Whenever I think about all the different worlds in fiction I’ve come across, there are few that stand out to me. I adore Riot Games’ world of Runterra and its use of arcane (nice) and the influence it has on the land and its inhabitants. Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra‘s blend of Eastern Cultures, mixed with elemental mastery in the form of martial arts, made it an incredibly enticing world brimming with possibilities. Heck, even Transformers has shiz I could sit down and talk about for an afternoon. I would earnestly love to have someone to talk at about Cybertronian society, history, architecture, and more. Marvel is a thing of its own, I’m sure we all can agree there, so I won’t even start with the world outside our window. All these places have enabled my imagination to flourish over the years, but one recently has stood out above them all as my favorite. A world created by a trilogy of video games that aimed to introduce us to another side of our galaxy, one teaming with diverse life and history. We’re gonna talk about Mass Effect.
The world of Mass Effect to me is a crowning example on taking a familiar setting, like our own Milky Way Galaxy, and adding in fantastical elements while cranking the good ole’ sci-fi knob. This enables a sense of “What if” for me, what could be out there? Is it dangerous? Is it kind? I’ve had a fondness for space since my younger years, I can remember learning about our planet and then suddenly more were introduced. More planets and with them different conditions meaning different histories. What’s happened there? I would call it a strong case of curiosity that I’ve been caring around. Since then, every moment I’ve been able to spend outside under the night sky has been an opportunity to try to look beyond the stars and to let my mind wander. I’d speculate to myself on what could be out there waiting for us or even at times not waiting at all. I’d like to think that there’s a version of me from a different universe that managed to trek out into the cosmos, fulfilling their childhood ambitions. Humanity has had its sight on the stars and beyond for centuries so I know I’m not alone on this feeling.
So, how does this tie into Mass Effect? I’m glad I inserted the rhetorical because I’m going to tell ya. Get ready for a hopefully well paced overview of why Mass Effect has one of my favorite fictional worlds. It won’t be a full dump of information, there’s just not enough time here. Maybe in another time and place. For now, let’s hit it.
The Discovery of Mass Effect Technology
What’s neat about the world of Mass Effect is that most of recorded human history is left intact and then extends over a century past our current time. Where things start leaning into the realms of sci-fi is in the year of 2103 CE, with the establishment of the first permanent human settlement on Mars. In about 45 years time or so afterwards trace amounts of a substance later referred to as Element Zero is discovered on the surface of the recently settled planet. Within the next year, humanity will be thrusted forward by technological developments made with the discovery of a small cache of highly advanced technology left by a civilianization long since passed. And as with any boom in technological advancement, shiz happens fast. Humanity quickly studied and developed their understanding into the development of Faster Than Light (FTL) travel. With this, we begin our detailed exploration of the Sol system (our solar system). In the year 2149 CE, a mere two years or so after the discovery of Element Zero on Mars, we discover that one of Pluto’s moons, Charon, is actually a massive piece of dormant technology. Is it possibly tied to what was found on Mars? Yes. Yes it is.
A small team of explorers is set through the relay, led by a man named Jon Grissom and what they discover is that the relay is part of a vast network of others. With this discovery, humanity has opened up Pandora’s Box and continues forward as the newly established Systems Alliance. Over the next couple years the Alliance begins surveying planets for settling outside of the Sol System and expanding humanities reach. The first is Demeter, then Eden Prime and Terra Nova. Over this time we do not encounter any other intelligent spacefaring life. Some other stuff happens on earth with the Element Zero, but we don’t got time for that. Just know that we’re discovering space magic (Biotics). Moving on, what happens next for Humanity is their introduction onto the Galactic stage.
The Advent of Humanity and the First Contact War
So ya know how the Systems Alliance is out there exploring outside of their home system and how it’s only been at it for like ~10 years or so? Well there’s been some shiz that’s gone done in other sections of the galaxy. We’re talking rules had been put in place by the other races in Council Space and unfortunately we had forgot that we weren’t in Alliance territory anymore. We tried to activate a dormant Mass Effect relay, which led to our first contact with a spacefaring race, the Turians. This lead to what’s referred to as the First Contact War (common name for a war fought on and/or after first contact) and it left a scar on Humanity as well as the Turians, one that many struggle to move past. What ends the First Contact War? Well of all things, it’s the invention of the Citadel Council. Who are they? I’ll get to it in a moment.
The Citadel and its Council
What ends the First Contact War? Well of all things, it’s the invention of the Citadel Council. Who is this? Well it’s a governing body that oversees Council Space. It’s committee is made up of the Asari, the Salarians, and the Turians. Each species can be interpreted as having a role: Asari are seen as diplomats and mediators, Salarians as intelligence and information gatherers, and the Turians as the bulk of the military and peacekeeping forces. Ya see, the galaxy had long been active way, way before humanity even knew that there was life beyond their own planet. Each council race, even the one’s who haven’t been granted a seat, have major history with each other. For instance, the Asari were the one’s who discovered the Citadel and at that point no one else was there. Eventually the Salarians discovered it and by association the Asari. Together they formed the first council. When did the Turians join? Well that’s a fun story for another time. Just know that they were granted a seat after the events of the Rachni Wars and the Krogan Rebellions. Essentially genocide into more genocide. War never changes and certainly not in space. What’s really interesting about these events and those before is our ability to view them with a human lens. During your time playing through these games you’ll start to piece together the history between each race or even within their own societies. Decisions made and later regretted, really no different than our own when you get into it. There’s more history to be laid out, tons more, but I’d like to actually pivot into talking about the Turians, Asari, Salarians and the Krogan. If you want more lore, let me know! Moving on.
Council Races and More!
So first off, the design of the Turians definitely presents itself as commanding in a real tribal way. The face markings for each individual is an excellent way to convey a militaristic race of birdmen who often demonstrate pride in their species. We can see the practice of tribal face painting in our own human history across various cultures too, what are the odds? It mimics the homogeneity of most militaries with the small changes an individual adds to their uniform, ya know the stuff that’s for them. Most Turians have life expectancies close to humans, give or take ~50 years or so (please note that at this point a fair amount of humans live to be about 150 on average). They established Citadel security (C-Sec), which is essentially the police force for the Citadel. I’d say that the way they fit into the galaxy and stand out amongst the rest is by being the wielder of its greatest Navy, one that none can match in stratagem. If you need a general or a fleet, you contact the Turians. What’s really neat about the designs of their ships is how everything boasts a long nose or prow. It mimics the beaks present with their species, how neat! Everything looks agile and refined to operate, all without sacrificing power. The Dreadnought class ship resembles a sword as well, pretty rad if you ask me. Of all the Turians though, if you really had to ask me, none in the world of Mass Effect are as cool as my main Turian, Garrus Vakarian.
I guess this is a good a time move onto the next council race, the Asari.
Like the video addressed, the Asari are the world’s answer to the hot green alien Sci-fi trope, except blue and way more interesting. The Asari are a race of mono-gendered humanoid aliens. They’re one of the few races who’s life expectancies are centuries long, much like the Krogan, whom I’ll address later. Because of their long lives, they’re societal practices and general culture is based around this. Their lives can be broken down into three stages: Maiden, Matron and Matriarch. To keep it simple: Maiden stage is for adolescent exploration, Matron is for settling down, and Matriarch is serving your community. Pretty neat, right? One of the coolest things hands down about the Asari is their ability meld their minds with other organics. We’re talking reaching new levels of intimacy that make me question whether holding hands and saying “I love you” will ever be enough. For them it’s equivalent to mating in a sense, except they don’t require physical contact to do so. They always, and I mean always, create another Asari when reproducing. It’ll still have characteristics of the “father,” but that’s about it. Imagine that, huh? Some whack stuff, but I love it. As a bonus here for ya, they’re more disposed to being able to use Biotic abilities. Ya know, the space magic I mentioned earlier? There’s more I can say about their species, culture, and much more, but again for another time perhaps. Who’s my favorite Asari? That’s an easy one, it’s Dr. Liara T’Soni!
I’ll touch briefly on the designs of the starships. If you look at them, they resemble marine life from our Earth. This makes sense based on the origins of their designs. Most of their ships resemble a manta ray. Let me know if you agree. Moving on now to the Salarians.
The Salarians are an oddity among the other council races. They have the shortest life expectancy and we’re talking short, like about ~40 human years on average. They come off as restless and hyperactive a lot of the time and that’s due to their high-speed metabolism, which is directly responsible for their short lifespan. Going back on the restless and hyperactive part, these traits are what enable them to be excellent researchers and scientists. Not only that though, they’re also very well versed in the practice of espionage. There’s an organization called the Special Tasks Group (STG) that functions similarly to the CIA or NSA (for those in America) in which they’re responsible for monitoring developing situations and taking necessary action, usually without the shackles of traditional laws and procedures. What’s neat about this is that after the Krogan Rebellions another program, the Spectre program, is established by the Council using the STG as a template. How cool! The Salarians also have a close political relationship with the Turians thanks to their efforts during the Krogan Rebellions.
You know what’s probably the most interesting thing about the Salarians though? In every war they’ve fought, they’ve struck first and without warning. The Salarians believe that a war should be won before it begins, similar to the doctrine presented by some of the greatest human generals, like Sun Tzu. Because of this belief they come off as amoral to others, but in reality they just seize opportunities to be efficient more often than others. Speaking of seizing opportunities, you know who my favorite Salarian is? The very model of a scientist Salarian, Dr. Mordin Solus.
Let’s move on and talk about the last alien species I’ll address in this post; the Krogans.
So I’ve mentioned the Rachni Wars earlier and the Krogan Rebellions a few times, so now let’s actually talk about the Krogan. Born on Tuchanka, the Krogan evolved under the harsh conditions present on their planet. They developed thick hides and second, even third sets of major organs. Fun Fact: a common piece of slang among Krogan is to refer to their “quads”. For example: saying someone doesn’t have the quads instead of stating they don’t have the balls. How about that for a fun fact haha. They also live to be over a century old, similar to the Asari, as mentioned earlier. Ya know, if they can live long enough. Overtime their society began to firmly hold onto the doctrine of natural selection. You can see it in their ritual practices, which I’ll cover some of briefly: When a Krogan is born, he suffers the Rite of Life. When he comes of age, he undergoes the Rite of Passage. If he wishes to be considered for breeding, he must take the Rite of Honor. Pretty cool, huh? You know what’s not cool? As their society became more technologically advanced, so did their weaponry. Here’s the thing, if Krogan love anything, it’s fighting and because of this they destroyed their homeworld in a nuclear war that reduced their race into primitive warring tribes. Yup, for real. Kind of tragic if you ask me. Speaking of tragic, what about their history with the other races? Well that’s a whole can of worms that we don’t have time for, BUT I will leave you with a tl;dr about it.
The Krogan were “uplifted” into galactic society by the Salarians to fight in the Rachni Wars. Then after helping win the war, they started to breed hard and the Turians started to lose colonies as the Krogans expanded. The Turians pushed back which led to the Krogan Rebellions. You know what ended the rebellions? The Salarians giving the Turians this biological weapon referred to as the “Genophage.” This genetic “infection” dramatically reduced the fertility in Krogan females, causing a severe drop in births. We’re talking the odds of a successful birth being now 1 in 2,000. Yikes. Well needless to say they stopped rebelling. If we stop and think about this all for a moment, what did the Salarians and other races think was going to happen? You forced an alien race into a societal status they did not earn nor knew how to handle. Did they just think they were going to be big dumb idiots who only knew how to shoot a blaster and then just would be chill once it was all over? The hubris, I tell ya. Despite the nature of Krogans they can be generally loveable. This is one I have a bias towards since I’ve spent time with the characters in the game, but I can’t help it. Here, I’ll tell let you know of one that I adore. Tank-bred, but still worthy to be of Clan Urdnot and that’s Urdnot Grunt.
I think that’s enough for now, let’s wrap this post up!
And That’s Just a Small Amount of The World
There’s something incredible about the world in the Mass Effect games and that’s EVERTHING I mentioned in this post is all lore that takes place prior to the start of the very first game in the trilogy. The first game starts around ~2183 CE and if you recall earlier, it was in 2149 CE when humanity discovered the Sol System’s Mass Effect relay. The story within the trilogy goes from 2183 to about 2186 CE, so everything I covered and also eluded to lasts marginally longer than the actual games. That’s whack and it’s why I love the world so much. The creative team behind these games went and fleshed out an entire galaxy, just for me. I mean us, just for us. I think writing this post has convinced me that I should do a “history of Mass Effect” at some point. I think it’d be very fun and a great opportunity flex my knowledge. Also, there’s a handful of other alien races that I didn’t cover. I’ll have to get back to that, I had a blast writing this up for you all and hope it came off coherently enough. If not, then there’s always next time! Let me know what you thought, I’d love to discuss Mass Effect with anyone who’s willing. For now though, there’s more nerdin’ out to be had elsewhere. I should go.