Mass Effect is a universe with no shortage of compelling events, characters, and locales. With the vast number of choices for players to make along the way, everyone’s experience differs, sometimes wildly. No matter what path you choose to take, though, there is one common thread that ties all of our games together.
I’m talking about the Normandy, possibly the greatest character in the Mass Effect universe.
You start the original Mass Effect aboard the SSV Normandy SR1, and it’s not a big deal at all. You’re under the command of Captain David Anderson, embarking on a suspiciously hush-hush mission to a peaceful human colony with far too many high-ranking officers and soldiers. At this point, the Normandy is nothing but a tool, and nothing about it seems special just yet.
Once your mission inevitably falls apart, ship and crew hightail it back to the Citadel, where hopefully the Council can make sense of what’s happened. Soon you’re given sole command of the Normandy, and that’s when Mass Effect really begins.
The original Mass Effect is much smaller in scope when put next to its sequels. You spend most of the game hunting the rogue Spectre Saren, and it’s all a big setup for what’s to follow. Still, you develop a sense of self-importance with each time you visit the galaxy map to plot your course, and are eager to learn the science behind what makes the Normandy tick. Soon enough, people see the ship dock and know that shit just got real. It’s awesome.
Then comes Mass Effect 2, which kicks your teeth in right from the start. But it isn’t Shepard’s death that stings the most — it’s the Normandy’s. You’ve been through a lot together — the places, the people, the romance, the Citadel battle — and to see it vaporized in a matter of minutes by a Collector ship is devastating. The feeling is shared by Joker, the ship’s pilot who refused to leave despite its destruction. You knew that Shepard would be OK somehow — it’s a video game, after all — but what would you do without the Normandy?
After a short while the super-shady pro-human (and anti-alien) advocacy group gives you a new ship, the Normandy SR2. It looks identical on the outside, but it’s way different. It’s said to be twice the size of the SR1, and you believe it. The rooms inside may be shaped the same, but suddenly they’re cavernous. On top of that, they’re filled with unfamiliar faces, all wearing a yellow and black uniform that the Alliance taught you to distrust. It’s unsettling.
You learn to live with it, though, and once you start rounding up people for your suicide mission it’s almost as if you never left. You grow attached to people like Yeoman Kelly Chambers and realize that maybe Cerberus isn’t all bad, and that AI’s such as EDI aren’t necessarily adversarial towards organics. You even get some of the old gang back together. You scour the galaxy to gather resources to upgrade your ships armor and weapons, putting up with the mundane planetary scanning, because you’ll be damned if you lose your ship again.
But you lose your ship anyway. While it’s not blown up, the Alliance takes it from you for cooperating with Cerberus before Mass Effect 3 even starts. It was interesting reading Twitter as everyone got their hands on ME3 over the past week; far before anyone got to the controversial ending, people were wondering where the hell the Normandy was. I felt it, and so did other fans.
It’s only a matter of time before your back at your regular post on the Normandy, however, and you notice that the ship has changed once again. It’s been retrofitted by the Alliance for maximum Reaper readiness and minimum Cerberus…ness, but at its core it’s still the same familiar SR2. You even have another charming young woman handling your messages in Specialist Traynor, although she’s dressed in the familiar Alliance blue.
It’s more than just a vessel for getting around the galaxy, and the crew are more than just employees under your command — this is your home, and they’re your family. This is where you first commanded a team. This is where you helped save galactic civilization on more than one occasion. This is where you heard a coldly calculating salarian scientist sing Gilbert and Sullivan.
This is the Normandy.