipe out enemies. Not as flashy as Adept but tech abilities are handy and in some cases must have. Light armor but access high shield protection. IMO an underrated but excellent class.
Sentinel – The only hybrid ability class with access to both tech & biotic powers. Trained in pistols & light armor. Originally in Xbox 360 version was not trained in any weapons and this resulted in a very unbalanced and difficult class to use especially for beginners. The PC port (steam version) has been improved significantly however remains a challenging class to use. Not an ideal beginner class.
One thing that you should note especially if you plan to play the remaining Mass Effect games is that although the class names will remain the same throughout the trilogy Bioware rebalanced and in some cases vastly changed the feel of the class so please take this advice with you – starting with ME2 onward always check out the changes made to your class in the game and be ready to switch classes. For many players sticking to the same class may not be the best option.
All that said I have more thoughts on classes in general in the coming tips.
Weapon Training = Zoom + Perks
Weapon training in Mass Effect 1 has the following affect on each class:
- Determines which weapons you can improve via stats and perks on a skill tree
- Determines which weapons you can Zoom or Aim with (With one notable exception – pistols)
- Bottom line: which weapon types you can use effectively in the game
In Mass Effect 1 regardless of class every player will carry at least one of each weapon type at all times (pistol, shotgun, assault weapon, sniper rifle). While this may imply that any class can use any weapon because of weapon training each class will only be effective on the weapon(s) they are trained in.
Fortunately due to adjustments in the PC port it now appears that every class is trained in at least one weapon which is the pistol. I’ll explore the reasons why that’s a good thing later but for now I’m happy to say that you will have access to at least one weapon type regardless of class.
As shown in the images below the ability to aim or zoom in a weapon is crucial in ME1 and also since damage is in part decided by a hidden dice roll and zoom increases your chances of scoring a “hit”. As a result weapons you are not trained in are not all that useful regardless of skill and you will likely stick with only your trained weapons where your aim will be much more reliable.
So when choosing a class pay attention to which weapons the class is trained in as you will be focusing on upgrades & loot for those weapons throughout the game for your main character while the best weapons you find which you are not trained in will likely end up with the appropriate teammates.
To give you an idea here is the standard combat view without zooming/aiming:
Here is the difference when you are trained and can zoom/aim the same weapon from the same vantage point:
Avoid the Sentinel Class
This rule is exclusive to new players not those who completed the game. From my experience most of the classes are actually good starting choices except for one: the Sentinel Class. The reason why this class is singled out is because it is perhaps the hardest class to use correctly since it’s primarily a support class with the weakest weapon skill tree of all the classes.
As several have commented and I have since corrected originally in the Xbox version you had no ability to zoom nor skill tree making it extremely unbalanced. Now as reported by the community and verified in testing now Sentinel class now has the ability to zoom the pistol, boost stats and gain weapon perks. These are all welcome changes and I’ve since dialed back my opposition to this class. However while improved the class still remains a challenging class to use for these reasons:
- While Zoom & the skill tree help you have to put in more points to get the same stat boosts and perks compared to other classes so unless you sacrifice your other skill trees your weapon abilities will still lag behind other classes especially towards the end.
- You’ll be leaning mainly on your biotic/tech powers which means when they are all cooling down you won’t be dealing as much damage.
- Low weapon damage and armor/shields means that you have to play a support role in battles which takes time and practice to learm.
- Some encounters are more frustrating with low weapon output.
Some players may like the challenge that comes with the Sentinel class and if you also like the idea of this class then go for it. To readers looking to save time and frustration choose any other class.
If you are still having a hard time deciding which class to play pick the Soldier class. It is the default class for Shepard with good reason since you have a lot of damage output and defense in exchange for no biotic or tech powers. You can easily make up for that by just bringing along the right specialists for your squad and the extra defense is also good for a new player to have.
While the idea behind the Sentinel class is good (combined bioitic and tech powers) this class wasn’t properly balanced enough I think to make it a good choice. This has been corrected however in later Mass Effect games so eventually this class becomes a fine choice.
Invest Time in Choosing Your Appearance
When creating your character as with many Bioware Games you have the option to choose your gender and create a custom face for your hero (Shepard). In Mass Effect Bioware evolved their system with more options to customize facial features which may be intimidating at first (for example scars & facial hair for male sheps and eye shadow / make up for female sheps just to name a few).
While it’s very possible to enjoy the game using the default Male or Female Commander Shepard creating a custom appearance for your Shepard can really help to draw you into your first experience with the story. It also looks great seeing your character in armor or interacting with characters and to me makes a difference in how you play.
Also when making your character you can for example either make it look like you or anyone you want, it’s all up to you (these are just some ideas). Personally, I first tried the game as someone who looked like me and then for my next playthrough as someone with a different personality as mine which helped me role play which was a fun way to experience the game differently.
If like me are not an artist or find the customization intimidating there are a number of preset appearances you can use instead of the default appearance or as a starting point for making your Shepard look how you want.
Some preset examples for male Shepard
Some female Shepard presets
Again if you prefer using the default Shepard nothing is lost in doing so. This is mainly to help those who are thinking about creating a custom appearance or are worried about the time or difficulty in creating one.
The Pistol is a Great Weapon
As I implied in another tip the Pistol weapon type in Mass Effect is actually one of the best weapons in the game. While this may seem odd at first based on how the game plays Pistols tend to have high accuracy, damage per shot, and shots before overheating. They are perhaps the most well-rounded weapons over the course of the game. There is no reload mechanic in Mass Effect 1 instead weapons can overheat after too many shots are fired forcing you to wait before you can fire again. Some weapons may have higher accuracy (sniper rifles) or power (shotguns) or shots before overheat (assault rifles) but few will beat all these stats at once. At the highest levels the top pistols are some of the best weapons in the game.
In fact whenever I played as a pure biotic (Adept) or tech (Engineer) I never really missed the ability to use any of the other weapon types. It’s that good and while a Soldier may end up focused elsewhere especially later in the game if any of the non-soldier classes interest you I wouldn’t give access to only pistols a second thought. The Pistol is a big reason why most classes make excellent starting classes.
The Sniper Rifle is Hard to Master
While some may disagree (please leave a comment!) I found that of all weapons the sniper rifle was the hardest to use. I should say right away that this ONLY applies to Mass Effect 1 (not 2 or 3) as the combat engine was revamped later and I found the sniper rifle a much better option starting in Mass Effect 2. As a result for Mass Effect 1 I stayed away from this weapon type as the weapon is hard to use at low levels and I didn’t have the patience to level it up to the point where it would be stable enough to get shots off reliably.
Also because of the overheat mechanic and sniper rifles having the lowest shot before overheating (1-2 shots for much of the game) I found way too restrictive for me.
You may find your experience different especially if you play as Soldier or are a good shot but for me, I skipped the sniper rifle in Mass Effect 1.
Character Progression Tip: Trust Your Instincts When Making Choices
Mass Effect like many Bioware games has a morality system where you will make choices that are perceived as “good/selfless” or “bad/selfish”. In Mass Effect the “good” or selfless choices are called Paragon and the “bad” or selfish choices are called Renegade. During dialog usually the top-right choice is paragon, middle-right is neutral, and bottom-right is renegade. Since in this game you are the hero no matter what choice you make the only real difference is how nice or ruthless you were throughout the game. There are also points you may add to your charm/intimidate skills which also affect what options you have at certain points in the game.
While some guides may point you in the direction of playing a “perfect” game or staying consistent with your choices (all paragon/renegade) to get the “best” outcome available to you and while true from a pure gaming standpoint for the best overall experience I found that the choices I was most satisfied with were the ones I made truthfully as that character. I personally admit to breakling this tip on several occasions on my first playthrough and I regretted not trusting my instincts for all those decisions.
While it is worth spending some points in charm or intimidate and staying somewhat consistent to give you access to some of the “best” choices on certain side quests and such it will affect your overall experience if you play too paragon or renegade.
Like in real life we are all a little paragon and renegade and if you play that way you will have the best experience. What you gain from being completely paragon/renegade is not worth what you give up.
What I would advise if you want to see the “best” outcome of each decision is to do it on later playthroughs when you know what to expect and at that point the game is more of a “game” anyway.
Unless you are trying to build the ultimate Commander Shepard (which if true this is not the guide for you) then I would advise being true to your character and doing your best to “live” with all the decisions you make (meaning don’t load a previous save as much as you can stand it).
Many of your decisions will follow you throughout the Trilogy and the truer you were to your character means when those decisions catch up to you later they will have that much more meaning.
Character Progression Tip: Don’t Auto-Level Up
This one may not be all that surprising but again good to know. As you gain experience and level up you will receive points that you can use to build the skills of your character and of your squad. I found that if you used the “auto-level” option to allocate your points I was never happy with the direction it took my character. In general auto level up tends to put points into everything and in my experience I found it better to specialize as you gain access to the best perks with a skill faster.
For example take any class that is trained in 2 or more weapons. In general auto level up will allocate points evenly between all weapon types which means you won’t have access to the best weapon perks for a while. Instead what I did is allocate points into one weapon, get that weapon to a high enough point, and then once I’m happy I then start putting points in my other weapons.
This is not to say avoid the feature entirely. If curious you can always click the “Auto Level” button to preview how the points will be used and click “Undo” to erase any changes. Your allocations are not committed until you change characters or exit the screen or so feel free to see what the game recommends before doing what you feel is best.
The only exception I would consider is for your party. Party members have much fewer skills than you so the number of choices are fewer to begin with and as it turns out the auto-level allocation is actually decent in this regard. I still liked specializing my “go to” squad members but as a time saving measure I would say go ahead auto level, but not for your own character.
General Gameplay Tip
Exploration and Side Quests are Worth it
Soon after your first mission you will have the option to pick up side quests and objectives not tied to the main mission as with other RPG’s. While it is technically feasible to complete the main quest without doing any side missions aside from speed runs or to boost your character beyond level 50 (your first playthrough will cap at level 50 and then up to 60 if you replay) you should aim to complete some if not most of the side quests available to you. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons has to do with how the loot system works.
Mass Effect 1 has arguably the best (and most complex) loot system of the Trilogy. While sales of later installments may dispute my belief if like me you are a loot hound then you will likely enjoy and eventually miss the ability to amass and meticulously manage your epic collection.
This being part RPG you will find lots of containers, locked doors, etc which will contain precious gear and upgrades you will equip your team with to become a badass force. With few exceptions most loot containers will give you leveled and randomized equipment based on your experience level.
I found in playing that items you find can vary greatly from game to game so if you limit yourself to only the main missions there’s a good chance you won’t have the best weapons or armor for you and your team. This goes especially true for armor as unlike the later installments the armor upgrades you find in this game are specific to one race so the more containers you find the better chance you have to find the right armor for your squad.
Also not all side quests will be handed to you, some are hidden away on uncharted systems so your curiosity will be rewarded the more planets you visit.
At the same time this does not mean you go out and do ALL the side quests (don’t worry about the mineral scanning or collection quests for example) but try to do as many of the others as you can to get the best loot. They are also good at honing your combat tactics and becoming a badass fighting force to take on the later levels.
Always Bring an Electrician
Another possibly obvious tip for RPG fans but still worth noting. Throughout the game you will encounter many “locked” containers that require the “Decryption” skill to unlock. It’s very much like the “lock pick” ability in a lot of other RPG’s. You will also find damaged computers that require the “Electronics” skill to salvage equipment.
As the name may imply the engineer or infiltrator class have these skills so if you choose these classes you are set, if not make sure you bring along a squad mate who has these skills so you don’t lose access to the sweet loot in these containers. Even with Omnigel these skills are needed. (Omnigel is used to bypass the mini-games when unlocking or salvaging).
The electronics skill is also handy to repair your Mako when damaged (a fate all too common in this game).
In general, you want to have at least one soldier, one biotic user, and one tech user between you and your team on most missions to have a well-balanced team able to handle any situation.
Only Buy the Bare Necessities
Your attitude towards currency in this game should be to save it and not spend it often. You will not have to worry about being in a situation where in order to proceed you need X amount of credits. Often times the equipment in stores is way overpriced and by the time you can afford an item you’ve already collected better loot from containers you find and chances are you will be offered the next level of items which are much more expensive than the last one.
However there are a few exceptions to this rule which I will list below:
- To buy expansions for Medigel and Grenades (these cannot be found)
- To buy manufacturer licenses
- You find armor on sale for a squad mate that is not super expensive and upgrades someone that has not had new armor in a while
- You are near the end of the game and you want the best items available in the game
Aside from that most purchases you can skip. In general if an item will cost you all that you have in your wallet it’s not worth buying.
As mentioned above towards the end the best weapons and armor in the game become hard to find and if you see one for sale by that point you should be able to easily afford it.
Spend Time with Your Team
One of my favorite features of Mass Effect (and Bioware games in general) is interacting with my party members and seeing how my relationship develops over time with each person. Since you can only bring a few party members with you in the field this means the best time to interact with them is between missions.
In general, this only applies to main quest missions so you don’t have to do this after every mission. As you progress with the main quest and complete a mission go and talk to your team before continuing on. Here is your opportunity to get to know your team, hear some interesting stories, and maybe even pick up another side quest. This is also your opportunity to develop a romantic relationship with one or more members of your team so if that interests you then I would definitely be talking up a storm.
With the exception of the romantic partners there is no “wrong” answer when talking to your team. The conversation system is at its best here so be sure to invest time with your team to get the most from what the game offers.
Always Manage Inventory Between Big Missions
Loot collection in Mass Effect 1 can be a very fun and satisfying feature but it also carries some pitfalls to be aware of. Fortunately at least early in the game while you are learning you don’t have to worry about this but it’s something to be aware and prepared for.
In Mass Effect 1 you and your team have slots to equip weapons, armor, mods, etc. After your team is equipped any unequipped items are “stored” in a main inventory where you and your team can equip, swap items, etc. This main inventory has a hidden limit of 150 items total which may seem like a lot at first but if left unattended can result in opening a container and suddenly finding out you are at your limit and are forced to convert the contents to omnigel with no way to back out.
In reality the limit is very manageable as long as you do enough cleanup after a big mission or after a few side quests. Since your inventory is usually highest at this point and you are usually on your ship which has a store this is the best time to clean out your inventory. To do that follow a three-step process:
- Equip you and your squad with the best items
- Either sell or breakdown your least valuable equipment
- Repeat until you are around 1/2 your inventory limit or less
For most of the game you will be finding a lot of loot so don’t get too attached to equipment and always compare stats and ensure your team has the best equipment (you should be updating everything even untrained weapons). Stores are the best way to find out how close you are to your 150 item limit via the “sell” screen (Please note you won’t see a count of your items, you actually have to count them by hand).
For most of the game, I would only keep an extra 3-4 weapons of any type after equipping the team and I never had to worry about the item limit. If you have 10 or more unequipped items in each category you are carrying too much stuff. One exception are weapon mods where you will need to carry different sets for your squad to handle different enemy types. But even here only carry around enough to outfit your squad’s weapons and get rid of the rest.
The main idea to remember is to stay consistent and don’t go too long before pruning down your inventory and the item limit will not be a concern.
Main Quest Tip: Venturing Out
Ok, for this tip I will need to slightly bend my spoiler rule but I’m making an exception here because this one won’t make a lot of sense now and is really important to know ahead of time. Feel free to skip this step if you prefer but in my opinion this is worth knowing.
As you progress in the game you will reach a point where you finally gain control of a ship and be able to explore the galaxy as you wish. When you get to that point your main quest will break into several quests which you may complete in any order.
Without going into too much detail even though you have a choice I strongly recommend starting with the one going to the Artemis Tau cluster first as you will get your final party member after completing that quest.
Doing this will ensure you have the maximum time with that character to level up and complete the dialog path with that character. This character also possesses abilities that some classes may be in need of early on.
The only exception to this are side quests. At this point in the game you should also have a lot of side quests available to complete and if some look interesting to you feel free to do a few before going here. In general, the story only progresses as you complete main quest missions so side quests are fine to do and also grant, loot, experience and money not to mention being fun to explore.
Once you complete this quest you are free to tackle the remaining ones in any order you like.
This concludes my Mass Effect Steam Guide for new players. If you made it this far you should have a good idea of how to best approach the game and as my final bit of advice I would strongly urge you to create at least one or more extra characters to take with you through this game and the rest of Trilogy so you can see all the different ways the story can play out.
I hope this guide was able to give a better sense of what to expect without spoiling anything and you are able to use the tips in this guide.
There is more I would like to add to the guide (like screenshots) or even put into a new more complete guide for Mass Effect (Classes, Walkthrough, etc) but I would first like to hear your feedback and if there is enough interest I will keep writing
It was a pleasure writing this guide and revisiting my good memories with this game. Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope to see you again either in the next update to this guide or the next one.
Original Link – Continuation of discussion