What we want from Mass Effect 4
How do you follow an act like the galaxy's most high-stakes game of three-card monte? Apparently by completely starting over. BioWare has long insisted that Mass Effect 3 marked the definitive end of Commander Shepard's story arc, regardless of whether you picked the green pill, the red pill, or the blue pill. The good news, of course, is that it's created a universe that leaves plenty of room for other stars. The big question is who that star will be. BioWare has only dropped a few hints that yield some clues as to what kind of ride we're in for during the next installment, and thus we'd like to put forward a few of our own ideas about how the next chapter in the Mass Effect saga should unfold. (Also, there are spoilers ahead, particularly if you somehow missed the furor over the ending of Mass Effect 3 last year. For convenience, the upcoming game is called "Mass Effect 4," even though BioWare has stated that this won't be the title.)
It should take place in the future
The past might offer some fascinating settings such as the "First Contact War" between humans and Turians, but thanks to the encyclopedic lore already found in the first three games, there's a good chance that we'll already know how any past events will work out. (So much for "better" endings.) Go too far back, and BioWare runs the risk of pushing too many of the races we've come to love out of the picture, and events too close to the buildup of Shepard's adventure will rob the series of some of its wonder. The future, however, is bursting with questions. Consider, for instance, the potential in a storyline that centers on Earth's attempt to get back on its feet in the wake of the destruction of the mass relays. On the one hand we have the Krogan hanging about, now cured of the genophage but exiled light years away from their homeworld. So, too, do we have numerous other species stuck in the general area as a result of Mass Effect 3's final battle, and part of the plot could follow their struggles to carve out worlds of their own in surrounding space. And then, of course, the drive to rebuild and reactivate the mass relays could build up to a new, memorable climax for the series. Of course, placing the next Mass Effect game presents is own problems. Of necessity, BioWare will have to choose a "canon" ending to the preceding trilogy, thus running the risk of reigniting the controversies over Mass Effect 3's ending and its ultimate meaning.
The main character shouldn't be human
If, as I suggest, a series set in the future ends up focusing on earth and its surrounding neighborhood, it may be wise to choose a character other than a human to drive the main plot. There will be more than enough of us around, after all, and the shift in perspective might allow BioWare to explore themes of alienation (so to speak) among a culture that already is often looked down as aggressors. An alternative in any event would be to allow us to choose our own races, but that may prove too ambitious for BioWare. After all, the last time the studio pulled it off effectively was in Dragon Age: Origins, and while it was fun to explore the different origin stories for each race, the hero was a silent one likely owing to the massive demands of recording voiceovers for the multiple main characters. Silence may be golden elsewhere, but employing such a design for Mass Effect would rob it of the cinematic qualities that arguably define it more than anything else. Photo: Gabylan121
Divergent paths for Renegades and Paragons
The original series had Renegade and Paragon options, of course, but most of the time their actual effect was limited to delivering pissy lines or determining whether one companion or another would follow you into battle (or sleep with you, for that matter). But why not go deeper? Particularly in the postscript scenario described above, there remains a lot of room to for your decisions to affect the actual trajectory and locations of your gameplay, much as they did with great success in The Witcher 2. Not only would such a design offer significant replay value, but it would also help the new series distinguish itself by allowing greater consequences for our actions that we saw before. Photo: Daniel Ware
The main character shouldn't be a soldier
Whoever comes along, he or she has some massive shoes to fill, and that's why BioWare should take great pains to distances them as far from the savior of the galaxy as possible. Mass Effect 4 would be better off if it cast its hero in roles other than those associated with Shepard, such as a scientist or (in better keeping with the shooter background) some form of spy. With such a design in place, BioWare could escape most criticisms that the new character was something other than "Shepard 2.0." It would allow for new dynamics among shipmates and companions, it could allow for greater mission variety and new reasons for exploring planets, and at the very least, it'd probably pave the way for innovations and improvements to combat.
More interaction with ships
Spaceships like the Normandy were such a large part of the original Mass Effect trilogy, but our interaction to them was largely limited to mingling with the crew and zooming about in straight lines in exploration phases. A new entry in the franchise presents many possibilities, such as implementing some form of space combat or, at the very least, navigating it through some obstacles. Such a move would allow for more entertaining options in between the business of ground combat and the general story--in fact, it could probably replace the "mining" missions altogether--and the wide variety of ships made possible by the technologies of the various races could present significantly different circumstances if you were allowed to fight them.
It should stay true to its roots
The urge to break away from Shepard's legacy must be great; so great, in fact that it's possible that BioWare has considered other alternative to the series' usual format, such as an RTS or an MMORPG. But that's a harder feat than it sounds. Blizzard may have managed to turn one of its most beloved real-time strategy franchises into a legendary MMO, but such turnarounds are rarely replicated. And if anyone knows the dangers of such a shift, it should be BioWare. After all, it was the studio that tried to translate its acclaimed RPG series into an MMO, but the results (at least for the long term) were disappointing at best. If anything, BioWare might benefit from bringing back some of the elements that made Mass Effect popular to begin with, such as the first game's focus on RPG elements that were largely set aside for the two sequels. That's some of our thoughts on what we're hoping to see with the next Mass Effect game (whatever it's called). Have any ideas of you own? Let us know in the comments!