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Game Theory

New Mass Effect teaser image hints mankind hasn't learned from its mistakes

What is Cerberus up to these days?


Every November 7, Mass Effect developer BioWare celebrates the series in some fashion because of the elite special forces designation of “N7” given to series hero Commander Shepard. It’s been more than five years since the launch of Mass Effect: Andromeda, and for N7 Day 2022, BioWare shared yet another teaser image for the next entry in the series. The many cryptic details in it hint at the resurrection of a nefarious organization — and that mankind hasn’t learned from past mistakes.

What Happened — To celebrate N7 Day 2022, BioWare published a blog post that spotlights some of the studio’s team, reveals a Mass Effect x Sims crossover, and ends with a curious bit of concept art featuring what looks like a Mass Effect relay in construction. It includes this little snippet from a short letter from Project Director Mike Gamble:

For now, there is something we want you to have a look at. We’ve intercepted some strange footage from one of the monitoring stations in known space. It could be nothing, but…
A monitoring station in known space collected this “strange footage”BioWare

A Mass Effect relay under construction — The image appears to be a mass relay under construction. The most notable tell is the partially constructed ring inside the round chamber, but “MR” all but certainly labels this as a “Mass Relay.” The “7” implies it’s one of several under construction.

In the lore of the original trilogy, mass relays harness Element Zero, a fictional element that when subjected to an electrical current releases a dark energy field that manipulates the mass of objects within said field. In plainer terms, these celestial artifacts (which were created by an ancient alien race called the Protheans) could create virtually mass-free corridors of space-time allowing transit at speeds far faster than light, but only between the various relays.

The materials, size, and overall scope of this construct seem very different from the original purple mass relays constructed with an unknown ancient alloy. Recall that the entire network of Milky Way Galaxy mass relays was destroyed at the end of Mass Effect 3, which would have devastated travel and trade across the galaxy for all of its inhabitants. Rebuilding relays would likely be a top priority for the galaxy’s inhabitants for many years to come, which would be difficult considering the limited understanding that all the alien races have of the technology.

The subtext — In case the image and MR designation didn’t make it clear enough, there’s some literal fine print on the bottom-left of the new image:

Vacuum-dock Relay Construction Record / Monitoring Station Operated by Green Dagger Ltd. / Property of Deepspace Dhow SAV / Ship Captain: Sub-Navarch Soa-Rhal Zhillian-Jones
For Interior Use Only
SA. ———314——— / / / / / 11_07_90_000_1000-201.37.23. — FILE BAT

We’ve got a “relay” under construction being monitored by a company called Green Dagger, which is probably owned by a megacorporation called Deepspace Dhow SAV. The ship captain’s name, however, is probably the most interesting tidbit here.

“Sub-Navarch” is essentially a rear admiral in a fleet if we extrapolate from the Greek word. “Soa-Rhal Zhillian-Jones” seems to be a new character, but the name sure seems Quarian. Shepard’s companion Tali is a Quarian, the migrant alien race with compromised immune systems due to generations spent in a flotilla. “Jones” seems fairly human, so perhaps this Quarian is married to a human?

Changes — Notably, this “new” art is actually an updated version of early concept art featured in the 2020 art book BioWare: Stories and Secrets from 25 Years of Game Development.

What changed with this original image?BioWare

In the original version of the concept art, the relay was under construction over an artificial-looking space station or planet with large paneling and illuminated trenches (almost like the Death Star from Star Wars). Yet here, the background has been replaced by a planet with brownish clouds. In any case, the construct is orbiting some kind of planetary body.

Why it could be a Cerberus mass relay — In early 2022, one Redditor speculated that the overall design of this relay aligns with human architecture in the Mass Effect series, but the yellow-grey color scheme also resonates with Cerberus, the human-survivalist paramilitary group that resurrected Shepard in Mass Effect 2. Led by the Illusive Man, Cerberus is essentially a racist, pro-human terrorist group. Although Shepard kills the Illusive Man towards the end of Mass Effect 3, it’s possible that the organization comes under new leadership.

The Inverse Analysis — Ultimately, it sure looks like Cerberus is still in operation, or at the very least a different human organization is constructing this new mass relay. Sub-Navarch Soa-Rhal Zhillian-Jones is likely the captain of the monitoring station in known space, and their crew recorded footage of the mass relay.

In all likelihood, in the decades and centuries that followed Mass Effect 3, the destruction of the mass relays caused a new arms race, so to speak, where every isolated colony and civilization struggled to build new mass relays. If a villainous organization is able to do it first, that could cause big problems for galactic peace, but for this technology to work, you also need to rebuild the whole relay network, right? In any case, it makes for a good starting point for yet another dramatic adventure.

The next Mass Effect is currently in development.

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