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One of Alec Ryder’s memories includes a conversation with Castis Vakarian, the father of party member and major character Garrus Vakarian from the previous Mass Effect games. In the conversation, Castis discusses his son’s work with Shepard and their belief that the Reaper threat is genuine.
In Alec Ryder’s logs, you can find several audio logs from Liara T’Soni, a party member and major character in the previous Mass Effect games.
At Kadara Port, you can meet a character named Cassandra Verner, who left the Milky Way in order to get away from her crazy family. If you’ve played the Mass Effect trilogy, you should be familiar with one member of that crazy family—her brother is Conrad Verner, who is a huge fan of Shepard’s and has the potential to show up in all three games in the original trilogy.
Cassandra describes Conrad as “a couple quarts low on eezo” and wishes she could work for Sloane Kelly and then call him up to say, “See, idiot. You’re not the only one in the family hanging out with famous people.”
In Voeld, you can get a short quest called “White Death.” It involves you scanning a cloaked wraith, at which point a hidden sniper kills it in one shot. This is a reference to real-world Finnish sniper Simo Häyhä, a deadly sniper with over 500 kills who was nicknamed White Death by Soviet soldiers.
During Liam’s loyalty mission, there is a point where the leader of the enemy ship speaks over the intercom and demands to know what is going on. It is possible to lie and say “Everything’s under control. Just a simple weapon malfunction. How are you?”
This is a reference to Han Solo’s line in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope in which he says over the Imperial console, “Everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine… We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?”
Drack will eventually send Ryder an email in which he says he met an asari on Kadara who is about to inherit a lot of credits and will split them with him, but she needs him to cover the transfer costs. He wants Ryder’s advice since Vetra told him it’s a scam. This is a reference to common scam emails that most of us online have probably received.
While not confirmed, there is significant reason to believe that the mysterious (and somewhat sinister) “Benefactor” who worked with Alec Ryder and funded the Andromeda Initiative is the Illusive Man, the leader of Cerberus from the original trilogy.
As another reference, which may or may not be coincidental, Cora’s surname is Harper, which the Mass Effect Evolution comics give as the Illusive Man’s real name. This has led to fan speculation that Cora is related to the Illusive Man, possibly even his daughter, especially if Cerberus funded the Andromeda Initiative.
If you have the Deluxe Edition, you can get a pet pyjak (space monkey). The instructions for your pyjak give you a few warnings to properly take care of it: “no food after 2359, no baths or showers, and please limit his exposure to solar radiation.” This is a reference to the mogwai from Gremlins.
It is possible for you to find and capture a space hamster, at which point it becomes Ryder’s pet. This is a running gag in BioWare’s games, as you could purchase a space hamster as a pet in the original trilogy and Baldur’s Gate features a character named Minsc who has a “miniature giant space hamster” named Boo.
The emails Ryder receives from grateful colonists include one from V. Tethras, who promises to write a book about what happened, and one from Anders, who suggests “Let’s blow the roof off the place!” reference to Dragon Age’s Varric and Anders, respectively. Other Dragon Age messages come from R. Jenny and Widdle (Sera and Dagna), Captain I. (Isabela), C. Hawke (Carver), and A. Hendyr (Aveline).
After the main mission on Eos, you’ll be able to travel into the east area of the map. There, you can encounter a character named Bain Massani. He is the son of Zaeed Massani, an optional party member from Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3.
(Zaeed is a DLC character for Mass Effect 2.)
On the Tempest, enter the sleeping quarters next to the meeting room. There are two toys on the bed, one of a Peashooter and one of a Scientist, two classes from Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.
In Ryder’s quarters on the Tempest, there is a model rocket named the “SpaceX Model” that heavily resembles the Falcon Heavy rocket from the real-world SpaceX. Examining it unlocks a Codex entry that credits SpaceX with revolutionizing space exploration.
It goes on to reference the importance of SpaceX’s technology in allowing the European Space Agency to establish Lowell City on Mars. Lowell City was originally referenced in the original trilogy as part of a codex entry about the Prothean ruins on Mars.
In Havarl, you can meet a turian named Avitus Rix. He is a former Spectre who was recommended by Saren Arterius, the antagonist of the first Mass Effect. This leads to a brief discussion with him about Saren’s actions.