Every year, November 7th is celebrated across the international community of Mass Effect fandom as the Mass Effect day. The date for this occasion – November 7th – is chosen based on the designation “N7” which in the lore of Mass Effect games signifies an elite class of human Alliance soldiers who passed through the grueling Interplanetary Combatives Training (ICT) program. The N7 emblem is always present on Commander Shepard’s armor accompanied by the iconic red stripe on the right arm.
To celebrate this occasion, we invite you to take a retrospective look at this epic, gaming industry-defining sci-fi action RPG franchise created by BioWare studios which started more than a decade ago. How did the Mass Effect series begin, what it introduced and what was the long-term significance of this space opera RPG franchise?
Mass Effect (2007)
Conceptual origins of Mass Effect games can be traced all the way back to 2003 as at this year BioWare released their critically acclaimed RPG Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The project director for this game was Casey Hudson, who later became the lead game designer for the original Mass Effect trilogy. Even though BioWare loved working with the Star Wars title, the studio figured it would have more creative freedom if they created a new and original IP. In the long-term, this became the first Mass Effect game.
Those who had the chance to play Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic can easily notice the similarities between it and the Mass Effect games: you fly across the galaxy in your own spaceship, explore semi open-world locations on different planets accompanied by two crewmates of your choosing, there are romance options and an epic science-fiction story about saving the galaxy from certain doom.
Once the first Mass Effect game released it featured a story about Commander Shepard, an elite human Alliance soldier, and his or her crew, as they race across the galaxy trying to stop a rogue turian agent Saren from bringing back the Reapers – ancient race of advanced machines that threaten to destroy all organic life in the Milky Way galaxy.
Mass Effect games presented a more dynamic third-person cover-based shooter if compared to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic where fighting was turn-based. In addition, while the protagonist of KOTOR was always silent, both Commander Shepard’s gender options available in character customization were fully voiced by legendary Canadian voice actors Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale respectively.
Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Mass Effect 2 was released in 2010. Once again, it was developed by BioWare, however, this time around it was published not by the Microsoft Games Studios but by Electronic Arts (just like all the subsequent Mass Effect games). The game expanded upon every technical aspect of the original and surpassed it in every way as BioWare kept a close eye on the response to the first game and addressed its issues in the design of the sequel.
The second Mass Effect game presented a revolutionary new feature: those who played the original Mass Effect from 2007 could transport their save files to the sequel. All the choices player has made in the original would change the story of Mass Effect 2 in various significant ways, making the whole gameplay experience even more personal and immersive.
Among the Mass Effect games, the second installment in the series had the most focus on the characters and their development. This time around Commander Shepard had to collect a team of soldiers, mercenaries, biotics and scientists from across the galaxy for a Suicide Mission to stop the Collectors – a mysterious, technologically advanced alien faction that served the Reapers.
Each well-written character had a distinct recruiting and loyalty mission. Passing these missions was crucial to the success of the final battle at the end game, as Commander Shepard and his or her crew could actually die at the end. This gave huge significance to the player’s choices, which is a characteristic trait of the Mass Effect games franchise as a whole.
Mass Effect 3 (2012)
After the success of the two previous games, Mass Effect 3’s release was extremely hyped and awaited by the fans and newcomers to the series alike. The lead designer of the Mass Effect titles Casey Hudson has confirmed in interviews that the two sequels for the original 2007 game were always planned to happen. It was never a question of “if”, only “when”, as all the games featuring Commander Shepard were planned to function as a trilogy right from the start, based on the possibility to transfer save files across the first three Mass Effect games.
Mass Effect 3 continued the epic story of Commander Shepard’s efforts to stop the Reaper invasion. Despite the events in the first game, bureaucrats of the galactic community ignored Shepard’s warnings about the Reaper threat and by the time of Mass Effect 3, it was too late. Reapers have invaded Earth as well as many other civilized planets across the galaxy. Now it’s an all-out war. In the course of the game, Shepard must unite the galaxy by solving age-old political issues between different alien races so they can fight the Reapers as one.
Previous Mass Effect games didn’t allow the player to control the members of other Mass Effect races besides humans. This changed with Mass Effect 3. While we still played as the legendary human soldier Commander Shepard in the campaign, the multiplayer horde mode of Mass Effect 3 finally gave players a chance to play as a custom Asari, Turian, Salarian, Krogan, even Geth and the amount of playable races only increased with time as BioWare kept adding free DLC content to the multiplayer mode.
While Mass Effect 3 was superior to previous Mass Effect games from the technical perspective, at the time of its release it caused controversy over the ending of the single-player campaign. The majority of fans felt a lack of closure to the story. BioWare heard the fans and released a completely free Extended Cut DLC, which expanded upon the original endings of the game as well as Citadel DLC which served as a goodbye to the memorable characters beloved by the fandom.
Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017)
With the release of Mass Effect 3 Commander Shepard’s story was concluded and future Mass Effect games would focus on new characters and new settings in this wide science-fiction universe, starting with Mass Effect: Andromeda which was released in 2017. The events in the third installment of the franchise raised creative difficulties to the developers as it would be very hard to continue the story without negating the consequences of player choices in the original trilogy. There were two solutions: the next game will either be a prequel or take place in a different setting.
The latter was chosen. The events of the previous Mass Effect games took place in the Milky Way galaxy, but as we can understand from the title of the 2017 installment, the newest Mass Effect game transported the players to the Andromeda galaxy. The game told a story about a group of colonists that left the Milky Way in the time period between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, prior to the Reaper invasion.
Mass Effect lore always had a strong focus on scientific accuracy in its science-fiction vision of the future. Even though the civilizations of Mass Effect games had faster than light drive technology, it still took the main characters of Mass Effect: Andromeda 634 years to reach the Heleus Cluster in the Andromeda galaxy, where the new game takes place.
In Mass Effect: Andromeda Commander Shepard is replaced by Scott and Sara Ryder, siblings that represented new fully voiced gender options in Mass Effect: Andromeda’s character customization menu. This time around the chosen protagonist is not a privileged Citadel Spectre agent but a Pathfinder – a mix between soldier and scientist, who’s responsible for finding a new home to humanity in this new frontier.
Andromeda was the first of Mass Effect games that ran on the Frostbite 3 engine, just like another BioWare’s title Dragon Age: Inquisition. The combat became progressively more dynamic throughout Mass Effect series, with the latest installment allowing for more vertical movement with a jump-jet. Open-world exploration of uncharted worlds by a vehicle made a return from the first Mass Effect game along with the multiplayer mode from Mass Effect 3.
What’s next for the franchise?
While currently BioWare is focused on other projects such as Anthem, latest interviews with BioWare’s executive producer Mark Darrah as well as the series god-father Casey Hudson, who is now the general manager of BioWare, give us reasons to think that we will see more Mass Effect games in the future, as in their eyes, Mass Effect franchise still holds a lot of potential and there are many stories yet to be told in this vast sci-fi universe.
As for the celebration of this year’s N7 Day, BioWare has released Mass Effect themed skins for their latest video game Anthem in order to commemorate the Mass Effect series. Don’t forget that all the mentioned games are available at the Eneba store at a cheaper price. So, keep in mind what the protagonist of the original Mass Effect trilogy famously said multiple times: “I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite store on the Citadel”.