Where Should Mass Effect Go Next?

News John Saavedra 6/14/2013 at 11:46AM

The Mass Effect universe is full of endless possibilities. Where should we go next? We present you a scifi nerdathon broken down by subgenre!

What do Star Wars and Star Trek have in common with their video game lovechild Mass Effect? The idea that their stories live on through time and space, that there are always more stories to tell, that these stories could at any time take us to uncharted territory.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away the Star Wars Expanded Universe branched out from the beloved original trilogy of films and began to tell the stories of our favorite galaxy through books, comics, video games, and animation. At first, the stories expanded on the original heroes, the ones we were forced to leave behind after the Battle of Endor as Ewoks danced through the night. We got origin stories for Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. The Empire rose again under the command of a cunning Chiss named Grand Admiral Thrawn. Boba Fett shot his way out of the sarlacc pit. Luke Skywalker even turned to the dark side!

Since then we've gotten memorable series such as Knights of the Old Republic (video games and comics), New Jedi Order (my favorite SW book series), and the Thrawn Trilogy.

Star Trek has also been expanded quite a bit through countless TV series, books, comics, and movies (most recently, Star Trek Into Darkness).

An expanded universe allows these classic franchises to live on, evolve, and go places fans could've never imagined. Basically, you have a lot of space to work with...in space.

Believe it or not, it's a pretty exciting time for Mass Effect, which ended its first video game trilogy last year and has already expanded into books and comics. Although another video game is undoubtedly in the works, the possibilities are endless for the franchise in terms of new stories, characters, and threats to the galaxy.

Recently, I read "Evolution," the third ME comic book miniseries starring Jack Harper, the man that would become the Illusive Man. Although the story itself is a pretty standard origin story (we find out why his eyes ended up looking so creepy in the games), something struck me about the storyline. Halfway through, Jack starts quoting the legendary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey) and I started thinking about this story as an homage. It has monoliths, talk of evolution, experiments, philosophy, the idea that there are things beyond the reaches of science in the universe. All of a sudden, it was Clarke telling a story in the ME universe!

How would you define ME's place in the science fiction genre? Is it a space opera or hard science fiction? A space fantasy? Planetary romance? A coveted space western?

The answer is all of the above. We have monoliths, Prothean archives, and the genophage (hard scifi). Biotic powers are basically the Force (space fantasy). Characters are constantly exploring new planets (planetary romance). Who can forget the Krogan and their passion for dueling (space western)? And who ended up being Commander Shepard's love interest (space opera)? There's something in Mass Effect for every scifi lover in the galaxy!

A series this multi-faceted deserves A LOT more stories. Let's take a look at what could be done with each subgenre:

1) Hard science fiction: One of the things that have always interested me about this series is its nods to science. While there isn't all that much science involved with Star Wars, even Mass Effect's title is a reference to the greatest scientific discovery in the game's galaxy: the mass relays. There's also the theme of evolution vs. extinction. How far are you willing to go to save your species? The very last decision you make in ME3 forces you to choose whether your species will survive (fusing with the machines) or die (allowing the cycle of destruction to continue). How many heroes have had to make this decision? Who are the ones that came before? We know now that the cycle of evolution and extinction has continued for millennia. Will we have a chance to explore it a million years before Shepard? The storyline provides a clean slate every fifty thousand years. Build us a new galaxy!

2) Space fantasy: I need more biotics in my life. My first Shepard didn't have any powers since I pictured him as a pure human soldier. Instead, I let Kaidan do all the Force choking (seriously, biotics are the FORCE mixed with blue food coloring). But once I let Kaidan blow up in order to save my main squeeze, Ashley, I decided that in the second game Shepard should get some biotic powers, which I blamed on the Illusive Man's dastardly plans for continuity's sake. I realized how much fun it was to make Cerberus thugs float around in the air like idiots while my teammates shot them down. Give us a story about biotics. Remember how cool that little side story about Kaidan's biotic academy was? We got to see how these biotic powers could corrupt people (the dark side). Then we met Jack in ME2 and saw just how far biotic experiments could push someone before they went mad. This isn't strictly the stuff of space fantasy since there is some "science" behind it, but it sure beats midi-chlorians...

3) Planetary romance: In ME1, there was a lot of focus on exploring uncharted planets. You would get dropped down from the Normandy in that terrible Mako ground vehicle in order to investigate ship carcasses, life signs, and other landmarks. Unfortunately, the Mako was such a useless vehicle that BioWare ditched the planet exploration thing altogether and brought us boring space mining instead. We want more exotic planets. I think that at some point Mass Effect only focused on developed planets with cities and large populations. Give us a story where we crash-land on a desert planet and have to fight huge acid-spitting sand dragons in order to survive. How epic would it be if you were running out of water and oxygen and were forced to choose who in your crew would live and die? Surely, we'd get another Kaidan to sacrifice himself in order to save the hot soldier chick...But the planetary romance is so much more than landing on a strange planet. It's about showing us its beauty and its horrors, taking us to place we've never been. Show us the animal and plant life. Introduce us to the wonder of new planets...Ewoks, basically.

4) Space opera: Or perhaps the aforementioned planet is populated by two kingdoms at war with each other. You are the prince of one kingdom and she is the princess in the other. You are both star-crossed lovers thrust into a planet-wide conflict that will never allow you to be together. You make a run for it into the stars, escaping on a rusty trade ship, but the ship is suddenly hijacked by Batarians, those damned alien pirates! Suddenly, you and your lover must run from all sides. What do you do? The solution isn't heavy on the science. This genre focuses on melodrama (a play on "soap opera"). Remember how dragged out Ashley and Shepard's goodbye was? That "see you on the other side" thing is just what this occasion calls for.

5) Space western: Probably the most bad ass of the scifi subgenres and what better aliens to play out a space western than the bad ass Krogan? Some of the best moments in ME took place in Tuchanka, the Krogan homeworld (ruins). We're always down to dig deeper into Krogan history and culture. The rough, dry landscape is perfect and so is the Krogan's affinity for gun play. We'd love to fight as Wrex during his early Clan Urdnot days. Grunt.  

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I'm going to miss all the fantastic characters from the Mass Effect trilogy. I've really gotten emotionally attached to all of them. I'd love for BioWare to have a change of heart and bring Shepard back for the next game, just as Halo has brought back Master Chief. I'm hoping the next Mass Effect game would take place after ME3, it wouldn't make much sense for it to be a prequel, considering all of our choices wouldn't really make a difference since we all know what's going to happen and what it's leading up to, you know? I'm really emotionally invested in this Mass Effect universe and continue to play through all of the games multiple times - I just can't get enough of it! :)

Yeah, it's definitely one of my favorite series! I can't wait to get my hands on the next game. In the meantime, check out the comics!

Well written and a good analysis. This could be a article/journal in a Academic Database, (as there are many reviews/analysis of books/movies/plays etc.).

I love the Mass Effect Universe and it has become something great. It in many ways can be classified in the same tier of greatness as Star Wars and Star Trek, but it still has much to go to truly compete with the scale of Star War and Star trek. I played the games multiple times and read all the current comics and preordered the upcoming ones. I am also working on the books now (a little bit late).

All we need is some more games, maybe another trilogy revolving around the next hero, after the Reaper defeat, maybe fighting against the soon to be (at the time of ME3) space flight capable Yahg. Set the game 20-50 years or so in the future after ME3, and also to provide time to find a solution to the Mass Relay problem at the end of ME3. It can still have most of the characters from the first trilogy provided they survived. Maybe some will just be old in the next game. If Shepard survived ME3 (destruction ending/high ems), he can even be a admiral/general or some ambassador/counselor/consultant.

Also we need some movies (not anime) eventually, just like with star trek and star wars.

There are many possibilities and it still has much potential.

Maybe one day the ME universe will be come a reality; the curiosity rover dug a little bit on Mars :D

Thanks for reading! I would definitely love to play something set 50 years after the Reaper attack. There is so much potential!

Out of Business?

think the ME4 should just go with the "Indoctrination theory" and roll
with it and shoot we even play as a reaper/s but end it with a Big Epic
Long Harbinger boss fight .. and continue the Reaper fight with one or 2
more Mass effect games and go with the Dark energy story line. That is
caused by using the extremely rare material element zero .. Something
that makes more sense then what ME3 left us with..

There's yet another option - Space Drama. Enough with wars and losses and sacrifices. Why not make a game where the world is already saved, and you rebuild it. There still may be great many conflicts, some of which may even be devastating, but in general, just allow the protagonist to do something constructive. I don't know, restore the damn Telos!(wink at the KOTOR fans*)

What Mass Effect has in common with Star Wars and Star Trek is that it started out great, but got ruined more and more as time went on.

What Mass Effect needs is to have either a new team who still wants to make RPGs take it over, or for BioWare to get away from EA and get back to their roots. ME3 was a travesty and failure on so many levels, must most of them can come down to how BioWare's design philosophy changed as the trilogy was developed: from them basically being a bunch of nerds making deep RPGs for other nerds into a bunch of EA puppets pandering to the modern mainstream shooter gamer.

It's pretty clear that as they are, BioWare don't care about their old fanbase and don't care about making RPGs any more. They just want to make story-driven action games aimed at the lowest common denominator.

I couldn't agree more with you about Mass Effect 3! I really do hope BioWare gets their act together. The Old Republic was also a disappointment...Maybe they should focus on the new Star Wars game for a while. KOTOR, anyone?

That's a great idea! What about the inevitable conflict with the Krogan? Is there opportunity for a political drama there?

That's true! I watched all 6 hours of that Indoctrination Theory series and I was really fascinated and a bit sad that I probably made the WRONG decision if the Indoctrination Theory holds through. Whatever BioWare decide to do, I hope it's something that will really blow our minds!

Why do you hurt me so?

I don't think BioWare will get their act together. Their attitude lately towards genuine criticism has been appalling and they seem to set in their modern way of going about things.

Comments in the wake of Mass Effect 3 and what they've said about developing Dragon Age 3 just scream of them illustrating that they aren't only not going to learn from past mistakes, but that they don't WANT to learn from them. The likes of Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age 2 and The Old Republic aren't so much games filled with problems, but games filled with symptoms from a much greater problem: EA-era BioWare's attitude and new design philosophies. They don't care about player agency and making deep RPGs, and are too committed to modern gaming conventions such as an over-reliance on cinematic story-telling, voiced protagonists who are more set in stone rather than carved by the players and linear, forced narrative that keeps players on the rails rather than giving them the freedom an RPG should do.

Aside from the fact that they refuse to acknowledge ME3's dozens of issues and still maintain it's a good game when it's not, look at what they've said about Dragon Age 3: it's all about trying to find this mid-ground between the original and Dragon Age 2, when what they should be doing is ignoring the second game like it didn't exist and getting back to what made the original great.

The problem is, beyond their whole focus changing from the nerd gamer to the jock gamer, they're all too willing to toss original concepts and visions for their series down the drain for the sake of gaining a larger audience. With the Dragon Age series it's so damn obvious because the original concept for the first game and the reason the series was created in the first place was to do the following three things:

1) Be a return to BioWare's early RPG roots.
2) Be a spiritual successor to Baldur's Gate.
3) Have the PC as the lead platform with the former two in mind.

And what did we get with Dragon Age 2? Absolutely NONE of these things. It was a game designed with the consoles primarily in mind, and more of a story-driven action game with a voiced and set protagonist, hack'n'slash combat and watered down mechanics. All three of the pillars that set Dragon Age up were knocked down. And that's not even going into the awful art design changes or lore retcons/changes they made.

BioWare no longer wants to make their games or sequels for the fans who got them where they are today. They want to make games for potential new ones, and these potential new ones come from an audience that is pretty much the complete opposite in personality and style than their old fans are. It's all about following recent gaming trends, pandering to the mainstream and ticking a bunch of boxes that will get them more monies and players rather than actually making something deep, fresh or of actual quality.

That is the ugly truth! I think you've pretty much summed up my feelings about BioWare. I honestly can't blame them as much as I blame EA for the degradation of everything good in gaming. Their complete disregard for what gamers want has caused the death of series such as Dead Space and Medal of Honor. If BioWare keeps listening to EA, they're going to end up like Visceral, who lost their beloved game series overnight. I think that the SW deal will at least give these developers a change to recuperate. I think DICE's Battlefront will be a step in the right directing if it DOESN'T play exactly like Battlefield. I'm excited to see what Visceral does with SW. And I can only hope BioWare is working on KOTOR and that they'll learn from everything that was good about KOTOR and ME1, my favorite scifi rpgs.

Either way, I think you bring up a lot of good points and hopefully BioWare and EA will start listening to fans like you! I think it would be for the best.

Thanks for reading!

"The very last decision you make in ME3 forces you to choose whether your species will survive (fusing with the machines) or die (allowing the cycle of destruction to continue)." LMAO. There are actually 4 choices, if you consider "ignoring the StarChild´s BS exposition and getting everybody destroyed" is a choice.

"Give us a story where we crash-land on a desert planet and have to fight huge acid-spitting sand dragons in order to survive.". Hello, tresher maws came out of nowhere in ME1.

Something tells me this guy has never played ME3 and probably skimmed over ME1...