Spoiler-Free Mini-Review – The Art of the Mass Effect Universe

Being video game players, as we are, it can be easy for us to not realize how much work went into the finely tuned product spinning quickly in our neatly housed game systems. Sure, at times we can admire the finished product, but we weren’t there for the thousands of hours during which artists poured all of their creative talent onto who-knows-how-many pages. While an art book titled, “The Art of the Mass Effect Universe”, still doesn’t come close to completely revealing the history of the production of such a massive game (pardon the pun), it’s as good as we gamers are going to get for now.

There is information regarding Mass Effect 3 in this art book, but I’ll refrain from spoiling those particulars for you. Just think of that as my little gift to you. You’ll thank me later. Maybe. There will be spoilers for the art book itself and possibly Mass Effect 1 and 2, so If you don’t want any of that spoiled, stop reading now.

The book starts off with large, fully-painted depictions of both versions of Shepard: The male one, and the female red head who was inducted into science fiction history via Facebook fan votes. After that, we get a few paragraphs from Casey Hudson (Executive Producer) and Derek Watts (Art Director), who mostly fixate on the seemingly insurmountable task of creating a universe.

If you have ever looked into concept art for video games, animated films, or something similar, you know that artists unload tons of iterations of the thing they’re trying to create in order to discover what works best. In this book you’ll find said iterations of all of the characters you know, including Tali’Zorah, Wrex and the Turian race itself (including Garrus).

The Turians in particular have a multitude of iterations on display. The art team was looking to create a bird-like race, and from that they created a creature with two face-horns protruding from each side, a human-like, chubby, puckered-mouth alien with eyes lower than normal, and nostrils just slightly higher than his eyes, and a few dozen other oddities.

There are other little details to be found, one of which intimates that one of the early inspirations for the Krogan race was bats, which I surmise can be found in the placement of the eyes and nose. Reptiles were another influence overall, of course. As for the Krogan body, the heavy skin of the indian rhinoceros was the influence.

As the creator of The Knights of the Old Republic, and the new MMO, The Old Republic, I think you could easily guess that someone over there at Bioware is a fan of Star Wars. Well, it shows in one of their iterations of Saren, one of the main antagonists of the original Mass Effect. He’s dressed all in black, draped in a cape, and shooting lightning out of his right hand. Not only that, but he has a cane in his other hand, implying a mobility problem, and we all know that the Emperor isn’t known for his fast walking.

Readers can also expect to see the concept art of locations as well. There are a lot of paintings here, and while not all of them are the “normal” detailed paintings you’re used to seeing out in the wild, they are beautifully rendered nonetheless. There’s one of Omega’s interior, presumably the one in which you can find Aria T’Loak, the ruler of the station. It captures the seediness, liveliness and essence of Omega really well. The slightly more simplified shapes still capture the feeling of what it’s like to be there, and just one look can send you to that other world. On top of that, it is wall-worthy, as are most of the other pieces.

The Art of the Mass Effect Universe is just a glimpse into the makings of one of the best games of this generation. Having said that, readers can expect to be able to pore over the gorgeous paintings, finely detailed sketches, paintings, and 3-D renders of characters, and more thoroughly “finished” works that when pieced together, form the universe they know as Mass Effect. All of this and more can be found bound within the confines of this 186-paged fan-pleasing epic. The only minor gripe I have with this book is that I wish there were more personal accounts on why certain design decisions were made, and maybe a few fun tales from the office.

The Art of Mass Effect is set to be released in March of 2012 to coincide with the release of Mass Effect 3 (March 6th). Its MSRP is $39.99 and can be pre-ordered at Dark Horse.

Grade: A

Some of the things you can expect to find in this book:

Conceptual drawings and paintings for the Elcor, Quarians, Turians, Humans, Rachni and Queen, Krogan, The Thorian, Salarians, Volus, Geth

Art for weapons, miscellaneous items and logos

Art for most major locations and characters, including the relatively new Kasumi Goto and Shadow Broker.

New, sometimes surprising takes on old characters for Mass Effect 3

A very interesting take on what could have been the last boss of Mass Effect 3

An awesome look into the enemy types of Mass Effect 3

and more

Here’s the full picture used for the book cover:

Ryan Southard

Ryan Southard is a video game enthusiast, dissecting games down to their tiniest details. Whether it’s new or it’s old, as long as it’s awesome, he’ll play it. Follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Southard

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