Mass Effect: The Expanded Universe

mass-effect-comic-headerLast week, BioWare and Dark Horse Comics announced Mass Effect: Redemption, a comic series set in the universe of BioWare’s epic 2007 RPG, Mass Effect. Although I’m not much of a comic reader, I’m really excited for this.

Mass Effect was my personal Game of the Year for 2007, above and beyond the enormous wealth of other top-tier games that year. It certainly had some problems, most of them technical – a bad case of texture pop-in, an often somewhat sluggish framerate, and the infamously lengthy elevator rides, for example – but as well as ultimately overcoming its flaws to become an enjoyable and thrilling game, it also spawned what has rapidly become my favorite science-fiction universe. Sure, it’s extremely derivative (take your pick from Star Wars, Star Trek, the original Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, and any number of others) but its somewhat retro aesthetic means it’s also happy to wear these influences on its sleeve rather than trying to conceal them. The spectacular John Carpenter-esque, synth-heavy soundtrack also demonstrates the designers’ love for late-’70s to early-’80s space opera, and the in-game codex offers a colossal amount of backstory for those who care to get drawn into it. Fittingly, the game’s limited collector’s edition included a pair of remarkably extensive books: an art book detailing further the game’s beautiful design; and a backstory book, presented as a guide issued to a human visiting the Citadel, the central hub of the galactic community, for the first time. Also included was a second DVD which expands on both the art and the creation of the game and its setting.


Drew Karpyshyn’s two Mass Effect novels

Thankfully, after crafting such a vast, intricate and surprisingly believable universe, BioWare weren’t going to let it end there. Mass Effect is the first of a planned trilogy of games (Mass Effect 2 is on course for an early 2010 release date and garnered a huge amount of praise when it was shown at this year’s E3 expo), but there’s more besides. Lead writer Drew Karpyshyn – whose enviable resumé also includes three Star Wars books, the novelization of Baldur’s Gate II, and the seminal 2003 BioWare game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic – has also written a pair of Mass Effect novels: Revelation, which covers both the backstory of humanity’s growth into a spacefaring race and subsequently their becoming part of the larger galactic community (including the problems this caused with the four-eyed batarians), and the history between David Anderson and Saren Arterius, which essentially sets the central plot of the first game in motion; and Ascension, which explores the xenophobic human black-ops organization Cerberus as well as investigating in more detail the unfortunate quarian race, exiled to their ramshackle Migrant Fleet after their creation of the geth, the antagonist race from the first game. Both books expand on the universe greatly, and are also available as unabridged audiobooks, read by the excellent David Colacci, who conveys perfectly the characters and drama of the stories.

Somewhat less successful was the spin-off iPhone/iPod Touch game, Mass Effect Galaxy, which provides a backstory on one of the companion characters set to be featured in Mass Effect 2. The game was poorly reviewed, and unfortunately I can’t offer my own thoughts on it as I don’t have access to the necessary hardware to play it. Still, thus far it remains the only negative blip on a very strong body of work.

Given BioWare’s generally high standards so far at expanding on the universe of Mass Effect, as well as Dark Horse’s own great reputation, I have no doubt that the Redemption comic series will match up to what’s gone before. It’s a shame, really, that the available fiction will never be quite as vast a library as something like Star Wars enjoys, but it’s still a huge credit to BioWare that despite their universe being so obviously derivative, it stands on its own as well as it does; and I for one hope that as the trilogy of games ultimately winds up, there’ll be more of the Mass Effect expanded universe to dive into. One fairly sizeable concern on this front is that Drew Karpyshyn is relocating from BioWare’s Edmonton studio to their Austin studio to focus on the forthcoming MMO game Star Wars: The Old Republic. With any luck, though, we’ll see much more of this superlative IP.

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