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Sunday, February 17, 2013

What I Want To See In A New Mass Effect Game

It shames me to admit that, when it was first released back in 2007, I had zero interest in Bioware’s new sci-fi shooter/RPG called Mass Effect. It was mostly because I was still on a bit of a Star Wars high, having recently finished both Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel The Sith Lords, so anything from Bioware that wasn’t Star Wars just didn’t pique my interest. 

It wasn’t until roughly a year after Mass Effect’s release when, one late night, I was browsing the Xbox Live marketplace for something new to play when my cursor paused on Mass Effect’s icon. By then it was relatively cheap and I was bored and desperate for something new to play so I shrugged, whipped out my wallet, and soon I was immersed in what would later become one of my favorite game series of all time. 

A Strong Start, A Rocky Finish

After getting hooked on the first game, I naturally showed no hesitation in purchasing and playing Mass Effect 2 when it was released in 2010. I even went back and played the first game again just so I could have a fresh save to import into Commander Shepard’s second adventure. Mass Effect 2 introduced me to some of my favorite characters (other than Shepard of course) in the series such as Legion and Thane Krios and it managed to refine everything that was good in the first game and make it even better.

When Mass Effect 3 finally debuted in 2012, I was more than ready to suite up as Shepard once more for one final intergalactic escapade. I was also eager to give the series’ new cooperative multiplayer mode a try and it failed to disappoint. Sadly, like many other fans, I was somewhat let down by the trilogy capper’s conclusion. 

It wasn’t just the fact that Shepard dies in two of the three possible endings (though that was a pretty hard reality to accept), it was also because most of the events I witnessed in the ending, such as the Normandy crash landing on a mysterious planet, weren’t given enough context to make sense. Fortunatly Bioware corrected many of the ending’s mistakes (at least in my opinion) with the later-released Extended Cut DLC but even after all that, one question still nagged at me: where does Mass Effect go from here?

Back To The Past?

As epic as it was, Commander Shepard’s fight against the Reapers was just a small part of the all-encompassing story that makes up the universe of Mass Effect. Now that players have gotten to experience an entire trilogy’s worth of Mass Effect’s present, perhaps it’s time they got to venture into Mass Effect’s past? 

Humanity’s initial discovery of the Mass Relay system, the subsequent war with the Turians, the Geth rebellion against their Quarian creators, the Salarian Genophage that nearly wiped out the Krogan race forever, these and other events are what shaped the world that players got to see through Shepard’s eyes and while it is neat to read or hear about them second-hand, getting to experience them for ourselves could certainly drive home just how impactful they were not only on Shepard’s journey but the entirety of the Mass Effect universe.

Perhaps we could go back even further and explore in-depth the intricacies of the ancient Prothean race before it was wiped out by the Reapers. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about who exactly the Protheans were and how their race and their technology influenced those who came millions of years after they were gone. 

Delving into Mass Effect’s past could be a fun new experience for players who were invested in the original trilogy’s lore and story but as exciting as it would be to relive Mass Effect’s history first-hand, a far more tempting prospect would be venturing into a post-Shepard future….

New Era, New Heroes

I can see why making a game set after the adventures of Shepard and Co. would be a tricky prospect for Bioware. The choices that players had to make at the end of Mass Effect 3 were meant to affect the universe in drastic ways so Bioware would have to be careful not to trivialize those choices. However, the end of Shepard’s story also leaves open many possibilities for the beginning of a new story, one which can be influenced by Shepard’s actions but doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted by them.

Now that the Mass Relays have been destroyed, a new age of discovery (or *re*discovery to be more accurate) and adventure could be right at the player’s fingertips. Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer introduced the concept of playing as non-human races and I think Bioware should take that concept and work it into a new post-Shepard game. 

No doubt various members of the universe’s different races are now stranded on whatever planet or station they happened to be on when the Mass Relays were destroyed which means players would not only get to create their own heroes from the vast spectrum of Mass Effect’s  races, they could also begin their adventures wherever they liked. I’d imagine that a marooned Krogan setting out from Omega would have a vastly different experience than an inquisitive Salarian departing from Earth.

This same concept could even be taken over into the game’s multiplayer, allowing players to import their created single-player characters into the “universe at large” (multiplayer) and continue their journeys online. Bioware did an excellent job of tying Mass Effect 3’s single-player and multiplayer into one cohesive experience and I’d love for them to pursue a similar vein in a new Mass Effect game.

Bringing It All Together

Personally, I think that the ideal next Mass Effect game would have to incorporate a little of everything I listed above. Allow players to create their own custom heroes with which to explore a post-Shepard Mass Effect world, let them eventually take the fight online in an expanded cooperative multiplayer experience, but also allow their characters to relive first-hand the events and battles that shaped their world (Prothean technology could help with that last bit).

No matter where the Mass Effect series goes from here, I’m sure Bioware is just as eager to give fans another amazingly epic entry to play as the fans are to play it. Mass Effect has grown so much since its original debut six years ago and as a long-time fan and player, I like to think that the series’ future looks very bright indeed.

Follow me on Twitter at @NateHohl and be sure to check out my other work at vgu.tv.

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