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Earlier this year, PC Gamer published a couple of lore-filled articles that arranged all the major events of the Fallout and The Elder Scrolls fictional universes in a neat chronological order. And now, their latest article of this kind is dedicated to BioWare's Mass Effect series. If learning a bit about the history of Mass Effect's cyclical galaxy sounds like something you may enjoy, here are the intro paragraphs and you take it from there:
It's easy to ignore the codex section when you start playing a Mass Effect game. You concentrate on the shooting and romancing and flying around space completing missions, and you gloss over that one button in the menu. At some point, though, you'll want to know what the deal is with the geth, or the Citadel Council, or the genophage. One of the things that makes the Mass Effect games special is how much detail is there waiting for you, and how much context it adds to the action. Mass Effect's history makes shooting a bunch of krogans feels like something that matters, rather than just another obstacle between you and the next mission complete screen.
Eventually you feel the urge to look deeper. And that's when you find whole histories of human space exploration and alien contact, and beyond that histories for each of the alien species and their progenitors that go back thousands of years.
There's a lot to it. And there will be spoilers.
The history of the Mass Effect universe begins some time before 1,000,000,000 BCE—dates are given in the format of CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era)—when a species called the leviathans controls the galaxy. Observing a repeating cycle in which civilizations collapse after creating synthetic lifeforms that turn on their creators, the leviathans seek to break this cycle by, ironically, creating a synthetic intelligence. They call it the Catalyst.
The Catalyst is intended to serve as a bridge between organic and artificial life, working to preserve organic species at any cost. The Catalyst, believing conflict to be inevitable, sees the best way of achieving this to be taking organic civilizations at their peak, shortly before they are responsible for their own downfalls, and absorbing their genetic material into new lifeforms that it can maintain forever. It preserves them, but only in the sense that it turns them into jam.
The Catalyst begins with its own creators, transforming them into the first reapers and beginning the war its creators had tried to avoid.