Mass Effect 4 Won’t Have Shepard.
After Mass Effect 3, I would prefer that the series be allowed to die, or at least hibernate for a very long time. The arguments we’ve all been having are tiring enough, and there’s also something to be said for letting something be complete, however flawed it may or may not be. But there’s a part of me – a small part – that would like to see BioWare do another game in the Mass Effect universe. Disagreements over the ending of the trilogy aside, the Mass Effect universe is a great concept, particularly its inventive science magic solution to the problem of relativistic physics*. You could tell some rather cool stories, and make some rather fun games, just playing around in that universe. (I’d also like to know if it would be possible to wash the nasty taste of the Catalyst out of my mouth.)
However, for that to have a chance of working, BioWare needs to avoid the temptation to revisit the original trilogy in anything other than tangential terms. Fortunately, comments made to VG 24/7 at the recent EA showcase indicate that if nothing else, they are at least aware of that.
“There is one thing we are absolutely sure of – there will be no more Shepard, and the trilogy is over,” BioWare Montreal producer Fabrice Condominas said. “This is really our starting point. Now the Mass Effect universe is vast, and very, very rich. So at this point in time, we don’t even know what kind of time frame we’re going to be in. All we’re doing is more gathering ideas from the teams, gathering feedback to see several things. We don’t want to make ‘Shepard 2′, or Mass Effect 4 with like, ‘oh there’s no more Shepard but you’re a soldier in the universe’,” he added. “So this will be a very, very different context for sure, and nothing has been decided on the rest.”
That’s a good sign that they’re at least keeping their brains in the right place. However, something about “we don’t even know what kind of time frame we’re going to be in” is troubling. It sounds suspiciously like they’re thinking prequel, which would be the absolute worst possible move. The backstory is often the least interesting thing about your fictional universe, especially when the thrust of the main story involves A) explaining the backstory so that the main story makes sense, and B) resolving the problems and conflicts implied by the backstory. If the fictional universe in question keeps the backstory details to a bare minimum (with many, many details left unstated, ala Star Wars), there’s potential for crafting a great story. But when the backstory is as heavily detailed as the Mass Effect Universes – seriously, the Codex feels bigger than Wikipedia – there’s almost nothing worth telling that hasn’t already been provided to the audience.
So please, BioWare, if you absolutely must make a Mass Effect 4, do not make a prequel.
* In short: In real life, the reason we’ll never have FTL space travel is that, per Einstein, the faster something goes, the more mass it has, thus it takes increasing amounts of energy to keep an object moving as it speeds up. (It would essentially require all the energy in the universe to propel something to something close to light speed.) In Mass Effect, it’s discovered Dark Matter reacts to a magical space rock (Element Zero) by creating an energy field that allows the amount of mass an object has to be manipulated (this is where the title comes from). The upshot is that it becomes possible to lessen an objects mass, thus reducing the energy cost required to travel at great speeds. See? Very cool.