I’m now deep into Mass Effect 2, and so far, I’m liking it a lot. I played the first game release week as well and liked it fine at the time, but I replayed it recently and enjoyed it more the second time around. I think in part that was because I was more familiar with the fictional world that Bioware has created for its sci-fi series. The more I knew, the more engrossing the story became. With that experience in mind, I decided to read the novel, Mass Effect: Ascension before diving into the new game. I’ve only read a handful of video game novels, but I liked that the author Drew Karpyshyn was also a designer on the game because it signaled to me that the book’s events were likely to be fully integrated into the canon of the games.
Mass Effect: Ascension takes place in between the events of the first and second games and features as one of its main characters Kahlee, who also featured in the other Mass Effect novel, Revelation. Here she finds herself at a facility for training young Biotics (those with psychic powers) and is particularly focused on a young girl named Gillian, who is autistic and has the potential to be a powerful Biotic.
I’m not going to discuss any more about the book’s plot. It’s a solid action/adventure thriller that’s a pleasant page turner. But I rushed through it so that I’d be done before I started Mass Effect 2, and I’m glad I did because it gives me some perspective and background on things in the new game that I might not otherwise have had. So here are my Things to Know from Mass Effect: Ascension:
The Illusive Man
The Illusive Man is voiced by Martin Sheen in Mass Effect 2, so you know he’s important. He’s also the driving force behind Shepherd’s actions in the beginning of the game. There’s plenty of reason to be suspicious of him in the game as is, but there’s even more reason to distrust him if you’ve read Ascension, in which he is featured, basically, as the bad guy pulling all the strings. In the book, we get a look at him and his covert ops agency, Cerberus, in action before they take center stage. Of course, Cerberus was revealed as being behind all kinds of dubious and dangerous activities in the first game, but here we see their motivations. Knowing the Illusive Man from his cold-hearted “ends justify the means” attitude in this book, I’m a lot more wary of dealing with him in game. He’s an interesting character and the book leaves room for ambiguity. It’s clear that he has some evil agents in his employ and I definitely don’t approve of his methods, but he’s not quite a cut and dried villain. He’s certainly no Saren.
Omega in the Terminus System
A large chunk of the book is set on a sort of asteroid/space station called Omega. It’s like the dark image of The Citadel from the first game — an ancient site now inhabited by aliens from all over the galaxy. However, instead of trying to preserve civilization, Omega serves as a place that people can escape from it. It’s your classic pirate’s paradise, in which there are no rules or laws unless you can enforce them yourself. Omega is in Mass Effect 2, but we learn from Ascension just how lawless a place it can be. The version of Omega in the book seems more open than the corridors and tunnels of the game. There’s a lot of climbing around on rooftops that doesn’t seem like it could happen in the Omega that my virtual Commander Shepherd just explored, which makes for a slight disconnect.
The Collectors themselves never make an appearance in Ascension, but they are talked about quite a bit. They play a much larger role in the new game. From the book, however, we learn some interesting facts. They’ve been around for a long, long time but keep a very low profile. They also trade hyper-advanced technology in exchange for living beings from various species. It’s a morbid deal to be sure, but the book points out that a lot of technological advances that spread throughout the galaxy first come into circulation via this “flesh for tech” black market.
The Quarian Migrant Fleet
The Quarians always wear enviro suits and were exemplified in the first game by the squad member, Talia. They play a large role in the novel, and we learn a great deal about Quarian culture. They’re a race in exile, driven to flee by their own creations, the Geth. Basically, they have the same back story as the one that underlies Battlestar Galactica. As a race with no home world, they survive on a constantly roving fleet of starships. Ascension takes us aboard one of these ships, and we see the Quarian philosophy of property (“each according to his need”) in action. We also learn that a faction in Quarian politics wants to try and gain control of the Reapers so that they can re-establish themselves over the Geth. That sounds like a very bad idea to me and an issue that I think will make an appearance in the game at some point.
An uber-powerful, 12-year-old, autistic Biotic, she’s the end result of experimentation by the Illusive Man. Without giving away details of the book’s finale, it’s entirely possible that she’ll show up in some capacity within Mass Effect 2. And while creepy little psychic girls are a little overused in games, I’m not sure how much time has passed between the book and the game. She could be all grown up and deadly now. I think Bioware must have plans for her, so be on the look out and make sure you don’t make her angry. She tends to crush people with her Biotics when she’s upset.