<i>By <a href=http://twitter.com/LucasSiegel>Lucas Siegel, Newsarama Editor</a></i> <p><b>Mass Effect 3</b> is almost here. Hitting stores on March 6, 2012, the wait is nearly over. It's time to suit back up as Commander Shepard and save the galaxy with the baddest female protagonist ever (erm, or male, if that's how you happen to play. Femshep for life). <p>With three brilliant canon novels by writer Drew Karpyshyn, plus three comic book miniseries (including the recently completed <b>Mass Effect: Invasion</b> [<i>Newsarama Note: Which we've updated this countdown to include information from!</i>] and a couple of digital editions, the world of <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/games/mass-effect-3-mars-mission-hands-on-120208.html><b>Mass Effect</b></a> goes much beyond that of the two main games in the series. There are hints at what might come in the third game, new characters, even people who have been fleshed out much more than they could be in a focused video game story. <p>Not everyone has the time to read all of this information about the galaxy beyond Commander Shepard, though, and we have you covered. We have combed the tie-ins for the ten most important people, events, and bits of knowledge for <b>Mass Effect</b> fans leading into <b>Mass Effect 3</b>. Be warned, there are light <b>SPOILERS</b> here for these stories, though we don't go into every detail, as we don't have thousands of pages to spare here and want you to enjoy them for yourself should you so choose. <p>So click "Start Here" in the upper left-hand corner and find out 10 things you need to know about the greater <b>Mass Effect</b> universe before jumping into the final chapter of Shepard's story. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p> <p> <p><i>Newsarama Note: <a href=http://twitter.com/courtneywoods>Courtney Woods</a> contributed to the original version of this story</i>
A major player in all three novels so far, Kahlee Sanders is a name you could likely ask any one of your companions and have every single one of them tell you a story. <p>Kahlee's father, Jon Grissom, was the first human to ever go through the Charon Mass Relay. He hated the fame it brought him, however, and quickly became a recluse after an early retirement. Kahlee grew up without her father's influence, but still decided to join the Alliance Military as a young woman. She didn't want to fight, however she wanted to use her intelligence to serve the cause of humanity and the galaxy. <p>Kahlee has been a part of it all. Anderson could tell you about how they teamed up with Saren (and inadvertently led to Saren meeting Sovereign, more on that later). Tali could tell you about how she helped save the Quarian flotilla from Cerberus. The Turians respect her brashness and intelligence. The Salarians would love to see her research. Her friend and one-time partner Hendel may very well have trained in the use of his biotic powers alongside Kaidan. She has stood up to the Illusive Man's top agents, and taken no sh*t from Aria T'Loak, powerful biotics, krogan battlemasters, and more. So much for not fighting, eh? <p>Kahlee ended <b>Mass Effect: Retribution</b> back at Alliance HQ with her old friend (and now a bit more) David Anderson. If there's ever a time for an expert in AI and biotics to come into the main storyline, it's <b>Mass Effect 3</b>, but no word yet on this star of print. She is a perfect example of how women are taken seriously in the Mass Effect universe, and as good an argument for Shepard being female as any.
Toward the end of <b>Mass Effect</b>, you have the option of placing either Ambassador Udina, "career politician," or Captain Anderson, your senior officer in the military, and a crux character in the novels. <p>Contrary to most choices in the series, however, this one appears to have a "correct" choice, and that's Udina. in the novel <b>Mass Effect: Retribution</b>, Anderson is out doing Alliance Military work, and Udina is mentioned by name as "Councillor Udina." He's also mentioned as Councillor in the online comic <b>Mass Effect: Inquisition</b>. <p>So why, in a game all about choice, from a developer all about choice, is one of your choices determined for you? Well, you can always go for the "no-prize" and say that Anderson stepped down shortly after the events of <b>Mass Effect 2</b> so he could go do "real man's work" back in the field, and that would jive pretty well with the timelines. In <b>Mass Effect: Retribution</b>, Aria T'loak "recognized Anderson's name: he was an advisor to Councillor Donnel Udina, and one of the highest ranking diplomatic officials in the Alliance." Since it takes place after the events of <b>ME2</b>, that still leaves some flexibility for Anderson to be in a different role, having been fed up with the political life. <p>Ultimately, Anderson was likely just too cool of a character, with too rich of a backstory, to waste sitting in a political office. That, and Drew Karpyshyn just wanted him kicking ass, so he made Udina the human Councillor. If it's good enough for Drew, it's good enough for us. The big takeaway here is that at the start of <b>Mass Effect 3</b>, if the book and comic's timelines are followed, Udina is on the council, and Anderson is back to personally helping rid the galaxy of evil.
Maybe you preserved the Reaper facility, but if you blew it sky high and thought that the Reaper's secrets were lost to the Illusive Man forever... Well, think again. Whether you chose the Renegade or Paragon option in the final mission of <b>Mass Effect 2</b>, the Illusive Man recovers information about the experiments the Reapers performed on the colonists and he has an epiphany that could rival Anakin's thought process when he tries to strangle Padme in <em>Episode III</em>: I just spent trillions of credits bringing Shepard back to life and assembling a team to stop the Collectors from abducting more human colonists for Reaper experiments. Now that she has done the impossible, I think I will just continue those experiments. (Yeah, Illusive Man, no way you are indoctrinated. This all makes perfect, logical sense. I'm sorry for doubting you. I'll go back and make that Renegade choice now.) For the greater good of the human race, of course... Oh, and revenge. <p>In the novel, <strong>Mass Effect: Ascension</strong>, we are introduced to Cerberus operative Paul Grayson. The Illusive Man entrusts Grayson with one of his investments, a girl with enormous biotic potential, named Gillian. Eventually, though, he turns his back on the Illusive Man to keep his daughter and Kahlee Sanders safe. <p>The Illusive Man does not just get even with those who cross him. No, he is more of a I am going to conduct experiments on you with alien technology, turn you into an abomination, take notes on it, and then kill you kind of guy. While implanting Grayson with Reaper technology, the Illusive Man calmly explains that these nanides will eventually spread through Grayson's entire body, turning him into an organic host for the Reapers. He's like a Bond villain, except he actually <em>carries out</em> his evil plan <em>while</em> explaining it. <p>Through Grayson, we see the brutal process of indoctrination. In the beginning, Grayson still has control of his body while the Reapers sleep. But even in the early stages of indoctrination, the Reapers have latched onto his thoughts, making him believe they are his own. Grayson contemplates ending his life, but after losing a vessel once before to suicide (Saren), they are able to manipulate him into thinking <em>he</em> has decided that would be cowardly. Grayson also physically changes, beginning to look more machine than man. <p>The Reapers eventually gain complete control of Grayson's body, using him to gather information about the Alliance school for biotic children. Cerberus acquired data on this final stage of indoctrination, as well, through a man called Kai Leng. <p>Cerberus continued to study indoctrination and the basis of Reaper technology, as seen in <b>Mass Effect: Invasion</b> from Dark Horse Comics.
Joker, get your camera because it looks like we have a new addition to the <strong>Mass Effect</strong> biotic catfight (well, in a few years anyway). Meet Gillian, the biotic prodigy of the Alliance Ascension Program and secretly a Cerberus test subject. A victim of the side effects from a tragic but random industrial accident (more details in #6 of this countdown), Gillian was one of many children in the area exposed to element zero while still in the womb. This is the source of her biotic abilities, but she is considered even more unique: Gillian is also autistic. When we first meet Gillian, although her biotic potential is off the charts, she is unable to focus and connect her amps (the devices implanted in biotic potentials to let them harness dark energy) with that power. This all changes when she is bullied by one of the other children in the Ascension Project. Gillian loses control, creating a singularity (a vortex of biotic power) in the middle of the lunchroom. <p>It was not just the bullying that pushed Gillian over the edge, though. Cerberus had secretly been controlling the course of Gillian's life since she was an infant. They placed her first in the care of Paul Grayson, who came to love her as if she really was his own daughter, and then paid for her way into the Ascension Project. Their agent in the project had been administering injections to help bring out her biotic powers. When Kahlee Sanders and Hendel, a former BAaT (The biotic training program Kaidan was a part of) subject, find out about Cerberus's experiments they go on the run to keep Gillian safe from Cerberus. <p>Gillian eventually finds herself on the Migrant Fleet. Remember when Tali's comrades almost shot you for being with Cerberus, stating that the organization attacked a Quarian ship? Well that would be because of Gillian. Considering her a key investment, the Illusive Man sent a team, including Paul Grayson, to get her back. In the end, Grayson chooses his daughter's safety over Cerberus. Gillian decides to stay with the Quarians and grows up aboard one of the scout ships in Geth Space. In the upcoming fourth <strong>Mass Effect</strong> novel, <strong>Deception</strong>, Gillian is all grown up and hunting down the Illusive Man for killing her father.
Oh Cerberus, you really are the gift that just keeps on giving. As the Protectors of Humanity, the Illusive Man saw that biotics must be a part of humanity's future if they are going to compete with the rest of the galaxy. But humans are not like Asari, they do not naturally have biotic potential. Well the Illusive Man isn't going to let something as small as genetics stand in his way. Cerberus arranged for three industrial accidents, all seemingly random, to hit three human colonies. One of these accidents was a transport ship exploding over the Yandoa colony, which caused a massive cloud element zero to envelope the colony. While thousands were exposed to element zero, only a few children actually developed biotic powers because of it. The less fortunate majority contracted cancer, birth defects, or did not survive the birthing process. To Cerberus, these are the necessary sacrifices to elevate the human race above its interstellar rivals.
Cerberus are the big bad when it comes to humanity, as we've seen by all the illegal experiments they've done. After all, it's not like the Alliance itself would ever go too far and break Citadel law in support of humanity's cause to rise, right? <p>Wrong. <p>It turns out, even the Alliance is "only human" and has made some pretty big mistakes on their own. Citadel law says that <i>no</i> race is allowed to freely and independently research artificial intelligence, or AI, as this self aware computer structure is, according to the council, inherently dangerous. There are a few corporations that serve as the exception to the rule, allowed to work on AI for research purposes only. They have a nice big example to back up their story, as the Quarians created AI called the Geth. Fans know what happened next. The Geth rebelled, drove the Quarians from their own planet, dooming them to forever cast the skies in hundreds of spaceships, and left to live on their own. Then, in <b>Mass Effect</b> this same AI came back to haunt the galaxy, mounting a Reaper-led attack on the Citadel itself. <p>Nonetheless, the arrogant human race, newest members of the Citadel, decided if <i>they</i> could get AI working and controllable, then they'd have a leg-up on all those lousy species that adhere to the letter of the law. As seen in <b>Mass Effect: Revelation</b>, a research station on the planet Sidon, led by Dr. Shu Qian, was the site of illegal research into AI. One Kahlee Sanders was the research assistant, but when she found out how far the research was going (and what it was <i>really</i> about, more on that in the next entry), she had intended to expose her compatriots. <p>Ultimately, the operation was attacked, then exposed and shut down by the Council. But who knows if the Alliance <i>truly</i> shut down their research, or if they just moved it. And of course because of all of this...
We like to look at the overarching story of the <b>Mass Effect</b> franchise and blame the Reapers for being these near-mythical controlling beings, or blame the turian Spectre Saren for inviting them into our galaxy once more, and bringing the pain of the Geth down upon several colonies and finally the Citadel, capital of Council space. <p>Unfortunately, it never is that simple, is it? Remember that illegal AI research facility on Sidon? Well, Dr. Qian was the traitor that got the facility destroyed. He was also not just researching Artificial Intelligence. He was actually researching an artifact, one that we'd later find out was not only still active, but actually alive. In the early stages of indoctrination, Qian was trying to find out more about this artifact, which told him telepathically that it was called Sovereign. Sound familiar, <b>Mass Effect</b> fans? In the aftermath of a battle involving Saren and Anderson ostensibly "teamed-up," Saren stole all of Qian's research, keeping it for himself, and eventually investigating the artifact personally. This direct contact with Sovereign led to them taking over the Geth, and the whole dang mess that is now causing nothing short of full-scale galactic war. <p>When reached for comment, the Alliance said, "Whoops, our bad!"
Remember Omega's one rule: Don't f*#@ with Aria? Yeah, a man called Kai Leng never received that memo. If he had, he probably would have at least thought twice before cutting the throat of Liselle, Paul Grayson's lover. To be fair, he did not know Liselle was also the Pirate Queen's daughter, but he did not bother questioning her to find out. In typical Aria fashion, she had kept Liselle's true identity a secret to protect the both of them. Since all the evidence seems to point to Grayson as the murderer, Aria agrees to meet with the Illusive Man to learn more about her daughter's death and size up a long-time enemy. Aria and the Illusive Man are both self-proclaimed masters of reading people's true motives through body language and speech patterns, but when the two finally meet holographic face to holographic face... stalemate. <p>Aria's kingdom is Omega. She knows that the Council and other governments do not interfere because she limits her power to Omega. But even Aria cannot turn down three million credits and a chance for revenge. She has her men attack the Turians who had ambushed the Cerberus Lab holding Grayson and kidnap Kahlee Sanders and Anderson to use as bait for Grayson. But Aria is no pawn of Cerberus; she has her own agenda. She has no intention of keeping her daughter's killer alive for a xenophobe in a bad suit. However, the Illusive Man had left out a few important details about Grayson namely that he is now a tool of the Reapers. The encounter ended with many of Aria's top men dead and Grayson escaping. Needless to say, the Asari is less than pleased when she meets with the Illusive Man a second time. Once again, the Illusive Man appeals to her greed, offering her three million more credits for the research data Aria had acquired while attacking the Turians. <p>In <b>Mass Effect: Invasion</b> from Dark Horse Comics, we find out a bit of what happens after that unholy alliance. The Illusive Man did in fact begin studying the Reaper technology, and predictably, his "subjects" have broken through a bit, attacking Omega. Unfortunately for Aria and Omega, that was the plan, allowing Cerberus to take control of Omega. After briefly taking it back, she was outsmarted by a Cerberus General, and had to flee Omega. You can bet in <b>Mass Effect 3</b>, Aria will be back for her home, and she'll be pissed.
And he does not need a combat suit to break a Turian's neck with his bare hands. A former alliance soldier and a xenophobe, Kai Leng is everything the Illusive Man could want in a right hand man. As an assassin, Kai often has to change characteristics of his appearance, but one feature that can distinguish him is a tattoo on his neck of an ouroboros (A snake swallowing his own tail). To Kai and the Illusive Man, this tattoo does not just represent eternity, but eternity through annihilation. Our first real glimpse of Kai's ruthlessness is during his mission to capture Paul Grayson. After securing Grayson, Leng stands over the Asari, Liselle, who he believes only to be Grayson's lover. She is unconscious and no longer a threat, but to Kai she is still an alien and deserves to die. He slits Liselle's throat, not knowing that he has actually just murdered Aria T'Loak's daughter. At the end of the novel, Aria (unaware who actually killed Liselle) and Cerberus have entered into a fragile alliance. Since Kai Leng is a confirmed character in <strong>Mass Effect 3</strong> it is safe to speculate that this death will come up again and could be the final straw for the Pirate Queen when it comes to Cerberus. <p>Despite this one stupid act of violence, Kai is not an unintelligent fanatic, nor is he suicidal. He is dedicated to Cerberus's cause, but he knows that he cannot serve the Illusive Man if he is dead. Leng is a survivor. Armed only with a knife and a pistol, Kai rescued the Illusive Man for a squad of Turians. Even after being shot in both legs by Anderson, Kai was able to <em>crawl</em> to his ship and escape the Alliance. And you will <em>want</em> him to survive... because by the end of <strong>Mass Effect: Retribution</strong>, you will want to shoot him yourself, as Commander Shepard. It is likely Kai will be the last dog you put down before reaching the Illusive Man himself. <p>We saw his full look in the <b>Mass Effect Art Book</b> from Dark Horse, and a quick glimpse of him in motion behind The Illusive Man in our hands-on demo with the second mission of <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/games/mass-effect-3-mars-mission-hands-on-120208.html><b>Mass Effect 3</b></a>, so it's safe to say you'll get your chance to tango with the man called Kai Leng.
The Illusive Man is both illusive and elusive. His history in the games is virtually nil; all you'll know from playing is that his organization Cerberus has done some very bad things and some not-quite-as-bad things, and that this lone man with the glowing eyes leads it. Enter the books and novels, which not only reveal his real name, Jack Harper, but give us a significant insight into his past <i>and</i> his future. <p>The comics have done the most outright telling of Jack Harper's story. Once a mercenary hired to fight for the Alliance in the First Contact War, Harper and his crew made contact with something else: a Reaper artifact. The artifact hit both Harper and his friend/colleague Ben Hislop with blasts of energy, though Hislop got the worst of it, <i>apparently</i> dying. After this, the remaining two, Harper and Eva Core, are captured by Desolas Arterius and his brother, Saren (uh oh!). <p>As the first contact war ends, they are soon turned over to General Williams, grandfather of <b>Mass Effect</b> and <b>Mass Effect 3</b> (if she survived <b>ME</b>, of course) companion Ashley Williams. The General decides something is fishy with Desolas and his strange hooded guard, and sends Jack and Eva in pursuit. They meet a changed Ben, a near-husk, and both he and Jack can hear the call of another artifact, this one on the Turian homeworld of Palaven. After Desolas tried to launch a plan to turn all the Turians into these "priests," Ben eventually found just enough of his humanity to push Desolas into the artifact, killing them both and making the artifact go dim. Jack Harper escaped with his life and became the Illusive Man, but that close contact with a Reaper artifact clearly affected him, leaving his eyes forever changed, usually an early sign of indoctrination. <p>In the novels, more of the Illusive Man's cunning and deviousness is revealed as well. We find out many of the other things from this countdown, like his engineering of the explosions to create human biotics, his wholesale abuse of children in hopes of figuring out how to make supersoldiers, and how every time humanity gets close to something, whether it's research into AI, artifacts, mind control; the Illusive Man is not far behind. <p>Could Jack Harper have been indoctrinated, all the way back at the First Contact War's end? Yes, and signs are pointing to that being the truth, at least a bit. He has terrorized humanity and alien races alike. He has discovered more about the Reapers through testing and theft of Reaper technology than anyone else. He very well could be the Reapers' ultimate test of how much to take from humanity before destroying all organic life. <p>And don't forget, <a href=http://www.newsarama.com/games/e3-2011-mass-effect-3-closed-door-110616.html>Cerberus is indoctrinated</a> at the start of <b>Mass Effect 3</b>. <i>Someone</i> had to make that happen, and the man with the glowing blue eyes is at the top of our list. <p><b>Related Stories:</b> <p><li><a href=http://www.newsarama.com/games/mass-effect-3-tali-zorah-face-quarians-110706.html>Will MASS EFFECT 3 Reveal Tali'Zorah's Face? Should it?</a> <li><a href=http://www.newsarama.com/games/mass-effect-3-mars-mission-hands-on-120208.html>Hands-on Preview With Full Mission from MASS EFFECT 3</a>