As we enter 2017 and gear up for the arrival of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I thought I’d share some specifics on a class that’s come to be my favorite in the trilogy. If you’re new to the series or are considering another play through and want to try a new class, here’s why you should go Vanguard.

Mass Effect Vanguard guide

Vanguard was actually an early favorite of mine in the first game, but with how different many of the classes became in the second and third games my initial impressions were frustration. I then found I liked the Sentinel for its versatility, with the ability to deal with any enemy protections and, particularly in the third game, the ability to set up/off tech and biotic explosions.

What could be better than having the best of the Engineer and the Adept in one? (Minus drone which I find underwhelming and Adept’s singularity.)

Over time, though, one glaring weakness of the Sentinel became apparent to me. It’s a great utility class, but you feel like a support character rather than a badass soldier. You’re a survivor with great defenses, but not very powerful. Since the game gimps the weapon damage output of your squadmates compared to Shepard’s, being a “hide in cover” support character that relies on teammates to dish it out seems slower and clunkier than being in the heart of it.

I’ve come to see that the Vanguard is almost as versatile but significantly more powerful. The Vanguard is high risk, high reward style. It takes some practice to play the class at its best, but it makes the game feel much faster paced (and Shepard very powerful) when done right.

[Vanguard on Insanity by Eins(t)]

An Overview of the Vanguard’s Skills and Why They’re Powerful

The Vanguard may not have Singularity like the Adept or Overload like an Engineer, but the combination of strategic biotics with really powerful weapon skills makes overcoming opposition easier than you’d think. (Focus below is mostly for ME2 and ME3.)

Incendiary Ammo is amazing. Not only does it roast through armor, when maxed out it can add 50% weapon damage to attacks (as burning) and has a burst AOE effect, making SMGs and shotguns (Vanguard’s staple weapons) significantly more powerful. The class may not have warp to deal with barriers and armor directly, but shotguns like the Eviscerator or SMGs like the Locust in ME2 blow through enemy defenses faster in my experience than using warp does.

Using fully upgraded Inferno Ammo on a shotgun point blank after a Biotic Charge makes short work of most enemies even if you’ve charged them while they still have armor. If they’re unprotected, doneskies. The Vanguard is a DPS class, so this ammo upgrade is in my opinion an essential one.

Biotic Charge is the staple of the Vanguard class for a couple reasons. Tactically, you can zip around the battlefield without having to jump between cover, flanking enemies and picking off isolated ones very quickly. Charge also works as a retreat method if you find yourself surrounded and unable to find quick cover, but there’s a far away enemy near some cover.

But perhaps the most important aspect of Biotic Charge is that it refills your shields/barriers. The Vanguard’s in-your-face style means you’ll take a lot of damage, but knowing that every 6 seconds (less with upgrades) you can smash into a new enemy to destroy with your shotgun and be at 100% shields (when fully upgraded with Champion evolution), the skill becomes your lifeline. Simply put, you can engage in tactics that would get any other class killed, but since you can endure you can destroy enemies faster than any other class in many cases.

Against unprotected enemies near ledges, Charge is effectively a one-shot kill that throws them over, and you emerge with full shields ready to take out a nearby opponent. Since the Champion evolution slows time for a few seconds after a Charge, it’s possible to Charge into a small cluster of opponents, staggering an unprotected one and immediately pivoting to kill or seriously injure another one before hitting nearby cover. You might take damage getting to cover, but the moment your Charge cooldown finishes you can Charge again to be at full shields.

The game can feel repetitive to spam Charge, but in ME3 especially with fast cooldowns it’s possible to almost nonstop Charge and Nova, making you almost invincible while you deal massive damage. Even though Charge is mighty, the Vanguard has a few other tricks up its sleeve to vary up gameplay and play like a biotic as well.

Pull is great crowd control, allowing you to take enemies out of cover, incapacitate husks instantly, or set up biotic explosions with your teammates. Bringing squadmates with Warp, with Warp evolved to do wider biotic explosion damage, is devastating even to nearby enemies with shields and barriers. To small groups of unprotected enemies, you can take them all out at once with a well-placed Pull->Warp combo.

Pull->Throw with a teammate can also be effective if there are ledges, as a floating enemy is affected more severely by throw. (In ME3 this also sets off an explosion, and Throw has faster cooldown than Warp.)

Evolving Pull to go wide, rather than heavy Pull, allows you to catch groups of enemies. This is great against groups of charging husks, and IMO is more useful than the extra duration from heavy pull. If you’re blasting the pulled enemies or using biotic explosions, you don’t need more than 6-7 seconds anyway.

I don’t use Shockwave often, but for specific situations it’s great to have. Not only can it knock enemies out of cover, in ME3 it can detonate biotic explosions. Since Shockwave can be evolved to go wide, having a squadmate with area Warp can explode several enemies with Shockwave.

Shockwave is also great against charging husks since it will throw all of them off their feet and make them easy to finish off without being overwhelmed. Even if you don’t put more than 1 point into Shockwave, its first level is useful enough for these situations defensively and gives the Vanguard a more biotic-y way to fight aside Charging all the time.

Personally I find putting more than 1 point into Cryo Ammo useless. It’s nice occasionally to use it with a pistol to crowd control husks, but generally I find the extreme damage of Incendiary Ammo far more useful than freezing unprotected targets that would just die in two seconds with other weapons. It’s not a bad skill, but upgrading it comes at the expense of points that could’ve gone into more powerful skills.

Assault Mastery, like all class skills, is good to max out because it increases your health, damage, and cooldown times. Since the Vanguard takes a lot of fire and relies heavily on Charge to stay alive, extra health and quick cooldown times are really important. I recommend maxing this out early, but as a secondary priority after Charge.

Choosing a bonus talent like Reave in ME2 really rounds out the class. In circumstances where you can’t Charge — enemies in an area Shepard cant get to or you’d be overwhelmed — Reave allows you to damage enemies at a distance and strip their barriers and Armor. And if you’re hurt and can’t use Charge to refill your shields, Reave has a life drain effect on unprotected enemies that heals you as they die.

In summary, The Vanguard has effective means of tearing down barriers, burning through shields, priming biotic explosions, and dealing massive weapon damage while being very tanky. I’ve found while playing a Vanguard I can much easier bring “weaker” teammates like Tali, Mordin, etc. and benefit from their skills because enemies are often too focused on Shepard due to charging.

The Vanguard has the versatility to deal with everything except shields, but it’s easily mitigated by bringing teammates with Overload or Disruptor Ammo. Also, a well-upgraded SMG or shotgun with Inferno ammo tends to tear through Geth shields without issue anyway. And for big enemies like Geth Primes, Colossus, or Ymir Mechs, bring the Arc Projector heavy weapon in ME2.

This class can seemlessly shift between a frontliner that deals massive damage up close to working alongside teammates to set off biotic explosions and handling crowds, all while being more durable than an Adept and even, in my opinion, the Sentinel (in ME2).

Tankier than the Sentinel? The Sentinel’s coveted Tech Armor has a long 12 second cool down, which means using it when you’re in trouble blocks out your biotics for a long time. And when you’re a power-centric class, that sucks. Plus, I’ve found that even a fully evolved Power Armor skill with all its bonus to base shields is pretty quickly torn down by groups of enemies. But compared to the Vanguard’s barrier-refilling Charge at half the cooldown time, it’s harder to mitigate.

Vanguard Tactics

Even as powerful as Biotic Charge is, it will get you killed quickly if you don’t use it strategically. Charge into a group of enemies where there isn’t much cover and you’ll go down hard.

Leveling Up Early On

Because Charge’s barrier refill keeps you alive, I recommend maxing out this skill first. You can put a couple points into Assault Mastery, Pull, or Incendiary Ammo to start with, but getting Charge to rank 4 (ME2) quickly means you’ll have 100% barriers every charge and the time dilation effect immediately after, which makes it easier to finish opponents.

The next skill you’ll want to max is your Assault Mastery class skill. This will boost your health and damage, and reduce your cooldown times. Since being able to Charge as often as possible (or use your other skills) is crucial to the Vanguard, the cooldown bonuses from Assault Mastery can be more useful early on than powering up the individual skills themselves.

This is because the Vanguard doesn’t rely on biotics for raw damage, but instead to make it easier to shoot/melee things. A rank 1 Pull is still useful, as is a Rank 1 Shockwave. And even a rank 1 Pull can prime a biotic explosion for a teammate with a high-rank Warp. Build these skills further into the game, but early on having a powerful Charge and fast cooldowns benefit the Vanguard most.

[A Charging 101 Guide by ThatAverageGatsby]

Combat Tips

Any time there is an unprotected enemy away from the main group, Charge. If the enemy has protections but is relatively isolated and also near cover you could take after the Charge, do it. If there are a couple enemies clustered together without protections, your Charge will knock them all back, making it safe to Charge even at groups.

If you’re quick and have fully upgraded Inferno ammo and Charge that slows time after, it’s possible to Charge small groups of enemies effectively. Charge an enemy and finish them with a fiery shotgun blast as they’re flying through the air, then pivot and shoot the adjacent enemy a few times or until your shotgun is empty (Eviscerator), then melee them till dead. The Vanguard has the most powerful melee of any class, and it’s impressive how fast you can whittle down the last of armor and health. As your barriers and health start to get low, either sprint to nearby cover (that you planned before Charging) or hope that your melee attacks disrupted the enemy just long enough for your Charge cooldown.

Early game (especially ME2) when you don’t have skill or weapon upgrades sufficient to kill larger enemies like Krogan as quickly, if the Krogan is fairly isolated you can even Reave, use teammate powers, or blast the barriers and armor a bit in the open. Just as your barriers slip Charge him, even if you’re only a few feet away. If he’s still protected he won’t go flying, but you’ll stagger him and restore your barriers/shields. Keep blasting and circling him while your Charge cooldown resets.

You can also use Charge defensively to protect teammates. If you’re in cover and notice a teammate is getting rushed by an enemy that slipped by you while you were Charging others, you can Charge into them to swat them away from your teammate, and finish them together with shotgun and melee. Useful especially if you are using squishier teammates, since you’ll already be attracting most of the fire and can then stop enemies from reaching your teammates even if you’re a ways away.

You’re also invincible during the actual charge, so if a Warp blast, Harbinger blast, or Colossus photon is headed your way you can actually engage a Charge just as it’s about to hit you to zip away (or straight through it) without taking any damage.

Hope that helps! The Vanguard takes a bit more to get the hang of than other classes like the Soldier or the Sentinel, but is fast-paced and super powerful. If you want to feel like a true badass that is a master warrior enhanced by biotics, give this potent class a try.