How BioWare Can Bring Us Back With Mass Effect 4
3. Minimize the Retcons
So Mass Effect 4 won’t be about Commander Shepard. Great. That’s awesome. In fact, keep out any and all mentions of Shepard, the Reapers, any of the characters that show up in Mass Effects 1-3 and the novels (unless it’s absolutely unavoidable) and generally do not give any winks, nods or nudges to players. I don’t want to see Garrus’ dad. I don’t want to have to argue with Ambassador Udina I. I absolutely don’t want to run across a strange Reaper artifact that we’d known about this whole time, if only someone had listened!
The Mass Effect trilogy is done. It’s over. Don’t expand on it, rework it or otherwise take Mass Effect 4 as another stab at anything set down in Mass Effect 3. That ship has already passed through the Omega relay; let it go. It can only hurt the story of Mass Effect 4 to make it some kind of fan-servicing story fixer, and that’s to say nothing of what it’ll do to the original trilogy. Do nothing rather than risk making things worse.
4. Avoid Over-Promising and Be Honest
If you could boil down the problems of Mass Effect into a single issue, it would be that BioWare’s plans were bigger than their abilities. Over-promising Mass Effect 3, specifically in previews, made the eventual release a glaring underachievement in many respects, even as the game can be applauded in many others. The point is: we’re better off with a Mass Effect game that turns out to be more than expected than less.
This is especially true for a series that purported to be seriously groundbreaking in fields like player choice, and then turned up somewhat lacking in the end. Making games is hard, breaking new ground is a challenge, and Mass Effect can work incredibly well without the requirement of being “first,” “most” or “best” anything. The fidelity of the universe and the depth of the characters are plenty to carry the game — let that speak for itself. Return to the roots of great role-playing titles, and skip the marketing speak.
In fact, that goes for the entirety of the cycle of Mass Effect 4, both before and after the game is released. Bridges were burned by both sides during the debacle that was the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy, but the onus here is again on BioWare. Over-promising is one thing, but acting as if the longest-term fans of the series were crazy for expecting something they were told they’d have and then didn’t receive isn’t just ridiculous, it’s hurtful — just ask all those former BioWare fans who are still feeling jilted. That’s fixable with openness, honesty, and patience. Ignore the trolls, of course, but engage the community. If BioWare remains unwilling to make apologies, then it should at least be aware of the fact that fans are weary of being led around by the nose.
So ditch the marketing speak, avoid playing PR, don’t worry about the back of the box, and just make a great game. Fans will return for what we loved about Mass Effect. Play things straight and turn in a game that gets back to the franchise’s roots, and I can guarantee that many or most — or maybe all — of us wayward fans can be brought back into the fold. We’re ready to put Mass Effect 3 behind us, if BioWare is.