I'm willing to bet £100 that Anthem will feature at least one reference to Mass Effect's famous "I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favourite store on the Citadel" line. It's possible BioWare's writers would consider that too cheesy to attempt in 2019—but years after we first heard it, this joke exists as a Steam curator with over 190,000 followers. It's too big not to happen. And if it doesn't happen now, it'll damn well happen in the future. It should be on the game's roadmap!
Theories about Mass Effect and Anthem sharing the same universe have persisted since the latter game's announcement at E3 2017—hell, we even talked about them in a PC Gamer editorial meeting this past Monday Monday. This was posted on Reddit just after Anthem was announced in June 2017, positing that the destroyed mass relays played a part in establishing the game's universe.
And earlier this week, this popped up on Reddit, featuring a theory I've read a few times, albeit a little more developed. The Normandy crashed on a planet at the end of Mass Effect 3, you might recall, as the mass relays faltered. Here's the rest, which user Phoenix8972 makes clear is just 'fun speculation'. "Over thousands of years their descendants populate the planet, only having the broken parts of N7 armor and the Normandy to reverse engineer, but have no real grasp on how they work, resulting in the relatively low tech Javelin suits. They need these suits to defend themselves from the monsters and great planet-altering storms caused by the nearby broken and malfunctioning Mass Effect relay, or as this new group of humans call it, the Anthem of Creation."
I can see the easy reason this particularly theory persists: the end of Mass Effect 3 does show the Normandy landing on a planet that doesn't look impossibly like the setting of Anthem (by that, I mean it has trees and stuff). The problem is, as someone points out in that Reddit post's comments, the Normandy actually left that place in the extended cut of the ending, which we have to accept as canon—see below.
I mean, maybe EDI went a bit David from Alien Covenant and started experimenting with life before they departed, leaving a collective of humans to eventually build their own Javelins, but it seems unlikely.
How about another, less obvious stab at how Mass Effect and Anthem link up, where we don't have to break our brains thinking about old gods? User ZaudStorm posted this on the BioWare Social Network back in 2018, suggesting that another piece of Mass Effect lore called the Manswell Expedition from a Cerberus news item could connect with Anthem's setting. It's an isolated human colony that was rediscovered by the Asari over 100 years after it went missing, a pre-mass relay attempt at space travel—half opted to stay where they are, while the rest rejoined civilisation. If Fort Tarsis is being troubled by the Anthem of Creation, though, I imagine the people of the Manswell Expedition would've mentioned it to the Asari. Plus, humanity on Anthem's world seems to have existed for way longer than the Manswell Expedition existed on theirs. It's another no-go.
These theories are fun to read about. The reason behind the crossover speculation is obvious to me: it's fun to imagine that these two universes might co-exist somehow, and maybe believing that Mass Effect is the wider picture behind Anthem enhances people's excitement for it. I have no problem with that.
I would also guess that there's maybe a bit of yearning for Mass Effect, which sadly still feels like it'll be on hiatus for years to come, having once been such a talked about and important series. This week, BioWare reiterated that they're "definitely not done" with Mass Effect.
It's worth saying that BioWare was asked directly about connections between the two universes by Game Informer in September last year: whether the Normandy could fly to this planet, or if Anthem took place in an alternate universe. It seems pretty firm to me that they want Anthem to be its own deal. "Well… that’s not really a question we have answered," said executive producer Mark Darrah.
"We didn't design Anthem to be part of a BioWare continuum universe," added Michael Gamble, lead producer. Gamble mentioned that the Mass Effect universe could theoretically exist inside a Shaper Storm—a world event in Anthem that's a 'reality distortion' players can apparently travel through, and one of the secrets of the game probably being saved for launch.
About that 'Anthem of Creation', then. Every time I read about Anthem's lore, my brain is melted a little by nebulous terminology that I'm sure will make more sense when I play the actual game on Friday. The Anthem of Creation was once a tool of Shapers, the god-like figures of Anthem's universe that precede humans, and seems to be an unknowable force capable of both creating and destroying. At the start of Anthem's story, someone has tried to wield the Anthem to their own ends—killing a lot of freelancers in the process. The story will follow the Dominion faction's attempts to harness the Anthem.
I mean, I think so, anyway. Anthem's lore so far reads as vague and non-committal to me, which might be deliberate ambiguity on BioWare's part. After reading this nice and detailed explainer from GamesRadar, my brain hurts, like someone just tried to read The Silmarillion to me at four times the normal speed. I'm just going to have play the damn game before I know what the hell any of it means.
Anyway, to me the titular Anthem makes the game's universe too big to be compatible with Mass Effect's Reapers and Protheans—co-existing in a comic book-style multiverse seems more likely. Maybe that's where Shaper Storms open up potential crossover opportunities. But then, few seem to be able to agree on what a Shaper Storm even is yet. I'd guess it's just something you fly into to fight a big enemy with loads of HP.
Laws of lore
Of course, you could try and argue that the presence of N7 armour in Anthem—just a fun little promotion, no doubt—already creates an explicit link between those two universes. And if you think about it, this Dragon Age: Origins/Mass Effect armour promotion broke the rules of both universes years ago.
This Friday, when Anthem launches on EA Origin Access Premier, I expect players will pick through every detail of the game, looking for connections to the Mass Effect series, and Dragon Age, too. Commander Shepard's famous retail endorsement is probably a bit too obvious to make the grade—but I bet there will be some reference to that universe for BioWare fans to hold on to.