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Mass Effect 4: where will BioWare go next?

Thursday, 12th June 2014 08:52 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Mass Effect 4 is coming, but where is BioWare going without Commander Shepard at the helm? We explore the possibilities. This article contains references to the ending of Mass Effect 3.

mass_effect_fan_art_patryk_garrett_olejniczak

Mass Effect art credit

The beautiful fan art in this article is by Patryk “Garrett” Olejniczak, whose name almost sounds like the boss’s. Visit his DeviantArt and blog.

Mass Effect 4 made an appearance at EA’s E3 2014 conference, but to say it was on show is a bit of a stretch. Although it’s been called the first footage of Mass Effect 4, what we actually saw was prototypes and conceptual footage – it’s unlikely that the final product will bear much resemblance to these few brief snippets.

We don’t know much about the project – it’s playable, apparently, so presumably BioWare has locked down the core gameplay loop, if nothing else. We haven’t even been told whether the new game is set before or after the classic trilogy that closed out with Mass Effect 3 in 2012. Prior to kicking off pre-production, BioWare itself asked this question of its fans, because it wasn’t sure either.

As I’ve argued before, prequels are a safe bet when a new team takes over an IP, as BioWare Montreal has done now that the Edmonton studio is onto a new property. The Mass Effect lore is well-established and pretty weighty – so much so that even official products make mistakes – and creating a prequel to flesh out existing canon is a safer bet than writing all new stories.

The backstory of events leading up to the first Mass Effect game provides plenty of opportunities for storytelling, too. As you may remember, humans aren’t very well established on the Citadel at the beginning of Mass Effect, and Shepard becomes the first human to be accepted into any sort of high-ranking official Citadel role, as a Spectre. This is because the trilogy is set relatively shortly after humans “discover” mass effect technology and make galactic contact for the first time.

The First Contact War between humanity and the Turians is an obvious contender as a prequel setting. Human-Turian relations remain strained right up to the events of Mass Effect, and that’s why the Normandy – a collaboration between the two species – is such an important milestone and symbol for inter-species relations. Just as we enjoyed watching Shepard and Garrus come to know and trust each other despite their differences, a story set during the resolution of the First Contact War would be full of drama.

The Rachni War and Krogan Rebellions both provide fruitful ground for a prequel – even a series of connected games. The paired conflicts both arose out of misunderstandings and exploitation, which provides plenty of narrative hooks. The Rachni and Krogan are fierce opponents in the Mass Effect universe but I don’t feel BioWare ever effectively communicated the fear these opponents are supposed to inspire through gameplay; I’d love to see what a new team might do with combat to make these foes worth facing. Both conflicts also allow for non-human heroes, which is pretty cool; in the Rachni Wars, you might play a Krogan, and in the Krogan Rebellions, you could be a Turian.

Speaking of non-human protagonists: if we want to go further back in time, then of course the cyclical nature of Mass Effect’s lore makes for an interesting prospect. What about the Fall of the Protheans to the Reapers? It’d be wonderful to see what the galaxy was like before the last purge, especially as it would provide so many opportunities for in-jokes and references. You know when Javik jokes that Asari and Salarians were both primitive as all heck during his lifetime? Yeah. That.

And what about cycles before that? BioWare could really go crazy here, because the regular wiping out of galactic-level life means a completely fresh setting every time. That said, we know there are Krogans in Mass Effect 4, which makes the distant past a far less likely setting; the Krogan did not have galactic technology prior to the Rachni Wars.

There’s one other major conflict ripe for exploration, and that’s the Geth War, but while I’m unsure how exciting this one might be – the Quarians pretty much had their butts handed to them and fled the scene – there’s a lot of opportunity for storytelling among the first Geth to gain consciousness and their decision to rebel, or perhaps among the Quarians arguing for peace, or seeking help from other races. Additionally, the Geth conflict is microcosm look at the overarching AI versus organic life plot that undercut the whole series to date (although you might have missed it due to all the romance and pew-pew-pew).

A little closer to home, the story of Captain Anderson’s rumoured Spectre career is a pretty important one. It serves as a background for the reluctance of the Council to consider Shepard for the role, and establishes some important plot lines that play out throughout the trilogy. If you’ve read the Mass Effect novels, you’ll know Anderson’s had quite the exciting career; even his resistance movement on earth during Mass Effect 3 would be a great yarn.

Next: Will Commander Shepard return, and is a sequel even possible?

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18 Comments

  1. YoungZer0

    Didn’t Patryk stop providing fan art and was actually hired by Bioware to do a fem shep artwork?

    #1 5 months ago
  2. AmiralPatate

    The First Contact War could be interesting, only if you could see it from both sides which wouldn’t be easy. Same goes for the Geth-Quarian war. The thing is, in the end, you know exactly how it ends. That’d be a great setup for a movie or series though, but a game, I’m not sure.
    The Fall of the Protheans and previous cycles ideas basically boils down to fighting the Reapers again. Unless you focus on a time without Reapers, in which case I’ll make the argument you’re not really in the Mass Effect universe.
    The problem with Captain Anderson is his story is already told in the books. And the character is already established, which negates player choice of gender, background, even class. Which would be pretty bad for a RPG. I mean playing as Keith David is cool, but not quite what I expect.
    As for Shepard, by the end of ME3 he/she is The Shepard. He/she is not a human anymore, he/she is a legend, he/she is a myth, an inspiring story for the new generation (as seen from ME3 stargazer sequence). I don’t think the return of Shepard in the narrative would be beneficial. Also, which Shepard would that be?

    Mass Effect to me is also about the place of humanity in the Universe and in the galactic order. There is power struggling, a whole arc about human advancement and at what cost. I think the new trilogy needs to capture that, maybe with another species, or maybe just with another time.
    Everything that is mentioned in the ME trilogy is fairly well documented as well. Which is why I’m skeptical about telling one of those stories. I want choice, but if the story is already on rails because this and that has to happen, what’s the point?
    There’s a whole galaxy to rebuild, so I’d go with that. The Reapers are gone, hopefully there is have a better understanding of their technology, so maybe it could be set at the time of a massive new discovery that will change the galaxy forever. Something that would make the Citadel look like a toy.
    Or something else. I’m confident in Bioware’s team’s capabilities to deliver something brilliant and unexpected. So wait and see I guess.

    #2 5 months ago
  3. Gheritt White

    I, for one, sincerely hope that BioWare don’t go down the prequel route. I want the ME universe to be expanded, not merely to have previously unknown details filled in.

    #3 5 months ago
  4. Bomba Luigi

    I’m normaly not a Fan of prequels, but a sequal after ME3 would be stupid. Everybody glowing green and shit, thats silly.

    I just dont know if I really want a new ME. 1 and 2 are by far my most played Games last gen, even Oblivion and Skyrim cant keep up with them. But 3 was so bad in Parts, brilliant in others but mostly bad. The ending isnt even its biggest problem.

    I mean, new trilogy and stuff, maybe part 4 is amazing but when I still get shit the Moment the trilogy ends I dont think its worth playing. So many good Games and not much Time, I maybe should just give other Games a shot.
    But thats just me.

    #4 5 months ago
  5. Edo

    4 colors?

    #5 5 months ago
  6. Inspectre

    I’m not very enthusiastic about Mass Effect 4. Call me pessimistic, but I seriously doubt the new teams’ ability to produce a game worthy of the title.
    Mass Effect has been my favorite game series since Virmire, and I’ve gotten attached to the party/Shepard/Reapers, so I am possibly biased against a new entry by default.

    Nice jacket, btw.

    #6 5 months ago
  7. bradk825

    Nice jacket.

    They have me thinking sequel personally, but if that’s the case I am guessing it means rebuilding mass relays, and it would be WAY in the future. After the credits in ME, the kid and grandparent are talking about these events as they happened centuries ago. If mankind is exploring the stars again 10 years post-shep I would be very surprised by that.

    #7 5 months ago
  8. Praglik

    I would hate a prequel. The story of Mass Effect Trilogy has a beginning, a middle and an end, we don’t need anything more there. While a story was told, it’s time to move on the next one… What would be the universe without the Reaper’s careful planing ?

    #8 5 months ago
  9. karma

    Prequel?
    I could have sworn i heard Casey Hudson say during E3 that when asked, fans said they wanted something new, essentially setting the new game somewhere we haven’t seen. Now while that doesn’t rule out a prequel, you would think that to fill in the gaps and lead into ME1 there would need to be familiarity, which clashes with the point he was trying to make. /dunno

    #9 5 months ago
  10. karma

    @Bomba Luigi: Disagree. 1 was cool because it was fresh and retained its RPG heritage, 2 had cool character stories but otherwise sucked ass (imho). 3 did a better job of balancing action with its RPG routes. And was easily the sweetest playing of the three, even if the ending was left a bit.. well a lot vague. Gameplay wise it had the most to dig into.

    Personally i dont mind abstract endings, 2001 A Space Odyssey prepared me well.

    #10 5 months ago
  11. bradk825

    @10 I personally found 2 the best simply because of teh suicide mission finishing the game so perfectly. 1 would be a CLOSE, CLOSE second, as a fresh IP that was a welcome change but also stayed true to Bioware’s RPG visions. 3 comes in third for me, but I did love it, even the ending. Single player didn’t feel like an improvement over 2, but the co-op was awesome.

    #11 5 months ago
  12. Malmer

    As I understand it they said something to the effect of that we would go far away in the sequel. So put a ship through a wormhole or broken mass effect relay to an other galaxy. There will be new aliens. New cultures. But still the people on the ship from the old cultures. If it is a large ship things could get really interesting.

    #12 5 months ago
  13. Bomba Luigi

    @karma Thats a fine opinion and I dont want change it, but I still disagree. It had a lot faults in terms of Gameplay, Nr.1 being the absolut bollocks Sidequest design and broken Questlog. Or the drastic reduced amount of conversations you could have with your Crew, it was shoking for me.
    And lot of stuff didnt make any Sense, just like ending. Thats not abstract, but if you can see that way then ghats a good Thing. As said, I dont want change your mind, I many Times wished I could see ME3 as a good Game.

    I too like the second one the most, just because of the great Cast and all the great conversations. That always was my favorit part of Mass Effect.

    #13 5 months ago
  14. fearmonkey

    You know, you actually look a bit like my femshep Brenna :)

    #14 5 months ago
  15. Shadow1nside

    If they are going to do a sequel, which i am hoping because prequels without a flushed out ending are unsatisfying, they could use the bloodline approach and have that meaningless romance increase options for maybe a character. I would love to be a “son/daughter of Shepard” I mean your name would still be “Shepard” and carrying over games would have new major impact also encouraging replay-ability. I know that by following that path my character would be a half-quarian with biotic and tech powers. Plus if Shepard isn’t completely dead, NPC, you could see the kind of person your personal path made him into giving different diolouge and character for renegade or paragon paths. I mean it would be a big reward for carrying over games and a big new starting point for the story, and still might get cameos from old characters.

    #15 5 months ago
  16. lordbyro

    I think we should analyse a little more the question “where is BioWare going without Commander Shepard” before continue.

    I dont’ like the idea where we’ll just (…) get a chance to see our hero once more, even if it were just as a bub, or in the distance. This depresses me.

    I still seeing Shepard breathing through the rubble. Neither Bioware itself could say that wasn’t his torso but another N7 because it would offend the intelligence of many fans.

    I hope Bioware stop bullshit. BioWare apparently forgot how to tell a narrative and made fools patches to justify DAI. Morrigan is exaggeratedly ugly…just Bioware don’t see it. I’m affraid about futur ME game, so I prefer BW go in new direction to respect Shepard legacy.

    #16 4 months ago
  17. jackfiftynine

    1) Make our choices MATTER. In the previous games there where a decent
    amount of choices but in the key parts of the story our choices didn’t
    really make a difference at all. yea it would be time consuming to make
    each choice effect the story in major ways but it would be worth it. 2)
    More CUSTOMIZATIONS. Have MORE options for what you can wear and how you
    look. having to chose from JUST 6 outfits kind of sucked. and more
    armor customizations. the cloths(armor) make the man 3) the option to be
    a DIFFERENT race. being another race with new ABILITIES and TACTICS
    adds new ways to play the game. its made multiplayer pretty popular and
    fun so why not put it in the main game? 4) CUSTOMIZABLE SHIPS. being
    able to purchase FURNITURE, UPGRADES, COLORS, and more so i can SIM out
    my ship would make it more personal and more me. having MORE
    CUSTOMIZABLE ships would draw people into the story more because it
    would be THEIR ship in my opinion. 5) Have it so my previous games
    effect the new game. Most of the mass effect fans have probably put
    countless hours into the mass effect games and i personally have gone
    back and played the series countless times to get the perfect ending(bad
    ending) and would love for all that hard work to not be wasted. 6) Have
    a sequel. I (and countless others) want to see how the mass effect
    universe was effected by the reapers and how they have advanced more
    into the future. 7) LAST AND MOST IMPORTANTLY……..SPACE BATTLES!!!!
    they missed a HUGE opportunity here.

    #17 4 months ago
  18. jackfiftynine

    this is what they should put in the game
    1) Make our choices MATTER. In the previous games there where a decent
    amount of choices but in the key parts of the story our choices didn’t
    really make a difference at all. yea it would be time consuming to make
    each choice effect the story in major ways but it would be worth it. 2)
    More CUSTOMIZATIONS. Have MORE options for what you can wear and how you
    look. having to chose from JUST 6 outfits kind of sucked. and more
    armor customizations. the cloths(armor) make the man 3) the option to be
    a DIFFERENT race. being another race with new ABILITIES and TACTICS
    adds new ways to play the game. its made multiplayer pretty popular and
    fun so why not put it in the main game? 4) CUSTOMIZABLE SHIPS. being
    able to purchase FURNITURE, UPGRADES, COLORS, and more so i can SIM out
    my ship would make it more personal and more me. having MORE
    CUSTOMIZABLE ships would draw people into the story more because it
    would be THEIR ship in my opinion. 5) Have it so my previous games
    effect the new game. Most of the mass effect fans have probably put
    countless hours into the mass effect games and i personally have gone
    back and played the series countless times to get the perfect ending(bad
    ending) and would love for all that hard work to not be wasted. 6) Have
    a sequel. I (and countless others) want to see how the mass effect
    universe was effected by the reapers and how they have advanced more
    into the future. 7) LAST AND MOST IMPORTANTLY……..SPACE BATTLES!!!!
    they missed a HUGE opportunity here.

    #18 4 months ago

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