Mass Effect is, without a doubt, one of the best and most influential RPG series from the late 2000s, as well as one of BioWare’s shining crown jewels.
And while it was by no means perfect (each of the games had their own unique flaws), it was easily one of the most memorable sci-fi adventures ever created.
Now, Mass Effect is also a rather unique series, meaning that very few games can really be compared to it when we take everything into account. It is a sci-fi action RPG experience that’s not easy to replicate, but in this game guide, we’ll list some of the best games that are similar to it in one way or another.
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Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Release Date: July 15, 2003
First up, we have Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, one of BioWare’s most famous and acclaimed titles that shares many design elements with Mass Effect, mostly in the narrative department. Set thousands of years before the events that take place during the original Star Wars movie trilogy, BioWare had enough room to develop a different setting that didn’t have to be bound by the established movie canon.
Now, combat is definitely not one of KotOR’s strong suits, as it uses a d20 combat system and there’s little to do apart from picking the right set of companions whose abilities complement each other and then queueing up different combat actions. But, of course, this isn’t a game that counts among the all-time greats because of its combat.
KotOR’s strongest point is definitely its story and its characters. Though some plot points and NPC dialog don’t hold up all that well in 2021, the game features a colorful cast of characters with interesting backstories, much like Mass Effect, and they play no small part in bringing the story to life.
So, while it’s not an action RPG, Knights of the Old Republic inspired Mass Effect greatly when it comes to the overall story themes and their execution, and it’s easily one of the best games that BioWare has ever made, so it’s bound to appeal to Mass Effect fans.
Dragon Age: Origins
Release Date: November 3, 2009
Next, we have another critically acclaimed BioWare RPG that was released between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2—Dragon Age: Origins. And while it takes place in a dark fantasy world rather than a sci-fi setting, it’s still a masterpiece of a game that has everything that BioWare games are known for.
While it’s also not an action RPG, the combat in Dragon Age: Origins is much more refined than what we’d seen in Knights of the Old Republic several years prior. With a four-member party and a more complex tactics system, Origins was both more accessible for the average gamer and more appealing to hardcore RPG fans.
The overall tone of the story and the setting is noticeably darker than in Mass Effect or Knights of the Old Republic, but is still decidedly BioWare, with an epic story and a good selection of companions, each with their unique character quirks and storylines.
That said, much like Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins is a must-play for any Mass Effect fan, as it has all the same strengths that make Mass Effect so great.
Release Date: April 12, 2005
The third (and final) BioWare game that we’ll mention here is one of their best but often overlooked titles from the mid-2000s – Jade Empire. It was released shortly after Knights of the Old Republic and it features a fantasy setting based on Chinese mythology, which is not something commonly seen in western RPGs.
Unlike the previous two games, Jade Empire is more of an action game with simplified RPG elements rather than a full-blooded RPG. And while the combat system definitely shows its age in 2021, it actually holds up fairly well. Apart from that, the core narrative experience remains very similar to other BioWare games, albeit it’s a tad more linear than the likes of Mass Effect or Dragon Age: Origins.
Sadly, though, the biggest obstacle that you’ll encounter if you were to try playing Jade Empire today doesn’t have to do with the design of the game itself. Rather, it’s technical issues. Since Jade Empire hasn’t been updated in a very long time, getting it to run on modern hardware can be quite a headache.
Regardless, if you do manage to get the game to run, you definitely won’t regret it, as it’s yet another great entry in the streak of outstanding games that BioWare released throughout the 2000s.
Release Date: October 26, 2007
Developer: CD Projekt Red
The original Mass Effect wasn’t the only inceptor of an amazing RPG franchise to be released in 2007. In fact, only a month earlier, CD Projekt released the first humble installment in the now-massive Witcher franchise.
The original Witcher game had a very unusual combat system, to say the least. It revolved around cycling through different fighting styles and imbibing different potions based on what enemies the player was facing. Apart from that, the combat essentially came down to clicking on enemies repeatedly at just the right moment during the attack animations in order to chain combos together.
This combat system was abandoned in the second game, but as with Knights of the Old Republic, The Witcher didn’t become known for its combat. Instead, what made this game stand out were its rich setting and a story where choices actually mattered – one seemingly minor decision could have noticeable repercussions hours later into the story, and no other game managed to pull it off quite as effectively at the time.
Now, obviously, we can’t talk about The Witcher without mentioning its sequels.
The franchise only got bigger with the release of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, which featured a more straightforward combat system but stuck with most of the other design elements that made the original so good. Then, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt dropped in 2015, near-perfected the combat, presented a stunning open world, all the while still capitalizing on the setting’s biggest strengths.
All in all, if you’re after a good, immersive RPG experience with memorable characters, a rich setting to explore, and a story with a high degree of player agency, the Witcher series should be your next stop.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
Release Date: November 16, 2004
Developer: Troika Games
Speaking of classic RPGs, we can’t avoid mentioning the cult classic that is Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. The game takes place in White Wolf’s World of Darkness setting, throwing the player into a grim version of the real world where inhuman monsters rule the night.
Bloodlines plays like an action RPG, letting the player pick from several different vampire clans, each with their unique set of abilities that makes them better suited for combat, stealth, or social interactions. Sadly, the combat system feels quite clunky, especially by 2021 standards, but as with several other acclaimed RPGs we’ve already mentioned, Bloodlines isn’t known for its combat.
Again, this is a game that’s best known for its setting, its story, and its masterfully-written characters that will stick with the player long after the credits roll. It’s a game with tons of replay value that manages to weave reality and fiction together extremely well, and it’s another absolute must-play for any RPG fan.
It’s worth noting that Bloodlines is also a game (in)famous for its many bugs and that it took years of fan patches to make the game playable and to restore some of the content that was cut due to the rushed development process. So, if you do pick up the game at some point, be sure to play it with the unofficial patch!
FTL: Faster Than Light
Release Date: September 14, 2012
Developer: Subset Games
The next game on the list is a bit of an unusual one, as it’s not an RPG at all. Rather, FTL: Faster Than Light can best be described as a roguelike real-time strategy game with some RPG elements and procedurally generated levels.
The game puts the player in control of a spaceship and its crew members, with a simple goal: reach the end of the sector before the enemy fleet catches up while exploring as much of the map as possible. On this journey, the player has to keep an eye on their resources, as well as their ship’s systems and the crew’s wellbeing during combat.
Moreover, being a procedurally-generated roguelike, FTL is a relatively short game with a permadeath system, meaning that it has a lot of replay value and that it will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat whenever you are in a tough spot during a particularly good run.
That said, while it’s not the first game that will come to mind if you’re looking for something similar to Mass Effect, it will definitely appeal to anyone who really liked the space exploration aspect of Mass Effect.
The Outer Worlds
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Here, we have something much more recent – Obsidian’s latest hit RPG, The Outer Worlds, which is a sci-fi action RPG that has a lot of similarities with Mass Effect, even at first glance.
While it plays like an FPS instead of a TPS, it incorporates plenty of design elements also seen in Mass Effect, including a ship that functions as a central hub, as well as a selection of different companions that have their own unique strengths and weakness and that boost the player’s own abilities in different ways. Needless to say, it also features plenty of dialog and NPC interaction, along with multiple endings.
Overall, The Outer Worlds will perhaps feel more like a Bethesda RPG than a BioWare one in certain respects, but considering the concept and considering Obsidian’s great track record, it’s easy to see why this game has been such a hit among sci-fi RPG fans.
Fallout New Vegas
Release Date: October 19, 2010
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Speaking of Obsidian’s great track record, no list of sci-fi RPG games would be complete without Fallout: New Vegas, which is one of the best Fallout games ever made and the very best one in recent memory.
Once again, we have a game that differs from Mass Effect both in terms of gameplay mechanics and the setting – it is an action RPG primarily played in first person, and it takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that used to be the United States.
However, New Vegas does a great job in departments that most RPGs tend to struggle with. It creates an immersive world with well-written NPCs, a variety of great quests with diverging storylines and a great deal of player agency that give the game a ton of replay value. It is a game that manages to be serious, humorous, and everything in between, all at the same time.
That said, Fallout: New Vegas is another game in the long line of must-play RPGs, and while it may not be all that similar to Mass Effect at first glance, it definitely has the essence of what makes a great RPG, which is why it deserves a spot on this list.
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And so, that would be our selection of what we feel are the best games similar to Mass Effect! Of course, there is a ton of great games out there that might be similar to BioWare’s masterpiece in one way or another, so it’s impossible to list them all, but this list will only grow as time goes by.
In the meantime, Mass Effect fans will be very excited to know that a remaster of the original Mass Effect trilogy – Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – is on its way, and you can read more about it by clicking on the link at the top of this guide.