How Mass Effect 4 Can Be Great, in 5 Steps

By now, we all know that Mass Effect 4 is inevitable. Whatever we thought of the original trilogy, whatever our feelings about further mining the Mass Effect universe, BioWare is trudging ahead.

Of course, even they must know that the project is a risky one. As it continues to earn money from its most famous franchise, BioWare also must mend fences with the fans. That means Mass Effect 4 will require a careful balance between justifying the existence of the new game, and giving the players what they want. As if to confirm that tension, last week Casey Hudson tweeted a request to the fans for input into the new game. “What would you want to see in it?”, he wondered.

Don’t mind if we do! We’ve been thinking about this question for months, and despite our very public willingness to state the obvious when it comes to how the original trilogy panned out, we are firmly of the opinion that Mass Effect 4 could be good. And why not? The Mass Effect series is important. If anything else, it proved, once and for all, that a video game story is capable of capturing the public imagination with the same passion as some film franchises. It’s a milestone in the penetration of gaming in popular culture, one we’d love to see restored to former glory without delay.

All of which is to say, if we have to have a new game, then please, by all means, let it at least be good. Here’s how we think it could be.

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken

First and foremost, BioWare has always done one thing really well: make really great RPGs. Their reputation only began to sour as they started to release games aimed self-consciously for broader appeal via an increased emphasis on action at the expense of RPG elements. After the recent unpleasantness, we get that there’s going to be tremendous pressure to mix things up with Mass Effect 4. But if BioWare is serious about making a great game that wins back fan loyalty, it’s important that in tweaking the formula, they don’t just throw the formula out entirely.

At its core then, Mass Effect 4 needs to be first and foremost a BioWare game. That means branching outcomes, a complex, evolving story revealed through exploration and interactions with NPCs, obsessive attention to detail, and a heavy focus on characters, especially the evolution of the player character. And most importantly, it needs to refocus on BioWare’s signature RPG style. The gradual dilution of that style in the years since 2009 has been one of the most frustrating things about being a Mass Effect fan. While the action was improved with each outing, it was at the expense of the thing that made BioWare attractive as an acquisition in the first place.

Mass Effect 4 needs more than a high concept plot, action set pieces and cool cut scenes. It needs real, complex exploration, deep, involved quests, better random encounters, a greater variety of weapons and definitely greater character customization options. The game needs to feel as much like the player’s personal journey as did the best moments of the original trilogy. Release Gears of War in the Mass Effect universe, and whatever goodwill still remains will be vaporized as surely as the hull of the Normandy I.

That said…

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12 Comments on How Mass Effect 4 Can Be Great, in 5 Steps

Kevin

On November 14, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Go forward maybe 30-40 years. Show a universe that, while the Reapers were defeated, it comes at quite a cost, as there’s a huge power vacuum.

The Asari are devestated and they actually took a huge brunt of the attacks from the Reapers. The Turians Navy is not what it once was. Humans are quickly becoming the dominant race. The Krogan don’t like that, they think it is there time to become dominant. And still there are others who are tired of the “dominant race” cycle of Protheans, Asari, humans etc. Show these ways interacting and conflicting, and give it the Witcher 2 treatment, where the game can really be a completely different play experience, and most importantly, there is no “good” or “evil” side. All have their paragons and renegades, and all have their altruistic or selfish reasons for doing what they are doing.

Sachel

On November 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm

This is what I know:

1) It is a prequel about the First Contact War between humans and Turians.
2) It is being developed by EA Montreal with no involvement from the western branch.
3) It Will be a first person shooter in the frostbite engine.
4) It will focus more on multiplayer/co-op.
5) It will “stream-line” the role-playing assets to be more inclusive to a wider audience.

6) As of February of 2013 BioWare Edmonton will be working on DA3 and an unnamed Project.

I’m sorry to anyone still scorned by the ending of Mass Effect 3.

David

On November 14, 2012 at 6:28 pm

@Sachel

“5) It will “stream-line” the role-playing assets to be more inclusive to a wider audience.”

*SIGH*

Isn’t that exactly what Bioware has done over the first three installments.

And hasn’t it become clear that isn’t really the way to go?

I mean…if you’re going to copycat another franchise…why not copycat Splinter Cell with something based on the Salarian STGs?

Kevin

On November 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm

@Sachel: Well I haven’t seen any of this kind of info here on Gamefront, so I must ask, can you prove any of this?

Sachel

On November 14, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Not exactly sure what you would want as proof since employees are not given this information in paper form but are simply told it while working for the company.

Wait a few months and it will be proven true.

I was also in an earlier series of posts commenting about the Mass Effect 3 controversy.

Mark Burnham

On November 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm

@Sachel I’m tired of your disingenuous assertions.

Kidding!

But seriously, if you actually are a BioWare employee, drop me a line at feedback@gamefront.com.

Axetwin

On November 15, 2012 at 12:09 am

If what Sachel says is true, then I’m done with this franchise. It just proves what Ive been saying for the past few years. EA is only listening to yes men and players whose main gaming interest are military shooters with a heavy focus on competitive MP.

Patches

On November 15, 2012 at 12:54 am

Also…

- Leave EA family ASAP (won’t hold my breath on this one though…)…

- Keep Hudson away from ‘Artistic Integrity’ final decisions…

- Gives us the choice of playing an other race than human…

- Less Main story and more side quests…

- If you can’t make a trilogy with the same hero right, then uses a ‘one game – one new hero’ formula…

- And keep in mind that real different Story/LI endings, more than playing a new classes/races is what makes peoples want to do another playthrough…

Remember the 1st KOTOR:
1 game = 1 hero… Story = interesting main story, but also interesting side quests too… Ending = you can have a good or bad Jedi or Sith ending… LI = you could end killing Bastilla or making her admit she loves you and to hell with what the Jedi Order will think…
All these helps the 1st KOTOR to be considered a classic…

Nulltron

On November 15, 2012 at 4:19 am

Ross,

What you say, can be said about any game. I have trouble understanding what all you say can have anything in particular to do with ME, except the universe of course, i.e. the characters, their history and culture and so forth. Like say, the Lord of the Rings universe or some other well developed environment to tell a story in. Accordingly I wonder why you say that the storyline and main characters of the trilogy have to be laid to rest, since that is the only way that a further milking of the franchise can happen. Obviously no one likes to work for the Reapers, which has been the net sum of the trilogy. That is why the ME universe is doomed. The only chance that “universe” has is taking the funny road, a la Borderlands or even Fallout. I mean, there is no way you can ignore the elephant in the room. Maybe for new players to the game, but not those who have played through the trilogy.

End the Pain

On November 15, 2012 at 5:02 am

The best thing they can do is not make a Mass Effect 4. If they want to have something set in the same universe, call it something different. The Mass Effect name is a poisoned chalice – it’s guaranteed to see whatever histrionic brainless nonsense you put on the shelves lauded by the critics and soaked up by the casual market, but it’s also guaranteed to totally alienate those who a) still feel betrayed and belittled by the ending of ME3 and the subsequent siege-mode fallout from the self-anointed industry elite, and b) were bought on the idea of Mass Effect as a trilogy, who honestly felt that BioWare would stay true to its word and deliver a coherent three-part experience. They should come up with a totally new IP based in the Mass Effect realm, and give it a totally different name. Start afresh. Name it after something discovered in the first game of the new series and base it around that. Mass Effect has run its course, it’s a questionable name to begin with since it only focuses on the technology that created the links between the galaxy and not on the galaxy itself. It would be like calling Star Trek ‘Warp Drive’. I’ve always thought it was a stupid name, even moreso now that the Shepard trilogy has ended in a damp squib. Name it after the protagonist of the next series or after a piece of research critical to the plot or something.

Or, better yet, don’t make it until Hudson and Walters are both dead/fired and can’t ruin it.

TheDog

On November 15, 2012 at 8:48 am

Sachel@ The only way for them to even get close to reclaiming some of there former customers is to do exactly the opposite of what you are saying. If it goes that way I will never buy a Bioware game again, plain and simple. I detest companies who think they know better then I, what I want. And this is why Bethesdasoft will be my game company of choice. They may be a bit buggy (never had much of a problem myself, but thats what they say), but they give us what we want.
I really hope your yanken our chain. Would love to see a return of the old Bioware, cause the new one stinks. I feel sorry for you. If you do indeed work for them, and this (Mass Effect 4) really does what you say it will. You and all you work buddies will be more hated than George Bush.

TheDog

On November 15, 2012 at 8:53 am

End the Pain@ Dont know if you saw the artical out a week or two earlier. One of the Bioware boys that jumped ship was saying EA isn’t interested in making any new IP’s. Too risky. They only play on using the old proven (stale) ideas. Not much chance of what you want. Would be a good idea though.