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Now that the Mass Effect trilogy has come to a close, many people have wondered about the future of the franchise, and whether or not we'll see any more of the universe in future games. After the haphazard mess that was the ending, I'm a little pessimistic myself about anything Mass Effect-related. That being said, it was a great series once. The real question is, can it be again?
What Could Go Wrong
The differences between the Destroy, Synthesis, and Control endings are far to absolute and the differences are nigh impossible to account for. The choices made in Mass Effect 3 decided the fates of entire races and civilisations; how can another instalment involve any of the things that made the first three games great if so many of them can't be there?
Brave New Galaxy
Whilst the endings to Mass Effect 3 are insultingly similar, the effect of Shepard's final decision is extremely massive. In the Destroy ending, all Synthetic life is wiped out. Does this mean they can't or won't be rebuilt? Of course, the definition of synthetic is iffy at best, so that's a bit of a grey area.
Realistically, they could set the game long after the events of the trilogy, where the ramifications of our previous actions are not as palpable, but that would just blatantly shove in our face how nothing we really did had any lasting impact.
The Player Choice Paradox
Let's posit that the next game will take place in the distant future, long after the events of Mass Effect 3. Are the krogan going to make a cameo? Imagine how integral this one race is to story, and how vastly different the trilogy would have been without them. If they made another game in the same universe, it would be preposterous not to include them.
However, the player can decide whether or not to cure the genophage, with varying results. Without the cure, the krogan race is doomed to extinction. How can they have any kind of pivotal place in the plot if, for certain players, they don't exist? Would their role be replaced by a different species, like they did for so many of my dead squad mates? (Not Mordin, I'm looking at you.) Would they be able to write around them, or simply not include them? If they went with the latter route, they would succeed in making our choices matter, but another problem arises. If they can so easily be removed from the story, they cannot have any important place in the plot. They could find a reason for the krogan not to appear at all, dead or alive, but this would be just to accommodate for the players who really let the krogan die. (Seriously, why would you coddle anyone who killed Wrex!?) Here's an example. Imagine you're playing Mass Effect 4, and one character tells you that the krogan have isolated themselves in their home world, so there are very few of them to be seen. If you denied the krogan another chance, that same character would probably just tell you they died out like the dinosaurs that they are. If there was as many krogan in Mass Effect 4 as there was in previous titles, then having to remove them all for players who didn't cure the genophage would cause complications. They could also go the Rachni route, where they survive no matter what you did, but again, this ruins the purpose of the past games. Also, If there wasn't as many krogan, why even bother playing?
BioWare has done this before of course. Remember the Rachni from the original Mass Effect? We got the decision to spare the last of the Rachni Queens, thus giving the Rachni a chance at redemption and hope for the future, or to destroy her, dooming her race to extinction. At the time, this was not a choice made lightly, and it made us take pause and contemplate the massive effects of our actions. Trouble is, the actual difference is too minute for it to even matter. Regardless of whether or not you spared the queen, the Rachni still make a return in Mass Effect 3, and they'll be fighting for the away team. This is because they had a somewhat significant place in the plot, and removing them altogether would leave holes in the experience. They are also needed from a gameplay perspective as well, serving as walking tanks that force the player into cover, violently cursing them and seriously ruing their decision to spare the queen. Since these players would have an arguably lesser experience with them gone, having them removed due to past choices would be a bad idea. If BioWare couldn't do this with such a relatively insignificant choice, how will they be able to make another game in the aftermath of the Crucible's activation?
Hope For the Past
Maybe they can't make another Mass Effect game set after the events of the trilogy, but what about the past? True, a prequel wouldn't have to worry about all the above issues, but another arises in its place: maintaining canon. There is already an established lore in Mass Effect. We know who won what wars, and how history has played out. If we could make decisions in a story with a different conflict, taking place before Shepard's adventures, those choices couldn't have the lasting impact that the original trilogy did (or was supposed to have).
In Mass Effect 3, we decided the fates of entire worlds like we were deciding what to eat for lunch. I doomed the hanar home world with one Renegade interrupt without even realising it. Our decisions in the last two games weren't as far-reaching of course, because BioWare had to account for all of those decisions. By the third game, our actions had a more massive effect, because they didn't have to worry about dealing with the consequences in another game. Having a contained, planned trilogy helped Mass Effect players craft a story with huge decisions that could matter (disregarding the ending, of course).
Alright, maybe we really can't have another game like Mass Effect, but the universe is so richly made, it left us yearning for more. We never really got to see a quarian face or a female turian. If you are willing to accept a much more linear structure, and perhaps even a change in genre, there are some more places we could go with the Mass Effect franchise.
Possibilities for the Past
Here are some ideas I have regarding what a prequel game would be like. There are numerous opportunities to Milk the franchise further, but as long as the games are good, they might not be a terrible travesty after all. Hell, we almost had an FPS, and even I can say that would be somewhat interesting.
- The Morning War. An interesting chapter in Mass Effect's lore, for sure. We could play as a conflicted quarian committing countless atrocities against the geth. How about a moral choice, allowing us to switch sides at some point after realising the error of your ways, and become instrumental in helping the geth win Rannoch? Or, if you're in a Renegade mood, you could go down fighting Qwib Qwib style for your home world against the geth, doing your best to help evacuate what eventually becomes the Migrant Fleet.
- The First Contact War. I want to experience the discovery of the relays, and the conflict that ensued in the Relay 314 incident. I think we would all want to play as Jon Grissom.
- The Metacon War. Javik did a great job of revealing the true nature of the Protheans, but I want to learn more. The story could involve the Protheans uniting against the machines, and introduce us to the interesting races that were assimilated into the empire. Also, since they all die in the end anyway, our decisions can be as wild and far-reaching as possible!
- The drell Exodus. I would love to visit the drell home world, and witness the war and devastation that took so many lives. The player could play as a drell left behind after the hanar save them, desperately hoping to escape his doomed world. Maybe this character could be related to our favourite drell assassin?
- Assassin's Creed, Mass Effect style! Just picture it. You play as Thane, a renowned assassin for the hanar, with a certain set of skills acquired over a long career of killing things. Free running as a frog-alien? Hell yeah! Also, wrist-mounted Omni-Blades!
More Mass Effect?
Welp. Those are my thoughts on the future of Mass Effect. What about you guys? How do you feel about another game? I'm sure after BioWare's recent fiasco, coupled with EA's track record, most of us are a bit pessimistic at this point. Who knows? Maybe they'll surprise us! Or, they'll just further tarnish our memories shared with a universe we once loved. Whatever pays the bills.