The Mass Effect series was a masterpiece. Few games have reached its level of intricate setting and interwoven plotlines. One of its most important elements was its excellent characters. We're still reminiscing about them years after their heyday. However, for the sake of this list, we'll try to avoid ranking characters by relationships or character development, and instead focus on their combat ability, both in-canon and in-game.
Now, power is a tricky subject in Mass Effect, as the technology has become advanced enough that many characters effectively become superheroes. With technological advancements such as kinetic shields, biotic prosthetics, medi-gel, and the various weaponry available, just about anyone can overcome most of the disparities between the races if they're well-funded and have connections. Considering this, many characters show their prowess through outsmarting their enemies.
To level the playing field, we won't be considering anyone larger than a truck; like the Thorian, the Rachni Queen, or any of the Reapers. And, we're only considering legitimate combatants here (mainly bosses and squadmates), so we'll have to ignore characters like Joker (with his brittle body) or Niftu Cal (the Biotic God). Read on for eight of the most impressive in battle, and seven of the least, from the Mass Effect universe (in no particular order). Spoilers ahead!
15 Powerful: Thane Krios
Thane Krios is a member of the endangered drell race, and was trained in the ways of quick assassinations from the age of six, taking his first life at twelve, and eventually becoming the most skilled in the galaxy. He does give up his contract with his hanar employers to settle down and have a family. But after his wife was murdered, Thane hunts down and kills each of the perpetrators, making sure to let them suffer slowly.
Gosh, what I wouldn't give to team up with Thane during his golden years. He is highly competent in stealthily sniping out targets, but is also proficient in hand-to-hand combat and biotics. Now, why not put Cerberus' cyborg assassin here instead? For starters, because Kai Leng was only a near-even match with Thane when he didn't have any gear and in the last stages of a terminal disease.
14 Weakest: Kaidan Alenko
Okay, I know nobody is surprised to see Kaidan on this side of the list. He might be the most disliked squadmate in the entire Mass Effect original trilogy. Despite his apparent skill in the lore, he was just average in his first appearance. And when it comes to support abilities, he was quickly overshadowed by Liara. As a human biotic, perhaps he just wasn't meant to become the psychic powerhouse that other aliens could reach more naturally.
As a Sentinel, one might expect him to have good survivability over most of the others, at least. But despite his looks, the man has noticeably low durability. In his defense, if you're one of the few players who has Kaidan alive by Mass Effect 3, his potential skyrockets, becoming one of the best biotic squadmates a commander could ask for.
13 Powerful: Jack
I suppose I have to take back what I said about humans not being suited to biotics. Jack (aka Subject Zero) was a dangerous pirate and murderer that Shepard breaks out of prison. She went through torturous experimentation since she was abducted at the age of four, until she became the biotic psychotic she's known as today. Their philosophy was that pain would break down mental barriers to clear the way for more biotic power.
Her appearances in cinematics make her seem extremely fierce, but when she joins Shepard in Mass Effect 2, Jack isn't the best biotic on the team. In contrast to Asari biotics, she focuses her abilities entirely offensively. After completing her loyalty mission, however, her Warp Ammo skill goes fairly well with the rest of her abilities.
12 Weakest: Mordin Solus
Don't get me wrong, if someone asked me who my favorite character from Mass Effect was, Mordin would be a heavy contender. But in-game, the times to bring Mordin on a mission are pretty situational. He's just not the best of the smattering of tech-junkies throughout the series, or even among the handful of them in Mass Effect 2.
Salarians only live about half as long as humans do, so by the time you meet Mordin, he's already fairly old. He was formerly in the Special Tasks Group, who specialize in assassination, espionage, and counterterrorism. By listening to his memoirs, it's apparent that Mordin —in his prime— might have been a better match for some of the heavy-hitters in the series. Suffice to say, Mordin's shining moments are as a scientist (or a friend) rather than a fighter.
11 Powerful: Kasumi Goto
Kasumi Goto might just be the greatest thief throughout the entire galaxy. Sometimes she leaves her victims not even knowing they've been burgled. She employs the use of cloaking and hologram decoys to trick opponents. Though she is capable with firearms, she's also a skilled martial fighter (at least in the comics). In her loyalty mission, Kasumi does some moves right out of the Matrix as she jumps onto a gunship to take down its shields.
Admittedly, many players find Miranda to be the better tech-using squadmate in Mass Effect 2, but Kasumi is less support- more offense. Her unique skill, Shadow Strike is potentially amazing, particularly if it's evolved to allow cooldown refreshes for repeated assassinations. Perhaps not many respect tech-types, nor the deadly capabilities of stealth characters overall, but Kasumi is an underrated master.
10 Weakest: Maya Brooks
It's easy to remember Brooks as the worst part of the Citadel DLC. She starts out claiming to be a Staff Analyst that has noticed discrepancies with your records. She is actually an agent that used to work for Cerberus, but is now teamed up with a clone of Shepard. Perhaps it isn't fair to consider her as useless for the short time that she's a squadmate, because she's actively trying to work against you.
When she does reveal her betrayal, she likens herself to the Miranda of her partnership. Now, I'm admittedly a bit of a Miranda-hater, but Brooks' skills certainly don't compare. As an enemy, she's only annoying for surviving, as she runs around cloaked whenever her shields are down, and she's scripted never to die as she will be revived by clone-Shepard whenever she's taken down.
9 Powerful: Aria T'Loak
Don't mess with Aria. She's the pirate queen of the Omega station, striking fear into everyone in the system. In Mass Effect 3, when Shepard helps Aria reclaim Omega, she temporarily joins him in battle. And apparently, she's one of the few characters who are as strong in-game as they are in the story.
Aria is a strong example of the stereotype that asari biotics are best used for support. Even without her unique nuke, Flare, she would still be the strongest biotic in the game. It does sadden me that I couldn't fit Nyreen (the other squadmate on Omega) onto this list, as one of the few biotic turians. The two are serious psychic champions, especially when they deign to work together.
8 Weakest: Liam Kosta
Here he is, the lamest of the permanent, human squadmates throughout the series. Sure, Jacob, James, and Ashley get a fair amount of hate for being boring, but at least they're still competent frontline soldiers until the player can recruit a krogan to replace them. Mass Effect: Andromeda breaks the precedent set by the trilogy by not bringing any unforgettable teammates to the fray, and Liam is the worst of them.
He really could have been one of my favorite characters with his skillset. Using a jump jet to get around quickly and stunning/damaging opponents with omni-blades sounds cool in theory. But as a close-range fighter, he should either have been more durable or quicker. And since he doesn't do much damage, he's also poor utility-wise. There isn't any reason to bring him on missions unless you listen to him pissing you off.
7 Strongest: Urdnot Wrex
Everyone loves having a krogan on their team. If you ever need someone big to draw enemy fire and take hits like a boss, a krogan will do the job. No one forgets how difficult it was to beat the Krogan Battlemaster in the first game. And no one can deny just how powerful krogans are in the lore; that every race could really use a squad of krogans on their side if they want to win ground battles.
Now, I think it's fair to say Wrex is more powerful than the still-relevant old man Drack (who's seen over fourteen centuries of conflict). But is Wrex stronger than Grunt? I'd say so. Grunt is smaller, inexperienced, and too young to have completely grown in his head's plate armor. Sure, with Grunt's DNA he already outperforms most krogan, and will likely overcome Wrex one day. But in the meantime, there is none more fierce than Urdnot Wrex.
6 Weakest: Tali'Zorah Nar Rayya
Somehow, it seems like my favorite characters always get the short end of the stick. Tali is the resident tech expert throughout the trilogy, and is quite the loyal squadmate. She's notably useful in the first game, knocking down geth after geth after geth. That being said, the number of synthetic enemies really dwindles in the sequels, leaving her without as much damage she can do. In the suicide mission at the end of Mass Effect 2, she is the second-weakest after Mordin, and thus second-most likely to die.
Now, she's great at her specialty. But otherwise, she's fairly squishy in combat. And in the lore, she can easily become extremely ill from any foreign germs with a single rupture to her suit. Sure, any other quarian would be better in this spot that Tali, as she's an exceptional member of their race. But there's almost never a time when we see another quarian fight in-game.
5 Powerful: Zaeed Massani
Zaeed is a fearsome bounty hunter and mercenary. He was one of the founders of the Blue Suns when it was mainly for private security, before it became involved deeper and deeper in distasteful crimes (like the slave trade). When Zaeed protested, his partner shot him in the head, after which he fell into alcoholism before hearing he was 'washed-up' and got back into the mercenary life as an independent contractor.
Zaeed will take down just about anyone for the right price, and does so ruthlessly. I don't know how, or why, but this grizzled old human without depth perception is a monster on the battlefield. He can take down just about any type of enemy or armor with his array of combat abilities. And as a teammate, he doesn't even really require micromanaging, capable of simply being the cover fire and assault line on his own.
4 Weakest: Jaal Ama Darav
It's good to see more aliens on the weak side of this list. The games seem almost unfairly weighted against humans. Some players consider Jaal from Mass Effect: Andromeda as a weaker version of Javik from ME3. Honestly, I don't feel like their gameplay is all too similar though. At the very least, while Javik was an all-around average soldier that didn't specialize in anything, at least he was somewhat versatile.
But Jaal's main utility is pretty much solely in his Energy Drain. Other than that, he's squishy and does pretty poor damage for a sniper. And sadly, Jaal just doesn't bring much else to the table. Sure, as a character, he's alright. But many compare him to Liam in uselessness. Even after investing a lot of time and credits into optimizing his build, he still never shines.
3 Powerful: Saren Arterius
Let's talk about a character you never get to play with. I wanted a token turian to make the list, and Saren makes for a pretty strong choice. Some might argue that as the final boss of the first game, he's become outdated in strength by the time Shepard moves on to tougher opponents. But objectively, he's a monster with both biotic ability as well as cybernetic replacement parts that necessitates a three-on-one fight to take him down.
Saren is a ruthless ex-Spectre with heavy military training and ruthless cunning. He's immune to most biotic attacks, and his hovercraft makes him difficult to hit. But Saren becomes even more powerful after he dies, as he has enough synthetic parts for Sovereign to reanimate his corpse, using tech abilities rather than biotics. In this form, he is extremely quick and is able to shoot a mass of energy at you.
2 Weakest: Wilson
For the weakest character in all the games, perhaps we should look to temporary squadmates. The very first mission in each game of the trilogy, Shepard gets a stand-in without anything useful to them in his party, before never joining them again. But out of all of them, perhaps Wilson is the very worst. I mean, Jenkins and Admiral Anderson are at least loyal to you.
But Wilson? Early on, he's shown to be a traitor, so Miranda shoots him in the throat. Players did speculate that since Wilson betrayed Cerberus, he could have been a good guy; but reading into his motives reveals that he was on the Shadow Broker's payroll. Perhaps the only good thing about him turning on his team is that it allows for Shepard to wake from his coma sooner.
1 Powerful: Commander Shepard
And here's the strongest character in the Mass Effect series. Sadly, it's a bit expected, but still entirely relevant. There is no one that goes through (and surpasses) as many messed up shenanigans than Commander Shepard. He graduated from the N7 special forces program, proved himself during the Skyllian Blitz, and became the first human to become a Spectre. At 14, he had gained biotic inclination, and after the events of the first game, he is fitted with synthetics as well.
Regardless of which build path the player takes, Shepard is able to learn a vast array of abilities, particularly from building relationships with his squadmates. Many recall the battle with clone-Shepard as the most difficult to overcome in the hardest difficulty. Perhaps this is a testament to the original's versatility and sheer dominance over all other characters.