Commander Shepard is the main protagonist of Mass Effect , the first Human to join the elite Spectre group of special operatives. Shepard is classified N7 by the Human Alliance Military, which signifies the hardest and best training for a Human soldier. Shepard can be either male or female, which affects who is in the romance subplot of the game. The default name of Shepard is John for males and Jane for females, but the player can customize the first name, which is never spoken aloud, to their liking, while the last name cannot be altered for purposes of dialogue. Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale voice the male and female versions of Shepard, respectively.
Unlike past Bioware RPGs, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which showed a variety of player characters in their trailers, all marketing material for the Mass Effect series depicts the same version of a male Shepard. This version of Shepard, the default appearance of the character, is physically based on Dutch model Mark Vanderloo. If choosing to do a custom identity, physical characteristics of Shepard are highly customizable. The game also presents different choices on pre-service history and personality, which affects what points one can get for intimidate/charm abilities.
There are many options that the player is able to choose concerning Commander Shepard's history and origins. Shepard can either be male or female; his birthplace can be Earth, an off-world colony, or somewhere in space (ie. a ship or space station); and may have a sole survivor, war hero, or ruthless psychological trait. At the time of the first Mass Effect, Shepard was born on April 11th, 2154 and is approximately 29 years old. He enlisted in the Alliance at 18 years old (2172) and is crew member aboard the SSV Normandy under Captain Anderson's command. Shepard's personality throughout the game is mostly determined by the choices the player makes in both dialogue and action.
Based on the player's choice from the following options, they encounter a specific side-quest in the first Mass Effect. These usually involve someone from Shepard's past who needs help.
If the Spacer background is chosen, players are able to have a conversation with the character's mother, Hannah Shepard, who serves as XO of the SSV Kilimanjaro during the events of the original Mass Effect. Although this does not re-occur in the sequel, Spacer characters do receive a short text-based message from Hannah over the course of the game. This is the only background where Shepard's parents are shown to be alive.
Both of your parents were in the Alliance military. Your childhood was spent on ships and stations as they transferred from posting to posting, never staying in one location for more than a few years. Following in your parents' footsteps, you enlisted at the age of eighteen. This gives you a 2 Paragon rating.
You were born and raised on Mindoir, a small border colony in the Attican Traverse. When you were sixteen, slavers raided Mindoir, slaughtering your family and friends. You were saved by a passing Alliance patrol, and you enlisted with the military a few years later. This gives you a 1 Paragon and 1 Renegade rating
If the player chooses the Colonist background, they are able to complete a side-quest while exiting the docking bay elevator in the Citadel. The Lieutenant Guard asks for Shepard's help in aiding a young girl who is a survivor of Mindor and is deeply traumatised by her past experience with the batarian slavers.
You were an orphan raised on the streets of the great megatropolises covering Earth. You escaped the life of petty crime and underworld gangs by enlisting with the Alliance military when you turned eighteen. This gives you a 2 Renegade rating.
If the player decides to choose the earthborn background, they will be able to complete a unique side-quest. When visiting the Chora's Den in the Citadel Wards, Shepard is offered the opportunity to free a member of a gang on Earth from a turian in the bar should they decide to do so.
Shepard's psychological profile also results in some incidental dialogue in the first game and can even change the way certain quest member perceive the player character.
- War Hero:
Early in your military career, you found yourself facing an overwhelming enemy force. You risked your own life to save your fellow soldiers and defeat the enemy despite the impossible odds. Your bravery and heroism have earned you medals and recognition from the Alliance fleet. This gives you a 2 Paragon rating.
If the player chooses the War Hero psychological profile, it slightly changes the dialogue options during the optional mission called UNC: Espionage Probe.
- Sole Survivor:
During your service, a mission you were on went horribly wrong. Trapped in an extreme survival situation, you had to overcome physical torments and psychological stresses that would have broken most people. You survived while all those around you fell, and now you alone are left to tell the tale. This gives you a 1 Paragon and 1 Renegade rating.
If the player decides to choose the Sole Survivor psychological profile, the dialoge options during the side mission UNC: Dead Scientists is changed slightly.
Throughout your military career, you have held fast to one basic rule: get the job done. You've been called cold, calculating, and brutal. Your reputation for ruthless efficiency makes your fellow soldiers wary of you. However, when failure is not an option, the military always goes to you first. This gives you a 2 Renegade rating.
If the the player chooses the Ruthless psychological profile, the dialogue options during the mission UNC: Major Kyle are altered slightly.
Early on in Mass Effect, Shepard becomes the first human Spectre in history. Shepard is assigned to high-priority missions by the Citadel Council and is tasked to stop the rogue Spectre, Saren, at all costs. Throughout his/her travels, Shepard encounters numerous allies and exotic locations. The player has the opportunity to obtain specific quests from companions through dialogue options. Finishing these quests will reveal more of their backstory, along with their species' history and culture. Completing the main missions in the game will advance the plot, but the player has the opportunity to pursue as many side missions as they desire. A romance subplot can exist between Shepard and one of his/her companions (either the Asari scientist Liara, the human soldier Ashley or the biotic Kaidan), reaching its "climax," if you will, before the final mission. A brief cutscene will play of Shepard and his or her love interest engaging in sexual intercourse, provided the player has gone through enough dialogue with the chosen love interest.
Shepard is referenced throughout the game as being an extremely skilled soldier and having experienced many battles. The player may choose 1 of 6 classes for Shepard in the beginning of the game. The Soldier is the combat-focused class in which Shepard is skilled in all weapon types and armors. The Engineer will give Shepard many abilities relating to technology and rebuffing his/her enemies. The Adept essentially acts as the magic class of Mass Effect; Shepard is able to use biotics, which can manipulate his/her enemies and dealing great damage. The Infiltrator, Sentinel, and Vanguard are crosses between a Soldier and Engineer, an Engineer and Adept, and Soldier and Adept, respectively. After reaching level 20, Shepard receives a side mission to stop a rogue virtual intelligence. Completing this mission will grant the player the ability to choose a special class, unlocking a new talent.
Mass Effect 2
In Mass Effect 2, Shepard reprises his/her main character status. Players are able to import their Mass Effect characters, provided that they have beaten the game. Throughout circumstances in Mass Effect 2, the player is allowed to change the appearance of his or her Shepard and is also able to change the class of the character. However, if the player has no save to import or chooses not to import, players are allowed to create Shepard with the same depth (class, psych-profile, appearance) that they could in Mass Effect. However, the events of the previous game are decided by Bioware (with the exception of the Alliance council representative), with many references to side quests in the first game not available.
Much of the game focuses on Shepard's relationship with his new crew members and the Illusive Man. Shepard's ultimate aim is to take on the Collectors in a suicide mission. And unless the players make the right choices during gameplay, the commander can end up dead as a result.
Mass Effect 3
Commander Shepard is once again the protagonist in Mass Effect 3. Though it is possible for a Mass Effect 2 to end in such a way that all of the player's characters including Shepard die, such save files are not eligible for upload into Mass Effect 3. The game also features a new iteration of the 'default' female Commander Shepard, in the form of a character whose design was voted on by the community. She is present on the tin case of the Collector's Edition together with the male counterpart as well as other promotional and packaging materials.
In Mass Effect 3, Shepard must unite the galaxy against the encroaching threat of the Reapers that culminates in a final battle on Earth. Decisions that the player made in the first two games affect specifics of certain events that take place in Mass Effect 3. However, regardless of these specifics, Shepard's main goal is to defeat the Reapers through the activation of a device known as the Crucible. Shepard has four ways to end the war:
- Destroy the Reapers: In this ending, Shepard shoots a key control panel, causing a massive explosion. Using the mass relays, the energy fired by the Crucible travels from relay to relay, causing all synthetics to be destroyed across the galaxy, including the Reapers, EDI and the Geth. The mass relays and the Citadel are badly damaged but eventually repaired. If the player's Effective Military Strength is high enough, Shepard is shown to have survived, taking a deep breath in a pile of rubble. Otherwise, Shepard is killed.
- Control the Reapers: Shepard takes control of the Reapers, becoming the new Reaper master consciousness. The Reapers depart Earth in this scenario and the Citadel survives and the Reapers help rebuild the galaxy, including the mass relays. If Shepard is a Paragon, the Commander will "give the many hope for the future". If Shepard is a Renegade, the Commander will "provide the many with a powerful leader".
- Synthesis: In this ending, Shepard jumps into the Crucible's energy beam, sacrificing his/her life. Shepard's sacrifice transforms all life in the galaxy into a new form of synthetic-organic life. The Reapers depart Earth and the mass relays and Citadel are damaged by the Crucible firing. The Reapers help rebuild the galaxy, including the mass relays, and share the knowledge of the civilizations they have harvested in the past.
- Refusal: In this ending, Shepard refuses to choose any of the three possible options. The Catalyst acknowledges the Commander's decision and disappears leaving the Crucible unable to fire. The Reapers succeed in harvesting all organic life throughout the galaxy as well allowing the cycle to continue.
Many years into the future, Shepard has become a legendary figure known as "The Shepard".
Shepard often ends conversations with "I should go". It's said to such an extreme that Female Shepard's voice actor, Jennifer Hale jokingly said "If I had a nickel for every time I had to say 'I should go', I wouldn't have to work anymore. I should go."
- Mira [VI on Noveria] : It looks like you are trying to restore this facility. Would you like some help?
- Shepard: Oh crap, a pop-up.
Mass Effect 2
- Shepard [Repeated Line]: I'm Commander Shepard and this is my favorite store on the Citadel.
- The Illusive Man: Shepard, you're making a habit of costing me more than time and money.
- Shepard: I'm sorry, I'm having trouble hearing you - I'm getting a lot of bullshit on this line.
- Shepard [talking to an Eclipse Trooper]: You've got two ways down: express or coach -- your choice.
- Eclipse Trooper: I've got nothing more to say to you...[Renegade Interrupt: Shepard pushes him out the window, and the trooper falls to his death]
- Shepard: How 'bout "goodbye"? [Sadly, Shepard does not have a pair of sunglasses on him/her at that moment]
- [While being threatened by a Krogan mercenary] Shepard: You talk too much. [Renegade Interrupt: Shepard shoots a canister behind the Krogan, causing it to explode and incinerate the Krogan.]
- Prior to the release of Mass Effect 3, Bioware held a contest among fans to choose a new default face for the female Commander Shepard.
- The default names for the male and female Shepard is a reference to the names used for a unidentified male (John Doe) and female (Jane Doe).