Jul 01 2013

BioWare Should Avoid a Prequel for the Next Mass Effect

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials,Video Games

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While the last Mass Effect trilogy ended not too long ago, it’s no secret that BioWare is hard at work producing a new saga in the Mass Effect universe. It has been clarified that Shepard’s story is indeed over, and that it is a disservice to fans if they called the next game Mass Effect 4. With that in mind, I’m pretty sure that the next game wouldn’t be a direct sequel. It’s also hard to see one when each ending choice had their own distinct impact on the universe. What should BioWare do? Some fans are clamoring for a prequel, but I am personally wary of that route.

Why am I skeptical? Read on to know my reasons and a couple of suggestions for BioWare if they do decide to a prequel.

NOTE: Spoilers in this article

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Shepard’s story is over. We all know that. The next Mass Effect would probably be an entry point to an all-new trilogy with a new hero/heroine. Some people are expecting to see a game set during the Turian wars, Krogan genophage, Prothean era and other events in the past. It’s true that we’ve only gotten a glimpse of these stories, but I feel like these settings belong in a ‘one game spin-off’ category since it’s not entirely uncharted territory. I’m not saying prequels are bad in general, I just don’t think it would make it as epic as our last adventure.

For one thing, we already know what’s going to happen. The best things about games like Mass Effect are the choices and the surprising consequences that come with it. The scope of your decisions are relatively small as well since whatever you decide can’t make that big of a difference, or it would affect the narrative of the last three games we played. Unless, they are going to go do a reboot of the entire events in the trilogy with another hero/heroine. I’m sure a lot of people would be pissed by that especially since it invalidates their investment into the last trilogy. I wouldn’t mind a J.J Abrams style kind of reboot, but it’s not for everybody so I don’t see it happening.

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In our last adventure, we faced an enemy that threatened the existence of the entire universe. Everyone was going to be wiped out unless Shepard and his crew saved the day. If I’m not mistaken, the Reapers were the only massive and epic threat we’ve seen so far. Fighting Rachni, Humans, or Turians would look relatively small in scale compared to these behemoth machines. Enemies don’t have to be massive to be compelling though, but it’ll help if it’s a fresh concept.  That’s another reason that attributes a mere spin-off vibe to it. BioWare could revisit other cycles during the beginnings of the first Crucible, but that’s still the Reapers. It may be the same scale of danger, but it’s the same banana. However, I’m not sure about having another enemy similar to the Reapers where they are trying to simply kill everyone that exists with lasers that sound like the Inception trailer. BioWare could simply have a foe like a human or another alien, but they pose a behemoth of a threat to everyone in one way or the other.

What can they do?

Since a direct sequel is out of the question, I have this theory wherein they could make a game set thousands, millions, or even billions after the last game. Yes, it has to be that long for it to be believable at all. It’s not a direct sequel since both games will be very, very distant from one another. Some people would argue that the effects of the ending choices will be felt for a million of years. That’s true, but if BioWare can pull something off wherein the civilization we know from the Mass Effect games have become nothing but a remnant of an old era… then why not? I think it’s easy to do it for the Destroy ending since you just destroyed synthetic life. Robots can be rebuilt, so it’s really not a problem if you want AI back in the game. For Synthesis, maybe some natural occurrence stopped the synthetic-organic hybrid gene. So if you chose Synthesis or not, it could still work in the narrative. In Control, Shepard and his posse of Reapers could have retreated to an unknown part of the galaxy after he’s done being a guardian. Some event could trigger him to stop being a guardian and after a million years, he is nothing but a legend to people. Refusal is a perfect example of a “remnant from a past era” example especially with that scene where we see a hologram of Liara. Of course, these are just my theories but I believe that they can make a distant sequel while addressing the choices of the players. It may not be explicit, but it can be subtle through easter eggs and codex entries. What you chose in the end won’t even have an impact aside from conversations and backstory elements. I don’t think we should expect more than that regardless since the narrative we experienced with Shepard is over. That’s okay, because this allows BioWare to start from ‘scratch’ while still acknowledging the player’s action in the past game. It might sound like a cop out to others, but at least it’s better than establishing a canon narrative.

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You know what else they could do? BioWare could totally surprise us and go out of the box on this one. I actually loved how J.J Abrams tied in the old Star Trek with the new one. It didn’t turn out to be an old fashioned remake/reboot. BioShock: Infinite is also a good example of how Irrational Games connected Rapture and Colombia together. These two weren’t prequels, sequels, or reboots, because they turned out to be something more. Before you guys get all riled up, I’m not saying BioWare should copy what Irrational and Abrams did. I’m using them as examples to convey how BioWare isn’t limited to the methods I previously mentioned. We probably won’t hear about the next Mass Effect in one to two years, but I’m definitely excited for whatever they have to offer regardless if it is a prequel or not.





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11 responses so far

  • HypnoToad

    In regards to your final comments, I believe this could be one of the better routes. They could easily make a game set during shepard’s antics. For example, some guy/gal could be in command of a new experimental ship. Something goes haywire and they’re in a new universe somewhere. You still get the story of Shepard and his crew, but it has no impact on the new games.

  • Smooterz

    I’m glad you and others are thinking along the same lines as I am regarding any Mass Effect “sequel” or “prequel”. Bioware came up with this enormous universe based on some compelling scientific ideas. Why should exploring those ideas be stuckwith one particular time period or group of characters?

    I’d LOVE to see them branch out into other genres as well. I’d love a strategy game where you play either the Quarians or Geth in the Morning War. Or between the Council races and the Rachni.

    Or a fighter pilot during the First Contact War.

    Or the war between Harbinger and Leviathan.

    There is SO much more to this universe that I’d love to explore.

  • ColeBastich

    Pop out a few thousand years, all the races have banded together (through deep space communication) to rebuild the Mass Relay network (it is called “mass effect”, after all). Without the original knowledge to do it, shortly (galactically speaking) after the network is up and running, say… 150 – 200 years, a new subspace enemy/creature/race, which was originally held in check by the original creators of the network, escapes and begins to wreak havok on the universe. Evil powers to be determined. Think subspace travel/weapons without the use of the network.

    Instead of going with the standard, “Descendant of Shepard” as hero, go with either an unknown, or the descendant of one of the crew (Joker’s would be awesome).

  • http://nickverboon Nick Verboon

    Hey, your title image is my iPhone wallpaper! Interesting thoughts. If I were Bioware, I would scale the story down to a more personal level. I know I’m going to get shit for bringing up Dragon Age 2, but I really, really loved the story on that one. I liked how they didn’t have to stretch to make it some huge epic worldwide calamity and the story focused on just one city and how it was affected by what was going on in the larger world.

    Honestly, the battle in the city felt way more epic in the personal sense than the confrontation with the Archdemon in Origins, even if the supposed stakes were much smaller. What mattered was the stakes FOR YOUR CHARACTER. Mass Effect managed both in a way no other series has in my opinion, but after the ending collapsed under its own weight I think smaller stories may be the way to go for a couple of games at least.

  • http://goseebananafish.tumblr.com/ sean

    An important question to ask is: how important is it for humans and/or current Mass Effect characters to appear in the game? You can’t go too far back in time and have humans and you can’t go to far forward to have existing characters. You could go 800 years or so forward and have Liara appear as a character. You could also go very far into the future and keep some of the core Mass Effect features (exploration, biotics, synthetic vs organic). The game could ask which outcome was chosen during the character creation portion. That choice could be part of the history of the character like background/personality, but not have a huge impact on the gameplay or storyline.
    I agree that I would prefer a new story, characters and races over a prequel starring existing characters and expanding on existing story lines.

  • Johannes P. Anderson

    I get pissed every time I hear Sheppard referred to as a “he”…

  • Alec

    Interesting article.

    I’m with Nick on this one, in that I think a smaller scale would work for a prequel. I didn’t like Dragon Age 2, but not because we weren’t battling for the fate of the world like we were in the first 1. Likewise with Mass Effect, we’ve already had a series where the fate of the galaxy was on the line. I think it’s OK to lower the stakes, and possible to do so while still feeling invested. Indeed I think you’d want to change things up that way to avoid repetition.

    Also, consider the decisions and games that really draw you in. That Walking Dead game by Telltale Games managed to be more power dealing with a handful of characters in a low-key story than most save-the-universe type stories. And with Mass Effect, there’s not much harder or game-impacting decision to make than choosing between Ashley and Kaiden, who your LI will be, whether you’ll generally be paragon or renegade, and all those would still be possible.

    Yes, some aspects of the end-game would have to be pre-determined if it was a prequel. But there were also a lot of things in the end of Mass Effect 3 that work out the same way regardless of choices, so I think it could be done, with a lot of wiggle room to play within.

  • http://commanderbedlam.com Benny Bedlam

    Hmm I like those suggestions guys!

    I do think that it’s highly likely that we would be human in the next game because they have to consider mainstream appeal.

    Regarding the prequel: Yes, I wouldn’t object to a smaller scale but I think if they are going to make another trilogy…. I don’t think prequel trilogy is compelling enough because it’s still treading familiar ground. Sure, I think a prequel would be great if it was just a one-shot spin-off game. Plus, imagine the first contact war as a trilogy… I don’t think it’s nice if they stretch it.

    I’m assuming that the next Mass Effect games will be a cohesive trilogy like the last one. If it was Dragon Age however wherein we had stories focused solely on Ferelden and then Kirkwall… it’s fine. I don’t think Origins was epic because it was only one nation, so it’s still concentrated to a degree. I just think that if they are going to start another trilogy, I think it should be as epic in scale and scope as the last or even more.

    If the next title was a stand alone game, then sure let’s have a prequel.

  • http://www.afternoontiger.com Dimitrios

    I really don’t like prequels. I really hope it’s not a prequel. I would like it to be set in the far future. Maybe you could have some of the longer lived characters make a cameo. Maybe far enough in the future to somehow distort or be ambiguous about the choices shepard made. But the easiest thing would be a prequel. I support there is a chance they will make something that happens along side the reaper invasion as well.

  • csm

    Mass Effect 3 was a great game. The ending was actually fine. A lot of people really don’t understand the ending that well, and Bioware went into this game knowing people would not understand it, and that some people would be mad about it (said this before the game was released). Yet, they had no intention of completely rewriting the last 5 minutes or so, as some had hoped. Instead they wanted to clear things up as many people didn’t understand that whole sequence.

    Destroy all synthetic life and strand everyone in the Sol system? Well that’s that the Starchild said. Does everyone just believe whatever he says without question? He could just be lying to you. People never thought of that. I mean it’s just a Reaper in disguise. Never trust a Reaper.

    As a child, one of the things your mother teaches you is to never trust strangers. Yet, too many people just believe whatever the kid said without question.

    A lot of people think this kid came out of nowhere, but if they paid attention during the game, he is the same kid from Earth. The same kid in your dreams. Not some new character introduced in the last 5 minutes of the game.

    A lot of people went into the third game expecting to have all their choices affect the ending in some huge way. However, that is not how this game works. It’s all about many different paths to the same end. Mass Effect 3’s storyline is like a book. Each mission is a chapter and at the end of each mission is a resolution to the choices and such that you made in previous games.

    “Mass Effect 3 will react to each decision you make as you play through a truly unique experience of your own creation.”

    Not the ending of Mass Effect 3, the game as a whole. People needed to read that before shooting their mouths off and causing that unnecessary firestorm last year.

    https://www.ea.com/uk/mass-effect-3

  • VikingIrishman

    Am I the only one hoping for Galaxy of Fantasy? ^_^

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