In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. Mass Effect
In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars.
The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time. They called it the greatest discovery in human history. The civilizations of the galaxy call it... MASS EFFECT
was originally a space opera
RPG/third person shooter
game for the Xbox 360 and PC. It was developed by BioWare
, which also developed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
, Baldur's Gate
, Jade Empire
, and Neverwinter Nights
. It was released for the Xbox 360 in November 2007 and PC in May/June 2008. The PlayStation 3
version was released in late 2012 as part of the Mass Effect Trilogy
, and as a standalone digital download for the PlayStation Network. The second chapter, Mass Effect 2
, was released for the Xbox 360 and PC in 2010, and for PlayStation 3 in January 2011. Mass Effect 3
was formally announced on December 11, 2010, at the Spike Video Game Awards. It got simultaneous release on all 3 platforms on in early March 2012, with a Wii U
port being released at the console's launch in November 2012.
The series makes heavy use of a large number of science fiction tropes. Nearly every aspect of the setting is well thought out, with hefty amounts of technical, cultural, and historical background data provided by an Encyclopedia Exposita
. It manages to be simultaneously a reconstruction
of the Space Opera
, a highly plausible setting ranking quite high on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness
(The eponymous mass effect is the setting's One Big Lie
), and a Lovecraft Lite Cosmic Horror Story
The games' protagonist is Commander Shepard, who, in true BioWare fashion, is customizable across the board, from gender to family background to previous military experience. A distinguished military officer, Shepard is selected to become the first human Spectre, an elite group of galactic peacekeepers given carte blanche to go about their job as they see fit. Unfortunately, nothing about the review process goes as planned, and Shepard is soon thrust into a life-or-death struggle with Saren Arterius, a rogue Spectre, who plans to seize control of the galactic capital with the help of an immense warship named Sovereign and an army of robotic Geth
. Nothing is as it seems, however, and soon the very survival of organic life is at stake due to the shadowy threat of the legendary Reapers
The franchise is primarily a RPG, with third person shooter combat. The games combine the regenerating shields
and integrated vehicle sections of Halo
, the stop-and-pop cover mechanics of Gears of War
and wide open sandbox
exploration elements as you fly around the galaxy in your cool starship
, the Normandy
. In combat, RPG elements
are present in the form of a class and level system
for your party members, in addition to new guns and armor, while outside of combat you are able to influence the story in a lot of ways, and even transfer your story decisions to the next game. Gameplay elements, and their revisions for the sequels, saw a mixed reception
The classes presented to you are divided up between three affinities: Combat, Tech and Biotic
. Combat classes have abilities based on amplifying their weapons and own reflexes
to make them more vicious in combat. Tech classes counter the opponents' technology (jamming their weapons, overloading their shields, sending out attack drones) and hacking mecha mooks
to attack their own. Biotic classes project the eponymous Mass Effect with their own bodies, giving them mind over matter
powers that are based on warping space and gravity and providing biotic barriers
. Shepard can choose one of three specialized classes for maximum effectiveness in one style, or one of the three hybrid classes, sacrificing the full range of options and abilities of either class type
for maximum flexibility. Your own team tends to be an eclectic mix of all three and you are only allowed to take two members with you on any given mission, so choosing which ones would be helpful for the circumstances is vital. Because gameplay evolved quite a bit over the course of the trilogy, it's hard to pin down just how the classes work, but here's a brief overview:
- Adept: Full Biotic, based on manipulating gravity and providing crowd-control. Signature powers include the stunners Stasis and Singularity, but the basics are things like Pull and Throw.
- Soldier: Full Combat, powers are focused on dealing as much raw damage through the use of weapons and grenades, as well as maximum damage protection. Bullet Time skills and a huge arsenal are typical. The second game gave them access to many elemental bullets they could swap out quickly, letting them adapt to enemy weaknesses.
- Engineer: Full Tech, very useful in stripping away enemy defenses and distracting them via automated turrets and drones. They can also reprogram enemy technology and (in the first game) get bonuses to unlocking minigames or (in the second game) cheaper research projects.
- Sentinel: The Tech/Biotic combo. In the second game, they got their signature power, Tech Armor, which: doubles shields but also cooldowns, staggers nearby enemies when depleted, and lets the Sentinel alternate between frontal assault (when it's on) and support spellcasting (when it's not).
- Infiltrator: The Tech/Combat hybrid, has a variety of debuffs and offensive abilities. In the second game they got their signature abilities: an Invisibility Cloak and a Bullet Time that activates automatically when they use the scope on their Sniper Rifle.
- Vanguard: The Biotic/Combat class. Formerly bland, the second game gave them the signature power "Biotic Charge", a Flash Step cannonball move that also recharges their shields. This encourages them to stay in the fight.
Like previous BioWare games, Mass Effect
employs a karma meter
with two moral endpoints. Rather than simply Good or Evil however, the meter essentially measures the player's place on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism
; Paragon choices move toward idealism and Renegade choices toward cynicism. Most responses tend to be either nice or mean ways of saying the same thing ("I'm sorry, but please tell me what happened" versus "Get over it and tell me what happened"), but as you climb each meter, you unlock new conversation options which can take things in a completely different direction ("I'm an action survivor
too, let's bond"; "Get a Hold of Yourself Man
! Quit Your Whining
!"). These options also allow your character to influence people via their charisma or their intimidation factor, reflecting on the growing impact you are having on the galaxy.
- The Paragon is the more humane, compassionate, diplomatic end of the spectrum, one who tries to solve problems and disputes as peacefully as possible, or at least with the motive of protecting the innocent, but shows little if any pity towards corruption or immoral actions. Paragon dialogue also tends to take a more cooperative, egalitarian stance to the other sentient species of the galaxy and the Citadel Council. Succinctly, this path is the fettered.
- The Renegade is a more ruthless hero who believes in solving problems and disputes by force, intimidation, and an "I Did What I Had to Do" philosophy, preferring to kill the enemy at all costs and allowing petty immoral acts to slip by to achieve the bigger goal. Renegade conversation options tend to show little regard for the council and more of a "humans first" position. To put it simply, this path is the unfettered.
The story largely remains the same regardless of the choices that you make but the multiple methods of how Shepard works through any given scenario is carefully monitored between the games, which creates a more enriching experience as your
particular choices resonate throughout the story and across the games
. The railroading
on dialogue choices may not allow complete freedom of choice but it helps hold the plot together: whether you choose to play Shepard nice or mean, s/he is still a hero either way.
These choices are omnipresent, as every conversation in the game is interactive and most give a chance to score Paragon and Renegade points. Yes, Paragon and
Renegade: you can climb both sides of the scale simultaneously. Instead of each choice pulling you in one direction or another, there are separate
meters for Paragon and Renegade, and choosing towards one does not change your position on the other. This allows much more complex characterization; there's no reason you can't play (say) a moral xenophobe who is Paragon towards humans but Renegade towards aliens, a True Neutral
character who adapts to fit each situation, or even alternate every time you're given a choice
. Of course, there are benefits to committing to either end; in every game but the last, there are dialogue options and even missions you can't access at all unless you have a high Paragon/Renegade score (the third unlocks options based on your total Karma Points, and adds non-flavored "Reputation" points as well). And in terms of replay value, it's kind of brilliant, since no matter what path you choose, there's always at least
one other branch (sometimes more
) you consciously turned away from.
And these link up with the other theme of the franchise: continuity porn
, the butterfly of doom
and the old save bonus
. There are plenty of NPCs you can choose to kill, but if you don't, they will almost certainly appear in the next game (where, possibly, they can be killed a second time). Mass Effect
has hundreds of named characters, and the list of ones who don't re-appear in the next game is a lot
shorter than the list of those who do; this creates a sense of not only a living, breathing universe, but the feeling that you, Commander Shepard, have some significance within it. And these are just the casual choices — what about the ones where you decide the fates of entire sentient species? Players of the franchise are known to run two or more saved games, playing and re-playing to see how their choices impact the galaxy.
In addition to the games, the series contains four prequel/interquel novels: Mass Effect: Revelation
, Mass Effect: Ascension
and Mass Effect: Retribution
, written by Drew Karpyshyn, one of the writers for the games. As a result of Karpyshyn moving from working on Mass Effect
to working on Star Wars: The Old Republic
and subsequently leaving BioWare, the fourth novel, Mass Effect: Deception
, was written by outside writer William C. Dietz. It was released on January 31, 2012.
The series also contains several comics: Mass Effect: Redemption
, Mass Effect: Evolution
, Mass Effect: Invasion
, and Mass Effect: Homeworlds
are graphic novels that consist of four issues each, while Mass Effect: Foundation
is a thirteen-issue series. Mass Effect: Incursion
, Mass Effect: Inquisition
, and Mass Effect: Conviction
are short 8 page stories and Mass Effect: Blasto: Eternity Is Forever
is a one-shot comic about the show within a game
(and Ascended Meme
There are also two iOS
games, titled Mass Effect: Galaxy
and Mass Effect: Infiltrator
, respectively, as well as Mass Effect: Datapad
, a companion app for Mass Effect 3
. An anime movie, Mass Effect: Paragon Lost
was released on November 28, 2012.
BioWare Montreal confirmed in November 2012 that a new game set in the universe is already in development.
The Mass Effect universe encompasses:
The Mass Effect series as a whole contains the following tropes:
"It's been a good ride."