The Mass Effect trilogy is defined by player choice. Your decisions in the game make each playthrough unique, whether it’s who you leave on Virmire, what you do with the Geth source code, or who you romance. We Mass Effect fans even identify playthroughs in these terms: this is my Kaidan playthrough, this is my Jackmance playthrough, and so on. What we don’t tend to talk about that much though is the very first decision you make in the game, even though it’s arguably the most important: which class do you play as? Before the remasters launch, maybe we should talk about it, because it seems like a lot of people are missing out.
There are three basic classes in Mass Effect, which for clarity I’m going to call Guns, Biotics, and Tech. They have real names, but this shorthand is the best way of making it clear which one I’m talking about. There are also three crossover classes, so half Guns, half Biotics, as well as half Guns, half Tech, and finally half Biotics, half Tech. For the record, you get guns in every class, but the Guns class is like, extra guns.
The Guns class is exactly what you’d expect. This class gives you access to a lot more guns and better armour. Biotics meanwhile have the abilities to move things with their mind, and can throw people through the air or hit enemies with energy orbs. Finally, the Tech class allows you to hack enemy AI, send combat drones or turrets into the field, or freeze people. Personally, I usually go for something with a Biotic flavour, because being Biotic feels unique to Mass Effect in a way that Guns and Tech aren’t, so it just feels right for my Shepard to be a Biotic, even if that means my team is often unbalanced thanks to a preference for taking Liara, Wrex, and Jack into battle.
Even if you don’t play my way though, I’d never argue you were playing the game wrong. At least, not if you chose five of the six classes. If you choose the Soldier class – the pure Guns and nothing else class – it feels like you’re missing out on huge aspects of the game, and massively underselling who Commander Shepard is. Mass Effect lets you create a hero with a range of different, unique abilities which can elevate the game’s gunplay and offer new, exciting options to every skirmish. It also just lets you shoot people.
I don’t think this would get to me as much if it wasn’t for the fact the Soldier class is far and away the most popular. Of the six classes, a huge 43.7 percent of players opted for guns, guns, and more guns when Mass Effect 3 first released. The next two most popular were Infiltrator and Vanguard, which are the half Tech, half Guns and half Biotic, half Guns builds respectively, although I have no objection to either of those. In total, less than a quarter of players used a non-Guns build as pure Biotic or pure Tech. Again, this is just shorthand; you do still get guns whatever you play as.
To be honest, I’m struggling to understand why Soldier is so popular. I’ve played Mass Effect loads of times in a variety of ways – including Soldier to see what the fuss was about – and well, I still can’t see what the fuss is about.
I know this is all a little bit Principal Skinner, “Am I so out of touch? No, it’s the Soldiers who are wrong,” but I just don’t see what Soldiers get out of it. I’ll grant you it makes the game a bit easier, but Mass Effect is not a punishingly difficult game on the default setting, and the difficulty can be dialled down further. Aside from that, why play it? Biotics get to fling people about, Techs get a helpful little drone buddy, but Soldiers just get to shoot stuff. You know, like you can in every other video game ever. Almost every other one, at least. And the gunplay isn’t varied enough that a Soldier’s extra loadout even feels worth it, so the extra guns are only a benefit in situations of low ammo, situations where Biotic and Tech players have built-in workarounds for anyway. What’s more, the remasters will remove the weapon restrictions of the first game, meaning the Biotics among us won’t be restricted to pistols alone.
Maybe it’s just the comfort of the familiar. I get that, I really do. I’ll be romancing Liara and flirting with Samara until she tells me she’s just not that into me all over again. I’m going to try to be less of a dick in the Mass Effect remasters, but for the most part I’ll make a lot of the same choices, take the same favourites on the same missions, and play it just like I did originally. But if you’re playing as a Soldier because it’s familiar to you from other games, you’re missing out on Shepard’s true heroism.
You don’t get new dialogue options because of your class choice, not even inconsequential ones like in Cyberpunk 2077. That Shepard shouldn’t just be a hero is nothing I have logical justification for, it’s all emotional. Not only is a generic gunner way too bland for such a complex hero like Shepard, it plays into the game’s worst tendencies to side with militarism. Throwing someone across the room with your mind feels like less of an endorsement for the military-industrial complex than shooting them in the face with an assault rifle because being Biotic sets you firmly in the realm of “space magic,” while the guns seem harsh and real and violent. The game is at its worst when it lives by a “my way or violence” philosophy, and playing as a Soldier feels like tacit support for that standpoint in a way a futuristic Tech build does not.
The Mass Effect series throws up some interesting questions about the need for militarism in a crisis, the flaws of bureaucracy, the need for democracy amongst different philosophies, and the role any one person can play in changing the world. The problem is, it often goads you into Renegading, into accepting the first answer without probing at these questions deeper, and that renders them all a little blunt and ineffective. It’s perfectly possible to be a Paragon Soldier, and indeed likely that many players were (65 percent of players were Paragon versus 35 percent Renegade), but Soldier just feels like the Renegade option, just as pure Biotic feels more Paragon. Solving every problem you’re faced with through a barrage of bullets is a very Renegade worldview.
Beyond that, it’s just boring. The shooting is decent, but you’re not getting the full Mass Effect experience unless you’re able to fire off Biotic shockwaves or fry the Geth’s inner circuits. If you were one of that 43.7 percent, why not try something different this time around? Go on, I dare you.
Next: The Mako Was Fine, You’re Only Annoyed About Mass Effect’s Checkpoints
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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