How Mass Effect 4 Can Be Great, in 5 Steps

Prequilitus: Resist It

This is an important point: the Shepard storyline is done. The story of Saren, Sovereign, Shepard, Anderson and all their friends has been concluded; it has been told in various novels, games, comics and other media. We’ve seen it. We know it. We don’t want any more of it.

We know that fans have enjoyed the backstories of lots of these characters through various media, and there’s some desire to know more about them; we’re among them. But just as many players have trouble buying Mass Effect 3 DLC because they already know how the game will end and that the DLC will ultimately have little or no impact on that conclusion, so too has the story of the Mass Effect Trilogy already been told: doubling back to explain more about The Illusive Man or characters such as Jon Grissom during the First Contact War isn’t going to add much to the existing story. That story is concluded, and it’s time to leave it to rest.

As many players have noted in various forums and even on our own polls about Mass Effect 4, there are real stories to tell in the future of the galaxy, or in its distant past, and that’s where BioWare should focus its efforts. The aftermath of the Reaper War has left much of the galaxy in disarray, and while the overall threat against sentient life has passed, there’s still all the everyday goings on of life in the galaxy. Political disputes, rogue factions, territorial wars, rampant crime — these are things that could easily be the subjects of games, and would be great to see. Not every game in the Mass Effect universe has to feature a universe-ending threat, after all. A smaller threat can be just as interesting, and the stakes don’t have to reach interstellar heights to be affecting.

Likewise, exploring the depths of the alien cultures that have been created within the Mass Effect universe could be crazy interesting, and if BioWare wants to reach back to Mass Effect’s past, we hope they go way back. Tell us about the Rachni Wars, or the Krogan Rebellion. Show us the rise of the Asari, or the Prothean subjugation of the galaxy. There are plenty of other, awesome things that could be covered that have nothing to do with Shepard or the Reaper threat. If you’re going to go into the past, pull a Knights of the Old Republic, not a Phantom Menace.

Scanning For More Varied Gameplay

We’ve discussed at length ways BioWare can shore up the Mass Effect formula and return it to classic BioWare form. But there’s a second option: reworking the formula from the ground up, something that might not be a bad idea at all. For three games, Mass Effect 3 has been essentially a third-person, cover-based shooter with some RPG stuff going on in it, and conversations that are little more than moral choices, rather than informational ones. Both of these mechanics are fun, but we’ve done them. Time to try something new.

With Mass Effect 4, we’d love to see BioWare take the core experience of Mass Effect and try something a little different. Just how different is up to the developer, although I think we can safely say that we’d be a little dubious if BioWare came at us with a Halo Wars-like title for their universe (although that doesn’t mean we’d hate it — in fact, we’d kind of love a Civilzation-style take on the universe, at least on paper).

But there’s a lot of room for Mass Effect to grow even within the parameters set by the existing trilogy. Missions like those in the Leviathan DLC in Mass Effect 3 and Kasumi’s Stolen Memory in Mass Effect 2 have shown that Mass Effect as it stands could actually do some interesting things; for instance, making conversations not only about morality, but introducing puzzle-solving and character manipulation to a larger degree. This could also lead to a significant expansion of the conversation mechanics that already exist — imagine having to talk your way into and out of situations that are not just dependent on whether you’re Paragon or Renegade and whether your influence is at a certain level, but whether you’ve gathered the right information or can outsmart the other person. Conversation battles similar to what’s seen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, for a very broad example, would feel right at home in Mass Effect.

And if BioWare really wants to stick with the third-person shooter aspects — although I, for one, would be fine with something other than another Gears of War or Call of Duty rehash — why not greatly expand the squad capabilities to make it a true squad-based shooter? Right now, Shepard’s commands for the squad are pretty limited, but imagine having a full list of orders to be able to give, or more tactical, XCOM-esque capabilities for assigning troops in a given area? What if you could give voice commands like in Binary Domain, and that system actually worked well? Or hell, throw all that stuff away, drop the current competitive multiplayer, and give us Dead Space 3-style cooperative play. That seems like a much closer fit to the Mass Effect universe anyway; in fact, the current multiplayer is basically the backbone for installing co-op into the campaign. Work in a innovative conversation engine and you’re done.

Regardless of these suggestions, the point is that Mass Effect 4 should try to be something different than the previous three games, and in a perfect scenario, different from what’s already on the market. BioWare makes RPGs, and we’d love to see a full return to RPG gameplay, while coming up with new and interesting systems that leverage the studio’s great storytelling. Mass Effect proved that you don’t have to shoot guns all the time to be a hit, and BioWare should run with that idea and make Mass Effect games as diverse as the universe in which they’re set.


This article was a collaboration between Ross Lincoln and Phil Hornshaw. Follow Ross and Phil on Twitter: @Rossalincoln and @philhornshaw.

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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.