Mass Effect has a fairly open-ended structure where once you get your hands on your ship, the Normandy, you can tackle most of the game’s core story locations and missions in any order you like. However, we do think there is a best mission order in which to tackle things.
This is, of course, all suggested. The nature of Mass Effect’s story means that you can and should think about what sort of order you’d like to approach everything in and then go with your own gut.
With all that said, we do have our own favored mission order for Mass Effect 1 which is based on a few factors – primarily an even-handed difficulty ramp-up, and the best possible pacing for the story, especially in the later parts of the game. We’ll explain our optimum order below.
Mass Effect Mission Order: the optimal mission sequence, according to us
The game begins with a string of missions starting with Prologue: On the Normandy and Prologue: Find the Beacon. This is followed by Citadel: Expose Saren.
On the Citadel you’ll have the opportunity to recruit Urdnot Wrex (Citadel: Shadow Broker & Citadel: Wrex) and Garrus Vakarian (Citadel: Garrus) – and we recommend you do these, as these are two squad mates, great characters, useful in battle, and key players throughout the entire Mass Effect Trilogy – though you can opt not to recruit one of them at all if you wish.
Also on the Citadel, there’s a wide range of side quest assignments you can pick up and play at your discretion. They’re covered in our full Mass Effect 1 side quest assignments list.
Once you get control of the Normandy, you’ll be able to fly to the other core story mission planets in any order you like. We recommend the following order:
Find Liara T’Soni: head to Therum in the Knossos System, Artemis Tau Cluster. You want to do this first as Liara is a squad member, and rounds out your team with an expert Biotic user (which is Mass Effect’s mage-style class). Citadel: side quests mop-up. All quests from your previous visit remain open, but some new ones are available after finishing your first story planet, including the side quest exclusive to your Shepard’s pre-service history background. Asteroid X57: Bring Down the Sky: this is DLC, but it slots better into the earlier part of the story. It’s included in the remastered legendary edition of the game. Noveria: Geth Interest & Matriarch Benezia: you should take Liara on this mission if you can. Completing this story world unlocks more side content throughout the galaxy. Citadel & Uncharted World Exploration: more side quests mop up Feros: Geth Attack & The Thorian: Tali is a killer squadmate on this mission, where you’ll be fighting a lot of Geth. Pinnacle Station: this is DLC, and isn’t available at all in the new legendary edition remaster; so skip this if you’re on that version. Point of No Return: Complete any remaining side quests and assignments here, as the story becomes a rollercoaster from here on out. Virmire: Saren’s Plan / Assault: we’ve got a separate guide on the big choices on Virmire if you need help. Ilos: Find the Conduit / Trench Run / Race Against Time: be aware that once you travel to Ilos, it truly is the point of no return aside from starting over in a new game plus.
Obviously this is a suggested order, but we feel this is an optimum order for a well-paced, well-balanced play-through of Mass Effect, even on Insanity difficulty.
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As a general suggestion, try not to use the same pair of squad members for all story missions and side missions. All have interesting things to say, and you’ll benefit from taking people with a vested interest – missions involving the Krogan, for instance, are Wrex’s deal. Tali will always have more to say when the Geth are involved. Additionally, you’ll want to think about how useful their powers are. Tali isn’t very good against biotic opponents, but her tech powers can tear Geth to pieces easily.