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The number one thing that has been on my mind whenever I think of Mass Effect is likely the same as everyone else's: What is Mass Effect 4 (Which, for simplicity's sake, is what I'm calling it here.) going to be? I have read many a forum, blog, and whatever else I can find speculating on it. All we really know is four things:
1) It is likely not to be called Mass Effect 4
2) Shepard will not be in it, as his story is over according to BioWare.
3) The game uses Frostbite's graphic engine.
4) It will take some gameplay cues from Dragon Age.
So, as I'm sure you can imagine, and probably even know, speculation has ran quite rampant. I have heard 4 possible choices for what the next Mass Effect game will be like, and so I'll list them, give my thoughts on them, give a few possible things that they may do in these games, and then wrap it up by re-listing them in a "Most likely to least likely" order.
A story before Shepard's story is certainly doable, as the Mass Effect universe is full of lore and stories that many a fan would be fascinated in seeing play out before their eyes. The First Contact War, the rise of Cerberus, the 13th League of One member (I hope I'm getting my facts right there... xD) and many, many more. However, there a few concerns I have regarding this. The first is that there are books and the like that do, in fact, detail what happened during these events. For players who have read these materials this may just seem redundant to them, especially if the game decides to follow the book to a tee, right down to the protagonist. Also, most of the things that have true prequel potential have canon endings.
I suppose the game could still have multiple endings, as we know it will have choices. Perhaps they will allow you to diverge so far away from the canon story that you completely alter history and a epilogue will play out, telling you how you either followed the timeline to a tee, or how you just improved the galaxy for years to come, or how you just screwed up you idiot.
I personally think it is much more likely that if the do go this route, they will tell one of the stories that are a bit more vague, like that 13th member, or go on to tell a story previously untold, like a top secret Alliance op that ended with a planet either saved or left out to dry or whatever. Maybe it even ties in with one of the aforementioned events. The fact is if they tell a story that everyone already knows, then some fans will be angry at the lack of choice or how, technically, an "alternate path" doesn't really matter since it didn't really happen. Doing it like this, would prevent that... Unless it opens up plot holes in which case... Well, yeah, BioWare won't hear the end of it.
Some other things I think they would do should they do this is drop hints about the Reaper cycle and fill in plot holes novels that a few prequel materials caused.
Something I doubt they'll do is set it during the Prothean extinction. I'm sorry, but I just think they will try to do something not involving the Reapers as a main villain. There are still some people bitter about the ME3 ending, and having the Reapers there will just remind those people about it. The same, of course, applies to theories that the game will take place in a cycled 100,000 years ago, or 150,000 years ago, or 200,000 years ago, or...
They'd have to pick a canon ending. No ifs, ands, or buts. If they don't, if they try to pretend the Reaper thing ever happen or even try to leave the conclusion vague it will crop up plot holes like crazy, the ultimate one being "Why aren't the Reapers helping destroy the new threat?" Both the Control and Synthesis endings imply that it will lead to the Reapers becoming organic life's allies, or at least begin to co-exist with them, even for the short term. Also, I know some of you have just scrolled down to tell me all about a certain hour and a half long documentary I need to watch; please keep reading, I'll get into that theory in just a few paragraphs.
So, if they pick Control, maybe the sequal has the new threat finding a way to destroy, or severely cripple Reaper forces. This would establish them as the new big bad guy in town. The Citadel races have been able to reverse engineer or have just flat out been given reaper weapons that will give them a fighting chance against this threat. Of course, having an enemy more powerful then the Reapers might force Bioware to be written into a corner...
...Unless they finally make that Dark Energy subplot work out.
I would also expect to see the integration of the Geth into Citadel life and maybe even C-Sec forces. Of course, most of them would go back to Rannoch, but I would expect some Geth to stay behind to help other races rebuild and integrate into normal life with those species sometime after doing so.
If they pick Synthesis, let's just say that the Reapers get ticked off at everyone again, but instead of attacking decide to go back into dark space never to be seen again. Yeah, I know, lame explanation, but the alternatives are either the same as I suggested for Control or making the Reapers the big bad again.
The new hero would go up through the ranks of galactic threats, going from "Planetwide threat" to "Cluster threat" to "Galactic threat" over the course of three game. He, as well as the crew, would be used to explain how the merge between organics and synthetics (or whatever the heck the process was... Even with the EC that's what I got from it, but it's still not clear to me) has affected their everyday life and it would probably show that it isn't ALL that great.
If they pick Destroy, then I expect that they won't have to explain away the Reapers. I would expect this to also the one still have the universe largely in rebuilding more, and they would probably have reverse engineered Reaper tech in development. Perhaps the remainder of Cerberus perfects the indoctrination tech, or maybe they'll be the ones who find a way to remake a Reaper into a normal starship? I mean, it's just too much of a stretch to believe that the destruction of the Reapers left no scrape behind.
Or maybe we go the other way, with Cerberus returning to Alliance control in shambles.
Also, I would expect to see how Organic life is functioning with no synthetics at all. Maybe they begin rebuilding them, or maybe they ban the construction of synthetic life for ever.
Maybe they can even have the Leviathans become the big bad... They certainly seem to have potential as evil dudes, they could be a galactic threat, but they are also easier to beat then the Reapers.
Refusal... Do you really think that BioWare would consider making this canon? We already know what happens, they build the crucible and win. Boom. Over. I suppose hypothetically they could use it as a choice to tell a bigger story maybe possibly, and it would be a little interesting to see how the new spaceflight species evolve, but I just doubt they'd pick this...
Now, the indoctrination theory. If they picked this, they would risk irking some fans but also have the chance of wiping the slate of that bad ending off the map, just picture it. You start up the game, go to the character creator and everything seems normal. After cursing Bioware for being too lazy to come up with new backstories for the new protagonist, you pick out the name. Maybe you notice that it doesn't have a last name for the protagonist, but you think nothing of it. So, you create a face and go on your merry way...
You start off, helmeted, on a planet in shambles. The CO gives you orders but they keep what you are fighting vague. They say that you are going to retrieve a body, see if the person is alive. So, you keep going as you begin fighting new enemies with a very... familiar look to them. You keep fighting through till you get to a cutscene where your character fights with a big monster looking thing. He tries his best, but doesn't have the firepower to take it down, then all of a sudden, an Omnitool blade just goes right through the monster. As the original Mass Effect theme plays, your rescuer sticks a hand out to you. You accept it, and then when it hits the crescendo (or whatever the term is for "when the music becomes awesome") it reveals the rescuer has the face you created and is wearing armor with the N7 insignia on it.
I'm sure that sucked but I think you get the idea. Bioware swerves us all by revealing that, yes, it is time to finish Shepard's story and this time... We're doing it "right."
They could also just adopt Marauder Shields... That could work too...
The fact is, there is one big issue that make this possibility improbable, the save file transfers, or the lack there of. Unless a possibility crops up for consoles to do this, then they really couldn't do this justice as it wouldn't know what war assets you had collected throughout the story. Maybe... Just maybe... having the game on PS4/Xbox1 with saves there would do the trick, but I don't know enough about that to say if that is possible or not.
Also, again, it would tick fans off. Fans of the original ending and/or the EC, as well as detractors of the indoctrination theory, would say that it was unneeded and that Bioware caved in to demands from fans.
I've heard that the game might be a story that was going on else where during Shepard's story. This is an interesting idea, but if Bioware is really looking to distance themselves from Shepard's story I find it very improbable. The events that are going on during Shepard's story are simply too big not to mention, and eventually the Reaper threat would HAVE to crop up. The only way I could see this working is if you are playing as a pre-space flight species fighting off a planet wide threat. After all, the Reapers avoid pre-space flight species and leave them alone, so they would have no idea what was going on with Shepard or the Reaper threat.
If Bioware went this route I don't think it would bode well, as the interaction amongst species is a huge draw for many fans, and this would effectively prevent that.
Of course, I could be wrong and they may try and do it the way most people who post this theory think they would do it (with a council species) I would expect vague references to Shepard's story, and I would expect the games to take place ME1-ME2. Maybe they could just make it about Conrad Verner as a Shepard cosplayer. I'd buy that.
This would prevent plot holes, but I can't picture Bioware picking this. I can't even imagine how it would work out, since Bioware could do anything with it. "Fans don't like the Krogans? Here the Turians bombed them to extinction." "Fans didn't like the Quarians? Here, the Geth killed them all in a short war." "Ah yes, "continuity" the belief that we must stick to rules we previously established, we have dismissed those claims." and I think you get the idea.
So, in order from most to least likely, I'm thinking Sequal, Prequal, AU, then Sidestory. Sequal would be the easiest sane choice to prevent forming plot holes, prequel potential is large for this series, an AU might be tempting but I doubt it, and a sidestory just seems like an odd choice to me. Thanks for reading all of this (as I assume you did) and please leave thoughts, feelings, corrections, arguments, and death threats down below.