Commander Shepard is the main protagonist of Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3, whose gender, appearance, skills and pre-service history are all customizable and have impacts on the story. Shepard's first name is also customizable, but is never stated in-game. The pre-made Shepard for the quickstart option is a male Soldier named John, with the Earthborn/Sole Survivor profile.
Shepard was born on April 11, 2154, is a graduate of the Systems Alliance N7 special forces program (service no. 5923-AC-2826), a veteran of the Skyllian Blitz, and is initially assigned to the SSV Normandy in 2183 as Executive Officer, with a Systems Alliance rank of Lieutenant Commander. Shepard later becomes the first human to join the Spectres, an elite special task force for the Citadel Council.
Profile Reconstruction is the character creation system of Mass Effect. The process starts with the player either selecting a preset character or creating a custom character.
When creating a custom character, the player can choose to play as a male or female Shepard. The names for the preset character models are either John Shepard for male, or Jane Shepard for the female, though only the first names may be customized and not the actual model.
- See also: Codex/Personal History Summary
The player then selects Shepard's pre-service history, by choosing Spacer, Earthborn, or Colonist. This choice affects how others talk about the main character and, in combination with the psychological profile, determines how many bonus Paragon and Renegade points the Commander has at the start of the game. Some assignments in the game are only available to those who selected a particular pre-service history.
- Spacer: 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.
- Earthborn: 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.
- Colonist: 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.
- Colonist characters also have a unique mission. When exiting the docking bay elevator, you will receive a request to help a fellow survivor of Mindoir, who was taken by slavers during the raid on Mindoir when you were sixteen.
- See also: Morality Guide
Following a selection of pre-service history, the player must choose a psychological profile: Sole Survivor, War Hero, or Ruthless - each of which relates to a specific event in Alliance history and places Shepard in a prominent role.
- 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. The Sole Survivor's unit was slaughtered in a thresher maw attack on Akuze.
- Sole Survivors begin the game with both bonus Paragon and bonus Renegade points and have special dialogue in the UNC: Dead Scientists assignment.
- 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. The War Hero almost single-handedly repelled an attack by batarian slavers on Elysium, earning the Star of Terra, the Alliance's highest honor.
- War Heroes begin the game with bonus Paragon points and have special dialogue in the UNC: Espionage Probe assignment.
- Ruthless: 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. But when failure is not an option, the military always goes to you first. The Ruthless character sent 3/4ths of his/her unit to its death and murdered surrendering batarians on Torfan.
- Ruthless characters begin the game with bonus Renegade points and have special dialogue in the UNC: Major Kyle assignment.
The player must then accept a military specialization, each of which determines what set of abilities, or talents, the player will have access to in combat. The six classes are Soldier, Engineer, Adept, Infiltrator, Sentinel, and Vanguard. The class choice will also affect weapon proficiency – if Shepard is not proficient with a weapon, the Commander can still fire it, but cannot zoom in with it, and many weapon bonuses are void. This applies to all weapons except the pistol, which all classes are proficient in.
The player's choice of class does not affect the story in any way; there is one minor variation in dialogue when speaking to Kaidan Alenko, which refers to any chosen biotic class or biotic bonus talents in Mass Effect, as well as a line of dialogue based on class selection with Liara T'Soni in Mass Effect 3. A biotic class may also get an additional line when Samantha Traynor is talking about Grissom Academy, while the Engineer class will have an option to repair systems quickly during a situation on Omega.
If the player is creating a second character, at this point any unlocked bonus talents may be selected. These talents are unlocked by gaining the achievement for each talent. The player can choose one additional talent to add to their skill base. This talent is not reliant upon the existing class or prerequisite talents. For example, a pure Soldier can have a tech bonus talent, and an Engineer can be given Singularity.
In the event that the Soldier class is not chosen, a second weapon specialization, such as the Assault Rifle for the Adept, may be chosen instead of another ability.
The ultimate stage of customization, the player may alter their character's facial structure, head, eyes, jaw, mouth, nose, hair, scarring, make-up (female only) and beard (male only). Alternatively, the player may select the default appearance.
Before the game begins, a profile summary is shown for review, and a chance to return to previous stages of customization and make changes is available.
If Commander Shepard is not edited, and is accepted as stock, Shepard will be Earthborn, a Sole Survivor, and a Soldier. If Shepard is male, his name will be John Shepard; if female, her name will be Jane Shepard.
Mass Effect 2
After the attack on the Citadel, the Alliance sent Shepard to root out any remaining geth resistance. The Normandy was sent into a sector where three ships were reported to have gone missing in the space of one month. After four days of fruitlessly searching for signs of geth activity, the Normandy is attacked by an unidentified ship, ripping it apart.
As the rest of the crew abandoned ship, Shepard went to rescue Joker, who refused the initial evacuation order believing he could still save the ship. Unfortunately, a blast separated them just as Shepard managed to get Joker into an escape pod. The Commander's hardsuit was damaged by explosions and Shepard was flung into space, barely surviving the Normandy's destruction. However, the suit's pressure seals were compromised, and it is apparent that the Commander suffocated to death, coupled with the possibility of the hardsuit burning up on reentry to the planet below.
Due to his comprehensive knowledge of galactic events, the Shadow Broker sends Feron, a drell in his service, to obtain Shepard's body. At the same time, Liara T'Soni, who has been looking for Shepard since the attack, is recruited by Cerberus to recover the Commander's body. Feron had originally planned to return the body to the Shadow Broker, until he hears of the Broker's deal with the Collectors. At that point, he defects to Cerberus. Once the Commander's body is retrieved by the duo, they decide to give it to the pro-human organisation Cerberus, rather than turning it over to the Collectors.
In an effort undertaken by Cerberus called the Lazarus Project, Shepard is rebuilt and revived, organically and synthetically. Two years later, Shepard awakens in the lab of a Cerberus space station, which is under attack. As Shepard moves through the station, the Commander begins to learn about Project Lazarus and the effort taken to bring Shepard back—with many data caches citing the immense expense of the project and that despite their efforts to make the Commander exactly as before, Shepard may have been inadvertently altered in some way. Shepard has also been referred to as "asleep" for some time by the Illusive Man, leader of Cerberus.
All the while, the entire populations of human colonies have been disappearing without a trace during the Commander's incapacitation. Due to the ignorance and political red tape hampering both the Alliance and the Council, Cerberus is the only organization in a position to combat the threat, and Shepard agrees to work with Cerberus to solve this mystery. Meanwhile, rumors of Shepard's apparent survival have mixed concerns. Some would even think that Shepard is undercover investigating the colony disappearances.
Because Shepard was awakened before the Commander's reconstruction was truly complete, Shepard's face bears several glowing scars, that can act as a visible indication of alignment. Earning Paragon points will cause these scars to slowly fade, while Renegade points make the scars more noticeable, showing more of the glowing orange cybernetics. Higher Renegade scores will also cause the eyes to degenerate, first leading to glowing sections within the iris; at the higher two sections of the Renegade scale, the eyes visibly glow red.
Immediately after gaining access to the Normandy's Tech Lab, Shepard receives an email from Doctor Chakwas which explains that positive thoughts will heal the scars. It also states that, through an upgrade to the Normandy's Medical Bay, a surgery could insulate the cybernetic implants and accelerate the healing process. If the player chooses to have the surgery, the scars are permanently healed and Shepard's moral choices will no longer affect the Commander's appearance. This upgrade costs 50,000 platinum; the upgrade itself does not heal the scars, but upgrades the medical bay, where Shepard can go to heal the scars at any time.
If Shepard chooses not to heal the facial scars during Mass Effect 2, they will still be healed at the beginning of Mass Effect 3. If Shepard continues along the Renegade path in Mass Effect 3, the scars and red pupils will eventually return.
Mass Effect 3
If Shepard took part in the events of Arrival, the Commander is on Earth and is placed under arrest, waiting to be tried for causing the destruction of the Bahak system and its 300,000 batarian colonists. If not, then Shepard is tried for working with Cerberus. Six months later, the Reapers launch an assault on Earth, having found an alternate means of entering the galaxy. Shepard and David Anderson escape to the Alliance-refitted Normandy SR-2, where Anderson recommissions and charges Shepard with finding help while he stays behind to lead the resistance.
As the Normandy lifts off, Shepard spots a young boy who previously refused help, climb into a departing shuttle, only for it to be shot down by a Reaper Destroyer. Shepard continues to have recurring dreams of the child, seeing him becoming consumed by flames before the Commander can reach him. In one such dream, Shepard sees the boy run up to another version of themselves, before both of them are consumed by the fire.
Shepard then begins trying to recruit the different races of the galaxy, both to fight the Reapers, and build a super weapon known simply as the Crucible, the schematics for which were discovered by Dr. Liara T'Soni in the Prothean Archives on Mars. Unfortunately, the Illusive Man seeks to oppose the Commander's efforts while trying to find a way to control the Reapers.
During the final battle for Earth, Shepard is gravely wounded in an attack by Harbinger. After reaching the Citadel and dealing with the Illusive Man, Shepard is greeted by the Catalyst - an ancient A.I. that controls the Reapers. The Catalyst explains to Shepard the purpose of the Reapers and their cycle of destruction, and then states that Shepard has up to three options for ending the cycle:
- Destroy the Reapers: In this ending, Shepard shoots a key energy tube, causing a massive explosion. Using the mass relays, the energy fired by the Crucible destroys all synthetics across the galaxy, including the Reapers, EDI, and the geth. The mass relays and the Citadel are either severely damaged but eventually repaired or (if the player's Effective Military Strength is low) blown up while causing galactic destruction. If the player's Effective Military Strength is high enough, a brief scene shows Shepard taking a deep breath amidst a pile of rubble.
- Control the Reapers: In this ending, Shepard grabs hold of two electrical handles, which slowly disintegrate the Commander's body. Using the mass relays, the energy fired by the Crucible uploads Shepard's mind as the new Reaper master consciousness. The Reapers depart Earth, the mass relays are damaged by the Crucible firing, and the Citadel remains intact. The Reapers rebuild the galaxy, including the mass relays, and the new Shepard A.I. vows to protect "the many" – though its manner of carrying out this duty is affected by whether Shepard's Morality was more Paragon or more Renegade.
- Synthesis: In this ending, Shepard jumps into the Crucible's energy beam, which absorbs and dissolves the Commander. Using the mass relays, the energy fired by the Crucible transforms all life in the galaxy into a new hybrid of synthetic-organic life (with all individuals developing green-highlighted skin and glowing eyes). The Reapers depart Earth, and both the mass relays and the Citadel are damaged by the Crucible firing. The Reapers work together with everyone to rebuild the galaxy, including the mass relays, and share the knowledge of previously-harvested civilizations.
- Refusal: In this ending, Shepard refuses to choose any of the three possible options or shoots the Catalyst. The Catalyst darkly acknowledges the Commander's decision and disappears, shutting down the Crucible and leaving it unable to fire. Shepard is left standing alone, turning to see a Reaper ship destroy an Alliance dreadnought. The Reapers succeed in harvesting all advanced organic life throughout the galaxy, allowing the cycle to continue.
Assuming Shepard chooses an option that activates the Crucible, then many years in the future, Commander Shepard has become a legendary figure known as "The Shepard".
If Shepard does not activate the Crucible, a future cycle learns of their actions through Glyph, and all that is known about "The Shepard" is what was stored in the archives left by Liara. This new cycle is implied to have solved the Reaper threat thanks to information passed down by "those who came before".
If Shepard chooses an option that activates the Crucible, the epilogue shows the squad along with Joker, Cortez (if he survived) and Traynor. The squadmate Shepard was closest to places Shepard's name above Anderson's on the memorial wall, and, if Shepard chose to merge organic and synthetic life, hugs EDI. If, however, Shepard chose to destroy the Reapers, and the player's Effective Military Strength was high enough, the squadmate hesitates to put Shepard's name on the wall and instead smiles hopefully.
- Commander Shepard is named after Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., the second person and the first American in space (May 5, 1961). He later commanded the Apollo 14 mission in 1971 and became the fifth person to walk on the Moon.
- Shepard's birthday (April 11) is the same day that Apollo 13 (an American attempted manned moon landing mission that almost ended in disaster) was launched (April 11, 1970).
- In the advertising for Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, only a male Commander Shepard was depicted. For Mass Effect 3, BioWare created a trailer featuring a female Commander Shepard for the first time. In addition, the box-art for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Mass Effect 3 was reversible, featuring a male Shepard on one side and a female Shepard on the other. Presenting Shepard uniformly as male was intentional, as the original trilogy was designed to be cinematic and movie-like in nature. Having a singular, titular character that people would recognize spurred this decision.
- The default male face for Shepard is based on that of Dutch model Mark Vanderloo.
- Shepard seems to speak with a hint of Canadian dialect. This may be because Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale, the voices of the male and female Shepard, respectively, are Canadian.
- Both of the actors who voice Shepard have extensive voice work in BioWare's library of games.
- In addition to providing the voice for Male Shepard, Mark Meer also provides the voices for all of the vorcha and hanar characters, as well as Niftu Cal and Prazza in the Mass Effect series. Previously, Meer provided the voices of Zhong and The Watcher in Jade Empire. Meer also voices several characters in the Dragon Age series: Athras, Jethann, the Lothering Merchant, The First, and Tug.
- The female Shepard is played by prolific voice actress Jennifer Hale, who also voices May O'Connell in Mass Effect. Previously, Hale voiced Bastila Shan in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and would later provide the voice for Satele Shan and the Female Republic Trooper in Star Wars: The Old Republic and Krem in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
- When Shepard is inducted as a Spectre, according to Admiral Hackett, Shepard is, technically, still part of the Alliance military (though Captain Anderson claims otherwise). Therefore, Shepard should still be referred to as a Commander, even though Shepard is outside of the Alliance military's chain of command and answers directly to the Council.
- Military ranks can, in some situations, be deferred in favor of civilian ranks. Considering the nature and authority of Spectres, it is likely that this is considered to supersede any military rank.
- The default names of both the male and female Shepard are the names for an unidentified male (John Doe) and female (Jane Doe) respectively.
- It would appear that Shepard has a gift for being a leader. Miranda Lawson draws attention to this, claiming that Shepard has "that fire that makes someone willing to follow you into hell itself". This is similar to the protagonist (Revan) of BioWare's Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, who is also said to possess such a trait.
- To keep the exact nature of Shepard's return quiet in Mass Effect 2, it is often stated that the Commander almost died, which is not really truthful. The male Shepard would later joke with Jack that he is "technically undead".
- When stopped by a C-Sec officer on their first return to the Citadel in Mass Effect 2, one of the dialogue options has Shepard say that they were "only mostly dead." This may be a reference to Miracle Max's line from The Princess Bride.
- Commander Shepard appears in another Electronic Arts game, MySims SkyHeroes, as a pilot.
- Renegade facial scarring in Mass Effect 2 is reminiscent of the effects of dark side corruption in BioWare's Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, as morally questionable actions adversely affect the protagonist's appearance in both games.
- One early idea for Mass Effect 3 had Shepard self-augmenting with Reaper technology, deepening the rift between the Commander and Ashley / Kaidan.
- BioWare held a contest prior to the release of Mass Effect 3 to allow fans to choose a new default face for female Commander Shepard.
- As of March, 2013, 82% of Mass Effect players play a male Commander Shepard (according to Bioware's statistics).
- According to updated statistics sourced from Mass Effect Legendary Edition gameplay as of July 27, 2021:
- 32% played a female Shepard while 68% played a male Shepard.
- 52% are Earthborn, 27% are Spacers, and 21% are Colonists.
- 44% have the Survivor psychological profile, 43% are War Heroes, and only 13% are Ruthless.
- According to updated statistics sourced from Mass Effect Legendary Edition gameplay as of July 27, 2021:
- The mocap for Shepard dancing was performed by Josh Dean, who also voiced Richard L. Jenkins.
- Christina Norman's confirmation of Commander Shepard's birthday
- Game Informer, May 2011, Issue 217
- Game Informer, August 2011, Issue 220
- Polygon: "MASS EFFECT: ANDROMEDA WILL STAR A YOUNGER, UNTESTED BAND OF HEROES"