The best space opera games like Mass Effect are all about good stories and unforgettable characters. Created by BioWare, the original Mass Effect trilogy follows Commander Shepard’s fight to save the universe from Cerberus and the Reapers. Released on PC and consoles, these games are a hybrid of RPG elements, fast-paced combat, and decision-making gameplay. However, it is the epic sci-fi plot that steals the show for most of us. Mass Effect puts you amid tense intergalactic politics between humans and other alien races. You’ll interact with interesting individuals, learning their backstories as you continue your twisting journey among the stars.
With Mass Effect: Andromeda released, we thought it’d be fun to look back at 10 best space opera games like Mass Effect. Perfect for all sci-fi buffs who love stellar drama!
Note: The selections for this list are not limited to RPGs. Instead, we’re including games like Mass Effect from a variety of genres (e.g. adventure, strategy, etc.). The key criteria thus centers on each game having an intriguing space-themed plot and characters. Games are also in no particular order.
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1. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (series) – so obvious it hurts!
You surely saw this coming! Set in the Star Wars universe, the Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) series shares many similarities to Mass Effect. For starters, you’ll see familiar RPG elements, including character level-ups, equipment selections, and so on. Choice-and-consequence also plays a big part in how your space opera story unfolds. However, unlike Mass Effect, combat involves slower, more methodical round-based fights against your foes.
Similar to most space opera games like Mass Effect, you’ll love KotOR’s truly epic storyline filled with incredible characters and plot developments. The first game takes place about 4,000 years prior to the rise of the Galactic Empire. A fallen Jedi known as Darth Malak has unleashed a Sith armada onto the world, leaving your Jedi forces weak and disorganized. You then assume the role of a fledgling Jedi – with the option to stay good or go bad. While less critically acclaimed, the sequel also features an awesome operatic storyline, albeit with a new cast of characters set five years in the future. In addition, a lot of KotOR II’s early bugs and missing plotlines have been fixed, thanks to its active modding community.
Overall, the Knights of the Old Republic series offers two of the best space opera games like Mass Effect ever created. Not to be missed by any ME fan!
2. StarCraft (series)
Available for PC, Blizzard’s StarCraft franchise is home to some of the most popular real-time strategy games ever made. The plot is also just as epic as other best space opera games like Mass Effect. In the original StarCraft, you’ll find yourself smack in the middle of an intergalactic war between the Terran, Zerg, and Protoss. You’re able to choose which side to play as, with each campaign having unique narratives told from varied perspectives. Everything is military in tone as you follow the stories of key characters (e.g. Raynor, Kerrigan, Zeratul, etc.) amid perpetual power struggles. Expansions and the official sequel continue the main storyline, adding new characters, units, and strategies to the fray.
While not an RPG, Mass Effect fans will definitely enjoy the intriguing space opera themes of StarCraft that have stood the test of time.
3. The Dig
A sorely underrated LucasArts classic, The Dig is a traditional point-and-click adventure game brimming with sci-fi epicness. Originally conceived by Steven Spielberg, the plot begins with a radio telescope detecting a large asteroid heading straight to Earth. You thus take control of Commander Low, leading other astronauts on a mission to divert the asteroid’s collision. However, things are not as they seem, and the crew soon find themselves teleported to a mysterious alien planet. Similar to other space opera games like Mass Effect, you’ll then interact with strange creatures as you uncover all sorts of odd ancient relic powers.
You should be warned that the puzzles in The Dig can get quite frustrating at times. In addition, the story is a bit more subdued compared to the politically-driven plots of other best space opera games like Mass Effect. The voice-acting is also cringe-worthy at times. However, persevere and you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful sci-fi plot that holds up well even by today’s standards. The game was recently re-released for PC via Steam, enjoying a ‘Very Positive’ overall rating.
4. Homeworld (series)
Beneath the real-time strategy mechanics, the Homeworld series has an epic overarching storyline that holds it own among other best space opera games like Mass Effect. You start the first game on a giant Kushan mothership on its maiden journey to the distant world of Hiigara. However, you soon encounter hostile forces, only to return to your home planet to discover it in ruins. This begins your long revenge-fueled adventure filled with alien heroes and villains. You’ll also travel to a variety of fascinating locations, including ship graveyards, asteroid fields, and enemy planets. Other games in the series serve as both prequels and sequels to this main storyline.
While the latest installment of Homeworld (i.e. Deserts of Kharak) received mixed reviews, the franchise as a whole flourishes in its narrative alongside other space opera games like Mass Effect. Homeworld games are available for both PC and Mac.
5. Infinite Space
A RPG / space simulation / real-time strategy hybrid, Infinite Space is a game you may not have heard of. Released on the Nintendo DS, the epic plot features two main storylines, both centered on the game’s chief protagonist, Yuri. Set in the distant future, you learn of an evil army known as the Lugovailian Empire, ruled by Emperor Taranis. You eventually discover the enemy’s plans to destroy the galaxy Yuri resides in. The first half of the game is thus spent scrambling forces together to defend against this impending onslaught. The second act of Infinite Space happens ten years in the future, where you’ll again control Yuri to protect the galaxy from doom. You’ll also rescue innocents, meet pirates, engage in politics, and do all sorts of interesting quests.
Infinite Space is a must-play DS exclusive worth trying if you’re keen on space opera games like Mass Effect. A hidden gem if there ever was one!
6. Wing Commander (series)
The Wing Commander franchise hasn’t aged all too well over the years. However, overall, this pioneering space sim series is still widely loved by most fans of the genre. Part of its nostalgic appeal lies with its cinematic story told over multiple installments, mostly through the eyes of Christopher Blair. The first game kicks off the epic conflict between the Confederation and the cat-like Kilrathi. Similar to the best space opera games like Mass Effect, you’ll follow branching plot lines, watch mission briefings, and so on. In addition, the sequels shift even more focus to telling you a compelling narrative with the inclusion of acted cutscenes and dialogue choices. Wing Commander IV is also often seen as the pinnacle of the series.
‘Best Classic Space Sim’ awards tend to overlook Wing Commander games in favor of Star Wars: X-Wing vs TIE Fighter. However, if you’re remotely into space opera games like Mass Effect, look no further than this blast-from-the-past franchise!
7. Halo (series)
This (mostly) XBOX exclusive series has had its fair share of ups and downs over the years. However, you’ll find this FPS franchise has created some of the best space opera games like Mass Effect around. In the original Halo, you begin in the middle of an epic combat sequence as a Convenant fleet attacks the Pillar of Autumn. To protect Earth’s location, the Cole Protocol is initiated as Master Chief and Captain Cortana make their daring escape. The saga continues as your small team of soldiers attempts to launch a counter-strike against the enemy. The rest of the plot stretches across the entire series, introducing new characters, intrigue, and cinematic battles as you move along.
Halo’s plot does get a little confusing with the inclusion of spin-off comics, books, cartoons, and newer game installments. However, sci-fi fans wanting more space opera games like Mass Effect will not be disappointed with its huge intergalactic story of good versus evil.
8. Star Control (series)
The original Star Control was a bit of a mixed bag. However, Star Control 2 is often hailed as the peak of the franchise, with some seeing it as one of the greatest PC games ever made. Story-wise, you’ll also be happy to know this adventure game ranks right up there with other best space opera games like Mass Effect. Showcasing lengthy dialogue and interactions, Star Control 2’s plot builds on the epic war between humans and their Ur-Quan enslavers. A secondary battle wages between the Ur-Quan and Kohr-Ah – a subsidiary race intent on galactic destruction. Similar to most games like Mass Effect, you’ll spend much of your time exploring space as you forge alliances to stop the distracted Ur-Quan from ultimate domination.
The follow-up to Star Control 2 does a solid job extending the core story, albeit with slightly less critical acclaim. Nonetheless, this is a series you’ll definitely want to check out in its entirety!
9. Dead Space (series)
On the surface, Dead Space’s horror survival genre doesn’t seem all too similar to other best space opera games like Mass Effect. However, you’ll find the series actually hides a pretty hefty plotline. Set in the 26th century, humanity has moved into space, colonizing other planets while Earth itself suffers from an ecological crisis. The first game introduces you to EarthGov’s attempts to harness alien artifacts known as Markers. These are thought to possess unlimited energy for the taking. Yet, you soon discover this energy source also turns living beings into zombie-esque creatures known as Necromorphs. Hell arises when your hero, Isaac Clarke, finds himself on a ship filled with these flesh-hungry monsters. Dead Space 2 and 3 build further on this story arc, culminating with Isaac’s attempts to locate and destroy the Markers’ origins. Spin-off comics and films also help to deepen the already interesting plot.
Dead Space is much more in-your-face gory than Mass Effect. In addition, there aren’t nearly as many NPCs or political stories to engage with. However, fans of ME will still enjoy the franchise’s intense space-themed drama and action-packed sequences. All installments are available on both PC and consoles.
10. FreeSpace 2
Although the original FreeSpace (i.e. Descent) was criticized for its shallow story, the sequel seized upon its potential and is regarded as one of the best space sim games of its time. A lot of critical acclaim was given to its epic sci-fi story told through pre-rendered cutscenes and mission briefings. The main plot hinges on the conflict between the Neo-Terra Front and the Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance. You’ll defend convoy ships, attack huge Destroyers, bombard outposts, and navigate complex political terrains across three sprawling Acts. Memorable characters are also woven in effortlessly as you eagerly move forwards to the next plot twist.
Overall, you’ll find FreeSpace 2’s cinematic storytelling to be a perfect fit among the best space opera games like Mass Effect. Yes, the graphics are dated – but the core mission designs still hold up really well. A true PC classic!
More space opera games like Mass Effect ahead!
Honorable Mentions on Page 2 –>
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