Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mass Effect: Ascension Review

Mass Effect, though having its flaws, has proven to be one of the best games available on the Xbox 360 console. A thoroughly engaging sci-fi action RPG, BioWare's space epic wove one of the greatest video game stories I've ever experienced, complete with deep characters, expansive plot, and story arcs rarely seen in even the largest Hollywood blockbuster.

One point that made Mass Effect so unique, was that it's one of the few games prequeled by a novel. Mass Effect: Revelation (reviewed here) was published about 6 months prior to Mass Effect's release, and was written by BioWare's own writer/designer, Drew Karpyshyn, the brains behind Mass Effect's universe.

Mass Effect: Revelation was fascinating because we got to experience the universe and read all about the different species and politics before having even touched the game. It detailed critical information about the rivalry between Captain Anderson and Saren, and gave us a solid taste of the events that would unfold within Mass Effect, and I very much approve of this kind of cross media for a franchise.

Mass Effect: Revelation also introduced us to Kahlee Sanders, a scientist on the run for her part in illegal AI research, and a character who became very important to Captain Anderson himself.

A few weeks back, the second Mass Effect novel was published, this one entitled Mass Effect: Ascension, and like it's predecessor, it's an excellent read by Mr. Karpyshyn and also forshadows many things I hope we'll see in the next Mass Effect game.

Kahlee Sanders makes her return, now about 20 years later (give or take), and we find that she's left the Human Systems Alliance and is persuing an independant career on the Ascension Project, a joint civilian/military effort to create a proper and humane program for human children gifted with biotics (psionics) to learn and master their unique skills.

The Ascension Project's most unique and potentially gifted student is a young girl named Gillian Grayson, who suffers from autism and spends most of her life shutting the world out. Unfortunately, Gillian also has roots with Cerberus, an pro-Human group determined to see Humanity rise to the top of the galactic chain via their clandestine operations.

I found that Mass Effect: Ascension starts off slowly, and admitadly it's a little boring at first, but it does build and takes off at a great pass roughly 100 pages in, taking us away from the Ascension Project and exploring many other aspects of the Mass Effect universe, most only glimpsed in the game and prequel novel.

Not only is Cerberus, the elusive black-ops organization encountered on many Assignments in Mass Effect ever present (and greatly expanded upon), but the Quarians are prominantly featured, and so much about their culture and lifestyle is revealed. I thought Tali'Zorah nar Rayya was one of the deeper characters from the game, and I was quite interested to find out all these details about her nomadic species. Want to know why all Quarian names are so bloody long? Well you're going to find out!

We also get to explore the lawless Terminus System, non-Citadel, unregulated space filled with slavers and mercenaries that is mentioned but only quickly passed through during the game, and are introduced, though not in person, to a completely new and potentially dangerous species (and I do wonder if they're connected to the Reapers...).

One question many of you may be asking is that since this novel takes place after Mass Effect, how does it deal with the multiple endings you could have experienced in the game? What happened to the Council, what gender is Shepard, what's the fallout between the Alliance and the Citadel? Well, I'm not going to spoil it for you here, but suffice it to say that Karpyshyn deals with all these events in such a simple way that everything is still left open, which fits with the open ended nature that BioWare wants to allow for its upcoming Mass Effect sequel.

Will you need to read this novel to understand the next Mass Effect game? Likely not, but like Mass Effect: Revelation, I expect those who do will have a much greater understanding of the overall storyline, which can only add to the enjoyment.

So is Mass Effect: Ascension a good read? On it's own marets, it's a strong action sci-fi novel that will appeal to any sci-fi fan, but as part of the whole, as a part of the Mass Effect universe itself, it is an excellent expansion to the wealth of knoweldge already present.

No comments: