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Mass Effect 4: Where Does BioWare Go from ME3?

/ Nov 7th, 2012 8 Comments

Mass Effect 4
Mass Effect 4

Mass Effect 4

BioWare Montreal producer Fabrice Condominas revealed recently that they have begun work on Mass Effect 4 and that the protagonist will not be Commander Shepard. Furthermore, he goes on to say that the protagonist will not be “Shepard 2” or “a soldier in the universe.” Fan reaction is mixed, as many decry the lack of closure at Shepard’s story in the most popular ending of Mass Effect 3. This statement that the protagonist will not be “Shepard 2” also leads to multiple interpretations. Since Shepard lacked many universal traits and was mostly defined by the players choices in-game, does this mean that the new protagonist will lack that degree of player input, or will the new protagonist just have significant differences in backstory and role in the galaxy?

[adsense250itp]While the choice to introduce a new main character might be a good choice in the long-run, that does little to assuage the disappointment of players now–many of whom are extremely attached to their personal version of Shepard. Whoever the new protagonist is, players will have to have the ability to mold that character through choices the same way they did with Shepard. Mass Effect’s marketing strength has always rested in its ability to attract the shooter crowd and the role-playing gamers, and removing depth of choice for the player will alienate the latter crowd in droves. Sadly, if the auto-dialogue and “action mode” for Mass Effect 3 represent the direction that BioWare plans to take the series, this possibility may become reality.

As for possible new antagonists, with the Reaper threat dealt with, another question arises: what threat could possibly follow? Escalating beyond a timeless, innumerably vast, and virtually unstoppable force of destruction such as the Reapers could easily stretch suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Going in the other direction and downsizing the conflict’s scale avoids the problems escalation might bring, but has brought new problems in practice for BioWare. One of the complaints about Dragon Age II was how the reduced scale made it feel more like a side-story than a true successor. That said, many other reasons kept the fan community from enjoying Dragon Age II, so such a change in scale may not be an issue as long as the rest of the game pleases gamers. With discontent with the endings still high even after the Extended Cut, BioWare will have a hefty task in appeasing the fans.

The ending controversy aside, the vast galaxy-wide differences between outcomes in each of the endings creates problems for a possible sequel. BioWare would have to essentially make a completely different game for each ending. The only way around this problem would be to canonize one of the endings of Mass Effect 3. In such a case, players that chose one of the other four endings will likely be quite displeased, especially considering how much BioWare plays up the importance of choice in their games. Should they decide to canonize a specific ending, the “Red” ending appears to be the natural choice because reliable data collected over the past months from the BioWare Social Network, the community itself, and elsewhere shows that the vast majority of players picked it. Fans of the other endings may end up displeased; but trying to please everyone typically ends up pleasing no one, especially in the arts and entertainment industries.

Should BioWare decide that the prospect of a sequel is just too messy, they could follow Halo’s example and go with a prequel or a story concurrent with the original trilogy. However, this route has problems of its own that would need addressing. Unless BioWare chooses to take a marketing risk (which EA will almost certainly veto), any Mass Effect game will have a human protagonist or at least several humans in the party. The backstory of the Mass Effect universe very clearly shows that humanity has been part of the galactic community for such a short time that still-living characters can remember when aliens were mere myth. This does not leave a large span of time for stories to take place. Having the game take place in a previous Reaper cycle has the problem that every cycle before Shepard’s failed, making any player character doomed from the start.

Out of all the possible paths BioWare could take with the next Mass Effect game, a prequel or side-story appears the most likely. Comments by community managers such as Chris Priestly and content developers such as Mike Gamble indicate that BioWare has no plans to further change the endings at this time. Combined with the statements by Priestly and Jessica Merizan, respectively, that the popular Indoctrination Theory remains a “valid possibility” with the current endings and that the Extended Cut “neither confirms nor denies IT,” it appears that BioWare’s plan to deal with the controversy is to try to keep everyone happy by staying ambiguous. Hopefully, the rest of the Mass Effect 3 DLC cycle should clear up some of the ambiguity. Either way, as long as players get a game with a customizable protagonist and are offered a high degree of meaningful choice, people will probably buy Mass Effect 4.

Ethan Smith

Ethan Smith

A perpetual over-thinker, Ethan Smith spends all of his free time playing video games like an English professor reads books, writing a secret novel, and trying to actually finish a game of Medieval II: Total War.
Ethan Smith

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  • SaturnFX

    A mass effect 4?
    Such mixed emotions. On one hand, no matter how they do it, it is going to slam the lore.
    but on the other (winning) hand, its mass effect. the best freaking universe since..well, since this one!!!

    Where do reapers come from? Dark Space. What is dark space? Arguably the space outside of our galaxy..however, what if its a different dimension? What if there are parallel worlds going on right now, some with reaper threats, some without, etc..anyhow, just suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t be thinking where will this universe evolve into and think..maybe this is not the only dimension in the mass effect universe.

    It could be highly exciting where it goes..or incredibly sad…
    One of the things I didn’t like about the ending of ME3 wasn’t that shep was lost either way you look at it, but it effectively destroyed the entire mass effect universe from any potential story to come from it (with the exception of the destruction ending). So, either as said in the article, the destruction ending is canonised and they go from there…plausable, and plenty of things can outdo the reaper threat, or they go in a area not even the fans have considered yet (alternate dimensions).

    Either way, I love me my bioware, and because they attempted to do well with the EC, I will be purchasing 4..the question is, will it make me want to purchase 5.

    I do hope they -beg- Drew Karpoyshyn to help them out/direct/consult on this project. He is the talent behind ME…with one minor alteration to drop the finality of the dark energy concept he has. Guy hates humans.

  • Kati

    Buy it? Oh buy it we will. Enjoy it? Probably. Bitch about it endlessly? Most likely.

  • Sarlaka

    No matter what they do, how they make Mass Effect 4, theres alot of thinking going on, mainly, how do they start it off? From the endings of Mass Effect 3, theres alot of ways. From what you said, the “Red” choice is what alot of people chose. Why? I think mainly alot of people hurd that the RED ending is the best choice because they belive he will some how be alive. And when the survivors come back, they find Shepard barely alive. So maby thats a starting point for them if they choose to start there, as for the other choices, well theres alot of thinking to do, but either choice still some what leaves Shepard “alive” in some sort of way. But if they choose to let the Shepared we know die, then maby the one you fell inlove with in Mass Effect 3, will have his or her kid, and you can start it off that way. Its not all that hard to think about really. But that might be another best shot, is haveing your kid born and your kid will become like his dad, thus another hero in the Shepard famly. So new everything like how Mass Effect 1 was. You know the choices you made before you even started? where you was born, how you was bord, are you part human n part something eles, stuff like that. And when you start to play, is shood leave off a few years later or someting so he go threw is child hood. As for what the other big threat is, who knows… maby the return of collecters? Everyone splits and its best race wins? the whole glaxy is at war? I mean the Reapers was what the hole Mass Effect story is about right? Ever since the first game, so it was kinda easy to make it too the third. But now a 4th? Well im sure whatever they pull off, they can do it. tho there was a big change from ME1 and ME2, mainly landing on planets n stuff i hear was alot of people missed. Its just a made up story, so make some more stuff up, its easy, just pick something good for everyone the best you can and go with it.

  • Gary

    It wouldn’t be called ‘Mass Effect 4’. Bioware has already stated that Shepard’s story is done and over with… for better or worse. Personally, with the Extended Cut version, I’m satisfied. Sure, it could have been better, but it could have been a lot worse, and it could have had a few more endings added to it like they promised.

    As of right now, though, nothing is really set in stone. There may not even be a Mass Effect 4… yeah, sorry, even I had to stop there to laugh at myself. 😛

    Seriously, though, as long as they keep the amount of details, customization, with how immersed you can get, and with what can happen in the original Mass Effect trilogy, they will do alright.

    Just… as long as they don’t let another Dragon Age 2 happen…

    Ugh… same areas over and over… gah…

  • Lilaeth

    No. ME and I are done.

  • Tom

    All I’m saying is First Contact War and the protagonist is Admiral Anderson.

  • cotta

    I reject this idea. Mass Effect should be on the shelves and be left alone to die, its already controversial enough than it is. If they do that, there will be less people whining like stupid immature kids who can’t have their way. Its a lot better that way. Sure, EA is bad, but [deity], leave em alone. gamers should find other stuff to worry about in life, not waste their energy endlessly.

  • Ovi

    Continue from the refusal ending, it leaves you with a hard fight and there is no guarantee that those seen in the Stargazers speech wren’t humans after all. The games ends with destroy, synthethize and control but it doesn’t with refusal. It actually leaves a lot open, everything to be honest. The plot is still there, there’s still a fight to put, other ways to defeat the Reapers, the Leviathans, the God Child, the destrution of the Citadel and thus the catalyst itself, who knows…

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