Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Initially averted. Before ME3, not one single event of any plot importance has occurred on Earth in the series. The only relevance it had to the current plot is that it's one of three selectable pre-service origins for Shepard. It's suggested that the Collectors will eventually hit Earth for the population density, but they never have the chance. ME3 begins with a full-scale invasion of the planet by the Reapers, and the ultimate goal is the launch a final battle both on and around Earth. Earth is actually the second victim of the Reapers after Khar'shan (the batarian homeworld), and Shepard doesn't return until the very last section of the game. However, the Reapers seem to be awfully focused on Earth, and actually move the Citadel into the Sol System to make a second attempt at creating a human Reaper, which conveniently forces the final battle to take place there.
The Eighties: According to the Word of God, Mass Effect is an homage to 1980's sci-fi flicks, including the soundtrack (Blade Runner, and so on). Mass Effect 1 seems to hearken to the early 80's, while Mass Effect 2 seems to hearken to the latter part of the decade. One example of this influence is the music in the first game, particularly the more synthesized tracks on the Citadel, which are a great Shout-Out to Vangelis' music in Blade Runner.
It helps that the games do take place in the 2180's.
Eldritch Abomination: The Reapers, and the Leviathan, who indirectly created them, and from whom their form was derived.
Elite Mooks: With the geth, 'Elite' overlaps with 'Giant.' The bigger they are, the more effective, though it works as larger units can house more software, which translates to smarter and more effective platforms.
In ME3, each faction has their own group of Super Mooks. Aside from the aforementioned geth, the Reaper faction has Brutes and Banshees (huskified krogans/turians and asari, respectively). Cerberus has Phantoms and Atlas mechs. And the multiplayer-only Collectors, as in ME2, have Scions and Praetorians.
It's worth noting that a lot of little elements in the game are expanded on by the Codex. For example, Engineer Adams comments that "going to FTL blue-shifts our emissions." The mechanics behind why the emissions are blue-shifted are explained in detail in the Codex.
The Codex is also a literal in-universe encyclopedia, which means that it intentionally contains incorrect and falsified information. For example, in the second game Sovereign is listed as a geth warship, when it reality it was a sentient starship and the first game's true Big Bad.
Endangered Species: The rachni, who are not quite as dead as the galaxy believes. It's up to you whether or not to finish the job. If you wipe them out in the first game, the Reapers make their own, but there's no way to save them — their Breeder will turn on you no matter what. The real Queen will help if given the chance.
Enemy Chatter: Constantly. Thankfully mitigated to a certain extent in the latter two games. The second game tried to offset this by replacing "enemy" with "squadmate"; the third rendered the squad (outside of certain situations) practically silent, while enemies only "chatter" after you've taken out enough of their comrades.
"I WILL DEEESTROY YOU!" "GO-GO-GO" "ENEMIES EVERYWHERE!" "HOLD THE LINE!"
Cerberus vs. Cerberus renegades in the third game.
Reaper-controlled Collectors vs Leviathan-controlled Awakened Collectors in the latest multiplayer DLC.
Epiphany Therapy: Averted on almost every occasion. Rather than getting people over their problems with a few helpful/tough words and maybe a slap to the face, Shepard instead tries to get people to acknowledge that they have a problem in the first place. And if they do, s/he then encourages them to see a shrink.
Eternal Prohibition: Drugs are still illegal. Alcohol is still legal, but only in certain places. It's implied that the laws are more fluid than what we're used to; drugs that are illegal are allowed on Illium, just heavily taxed.
There's large differences concerning attitudes towards drugs in different cultures; turians for example tolerate recreational drug use more than humans, but only as long as it doesn't impede their duties. Illium is a special case, as its location puts it outside all interstellar legislation, and the only law recognised there is corporate law — anything you buy comes with a contract describing all the effects and side-effects of the product, and as long as it's fulfilled, there's no grounds for complaint. Illium also references a point of debate from real life: if a drug is entirely illegal, it will be brought in by smugglers.
Eternal Recurrence: The Reapers and their 'harvesting' of all space-faring species of the galaxy every fifty thousand years. The earliest evidence available as of the second game is a mostly-dead Reaper. From thirty-seven million years ago.
The third game ultimately involves ending this cycle, and also reveals another: organic beings always create synthetics, always go to war with synthetics, are always destroyed by synthetics. The Reapers were created to end these cycles and preserve organic life.
Every Bullet Is a Tracer: Justified, in that each bullet is actually a grain-sized pellet of metal in a mass effect field. All mass effect fields give off blue light. Without ammo mods, every “tracer” is blue.
Everyone Is a Super: An elevator conversation between Kaidan and Liara discusses how many asari tend to be naturally gifted with biotics to the point that they can actually choose not to serve militarily. Kaidan expresses his jealousy at that last point. As shown in 3, this is intentional, and was coded into their DNA by the Protheans.
Everything Is Online: The entire concept of hacking. Possibly an aversion, though; see the page for details.
Everything's Squishier with Cephalopods: The Reapers look a little like squids, with tentacle-like arms and elongated hulls. Justified, as they actually are shaped after a water-dwelling organic species that created them.
The quarians; due to their immune systems, they can't go anywhere in the galaxy without being at risk, forcing them to wear environmental suits. This is a source of some small Angst for Tali.
In a more traditional sense, Tuchanka; you thought the krogan were bad? Everything on their planet is carnivorous. Even the plant life. And one of the minor predators is capable of completely destroying the ecosystem of any planet they're placed on. Then again, Tuchanka is a nuclear wasteland thanks to krogan civil wars.
Evil Is Easy: Averted. Renegade paths aren't usually any harder per se, but they tend to yield less rewards, and often trigger fights you could otherwise avoid. Which may have been your intention, of course.
Evil Is Petty: While Renegade is not technically evil, and is supposed to be a person who is sure I Did What I Had to Do, maxing out your Renegade meter will generally require you to be a bit of a dick, from being rather rude to shaking down money.
The rachni queen in Mass Effect 3 also has a deep voice (though not nearly as deep as a Reaper's), but is in fact an ally assuming you don't kill her. Justified in this case, though, as she's speaking through a bunch of krogan corpses.
Evil Twin: In ME3 Citadel DLC, Clone Shepard of Real Shepard.
The daily news updates are rapidly becoming probably the biggest contributor to the setting at large, fleshing it out with lots of running plotlines and even adding a new species to the Citadel.
The updates have also fleshed out some of the characters which were later introduced in the DLC (Tela Vasir in Lair of the Shadow Broker), or have been used to lead up to events of the DLC (Amanda Kenson in Arrival).
Exploding Barrels: These take the form of hazardous substance containers and power conduits. However, the containers only sneeze-explode if someone's rigged them on tripwires (the first game's mission on the derelict freighter with the comatose guy and his whack-job girlfriend springs to mind.) Exploding them under normal circumstances requires bullets.
Explosive Overclocking: Certain weapons upgrades in the first game will render your weapon incapable of firing more than one shot before overheating. But damn, are those upgrades worth it.
Expo Speak: Reading the Codex at 2 a.m. half-asleep tends to leave one feeling dim, confused, and unwilling to find a thesaurus/dictionary.
Expo Speak Gag: From the Lair of the Shadow broker dossiers: "Dr. Solus suggests Captain Kirrahe has a foreign obstruction in his cloaca." A few paragraphs later, "Dr. Solus suggests the foreign obstruction in Captain Kirrahe's cloaca is in fact his cranium."
Extreme Omnivore: Anything from Tuchanka. Especially krogan, who find just about anything, including burning corpses, appetizing.
Grunt: I'll eat almost anything, but I stress "almost."
The Faceless: The quarians and volus, since they have to wear an environmental suit at all times. Revoked for the quarians in the third game's Extended Cut ending (if they survived), as well as Tali's picture, which you get if you romanced her.
Faceless Eye: The geth, with their infamous 'flashlight heads.' In the second game, one of them gains some movable flaps around those eyes to portray something like emotion, but the trope is still in full effect.
Facial Markings: The turians, who continue the practice of declaring tribal allegiance through facepaint, even though the tribes technically no longer exist. They even use the term 'barefaced' for someone who is deceitful (hint: anytime you interact with a turian, check out the face). Also some asari, though their facial markings are not explained.
Many asari are born with various facial markings. Sometimes these facial markings look like painted on eyebrows, such as Liara's, but they are not seen by the asari as such.
The quarians are obviously influenced by Romani and Jews.
It goes on and on. The turians are Space Communists/Space Romans influenced by Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie), for instance.
Illium is basically SpaceDubai. It’s also suspiciously similar to Noveria from the first game, which was also a corporate owned and run world that had an unbelievable level of corruption and crime.
We can also see (mainly from Mordin's dialogue) that salarian culture is influenced by India since they believe in reincarnation and multiple gods (One salarian NPC says "May the gods bless you" when you accomplish his mini-sidequest).
The drell are most likely influenced by Greek culture, with their (dying) traditional belief of polytheism, belief of angel-/demigod-like beings, and separation of the body and soul. Very likely, seeing the choice in naming the one recruitable drell in your squad after the god of death (Thanatos) and the Greek word for the constellation Aries, Krios, which is ruled by Mars (whose Greek equivalent is Ares, god of war).
The geth show signs of being Space Muslims. They live in a place that used to belong to the quarians (Jews). Feared and hated for a terrorist act that was committed by a minute strain of heretical geth, while the vast majority are peaceful, and really aren't as unlike the organic races (who tend to assume that geth have no use for anyone who isn't a cybernetic) as people think. Also, they get hassled by airport security. As Legion would like to remind you: "Geth do not intentionally infiltrate."
In Mass Effect 3, the krogan ruins in Tuchunka had wall paintings like those in Ancient Egyptian Tomb, the underground ruins, and the building before their war, is essentially an Expy of Pyramids.
Fantastic Drug: The red sand mentioned, though never seen, in the games, which is refined eezo that gives users a high and temporary, somewhat weak biotic abilities. Withdrawal is described as being very nasty. The second game features Minagen X3, a red chemical which doesn't grant biotics but does enhance them. The more you take, the stronger you get. Until you OD.
Quarians have names organized as given name, apostrophe, clan name, vas/nar (for adult and underage, respectively), ship of residence/birth (ditto). Thus, Tali receives several Meaningful Renames over the course of the series: she begins the series as Tali'Zorah nar Rayya ("Tali of clan Zorah, born on the ship Rayya"), then completes her Pilgrimage and becomes Tali'Zorah vas Neema ("Tali of clan Zorah, crew member of the Neema"), then Tali'Zorah vas Normandy (when she needs to leave the fleet for political reasons), although it's just as common to refer to her as Tali'Zorah. The much-maligned Mass Effect novel Deception infamously only gave quarians a first name and ship name, and furthermore wrote as if their ship names were their last names.
Turians and asari use the "given name then family name" order. Krogan originally have only a given name but once they complete their Rite of Passage, they bear the clan name in front of their given name.
Salarians list the individual's homeworld, nation, city, district, clan name and given name, but cut it down to just the last two (swapped to being in western order) in nearly all circumstances: only two salarians get their full names spoken on screen and neither are major characters.
Between EVERYONE and the krogan, humans and turians (and vice versa), and pretty much everyone towards the quarians. Humans in general tend to be a sore point for most aliens.
Inverted with the asari, who value mixed-species children and instead act horribly racist toward purebloods. Samara mentions that ardat-yakshi (an asari congenital neurological disorder which results in sterility, (occasionally) sociopathy... and the ability to steal Life Energy from their partners by putting them Out with a Bang) occurs almost exclusively among the daughters of purebloods, and wonders if that's where the stigma came from.
Even otherwise open-minded individuals consider the vorcha to be talking vermin.
Turians aren't that bad actually; they're getting along alright with humans since the First Contact War, which was kind of a misunderstanding anyway. It's really batarians that hate humans' guts. The conflict between the races is so strong, it shapes three of Shepard's possible backstories.
The Terra Firma Party has a platform of resisting alien influences on human culture. Naturally, this has led to much of its membership being complete xenophobes.
Fantastic Slurs: With all the Fantastic Racism flying around, it's surprising that the most memorable slur is 'pureblood' for a child who has two asari mothers, only a few of whom are encountered in the games. Granted, one is a party member, but still.
Granted, this is because the asari consider it in the same way that we as humans consider incest — an unnecessary limiting of genetic diversity.
Another notable one is "suit rat" in reference to quarians. The volus also have "Clanless" as one of their anti-quarian slurs (conversely, sympathetic volus call them "Star Clan" or "Migrant Clan").
Fate Worse Than Death: The Reapers are disturbingly fond of doing this to the people they don't simply exterminate. And, as it turns out, so is Cerberus.
The Federation: Both the human Systems Alliance and the Citadel Council in general.
Notable, though, for the Systems Alliance is that while it represents humanity, it does not actually govern humanity. The Codex mentions that while the Alliance is responsible for Earth's colonies, its navy, and what not, Earth itself is still divided amongst nations. At the very least Japan, India, and the European Union all still exist as independent entities.
Well, the European Union seems to be a sort of The Federation since it's members apparently have a joint colonisation programme rather than having various UK, German and French colonies.
In the Kasumi DLC, new info about politics on Earth is given in the Codex: Apparently a North American Union of sorts - the United North American States - was formed, but the addition of Canada and Mexico angered a terrorist group into destroying the Statue of Liberty, whose head can be found in Kasumi's mission. Also, China is apparently the Chinese People's Federation these days.
Fetch Quest: Lampshaded by Shepard when meeting Mordin Solus in the second game.
Shepard: Just once I'd like to ask someone for help and hear them say "Sure, let's go! Right now, no strings attached."
Feudal Future: Salarian government is split up into fiefdoms, baronies, duchies, planets, and marches (colonization clusters), in increasing order of authority, rather than states. Granted, though, these are all human translations to make sense of the incredibly confusing government system the salarians use.
Fictional United Nations: The Citadel Council is one of the more politically powerful versions of the trope. It's somewhat of a benevolent dictatorship in that any decision they give must be abided by (or you can GTFO like the batarians did), and non-Council races can only make their case and hope the Council agrees with them.
Fighter, Mage, Thief: Or Combat, Biotic and Tech, for a sci-fi twist. Three player classes are purely one of these, and three others are hybrids between two of them. Done as well with the council races (fighter = turian; mage = asari; thief = salarian).
Fighting for a Homeland: The quarians have been exiled from Rannoch for about three hundred years now, and most of them are really antsy to go home. Others advise caution, alternate colonization, or even peace with the geth. During Tali's loyalty mission, Shepard can influence them towards one of these goals.
First Town: The Citadel in the first and third games.
Fisher Kingdom: Feros, though this is revealed to be the fault of the Thorian. If you tweak your definition of 'place', the Reapers could count as well; almost everyone who stumbles across them mistakes them for ships.
In the original Mass Effect, you can find a planet with ruins so ancient that they have all turned to dust, except for a giant column at the center. At the base of the column, someone scratched the words "Monsters from the Id", a Shout-Out to Forbidden Planet.
In the third game, Liara starts doing this, depositing archives everywhere the Normandy travels with complete records of the galaxy, the Reapers, the Crucible... and Shepard, in case the Reapers win. In the Extended Cut DLC, a fourth ending (Refusal) makes use of Liara's contingency plan: the Cycle continues once more, but the Reapers are finally defeated in the next one using the information Liara provided.
Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon: Magnetic railguns are the weapon du jour on Alliance ships. The Encyclopedia explains that every ship has its biggest gun mounted in the nose, because that way, the railgun can run the entire length of the ship - and the energy you can put into a railgun projectile is proportional to the length of the magnetic rail. Smaller railguns are usually mounted in turrets and sides, but if you want to punch through somebody's shields, you're gonna need the nose-gun.
Not just the Alliance. The Geth Dreadnought in the third game has one so massive that the boarding party uses it to reach the drive core (avoiding the actual discharges, of course).
The Reapers' name doesn't seem significant beyond a generic, cliché word for an all-destructive force, but it hints that the cycle of destruction is the species' reproductive cycle, and they literally reap what they sow. Along those lines, after you find this out and go back for a second playthrough, listen to all of the crazy batarian preacher's lines on Omega; one of them practically spells out what you find at the end.
Speak to Ashley in the Citadel Council Chamber, and one of her comments is about how the layout of the stairs appears to be designed to make good defensive positions. As it turns out, for Saren's geth.
After the mission to Feros, during your debriefing with the Citadel Council, a Paragon Shepard can get the Councilors to question his/her decision to save the colonists. The salarian will call him/her on it, saying "sometimes you have to be willing to make sacrifices to get the mission done." Ominous, and somewhat ironic.
In an early sidequest in Mass Effect, Signal Tracking, Shepard fights an AI that refuses to negotiate with organic life forms, saying it "understands organic life must always enslave or destroy synthetics." This conflict ends up being the core of the overarching plot of the series.
In one of Miranda's conversations aboard the Normandy, she says that "I'm still human. I make mistakes. And when I do, the consequences are severe." In the suicide mission, Miranda says she can maintain the biotic shield as well as Samara, or any other biotic. She can't, and one your squadmates is killed if you choose her.
Forgotten Fallen Friend: AVERTED. Shepard remembers everyone who died under their command or because of their orders. For example, Corporal Jenkins got killed in the first few minutes of the first game, but Shepard and the crew still talk about him in the next two. If Shepard ordered the Alliance fleet to protect the Destiny Ascension in the first game, a conversation in the second has them recall the names of every Alliance ship that was destroyed in that battle. And then there's the third game's Memorial Wall.
Friendly Fireproof: Your squadmates seem to have a disturbing habit of ignoring all the ammunition you're putting into their back to get them out of your way. But it's okay, you're immune to their fire too. The fact that they love nothing more than running in front of you while you're trying to shoot the bad guys kind of necessitates it.
Somewhat averted in the sequel, as they will yell at you for shooting them... but you still don't actually do damage. Kasumi's shout of "What am I, invisible?" is quite amusing, considering what her special ability is. Makes this kind of a literalStealth Pun.
Ditto multiplayer teammates in the third game.
At least your rounds are shown to be impacting on their shields rather than them. Makes things a little more plausible than "AWWW, DAMMIT, BILL!"
Somewhat averted with the Mako. The Mako takes damage from you and your teammates, but can't be destroyed if you aren't in it. If you're looking for a challenge, try finishing a driving section with a one-HP Mako.
Gateless Ghetto: The Citadel may be the political, economic, and cultural center of the galaxy, but you can only visit the embassy, the Citadel Tower, a market or two and a couple of clubs. The third game expands this: places to visit include a hospital, a refugee camp, the human embassy, a nightclub, and a common area with apartments and various stores. The Citadel DLC includes a huge apartment, an arcade and a casino.
Gender Is No Object: Played straight with most species, notably humans and quarians ("On the flotilla, we can't afford the luxury of sexism"). Justified subversion with krogans and salarians; fertile krogan females (or any salarian females) are rare enough that they can't risk them in combat, or even off of core planets. This is purely about practicality — several krogan in 2 mention Shiagur, a female warlord who continued fighting even after the genophage, from whom many still claim descent.
Gender Neutral Writing: Wholly averted, though not often; because most conversations are with Shepard, not about them, his/her gender isn't brought up much. But when the occasion arises the writers do not shy away from it. Most of the romances are gender-unique, and there are several other gender-unique scenes as well. For example, in the second game, there is a scene where a merc recruiter calls female Shepard a stripper. Bad idea.
Merc Recruiter: Well, aren't you sweet. You're in the wrong place, honey. Stripper's quarters are that way. Shepard: (takes out her gun) Show me yours, tough guy. I bet mine's bigger.
Gender Rarity Value: The krogan, having few females capable of carrying children to term due to the genophage, fit this, as do the salarians who have a nine to one gender ratio of males to females. This results in breeding becoming a very complicated process of negotiating contracts.
Salarian females tend to be the ones who hold political power despite being greatly outnumbered, which is why you don't see them on non-salarian worlds.
Generation Fleet: The Flotilla, travelling with the eventual hope of either getting their homeworld back or finding a new place to live.
Genetic Memory: Used against the Rachni Queen, to extract from her mind the coordinates of a relay she never saw herself.
In the third game, it's revealed that Protheans can access this, simply by touch.
Genocide Dilemma: With the rachni and the krogan. The Council seemed eager enough to wipe the rachni out (though the fact that the rachni have a Hive Mind centered around the queens, who were securely defended on the rachni homeworlds had a part in this, since the Council simply couldn't communicate to them), but tried to avoid outright genocide with the krogan, settling for the genophage. However, ignorance of krogan psychology has essentially led to delayed genocide. However, you get the chance to bring the rachni back into the galaxy, and it's looking like you can at the very least partially undo the genophage's effect in the future... In the third game, Shepard holds the fate of the krogan, quarians, and geth in his/her hands, and must decide whether these species live or die.
Averted in cases where the player chooses the "Sole Survivor" background, where Shepard is the only person to come out of humanity's first encounter with thresher maws alive.
Thresher maws actually sorta ARE Giant Space Fleas. Their spores can travel through space until crashing on a planet, at which point they burrow into the ground to feed on anything they can grab.
They are also either from, or get along well, with the krogan homeworld. Krogan fight them as a rite of passage during their puberty. And they will also do anything to protect their homeworld, as a very unlucky Reaper finds out the hard way.
Global Currency: Credits, which are used on every single planet throughout the galaxy.
The volus, a turian client species, basically manage the galactic economy because it's so complicated having to deal with the historical currencies of every alien race on top of the common galactic currency. Their talent for such things is why they became a client race for the turians.
Explained in the Codex — all banks in Citadel worlds are required to keep exchange rates between the local currency and credits. The Global Currency is really more an economic lingua franca.
Goggles Do Something Unusual: Garrus's eyepiece in the first game. He always has it, no matter what armor you give him, and it's never explained what, if any, benefit it grants. Second game comes around and, yup, he's still got it. But now you can buy that same eyepiece for yourself, to discover that it gives a headshot bonus. Nice. The third game offers a few different sets of goggles for sale.
Going Through the Motions: Shows up a lot. The end-of-conversation "turn and walk away" that is used by practically everyone you meet comes to mind.
2 and 3 had this a lot less than 1, with most conversations individually choreographed. Occasionally one of the old reusable movements is thrown in anyway, and is remarkably noticeable in comparison. Especially notable with the Illusive Man, whose fist pumping "we can do it" movements could define the trope. Interestingly, Jacob even uses this animation in the third game. And, in the climax, the Illusive Man does this to demonstrate the power that the Reapers gave him, making Shepard shoot Anderson.
NPCs also have a weird tendency to avert their eyes whenever they hand something over to Shepard, even if the transaction is legitimate.
Golden Snitch: Somewhat averted. The big decisions are made at the end of the first game, yeah, but your actions throughout the whole of the game still affect the outcome somewhat. And in the second game, the obvious big choice is made at the last second. But that's not what's really important. What's really important is if you helped your teammates enough and upgraded your ship throughout the entire game to have them survive. That's the really important part. Played straight in the third game: if you laid the groundwork for the war effort in the previous two games, you'll have a much easier time in the third, but even so, your actions in the third game are the most important.
Good All Along: Well, maybe not "good", but definitely "not as xenocidally insane as everyone thought all along." This applies to both the rachni and the majority of the geth.
The third game implies this may be the case for the krogan — they only turned uncontrollably violent and anarchistic under the effects of the genophage, and under strong, far-sighted leadership, can and will once again be the heroes who saved the galaxy.
Most of the time when Shepard does something heroic, there are civilian witnesses, so the story usually gets around fast. However, due to being a Spectre and taking on very... sensitive missions on a pretty regular basis, there are a great number of fantastic things that go down and no one ever hears about. Or, alternately, they know basically what happened, but not the real truth.
In a much bigger sense, this also applies to the Protheans' Heroic Sacrifice to give the next generation hope against the Reapers.
In the third game, Shepard embarks on a lot of outrageous adventures, some of which Diana Allers, a reporter you can invite aboard the Normandy, will keep complaining that she can't report on.
The multiplayer characters in the third game: strike teams of human, turian, asari, salarian, quarian, and krogan commandos launching daring raids deep behind enemy lines to keep the enemy tied up and busy while buying Shepard time. A glance at class skills reveals that these faceless, nameless heroes include Alliance officers, salarian STG operatives, asari justicars, and more. The multiplayer expansions even throw geth, batarians, vorcha and Cerberus defectors into the mix.
Taken Up to Eleven in the last expansion, when you get to play a Collector that was freed from Harbinger's DIRECT CONTROL by a Leviathan enthrallment sphere.
Grey Goo: One planet has seas made of silicon which screw with probes that are launched onto it. The extranet has spawned a conspiracy theory that labels the "seas" as advanced alien nanobots, which every government flatly denies.
Green Aesop: The drell backstory - uncontrolled industrialization altered their already-dry homeworld's climate and started to cause mass extinction. Most of the surviving drell were rescued by the hanar over the course of ten years and brought to the hanar homeworld. The drell homeworld is now called a cemetery world, with only a few thousand survivors eking out a living in the arid wastes.
Not so green if you talk to Thane. Because the climate of the two worlds are so different, practically all drell on Kahje will eventually suffer what amounts to a slow drowning as their lungs fill up with moisture and rot. Plus, the drell are in a species-wide indentured servitude (with no end in sight) to the hanar including being assassins and soldiers. Thane says the drell are happy to fulfill their obligation but if the ME universe has anything to say about it, he's merely generalizing and ignoring the many who do not see this as fair.
The krogan backstory - they blew their homeworld to an irradiated desert. Then the salarians gave them spaceflight and were surprised when they did the same to other worlds.
And averted if you talk to Mordin, really. He suggests that it wasn't the nuclear weaponry and such that was the problem. The problem was that the krogan simply weren't mature enough as a species to handle the technology.
Green Lantern Ring: The omni-tool. Essentially, it's a portable computer which can hack locks, bank accounts, computers (including ones in enemy weapons and armor) and slaughter people by activating tech powers...
They're also useful for playing computer games like Alliance Corsair.
Also, in Mass Effect 3, it can stab people, despite being just 'light'. And can be electrified or set on fire.
Green-Skinned Space Babe: The (blue-skinned) asari were originally designed (as stated in the art book) to be "a race of beautiful 'green alien girls'," as much of the game's universe is nostalgically built upon the familiar sci-fi tropes of yesteryear. And, thanks to a delayed reaction to exposure to the Thorian's spores, one of them turns green for the second game.
Guest Star Party Member: One in the beginning of each game, per BioWare tradition. They tend not to last long. At least the one in the third game doesn't die at the end of the first mission, nor would anyone want him to.
Also appears in Lair of the Shadow Broker, where Liara joins your party temporarily.
And Arrival, where Amanda Kenson joins you even more temporarily.
Admiral Anderson at the beginning of the third game, though he doesn't die at the end of Earth — he simply takes up leadership of the Earth resistance and sends Shepard off to get help.
In the Omega DLC, you get two of those. Aria is with you on every mission, while Nyreen joins you only sporadically. Nyreen dies.
Guilt-Based Gaming: If you make the wrong decision in some of the more emotionally torquing sections of the games (and trust me, it will happen), the other characters will rip into you for it. More than that, though, the way they talk is not just aimed at Shepard, but you. Also, certain decisions (such as exposing Tali's father as a war criminal at her trial) will have not just in-game characters but EVERYONE online who finds out about it calling you a monster. Fans get very emotionally invested in this series.
The final scenes of the krogan and quarian/geth arcs in Mass Effect 3 really push the limits of this.
There is a certain scene in the second game where during Tali's loyalty mission, when you find the body of her dead father, she starts crying and a Paragon interrupt comes up to hug her. Not taking the interrupt is considered by most (if not all) players, even the full-Renegade ones, to be the most soulless thing one can do.
Dear God you can do some nasty things in the third game, and people will call you out on it. Sometimes violently.
Hacking Minigame: All the time. Necessary to get equipment and money in the first game; arguably more so in the second, because it's one of the only ways you can make any cash apart from end-of-mission rewards.
Averted in the third game. Your omnitool (or EDI, in a few cases) does all the hacking, no player input required.
Hallucinations: Apparently a side effect of Reaper indoctrination; almost everyone mentions hearing strange whispering in the background. And on the mostly-dead Reaper, one of the unfortunate researchers mentions seeing... something come through a wall. Something other people in the room can't see.
Hand Behind Head: A standard character animation for some who's uncomfortable...or lying. Shepard him/herself does it a few times, when forced to come up with an explanation or cover story on the spot.
Hand Cannon: The Executioner pistol. Full Stop. Second Highest DPS in the game, with the heavy barrel mod, outclassing fully modded sniper rifles and shotguns. With a scope it is DE FACTO a high power sniper weapon with enough penetration to pierce a Cerberus Riot shield and OSK its Guardian wielder AND the assault trooper hiding behind him (on normal difficulty). One shot per thermal clip and insane kickback keeps the ROF slow as the trope usually demands.
Handguns: The favorite weapon for characters to use in cutscenes. Justified somewhat, because most situations where they need a weapon in a cutscene, they need one now, and all other guns need a few seconds to fully deploy before being usable.
Also because Handguns are the only class of weapon that all characters and classes can use, therefore allowing the Player Character and all of the members of his/her party to be able to use the same, or similar, animations. There are cutscenes that are character-specific however, which allow party members to use other weapons, mainly for characters who do not carry a pistol (such as Garrus or Grunt).
Hard Light: Subverted. Every single instance where you think you're looking at classic sci-fi holograms that act like physical objects, you're actually looking at something completely different. Holographic keyboards and computer consoles are shaped and projected light, but tactile response comes from subdermal implants or gloves. Free-floating holographic barriers like the Sentinel's Tech Armor are just projected mass effect barriers, with holograms to warn comrades to keep their distance from the reactive barrier. The attack drone used by the Engineer is just a micro-manufactured flying device surrounded by mass effect barriers. The omniblade in Mass Effect 3 is a solid monomolecular, transparent blade that is created by the omnitool on demand and broken down after use, the hologram is just to make it visible to the wielder so they don't accidentally poke thei own eye out or something.
Has Two Mommies: A definite possibility for any asari, since they mate through genetic tweaking as opposed to actual sex. As long as the other mommy isn't another asari. That's a big no-no.
The third game alludes to this being very possible for humans, and Miranda's origins confirm that human technology is capable of it. Samantha Traynor, if romanced, certainly talks about raising a family with a female Shepard after the Reapers are defeated.
Ardat-Yakshi among the asari. They're extremely dangerous, but the third game reveals that quite a few ardat-yakshi are perfectly happy to spend their lives in a monastery where they can't hurt anyone.
Including Shepard as of Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 3 scaled it down a bit however, splitting the health bar into five segments. Once fully depleted, segments can't be recovered without medigel.
Healing Potion: Medi-Gel, the universally useful wound treatment salve. It sterilizes the wound site and then immediately staunches the bleeding by congealing over it (and is removed for full treatment by ultrasound). It appears to be a genetically engineered organic material, as it's been deemed "technically illegal by Citadel law", but is just too handy to pass up. Customized formulations are available for specific racial anatomies.
Heavy Worlder: The elcor, whose high-gravity planet has made them slow, cautious, conservative, and incredibly strong. These traits make them wonderful diplomats, negotiators, bouncers, and mobile heavy weapons platforms. Also the volus, but other environmental factors take precedence in how they're described in the setting.
The Hecate Sisters: The asari, whose life cycles involve a "maiden" stage, a "matron" stage, and a "matriarch" stage.
One of the asari religions involves worshiping a triumvirate of goddesses who fit this trope as well.
Hellgate: The Council treats every unopened mass relay as a potential one of these after that little incident with the rachni. The Citadel, being the welcome-home gate for the Reapers, definitely qualifies, as does the Omega-4 relay which the Collectors come out of every once in a while to kidnap some people for their experiments.
Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Whether this is played straight or averted in the first game is up to the player; you could customize whether the helmet stayed on or off whilst on missions (except for Tali, of course). Unless you're in a hostile environment; then they're on and stay on until you're inside.
In the second game there are several different helmets and other types of headgear, which you can wear or leave off at your discretion. If worn, they add armor or other bonuses, depending on the type of gear, and the character is visually shown wearing them, even in cutscenes. So this trope is, in fact, averted where the main character is concerned. The other two crew members who wear armor and could conceivably be expected to don matching helmets are a turian and a krogan - both species with naturally armored heads, slightly justifying their decision. That said, turian and krogan helmets do exist and are worn by some characters. In that respect the trope is played somewhat straight with these two supporting characters.
In the third game, you can turn helmet graphics off while retaining the bonuses.
Heroic Neutral: The vast majority of the geth, as it turns out, though they appear to be willing to help the rest of the galaxy if that's the best way to beat the Reapers. Mostly, though, they just want to be left alone.
Hidden Depths: Every single one of your squad members. Every. Single. One.
Hidden Elf Village: No less than three: the quarians, the batarians, and the geth. The game deconstructs some of the issues with hidden elf villages; since the only representatives of those species that the average person meets are the outcasts and criminals that get thrown out, they tend to form somewhat unflattering opinions of the race as a whole.
Higher-Tech Species: The Protheans, all the way. Even taking into consideration the fact that the mass relay system and the Citadel weren't actually made by them, their custom technology is still pretty incredible, and they did build one prototype relay of their own before being destroyed. Also, the Collectors, and the Reapers, who were the ones who made the mass relay system. And the Collectors get their technology from the Reapers. And if the AI they created (and the things the AI itself created) is any indication, the Leviathans definitely count.
Highly Conspicuous Uniform: Phoenix-series armor is white and pink. White and pink. One of the (female) party members starts the game with it, but you can give it to anyone. Krogan in pink is hilarious. A few others, particularly the ones designed by Devlon Industries, are highly visible outfits. Then again, the Phoenix series is apparently designed for medics, and the Devlon series of armor is designed for construction and utility work in high-risk areas, so it makes sense that they wouldn't be camouflaged.
All three of the major mercenary groups in Mass Effect 2 wear obvious uniforms, with the Blue Suns wearing, well, bright blue and white armor, the Eclipse wearing yellow and black armor, and the Blood Pack wearing bright red. Justified in that members of these groups want to openly declare their allegiance to outsiders and rival factions.
Shepard's armour can be customized in the second game, which can lead to some hilarious cases of this. It can be a bit silly, though, running around looking like a Collector with no one ever commenting on it.
In the third game, no one's going to mistake Cerberus troops for anything else.
Highly-Visible Ninja: In the second game, the Geth Hunters are this gameplay-wise. They can activate invisibility which turns them almost entirely transparent except for their brightly glowing blue eye, making it fairly obvious where they are. Fools the NPCs at least. Kai Leng and Cerberus Phantoms in the third game, too, complete with the invisibility cloak.
High-Tech Hexagons: The logo of Cerberus has a hexagonal shape and uses some materials with hexagonal surface patterns.
Hive Caste System: The rachni. We've got workers (small exploding suicide bugs), soldiers, (bigger acid-spitting bugs), brood warriors (even bigger acid-spitting bugs with biotic powers) and the queen (freaking huge bug, combat capabilities unknown, whom we very fortunately do not have to fight).
Hive Mind: Two confirmed, one creepily ambiguous, depending on how stringent your criteria are.
1. The rachni, who "sing" to each other to communicate. It makes running their society much easier, but has the added disadvantage of making it hard to communicate with other races, and therefore ruling out diplomacy, which led to their downfall. The Leviathan DLC reveals that it's based off of an organic quantum entanglement system.
2. The Thorian, uses telepathy to control the people it's taken over. But the role is one way, and passive. Basically whenever a human thinks something that the Thorian doesn't want it to, they feel massive pain. When the colonists are freed, it leaves Brainwash Residue that allows them to pick up on the thoughts of other freed individuals nearby, which comes in handy in the third game against the Reapers.
Not definite, but still implied: when the Cerberus researchers on board the Reaper are being slowly indoctrinated, they start to be able to recall each other's memories, to the point of not being able to tell whose is whose. Never explained. Very creepy.
And, of course, the geth. Intentionally, in this case. And they actually like it that way. It's also combined with Mind Hive, since there are multiple geth programs in each physical platform.
Hollywood Atheist: Mostly averted. Ashley clearly indicates that her religiousness is unusual, and that most people consider it at least eccentric. Some aliens express religious beliefs, and apparently some turians, for example, embrace human Confucianism, since it fits so well in their species' mentality. It's never explained with most characters if they actually believe it or if it's simply a linguistic artifact (such as some asari making references to 'the goddess') though.
The "goddess" Athame was actually an ancient representation of the Protheans, who gave the asari much of their knowledge and culture.
Mordin also averts this to some degree. A conversation with him on his loyalty mission has him confessing that his involvement in the genophage, and witnessing its consequences, made him explore different religions across different races and cultures.
Hollywood Hacking: They explain the mechanics well, but it still falls victim to this.
Hollywood Science: Almost entirely averted, making it one of the hardest sci fi universes to come out in some time. Most of their work is well-researched and doesn't end up at unnoticed, absurd conclusions. You could make a long list of nothing but their aversions. That said, they do make some mistakes.
Artistic License - Chemistry: Eezo. Element Zero. That means it's an element with no protons? It's pretty simply just unobtanium, but the name implies possible real-world substances, like neutrons, or plasma, which don't have the properties of eezo.
Artistic License - Physics: Eezo again, but this time its mass-adding or mass-subtracting properties are due to being subjected to a "positive" or "negative" current. Current flows in whatever direction, and calling it positive or negative is just like saying that left is somehow fundamentally different from right. The only way it makes sense is if, like a diode, eezo has a physical structure that makes it so electricity flows differently in one direction than another, but this handwave isn't given in the games.
Holographic Terminal: Every computer interface in the galaxy seems to be made of Hard Light. Justified in that regular users wear special gloves which allow for their use and provide feedback sensations; heavy users get sensory implants in their fingertips to avoid the hassle of cleaning the gloves all the time.
This is a common last resort for species attempting to survive a Reaper invasion. Of particular note is a Side Quest to save the elcor, whose homeworld is being assaulted, in Mass Effect 3. However, this only serves to delay the inevitable, because the Reapers are patient enough to spend centuries exterminating every last trace of all sapient life, no matter where they hide.
Before the story proper, the quarian race escaped their homeworld to avoid being exterminated by the robot race they created, the geth. Worthy of note is that the geth allowed them to leave to avoid committing genocide.
In the third game, this is revealed to be the Awful Truth behind Sanctuary.
Humans Advance Swiftly: Despite being on the galactic scene for about four decades, humanity develops quickly into a formidable presence militarily and diplomatically, even achieving membership on the Citadel Council, where many other species were unable to do so.
Humans Are Average: Neither the most short or long-lived, neither the weakest nor the strongest, et cetera. But they are very inventive, adaptive and a powerful force.
Humans Are Flawed: Rather hypocritically used by various non-humans as arguments for why they shouldn't be given special status.
Humans Are Leaders: Subtler than most works, but still a present undertone throughout the series.
Humans Are Morons: The batarian government tends to think every other alien race is beneath them because tradition dictates that having four eyes, coincidentally the number batarians have, makes one more intelligent, but they're especially resentful towards humans given the political history.
Humans Are Special: Despite being a relatively new race to the galactic scene, mankind has left quite a mark on the galaxy. Harbinger calls your teammates genetic failures, but when it comes to the humans... he uses them to make a new Reaper.
It's noted by Mordin and EDI that humans have far greater genetic diversity than any other sapient species in the galaxy, one fact that makes them useful as a control in cross-species experiments, and also possibly explains why the Reapers have chosen humanity to make the next generation of Reapers.
More accurately, though, humans are just the newest special race. Before them there were... well, most of the other major races. The turians beat the krogan who beat the rachni who beat the asari...
Samara also says this:
Samara: You are more individualistic than any other species I have encountered. If three humans are in a room, there will be six opinions. I like your species. I am curious to see what you will do.
Liara also voices this opinion. She admits when she first met humans, she thought the assessment that humanity bullied its way into galactic politics was rather accurate. Since she's been on the Normandy, she come to realise that its due to humans having a natural drive to set goals and the tenacity to actually carry them out, calling them "indomitable".
Shepard humbly suggests this is because compared to races such as the asari, who routinely count their age in 4 digits, humans only get 150 years at most, so they strive to do all they can.
Renegade Shepard can even invoke this when solving a problem for an asari in the Citadel:
Shepard: When you want a problem shot, ask a turian. When you want a problem talked to death, ask an asari. When you want a new problem, ask a salarian. When you want a problem solved, ask a human.
This is savagely Deconstructed in the second game. Humanity is pretty damn awesome and everyone knows it, too. Which is why our race now has the attention of the ageless machine devils lurking in extragalactic space. They're impressed, and want to help us ascend.Actuallyjustified because Shepard is so Bad Ass, and also human. In the first game, Reapers didn't pay any special attention to humans. Now that the Shepard (and by default, humans) have managed to destroy one of theirs, the entire human race now has their attention.
There are subtle and not-so-subtle hints that humans are special because of meddling from, at the least, the Protheans. The random, unexplained vision at the end of a sidequest in the first game, the discussion of the vast diversity of human DNA in the second (especially when compared to other intelligent races), and the third game has researchers on Mars speculating that someone (likely the Protheans) did something to humanity long before the beginning of recorded human history. In short, humanity might be a vastly delayed uplift to give the galaxy a chance against the Reapers. Then again, they were more focused on the asari.
Humans Are Warriors: Just about every other race is quietly scared of humanity's ability to mix it up with the turians despite having only a small fraction of our population currently serving in the military; the term "sleeping giant" is used, as in, "If all these naked apes ever got really pissed off all at once they could conquer the entire galaxy." Two of the three endings prove it.
A short summary of the First Contact War: Humans, ignorant that there are any other intelligent species in the galaxy, violate the Citadel Council laws by opening any and all dormant Mass Relays that they find. The turians, aware of the dangers and a member of the Citadel Council, attack and destroy a human merchant convoy they come across activating one such relay. A survivor flees to the human colony of Shanxi, which gets conquered by the turian fleet who subsequently occupy the planet. They are then surprised when a Systems Alliance fleet returns to liberate the system, following a more flexible military doctrine as compared to the turians. When the occupying forces are defeated, the turians mobilize their armed forces for large-scale actions to crush the Systems Alliance, but the Council intervenes and negotiates a peace before the offensive can be mounted.
About the only species that aren't scared of humans are the ones that are almost universally violent themselves, like the vorcha or the krogan.
The Mass Effect Wikia says that if the Alliance and turians had gone to full-scale war, the conflict would have wrecked a significant portion of the galaxy.
Especially when the Alliance's kneejerk reaction to the turians was to send out a ton of space probes into turian space... armed with nuclear bombs as a form of DRM.
There's an in-universe joke that the rest of the races are glad that humans and turians can't mate. Because, they reason, their children would be unstoppable.
And then there's Commander Shepard. Shepard is one human. If aliens think we might have a few more people like that hanging around who are thus far lacking only the call to kick some serious ass, no wonder they're concerned about the entire human race.
Pointed out by Legion, who says that the geth view Shepard as very important, due to him/her being the most crucial in killing a Reaper.
Shepard: All kinds of organics fought Sovereign and his geth allies. Why am I so interesting? Legion: You were the most successful. You killed their god. You succeeded where others did not. Your code is superior.
It also may be an artifact of the volus language (not that this invalidates the aforementioned possible Shout-Out). At least one volus merchant refers to his species as the vol-clan, and the asshole volus on the Citadel in the second game refers to quarians as "clanless" (Tali does not take kindly to this seeing as quarians do have a clan based society and take great pride in it). This may be a Shout-Out to the general tendency in sci-fi franchises to name alien species after their planet of origin.
Another (more polite) volus revers to a quarian as "migrant-clan", so that's pretty much confirmed.
Humans Through Alien Eyes: One of the things your alien companions can talk about is how they, or their race as a whole, sees humanity.
Humorless Aliens: The turians, the elcor, and the geth, in different ways. See the trope page for details.
100% Heroism Rating: In the first game, you can get a substantial discount on purchases in a shop if your Paragon meter/Charm skill is high enough, while a high Renegade meter/Intimidate skill will allow you to sell your items at a better price. You also get other benefits, like hearing reports of your actions (and how they ended) on the news in the Citadel, and people on Feros and Noveria will thank you if you saved their lives and contained the alien monsters threatening to kill them. Saving Captain Kirrahe's salarian commando team on Virmire also ends with him thanking you and promising he will not forget your bravery and sacrifice for his team. At the end of the game, if you saved the Council, they will also express their gratitude for saving their lives and also praise either your ruthlessness or your compassion and honor.
These carry over into Mass Effect 2, which is filled with references to your past deeds, people recognize you all over the place, and you can even parley your fame and reputation into discounts at some stores by giving them an endorsement. Conversely, because of this, there will be some instances where people from the first game will chew you out for what happens in the second game.
And nearly all of the choices from Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 are carried over for Mass Effect 3...as long as you have the Extended Cut, anyway, otherwise the finale will be a bit more generic.
Hyperspace Arsenal: Present in the first game; you have access to hundred of different weapons, armor, and various mods for both while on the run. However, you only have one weapon of each equipped at a time, with the rest in your inventory rather than ready to use. The mods have the excuse of only being electronic blueprints and a few specific components, but the guns and suits of armor are physical objects.
Averted in the third game. Carrying extra weapons is heavy and slows you down, and most items you recover are picked up by the Normandy and stored in the cargo hold.
Khalisah bint sinan Al-Jilani has shown an extremely strong pro-human and anti-alien bias from Shepard's conversations with her in both games, so it may come as a surprise to see her kissing and embracing an asari in a few select data files in Lair of the Shadow Broker. Similarly, the Illusive Man, leader of the xenophobic human terrorist organization Cerberus, has no problem porking an asari Matriarch, according to his Broker dossier.
In Lair of the Shadow BrokerTela Vasir calls Shepard a hypocrite for judging her dealing with the Shadow Broker when s/he's working with the terrorist organization, Cerberus right before she dies. She has a point if you're playing a full Renegade Shepard, who will endorse Cerberus' actions. Paragon Shepard not so much; they see working with Cerberus as a Necessary Evil at best and will betray it in the end.
And then, there's the coup de grace of this universe: a small cabal of asari matriarchs. The Council made a law stating that anyone who withholds Prothean technology will be fined severely and the tech will be taken from them, with extreme force if necessary, so it can be shared with the galaxy at large. Then the third game reveals that the highest officials of the asari "government" have possibly the only intact Prothean beacon in existence. Obviously, this gives them a massive advantage, especially considering they've had it since their Stone Age and hid it in an ancient temple.
Harbinger derides the asari as inferior for relying on other species to reproduce. Guess what the Reapers need to make more Reapers?
Mass Effect 3 has Kai Leng, who brags about how either Thane or Kirrahe died like cowards if he killed them yet in the game repeatedly proves that he's a Dirty Coward who relies more on firepower or manpower rather than personal skill when confronting Shepard and tends to run whenever things go south for him. Not to mention that they went down fighting. Leng's last act? Trying to stab Shepard while his/her back is turned.
In an unusually tragic example of this, Shepard at one point berates James Vega for the Death Seeker tendencies he shows, despite having become somewhat of a Death Seeker him/herself by this time.
As part of the idle banter between your squadmates, Wrex is fond of asking them who they think would win if they took on Commander Shepard in a fight.
In the Mass Effect 3 DLC "Citadel", your squadmates argue over who of their two krogan members would win in a fight: Wrex, a thousand-year-old battlemaster, or Grunt, a genetically engineered perfect warrior; perhaps unfortunately, the test gets shut down before it gets past the headbutting stage. Also in the same DLC, the aforementioned idle banter from the first game becomes a Brick Joke if you take Wrex and the Virmire survivor with you before facing the Mysterious Figure.