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Analysis / Mass Effect 3

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In the grim darkness of Mass Effect 3, there was never hope.

One of the most common complaints from detractors of the game is that the ending completely breaks from the main theme of the series, namely the idea of ‘hope’ and that ‘your choices matter’. However, perhaps that was the intention of the writers all along?

When you play the game for the first time, most of the players will likely feel like a total badass that is like John Connor, Master Chief, and Jean-Luc Picard all rolled into one as you gather more and more allies mission after mission, side quest after side quest. With the expectation of being able to be the hero that saves the day at the end, naturally many of us were shocked at how the ending changes very little no matter what you did previously.

However, after you managed to calm down for a bit, replay the game again slowly, pay close attention to every conversation and read every secondary Codex entry. After doing so, you will make the realization that any you just experienced a masterfully done example of The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You.

Let’s take a closer look at the actual effect that your actions have on the Reaper War: When you are getting the krogan to support the turians, they weren’t there to retake Palaven or even to defend it, they were merely trying to delay the Reapers in order to buy you more time in building the Crucible. Similarly, the quarians and the geth weren’t there to help turn the tide, all they could do was help evaluate civilians and do hit-and-run attacks on the Reapers in an attempt to slow them down. Even all the hours (not to mention BioWare points) that you spent on multiplayer were only to buy Crucible engineers more time, not with the expectation of winning the war or even survive.

If Shepard (more importantly you the player) ever looked at the War Assets screen with the green bar filled to the maximum and thought to him/herself ‘I can do this. This war can be won. There is hope’, then s/he was either purely delusional or living in denial. From the very beginning, Admiral Hackett already told you that you cannot win conventionally. And if you have the From Ashes DLC, when Javik reads you for the first time, if you have previously been choosing all the optimistic dialog opinions, he will express his shock and disbelief at how foolish you are in thinking that you can win this war. During the Battle of Earth with best possible EMS, you were told that less than half of the ground forces even made it to the surface. The Catalyst will outright tell a defiant Shepard that this cycle has already used up a lot of its resources after less than a year at war with the Reapers. With this in mind, just how realistic was it that you ever expect your actions of talking down a criminal, rescuing a few hundred civilians, or choosing whether or not to save the residential district or the industrial sector of a colony matters at all?

A Paragon Shepard thinks that s/he lives in a story from an old pulp fiction sci-fi (Flash Gordon) or pre-cyberpunk traditional space operas (Star Wars), in which The Power of Friendship and understanding can indeed overcome all obstacles, while a Renegade thinks that s/he is the anti-hero badass from an action movie and the leader from a military fiction in which you must be able to be willing in sacrificing the few for the many or take morally questionable action while others don’t want to get their hands dirty. The one constant thing for both is that you can indeed win against impossible odds if you really work for it.

In reality, they are both wrong, since in the bigger picture, Shepard is not much more important than a random mook. All the previous actions that you have taken have slightly more impact than the background conversation on the Citadel you can overhear, and the hard battles that you fought made slightly more impact than a random mook shooting at enemies at the background. The thing that you fight against is an insane ancient power with incalculable knowledge and strength that can and probably will obliterate everything you know.

With this in mind, you will finally understand Mass Effect was never about saving the galaxy or winning against the Reapers. It was a story about the life of Shepard, an absolute speck in the grand design of things that happened to be at the right place at the right time.

  • This reasoning is spot on for a person playing as The Fettered Paragon. If someone tries to put principles before results, they won’t be inclined to take any of the sadistic choices given to them. A pragmatic win-at-all-cost military commander, on the other hand, sees the Crucible and Catalyst as a way to defeat the Reapers, and does what needs to be done. Therefore, somebody who went into the game thinking “I’ll do whatever it takes” gets their wish.
  • The reasoning in regards to playing a principled Shepard is flawed, as gaining more military strength DOES make a huge difference. If your military strength is low, then the Crucible will not just wipe out synthetics, but also Earth in its entirety and most organics. If you bother to go the extra mile, then Earth and its remaining inhabitants (which includes the people from other races, as in the people who will rebuild the galaxy) will survive. The notion that Shepard's actions ultimately don't matter much are nonsense. S/he will still be forced to make a hard call in taking the Destroy option, but it will save many lives, not just end them. In the long run, your actions WILL matter.

Shepard and the Illusive Man: What Kai Leng means in their relationship.

To establish some boundaries, this is written with a playthrough starting with Mass Effect 2 in mind and came from an impression of Cerberus as similar to the IRA, rather than the mad scientists we were actually shown in Mass Effect.

This is going to be a bit fanwanky, but I believe I’ve got enough evidence to think that this is actually the storyline they were going for. However, whenever I describe TIM or Kai Leng as lame, imagine them with the flaw I described but ‘cool’ which is what BioWare were going for. The question is, if the Illusive Man could have had operatives like Kai Leng, why would he devote such a large chunk of his resources bringing Shepard back?

TIM is a Shepard fanboy. It clouds him to everything and occludes rational thought. TIM has always had a Jesus complex and in his own mind he’s the saviour of humanity that the law couldn’t understand and forced him into the shadows. He’s always wanted people to adore him for it but has persuaded himself that he’s genuinely giving up that light to do what’s really good for people. Basically he sees himself as sacrificing his soul for the greater good and other people just can’t understand that.

Then along comes Shepard, Shepard the first human Spectre, Shepard the saviour of mankind who stuck to her guns and ploughed on despite no-one believing in her. Willing to do what needs to be done outside of the law, and in the end, the whole galaxy worships him/her as a hero for it. TIM is infatuated with Shepard and projects himself onto him/her, he believes that they are similar people and equals and he absolutely craves her respect.

So when Shepard dies of course, he brings him/her back (this is where my version will differ from BioWare, who would say that bringing Shepard back was the right decision). A waste of resources? Don’t you understand? This is Shepard we’re talking about. And TIM believes that because Shepard is like him, if Shepard could just be shown who TIM is and what TIM does, Shepard would come around to his way of thought. TIM believes that Shepard thinks of him as a respected adversary who just happens to be on the other side of the table and if Shepard could just be brought round, then Shepard would think like TIM does and give TIM the respect he needs. ‘Mind control chip? NO! -no. You can’t do that, we need Shepard as she is. And besides, we don’t need one. Shepard will li— It’s not necessary, Miranda.’

When you play ME 2, you’ll notice that TIM is constantly explaining things to you, trying to justify his reasoning, and he keeps on asking Shepard for Shepard’s approval. He doesn’t do this with anyone else, because everyone else is a subordinate in his view. And when Shepard makes decisions that go against TIM, TIM seems genuinely impressed. If you save the quarian, TIM tells you it’s not what he would have done but seems honestly admiring of Shepard’s ‘tactics’ and strategy. Because he thinks they’re similar people making similar decisions and he’s deluded enough that he can convince himself that he might have made the same call if the situation had been right.

TIM goes to huge lengths to get Shepard to trust him, he deliberately places people around Shepard who are reasonable and will paint TIM in a light that Shepard might understand (Jacob), he digs up former colleagues, he sends Shepard on missions to see that these things really were rogue cells and if Shepard finds anything bad he goes out of his way to clean things up as quickly as possible.

And then Shepard spits in his face and leaves.

From then on, every conversation between Shepard and TIM in Mass Effect 3 runs like this: ‘I hate you’ ‘You just don’t understand Shepard. I’m doing everything for the good of humanity’ ‘You’re a monster.’ ‘Shepard! You’ve just got to give me some respect, I can’t keep letting you go on like this.’ And even then, when people ask if Shepard should die ‘No, she could still be useful.’

And then we have Kai Leng. Kai Leng the Shepard replacement puppet. ‘Your time is over. [Kai Leng enters the shot]’ The Illusive Man is embittered by the idea that Shepard won’t work with him and is trying to take this second person, dress him up to look like Shepard, and he pretends that he’s created a better Shepard, one who actually listens to him and obeys him.

But the point is, TIM can’t replace Shepard. And he’s not the same as Shepard; he’s so twisted, he can’t actually understand the sort of person Shepard is and what makes her great. And because of that, Kai Leng is flawed and won’t be capable of anything close to what Shepard can achieve. TIM can’t see that KL is an uncharismatic psychopath who can’t inspire the respect and doesn’t have the strength of character that Shepard uses in everything she does. KL is a flashy wannabe who, ultimately, is too useless to be able to beat Shepard in a simple fight. He’s a reflection of the Illusive Man’s flaws and can only ever be a shadow of what Shepard is. He gets some small victories, but every time Shepard lives and TIM says ‘don’t worry, your time will come, it’s Shepard, of course you failed, but one day you will fight and kill him/her and I will have a Shepard who does exactly what I say and is loyal to me’ and then that confrontation comes and Kai Leng straight up dies. Even in his deathblow, Shepard absolutely humiliates him and beats him down.

… So that is why Kai Leng exists and why TIM spent all that money bringing back Shepard. The Illusive Man, who installed Reaper tech in his own eyes, deludes himself and is blind to his failings. Petty jealousy and the inability to understand what sort of person he really is and what his own real motivations are. A craving for respect and the failure to recognise why it’s denied to him, resulting in this sad angry little Shepard doll doomed to failure. And a messy end to both of them.

Just to make things clear, Kai Leng is a useless character that destroys everything he touches, because ultimately whenever he’s in a scene, his poor writing and cutscene superpowers make you wonder what the writers were doing making such a whiny annoying power, instead of the corrupted but interesting ball of hate he should have been. But what he means in terms of TIM’s character is fascinating.

It’s a real shame that they chose Cerberus instead of inventing a new organisation for ME 2, because TIM has a complex relationship with Shepard and his conversation showdown is one of my favourite bits of the series.

The much-maligned War Assets, Effective Military Strength and their hidden meaning

At first glance, the War Assets numbers appear to boggle the mind. After all, how could a company of biotic cadets have a higher strength than the biggest dreadnought in the Victory fleet? How can noncombatant assets Miranda Lawson, Kasumi Goto, Doctor Chakwas, Diana Allers, and Khalisah al-Jilani combined have more strength than the Armali Sniper Unit and Serrice Guard?

Well, let’s look at the numbers.

If you were to sum up only your Crucible assets, engineering teams, science teams, more search data, dissertations, prototypes, blueprints, Prothean artifacts and data drives, fabrication units, labor teams, worker teams, liquid assets, shipments delivered to the project, materials, equipment, mineral resources and the Reaper body part, you already have up to 2,015 war assets. Add the Omega eezo hoard, and you have 2,315. Add Cerberus’s Reaper research data, and you have 2,365. At a 100% readiness and only these assets collected, what happens if you fire the Crucible? Only Destroy and Control are available, with Destroy only devastating all-important planets but still leaving them intact and capable of supporting life. Control outright saves all planets, leaving even the infrastructure intact. As destroying requires more energy to be relayed compared to rewriting the Reapers to accept the new controller, that devastation of planets is to be expected.

At higher EMS, we start to see diminished returns. At 2,650, even Destroy doesn’t devastate any planet, at 2,800 Space Magic Synthesis is available and at 3,100 (EC) or 4,000, the Crucible activator can survive. At higher EMS, you don’t see any difference whatsoever.

So all it takes to win is to build the Crucible using all assets possible and then pad it with some military forces. Anything more than that is just wasted effort. Not constructing the crucible properly however requires you to get more military forces to “compensate”. At lower readiness you also need more military forces to compensate.

Conclusion drawn: The Effective Military Strength is NOT a numerical value of the strength of your forces in a conventional battle against the Reapers. It is instead a measure of your Crucible’s effectiveness, with all your military forces existing primarily to protect it by drawing fire away from it. Their War Asset values are an assessment of how effectively can they protect the Crucible from damage in combat.

And now the numbers start to make sense! Why are Miranda, Kasumi, Chakwas, Allers, and al-Jilani combined stronger than the two asari commando units? Because they helped build the Crucible either directly by working on it, or by funneling assets to it, while the asari commandos have a very limited ability to draw Reaper fire away from the Crucible. Why is the Biotic Company slightly stronger than the Ascension? Because it is one big lumbering target as opposed to people who could distract a Reaper longer by scattering. Why is getting a banner, a religious artifact, and an ancient book such a buff to certain fleets? Because they gain a lot more motivation to Hold the Line against the Reapers with those things. It also explains the diminishing returns. A Crucible that fires with 3,000 effectiveness is still the same Crucible that fires at 5,000 or 8,000 effectiveness. Giving it more protection against damage isn’t going to change its effectiveness. Only with insufficient protection do you see different results, as the Crucible takes more and more damage. Even the Catalyst lampshades this.

A War Assets Guide

The War Assets system of Mass Effect 3 is complex and intricate, or even obscure and confusing. Getting the best endings requires making the right choices, as far back as the first game. Depending on the situation, the best course of action can be Paragon, Renegade, or a bit of both…

In short, this calls for Guide Dang It!. Fortunately, you are reading a guide.

This guide is split into the following parts:

  • The Normandy and Her Crew: The Normandy and her crew past and present are powerful War Assets. Make the most of them.
  • Mass Effect 3 Missions: These missions simply grant War Assets upon completion.
  • Trilogy-Spanning Choices: The core of this guide. Make the right choices in all three games to unlock the best possible War Assets combinations. Alternate choices are proposed if you do not want to Shoot the Dog.
  • Search and Rescue: Obtain War Assets by scanning systems. The clusters containing the most powerful War Assets are listed first.
  • Miscellaneous: Obtain War Assets by finding data or items during missions and delivering them on the Citadel, by taking part in discussions, or by leveraging your Spectre status.
  • Downloadable Content and Tie-Ins: Obtain additional War Assets by playing official DLCs, the iOS game Mass Effect: Infiltrator, or the multiplayer of Mass Effect 3.

WARNING: All spoilers will be UNMARKED. It is recommended to complete the trilogy at least once before going the Min-Maxing route.

    The Normandy and Her Crew 

The Normandy

  • ME2: gather as much eezo, palladium, platinum and iridium as possiblenote 
  • ME2: buy the Thanix Cannon upgrade
  • ME2: buy the Silaris Armor upgrade
  • ME2: buy the Cyclonic Barrier Technology upgrade
125 to 215 Military Strength: Alliance Frigate Normandy SR-2, Mineral Resources

Virmire Survivor

  • ME3: the Virmire Survivor must not be killed during Priority: The Citadel II
  • ME3: do not recruit the Virmire Survivor on the Normandy
25 Military Strength: Kaidan Alenko or Ashley Williams


  • ME3: encourage Liara to talk to Matriarch Aethyta before Priority: Tuchanka
25 Military Strength: Asari 2nd Fleet upgraded

Dr. Chakwas

  • ME2: Dr. Chakwas must survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: do not recruit Dr. Chakwas on the Normandy
10 Military Strength: Dr. Karin Chakwas


  • ME2: Jacob must survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: complete Arrae: Ex-Cerberus Scientists
25 Military Strength: Jacob Taylor


  • ME2: Miranda must be loyal and survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: if you romanced her during Mass Effect 2, do not break up with her
  • ME3: read the dossier on Kai Lang before meeting her for the second time
  • ME3: meet her for the third time and give her access to Alliance resources
25 Military Strength: Miranda Lawson


  • ME2: Jack must survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: complete Grissom Academy: Emergency Evacuation
25 Military Strength: Jack


  • ME2: Samara must survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: use the Paragon interrupt to stop her from killing herself during Kallini: Ardat-Yakshi Monastery
25 Military Strength: Samara


  • ME2: Grunt must be loyal and survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: complete Attican Traverse: Krogan Team
25 Military Strength: Grunt


  • see DLCs folder


  • see DLCs folder

Ken and Gabby

  • ME2: Ken and Gabby must survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: use the Spectre Terminal to grant them a pardon
  • ME3: complete Citadel: GX12 Thermal Pipe
15 Military Strength: Optimized Eezo Capacitors

Kelly Chambers

  • ME2: invite Kelly to dinner
  • ME2: Kelly must survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: locate Kelly on the docks, tell her to change her identity, and do not use the Renegade option when she reveals she spied on Shepard
10 Military Strength: Ex-Cerberus Engineers

Steve Cortez

  • ME3: help Cortez achieve closure by talking to him on the Normandy, then on the Citadel.
20 Military Strength: Rogue Fighter Pilots

Diana Allers

  • ME3: recruit Diana Allers on the Normandy
  • ME3: grant her all three interviews
20 Military Strength: Diana Allers, Turian 7th Fleet or Krogan Clans upgraded, 103rd Marine Division or Alliance Fifth Fleet upgraded, Geth Corps or Geth Fleet or Quarian Heavy Fleet upgraded

Military Strength Total: 465

    Mass Effect 3 Missions 

Main Plot Missions: 1,320

  • Priority: Mars
    • see also: “Arrival”
450 Military Strength: Alliance Engineering Corps, 103rd Marine Division, Alliance First Fleet, Alliance Third Fleet, Alliance Fifth Fleet

  • Tuchanka: Bomb
75 Military Strength: Turian Blackwatch

  • Priority: Tuchanka
    • see also: “Sabotage the Cure”
290 Military Strength: Turian 43rd Marine Division, Turian 7th Fleet, Turian Engineering Corps

  • Priority: The Citadel II
    • see also: “Virmire Survivor”, “Save the Council”
415 Military Strength: Citadel Defense Force, Asari Science Team, Asari 2nd Fleet, Asari 6th Fleet, Turian 6th Fleet

  • Priority: Horizon
90 Military Strength: Alliance 6th Fleet

Side Missions: 965

  • Meet with Aria T’Loak in Purgatory
    • Aria: Blood Pack
    • Aria: Blue Suns
    • Aria: Eclipse
200 Military Strength: Terminus Fleet

  • Citadel: Batarian Codes
    • convince Balak to help
    • see also: “Bring Down The Sky”
115 Military Strength: Batarian Fleet

  • Grissom Academy: Emergency Evacuation
    • save all the tech students
    • assign the biotic students to the front lines
    • see also: “Jack”, “Overlord”
100 Military Strength: Kahlee Sanders, Biotic Company

  • N7: Cerberus Fighter Base
75 Military Strength: Advanced Fighter Squadron

  • N7: Fuel Reactor
75 Military Strength: Advanced Starship Fuel

  • Citadel: Volus Diplomacy
    • chose the Volus Bombing Fleet
    • see also: “Zaeed”
65 Military Strength: Volus Bombing Fleet, Turian 6th Fleet damaged

  • N7: Cerberus Abductions
60 Military Strength: Arcturus First Division

  • Arrae: Ex-Cerberus Scientists
    • see also: “Jacob”, “Overlord”
50 Military Strength: Ex-Cerberus Scientists, Dr. Brynn Cole

  • N7: Cerberus Attack
50 Military Strength: Krogan 1st Division

  • N7: Communication Hub
50 Military Strength: Communication Array

  • N7: Cerberus Lab
50 Military Strength: Cerberus Research Data

  • Citadel: Hanar Diplomat
    • chose to stop the upload
    • see also: “Kasumi”
50 Military Strength: Hanar and Drell forces

  • Kallini: Ardat-Yakshi Monastery
    • see also: “Samara”
20 Military Strength: Asari Commando

  • Citadel: Medi-Gel Sabotage
    • see also: “Conrad Verner”
5 Military Strength: Turian 7th Fleet upgraded

Military Strength Total: 2,285

    Trilogy-Spanning Choices 

Peace on Rannoch

  • ME2: complete Tali’s and Legion’s loyalty missions
  • ME2: Tali and Legion must survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME2: complete at least 2 of these:
    • during Tali’s loyalty mission, take the Charm or Intimidate option, or rally the crowd
    • during Legion’s loyalty mission, destroy the geth heretics
    • resolve the confrontation between Tali and Legion by a compromisenote 
  • ME3: complete Rannoch: Geth Fighter Squadron
  • ME3: complete Rannoch: Admiral Koris and save the admiral instead of his crew
  • ME3: broker a peace between the geth and the quarians at the end of Priority: Rannochnote 
1,310 Military Strength: Admiral Daro’Xen, Admiral Zaal’Koris, Quarian Civilian Fleet, Quarian Heavy Fleet, Quarian Patrol Fleet, Geth Corps, Geth Fleet, Geth Prime Platoon

Second-best choice: support the geth

  • ME2: complete Legion’s loyalty mission and rewrite the geth heretics
  • ME3: complete Rannoch: Geth Fighter Squadron
  • ME3: side with the geth at the end of Priority: Rannoch
810 Military Strength: Geth Corps, Geth Fleet, Geth Prime Platoon

Third-best choice: support the quarians

  • ME2: complete Legion’s loyalty mission and destroy the geth heretics
  • ME3: complete Rannoch: Geth Fighter Squadron
  • ME3: complete Rannoch: Admiral Koris and save the admiral instead of his crew
  • ME3: side with the quarians at the end of Priority: Rannoch
800 Military Strength: Admiral Daro’Xen, Admiral Zaal’Koris, Quarian Civilian Fleet, Quarian Heavy Fleet, Quarian Patrol Fleet

Sabotage the Cure

  • ME1: kill Wrex on Virmire/do not recruit him
  • ME2: complete Mordin’s loyalty mission and preserve Maelon’s data
  • ME3: complete Tuchanka: Bomb
  • ME3: kill Mordin so the genophage isn’t cured
775 Military Strength: Urdnot Wreav, Clan Urdnot, Krogan Clans, Salarian 1st Fleet

Second-best choice: Mordin lives

  • ME1: kill Wrex on Virmire/do not recruit him
  • ME2: complete Mordin’s loyalty mission and destroy Maelon’s data
  • ME3: complete Tuchanka: Bomb
  • ME3: convince Mordin not to cure the genophagenote 
750 Military Strength: Urdnot Wreav, Clan Urdnot, Krogan Clans, Salarian 1st Fleet, Mordin Solus

Third-best choice: cure the Genophage

  • ME1: let Wrex live on Virmire
  • ME2: complete Mordin’s loyalty mission and preserve Maelon’s data
  • ME3: complete Tuchanka: Bomb
  • ME3: let Mordin cure the genophage
705 Military Strength: Urdnot Wrex, Clan Urdnot, Krogan Clans, Krogan Mercenaries

Save the Rachni Queen

  • ME1: let the Rachni Queen go
  • ME2: Grunt must be loyal and survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: let the Rachni Queen escape
150 Military Strength: Rachni Workers, Aralakh Company

Second-best choice: save Aralakh Company

  • ME2: Grunt must be loyal and survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: leave the Rachni Queen (or the Breeder) to die
75 Military Strength: Aralakh Company

Save the Council

  • ME1: save the Destiny Ascension
  • ME2: Thane must survive the Suicide Mission
  • ME3: speak with Thane at the hospital before Priority: The Citadel II
120 Military Strength: Destiny Ascension; Alliance First, Third, and Fifth Fleets damaged; Salarian Third Fleet

Salvage the Collector Base

  • ME2: leave the Collector Base for Cerberus to study.
110 Military Strength: Reaper Brain

Captain Kirrahe’s Fate

  • ME1: let Cpt. Kirrahe die on Virmire
  • ME3: talk to Lt. Tolan during Priority: Sur’Kesh
35 Military Strength: Salarian STG

Zhu’s Hope

  • ME1: Do not kill any colonist on Zhu’s Hope
  • ME1: Spare Shiala
30 Military Strength: Zhu’s Hope Colonists

Khalisah al-Jilani

  • ME1, ME2, ME3: do not punch her
  • ME3: use the Paragon interrupt during the interview
10 Military Strength: Khalisah Bint Sinan al-Jilani

Conrad Verner

5 Military Strength: Dark Energy Dissertation

Military Strength Total: 2,545

    Search and Rescue 
  • Exodus Cluster
    225 Military Strength: Alliance Naval Exploration Flotilla, Prothean Data Files, Alliance Cruiser Shanghai, Spec Ops Team Delta
  • Silean Nebula
    205 Military Strength: Elcor Flotilla, Code of the Ancients, Rings of Alune, Armali Sniper Unit, Serrice Guard, Dr. Jelize
  • Aethon Cluster
    185 Military Strength: Volus Dreadnought Kwunu, Volus Engineering Team, Volus Fabrication Units, Book of Plenix
  • Argos Rho
    180 Military Strength: Advanced Power Relays, Haptic Optic Arrays, Turian Spec Ops Team, Kakliosaur Fossil
  • Athena Nebula
    165 Military Strength: Hesperia-Period Statue, Asari Research Ships, Asari Cruiser Nefrane, Asari Cruiser Cybaen, Asari Engineers
  • Hourglass Nebula
    120 Military Strength: Shadow Broker Starship Tech, Shadow Broker Support Team, Terminus Freighters
  • Valhallan Threshold
    120 Military Strength: Element Zero Converter, Prothean Data Drives, Emergency Fuel Pods
  • Hades Nexus
    110 Military Strength: Obelisk of Karza, Prothean Sphere, SSV Leipzig, SSV Hong Kong
  • Attican Beta
    85 Military Strength: Interferometric Array, ExoGeni Scientists
  • Apien Crest
    80 Military Strength: Turian 79th Flotilla, Banner of the First Regiment
  • Sigurd’s Cradle
    50 Military Strength: Javelin Missile Launchers
  • Kite’s Nest
    40 Military Strength: Pillars of Strength
  • Nimbus Cluster
    40 Military Strength: Library of Asha
  • Nubian Expanse
    40 Military Strength: Alliance Marine Reconnaissance Unit, SSV Trafalgar
  • Hades Gamma
    35 Military Strength: Spec Ops Team Zeta, SSV Agincourt
  • Gemini Sigma
    25 Military Strength: SSV Nairobi
  • Krogan DMZ
    25 Military Strength: Shadow Broker Wet Squad

Military Strength Total: 1,730


Citadel Deliveries

Note: items missed during missions can be purchased at the Spectre Terminal.
  • Alien Medi-Gel Formula
    • found during N7: Cerberus Lab
    • delivered at Huerta Memorial Hospital
  • Biotic Amp Interfaces
    • found during Grissom Academy: Emergency Evacuation
    • delivered at Huerta Memorial Hospital
  • Cerberus Automated Turrets Schematics
    • found during Tuchanka: Bomb
    • delivered at Presidium Commons
  • Cerberus Ciphers
    • found during N7: Communication Hub
    • delivered at the Citadel Embassies
  • Cerberus Turian Poison
    • found during Arrae: Ex-Cerberus Scientists
    • delivered at Huerta Memorial Hospital
  • Chemical Treatment
    • found during N7: Fuel Reactor
    • delivered at Huerta Memorial Hospital
  • Heating Unit Stabilizers
    • found during N7: Cerberus Fighter Base
    • delivered at Presidium Commons
  • Improved Power Grid
    • found during N7: Cerberus Attack
    • delivered at Purgatory
  • Reaper Code Fragments
    • found during Rannoch: Geth Fighter Squadrons
    • delivered at Citadel Embassies
  • Target Jamming Technology
    • found during Rannoch: Admiral Koris
    • delivered at Presidium Commons
80 Military Strength: Citadel Defense Force, Hanar and Drell Forces, Alliance First Fleet, Alliance Fifth Fleet, Asari Second Fleet, Salarian Third Fleet, Turian Sixth Fleet, all upgraded

Overheard Conversations

  • On the Normandy
    • support Admiral Xen over Tali
    • support Admiral Gerrel over Admiral Raan
70 Military Strength: Advanced AI Relays, Quarian Heavy Fleet upgraded

  • On the Citadel
    • support Dock Officer over Refugee
    • support Reluctant Civilian over Gung-Ho Civilian
    • support Worried Merchant over Angry Merchant (then authorize Militia at the Spectre Terminal)
    • support Cafe Owner over Frustrated C-Sec Officer
    • talk to the Bank Teller
    • warn two businessmen
27 Military Strength: Citadel Defense Force upgraded, Alliance Fifth Fleet upgraded

Spectre Terminal

  • Partner Benefits Increase
  • Civilian Deportation Order
  • Medical Supplies
  • Surveillance Authorization
  • Militia (after supporting Worried Merchant)
  • Citadel Entry (after Grissom Academy)
  • Civilian Consultant Authorization
48 Military Strength: Citadel Defense Force upgraded, Alliance Fifth Fleet upgraded

Military Strength Total: 225

    Downloadable Content and Tie-Ins 

Bring Down the Sky

  • ME1: let Balak go or leave him for dead. Not playing the DLC has the same effect.
Military Strength unaffected. Batarian Fleet damaged if Balak dies.

Zaeed: The Price of Revenge

35 Military Strength: Zaeed Massani, Turian 6th Fleet damage cancelled

Kasumi: Stolen Memories

65 Military Strength: Kasumi Goto, Spectre Unit


  • ME2: take David Archer to Grissom Academy
  • ME3: complete Grissom Academy and Ex-Cerberus Scientists
30 Military Strength: Kahlee Sanders upgraded, Dr. Gavin Archer


  • ME2: complete the DLC, otherwise the 103rd Marine Division is damaged
50 Military Strength: 103rd Marine Division damage cancelled

From Ashes

  • ME3: complete Priority: Eden Prime
  • ME3: retrieve all three pieces of intel during Eden Prime: Resistance Movement
100 Military Strength: Eden Prime Support


  • ME3: complete the DLC’s main missions
  • ME3: do not take both Renegade interrupts when allowing Ann Bryson to be enthralled
420 Military Strength: Dr. Ann Bryson, Leviathan Enthrallment Team

Search & Rescue:

  • The Shrike Abyssal
    45 Military Strength: Void Devils Fighter Wing, Vorcha Labor Team
  • Sigurd’s Cradle
    40 Military Strength: Husk Neural Map, Dextro Rations
  • Crescent Nebula
    40 Military Strength: Liquid Assets
  • Pylos Nebula
    30 Military Strength: Jovian Dissertation, Radiation Shielding Sheath
  • Caleston Rift
    25 Military Strength: Synthdiamond Heat Sinks
  • Kite’s Nest
    20 Military Strength: Governor Grothan Pazness
Total: 200 Military Strength


  • ME3: complete the DLC’s main missions
405 Military Strength: Omega Eezo Hoard, Omega Raiding Fleet, Alliance First Fleet upgraded or General Oleg Petrovsky


  • ME3: complete the DLC’s main missions
  • ME3: throw a party at your apartment
70 Military Strength: Normandy SR-2 upgraded

Mass Effect: Infiltrator

  • complete the game
  • reach “Veteran” rank on every checkpoint in the main campaign
  • reach “Veteran” rank on every checkpoint in the bonus mission “Incarceration”
120 Military Strength: Cerberus Escapees

ME3 Multiplayer

  • promote a multiplayer class
75 War Asset for each promoted class: N7 Spec Ops Team

Military Strength Total: 1,495

Final Military Strength Total: 8,745 (7,250 without DLC)

For more information, refer to the wiki.

A deeper meaning behind the optimal War assets playthrough

The above guide tells us what to do to maximize war assets but it doesn’t provide the deeper philosophical context to why they are the best choices. Let’s try to get at that

    Tuchanka Arc 
Optimal decision: Sabotage the genophage cure but keep Eve alive by saving Maelon’s data

This path is presented as the best choice to make vis a vis the krogan and salarians because of the way that krogan society currently is. The krogan are beset by infighting with warfare being seen as the only way their species can advance. If it hadn’t been for salarian upliftment, the krogan would most likely have committed autogenocide, taking other Tuchanka species with them. They then proved that they are immutable to major societal changes by maintaining that same aggressive warlike outlook even after upliftment and having been given a few other planets to colonize. They proved that again after the genophage by continuing their old habits of internecine warfare even with a depopulation threat hanging over their heads. And now curing the genophage would have been another major societal change for them. Wrex, for all his good intentions, didn’t grasp that a cure would most likely do very little to change krogan culture, which is why his leadership of the krogan doesn’t reassure many salarians. Eve, on the other hand, is actually in a position to influence the krogan much more than any male krogan can, but that influence is dulled if the genophage is cured. Why? Because with the cure, she’ll be seen as just another female clan shaman who did a great thing for the krogan. If someone doesn’t like her ideas about “finding a balance again”, there are plenty more krogan females who can spurt out thousands of young for them. But with a sabotaged cure, her immunity and fertility make her that much more powerful, as now the males have to abide by her wishes if they want to breed with her. She can even, if it came to that, let the old deadwood die out, then gradually repopulate the krogan race in her image. And this would be a gradual change instead of a sudden change. That is why sabotaging the cure but ensuring her survival is the best choice. Moreover, as a practical matter doing what the salarians want gains you the Salarian 1st Fleet, which is unavailable if you allow the cure to be distributed.

    Rannoch Arc 
Optimal decision: Quarian–Geth peace.

This one seems obvious, right? After all, you get two militaries instead of one and avoid having to commit genocide. And you pulled it off flies in the face of the Catalyst’s barking that it could never, ever, doesn’t it? The only issue is that to get it, you have to make some seemingly strange choices. Let’s examine those in closer detail.

1) Tali and Legion must be present. Why won’t it work unless both of them are present? Because they were the only quarian and geth who have ever cooperated on any mutual problem in a long time. Their friendship or at the very least collaboration is needed to convince both sides that it is possible to collaborate. With Tali dead, no other quarian is inclined towards cooperation, and with Legion dead, the geth don’t have its perspective on peaceful contact with organics.

2) Tali must not have been exiled. If she was, this erodes trust on both sides. On the quarians’ side, she is seen as someone who if not betraying the fleet, exercised poor judgement that jeopardized the fleet. And now she’s advocating peace with their longtime nemesis! Why should they even listen to her? On the geth side, only as an admiral do they see her talk of peace actually getting anywhere. Furthermore, it is possible they now know the reason for her exile. Otherwise, you'll need Admiral Koris, a peacemaker, and 4) below.

3) Shepard had to go into the geth server and disinfect the Reaper code. Aside from the obvious tactical benefit of disrupting Reaper command and control, this mission builds trust with the geth. Look closer, and this mission is much more about reconnecting the geth with archived memories of either peaceful times with quarians, or of quarians fighting and dying on their behalf. Why were the Reapers attempting to cut the geth off from these memories? Because they firmly believe that organic–synthetic cooperation is never, ever possible. Unless this belief is dispelled for the geth, peace cannot happen.

4) The heretics were destroyed. While not essential for peace, this greatly aids the cause. It is also a counterintuitive decision, as you would think that sparing geth would build trust. The reason why killing them builds that trust instead, is because for the geth it is all about perspectives. The heretics chose to follow the Reapers based on their perspective, and when they were rewritten, those perspectives were not erased. Said perspectives were still able to persuade geth that peace is not possible. Either that perspective had to be completely erased, or failing that, a lot more counterarguments with data were needed to refute that perspective. One big counterargument was

5) Brokering actual cooperation between Tali and Legion during their loyalty fight. An actual truce is one where both of them are convinced to help each other. The Renegade resolution has you pull a DI gambit where they cooperate or face your wrath. The Paragon resolution, however, is more poignant as it convinces each of them to want to cooperate. If this is not done, you have to convince the slighted one to play along to keep the other one invested. This kind of manipulation doesn’t help any when trying to broker peace.

Now, a deeper reason why this peace is an optimal choice. Although more war assets are always better, the timing of this arc is significant in influencing the available endings. Before you begin this arc, unless you have played a lot if multiplayer, your maximum EMS is somewhere in the 2,000 to 2,400 range. Saving only one side brings your EMS to around 2,800, while saving both brings it past 3,100. What is the significance here? Synthesis requires 2,800, while Destroy with Shepard surviving requires 3,100. At 2,800, everybody achieves synthesis on the Reapers’ terms, while the Destroy with Shepard surviving allows for a more gradual form of synthesis to occur on our terms. Shepard’s survival ensures that the geth and their sacrifice will not be whitewashed away and be able to advise galactic society that some solution must be found to head off organic synthetic conflict.

Optimal solution: Save the Council and do not allow Kai Leng to kill the salarian councilor. Upon looking at the assets you get, the same fleets are given to you by the turian and asari councilors no matter who they are. You get the Destiny Ascension for saving the Council, but that doesn’t numerically make up for the Alliance cruisers and Mikhailovich’s scout flotilla that were sacrificed to save it. However, the fleet given to you by a saving Valern more than makes up for that deficit. Alternatively, the task force that the female councilor gives you is only just above half the strength of Valern’s fleet. So in the end, it wasn’t about saving the entire Council, it was about saving the salarian councilor.

Why does saving the salarian councilor matter so much? Because if you read the Codex on the Council races, they reveal that the salarians are constantly thinking, analyzing, inventing, and are therefore more adaptable than the conservative turians and asari. Reading up on human diplomatic relations reveals that the humans and salarians are starting to form a bloc to act as a bulwark against the conservatism of the turians and asari. When talking to Mordin, he reveals that he knows about the Reapers. Even in the first game, Kirrahe’s STG team is the only backup the Council sends. Maelon also seems to know all about Reaper indoctrination. In the first game, Valern seems to be the only councilor who shows an initial interest in what these Reapers are. Conclusion drawn: the salarians knew all along about the threat the Reapers posed and, in those two years, were preparing for it. The dreadnought fleet that Linron gives you for sabotaging the genophage cure is the strongest individual fleet after the quarian and geth fleets. So why does saving Valern matter? Because Valern created an actual military asset to counter the Reapers, while Ishil had to set up that task force to play catch-up. You don’t get stronger assets from the surviving turian and asari councilors, because they ostriched up and didn’t take the Reaper threat seriously.

All in all, the Council-based War Assets scenario allows us the player to examine the pitfalls of retaining or replacing leaders who initially failed a challenge that was previously unknown, unique, and difficult. Retaining them gives you the possibility that these leaders might learn from their mistake and adapt. But it also brings about the possibility that because the challenge has passed, they might revert to Head-in-the-Sand Management. It all depends on how comfortable a leader is with risk and change. On the flip side, replacing leaders who fail might seem like the right thing to do, but it brings about the caveat that their replacement may be equally as clueless about the problem as their predecessors were. And those predecessors have something that these new people don’t have: past experiences of approaches that didn’t work before. The new people could unintentionally make the same mistakes their predecessors did.

    Search and Rescue 
The where and what of the whole system scanning and retrieval of assets can be read about above. However one crucial aspect not discussed is why. Why are certain assets necessary? Why some races require you to obtain special artifacts while others don’t? Why are certain assets in the location you found them in. That will be examined as follows.

The turians only require three assets to be scanned and located – the scout flotilla, an ancient regimental banner and that spiteful little runt. These aren’t just random fetch quests – they are indicative of how the turians are faring against the Reapers. They have no units or ships stranded in some remote planet because their forces are still holding against the Reaper onslaught. A scouting unit is cut off behind enemy lines, just like scouting units have been since the dawn of warfare. And Pinnacle Station is a very remote outpost jointly run by turians and humans. However, the fact that an ancient regimental banner buffs their dreadnought fleet by almost 50% indicates that while their line is holding, it cannot hold for long. This onslaught is slowly eroding the fight out of them because for the first time in probably ever, they are facing defeat.

Volus assets consist of one dreadnought with everything else being put towards funding or building the Crucible. This is indicative of their hat as the Proud Merchant Race. Also indicative of that hat – the fact that an ancient book has to explicitly instruct them to take off that hat in order to aid the war effort. This will probably be a seminal transformative moment for them.

The asari need assets rescued from three systems, and those assets are a mixture of civilian and military items. Unlike the turians and humans, they don’t have an Engineering Corps, they only send a science team. Their engineers are a random gaggle that needs rescuing. More telling is the fact that one of their ships you rescue is found in their home system! And their dreadnought fleet essentially needed to reacquire their equivalent of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War for its value to get anywhere close to the strength of a dreadnought fleet. Even their ground forces are scattered with two units you’d expect to find on Thessia, being stranded in a completely different star cluster. This is indicative of just how decentralized the asari are, and how that decentralization is affecting them.

The species that benefits the most from search and rescue – humans. You find a total of six ships and three infantry/spec ops units, and the human engineering corps more than doubles in strength by finding Prothean artifacts. But tellingly, you don’t have to find some ancient artifact to rally humans to fight, like you need to for the turians, volus, elcor, and asari. Humans are willing to fight. However, their entire military doctrine is for them to act like cavalry, rapidly rushing in to the rescue. That cavalry has been routed by an enemy with superior firepower and numbers but not actually annihilated, because that cavalry never tried to regroup quickly and try to Hold the Line. And this routed cavalry needs someone to rally and shepherd them back together into formation for the counteroffensive. Your role is to be that Shepard.

Would conventional victory have even been possible?

Although Hackett tells you many times that there is no way to defeat the Reapers conventionally, many of the people who felt slighted by the Refusal ending argue that it should have been possible to achieve a conventional victory with a very high EMS. Although the deeper meaning behind Effective Military Strength is analyzed above, let’s see if such a victory was actually possible.

To achieve a conventional military victory, the defeated force must be in such a state that fighting is just not possible anymore. In the old days, this was achieved by just slaughtering enough enemy soldiers to the point where any organized resistance was futile. Later on, geography and logistics became incorporated, and therefore, if you cut off an enemy’s supply lines and boxed them into an untenable location, you won. As technology advanced, victory became less and less about killing your opponents and more about starving them, routing them, capturing them, encircling them, and eventually out-producing them. Ultimately, a conventional war will boil down to “Who has more reserves?” Who can produce more reserves?

The Reapers produce at least one capital ship every 50,000 years. And from the age of the Reaper corpse recovered from Dis, they have been at it for about 1 billion years. So they ought to have about twenty thousand Sovereign-class capital ships maximum. Given that some will eventually be lost during harvests, it is fair to say that they have about sixteen thousand. All those species that cannot be turned into capital ships become destroyers. In this cycle alone, there were about ten other spacefaring races besides the humans. If this same number of species achieve space flight every cycle, then the Reapers can create up to 10 destroyers per cycle. That can be a maximum of 200,000. Even assuming some losses in prior harvests, that could still be about 160,000 destroyers. With each capital ship also capable of carrying fighters (and assuming that this fighter complement is the same as a standard aircraft carrier, i.e. about 80–100 fighters per ship), we are looking at about two million fighter craft.

Now compare that to what the combined fleets of all Citadel races could muster up. With the 5:3:1 ratio dictated by the Treaty of Farixen, and the turians having only 35 dreadnoughts, this leaves the other three Council races supplying a max of 63 dreadnoughts, and even if all others produced up to their maximum capacity, they could only add about fifty or so more. The quarians apparently exceeded their limit with their Liveships, resulting in 10, and the geth apparently have as many as the turians – 35. With all of them combined, that is barely 200 dreadnoughts. While no limits have been placed on smaller ships, it may be economically impossible to build more than, say, five hundred per species. Sure, the quarians have 50,000, but the majority of those are transport ships. So at the most, you could expect about five thousand combat-capable ships. They are already outnumbered about 30 to 1. The Codex also tells us that three dreadnoughts are the minimum of what is required to bring down a Reaper capital ship. So when we need about sixty thousand dreadnoughts alone, we have only about two hundred. That is a gigantic deficit.

Sure, you could forego dreadnoughts and use carriers to deploy fighter wings. But remember that, besides humans, all other races are only now getting familiarized with large-scale fighter deployment doctrine. There is no way they can ramp up production and training to field enough fighters to bring down sixteen thousand dreadnoughts.

So, a simple battle of attrition just won’t work. Can we win by starving out the Reapers? No, since their power sources appear to be sufficient to keep them operating at peak for at least a century, while the volus estimates that the galactic economy will collapse within one year. Can we outmaneuver them in any way? No, since they are about twice as fast and can control the relay network. Can we use the environment against them somehow? No, since they’ve placed relays far away from any cosmological hazards that could threaten them – since those hazards threaten us, too.

Therefore, Hackett was absolutely right: conventional victory was never possible.

Why Dark Energy would not have worked as an Ending

The original idea for the Reapers’ motivation to harvest all life in this galaxy was supposedly to curtail the excessive use of mass effect fields for Faster-Than-Light Travel before it causes space-time in that region to rip apart or something. While dark energy ripping apart space and time is of great concern to actual physicists in Real Life, using it this way would have been erroneous. Let's see why.

Dark energy is actually a catch-all term for something that is causing everything in the universe to recede from us at an increasing rate. The theory is that everything recedes due to the Big Bang, but due to gravity, that recession should be slowing down. Instead, it is increasing. Without knowing what force is causing this, Dark Energy is a placeholder used until the phenomenon can be explained better. So when Parasini claims to be “looking into it”, she is only doing what many astrophysicists are doing now.

The hypothesis is that this dark energy expansion, if allowed to continue, will rip space and time apart. But in reality, that rip (if it happens) will happen 50 billion years from now if the universe is a closed universe, and it will happen everywhere in the universe. The manner in which it will happen is also of scales much bigger than a single galaxy. First galactic clusters will be thrown asunder, then galaxies themselves will cease to hold on to their stars. Before any of these were to happen, all other galaxies will recede so far away that we may never even know they exist. Then star clusters like the Veil, Hourglass, Horsehead, etc. will be thrown asunder. Stars suffering rapid aging like on Haestrom would have been the penultimate stage. They would all shed mass in supergiant-like behavior as opposed to supernovae, which occur due to gravitational collapse.

After all stars have come unbound by gravity, things go From Bad to Worse. All molecular structures such as planets, satellites, asteroids, rings, even smaller structures get ripped apart, then scatter into individual molecules. No life form can survive this. Then individual molecules get ripped apart into atoms, then atoms explode into subatomic particles, which then further explode into fundamental quantum particles. Then these individual particles recede, and finally space and time shatters into quintillions of pockets.

But don’t worry! Scientific consensus is that this is NOT going to happen, as the closed universe theory isn’t widely accepted, and that it is actually entropy which slowly grinds the universe to a heat death from total lack of usable energy. A Big Rip of the space-time continuum might take more than a few googol years to occur. So in actuality, we have nothing to worry about from Dark Energy. A technological singularity, on the other hand, is a real and scary possibility.

For argument’s sake, let’s consider that the Big Rip will happen fifty billion years from now and that the Reapers are attempting to ward it off. Is what they are doing an effective way to do so? No! Because this Big Rip will span billions of galaxies when it hits. Will slowing down eezo use in one galaxy make any difference? Not if billions of other galaxies are going to be affected anyway. By doing this, it is the Reapers who are dust struggling against the cosmic wind.