Happy N7 Day! The annual celebration of BioWare’s Mass Effect series sees fans around the world celebrating their beloved franchise in a variety of ways. Some will dress up as their favorite characters. Others will replay their favorite game, or engage in online multiplayer battles. But there is more to the Mass Effect universe that just the games.
Since 2007, there has been a steady release of books and comics dedicated to expanding the Mass Effect universe. To be honest, they have little significance or impact on the overall storyline. You can enjoy the games without ever reading them. But part of what makes Mass Effect a great franchise is its wealth of backstory and lore.
BioWare is known for the significant work they put into defining the fictional universe through each game’s in-universe codex. Book and comics allow the Mass Effect universe to expand even further, giving fans more stories and adventures in the universe they love.
Expanding the Universe Beyond the Games
Between 2007 and 2012, Del Rey published four novels that tied into the original Mass Effect trilogy. Revelation, Ascension, and Retribution were all written by Drew Karpyshyn, the lead writer on the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. The fourth novel, Deception, was penned by William C. Dietz. The books revolve around a small cast of original characters: the scientist Kahlee Sanders; the powerful young biotic Gillian Grayson; and her father Paul, an agent of the pro-human Cerberus organization. The supporting cast includes familiar characters such as Captain Anderson, Aria T’Loak, and the Illusive Man.
The first novel published was Revelation, released six months before the first game. Revelation is set almost 20 years prior to the events of Mass Effect. In Mass Effect, Captain Anderson revealed to Commander Shepherd that he had been the first human Spectre candidate. A bad report from the turian Spectre Saren Arturius torpedoed his chances. Revelation explores the mission they undertook, as well as the reasons why Saren gave Anderson such a damning report. The book also provides the backstory of Saren’s discovery of the Reaper Sovereign, setting into motion the events of Mass Effect.
Revelation stands out amongst the novels as it is a standalone prequel. The other three – Ascension, Retribution, and Deception – tell a continuous story that happens concurrently with the games. Kahlee Sanders is the common link that ties the novels together. Fans of the books are given a little reward for reading them as events and characters are later referred to within the games themselves. These references come to their ultimate culmination when players are finally able to meet Kahlee in Mass Effect 3 during the mission to Grissom Academy.
The Mass Effect Books Introduced Characters Before They Were In The Games
Several important elements of the Mass Effect universe were introduced in the pages of the books before appearing in the games themselves. While Cerberus was introduced in Mass Effect, it is the books that define the group as it appears in the sequel games. The Illusive Man also makes his first appearance in the book Ascension, 18 months before the release of Mass Effect 2.
Cerberus has a constant presence throughout the books, serving as the primary antagonists. The origin of the technology they use to enhance their soldiers with Reaper technology in Mass Effect 3 has its roots in Retribution. Paul Grayson is implanted with Reaper technology and begins the process of indoctrination and becomes their puppet. Retribution is also notable for introducing the assassin Kai Leng.
Deception garnered some minor controversy within the Mass Effect fandom. Because it was not written by Karpsyhyn, a large amount of continuity and lore errors appeared in the book. Some fans went so far as to produce a detailed document listing the mistakes. BioWare and Del Rey Books apologized for the errors, and announced that future versions of the book would be corrected. However, the promised revised edition of Deception has not been released yet.
With the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, BioWare announced a series of tie-in novels to further explore its storyline. Unlike the previous novels, which were only tangentially related to the main storyline of the games, the Mass Effect: Andromeda books would weave their stories through the game and expand on the story. Three books were announced: Nexus Uprising, Initiation, and Annihilation.
Nexus Uprising is the only novel that has been released so far. The book is a prequel to the events of the game, and explores the arrival of the Nexus in Andromeda. After hitting the Scourge, the Nexus is forced to deal with the death of its command structure and multiple system failures. As personalities clash and jockey for power, the conflict eventually comes to a head. This leads to the Uprising that is referenced in the game, where numerous colonists rebelled against the Nexus before being exiled from the station.
Two more books are due for release; Initiation in 2017 and Annihilation in 2018. Initiation is also a prequel, and will explore Cora Harper‘s past and time with the asari commandos. She is recruited by Alec Ryder to retrieve stolen data that is vital to the survival of the Andromeda Initiative. However, it is Annihilation that is likely to pique the interest of fans.
A DLC That Is Not A DLC
Remember at the end of Mass Effect: Andromeda when we got the tantalizing hint that the quarian ark had made it to Andromeda, but something was wrong and they were warning everyone to stay away? Everyone thought that the ark’s arrival would be explored in future single-player DLC. BioWare had other ideas and decided that Andromeda DLC would not be forthcoming.
The storyline is not dead, however. BioWare announced that Annihilation would detail the story of the quarian ark. The ship is infected by a pathogen that killed a number of drell colonists before jumping species. When the ark’s systems also begin to fail, it is clear that vessel is the victim of sabotage.
For fans of Mass Effect: Andromeda, the news that there would be no DLC was a major disappointment. At least BioWare are not letting the quarian ark subplot go unresolved. While it may not be in the form fans were expecting, the cliffhanger will be resolved definitively.
More Pictures, Less Words
Like the books, the comics based on the Mass Effect universe have been used to expand on the franchise. Published by Dark Horse Comics since 2010, the comics are used to explore the backgrounds of the various characters within the Mass Effect universe. Evolution is a four-part series that is the Illusive Man’s origin story. The comics also fill in events that are referenced in the games, but not seen. The Cerberus takeover of Omega that forces Aria T’Loak to relocate to the Citadel in Mass Effect 3 was detailed within the pages of Invasion. The latest comic series, Discovery, is a prequel to Mass Effect: Andromeda.
The first comic published was Redemption, released at the same time as Mass Effect 2. It follows Liara T’Soni and Cerberus searching for the remains of Commander Shepherd. The story leads directly into the circumstances of Shepherd’s resurrection in Mass Effect 2. Redemption also serves as the backstory for Liara’s feud with the Shadow Broker, which would later be explored in the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC for Mass Effect 2.
Not all of the comics are serious. Dark Horse released a one shot issue called Blasto: Eternity is Forever in 2012. The story follows the greatest hero of them all – the (fictional) hanar Spectre known as Blasto.
Mass Effect’s Future
Mass Effect: Andromeda will not be receiving any single-player DLC, and that the series is currently on hold. This means that books and comics are the only hope for future Mass Effect stories for the time being. This is not entirely a bad thing . Books and comics can explore this universe at a fraction of the cost of a video game. A larger amount of material can be generated as books and comics can be released more regularly.
However, Mass Effect is primarily a video game series. For the adventures to continue in print without a game on the horizon does not feel right. The books and comics should support the games as additional content, not supersede them and become the primary storytelling method.