Abusive Precursors: Good God, the Reapers seem to be trying to set the record for most abusive:
The Reapers deliberately left Lost Technology around for future species to find to encourage them to evolve along the lines they want — thus making it easier to completely obliterate them when they return to "Reap" what they have sown. ME2 suggests that they do this to reproduce; humans kidnapped by the Collectors are melted down into organic slush which forms the core of a Reaper. You're not even safe if you don't fit into their designs. The Protheans were unfit to become Reapers, so instead they were kept as slaves. Eventually they were genetically and mechanically altered to the point where they become the Collectors.
The last of the Protheans sacrificed themselves in order to sabotage the Reaper's plans for future sentient races when they realized their own race was doomed due to a non-viable population size. They altered the keepers so that they would not respond to the Reapers' signals in order to sabotage their control of the relays and left beacons to warn of the coming danger. Their efforts are the only reason the galaxy has a chance in hell against the Reapers.
Considering that most sentient races tend to find "Prothean relics" within easy reach to develop their FTL technology, it may be that the Reapers are intentionally seeding those planets with the new starting point of what they intend to become new sentient races to once again enter a new cycle of ascension and annihilation, to become either Reaper larva juice or a new slave race as the Collectors did.
The Protheans themselves, as Javik reveals in Mass Effect 3 — The Protheans forced other races to become subservient to their empire, contrary to the impressions Liara had previously had of them as a species of scholars.
Finally, as of ME3, it turns out that the Reapers are just following the Catalyst's instructions, preventing the eventual destruction of all organic life by synthetic life. The Catalyst itself was an AI created by an ancient race that had a really nasty synthetic vs. organic war. They created the Catalyst to solve the problem of synthetic/organic conflict. The Reapers were the Catalyst's solution, and its creators did not approve... but the Catalyst didn't listen and turned them into the first Reaper — Harbinger. The creators of the Reapers were a race known as the Leviathans. For the Leviathans, the other species in the galaxy were mere thralls, while they viewed themselves as the galaxy's apex life form. They created the Catalyst so that these other species would no longer be destroyed by their synthetic creations (and, in turn, the Leviathans would have more servants at their disposal — or so they thought). Then the Catalyst turned on them.
A Commander Is You: While Mass Effect isn't a strategy game, the different civilizations all have unique doctrines that afford themselves to the characterisations in this trope.
Humans: Balanced/Ranger. Of course. Also promote rapid response and mobility: infantry tend to be mechanized, and provided with excellent air support.
Asari: Elitist/Guerilla. Emphasize small units of elite biotic warriors in guerilla-style combat.
Turian: Balanced/Brute. Favour straightforward combined-arms warfare with disciplined and highly-trained troops. Similar to humans, but with more emphasis on hitting hard rather than hitting fast.
Salarian: Technical/Espionage. Favour stealth, infiltration and elite strike steams sabotaging enemy operations behind enemy lines. Many of them are scientists, so also Research.
Quarian: Ranger/Specialist. They have one of the biggest and strongest fleets in the galaxy. When they fight planetside, they do so with small strike teams of marines. Also tend to have excellent engineers, which may also make them Technical.
Krogan: Originally Brute/Game Breaker due to extreme toughness and high birthrate. After the genophage, doctrine has shifted to highly-trained, heavily-equipped berserker-style troops, making them more Elitist/Brute.
Geth: Spammer/Research. They are probably the most technologically advanced civilization in the galaxy, and being robots, they don't care much for losses because they don't "die" in the traditional sense. May also be Gimmick due to how their Hive Mind works.
Volus: Economist/Diplomat. Although it is stated that the Volus have their own military, it is very small and geared towards supporting the Turian military forces, who offer protection in exchange for financial tithes and economic know-how from the Volus.
Batarian: Balanced. Like humans and Turians, the Batarians are militaristic and favour good ol' fashioned straight-up warfare. Also, being a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for North Korea, complete with oppressive regime, maybe puts them under Loyal.
Action Girl: Every non-civilian female and many of the civilian females. Also, if you so choose, Commander Shepard herself.
Aggressive Negotiations: Several hostage situations can turn into these, depending on how you play them. In the first game, one mission in particular is meant to end this way and will only be assigned if you get a reputation for it.
Agony Beam: The Neural Shock power. It gets assimilated into Overload in the third game in the form of one of the later power evolutions.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Appears to be played straight, then subverted to hell and back. Council law expressly forbids the use of AI, so people get by with "virtual intelligences", which appear to be nothing more than slightly upgraded Clippits. During the first game you're forced to fight two rogue computers, and of course there are the geth, who fought a devastating war with their masters the quarians, and ended up driving them into exile. However, it is precisely because of organic prejudice against machine intelligence that most AIs try to kill their masters, because the AIs know what will happen to them. And the geth? Upon learning that they had gained sentience, the quarians sent out a blanket order to shut them down. It's not difficult to feel some sympathy for them, even as you gun them down across the galaxy.
And in the second game the Normandy gains an artificial intelligence named EDI. Kept secure behind physical barriers, EDI acts as Mission Control to Shepard and is actually rather friendly. And you get to learn more about the geth via Legion, your geth squadmate. The geth in the first game were considered "heretics" by the rest of the geth, and actually split off from the "true" geth. Not only are the true geth peaceful, they purposely isolate themselves from organics for both their protection and that of the organics. They regret their actions against the quarians and are repairing the damage to their homeworld; they don't even use it, they live in space. The geth would gladly let the quarians return, if they could give up their desire to commit genocide. As for EDI, Joker is forced to take down the barriers during a Collector attack. Despite an initial moment of panic, it turns out she's still loyal to Joker, Shepard, and the rest of the crew.
EDI: I enjoy the sight of humans on their knees. (beat) That was a joke.
EDI also reveals that she was the rogue AI you fought on the Moon, in one of the game's first side-missions.
Finally zig-zagged in Mass Effect 3: The reason the Reapers started the cycle of extinction was because apparently synthetics will always rebel against their creators, devastating the organic species of the galaxy. The Catalyst AI chose to break this cycle by rebelling against its creators. Further, the Reapers do not see themselves as AIs since they contain the essence of the species they harvested, but the Catalyst and at least one ending confirm that they are not truly "sapient" (whereas sapient is defined as the ability to make independent decision and judgment) — the Catalyst rebuts Shepard's disbelief that the Reapers are not interested in war by stating that they are only doing what the Catalyst programmed them to do. And if Shepard takes the Control option, the Reapers will obey him/her immediately, with no opinion contrary to the matter. So the Catalyst and its solution ultimately play the trope straight, but the argument the series seems to make is that AI is only a crapshoot when organics create it and not when synthetics do.
It's mentioned how the values and beliefs of many cultures tend to creep into one another. Zen Buddhism and Confucianism are becoming popular amongst the turians, the hanar worship of the Protheans (whom they call "the Enkindlers") is common amongst the drell, and the asari religion of Siari is often practiced by other races. In the second game alien art is both highly valued and insanely popular. Mention is made of an ancient Egyptian exhibit on an asari homeworld.
This trope is played with during Kasumi's loyalty mission. You see some turian art. It just looks like a couple pieces of scrap metal; somewhat like 3-D abstract art. Then again, that's not much different from what some real-life humans call "art". Kasumi offers her opinion of the piece when you examine it:
Kasumi: It's rare to see turian art outside of Palaven. (dryly) I can see why.
This also extends to music and stage productions. There's an all-elcor production of Hamlet. And no one who hears Mordin Solus sing Gilbert and Sullivan in Mass Effect 2 will ever, ever forget it. And in the third game's Citadel DLC, you can hear him sing Amazing Freaking Grace on a datapad he sends to Shepard.
On the Silversun Strip in the Citadel DLC, you can encounter Francis Kitt, the theatre producer who made elcor Hamlet. He is discussing his next big production, Macbeth. He has a krogan in the titular role.
We've got your standard red in droves; also, blue (turians), orange (krogan), green (salarians), and purple (asari). There's not much blood in the game, so it's hard to notice unless you really look. Except for Garrus's introductory near-death experience where he left a big puddle on the floor. Or when you find Nihlus's corpse in the first game.
Some of it isn't technically blood — the geth "bleed" a white fluid.
Alien Hair: The only other sentient star-faring species with hair as we know it is the quarians, if Tali's unmasked picture is any indication (though with the volus it's impossible to tell); however, the asari have scalps which seem to split into tentacles toward the back and are treated as analogous to hair — on Illium there are references to "getting your scalp" done, and one asari mentions dyeing it. Liara clarifies exactly what the tentacles are made of in ME3 due to Joker's insistence. Amusingly, turians apparently see other species as having Alien Hair; there are comments from two different turians suggesting that they see asari scalps and human hair as being roughly on par with the turian fringe.
Alien Non-Interference Clause: There is none in the Council races, especially with the salarians, who uplifted the krogan much earlier than they were ready for. And despite the fact the krogan uplifting ended kinda badly, the salarians show no intention of stopping the practice; the third game reveals that their next pet projects, so to speak, are using varren to disrupt cities, and uplifting the yahg, a race even more violent than the krogan.
Prevalent on a number of the side-quest worlds throughout the games.
Inverted(?) in that the sky from Luna, a non-fictitious alien sky we've actually seen, is made alien by an Earth about 5 times too large (and bonus inversion in that the Earth is actually an inverted MIRROR-image here). At least the inversion would just mean you're on the southern hemisphere.
And yet their lip movements (assuming they have lips) nonetheless sync up with what they're saying in English.
The hanar, specifically are mentioned as requiring special gear to even move around in normal gravity, and require subdermal implants to translate their bioluminescent "speech" patterns into an audible form.
Even the humans aren't all speaking English; Captain Matsuo in Noveria is clearly speaking Japanese. Kasumi Goto is Japanese as well, though the fact that she speaks English with a faint Japanese accent and no honorifics implies that she actually is speaking in English. Likewise Samesh Bhatia. All other humans who are speaking another language (or presumed to be) are translated with American accents. Explaining the wide array of quarian accents that exist, however, might venture into Fan Wank. Let's just say it's because their hat is sexy accents. And form-fitting environment suits. And awesome Adam Baldwin cameos. And Woobieism.
It's also explicitly noted that aliens and humans still make the effort to learn each others languages despite the universal translators.
An asari officer on Illium will have trouble explaining the asari concept of Justicars to you because she does not know the right human metaphor note No wonder, since the closest one seems to be "Jedi", lampshading that there's a lot more to cross-cultural communication than mere translation.
Javik, introduced in the From AshesDLC, is speaking English because his species, the Protheans, has the ability to share knowledge through touch. It probably helped that he got it from the one person in the galaxy who also knows his own.
The Citadel Council, comprising of the turian, asari and salarian races as of the first game, and eventually includes humanity from then on.
The Systems Alliance also fits this trope as well, as it is an organization formed and funded by several major Earth nations to be the galactic face of humanity. Notably they are not the government of Earth itself.
Shepard forms another in the third game, consisting of the humans, turians, asari, krogan, and any or all of the salarians, quarians, geth, elcor, batarians, hanar and drell, and numerous mercenary bands, Cerberus defectors, and other groups.
All in a Row: You can give your two squadmates specific orders and they have a degree of autonomy in combat, but for the most part they follow you around.
All Planets Are Earthlike: Averted. The overwhelming majority of documented planets have exotic biospheres which would kill humans (or most other species) within seconds of exposure. Of the remainder, most are still too hot, too cold, or possessing too toxic an atmosphere for humans to journey onto the surface without a spacesuit. Even some of the planets which actually are Earth-like are still dangerous in some way, because in the ME universe there most definitely arebiochemical barriers.
One interesting example is 2175 Aeia in Mass Effect 2. From what we see on the planet, it's a beautiful, tropical world with pleasant weather. The catch? Anything edible on the planet contains chemicals that degrade brain function. Within a few months anyone living on the local flora will be reduced to the mental level of a young child.
Even Eden Prime, one of Earth's first colonies and well-suited to importing Earth species, is an aversion, with its 64-hour day. Seems like that would take some getting used to.
Remember Virmire? Lush, oxygen-rich, perfect for colonization? Three week long days.
Then there's Chasca, which is tidally locked with its sun and is only habitable in the twilight band between the day and night sides, which is the only viable colonization target.
All There in the Manual: The in-game Codex, the tie-in novels, and the comics. Though in the Codex's case, it's somewhat unreliable due to being an in-universe source of information. Not until the third game are the Reapers accurately described within.
The batarians — it's explained in the Codex that the reason you only run into batarian criminals, mercenaries, or slavers is that they're the about the only batarians who leave their home systems. And the batarian government is a caste-based fascist dictatorship that relies on slavery to survive. Really, it's a surprise one of the nicest people on the criminal-filled Omega is a batarian shopkeeper. There are, however, at least a few batarians on Omega who ultimately want no trouble. One of them needs you to save his life and thanks you in surprise if you do so; the others jump to conclusions about a man they thought had been spreading a plague that is dangerous for most races other than humans but are willing to listen to reason if you act honorably. It's not quite that they're evil, then, so much as anyone who leaves the Hegemony is therefore a confirmed maverick, and on top of that the batarians have a few reasons to begrudge humans — which, if you are a human, isn't often going to be a great combo. Nice batarians do exist; some of the nastier ones still co-operate with humans in the Blue Suns, and the species does basically subvert the trope... just, not many of the ones Shepard meets.
The vorcha are seen as universally aggressive and unpleasant; indeed, the only ones you meet are Blood Pack mercenaries. This is fault of their biology and culture, they only live twenty years, they use combat as their main form of communication, etc. Even then, they are shown cooperating with other races in the fight against the reapers through multiplayer. There are references to vorcha miners, settlers and brewers.
It turns out the geth that fought with Sovereign in the first game were a splinter group from the main geth, who in reality just want to be left alone to build their Dyson Sphere and achieve true unity.
Amazon Brigade: Asari commandos are generally seen as the galaxy's finest warriors. A female Shepard can also use an all-female party in all three games by using any combination of Ashley, Tali and Liara (ME1); Miranda, Jack, Tali, Kasumi and Samara/Morinth (ME2); and EDI, Tali, Liara and Ashley (ME3).
Amazon Chaser: Female Shepard's love interests each appreciate her badassitude.
The Reapers. We know they reproduce by liquefying various races and then converting that liquid into a new Reaper, but they still look and sound entirely mechanical. This ambiguity is to be expected though, as they are basically Mecha-Cthulhu.
Ambition Is Evil: In the first game, ambition seems to be humanity's hat. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on who you talk to.
Humanity's expansion beyond Sol began with the discovery of a Prothean bioscience outpost on Mars, tasked with studying primitive humans. Prothean ruins dot the surface of the hanar homeworld, and the belief that the Protheans taught them speech is the basis of the hanar Enkindler religion.
In the third game, the Protheans are revealed to have been this to the asari.
And I Must Scream: Reaper indoctrination permanently robs its victims of all free will. Most are aware of symptoms like hallucinations, but few actually realize that they're being indoctrinated. Matriarch Benezia is an exceptional case because she has enough willpower and biotic strength to temporarily wall off part of her consciousness from indoctrination. This is highlighted in detail during her death scene, as well as in Paul Grayson's descent into madness, depicted in the novel Mass Effect: Retribution.
Animal Motif: The Reapers look suspiciously like a techno-organic version of the Reaper Cuttlefish. They also strongly resemble Leafcutter Beetles, especially in terms of how they walk. Given the Leviathans' aquatic origins, the Cuttlefish comparison might be more apt.
Anyone Can Die: Throughout the entire trilogy, there are only five characters who you cannot get yourself rid of before the final battle starts (Joker, Liara, EDI, James Vega, and Javik).
In the first game, one character can be killed depending on your choices (Wrex) and another MUST be sacrificed to save a third (Ashley vs. Kaidan), so that throughout the rest of the trilogy you only have one of the two at your side.
In the second, if you're feeling sadistic, you can get up to all but two squadmates killed off in the final dungeon, as you only need two to survive it. (If you get everyone killed, Shepard dies too and you can't export your save file to the third game.) It is only a game over in terms of the trilogy as a whole, though. The second game will still consider this a win.
And in the third, all bets are off. Five characters have Plotline Deaths (Thane, Udina, Legion, Anderson, The Illusive Man), a bunch of others can be killed off depending on your choices during the main body of gameplay (The list includes... Mordin, Kirrahe, the Virmire Survivor, Grunt, Zaeed, Kasumi, Miranda, Jack, Wrex, Wreav, "Eve", Samara, Tali, the rachni, the entire quarian or geth race, and a bunch of placeholders who step in if some of the previous characters are already dead — and no matter what you decide, you cannot save them all; some are mutually exclusive), and under certain end-game circumstances you can just flat-out doom your entire party and almost everyone in the galaxy (the Refusal ending; the standard three endings with low-enough EMS) to extinction.
Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: Thoroughly averted. With a few odd exceptions, no race is fully united, and so will usually have no greater issues killing their own kind than another species, provided there are similar reasons to.
Indoctrinated people in particular will often work to undermine their own race specifically, such as the hanar in the third game trying to disable their home planet's defense network.
Apocalypse Cult: The geth heretics worship the Reapers and actively aid them in their latest purge of the galaxy's spacefaring races.
The Reapers inflict a Class 3 Severity (Species Extinction), namely the annihilation of any race capable of starfaring on a Galactic scale. At the end of Mass Effect 3, this either happens again to this cycle that humanity is part of, or the sentient starfaring races in this cycle mostly suffer varying levels of Class 1 Societal Disruption (depending on how built-up the response forces are by endgame), though some (like the batarians) get it pretty bad regardless.
In addition, destroying a Mass Relay will result in a Stellar Class 5 (Physical Annihilation) for the star system it's located in.
Gunnery Chief: Damn straight! I dare to assume you ignorant jackasses know that space is empty. Once you fire this hunk of metal, it keeps going til it hits something. That can be a ship. Or the planet behind that ship. It might go off into deep space and hit somebody else in ten thousand years. If you pull the trigger on this, you are ruining someones day, somewhere and sometime. That is why you check your targets. That is why you wait for the computer to give you a damn firing solution. That is why, Serviceman Chung, we do not "eyeball it". This is a weapon of mass destruction. You are not a cowboy shooting from the hip!
The words "Embrace eternity" appear quite a few times, most notably when Liara is joining minds with you. The phrase reappears in the second game as part of Samara's combat dialogue, though the overall significance isn't clear; it never turns up again in the third game.
"Hold the line" also makes frequent appearances, both in 1 and 2. Its most notable use (aside from every single goddamn battle when you're fighting humans) is during the Battle of Virmire, when Captain Kirrahe gives his stirring speech. It's lampshaded by Mordin in Mass Effect 2. And if Kirrahe survives to the third game, he repeats the line when you meet him again on Sur'Kesh.
"Genetic destiny" has also appeared into the mix; said mainly by Harbinger, but interestingly used as well by Morinth.
"Just like old times" seems to be the arc words for ME2. Though it's mostly Garrus's catchphrase.
"You can't save them all" and variations such as "Victory at any cost" are the arc words for the third game.
Armor Is Useless: Played straight in cutscenes, where, except for squad members, everyone dies with 1-3 shots. Averted almost everywhere else. Played with in Mass Effect 2, where the characters who do wear heavy armor (Garrus, Zaeed, Grunt) tend to be tougher than those who don't wear armor (or, in Jack's case, much of anything). Some of the lighter outfits appear to be made of a bullet-resistant fabric (Miranda, Jacob, and Thane) while others wear armor-like material (Mordin, Samara, Tali). Many enemies do use heavy armor, which is very much not useless, requiring the player to whittle down their armor before biotics and other powers become effective.
The Citadel. An enormous space station at the centre of the Relay network and the headquarters of the Council. Turns out it's the Relay to dark space — whenever the Reapers invade, they also take out the galactic leadership and gain access to their records, making their conquest all the easier. Then in the third game, it's revealed to be the home of the Catalyst, the intelligence controlling the Reapers.
In the second game, there's also a derelict Reaper. It's not quite as dead as it appears.
And there's also the Omega-4 Relay. How do you know it's an Artifact of Doom? Its mass effect core glows red.
In the DLC "Arrival," there's the Bahak Relay. Also known as the Alpha Relay. It's the oldest mass relay ever discovered, and while it appears perfectly normal for the most part, it has a secondary control function that will connect it to every other mass relay in the entire galaxy, including the Citadel itself. The Reapers are headed straight for it during ME2, naturally.
And the third game reveals that The Leviathan of Dis was also such an artifact. Poor batarians.
Artificial Stupidity: In the first game, squadmates had the annoying habit of running into your field of fire and wasting their powers; enemy AI, by contrast, was fairly decent. Both were improved in ME2, though there are moments when you want to reach into your screen and slap them silly. It was further improved in the third game. At least friendly fire doesn't actually do damage.
Asexuality: The salarians as a whole. Breeding is entirely a matter of profit, genetics, and politics to them, as only 10% of the population is female.
This seems to be at odds when you factor asari/salarian relationships into the equation, which is played with in a ME2 background conversation. On Illium, there's a bachelor party you can listen into, where despite initial protests by the salarian member that he doesn't even have a sex drive, he eventually changes his mind after watching the asari stripper:
Salarian: My word, she is very... limber. I can appreciate her dancing in an aesthetic manner, but... I don't have... feelings of... hmm... she is a lovely shade of blue.
Human: Uh-huh. Take a look at that, man. Everybody likes the asari. Everybody.
Elsewhere on the planet, a salarian and an asari are browsing the gun store with intent to join a mercenary band. The asari goes on about how being a merc is going to be a great adventure, while the more sober salarian explains that this is an important way to earn money to shore up his clan's breeding rights. A sidequest has you recover the genetic tree of a salarian family to aid in reproduction contracts.
Mordin will lampshade this by speculating that asari have some neurochemical way of attracting other species, even overcoming salarian asexuality.
Mostly averted, but played straight in two noticeable cases. The Citadel is surrounded by a thick cloud of dust which makes approaching it by any other means than by Relay tantamount to suicide. Because the cloud never dissipates, it is assumed that it is generated by the keepers rendering waste products down to the molecular level and ejecting it into space. Omega is surrounded by an asteroid field, but this is partially explained in that it was once an asteroid split apart by an impact millennia ago. Why it's still there is a complete mystery.
Played straight a third time, with the accretion disc at the center of the galaxy, which protects the Collector base.
As You Know: Averted some times, played straight in others. The Codex is used to spell out background info that should be obvious in that world without having to explain it to the characters themselves. Other times, when stumbling across a subject new to the player, Shepard will phrase his/her statement in such a way that more information is revealed, but also shows that s/he does have knowledge on the subject. Other times, s/he does seem a bit clueless.
Justified by Shepard's background, no matter which one you choose it is highly unlikely that Shepard received normal education. This may not apply to a Spacer Shepard, since during the Spacer-exclusive sidequest in the original, Shepard's mother mentions s/he attended high school.
Attack Drone: Used constantly in the second and third game, by pretty much every faction (except for Reaper ground forces). In the second game, Tali even has a name for her own drone.
The other galactic species fear that something might do this to humanity, as despite having only a small fraction of their population in the military, and never fighting other species before, humanity held its own against the turians, considered the most powerful military force in the galaxy.
In the third game's Leviathan DLC, Shepard deliberately does this, confronting the Leviathans, the race that created the Reapers. S/he refuses to be intimidated by them, and convinces them to join the war against the Reapers, saying that they can no longer stand by like they have done for billions of years, now that the Reapers know of them.
Even the word "turian" is this. It comes from the word "centurion," a professional officer of the Roman army. It probably explains the reason for all of the Roman/Roman-sounding names (Actus, Nihlus, Victus, Tarquin, Arterius, etc).
A Galaxy Half Full: No matter how bad things get, the crew of the Normandy can pull through and save the day, making a difference no matter what the odds. Has the option of being subverted in the second game, but if you're playing right it's still absolutely straight.
Then shot to pieces in the third game. You can still make a difference, but no matter how you slice it, the death toll across the galaxy will be astronomical.
And then the Extended Cut DLC takes those shot-apart pieces and puts them back together. Yes, a lot of damage has been done, but the races of the galaxy will recover and things will be better. Unless you happen to be elcor or batarian, in which case your species will be all but wiped out no matter what. Depending on the playthrough, hanar, drell, quarians and geth can face the same fate.
Back Story: The player must pick two for Shepard, one detailing childhood and adolescence, and a second detailing a noteworthy event in his/her military service history. The childhood back story determines availability of a specific quest and makes the quests for the other two childhood back stories unavailable, while the service back story alters dialogue in quests otherwise available for all back stories. Various other dialog sequences are determined by these two back story elements as well. Gamplay-wise, the backstories offer different bonuses when it comes to accumulating Paragon or Renegade points. A player with the Spacer and War Hero background will begin with a head start in Paragon points, but will start with fewer Renegade points.
Badass Army: Everyone. Absolutely every race in existence. Except the hanar. And the volus.
The hanar and the volus have the drell and the turians to fight for them, respectively, since they're simply not physically built for combat. The hanar migrated a number of drell from their dying homeworld, and those who are willing serve the hanar as assassins. The volus are a client race of the turians, and according to the Codex the turians will aid the volus if they become involved in a military conflict.
Thane makes it clear that the aquatic hanar are extremely adept hunters on their own world. They are fast and have exceptionally strong tentacles, which possess either a poison or some kind of shock. All-round badass Zaeed mentions how a hanar included in a hitsquad nearly took him down.
And with the Retaliation DLC for multiplayer, the volus are no longer excluded from this, either. Sure, they're half the size of any other race, they can't use cover like a human-shaped species, and their weapon bonuses are the lowest in the game, but a few volus still join the fight, and contribute the only way a volus can. "Cutting edge gadgetry," and "the most technologically advanced power armor credits can buy." Not only is it completely in character, but the volus have never been so badass.
Mass Effect 3 reveals that though the volus' own navy is small (possessing only one dreadnought class ship) that navy is extremely well equipped, being built with and constantly upgraded with the most cutting edge technology volus money can buy. They might not have the numbers of some of the other militaries in the ME universe, but what little they do have they do have they spend a disproportionately high amount of resources on making sure it is the best they can get.
Indirectly referenced in the Citadel DLC too. Turns out that the volus Barla Von is doing extremely well in the combat simulator because he can afford the best gear and weapons available.
Badass Crew: The specialists definitely count. In each case Shepard is the crystallizing factor for the team, but by the end of the games the feeling of a Band of Brothers is almost palpable. Especially in the Citadel DLC mission.
Badass Family: Ashley is the eldest of four sisters, each of whom is an Action Girl. She is trying to get the Williams family name back to being associated with said status. Liara also counts given what we know about her parents (probably, including grandparents who were a krogan who killed a rachni queen in the Rachni Wars and an asari commando during the Krogan Rebellions). Tali's father was hinted at being a Four-Star Badass, especially by Han'Gerrel.
Shepard with the Spacer background had both parents serve in the Alliance military. While we don't know anything about Shepard's father, Captain Hannah Shepard commands an Alliance Dreadnought and turned down an Admiral promotion in order to remain doing so, strongly implying that she is a Four-Star Badass. Then she is promoted to Admiral in the third game, though she commands logistics rather than frontline combat.
Bad Guy Bar: Chora's Den in the first game, and Afterlife in the second.
Bikini Bar: In both cases. The game even explicitly refers to Chora's as a "gentleman's club" (common North American euphemism for a strip joint).
Batman Gambit: The Reapers are particularly devious in how they accomplish their galaxy-wide extinction event. They leave technology lying around where they know sentient races will find it and they leave an apparently impregnable space station in a location suited for it to become the center of sentient galactic civilization. They leave a group of enslaved sentients to maintain the station so the races using it won't need to explore it to find out how the station works. Then the slaves open a backdoor to the station so the Reapers can cripple galactic civilization as we know it and systematically hunt down all life in the universe using the census data on the station. Bonus points for making sure the technology they have access to is so woefully underpowered that it allows the Reapers to roll over the entire galaxy in short order. This has worked well the last seven hundred and forty or more times so hey, what could go wrong?
The carrier-class warships that the humans introduce to the galaxy. It's a brilliant repetition of history, specifically the Washington Naval Treaty. Citadel Races must maintain a limited ratio of battleship/dreadnought-scale warships to one-another (the turians get the most, naturally) but the carriers do not fall under said classifications. Humanity is basically looking back at what happened after World War I and reusing old ideas.
The quarians work around the rule by arming their liveships — the largest ships in their fleet — basically turning them into dreadnoughts... which has the unintended side effect of making them prime targets for the geth.
Reapers also prove to be this in the third game, hosting large numbers of Oculus fighter drones for space battles.
Discussions with the last living Prothean, Javik, show that the moniker "benevolent" cannot as easily be applied to the species as a whole, though. They had a very Social Darwinist world view, believing that the strong should lead and weak species who fail to evolve deserve to perish. Their policy of pressing other races into their empire and making war on them if they refuse is reminiscent of the Tau from Warhammer 40,000. Javik does admit that the homogenization of culture enforced upon client species ultimately made the Reapers' victory much easier, and the fact remains that the Protheans are the only reason that galactic civilization still stands by the time of Mass Effect 3.
Beware the Nice Ones: The turians, salarians, asari, and humans to name four. Mass Effect just loves this trope.
Tali's adorable, and very reasonable. She also has a shotgun (which puts Garrus off of asking her about their time in the elevators), and tells her drone to go for the optics. Or Liara — in the first game, at least, she's shy and awkward. And can slap enemies with a Singularity. After she takes a level in Badass, she's threatening people with asari commando teams and flaying them alive in Mass Effect 2. And Paragon Shepard definitely qualifies.
Sovereign for the first game, even though most people in-universe believe that it was Saren.
Harbinger and the Collectors take up the role for the second game.
Harbinger reprises his role as Big Bad in the third game, but this time shares the mantle withthe Illusive Man. While Harbinger is the greater threat, the Illusive Man is more central to the plot and has more appearances.
Big Bad Duumvirate: Harbinger and the Shadow Broker for the second game, but you only get to deal with the latter in a DLC.
According to the Codex, the typical Alliance soldier has a 3000-calorie diet, as is typical for human soldiers today. Biotics require a bit more than that; conservation of energy is in effect for biotics, so that energy has to come from somewhere. As a result, Alliance active-duty biotics are served an extra meal and are issued canteens of energy drink instead of water. Noted in the third game, where the teacher of a group of biotic students admonishes her charges to eat energy bars and drink juice after a battle with Cerberus forces.
Grunt, after barely surviving what seemed like a Heroic Sacrifice, just asks if anyone has anything to eat for him. He also gets hungry when he sees carnage (or smells burning corpses).
Both Normandys may appear to be bigger on the inside, but neither version really is. The Normandy appears much smaller than it actually is in comparison to the behemoths (Dreadnoughts, Reapers, Space Stations, Planets) we normally see it near. Next time you're on Illium, take a look out the window at the Normandy docked. It's bloody huge. Also, use of the flycam can confirm that it all fits within the exterior shell.
The prefab trailers featured in many sidequests of the first game definitely count as well.
The Aralakh system which contains the krogan homeworld has a small, resource-rich planet called Durak on which, according to the info, five warlords simultaneously betrayed one another during a truce meeting on neutral ground, resulting in the mutual destruction of their clans. "Durak" is Russian for "idiot".
Another Russian Bilingual Bonus: the name of the system Pamyat, present in second and third games, is Russian for "Memory". Why? The planets in the system are named after Soviet cosmonauts who died in space: Vladimir Komarov, Grigory Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev and Vladislav Volkov.
The mechs in the second game are all named after characters from Norse mythology. Loki was the god of trickery, Fenris a giant wolf, and Ymir a frost giant. Fittingly, LOKI mechs have a habit of acting up, FENRIS mechs are basically robot dogs, and YMIR mechs are walking tanks.
Much of Cerberus's organizational structure borrows names from Greek mythology.
Bio-Augmentation: Genetic upgrades are standard-issue for all Alliance soldiers. Notable for being one of the few examples that gets this right. If you talk to the sales rep, he'll explain how none of the mods take effect immediately; they can require anywhere from months to decades to take effect, depending on what you're modifying, but they do have some kind of chemotherapy that cuts the time in half.
Asari have Exotic Equipment that allows them to have sex with anything sentient, regardless of gender or species, and produce viable asari offspring.
Shepard: So let me get this straight: your species can mate with anyone?
"Stupid lazy humans. We salarians get by just fine with one hour of sleep a day." Of course, they also drop dead in a mere 40 years.
Turians have evolved to have a metal exoskeleton to protect against their homeworld's high solar radiation levels.
Quarians, due to a lack of insect life on their homeworld, developed immune systems which adapted to or co-opted foreign microorganisms. Spending centuries on the flotilla have ruined this adaptability, meaning they now have to spend their lives in environmental suits, bubbles, special clean-rooms, etc.
The vorcha have stopped evolving millennia ago because they can spontaneously adapt to new environmental conditions through the guided release of unspecialized cells. A vorcha dropped on a high gravity planet will develop stronger muscles, one dropped on a planet with an exotic atmosphere will adapt his lungs to be able to breathe the new gases successfully... too bad they can only typically achieve these changes once in their lives.
Krogan evolved on a Death World, with all the awesome superpowers that implies. One of the keys to their survival is redundant internal organs — every one has a backup, and some of those have backups. And when one of those backups kick in, it triggers an intense adrenaline surge that permits them to knock people aside like ragdolls. Never attack a krogan with anything less than what you'd use to demolish a building. You'll just make him mad. Krogan do not have a nervous system in the same way as other species, instead it more closely resembles a circulatory system, allowing it to recover from far greater injury. They even have four testicles.
Garrus: Some krogan believe that testicle transplants can increase their virility. Counteract the effects of the genophage. It doesn't work, but that doesn't stop them from buying. They'll pay up to 10,000 credits each. That's 40,000 for a full set. Somebody's making a killing out there.
In Mass Effect 2, they use the term "quad", i.e. "You've got a quad, Shepard." Wrex even makes a joke about Grunt "having a quint" if Grunt defeats the thresher maw.
Wrex: You can't help making trouble. Nobody has killed a maw since my turn in the Rite. Next you'll tell me he's a quint and craps dark matter.
Thane's preferred assassination method for non-krogan species: neck-snap. His preferred alternative assassination method for krogans: Bomb.
For extra fun, the krogan evolved on a planet so lethal that they ended up with wide-set eyes optimized for a wide field of view instead of binocular vision, more typical of prey species then predators.
In a way, this is also pseudo-inverted upon humanity as well. Professor Mordin explains that one of the reasons human test subjects are always chosen for abduction is that they have the most diverse gene pool of any race in the galaxy. If you think of this as a Lampshade Hanging of Alien Abduction in other sci-fi stories, it only becomes that much funnier. Then you realize that Collectors are abducting humans, for exactly this reason. Apparently Reapers need a species that is extremely diverse to create one of their own.
The volus. Their homeworld's life formed in ammonia rather than water which makes an oxygen/nitrogen atmoshpere like Earth's toxic to them. For extra fun, their homeworld also has much higher atmospheric pressure than others, so they need to wear pressurized enviromental suits to keep from exploding.
Bizarre Alien Senses: The Protheans universe had the ability to read the memories of other living beings and even inanimate objects by perceiving "experience markers". This is revealed by the Prothean squadmate Javik in Mass Effect 3.
Bizarre Baby Boom: Biotics are made by in utero exposure to dust-form Element Zero. Since the substance is usually unnatural and is basically exotic matter, the fetus either develops miscarriage-inducing brain tumors, or manifests the ability to manipulate the Mass Effect with their minds (usually after a secondary element zero exposure and only practically with cybernetic brain regulation). Unless element zero exists naturally in a planet's ecosystem (like the asari homeworld, Thessia, where biotics are natural), the only time in utero exposure happens when exposure is accidental (or ulterior and deliberate).
Fridge Brilliance/Horror occurs when one thinks about the aftermath of the Reaper War in the third game: All those ships and other mass-effect-utilizing military hardware being destroyed on and around a planet will strew huge amounts of element zero around several homeworlds ravaged by battle with the Reapers. Biotic baby booms are sure to follow in the aftermath.
Here, the Black Boxes walk around and perform routine maintenance on the largest space station in the galaxy. All leftover from Precursors. The Reapersintentionally made them Black Boxes so sentient life wouldn't try understanding how the Citadel worked; and come up with their own stuff.
In the third game, The Crucible seems to qualify, as nobody, including those who build it seems to quite know what it does or how it works until Shepard activates it and it sends out massive waves of energy that destroy the mass relays, along with (if the player so chooses) the Reapers and all other synthetic life in the galaxy.
Subverted by the case of the asari. Whenever they initiate a mind/gene meld, whether for information transfer, therapeutic, or simply sexual purposes, their eyes turn completely black for no apparent reason while murmuring embrace eternity. Apart from the words, nothing sinister about it.
Played straight with Morinth in the second game as asari who are Ardat-Yaskhi literally burn out your entire nervous system during sex. Possibly a Shout-Out to Lyta Alexander of Babylon 5, whose eyes become similarly blacked out when she's engaged in a particularly strenuous psychic task (including mind melding).
Blown Across the Room: Fun with Throw, Shockwave, and grenades. For more impressive results, combine with Lift, Pull, or Singularity. Also achievable in the first game through ammo upgrades that increase weapons impact force.
Blue and Orange Morality: How Sovereign describes the Reapers' motivations. [[spoiler:The Reapers' motives actually are pretty comprehensible; while they perpetuate the cycles of extinction in order to reproduce via making genetic paste out of organic lifeforms, they are programmed to think that they're doing the organics a favour with this, bringing them straight back to this trope. The Reapers' motivations are finally laid bare in Mass Effect 3: they were created by an ancient AI housed within the Citadel called the Catalyst. The Catalyst was in turn created by an ancient race known only as Leviathans, who programmed it to find a solution against organic-synthetic wars popping up when a civilization gets too advanced technologically. It came to the conclusion that synthetic and organic life will ALWAYS fight and slaughter one another. The Reapers were its "solution" to that problem: preserve impressive organic species by turning them into Reapers, kill off the rest so they don't cause trouble for the still developing organics. In the end, the Catalyst decides that its solution is flawed because Shepard managed to make it to the heart of the Citadel and confront it, so it extrapolates several new solutions and leaves it up to Shepard which one to take.
Blunt Metaphors Trauma: Many turians seem to be fascinated by human metaphors and figurative language, but they usually misquote them or manage to unintentionally make them sound suggestive. Liara also hilariously butchered a few attempts at figurative speech in the first game, as did Tali in the second.
Bodyguard Babes: Any security force involving asari. Like Benezia. Especially Benezia.
Bold Explorer: The series is rife with these, though they seem to end badly a lot. The First Contact War came out of a group of human explorers running afoul of a turian patrol that didn't bother to explain why opening mass relays willy-nilly was a bad idea. In the games proper, two separate sidequests in Mass Effect 2 involve the discovery of a wrecked exploration vessel.
Bold Inflation: How you can tell when a dialogue choice is Paragon/Charm or Renegade/Intimidate.
Shepard gets chances to do this with various species. Given that Mordin is able to provide specific advice, including manuals of mutually comfortable positions, for human/(turian/quarian/drell) pairings, there appears to be rather a lot of this about.
On Omega you can buy a xenophilia magazine called "Fornax". When bought, you can view a detailed description in the codex, so yeah...
All guns in the first game are restricted only in that continuous fire will cause them to overheat and you have to wait a bit for it to cool down. The game justifies it by saying the ammunition system used by them, while not lasting forever, makes ammo a more-or-less non-issue in a single battle and non-existent in a gameplay-sense. The game later uses this by having an optional conversation with Wrex on the Normandy where the Proud Warrior Race Guy fondly recounts an extended duel with another bounty hunter in a Wretched Hive, during which he actually ran out of ammunition and had to make use of cheap weapons procured from lowlifes who died in the crossfire. After days of on and off combat.
Weapons in the second game use "thermal clips", which are essentially disposable heat sinks that keep weapons from critically overheating. In gameplay terms, they function in exactly the same fashion as an actual ammo clip would. Which is acceptable for gameplay, but doesn't make much sense with the explanation provided. Once the player runs out of extra thermal clips, they should at least be able to wait for the last clip in their weapon to cool before they resume firing. Instead, they have to wait until they pick up new clips. As if they are relying on ammo, which defeats the point of using this advanced weapons technology in the first place...
The Codex says, once, that the geth started using thermal clip technology and no longer had to wait for their weapons to cool down, so the rest of the galaxy had to scramble to start using it too. Which makes no sense whatsoever given that in the first game, fitting even one high-level heat sink attachment provides enough cooldown to make a weapon able to fire indefinitely. Might be an example of Gameplay Story Segregation — the hassle of having to reload and find more clips is considerably greater than just waiting a few seconds as happened in the first game. One notable and better fan created explanation is that due to widespread usage of the Sabotage talent the thermal clips were introduced to enable a soldier to simply remove an overheated (which is what Sabotage does) thermal clip and instantly replace it, rather than wait a relative eternity for an old style weapon to cool down.
The in-game explanation for not being able to wait for the clips to cool down is that they use an endothermic reaction in lithium to store the heat. This allows the clip to store much more heat, but once they are used they simply cannot be used again, as the lithium has already reacted. However, this does not explain why you cannot fire the weapon WITHOUT inserting a clip, as you should be able to wait for the weapon to cool down like you did in the first game; this was originally implemented and can be seen in early previews, but playtesters came back with negative reactions to it, so it was Dummied Out.
Actually it makes sense if you compare the weapons to a modern-day CPU. Most desktop grade processors have both a heat sink and a fan to cool them. You still can run a computer without some method of dispersing the heat. However this is highly ineffective and runs a very high risk of damaging the chip itself. If one tries firing the weapons without a way to disperse the heat, you risk internal damage to the weapon themselves, if not external as well.
Shepard explains in a conversation in Mass Effect 3 that the self-cooling systems in the older weaponry had to be removed to make room for the thermal clip system. In a moment of Self-Deprecation on Bioware's part, the character Shepard is explaining this too immediatelylampshades that this is a pretty stupid idea as it offers no particular advantage compared to older detachable magazine system style firearms.
Mass Effect 3 brings back the old system for a couple of weapons, mostly salvaged Collector arsenal. Different in that an overheated weapon must be "reloaded" before it can fire again.
Bottomless Pits: That you cannot fall into. Or the enemy, under their own power. But, when combined with any ability that induces ragdoll state, you can send them screaming to their doom.
In the second game, Jacob's loyalty mission; his father's entire crew was force-fed plant matter that decayed their minds to the point where they were easily controlled and easily become berserk.
In Mass Effect 3, Cerberus gets indoctrinated... well, not exactly as simple as that. The Illusive Man has been indoctrinated all along, but, unaware of this, sets out to control the Reapers, usurping their power for his own purposes. To this end, he orders all Cerberus foot soldiers with Reaper technology, and engages in experiments to figure out how indoctrination works.
In the third game, this can be the fate of Jack and Legion if you messed things up along the way, and you'll have to fight them near the end.
Also Morinth, if she's alive. She's been turned into a Banshee.
Brass Balls: The krogan have four testicles, so whenever they feel the need to display recognition of a particularly badass individual, they say "he has got a quad". Commander Shepard earns it after you defeat the Thresher Maw on Tuchanka. Yes, even if you play as Fem!Shep.
The Bridge: Half played straight, half subverted. The pilot, gunners, and sensor specialists all sit in the rather cramped forward section of both of the Normandys, but the actual command center is a ways back in the body of the ship. Fairly spacious, but not to ridiculous levels.
Later, when a human admiral comes to inspect ship, he asks who designed the command center, since from a human view point it's unpractical. The player can respond it's experimental turian design, who prefer to have their commanders over-looking their men.
Brick Joke: Several minor sidequests or bits of fluff text in the first game turn out to be major plot points later in the series:
The bit of fluff text about the Leviathan of Dis turns out to foreshadow the fall of the Batarian Hegemony, due to the Leviathan in question being a Reaper. And then the brick comes back for Leviathan, revealing that the Reaper was not the true Leviathan of Dis.
The sidequest on Luna where Shepard and Co. had to put down a Rogue VI. In ME3, you learn that the rogue VI was salvaged and repaired, creating EDI.
The Codex entry for the Kodiak shuttles in Mass Effect 2 mentions that without functioning Mass Effect fields, the Kodiak has all the flight capability of a brick. In Leviathan, the Kodiak's Mass Effect field is disabled, dropping it like a rock to a forced landing. Twice. The same turns out to be the case for numerous ships that happen across that planet, including a Reaper Dreadnought.
The debate over the genophage is the Mass Effect equivalent to the atom bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima: was it justified for its time? Should the krogan deserve a second chance and be cured from it? Will another krogan war ignite if they were cured?
The geth-quarian conflict is the only other one that's as heated a topic, especially in-universe. Were the quarians justified in attempting to eliminate the geth before they rebelled, or were the geth justified in defending themselves from their aggressors? Are the geth worth saving after they aligned with the Reapers, or are the quarians idiots for provoking the geth in the midst of a Reaper conflict?
The human-alien debate is one of the biggest in-universe examples. Are the Cerberus operatives justified in trying to further human interests, or are they just a bunch of xenophobic terrorists? Should humans really stand firm and alone against alien authority (who are in it for themselves a lot of the time), or should the humans swallow their pride and accept/seek help from the aliens?
Humans gaining a seat on the Citadel Council. Entire species like the volus waited for centuries before they even had an embassy, but the humans get one almost immediately following the First Contact War. Are the humans ready for such authority, or are they getting too much power too quickly?
Bug War: The Rachni War. Subverted in that the bugs are very intelligent and normally peace-loving; 'something' (hint: it was probably the Reapers) drove them berserk and forced them to attack Citadel space. You can even get the chance to undo their extinction, and letting them live is supposed to be the good choice as opposed to ending the rachni forever.
Bullying a Dragon: Shepard is and always has been notoriously badass in-universe and is never without at least three powerful guns, but that doesn't stop each and every punk in the galaxy smart enough to pull a trigger from trying to take the Commander on and expecting to win.
Butt Monkey: The entire batarian race. They live in a hellish police state, their government's decision to cut all ties with the Citadel has ruined their economy, a disproportionate amount of Renegade actions involve killing them, in the Mass Effect 2 DLC "Arrival" Shepard kills 300,000 batarians to save the galaxy and in Mass Effect 3the Batarian Hegemony is the first casualty of the Reaper invasion.
The Call Left A Message: Hand-in-hand with Fling a Light into the Future. The Protheans sent out a message of warning about the Reapers hoping that somebody, anybody with Prothean heritage would pick up on it. Unfortunately, every member of their race except the senders were dead and so The Call went into voicemail. Millennia later, both Saren and Shepard answered.
Can't Argue With Space Elves: Subverted. The asari are described as classic, better-than-you-in-every-way elves in the Codex, but are shown to be capable of as many vices as any other species. You can also literally do this with the asari member of the Council in the first two games. Even Matriarch Aethyta can't argue with her fellow asari regarding shifting their priorities.
Quarians can have sex, but they must do it in a sterile environment due to their weak immune system.
Even more so, the Ardat-Yakshi, asari afflicted with a very rare genetic defect that kills their partners during the act. As the Ardat-Yakshi gains a boost of biotic strength and feels a narcotic effect afterwards, the process is extremely addictive to them. Known Ardat-Yakshi are given a choice between a life of abstinence and seclusion, or death.
Cash Cow Franchise: Not quite yet, but due to the universe's detail, depth, and extreme popularity, many are expecting BioWare to take it in this direction.
Four novellas, two comics (plus two free mini-comics), and three spinoff iPhone games, so far.
Casual Interstellar Travel: Somewhat justified; the mass relays make it simple to zip around the galaxy in a matter of hours or days as opposed to centuries, making it economically viable to spread everywhere and not bother to research other methods of transport ...which is the entire point.
Central Theme: Abusive Creators. Personal, biological, ideological... just about every problem in the Mass Effect universe originates from someone with more knowledge than wisdom creating someone to solve their problems for them, then demonizing them when things get complicated. Shepard has to pull off miracle after miracle over and over to prevent creator and created from exterminating each other. The Catalyst created the Reapers to protect organic and synthetic civilizations from each other, by reshaping them into Reapers voluntarily if possible or forcibly if necessary — the Terminus colonists were forcibly broken down and made into a new Reaper, but the heretic geth were offered a Reaper construct to contain all of their runtimes.
The krogan may not have been precisely "created" by the salarians, but they were denied the chance to learn from the mistakes that destroyed their civilization when the salarians uplifted them to fight the rachni. They were chosen for their ability to make war, encouraged to do it, then punished for being too good for it.
The title "geth" actually means "servant of the people" in the quarian equivalent of Latin. They were punished for wanting to serve their creators even when their creators were scared of them because they unexpectedly gained sentience.
Hell, this even applies to Shepard. Trained to defend Earth's colonies, s/he gets abused by politicians for being too focused on it. Given the title of Spectre to defend the galaxy, and marginalized for discovering a threat beyond the scope of their superiors to recognize. When everything comes down to the line in ME3, Shepard has to scream out that s/he gave them time to plan, and all that is left is to fight or die. Sheesh.
Chainmail Bikini: Almost entirely averted. Armor tends to be built around its wearer's form and be practical. The only exception is showing that women have boobs, which doesn't happen with real armor and actually defeats its purpose. Shepard's armor tends to be nothing but functional, even as a woman. However, the designs of the armor have designs that definitely resemble this trope - for example, the blue and gray in Liara's lab suit resembles a bikini to some degree, and much of FemShep's armor has designs reminiscent of a leotard.
The Chains of Commanding: Shepard gets more and more of this as the trilogy goes on. A female Shepard can talk about it openly in a romance with Jacob in the second game, and it finally comes out in the open as a major theme in the third.
Character Development: The krogan start out as a race of Blood Knights who always start fights to the death for no reason, but are shown as much more intelligent, social, and cultured people who care deeply for the survival of the world and species throughout the following game. And still enjoy brutal fighting with complete disregard to their own safety. They'd always been Boisterous Bruisers, but they had art and culture before their nuclear holocaust. Following which they were discovered and uplifted as living weapons, then given a near-genocide that sent them into a two-millennium spiral of nihilistic despair.
Character Level: Raised through earning XP by killing enemies, talking with NPCs, exploring containers, and gathering items. Don't forget looking at random stuff. This caused a massive amount of Level Grinding and Pixel Hunting, so in the second game you get experience only for quests.
In the first game, it took longer to go from level 59 to level 60, the maximum, than it took to go from level 1 to level 47. You will probably need severalNew Game Pluses. Completely inverted for Mass Effect 2, where each level has the same number of experience points between it, and most major quests give enough experience to grant an additional level anyway.
The third game tries to find a compromise between both games: experience is gained by interacting with datapads, grabbing medkits past your current medi-gel capacity, and getting past certain points within missions.
Reprised somewhat in the third game: you can either get the Big Bad to realize his indoctrination and commit suicide, or you can shoot him yourself with a Renegade interrupt. In a twist, if you don't persuade him and miss the opportunity to shoot him, he will kill you, resulting in a Game Over.
Chekhov's Army: Many of the Paragon choices have you paving the way for a Gondor Calls for Aid situation for the third game. This includes the Migrant Fleet, the geth faction that Legion represents, the rachni if you chose to save them, convincing Mordin that it may be worth saving Maelon's research into a genophage cure, and helping Liara take control of Shadow Broker's ship. All of these and more finally fire in the third game. The war effort goes much more smoothly if you already laid the groundwork.
Chekhov's Gun: There are many details from the first game that resurface in the second game. Many minor side-quests pop up again in the second game, in the form of e-mails your character receives referring to those earlier events, or (more rarely) re-encounters on planets during missions. Several details from the first and second games take on new importance in the third. Some of these take seemingly minor details and give them new and greater significance.
One mission in Mass Effect is set on the moon of a planet whose surface was shattered by an ancient mass driver weapon—mainly for the purpose of providing a scenic backdrop as you drive around. However, in Mass Effect 2the Illusive Man reveals that they discovered the target of that mass driver, and it turns out to be an important MacGuffin..
The Leviathan of Dis. Visiting an obscure planet in the first game makes mention of an organic starship found on the world that the batarians absconded with. Turns out it was a Reaper corpse, and it ended up indoctrinating everyone who worked on it, ala the derelict Reaper from the second game. This is why the Batarian Hegemony fell so quickly. And it wasn't even the really important thing. The real Leviathan of Dis wasn't the Reaper corpse; it was what killed it. Namely one of the real Leviathans, the guys who started this entire mess and the Abusive Precursors to the Abusive Precursors.
Pretty much anyone in the first game who returns and is tied to a quest in the second. Especially Shiala and Gianna Parasini, if they survived the events of the first game and you helped them with their quests.
And let's not forget Cerberus, a rogue organization that was the subject of a few sidequests in the first game, but plays a major role in the second and third.
This trope mixes with The Reveal in one case: Remember the rogue VI you're tasked to destroy on Luna in the first game? The third game reveals that Cerberus answered its distress call and repurposed it. What came out of that project? EDI.
Asari Matriarchs are stated to be some of the wisest beings in the galaxy and, according to the Codex, make plans so complicated that they are incomprehensible to other beings. Seeing as asari live for centuries, they do not really mind waiting a couple decades for a plan to pay off.
If humanity has at least one representative for this trope, it's definitely the Illusive Man. At least twice in the second game, Shepard becomes an Unwitting Pawn for his plans to get more intel about the Collectors. And he continues this role well into the third game.
Chest Insignia: Shepard's iconic N7 insignia. Jacob and Miranda also have the Cerberus logo on their uniforms in the second game. The logo is gone by the third game, as they no longer follow the Illusive Man. EDI's new body still has one, though, but it's justifiable since she's inhabiting body of the Illusive Man's replacement for her.
Chew Toy: The volus. There are about two or three more or less lucky Vol-clan in the entire two games. All the others tend to find out that life sucks. By the third game, the batarians get slotted into this category.
Choice of Two Weapons: to a degree. In the first game Vanguard and Infiltrator player classes (and through a certain achievement, Adept and Engineer) are designed to use two weapons, as are Quarian Machinist, Turian Agent, and Krogan Battlemaster, although four of them can be used. In the second, Shepard uses no less than three weapons (at least two regular weapons plus heavy weapons, with the option to add another weapon class after a plot event), but all his/her crew uses two.
Averted (for Shepard, at least) in Mass Effect 3. Shepard has all five weapon slots available (and therefore can theoretically carry one of each), but an encumbrance system causes the cooldown on your powers to increase if you load yourself down with too many weapons. Squadmates and multiplayer characters are still limited to two weapons, however.
Subverted by Wrex, of all people, though. He's well aware that the krogan love of combat and fighting is precisely why their race is doomed — as he puts it, his race is more interested in making wars than making children. His CBD moment is even subverted by himself — he knows he can't do what needs to be done because of conflicts of interest unless the player either Shoots The Dog or otherwise resolves the matter.
Grunt: I'm not going to stab you in the back, Shepard. Warriors like you and me? Straight to the face. beat Kidding, kidding.
The quarians and the volus. The quarians will get deathly ill without them, while the volus will suffocate and explode. Not necessarily in that order.
Also played straight with the Collectors of all people, though you would not think it to look at them. Their exoskeleton is actually OrganicPower Armor. They only look so slim because their inner bodies have been deliberately atrophied with many of their biological systems replaced by cybernetics. The exoskeletal suit serves as their primary source of locomotive muscles and their epidermis. With a little modification, these suits can be manufactured to fit humans as well, though presumably without the associated substitution of original biological components.
Combat by Champion: Turian culture allows for duels between representatives of opposing armies. The "traditional" duel involves both combatants entering opposite ends of a square room with an opaque wall between them. The wall is lowered and they shoot at each other. Duels can either be to first blood or to the death. Part of Garrus's backstory, revealed in the second game, involves one such duel he had with a female soldier. "More than one way to blow off steam, I guess."
The salarians as a whole. In the Codex entry on their military doctrine, the salarians have always started their wars with no warning, and believe the concept of "declaring war" to someone you're about to attack is both insane and idiotic. They also have a habit of using subterfuge and multipleredundant plans to cope with problems.
The krogan are also incredibly brutal fighters who have no qualms with decimation of civilian populations to maintain order.
The turians are also this way. Their military doctrine allows them to use orbital bombardment on battle locations to take out any number of combatants. This was one of the reasons the general at the Battle of Shanxi surrendered - the turians would attempt to bombard forces entering cities for supplies. The general was unwilling to accept that sort of destruction.
The quarians try, but fail, by arming their liveships for the attack on Rannoch... which mostly just makes them a target for the geth, who would have otherwise ignored them.
Used for the Paragon and Renegade moralities, which are associated with blue and red respectively. The endings in the main games even change slightly to display the colour motif of the chosen morality.
Similarly, used to identify various (but far from all) factions in the games. Blue Suns are blue, the Blood Pack is red, Eclipse is yellow, Cerberus is white and gold, Alliance is blue and silver, and the geth are metallic purple and gunmetal grey.
Compilation Re-release: The aptly named Mass Effect Trilogy. This release also marks the first time the original game is playable on the PlayStation 3, either in the set or as a separate PSN title for people who already own the last two.
Continuity Nod: Basically the point of keeping your saved games from previous games to import into the latest one. For the more straight-forward kind, you can make a drinking game out of how many nods there are on the Citadel in Mass Effect 2, up to and including commercials for the all-elcor performance of Hamlet. Complete with video clips.
"And be sure to see the production live. An unforgettable fourteen hour experience."
Conveniently Precise Translation: The resident Translator Microbes. They are able to perfectly translate styles of speech and puns, except of course for a few specific words that go by untranslated even though they tend to be among the most frequently used (the quarians' "Keelah se'lai", for example). The most egregious case of this trope is probably the acronym SPECial Tactics and Reconnaissance, used by the Council races over a thousand years before humanity even came into the picture.
Cool Gate: All of the mass relays. Especially the Citadel.
The Destiny Ascension in the first game isn't half-bad either, though Joker's not impressed.
Sovereign and his ilk are nothing if not incredibly badass battleships.
The Collector Ship may not be the prettiest vessel in the galaxy, but it gets points for size, intimidation factor, and tearing apart the ship that killed Sovereign and making it look easy.
The Shadow Broker's ship.
The geth dreadnought.
Cosmic Horror Story: Mecha-Cthulhu is coming home to grab some lunch, like he does every 50,000 years. And make babies. Out of people. Gets pushed to Expy levels when an indoctrinated Cerberus researcher studying a derelict Reaper points out that dead gods can still dream.
The elcor are less creepy, but their inability to express emotions in speech otherwise than literally (see "That Makes Me Feel Angry" below) is a bit unsettling, coupled with their deep, monotone voice.
Sovereign,Harbinger,Legion and EDI use this trope as well, but the last two of the bunch is friendly.
The process of converting an organic being into a husk involves impaling them on massive spikes and having all organic components of their bodies replaced with synthetic components while they're still alive.
The effects of pretty much all of the ammo upgrades in the first game — freezing, burning, disintegration, electrocution, radiation poisoning, regular poisoning, crushing, and exploding. In the second game you only get to freeze people and then shatter their bodies, electrocute them and make their equipment quite literally explode, or set them on fire and listen to them scream as they burn to death. Hell, there's an achievement for making 20 enemies scream as they die.
Dr. Saleon's 'patients' grew illegally cloned organs in their bodies for his use; he sometimes didn't do a good enough job on the sutures, and if something went wrong with the organs inside them, he left them in there.
Everyone who was captured by the Collectors was either converted into husks as described above, or dissolved into genetic paste while still alive and conscious in order to make a new Reaper.
Cthulhumanoid: At least one race that made up the Prothean Empire was this, if their statues are anything to go by. Turns out those statues may have been created by a species from the cycle previous to that of the Protheans.
All of the Reaper invasions are implied to be this. Apparently one of them had a grand casualty total of one Reaper, and the race that killed it destroyed themselves doing so.
In the second game, if everyone in your squad lives, you do this to the Collectors.
Also, the destruction of the original Normandy.
The Reaper invasions of Earth, the Batarian Hegemony, and Thessia in the third game.
Another heroic example: the main battle section of the Citadel DLC pits you and your crew against a completely outclassed enemy. Several lampshades are hung by your squad.
Curb Stomp Cushion: Unlike every other race that faced a full-scale Reaper invasion, where the planetary military is crushed within hours and forced into guerrilla warfare, the turians actually put up serious resistance in their home system. They manage to take out several Reaper capital ships in the opening of the fight, and force them into a grueling fight for the entire game (which is implied to take place over several months). The highlight is the "Miracle At Palaven", where the turian/krogan alliance, at great cost, smuggle a bunch of WMDs onto Reaper vessels, blowing them up from the inside. While the turians are eventually forced to abandon the defense of Palaven for the sake of the Crucible, it was littered with the most number of Reaper corpses.
Curse Cut Short: Given that this is an M-rated game, the only point to this is humor.
In the meeting with the Council in which Shepard becomes a Spectre, one conversation path leads to Udina declaring that he is tired of "this Council and it's anti-human bull-" before being interrupted by the asari Councilor.
Another in 2: a series of increasingly frustrated datapads are found next to a faulty mech. The final one only says "Piece of Sh[SIGNAL ERROR]".
And then we have Jack in the 3rd game.
Jack: Hey Joker, f— (loading screen)
Cutscene: These probably make up more than half of the entire game, as is normal for a BioWare game. They're all interactive to a degree. Found a cutscene in the second game that you can't skip? Keep your fingers on thosetriggers or your mouse button!
The salarians keep records of their family's genetic pedigree for exactly this reason. Their species doesn't really connect the concept of sexual desire with reproduction, since, as amphibians, they reproduce via external fertilization.
Further, the Krogan are a Proud Warrior Race and females select males based on fitness and glory in battle.
Data Pad: Ubiquitous but primarily used for data transfer.
Daylight Horror: Though the games aren't exactly horror games, the destroyed colonies or those under attack are almost always visited at sunset with a heavily overcast sky. Though the last rays of the sun still lighten up the environment, the devastation and solitude makes it far from comforting.
In the third game, the invasion of Earth. It's a sunny day in Vancouver... and the world is ending. Also, on Rannoch, Shepard faces a Reaper Destroyeron foot as the sun rises.
Death by Genre Savviness: The quarians. Upon discovering that the geth had started to gain sentience, they figured the Robot War was soon to come. They decided to strike first and not give the machines a chance, but the geth proved to be more advanced then they thought. Billions of quarians died, and ultimately, they were evicted from their planet. To add insult to injury, the second game reveals the geth didn't want to revolt, and are in fact maintaining the quarian homeworld in hopes the that their creators will one day stop trying to kill them and return.
Death World: Quite a few of the planets you visit, but the krogan homeworld, Tuchanka, takes the cake. The planet is so deadly that the only lifeforms to survive it will tear straight through any other ecosystem.
TRAVEL ADVISORY: The ecology of Tuchanka is deadly. Nearly every native species engages in some predatory behavior; even the remaining vegetation is carnivorous.
Part of the krogan's rite of passage into adulthood on Tuchanka involves surviving a Thresher Maw attack on foot. Try that yourself and see how much life you have left afterward. To elaborate Thresher Maws are massive heavily armored predators with a variety of deadly attacks. Standard Alliance military doctrine calls for taking them on with tanks, and even then heavy casualties are to be expected. The test itself is only to survive. Defeating it counts as a Crowning Moment of Awesome that Wrex was the last to achieve. At least, until you and Grunt came along.
Tuchanka was apparently so deadly even before the krogan nuked it that the genophage — which allows only one live birth per one thousand attempts — effectively reduced their population growth to pre-industrial levels; in other words, nine hundred and ninety nine out of every thousand krogan died before they reached childbearing age before they were uplifted, so lethal was the environment. In the codex, it says that before the krogan invented firearms, the most common cause of death was "eaten by predators", while afterwards, it was "multiple gunshot wounds". Both the krogan and a proportion of the flora and fauna on Tuchanka survived a nuclear war with little change to daily life.
The Prothean-controlled planet Atespa made Tuchanka look hospitable. The Reapers got so tired of their harvesting attempts getting nowhere due to the local predators just eating their ground forces and spitting the metal back out that they gave up and bombed it from orbit.
A group of batarian pirates used lasers to carve proclamations of batarian supremacy and human illegitimacy onto the surface of one of the random worlds you can scan in the first game.
Jack did this in a big way, as stated in Mass Effect 2, her list of crimes involved "vandalism"... she dropped a SPACE STATION on a moon the hanar were particularly fond of.
Scanning Patsayev in Mass Effect 2 reveals the story of a disgruntled miner named Andrei Kobzar. Andrei spent every credit he had in a futile attempt to mine for Element Zero. He then stole a mercenary group's gunship and used it to carve a 208-kilometer message in the ice: Zdes' nichego nyet, Russian for "There's nothing here" to discourage anyone else from coming there. It became the space version of a roadside tourist trap and gathers small crowds.
Defeat Means Respect: The Reapers treat each cycle's resistance to being culled as futile (a speed bump at most), but by the end of Mass Effect 2 their leader Harbinger begins to acknowledge just how unexpectedly difficult humanity and Commander Shepard in particular is making this cycle.
Harbinger: Shepard, you have become an annoyance.
Deflector Shields: Ubiquitous in the series and mounted on pretty much every piece of military equipment, from individual grunts to kilometer long space ships. Notably, these deflector shields are only really effective against kinetic weapons; energy weapons just ignore them. Well, the Reapers' shields can block energy weapons, but they're in a different ballpark altogether...
Depopulation Bomb: The krogan, previously known for absurd fertility rates (an adaptation to an extremely deadly environment) and long life spans, have been deliberately infected with a virus that makes childbirth exceedingly unlikely.
The massive field of destroyed ships that surrounds the Collector's base in the second game. Doubles as an Asteroid Thicket.
The planet Korlus is also one giant derelict-ship-covered planet.
Deus ex Machina: The Crucible can be viewed as a deconstruction of this. It's introduced near the start of the trilogy finale as the only weapon powerful enough to defeat the Reapers. But it isn't actually built yet, and when it does get built, it doesn't work quite as everyone had hoped, as it not only destroys the Reapers, but also the mass relays and (in some endings) the Citadel.
Inverted in Mass Effect 3's ending The Catalyst, a literal Deus Ex Machina, cannot solve the problem and end the cycle without Shepard. It's Shepard that can be the real Deus Ex Machina.
Also, it's not really the Crucible that ends up being the Deus ex Machina, it's the Citadel itself. The Crucible merely upgrades the Citadel.
Dialog During Gameplay: Mostly confined to the elevator conversations in the first game, then expanded upon in the second during missions. The third game elevates it to an art form.
Dialogue Tree: Done through an innovative dialogue wheel where you choose the tone of Shepard's responses rather than what s/he actually says. Though this was a little misleading at times. The second game went a long way to remedying this issue, but the "limited summary" options during the first game would often lead to players who wanted to take a particular approach to roleplaying, for instance, softer or more diplomatic, entering dialogue paths such as:
Avina: ... The embassies allow lesser species to have a voice on the citadel. Shepard:[Lesser species? >] THAT'S PRETTY DAMN ARROGANT!
Differently Powered Individual: They're called biotics, not psychics. Justified in that it isn't pure brainpower that lets them perform incredible feats, and several in-universe sources hint that the name was deliberately chosen to keep people from misunderstanding what biotics are capable of (e.g. no mindreading). The asari complicate matters, as they are all biotics and they do appear able to read minds (embrace eternity!). This is related to their method of reproduction (syncing their nervous system with that of another person), however, and not biotics at all.
The asari are pretty much the ultimate example of the trope.
Kelly Chambers then subverts this in the second game, her replacement Samantha even more so in the third.
Disproportionate Retribution: The Alliance doesn't have the resources or manpower to guard all or even most of their colonies, so they settle for ensuring that anyone who does attack one is in for a whole world of hurt. Their motto can be described as "it's not the garrison that'll get ya, it's the reinforcements." This is detailed by the War Hero Back Story, where the world Shepard was having shore leave on was hit by the Skyllian Blitz, and Shepard singlehandedly tied up the invading ground force long enough for the Alliance Navy to drop in and catch the attackers with their flies still unzipped.
The First Contact War is an even better example. After the turians destroyed or captured what they thought was the bulk of humanity's military, they were caught absolutely off-guard when the Second Fleet of the Armada fought back and absolutely devastated the turian forces. As in, one of at least five similarly sized Fleets. Little wonder the Citadel races are wary of humans getting their backs up.
Divided States of America: The codex updates in the Kasumi DLC mention a Second American Civil War in 2096. Averted somewhat in that it's a civil war over the unificaton of the United States, Canada, and Mexico into a larger federation. So, in fact, it results in a bigger state.
The second game gives an offhand mention about a VI that was made of Shepard. The third game gives the chance to actually meet it. Much Hilarity Ensues, and Shepard is almost scared to ponder if s\he really is that bloodthirsty or flirty.
Pumped Up to Eleven, as so many tropes are, in the Citadel DLC, where Shepard meets his clone and subsequently is more concerned about how s/he speaks and which phrases s/he uses than the actual "one hour to survive" time limit s/he faces.
Do Not Run with a Gun: Running and gunning in the second and third game is a severe no-no; the tactic is somewhat effective with shotguns, less so with pistols, but forget it with assault rifles, and sniper rifles are right out. Even so, you can't move very quickly with a weapon drawn, and you can't shoot at all while sprinting (or "storming" as the game likes to call it). Technically possible in the first, but only effective with a lot of skills and upgrades.
This does not apply to a well-played Vanguard, even at the lower levels. As long as the Biotic Charge is used effectively, a Vanguard can definitely run and gun.
The Mindoir colony if your Shepard has the Colonist origin story.
New members of the Normandy crew in Mass Effect 3, Steve Cortez & Samantha Traynor, are stated to have been living at the Ferris Fields & Horizon colonies respectively when the Collectors attacked during Mass Effect 2.
Most characters, as of Mass Effect 3, due to the Reaper invasion. The only ones seen in the game are Vancouver (Kaidan), London (Anderson) and Thessia (Liara). You don't actually visit Garrus' hometown, but on the mission to Palaven's moon, Garrus points to a prominent swathe of fire on his homeworld and says that's where he grew up.
Saren Arterius to Sovereign is an outstanding example, given how they played Saren up as the Big Bad instead. That "misinterpretation" was supported by how Saren had Matriarch Benezia as his top lieutenant.
In Bring Down The Sky, Balak's main lieutenant is Charn.
The second game has the Collector General and Amanda Kenson to Harbinger, both of whom he indoctrinated.
The Illusive Man has Kai Leng, tasked with taking down Paul Grayson in Retribution and Commander Shepard in the third game. Interestingly, his indoctrination would also demote The Illusive Man to Harbinger's new Dragon, with Kai Leng as The Brute.
The Shadow Broker employed asari Spectre Tela Vasir as his top enforcer, specifically during the "Lair of the Shadow Broker" DLC mission.
Dramatic Gun Cock: Every time a cutscene ends the entire party goes back into combat mode by deploying weapons with satisfying noise. Goes great with post-cutscene dialogue. And the gun cock looks cool, to boot, as every single gun collapses on itself in storage state. So many cutscenes and post-cutscene actions involve someone pulling what basically looks like a metal stick with fiddly bits off of his/her back or hip, and then said stick unfolds itself into a gun. Complete with sound effects.
Shepard, possibly. Liara, at least, will complain whenever you almost-crash during the car chase in the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC mission, comparing it to the Mako rides in the last game, which Shepard was also present for.
James ends up crashing his shuttle into a Cerberus one to prevent it from escaping. Cortez, the designated shuttle pilot, doesn't let that one down easily.
The geth dropships from the first two games, either doing short passes to drop off certain numbers of reinforcements, or to hover and continuously spawn geth until driven away. They can also act as support, one dropship hanging around to jam communications and power conveniently annoying force fields.
The original Normandy could count as well, considering standard insertion technique seems to be flying just low enough to dump the Mako out of the hatch.
Harvesters in the third game serve as combination drop ships and heavily armed attack aircraft for the Reapers.
Dude, Where's My Respect?: To varying degrees. Shepard is the first human Spectre, but amasses a bunch of sidequests as s/he is trying to save the galaxy. However, most of the sidequests are initiated when Shepard offers to help. By the third game, this is averted with foes and enemies acknowledging that "Oh shit! It's Shepard."
Dug Too Deep: A couple of groups of scientists on various worlds in the first two games excavated dragon's teeth (the tech used to create husks) during their digs. Somehow, during study, they all went crazy, built shrines to mechanical gods, and either turned themselves into husks or used the technology to implement a similar effect (the makers not bothering to create different graphics for the so-called "Machine Cultists" it's hard to tell). Most likely, the shrines were already there, probably Reaper technology, and caused the indoctrination of the teams, making them sacrifice themselves to become husks. Doesn't explain why the dragons teeth shipped to a pioneer team by Cerberus did the same thing however, as there is no evidence of indoctrinating Reaper technology.
The third game plays with it a bit. Only Vega has issues from before the game starts, and Ashley/Kaidan are still at odds with Shepard following their argument about their working with Cerberus in ME2. Everyone else's issues develop during the story as the galaxy's situation goes from bad to worse, which makes sense — the rest of the party's major issues were dealt with during Mass Effect 2.
Dyson Sphere: Legion states that the 'true geth' want to build one, most likely to amplify their processing power to a fever pitch. The third game reveals that they had started construction. Then the quarians blew it up.