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.

WoW: Kul Tiras Ahoy?

Well, it’s that time of year again. The time when wild rumours, rampant speculation, leaks, and “leaks” about the next World of Warcraft expansion are flying wildly. And boy, we’ve got a doozy to lead things off.

Datamining for 7.3 has revealed a partial armour set labelled “Kul Tiras quest.”

Well then.

The Tides of Darkness rise again?Kul Tiras has always been one of the great oversights of WoW. As a pillar of the Alliance, a naval superpower, one of the last surviving human nations, and the homeland of Jaina Proudmoore, it’s something that very much should be in the game but inexplicably isn’t. Honestly, a very strong argument could be made that it should have been the Alliance capitol instead of Stormwind.

And yet it’s nowhere to be found. It’s barely even mentioned. If Kul Tiras is finally making its way into the game, and that now seems almost certain, it’s long overdue.

I had initially assumed we’d be visiting it for a story scenario or something, but it has been pointed out that this “[place name] quest” file name nomenclature has in the past always been used for leveling gear in a new expansion.

This raises the very real possibility that Kul Tiras will be the setting of the next expansion.

Kul Tiras is very significant politically, but not very big geographically, which could make for a very cramped expansion, but Legion has proven that Blizzard is willing to set expansions in smaller locales. And it’s also possible that the expansion might include other islands, such as Zandalar or Tel Abim.

Of course, Kul Tiras indicates an aquatic expansion, and that raises the possibility of Azshara.

Art of Queen Azshara from the Warcraft trading card gameMan, I’ve wanted an Azshara/Naga/N’Zoth expansion for so long now. I refuse to get my hopes up again. There have been too many false alarms: The Dark Below, Eye of Azshara…

I also have to wonder if, after all this time, Blizzard could deliver on my expectations for such a thing.

Azshara is, I think, the last great Warcraft villain. We can’t bring Gul’dan back from the dead again. The Lich King’s story is finished. Murozond and Deathwing are defeated. The mid-level Legion leadership has been pretty defanged in WoW, and Sargeras is too powerful for players to ever face directly. Sylvanas is too beloved by the fans to be made a direct antagonist.

There are still the Old Gods and Void Lords, but Azshara has a human (for lack of a better term) face that they lack. For all her godlike power and legendary influence on the Warcraft universe, she’s still ultimately just a person. A profoundly twisted, chillingly selfish person, but a person nonetheless.

Azshara is unique among Warcraft villains, and not just because she’s one of the few prominent female villains in the universe. Most Warcraft villains are literal monsters: mutant dragons who bleed liquid hate, undead monstrosities, grotesque demon lords, eldritch beings from a realm of pure entropy.

Queen Azshara at her height of powerEven Gul’dan, arguably her closest analogue, is nakedly monstrous, his appearance hideous and his cruelty clear.

Azshara isn’t like that. Azshara is charming, personable, and charismatic. Her darkness is well hidden. To the untrained eye, she is a beacon of grace and beauty, truly the Light of Lights.

Azshara is a slow poison, a subtle killer. Her people continued to love and worship her even as she burned everything they ever loved. She already shattered the world once, and she’s had ten thousand years to perfect her plan to finish the job.

But can WoW do justice to all that? Historically it’s done a very poor job of making its antagonists into credible threats, with the Lich King and to a much lesser extent Garrosh being the only notable exceptions.

Kul Tiras probably also means more Jaina, and that could also be a problem. Every time I think Blizzard can’t ruin Jaina’s character more, they find a way. I so want to have the old Jaina back, but I think it’s now far too late for that.

So while the news of a Kul Tiras expansion would have once filled me with joy, right now I’m trying to keep my expectations carefully managed. It could be great, but it could also be a terrible disappointment.

I won’t lie, though. If Gamescom/BlizzCon rolls around and they show a trailer for “World of Warcraft: Light of Lights,” I may nerdgasm a bit.