Tuesday, August 31, 2021

What Should Mass Effect 4 Be?

 By: Patrick Morris

The final world premiere to round out the night of the game awards 2020 was one that nobody saw coming. A new Mass Effect game that judging by the trailer looks to be a sequel to the original Mass Effect trilogy is one that holds a huge amount of potential. Despite my enjoying Andromeda significantly more than it seems most other people did I'm excited to be headed back to the Milky Way.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, Mass Effect is the best science fiction property since Star Trek: The Next Generation and this continuation of the story in the Milky Way galaxy is a pivotal moment that will define the direction of the series moving forward.


For the most part there are two ways to write a story: you can either craft an interesting universe and populate it with characters or create interesting characters and write about the events of their lives essentially forcing the universe in which they exist to revolve around them.


It's no secret that Mass Effect has taken a lot of inspiration from other sci-fi properties, but none more than Star Trek. There are a lot of things that make Star Trek generally great, but if I had to nail down the single thing that the creators did right and continue to do right it's the fact that the universe has always been most important. Star Trek takes place in a universe that was created, then populated with interesting characters allowing for nearly infinite expansion. The fact that there isn't any one "chosen one" type character means that there can be significant stakes across multiple stories simultaneously. This one decision that was later expanded on significantly in the 1990's led to amazing subseries like TNG, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and even the Kelvin Universe, all providing their own unique flavor of Trek allowing fans to enjoy more than just one group of characters and stories. 


Star Wars on the other hand appears to have had a significantly lesser influence on Mass Effect, which in my opinion is a good thing. From the outset Star Wars revolved around one family of characters and their immediate acquaintances. Because Anakin Skywalker was literally "the chosen one" we as the audience have become inherently conditioned to believe that nothing anyone else in the universe does can be of any significant consequence. And yet, after 45 years of that conditioning Disney has purchased the franchise and is aggressively expanding and I'm the one that is somehow in the wrong for not being interested in something I've been taught has no potential of having even the slightest impact on the larger universe. 


So now moving on to Mass Effect. Despite the upcoming sequel being what looks to be a follow up to the original trilogy of games this is actually the fifth Mass Effect game. The seed of a spinoff series called Andromeda was planted back in early 2017 and unfortunately turned out to be a tremendous failure both critically and commercially. But playing the game for the first time four years after it launched I've actually really enjoyed the 10+ hours I've played at the time of writing. Andromeda is built on the amazing concept of exploration for the preservation of humanity that does a superb job of distancing the game from the original trilogy without appearing as though they're doing so for any negative reason. And the foundation laid with the Andromeda initiative is one that is ripe with possibilities for further story telling in that galaxy establishing a solid framework to build off of in subsequent sequels in the spin off series. 


But with all that said what should the upcoming Mass Effect game be?


The single most important decision Bioware has to make in the development of this game is the fate of Shepard after the original trilogy. There is one ending in which Shepard lives and the temptation to bring Shepard back from the dead once again for a proper Mass Effect 4 is undoubtedly tempting but would be a huge mistake. By bringing Shepard back Bioware would be elevating him or her to a "chosen one" type character that from now on must be involved in anything of any importance in the galaxy. What makes Mass Effect great is the lore and how it is intertwined and exists without the help or necessity of a Christ figure. If Shepard must return then I hope it is in some extremely minor way that is either referential or a cameo at most. 


From a story perspective I think it would be ideal if Bioware were able to find a way to start a new story similar to how they did with Andromeda but following the events of the galaxy after the Reaper war. Creating new characters and allowing them to grow with new objectives occurring in the wake of the Reaper war but still very different from the past games would do wonders for cultivating the potential of the series. And if possible it would be great to see a compelling story that isn't an apocalyptic dire situation, one more focused on exploration than combat. The possibilities are endless and one that I would love to see would be the connecting of the milky way and Andromeda galaxies and by proxy both series. 


While we are on the topic of the Reaper's it's worth saying that I would love to see them make a return in a smaller role. I think it would be foolish to somehow continue to utilize the Reaper's as the game's primary antagonists but to encounter one in a side quest just to establish that there are still Reaper's in dark space would make for a really fun threat looming in the distance. 


With four possible endings to the original trilogy Bioware will undoubtedly have to choose one to be canon as they wont be able to continue with the hundreds of possible permutations and the ending they should choose and based off the trailer I think they will choose is the destroy ending. Making the destroy ending canon would not only tee up a big reveal of more Reapers later on but also could set the stage for wiping the slate clean on the single most interesting concept in the Mass Effect universe which is the idea of synthetic life. If the destroy ending were to become canonical then it would have huge impact on the entire galaxy. Some people like Joker would be devastated but others like councilor Tevos would be thrilled as it was previously illegal to even research artificial intelligence much less develop it. While the other endings could bear some fruit the most potential is without a doubt in the destroy ending. 


Overall Mass Effect 4 is a game that is near the top of my list of games that I am most looking forward to. If Bioware leans on the wealth of lore that already exists in the universe and respectfully distances this sequel from Shepard. Bioware needs to firmly establish this game as the first in a new subseries of Mass Effect to expand the universe of game's and make the franchise more akin to Star Trek than Wars. 

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