Knights of the Mass Effect

One of BioWare's most successful game series they've done has been the Mass Effect trilogy, centering around Commander John/Jane/whomever Shepard and their dealings with the Reapers and the threat they present to the galaxy.

Since Knights of the Fallen Empire was released, people have noticed more than a couple of parallels between the story of Mass Effect and the new game story of The Old Republic. As someone who only picked up the ME trilogy last September, even I have noticed these parallels.

Let's delve into the similarities between the two. Obviously, this will contain spoilers for all three Mass Effect games, the Fallen Empire expansion, and to some extent the Eternal Throne expansion as well, so be wary.



The idea of the game's protagonist being a figurehead against a seemingly insurmountable power is nothing new, so I'll gloss over this aspect of both games.

However, there is one particular premise which is a bit too similar for people's liking.

In both Mass Effect 2 and Knights of the Fallen Empire, the protagonist is separated from their crew and left for dead over a number of years (in Shepard's case, they actually did die and were rebuilt at the start of ME2) before being rescued and thrown into a hectic situation head-first. Along the way, having been integrated into an organisation which nobody really trusts, they need to recruit a team of specialists, potentially including crewmates who they knew beforehand, to deal with a galactic threat. 

There are some differences along the way (Shepard only deals with entities - the Collectors - who are helping the Reapers in ME2 and not the Reapers themselves outside of the Arrival DLC), but the general plot similarity checks out. 

Even the characters themselves have a lot of similarities.

Shepard and the Outlander both become Commanders in an Alliance over the course of their career. Granted, unlike our Outlander, Shepard is never referred to as the top dog and always has superiors to answer to, but the title "Alliance Commander" can be shared between the both of them.

The crewmates they meet along the way include: 
  • A sniper whose frustration with the official 'line' of politics and diplomats leads them to break away with a squad which they form - who later all die save for one additional member - to follow their own ideals.
  • A character who has a vast network of informants/spies across the galaxy.
  • A far too buxom machine.
  • An enforcer concerned with bringing their renegade child(ren) to justice.
  • A child of the above character.
  • A mechanical genius.
  • A character who often provides in-universe controversial commentaries, voiced by Ike Amadi.
  • An explosive-happy bounty hunter-type.
  • A 'type' of machine last seen as an enemy.
  • A young fresh-faced member of a warrior 'caste' of people (bonus: these people also recently acquired a new battle-hardened leader who may be familiar with the player character).
There are other roles from Mass Effect (notably the dangerously-cheerful scientist) which SWtOR features in its Alliance Alerts roster, but because most of these characters aren't come across in the actual main story (Chapter VIII of Eternal Throne notwithstanding) I can't include them in the above list.

Heck, even one of the villains in Eternal Throne corresponds to this similarity trope. Since her tattoos from her time on Nathema were revealed, Vaylin was compared to the prison inmate Jack both for the tattoos and for the fact that both had their head shaved at some point in their lives and allowed it to grow back. Not only this, though; Jack is an extremely powerful Biotic (long story: essentially Mass Effect's 'sciency' version of the Force), whilst Vaylin is similarly powerful in the Force, and both eventually travel back to the place where their torments 'began' and end up causing a vast amount of damage to the structure.

Granted, Jack always wanted to go back to the Cerberus facility and destroy it, while Vaylin only travelled back to Nathema as a last resort and only caused extreme damage to the Sanitarium when the 'solution' almost went very wrong, but it's still worth mentioning.

Anyone knows that Koth says some rather controversial things, both for the in-universe characters and the players who can see what he can't. Ike Amadi had previously provided the voice for Javik the Prothean in ME3's From Ashes DLC, and whilst his comments are often controversial for the in-universe characters (notably putting paid to Asari mythology by revealing that the Protheans are mainly responsible for their rise to sapience, upsetting archaeologist-turned-shadow-broker Liara T'Soni greatly), for the players his comments are relatively fascinating because they offer an interesting, yet still different, point of view than otherwise presented.

It's interesting to see how one of Amadi's characters gets off fairly lightly (although still being controversial for being a DLC character) whilst the other is largely despised when they serve a similar 'purpose'.

The final parallel to mention is the fact that until the GEMINI units were revealed to be the ones controlling the Eternal Fleet, it was heavily-implied that the ships themselves had a degree of sentience. It just so happens that the Reapers themselves are gigantic and fully-sentient ship-like beings themselves, to the extent that one of the villains of the first game all but uses a Reaper, Sovereign, as his main proxy's flagship.

There's also the fact that both the Reapers and Eternal Fleet ships are controlled by a single source as well. The Reapers are 'controlled' by the Citadel, allowing Shepard the final choice to destroy them, take control of them, or (somehow) merge synthetic and organic life together to negate the 'need' to harvest organic life. The Eternal Fleet answers to the Eternal Throne, which the Outlander eventually must take control of once the Fleet goes berserk upon the Throne being empty.



Choice is a large part of the Mass Effect trilogy, whilst for virtually all of Fallen Empire (although slightly rectified in Eternal Throne), choices were very superficial and didn't mean an awful lot. Heck, even the final choice of letting Senya escape with Arcann can be undone in the first Chapter of Eternal Throne!

For SWtOR, if you choose to remove a character permanently from your team they do disappear as intended, but then they also begin to fade into the background for those who didn't get rid of them. Koth Vortena only makes snarky comments and stays behind on the Gravestone between Chapters XI and XVI, whilst Aric and Kaliyo only comment on their positions before the battle of Odessen if any of these characters are disposed of.

Until Eternal Throne rolled around, there was never a moment that choosing to ditch a character meant they'd be replaced by another in a different scenario. In the Eternal Throne story, sparing Senya and redeeming Arcann means that they defend the Gravestone and later join your side against Vaylin, whereas if they are both deceased by this point in time their roles are filled by Lana Beniko and Theron Shan.

For comparison, let's look at Mass Effect.

This game also presents a fair number of situations whereby a character is moved to the sidelines (although ME3 negates this) if they can be killed in another playthrough. Notably, Urdnot Wrex, who can die on Virmire in the original Mass Effect, goes on to become leader of the Krogan under the Urdnot clan in ME2 and only becomes a Companion again (although this affects a lot of Companions from ME2 as well) in the Citadel DLC for ME3. As a bonus, the character who replaces Wrex in this leadership position if he dies, his brother Urdnot Wreav, actually does make an appearance in ME3 and his stupidity (highlighted more in ME2 if Wrex is dead) is made light of for those more 'in the know'.

The other characters moved to the sidelines between games are Ashley Williams, Kaiden Alenko, and Liara T'Soni. For the first two, Ash and Kaiden form part of a 'you must choose!' moment on Virmire in the original game where one dies and the other survives. Eternal Throne actually pulls off something similar with Torian Cadera and Vette, but that's beside the point.

The 'Virmire Survivor' does make an appearance in ME2 but brushes off the Commander for working with Cerberus, a humanity-first organisation that rebuilt Shepard and is willing to provide assets for them. This distrust actually sticks around and forms the basis of the relationship between Shepard and the Survivor, and if it is not dissolved in time the character may be killed later in the game during a Cerberus coup (long story: one of the members of the 'high and mighty' Council is secretly working with Cerberus to gain control, and the Survivor believes that Shepard is secretly behind everything and may refuse to help them apprehend the real criminal).

Liara, on the other hand, can only die in one situation. This is right at the end of ME3 during a final assault on the Reapers on Earth. If the Commander has not prepared the galaxy 'correctly', both of the crewmates they have with them at the time will be killed during the push. The rest of the time, she's literally immune to everything and is many people's go-to for finding the 'writer's pet' of the trilogy, not helped by the fact that her species - Asari - can literally procreate with any species and with any member of either gender. Heck, the first proper conversation you have with her aboard your ship practically leads into a romance automatically, given her very high interest in Shepard as an 'interesting specimen for an in-depth study'.

Besides this, everyone can die, and particularly in ME2. One of the Companions you recruit, Samara - she's the equivalent to Senya - can be killed in preference of her rogue child Morinth, an Asari who suffers from a defect whereby she kills anyone she mates with (this can also happen to Shepard). Furthermore, there's a mission called the "Suicide Mission" right at the very end of the game, and it is possible to kill absolutely every single member of the team in-story, including Shepard themselves (unsurprisingly, the save for a game where Shepard dies in ME2 cannot be used to create a follow-on Shepard in ME3).

For those characters who can die in a previous instalment, some are still relegated to side scenes and have very few obligatory interactions in ME3. Most notably this affects Jack, Thane Krios, Jacob Taylor, Miranda Lawson, Samara, and Grunt. Choosing not to follow-through with meeting these individuals in ME3 can be harmful to the galactic preparation, although Thane does help out during the Cerberus coup if you talk to him enough beforehand (although his death is unpreventable either which way), and Miranda attempts to rescue her sister and only survives if - again - you talk to her enough beforehand.

If that wasn't enough, not meeting Jack in time eventually results in her becoming a brainwashed enemy who joins the ranks of Cerberus in a later mission and can only be killed as a single mob once this occurs, whilst if Morinth is around instead of Samara, she just becomes a villain anyway since the Reapers twist her to join their ranks with no way of saving her.

For the other main characters, if Tali'Zorah, Mordin Solus, and Legion all end up dead during the Suicide Mission then their obligatory story roles are fulfilled by an entirely separate character, although the story almost punishes you for this since certain favourable outcomes become impossible to attain. Tali's replacement even becomes a temporary Companion during one of the Priority missions where Tali is a necessary character. Curiously, Garrus Vakarian - another necessary character for an earlier mission and another potential sacrifice during the Suicide Mission - receives no story replacement character.

My point is that there actually are a good number of parallels to be drawn based on the nature of choices between the two games. Both initially presented largely superficial choices which relegated certain characters to the background if they survived whilst others retained prominence and some even became immune to death, before gradually evolving into something with more weight.

Granted, SWtOR still has a long way to go to reach its full potential, but I don't think anyone can deny that certain choices actually are far more noticeable in Eternal Throne than they were in Fallen Empire. Indeed, I'd even say that there is actually a properly-defined Dark Side ending to Eternal Throne. However, given that the story-arc of Zakuul has now come to a close and there is hopefully an entirely new story coming in the future, it is possible that they'll be able to expand more on what they were able to achieve with Eternal Throne, but everything that's happened already can have few further advances.

As an example, killing or banishing Aric would undoubtedly have felt more 'serious' if he was replaced in cutscenes not by Kaliyo but by the only other survivor of the new Havoc Squad since Aric's loss should be far more noticeable and this last-soldier-standing has all the weight of the Squad on their shoulders. As it is, they too have completely disappeared and nobody knows where they've disappeared off to.

To give you some idea of the full choice potential of the entire Mass Effect trilogy:
  • Background: The Salarian species had previously infected the Krogan species' homeworld with a genetic disease - the Genophage - which not only rendered a large portion of births as stillborn but also significantly reduced the fertility of females of the species in an attempt to curb rapid inflation of Krogan population.
  • In Mass Effect 2, scientist Mordin Solus, who had originally helped to develop the Genophage, needs to track down a fellow Salarian, Maelon, who is reportedly working on a cure, under the impression that he is being forced to by Krogan captors. He is shocked to discover that Maelon is doing this all of his own free will, and as a result can be persuaded to keep his research rather than destroying it as intended.
  • In Mass Effect 3, a fertile Krogan female is extracted, and either a repentant Mordin or his story-replacement Padok Wiks get to work using her genetic tissue as a basis for the cure for the Genophage.
  • The Salarian leader - the Dalatress - fears what will happen if the Krogan are allowed to breed unchecked and attempts to persuade Shepard to sabotage the cure after a disagreement with the leader of the Krogan at the time (either Wrex or Wreav).
  • If the data is recovered, the female - named "Eve" as a metaphor for the 'rebirth' of the Krogan species - survives, but if the data is destroyed she perishes.
  • If Wrex is leader of the Krogan and Eve survives, Mordin and Padok can either be allowed to disperse the cure, sacrificing themselves heroically in the process, or killed to prevent the cure being dispersed since they cannot be talked out of it. If the latter action is taken, Wrex will track down Shepard later and be killed whilst trying to 'rectify' his trust.
  • If Wreav is leader of the Krogan and Eve has died, both Mordin and Padok can be persuaded that maybe dispersing the cure isn't the best idea and they survive the ordeal. Dispersing the cure successfully is still an option, and both Salarians will still die in the process. 
  • If the cure is sabotaged under Wrex's nose, he reveals while trying to kill Shepared that he has pulled the Krogan back from supporting the other species in their attempt to stop the Reapers in revenge. Wreav never finds out about the deception. Regardless, the end-state of this outcome reveals that the Krogan soon die out. 
If this doesn't give you an impression of the multiple layers that eventually progressed into Mass Effect and what SWtOR still 'needs' to aspire to (so far the most complicated choice-layer - as in the only choice that impacts both expansions' stories without any way to change it in the second - is that Koth can only be killed or exiled if he stole the Gravestone in Fallen Empire), I don't know what will. 



As mentioned previously, there is some form of connection between the Sanitarium on Nathema and the Cerberus facility were Jack was imprisoned. Both were home to multiple experiments beyond the 'main subject', whose purpose was purely to be fodder for experiments to prove that they weren't too brutal for their intended victim. 

At some point in the story, boarding a lone Reaper or Eternal Fleet ship is a necessity. In ME2, the Reaper is a derelict, but preserving the core is useful for learning more about them, whilst in Fallen Empire boarding the Eternal Fleet ship is required in attempting to replace the GEMINI Captain with the GEMINI Prime, although that plan falls apart.

There is only one other obvious parallel to draw for locations, which is the world of Iokath compared to the world of Ilos. Both are derelict ruins of a once-flourishing civilisation and are uncharted until it's time for the protagonists to pay it a visit. Both are also a vast graveyard of their former occupants; for Ilos it's the Protheans, and for Iokath it's the mysterious 'creators'. Finally, the stories of both worlds is advanced by a holographic humanoid who provides useful exposition, although ARIES eventually proves to be hostile whilst Vigil is purely benevolent and helpful. 

By far the smallest section of comparisons here, but still worth mentioning.



So, yeah, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn here somewhere along the line. It is currently unknown whether or not these parallels are intentional or not, but it's still very interesting to see them when they do appear.

Then again, this is BioWare, and Mass Effect was one of their most successful game series, so I wouldn't be surprised if any, if not all, of these little references and parallels are absolutely intentional. 


  1. If you only bought Mass Effect in September, how do you know about all these different permutations of a single event? Just how much have you been playing? :P Or have you been abusing save games... heh.

    (Never played that series myself.)

    1. (By 'last September' I did mean 2015; I keep forgetting to account for different interpretations of 'last whenever'; I should have just put September 2015 and been done with it :P)

      Mainly it's just been thorough research and seeing people on the ME Subreddit mention how they did things whenever the inevitable post honoring Mordin's sacrifice (and other similar moments) crops up again and again.

      Being me, having played the trilogy once I probably won't play the entire thing through again (and especially not Mass Effect 3 given that the heavy emotional aspect only works first-time through), so the chance of me actually seeing this stuff myself is pretty slim. I don't mind spoiling how things play out differently after the fact, since mostly it's a confirmation of the obvious and only rarely is it a case of a genuine surprise.

      There were other examples that I could have used as well; that's just the one which has the most layers across several games with nothing 'bad' happening irrevocably in-between which sets things basically back to square one (as happens most notably with the Quarians and the Geth in ME3, and you can call them out on it multiple times).