At E3 this year EA teased Mass Effect: Andromeda with a brief CG trailer that hints at some kind of focus on terraforming/discovering habitable worlds, which is a tantalizing concept for a game set after the events of Mass Effect 3. Amazing possibilities burst out of those first few frames before the attention shifted to a conventional action sequence with a Commander Shepherd-looking Spectre agent, and Andromeda began to look a lot like an iterative sequel to the original Mass Effect trilogy rather than the brand new story within the Mass Effect universe that Bioware initially conceived.
It’s far too early to condemn Andromeda. We still know next to nothing about what it will be. But the teaser did open my mind to a pie in the sky concept for this upcoming trilogy of games, and some of the ways Bioware could explore some of the different colors and angles of the enormous lore they’ve created.
Mass Effect 4 – 6 in my mind works like this. Regardless of your choices in ME3, the mass relays are entirely destroyed in order to accomplish whatever decision your Shepherd has made. This leaves the rest of the universe, however things pan out, completely and unexpectedly isolated. The ramifications of this are enormous: Transportation, communication, politics, economies, culture…All of these things that have evolved and flourished with the advent of interstellar travel are suddenly halted, if not broken. We can’t have a Normandy effortlessly navigating the galaxy any longer. The edges of our playable space have narrowed significantly, and I think the next three games should reflect that. In my concept, games 4 to 6 are almost entirely isolated from one another, and they don’t necessarily share the same mechanics or genre. The idea is to explore the significance of Shepherd’s accomplishments in Mass Effect 1 – 3.
Mass Effect 4: Andromeda
The essential premise of Andromeda doesn’t change. The notion of a Mass Effect/Firefly mash-up is far too shiny to pass up. 5 – 10 years after Shepherd defeated the reaper threat, a significant amount of military resources and personnel have been recommissioned to locate and secure habitable planets in the hopes of establishing facilities to research and develop a new method of FTL travel.
You are the leader of a small team of scientists and ambassadors in the Andromeda Galaxy, tasked with setting up a network of communications across a single solar system, where deep scans have revealed a form of technology that looks similar in nature to that used in the development of the mass relays.
In exchange for the lack of planets to discover, each of the solar system’s twelve planets would have several continents to explore. There would be just as many outposts and ‘levels’ as there were in, say, Mass Effect, but this time they wouldn’t be separated by as many individual planetary systems. Rather than fly from a Cerberus base on Planet A to a Geth station on Planet B you’d have each location occupying parts of one landscape on a single planet.
The thrust of the main story would involve tracking down a useable piece of the mysterious technology found across several planets, which quickly becomes more important than the original communications network. The final mission would reveal that a salvageable piece of a mass relay crashed and became lodged under the surface of one of the system’s planets.
The rest of the game would be made up of classic Mass Effect gameplay: Exploring ruins, fighting nests of creatures and making friends/enemies. One core difference would be a much smaller crew, with conversely much more interaction with each of them. Your character would not recruit additional members of your team, but each of your 3 – 5 crew mates would get a lot more face time. Think of more conversations involving two or more characters, deeper forming relationships between each of them. The dinner scenes from Firefly come to mind as the perfect example of the tone to set. Your ship and crew would operate as a team and as a family.
Mass Effect 5: Calypso
Fifteen years after the events of Andromeda, the salvaged mass relay tech from Mass Effect 4 has been a boon in re-establishing just a fraction of the universal connection that existed pre-Mass Effect 3. Trade routes have begun to expand, political establishments have reconnected and a technological race has ensued. It’s been a socio-economic boom for the core clusters of the civilized galaxy, but with expansion comes friction and small wars have begun to ignite. Another problem has cropped up along with the explosion of commerce and technology: The black market.
In Mass Effect: Calypso you would play as a skilled smuggler, who runs a small operation on one of the richest planets in the new universe, called Calypso. Think Dubai on a planetary scale. Your second-in-command get an anonymous tip about a piece of tech being moved, and according to the source the item is worth enough for your whole crew to retire. You execute the perfect steal, but while exfiltrating the area your crew mutinies, and you’re left beaten and bloodied to fend for yourself. Calypso would take place entirely on the one planet, but it would be one large, unbroken open-world, mainly within an enormous Blade Runner-style metropolis. The story would involve your character forming a new crew of ragtag allies to help you in your mission for revenge.
In the third act, your former first mate is attempting to build his own underworld after discovering that the mysterious tech that is now in his possession could crumble or sustain the new galactic society. He plans to sell the tech to his contact for an enormous sum and use the profit to fund a mafia style takeover of one of Calypso’s boroughs. Of course, the player steals the technology back and put in the hands of its original handlers – the foremost team of scientists working on the reassembled system of mass relays.
Mass Effect 6: Umbra
It’s been 150 years since the original mass relay network was destroyed by Shepherd, now an icon in the galactic community. With a new relay network in place and the galactic society beginning to come together as it did before the reaper invasion, The New Citadel is holding its annual memorial for the lives lost in the cataclysmic events from a century and a half ago. Tensions have been running higher and higher for several years, with the presence of an anonymous human terrorist group calling themselves “Umbra” becoming more and more violent each year on Shepherd’s Holiday.
For several years now, Umbra has been spreading propaganda and inciting aggression against Shepherd ‘supporters’, believing the legend to be a traitor for associating with other species (and even romancing an alien if some stories are to be believed…). On this particular holiday Umbra infiltrates and bombs the Spectre headquarters on the New Citadel, decimating their ranks. A figure bearing remarkable likeness to the legend Shepherd broadcasts a message across the galaxy: Humanity is no longer willing to sit idly by while their people fraternize with inferior species. Umbra launches attacks on a handful of major alien settlements, including Krogan, Hanar and Asari homeworlds. Worse yet, Umbra begins to amass support from human radicals, who revere the new Shepherd as a second coming of their hero.
In Umbra you play as one of the few surviving Spectres, who’ve scattered and become cut off from any Alliance support in the fallout of the attack on their headquarters. With few resources and allies to bear, you assemble a team to take down Umbra before all-out interspecies war breaks out. Near the end of the game, as you infiltrate Umbra’s headquarters, you learn that Umbra is a reformed Cerberus.
The reveal goes like this: After the cataclysm at the end of Mass Effect 3 Cerberus saw the opportunity to re-establish a galactic FTL network, this time under their – and therefore humanity’s – control. It would secure humanity’s position as the superior race. They joined the Alliance in the Andromeda mission, with plans to claim the research and technology for themselves once it was discovered. They used their records from Shepherd’s rebirth in ME2 to begin replicating him/her for use as a propaganda tool, and figurehead of their mission so humanity would support them in the takeover. Then they bided their time.
Finally, Cerberus had their opportunity: A notorious black market dealer came across their radar and they found a way to tracelessly get exclusive possession of the mass relay technology. They contacted the smuggler’s associate and told them where the piece of tech was being moved, and offered an immeasurable sum of money for it. But the crew turned on one another and the tech escaped their grasp.
Unable to take control of the galaxy through socio-economic means, Cerberus refitted their organization as a military cell using their records of Shepherd’s training and experience to design a terrorist group with tactical proficiency on par with the Spectres. They decided to take the galaxy by force.
Obviously in Umbra the player succeeds, and Cerberus is destroyed. Bonus good/bad ending idea: The truly evil can choose to supplant the leader of Cerberus and continue with Umbra’s plan of human domination.
I don’t know if any of these three games are good ideas. I don’t even know if they’re feasible. I’m also certain that in the business world, EA and Bioware would be idiots for changing a successful formula. But I can’t explain the excitement I had for a truly different story set in the Mass Effect universe, and the disappointment that set in as soon as the future of the series began to look a lot more like a rehash of the same old games. I’ve said before that Mass Effect’s lore is just as expansive and interesting to me as sci-fi/fantasy mainstays like Star Trek, Stargate and Firefly. Now I want them to make good on that assertion by breathing life into other parts of their infinite universe.
Images: EA, Fox, Warner Bros.