Mass Effect Trilogy Romance guide
The Mass Effect Trilogy is full of universe-altering decisions, but we all know what some of the hardest decisions are. It's not the life-or-death calls - it's between all of the romance options. And boy, Shepard sure does have a lot of potential romanceable love interests. This page is designed to help you to naviage those love affairs across Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3 - all on one page.
We break this guide down game-by-game, including listing every romance option character, how to romance them, how to avoid awkward love triangles, and explaining what romance elements carry over from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 and then to Mass Effect 3. Naturally, the page will contain minor spoilers:
- How to romance characters in Mass Effect Trilogy
- Mass Effect 1 Romance Guide
- Mass Effect 2 Romance Guide
- Mass Effect 3 Romance Guide
Before we get into the game-specific detail, a quick note on romance in the Mass Effect Trilogy - and that is to say, it's honestly pretty simple. Obviously you have a slew of dialogue choices with every character in the game, and a lot of optional conversations, especially with the squadmates that you'll find on your ship between missions.
Many conversations will not have an effect on your romantic standing with characters, and when they do, tehse games are pretty heavy-handed at ensuring you know that's what's going on.
To pursue a relationship, you should simply talk to your character of choice whenever possible, especially between story missions. Keep expressing an interest in them and their lives, and eventually dialogue options for flirting or outright declaring interest will begin to appear.
This will only be the case, of course, if the character that you're talking to is available to romance in the game you're on and by the gender of Shepard you're playing as. All of that, and more, is detailed in the romance guides for each game below.
It's important to remember beyond this that your actions have consequences from one game to the next; if you pick a character in the first game, they will expect you to remain loyal in the second - and if you don't, there will be consequences. Despite this, our primary advice is to play with your gut - but this guide can help give you a steer as needed.
The first Mass Effect game is in many ways the simplest of the three - it’s not taking into account any decisions from past games, and is also BioWare testing the waters and figuring out what sort of romance system is even possible. This means there are three potential romance options in ME1. Of those three, there’s two options for each gender of Shepard.
- Male Shepard: Ashley or Liara
- Female Shepard: Kaidan or Liara
In addition to this, either gender Shepard can also have a romance encounter with Sha’ira, the asari consort on the citadel. To do this, agree to help Sha’ira on the Citadel, which can be done right from when you first arrive on the citadel.
Romances in Mass Effect 1 proceed along pretty simplistic pathways. First, you have to express your interest in your character of choice. Then you’ll want to build up your relationship with that character over time. Finally, towards the end of the game, you’ll face some bumps in the road, followed by an opportunity to to fully ‘conclude’ the relationship, if you know what we’re getting at.
Ashley & Kaidan: you’ll be able to begin the romance process with Ashley and Kaidan early on in the game. After the first mission on Eden Prime, you’ll have an opportunity to speak to the opposite sex squad member from your Shepard. In this process, you can begin chatting up your romance option, complimenting them and flirting at any opportunity you can. If you're a Biotic class, you'll have some unique dialogue with Kaidan about having that in common, but it won't effect the romance.
Liara: you don't recruit Liara until after you complete the mission to find her on the planet Therum. You can complete Mass Effect’s three main planets (Therum, Feros, & Noveria) in any order, but if you want to pursue Liara, you should go to Therum and pick her up first. Once you do, you can again begin to woo her on the Normandy in conversation.
To progress the romance side plot, you should regularly return to your romance interest on board the Normandy for chats. As a rule of thumb, you should do this every time you return from a main story mission or any major story event. It doesn’t even hurt to do this from time to time between side quests, either. If a character has nothing new to say, it’ll be obvious.
Anyway, periodically, every squad member including your love interest will have things to say about recent events. For a romance, this unique dialogue will also provide opportunities to flirt and advance the relationship. You should investigate and probe deeper into every topic, learning about their past. Do this often.
On two occasions, your potential love interests can end up crossing, which can cause relationship-ending problems...
Once Liara is on board the Normandy, if you’ve been speaking to her, she will eventually come up in conversation with your human love interest option. They will ask if you’re interested in Liara; if you say yes, that will put an end to your relationship with either Kaidan or Ashley.
Later in the game, if you’ve managed to spin the plates and pursue both Liara and either Ashley or Kaidan at once, you will be outright confronted by the pair. Shepard cannot have both. You will have to choose a love option - and this locks out the romance subplot for the other character. If you ask to have both, the human romance interest will be angry and shut you out, but you’ll still be able to pursue Liara.
After completing the three core story mission planets in any order you choose, you’ll be headed to the planet Virmire. There are several major decisions on Virmire that have huge repercussions in later games. This includes deciding the fate of Wrex, but the final choice you make has major percussions on your romance.
Only one of your two human squadmates can leave Virmire alive. It's impossible to save both. Who makes it back to the Normandy is your choice. Who you send to help Kirrahe doesn’t really matter, but who you choose to save at the end does. Naturally, if you sacrifice your romantic interest, that relationship is over.
Events unfold after Virmire, and there’s plenty of opportunity to talk to your love interest here. This is where you completely seal the deal. If you’ve done so, when you head out on the mission to the planet Ilos, you’ll experience a romance love scene before the mission, unlocking the Paramour Achievement.
Things are a little streamlined in Mass Effect 2, but they’re also outright more complicated thanks to the fact that there’s double the number of love interests in this game. The romanceable characters are as follows:
- Male Shepard: Jack, Miranda, Tali
- Female Shepard: Garrus, Jacob, Thane
In addition to these six, there are three characters who do not count as fully-fledged romance interests despite having love scenes. They are yeoman Kelly Chambers, and Samara or Morinth (depending on how Samara’s loyalty mission goes). These are non-traditional romances - Kelly a fling, Samara a one-night stand after completing her loyalty mission if you don’t have another love interest, and Morinth a post-game scene that actually results in Shepard’s death.
It’s important to note that if you’re importing a save from Mass Effect 1, that romantic relationship with Liara, Kaidan, or Ashley is carried over. If you pursue a new relationship in ME2, that counts as cheating, and there will be consequences in Mass Effect 3.
If you choose to remain loyal, the spot where the love interest is will be replaced with a moment of inflection with a photo of your original love interest - and you will later be reunited in ME3 - or sooner for Liara fans, as she actually shows up in the ME2 ‘Lair of the Shadow Broker’ DLC mission, where there’s a chance to continue the relationship.
Much as in the first Mass Effect, the core of each relationship is fairly simple. Once you’ve recruited a character to your crew, you’ll want to talk to them repeatedly as often as possible, between missions whenever you return to your ship. Each time there’s new dialogue options, you’ll want to engage, respond positively, and dig deeper into that character.
Over time, Shepard and the character will grow closer, and as they do, clearly romantic dialogue options will appear. Pursue these - but beware, going after more than one romance interest at once can have negative consequences. Any relationship sufficiently advanced will result in a love scene just before you travel through the Omega 4 Relay.
There are only two wrinkles this time, compared to ME1 - a way you can accidentally lock out your relationship with Jack, and crew conflicts. Read below for more on those.
Jack and the One-Night Stand
Those planning to romance Jack should beware - Jack has the option for a one-off encounter with Shepard earlier on in the game, before the relationship gets serious. Shepard can do this for fun, but doing so locks out Jack’s full romance plot. In addition, this will still count as cheating on your Mass Effect 1 love interest.
Mass Effect 2 has a little more finesse than its predecessor in this regard. Each relationship has a set point - which should be obvious in dialogue - where Shepard becomes ‘locked’ to that love interest. This means towards the end of the game you get their love scene.
Unlike in ME1, however, you can reverse this. If you go and express interest in other characters, you’ll be given an ultimatum - to end your existing relationship to make room for the new love interest, or to stop that pursuit. Additionally, you can call off a relationship with a character after committing to them - but this is an irreversible action, locking away their romance forever.
There are two pairs of ME2 squadmates who will have a confrontation on the Normandy once their loyalty mission is completed - Miranda & Jack, and Tali & Legion.
These conflicts require you to have a sufficient number of Paragon or Renegade points to resolve the conflict without taking a side. However, if you’re forced to take a side, you will lose both the loyalty and ability to romance the character you don’t choose. If you’re romancing Miranda and side with Jack, kiss goodbye to your relationship. If you pick Legion, you’ll lose the chance to romance Tali.
You can find more about the crew conflicts on our Mass Effect 2 loyalty guide - but just be careful about who you upset, and if you can, try to keep everyone happy with Paragon or Renegade options.
As you’d imagine, with two games’ worth of potential romantic baggage up to this point the situation with romances in Mass Effect 3 is at its most complicated.
At the same time, however, this game is softer on you, and isn’t as unforgiving about locking out relationships if you try to pursue multiple relationships at any one time.
ME3 features the widest variety of romanceable characters yet, though of course due to the nature of the returning characters, only a handful of them are squad members:
- Male Shepard: Ashley, Diana Allers, Jack, Kaidan, Kelly Chambers, Liara, Miranda, Steve Cortez, Tali
- Female Shepard: Diana Allers, Garrus, Kaidan, Kelly Chambers, Liara, Samantha Traynor, Thane Krios
In addition, there are three characters that can be pursued romantically during the Citadel: Shore Leave mission & its follow-ups (the Citadel DLC). These offer romance scenes but don’t count towards the romance ‘Paramour’ achievement:
- Female Shepard: Javik & James
- Male or Female Shepard: Samara (if romanced in ME2)
This time around, you have two games’ worth of love interests to think about. If you stayed Loyal in ME2, things are pretty clear cut - the game will assume you naturally want to continue that relationship and put you on that path. You can wander off if you choose, however.
If you romanced different characters in ME1 and ME2, the game will acknowledge both of these histories, and you will have an opportunity to woo and get to know both of those characters better, as well as new romance options. Eventually, however, you will have to choose - as we describe below.
If your love interest died in the course of ME2, this will be acknowledged in a scene in the game, and you will be free to either abstain from a romance in their memory or pursue somebody new.
Mass Effect 3 streamlines matters compared to the previous two games. As mentioned, you can ‘string along’ love interests for almost as long as you like without any ill effects with any other characters - but once you choose to truly ‘commit’ to a relationship, you’ll then be locked out of the romantic dialogue options for all other characters.
This romantic ‘point of no return’ is pretty obvious with most characters: it usually involves going to bed with them or telling them that you love them.
Generally speaking, for characters from Mass Effect or Mass Effect 2 that aren’t in your playable squad, if you want to make them Shepard’s ‘true’ love interest you’ll need to properly and fully affirm your relationship with them on one of the occasions when you see them. For most of these characters, like Jack or Miranda, this will come when you meet up with them at their invitation after helping them in one of the story missions.
In Tali’s case, if you wish to be her romantic partner, you must commit to her before tackling the mission on Rannoch that she is deeply involved and invested with.
For most of the other characters you have a degree of choice of when to truly affirm that relationship and make it your canon. You’ll be given plenty of opportunities to hang out with them or go on dates, but you should consider the absolute end-game cut-off for romance when you go to the Illusive Man’s base. After that, there’s no time for romance.
Naturally, if you’re not importing a save your options are far more limited. Further, if anybody died in the previous games, they of course aren’t available.
If you want to be absolutely sure, here’s the points-of-no-return for locking in the core relationships in ME3:
- Ashley: meeting her on the Citadel at the cafe and talking about her parents.
- Garrus: agreeing to take a date on the Citadel Presidium.
- Jack: after saving her in the Grissom Academy missions, she will invite you to meet her in Purgatory, where you can commit.
- Kaidan: meeting him on the Citadel at the cafe, you talk about love and relationships.
- Kelly Chambers: after the Citadel II mission, you can begin speaking to Kelly, with new dialogue opening up after each main story mission and event. Keep doing this to drive a relationship with Kelly until she asks Shepard about a ‘significant other’.
- Liara: any time after the Citadel II mission events, Liara can be found on the Citadel for an intimate chat.
- Miranda: after meeting her in the story, Miranda invites you to catch up on the Citadel. If you romanced her in ME2, you can continue it here.
- Samantha Traynor: invite Samantha to your quarters aboard the Normandy, and agree to share a shower.
- Steve Cortez: any time after Citadel II, tell him to take some shore leave, then find him on the Citadel and flirt.
- Tali: take the opportunity to call her to your quarters over the intercom - but you must do this before heading to Rannoch.