Today, at approximately zero six hundred hours, the legendary SSV Normandy SR1 began obscuring horizons in No Man's Sky. Travellers have made some pretty weird discoveries over the last four years, to be expected in an experience known for its boundless procedural generation, but none as audacious as this. After weeks of reporting new fluctuations within the fabric of the universe, players brought No Man's Sky's second expedition to a close in a way that no one could have predicted – with a collaboration between developers Hello Games and BioWare.
The meeting of Mass Effect and No Man's Sky is the coming together of two of gaming's greatest science-fiction properties. Travellers who were able to figure out Hello Games' latest ARG, a community effort to successfully assemble and activate the Myth Beacon in No Man's Sky: Expedition Two, were the first to see it: Commander Shepard's iconic ship warping into view. "I mean, it's pretty wild! It's possibly the wildest thing we've done yet," says Sean Murray, creative director. "I still have chills every time I see this incredibly iconic ship warping in, and have been looking forward to seeing our players have the same reaction."
No Man's Sky x Mass Effect
It's rare to see companies collaborate in this way. While it's true that we're seeing more crossovers than ever before, thanks to Call of Duty: Warzone and Fortnite investing heavily in turning icons of pop-culture into playable avatars, but this is different. The world of Mass Effect bleeding into the No Man's Sky universe has no premium price-tag attached to it. It's a limited-time celebration of Mass Effect Legendary Edition's release; it's a way for No Man's Sky fans to carry a little piece of Commander Shepard with them into the future as a part of their Frigate Fleet; and it's a further indication that Hello Games is intent on pushing the boundaries of expectation.
Murray tells me that he can hardly believe it was signed off. "It goes without saying, but we're all huge sci-fi fans, and massive fans of Mass Effect. We have friends at EA and BioWare, and started throwing around this idea when we heard that they were working on the Legendary Edition. I never dreamed for one moment that this game I grew up playing, with such an iconic universe and established lore, would allow anyone to do anything even remotely like this."
"But EA and BioWare have been just a joy to work with," he continues. "Working with BioWare, developer to developer, has been lovely. It's always fascinating to get an insight into another developer's processes, especially one we admire so much. We are thrilled and flattered that BioWare and EA let us pay tribute in this way."
What's so fun about this collaboration effort is that it kind of makes sense. The Normandy hasn't shown up randomly, but with reason – tied into the ongoing story of No Man's Sky. As Murray says, "it helped that we both wanted this to be a just a neat Easter Egg moment for the community. Just two sci-fi games doing something fun for their fans. Luckily, as it's science-fiction, we could set about finding a cool in-lore reason why this would happen!"
How it played out
Back in April, Hello Games introduced Expeditions – a new way for Travellers to experience No Man's Sky. These authored adventures combine the studio's penchant for ARGs with community collaboration, pushing players to embark on new journeys across the universe, map new systems, and complete challenges to unlock limited edition rewards. Beachhead, which launched on May 17, had tens of thousands of players converge on the same planet and begin a brand new voyage.
"Our second expedition contained clues to translating a strange alien alphabet that has been in No Man's Sky for years. Players quickly began cracking the code and translating messages found hidden in corners of the Space Anomaly, as well as some cryptic tweets we were sending out," says Murray.
As players found this code manifesting itself aboard the Space Anomaly, they soon discovered that Nada and Polo, two in-game researchers, were detecting fluctuations in the history of the No Man's Sky universe – history that dedicated players have spent years documenting. And it's here where the really fun Mass Effect connections began. "The final expedition objectives themselves were encrypted. Cracking these gave players a mysterious object called the 'Historiographical Dosimeter' and players soon worked out what to do."
"In-game, something was disrupting and overwriting the usual stories of [No Man's Sky's alien species] the Gek, Korvax and Vy'keen. By working together, and using their Dosimeters at artifact sites across the universe, players gradually pieced together a brand new story: An ancient weapon, wielded by heroes, the first of its kind. This was actually the story of Mass Effect 1 and the Normandy, distorted through a No Man's Sky lens. It was super fun watching some of the community get it, ponder about some sort of crossover but then dismiss it!"
As the expedition drew to an end over the last few days, players had been hard at work assembling a Myth Beacon "which would summon whatever was causing these strange stories to interfere with the fabric of the universe." Murray says that it's going to be "great to see people's reactions as the legendary SSV Normandy SR1 warped into space in front of them! The beauty of the Normandy is that, in Mass Effect lore, it is the all-powerful ship which appears whenever and wherever it is needed, kind of like Excalibur. Seeing it warp into our universe, as part of your fleet, is a lovely moment."
If you want to explore the history of Mass Effect through the lens of No Man's Sky, and add a little piece of Mass Effect history to your frigate fleet permanently, you'll need to do it soon. "The Normandy is the reward for completing the second No Man's Sky expedition," Murray warns. "This expedition started on Monday (17th May) and ends on Monday May 31st. The chance to add the Normandy to your frigate fleet for good ends once the expedition ends. We wanted to keep this special and a limited time thing."
It means that new Travellers could join the No Man's Sky universe in years to come and spot the Normandy SR1 off in the distance, wondering whether they have warped into the wrong sci-fi game. Of course, the jealousy may only be temporary, as Murray teases that there are plenty of surprises in store for the future. "We are always looking for ways to delight and surprise our players. That becomes harder and harder, since we've done so many wild and varied things over the last five years. The Mass Effect crossover was a genuine love-letter from one sci-fi game to another – just a nice surprising Easter Egg moment. Hopefully the community gets the sense that there are a couple more surprises lined up as we continue into our 5th anniversary year."