Lore in Mass Effect covers the basic aspects of the Universe that are touched in the game. Previous wars, long-time held grudges between Races, or any important event that is mentioned during the game but isn't exactly done by Commander Shepard and the Normandy crew can be found here.
Mass Effect Lore
By the year 2183, mankind has mastered the ability to travel throughout the galaxy at faster-than-light speeds, bringing them in contact with a host of alien races. Now humanity struggles to find its place in the greater galactic community.
As Commander Shepard of the Systems Alliance Military, aboard the spacecraft Normandy, you represent humanity’s first and last line of defense against the strange wonders of a vast and often dangerous galaxy.
Aliens: Non-Sapient Creatures
After the geth secure a location, they round up and impale dead and living bodies on mechanical spikes. The spikes rapidly transform these victims into withered husks, extracting water and trace minerals and replacing them with cybernetics.
The cybernetics re-animate the lifeless flesh and tissue, transforming the bodies into mindless killing machines. Some Alliance soldiers refer to the husk-generating spikes as Dragon's Teeth, a reference to the mythological berserkers who sprang up from the earth wherever the teeth of the dragon Ares were planted.
Dragon's Teeth and husks bear little resemblance to other pieces of geth technology. No one is sure why a synthetic race would bother to drain the miniscule amount of recoverable resources from organic corpses, though the value of reusing them as shock troops is obvious.
Thresher maws are subterranean carnivores that spend their entire lives eating or searching for something to eat. Threshers reproduce via spores that lie dormant for millennia, yet are robust enough to survive prolonged periods in deep space and atmospheric re-entry. As a result, thresher spores appear on many worlds, spread by previous generations of space travelers.
The body of a thresher never entirely leaves the ground; only the head and tentacles erupt from the earth to attack. In addition to physical attacks, threshers have the ability to project toxic chemicals and emit bursts of infrasound as a shockwave weapon.
The Alliance first encountered threshers on the colony Akuze in 2177. After contact was lost with the pioneer team, marine units were deployed to investigate. The shore parties were set upon by hungry threshers, and nearly the entire assault force was killed. Alliance forces recommend engaging threshers with vehicle-mounted heavy weapons.
Varren are omnivores with a preference for living prey. Originally native to the krogan homeworld of Tuchanka, they are, like most life from Tuchanka, savage, clannish, and consummate survivors. They are pack hunters when vulnerable prey is readily available and become scavengers when outnumbered or outclassed.
Their supreme adaptability, vicious demeanor, and rapid breeding cycle have made them ubiquitous and dangerous pests on many worlds. Virtually everywhere the krogan have been, varren infestations have followed, wreaking havoc with the native ecology.
The krogan have had a love-hate relationship with varren for millennia, alternately fighting them for territory and embracing them as treasured companions. To this day, krogan raise them as beasts of war. A common subgenus of varren has metallic silver scales, leading to the rather unusual nickname 'fishdogs'.
Aliens: Non-Sapient Creatures
The Citadel is an ancient deep-space station, presumably constructed by the Protheans. Since the Prothean extinction, numerous species have come to call the Citadel home. It serves as the political, cultural, and financial capital of the galactic community. To represent their interests, most species maintain embassies on the Presidium, the Citadel's inner ring.
The Citadel Tower, in the center of the Presidium, holds the Citadel Council chambers. Council affairs often have far-reaching effects on the rest of the galactic community. Five arms, known as the wards, extend from the Presidium. Their inner surfaces have been built into cities, populated by millions of inhabitants from across the galaxy.
The Citadel is virtually indestructible. If attacked, the station can close its arms to form a solid, impregnable shell. For as long as the station has existed, an enigmatic race called the keepers has maintained it.
The Council is an executive committee composed of representatives from the Asari Republics, the Turian Hierarchy, and the Salarian Union. Though they have no official power over the independent governments of other species, the Council's decisions carry great weight throughout the galaxy. No single Council race is strong enough to defy the other two, and all have a vested interest in compromise and cooperation.
Each of the Council species has general characteristics associated with the various aspects of governing the galaxy. The asari are typically seen as diplomats and mediators. The salarians gather intelligence and information. The turians provide the bulk of the military and peacekeeping forces.
Any species granted an embassy on the Citadel is considered an associate member, bound by the accords of the Citadel Conventions. Associate members may bring issues to the attention of the Council, though they have no input on the decision. The human Systems Alliance became an associate member of the Citadel in 2165.
Citadel Space is an unofficial term referring to any region of space controlled by a species that acknowledges the authority of the Citadel Council. At first glance, it appears this territory encompasses most of the galaxy. In reality, however, less than 1% of the stars have been explored.
Even mass-effect-FTL drive is slow relative to the volume of the galaxy. Empty space and systems without suitable drive discharge sites are barriers to exploration. Only the mass relays allow ships to jump hundreds of light-years in an instant, the key to expanding across an otherwise impassable galaxy.
Whenever a new relay is activated, the destination system is rapidly developed. From that hub, FTL drive is used to expand to nearby star clusters. The result is a number of densely-developed clusters thinly spread across the vast expanse of space, connected by the mass relay network.
Spectres are agents from the Office of Special Tactics and Reconnaissance and answer only to the Citadel Council. They are elite military operatives, granted the authority to deal with threats to peace and stability in whatever way they deem necessary.
They operate independently or in groups of two or three. Some are empathetic peacekeepers, resolving disputes through diplomacy. Others are cold-blooded assassins, ruthlessly dispatching problem individuals. All get the job done, one way or another, often operating outside the bounds of galactic law.
The Spectres were founded after the salarians joined the Council. For many years, they operated in secrecy as back-room "problem solvers." Only after the Krogan Rebellions did their activities become publicized. Assignment of a Spectre is less contentious than a military deployment but makes it clear that the Council is concerned about a situation.
Humanity and the Systems Alliance
The homeworld and capital of humanity is entering a new golden age. The resource wealth of a dozen settled colonies and a hundred industrial outposts flows back to Earth, fueling great works of industry, commerce, and art. The great cities are greening as arcology skyscrapers and telecommuting allow more efficient use of land.
Earth is still divided among nation-states, though all are affiliated beneath the overarching banner of the Systems Alliance. While every human enjoys longer and better life than ever, the gap between rich and poor widens daily. Advanced nations have eliminated most genetic disease and pollution. Less fortunate regions have not progressed beyond 20th century technology, and are often smog-choked, overpopulated slums.
Sea levels have risen two meters in the last 200 years, and violent weather is common due to environmental damage inflicted during the late 21st century. The past few decades, however, have seen significant improvement due to recent technological advances.
First Contact War
Humanity’s first contact with an alien race occurred in 2157. At that time, the Alliance allowed survey fleets to activate any dormant mass relays discovered, a practice considered dangerous and irresponsible by Council-aligned races. When a turian patrol discovered a human fleet attempting to activate a relay, they attacked. One human vessel survived, retreating to the colony of Shanxi.
The turians followed, quickly defeating the local forces. Shanxi was occupied, the first - and, to date, only - human world to be conquered by an alien species. The turians believed the handful of ships they defeated represented the bulk of human defenses. So they were unprepared when the Second Fleet under Admiral Kastanie Drescher launched a strong counteroffensive, evicting them from Shanxi.
The turians mobilized for full-scale war, drawing the attention of the rest of the galaxy. The Council quickly intervened, forcing a truce. Fortunately for humanity, the First Contact War was ended with a diplomatic solution.
The Systems Alliance is an independent supranational government representing the interests of humanity as a whole. The Alliance is responsible for the governance and defense of all extra-solar colonies and stations.
The Alliance grew out of the various nation space programs as a matter of practicality. Sol's planets had been explored and exploited through piecemeal nation efforts. The expense of colonizing entire new solar systems could not be met by any one country. With humans knowing that alien contact was inevitable, there was enough political will to jointly fund an international effort.
Still, the Alliance was often disregarded by those on Earth until the First Contact War. While the national governments dithered and bickered over who should lead the effort to liberate Shanxi, the Alliance fleet struck decisively. Post-War public approval gave the Alliance the credibility to establish its own Parliament and become the galactic face of humanity.
Ships and Vehicles
Faster-than-light drives use element zero cores to reduce the mass of a ship, allowing higher rates of acceleration. This effectively raises the speed of light within the mass effect field, allowing high speed travel with negligible relativistic time dilation1 effects.
Starships still require conventional thrusters (chemical rockets, commercial fusion torch, economy ion engine, or military antiproton drive) in addition to the FTL drive core. With only a core, a ship has no motive power.
The amount of element zero and power required for a drive increases exponentially to the mass being moved and the degree it is being lightened. Very massive ships or very high speeds are prohibitively expensive.
If the field collapses while the ship is moving at faster-than-light speeds, the effects are catastrophic. The ship is snapped back to sublight velocity, the enormous excess energy shed in the form of lethal Cherenkov radiation.
Military Ship Classifications
Larger warships are generally classified in one of four weights:
- FRIGATES are small, fast ships used for scouting and screening larger vessels. Frigates often operate in wolf-pack flotillas.
- CRUISERS are middle-weight combatants, faster than dreadnoughts, and more heavily-armed then frigates. Cruisers are the standard patrol unit, and often lead frigate flotillas.
- DREADNOUGHTS are kilometer-long capital ships mounting heavy, long-range firepower. They are only deployed for the most vital missions.
- CARRIERS are dreadnought-sized vessels that also carry a large amount of fighters.
Smaller vessels are exclusively used in a support role to the warships during combat:
- FIGHTERS are one-man craft used to perform close-range attacks on enemy ships.
- INTERCEPTORS are one-man craft optimized for destroying opposing fighters.
The Normandy is a prototype starship, developed by the human Systems Alliance with the assistance of the Citadel Council. It is optimized for scouting and reconnaissance missions in unstable regions, using state-of-the-art stealth technology.
For most ships, the heat generated through standard operations is easily detectable against the absolute-zero background of space. The Normandy, however, is able to temporarily sink this heat within the hull. Combined with refrigeration of the exterior hull, the ship can travel undetected for hours, or drift passively for days of covert observation. This is not without risk. The stored heat must eventually be radiated, or it will build to levels capable of cooking the crew alive.
Another component of the stealth system is the Normandy’s revolutionary Tantalus drive, a mass effect core twice the standard size. The Tantalus drive generates mass concentrations that the Normandy 'falls into', allowing it to move without the use of heat-emitting thrusters.
Sovereign is the flagship of the rogue Spectre Saren. An enormous dreadnought larger than any other ship in any known fleet, Sovereign is crewed with both geth and krogan. At two kilometers long, its spinal-mounted main gun is likely capable of penetrating another dreadnought's kinetic barriers with a single shot.
How Saren acquired this incredible warship is unknown. The prevailing opinion is that Sovereign is a geth construct, while others believe it is a Prothean relic. Its design, however, hints at a more alien and mysterious origin.
The attack on Eden Prime demonstrated Sovereign's ability to generate mass effect fields powerful enough to land on a planetary surface. This implies it has a massive element zero core, and the ability to generate staggering amounts of power.
Vehicles: M35 Mako
The 'Mako' infantry fighting vehicle was designed for the System Alliance’s frigates. Though the interior is cramped, an M35 is small enough to be carried in the cargo bay and easily deployed on virtually any world.
With its turreted 155mm mass accelerator and coaxially-mounted machine gun, the Mako can provide a fire team with weapon support as well as mobility. Since Alliance marines may be required to fight on any world, the Mako is environmentally-sealed and equipped with microthrusters for use on low-gravity planetoids.
The Mako is powered by a sealed hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell, and includes a small element zero core. While not large enough to nullify the vehicle’s mass, the core can reduce it enough to be safely air-dropped. When used in conjunction with thrusters, it also allows the Mako to extricate itself from difficult terrain.