Mass Effect: Taking a Look Back at Shepard's Tale

written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

With Mass Effect Andromeda just getting released, we at Lifted Geek wanted to run through the original trilogy. You gotta know where you’ve been before taking steps forward to where you are going. I won’t get too into crazy detail here since the series as a whole is quite expansive but I will distill what I can from the games and various other media such as books and comics while doing my damndest not to ramble on too much… a worthwhile endeavor since we all know how I like to ramble in my articles. I also need to add that the choices you have to make during the game vary, I will try to point out points where the player is given the choice of an outcome.

Starting with the first game in the series, Mass Effect, we are introduced to a world where humanity has stepped up to the greater galactic populace after discovering a Mass Relay. Mass Relays are essentially like super-powered sling shots that are capable of launching a ship clear across the galaxy at faster-than-light (FTL) speeds. I won’t get too far into the science behind it since most of it is sci-fi jargon, but basically imagine something like a teleporter. Connecting the various species in the galaxy is the Citadel, a massive space station that acts like the central hub for the galaxy’s space-faring species. The human alliance is yet to stand among the three main council races, but when an Alliance Marine responds to a distress call on Eden Prime… the epic tale of Commander Shepard begins. Shepard hits the ground running and learns that the Geth, a race of sentient machines created by the Quarians, have attacked the human colony with vicious tenacity. Shepard discovers an artifact on Eden Prime left behind by the Protheans, a race that predates the series narrative by some 50,000 years, and receives a chilling vision from the artifact depicting organics being killed and conquered by synthetics.

the Citadel, the center of the Galactic government

the Citadel, the center of the Galactic government

Discovering that the Geth are actually led by Saren Arterius, a Council Spectre, Shepard launches an investigation into Saren and his massive warship and is given the esteemed honor of being the first Human Spectre appointed by the council. This is a big step forward for humanity and for Commander Shepard. Previously, Shepard’s commanding officer David Anderson was originally considered for the role; though after working with Saren and discovering an illegal AI research lab with Kahlee Sanders (from the Mass Effect: Revelation novel) Anderson was blackballed from joining the Spectres, instead pining his hopes on Shepard.

Joining Shepard on his journey is a full cast of unlikely heroes. Garrus Vakarian is a former C-Sec (Citadel Security) officer hell bent on tracking down Saren, Wrex is a Krogan bounty hunter acting as Shep’s muscle, Tali’Zorah nar Rayya is a young Quarian on her pilgrimage, Dr. Liara T’Soni is an expert on Prothean civilization, and rounding out the cast are Alliance soldiers Kaidan Alenko and Ashley Williams. Thanks to assuming command of the Alliance’s brand spanking new ship the Normandy, Shepard’s exploits take him all over the galaxy as they hunt for any clues as to what Saren is planning. It’s during this journey that the team discovers who is truly pulling the strings. On a mission to destroy Saren’s base on Virmire, Shepard and company discover that Saren’s ship is actually a Reaper. According to the lore, the Reapers are a race of sentient dreadnought sized starships who wipe out space-faring synthetic life every 50,000 years, they also have the unique ability to indoctrinate their agents to their will… something they did to turn Saren to their cause. They are the ones responsible for the extinction of the Protheans along with countless races before them, their absence in between cycles can be attributed to the Reapers residing in Dark Space until they return. During the bombing of Saren’s facility, Shepard is left with a catch-22 decision that forces him to pick between leaving either Kaidan Alenko or Ashley Williams to die on Virmire. 

Down a crew-mate, Shepard’s team discover that Saren plans to launch an attack on the Citadel; how he plans to get there is via a Mass Relay hidden on Ilos, a lost world from the age of the Protheans. The relay on Ilos would send Saren and his Geth directly into the heart of the Citadel, allowing the Rogue Spectre to serve up the Council to Sovereign, his Reaper overlord. This plan doesn’t go accordingly for Sovereign, Shepard kills Saren and thanks to a coordinated effort by the Alliance the Citadel is saved. The Council is either sacrificed or saved but regardless, the end result is a seat opening up on the Council for humanity (given either to the politician Udina or Shep’s commanding officer David Anderson). With the Reaper’s coming, Shepard realizes that this fight is just getting started.

After the battle of the Citadel, the Alliance tasks Shepard and the Normandy crew to track down Geth, still believing they are the threat. It’s here that the Collectors, a race of insect-like humanoids, attack the Normandy… destroying it and killing Commander Shepard in the process. We don’t get back to Shep for another two years, but in-between we get acquainted with Cerberus… a pro-human group often labeled as xenophobic fanatics at best, terrorists at worst.

it was criminal how [Kahlee Sanders] was under utilized in the game’s narrative

Before the events of Mass Effect 2, Cerberus and their enigmatic leader the Illusive Man lay the groundwork for their fight against the Reapers. One such endeavor (from the novel Mass Effect: Ascension) has them exploiting a young but powerful Biotic who also happens to be the daughter of Cerberus field-agent Paul Grayson. Once again introducing Kahlee Sanders, Gillian and Kahlee flee from Cerberus on the Quarian Flotilla. This doesn’t end well with Cerberus bombing a Flotilla ship, but Grayson does have a change of heart… he turns Gillian over to Kahlee and enrolls her in the Alliance’s Ascension project. After Shepard’s death, the enigmatic Shadow Broker recovers Shepard’s body with intentions to sell it to the Collectors, Dr. Liara T’Soni is contacted by Cerberus to recover Shep’s remains and turn them over to Cerberus… claiming they have the technology to bring him back… and it’s here we get back to Shepard.

Cerberus spent two years reviving Shepard, bringing him back to life with once again a mix of sci-fi tech jargon, most of which require a level of disbelief suspension just to make heads or tails of it. Through the Lazarus project, a highly classified mix of high-tech cybernetics and a cocktail of phoenix downs and medi-gel, Cerberus develops a formula to bring back not just “A” Commander Shepard but “THE” Commander Shepard. Memories, personalities, skills in tact. Cerberus was adamant that if they were going to stand a chance against what’s to come, they need Commander Shepard.

Human colonies in the Terminus System are vanishing and Cerberus tasked Shepard with discovering just who or what is abducting humans. This leads Shepard to discovering that the Collectors, as agents of the Reapers, and abducting these people. They discover that the Collectors hair from beyond the Omega 4 Relay, the game’s codex states that no ship has ever returned from a trip through and most likely this was going to be a suicide mission. The Illusive Man tasks Shepard wth assembling a team of operatives, some familiar faces but mostly new team members. Shep even gets a brand new Normandy, dubbed the Normandy SR2, complete with a larger floor-plan and a sophisticated AI.

paragon or renegade, (MALE) Shepard is arguably bad ass

paragon or renegade, (MALE) Shepard is arguably bad ass

 We first met Miranda Lawson and Jacob Taylor, Cerberus operatives who were stationed at the Lazerus Project. Returning to Team Shep are Garrus and Tali, the former operating as the vigilante Archangel on Omega with the later taking on a Commander role amongst her people. Everyone else is new to the team; Drell assassin Thane Krios, bad-ass biotic Jack, Asari Justicar Samara, former Salarian Special Tasks Group member Mordin Solus, Warlord Okeer’s pure Krogan clone Grunt, infamous tech specialist Kasumi Goto, former leader of the Blue Suns Zaeed Massani, and a friendly Geth who labels the Geth from Mass Effect 1 as heretics dubbed Legion. It’s a packed crowd and depending on your choices one, two, or all of them could die on the suicide mission.

Shepard and Cerberus have an uneasy relationship through most of the narrative, regardless of whether you play Paragon or Renegade. Despite this, the fact remains that Human colonies are vanishing and the only group willing to do anything is Cerberus… terrorist accusations be damned. This leads the team down a very dark path as they learn what the Collectors intend to do with all the abducted colonists. When Team Shepard is reunited with the Virmire Survivor (Kaidan/Ashley) after half a colony is abducted, regardless of their previous relationship Kaidan/Ashley initially distrusts Shepard and questions Shep’s loyalty to the Alliance.

Eventually, the team learns the chilling truth behind the Collectors; they were once the Protheans. Genetically modified extensively over the span of 50,000 years… the Collectors are barely even a shell of the people they came from. Team Shep also learns that on the other side of the Omega 4 relay is the Galactic Core, where the Collector base sits at the edge of a black hole. The only way to survive is to install a Reaper IFF on to the Normandy which allows the ship to follow a safety path to the base. They after the Team recovers a Reaper IFF from a derelict Reaper corpse, they take the shuttle to a never expanded upon mission… it’s here that tragedy strikes the Normandy. After installing the Reaper IFF, the ship begins transmitting a signal to the Collectors and while Shepard and company are off the ship, everyone save for Joker get taken by the Collectors. 

Mass Effect 2 also featured some extensive DLC to further expand on the story. While Project Overlord tasked Shep with taking down a rogue VI, the Lair of the Shadow Broker and the Arrival DLC both add considerably to the events to come. In Lair of the Shadow Broker, Shep and company help Liara to take down the Shadow Broker once and for all. After killing the enigmatic figure, Liara assumes the role of Shadow Broker… a role that greatly lends to Shepard’s war effort in Mass Effect 3. With The Arrival DLC, Shepard infiltrates a base run by Alliance officials who were indoctrinated by a Reaper artifact. Originally they were going to stop an early invasion by crashing an asteroid into the Mass Relay. After Shep tears through the entire project, Shepard is forced to crash the asteroid into the relay with minutes remaining… destroying the relay but also costing the lives of the Batarian colonists living in the system.

the Reapers

the Reapers

Set to get their team back, the trip through the Omega 4 Relay could spell the end for any of your party members depending on your choices. Infiltrating the Collector base, they learn that the Collectors are melting their Human captives down to a sludgey grey goop, why though is something that horrifies everyone. The Collectors are creating a Human Reaper, utilizing the DNA of hundreds of people to create an abomination. Of course Shep destroys it and is given the choice to either destroy the Collector base or detonate a controlled radioactive burst to kill the Collectors but keep the facility in tact for Cerberus… once again it’s a choice that can affect you in Mass Effect 3.

After the end of Mass Effect 2, Shepard is grounded and set to stand trial for what he did during the Arrival DLC (killing thousands of Batarian colonists). But before that, we need to touch a bit on Cerberus again. Grayson returns, now working for Aria T’Loak under the assumed name Paul Johnson. Kahlee returns and is reunited with Andersonwhen Grayson is captured by Cerberus and experimented on, imbedding him with Reaper tech in an effort to learn a way to control the Reapers. Grayson loses his life but his body proves invaluable to the Alliance. Aria T’Loak loses control of Omega shortly after to General Oleg Petrovsky, something she plans to rectify. But anyway, back to Mass Effect 3.

The Reapers have landed, after decimating Earth an emboldened and reinstated Commander Shepard is sent to request aid from the council races. Before heading to the Citadel though, Shepard is tasked with meeting Liara T’Soni on the Prothean Archives of Mars. Here they discover that the Protheans had built a weapon to help combat the Reapers but they ran out of time before they could complete it. Cerberus returns as one of the main antagonists, with the Illusive Man claiming he could control the Reapers to exert humanity’s dominance over the galaxy. The experiments Cerberus used on Grayson also seem to have been refined with much of their ground troops similarly augmented by Reaper tech.

Joining Shepard again is a cast of old favorites with some new faces. The Virmire Survivor (Kaidan/Ashley) join Shep along with Alliance Marine James Vega. As for the familiar faces, Garrus and Tali once again jump into the fire… provided they survived the suicide mission from Mass Effect 2. Aside from James Vega, two other new party members join in Javik and EDI. Javik is a Prothean, awoken from generations of sleep and stands as the last member of a long dead race. EDI, yes the ship AI EDI, gets a sexy robo body. The cast is much smaller than that of Mass Effect 2 but on part with the size of the Mass Effect team.

(FEMALE) Shepard with Ash if she survives Virmire in Mass Effect 3

(FEMALE) Shepard with Ash if she survives Virmire in Mass Effect 3

The garner aid, Shepard is tasked with undertaking missions for the council races… some of which will have you choosing between one or the other but in some cases allows you to get both sides to have your cake and eat it too. The Geth and Quarians are at war, if Legion and Tali survive the suicide mission… and your paragon levels are high enough… you can gain the aid of both the Quarians and the Geth. The Salarians and Krogan have a similar decision, forcing you cure the Genophage but lose Salarian aid… or to betray some of your closes friends, that is if you cared about Wrex and Grunt… to get that Salarian aid. The Turians and Asari all have various missions that involve helping their homeworld, along with much of your former team members offering aid to the war effort if they survived.

Kahlee Sanders is someone I’ve mentioned all though this piece because honestly I felt it was criminal how she was under utilized in the game's narrative. But during a mission to Grissom Academy, we finally get to meet Kahlee Sanders and if we save her kids, add some strong but young Biotics to your war assets.

Honestly, Mass Effect 3 was all about gather war assets. The scale wasn’t as epic but this was nearing the end of the war. The game’s DLC introduced some interesting war assets. The Omega DLC has Shepard help Aria reclaim Omega, afterward she unites the gangs (Blue Sons, Blood Pack, Eclipse) to join the war effort as Aria’s army. The Leviathan DLC has Shepard searching for a long forgotten race, the Leviathan were a sea-faring race with the ability to indoctrinate organics. The Reapers Sovereign and Harbinger were likely created from the genetic makeup of the Leviathan. The final DLC had Shepard and the gang catch a little shore leave before the final battle but also track down a Shepard clone who’s gone rogue.

At the end of it all, the battle goes back to Earth… and that is where I plan to end this. Personally, Mass Effect 3 was my least favortie narrative wise but my favorite gameplay wise. The final decision boiled down to either controlling the Reapers, destroying the Reapers but also destroying all synthetic life… like EDI and the Geth, and synergy with synthetics creating a synergy between organic and synthetic life, in effect giving both equal parts. None of them were truly compelling and no matter which end you pick, Shepard dies.

So with that, Mass Effect Andromeda is here with a new adventure set in a new galaxy. Kind of like a soft reboot of the series, let’s hope the Ryder twins can live up to Commander Shepard.