Mass Effect: Foundation Volume 1 by Mac Walters
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
The first issue of the Foundation series plays it safe. We get a few backstories for Kaiden, Ashley, and Wrex, set just before the events of Mass Effect 1. There’s a narrative thread that ties all of these stories together in the form of a Cerberus agent that was involved or at least adjacent to the events of the first game, though she never appeared in the game itself.
I’m conflicted on this book. I enjoyed the art style, with its bold colors and clean look. And it was fun to see more of some of my favorites, particularly Wrex. On the other hand, revisiting the events of Mass Effect 1 . . . again . . . makes the universe feel small to me. It reminds me of how the Star Wars expanded universe had to focus on every single aspect of the things that appeared in the movies, and only rarely deviated enough to create entirely new stories and scenarios. I feel like that’s happening here as well; it’s been a very long time since we dealt with Saren the renegade Spectre.
While it’s nice for a bit of nostalgia, there are absolutely no surprises in store aside from learning a bit about Rasa, the Cerberus agent. We know about Kaiden’s biotic school troubles. We know Ashley loses her squad. It’s a prequel story that just checks off the bullet point that it’s supposed to hit.
Foundation Volume 1 plays it safe, and while it doesn’t commit any blunders or flaws (the action is engaging enough and the characters act and sound like their video game versions), hewing so closely to the foundation (heh) of the first game leaves very little room to grow. I’m not sure who would really relish a book like this; even as a completionist and lore nerd, I found it to be rather unnecessary.
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Mass Effect: Homeworlds by Mac Walters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
After the last few forays into the Mass Effect comic series, I’d started to wonder if they weren’t for me. I’m happy to say that Homeworlds, the fourth entry in the series, is an excellent change of course and gets things moving in a direction that I really enjoyed.
We get some backstory scenes for four of Mass Effect 3’s crewmembers: James Vega, Tali, Garrus, and Liara. It was interesting to see how the game universe handles the incredibly deep number of choices, as depending on how you played through Mass Effect 2, it’s possible that up to two of these characters will be gone by the time Mass Effect 3 starts. The story handles it by varying where in the narrative they take place: one is pre-ME 1, one is pre-ME2, and the others are just before ME3. I won’t specify which are which, to avoid spoilers.
It’s great getting to spend time with these characters. The crew members are my (and I imagine most players’) favorite aspect of the Mass Effect universe. It’s fun getting to spend some time with them and to see them operating on their own, outside of the long shadow cast by Commander Shepard (your player character).
There’s so much going on here, however, that it’d be almost impossible for a non-game fan to piece together what’s happening. Normally, that kind of thing rubs me the wrong way; my rule of thumb is that a video game story should be able to stand on its own. But it was so much fun getting to reconnect with a few of my favorites and I enjoyed the stories so much that I’m willing to overlook it.
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Mass Effect: Invasion by Mac Walters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Mass Effect graphic novels continue to be interesting, though like book two of the series, I don’t feel like this book is essential reading. The first book set an incredibly high bar with its focus on what happened to Commander Shepard between the prologue of Mass Effect 2 and the main story. It also focused on Liara, one of my favorite characters, and it was just a great story to boot.
This book focuses on Aria and how she lost control of Omega Station, which is something that becomes a sidequest focus in Mass Effect 3. And while Aria herself is an interesting character, the line this story has to follow is basically a tightrope. There’s very little room for deviation. We know Aria’s going to lose the station. We know we’ll help her take it back. It makes it hard to really feel invested in the struggle. This might also be due to a general ‘meh’ feeling that I have towards Omega itself as a plotline, as the Omega downloadable content (DLC) missions were fairly lackluster.
Still, although this book doesn’t excel, it’s good as a straight-up comic book tale of kicking ass and cool battle art. I really love how biotics are depicted in the comics; even with the hard sci-fi approach that the Mass Effect universe takes, biotics are shown as these incredibly cool space wizards. It’s also been one of my laments about the game narrative, that it can’t be more of a plot point if my Commander Shepard is a biotic (which he always is).
In conclusion, we have a solid, serviceable story, but one that won’t go on to impress. It doesn’t meet the high bar set by its first predecessor, but there’s nothing here that’s absolutely wrong either, the way the novel “Mass Effect: Deception” was so horrifically flawed. That’s one of the fascinating things about the Mass Effect story universe; its tie-in materials have ranged from the amazing to the awful. “Invasion” falls solidly in the middle, and so I don’t mind telling diehard Mass Effect lore aficionados to give it a look even as I tell more casual fans that they’re safe giving this one a pass.
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