The many Mass Effect endings you can see across the trilogy is what sets BioWare’s space saga apart from other RPGs. Though as with many choice-driven games, it’s often difficult to predict how your decisions will influence the ending. Note that significant Mass Effect spoilers follow.
BioWare complicated things with Mass Effect 3. The first two games have fewer endings, but the Mass Effect 3 ending factors in decisions made throughout the trilogy into your final ‘Effective Military Strength’ rating. This determines which conclusion you get and even if Shepard survives. The original Mass Effect 3 ending is determined by a combination of choices (War Assets) and participation in the game’s multiplayer mode, Galaxy at War. Mass Effect Legendary Edition removes multiplayer, however, but essentially you’ll just need to complete nearly all of your available objectives to get a high enough number for the best ending. Best to tick off everything, just to be sure.
Either way, you may want to start planning ahead as soon as you start the first game, to ensure all your favourite heroes survive the battles to come. This guide breaks down how to get the best Mass Effect ending each ending, and all the others just in case you’re curious.
There are two Mass Effect endings, one with a branching path. They all revolve around pursuing dealing with the Council in the Race Against Time: Final Battle mission, though none of them significantly influence how the trilogy unfolds. Choosing to save or abandon the Council still grants War Assets of some kind should you import your data to Mass Effect 3.
Mass Effect good ending: Save the Council
The Paragon decision is saving the Council. Shepard and their crew focus their efforts on answering the Council’s comms call for help and protect the Destiny Ascension. Humans gain some representation on the Council as a result.
The Council publicly expresses gratitude to Paragon Shepard and does so in private for Renegade Shepard, though it doesn’t really matter. Shepard then chooses the new representative: Udina (Renegade choice) or Anderson (Paragon).
This choice won't be permanent, however. You’re asked in Mass Effect 2 who Shepard chose, and that’s the one that locks the councillor in.
Mass Effect bad ending: Let the Council die or concentrate on Sovereign
Choosing to let the Council die earns Renegade points. This choice also has little lasting effect aside from slightly altering attitudes towards humans in Mass Effect 2 and giving different War Assets in Mass Effect 3.
The Council also dies if you choose to concentrate on Sovereign, but you get Paragon points instead. Anderson and Udina still retain their positions regardless of choice, but you won’t see the rest of the Council in the other Mass Effect games.
Whichever choice you make the Council will be entirely human if Shepard is mostly Renegade. It’s a mix of humans and other races if Shepard is mostly Paragon.
Mass Effect 2
The Mass Effect 2 endings are a bit more complicated and can be broadly classified as best, normal, and worst. The requirements for each depend on raising your crew’s loyalty and how you build your crew for the suicide mission. Failing some or all of these will earn the normal ending, where some crew members die, or the worst ending, where Shepard dies as well.
Mass Effect 2: Destroy Collector base or use radiation pulse
All the endings involve the same set of choices about dealing with the Collector Base. The obvious choice appears to be destroying the Collector base, but the Illusive Man recommends using a radiation pulse instead so you can salvage the base.
Destroy Collector base:
- Paragon choice.
- Earns Reaper Heart War Asset, which makes the Destroy ending in Mass Effect 3 more likely.
- The star behind the Illusive Man turns blue after you rejoin the Normandy.
Use radiation pulse:
- Renegade choice.
- Earn Reaper Brain War Asset, which makes the Control ending in Mass Effect 3 more likely.
- The star behind the Illusive Man turns red after you rejoin the Normandy.
- The original Mass Effect 3 added an additional 300 Effective Military Strength points to each ending tier requirement if you saved the base.
The other three endings branch off from the point you rejoin, or try to rejoin, the Normandy.
Mass Effect 2 best ending: How to keep everyone alive in the suicide mission
The best Mass Effect 2 ending happens if everyone survives the suicide mission, a feat requiring several steps to pull off.
Mass Effect 2 loyalty missions
You’ll need to successfully complete every crew member’s loyalty mission to secure their loyalty during the final sequence. Some loyalty missions can be failed:
- Tali: If you present evidence of her father’s experiment.
- Samara: If you don’t get Morinth’s attention.
- Zaeed: If you let Vido go and don’t persuade Zaeed to get over it.
- Thane: If you don’t follow the politician.
Tali and Legion, plus Jack and Miranda, will also get into fights after completing their respective loyalty missions. You’ll need a high Paragon or Renegade percentage to keep both parties happy.
Some loyalty missions also require a high enough Paragon or Renegade percentage to make choices that keep your crew mate’s loyalty. It’s often most effective to complete them in this order:
- Kasumi: Stealing Memory
- Mordin: Old Blood
- Grunt: Rite of Passage
- Miranda: The Prodigal
- Jacob: The Gift of Greatness
- Garrus: Eye for an Eye
- Thane: Sins of the Father
- Samara: The Ardat-Yakshi
- Jack: Subject Zero
- Zaeed: The Mercenary
- Tali: Treason
- Legion: A House Divided
Liara’s loyalty mission won’t count since she doesn’t join your crew.
You can complete loyalty missions at any time before you explore the Derelict Reaper, so put them off if you need to build your chosen morality more. After the Reaper IFF mission, you have time for one other mission—that’s when you should complete Legion’s.
Mass Effect 2 important Normandy upgrades
You’ll unlock multiple Normandy upgrades between the Collector and Reaper IFF missions by speaking to crewmates and choosing the ‘Investigate’ dialogue option. They’ll each suggest an upgrade, but you’ll need three specific ones to ensure everyone survives the suicide mission.
- Tali: Kinetic Barriers
- Garrus: Thanix Cannon
- Jacob: Heavy Ship Armor
Mass Effect 2 rescue crew immediately
Shortly after the mission starts, you’ll choose to either prepare some more or immediately go through the Omega 4 relay to rescue your crew. You must go immediately, or crucial crewmates will die.
The next step involves choosing the right members for the right jobs.
Mass Effect 2 Infiltration mission: Technical specialist and fire team leader
For the technical specialist, choose either:
For the fire team leader, choose either:
Mass Effect 2: The Long Walk mission
This second act has multiple vital choices.
Choose a loyal crew mate with low defense to escort the crew back to the Normandy:
- Mordin (best choice)
To create the biotic field, choose either:
- Samara or Morinth
The same ideal choices apply to the second fire team squad. Choose either:
Choose a crew member with strong defense to leave behind, such as Garrus, Zaeed, or Grunt. Take some of the remaining low-defense crewmates (Mordin, Kasumi, Jack, Tali) with you.
Mass Effect 2 normal ending: A bit of both
The normal ending includes everything from the best ending, only Shepard will mourn at the caskets of their fallen comrades. Losing anyone from the crew will result in the normal ending, but the same choices regarding the Collector Base will apply. Whomever dies in the suicide mission stays dead in Mass Effect 3 if you import your save data (which you should).
Mass Effect 2 bad ending: Shepard dies
The worst Mass Effect 2 ending sees Shepard die alongside their crew before rejoining the Normandy. Joker speaks with the Illusive Man, and Shepard’s casket joins the caskets of their fallen friends.
You’ll earn the worst ending by doing the opposite of everything for the best ending. It’s not recommended, since it means you can’t import your Shepard to Mass Effect 3 and have to start a new character.
If you want to see it (besides not raising loyalty) is choosing not to rescue your crew immediately. If you complete more than four assignments after that choice, everyone dies except Dr. Chakwas.
Mass Effect 3
For the Mass Effect 3 endings in the Legendary Edition, Effective Military Strength is determined completely through your exploits in singleplayer. Different Effective Military Strength ratings determine what choices you can make during the three ending paths, and the extended cut DLC included in Legendary Edition adds a fourth, independent option.
You can influence one specific interaction with the Illusive Man if you have 100% Paragon or Renegade, but it doesn’t affect the final ending.
Mass Effect 3 Destroy ending
Shepard destroys the Reapers and all synthetic life in the galaxy, including the Geth.
Mass Effect 3 Control ending
Shepard controls the Reapers, turning them into machines driven by artificial intelligence and essentially making Shepard ruler of the galaxy.
Mass Effect 3 Synthesis ending
The Synthesis ending fuses organic and synthetic lifeforms together, albeit without their permission.
Mass Effect 3 Refusal ending
The extended cut included with Legendary Edition adds an option for Shepard not to activate the Crucible, which will continue the cycle of conflict. It triggers two unique cutscenes, one where Liara records information for the next cycle to combat the Reapers with and a new Stargazer scene.
Mass Effect 3 Effective Military Strength
To get high Effective Military Strength, here’s what you’ll want to focus on throughout the trilogy.
- Complete as many side missions as possible to uncover War Assets and recruit important NPCs to your side.
- Scan as many planets as possible in Mass Effect 2 to uncover additional War Assets.
- Try to save life whenever you can, such as in the suicide mission (see above). Note: Sometimes the games reward you with unique assets for not saving life, such as a new general if you let the Council die in the first Mass Effect. These are typically not valuable enough from a War Asset standpoint to make a huge difference, so just focus on saving crewmates and main characters as often as possible.
Here are some other things to note about Effective Military Strength:
- In addition to influencing choice options, Effective Military Strength determines whether Earth survives, how many Normandy members survive, and if Shepard survives.
- The extended cut reduced the required EMS to 3,100, so presumably, that will be Legendary Edition’s EMS requirement as well—though we haven't been unable to confirm this at the time of writing.
- Mass Effect 3 also lets you replay the game from the start of the final mission to see how multiple endings would play out.
- The best ending sees Earth and most of the Normandy crew survive and leaves you with a tease that Shepard could be alive still. The others are variations on that, with various crew members dying, becoming synthesized, or Earth being destroyed.
- BioWare said the extended cut ending is the default ending in Legendary Edition, making it even more unclear what the rebalanced EMS will be like. However, the developer also said the same best practices for Galactic Readiness apply: completing as much side content as possible and keeping your crew alive.