While BioWare’s acclaimed Mass Effect trilogy stirred up plenty of debate over its ending, now that ending is out there and done. While internet flaming on the subject will no doubt continue for years to come, now both the franchise’s designers and fans have a new topic to discuss: where should we go from here? Over the course of three core Mass Effect games and tons of spin-off material, BioWare has created a fictional SF universe as well conceived and rich with potential as any that’s come before, and in spite of the whole ME3 ending kerfuffle, I can’t wait to explore more of it. Which is why I’m glad to hear that yes, of course, there will indeed be a Mass Effect 4, but even better: it won’t just be a rehash of the first three games.
With a game series as successful as Mass Effect, the safe and easy choice would simply be to come up with a new story revolving around another soldier type, maybe ever another Spectre, ala the iconic Commander Shepard. While the prospect of more Mass Effect of any sort excites me, this idea is one of the least interesting directions BioWare could decide to pursue. We’ve saved the galaxy as Commander Shepard. Putting us in the boots of a similar character for another game or three would run the risk of feeling like more of the same, and honestly, how do you top saving the entire goddamn galaxy?
In an interview with VG247, BioWare Montreal producer Fabrice Condominas confirms that whatever Mass Effect 4 is, it will be separate and apart from the first trilogy, and the story of Shepard is done (outside of any DLC they continue to release for ME3).
This is really our starting point. Now the Mass Effect universe is vast, and very, very rich. So at this point in time, we don’t even know what kind of time frame we’re going to be in. All we’re doing is more gathering ideas from the teams, gathering feedback to see several things.
So first, we don’t want to make ‘Shepard 2′, or Mass Effect 4 with like, ‘oh there’s no more Shepard but you’re a soldier in the universe’. So this will be a very, very different context for sure, and nothing has been decided on the rest.
I think that’s very good news. One of the things that’s plagued some of the other giant SF franchises out there is a hesitancy to break from the format. Think about it: we’ve had five ongoing Star Trek TV series so far, and four of the five were variations on the same narrow theme: the adventures of a Starfleet vessel boldly going where yadda yadda yadda. With all the effort that’s been put into filling out the details of Trek’s reality, why keep telling the same sort of stories? It’s a narrow-mindedness that inevitably leads to sterility and franchise fatigue, and it’s why I’m glad to hear that Mass Effect 4 will be a different story and a different experience.
BioWare has always been about storytelling and roleplaying, so how many other different stories are out there that could be just as fun and exciting as that of Shepard and the Normandy crew? Let me play a C-Sec officer stumbling onto corruption and intrigue on a massively realized Citadel. Let me play a smuggler or free trader plying my trade across the seedy underbelly of the galaxy. Let me play a deep-space scout or salvage-recovery crew or xenoarchaeologist that stumbles onto something ancient and terrible. Just please, for the love of god, don’t give me more of the same.