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Video GamesNov 17, 2021 4:00 pm CT

What we know, what we don’t know, and some wild speculation about the next Mass Effect game

No, you are obsessively staring at this Mass Effect teaser image trying to pick out every possible ounce of information about the next Mass Effect game. Me? No, I’m just noticing idly things of interest like a normal person. So maybe I’m checking old sources and comparing ideas and hints about Mass Effect here, but that’s normal. I haven’t even set up the whiteboard yet.

Because I don’t have a whiteboard, it’s 2021, I use a computer for all my conspiracy theorizing. So let’s start talking about exactly what the Mass Effect teaser image BioWare shared with us might mean.

There’s definitely a Geth connection, but what?

The first thing notices is that the crater in the image looks a bit like a Geth — just compare the silhouette to Legion, who’s a Geth armature. The head of that armature has a certain similarity to the shape of the crater. And when we look closer at the crater, there’s another interesting detail: what appears to be a deactivated Geth.

You can see this fallen figure on the sloping, almost ramp-like path directly ahead of the circular ‘eye’ of the crater itself. You can just barely see it in the first image, but if you zoom in you can see it clearly. BioWare specifically tells us not to zoom in and play detective with the image. Which I am doing. Which is exactly what they told us not to do.


Early ideas for Mass Effect may be making a reappearance

The ship in the foreground of the image has the markings SFX on it. In his The Last Days of Mass Effect 3, Geoff Knighley wrote about the early development of the franchise, and mentioned that SFX was the original working name for the project that would become Mass Effect. 

This may just be a fun Easter egg, but I’m curious if any of the concepts from Mass Effect’s early development are going to creep their way into the next Mass Effect game. For the first year and a half of development, the game was called Master Slaves, and included the idea that humans had been genetically engineered as a slave race. It’s an idea we’ve seen elsewhere in Mass Effect: both the Keepers and the Collectors were genetically altered into slaves for the Reapers.

But the idea that Protheans may have directly interfered in Human evolution in order to create a race with an affinity for Prothean tech is plausible. We know the Protheans left a huge data archive behind on Mars, and a tiny tidbit in Mass Effect 1 suggested they were studying primitive hominids, so it’s entirely possible that some plot threads from those older proposals could be repurposed. Perhaps the SFX on the new ship is a nod to that idea.

Mass Effect Andromeda may play a role

The ship also bears a resemblance to the Tempest from Mass Effect Andromeda, so this may also suggest a bridge to connect the villains from MEA and the Andromeda Initiative back to the metaplot of the whole series. After all, the Reapers spent their time between 50,000 year cycles in the dark space between galaxies — who’s to say they never visited Andromeda, never left their technology behind there?

It’s kind of strange that the Kett in MEA use such similar firearms technology, and their ships and tech aren’t that much different from what the Andromeda Initiative brought with them. And how did SAM, an AI designed by Milky Way races using Prothean tech that was itself influenced by Reaper creations, get so good at translating the technology left behind in Andromeda that created the terraforming engines? Perhaps because Reaper influence stretched across galaxies.

The Remnant and their Jardaan creators might well have been candidates for culling by the Reapers, which would explain their disappearance from the Heleus Cluster. Reaper involvement would make a lot of sense.

The mysterious group is impossible to identify

But there’s more to learn from the teaser image: there are four silhouettes departing the SFX vehicle and walking towards the crater and the Geth corpse. One is almost certainly a Krogen, while the other three could be almost any Milky Way species from Salarian to Quarian to Asari to Turian. They could be Batarians, or Drell, or Humans, maybe even Vorcha. Volus, Hanar, or Elcor would seem unlikely based on their proportions, but that still leaves a lot of options.

Is it possible that we’re looking at Wrex, Tali, Garrus, and Liara? That would certainly please a lot of fans, but if the game is set 600 years or more in the future from Mass Effect 3, both Garrus and Tali would be dead. Wrex would be old, as he was alive during the Krogan Rebellions which were some 1500 years before Mass Effect, but there have been Krogan about that old and most Krogan die in battle, not from old age. And Liara is an Asari, and even in 600 years would still be considered young for her people.

Still, the low detail here means these figures could be nearly anyone, nearly anywhere.

The next Mass Effect could send us far into the future

Now let’s go back and look at the teaser trailer that was released last year. That initial shot of the galaxy that opens the trailer shows Andromeda just behind and to the left in the background as the Milky Way takes center stage.

In three Mass Effect games, the Reapers were shown to be engaged in a campaign of settling, cultivating, and harvesting sapient beings for millions upon millions of years, and the Protheans were merely the civilization that proceeded that of the Asari, Krogan, Salarians, Turians and others that make up the galaxy in the Mass Effect era. We know that at least once, some 37 million years ago, a Reaper was destroyed by a weapon that caused the Greater Rift Valley on the planet Klendagon. And the Leviathan species dates back potentially a billion years ago, at the very least hundreds of millions of years.

The Reapers have been doing this for a long time.

To put this into perspective, the oldest fossil yet discovered that might contain evidence of a multicellular organism is around a billion years old, and the first animals with recognizable limbs that could walk on land, the Tetrapods, didn’t start appearing until 365 million years ago. At that time the Reapers would have been engaged in their 50,000 year cycles of culling sapient species for roughly 600 million years, which means they culled the galaxy — or at least checked to see if there were any sapient species to cull) — aound 12,000 times before anything walked on land on Earth, and around 20,000 times before Mass Effect 3.

Colony ships from the Andromeda Initiative took 600 years to travel between the Milky Way and Andromeda, but the Reapers could have done it a lot faster, especially if they left behind a conduit similar to the one they built into the Citadel to instantly bridge the distance between Dark Space and Andromeda. There were clearly forces at play in MEA that we never fully saw — the murder of Jien Corso, and how former N7 Alec Ryder got the resources and funding to design an AI as complex as SAM. It’s also telling that SAM is inherently designed as an AI that enters into a symbiotic relationship with a biological organism — exactly what the Star Child from the Crucible weapon offered to Commander Shepherd at the end of Mass Effect 3.

Considering that the Andromeda Initiative took 600 years to travel to Andromeda and Mass Effect Andromeda is therefore 600 years after the events of Mass Effect 3, does that means the next Mass Effect might also be that far in the future, or even farther? It might be, but we don’t know yet — only that there are quite a few connections between Andromeda and the main Mass Effect universe, and perhaps the next game will pull on those threads.

The next Mass Effect may tie everything together

I think it’s possible that the next Mass Effect will seek to tie in everything, including Andromeda. I don’t know if that means we’ll find out which ending of Mass Effect 3 is canonical, but I do think it’s possible we’ll see the old faces from the franchise again, and learn more about what the Reapers were actually trying to accomplish.

There are some interesting elements that the series never explored that could play a role here. The fact that the Reapers decided to make Humanity the basis for their next Reaper, something they don’t appear to have done for other races, since all Reapers we’ve seen share the same basic design. Harbinger even wanted Shepard’s body for unknown reasons, perhaps as the basis for this new Reaper. Then there were Mordin’s comments in Mass Effect 2 about Humanity being particularly genetically variable, which might suggest genetic modification. All of that could be used to both bridge the earlier Mass Effect concepts with the original trilogy and Andromeda, and I’m curious to see what comes of all of it.

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