Sunday, August 15, 2010
Mass Effect: Retribution Review
Set shortly after the events of Mass Effect 2, the latest novel, Mass Effect: Retribution, continues the story of Sanders and Grayson; the two main characters from the Mass Effect: Ascension.
The Collectors have been defeated at the hands of Commander Shepard, and Cerberus has obtained some valuable Reaper-based technology. The Illusive Man, always prepared to make sacrifices for the "greater good," knows that the Reapers are coming and the galaxy is unprepared for them. Studies must be done and knowledge must be gained to know thy enemy, and with this in mind, he plans to continue the Collector's experiments on a select group of humans, beginning with Grayson.
Two years ago, Paul Grayson betrayed Cerberus to save his daughter, and he now lives on Omega under an assumed name working for Aria T'Loak, the infamous Pirate Queen. The Illusive Man never forgets a betrayal and is patient, very patient, in balancing his books, and he sees in Grayson an opportunity for both revenge and a means to test this new technology on one deemed "expendable." The trick is he needs to find Grayson first.
Enter a new Cerberus agent, Kai Leng, an assassin of unparalleled skill, who is tasked with tracking down and abducting Grayson. Unknown to the Illusive Man, however, is that Grayson has kept in touch with Kahlee Sanders, a key Alliance rep working on the Ascension Project, and someone who was instrumental in saving Grayson's daughter. When Grayson goes missing, Sanders turns to Admiral David Anderson for assistance to track him down, and to try and deal a strong blow to Cerberus.
Like the novels before it, Mass Effect: Retribution greatly expands upon the lore of the Mass Effect universe, and key events unfold that will undoubtedly have a strong impact on Mass Effect 3. Author Drew Karpyshyn is careful to tiptoe around the events of the games themselves, allowing players to experience the Mass Effect story in their own way, but some things are unavoidable.
While it was not revealed which choice Shepard made to stop the Collectors, or which crew members of the Normandy lived or died, it is shown that Udina is a member of what appears to be a new Council and that Anderson is his adviser. So sadly, if you completed Mass Effect with the Council surviving or appointed Anderson to the Council, it looks like your Mass Effect story is not canon. While understandable that some concessions such as these need to be made to tell a more rigid story such as novels present, it is regrettable because it really does cast into light that there is an official story to the universe and yours might be incorrect, though no less enjoyable.
In Mass Effect: Retribution, we learn a great deal more about the Cerberus organization and the Illusive Man's base of operations. More is revealed about Aria and Omega, and Admirial Anderson will never be the same again. I'm quite interested to see how he'll be represented in Mass Effect 3 and what position the Alliance will be in. We also learn a great deal more about the Reaper's means of turning someone into one of their agents. Not a mindless Husk, mind you, but an actual thinking, agile operative akin to Saren himself. Very fascinating.
Mass Effect: Retribution is an excellent novel to further the lore of the universe. While not essential reading, as I'm sure it'll be summarized in the next game like the previous two novels were, reading through this book will no doubt help provide you with greater clarity of what you've already experienced and perhaps even give you hints of what's to come. It is very tied into the games themselves, an extension of the main narrative, and the book deals with key characters and situations in such a way that they must be reflected in Mass Effect 3, and I don't just mean a casual mention or a journal entry.
Its integration with the main story that really helps to elevate the Mass Effect novels over other game related fiction and why any true fan of the franchise will pour over them again and again.