Mass Effect Legendary Edition: Beginner’s Guide to Combat Mechanics (Mass Effect 1, 2 & 3)

Mass Effect Legendary Edition: Beginner’s Guide to Combat Mechanics (Mass Effect 1, 2 & 3)

In this Mass Effect: Legendary Edition Beginner’s Guide, we’re going to take a look at Combat Mechanics in Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3. I’ll dive into the similarities and differences when it comes to Character Advancement, and Squadmates, as well as the Weapons and Armor Commander Shepard and his or her enemies equip. Not all of these mechanics will be present in each of the trilogy’s sections since some functionalities have been removed completely or have remained entirely the same. If you’re new to Mass Effect and you want to understand how Combat works, then this Guide is for you.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition: Beginner’s Guide to Combat Mechanics (Mass Effect 1, 2 & 3)

Mass Effect Legendary is a massive production, and there are not only 3 games to discuss, but all 3 do things a bit differently, even if they are somewhat similar in a lot of cases. One of the most notable changes is Combat, which is why we’ve dedicated an entire guide just to it. Below you’ll find the similarities a differences of combat in Mass Effect Legendary Edition, as well as helpful tips to increase your chances of survival.

Mass Effect 1

Squadmates

There are a total of 6 Squadmates in the game but you can only bring two at a time before leaving the Normandy. You can recruit them by accomplishing Missions while some are readily available since they already serve the Alliance Military. Should you decide to swap Squadmates, you’ll have the chance to allocate their points by simply going to the Talents UI.

ME1 6 Squadmates

Ideally, it’s best to bring those who specialize in the Skills that you lack proficiency in to balance out your Squad’s strength. This ensures that you’re able to efficiently bring down enemies. For example, if you’re a Vanguard, which is a Combat and Biotic Specialist rolled into one Class, it’s best to bring a Squadmate who specializes in Tech. You can then decide if you want a Combat Specialist, Biotic Specialist, or another hybrid just like you.

In the Legendary Edition, you can command Squadmates separately, similar to how it works in Mass Effect 2 and 3. This means that they each have unique keys assigned to them so you can direct their movements, which are independent of one another.

The Tactics HUD

The Tactics HUD is a mechanic that allows you to do a multitude of things in order to command your Squad. This feature lets you pause the entire game to select appropriate Abilities that you and your Squadmates will employ given the current situation you’re faced with, similar to how the Real-Time with Pause System in CRPGs works. You can also drag these to your Quick Slots to easily access it in fights. Note that you can’t add your Squadmates’ Abilities to Quick Slots so instead, you’ll have to manually activate it from the Tactics HUD UI. In order to aim, simply hold and drag the Right Mouse Button similar to how you aim and move your reticle when targeting enemies with a Weapon.

ME1 Tactics HUD

The Tactics HUD allows you to cycle through and to choose the best Weapons depending on the enemy type and your proximity from them. Lastly, it lets you direct your Squadmates to move forward, stay in position, attack, or rally beside you.

Weapons

There are 4 Weapon Types in Mass Effect 1, namely, Pistols, Assault Rifles, Shotguns and Sniper Rifles. In the original version of this game, all of these Weapons can be wielded by any Class. The catch however is they don’t have proficiency with some of them. To determine whether or not you’re trained in using a specific Weapon, you’ll have to zoom in via your Mouse’s Right Click Button when that Weapon is active. The drawback of using Weapons you don’t have proficiency with is the accuracy and damage penalties you receive.

ME1 Sniper Rifle Zoom In

Comparatively in the Legendary Edition, all Weapons are still available to any Class except that when you use them, you’ll no longer be penalized so it you can choose whatever you like. However, remember that each Class still has Talents that improve their effectiveness with some Weapon types. Ultimately, it’s better to equip those that you can get bonuses from because this would be more efficient and effective in the long run.

For example, if you’re playing as an Adept, who is trained at using Pistols, I’d recommend sticking with this in order to rank up its corresponding Talent and Abilities. You can leave the long-range distance damage to a Squadmate who is trained at shooting with a Sniper Rifle. Note that the Pistol is the only Weapon, which can be used well by any Class. They all have access to its Marksman Ability that boosts accuracy and the number of shots fired.

ME1 Advanced Marksman

In the Legendary Edition, there have been upgrades in terms of how you handle Weapons. The reticle bloom, Aiming Down Sights or ADS, and aim assist have all been optimized. Most especially for Sniper Rifle users like myself, the erratic swaying a few seconds after zooming in, has been removed to improve stability. Additionally, headshots inflict larger amounts of damage to all enemies when previously, it hasn’t been this way.

Shots Before Overheat indicates how many shots you can fire prior to rendering your Weapon unusable due to overheating.

ME1 Shots Before Overheat

To monitor the amount of heat buildup, you can refer to your Overheat Meter, which is located at the bottom left-hand side of your screen. If this has been maximized, you won’t be able to fire shots from that specific Weapon so you’ll either have to hide behind a cover or switch to another Weapon while waiting for your first one to cool down. As such, it’s best to execute short bursts of fire to reduce the chances of overheating.

Note that in the Legendary Edition, the cooldown rate of Weapons is faster so you’ll be waiting less. Moreover upon activating a corresponding Weapon Ability, heat resets, which means that you can immediately reuse the previously disabled Weapon to shoot again. In Mass Effect 1, you don’t have ammo or bullets so instead, you rely on your Shots Before Overheat Attribute to determine if you can use your Weapon at the moment or not.

Surviving Combat Encounters

In combat, you’ll have to remember a couple of things that can help you execute Abilities effectively, shoot better by doubling the base accuracy of your Weapons, and survive longer. These include utilizing covers, minimizing fatigue, performing Melee Attacks, and recovering lost HP.

Covers & Fatigue

First is utilizing covers that are made up of scattered objects, big enough to hide behind when you’re in a crouched position. Make sure to survey the area to scout for these every time fights are initiated. You can even peek from side to side to execute your attacks or to check if you can safely move from cover to cover. In the Legendary Edition, more covers have been added to specific encounters, making the corresponding fights more manageable. Furthermore, every time you shoot from a crouched position, the accuracy of your active Weapon increases.

ME1 Cover

When you’re running while in combat, may it be towards the enemy or from cover to cover, you expend what’s known as Storm Speed. If you run for continuous periods of time, you’ll experience Fatigue, which is has a respective meter at the lower left-hand side of your screen beside your active Weapon. You’ll have to manage this resource well because if you become fatigued, you won’t be able to run. As such, you reduce the chances of successfully dodging enemy attacks. In the remastered version, you can even sprint outside of combat.

Melee Attacks & HP Recovery

In the original Mass Effect 1, when you intend to perform Melee Attacks, you could only do so by closely approaching enemies and automatically hitting them with the butt of your equipped Weapon. In the Legendary Edition, a dedicated button for this has been added making it easier to trigger, similar to how you execute Melee Attacks in Mass Effect 2 and 3. These attacks deal at most moderate damage but it can knock enemies off of their feet.

Lastly, remember that unlike in other games, you don’t automatically restore depleted HP, which is only available to some Classes or if you have Armor Mods equipped. To regenerate HP, you need to use Medi-gels that are resources you also obtain from containers. In the Legendary Edition, these have been optimized meaning, its respective cooldown time has been reduced, allowing you to reuse it faster in the event that your Squad’s HPs are dangerously low.

The Mako

The Mako is a vehicle that you use to explore planets, which are accessible via the Galaxy Map of the Normandy. Since the different environments can be harmful at times, it’s best to stay inside, plus, you gain the benefit of attacking enemies with heavy artillery such as Cannons and Machine Guns. Remember that you can also zoom in with these Weapons, the same way you do with Shepard. You can zoom in up to 3 times to increase the accuracy of your shots, with the third zoom maximizing the chances of successfully hitting enemies. A reticle in the form of a red triangle also appears in front of them, similar to how Shepard’s Weapons work, as an indicator if you can hit them within range.

ME1 The Mako

In the Legendary Edition, you’ll no longer be penalized, XP-wise. This means that no bonus XP will be awarded to you if you fight enemies from outside the Mako instead of using its Weapons to do so. This is great news, and means you don’t have to worry about “how” you fight enemies.

The Mako also has Shields, which automatically recharge over time, which protect it from damage. When it has been fully depleted, the vehicle’s HP will be affected.

Instead of using Medi-gels to restore the hull’s functionality in the event of damage, you must repair the Mako. Because of this, it’s important to have at least one Tech Specialist in your Squad who has sufficiently ranked up their Electronics Talent to restore a larger portion of the damaged hull. Upon performing these repairs you’ll expend Omni-gels, which can be obtained from containers or from converting unimportant Equipment. Make sure that you’re in a safe location when you do this since the Mako will be momentarily stagnant.

One of the best updates in the remastered version is how you control the highly wobbly vehicle back in the original version. The newly improved Mako feels heavier so it’s less prone to bouncing around uncontrollably. You also have access to optimized thrusters that allow you to increase the Mako’s movement speed. Initially, this was only confined to lifting the vehicle in order to avoid obstacles and enemy missiles. Lastly, when it touches the Lava, your Mission will not end in failure, unlike in the original game.

Note that the Mako is only available in Mass Effect 1.

Mass Effect 2

Squadmates

The number of total Squadmates you can recruit including those from DLCs has been increased from 6 to 12. They are recruited in a similar fashion as in this game’s predecessor, that is, by accomplishing Missions associated with them. Once you leave the Normandy, you’ll still be able to choose two to bring on quests with prompts that show how you wish to distribute their Power Points as well as the appropriate Weapons to equip.

Similar to Mass Effect 1, you’ll have to bring Squadmates who specialize in the Skills you’re not proficient with to prepare your Squad in order to effectively damage and kill enemies.

Command HUD

The Command HUD in Mass Effect 2 functions in the same way as the Tactical HUD in Mass Effect 1 such that you still pause the game to plan out a series of attacks, however, this has been updated. The major difference is you can now assign your Squad’s Powers into Quick Slots whereas in Mass Effect 1, you only add your own. This allows you to easily activate multiple Powers without having to manually click them from the Command HUD UI.

ME2 Command HUD

Furthermore, you can also identify those that are activated or unnecessary because its respective buttons are colored red with a downward arrow. Some examples include activating the Incendiary Ammo to weaken Armor or preventing you from using Unity when all of your Squadmates are still alive, respectively. Additionally, the red color can also signify that a Power is ineffective on the enemy you’ve targeted due to certain constraints. Activating Warp to bring down Shields will waste your Power because it breaks down Armor and Biotic Barriers instead. When the color is orange, it can be used immediately. Lastly, when the Power’s color is grey, it’s undergoing a cooldown period.

When it comes to commanding your Squadmates, the default actions in Mass Effect 1 have been updated. Instead of having to choose from four, you can direct them to regroup, move to a position, or attack specific enemies with just one key per Companion.

Weapons

The way Weapons work together with its corresponding heat mechanics, mods and ammo, have been vastly overhauled in Mass Effect 2. The attributes back in Mass Effect 1 have been entirely abolished. Instead, most Weapons now use Thermal Clips, which serve as heat dissipators and ammo so you can’t shoot when these are empty. Because of this, you now have the reload functionality.

Thermal Clips

You can automatically acquire Thermal Clips by simply approaching it. Clips are usually found on top of counters, floors or even beside enemy corpses. If your backup ammo, or the total ammo that you have prior to reloading, is filled up, you won’t be able to pick up additional clips even if your loaded ammo is not full. Loaded ammo is what’s readily available to your Weapon before firing a shot. This is only restocked when you hit reload. As such, it’s important to always reload to reduce the capacity of your backup ammo, thereby allowing you to acquire more of these thermal clips. Note that Squadmates have an unlimited number of clips, however, they still reload Weapons when ammo runs out.

Thermal Clips are universal, which means that these are used to maximize the backup ammo of all of your Light Weapons, except for Heavy Weapons, which use Power Cells. You usually pick up these cells from crates prior to major encounters where you confront heaps of enemies or bosses. If your Power Cells are maxed out, you’ll receive 100 credits plus full Light Weapon clips instead.

ME2 Heavy Weapon

In the Legendary Edition, the drop rate of ammo, especially for Sniper Rifles, has been increased so you can expect to see more of these in combat.

Weapon Types

The Weapon Types in Mass Effect 2 have been increased from 4 to 6  and are identified as Heavy Pistols, Assault Rifles, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, and the new Submachine Guns and Heavy Weapons, with the former five being categorized as Light Weapons. During any given Mission or Assignment, Shepard can only carry one Weapon per type whereas Squadmates can only carry at most two of these. The Weapons that can be part of your loadout is still dependent on your Class and proficiency. For Soldiers, you can equip almost all of them except for Submachine Guns whereas for Sentinels, you can only shoot with Heavy Pistols and Submachine Guns.

There are still bonuses to Weapon accuracy and damage that you can take advantage of. When zooming in from behind a cover, your accuracy increases. When you’re shooting enemies up close with any Weapon except for a Sniper Rifle, you gain a bonus to damage. Similar to this game’s predecessor, if you decide to shoot from outside of your Weapon’s range, you’ll receive a damage penalty.

Note that Heavy Weapons are only available to Shepard and not to your Squadmates. This is a special type of Weapon because it can damage enemies hiding behind covers while disabling them in the process. Furthermore, all Classes have access to Heavy Weapons.

Weapon Upgrades

When it comes to Upgrades, you no longer accrue mods for specific Weapons and Ammo to enhance their performance. Instead, you rely on research to make improvements to each of your Weapons. Research is one of the new features in Mass Effect 2 that isn’t limited to upgrading Weapons. It also boosts your ship’s defenses and your Squadmates’ Powers. This is usually performed in the Normandy’s Research Terminal located at the Tech Lab. Every time you begin research projects, you use Resources such as Platinum and Element Zero. One example of a Weapon Upgrade for Heavy Pistols is the Sabot Jacketing, which lets your Squad deal an additional 50% damage against enemy Armor.

ME2 Sabot Jacketing

Ammo Upgrades

When it comes to Ammo Upgrades, you now use Ammo Powers to modify the way you damage enemies depending on the protective layer they’re wearing. Gone are the days of using Tungsten Rounds to deal more damage to Synthetics. Instead, there are several Ammo Powers available to you based on your Class and the Squadmates you bring. One example is the Disruptor Ammo to deal an additional 40% Weapon Damage to Synthetics and Shields. Note that you can only activate one Ammo Power at a time. To override this, simple select another Ammo Power.

Armor

Armor has been given more depth in Mass Effect 2 and is no longer confined to just Shields prior to dealing damage to HP. Now, there are 3 types of protective layers that you’ll have to be aware of when fighting enemies and these are Armor, Shields, and Biotic Barriers.

Armor Upgrades, Customization & Sets

Similar to Weapons, you can research Armor Upgrades via the Research Terminal of the Normandy to lessen the damage you receive and to increase your max HP. Shepard starts off by using the N7 Armor, which can be customized by swapping Helmet and Chest Pieces, for example, in order to enhance your overall performance. Moreover, there are also multiple Armor Sets, which can be obtained from DLCs, that already add a full set of protection and resistances to damage. One example is the Cerberus Assault Armor that adds 10% bonus each to your Heavy Weapon Ammo Capacity, Shield Strength, and HP.

ME2 Cerberus Assault Armor

Similar to the N7, only the Kestrel Armor Set can be customized by swapping out parts bought from merchants or acquired from DLCs.

Mass Effect 3

Power Combos

Your Combat, Tech and Biotic Skills remain the same as in Mass Effect 3’s predecessors, however, the striking difference is the addition of the new Power Combos Mechanic, which allows you to inflict more damage onto your enemies. This lets you perform strong and volatile explosions by combining two Powers sequentially.

To effectively enact a Power Combo, you need a Source Power or Primer and a Detonator Power. Primers determine the type of Power Combo you’ll execute whereas the Detonator will set off the combo. Examples of Primers are Reave, Cryo Blast, and Sabotage or those with effects that disrupt enemies for certain periods of time while Detonators such as Nova, Carnage, and Concussive Shot deal burst damage. Some Powers function as both a Primer and Detonator so you can definitely test out multiple combinations. All in all, there are 4 Power Combo Types, namely Biotic, Electric, Flame and Cryo Combos.

Biotic Combos are triggered when you combine two Biotic Powers such as Pull and then Warp, resulting in an explosion that inflicts immense damage against Armor and Barriers and to the area surrounding multiple enemies, thereby knocking them down.

ME3 Pull

ME3 Warp

Electric Combos are initiated when you combine Powers that harness electricity with a detonator. An example is combining Overload with Concussive Shot to deal twice the damage to Shields while stunning unprotected enemies in the process.

Flame Combos are executed when you combine Powers that utilize the flame effect with a detonator. An example is combining Incinerate with Carnage, resulting in double the damage to break down Armor and to burn unprotected enemies. Lastly, Cryo Combos are the opposite of Flame Combos in that you use Powers with the freeze effect instead. An example is combining Cryo Ammo with Biotic Charge to cause severe damage to unprotected enemies, either by freezing or shattering them.

Weapons

In Mass Effect 3, all Classes can equip and effectively use any Weapon, however, there’s a catch. Weapons now have weights, which add to your overall weight capacity. By default, Soldiers have the highest weight capacities versus Engineers and Adepts, which have the lowest. Note that if you exceed the number of allowable weight capacity, your Powers’ recharge times will be much slower. If your weight capacity is below the threshold, your Powers will recharge faster, enabling you to use them more often.

The heaviest Weapons are Shotguns and Sniper Rifles whereas the lightest ones are Heavy Pistols and Submachine Guns. This lets you customize your character even further by either focusing on executing numerous Power Combos with a backup Heavy Pistol or using more Weapons without utilizing much of your Powers.

ME3 M-3 Predator I

Weapon Upgrades

Weapon Upgrades went back to its roots by incorporating Weapon Mods from Mass Effect 1. You can apply at most 2 mods, however, you can’t stack and use the same mod twice, unlike in the first game. These are installed via a Weapon Bench or before starting a Mission. Note that if you find another mod that you already have in your inventory, that same mod will be improved so you’ll obtain its higher tiered version. You can also use these to reduce the weight of your Weapons, giving you access to other Weapon Types, thereby lessening the penalty imposed on your Powers’ cooldown times. Alternatively, ranking up some of your Powers also provides bonuses to your overall weight capacity.

ME3 Shotgun

Some examples of Weapon Mods are the Assault Rifle Magazine Upgrade, which increases the number of shots fired prior to reloading, and the Pistol High-Caliber Barrel, which significantly improves your Weapon Damage. The maximum level of mods is 5. At this level, you get more bonuses upon adding it to your Weapon. You can acquire these mods through explorations or from merchants.

Gates

In Mass Effect 3, another new mechanic has been introduced, namely the Shield/Barrier Gates. Shield/Barrier Gates negate certain Weapon damage percentages by boosting the enemy’s damage reduction attribute depending on the Combat Difficulty you’ve chosen. What happens is when the enemy has been fully stripped of their Shields or Barriers, the remaining damage that they receive is reduced by a certain amount. This has been implemented in order to prevent the frequency of one-shot kills against protected enemies. The damage reduction based on Combat Difficulty are as follows:

Combat DifficultyDamage Reduction (%)
Normal50
Hardcore75
Insanity100

A similar mechanic has been made available to Shepard called the Health and Shield Gates. When your Shields or Barriers are down, you momentarily become immune to damage. Additionally with the Health Gate, if you only have 5% HP left, you’ll also be immune to any form of damage. Note that in both instances, there’s a cooldown period. For Shield Gates, it’s cooldown is 4 seconds whereas for Health Gates, it’s 3 seconds. This added feature gives you extra time to react accordingly, thereby preventing you from instantly dying. The invulnerability period per Combat Difficulty is as follows:

Combat DifficultyInvulnerability Period (Sec)
Narrative1
Casual0.75
Normal0.5
Hardcore0.25
Insanity0.1

Surviving Combat Encounters

Cover & Fatigue

The Cover System has been optimized such that you can easily move from one cover to the next by rolling on the ground or by sprinting towards an adjacent cover. Moreover, you can also jump on top of floor gaps.

Fatigue has been removed, which means that you can sprint to your heart’s content when you’re in and out of combat.

Heavy Melee Attacks

Melee Combat has been enhanced with the introduction of the Heavy Melee Attack, which is triggered when you hold the Melee button down. This deals a significant amount of damage compared to your default Melee Attack. You can even lock an enemy in place, ensuring successful hits, if they are very near you. You can increase your Melee Damage even more with the Fitness Power, which at Rank 4 deals an additional 30% damage while acquiring another 30% extra damage at Rank 6 if you choose to do so. These customizations are known as Melee Damage and Melee Synergy, respectively.

ME3 Fitness Power

Familiarizing yourself with these Mass Effect mechanics will make combat manageable. It will also help you plan your attacks more effectively especially when you’re fighting against tougher enemies.

Stay tuned for more Beginner Guides for Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, and be sure to check out the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition Wiki if you have questions about the game!

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