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 is a Space Opera multimedia franchise, originating as an RPG/Third-Person Shooter. It was developed by BioWare, which also developed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur's Gate, Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and Neverwinter Nights.
The series takes place in the late 22nd century. A few decades ago, Mars turned out to have an outpost of the franchise's Precursors, the "Protheans," which yielded up advanced technology, including "element zero," a substance that can be used to alter the mass of anything near it. By utilizing this "mass effect," mankind was able to develop fancy new technologies like personal Deflector Shields, Faster-Than-Light Travel and Artificial Gravity. Amongst the stars, humans found themselves to be just one sentient species amongst an entire panoply of civilization: the mono-gendered asari, the amphibian-descended salarians, the militant turians, the hard-to-hurt krogan, and more.
There have been four main titles in the series:
- Mass Effect 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 Play Station Network. Taking place in 2183, it introduces the main character, System Alliance officer Lt.Cmdr. Shepard, and the beginning of that character's journey to become the first human Spectre, an elite soldier given full support of the Citadel races to operate carte blanche in their interest. Shepard's first mission is to track down a rogue Spectre, Saren, and unravel his connection to the mysterious Reapers, ancient beings that are only known as the ones who wiped out the Protheans 50,000 years ago. Shepard is set loose in a Wide-Open Sandbox galaxy with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, in an... interesting 3rd-person-shooter-cum-RPG battle engine. They are aided by a diverse band of companions, as well as by the technology left behind by the Protheans.
- Mass Effect 2 was released for the Xbox 360 and PC in January 2010, and for PlayStation 3 in January 2011. In the prologue, Shepard and their crew are brutally attacked by the enigmatic alien species, the Collectors. After a two-year Time Skip covered by the opening credits, it takes up in 2185 where the militant/terrorist human group called Cerberus has rescued Shepard and tasked them to investigate the Collectors, who have been abducting entire human colonies for reasons that are unclear but believed to be related to the coming Reaper invasion. Shepard's association with Cerberus strains their relationship with both the Alliance and their previous allies, so they turn to the seedier side of the galaxy for a new team to face the Collectors. The gameplay shifted dramatically into something much more linear: it had more clearly stated levels built around cover-based shooting; vehicle travel was dropped entirely (excluding a DLC mission); and weapon types was restricted by class.
- Mass Effect 3 was released on all three platforms in early March 2012, with a Wii U port being released at the console's launch in November 2012. It leads to the ultimate fear: the Reapers invade the Milky Way in the year 2186 and Earth is among the first to be overwhelmed. Shepard has reunited with the Alliance and retrieved blueprints for a potential machine to defeat the Reapers they call "The Crucible." To retake Earth, and more importantly survive the Reaper invasion, Shepard must form a new team and unite the races of the galaxy to fight back and commit resources to the Crucible. In addition to wrapping up the Myth Arc of the trilogy, it continued to refine the gameplay standard set by the second game, increasing movement and combat actions as well as weapon customization to the point that BioWare felt confident including a Co-Op Multiplayer mode.
- Mass Effect: Andromeda was released in March 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Set around the same time as Mass Effect 2, the "Andromeda Initiative" was a colonization program to travel to the nearest galaxy, Andromeda. City-sized starships full of Human Popsicles (not to mention ones for asari, salarians, turians and krogan) go on a 600-year journey. (Because the game is essentially an interquel, BioWare were able to avoid Cutting Off the Branches of the trilogy's Multiple Endings.) The player assumes the role of Scott or Sara Ryder, Half-Identical Twins who take on a leadership position within the Initiative when their ship arrives in 2819 and things go From Bad to Worse. The game places emphasis on the Wide-Open Sandbox which BioWare had intended to implement during the original trilogy, abandoning the highly-linear maps and narrative focus that replaced it.
- An untitled fifth game was announced on December 10, 2020.
The series makes heavy use of a large number of science fiction tropes. Nearly every aspect of the setting has been thoroughly thought out, with hefty amounts of technical, cultural, and historical background data provided by an Encyclopedia Exposita. (Amongst other things, the names of alien races are not capitalized—the way "human" isn't.) 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 in the form of the Reapers.
Shepard, in true BioWare fashion, is customizable across the board, from gender to family background to previous military experience. The sequels allow you to transfer your personal Shepard, with the same appearance, background and choices. The Ryders are somewhat less customizeable — they will always be fraternal twins, so the player cannot change their gender, and their first name is no longer selectable — but everything else is available for tweaking; in fact, the two do not even have to look like each other, and the game dynamically alters the appearance of their parents, Alec and Ellen Ryder, to reflect your choices.
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. Shooting took on a completely new dimension in the first game, however, as firearms had Bottomless Magazines (justified in-story) and were instead limited by refire rate; firing them too fast would result in Overheating and a mandatory cooldown period. The remaining games in the series have returned to a much more traditional firearms experience. RPG elements are present in the form of a Class and Level System for you and 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, armor and own reflexes to make them deal and receive loads of damage. 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, creating area-effect burn damage 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 lead the charge when its spells won't do the job.
- 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. 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.
- Explorer: Available only in Mass Effect: Andromeda, this class is a hybrid of all three affinities, made possible by the game's decision to let players swap powers and classes on the fly. The ultimate Jack-of-All-Stats, it also guarantees a Master of None. The Explorer Profile specifically is designed to keep you mobile, anticipating you to be a Fragile Speedster.
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 vs. 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. You Are Not Alone!"; "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 interact with, and depending on your choices they could even die over the course of the game. If they don't, they will almost certainly appear in the next game (where, possibly, they can be killed this round). 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, some — well — mass effect on 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 November 2020, Bioware announced that a new Mass Effect game was in development.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, a 4K remaster of the original trilogy containing all three games and almost all of their single player DLCnote was released on May 14, 2021 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, with forward compatibility and enhancements for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
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) Blasto.
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.
A 4D motion simulator attraction based on the video games called Mass Effect: New Earth debuted at the California's Great America theme park in May 2016. The ride features characters from the original trilogy, with the voice actors reprising their roles, but does not take place canonically in the series.
The Mass Effect universe encompasses:
- Mass Effect
- Mass Effect 2
- Mass Effect 3
- Mass Effect: Andromeda
- Incursion: can be downloaded here
- Inquisition: can be read here
- Blasto: Eternity Is Forever
- Paragon Lost: An anime film set during the events of Mass Effect 2 starring Lieutenant James Vega (with Freddie Prinze Jr. reprising his role) and his attempts to stop a Collectors raid on a human colony.
- Mass Effect Archives, an online app that stores players' personal canons from the four main games.
The Mass Effect series as a whole contains the following tropes:
- Tropes A to D
- Tropes E to H
- Tropes I to L
- Tropes M to P
- Tropes Q to T
- Tropes U to Z
- Mass Effect Race Tropes