Friday, November 25, 2022

Karen Wiesner: Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms: Mass Effect Series, created by Bioware with Drew Karpyshyn, Casey Hudson, and Preston Watamaniuk

Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms:

Mass Effect Series, created by Bioware with Drew Karpyshyn, Casey Hudson, and Preston Watamaniuk

by Karen Wiesner

In this article series I'm calling "Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms", I plan to explore supernatural fiction series that sometimes had their beginnings as books but branched out into other types of mediums, like videogames, movies/TV series, board/card/role-playing games, and music. In each individual article that I hope will introduce entertainment connoisseurs to some incredible fiction or components of similar themed stories they might have otherwise missed, I'll discuss the origins of the series elements as well as my individual experience with the various types of media, which will be presented as a kind of review of the series.

In this third installment, we'll cover the space opera Mass Effect Series created and developed by Bioware, a Canadian videogame developer, with Drew Karpyshyn (lead writer), Casey Hudson (director), and Preston Watamaniuk (designer). Karpyshyn also wrote the first three novels in the series.

In this sprawling science fiction adventure series with elements of horror, the popular videogame spawned novels, comics, a film, a potential television series, compelling music, a 4D holographic experience at an amusement park, and even its own holiday!

Which Came First?

The Mass Effect Trilogy takes place over the course of 2183-2186 CE {Common Era}). In 2148, humanity discovered highly advanced Prothean technology hidden deep below Mars' surface. The Prothean were thought to be the progenitor race of all species. These remnants of the long extinct culture led mankind to scientific breakthroughs with mass effect fields and the development of faster than light spaceflight. Another Prothean discovery unearthed a dormant mass relay that, once activated, transported them to another relay, which was part of a vast network that made travel around the entire galaxy possible. By 2150, the Alliance was formed and began forging military exploration beyond the Sol System. Only two years later, the first three human colony worlds were settled, including Demeter, Eden Prime, and Terra Nova. 

First contact was made with another spacefaring race in 2157. The Turians had been watching them, and soon the First Contact War culminated into the Turian siege and occupation of Shanxi, a human world. Only a month later, a surprise attack put the planet back in Human hands. The full-scale war the Turians had begun to prepare for against humanity was thwarted when the Citadel Council intervened. The Citadel, a massive space station, had long been considered the political and economic heart of the galaxy. Peace was brokered and so began mankind's foray into interstellar expansion.

Meanwhile, a mercenary named Jack Harper became embroiled in a plot with a Turian named Saren. Harper went on to create the human-supremacist, terrorist organization called Cerberus and, at that time, assumed the identity of the Illusive Man. Horrifying experiments and immoral depravities were ascribed to this organization all throughout the series.

Two years later, Saren became the youngest Turian to be inducted into the Spectres (Special Tactics and Reconnaissance), agents of the Council granted extraordinary power to preserve galactic stability. The first Human Spectre candidate was Alliance Navy Captain David Anderson, commander of the experimental Turian/Human stealth frigate, the SSV Normandy. Anderson's XO,  Commander Shepard, became the first Human Spectre in 2183. Shepard was already an N7 rank soldier, having distinguished him/herself (this main character can be played either as male or female) in combat, by the time he/she took over as captain of the Normandy. 

The original Mass Effect trilogy began in the year 2183 with Commander Shepard coming in contact with an artifact that imparted a vision of war and death across the galaxy. In this deeply disturbing portend, Shepard learned that every 50,000 years, the Reapers, an ancient species of machines, eliminated all higher life forms in a galaxy-wide purge, leaving younger species to advance and thrive until the next cycle. The Reapers believed this apocalypse was necessary to prevent war and chaos from destroying all life for all time. The next two games detailed the epic struggle of the entire galaxy to survive against the Reapers--at times aided by Cerberus, at others massively hampered.

The story behind Mass Effect Andromeda, the fourth game, actually began within the timeline of the first three games. The Andromeda Initiative, at least partially funded by “powerful benefactors” (which may or may not include Cerberus) was founded in 2176 and the first wave launched into dark space in 2185. Each of the species had their own massive ark. Those in the scheduled second wave launch held the last of the Milky Way species. The Nexus flagship--filled with a variety of races--was a Citadel-like space station designed to be the Initiative's base of operations as well as a temporary home while the "Golden Worlds" were made habitable. The journey to the Andromeda Galaxy to establish a permanent presence there was intended to be a one-way trip that would take approximately 600 years. Each ark was assigned its own Pathfinder, selected to set up a habitable world for its 100,000 passengers. Alec Ryder, a soldier who fought in the First Contact War, was the Human ark Hyperion's Pathfinder.

Circa 2450 CE, the Scourge, a widespread energy phenomenon, was unleashed in the Heleus Cluster after the detonation of a powerful weapon on a Remnant space station. A race known as the Jardaan created Remnant technology (Rem-Tech), including vaults that, when activated, amplified the environmental stability of a planet. The Scourge deactivated the Remnant vaults, badly damaging the Golden Worlds the Initiative expected to inhabit upon arrival, and nearly destroyed the only sapient sentient species native to the Andromeda galaxy. Angarans fell into a dark age, their civilizations cut off from each other and scattered. Around 2600, the Scourge stabilized. After rediscovering spaceflight, the Angaran people began to reunite. In the midst of their initial healing in 2744, the Kett, a hostile alien species, invaded the Heleus Cluster, intending to "exalt" the Angara into their own empire. Instead of following protocols, the invasion force's leader became obsessed with learning how to control Rem-Tech.

In 2818, after a 633 year journey across dark space, the Nexus arrived to find things vastly different in Andromeda than they expected before setting out. Fourteen months afterward, the Hyperion showed up, having been separated from the other arks that were prevented from rendezvousing with the Nexus for various reasons. This is where the game opens. The player chooses to be either the son or daughter of Alex Ryder. As the first Pathfinder to arrive at the Nexus, they're faced with the challenges of making all the Golden Worlds habitable, finding resources, making alliances, discovering what happened to the missing arks, and defeating the Kett.

A fifth Mass Effect, as yet unofficially titled with no release date in sight, is expected to continue the story from the first trilogy and possibly also the Andromeda installment, which had all the DLC and anticipated follow-up games canceled due to less than enthusiastic fan reception, despite sales success that matched its predecessors.

The chronological order of the Mass Effect Series with videogames, comic books, novels, and one film included is:

1) He Who Laughs Best by Mac Walters and Jeremy Barlow (single issue comic published in 2013): Details how Jeff "Joker" Moreau became the SSV Normandy's pilot prior to the events of ME

2) Evolution by Mac Walters (4-issue comic series first published in 2011): Set in 2157 during the First Contact War, detailing the origins of the Illusive Man and Cerberus.

3)  Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn (novel published May 2007, six months prior to the release of ME): A prequel to the first videogame, set in 2165 involving David Anderson and Saren investigating an attack on a Human research station.

4) Mass Effect (videogame released 2007): Set in the year 2183.

5) Ascension by Drew Karpyshyn (novel published July 2008): Set a few months after the events of ME spotlighting a young biotic prodigy named Gillian Grayson who's pursued by Cerberus and aided by Kahlee Sanders, who also had a significant role in Revelation.

6) Andromeda: Initiation by N. K. Jemisin and Mac Walters (novel published in 2017): Set in the Milky Way before the departure of the arks, Cora Harper attempts to recover dangerous stolen data before it can be used against the Andromeda Initiative.

7) Redemption by Mac Walters and John Jackson Miller (4 issue comic series first published in 2010): Prequel to ME 2 with Cerberus and Liara T'Soni trying to track down Commander Shepard, killed in the opening act of ME 2.

8) Mass Effect Galaxy (2009 released no-longer-available mobile game): A prequel to ME 2, squad members Jacob Taylor and Miranda Lawson investigate aggressive Batarian activities.

9) Mass Effect 2 (videogame released 2010): The prologue begins in the year 2183; 2 years later, Shepard is resurrected by Cerberus to continue fighting the Reapers.

10) Retribution by Drew Karpyshyn (novel published July 2010): Set a few months after the events of the second videogame. Cerberus uses Reaper tech on Paul Grayson.

11) Incursion by Mac Walters (single issue comic published in 2010): An Aria T'Loak adventure set one week before ME 2 opening events.

12) Deception by William C. Dietz (book published January 2012): Set not long after the events of Retribution, concerning Gillian Grayson's search for her father's murderer, the Illusive Man.

13) Conviction by Mac Walters (single issue comic published in 2011): In the days after the events of Arrival (ME 2 DLC), Captain David Anderson tasks Alliance Marine James Vega with the guarding of an important prisoner on Omega.

14) Inquisition (single issue comic published in 2010): Takes place after ME 2 with Captain Bailey investigating allegations of Executor Pallin's corruption within C-Sec.

15) Invasion by Mac Walters (4-issue comic series first published in 2011): Aria T'Loak's battle with Cerberus invasion forces on Omega.

16) Paragon Lost (anime film released in 2012): A prequel to ME 3, Alliance Marine James Vega battles the Collectors.

17) Mass Effect 3 (videogame released 2012): Set in the year 2186, six months after the events of ME.

18) Homeworlds by Mac Walters with ME 3 writing team (4-issue comic series first published in 2012): Each issue focused on a different squad member from ME 3 including James Vega, Garrus Vakarian, Tali'Zorah, and Liara T'Soni.

19)  Foundation by Mac Walters (13-issue comic series first published in 2013): Original stories in the series that tie in with the ME 3 Citadel DLC (except issue 5 with ties to ME 2).

20) Andromeda: Nexus Uprising by Jason M. Hough and K.C. Alexander (novel published in 2017, the same day the videogame ME Andromeda was released): Set on the Nexus in the Heleus Cluster before the arrival of the other arks, detailing the events that led to the uprising.

21) Mass Effect Andromeda (videogame released 2017): The Andromeda Initiative began in 2185, between the events of ME 2 and 3, but the events of the game don't start until after the 634-year journey of Ark Hyperion to Andromeda, which arrived in 2819.

22)  Discovery (4-issue series first published in 2017): Expands on the events of ME Andromeda.

23) Andromeda: Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente (novel published in 2018): Set during the journey of the Quarian ark to Andromeda, a deadly pathogen has been intentionally released onboard.

The music of ME is eclectic, to say the least, with vintage synthesized sounds, encapsulating both wonder and terror. The galaxy map, Reaper invasion, and "leaving Earth" music are all iconic to followers. Later scores had more cinematic and orchestral compositions. ME Andromeda starts with "A Better Beginning", which never fails to haunt and even devastate me. All three original soundtracks are here:


On May 18, 2016, Mass Effect: New Earth opened at California's Great America in Santa Clara, California. The theatrical motion simulator amusement park ride includes motion seats equipped to simulate wind and water. The ride's plot coincides with the ME 3 timeline during the invasion of the galaxy by the Reapers. The ship ride is captained by a live action actor playing Conrad Verner, an obsessed fan of Commander Shepard's.

In late 2021, it was reported that negotiations were underway to adapt ME for Amazon's Prime Video streaming service.

An informal commemorative holiday--N7 Day--is observed annually on November 7th to celebrate the franchise.

A Review of the Various Medium Components Available

My first experience with Mass Effect came after my nephew's dad talked about how much he loved it. We bought it and my husband started playing while I avidly watched from the sidelines. The character development is so incredible in this trilogy, each game making the cast more and more distinctive and real. I became so invested in them, I was hooked. As soon as he finished the trilogy, I had to play it myself and I was absorbed so much so that I could barely function. The first few times I played the trilogy straight through, I couldn't sleep, couldn't do anything else, I was so wrapped up in the story and characters' plights. I can safely say an obsession was born.

Since then, I've lost track of the number of times I've played through the original trilogy (I can't play one of them without playing all of them back to back), and I've exhausted nearly every scenario when it comes to different ways to play, companions to romance, etc. available in the games. Over the next decade plus, I convinced countless other gamers I know to play it. I suspect in many cases, it was simply to understand what I was going on and on and on about, talking about this series so often.

When the Legendary Edition was released in May 14, 2021 with all three games, all DLC and add-ons included (except Pinnacle Station), remastered, I might have been the happiest person on the planet.

Additionally, the release of ME Andromeda, a brand new chapter in ME history, was pivotal for me. Unlike so many vocal decriers of this installment, I'd found my brand new favorite game. While the characters aren't quite as intriguing in Andromeda (a bit cardboard), the gameplay and story are superior even to the original trilogy.

A discussion of ME wouldn't be quite complete without a nod to its disappointing endings. Fans spent three games of the trilogy anticipating how everything would come to a head and what the ending would bring. The main character choices shaping the story all through the games were not only pivotal, but, for many, the point. The reception when the ending was finally revealed left fans cold, and even game writers and developers were disappointed at how it turned out. The outcry for the divisive finale that gave the main character no option let alone satisfying solution was so hotly vocal, designers went back and redid the ending, offering an expansion DLC with the main character deciding between three very different options that (if nothing else) at least gave a sense of closure that wasn't in the initial "resolution". However, while there was an interesting twist thrown in in the form of the entity with out-of-the-blue revelations to impart, almost nothing in the story thus far even hinted at what this creature had to tell the main character (although one of the bonus content stories. Leviathan, released a couple months after the alternate ending was made available was clearly an attempt to belatedly shore up those shocking disclosures). Unfortunately, the revised multiple choices the main character was given with the redesigned ending didn't always line up with the choices the protagonist may have made throughout all three games. In fact, some of those decisions were rendered inconsequential. Ultimately, the new ending was better, but fans still left disappointed, understandably so.

To my mind, this situation could have been avoided altogether if the writers had either taken or been given the opportunity to lay the groundwork for every installment in the series long before the games were designed. That said, it's hard to know what transpired since, in the videogame world, if a game doesn't make money and/or the reception is aggressively critical, there may never be a sequel--regardless of whether it ends on a cliffhanger, as was the case for Andromeda, which ended with not one, not two, but three major cliffhangers. The game was met with loud disapproval for reasons that weren't necessarily about gameplay or story content. As a result, DLC and a potential sequel or sequels were summarily squashed--to the dismay of fans. The bonus content that was planned prior to its cancellation would have provided resolutions to all the cliffhangers in the first game. I know I'm not the only fan who fumes whenever I think about never getting those loose ends tied up. One of the loose ends was supposed to be answered in the  novel Annihilation by Catherynne M. Valente, however, for my part, I was disappointed with that "conclusion". While a new ME game has been confirmed to be on the horizon, there's no way of knowing whether the developers intend to provide closure for Andromeda--or open another can of worms they may or may not ever close. In short, despite some obvious elephants in the room with these disenchantments, this series remains to this day my all-time favorite.

For completionist gamers, you can find my checklists and quest guidelines, chock full of tips and tricks, for ME games and all DLC below:

ME 1:

ME 2:

ME 3:


After playing the games, I bought and read all the novels associated with them. All are good or excellent in giving background on several prequel or secondary plots mentioned in the games. since I've never enjoyed reading comic books, I'm still wavering on whether to purchase them--each have been packaged in volumes that contain all the individual issues. I love all the music associated with the series, owning most of the soundtracks. Finally, I'm enthralled at the prospect of a fifth game and possibly a movie/TV series based on the series in the future.

Whether you're a sci-fi gamer, book or comic reader, TV, movie, and music lover, or amusement park ride enthusiast, I highly recommend the Mass Effect Series in all its multimedia facets. Each component is worth whatever time and monetary investments you make.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150+ titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

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