Back in June Bioware released a short teaser trailer revealing not only the next Mass Effect game, Mass Effect Andromeda, but also confirming the rumors that the next installment will be featured in the Andromeda Galaxy. This wasn’t really surprising, as when you’ve already made a galactic war in the Milky Way, the next level of escalation when writing a block buster game is to universal. The trailer gave us a look at the new N7 armor and the Mako making a return, all set to the tune of Johnny Cash’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, giving it a very Guardians of the Galaxy, Wild West vibe. That’s all well and good, but for me, as this is an op-ed piece not a review, it wasn’t very appealing. Before you feed me the the Thresher Maw, let me explain. Also, I will not be going into indoctrination theory or the general outcry from the Mass Effect 3 ending for the purpose of brevity and also I actually liked the ending (waiting for Jim to burn down my house for saying that).
Firstly, Mass Effect Andromeda is rumored to be set thousands of years after Mass Effect 3‘s . Bioware has stated that the next game will be far removed from Shepard saga, which is where I want to start my concern. Mass Effect 3‘s ending was a universe changing decision that have vastly different impacts on future of all species in the Milky Way, not to mention all the other small decisions you made along the way. My choice of synthesis would have all future species, including my future player character, be a syntho-organic hybrid like everyone else; whereas, Jim’s destruction ending would have set back the advanced species hundreds if not thousands of years trying to recoup from the destruction of synthetics and the mass relays. This isn’t even taking into account the decisions that affect whether or not the Krogan and the Geth races survive.
Even if you argue that all three endings lead to the same future outcome or that there is a canon ending (which would make your choices meaningless), the technology thousands of years in the future shouldn’t have a “same but” feel to them. In the teaser we see a familiar but sleeker N7 armor and the return of the Mako. To give you a sense of what a thousand years of advancement is like, one thousand years ago in human history, vikings discovered Iceland. We now can watch a History show called Vikings on a box that receives audio and visual transmissions from space. The technology growth between Mass Effect 3 to Andromeda would be exponentially greater, creating tech completely alien to what we experienced in the trilogy.
As previously stated, Bioware has said that Andromeda will have nothing to do with the previous trilogy, but also that they don’t want fans to consider it Mass Effect 4 as it would be a disservice to the game. I can understand that there is pressure to live up to the old trilogy while still breaking new ground, but what has been revealed leaves me worried that the decision was made to make the next Mass Effect title based in the future regardless of the story potential that lies in the past.
The Mass Effect universe was crafted at the onset to be massive, filled with lore to give it the feeling that you were stepping into something that’s been around for centuries. The history from the codex alone can give you ideas for possible games that would not involve Commander Shepard or the trilogy at all, but still respect the decisions gamers made. Don’t believe me? Here are a three ideas just off the top of my head.
First Contact War
If you really needed a game to humancentric, the first contact war would be the absolute best place to start. With the number of books written on the subject, and with the war itself described by in-game characters, it’s an already surveyed landscape that just needs a little bit of tilling and fertilizer to make it grow into an amazing war story. No need to reference the Reapers here folks, unless you want to bring in the Illusive Man as an Easter Egg, but the focus should be a narrative of the war and the xenophobia that came from it (*cough* Ashley Jenkins *cough*) and the the fight between saving our species over saving our humanity.
The Rachni Wars have the same benefit as the First Contact war that there is already lore and a familiarity with the history. Heck, in Mass Effect 1 we meet the Rachni Queen! The main difference is that we’d have zero humans in this tale, which is ok, I promise. In Mass Effect 3, we got to play as different species in the multiplayer, and people loved that chance to be something different. This would be the prime game to let players slip into the skin of a Turian, Salarian, or Asari Spectre and take on the challenge of backing the Rachni hoards, or negotiating the uplifting of the Krogan to take them on. There is a lot of room for moral choices, and getting to know the home-worlds a little bit more, scraping through more ancient tech leftover by the Protheans. Speaking of the Protheans…
Now, there is no source of evidence that there ever was a rebellion of the Prothean enslaved races, I’m just making this one up because I think it would be a fun premise, and puts the point home that there are equally valid storylines to pursue other than Andromeda. In this story, you’d play as one of the enslaved races that are part of the Prothean Empire. Set after the Metacon War, a conflict between the Protheans and a synthetic race which started the Prothean conscription of other species, your character would escape their bondage, flee from the Prothean masters, and come upon what they think is a damaged Metacon who offers your character the key to their species’ freedom. It sets you to acquire other species and a crew to end Prothean enslavement, which weakens the Prothean Empire just before the return of Reapers. You’d get the chance to experience the Pre-council species and worlds, while diving into a completely different story than one of galactic survival.
Those are a few of my ideas (and possible fan fiction concepts) just off the bat. I’m not saying that they’d be better than Mass Effect Andromeda, as I, and the whole world, haven’t played it yet, but there are alternatives begging to be utilized that fall into their expressed desire to step away from Shepard. Admittedly, all of my suggestions fall into the prequel category of sequel, circumventing the issue of addressing Shepard all together. I’ll be curious to see how successful, both narratively and from a PR side, Bioware will be when we get our hands on it next year.