Mass Effect 4: The Future Of BioWare's Series
BioWare's new Mass Effect game is currently in development at BioWare Montreal, but just where can the series go? Prequel or sequel?
Published on Nov 20, 2012
Mass Effect 4, or whatever it’s eventually called, will have to find its own place in BioWare’s complex universe. With a new team beginning work on the next instalment at BioWare Montreal, it seems the studio isn’t quite set on where to take things next.
Mass Effect 3’s ending, whether you enjoyed it or not, brought the series to a rather natural – if slightly contorted – conclusion. Whichever ending you were rewarded with, the war was won and Shepard’s plight to stop the Reapers had come to an end, but where do things go from here?
Taking to Twitter to ask Mass Effect fans what they want to see, BioWare’s executive producer, Casey Hudson, asked a very loaded question:
"Parsing through your thoughts on the next #ME game. Would you be more interested in a game that takes place before the trilogy, or after?"
Where next for BioWare's Mass Effect series?
BioWare must have some idea what it wants to do with Mass Effect next, which makes this audience pandering a reaffirmation of the decisions it has already made, or BioWare really is hoping fans can give some good feedback and help shape the future of the series.
"While [Mass Effect 4] will be very respectful of the heritage built over the course of the first three games, with the original trilogy now concluded and the switch over to a new engine, we are exploring new directions, both on the gameplay and story fronts," explained BioWare Montreal’s studio director Yanick Roy when the game was announced.
"You can still expect the pillars the franchise is known for to be fully intact though, including diverse alien races, a huge galaxy to explore, and of course rich, cinematic storytelling."
But what does that really mean? Of course the next Mass Effect game is going to bear more than a passing resemblance to the previous games in the series, but what about creating a new experience that builds on the series’ core tenets but also pushes off in entirely new directions?
There’s a lot of potential, but what could BioWare Montreal do with Mass Effect 4?
Here’s where it could go…
Mass Effect 4 – Prequel or sequel?
There’s one major drawback to setting a new game in the aftermath of the Reaper attack on earth. Firstly, BioWare’s new game will eventually have to refer to said attack and explain exactly what happened thereby bringing up all those memories of Star children and binary choices. Or, it will have to set itself so far into the future that the new game could lose touch with the universe we’ve come to know and love.
The latter might not be such a bad choice, though. It would give BioWare Montreal the chance to build a new universe and basically start afresh, ignoring many of the hang-ups ME3’s ending inevitably throws up.
We might have to deal with the loss of the series’ staple characters but moving forward and leaving their fates shrouded in mystery might actually be preferable to finding out what happened to Joker and EDI on that jungle planet. Or, discovering what life was like with no synthetics whatsoever (it was probably boring).
Setting things prior to the original trilogy also seems like a sensible idea on paper, but could eventually lead to more story issues than the prequel would run in to. There’s a rich back-story to Mass Effect that’s been explored through the books and the comics.
After discovering the first Prothean relay and developing FTL travel, humanities first steps into the universe were violent ones (of course they were). A war with the Turians would make for an action-packed setting, but it would surely result in a game very similar to what we’ve just experienced.
There’s only so many times you can save humanity from an all consuming threat before things become a little irritating. Exploring the early years of the alliance and humanities first steps on the galactic stage was pretty much covered in the original Mass Effect, too, and BioWare should be cautious of repeating itself.
Would a game focusing on the Human/Turian war provide enough varirty to Mass Effect 4?
Mass Effect 4 has the opportunity of starting all over again and taking some real risks with the series and if BioWare wanted to give players the chance of controlling an alien lead, we’d be more than happy.
The Mass Effect universe has tons of alien races, each with their own distinct battle-styles and weapons, but seeing the universe through their eyes would give Mass Effect 4 an entirely new hook and a good chance to play around with the series’ staple conventions of morality and choice.
That said there was the little boy seen at the end of Mass Effect 3 standing with a mysterious older character. Is there some importance inferred from that scene beyond the fact that Shepard saved humanity and all the little kids? Would BioWare prefer to keep the Shepard moniker and have his son or daughter exploring the galaxy?
BioWare has to disprove that what happened at the climax of Mass Effect 3 is reflective of the limitations of the choice system the series has placed at its heart. Rather than cop-out of presenting any real consequences of your actions like Mass Effect 3, Mass Effect 4 should be more like the original game and tell a much more contained story.
Have a grand narrative, just not at the expense of the current game or the player's effect on the world and events around them.
Part of the problem with the Mass Effect trilogy was the fact it blew its story load on the Reapers too early. The first game established them as a major threat, but also as one that would sit dormant in the background over the course of many games. To waste the Reapers as the climax to Mass Effect 3 ultimately created a much more predictable enemy and a much more predictable action game.
How great would it be to have a Krogan lead character in Mass Effect 4? Very, very great.
Let’s hope BioWare has learned its lesson and focuses Mass Effect 4's narrative on a smaller story, but one with hints of where it can grow. Every game doesn’t need to be a ‘save the universe, life and death’ scenario.
There have been suggestions that BioWare could go back to a previous Reaper cycles and present an entirely new universe with completely new alien species and technology.
While the notion of a game without any recognisable human characters and a universe of new weapons, ships (not to mention new races of aliens) is fascinating, we’d imagine it would be a hard sell. But that doesn’t mean BioWare couldn’t weave in a few levels set in a different Reaper cycle for players to explore.
Where would you like to see the Mass Effect series go? Let us know below.