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Player creation and character classes[edit]

Although most of the game's screen shots and concept art show the same "default" male Commander Shepard, (John Shepard as stated in some of BioWare's conferences), it is possible for the player to fully customize their appearance, gender, abilities and even military background.[1]

The game includes six character classes, along with six more unlockable ones.[2] Each class contains several talents; as each talent is leveled, the character either gains stats (extra health, stamina, etc), unlocks new abilities (leveling the Shotgun talent unlocks the Carnage ability, which allows the character to fire a concentrated blast from the Shotgun), or unlocks other talents. Each class also possesses a unique talent with the same name as its respective class; the characters may also have talents tied to their background.[3]

Characters who have reached level 30 or alternatively completed the "Rogue VI" side-mission may choose one new specialist class. This unlocks one new "bar" of talents which you may choose to take advantage of. The specialist classes your character is offered depends on your base class. The six specialist classes are: Nemesis, Bastion, Medic, Operative, Commando and Shock Trooper. The Nemesis class improves the duration and damage of all the biotic abilities. The Bastion class improves the duration and effectiveness of defensive biotics. The Medic class has improved healing passives and tech skills against organics. The Operative class has improved techs to disable enemy weapons and shields. The Commando class gains improvements with weapons, especially with pistols and sniper rifles. The Shock Trooper class improves the characters health, damage protection, and related skills.

Character background[edit]

When first creating your character the six classes available are Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Infiltrator, Sentinel and Vanguard. Soldiers are the most adept with various weaponry, Engineers will make use of the omni-tool and tech-abilities and the Adept will be the best at using the biotics. The other three classes are combinations of the first three. Infiltrators are a combination of Soldiers and Engineers, the Sentinel is a combination between the Engineer and the Adept and the Vanguard will be a combination of the Soldier and the Adept.

Players will also have some control over their character's backstory. They will be able to choose either to have been a "spacer" (born and bred in space), a colonist or an "Earthborn". They will also choose whether they have been the sole survivor of a terrible battle, a war-hero or a ruthless soldier. These backgrounds have only a small effect in the game, although many characters will reference the player's chosen background when talking to Commander Shepherd. Except in a few situations, the player's background does not effect the player's dialog choices, a ruthless character can always choose paragon dialog paths and actions.


Arguably one of Mass Effect's most distinctive gameplay elements is its conversation system. Previous BioWare console titles such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire employed a conversation system where the player chose from several responses after non-player characters (NPCs) had finished speaking. Mass Effect introduces a new system in which responses to NPCs are displayed and can be chosen before the NPC has finished speaking. This, combined with detailed facial expressions, allows for more fluid and natural conversations, which gives character interaction a cinematic and believable quality.

The preview states that "the dialogue system is a refined, more dynamic version of what you've seen in previous BioWare games. You'll no longer read the lines and select which one you want to say; now you use a dialogue wheel to choose the approach you want to take (bully, bribe, or be nice, for example), and your character takes it from there."[4]

A radial command menu, divided into six equal sections like a pie chart, is shown at the bottom of the screen when a conversation is initiated. Each section is assigned a brief preview of the response that will be made, usually a short phrase (such as "What's going on?"). The response is selected by moving the analog stick in the direction of the desired response on the circle and pressing one of two face buttons, depending on the desired action: the X Button to interrupt the NPC at any time, or any other button to allow the NPC to finish what they are saying. The command menu is organized such that each section is assigned a particular inclination (i.e. being nice, aggressive, etc.), so that after players have become comfortable with the system they will no longer have to read the menu, and will be able to respond appropriately, immediately, if desired. BioWare hopes that the innovative system will allow the game to be more cinematic and free players from reading large amounts of dialogue, as would be required with the commonly used system of simply having the player choose from complete, sometimes long, written statements.[5]


Combat in Mass Effect takes place in real time, though much like in BioWare's previous game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the player can pause at any time to give orders to other squad members. The player and his allies use firearms (modifiable with various upgrades throughout the game), Tech abilities (to interfere with enemy equipment and abilities), and Biotics (similar to magical attacks or Force powers in other games) to fight their enemies. Players directly control all of their own character's actions but cannot take direct command of their squad mates. They can, however, issue commands using the directional pad,[6] allowing the player to tell other characters to get behind cover, regroup, attack a specific target, or to scout ahead. The player can also use the talent wheel interface to control which of their abilities or special powers squad mates will use.

The abilities and special powers that characters have at their disposal is determined by the skill sets assigned to them at the beginning of the game and how further earned experience points have been allotted since then. Some special abilities include a telekinetic lift that can be used to pick up objects and enemies, and a tech ability that reduces the shields of enemies.

Tech abilities[edit]

Tech abilities are said to be found very useful in the age of Mass Effect as most enemies are synthetic in some aspect. These abilities are activated through the OmniTool, which three of the main classes can use: Engineers, Infiltrators, and Sentinels. These abilities range from destroying enemy shields, to unleashing a turncoat among enemies, to restoring the shields of party members.


Biotics are accessed by using the implants in your character, and allow the manipulation of dark energy. These abilities range from the ability to raise shields that are impervious to enemy fire but still allow the player to fire through them, to creating small gravitational vortices that cause destructible parts of the environment to fly at enemies, to the ability to raise enemies helplessly into the air. Three of the main character classes will be able to use these powers: Adepts, Vanguards and Sentinels.


The main story and the number of character interaction choices in Mass Effect will be affected by the player's chosen morality. Unlike in BioWare's previous titles, emphasis on becoming a pure "good" or pure "evil" character will be lessened. Some characters may not like the player or leave the player's squad if the player's moral direction differs from their squadmates. The overall story is also affected by the player's personal choices. Project Director Casey Hudson of BioWare has said "[the player's] style of play throughout the game will result in diverging endings that determine the fate of humanity itself", affecting not only the first installment, but also the planned sequels.[7] Morality will be mostly determined by the player's choices during conversations.[8]

Hudson has further stated that instead of the "good" and "evil" approach that past BioWare games have taken, Mass Effect morality will be based on giving points as a "Paragon" for choosing more polite and professional military actions, or as a "Renegade" for taking a more ruthless and take-no-prisoners approach. "Paragon" and "Renegade" points will be scored on two separate scales (i.e. taking a "Paragon" option will not negate a past "Renegade" option), as opposed to other BioWare titles such as Knights of the Old Republic in which morality points were scored on a single scale so that making a "Light Side" choice negated the morality change you underwent for making a "Dark Side" choice. NPCs will react differently to a character depending on their past morality choices.[9]


The SSV Normandy, the player character's ship, and a technological marvel in the setting of the game, will serve as the primary mode of transportation.

Since the game spans the galaxy, many trips will have to be made from planet to planet. Players will choose destinations by selecting them through a galactic map of the Milky Way.[10] Videos have shown that the galaxy is divided into numerous levels of organization, shrinking in scale from star clusters, to star systems, and finally down to planets.

Travel through the Mass Effect universe is aided through the use of Mass Relays, which are technological artifacts that that are capable of transporting vessels faster-than-light to the extreme distances to other star clusters and systems. There are two types of Mass Relays, primary and secondary. Primary relays are "linked" with a twin, and so are one-directional, but can span as many as a hundred thousand light years - according to the game's personal "Codex" stating primary relays can span from "One spiral arm of the galaxy to it's opposite. Secondary relays are omnidirectional and can send ships to any relay within it's limited range of about a hundred light years.

Once the player has decided on a planet to visit, a couple options are available. Some planets are simply there to complete the system. Others can only be surveyed to further in-game goals. Finally, some planets can be landed on and explored. The player can move about on foot or using an all-terrain armored personnel carrier called The Mako. Some segments of the game feature combat requiring the use of this vehicle. Most main story segments (and many side missions) are geared toward on-foot shooter action.

Although the game will follow a main story, Mass Effect will include a large number of side missions and free-roam "unexplored planets" that can be reached by selecting them through the galactic map.


  1. Mass Effect FAQ.
  2. Mass Effect Community - Fields of Discipline (Character Classes).
  3. IGN - Mass Effect Preview.
  4. "1UP preview".
  5. Mass Effect Extended Impressions. IGN.
  6. Mass Effect Extended Impressions. IGN. Retrieved on 2007-01-25.
  7. (February 2007) "Electronic Gaming Monthly": 48. Ziff Davis Media, Inc.. 
  8. Mass Effect Extended Impressions. IGN. Retrieved on 2007-01-25.
  9. Mass Effect Podcast 01, Part 2. BioWare. Retrieved on 2007-08-25.
  10. (February 2007) "Electronic Gaming Monthly": 48. Ziff Davis Media, Inc..