Saving the galaxy from a rogue Spectre agent and his army of mechanical zealots is the sort of undertaking that can, understandably, command a lot of your concentration. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't set aside a little "me-time" along the way. Sample local customs. Try a hobby, like cross stitch, electronics jamming or assault rifle training. Salvage the reputation of psychic space prostitute. That sort of thing. With that in mind, here's a different sort of game guide.
We'll be starting, naturally, at the Citadel where your adventure really begins. There are a lot of optional assignments crammed into this relatively small location, and it can seem a little overwhelming. You can steam right through, ignoring these side quests, and be off into the void of space in a few hours but there are definite benefits to seeking them out.
Part of the appeal of a game like Mass Effect is finding your own way through the thing, doing what you think is right and seeing what happens. For this reason, we won't be walking you through the story missions, but we will be tipping you off to some of the other things you can do in the game and giving you a mostly spoiler-free tourist guide to where they are, what they entail and whether they're worth the effort.
Investigate everything. Simply reading signs and computer screens widens your knowledge and earns you a small amount of XP. Every little helps. If you're thorough on the Citadel, you can embark on your mission proper with a character at Level 10, around five thousand credits and an impressive arsenal of weapons.
Many of these side quests involve the same locations. While it can seem confusing, it saves time to have as many on the go as you can. You'll often find that you can move several storylines forward at a time, rather than repeatedly visiting the same places.
Make good use of your squad. You'll pick up several new crew members during the story missions here, and Tali proves especially useful at opening lockers and other containers that would otherwise be beyond your tech skills.
This elephantine fellow is in the office right next door to where you start, so you might as well have a chat with him. He's having a problem with the mysterious consort, Sha'ira, but doesn't want to talk about it. That's OK though, since we'll be visiting her for another side quest anyway, and this assignment doesn't activate until you're underway with that one.
Worth doing? No reward beyond Paragon points, but if you're doing the Asari Consort assignment, you might as well get the whole story.
This is a good assignment to start with since it'll take you to several useful locations and, if you play your cards right, leads to a close encounter of the sexy kind with a sultry blue alien. Captain Kirk salutes you. Head across the bridge from the Embassies and go to visit Sha'ira at the Consort Chambers. Talk to the Asari at the door, and you should catch Sha'ira's attention. She'll ask you to find a former client, General Septimus, who has been besmirching her good name as a posh space hooker. You can find him at Chora's Den, a wretched hive of scum and villainy, which is conveniently the location for several other assignment tasks, as well as some major story missions. Once you're face to face with the downcast Septimus, it's just a question of convincing him to stop acting like a prat in whatever way you feel appropriate. As always with such missions, it helps if you've been building up your Charm or Intimidate skills. Once you've talked sense into him, you'll realise that it's his rumour mongering that has upset Xeltan and you'll receive some evidence to take back to the Elcor to put his mind at rest. Once all that is done, head back to Sha'ira for a spot of prophecy and, if you say the right thing, a bit of very tame bedroom action. Which, it seems, takes place in full view of your squad. Filthy.
Worth doing? There's no fixed reward for this assignment, beyond the gratification of blue alien smut, but it's a neat little narrative diversion and the sort of thing that dedicated RPG players will want to try.
This is another lengthy and multi-faceted quest. To begin with, talk to Rita at the bar in Flux Nightclub. She's worried about her sister, Jenna, who's working as an informant for C-SEC in Chora's Den. You can try and talk to Jenna, but don't worry if you don't get anywhere. As you leave, a drunken character called Chellick bumps into you but he isn't all he seems. Track him down and you'll discover that he's Jenna's contact at C-SEC and you nearly blew her cover. He'll offer a way to help Jenna out of trouble by meeting with the criminals under investigation - it's a good opportunity to practice your negotiation skills, or to clock up some combat XP depending on how trigger happy you feel. Once everything is resolved one way or another, go back to see Chellick and then Rita.
Worth doing? Yes - this mission offers the chance to hone either your combat or conversation skills, and is a pretty fun side story to boot.
This is a weird one, since it seems to be a side quest that's setting up a storyline that could run through the entire trilogy of games. During your travels around the Upper Wards you should come across Conrad Verner. He's your biggest fan. He's also quite clearly, as Alan Partridge would have it, a complete mentalist. For now, all you can do is talk to him...
Worth doing? Technically not, but for the sake of a few conversations, who knows what storylines you might miss in the future if you don't?