Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Mass Effect trilogy.
With Mass Effect: Legendary Edition on the horizon I thought it could be fun to go back to the Mass Effect trilogy and look at Commander Shepard’s comrades. Though I have no immediate plans to buy Legendary Edition – it looks like a pretty unimpressive upgrade, in my opinion – its existence has nevertheless prompted me to look back at its three constituent games. There were some absolutely wonderful characters who were well-written in all three parts of the Mass Effect trilogy. Without these characters to interact with, the world of Mass Effect would feel smaller and far less immersive.
However, there were also a handful of major characters who were less interesting, bland, useless in combat, or who got too little screen time for us to really get to know them. So there’s plenty of ammunition to put them into an internet-friendly numbered list! I’m excluding the squadmates from Andromeda, because that game was less fun across the board, and I’m also excluding the two characters who were only playable for a short time during the Omega DLC for Mass Effect 3. Otherwise all characters from the first three games are here – including those who were only available as DLC when the games were new. Legendary Edition will have all of them, so I’m happy to feature them all here.
As I always say, these things are subjective. If you don’t agree with how I regard a certain character, that’s okay! One of the great things about games like the Mass Effect trilogy is that they allow for player choice and different ways to play. We don’t need to fight or argue over which character is best!
With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!
Number 19: Zaeed Massani
Somebody has to be in last place, and unfortunately for me it’s Zaeed. There are a couple of reasons why that’s the case, but it boils down to him feeling like an afterthought for most of Mass Effect 2. He doesn’t have any especially interesting dialogue or banter, either with Shepard or with anyone else on the team. When you approach him in the cargo hold of the Normandy (where he spends his down time) the “conversations” you can trigger with him aren’t even full cut-scenes, they’re just lines of dialogue heard over the top of gameplay.
Zaeed’s loyalty mission was okay, but it almost always required players to take the renegade path in order to be sure of winning his loyalty. There is a possible way to get through it with a 100% paragon outcome, but the required conversation check is so high that I’ve never been able to manage it. This cuts into the short mission’s replay value and leaves it feeling pretty bland. Like everything else involving Zaeed, the loyalty mission feels like it was thrown together as an afterthought.
For a DLC character, Zaeed is not well-integrated into the main game. Other DLC characters and missions flow naturally into the games they’re part of, but Zaeed and his loyalty mission feel tacked-on. He had the potential to be a fun character; a gruff mercenary veteran who’s seen it all. But that potential feels rather wasted.
Number 18: Liara T’Soni
Sacrilegious though it may be to some Liara superfans, I’ve never really liked the Mass Effect trilogy’s main asari character. In Mass Effect 1 she was perhaps at her best, but even then managed to feel less interesting and less relevant to the mission at hand than other squadmates. But her strange turnaround in Mass Effect 2 from mild-mannered student of history to hard-nosed information dealer just felt out of place. And as much as I enjoyed the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC from a gameplay perspective, making Liara the new Shadow Broker is something which again felt wrong for her character.
There’s such a disconnect between the Liara we get to know and the shady world of information broking that she inhabits beginning in Mass Effect 2, and while I admire the creative decision to try to do something consequential with a character who otherwise felt like unnecessary fluff, for me it didn’t work and actually made matters worse.
As a biotic squadmate, Liara was most useful in Mass Effect 1, where only Kaidan was also able to use some biotic powers. By the second two games, though, her biotics felt less impressive – especially having seen what Jack and Samara can do! I don’t hate Liara, but a combination of some odd character decisions and the existence of other, more interesting squadmates means she ranks pretty low down on my list.
Number 17: Grunt
If we’re talking about Grunt’s overall story, perhaps I could rank him higher on the list. His role in Mass Effect 3 was certainly more interesting, as he led a team of krogan warriors to hunt for the rachni. But looking at him purely as a squadmate in Mass Effect 2, which is his only appearance in that capacity, he’s just not the most interesting character.
His backstory is certainly different, and perhaps was a way for the writers to try to differentiate him from Wrex. But there’s no getting around the fact that, for me at least, Grunt never manages to step out of that shadow; he always feels like a generic stand-in for Wrex. That said, I enjoyed Grunt’s loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2, as battling against a giant worm-monster was a ton of fun!
Number 16: James Vega
I feel a little bad for James Vega, who was voiced by established actor Freddie Prinze Jr. Vega came late to the party, and I think part of the reason for the negative reaction some fans had to him in Mass Effect 3 is that they were hoping for the return of more characters from Mass Effect 2 instead of someone new.
Despite that, however, James Vega was okay. For new players picking up the series for the first time, his newness may have helped them find their footing in an established, ongoing story, and characters playing that kind of role do serve a purpose. The Citadel DLC fleshed James out more and gave him a bit more to do than the base game, which was certainly to his overall benefit, but despite that he still isn’t an especially memorable character.
Most other characters in the trilogy elicit some kind of reaction from me, even though it’s been probably five years or so since I last played the games. But James Vega really doesn’t. He’s just… there. A background character. And there’s nothing wrong with him at all, unlike those lower down this list he isn’t bad. He’s just… forgettable.
Number 15: Ashley Williams
I don’t particularly dislike Ashley – though I would usually choose Kaidan at that moment in Mass Effect 1 – and on my first playthrough as male Shepard I think I chose her for Shepard’s romance option. She’s fine as a character, but is a bit limited as a squadmate because she can’t really do much beyond shoot.
Most squadmates have some kind of truly useful ability beyond their weapons that can make a difference in combat. Late in Mass Effect 1 Ashley can unlock “First Aid,” which, as you might expect, allows her to heal Shepard. But this uses medi-gel, which is a consumable item that isn’t unlimited in supply, rendering a potentially-interesting ability far less useful. This skill is also gone if Ashley survives to Mass Effect 3, where she can just shoot and throw grenades. If you’re going up against a heavily-armoured boss she can be useful – but most of the time I’m looking for a squad with a broader range of talents.
That’s more to do with the way I play the games than a criticism of Ashley herself, I suppose!
Number 14: Miranda Lawson
Though I have nothing against Miranda, it really isn’t until Mass Effect 3 where her story truly pays off – and by then she’s no longer a squadmate. She fills an interesting story role in Mass Effect 2, overseeing Shepard’s mission on behalf of the Illusive Man and Cerberus, but because of both her station on the Normandy and her natural disposition, she and Shepard tend to keep one another at arm’s length – even after her loyalty mission to save her sister.
The loyalty mission is one of the better ones, I think, and Miranda is a multitalented squadmate, capable of using both tech and biotic powers. During the Suicide Mission, Miranda is one of the possible candidates to lead the second squad at the beginning of the assault on the Collector base (assuming she remains loyal) and thus she’s a versatile all-rounder as a squadmate.
Miranda is at her best in Mass Effect 3, though, and that game goes a long way to paying off her character arc – both with her family and with Shepard.
Number 13: Samara
I love Samara’s “Reave” ability, which can be unlocked after securing her loyalty. It’s one of the most powerful biotic powers in the entire game, and can be incredibly useful when on the back foot. Samara also has one of the more interesting loyalty missions in Mass Effect 2, one which is largely nonviolent. In an action-RPG that may seem odd, but these quieter, story-driven moments make the Mass Effect series what it is, at least in my opinion.
Samara also proves invaluable during the Suicide Mission, as one of only two biotics (the other being a fully-upgraded Jack) capable of safely escorting Shepard’s squad through a dangerous part of the base. The only reason I wouldn’t put her higher up the list is because she’s a character recruited well into the second half of Mass Effect 2, and thus has fewer options to join Shepard on missions.
Her story of chasing down her rebellious daughter, and then trying desperately to save her other daughters during the Reaper war, is one of the trilogy’s most interesting – and tragic.
Number 12: EDI
The Normandy’s AI is able to acquire a body and thus becomes a potential squadmate early into Mass Effect 3. EDI was already fun thanks to her dynamic with Joker, the Normandy’s pilot, but being able to take her on missions added an extra dimension to her – as did her dialogue during downtime on the Citadel.
As with Samara’s “Reave,” EDI’s “Defense Matrix” ability can be a lifesaver when the chips are down and you’re facing a difficult battle! The “best” possible ending to Mass Effect 3 sees the destruction of the Reapers – but along with them all other forms of artificial life. EDI almost certainly doesn’t survive in such a scenario, and that adds an extra level of complexity to the endgame given that players have spent two full games with her by that point.
Number 11: Jacob Taylor
Jacob is all business during his time on the Normandy, and I think some fans were put off by that in Mass Effect 2. Unlike other main squadmates, large parts of Jacob’s backstory are told not in the main trilogy but in Mass Effect Galaxy (a mobile game released in between the first and second titles) as well as in comic books. Perhaps that’s part of why he can feel a little barebones in the main game.
However, Jacob provides Mass Effect 2 with one of the best loyalty missions, tracking his father’s crashed starship to a remote planet. Not only is the setting beautiful and the wreck of the ship fun to explore, but the story of a man who kept the safe food for himself while allowing others to suffer is shocking. The Mass Effect series doesn’t shy away from grotesque characters like Jacob’s dad, and these kinds of characters give the story a dose of realism.
Jacob is also a proficient squadmate in his own right, and the “Incendiary Ammo” ability that he brings can be very useful in combat.
Number 10: Jack
We’re into the top ten now, and up first is Jack. The “psychotic biotic” has a truly satisfying character arc across Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, genuinely growing and taking on responsibilities after being a violent loner when Shepard first encounters her.
Jack’s backstory is one of the most tragic in the series, as she was experimented upon mercilessly for her powerful biotic abilities by Cerberus. She’s also headstrong and one of the few characters who doesn’t worship the ground Shepard walks on – slapping them and telling them they were an idiot for trusting Cerberus in Mass Effect 3.
During the Suicide Mission, Jack is the only other character besides Samara capable of putting up a powerful enough biotic barrier to safely escort Shepard and his team through a dangerous part of the base.
Number 9: Kasumi Goto
When it came to Zaeed, I mentioned that he felt entirely tacked-on and separate from the other characters in Mass Effect 2. Kasumi, despite being another DLC character, doesn’t feel that way at all – perhaps because her entire persona is constructed around being someone who works in the shadows.
Her loyalty mission is one which requires a fair amount of nonviolent stealth, and putting Shepard in a fancy suit at a high society party was fun to see! In combat she is one of the weaker squadmates – but her “Shadow Strike” ability, when fully upgraded, is unstoppable and incredibly powerful. Her appearance in Mass Effect 3 also potentially saves the hanar from a Reaper attack – and the hanar are one of my favourite Mass Effect races!
Number 8: Urdnot Wrex
Wrex is the first krogan squadmate Shepard can recruit, and after being playable for Mass Effect 1 also rejoins Shepard during the Citadel DLC. I adore Wrex – he’s plenty of fun and great in a fight. Wrex has so much more personality than Grunt, which makes sense as he’s much older. But that personality makes him a more complex and enjoyable character, and someone who can usually be relied upon for some fun banter with both Shepard and other members of the team.
Wrex’s big moment came during the mission to Virmire, where Shepard intended to destroy a cure for the genophage – a disease which sterilised most krogan. Despite being a rough-and-ready mercenary, Wrex genuinely cares about his tribe and his race, something which comes through in Mass Effect 2 and 3. The krogan are, in some ways, comparable to the Klingons, and there’s room in every sci-fi series for that kind of violent warrior race!
Number 7: Thane Krios
Despite being an assassin for hire, Thane is remarkably sweet. As he comes to the end of his life he’s clearly spent a lot of time thinking about some of the things he did wrong, and at the top of his list is patching up his relationship with his son – which ultimately becomes the focus of his loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2.
The loyalty mission is another one that involves a fair amount of sneaking around, and trying to successfully trail a target atop the Citadel’s catwalks can be confusing – and a tad frustrating at points. But it’s a unique experience in the game! As a sniper, Thane can be useful in combat, though his abilities are fairly run-of-the-mill and don’t help him stand out. His sacrifice in Mass Effect 3 packs a real emotional punch, and is one of the few major character deaths in the entire trilogy that can’t be avoided.
Number 6: Tali’Zorah
Tali is very cute. The first time I played through Mass Effect 2 as male Shepard she was my romance option of choice! She’s a competent fighter, and when she first joins the mission that may come as a bit of a surprise. The quarian storyline is one of the series’ most interesting, and as the main quarian character we get to know, Tali is front-and-centre in helping us understand their plight.
The quarians created a race of AI – the geth – to serve as their servants. But when the geth became fully sentient the quarians attempted to shut them down, resulting in the loss of their homeworld. Ever since, quarians like Tali have been looked down on and mistreated – an analogy for many different minority groups in modern times.
Tali is a squadmate in all three games, and her combat drone – an ability she gains beginning with Mass Effect 2 – is one of the most useful powers any squadmate can have, as it provides an extra target for enemies to shoot at as well as an additional semi-squadmate, able to perform limited attacks of its own for a short period.
Number 5: Kaidan Alenko
When it comes to Kaidan, comparisons with Ashley are inescapable! As mentioned above, she’s okay. A by-the-book soldier who’s good at shooting but not much else. Kaidan, in comparison, oozes personality, and the experiences he has with Shepard take an emotional toll on him. If allowed to survive across the trilogy, Kaidan’s character arc is one of my favourites to see play out.
Raphael Sbarge, who voices the character, had previously voiced Carth Onasi in an earlier BioWare game – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. As I’d played that game at least four or five times before Mass Effect 1 that was odd for me at first, but Sbarge brings a raw emotional tone to the character of Kaidan that I quickly came to love.
In Mass Effect 3 Kaidan can be a romance option for male Shepard – one of only two same-sex romance options for male Shepard in the entire trilogy (both in Mass Effect 3, by the way). Kaidan’s vulnerability and the emotional portrayal won me over, but as a squadmate he’s a perfectly capable biotic with the usual biotic abilities.
Number 4: Mordin Solus
Mordin singing Gilbert and Sullivan – twice – has to be one of the most random things in the entire series! He’s a fun character, in some respects a somewhat stereotypical “mad scientist,” but as he proves on many occasions, he has heart. The complexity in his story comes from regretting his actions on repairing the genophage – the disease which prevents most krogan from having children.
Though he remains proud of his work from a technical point of view, he comes to see what he did as morally wrong, and would ultimately die putting it right – a death which can only be avoided under very specific (and rare) circumstances, meaning it’s an inevitability in most playthroughs. His death hits hard in Mass Effect 3, but he did what he believed to be right.
As a squadmate he’s surprisingly strong and good with a gun, which characters like this typically aren’t! He also has plenty of fun dialogue throughout Mass Effect 2, both with Shepard and others, and is another great character with real personality.
Number 3: Javik
It was an absolute crime to make Javik only accessible via paid DLC. The series’ first and only prothean character had a huge impact on Mass Effect 3, and it was patently obvious that the game and story were built with his presence in mind. He’s seamlessly integrated into the plot – which, coupled with the fact that he was launch-day DLC, seems to confirm that he was cut from the main game to be sold for more money.
Scummy business practices aside, Javik is awesome. He brings a totally different perspective to the Reaper war, and his very existence is proof that there are ways to defeat and outmanoeuvre what seems to be an unstoppable foe – something Shepard points out to him in a very moving moment on the Citadel.
Javik is a strong, decent fighter, and while his “Dark Channel” ability wasn’t unique (Shepard could also use it) it was very useful in a fight.
Number 2: Legion
I adore Legion. Having spent much of Mass Effect 1 and parts of Mass Effect 2 fighting the geth, Legion wanting to form an alliance could have felt like too much of a stretch – but the way it was written, and the performance by voice actor DC Douglas that brought Legion to life, were fantastic. Legion’s story of an internal geth conflict elevated the synthetic race from one-dimensional bad guys to something more complex, a theme that carried over to Mass Effect 3 where we’d learn more about their origin and goals.
Resolving the quarian-geth conflict is one of my absolute favourite moments in the entire series, and Legion plays a key role in it. Their death is the only other inevitable squadmate death in the series (along with Thane’s) and as such packs a serious emotional punch. Though we don’t usually get to spend as much time with Legion as I’d want (due to when they’re able to join the squad) he made an immediate and lasting impact on the story.
Legion is also a solid fighter, useful during the Suicide Mission, and both their shield and “AI Hacking” abilities can be incredibly useful.
Number 1: Garrus Vakarian
How could it possibly be anyone else at the top of this list?! Garrus is Commander Shepard’s BFF whether they’re male or female, and that relationship is one of the core storylines across the entire trilogy. Seeing Garrus and Shepard’s friendship play out across the games is what makes them worth playing, and even if all of the other squadmates and characters were boring one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, Garrus alone would save the Mass Effect trilogy!
He has plenty of fun banter with both Shepard and everyone else on the various teams that come together across the three titles, and his storyline takes him from frustrated cop to anti-mercenary vigilante – learning from Shepard that sometimes you have to go around the rules! Almost every playthrough I would end up picking Garrus for the majority of missions, because he’s just such great fun.
It helps, of course, that Garrus is a competent fighter, able to use powerful weapons and with different ammo at his disposal. If you’re heading into a heavy firefight or about to stare down an imposing boss, Garrus should be at the top of the list for squadmates to join you.
So that’s it! We’ve put all of Commander Shepard’s squadmates in ranked order.
One good thing about the upcoming Legendary Edition is that all three games, plus all of their DLC, will be available in one place. I don’t think that alone justifies the price – especially if you own the games and DLC already – but having everything in one package is good, and means that there will be none of the nonsense of DLC-only characters and missions any more. I was lucky at the time the Mass Effect trilogy was out to be able to afford to pick up the DLC, but I know of people who missed out on some of these characters and missions because they only had the base game, and that’s awfully sad. I hope this practice of cutting content to sell later – or even on day one – goes away soon.
Even the characters that I ranked at the lower end of this list have their moments and were generally well-written. There are very few characters across the Mass Effect trilogy that I felt were actually written badly or served no real purpose, even when considering NPCs who aren’t able to join the squad. Some are perhaps rather barebones, but all serve a purpose in the story and pad out the world of Mass Effect – making it feel real and immersive. In fact I’d say that Mass Effect is one of the best and most interesting sci-fi settings that I’ve had the opportunity to get to know, and while some aspects of it are certainly unoriginal it’s a well-constructed world populated with a diverse, fun set of characters.
I hope this was a bit of fun, and for me it was a chance to jump back into Mass Effect for the first time in a while. Though I’ve written on a couple of occasions about the impending Legendary Edition it’s been several years since I last played through the trilogy. Perhaps I’ll have to dust off my Xbox 360 and go around again.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition will be released in May 2021 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. The Mass Effect series – including all titles and characters listed above – is the copyright of Electronic Arts and BioWare. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.