Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers present for the Mass Effect games, including Legendary Edition and Andromeda.
When rumours of a Mass Effect trilogy remaster were swirling last year, I felt sure that one of the big reasons for working on an updated version of those games would be in anticipation of a sequel. We’ve had the tiniest of teases from EA and BioWare that a new Mass Effect project is in the works, and I’m tentatively calling the game Mass Effect 4.
There’s certainly an argument to be made that the original Mass Effect trilogy was unique, and we can point to the failure of the overblown side-mission Mass Effect: Andromeda to say that other projects set in this fictional world haven’t succeeded. Perhaps the Mass Effect trilogy doesn’t need a sequel; it’s very hard to top saving the entire galaxy from a narrative standpoint, after all, so any sequel risks feeling anticlimactic.
Regardless of any misgivings we may have, a sequel is coming. And while it may yet be several years away – the next Dragon Age game seems likely to be BioWare’s next project – barring any major problems we will eventually see it. So this is a preliminary wishlist from a Mass Effect fan, detailing a few things that I think the next entry should and shouldn’t include.
As always, please keep in mind that I have no “insider information.” This isn’t a list of things that definitely will be part of Mass Effect 4 or any future game in the series. It’s just a fan’s wishlist, nothing more. If I include something you don’t want to see, or exclude something you think the next game needs, please keep in mind that this is just one person’s subjective opinion! With all that out of the way, let’s jump into the list.
Number 1: A sequel not a prequel.
I’ve heard some suggestions that the next Mass Effect title could be a prequel, perhaps focusing on humanity’s first contact with the turians. Over the course of the first three Mass Effect titles we’d learn that first contact did not go smoothly and led to a brief conflict. While that could be an interesting story to see, at least in theory, I don’t think now is the right moment for a backwards look.
After the disappointment of Mass Effect 3′s ending and the failure of Andromeda, the franchise needs to re-establish itself. There is absolutely scope for a Mass Effect prequel at some point in the future, but every fan I’ve spoken to would rather see the story move forward than look backwards, at least right now.
It took the Star Trek franchise decades before the idea of a prequel was taken seriously, and it feels to me like Mass Effect could do more to build on what the trilogy accomplished in terms of setting, characters, and story. If Mass Effect 4 can guide the wayward franchise back to solid ground, maybe then we can reconsider the idea of making another attempt to expand beyond Commander Shepard and other familiar characters.
Though Mass Effect 3 did provide a definitive ending to Shepard’s story, and to the story of the Reaper War, all three variant endings teased that there was more to come for the denizens of the Mass Effect galaxy. Fans want to see that; we want to know what happens next.
Number 2: Bring back Commander Shepard.
Some stories feel very narrow, as though the world they’re set in doesn’t exist much beyond their protagonist. Mass Effect is not one of those, and the world-building done across the trilogy has created a setting that feels truly lived-in, inhabited by billions or perhaps trillions of unique individuals. So it may seem odd to return the series’ focus to its original protagonist, but in light of the failure of Andromeda, I think that’s what needs to happen.
Although the story of the war against the Reapers was decisively concluded – one way or another – by the end of Mass Effect 3, the story of the Mass Effect galaxy and of most of our crewmates and familiar characters was not. In that sense, the trilogy ended on a cliffhanger; we got a tease of what might come next, but nothing conclusive.
That’s part of the reason why Andromeda was unsuccessful. It was a good idea – in theory – to try to expand Mass Effect beyond Commander Shepard, and I think that’s something we need to see more of in future. But because of the way the trilogy ended, fans wanted to know what came next for their favourite characters and races. Andromeda made absolutely no attempt to address any of that, instead trying to ignore the potential consequences of the Reaper War and tell its own story.
What BioWare and EA should have learned from the underwhelmed reaction fans had to Andromeda – aside from the need to actually finish their games before releasing them – is that sidestepping the Reaper War and its repercussions is not an option. We want to see familiar characters return, and follow the next chapter of their story.
Number 3: Significant visual and gameplay improvements over Legendary Edition.
Legendary Edition was a disappointment. The three games themselves were fine, but they hadn’t been upgraded or worked on anywhere near as much as they could’ve been, and overall I felt that the so-called “remaster” was not worth the price. Mass Effect 4 can’t repeat that mistake. The new game needs a brand-new game engine, one suitable for a third-person role-playing shooter in the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 era.
The Mass Effect trilogy as presented in Legendary Edition was in a weird place both visually and in terms of gameplay. Some aspects aged well and felt good in 2021 – the basic cover-based shooting being a good example. But many other parts of the trilogy felt really outdated when compared to genuinely modern titles. Lip-synching is a good example – characters’ mouths in Legendary Edition seemed to flap open with the scantest connection to the dialogue supposedly being spoken. There are dozens more examples of things like that; areas where the gameplay was fine in 2007 but not 2021.
Mass Effect 4 needs to address those issues and make sure they aren’t present. Nobody wants the visuals of Mass Effect 3 again – not even the Legendary Edition version. Games in 2021 can look significantly better as well as feel more expansive – look at games like Jedi: Fallen Order or Control as just a couple of examples, or even how titles like Subnautica and No Man’s Sky pushed for different gameplay mechanics and visuals.
The cinematic teaser that BioWare showed off a few months ago looked good, but any idiot can make a pretty CGI trailer. The actual game engine is where the real work needs to be done, and the adapted engine used for Legendary Edition is out of date and won’t cut it.
Number 4: Don’t re-use the same basic narrative.
Narrative is difficult to get right in any project, not least one which is taking place after a story has already been completed. Mass Effect 3 was a definitive end to the trilogy, and that leaves Mass Effect 4 with a problem. What comes next after the end of the Reaper War? Not only that, but how will players interact with a post-Reaper galaxy?
There will be a huge temptation to basically recreate the original trilogy, substituting the Reapers for some other nefarious, galaxy-threatening faction. But that would be far too derivative, and as the Star Wars franchise has learned to its cost, there is a line between paying homage to what came before and outright copying – and fans can tell the difference.
At the same time as avoiding a simple retelling of the Reaper War, Mass Effect 4 has to manage not to feel anticlimactic. That will be very difficult, because if Commander Shepard comes back from the dead and is tasked with apprehending a minor criminal or helping Aria keep the peace on Omega, the story will feel too small in comparison to what came before.
Once again, there’s a balance to be struck. The new game needs a new story – one that doesn’t rip off the original games or try to retell the same basic “galactic threat” narrative. It also needs to have a story that can match the epic feel of the original without leaving players feeling underwhelmed. It’s a difficult path to navigate – and as we know from Star Wars, even highly accomplished storytellers can get it utterly wrong.
Number 5: Pick one ending from Mass Effect 3 and stick with it.
It isn’t going to be possible for one game to incorporate three totally different narratives based on the three endings of Mass Effect 3. The ending options are too different from one another for each to be the jumping-off point for the same basic story. The “destroy” ending killed off all synthetic life; “control” saw Shepard seize control of the Reapers and simply make them fly away; and “synthesis” fused synthetics and organics together. Even if the basic storyline of the game is based around something that would impact the galaxy no matter which ending were chosen, the galaxy is going to be a very different place when that narrative kicks off.
I’m all for ambitious games, but trying to incorporate all three ending choices into Mass Effect 4 would either mean BioWare would have to make three very different games in one package, or it would mean that one story would have to be forced to fit three very different settings – and that almost certainly wouldn’t work in two out of three cases.
If Mass Effect 4 intends to bring back Commander Shepard, there’s only one option based on what we’ve seen on screen: the “destroy” ending. That ending is, according to information I could find, at any rate, the most popular among players – and I would argue that it probably best represents Shepard achieving their goal!
But Mass Effect 3 appeared to present “synthesis” in the most positive light, both during Shepard’s conversation with the Catalyst and based on EDI’s epilogue. Choosing “synthesis” as a starting point for a new game would be incredibly controversial, I think, and the changes made to everyone in the galaxy by that ending may make it hard to craft a story. It’s also an ending in which Shepard is unequivocally dead. Regardless, I think those are the two most likely choices.
Number 6: Resolve dangling story threads from Andromeda.
This doesn’t need to be a big part of the game. It could literally be a collection of codex entries or other random bits of information picked up over the course of the game. In short, Andromeda’s story was left unresolved due to the decision to cancel its planned story DLC. All Mass Effect 4 would need to do is somehow acknowledge what happened with the final arks that were heading to Andromeda.
The quarian ark was the main one that I can recall being missing, and if Commander Shepard were to pick up a datapad in Mass Effect 4 that showed the quarian ark departing for Andromeda a few weeks behind schedule, we could consider the mystery resolved. The characters from Andromeda could thus continue to exist and we could assume that they all lived happily ever after.
There will never be a sequel to Andromeda, I think. The game was memed to death due to its bugs and glitches when it launched, and its reputation never recovered. EA’s decision to abandon the failing game meant that there was no chance of a No Man’s Sky-style rehabilitation, and the game is an overlooked part of the franchise. If people remember it at all, they remember the bugs and the memes.
Even I can’t remember every detail of Andromeda’s story. I just know that there was a sense that it ended somewhat abruptly, and if Mass Effect 4 could do something to mitigate that, even just by way of an “easter egg” for longstanding fans of the series, I think that would be great. It really wouldn’t take a lot of effort.
Number 7: A story that genuinely reflects player choices.
The worst part of Mass Effect 3 wasn’t the “pick a colour” ending. It was the fact that, across at least the final third of the game, myriad choices that players made across the entire trilogy received no meaningful payoff. Even the War Assets that Shepard collected on the path to defeating the Reapers were only ever shown as text on a screen, and many War Assets even reused the same stock image.
Things like saving both the quarians and geth, which required players to navigate a specific path across all three games and multiple optional missions, should have been more impactful in the final push to defeat the Reapers. The fact is that Mass Effect 3 was rushed, and whatever intentions BioWare may have had ended up being cut or curtailed as a result.
Mass Effect 4 simply cannot repeat this failing. The game will almost certainly follow a non-linear narrative – as is the Mass Effect tradition – with paragon and renegade options, a branching storyline, and optional side-missions. Those choices have to feel like they matter to players; if everyone gets the same basic ending regardless of how they played the game, Mass Effect 4 will receive one heck of a backlash.
It’s possible that Mass Effect 4 will be the jumping-off point for a new trilogy of games, and if that’s the case its ending may need to be simplified in order to ensure the next game in the series works as intended. But if that is the plan, the story still needs to offer a good degree of choice – and reflect those choices properly while the game is progressing.
Number 8: The return of all surviving squadmates.
Mass Effect 3 picked up some criticism at the time of its release for cutting back on the number of squadmates, with very few members of Shepard’s team from the Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2 returning in squadmate form. Practically everyone had something to do in the game – but many fan-favourite squadmates were no longer part of the team, with their appearances relegated to a mission or two at most.
Depending on many different choices across the trilogy, it’s possible for a number of squadmates from all three games to have survived – or at least to have still been alive as of the final act of the game. I would love to see Mass Effect 4 bring them all back as proper squadmates. It would take some creative writing in certain cases – Wrex, for example, appears to have a leadership role on Tuchanka in one possible version of the story – but it would absolutely be worth doing. In the Star Trek franchise, Worf, who was a character on Deep Space Nine, was able to be included in three films with the crew of The Next Generation despite having a different posting. If Star Trek can do it, Mass Effect can do it!
Not every squadmate resonated with every player, and giving fans the freedom to pick and choose from every past member of Shepard’s crew instead of being constrained to a few hand-picked ones would make the roleplaying experience so much better and more immersive. I mentioned this during my review of Legendary Edition, but “my” Commander Shepard is a different character to other Shepards. They had different friendships, different relationships, and the game is a different experience as a result. Mass Effect 4 will do its best to reflect that, no doubt, and one way to do so is to bring back every surviving squadmate.
This doesn’t mean that there can’t be one or two new characters, and indeed I’d welcome a new couple of squadmates in addition to returning favourites. The franchise needs to grow, after all!
Number 9: Allow players to carry over characters from Legendary Edition.
Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 allowed players to take their Commander Shepard from the previous game and import them. This worked really well, and meant that players could complete the entire story without having to begin from scratch with each new game. Though Legendary Edition has some problems and inconsistencies with the way this save importer works, I think it’s absolutely worth allowing players to take their version of Commander Shepard into the next game.
There are a couple of roadblocks that I can see – the first being the ending choices. If Mass Effect 4 does what I suggest and picks one ending, players who made a different choice would have to either reload their save and re-do the ending, or the importer would have to simply ignore this choice.
However, if Mass Effect 4 is to reflect other choices, like which characters survived, which factions players chose to help and ignore, etc. then an import facility is really the only way that could happen. Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 originally came with an “interactive comic” to allow new players to make certain key decisions, but that really isn’t a great option.
Part of the reason Legendary Edition was made was to bring the Mass Effect series back into contention so that Mass Effect 4 will generate hype, excitement, and sales. It succeeded in that regard, bringing back old players, picking up many new ones, and wiping away most of the stink left over from Andromeda and, to a lesser extent, Anthem. People are looking forward to Mass Effect 4. Having played through the trilogy with our own custom characters, though, and made many decisions which impacted the Mass Effect galaxy, those characters and choices need to carry over to the next game in the series. Even if Commander Shepard isn’t coming back, Mass Effect 4 needs to have the facility for players to import their choices from the original trilogy.
So that’s it.
Mass Effect 4 is several years away from release, and we’re unlikely to get any more details any time soon. I don’t even want to guess at when we could see the game – it could be 2023, 2024, or even later still depending on all manner of development-side factors.
Despite that, it was a bit of fun to look ahead and consider what I’d like to see from the title. Although I felt Legendary Edition was underwhelming and not all it could’ve been for a remaster, the Mass Effect games are great fun, and the world-building is exquisite. The Mass Effect galaxy feels genuinely lived-in in a way few sci-fi or fantasy worlds ever really achieve, and I’m not alone in looking forward to finding out what happens next!
If we get any significant Mass Effect 4 news, such as casting information, a new trailer, or anything else, be sure to check back as I’ll do my best to analyse it all here on the website.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. The Mass Effect series – including Legendary Edition and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Electronic Arts and BioWare. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.