For as much as I love to talk about video games, I haven’t been playing them all that long. I wasn’t one of those kids that grew up with a Dreamcast or a Playstation. My parents were convinced that video games rotted your brain and so it took years of begging for my brother and I to get anything more complicated than a Gameboy. Even then, it was my brother’s and I usually filled the role of game guide reader and good luck charm. Maybe that’s why when I finally moved out and lived on my own, I dove headfirst into the world of console gaming. I distinctly remember the game that made me fall in love with role playing games: Mass Effect. The idea that I could create my own version of the badass Commander Shepherd and take her on epic journeys across space fired both my imagination and intense excitement. It’s a series that I’ve played so often that I almost have the entire saga memorized. So given that the creators of the Mass Effect series have given us a trailer saying goodbye to Commander Shepherd in honor of their annual celebration of the series, known as N7 Day, I thought it was a perfect time to read some of the graphic novels based on the series. I’ll specifically be looking at three volumes: Redemption, Evolution and Invasion. All three are written by Mac Walters (the leader writer of Mass Effect 2 and 3) and John Jackson Miller and illustrated by Omar Francia.
It’s difficult to give a clear synopsis of all three volumes because they each contain a different story within the overall series timeline. It also requires a basic description of Mass Effect for any who haven’t played the games before. Mass Effect takes place in the not-too-far future in which humanity has become fully space-faring and technologically advanced after the discovery of artifacts and other alien races out in the galaxy. The game places the player in the role of Commander Shepherd, a military leader who ends up in charge of a ship of both alien and human crew mates and who must stop the arrival of an incredibly technologically advanced artificial intelligence that aims to wipe out all organic life. Throughout the series, Shepherd is constantly gathering crew mates to help stop the Reaper menace. The story gets darker and more difficult for Shepherd as the games advance and the ending was controversially vague. However, the relationships built between the characters and the galaxy wide world building were incredibly immersive. Mass Effect: Redemption, Evolution and Invasion concern three main stories stretching from before the events of Mass Effect 1 to the end of Mass Effect 2. Redemption covers Liara T’Soni’s efforts to recover Commander Shepherd’s body at the beginning of the second game, Evolution covers the origin of the Illusive Man who acts as both ally and enemy to Shepherd over the course of the series and Invasion covers Aria’s fight with the pro-Human group Cerberus over the Omega space station that she calls home.
While not completely bad, these Mass Effect volumes fall into the trap of so many tie-in graphic novels. It tries so hard to appeal to the fans of an incredibly popular and well received videogame series that it ends up feeling like a marketing ploy. Some of the stories just felt like a way of getting fans to spend money by saying, “Hey, look, didn’t you love this character?!” To give them credit, Invasion was well done and easily the most compelling of the three. Aria has long been an interesting character and having to help her in Mass Effect 3 only further strengthened that. I enjoyed getting to see exactly what had happened to her between Mass Effect 2 and 3.