The location of the Mu Relay, from the Rachni Queen on Noveria
The Prothean Cipher, from a Thorian thrall on Feros
The krogan cloning facility on Virmire
The Conduit on Ilos
The Reaper IFF
The opposite end of the Omega-4 Relay, the location of the Collector base
The human-Reaper larva
The Crucible and the Catalyst
Eve, the last surviving female krogan immune to the genophage
The Prothean Beacon on Thessia and Vendetta, the AI with knowledge of the Catalyst
Mage Marksman: Biotics invariably enter combat armed with some form of gun in addition to their powers.
Magic from Technology: Biotics look like magic, feel like magic, follow the same arbitrary restrictions as traditional RPG magic, and take more handwaving to explain than the rest of the series' technology combined. In-universe, however, they're considered a very thoroughly understood field of science in everything but implementation, as it is impossible to reliably grant biotic potential to an individual.
The third option ending of the third game really pushes this trope to its breaking point.
Magical Gesture: Most biotics make excessive hand and arm motions when using biotic powers; this is justified in-universe by saying the motions really do help make the instinctive connection between firing the right nerve endings and making stuff fly into space.
Magic Tool: The aptly-named omni-tool. There isn't much that it isn't used for in the Mass Effect universe. Some of the applications include:
Precision manufacturing of any small parts (which, of course, can be combined into larger items) from a commonly available plastic/silicone/metal mix named "omni-gel". This includes EXPLOSIVES.
As of Mass Effect 3, a Laser Blade. note Apparently, it is not a true Laser Blade. Fluff states that the omni-tool basically flash-forges a super-heated piece of molten metal and projects it in a mass-effect field, complete with glowing "Danger, Fire: Hot" holograms around it. The end result is a highly-penetrative, laser-looking wrist dagger that you can stick in your target and, you know, leave there.
That one alone sees an incredible array of uses, especially in Multiplayer. Sure the end result is mostly the same, but a lot of the playable classes have their own version of Omnitool blades which alter the behaviour of their melee attacks.
Maligned Mixed Marriage: Inverted with the asari, who don't like to see members of their own species get together, and prefer that asari get together with members of other species.
Manual Leader, AI Party: The series had this in all three installments: you could decide on their armor and weapons loadout and give them orders in combat but only ever directly controlled Shepard.
Massive Race Selection: Averted in the single player campaign, where you can only be Shepard, a human. Played straight in the multiplayer mode of Mass Effect 3 which lets you play as asari, batarians, Collectors, drell, geth, humans, krogan, quarians, salarians, turians, vorcha, and volus.
The second game introduces Kelly Chambers, Kenneth Donnelly, Gabriella Daniels, Rupert Gardner, Hawthorne, Patel, Rolston, Goldstein, Hadley and Matthews. All of them can die in the Suicide Mission, if you don't go into the Omega-4 Relay quick enough.
The third installment features Steve Cortez and Samantha Traynor and to a lesser degree Privates Westmoreland and Campbell.
Nihlus Kryik gets a fairly interesting backstory, a collected disposition and an Informed Ability, just before he gets killed in the second scene of ME1. He gets a little more backstory from having previously encountered one of your ME2 squadmates, Samara.
Mayfly-December Romance: Any asari relationship with anyone but a krogan or their own species. Sort of Nightmare Fuel, when you consider the fact that asari children are therefore all but guaranteed to lose their alien parent during adolescence or earlier.
And krogan aren't even a safe bet. Unless they happen to be a very patient krogan, odds are that the krogan parent will have either left and/or gotten themselves killed in one fight or another.
Or, as one asari mentions in the second game, their relative long lives means that it's possible for veterans of galactic wars separated by centuries to still meet up and get it on. In said asari's case, her father (a krogan) was a veteran of the Rachni Wars while her mother was a veteran of the Krogan Rebellions. When this is discovered by the two parents... well... it doesn't end well.
Aethyta: They called me, told me they were going to have it out, and I was to love whichever of them survived. Turned out to be damned easy, since neither of them did.
Also in the second game, you can overhear a conversation between a young asari and her salarian step-father, where this is brought up. The salarian is having a tough time buying a souvenir, to the exasperation of his daughter. If you listen to it all the way through, the salarian admits he's worried that his MUCH longer lived step-daughter won't remember him, and wants to buy something special for her mother so she won't forget either, as he asks her whether she remembers her father. Even worse: he's thirty-five at that time, and his species isn't expected to live much past 40. Tick tock...
In fact, its brought up all the time when talking to or overhearing asari speak about their relationships or parents. Two asari are discussing their prejudice against "purebloods" and one is far more vehement than the other. Her companion wonders whether its a response to the fact that she "barely knew" her salarian father.
On Illium an asari woman is inverting this with regard to her krogan boyfriend (with whom she is going through a rough patch.) She finds humans easier to date, because she only has to stick around for a century or so and the human eventually drops dead, allowing her to amicably part from them. (This admission does not amuse Shepard.) However, krogan can potentially live as long as asari, and thus are a potentially much bigger commitment, with the attendant restrictions that implies.
Of course, this wouldn't be Mass Effect if it didn't also have every interspecies relationship trope Played for Laughs. A certain couple on the Citadel give us this gem:
Asari: We need a souvenir. How about a fish?
Turian: Fish have nothing to do with the Citadel. Besides, it'll be dead in a couple of years.
Asari: The important thing is to enjoy the time you spend with the fish.
Turian: Is this the life span talk? I'm not having the lifespan talk.
In the third game, a human woman and her asari lover are talking about the best way to break the news to the human's husband that she wants to leave him. If you listen to the whole conversation, it eventually becomes apparent that the asari is not thinking of the relationship as long-term like the human woman is...
In Mass Effect 3, asari-vorcha couples get mentioned (their offspring are apparently allergic to dairy) - vorcha have a life expectancy of 20 years.
Vigil, whose name comes from Latin for "Keep Watch". Note, that one particular usage of that word involves keeping watch over the body of the deceased before burial.
Legion, a collective consciousness of over a thousand individual programs residing in a single body. Named as such by another AI, no less.
Harbinger, along with being the Big Bad of the second game, he is also the Reaper who personally boasts to Shepard that the Reapers will soon be upon the galaxy, not long before the invasion proper begins. Even more meaningful as of the Leviathan DLC: he is revealed to be the very first Reaper ever created, made out of the Leviathans themselves.
Mega Corp.: Most of the businesses in the game, honestly. Granted, though, if you're gonna supply a galaxy, you gotta be pretty huge.
One in particular stands out: Elkoss Combine. The running gag on advertisements is ending with "A division of Elkoss Combine". In Mass Effect 3, Elkoss Combine's sales kiosk on the Citadel has the motto "Elkoss Combine: If it exists, we carry it." You even may pass by the owner, the volus Rupe Elkoss, having an idle chat about business practices.
The salarians keep their rare females as safe as possible (though one of the two you meet can be killed if you don't play your cards right).
You hear about how protective the krogan are of their rare fertile females (at least of their own clans), only to find out they use their non-fertile ones as decoys. Also, the fertile female you meet can die.
Mental Affair: Pretty much the whole way the asari work, though they can get physical as well.
Notable are the krogan, to the point that it's emphasized and lampshaded by Wrex and Eve.
Humans and quarians, on the other hand, are subject to Gender Is No Object more so than this trope.
The asari zig-zag it all on their own—they're the only monogendered race (looking and being described as all-female) in the series, and they're shown to be capable warriors and diplomats. However, they're also the only species whose Hat is being stereotyped as an Obstructive Bureaucrat.
The Citadel actually has 20 hour days, divided into 100 minutes which are divided into 100-seconds (so a kind of metric time), each second being roughly half of our second. Which amounts to approximately 28 Earth Hours.
Mildly Military: While the Alliance and even Cerberus crews are fairly spit-and-polish, the majority of Commander Shepard's squadmembers are anything but formal. This is called attention to by various crew members.
Largely averted in the third game. Liara is the only squadmate without formal military experience. Which does not detract one bit from how badass she really is, considering her alter-ego, the Shadow Broker.
Mile-Long Ship: Sovereign-class Reapers are approximately two kilometers long, while Citadel dreadnoughts average one kilometer. Justified with warships since a longer ship means the spinal mass accelerator can be longer, meaning it can accelerate its slugs to a higher speed and they will therefore strike with greater force.
They may be fast but there's one major restriction. Using the low estimate of the diameter of the Milky Way (100k LY), it would take over 22 years to get from one side to the other at that speed. However, drive cores acquire charge as they're used for FTL (roughly 50 hours, depending on size of the core) before they get saturated by charge to the point where they have to discharge it somewhere or else the crew turns extra crispy. Depending on the size of the core and the method of discharge (smaller ships that can hit a planet's escape velocity can use grounding facilities on that planet, larger ships that wouldn't be able to make escape velocity use planetary magnetic fields), discharging a drive core can take hours (releasing it to a gas giant's magnetic field) or days (discharging to a moon's field). Secondly, the relays allow practically instantaneous transport between two points, so instead of having to take 22+ years to go cross galaxy, one could plot a relay course that takes them there in a day.
Mind Hive: The geth. An individual geth "terminal" can potentially contain thousands of geth programs. Some or all of those programs can later be uploaded to a hub and then downloaded to a different terminal. Geth programs running on the same hardware will disseminate information and reach a consensus, but each individual terminal has a unique perspective, which will cause the programs to reach different conclusions, until they re-interface with a hub and share any new data.
The Reapers as well seem to be a case of this. This is corroborated by Legion, explaining that this was part of why the geth heretics identified so closely with the "Old Machines", citing Sovereign's "we are each a nation" speech to Shepard's team during the first game as being an indication of this. He claims that the Reapers have many minds, but one will, their indivisibility being their strength, while the geth are interdependent, not yet capable of fully integrating with each other, and thus must build consensus.
And the harvester creatures in the 2nd game drop klixen.
Morton's Fork: Used occasionally throughout the series, most often in cases where Charm/Intimidation cannot be used. The most prominent examples in the first game is the decision to either save or abandon the Council and the decision to either kill Balak or let him go to save the hostages. In the second game, there's a sidequest in which you must choose between saving two targets from a slew of missiles: a heavily-populated civilian settlement, or an economically-vital industrial complex. Either way, the colony is pretty much a wash.
Mr. Exposition: Absolutely everyone you meet with a speaking role. Everyone. Though they'll only Infodump on you if you ask for details.
Mr. Fanservice: As per usual in a Bioware game, there are the popular female romances, and very often shipped thoroughly and discussed adoringly on the forums of said company. In Mass Effect the most popular for female Shepard (and only male) was Kaidan. Of course, Garrus was very popular too, but he wasn't romanceable then. The sequel brought a whole multitude of new choices that split the fangirls between Kaidan, Garrus, and the new kid on the block... Thane. Of course, Jacob was a romanceable figure too; some enjoyed his lack of brooding angst but much of the fandom decided he was too genericand not troubled enough and found it not at all romantic that he refers to Shepard as a "prize." Behind her back. The ensuing fan fiction confused a lot of people who had jumped ship for Thane. After Horizon, a lot of Kaidan fangirls decided to go down with the ship.
And then there's the Joker fans... which gets disturbing fast if you're also a Batman fan.
Vega in the third game, who, unfortunately, is not a romance option.
The asari. All of them. Even in-universe; young males of every race tend to be fascinated with them. Lampshaded on Illium if you listen in on the salarian's "bachelor" party. The same conversation implies its deliberate on the part of the asari. The guys in the party disagree on the defining features of the asari 'dancer'.
Miranda. Skin-tight clothing, genetically-enhanced body, plenty of lingering shots of her... assets. Again lampshaded in-game, especially in a conversation between Ken and Gabby. Not to mention being voiced by and modeled after Yvonne Strahovski.
Enyala: I was just waiting for you to get dressed. Or does Cerberus really let you whore around in that outfit?
And then there's EDI's new body in the third game.
Diana Allers. Suffice it to say that the camera rarely focuses on her face. And for good reason.
Every romanceable female NPC has at least one moment that qualifies them.
Multicultural Alien Planet: Though most members of a race are more similar than not, there is noticeable cultural diversity. Most present amongst the quarians. Many quarian ships have existed longer than some countries on Earth.
Multiple Life Bars: The first game just has health and shields, but the second implements a much more complicated version. The standard rule is that enemies will have one bar of health, "protected" by a bar of armor, shields, or barriers, with each affected by different offensive abilities. Unusual enemies will have more than two bars, and some have no health at all (making them completely immune to abilities that only work on foes with exposed health bars.) This also applies to Shepard and Co. as well. Played straight somewhat in the third game, where aside from shields, Shepard's health is divided into five segments; damage within one segment regenerates over time, but to heal other segments, medi-gel must be used.
Also, why would anyone want to poke a stick at something known as The Leviathan of Dis?
Never My Fault: The krogan have this attitude about the genophage. They blame the Citadel races exclusively for them being effectively neutered into neutral population growth even after helping with the rachni, despite the fact that the krogan were aggressively expanding, overrunning the galaxy, and eventually started to "colonize" worlds that were already under the ownership of another species.
Nigh-Invulnerability: The Reapers. They can be killed but it takes an ENORMOUS amount of effort. At the end of the first game it took two whole fleets to bring down just ONE, and only when it was focusing its energy on fighting Shepard. Some sight-seeing locations imply that a dedicated anti-Reaper weapon was used to fight a previous, ancient invasion, and it took its target down — but the shot glanced off the target and devastated an entire planet.
Actually a minor plot point in ME2. If you pursue a romance with Garrus, the issue of... ingestion comes up. This also applies to Tali, as the quarians have severe allergic reaction to foreign organisms; she explains this when Shepard asks about it during the romance arc.
There's also the volus, who must live in high-pressure, toxic environments - or environmental suits.
A bit of this with Cortez (noble) and Vega (roguish) in the third game, who can usually be found together in the shuttle bay.
Non-Combat EXP: The series, despite relying heavily on combat, did away with XP-for-kills starting with part two, instead handing it out for quests and some item pickups. Even in Mass Effect 1, some XP was gained upon unlocking each Codex entry, i.e. from simple exploration and interacting with the environment.
No Paper Future: Averted. You never personally use paper, either for money or for information, but it still exists; you can even see it if you look closely enough. It's just that paper money is almost exclusively used for illegal purposes due to being less efficient and harder to trace than electronic transfers, and, well, a military ship needs the space too much to store a printer and paper supplies. Datapads work just fine.
Books also still exist, but they are not as popular as digital media. Doctor Chakwas seems to have several books and binders in her lab, Kasumi has quite a few in her observation deck home. Donovan Hock has several shelves of books in his manor and one can purchase books themselves in Mass Effect 3.
No Points for Neutrality: Played straight in both games. You get no benefits whatsoever for doing so in the first game, and in the second game this can actually cause you harm.
Bioware took pains to avert this in the third game, turning the Karma Meter into a reputation system. Shepard's ability to sway other powers depends on his or her reputation, whether that reputation is for even-handedness or ruthlessness. However, much also depends simply on general reputation, with Paragon or Renegade opening new options or influencing the outcome. Many actions build reputation but are morally neutral, causing both Paragon and Renegade values to rise at the same time, but keep the same ratio with regard to each other as they do.
No Scope: Possible to do with sniper rifles, but so difficult it's more effort than it's worth. And even if the enemy is close enough for it to work, well, you have a shotgun (or, at the very least, a heavy pistol).
No Such Thing as Alien Pop Culture: Averted; a few alien films are mentioned in the games proper (such as the asari film Vaenia and the turian/quarian film Fleet and Flotilla), and even more tidbits of pop culture in Cerberus Daily News (such as a volus comedienne who hosts a late-night talk show). The most notable one is Blasto, the hanar Spectre.
In-universe, by Citadel law. Humanity actually made a disturbing amount of progress in this direction before becoming part of Citadel space and being forced to abandon their experiments. You get to see a few examples in all three games, though, almost all of them related to Cerberus.
Including Shepard by the time of the second game, which is practically taken to Samus-esque levels where it is questionable just how human Shepard is anymore, particularly if you buy all the upgrades that involve screwing with your biology (namely your bones, skin, and muscles) in fairly major ways. Hammered home when it is revealed that Shepard is apparently mechanical enough to be hacked in the Overlord DLC.
This becomes a minor point of angst for Shepard during a couple of moments in the third game. In a conversation with EDI, Shepard is mildly disturbed by the implication, but EDI reassuringly says Shepard's brain is organic and thus s/he isn't a true transhuman, despite his/her multitude of cybernetic implants. A brief existential crisis can also occur during the raid on Cerberus HQ, if Shepard views footage from the Lazarus Project.
Can be forcibly averted for all organic life in the galaxy in one ending to the third game.
Also the Leviathan of Dis, as the batarians learned to their sorrow.
Not Worth Killing: This is the ultimate insult a krogan can give an enemy. As a Proud Warrior Race, krogan status is determined by who one's enemies are. This extends to other races as well; the Mass Effect Rogues Gallery is exactly why most krogan see Shepard as the most badass creature in the galaxy.
Not Using the Z Word: In-universe; the term 'robot' and 'artificial lifeform' have been legally changed to 'synthetic'. Also, despite running into husks and Thorian creepers, no one takes the opportunity to shout the Z-word. It's only mentioned once in the game, during a conversation.
Now, Where Was I Going Again?: As usual for a Bioware game, you have a journal which lists all of your quests, where you currently are in terms of progress, and what you need to do next. It even separates main story quests from sidequests.
Numerical Hard: Borderline between aversion and playing it straight. Most of the changes in difficulty do just change how long it takes to shoot the enemies to death, but there are behavior modifications as well.
Fully averted in the 3rd game. Especially the multiplayer mode.
Oddly Small Organization: Apparently, Cerberus, despite being so shadowy and influential, only has about a hundred and fifty actual members. In an organization that spans half the galaxy and has enough resources to build a supremely advanced frigate and bring Shepard back from the dead.
In the third game, they get a fleet of capital ships and an endless supply of mooks. The game actually goes to some trouble to justify both.
A villain gets a particularly satisfying one. After being one step behind him for the entire game, watching and hearing Saren lose his cool for the second time time when the Mako comes flying out of the sky like a goddamned missile on Ilos is nothing short of delicious. note The first was after Eden Prime; when you use the beacon, he has a BIG temper tantrum.
The ending of ME2: The Reapers are coming - THE ENTIRE ARMADA!
During Miranda's loyalty mission, a Renegade interrupt results in a hilarious example, as you take out four out of five mercs aiming at you in a matter of seconds. You can almost hear the fifth one saying it.
During Thane's loyalty mission, when Mouse turns around to see Thane and Shepard standing behind him. "Be still, Mouse. You can change your pants later."
When Shepard wakes up during the Arrival DLC, the Project scientist looking after him/her has a very satisfying one.
Prior to that, during the stand-off against waves of Project security near the Reaper device, you can hear them growing more and more upset that Shepard just won't stop.
The phrase "Oh my gods" is actually uttered verbatim during Thane's loyalty mission, when facing down Kolyat; during the hostage situation, the Renegade option is to shoot the hostage yourself, prompting said phrase from Kolyat, and Shepard claiming "Hostages only work when your enemy cares if they live or not."
Older Than They Look: Any asari you run into is apt to be old enough to be your great-great-grandmother, at a minimum. Considering that the average asari lifespan runs around a millennium, this also skirts the edges of Really 700 Years Old.
Humans, thanks to better medical science. One of the characters in the Expanded Universe is in her forties, but looks like she's in her twenties. Miranda Lawson is thirty-five, though you wouldn't know it by looking at her. While Miranda explicitly mentions she was genetically engineered for superior longevity among other things, normal humans enjoy benefits of advanced medical science as well. Dr. Chakwas says she's lived a full life and certainly comes across as grandmotherly, but doesn't look it quite so much. She was with the Alliance during the First Contact War. In ME1, she says she joined "right out of medical school". The First Contact War was about 30 years prior to the game, so depending on how long it took her to graduate med school and how long she served before the War, Dr. Chakwas is either in her late 60s or early 70s.
It's been explicitly stated average human lifespan has increased to roughly 150 years, barring unnatural causes. This may be in part due to sheer ubiquity of grafts and cybernetic augmentation, which implies everyone with a medical insurance is likely to have at least a few organs replaced during their lifetime.
Old Save Bonus: Decisions you've made have an impact throughout the entire trilogy. Even if it's just an e-mail from someone you helped saying how they're doing or an incidental news report, most actions are at least referenced. Bigger decisions have much larger impacts.
On a mechanics note, you can also receive in-game bonuses like starting with a higher level and extra money if you imported a rich, high-level character; and on a meta note, you can get the "Long Service" achievement after playing through Mass Effect 2 once if you import a character from the previous game, rather than two playthroughs with new characters. The same achievement is also in the third game, and is achieved the same way.
Honestly, this series is probably qualifying for the Trope Codifier on this. While other series have doubtlessly used the concept before, few, if any, have paid so much attention to continuity being maintained throughout the franchise as a result of using it. Granted, it's not completely perfect, but you likely won't be able to look at games which merely import character names and a few altered statistics the same way.
Old-School Dogfight: Theoretically averted in the Codex. Ships are mentioned to engage each other over humongous distances. However, played notoriously straight in every space combat cutscene actually shown. Justified because these situations are not waged under typical circumstances and engagement at unusually close range is a part of the strategy specifically to confuse and outmaneuver the enemy.
Fighter-to-fighter combat specifically is rare; their purpose is more to harass larger ships and overload their missile-defense systems.
Well, the codex does mention a specific class of fighters, called "interceptors".
Omniscient Morality License: The Illusive Man and Cerberus as a whole seem to think they hold one; they constantly spout off about saving the human race and helping them to get ahead, despite committing atrocities against human worlds on par with batarian pirates and, if in-game events are anything to go by, being responsible for more Alliance casualties than the First Contact War. And let's not forget Jack ("This is a bad place."). Registration for these licenses is also pretty much fifty percent of Spectrehood.
The Catalyst puts all of the above to shame.
Once Is Not Enough: Krogan. Unless you have some kind of regeneration-killing ammo equipped, don't be fooled when they fall. Keep shooting until the bodies dissolve.
One-Gender Race: The asari, who default to the "child-bearing sex" (i.e., female) as they are biologically monogendered.
One-Federation Limit: One Alliance, one Republic(s), one Hierarchy, one Union, one Hegemony, one Flotilla, one Collective...
On closer examination, this is likely averted because of the turian foreign policy: There are stated to be more 'client races' besides the volus. So, more than one Protectorate.
One Steve Limit: Averted. There are four Jacobs. The guy on the MSV Worthington, the deceased husband in the sidequest Family Matter, the previous guy's son and the party member in Mass Effect 2.
Also, there's Jack Harper.
There are also two characters named Delan: A hanar merchant on the Citadel in the first game (short for Delanynder in this case), and a human mechanic on Horizon in the second.
The Cerberus Daily News for May 7th, 2010 quotes a turian relief worker named Saren.
Curiously, there really is only one Steve (Cortez).
There's actually also Admiral Steven Hackett.
Also possible for Shepard, depending on the first name you decide to give him/her. This is, of course, never said in dialogue.
One World Order: Subverted. The Council presides over most of the galaxy, but is more like a more influential United Nations than anything else, and most species have a single government that rules them. Subverted in that there is definitely separation, though, and few species seem to answer entirely to one government. Even the Alliance is only the group elected to represent humanity to the Citadel.
Especially highlighted in ME2 where Shepard spends most of the game in the rather extensive Terminus Systems and interacts heavy with other non-Citadel, non-Terminus cultures.
Humanity itself is mentioned as comprised of distinct countries and politics.
The third game repeatedly emphasizes that the asari aren't remotely united - their government is the Asari Republics, and their fleets operate largely independently. This... does not serve them well, compared to more organized species.
Only a Flesh Wound: In the games, shooting a breathing enemy in the legs will slow them down. That's it. No bleeding, no breaking, nothing. They just stumble for a moment and then keep going. This is definitely at odds with the flesh-pulping, bone-pulverizing properties of mass effect weaponry described in the books. Averted with husks and their relatives, abominations. They will die if you hit them in the legs, regardless of actual damage done.
Optional Character Scene: Aaaaaaaaaaall over the place. The second game even has optional character missions... well, optional in that they aren't needed to finish the game. If you want a better outcome, however...
Orbital Bombardment: Using kinetic weapon strikes for the most part. The first game mentions that during the turian occupation of Shanxi the turians were more than happy to demolish away city blocks from orbit to take out single squads of human soldiers. During a sidequest, Shepard offers to have the Normandy hit a rachni hive from orbit. In Mass Effect 3 one of Diana Allers's news stories mentions that the Reapers blew away Adelaide, Australia with an orbital strike. And then of course there's the battle with the landed Reaper destroyer on Rannoch, which Shepard takes out by painting its weak point as a target for the Normandy and the entire quarian fleet. Last but not least, the fluff mentions that during the Krogan Rebellions the krogan reacted to turian attacks by aiming asteroids at turian colonies, which just pissed the turians off even more.
The Order: The Spectres fit the bill, even thought they're sci-fi as opposed to fantasy.
From the way asari are described in the Codex—the first race to discover the Citadel, having some of the greatest political influence in the galaxy, perfect democracy, long lives, great technology, universally strong biotic abilities and producing some of the best warriors of any race—you'd think this trope would be played straight. But in-game asari as a whole are treated with no more or less respect than most other races, and the entire superiority attitude is completely deconstructed by an asari in the second game. Then completely deconstructed in the third game: it turns out that all the advantages the asari had were given by the Protheans, including, among other advancements, altering their genes to make them innate biotics.
The quarians get a bit of this in the third game, specifically as space wood elves. If Tali is any indication, they even look the part.
Even the Protheans seem to be this before being deconstructed. Like everyone else, they acquired technology from previous cycles — in their case, from the Inusannon, who are actually the ones depicted in the statues on Ilos.
Our Zombies Are Different: Husks. Victims of Reaper indoctrination or defeat at the hands of minions of the Reapers. Skewered on special spike machines and slowly turned into cybernetic zombies. In the first game, there's just your basic Husk. The sequel introduces Abominations, Scions and Praetorians.
And in the third game we go Up to Eleven with huskified batarians, turians, asari (Ardat-Yakshi specifically), krogan/turian hybrids, harvesters and rachni.
Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: An interesting take on the subject, but not played anviliciously straight. The Codex offer details on the religions and cultures of the major races (for example: it turns out that Confucianism and Zen Buddhism have found a niche among the turians) but religion doesn't have a large part in the actual game.
One of the conversation possibilities with Ashley reveals that she is religious and that this is considered unusual. Shepard can also proclaim that s/he's religious. Legion and EDI also know the Christian Bible.
That isn't so strange. The Bible would more than likely have been posted on the galactic internet extranet as part of Earth's history, which EDI would certainly have access to and Legion more than likely would have come across in his study of organics.
Even on a secular level, the Bible is still one of most important books in Western culture. Many things people take for granted did originally originate there, even basic, everyday sayings like "go the extra mile" or "scapegoat." If an alien creature wanted to get an understanding on Western culture, the Bible would be one of the best places to start.
Mordin also claims he studied religions "looking for answers." Justified in his case.
Even the geth are religious; Legion states that this is because they're synthetic life forms.
The Shadow Broker's file on Cerberus states it arranged the assassination of the Pope so that a new one with militaristic beliefs and an attitude of forgiveness towards the salarians (apparently this was to improve relations with the turians since they both were responsible for the genophage... it's not very clearly explained) would take power. The Catholic Church is clearly still a major political power.
In a bitter irony, one of the Mass Effect 3 live action trailers features a church scene.
Overheating: In the first game's background, all guns had ammunition stores that would number into the thousands (the "mass-accelerator" technology allowed the guns to shear off a small piece from a block of metal inside the gun and accelerate it to ridiculous speeds, allowing small arms to be very deadly and be capable of shooting thousands of shots with one block), therefore ammunition stores are non-problematic for a single engagement and don't show up in-game. However, the guns still gave off heat, so a gun that fires too often overheats and must wait for it to cool down to fire again.
The second game, however, went for reloading. What is reloaded, however, is the "thermal clip" heat sinks for the gun — as opposed to a magazine being depleted to be reloaded, the number of shots you may fire before reloading represents how many shots the gun fires before a new heat sink must be inserted due to the old one being overheated; the magazines of the guns are still capable of holding thousands of shots. While a player technically should be able to wait for their heat sinks to cool down and fire later instead of being forced to eject them after too many shots, the game no longer gives that option. There are also a few other nitpicks about the new system.
As a minor point: if the heat dispersion mechanism is chemical in nature (i.e. heat is absorbed to convert the sink material from a high energy to a low energy state), they would be unusable after being depleted and no amount of waiting would reverse that. Even if was just a mechanical "dump this heat into a metal or other material as quickly as possible," most metals with high melting points and high thermal conductivity would also take an eternity to cool down on their own in a normal atmosphere, and ejecting them would be the only practical way to use them. Of course, then there's the issue of ejecting near-molten metal tubes through the air in cramped quarters during a firefight...
Continued in the third game, with at least one exception: a Particle Rifle, a weapon made by the Protheans.
There is one point on Noveria where you can overhear a salarian businessman trying to dig up some dirt on the administrator of the facility, asking his brother if he is ready before reading off the full name: "Rannadril Ghan Swa Fulsoom Karaten Narr Eadi Bel Anoleis." A (different) salarian on Feros will give you an explanation of what each of his names mean.
Arguably qualified as an example of this trope: Tali'Zorah vas Neema nar Rayya, which literally translates as "Tali of the clan Zorah, crew of the Neema, child of the Rayya," the Rayya being the ship she was born on. Fittingly, it is only used once in a highly official context, otherwise being shortened to different lengths.
The soul names of hanar also qualify apparently. One name that Thane mentions in the second game is "Illuminates the Folly of the Dancers." Another that turns up in the third game is "Regards the Works of the Enkindlers in Despair."
Painfully Slow Projectile: In the first game, anything of heavier caliber than small arms moved slowly enough to simply be sidestepped. Still largely the case in the second game, but now the vast majority of those attacks are also seeking.
Pamphlet Shelf: The Codex. You don't have to read it, but it helps a lot of things make more sense.
Parental Abandonment: Two out of three of Shepard's origin stories, and approximately half of the crew.
Paused Interrupt: Unfortunately, often occurs during the least likely times to pause between lines. Usually, the conversations flow pretty well, though.
Pay Evil unto Evil: Certain characters, such as Renegade Shepard, Garrus, and Samara prescribe to this philosophy.
People Farms: In a large-scale and disturbingly literal scenario, the Reapers treat the entire galaxy as one big People Farm, coming through every once in a while to harvest their crop and seed the next one.
In the third game, Cerberus opens one of these on Horizon to study Reaper tech.
The Philosopher: This game is swimming in them. Sure, there are certain characters who consistently fit this trope, like Wrex or Mordin or Thane, but every character gets their introspective moments.
Humans can pick up this ability, as well, via a cybernetic implant called a greybox. Kasumi Goto has one, and even suggests that Shepard should get one, as well. Kasumi's late partner, Keiji, also had one, which becomes the focus of her loyalty mission when it ends up in the wrong hands.
Planet of Hats: Note that many alien races see humanity in this way, too: both determined and relentless — though some of those races themselves are forced to certain traits due to their physiology. Kaidan discusses this, saying he finds jerks and saints within other races, and "They're like us."
Overall, Mass Effect heavily subverts this trope (and lampshades it on numerous occasions). There are the stereotypes, but the races don't conform to said stereotypes.
There's a pointed conversation between the Warrior Race member Wrex and an Alliance officer (Kaidan or Ashley). Officer remarks that Wrex isn't what he expected.
Wrex: Yes, because you humans have a wide range of cultures and attitudes, but krogan all think and act exactly alike.
As far as humans go, it's somewhat intentional as mentioned in the backstory. The Systems Alliance is the official face of humanity in space, but Earth itself is still split along political and national lines. It was only after first contact with the turians that the Systems Alliance was able to establish itself as the galactic face of humanity. Thus, less Genre Savvy aliens may very well believe that the Alliance is the only facet of human culture that exists - which would explain why many aliens with less contact with humans believe that Humans Are Special at war on par with the turians. The Alliance has parlayed its single military engagement with a dominant species into political power and prestige.
The second game subverts this even more especially with the krogan. It gets to the point that as you interact with Grunt, a krogan tank-bred by another krogan, you realize that Grunt is no more a 'true' krogan than Saren's were. And this unconscious realization is precisely why he's a little angsty.
Even with the subversion, the other races are still more prone to wearing "hats" than humanity. A conversation with Mordin on Tuchanka has him pointing out that humans are more biologically diverse than any other sapient species. According to Mordin — you can roughly judge an asari, turian or krogan's capabilities and intelligence at a glance, but humans just vary too widely for that to be effective.
Samara makes a similar (though affectionate) statement about human variation:
Samara: You are more individualistic than any other species I have ever encountered. If there are three humans in a room, there will be six opinions. I like your species. I am curious to see what you will do.
Platonic Prostitution: Sha'ira, the asari Consort, rarely grants sexual services to her clients personally... much to the frustration of some of her more enamored admirers.
The Citadel in the first and third games is the focal point of most every event. It's where the majority of side quests are received and completed, it's one of the most consistent sources of supplies, and it's mandatory to visit at least three times. Somewhat unusual in that it's the second location you visit immediately after the First Town.
The Normandy serves this purpose in every game, though the second one is far more tricked out in this regard than the first. The refitted Normandy in the third game even more so.
Playing with Syringes: There's more secret evil experiments going on in this series than you can shake a stick at.
Plot Lock: Found throughout the games are doors that, mysteriously, neither you nor your more tech-savvy companions can hack your way through. They will inevitably open later in the mission. The second game goes as far as to conveniently mark such doors with a red lock.
Population Control: Quarians have a one-child limit due to limited resources and space (they live on a fleet of spacecraft), but if their population gets too small then extra children may even be encouraged. The salarians enforce this on themselves with carefully planned breeding to avoid overpopulation problems.
The salarians forced this on the krogan via the genophage.
Portal Network: The only reason you can travel the galaxy is because the AbusivePrecursors built the mass relays, that allow instantaneous transportation that not even faster-than-light drives can match.
Possession Implies Mastery: Subverted. Apparently, the mass relays are simplicity itself to use; a few years of study and humanity was zipping all over the galaxy with them. But no amount of study has been able to crack how they actually work yet, to the point where the galactic community at large has stopped trying. The Protheans, apparently, were able to at least begin to understand how the mass relays worked and even built a couple of scale models, but it's implied that they were at it longer and were also more diligent.
Averted in the first game with respect to your weapons. Everyone carries all four weapons everywhere but starts out with nothing more than basic training in any of them, resulting in poor accuracy and damage. This is especially noticeable with the sniper rifle, with which it's almost impossible to hit anything without a fair amount of training because of how much the targeting reticule drifts while aiming.
The second game also brings up a point about the mass relays being rather inaccurate when used like this. Though that is only a problem concerning the Omega-4 relay, since its end point is surrounded by the wreckage of thousands of ships, and is located in the galactic core.
Powered Armor: Seems to actually be introduced incrementally as the series progressed.
In Mass Effect 1, the armor looks like flexible suits of riot gear with built in life support and provides Deflector Shields. It may include an exoskeleton upgrade, but this is optional and only useful for increasing melee damage.
In Mass Effect 2, most of Shepard's armor are hardsuits with exoskeletal joints and spine. Some types of armor by default increase movement speed and physical strength by a small amount, but not to the same extent as most entries in the trope. They also aid in combat by making the user's aim more accurate.
In Mass Effect 3, Cerberus soldiers wear much bulkier armor than regular mercenaries. It features such novelties as thrusters for shock drops, full servo systems for lifting heavy objects, and of course there are the ATLAS mechs. Not to mention that the troops are cyborgs themselves, augmented with Reaper technology.
Power Glows: Biotics, full stop. They even get an aura when they're preparing to throw people around. The primary weapons of Reapers also glow brightly before firing.
Pre-Climax Climax: The culmination of the romance paths (should you choose to follow one) in the first two games, right before the final mission. The third game also has a romance scene before the final two missions, but depending on which romance you're pursuing, it may or may not be the culmination of the romance.
Precursors: The Protheans, replete with Lost Technology. The Protheans themselves had Precursors. All of it turns out to be a massive sucker trap laid by the Reapers, who were created by an older intelligence still that determined the only way to prevent the complete annihilation of all life was to control the inevitable organic vs. synthetic conflict by killing off any civilization that progressed far enough to create true Artificial Intelligences.
Precursor Killers: The very premise of the games comes down to the revelation that the Protheans were killed off by The Reapers, the TRUE precursors who have repeated the pattern for reasons unknown and they've wiped out at least two thousand generations of precursors beforehand.
Prestige Class: Used in both games, though implemented differently. The first game has a standard "advance to level twenty, then choose a prestige after a special mission." The second game gives each individual ability a prestige class; when you max it out, you can choose between one of two uber-effects, usually in the neighborhood of more power or wider area of effect. The third game expands on this; abilities can now reach up to level 6, and every level from 4 and up allows you to choose from two possible upgrades of the ability.
Privateer: The Corsairs, a secret branch of Alliance Marines who act as independent groups outside of Alliance space. While not exactly pirates, their duties may include piracy, in addition to other black ops, and the Alliance can disavow any knowledge of them if they are caught. Jacob Taylor from the second game is an ex-Corsair.
Projected Man: A standard way for V.I. programs to manifest throughout both games. EDI gets in on the action in the second game as well, even though she doesn't take an anthropomorphic form.
EDI no longer bothers with this once she gains a body in the third game.
Protagonist Power Up Privileges: It's Commander Shepard who gets all the cutting-edge upgrades, weapons, and technologies while his/her squad is mostly restricted to perfecting their confined areas of expertise.
Proud Merchant Race: In terms of combat ability, the volus suck. Since they're so horrible at fighting, they gravitated to the turians (who were the undisputed champions of combat at the time) for protection. Pretty much the entire volus race is now involved in trade of one form or another.
That said, they do bring two sizable War Assets to the table in Mass Effect 3: A fleet of frigates designed for aerial bombardment, and, judging by the description, one of the single most powerful dreadnoughts in Council Space. Turns out when you do as much commerce as the volus do, you can afford to spend a lot of money on the occasional warship. And considering how the Treaty of Farixen limits the number of dreadnoughts among non-council races to one for every turian five, one can see why the volus would want to really make their limited number of ships count.
Also in the third game, volus are playable in the multiplayer. They absolutely suck at combat, but are phenomenal in a support role.
Pstandard Psychic Pstance: The exaggerated motions the biotics make when using their powers, or simply charging up to use them. Justified, in that they use their powers by firing certain nerves which correspond with muscle groups, so the easiest way to make things happen is to wave their arms and hands.
Psychic Powers: Only technically psychic, and telekinesis only. The asari can read and transfer thoughts and knowledge, but that's more because of physiological quirks than mental abilities.
Punch Clock Villain: The various mercenaries fought throughout both games. Rana Thanoptis, Saren's pet neurobiologist on Virmire, arguably also fits the trope.
Until it turns out she was indoctrinated before you even reached her.
Puny Earthlings: Averted. Humanity as a whole is actually quite formidable in the ME universe. While the other alien races have advantages over humanity, humanity also has advantages over them: cultural and genetic diversity(humans have the most diverse gene pool of any race), a formidable military, hardy constitutions and a driving ambition and creative drive. These characteristics have helped humanity not come up second best to any race in ME. Krogan and asari might live longer; krogan, turians, and quariansnote Several sources drive home that the quarian are actually very tough, allergies aside might be hardier; salarians might learn and develop much faster; but none of these are advantages over humans in the long run. And also, the galaxy's most badass individual is a human, so...
Purely Aesthetic Gender: Somewhat. What gender you pick chooses Shepard's love interests, as well as the voice actor and, well, appearance, but otherwise nothing really changes. No exclusive sidequests for certain genders or different paths along some quests. Just some dialogue shuffling.
Well, mostly. There's a couple of moments of unique dialogue, at least in the second game, and one completely hilarious Renegade Interrupt at the beginning of Archangel's recruitment mission if you play as a female Shepard. But there's no impact on gameplay or the overarching story.