What I want in the next Mass Effect game after playing the Legendary Edition
Thanks to a very thoughtful Christmas gift, I have been obsessively replaying the original Mass Effect trilogy and ruminating on what it’s like to play all three games. It’s helped me feel the way the game’s mechanics and narrative design changed over the years, and sparked all kinds of conspiracy theories up in my head about the series (some of which I shared back in November after my last Mass Effect Andromeda replay).
Now that I’ve completed my Mass Effect 3 replay on my surprisingly Renegade Soldier Shepard — and am almost ready to start it on my Vanguard — I’m considering what I want from a modern Mass Effect game, both in terms of storytelling and in mechanics/gameplay. After all, we know almost nothing about the game, so why not pretend anything’s on the table? In that vein, here’s what I’d like to see in the next Mass Effect game — be it Mass Effect 4 or some other title — and ways I’d like the series as a whole to move forward.
Ditch Andromeda‘s profile system, but keep the frenetic pace of combat
While I wasn’t a big fan of the concept of switchable profiles that let you play as anything — letting you change between a high-risk, high-reward Vanguard or a precise-sniper Infiltrator or even a fully Biotic whirlwind of an Adept — I did like how the Biotic powers and gunplay felt in Andromeda. It took what was getting pretty polished in ME3 and made it more fluid — I spent a lot of time happily charging in and exploding on top of my enemies with that game’s version of Biotics and the assisted jumping that let you bounce all around the battlefield. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the combat in Mass Effect 2 and 3 quite a bit, but it was much more along the lines of run up to a wall, crouch, shoot or throw a power at them, repeat. Whatever you felt about Andromeda, the combat was far more active and mobile.
On that front, the sheer variety of powers and abilities available by the end of Mass Effect 3 and the expanding talent selection system really works for me, and of the original trilogy, it’s ME3 I enjoy the most in terms of the way it’s expanded on combat. The fighting is harder; it’s more gritty and feels like actual stakes are involved. I especially enjoy Biotic combo detonations and the way you can customize your loadout, carrying more weapons (at the cost of taking longer for powers to recharge) or specializing in fewer weapons (to reduce your weight and increase your cooldowns for more active power use). A fusion of Andromeda and Mass Effect 3 that ditches the profiles and makes your class selection important again would be my personal dream for whatever the next Mass Effect game is.
Oh, and yes, bring back the Revenant again. I loved using that gun as a Vanguard in ME3. Biotics got steadily better in my opinion, and were absolutely the best part of Andromeda — maybe take a look at giving Soldiers more unique abilities/powers that focus on their enhanced speed and strength?
And for the love of all that’s good and pure get us more character-creation options. It should be possible to make a male Shepard who doesn’t look like Jason Statham after he fell on a griddle.
The story needs to fill in the gaps from the original trilogy
First things first, I am a realist — I understand that there are limits to what a new entry can do about addressing different players and our different concerns about Mass Effect as a series. But I think we need a canonical, established ending to the original trilogy as a jumping-off point, and I really hope that BioWare can deliver that for us — something that tells us what happened just so we know what we’re doing in the new game.
In that vein, I think it would be a mistake to do a big time jump. A decade or two? Sure. A thousand years? No. While I get that Liara and Wrex and Grunt (and potentially EDI) could live that long, I really want a story in the aftermath of the Reapers. After millions upon millions of years — at least 37 million of them, since that’s how old the Reaper corpse in Mass Effect 2 is — of the Reapers harvesting organic races, they’re gone. What happens now? Do the Leviathans attempt to reclaim the Milky Way with their terrifying Indoctrination-like mental powers used through their orbs? What about the Rachni? What do the Krogans do with the Genophage cured? What about the Geth and Quarians?
There is a lot of depth and complexity in this setting that hasn’t been touched on yet, and some of it is only hinted at. There’s a Prothean orb that implies that the Protheans were tracking and studying primitive humans in the distant past — and that the Mars Archive might have been deliberately left to put humanity on the path it took to ultimately helping defeat the Reapers. Think about this — humans only discovered Mass Effect technology and the Charon relay in 2149. Mass Effect begins in 2183. If we hadn’t found the Mars Archives and through them learned where the Charon Relay was, we wouldn’t have been worth harvesting, and the Reapers would have cleansed the galaxy of the Turians, Salarians, Krogan, Batarians, Hanar, Volus, and all other galactic powers while Commander Shepard was either never born at all, or would have remained on Earth for the entirety of their lives.
Heck, we only find out about the Crucible because it was in the Mars Archive. Combined with what we know about the original conception of the Mass Effect series — and that strange orb that shows us Protheans meddling with humanity — and I wonder if it’s possible that the Protheans intended for humans to be present in the galaxy at exactly the right time to tip the balance? We’re told repeatedly about human variability, that it goes down to our genetic code, and we saw that the Collectors (the bastardized Husk-like remains of the Protheans) were testing their own DNA vs that of humanity in Mass Effect 2 — why?
There are a lot of lore points not only left hanging but absolutely worth exploring, and I hope whatever Mass Effect game comes next addresses at least some of them.
It’s time to talk about the Mass Effect itself
We’re told in datalogs in the games that Element Zero (“Eezo”) creates a field that can raise or lower mass in an area when exposed to an electrical current. Negative current lowers mass in an area, positive current raises mass. This is somehow accomplished via Dark Energy, allowing for the creation of a wide variety of effects from FTL travel to simulated gravity. Dark Energy is also responsible for the accelerated deterioration of Haestrom’s star, Dholen. The Mass Effect of Dark Energy is the namesake of the series, it’s the means by which the Relays work, it’s how the Reapers kept organic societies from advancing to the point where they would become a threat and could break the cycle of harvesting organic life.
And despite it being repeatedly brought up, hinted at, and lampshaded; despite it being the means by which the Crucible ultimately does whatever ends up as the final fate of the Reapers; despite it allowing Shepard to ride the Mako from Ilos to the Citadel across interstellar space — we still don’t know what it is. How does Dark Energy alter mass? What is Eezo? How can you hook it up to a car battery and change the physical state of the universe? And how is it possible that sapient beings can get an implant in their heads that allows them to think hard enough to create mass effect fields powerful enough to kill other people?
I mean, imagine if in Star Trek, they had a bunch of people with psychokinetic powers — which they do, the first episode of the show has Gary Marshall develop them — and it’s revealed that they’re doing everything by creating the same warp field as the ship’s engines and altering space. That’s what a Biotic in Mass Effect is — a person who can alter the mass of anything within the field of their power. They can just will the universe into having different physical laws, and while Eezo exposure is linked to the development of these abilities and they need Biotic Amps to focus their power, it’s inherent. They’re the source of it. How?
Yes, I want Shepard back
Look, it’s not Mass Effect without Jennifer Hale and/or Mark Meer as the Commander. I also would probably want at least some of the companions back — Mordin, Garrus, Tali, Kaiden and/or Ashley, Liara, Wrex, Grunt, Jack, James Vega, and some others — but for me, Shepard is a deal breaker here. I liked Andromeda — a lot more than most people seem to — but I missed Shepard then, and playing the Legendary Edition, I know now that Jennifer Hale’s performance as Shepard is genre changing — it made games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey possible. And Mark Meer can play a Hanar, a Vorcha, and a Turian in the same game and never pull you out of it when his Shepard talks to them.
So yes, this is what I want for the next Mass Effect. No pressure, BioWare, just make the best game ever.
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