It’s been almost two years since the conclusion of Bioware’s epic Mass Effect series, and a forum of speculation for the next installment is long overdue. So for this post, I’m gonna go ahead and break down the rumors so my fellow Mass Effecters and I can fangirl about the future of this spectacular series. Bioware has kept details about Mass Effect 4 almost non-existent, but what exactly do we know so far?:
It Won’t Be Called Mass Effect 4
It’s no secret that (well after ME3′s release) Casey Hudson, project director of the Mass Effect Trilogy, insisted fans not refer to the next Mass Effect installment as Mass Effect 4. In fact, the entire Bioware studio has repeatedly encouraged fans not to think of the next installment within the Mass Effect universe as Mass Effect 4. “To call the next game Mass Effect 4 or ME4 is doing it a disservice and seems to cause a lot of confusion here,” wrote BioWare’s community manager Chris Priestly within the community forums. Shortly after Priestly’s forum post, Bioware Montreal Director – Yanick Roy – offered clarification to the statement by adding, “Thinking of the next Mass Effect game as Mass Effect 4 would imply a certain linearity, a straight evolution of the gameplay and story of the first three games. That doesn’t mean that events of the first three games and the choices you made won’t get recognized, but they likely won’t be what this new story will focus on.” So right from the studio’s representative we know, without a shadow of a doubt, the next installment to the Mass Effect universe won’t be called Mass Effect 4. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to keep using the term simply because it’s so catchy (sorry Bioware). However, Chris Priestly’s explanation of ME4′s title brings us to our next bit of evidence revealing details about the forthcoming ME4.
Shepard Won’t Be Making an Appearance
Chris Priestly wasn’t done talking about the nature of ME4 however, going on to address fan skepticism about the fate of Shepard and his crew. Within the same forum post, Priestly also revealed, “We have already said that the Commander Shepard trilogy is over and that the next game will not feature him/her. That is the only detail you have on the game. I see people saying ‘well, they’ll have to pick a canon ending’. No, because the game does not have to come after. Or before. Or off to the side. Or with characters you know. Or yaddayaddayadda.” You can almost hear the frustration in Priestly’s voice in this statement, and understandably so, given the (then recent) ME3 ending controversy. He’s essentially putting to rest any thoughts of Bioware Montreal feeling obligated to make the game fans want rather than the game Mass Effect deserves. Once again, Bioware Montreal Director – Yanick Roy – offers clarification for Priestly’s words, resorting to analogy for an explanation to fans, “If you had three games centered around a group of key soldiers in the US army during World War I and then decided to make a game about another group of people during the Second World War, the games could have many points in common and feel true to one another,” he continues, “You likely would have to recognize how the events of the first war influenced the ones of the second, but you would not necessarily think of it as a sequel.” The analogy isn’t perfect, but it does make sense. ME4 can (and will) exists as the beginning of a new story without the need for Shepard and his crew to make a cameo appearance. However, it would not be beyond the realm of imagination to imagine ME4 being centered around a universe experiencing the ripples of effect caused by the choices, decisions, and events which took place in the original trilogy. Which brings me to our next conclusion…
It Will Feel Like a Mass Effect Game
With Bioware Montreal completely disregarding the idea of a game which remains heavily influenced by the original trilogy, some fans have jumped to the conclusion that ME4 will be a completely different type of game. Maybe with new characters and a new story, comes a new genre and new feel altogether? However, Yanick Roy was quick to address these rumors as well, tweeting, “[ME4] will be the same type of game as the first three.” In addition to answering questions about the feel of ME4 via Twitter, Roy has also addressed fan concern for the development behind the game in interviews, saying, “To ensure a proper and effective transition, we’ll continue to be supported by the Edmonton studio through the game’s development, working with and learning from them on some critical initiatives,” he added. “On top of that, Casey remains the Executive Producer, but he will have a Project Director under him, working in Montreal, leading our development team and making day-to-day decisions for the game. We all care very much about Mass Effect and make our decisions based on what’s best for the game.” The Montreal Director also added information regarding the technical makeup of ME4, stating, “…it will be built with the amazing technology of Frostbite as its foundation, enhanced by many of the systems that the Dragon Age III team has already spent a lot of time building.” Hear that Mass Effect fans? ME4 will run very similarly to Dragon Age III, so maybe it’s time for you to get into the Dragon Age series while you wait for ME’s return. Equally as exciting, ME2 and ME3′s lead writer – Mac Walters – is back onboard as the lead writer for ME4 but is keeping the plot of the next installment closely under wraps. However, in a recent interview he did provide further clarity to the direction of ME4′s story, emulating much of what has already been said by Roy and Priestly, saying, “Well, I can’t get into details, but the idea is that we have agreed to tell a story that doesn’t relate necessarily to any of the Shepard events at all, whatsoever. Beyond that, that’s what we’ve been deciding for a while. But throughout it all, one of the key things is that it has to be Mass Effect. It can’t just feel like a spin-off. It has to feel like a Mass Effect game at its heart, at its core. Just without the Shepard character or the Shepard specific companions.” So never fear Mass Effect fans, ME4 (or whatever it will be called) is in the best possible hands! And by detaching this game from its masterpiece predecessor, Bioware Montreal has created a virtual clean slate as far as storyline goes. But with such rich lore and an incredibly detailed galaxy left behind by Shepard and his crew, there is a plethora of options left for the studio explore. Which leads me to the next point…
Prepare to Return to the Galaxy You Left Behind
So without Shepard, without the Normandy, without the crew, and quite possibly without the relevance of the previous trilogy’s conclusion, what do Mass Effect fans have to look forward to? A hell of a lot, according to Yanick Roy – “What I’m trying to say is that the ME universe is so rich that we are not limited to a single track when coming up with a new story, ” he eagerly continues, “What makes it Mass Effect is indeed the alien races, the technology, the lore, history, etc. You can safely expect those in the next Mass Effect.” As an avid Mass Effect fan myself, I personally can’t wait to return to a galaxy full of Turians, Salarians, Quarians, Geth, Krogan, Volus, Asari, Vorcha, etc. Each species fraught with their own individual history, political affiliations, cultural traits, and conflicting aspirations. There are few games which can create a truly immersive setting, and the galaxy of Mass Effect is one of the most high-caliber, lore-ridden environments ever designed. To speculate that the Bioware team may oblige fan fantasies of exploring the homeworlds of other species as an alien character, is not too far-fetched. And given the amount of story options Bioware has to work with, I would be genuinely surprised if Bioware did not include various choice of species into their well-crafted character customization options for the next installment of this series – which is already a feature of Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise I might add. Possible confirmation of this idea may lay in this Casey Hudson tweet, saying, “Great suggestions coming in for the next Mass Effect game. Seems lots of interest in playable alien races.” *cue fangirling*
Not a Sequel or a Prequel, but a Continuation
At this point, you may be saying “But Nicki WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?! And what about those teaser pictures Bioware released for N7 Day?!” Well, I’m glad you asked. After watching IGN’s interesting video analysis of the ME4 teaser photos released by Bioware last week, I have some conclusions of my own to add. After watching the video a few times, I’m fairly certain the images contain the same species of aliens present in the original trilogy. This implies that ME4 will take place during the current Reaper cycle, either before, during, or after the events of the original trilogy. But with all the emphasis Bioware is placing on ME4 beginning a new story, with new characters, and events which are far removed from Shepard, I feel safe to assume the events of ME4 will take place after the events of the original games. With this inference, some may say ME4 might take place in an alternate universe where the Reapers (and Shepard) never existed. But I seriously doubt that theory because then the events of the last three games will feel completely pointless, and I don’t see Bioware’s developers opting to completely negate the player’s efforts for the past three titles. For this same reason, I don’t think ME4 will opt for the prequel route either; a prequel would be an interesting addition to the lore surrounding the ME universe, but ultimately the title would be disappointing to fans due to the foresight achieved form the original trilogy (i.e. the whole thing would seem inevitable).
My advice to fellow Mass Effecters? Hang in there and believe in Bioware. The next installment of Mass Effect is shaping up to be a worthy progression from its predecessors, and the more time the developers have to polish the game, the more we’ll enjoy it. A blank slate means an exciting new journey into the ME universe, and there’s no telling what we’ll find there. It sure is an exciting time to be alive.
P.S. – be sure to watch Spike’s 2013 Video Game Awards, rumor has it that an official teaser trailer and launch window will be announced during the live show.