The Strange Kinship of StarCraft and Mass Effect

From the time I first began learning about the Mass Effect franchise, I’ve seen a strange degree of overlap between it and another beloved sci-fi gaming franchise, StarCraft. At times I’ve dismissed it as the result of an over-active imagination, but they just keep borrowing from each other.

Nova in her titular Covert Ops DLC in StarCraft III thought it’d be interesting to look at the bizarre relationship of these two franchises that increasingly seem to have been separated at birth.

This post will contain spoilers for Mass Effect: Andromeda up to and including the mission Journey to Meridian.

Your StarCraft in my Mass Effect:

It began with my reading a plot synopsis for Mass Effect 1. I couldn’t help but notice that it sounded eerily like the cancelled StarCraft: Ghost game, which was also a third person shooter.

An elite human operative goes on an intergalactic journey to track down and stop a renegade Spectre.

Which game did I just describe?

Of course, once you get into Mass Effect, the two games divulge quite a bit, but by then the connection between StarCraft and Mass Effect had wormed its way into my thoughts, and I kept seeing small similarities here and there.

My favourite sniper rifle in Mass Effect 3The Protheans and the Reapers both bear some vague resemblance to the Xel’naga in their role in the story. Turians look like Protoss with hydralisk mouths. Alliance military uniforms look a fair bit like Dominion naval uniforms. Biotics are not unlike the telekinetics wielded by some of the more powerful ghosts.

Your Mass Effect in my StarCraft:

And it’s not a one-way street. StarCraft II clearly took a lot of inspiration from the Mass Effect franchise.

The basic structures of the games are largely the same. Go to the bridge, pick a location via the galaxy map, play a mission, and come back to your ship to chat with the NPCs before embarking once again.

Wings of Liberty even tried to copy a little bit of Mass Effect’s famous choices by giving the player great control over what order to do missions in, and even some choices on how to direct the story.

This was somewhat of a failed experiment, as Blizzard just isn’t that good at non-linearity. Later games abandoned most (though not all) player choice regarding the story and what order to tackle things in, but the general Mass Effecty structure of missions and conversations remained.

The bridge of the Hyperion in StarCraft IIAnd StarCraft was definitely the richer for it. Every entry in the StarCraft II trilogy has featured some great core characters, and in both SC2 and Mass Effect, the conversations between you and your crew are highlights, whether you’re talking spirituality with Thane or being simultaneously fascinated and chilled by Abathur’s utter inhumanity.

Then there’s the Covert Ops DLC to consider. To match Nova’s high-tech feel, the traditionally guitar-heavy soundtrack given to Terrans was shifted more towards synth sounds, and the end result is very reminiscent of a lot of Mass Effect’s music. One song in particular that plays in the main menus sometimes sounds almost exactly like the main theme from the earlier ME games.

Plus, if you squint, the Griffin has a pretty similar silhouette to the Normandy.

A new phase:

And then came Andromeda, and things just got weirder.

I kind of blinked when I saw Andromeda was going to prominently feature a ship called the Hyperion. But that’s small fries.

You can also see a bit of the Zerg in the Kett. Their modus operandi is pretty similar. Go around assimilating other species and stealing their best genes. Abathur and the Archon would have a grand old time talking shop, I’m sure.

Concept art for Remnant ruins in Mass Effect: Andromeda.

This is concept art for a Remnant Vault in Mass Effect: Andromeda.

There’s still a lot of difference, though. The Kett are still humanoids who rely on technology, and they don’t appear to have any hive mind.

But then there’s the Remnant.

Holy hell.

The Protheans and the Reapers each occasionally reminded me of the Xel’naga in some vague ways, but the Remnant — or, more accurately, their creators — are the Xel’naga. Literally, unequivocally, the Xel’naga.

I remember the first gameplay video of Andromeda I saw. It featured a Remnant ruin, and I was like, “Hey, look, it’s a Xel’naga temple.” Finally playing Andromeda only confirmed the uncanny resemblance between the architecture of the Remnant and the Wanderers from Afar.

Still, that’s just visuals.

But then we learned the Remnant’s creators, the Jaardan, were grand intergalactic biologists who seeded life throughout the cosmos for unknown purposes. Then we learned their civilization was centered around a lost artificial world in deep space. Then we learned they were in the business of creating whole sentient races.

Concept art for a Xel'naga temple in StarCraft II

This is concept art for a Xel’naga temple in StarCraft II.

In other words, they are the Xel’naga.

And now it’s just too weird. An entire core section of the StarCraft universe has basically been transplanted wholesale into Mass Effect. At this point I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we found out the Kett were created by some renegade Jaardan. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Artanis popped up on the Tempest vidcon.

Not complaining. In a way it’s kind of cool. Damn strange, though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any work of fiction copy another in such an uncanny way. I like to joke that the Krogan are basically Klingons, but there’s vastly more difference between Krogan and Klingons than there is between the Jaardan and the Xel’naga.

Tinfoil abounds:

I don’t really know what all this means. I freely grant that at least a good chunk of this is my seeing patterns where there are none. Lots of these similarities can easily be dismissed as random happenstance.

And certainly there are plenty of differences between the franchises, too. Mass Effect tends to present a relatively optimistic vision of humanity’s future, whereas StarCraft embraces a more dystopic view.

But some stuff, especially around the Remnant/Jaardan/Xel’naga, is harder to dismiss. I mean, I don’t imagine Bioware is sitting around consciously stealing ideas from StarCraft, but the fact remains that if they were they could hardly do a better job.

The starship Griffin in StarCraft II's Covert Ops DLCI know there has been at least a little cross-pollination between the two development teams. Brian Kindregan has written for both StarCraft and Mass Effect. But beyond that I don’t really know what’s going on here.

I just know it’s weird, and fascinating.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda Second Playthrough Complete

I think it says something that even after spending almost 100 hours on my first playthrough of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was still left chomping at the bit for more.

Meridian in Mass Effect: AndromedaThus, while it took me months and a couple excellent DLCs to convince to play Inquisition a second time, I started on my second playthrough of Andromeda quite quickly.

At times I regretted doing it so soon, as the game was still quite fresh in my mind. It did feel like a bit of a grind at times.

But more often than not I continued to enjoy myself. Andromeda is a truly special game the likes of which we are rarely privileged to see. I still have trouble fully articulating in rational terms exactly what I love so much about it — most likely it’s a confluence of factors — but regardless it’s a game that clicks for me in a way few others do.

I made it easier on myself by skipping most optional content and focusing almost entirely on the essentials: main story, crew missions, finding Arks, and of course Ryder Family Secrets. It only took me about half as long as the original playthrough.

I tried to make a lot of different choices, which allowed me to examine just much your choices actually matter in Andromeda. It seems to depend on the choice, sometimes unpredictably so.

My second Ryder fighting alongside Cora and Jaal in Mass Effect: AndromedaIt does seem to be well and truly impossible to permanently sour your relationship with any particular character. Having been buddies with Jaal the first time, I resolved to do everything in my power to piss him off this time, but while he spent a lot of the game giving me the silent treatment, he nonetheless ended the game by telling me I felt like family. In this context it seemed bizarrely out of the blue.

On the other hand, I did somehow get a totally new (to me) scene with Drack at the end of the game this time. I’m guessing this is because I made more choices he liked?

Also, be prepared for a surprising amount of heartbreak if you don’t convince Avitus to become a Pathfinder.

Overall, I’d say choices in Andromeda are more meaningful than they seemed to be the first time I played, but there’s still definitely room for improvement on that front.

On the subject of choices, I opted to romance Cora this time around. It’s much less of a disappointment than Suvi’s romance, though I have seen better. It’s a lot of flirting and very little actual relationship stuff, which is a bit strange, but on the plus side it does make Cora feel a lot more three-dimensional by allowing her to show a softer side, and I think that’s the best thing an in-game romance arc can accomplish.

FeelingsI was going to complain that Scott feels rather flat as a character, but then I remembered I felt the same about Sara. I still think I’d prefer her a little, if only because she takes up a lot less screen space. Scott is surprisingly huge, and it was quite a jarring adjustment after playing exclusively female characters in my Mass Effect career to date.

One other thing I want to address is the new game plus mode in Andromeda. It’s fantastic.

The only thing of any significance that doesn’t carry over is AVP, and that hardly makes any difference anyhow. Your inventory, your skill choices, your credits, your strike teams, your Nomad upgrades, your research data… it’s all carried over.

You can continue with the same character, design an entirely new Ryder, or swap to the opposite Ryder twin while keeping the same custom appearances of both. The last is what I did this time, meaning my Sara from the original playthrough was an NPC this time. That felt a little strange at times.

This playthrough saw me hit the gear cap of level eighty. I farmed up a trove of crafting materials and proceeded to craft myself a final set of optimized gear.

Not only did I make all the items I need for my current build, but I constructed weapons and armour to support every build I can ever see myself attempting. On any subsequent playthroughs — and oh, there will be more — I won’t have to bother with crafting, or picking up mineral nodes, or scanning every little thing, or mining with the Nomad, or hunting down those stupid hidden caches, or even looting enemy corpses. I never have to worry about items or resources again. I can simply focus on the story.

Scott Ryder and Vetra Nyx in Mass Effect: AndromedaI am free from the tyranny of loot.

My only complaint is that it took one and a half playthroughs to get to this point. This is how the game should have been from the start.