The original Mass Effect trilogy looms large in gaming history for its compelling story, morally weighty decisions, fantastic voice acting, and compelling characters. Shepard struggled against the Reapers with the aid of many, and the sacrifices of many more, but it was the games’ companions who we came to truly know and love.
This ranking of the original Mass Effect companions includes all original and DLC options from across the trilogy. In order to be considered, companions needed to appear in the standard roster in at least one title; single mission or DLC companions, while wonderful in their own ways, were omitted.
20 Liara T’Soni
An Asari scientist and an enormous pain in the ass, Liara T’Soni is the only companion you can’t get killed and, frankly, that’s a shame. Liara’s lack of empathy for Shepard or her crewmates and unbelievable character arc makes her wholly unpalatable.
Absent the malicious glee of Morinth or the surprising dedication of Miranda, there’s nothing about Liara as a character that’s really likable and certainly nothing that merits the plot armor she’s been given. Even many of Liara’s struggles, such as the complex dynamics of parent-child relationships, are handled better by other characters in more complex and fulfilling ways.
Morinth is, quite literally, a femme fatale. Known as an Ardat-Yakshi, Morinth suffers from a genetic disorder that causes her to kill her partners when joining minds by accidentally inducing a cerebral hemorrhage. Each kill renders the Ardat-Yakshi smarter and stronger, and it is for this reason that they are feared and shunned by Asari society; once discovered, an Ardat-Yakshi is presented with a choice: death or a lifetime of seclusion.
Morinth, however, chose a third option: A 500-year pan-galactic murder spree. With an impressive trail of bodies behind her, she is a formidable biotic, on par with her mother, Samara.
It should be noted, of course, that Morinth is a romance option for a sufficiently stupid Shepard — and yes, it ends as badly as you’d expect.
18 Jacob Taylor
Jacob Taylor is an otherwise good man who is working for the wrong people. A survivor of the attack on Eden Prime, Jacob grew disillusioned with the Alliance military’s response and instead joined Cerberus.
This was, perhaps, not the best career move.
There’s nothing wrong with Jacob. He’s the first ally Shepard meets after waking up in the Lazarus Project’s lab, and he’s as amiable as one could hope for, given the circumstances. Sure, if you go the romance route, he’s not exactly faithful to your lady Shepard during the forced six-month breakup, but he’s a decent man who’s managed not to repeat the actions of his father — which, while faint praise, certainly counts for something.
17 Zaeed Massani
Zaeed Massani is, for want of a better term, a bit of a jerk. He’s a bounty hunter and a mercenary; as the co-founder of the infamous Blue Suns, his skill as a combatant is prodigious and his scars are plenty.
Despite his claims of pure and total financial motivation, however, there is some good in Zaeed after all. Mass Effect 3 finds him having turned down a lucrative offer from Cerberus and, instead, running ops to disrupt their work. He even risks his life to save Volus ambassador (Din Korlack) and comes to pledge himself to the war effort.
The Protheans are a topic of much debate and discussion in the Mass Effect universe, spurred on by their mysterious disappearance — later revealed to be their complete and utter annihilation by the Reapers at the completion of the last cycle.
Well, almost complete.
Javik is the last living Prothean. He is surly and dismissive, frustrated by the reality of being surrounded by those he finds primitive. As the game progresses, Javik struggles not only with winning against a seemingly unstoppable foe but by the prospect of just what to do should that impossible victory occur.
And, of course, finding new and innovative ways to drive Liara mad.
15 James Vega
James Vega is the new player surrogate; he’s new to the Normandy, new to the concept of Reapers, and new to almost everything else.
While this could make him grating, there’s a sort of charm to Vega. He’s often used as a way for the audience to explore the stress of the war on Shepard and manages to be good fun in the process. There’s a kind of ballsiness in referring to your commanding officer as “Lola” or “Loco,” but he makes it work. Vega clicks well with the existing crew and cares for his shipmates, even as the newcomer to the party.
Vega also makes some killer eggs.
Samara is a deeply principled Asari warrior, a woman of great conviction and deep compassion. As a Justicar, she is committed to seeing justice done, no matter the cost; as a mother, she has suffered terrible losses. The resulting interplay, along with the demands of the Justicar code on her everyday life, makes for a fascinating character.
Samara demonstrates a willingness to listen to Shepard that’s among the best onboard. Understanding both duty and loss, she offers her Commander valuable perspective as events unfold. Despite being perhaps the most skilled and powerful biotic of the Normandy’s complement, she lacks the arrogance that might otherwise accompany such a feat.
13 Kaidan Alenko
Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko has been through a lot. From having been wired with the neurologically disastrous L2 implants to having accidentally killed a brutal Turian instructor as the Alliance’s Biotic Acclimation and Temperance Training (aka “brain camp”), life hasn’t always been kind to Kaidan — to put it lightly.
Despite this, Kaidan is a compassionate crewman who values the lives of his friends and shipmates, as well as the millions of innocents imperiled by the Reaper threat. His demonstrates patience and care, even in the face of disastrous situations. While his reunion with Shepard following the events of Mass Effect 2 isn’t initially the warmest, after regaining the now-Spectre’s trust, he is every bit the man the Commander remembers.
12 Ashley Williams
Ashley doesn’t start out with the makings of a great companion. She’s rude to her alien shipmates and expresses opinions that have gotten her labeled in some circles as a ‘space racist.’ While Ashley’s opinions certainly are cause for alarm, especially in her potentially fatal confrontation with Wrex, as she opens up to Shepard, sharing more about her family and her upbringing, she gradually shows a willingness to change
With a little help from Shepard and the patience of her crewmates, she comes to show real growth. If she survives Virmire, the Ashley players meet in Mass Effect 3 is a confident, competent Spectre who is able to not only work with but show compassion for her alien friends and colleagues.
11 Kasumi Goto
Kasumi Goto brings her own kind of charm and warmth to the Normandy's corridors. She has a collection of physical books, explaining that she loves the smell of them. She’s wise to the scuttlebutt among the crew and, despite her personal loss, Kasumi still finds joy in what she does. Her ultimate decision to join the fight against the Reapers, rather than to retreat into her grief while waiting for the end of all life, becomes an affirmation of the importance of even individual choices in the face of great evil.
Kasumi is also just fun to take along. Her loyalty mission is a delightful caper and gives Shepard the rare excuse to play dress up. Her playful attitude and compassion for others shine through, even with the limited time players are given with her.
10 Miranda Lawson
Miranda Lawson is arguably the most polarizing of Shepard’s crewmates. She’s been engineered to be genetically perfect and, especially early on, is loath to let anyone, especially Shepard, forget it. Her icy demeanor, however, is a means of masking her own serious self-doubt. Engineered to her father’s specifications, Miranda questions if she really has done anything of her own merit —if she is capable of possessing such a thing—or if it is all an extension of her father’s wishes.
Miranda's commitment to protecting her younger sister, Oriana, as well as her eventual betrayal of the organization that first allowed her to strike out on her own, speaks to the fact that there’s much more going on beneath the surface of the “Cerberus cheerleader” than meets the eye.
9 Urdnot Grunt
In a deleted bit of dialogue from Mass Effect 3, Anderson asks a female Shepard if she had ever considered starting a family and having kids. What he failed to realize, however, was that Shepard already has a child: Grunt.
The tank-bred Krogan had big shoes to fill when he debuted in Mass Effect 2 but managed to carve out his own place, both in Krogan society and in the hearts of players around the world. His appearance in Mass Effect 3: Citadel DLC, in which an exasperated Shepard has been summoned to deal with some teenage exuberance gone wild, sums up everything that makes Grunt great.
It’s safe to say Jack’s first impression isn’t the best. Clad in pants and leather straps just wide enough to keep her chest from being declared wholly indecent, the optics, and Jack’s attitude, aren’t great. A victim of sadistic Cerberus experiments throughout her childhood, Jack is surly, violent, and in it only for herself — or so it seems.
As she works to come to terms with her past and the person it has shaped her into, a new side of Jack emerges; while she never loses her edge or her gloriously foul mouth, she is willing to open up to those she considers friends, and to begin to care for people — especially her students.
Players spend Mass Effect 2 deciding whether or not to trust EDI, the Cerberus AI installed about the Normandy SR-2. A true artificial intelligence (as opposed to the more common pre-programmed virtual intelligence encountered elsewhere in the series), EDI proved her loyalty to Shepard and the rest of the crew in the face of a devastating attack by the Collectors.
EDI’s razor-sharp wit and banter with Joker is a highlight of both games in which she appears, while her commentary on the field after repurposing the Cerberus body is a delight.
Perhaps some of the funniest moments of Mass Effect 3 come from her attempts at wooing Joker, attempts which eventually lead to a surprisingly sweet, surprisingly human romance.
The first Mass Effect established the Geth as powerful enemies, able to cloak as easily as they deployed turrets. Tali’s tales of the plight of her people and the loss of their homeworld did nothing to improve players’ opinions of the synthetic species.
It all seemed so simple.
Legion’s first appearance, having repurposed a damaged fragment of N7 armor for a chest piece and ready to assist Shepard and teammates aboard a derelict Reaper, provided an immediate and startlingly clear counterpoint. Philosophically-minded and willing to engage with questions of Geth history, culture, and personhood, Legion proved that yes, these units could have a soul.
5 Mordin Solus
A brilliant Salarian doctor with a taste for Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs, Mordin Solus doesn’t really fit the profile of a man who has, technically, engineered a slow genocide that has driven countless desperate people to unspeakable horrors. A former member of the elite Salarian Special Tasks group, Mordin is dangerously capable in a fight or when roasting his crewmate and Commander.
Mordin’s quest for redemption, his attempt to set right what he has done wrong, is one of Mass Effect’s most emotionally compelling threads and can lead to one of game three’s most heartbreaking deaths as Mordin makes the ultimate sacrifice, singing all the way.
4 Thane Krios
A deeply thoughtful, pious man, Thane Krios is rumored to be the galaxy’s most skilled assassin, trained under the watchful, jiggly tentacles of the Hanar.
He is also dying of an incurable disease.
Thane is a study of violence, grace, and loss. He prays for forgiveness after each kill, and with his dying breaths, offers the same prayer for Shepard. His greatest wish is to prevent his son, Kolyat, from following in his footsteps; his attempts to steer his son down a different path reunite the father and son, long estranged by their mutual grief and Thane’s frequent absences. In a game that is so often marked by the struggles of parent-child relationships, Thane’s arc is ultimately a demonstration of the forgiveness he so often seeks.
3 Urdnot Wrex
It could have been easy to write the Krogan off as mindless brutes, uplifted by the Salarians as a means to repel the Rachni invasion, then sterilized by those same forces when their taste for expansion and aggression proved too great. In short, the audience’s sympathy for the galaxy’s former shock troops was going to be wholly dependent on the first Krogan with whom players spent any significant time.
Thankfully, that was Wrex.
It’s not that Wrex isn’t violent. He revels in carnage and the chaos of battle, even when that chaos means Reapers and thresher maws. Wrex is more than that, however. He’s thoughtful and direct, even eloquent at times. He is dedicated, heart and soul, to the survival of his people in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds and is willing to take great risks to ensure it.
Wrex is also one of Shepard’s staunchest allies on the galactic stage, welcoming his friend back from the dead and placing his trust in the Commander once again, even in the face of Cerberus’ involvement.
2 Tali’Zorah Vas Normandy
In terms of character growth and development, it’s difficult to beat Tali’s arc across the games. From an enthusiastic young Quarian determined to help her people on Pilgrimage to an Admiral working to reclaim her homeworld in light of her father’s sins, Tali faces challenge and triumphs over it - even when the cost to do so is great.
It also doesn’t hurt that Tali’s hilarious. From announcing “I have a shotgun” to a prying Garrus to feting Miranda with a bit of “Turian brandy, tripled filtered, and introduced into the suit through an emergency induction port,” Tali’s charm knows no bounds.
1 Garrus Vakarian
From C-Sec officer to Archangel and even a military advisor to the Primarch, Garrus Vakarian is among Shepard’s most loyal friends and allies, ready to return to the Normandy's battery at a moment’s notice. Despite his obsessive attention to the ship’s weapons system, he is always there when Shepard needs him most, be it as a sniper and right-hand man or as a friend.
While Garrus never hesitates to give voice to his concerns, particularly when freeing the Rachni Queen or upon hearing Shepard is now dealing with Cerberus, his trust and belief in the Commander never waver.
Garrus is also an excellent tango dancer, as any romanced female Shepard will attest.