Folks, I’m going to say this flat out and up-front:
Recently, BioWare Montréal announced that it was taking over the Mass Effect franchise from the Edmonton studio, and that they would be doing a Mass Effect 4. They called on fans to express their opinion on whether they wanted a prequel, a sequel, or something else. While I would love to have more Mass Effect, as I loved all of the first 3 games, I can’t help but wonder how BioWare would handle such a game. Looking through the comments, forum posts, and tweets, opinions of fans seemed to vary, but a large number of fans wanted a sequel to Mass Effect 3. A continuation of the universe after Shepard’s fateful decision, if you will. I pulled back and thought about the possibilities for a while. Books are fairly linear and easy to incorporate into the existing timeline, as is proven by the first three Mass Effect novels (I don’t consider the 4th book, Deception, canon, due to it’s numerous glaring errors and plot holes). Games on the other hand are considerably less linear, and more difficult to incorporate into an established timeline.
A prequel to the trilogy would be the easiest route for BioWare, since interaction with established characters would not be needed. Fan comments suggested several possibilities for a game focus. The most common that I saw was the Rachni War and Krogan Rebellions, since these take place long before humans ever achieved spaceflight. There is a lot of possibilities here, and no chance of running into an established character. It’s essentially a completely blank sheet of paper with a lot of room for creativity.
Another possibility that was suggested was a game focusing on the decades leading up to the original Mass Effect, covering events such as the initial expansion of humanity throughout Sol, the discovery of the Mars archives and Mass Effect technology, and the First Contact War. Steven Hackett, David Anderson, as well as a few other established characters could be included within the game. The problem here is that the game can’t really focus on any one event, since they are all fairly short (the First Contact War was little more than a three-month conflict culminating in the occupation and liberation of Shanxi). Thus, such a game would effectively take place over the course of 20 or more years.
A third possibility is the Geth Uprising/Morning War. Even here there is the possibility of running in to a known character (Wrex, Legion, or a known Asari such as Benezia, for example) could be easily done, and wouldn’t interfere with the established story.
The last prequel possibilities are a game focusing on a previous cycle, such as the Protheans, or perhaps one even earlier. While these time periods offer the most flexibility, fans may be disenchanted by the knowledge that, no matter what you do, the species you play as will be wiped out.
A possible sequel to Mass Effect 3 would be extremely difficult to pull off, due to the huge number of variables the game would have to pull in from Mass Effect 3. Whole species – the Rachni, the Geth, and the Quarians for example – may or may not exist based on the decisions you made in the previous games. While the Rachni have always stayed in the shadows, and would be fairly easy to work around, the Geth and Quarians have been mainstays since the first game. As a result, they can’t be very plot-dependent.
The same goes true with all of Shepard’s squadmates. One of the reasons BioWare didn’t give many of the squadmates introduced in Mass Effect 2 a place in the overall plot in the third game is because of the possibility that the character may have been killed in the ME2 suicide run. To facilitate the possibility of the character being MIA, the only 3 squadmates with significant roles in the third game – Mordin, Legion, and Tali – were given “understudy” characters that appeared in the main character’s place. For Mordin, this was Padok Wiks, for Tali, it was Shala’Raan and Darrow’Xen, and for Legion, it was a VI. All the Mass Effect 3 squadmates can die as well. The Virmire survivor is the first and most obvious, but anyone can be killed in the final run to the Citadel beam, if your EMS is low enough. Even Liara, who, up until then, had a really impressive set of Plot Armor. If that’s not enough, if your EMS is RIDICULOUSLY low, the only confirmed survivor is Admiral Hackett – even Joker’s plot armor got burned off by the Crucible’s destructive energy wave.
The Mass Effect 3 endings themselves also pose a significant hurdle. If BioWare doesn’t want to ‘canonize’ an ending, they would have to write a story that somehow agrees with all possible endings, with the possible exception of the Refuse ending. I can’t even begin to imagine how they would accomplish this. On a side note, who would be the new ‘bad guy’? After the galactic threat of the Reapers, the only thing I can see as a possibility, would be the return of the Leviathans, or some sort of intergalactic nemesis. Anything else would seem mundane by comparison.
In all cases, BioWare has been firm in it’s statement that any sequel would not continue Shepard’s story, and that the main character would not be a “Shepard 2”. Shepard’s story, whether s/he survives or not, is effectively finished with the Mass Effect 3 ending.
A midquel, something that takes place during the course of the 3 original games, is another possibility. Obviously, it would revolve around a character that is not seen in the Original Trilogy, or, if he is seen, is an otherwise nameless character that Shepard has little to no interaction with. A cameo by Shepard would work still work though, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to have an interaction with one or more of Shepard’s squadmates in ME3, since they are scattered around the Citadel.
The problem here is that the game really would not add much to the overall story surrounding the Trilogy, a problem many fans had with Mass Effect 3’s Omega DLC. We’d still be fighting Reapers, struggling to survive, and working to get the Crucible built. The game would also have to be set within the confines of the original Mass Effect 3 choices, significantly impacting the choice-based directions included in the first 3 games, and the overall outcome would be exactly the same, diminishing the point of the game.
In addition, several midquels have already been released in the form of the games Mass Effect: Galaxy for iPhone/iPod Touch and Mass Effect: Infiltrator for iOS and Android devices.
The fourth possibility is a reboot. We’ve seen it happen multiple times in the Batman films. The Doom movie (as bad as it was) was, in some ways, a reboot of the Doom franchise. Star Trek’s 2009 film was effectively a reboot of the franchise, even though that reboot was encapsulated in an in-universe narrative. Reboots are, essentially, when the owner of the Intellectual Property decides to hit the ‘reset’ button on their universe, starting it over again with the same basic premise, but with a new story, new characters, and a new objective
In such a reboot of the Mass Effect universe, we’d likely still be cruising through mass relays fighting bad guys from a cool starship, with all the familiar races, and a squad of multiracial NPCs. The rest of the game – the story, the missions, the characters themselves – would be radically different.
The reboot option is the cleanest for BioWare if they want the player’s character to be human, but don’t want to focus on the events leading up to the original Mass Effect. It avoids the problems presented with a sequel or a midquel, but has it’s own can of worms. Players who have grown accustomed to playing as Commander Shepard would be more likely to be disenchanted by the game, due to the lack of the original trilogy’s protagonist.
Some have pointed to BioWare Community Manager Chris Priestly’s comment about “(calling) the next game Mass Effect 4 or ME4 is doing it a disservice” as evidence of a franchise reboot. Others have claimed it was an attempt to keep fans focused on a reboot, when it is, in actuality, one of the other three options.
As far as continuing the Mass Effect franchise, I would love to see a prequel or a sequel but I have to admit I’m eager to play, no matter what it is.
How about YOU? What would you like to see? Any particular reason? Leave a comment below!