Mass Effect Classes & Specialization: picking the best class for the trilogy

While it features third person shooting combat similar to many games popularized at the time, the original Mass Effect is much more of a traditional RPG than the rest of the series and than first meets the eye. A big part of this is its class system, where a group of six unique classes can then be upgraded into six further unique specializations

As well as choosing Shepard’s background with their pre-service history and psychological profile, picking a difficulty and deciding on legendary vs classic level scaling, character generation will ask you to choose a class - and Mass Effect doesn’t slack on this RPG trope. While the concept of classes and certain specialization skills are continued in Mass Effect 2 and 3, the processes in those games are arguably more than a little streamlined. In the first game there are more skills to worry about and more defined class skill sets.

On this page, we explain the Classes of Mass Effect, give an opinion on our picks for the best class and explain how to unlock your specialization - and which of those we’d recommend, too. 

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Mass Effect Classes: Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Infiltrator, Sentinel, & Vanguard explained

Choosing a class in Mass Effect can be difficult - but to a degree, each of the classes in the game confirms to certain RPG standards, albeit in the specific confines of the Mass Effect universe. If you’re familiar with traditional classes, that’ll help you to understand them - but so will our descriptions. 

It’s rather worth noting that in Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, the penalty for each class using weapons it hasn’t been trained in has been significantly lessened by general changes to how combat works - so if you’re playing that new remastered version, factor that into your choice a little less. Choosing the best weapon to pair with your class remains important, however.

So, here we go - we’ll quote the in-game description, and follow it with our read on what the class is about:

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Soldier - the third-person shooter class

“Soldiers are combat specialists ideal for the front lines of a firefight. Soldiers have improved health, can specialize in the use of all weapon types, start with the ability to wear medium armor, and can train in the use of heavy armor.”

If you want to play Mass Effect more like a third-person shooter, Soldier is the basic class for you. It’s easily the most accessible, too, which is why BioWare has put it at the top of the list. 

  • While every class in Mass Effect can use every type of weapon, the other classes all have weapon specialities, and won’t have abilities and will suffer an aim penalty for weapons they’re not a specialist in. The Soldier, however, can use all four weapon types with no penalty.
  • Specifically, Soldier is also the only class in the game with the Talents related to Assault Rifle usage. 
  • The Soldier’s unique Class Talent increases health and also gives a passive health regeneration. The more points you put into their class talent, the higher their health and regeneration. 
  • In your party, Ashley Williams is a Soldier.
  • When the time comes for Specialization, the Soldier can choose the Commando or Shock Trooper.
  • If you carry this class into Mass Effect 2 & 3, there is much continuity, with Shepard remaining a gun-focused combat specialist. 
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Engineer - the tech king in and out of combat

“Engineers are tech specialists. Using the holographic omni-tool, they can decrypt security systems, repair or modify technical equipment, disrupt enemy weapons or shields, and heal their squad. Engineers can only wear light armor, and they specialize in pistols.”

The Engineer is probably the closest thing to an absolute and innate support class in Mass Effect. Its powers are focused around technology - and you’ll be facing a lot of tech enemies in this game, from various drones and turrets to the Geth, an AI race that’s one of the main antagonists. 

  • The engineer can only use pistols - so this really isn’t a class for if you’re focused on shooting. However, it’s still highly effective in most combat situations thanks to its hacking abilities - but you’ll want to pair them with squadmates who can provide ample combat support.
  • The combination of both Medicine and First Aid skills makes the Engineer a very powerful healer.
  • At higher levels, Hacking skills can ultimately make enemies turn on each other, which is hugely powerful. 
  • The Engineer’s class talent reduces the recharge time of all your Tech-based combat skills, and increases your own protection against the same skills, improving both with every point you commit to it.
  • In your party, Tali is the closest thing to an Engineer, though her skills differ slightly.
  • For specialization, the Engineer can evolve up to an Operative or Medic.
  • Going into Mass Effect 2 & 3, this class gains use of sub-machine guns and evolves to have more combat viability, including with a summonable AI combat drone.
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Adept - the mage equivalent

“Adepts are biotic specialists. Through upgradeable implants, they can use biotic powers to lift or throw objects, shield the squad, and disable or destroy enemies. Adepts can only wear light armor, and they specialize in pistols.”

Where the Engineer focuses on Tech, the Adept is more focused on the organic - and Biotics is Mass Effect’s sci-fi equivalent of magic, basically making the Adept a Mage. Expect a squishy class that isn’t all that survivable, but who is extremely powerful if you use their skills right.

  • Like the Engineer, an Adept can only use pistols, so don’t expect to do a lot of gun fighting. However, you can spray and pray with untrained weapons.
  • Biotic Skills can disable and hurt enemies, but they’re far more effective at locking enemies down and preventing them from attacking outright than their Tech equivalents. At higher levels, you can sometimes stop enemies from attacking at all while your squad rips them to pieces.
  • The Adept’s class talent reduces the cooldown time on your biotic skills, and increases your own protection against biotics.
  • The pure Biotic in your party is Liara, the asari, of course.
  • When the time comes to specialize, you can do so to the Bastion or Nemesis classes.
  • In Mass Effect 2 and 3, the Adept remains Biotic-focused, and ends up able to trigger powerful chain reactions. They also gain access to submachine guns, raising gun-based damage too.
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Infiltrator - a sniping-focused soldier/engineer hybrid

“Infiltrators combine combat and tech abilities to specialize in killing or disabling enemies at long range. Infiltrators are trained to use omni-tools, focusing on decryption and offensive abilities rather than healing. They can specialize in sniper rifles and wear medium armor.”

You can think of the Infiltrator as one of two ways - either as a hybrid of the Soldier and Engineer, or as a Sniper. It excels at both, really, but due to weapon restrictions it’ll always be at its best when you’re at a distance, backed up by tanky allies who move in closer on your behalf.

  • The Infiltrator’s main weapon is sniper rifles, and you’ll want to keep that distance due to only having light armor. However, a pistol can be used up-close in a pinch, and eventually you can unlock medium armor to give more protection for when things get up close and personal.
  • You’ll have access to a lot of the same tech skills as the Engineer Class, but not all of them. You’ll be able to wreak havoc on shields and robot enemies, though. 
  • The Infiltrator Class Talent increases the damage of tech skill explosions and reduces heat build-up on your pistol & sniper, allowing you to fire them more quickly.
  • Garrus is the Infiltrator class in your party.
  • When specialization arrives, you can become a Commando or an Operative.
  • In the sequels, this class can also use submachine guns, and snipers are drastically improved thanks to a time dilation effect when aiming down sights.
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Sentinel - the ultimate skill-slinger, at the cost of shooting

“Sentinels combine biotic and tech abilities. Typically, they use biotic abilities and advanced healing skills to defend allies, though they can also disrupt opponents with biotic or tech attacks. They are more efficient at tech and biotics than other classes, but at the expense of combat. Sentinels can only wear light armor and receive no specialized weapon training.”

As the in-game description suggests, Sentinels are entirely focused around skills - able to effectively use the Biotic skills of the Adept and the Tech skills of the Engineer - but they have zero proper weapons training. They will be decent with a pistol, but won’t get any of the special weapons skills at all. However, their range of abilities makes them utterly formidable. 

  • You can offset the damage drop by only really having access to pistols with soldier-like squad members (like Ashley, Garrus, or Wrex) to dish out the damage for you, and by using your defensive skills like Barrier and Stasis to protect yourself. 
  • The Sentinel arguably benefits most from the changes to the Legendary Edition version of ME1, as the weapon changes mean they can reliably get away with using a rifle. 
  • The Sentinel’s unique Class Talent raises your pistol damage and accuracy while also reducing the cooldown time of your Biotic and Tech skills.
  • Kaiden is ME1's Sentinel class. 
  • When specialized, the Sentinel can become a Bastion or a Medic. 
  • This class keeps its multi-faceted approach in ME2 and 3 but benefits from the new skill chain reactions in those games while also getting access to SMGs and a unique new ‘Tech Armor’ power that turns the class into a bit of a close-range beast. It’s arguably one of the best classes in the later two games.
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Vanguard - an in-your-face soldier/adept hybrid

“Vanguards are biotic warriors. They combine biotics and weapons to take down opponents and are especially deadly at short range. They specialize in pistols and shotguns, and wear medium armor.”

Vanguards are another hybrid class of a sort, mixing together the abilities of the Soldier and the Adept to create a close-range monster of a class. The aim is to use biotic skills to disable and close in on enemies, then wreck them at close range with shotguns. Light and medium armor and little in the way of healing means it’s high risk, high reward, though.

  • Make sure to pair this class with squadmates who can support and heal you if you end up in trouble. You’ll want to be comfortable with the more twitchy reactions you’ll need to shotgun faster-moving enemies up close and personal.
  • The Vanguard’s Class Talent boosts your protection against biotic attacks while also significantly raising pistol and shotgun damage.
  • Wrex is your party’s Vanguard, and all the Krogan Battlemasters you meet are also of this class.
  • When you reach Class Specialization, the Vanguard can become a Shock Trooper or Nemesis. 
  • Alongside Sentinel this is one of the best and most-improved classes in Mass Effect 2 and 3, keeping the up-close focus but gaining an incredible Charge move to get in an enemy’s face immediately. 

 

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What’s the Best Class to use in Mass Effect?

When choosing class, naturally, it’s a personal choice. You need to look at the class descriptions both in-game and our summaries above and come to a decision about what sort of play-style you want - though we do have some thoughts on which the absolute best class is.

  • If you just want to play like a shooter, Soldier remains the best class. You can still access other abilities via your party members.
  • While the ‘dedicated’ classes are good, we think the ‘Hybrid’ classes are better. 
    • By this we mean rather than choosing an Adept, we’d recommend a Sentinel or Vanguard if you want Biotic abilities.
    • Likewise, an Infiltrator or Sentinel is for our money more fun to play than an Engineer. 
  • You will have a chance to respec and change characters between games, and all 6 classes are significantly different in Mass Effect 2 & 3 - all are improved and made more unique. However, we think the classes that land with the most success in the sequels are again the Soldier, Sentinel, and Vanguard - so if you want to have a consistency of class, we’d again recommend one of those three.

With all that said, remember - there is no wrong choice here! All six classes are viable, especially when you take into account their specializations. Speaking of that…

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Mass Effect Specialization: what specialized class to choose

Here’s how Specialization works - when you complete a certain mission in Mass Effect, you’ll unlock specialized class talents. In ME1, you’re rather unceremoniously asked to choose between two choices as soon as that mission is complete.

Each core class can have two different specializations, and each specialization is shared between two core classes. For example:

  • The Soldier can evolve into the Shock Trooper or Commando specializations.
  • Of those two, Shock Trooper can be reached either from Soldier or Vanguard classes.

Once you select a specialization, you’ll gain access to a new trait that you can put skill points into - it appears as ranks 7-12 of your class talent. What exactly these new ranks give you varies, of course, based on your specialization of choice. It goes as follows:

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  • Bastion: available to Adepts or Sentinels
    • Reduces Recharge Time on Biotic Abilities
    • Unlocks Barrier Specialization (rank 9) and Stasis Specialization (rank 12)
  • Commando: available to Soldiers or Infiltrators
    • Increases damage output with all weapon types
    • Unlocks Immunity Specialization (rank 9) and Assassin Specialization (rank 12)
  • Medic: available to Engineers or Sentinels
    • Reduces recharge time on Medical Skills
    • Unlocks Neural Shock Specialization (rank 9) and First Aid Specialization (rank 12)
  • Nemesis: available to Adepts and Vanguards
    • Increases the damage and duration of Biotic Skills
    • Significantly improves Warp (rank 9) and Lift (rank 12)
  • Shock Trooper: available to Soldiers and Vanguards
    • Gives additional bonus Health and Damage Protection
    • Unlocks Barrier or Immunity Specialization (rank 9, class dependent) and Adrenaline Burst Specialization (rank 12)
  • Operative: available to Engineers or Infiltrators
    • Reduces the recharge time on tech attacks
    • Significantly improves Overload (rank 9) and Sabotage (rank 12)

In Mass Effect 2 and 3, specializations still exist but are quite different. Your specialization won’t impact your save import at all.

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How to unlock your Specialization Talent

In order to unlock your Specialization in Mass Effect, you’ll need to complete a specific side quest. That’s UNC: Rogue VI. This mission will unlock as soon as you hit a certain level in the game - in the original, that’s level 20, but if you’re playing Legendary Edition’s remastered version of ME1 with its tweaked leveling, it’ll be sooner.

The mission will unlock when you use the galaxy map - when you’ve cleared its threshold, Admiral Hackett will reach out to you over the comms when you arrive in a new system. He’ll ask you to go to the Sol system - that’s our home Solar System - and travel to Luna, Earth’s moon.

On the moon, you’ll have to fight a bunch of drones inside 3 underground compounds you enter from the surface of the moon. The encounters get harder with each bunker you clear, and there are enemies within that can one-shot you easily. Given you’re fighting Drones, take Tali and/or Garrus, as they have tech skills that can ruin the drones more easily.

As you destroy the conduits powering the Rogue VI, the mission progresses. When you destroy the final one in the final bunker and thus clear the mission, you’ll immediately unlock your Specialization Class.

Completing this mission also has minor consequences in Mass Effect 2

What’s the best Specialization Class to choose?

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Honestly, while we have strong opinions on some core classes being superior to others in the original Mass Effect, we don’t feel anywhere near as strongly about the Specialization Classes, and for good reason - the bonuses they provide are all highly specific to different play-styles.

We played as a Sentinel and went for the Bastion specialization, because it naturally exaggerates and improves the very best abilities of that class, and the way we played. You should think about it and do the same. 

Keep in mind that while it’s a powerful unlock, you don’t even have to put skill points into the newly unlocked Specialization Talent ranks once you get your Specialization - so in a way, the whole thing is optional.

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Character Classes in Mass Effect 2 & 3

Once you get past the first Mass Effect, your character class options remain the same, but it's fair to say that the difference in how the games play significantly adjusts the paradigm of how each class handles itself.

Basically, Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 are much more competent shooters as a whole, and that means you'll be relying on your actual guns a lot more no matter the class you choose. Beyond that, however, the way that the various skills work has been heavily adjusted. Biotics are no longer a slightly-wonky, unpredictable physics bonanza, for instance, instead forming one part of a rock-paper-scissors dynamic between physical, tech and biotic damage. In ME3, this system is taken further with 'combo reactions' when different powers are used in quick succession and pile on top of each other.

At the core of the classe is how Mass Effect 2 and 3 feature an adjustment to how various forms of barrier work. There's Armor, Shields, and Barriers. Armor is physical, and so is best interrupted by high-power weapons fire and physical skills. Shields are technological, and so can be overloaded and disrupted with tech powers. Finally, Barriers are biotic, and can be shredded with certain biotic moves. Certain weapons are also more effective against certain types of defenses. 

All of this adds up to make for very different feeling battles where classes play out in different ways. As a result, you might actually want to change class between ME1 and ME2 - but we do suggest you probably keep the same class and progression from ME2 to ME3. Here's how the class specialties break down in the sequels:

  • Soldier Class: The Soldier ultimately remains the base-line, basic Shepard Class; the warrior equivalent in RPG terms, but also the Shepard that plays most like a straight-up third person shooter hero. Thanks to the fact shooting in ME2 and ME3 actually feels good, Soldier is much improved. Soldier's basic powers are all built around weapons fire; Adrenaline Burst slows time to let you fire off a bunch of shots quickly, concussive shot can be used to knock enemies down, and a series of ammo powers lets you give any weapon you have an elemental edge. Soldiers have access to Shotguns, Heavy Pistols, Sniper Rifles, and the powerful Assault Rifle, which is exclusive to them. Curiously, they're the only class that doesn't get access to the SMG, which is new for ME2. 
  • Engineer Class: With a focus on the technical, the Engineer is still great at taking on anything technical - shields, robotic enemies, and so on. The main differences here are the base weapons the class has access to, and one notable new power, the Combat Drone. The Drone is another ally you can summon an AI drone that'll get out onto the battlefield and pester enemies up close, allowing you to hang back and stay safe, using your support powers. This is necessary, however, as the Engineer is a lower-health class naturally. You have access to Heavy Pistols and the new Submachine Gun, however, so it's still more capable in direct combat.
  • Adept Class: Adepts remain the ME series equivalent of a mage, but as with every class, they're made more, er, adept with general weapons as well. Consider it streamlined. For controlling enemy movements you get Singularity and Pull, while Warp is now a high-damage biotic attack. Shockwave is your middle-of-the-road power that does a little damage but also helps with crowd control. The adept can ultimately kill enemies more quickly without even firing a shot, but they also come with Heavy Pistol and Submachine Gun training. Their main problem is that their skill set isn't great at getting through Shields, so you'll want tech-minded party members to help you with that.
  • Infiltrator Class: Like the Soldier class, the Infiltrator benefits massively from the upgrade of the combat from Mass Effect to Mass Effect 2 and 3 because of its natural focus on weapons. Think of it as being like an RPG rogue. It comes with training in Heavy Pistols and SMGs, but also useful training in Sniper Rifles. The Sniper Rifle training can be combined with its elemental Disruptor and Cryo ammo powers to tear through enemy weaknesses. You also get AI Hacking to turn robot enemies on their allies, Incinerate to burn through armor, and a Cloak that makes you invisible, so you can position yourself better for more nasty sniping action. 
  • Sentinel Class: The Sentinel was a fun class in the first Mass Effect, but it's also drastically improved in ME2 and ME3 thanks to its new exclusive power - the Tech Armor. This special armor lets the class take a little more damage, making it an incredibly tanky class to play as. You can get up close and personal, and when the tech armor is depleted, it lets our a shockwave that briefly stuns enemies, allowing you to retreat back to cover. They only have access to Heavy Pistols and SMGs naturally, but their range of tech and biotic powers, borrowed from the Adept and Engineer, mean that this class has the ability to take down any type of shield in the game on their own, which is fairly unique. 
  • Vanguard Class: The Vanguard has been completely reconsidered for Mass Effect 2, with the whole class built around a new power: the Biotic Charge. Charge basically lets you zip from your current location directly to an enemy where you slam into them, dealing both physical and biotic damage. You can then use the weapons training in Heavy Pistols or SMGs to finish them off, or use Charge to dash back to safety. They get a mix of the skills from the Soldier and Adept - some ammo-based elemental skills, and a couple of crowd control Biotic abilities. 
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Later on in Mass Effect 2, you'll have the ability to pick bonus powers and advanced weapon training. This allows you to augment each class with additional training - but you should pick your class based on their starting point and then choose these based on how you've found playing as that class - either to enhanced an existing strength or offset a weakness.

Once you hit Mass Effect 3, every single class can equip and fire every type of weapon equally - with this instead balanced out by a weight system. Classes that have less weapons in ME2 have lower weight limits, meaning they can carry fewer weapons, or will struggle to carry two powerful ones such as a Shotgun and an Assault Rifle - whereas the Soldier can carry both with ease. The penalty for carrying too much impacts the cool down time of your skills - so the less you carry, the faster skills recharge. In ME3 there's therefore a strong argument for a class like Sentinel or Adept only carrying one weapon, as it rapidly improves the cool down times of their powerful and unique moves.

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The Best Class in Mass Effect 2 & 3

Just as with the first game, we're very keen to make a very clear note that there is no absolute best choice of class in ME2 & 3. However, we definitely think some classes are a little naturally more fun to play as and powerful - and so in this section, we're going to note our picks for the best classes in Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 - which is entirely subjective and based on our personal feelings.

  • Soldier is finally totally viable, if you want to keep things simple. The fact that ME2 and ME3 have proper, good-handling gun combat is vital, and Adrenaline Burst is a great skill with a fast cool down that can make even the most uncertain shooter player feel like they're a proper sharpshooter. Soldier also features the most raw power in ME2, though in ME3 the changes to certain mechanics around weapons mean it's taken down a slight peg in that game.
  • The Sentinel is ridiculously powerful, and can take a ton of punishment. If you're going to play through ME2 and ME3 on Insanity Difficulty, we do suggest at least considering the Sentinel, as its Tech Armor skill means that even when enemies basically never miss and do a lot of damage, the Tech Armor makes you very survivable. Additionally, as mentioned above the Sentinel has a spread of skills which means they can do anything. That might mean Jack of All Trades, Master of None, but it still makes for an incredibly fun class to play, and you can pair up with a high damage dealer and a good support squad mate pairing to back them up.
  • Vanguard is incredible if you're comfortable with close-quarters twitch play. By using Biotic Charge to surge in close, the Vanguard can play very differently to its ME1 counterpart - and it's a perfect all-or-nothing class where you get stuck right into the thick of the action. It's also a class that can benefit most from the right choice of back-up
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