The final game in the Mass Effect trilogy, Mass Effect 3, will be released in March. But if you’re a big fan of the first two games then the remaining two-month wait might seem like an eternity. There’s more to the Mass Effect franchise than the two main games though. There’s a whole range of spin-off material that you might not have looked at, including an iPhone game and numerous novels and comicbooks. I’ve decided to go through them and assess whether they’re worth your money – perhaps you’ll find something to help sate your Mass Effect craving until the big day in March.
Novel – Mass Effect Revelation: The first Mass Effect spin-off came out months before the first game had even been released. Revelation is a prequel that sets up the characters of Saren and David Anderson and provides a bit of backstory. It’s competently written, although as it was released before the first game it contains explanations of concepts you’ll already be familiar with (if you’re new to the series, you’re still better of starting with the first game so you can visualise things like the appearances of the alien races properly). While it isn’t War and Peace, it is well-paced, and benefits from being written by Mass Effect‘s lead writer.
iPhone game – Mass Effect Galaxy: Mass Effect Galaxy is an iPhone game that helps establish the characters of Jacob and Miranda from the upcoming-at-the-time Mass Effect 2. To be honest, it’s probably one of the weakest Mass Effect products, with mediocre (but not particularly broken or frustrating) gameplay and only a short campaign. It also lacks support for the Retina Display of later iPhone models. It’s cheap though, and at the time of writing you can buy it from the App Store for 69p.
Novel – Mass Effect Ascension: This novel supplants one of the main characters from the first novel into a new setting. It introduces characters and concepts from Mass Effect 2 – Cerberus and the Illusive Man feature heavily as the plot revolves around Cerberus’ attempts to capture a powerful young biotic. As with the first novel, I wouldn’t read this until after you’ve begun playing Mass Effect 2. Again, it’s hardly a Booker Prize candidate, but it’s an entertaining time-filler.
Comicbook – Mass Effect Redemption: Story-wise, Redemption is probably the most essential piece of spin-off material. It fills in the gap in Mass Effect 2‘s story, between Shepard’s death and his resurrection by Cerberus. The art is good and the looks of the various alien races have been captured perfectly. I’d strongly recommend reading this before playing Mass Effect 2‘s Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC as there is a fair bit of continuity between the two.
Novel – Mass Effect Retribution: Unlike the previous two novels, Retribution feels like a continuation of the previous book rather than a standalone story. The plot involves the Illusive Man capturing the father of the young biotic from the previous novel and experimenting on him with Reaper technology. Whereas the previous novels led into the next instalment of the game series, Retribution doesn’t particularly connect to Mass Effect 3 in any currently-discernible way (although one of the Cerberus characters, Kai Leng, has been confirmed to be making an appearance in the game). Despite the Mass Effect story’s imminent end, Retribution’s plot lacks focus and it’s the weakest of the novels so far. A fourth novel is due soon – it’s hard to see whether this will tie into Mass Effect 3 or whether the novel line will have a discrete conclusion without tying back into the main plot. I hope it’s the former as up until now all the Mass Effect media has been contributing to a single epic story, and it’d be a shame if the novels diverged and ultimately had no effect on the overall Mass Effect tale.
Comicbook – Mass Effect Evolution: Chronologically, this is the earliest story set in the Mass Effect universe so far. It reveals the background of the Illusive Man and how he came to be the leader of Cerbeus. The art is attractive and I’d go as far as to say it’s slightly superior to the art in Redemption. The story is OK (among other things it introduces the turian homeworld of Palaven ahead of its appearance in Mass Effect 3), although it has a slightly awkward they-knew-each-other-when-they-were-younger thing going on, with a young Illusive Man bumping into the primary antagonist from the first game, Saren. Despite the awkward continuity references, it’s another solid addition to the Mass Effect franchise, and the collected paperback contains a couple of short comic stories as well.
The Mass Effect series’ extra material is pretty solid, and benefits from being plotted by the writers of the games. Whereas fans of the over-extended Star Wars series have to put up with rubbish like Jedi Twilight, a novel about a private-investigator Jedi, here we have a handful of stories feeding into a single coherent plotline. Although some of the spin-offs are better than others, if you’re desperate for a Mass Effect fix before March, you can’t go too wrong.