Action heroes save the day. Sometimes, they even save a whole city, a whole country, and if they’re especially great, the whole world. Not every hero gets to save the entire galaxy from eons of cyclical destruction: That honor goes to Commander Shepard, one of science fiction’s ultimate action heroes.
Commander Jane — or possibly John, if you chose to play as a man — Shepard, the star of the Mass Effect games, is pretty much whoever you want them to be. That’s part of Shepard’s appeal as an icon of action. Players could make Shepard her or him, black or white or Asian, handsome or plain, gay or straight, a badass normal, or technological genius, or superpowered psychic. They could insert a little of themselves into the Shepard shell, and then go and take on the galaxy and save the future. Shepard inspires, because so many of her (or his) fans can place themselves in their space-boots. Many action heroes can be people we admire intangibly, but everyone who plays Mass Effect likes to think they know “their” Commander better than anyone.
That inherent mutability of who Commander Shepard could be however, could never change one thing: what a hero they really are. No matter which side of the “Paragon” or “Renegade” morality spectrum (Mass Effect’s answer to a Good/Bad scale based on dialogue choices you made) you play Shepard as, they’re always a decisive, charismatic and strong willed badass who’s just as talented at debate as at charging headlong into a firefight, just as capable of putting a bad guy down with a clever quip, or a bullet to the face.
Shepard is willing to risk great sacrifices when the mission is at stake, to lead by example — and to always do so at the ground level of a conflict, no matter how important Shepard becomes by the climax of the series. Whether in command of a squad, a crew, or even whole armies, Shepard will be there at the vanguard, gun in hand. Shepard saves lives, takes them too, and by the time Mass Effect 3 comes around, gives it all to change the fate of billions of people. One ordinary soldier, standing up and becoming the ultimate action hero.
Shepard is also fond of some occasional alien headbutting, too. Frankly, anyone who has the guts to straight-up headbutt a giant slab of angry, alien muscle like Mass Effect’s Krogan, just to prove a point, is pretty high up on the Action Hero scale of awesomeness. After that, saving the galaxy is child’s play.