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- Jerkass: Several throughout the series but the turian Councilor really takes the cake. He also borders on Too Dumb to Live. Until he becomes the Only Sane Man in the Council come Mass Effect 3.
- Jossed: Fans had plenty of theories as to the true identity of the Shadow Broker. The Asari Consort? The Council? The geth? Nope. The truth is that he was a member of a seemingly Always Chaotic Evil species never before mentioned in the series, proving nearly all the fan theories about the Broker wrong.
- There's also a line in the Extended Cut of 3 where the Catalyst specifically rebuts the Indoctrination fan-theory by stating that the Illusive Man's indoctrination made him unable to control the Reapers, but Shepard is still free-willed and thus can take control if you choose.
- Judge, Jury, and Executioner: No matter how ruthless or forgiving they may be, Spectres epitomize this trope. They can quite literally do whatever the hell they want, heedless of laws, as long as they do what the Council wants done. Asari Justicars also fit this.
- Just a Machine: Used to justify the Fantastic Racism of the setting towards AI.
- Karma Meter: Less "Good vs. Evil" and more "Idealism vs. Cynicism". Do you cooperate with people or do you coerce them with threats?
- Killed Off for Real: Any squadmate who dies in a cutscene. Lots of characters, some major and some minor, in the third game.
- Specifically in Mass Effect 3, there are only two major deaths that can't be avoided no matter what you do: Legion is either dissolved to upgrade the geth or killed by Tali and Thane dies preventing Kai Leng from assassinating the Salarian Councilor if he didn't already die in Mass Effect 2. Everything else depends on previous actions you've taken: if their loyalty missions weren't completed in Mass Effect 2, Grunt, Miranda, Kasumi and Zaeed will be killed during the course of various missions. If you spared Morinth, she'll be waiting for you as a Banshee on Earth. If Wrex and Mordin are both alive when you visit Tuchanka, only one of them will make it out: Wrex attacks you if you kill Mordin to sabotage the cure, and Mordin dies if you let him finish the job (you can convince Mordin to sabotage the cure if Eve is dead and Wreav is in charge). Finally, if you can't convince Kaidan/Ashley of Udina's guilt, you'll have to gun them down too.
- Killer App: The series is considered a mainstay of the 360 system...
- Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Weapons in the game aren't traditional Energy Weapons, rather, they are loaded with a block of metal, and when fired, a piece of the block, about the size of a grain of sand is loaded, and fired using a mass accelerator.
- Personal energy weapons have an advantage simply because kinetic barriers can do nothing whatsoever to stop them; it's just that nobody aside from the Reapers and their slaves have figured out how to make them work on small-scale.
- However, said people also have weapons that look like lasers but are not. Instead, they shoot molten metal at relativistic speeds.
- Actually, the GARDIAN ship defense system is indeed a laser-based weapon. It actually exercises its ability to pierce shields as explained in the Codex entry.
- Kleptomaniac Hero: You'll probably feel terrible if you loot the wall safes of abducted colonists, such as those on the worlds of Freedom's Progress and Horizon or of slum residents (not to mention their ATMs and gambling machines) in the second game. You don't get Renegade points for doing this, though. The same applies to some extent to the first game.
- In the second game, BioWare pokes fun at this fact with Conrad Verner.
- Double Subverted at on point in the third game. You're generally expected to strip any place you're visiting from any and all weapons or mods you find, but during a mission on Tuchanka, if you pick up a certain shotgun, a krogan warrior standing nearby will growl at you that the gun is his. He still lets you take it though, saying you'll have to return it after the mission, then he conveniently dies in the next cutscene.
- In the "Citadel" DLC in the third game, you're also given a chance at one point to hack ATM Machines with a device you're supposed to use to disable security measures. Doing so will give you Renegade points.
- Klingons Love Shakespeare: Many facets of Earth culture have become of interest to non-humans. To name a few examples: asari love Egyptian artifacts (Egyptian hieroglyphics are similar to asari hieroglyphics), turians have an interest in Zen Buddhism and Confucianism, Mordin Solus does Gilbert and Sullivan musical numbers, Grunt likes to read the works of Ernest Hemingway when not playing with action figures, and there's even an elcor rendition of Hamlet.
- Knight of Cerebus: Sovereign, full stop. The series is fairly serious from the beginning, but once Sovereign shows up in the first game, the apocalyptic mood of the rest of the series sets in.
- In the second game, the Collectors immediately set the tone.
- Lampshaded Double Entendre: A Running Gag, mostly sexual context. More evident from the second game onward.
- Large and in Charge: Played straight by the geth; the biggest models always seem to be leading the others when you encounter them. Justified when in the second game you discover that the bigger the geth, the more programs it houses. The more programs it houses, the smarter it is. So the biggest models are the smartest ones. The one exception to this is Legion, who's no bigger than most geth troopers. Average geth mobile platforms house about hundreds of geth. Legion? One thousand, one hundred and eighty-three.
- The Shadow Broker..
- In the third installment, this seems to hold true for Reaper ground troops, as well. The bigger they are, the more damage they can deal and the more punishment they can take.
- Late Arrival Spoiler: The trailers for each sequel spoil the previous entries.
- Latex Space Suit: Underneath all the ceramic armor plates, all combat-grade hardsuits are this: they appear to work on Mechanical Counterpressure instead of bulky airtight suits. This results in all the suits being very sleek in form instead of baggy and bulky.
- Late to the Tragedy: The whole freaking galaxy. Repeatedly. Nobody's managed to survive yet.
- Law of Conservation of Detail : Played straight with moons in that if you see a moon, odds are there's a mission taking place there. Averted with many of the actual planets, some of which are there simply to add flavor.
- Leaked Experience: BioWare's standard method for fighting Can't Catch Up.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Richard L. Jenkins. He's the first one to die because of it.
- You also can't take his helmet off.
- This is actually a subversion, as Shepard orders Jenkins to take point, which is justified as Jenkins is a Soldier and specializes in direct combat, and the only other people available are Kaidan, who is a tech and biotic specialist, and Shepard him/herself, who is the commanding officer.
- In the second game, there's Prazza on Freedom's Progress. Though he's not playable.
- Leitmotif: In the second game, each squad member has their own distinctive leitmotif except for Zaeed and Morinth. The most distinct non-squadmate leitmotif, however, is that of the Illusive Man. Some of these even carry over into the third game, particularly those of Samara and Tali.
- Lensman Arms Race: The reason why weapons go through so many roman numberals in the first game, why the 2nd & 3rd have thermal clips (thank you, Geth), and likely a reason for the Reaper's galactic xenocide to prevent anyone from getting beyond them technologically.
- Limited Sound Effects: See Most Annoying Sound.
- Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: Mass Effect 1 and 3 play this mostly straight. Mass Effect 2 averts it on higher difficulties, where the direct damage dealers (Soldier and Infiltrator) become more useful.
- Living Relic: Javik in the third game.
- Leviathan DLC adds a whole race of Living Relics called the Leviathans, from which the very first Reaper was made millions of years ago.
- Living Ship:
- The mysteriously missing Leviathan of Dis.
- Revealed to have been a Reaper corpse in the third game.
- The Reapers are revealed to be this near the end of the second game. While they're assumed to be purely synthetic constructs, it turns out that they are actually a hybrid of synthetic and Organic Technology.
- Lizard Folk: The krogan and the drell, who play perfectly into the first and second types respectively. Oddly, the drell remind most people of fish, not lizards, despite the fact that they have an inevitably fatal lung condition caused by exposure to too much moisture.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: This series currently has seven different character pages.
- Loads and Loads of Loading: The first game was infamous for its elevators, which were hidden loading screens. The second and third games replaced them with more traditional load screens.
- Loads and Loads of Races: Humans, turians, asari, salarians, batarians, quarians, geth, krogan, hanar, drell, elcor, volus, vorcha, Rachni, Reapers, Protheans/Collectors, yahg, inusannon, Leviathans, good god it never stops!
- Location Theme Naming: Of a sort. All Alliance ships are named after significant places, events, or people on Earth, each class of ship getting a specific kind of landmark to be named after. So, dreadnoughts are named after mountains (Kilimanjaro, Everest, Shasta), cruisers are named after cities (Cairo, Tokyo, Warsaw), carriers are named after people (Einstein), and frigates are named after battles (Agincourt, Iwo Jima, Normandy).
- Long Game: The Reapers and their master play a very, very long game. One that depends on the development of galactic civilizations. And that they've been playing for a billion years at the very least.
- Longevity Treatment: Humans commonly live to 150 or so due to gene therapies and drugs. This puts us in the mid-range for lifespans in that universe.
- Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!: A cryptic carving on the ruins of one of the random scannable planets in ME1. The planet doubles as a Shout-Out to Forbidden Planet.
- Lost Technology: That the entire galaxy runs on. And does little to no research into copying for themselves. Just the way the Reapers want it.
- Until, that is, the Crucible, which turns out to have been passed down through various extinction cycles.
- Averted with the Protheans who succeeded in making their own mass relay before going extinct. It's the only reason there is a Mass Effect 2. Or a Mass Effect series for that matter.
- Lovecraft Lite: Most can't decide this and Cosmic Horror Story.