Ranking the best and worst of the Mass Effect games

Mass Effect

Mass Effect is beloved, it’s lauded, it’s three video games people have strong opinions about. I’m not sure I’ve ever totally agreed with anyone on which is the best and why, so to find out just how wrong I am, I asked 1,256 people to tell me which Mass Effect is the best Mass Effect. I also asked which is the worst, and all kinds of other things—who you romanced, paragon or renegade, and so on. These are the results. Because math.

Before we start, it’s important to note the demographics of the survey. I promoted it here, on Twitter, and elsewhere around the internet, but it’s definitely not a perfect snapshot of Mass Effect fandom: the majority of the respondents were men ages 18-34, which has certainly affected the results.

Which Mass Effect is the best?

the results

Best Mass Effect

Click the icon in the upper-right to enlarge. Based on 1,256 responses.

According to my survey, Mass Effect 2 is the best by far. It received 56% of the vote, while Mass Effect 3 received 22.9%, and the original Mass Effect received 21.1%. 

Those who favored the original Mass Effect cited the story and the sense of adventure. “It was rough around the edges, but the world was amazingly detailed,” said one survey taker. “It was high-concept Proper Science Fiction, amazingly non-human-centric, with a real (if occasionally annoying) sense of scale to the zones. Shep was competent and dedicated, but basically just the right (hu)man in the wrong place, not The Chosen One. It was really, really refreshing and different and interesting.”

I felt that way, too, though I think I would rather go back and play the less-aged ME2, and that probably contributed to its success. Those who voted for Mass Effect 2 cited the characters (Mordin and Miranda, especially) and improvements to the combat and mission design. The general consensus is that Mass Effect’s story might have been great, but Mass Effect 2 was more fun to play. “Best balance of story and combat,” said one voter. “Satisfying the whole way through.”

Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission ending is also praised as the best in the series, and several people said they appreciated that it was less gloomy than ME3. “I eat that squad shit up.”

As for Mass Effect 3, its 22.9% came from those who liked the ending (I’m among them, but I consider the last hour or so the ending, not just the Final Choice), the drama, and the multiplayer. But it seems that the best mix of game design and storytelling sits in the middle, and that’s a pretty inoffensive thing to agree with.

Which Mass Effect is the worst?

the results

Worst Mass Effect

Click the icon in the upper-right to enlarge. Based on 1,256 responses.

According to the survey,
the worst Mass Effect is the original Mass Effect. It received the fewest “best” votes and the most “worst” votes, though it was very close to ME3 in the worst department. I disagree, but it turns out I’m wrong. The survey doesn’t lie. My opinion is bad.

People who didn’t like Mass Effect 1 often cited the Mako (more on that below) and the elevators. It’s “clunky” said one survey taker, and another complained about “boring planetary exploration.” Generally speaking, Mass Effect’s age did it in. A few said that it still has the best story, but the inventory system and other design issues dump it to the bottom anyway.

Given how grumpy just the mention of Mass Effect 3 can make people, I expected it to lose here, but it just barely managed to become the middlest Mass Effect. The comments are as expected: bad ending, bad story, contradictory plot points, too much combat, day one DLC. Not everyone said all of those things, of course (and several people defended it), but they came up the most. As mentioned above, it’s the “gloomy” Mass Effect, which some expressed as a positive (“the feels” etc.), but many didn’t like when compared to the camaraderie of Mass Effect 2.

Who did you romance?

liara <3


Liara, by far, is someone you would totally date: 67.3% of respondents romanced Liara. The next most popular romantic partner was Miranda at 44.1%, followed by Tali at 42.4%, and Ashley Williams (blah) at 41.6%. Garrus was popular, too, which I expected, but I thought he’d manage more than 25.1%. This is all very dependent on the demographics of the survey, of course.

The least popular partner was Javik, but that doesn’t really count, as he was bound to the From Ashes DLC and is an ancient four-eyed fish monster. James Vega, Steve Cortex, Jacob Taylor, Morinth, and Samara didn’t do much better, though. Maybe they can just hook up with each other.

Mass Effect romances

Who’s your favorite character?

Garrus, y’all

GarrusME200 v2

As for your favorite characters, independent of whether you could or did get romantic, Garrus was the clear favorite with 382 mentions. I let survey takers write in anything for this, so just about everyone gets a mention and there are plenty of multi-entries from the indecisive (so it’s not perfect data, but it still gives us a good idea of who’s the most loved). Here are the top five, in order from most popular to least:

  1. Garrus (382)
  2. Tali’Zorah (129)
  3. Mordin (88)
  4. Liara (75)
  5. Shepard (69)

The rest go: Urdnot Wrex, Thane, Legion, Jack, Joker, Kaidan, Grunt, Javik, The Illusive Man, EDI, Ashley Williams, James Vega.

Characters not on this list, like Captain Anderson, received fewer than 5 mentions. Sorry, Anderson, but people would rather hang out with an ancient four-eyed fish monster than you, apparently. At least you beat Saren, though, who was only two people’s favorite character (plus one other who spelled his name wrong).

Other results

The most popular ending is the red ending (31.5%). In second place is the Extended Cut’s ‘None of the Above’ ending (30.6%), followed by the Green ending (24.9%) and the unpopular Blue ending (13%).

18.3% of respondents believe Shepard was actually indoctrinated. 55.2% do not, and 26.5% haven’t made up their minds. 

30.8% of you have read Mass Effect fanfiction.

62.4% punched the reporter. Interestingly, a very close 66% agreed not to punch me. It’s good to know that punching fictional reporters is about as popular as not punching me.

Paragon is greatly preferred over Renegade, with 82.4% of the vote.

Most of you (60.3%) played as male Shepard, also known as the wrong Shepard. Jennifer Hale owns all.

The most preferred class is the Soldier (30.3%), followed by the Vanguard (26%), Infiltrator (17%), Adept (11.7%), and Sentinel (9%). The Engineer did pathetically, bringing in only 6% of the vote.

21.8% of respondents have modified a save file. I am among them, because I totally botched the end of ME2.

And finally, it turns out that the Mako is actually good. Only 31.4% of people didn’t like it.

On the next page, read some of the comments survey takers left behind…

mass effect illusive man uncropped

To help me understand the survey results, I included text boxes in which takers could tell me why they voted the way they did, or just leave general comments. Here are some of the best.

On why Mass Effect 1 is the best…

mass effect

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“They’re all so close but the first one really nailed the excitement, mystery and wonder of the Mass Effect universe. There were also a ton of ways to solve each problem. Also the ending made you feel like a badass. I can’t count the number of times I accidentally started another playthrough because of it.”

“Best writing! Best music! Some of my favorite worlds to explore on random missions. I even have great affection for the Mako, as dumb a vehicle as it is.”

“It was more RPG than it was a shooter. I don’t mind that the series refined the gameplay, that’s a great thing, but the dilution of the RPG elements, exploration and the gradual lack of choice makes the third installment less special and more of your everyday third person shooter.”

“It has the best RPG ‘feel’ out of all three, with all the exploration, discovering a whole new universe, gear diversity… I feel like there were more things to discover, more people to talk to, and your choices had more of a weight to them than the other two. Also, elevator conversations. How can you not like those?”

“The story was far more contained and avoided the typical cliche of the universe ending bad guy out to destroy the universe. Of course, this was seen later in the form of the reapers in Mass Effect 2 and 3. More importantly, the game felt more like sci-fi and less like a typical action video game. Guns didn’t need reloading, grenades hovered along a straight trajectory, remote hacking. It’s like combat really had flung into the future. In later sequels, particularly the engineer, powers became dull, sniper rifles couldn’t see so far, classes and weapon choices were more strict.”

“Just about everything in Mass Effect one is better then the rest of the series. They did an amazing job of introducing an entirely new universe, with a clear story that you could follow and with a satisfying ending that left you wanting more, but not left hanging. The Reapers are never more threatening than they are in the first game, there is just so much you don’t know about them. It left you thinking, if it takes the combined forces of the races at the Citadel to defeat just one, how do stand a chance against the full force of the Reapers? There were actual meaningful and difficult choices (Ashley or whining Kaiden, Wrex, the Rachni, etc). The combat was the most tactical of the three and less shooter which I appreciated. The harder difficulties forced you to use your squadmates and skills. It actually felt like you were exploring a galaxy because of the Mako missions (though they could have make the terrain a little easier to traverse). Top to bottom Mass Effect was an amazing game that left me so excited for what’s next.”

On why Mass Effect 2 is the best…

mass effect 2

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“It took the interesting Universe they’d set up in the first game, kept up the writing and tightened up the gameplay so it was actually, y’kno, fun to play.”

“This is so damn close. Mass Effect 3 has the better gameplay by far. Rolling, better combat environments, the works. It also has the Citadel DLC, which is my favorite DLC I’ve ever experienced. But Mass Effect 2’s characters and their individual stories will live with me forever. It established Mass Effect as my all-time favorite game series. And I fell in love with Garrus! And Tali! Though mostly Garrus.”  

“Cast was more developed and interesting. Loyalty missions offered more insight into team members’ lives and also the workings of the galaxy. Stakes in the overall plot were much greater. Morality system, while still fairly basic, had introduced more complexities and shades of gray. Combat was simpler but more refined. Suicide run final mission was unbelievably intense, yet so satisfying to get through it without losing a single squad member.”

“Mass Effect 2 offers the peanut butter & jelly of video-games. Also, I don’t know how you can’t think it is the best whASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL.”

“It has a better combat system than ME1, the best squad of all the games, an incredible story, and the suicide mission is the single greatest game end I’ve ever played.”

“It’s a sprawling adventure that finally gets away from the old Bioware ‘Star Map’ structure. I’m a massive sucker for stories based around putting together a team of flawed geniuses to pull off one big mission. It also has a wonderful sense of light and shade; without the looming threat that dragged ME3 into some fairly grim territory, I felt free to enjoy and explore the character relationships which are BioWare’s strongest suit.”

On why Mass Effect 3 is the best…

mass effect 3

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“It gave me a lot of feelings.”

“It plays the best of the three. I enjoyed the way the story wrapped up (pre and post extended cut). The story was the culmination of the journey that happened over the course of three games and concluded the story of my Shepard. Also the multiplayer was tons of fun.”

“Perfect build up, much more intense than the previous titles and keeps the plot moving at a great pace, never a dull moment.”

“Because Female Shepard actually got some face and a trailer and cover. The previous games acted as if she didn’t exist.”

“Every moment felt as though it could be the endgame—it was fast moving and non-stop action, but well paced, as you could still pause to check in with all your companions and see how things were doing. Everything genuinely felt like it really mattered and a lot of threads from the previous two games—particularly ME2—were tied up, but not necessarily with a tidy little bow or in a way that felt forced. Finally, the emotional roller coaster it puts you on is hard to forget.”

“The multiplayer and forming several lasting and close friendships with great people.”

“While the ending was a massive disappointment, the rest of the game is all around amazingly well done with special note being given to the Tuchanka and Rannoch missions which left a strong impression with their character focus and difficult decisions.”

“It’s the most emotional. It hurts me, but I love it the most; the character development, the feeling of despair and stress you get because the war is going down fast and you need to act on it… Plus the combat is so much fun.”

Anything else you want to say about Mass Effect?

“It’s the best. Despite all the ending controversy, it’s still my favorite series of all time. My first tattoo will come from this universe (Garrus’s face tattoo, on my arm). These characters are my second family. I’ve laughed, cried and partied with them. More than any novel, movie, television show, they touched my heart. All my thanks to BioWare for such an incredible epic.”

“How am I supposed to have a favorite character in a story with so damn many amazing characters? I went with Joker because he was the funniest, but I can think of good reasons to love Garrus, Tali, Wrex, Kaidan, Ashley, Liara, Jack, Legion, even Zaeed, hell, even the Illusive Man and his yoomans. IT’S SO HARD.”

“I’m commander Shepard and this is my favourite survey on the citadel.”

“I wish romances were non-exclusive, there’s no possible universe in which Jack is 100% straight, and I need to start a roller derby team called Ass Effect.”

“I still vividly remember beating ME1 for the first time. I knew the ending was coming and played until 6 am to finish it. Then M4 Part 2 starts playing as the credits roll and sent chills down my spine. It just felt way bigger than a simple video game.”

“I refuse to vote Paragon or Renegade. #Renegon4LifeBitch!”

“It was the most important video game I ever played. It helped me through a difficult time in my life, introduced me to people both fictional (in the game) and real (other BioWare/Mass Effect Fans) that changed my life and made me a better more self aware person. I am a better person for having played it, a better person for having met so many fans.”

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