Mass Effect 4: where will BioWare go next?

Thursday, 12 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 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?