BioWare has finally wrapped up their epic sci-fi action soap, Mass Effect, claiming that March’s DLC, Citadel
, would be the end of content for the trilogy. Having been there from the start, I can say without hesitation that saving the galaxy as Commander Shepard -- the first human Specter -- over the past six years (yep, it’s been that long) has been emotional
In fact “emotional” is probably the most apt way to describe the series, especially given the outcry the community put forward at the closing of Mass Effect 3. All arguments on player-entitlement aside, to have such an active response from a dedicated community tells us that as far as popular culture is concerned, Mass Effect has carved out its place.
Obviously these things are never really dead though, and like so many sci-fi gaming epics, you’d be remiss to refer to Mass Effect with a term like “game-world”. Rather “game-universe
” is far more fitting, and in this idea, the potential for a Mass Effect continuation is as vast as the expanse of space the game depicts. But with Shepard’s job done, where should the IP head next?
We asked ourselves that very question over a few days and reached out to our own community for input gathering some pretty solid feedback on where the series should go next in regards to story, characters, genre and setting.
Across the whole discussion, one thing remained abundantly clear -- wherever the series goes next it needs the same care taken in its narrative delivery as that of the last three games (and peripheral content). Whether this means the next iteration carries over the conversation wheel or something similar, would remain to be seen, but in essence we cannot be met with a vacuous cash-in, in any form.
It’s not like the game-universe is void of narrative potential though. Mass Effect nestles alongside the likes of The Elder Scrolls, Warcraft and StarCraft in terms of the breadth and depth of its lore, and if you stop and think about the various solar systems the team created and each and every planet and satellite’s back-story in relation to those... the mind actually boggles at the lengths BioWare went to, to flesh out its play-space.
So let’s first take a look at five potential ideas on where to take the series next, replete with a base race, tangent points of lore to explore and expand upon and known jumping points derived from the Mass Effect trilogy as a bridging point of reference (and likely smart place to kick anything like this, in the real-world, off with).
Anyone who's played the second game or any of its DLC will know what it means to be the Shadow Broker. There's an obvious game here, where you either play as an operative of Liara, or as Liara herself, uncovering all manner of nefariousness in the galaxy, while equally pulling your own set of strings. There's a huge amount of potential in this tangent story, and is one of the front-runners among fans for a proper game treatment. We're not going to argue, either.
The Asari, being one of the oldest-living races post-Prothean reign, are easily one of the top picks for an explored narrative in a game. Their unique culture and long lives lead to all manner of history to draw upon, and there’s no denying the appeal of an attractive non-gendered alien as your avatar. Thessia is also a perfect sci-fi setting, and the political intrigue and distorted past of the Asari (in that it’s revealed the goddess Athame was actually a Prothean whom the Asari owe much of their advancement), would be a great jumping point for a series.
The aforementioned story of the goddess Athame would work quite well, as would any game derived around the Asari discovery of the Mass Relays which lead to their matriculation to the Citadel and eventually forming the Council with the Salarians. In this sense, you could essentially follow the plight of a single family of Asari and have an archaeological baseline to a directed roll-out of their history, as discovered by you.
We envision this one as a third-person RPG, not at all dissimilar to the trilogy. In fact, staying third-person would be the smart move for BioWare, as it would require less of a leap in resources or design knowledge. It would also likely be the best candidate in our list here to follow in the same RPG and presentation formula as the trilogy though utilising a different mission select hub (Thessia or the Citadel would be the best options we can think of).
The Drell are an interesting race because, much like the Krogan and Quarian, they have a very different background to more stable, established races. Their homeworld died, and its unique, arid desert environment was ideal for their genetic make-up. Having been saved by the Hanar, however, forced them to establish themselves on Khaje, a humid planet made up of a higher water percentage than their bodies could handle. And despite a dome being built on Khaje to protect them from their new home’s harsh conditions, the Drell are facing an incurable disease known as Kepral’s Syndrome.
The obvious one here would be to follow Thane Krios’ life as an assassin. The lithe race’s attributes would create for an interesting game built around his lifestyle, and you could easily incorporate the Kepral’s Syndrome dilemma into gameplay. Any one of his many assassinations would make for a great story, but building up to the specific mission where his future wife, Irikah, stepped in front of his line-of-sight would be a personal and narrative-heavy experience befitting the Mass Effect heritage. The other option would be to follow a Drell’s attempt to counter the Kepral’s Syndrome epidemic which could include some serious Hanar conspiracies built around maintaining the original “Compact” the two species made when they made first contact (it’s essentially a debt the Drell believe they owe the Hanar who aren’t too proud to take advantage of it for their own means).
Again, it’s plainly obvious that a third-person stealth game would be the ideal way to get into this spin-off. However, we’re thinking more along the lines of classic Thief or the Predator Map sections of the more recent Batman games, than Assassin’s Creed. The unique thing about Thane’s assassins code is that he prefers to take the lives of his victims up close and personal, yet still stealthily. This could come as a unique challenge to players whereby completing the game with all melee kills at the end would give you an ultimate reward. The option to range kill with a sniper rifle should still be available though.
As for the last idea, we’re still thinking along the lines of the last two Batman games, where you have an open-world (of sorts), and will need to pursue a detective-like path to get to the bottom of our proposed conspiracy (which is actually something we made up -- pay us, BioWare :P).
Yes we’re picking from the main races from the trilogy, but they’re the most fleshed-out and also the most familiar for those who played the original games. And hey, with the Krogan, there’s just too much to ignore as far as potential for a game built around their culture is concerned. We have the Genophage, the Krogan global war that escalated when they reached the nuclear age, their descent into tribal, warring clans attempting to survive a nuclear winter of their own doing, their ascent to spacefarers thanks to contact with the Salarians, and their subsequent hand in the Rachni Wars (which in turn lead to the aforementioned Genophage). And, of course, we have their situation now, post Mass Effect trilogy close where there’s finally hope for one of the toughest alien races ever created for popular sci-fi culture.
Where to start with these guys? There’s just so much to explore, and we already briefly covered the major arcs in the opening paragraph. On a more personal level though, a new game could follow Urdnot Wrex and his attempt at bringing together the Krogan species as a unified, functioning and fertile race, or even the tank-bred Krogan, Grunt, in his adventures in the time between Mass Effect 2 and 3. Of course, a whole new Krogan warrior would be a better start, because we’ve experienced so much already with the previous two, and the Krogan aren’t a specifically deeply layered or emotional lot, so getting the chance to play with a new character would be a way to diversify their tough exteriors. The Rachni Wars or their own global nuclear conflict, however, would be likely the best foundation for a game. The former could involve an entire unit at your command, while the latter could follow a young Krogan from his rites of passage through to becoming a battlemaster. The options though, are really vast.
This is where we get to really branch out from what we know in the Mass Effect play-space already. An RTS around the Rachni Wars is just screaming to happen, and makes so much sense it’s criminal it hasn’t been announced already. Imagine an undertaking though, similar in setup to EVE Online (though not nearly as slow or complex), where a number of human commanders operate Salarian ships or outposts and dictate to Krogan battlemasters (human-controlled also), what they’re next mission is with on-the-fly commanding. The obvious point now being that the Krogan side of this is first-person and we could end up with a Dust 541/EVE Online-like idea, only done in a much more compelling way.
Our latter idea in potential storylines could just be a solid first-person adventure game though, similar in approach to Far Cry 3, only the playspace is Tuchanka.
We only touched on five of the known Mass Effect races in this feature, but there are oh-so-many more.
Here's the active roster: Arthenn, Batarians, Collectors, Densorin, Elcor, Geth, Hanar, Inusannon, Keepers, Leviathans, Oravores, Protheans, Quarians, Rachni, Raloi, Reapers, Salarians, Thoi’han, Virtual Alien, Volus, Vorcha, Yahg, Zeioph and the Zha’til. And that’s ignoring all the factions, like the Blue Suns. There really is a lot.
It might seem like a copout to simply go back to humans, but given all we’ve been through in the series so far, the investment in our own race is absolute. There’s really only two ways you can go here though: a prequel either featuring Anderson’s near recruitment as a Spectre, or our discovery of Prothean artefacts on Mars and the ensuing first-contact. Or, what happens in the power vacuum after the events of Mass Effect 3 and the destruction of the Reapers. Political intrigue would play big on either side, but the most difficult component in the latter would be: who do we play as -- Shepard, or someone else?
We mentioned a few above, but there are other options. The female leads throughout Mass Effect are strong characters, and could very easily hold their own game with their own stories, such as Miranda and Jack, or even Ashley. A whole new character could also come into the light, especially in the ashes of the Reaper attack. The Leviathan angle is also an intriguing one worth exploring beyond what we played in recent DLC, and if you consider the potential for technological advancement with Reaper tech and the remaining Promethean tech, the series post-trilogy could really go to some far-out places.
Of course, with the prequel side of things, there’s a huge amount of potential. The hard-sell for Mass Effect fans would be selling the idea of building the stage for a play we’ve already seen, so would it really be worth the investment? If handled properly, we think yes.
A lot of people balked at the leaked footage
of a first-person shooter set in the Mass Effect universe, but personally I thought it looked good. While ME was an incredible story and undertaking, the exploration side of things in terms of environmental geometry was lacking given the number of worlds the player visited. The corridor shooter side of the action was alway great and compelling, but as a player who enjoys exploration and emergent gameplay built around discovery, I thought the shooter had some potential (despite it being built around team-based multiplayer).
An FPS aside, there’d be no reason not to simply regurgitate the third-person RPG side of things we know and love from the series, whether BioWare went prequel or direct follow-on.
Hailing from the planet Palaven, Turians are an excellent subject for a stand-alone or spin-off game in the Mass Effect universe. Their militaristic might and prowess is renowned among the known galaxy and it was with this might the Citadel Council was able to fight back the expanding and threatening Krogan during the rebellion wars. In fact, it was the Turians who physically unleashed the Genophage upon the Krogan, crippling their numbers and ability to procreate for years to follow. The Turian defeat of the Krogan was what ensured their place on the Council.
They also have a storied history with humans, where the two races now share an uneasy alliance that at one time was actually a brutal conflict referred to as the First Contact War. Things have settled since then, but trust between the two is definitely in short supply.
Both were mentioned briefly above, but like the Krogan options, the Turian’s conflicts are brutal and well-documented in Mass Effect lore, and it would make sense to take a look at the Krogan Rebellion conflict or the First Contact War with humans. In fact, you could even have a game feature both or, if BioWare were bold, they could go as far back as the Turian’s own civil war (called the Unification War), followed by the Krogan conflict and finally the human encounter, as three separate games (wishful thinking we think, though).
This one, whichever it would manifest as, story-wise, would work best as a shooter in our opinion. The conflict-heavy ways of the Turian and their prowess just screams FPS, and could even support a decent multiplayer offering. That said, as we’ve mentioned throughout this feature, there would still need to be a strong focus on narrative, because despite the action-oriented tales exampled, they still have a lot of depth and have been meticulously crafted as peripheral devices for context in the Mass Effect trilogy, and should be treated with respect.
And there you have five of our top ideas for where to take the Mass Effect franchise in the future. But these are just five of countless opportunities and infinite potential due to the richness of BioWare’s multi-layered universe. If you take into account all of the known conflicts mentioned throughout the trilogy, and the depth of information for each alien race you’ve ever encountered, the mind starts to swell with ideas, and as long as BioWare (or whoever ends up tackling the next Mass Effect project) respects the care taken to craft such a compelling sci-fi setting, there should be no reason to doubt that wherever we’re taken next, will be just as rich and enjoyable as what we’ve experienced for the past six years.