Hypothetical ME4: Stalling and Retconning

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Mar 21, 2020

Filed under: Mass Effect 103 comments

We will now get down to brass tacks.

Some of you are now hearing Gilbert and Sullivan in your heads.
Some of you are now hearing Gilbert and Sullivan in your heads.

Let’s do the bad news first:

  1. The ending of Mass Effect 3 offered the player three primary options for defeating the reapers: destroy, control, and synthesis. It’s not clear what the exact consequences of each choice are, but the three are mutually incompatible outcomes regardless. The effects they would have on the game world are so big that anyone trying to make a sequel would almost have to make three entire seperate games to account for the three separate game states. And that’s just the three “main” endings – trying to account for the gajillion sub-endings is most likely impossible.
  2. For a series that likes to remind audiences that their choices matter, this is a tricky issue. It’s a tradition in Mass Effect to import your saves from the previous games into the new one. Reasonable or not, some people are going to expect to see their choices in the original series reflected in the new game.
  3. The ending destroys the Mass Effect relays and strands multiple species on unfamiliar planets in a way that would make survival an immediate and alarming problem. This particular element has been since been half-retconned into clarifying that the relays are only “damaged,” but there would still certainly be a desperate situation in the short-term.
  4. The primary antagonists of the series – the Reapers – are gone, and you’re going to have to find new ones. (By the way, don’t pull a Star Wars and just bring them back to life. Together, we can do better.)

Those are some pretty big problems. Especially the first two. If we can lick those first two, we can salvage this thing. Here’s how: stalling and retconning.

Stalling

Mass Effect 4, if it’s ever made, should be set a significant amount of time after the events of the original series. By “significant” I mean anything from 50-200 years or so, though I’m open to flexibility on the timeline. But whatever happened in the immediate aftermath of the Crucible going off should happen offscreen.

Instead, the player will be someone born on Earth after all that. Said Earth will in some kind of post-apocalyptic state, either mild, severe, or medium, depending on what tone you want. What happened to the Reapers, exactly? No one knows. They used to be flying around and blowing everything up, and now they’re not anymore. They say someone called “Shepard” defeated them somehow, but there are a hundred conflicting stories.

Nothing against the SR2, but I'm an SR1 man.
Nothing against the SR2, but I'm an SR1 man.

Stalling in this way accomplishes several things.

  • You avoid a long exposition dump right at the beginning. No one likes those.Okay, very few people like those.
  • If you write carefully, you can leave it ambiguous which ending happened. For example, don’t have any synthetic or partly-synthetic life forms enter the story for as long as you can manage.
  • You can make a clean break from whichever characters you want, but it also leaves open running into Liara or maybe a getting-too-old-for-this-shit Garrus or something.
  • When a setting moves forward in time, it can make it seem more real. The Fallout series did this from one to two to New Vegas. It also leaves the intervening time as open space for quest/character hooks.
  • Got some crazy idea that would need fifty years to be plausible? Now you can put it in. The gap between Mass Effect 3 and the hypothetical Mass Effect 4 is your canvas. Go nuts.
  • It’s a perfect excuse for whatever mechanical changes you want. Personally, I recommend deciding that thermal clips are once again not a thing, but that’s just me.
  • Thanks to the events of the third game, all the setting’s various species are well represented on earth, meaning you can bring them all back. I know someone still has those old Hanar models saved somewhere.

The action of the main quest can involve sorting out the truth from the stories, and discovering what exactly happened. And, when the time comes that you can no longer write your way around which ending the player picked, you limit the effects of that choice to certain limited and manageable parts of the game.

For example, the main quest involves a mission in an area full of leftover husks. If you picked destroy, there are a bunch of husk corpses, colored red. Maybe some somehow survived and are hostile. Control, and the husks are blue, and controlled by an NPC or something. Green, and the husks are NPCs themselves. This way, the player’s choice in the previous game is acknowledged, and you don’t need to move heaven and earth to do it.

That’s a deliberately oversimplified example, but hopefully you get the idea. The question of “what did your Shepard do in the original series” can itself be transmuted into story content for the new game. That’s what stalling gets you. But stalling alone is not enough – it’s like the jab that sets up the right hand. The right hand – the knockout punch – is retconning.

Retconning

If you don’t already know, “retcon” is a term meaning “retroactive continuity.” It’s when you change something already established about the setting, like retroactively deciding that Klingons actually had forehead ridges all along.They do not discuss it with outsiders. When retconning, the scalpel is preferable to the bazooka, and I mean to take a scalpel to one particular thing: the Crucible.

As a refresher, the Crucible was the giant space doodad that did in the Reapers. It was jointly designed by multiple pre-Prothean species and then the Protheans themselves, and finally built by Hackett in a Manhattan project-style massive endeavor. It’s an enormously complicated machine, built under desperate wartime conditions, and it’s not clear exactly how it works. Therefore, it’s entirely plausible that it wouldn’t quite work right.

A crucible that didn’t quite work right is a technobabble get-out-of-jail-free card. Player chose the “destroy” ending, but you want a quest that has them dealing with Geth? The Crucible didn’t quite work right. Some of the Geth are still alive, possibly changed somehow. The Crucible as presented in Mass Effect 3 is more or less space magic, so it can do anything. I don’t mean that it broke entirely. It should still mostly have done what it was supposed to do, or the player’s choices in the original series won’t be validated properly. But it’s a gajillion year-old space machine. It could easily have gone a bit on the fritz.

I still say Wrex would beat Grunt in a fight, and Drack too. It would be close, but he'd win.
I still say Wrex would beat Grunt in a fight, and Drack too. It would be close, but he'd win.

And so, by using our twin weapons – the fourteen-inch socket wrench of stalling and the sock-full-of-batteries of retconning – we can bludgeon Mass Effect 3‘s ending into something resembling submission long enough to have a functional main quest. Now, you might be thinking that with all the stalling and retconning, the main quest is going to suck. Well, it might – that’s always a risk. (Though in future entries we’ll try to mitigate that risk, and maybe even make it good.) But the thing is, this is Mass Effect. It can have a bad main quest and still be a good game.

In fact, that’s how it usually works out. In this genre, the “main quest” often only accounts for a about one-third of a typical playthrough, if not less. And of the three original games, only the first one had a good main quest. The second had that business with Harbinger and the human Reaper, and the third had the Crucible and, of course, the Catalyst. But the second and third games were still reviewed well and enjoyable for most of their runtime, because they had good characters and side content. That pattern even mostly held for Andromeda, which, for all its rushed qualities, still had characters that weren’t too far off the Bioware standard.

I can personally see a game like that – assuming it’s not rushed and crunched into existence – comfortably getting 8/10 reviews with the occasional 9/10, which is more or less what the original Mass Effect got. You can build a second trilogy out of that. This is a deep setting, with plenty of potential left.

What exactly does this 8.5/10 game look like? Fortunately Bioware has a reliable template for making these things, and certain parts of it still work. Next entry will wrestle our campaign hook into a five-act structure that will seem reassuringly familiar.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Okay, very few people like those.

[2] They do not discuss it with outsiders.



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103 thoughts on “Hypothetical ME4: Stalling and Retconning

  1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I’d go further than that in the retcon. The geth would mention “being almost wiped out” during the war but managed to rebuild their numbers. Does it mean they almost got killed by Quarians? Does it mean they narrowly survived the red beam? You decide! After all this time synthetics can be a thing again because even if they got redwaved, there’s no reason why people wouldn’t have built some ever since.
    People who chose the green ending might be confused about not seeing organics and synthetics having green hologlasses, but might just assume that (nonsensical) effect faded over time (some old NPCs might mention that thing were WEIRD after the war, but things returned to normal eventually).

    the player will be someone born on Earth after all that

    Or, you know, we might at last play an alien race! Humanity won’t be the newcomers anymore in those games so no reason to stick us with yet another boring furhead. I already play a human IRL (or something close enough), so I like some variety in my science fiction.

    1. Thomas says:

      It’s time to allow players to choose their race (and for extra juiciness one of those races should be new to ME4).

      Bioware’s reason for not doing that is surprisingly solid – the writers wanted to keep the aliens alien enough that you couldn’t take a human character and dialogue and have it make sense for a Solarian / Turian. But we’re past that, and you can write around it with some ‘raised away from the home culture’ backstory.

      Fans have wanted this for ages. It would instantly bring a ton of goodwill to the project. And you could have some Dragon Age style race specific dialogue for extra goodness.

      1. Kylroy says:

        “…some ‘raised away from the home culture’ backstory.”

        Such as, say, aliens stranded on Earth after the collapse of the Mass Effect relays.

      2. Tom says:

        Excellent ideas, but a word of caution: I would imagine a certain percentage of players would have no particular difficulty or discomfort in rapidly assimilating and role-playing as a totally non-human culture and then interacting with OTHER totally non-human cultures, so it’s worthwhile making a game capable of catering to them as well. Such people might in fact feel disgusted, betrayed and outraged at the the bait-and-switch prospect of finally being able to play an alien species by all outward appearances in their favourite sci-fi game, but only as an “adoptive human” in actual behaviour.

        The case might be made that this would be prohibitively difficult to write for exactly the same reason many players might prefer to play as such a “raised-away-from-home” alien, i.e. it’s hard for many a normal human to conceive of and write truly alien thoughts, to which the answer is obvious: hire a few less normal humans for your writing staff. It’s hard enough for such people to find jobs as it is. Where will you find the right ones? Well, why not start amidst the ranks of your existing fans who are asking for such features? Looking further afield, the tabletop gaming crowd is probably also a rich vein from which such people might be recruited.

        By way of analogy, the standard DnD player races now include such things as half-orcs and half-elves (the other halves being presumed to be human), BUT there have always been optional rules to allow more ambitious players to play as much less familiar creatures with more alien mindsets and alignments – pureblood orcs or even goblins, for example. (IIRC, 3.5e had an entire combinatoric grid for every possible cross-breeding of every standard non-human playable creature, stating whether it was biologically possible, what their proper taxonomic name would be, stat modifications and other salient points for those playing them – half-orc-half-elf, for example). They’re less publicised now than they were, but they’re still in the DMG for those DMs who are capable enough, and judge their prospective player to also be capable enough, to play interactions with them properly. There IS a market for such things, and always was.

  2. Dominic Soranno says:

    Unexpected to see the hack’s guide to hackery being suggested by someone who genuinely enjoys science fantasy. The entire draw of Mass Effect is the world and the interesting characters that exist within that world. That allure was created by the worldbuilding done in 1 and some of the worldbuilding in 2. To make a new game that is part of Mass Effect and not just named Mass Effect, more worldbuilding needs to be done, but these suggestions are very much the opposite of that.

    Playing it safe and generic as the illustrious writer suggest can only result in another Andromeda. When it comes to worldbuilding, ambiguity is no virtue. The key to establishing a framework for a hypothetical ME4 is to acknowledge that the story of Mass effect is irrelevant. It is the world that story took place in that has all the value. If you preserve that world and it’s atmosphere, you could literally start the game on a ruined, depopulated earth full of stranded alien soldiers minutes after the destroy ending, tell a small, satisfying story with likeable new characters, and have a whole new franchise ready to roll.

    With that said, yeah, if you want to wring another uninspired cash grab out of the corpse… pretty solid writing advice.

    1. Ramsus says:

      I found myself completely agreeing with you… before I even read your post.

      I’d think the best thing to do if making a ME4 would be for the writer to just pick one of the endings and write a story based on that.

      I think this removes Control as a possibility as there’s nothing actually interesting there unless you make ME4’s story entirely about undoing the unfavorable aspects of that but…. again why would you go out of your way to piss off fans by making a point of nullifying their choices?

      Destroy seems like the easiest to write for and is probably what EA/Bioware would do precisely for that reason. Who cares if it offers nothing interesting within the sci-fi genre? Not them, that’s for sure.

      Synthesis is the only one that has any good true sci-fi thought experiment stuff going for it, so it’s the only one that is actually worth our time to experience. If they could be bothered to hire a half decent lead writer/let them actually write anything for once this could wind up being a more truly sci-fi gaming experience than we’ve had in a very long time.

      Yes, it nullifies the choice the player made at the end of a trilogy of games that was never promising a fourth installment to begin with. Except probably everyone who played the game actually felt Synthesis was the “real” ending because it was the one you had to do any work for to unlock the choice of and the only one that didn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth for one reason or the other.

      So we wind up with Synthesis being the one of the three choices people would most likely be most happy with and the only one that’s remotely interesting.

      If you want to make previous player choices matter, make it have to do with the companions. Those are what people cared about a lot more than the ending choice anyway.
      Though honestly I’m not sure that’s worth the trouble to do either. People would probably be pretty happy with the writer just assuming you wanted the good results for all the companions.

      1. Syal says:

        Finally watched all the Mass Effect 3 endings, and I really enjoy the MS Paint feel of Synthesis’ slides. And the idea of a computer lady with constant data running across her face who mimics blushing with red-letter warning messages.

        Think Synthesis would be too complicated to make a good action game, unless you’re ignoring large portions of it (what do they eeeat?). Either Destroy where someone’s found a way around the loss of the Mass Effects, or Control dealing with God Emperor Leto Shepard.

        Or just take the Drakengard/Nier route; endings are canon to different branching series. Don’t make Mass Effect 4, make After Effect, God Effect and Synth Effect.

        1. Urban Dictionary says:

          “What do they eat” you mean, it would raise interesting questions and provide new worldbuilding by answering them? The horror!

          Speaking of which, I think it would ve a very strange and interesting place to go. In classic Bioware fashion, Synthesis is seemingly the intended ending, that you work harder for, and seems like the easy way out of making a shitty choice. Buuut-now everyone is part synthetic and the synthetics are part organic. Super disturbing and weird, and you could go hard into some very existential horror with a touch of body horror there. And they were literally created, Sheppard would be directly responsible-how do people feel?

          1. Syal says:

            The problem is it’s so far out of the human framework you’d have to open with a big exposition. Organic and Synthetic are pretty much direct contradictions of each other, and you’ll have to resolve a whole bunch of those contradictions out the gate to establish a frame of reference, because action without a frame of reference is a fever dream.

            Examples of questions the audience can’t assume an answer for: What do they eat and do they need separate foods for their separate halves, do they feel pain and how much, do they get tired and do they need maintenance, if you disable half of them does the other half compensate or collapse, how do they reproduce, do they grow at all and how does the synthetic part handle that, is there one consciousness or more per body, do they have wifi and can they communicate or track each other over distance, are they all synthed the same way or is it different for every person, did the non-sapient machines like spaceships merge with plants or something, if the Reapers are machines with blended organic species inside them isn’t synthesis just a galaxy-wide Reaper?

      2. Gethsemani says:

        I take it you liked the Synthesis ending? Personally, I hated even the idea of it for two simple reasons: 1. How the F does it even work? Like, how does every living being that’s ascended to interstellar travel gets cyborgized (and how do the living beings that don’t have interstellar travel stay safe)? Or does it mean literally every living being, in which case are we talking like cyborg shrimp in Earth’s oceans? 2. It is utter body horror and there’s some really nasty rape allegory in there about violation of body autonomy being conducted on an intergalactic scale. No one gets a say, everyone has their body instantly (I think? Once again, how exactly will the crucible forcefully merge all organic life with synthetic?) violated and gets a few new body parts. You are right in that Synthesis is probably the only ending that could do something novel in the Sci-Fi field, since Destroy would be your average “after the war” story and Control would struggle to be anything but “Power Corrupts”, but did ME really do novel to begin with?

        My opinion is that Destroy is the only proper ending, since it is the only ending that actually follows through on Shepard’s goal throughout the trilogy, to end the threat of the Reapers. It is also, as you point out, the easiest one to follow up on. You could keep the ME universe largely as it was, but explore how the war changed the political situation in the galaxy and make a solid story on that. Whether you go with Asari supremacist terrorist, Turian’s trying to conquer the galaxy “for its own good” or even Humanity making a crazy power play on the back of Shepard’s sacrifice, you can continue on ME without having to begin with explaining how everything is different now and show the massive differences that Synthesis entails (and Synthesis is still a silly Deus Ex Machina ending that raises more questions than it answers, keeping it entirely in line with everything else in the forsaken disaster that was ME3’s ending). Any new game based on either Control or Synthesis would be so entirely different in tone and theme that it would not really be Mass Effect.

        1. The concept of eternal and unavoidable enmity between “organics” and “synthetics” was dumb to start with and in the lore was based on really poorly-conceived premise that “synthetics” are somehow magically immune to the resource constraints and needs that plague “organics” and thus they can never get along with organics because organics have nothing to offer them.

          This was hugely and obviously NOT TRUE even within their universe, which was full to bursting with synthetic intelligences who WANT things that organics could easily provide. Any sapient creature subject to entropy and finite in power has SOMETHING to offer other sapient creatures with the same restrictions. This meant that, as far as I was concerned, the entire basic premise of the series was fridge logic. I mean, if you assume the premise that synthetic intelligences don’t need stuff, then not only are they inevitably enemies with organics, they’re inevitably enemies with EACH OTHER, in which case the only thing the organics would need to do to defeat a synthetic intelligence would be to throw another synthetic intelligence at it and run away until they annihilated each other. Only brutal self-control at suspending disbelief let me enjoy the first game, once they started turning Shepard into Space Jesus I was done, got 10 minutes in to ME2 and I’ve never touched it again.

          This is also why, as far as I’m concerned, the only useful thing to do with the series is to throw all of that nonsense out and explain what was REALLY causing the underlying conflict.

          1. Ramsus says:

            Wouldn’t something that doesn’t need anything be ambivalent to other beings rather than hostile? Hostility also implies some kind of need.

            But yes, you’re absolutely correct that the premise of Mass Effect never made any kind of sense and continued to make less and less sense as time went on. If you skipped ME3 then you skipped the hilarious moment where they had you in game disprove the validity of the premise.

          2. Gethsemani says:

            Maybe I’m just really dense (though, I doubt I’m *that* dense), but I never really saw the whole Synthetics vs Organics theme in ME1 or ME2 and it is only sort of around in ME3. ME1 has the Quarian/Geth conflict and that’s arguably more of a Sins of the Father-type story for the Quarians, with the Geth mostly characterized by their service to Sovereign. ME2 continues that but nuances the Geth by adding Legion and the schisms between the True Geth and the Heretics that helped Sovereign. Apart from that we get the rogue Lunar AI mission in ME1 and the reveal of EDI being an AI in ME2.

            ME3 gives you the Priority: Rannoc quest line, where we learn that the Geth were actually the victims of Quarian aggression (instead of instigating a rebellion out of the blue as previous games suggested) and it is entirely possible, likely even, to re-unite the two if you’re a returning player who cares about their squad mates. Then you get Priority: Earth and Star Child ass pulls the whole Synthetic-Organic conflict out of its ass to justify the shitty ending choice.

            I’ve been through the ME-trilogy multiple times and even as I look for it, there’s very little indication that the Organics-Synthetics conflict is even a thing prior to the last hour of ME3. There is *a* Organic-Synthetic conflict, but that’s actually a conflict between creators and created and is framed in an entirely different way in both ME1 and 2. The ending of ME3 tries to tell the player otherwise, but the necessity for Synthetic-Organic was never a driving theme in the prior 3 games, to the point that both ME2 and Priority: Rannoc in ME3 disproves the very premise that ME3’s ending tries to present.

            Ever since I first had ME3’s ending forced on me, I’ve felt it is pretty obvious (later confirmed by various post-mortems) that ME3’s ending was a desperate effort to provide an ending, because the writers failed to write one that could tie the series together. This was especially true after they refused to use Karpashyn’s idea of Eezo use hastening dark matter accumulation in the galaxy, with the Reapers as a solution to prevent the galaxy’s destruction, because the outline was leaked online. What we got instead was a hasty band-aid that flew in the face of both previous writing and the design rule of Player Choice matters, as it threw out everything you had done previously in the trilogy to force a choice that rendered it moot.

            1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

              There’s Leviathan that retroactively tries to make forced premise “organics vs. synthetics” less forced, and made it even more forced as the result, I don’t know if this counts as a setup.
              Also you remind me, I’m kinda angry that BioWare dropped eezo forced entropy idea, I saw that a lot of people hate it for some reason, but it was perfect for ME trilogy. Reapers get some goal, that makes sense, but still somewhat beyond the grasp by a single human being and there’s buildup to it in second game and also it sci-fi-ish enough. It’s insane that they throw it away, because of online leak.

        2. tomato says:

          Exactly this. The Synthesis ending is sold as the best ending in the game, but it’s actually the most unsettling of them all.

        3. Cubic says:

          “It is utter body horror and there’s some really nasty rape allegory in there about violation of body autonomy being conducted on an intergalactic scale.”

          You know how when you slap or flap meat, it makes a noise? They talk by flapping their meat at each other. They can even sing by squirting air through their meat. And now we have to become them.

        4. Ramsus says:

          Yes, I “liked” it because it was the only one that was remotely an interesting idea for a way to solve a problem.

          Hmmm, you make some good points I hadn’t considered.

          Also you made me laugh. The idea of some synthetic guy sitting down to a plate of synthetic shrimp and then there’s a loud crunchy/metal on metal sound and the guy grimacing and wondering how he’s supposed to eat things now really amused me.

          1. Cubic says:

            We must of course have some compassion for the poor machine parts of the hybrids. They are the ones who will be flecked and rusted and generally covered with unpleasant fluids for the duration. However, I’ll confess I lifted nearly all the text from Terry Bison’s “They’re Made out of Meat”.

            Here is a copy: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/TheyMade.shtml
            It’s good. Not horror though.

            1. Ramsus says:

              Not horror you say!? That was completely terrifying. Think about having to deign to talk to meat!

      3. GoStu says:

        I’d have gone with the “Control” ending but have the Shepard-Ghost pull a Dr. Manhattan. He was a mortal man suddenly given effective immortality and omnipotence, and with this power finds he just wants to get AWAY. Doctor Manhattan retreated to Mars (I think?), maybe Shepard takes his Reaper-Fleet off to the dark space between galaxies and decides to think it through for a few millennia.

        Try to be ambiguous about this; I like Bob’s idea of the synthetic Geth being devastated and claim to be nearly wiped out. Try and preserve as much mystery between Control and Destroy as you can for as long as you can. It’s really the Synthesis ending that needs to be avoided as much as possible.

        1. Thomas says:

          That was always my headcanon – Shepard picked control and then took the reapers far far away.

          Blurring control and destroy whilst informing synthesis works for me. I think less people will go to bat for synthesis than the other two. It felt like a rushed ending (although I do see the point above that’s it’s the most intriguing sci-fi concept)

          1. Sven says:

            Yeah, I had a similar view of Control. The only valid thing my Shepard would do with Control is destroy the reapers by flying them into the sun or something. That would be the best ending imo: Shepard sacrifices himself to destroy the reapers and no one else has to die.

            If Shepard did anything else with Control, it would indicate to me that Control is indeed a form of indoctrination (like what happened with TIM) and eventually the reapers would just subvert Shepard’s will and go back to their old ways.

            Since the Extended Cut actually shows that Shepard did not, in fact, destroy the reapers in the Control ending, we can conclude that it was, in fact, a trap.

            That’s always been my reasoning for choosing Destroy: if you go only by what Shepard knows when making the choice, you are given a choice between being indoctrinated (Control), something that sounds like complete nonsense and would be pretty horrific even it were somehow possible (Synthesis), or at least trying to destroy the reapers in the hope that space-kid isn’t just lying to you outright (Destroy). That view makes Destroy (and, in the EC at least, refusing to make a choice) the only valid choice, imo.

        2. Urban Dictionary says:

          Yeah, I’d do the bit with Sheppard being with the Reapers now too. Plus, you can have the new protagonist talk to Ascended Sheppard, as a callback to the Sovereign conversation. It would be weird, compelling, and a little dark and existential.

      4. TemporalMagnanimity says:

        Synthesis definitely left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. If we disregard the violation of autonomy, people hate it because it requires Shepard to die after two games of Shepard being the hardest badass in existence and because it’s because it’s space magic nonsense that lacked proper build up.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      To make a new game that is part of Mass Effect and not just named Mass Effect, more worldbuilding needs to be done, but these suggestions are very much the opposite of that.

      I don’t know. If the new game had a (good) story that wasn’t really related to the previous games and avoided getting too deeply entrenched in the past, I personally wouldn’t really mind.
      Think of ME3 as an exploded septic tank. I don’t need to know where all that sewage went, or how you plan to clean it up, or for anyone to try and turn the sewage into something else. I just want the stink to go away and the toilets to work right again. The more you mention the explosion, the less people are going to want to come back.

      Another way of putting it: Andromeda could easily have been a good, proper Mass Effect game while basically ignoring the mess of the previous games. If it had, we wouldn’t be here.

      1. Asdasd says:

        Think of ME3 as an exploded septic tank. I don’t need to know where all that sewage went, or how you plan to clean it up, or for anyone to try and turn the sewage into something else. I just want the stink to go away and the toilets to work right again. The more you mention the explosion, the less people are going to want to come back.

        As internet analogies go, this is a good one.

    3. Urban Dictionary says:

      Yeah, I can’t say I agreed at all. The retcon would absolutely invalidate the consequences. Destroying the world to avoid consequences from your story is hack shit, they literally ruined the Underworld films with this same shit for a quasi soft reboot-and it was a bad idea that didn’t work anyway because you still needed more knowledge of the series to understand it or want to see these characters again, making it frustrating for newcomers, and it plays this “there is a mystery in the gap” thing which is just frustrating, its like a “24 hours earlier” timeskip, just frustrating, stories should nearly always start where they start. Its especially frustrating for returning fans, for whom the overall story is now messier, out of a desire to avoid mess, and makes them feel like their time has been wasted.

      It is a character and worldbuilding focussed series. Making it harder to involve characters we know about is underutilising your assets. Nuking the earth is nuking the worldbuildling, and then instead of using a story to let you explore a world and get to know it (good) you would use the story to exposit lore (very bad, garbage, like the new Harry Potter films, mistaking worldbuilding for plot).

      And it still won’t make everyone happy. You’re gonna have to retcon something, you might as well stick with one of the ALREADY WRITTEN ending options and piss off less people by yet AGAIN playing with the sore spot that is the ME3 ending.

      You want to put it in the future? Sure. You can still have synths and implants and biotic augments-time has passed. You commit to one ending. Maybe for Control, you’d say Sheppard’s consciousness is now part of the Reapers, and you could have a twisted interaction there. You could have a new faction of synthetics who have been built since, who despise the memory of Sheppard for his actions, and resent that biologicals feel they have the right to treat them as objects. Destroy, Sheppard is viewed as a hero by some and a monster by most-maybe it killed everyone with biotics, it definitely committed genocide-you could work in a version of the synthetic plot from previously. Synthesis-maybe Sheppard is viewed as almost a godlike figure, this would be the easiest and most fanservicy, and fits best with standard Bioware storytelling-half of your problems are solved by a third, best solution which is gained by putting in a little more effort.

      Regardless-you buy more goodwill by letting the player return to the world of Mass Effect, not cheating to make the world easier. Set it 50 years in the future. You’ve got old versions of some characters around. You’ve got the difficulties of global politics with the damage to interstellar travel and communications caused by the damage or destruction of the relays. You’ve got an entire generation of adolescent aliens on Earth who’s parents were stranded, and culture has changed in interesting new ways, and you can play as an alien.

      The solutions here sound like equal parts “not dealing with your problems because all the options are bad” and “picking a bad option”. Doesn’t really fix it. They wrote themselves into a corner, and attempting to avoid the problem, creating a story disconnected from the original is one of the problems with Andromeda.

  3. Inwoods says:

    Stalling makes perfect sense, I was thinking of the same thing.

    Deus Ex is the perfect example of this. You can’t import your save, and they sort of go with “all of the above endings, it’s kind of a mess.” Works really well, IMHO. You could even have religious crazies fused with robots, and it’s up the player to decide if they did it themselves or if their legends are true.

    1. Thomas says:

      I really like they way Deus Ex did that.

  4. AAA says:

    Eh, I’m more of the opinion that if you were going to continue ME you should either try to continue from Andromeda (which has its own plot holes but at least avoids ME3’s ending) or explicitly take an ending from ME3 and declare it canon. Sure, you’ll piss people off because you’ve declared Destroy as canon and they’re angry you’ve declared their paragon make-peace-with-the-Geth Shepard a robot genocide but at least you’ve got an actual starting place for your narrative rather than “dunno lol, please don’t pay attention to the lore in our Mass Effect game”.

    Then again I’m also of the opinion we’re more likely to see a ME1 reboot done than an actual continuation of the narrative because I think Andromeda was the only shot Bioware’s going to make at continuing the story.

    1. Christopher says:

      I feel like people should expect your choices not to matter very much at all by now, as much as they should expect the choices to be called back to. Garrus will become the Punisher in 2 regardless of what you tell him in 1, there will always be a stage with evil rachni in 3, the character you save in 1 will be put on a boat because it’d result in too much divergent content, and no matter what you choose a colossal explosion will destroy all the relays. People figured out the Telltale trick within season1 of the Walking Dead. I don’t think there’s any point in any pretense after four whole games, plus the Dragon Ages.

      I just appreciate the exercise in finagling.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Yep. Whatever the marketing said, there was no way that the choices made in the Mass Effect series were going to make that big a difference. They just can’t, in a story-driven game like this.

        Settling on a vague ‘something happened, don’t know what, I won’t mention it if you won’t’ seems like the best idea at this point.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Yup. After ME1 the fandom was like “OMG, this is gonna be huge, the second game will account for either the Council still being around or humans being the dominant species in the galaxy!”… eeeeh… no.

          After ME2: “OMG, not destroying the Human Reaper might be the only way we’ll get an ending for the whole trilogy where we understand what they are but like TIM might get indoctrinated and…” well guess what?

          After ME3: “OMG…” well actually if synthetics got destroyed they’re gone, if they got controlled they “went off to explore so as not to interfere with organic evolution”, in synthesis… uh… “we don’t actually know what Shepard did on the Crucible but for a brief moment organics and synthetics shared deep empathy towards each other… then the robospacesquids waved us a tentacle in friendship, took all the other synthetics and effed off so as not to interfere blahblahblah”. Problem solved!

      2. Asdasd says:

        Quite. Choice has always been somewhat illusory in both this and the Telltale games. That said, sometimes they do a good enough job with the smoke and mirrors that it doesn’t stick out, and even a modest amount of branching is nicer than a plain corridor. Deus Ex is my favourite game and it only has modest and ultimately inconsequential divergence, but it felt revelatory at the time.

        I’m wondering if there’s any indie studios that have been crazy enough to make a truly divergent, butterfly effect-style narrative game. I can only think of Masq.

        1. Christopher says:

          I tend to default to visual novels like Tsukihime where you get widely different paths within the same setting, resulting in very different outcomes. But they can only do that because it’s all text and still images, natch. It’s not something a big dev could replicate in a Mass Effect-level game.

          1. Boobah says:

            Strong disagree. The reason a novel like Tsukihime can do wildly different paths within the same setting is because they expect you to play each of the paths as if they were a separate game; the intent is that any given player will see all of the paths, and it isn’t ‘completed’ until they’ve done so.

            That is to say, unlike the divergences in Mass Effect, the divergences in Tsukihime don’t wall off content; they’re additional content.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          I’m a bit more forgiving of the Telltale games I’ve played than others might be, at least the first one. At the time Shamus said it was something like this at the time:

          Do you kill the puppy?
          / \
          Yes No
          \ /
          The puppy dies

          But there’s still a difference there in which YOU killed the puppy – which is an act with moral consequences.
          The first Walking Dead game did really well by having your choices thrown in your face by a random stranger, in front of the child you were protecting – no, you were never going to change the world, because games are limited, but they still have SOME weight.

          I’d say it’s more the marketing that’s at fault than the mechanics. Overhyping how much difference could be made.

          But then again, trusting in the marketing hype is its own punishment….

          1. Thomas says:

            I enjoy choice in a game this way. Far reaching branches are cool, but there’s something to be said for the choices by themselves. They define and express you character.

            Suppose you did something and it cost someone’s life. Even if that never comes up again, you made a choice and experienced what it was like to make that choice.

            Dividing rations in The Walking Dead might not mean much in the long-run but it’s an empathetic experience to be in that position making difficult choices.

            1. Chad Miller says:

              This is how I feel also. I suspect this is part of the reason the Bloody Baron part of Witcher 3 is so highly praised despite the Baron’s actions being completely abhorrent to many of the people doing the praising; the story ends badly no matter what, but you are allowed a lot of latitude in how you react to the story, including being able to say “I don’t care about your horrible past and you’re responsible for your own actions.”

              On the other hand, I played through a Telltale Walking Dead collection (which includes all but the new Final Season) and I hated, hated, hated the Michonne game (after having played and enjoyed 3 full seasons). This principle is half the reason why. To wit: the primary villains capture you at some point, and their reasons never felt the least bit justified to me. The game poses several “moral choices” regarding how you deal with them, and my honest sentiment was “Screw these people. They people are my kidnappers, and I owe them nothing, including their own lives.” Yet a lot of my responses involved acting like I was guilty for having shot my way out of their compound.

              Similarly, there’s a questline I really hate in Fallout 4 where you’re railroaded into taking part in a robbery (which isn’t your idea, and you can’t say no to) and then has several followup interactions to punish you for it. At one point a lady approaches me and asks what happened to her father. The only options given are “admit guilt” or “deny guilt.” I wanted the option to say, “Your idiot father got shot to death by the people he was trying to rob, in a heist that was his own idea.” I wouldn’t have even minded if she immediately decided to fight me to the death, which is already a possible outcome of the conversation, as long as I got to express something approaching my actual feeling about the situation to set it off.

    2. Vinsomer says:

      I agree. There’s no good place to start a sequel because Andromeda burned the perfect opportunity to start fresh without the baggage of the ending. If they have to do a sequel, honestly I’d prefer it in this order:

      1. Spiritual sequel. A new IP with a new setting, cast of characters, and different themes to explore, with none of the baggage or bad name.

      2. Remake the original trilogy, perhaps with some extra content added as long as it doesn’t violate the lore.

      3. Mass Effect Andromeda 2. My pitch would be to be a splinter group of the Initiative, or maybe even exiles who travel to a different part of the Andromeda galaxy, away from the Heleus Cluster. And to actually focus on colonization with better villains and less tech macguffins.

      4. Sequel to Mass Effect 3 that follows on from the Destroy ending, probably with the Leviathans as the primary antagonists, maybe have Batarians or Blue Suns are secondary antagonists. Maybe in the wake of the war, after the celebrations have ended and the fires have been put out the Galaxy is left with its economy crippled and most of its major power structures smashed to pieces, and this has led to the rise of warlords. You play as either a bounty hunter/merc, or as an N7 trying to help the Alliance navigate a much more dangerous and lawless galaxy in something that plays like Mass Effect’s version of the Mandalorian.

      1. SidheKnight says:

        Re: No. 3: It doesn’t have to be a splinter group. It can simply be the same group from the first game, since the threat of the Kett has been removed and the Milky Way races have had some time to settle some planets thanks to those terraforming space-magic towers. The Pathfinder and their team are free to explore a another nearby cluster of Andromeda, with new species, both friendly and hostile, and new worlds to potentially colonize.

        1. SidheKnight says:

          P.S:

          Andromeda burned the perfect opportunity to start fresh without the baggage of the ending.

          I respectfully disagree. While Andromeda was a buggy mess with an uninspired main story, lame villains, and some cringy dialogue here and there; from a worldbuidling standpoint it left some solid foundations to build upon and improve.

          We have our new setting established (the Andromeda galaxy) and we already explained how we got there. We have our supporting cast, which I like a lot for the most part (seriously, the characters in ME:A are very underrated. Except Liam. He sucks even more than Jacob and Kaidan. He’s the Jar Jar Binks of Mass Effect.)
          The bad parts of setting: The Kett, the Remnant, the Terraforming space-magic.. are all finished, and can all be left behind easily. The new game can be more polished, without bugs, ugly faces and weird animations.

          Andromeda 2 can be all that Andromeda 1 wasn’t, since the first game told a pretty self-contained story so there are no constraints on what to do next, and most of the worldbuilding work has already been done.

          1. Vinsomer says:

            I disagree. Andromeda’s setting fails on multiple levels.

            Yes, as you said the Kett, Remnant and Jardaan all suck, but the Kett and Remnant are Andromeda’s Reapers and Protheans respectively. They were deliberately written as to carry over into the next game as the main points, and that isn’t really something you can just ignore. No matter what, the Heleus cluster is the home of the Angara and the Remnant and that has to matter going forwards when the Remnant technology is the only reason the Initiative were able to colonize to begin with.

            Mass Effect was a game about many things but it put humanity (which was a coded America) in the position of the underdog in a larger galaxy dominated by greater powers. Andromeda should have built its game around the idea of the Initiative as underdogs. It should have forced the player into tough choices that would define the path the Initiative took, and by extension, the future of the species of the Milky Way (as far as they know, and depending on the ending they could be the last survivors). Instead it tells a story which undercuts Mass Effect thematically and politically, of an Initiative who save the ignorant natives with their super advanced technology, where almost everything that happens happens because of an AI and not because of the skill or agency of Ryder, where the player is hamstrung at every turn by contrivance or some of the honestly most frustrating characters ever committed to digital code, where the opportunity of a fresh start instead was spent trying to reheat the best parts of the original trilogy while misunderstanding what made those work, so instead we have something akin to a terrible band playing covers of Shepard’s Greatest Hits.

            So it’;s no surprise that I think that, as far as setting goes, one of the biggest mistakes of the franchise was bringing over the old races from the OT. Not only does that raise a lot of concerns politically (why were some races not invited at all, why did 5 have to share one Arc and Pathfinder, why were some races consigned to the second wave when the first wave already would have had its pick of colonial prospects – remember this is a game made by a studio praised for its diversity and liberal values) but it lacked one of the most important parts of Mass Effect’s worldbuilding: that every species has its own history, culture and ideologies, and how those entire species interacted both on the galactic and personal scale was key to the storytelling that made Mass Effect’s little moments and big beats work. In Andromeda, there was functionally no difference between Turians, Asari, Salarians or Humans and if you had never played the original trilogy you would have no idea what separates them beyond character models (or, in the case of the Asari, character model, singular).

            I half agree with you on the supporting cast. I do think that some of the crew members don’t get enough credit (Peebee especially) but they don’t stack up to the great characters of the original trilogy. And for every good crew member or supporting character like Peebee, Vetra or Drack, there are boring (Cora), juvenile (Gil), annoying (Kallo), downright bizarre (Suvi), underdeveloped (Lexi) or infuriating (Addison) characters who should be jettisoned from the airlock. I would like to see some of them return but to be honest saving the good isn’t worth keeping the bad.

  5. Kyle Haight says:

    I said it before and I’ll say it again: Quarian Pathfinder in another part of Andromeda. It gives you another chance to do Andromeda right and liberates you from the baggage of all the games that went before.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      Honestly, this is how I’d want to see it spun. We could even work multiple species onto that particular Ark, and if BioWare is so insistent on having a distinctive hub area, have the thing crash or break down to serve that purpose.

  6. John says:

    You know, I really hated how Knights of the Old Republic 2 was a sequel to both endings of Knights of the Old Republic. It works tolerably well as a sequel to the Light Side ending. Revan stopped the Sith fleet, saving the Republic, but the war took its toll. Things were in rough shape afterwards. Okay. So far, so good. But it didn’t work at all, dramatically speaking, for the Dark Side ending. Revan seized control of the Star Forge and the Sith fleet, was poised to conquer the Republic and then . . . uh . . . he got bored and wandered away. Things were in rough shape afterwards? Blargh. There’s a sort of an explanation, but, like much of the rest of Knights of the Old Republic 2, it’s sketchy and incomplete. I for one did not find it compelling or convincing. The point is that the two endings of Knights of the Old Republic are very different in their moods and implied consequences and ought properly to have had different sequels.

    I won’t say Bob’s plan can’t or won’t work. I’ve never played Mass Effect. He makes it sound viable at least. Nevertheless, I think that sequel developers are generally better off picking a single ending and running with it.

    1. Sannom says:

      Well, things would have been in a rough shape no matter the ending of KOTOR. However, why would Revan GTFO in the Dark Side ending ? That makes no sense. It probably would have been better to explain it as the Star Forge suddenly malfunctioning thus putting all of Revan’s plan in jeopardy.

  7. Eh don’t bother Bob. It will be chosen idiots and alien buttsecks all the way down.

  8. Gethsemani says:

    I honestly don’t think you can stall on ME 3’s ending, for the simple reason that Synthesis has so far reaching consequences that you can’t write around it. Control and Destroy can be hand waved, the Reapers and all synthetics just stopped working or maybe they did a mass exodus to another galaxy (because omniscient Shepard had a vision of a Synth Galaxy perhaps?), but synthesis is explicitly the merging of all organic and synthetic life into a new kind of existence. That’s not something you write around. Human’s are not humans, but cyborgs from birth. Robots are not just code, but actually alive. If you want Synthesis as an ending to matter, you need to run head first into it with full conviction, because anything else will just be weird. Like having it brought up in a side quest that all humans are actually 50% machines after the war, that’s a pretty important piece of lore for the game world and needs to be addressed early and often.

    On the opposite end, you can absolutely keep what actually happened hazy with the other two endings, because either all synthetics are dead somehow or they have a hive mind via Shepard (and might have left, have formed their own colonies or whatever).

    1. GoStu says:

      Agreed. Synthesis ending has ramifications for every possible character, organic or synthetic, presumably in ways you can’t avoid talking about or noticing. It needs to be excised.

      Ambiguity between Destroy and Control can be maintained for a while.

  9. GoStu says:

    Nitpick: There’s really *four* possible endings, including Refusal. IF you take your pistol out and fire at the star-child-crucible-thing (or just stand around for too long) and it’s its own ending. So few people think about this one or bring it up at all that I think it’s possibly still fertile ground for developing a story further.

    Even before you make the choice of four endings, the starchild does say that Shepard’s presence changes everything, and that the Reapers’ cyclical annihilation “solution” will not work any more. So even if Shepard refused, maybe the Starchild flies releases the Crucible’s power and blows up almost all the Geth and Synthetics and then fucks off. (Reveal some Geth survivors as a big story twist later, like ME5 or something). Thus a lot of ambiguity can be saved.

    I think the biggest thing to avoid is the Synthesis ending. While other comments here raise interesting ideas of carrying on and doing something unexplored, I think that’s more high-concept science fiction than Mass Effect is ready to work into a typical RPG. There’s a lot of good things to dig out of the setting and I think a talented writer can work here, but I don’t think Synthesis is salvageable by most.

    I like the idea that the Crucible didn’t do what anyone thought it would do. There’s a lot of fruit on that particular branch, namely that it can preserve a lot of ambiguity between Control/Destroy/Refuse. Maybe Shepard tried to Control but died, but the Starchild learned some compassion from him. Maybe he tried to Destroy but it was an incomplete job. Maybe he Refused but it blew up anyway, devastating everyone.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Yeah, keep it vague about what happened in the control room of the Crucible, don’t go into details. Just keep focused on whatever the new story is and Move On.

      (Though I think taking a bazooka to the Crucible is, in fact, the best solution. It should have been done the instant it was suggested in the Bioware writer’s room.)

    2. Volvagia says:

      Honestly, I’m going to assume the best option for ME4 is probably to just slice the branches and go from “Destruction 4000+” as the canon ending and pick up from there, roughly 30-50 years later, with Shepard training the child of Garrus, Tali or Liara.

    3. Boobah says:

      Nobody talks about Refuse because it wasn’t an option when the game went live; they patched it in after vocal gamers went apoplectic about the three color coded endings. Anybody following the game at that time had it drilled into one’s skull that there are three endings that are all the same aside from the color of the space magic.

  10. tmtvl says:

    anything from 50-200 years or so

    200 years later everyone is eating centuries-old mac ‘n cheese.

    1. Cubic says:

      We could call it Mass Effect: Fallout.

  11. Christopher says:

    Can the NPCs acting suspiciously in a remote area this time be secretly influenced by the green/red/blue husks and a mother green/red/blue husk?

  12. If I were doing it I’d probably adopt the retcon premise that the Star Child was either lying or wrong about what was about to happen and the purpose of the whole business. From what I’ve seen, this is a headcanon that A LOT of fans have adopted anyway.

    Then the story would be all about discovering what is REALLY going on.

    I agree with the time lapse, though–something that’d basically FORCE an all-new cast (or 95% new given that some races are long-lived).

    Instead of starting out on Earth, though, I’d start on some little nowhere planet and have the main character be a synthetic/organic hybrid being. The opening would be you tooling around your very Eden-like, peaceful home, where it’s basically impossible to distinguish between what is organic and what is synthetic. You’d get a few dribbles of some almost mythological past and the assumption would be that “oh, this is the Synthesis choice”.

    Then stuff starts to go wrong and you wind up ejected into the larger Galaxy where you find out that a creature such as yourself basically doesn’t exist anywhere else, NOBODY has ever heard of your mythology about Shepard and the Reapers, weird crap is happening and no one knows what the hell is going on or even how to start figuring it out.

    Then I’d start getting WEIRD.

    The bog-standard “idyllic village” starter would set it up for some really mind-blowing bait-and-switch stuff and a chance to do some seriously mindbending takes on a lot of stuff in the earlier games that was childishly over-simplified. The series has already been blown up pretty much by incompetence. Time to let your writers stretch themselves, get surreal, take some risks. Any new entry to this series cannot take it safe. It has to be magnificent.

  13. Jack V says:

    I’ve not played any mass effect but I really want to play Twenty Sided’s version

  14. Gabeed says:

    I think you have to go smaller for the next Mass Effect game.

    Do a game centered on a single system in the Milky Way amidst/near the end of the events of ME3. There are tons of ways to explain this away. Maybe a system’s mass relay shuts down instead of turning red/blue/green during the Crucible stuff, or maybe a reaper runs into it during a space battle. In any case, the system’s mass relay goes down, and the system is effectively cut off from the rest of the galaxy (and crucially, the ME3 endings). The various inhabitants of the system must make their war-torn planets sustainable–hell, you could even do an “Andromeda” again if it’s a system of uncharted worlds, and you have a fleet of multi-species refugees. Tons of relays have never been explored thus far, after all. There are plenty of ways you can go with this, but what’s important is that the survivors remaining in the system need to figure out how to survive.

    The kicker would be that just before the mass relay went down, a batarian fleet fleeing the Reapers also entered the system, and are effectively the most powerful force left in the system. They’re led by an admiral particularly bitter about how the Council has left them in the lurch. Maybe they hate humans a la Balak from Bring Down The Sky DLC as well.

    The player would be neither a Pathfinder nor a Spectre–just a regular guy or gal who assembles a scrappy crew of diverse compadres, gets a ship, and plays a crucial role in helping the system get back on its feet. Perhaps the Batarian fleet is attempting to blockade various settlements in the system, and the player is a blockade-running rebel captain. “Andromeda” certainly betrayed the desire for a Firefly vibe–here’s a context where it could actually work.

    I honestly think this works better than addressing the ME3 endings in any manner.

  15. Rack says:

    If you want to make it vague which ending happened you force people to remember the Mass Effect 3 ending and how bad it was. That’s no good. I’d say above all else you want to distance yourself from it. For myself I’d either start with a hand written apology to players of Mass Effect 3 and hard retcon everything or just set it 800 million years after Mass Effect 3.

  16. Wide And Nerdy says:

    I’d prefer if they just picked an ending and moved up the timeline. They can pick Destroy if they want. I never pick that ending but it seems to be the most popular in the community and its the easiest to move on from. Then make whichever choices from the last game are best for your new story and start over again with the “respecting your choices” business. Respect choices going forward for the next trilogy.

    I think fans will understand you can’t honor choices forever especially the choices from Mass Effect 3.

    None of it matters though. Bioware is cancerous beyond repair. I’m not expecting another well written game out of them. Starting with Dragon Age Inquisition Bioware was pretty much dead to me. Mass Effect 3 was a decent game with a big mistake. DAI was a flawed game all the way through and they’ve only gotten worse.

  17. Mr Compassionate says:

    Here’s one reason why there can’t be a good ME4. How do you make an antagonist equal to or better than the Reapers? At least in Mass Effect 1 the reapers were about as imposing, large scale and high stakes as it gets. You could go the classy route and invent an enemy that doesn’t end the world but let’s be honest with ourselves no publisher is going to fund such a game. So you can’t go smaller and it’s impossible to go larger so where do you go? Nowhere.

    Either they go “whoops looks like there were more reapers lying about” or “oh look another universe scale threat to destroy all life”. This is a problem so intrinsic even a backseat writer like myself can’t think of a good solution.

    1. Syal says:

      How do you make an antagonist equal to or better than the Reapers?

      Elcor Warlord.

        1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

          I suggest Niftu Cal with an army of biotic enhanced elcor-hanar hybrids.

  18. OldOak says:

    One thing you seem to be targeting is writing off ME: A.
    And here there might be a bit of vanity that could prevent BioWare to do it — it’s their IP, and there might be a level of attachment (if not only for “milking” it) to some of its outcomes. And really, there are still players that don’t dismiss the game at all (not that many, but there’s still a “visible” opinion about it).
    Why not the following: it’s already 600 years in the future, we know about the expedition to Andromeda, these guys find a J’ardaan breakthrough that together with the Geth voodoo telescope (from before ME: A) can be used to instantly communicate between Andromeda and Milky Way. We can have couple of “adventures” in Andromeda, where some info from Milky Way is blended with ME[123] “decisions”, and, e.g. they bring Milky Way back to (maybe milder) organics/synthetics situation (because even after Control/Synthesis, individuals would still push to also have the extremes: some only organics, some only synthetics, maybe some synthesized — if it was ever the case). This way the franchise can follow up both galaxies with little (or as much as needed) overlap from the originals.

  19. Gautsu says:

    Start in Andromeda hundreds of years in the future, when the status quo is even more similar to the Milky Way. Have them start to be invaded, by the Kett again, who are fleeing from something. Reveal down the road that the invaders are our techno-organic descendants from the Synthesis ending, and let the emotional repercussions from dealing with having to fight your ancestors raise the stakes.

    1. Shamus says:

      I hate all the ideas everyone has come up with, including my own. (And I’ve come up with a lot.)

      But this is the idea I hate the least.

      This is assuming BioWare figures out how to tell stories again, which I’m not sure they can do. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

      1. Gautsu says:

        Thanks, Shamus. Considering how much I respect your opinion (and I do) that means a lot!

      2. Ramsus says:

        In contrast I’ve seen several ideas I don’t think I’d mind seeing as a sci-fi/action game. Certainly most ideas people have presented seem a lot better than what we could reasonably hope to expect BioWare to actually do these days. *sigh*

  20. Decius says:

    Set ME4 right at the end of ME3.

    Have the Mass Effect relay blow up in Act 1 or the prologue. Now the population that was relying on it for food starts panicking, and a rogue clan of elusive men cracks open a six-pack of Shepard clones. Enter the player character, who casually tosses a space-grenade into all of that mess because he discovered an alternate form of FTL travel that can establish contact with a planet made of agriculture.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      There’s a lot of potential there. A small-scale story about a group of people trapped on a star system, trying to survive the aftermath of the Magic Space Explosions (whatever colour) at the end of ME3…
      …you could do a lot with that.

  21. Sleeping Dragon says:

    I remember some people clamoring for a prequel game that would happen during the first contact war? Personally I’m lukewarm on both prequels and war stories so ehhh but I guess it’s an idea?

    1. *shudder* I detest prequels except when it’s basically a completely stand-alone story that deals with lore that was only barely mentioned in any of the existing stories.

      Although . . . you could potentially do a very interesting game concept about the *original creation of the Reapers* where, after Shepard’s fiasco, a team of scientists tries to develop better FTL travel that doesn’t require the use of Mass Effect relays, and on their first jump they end up COMPLETELY lost and crash on a planet with an advanced civilization nobody has EVER heard of before–and it’s on the verge of being wiped out by a less-advanced but more violent expansionist civilization similar to the Krogan or the Rachni. Nobody’s ever heard of a mass relay.

      Much fascinating story later, it’s increasingly being revealed that the exploratory force was riddled with Cerberus moles who have decided to ally with the attacking menace in exchange for wealth and power in the new dispensation.

      The climax of the story is when the humans aid their new friends in the creation of their own Mass Relay which gives them an enormous tactical advantage and enables them to finally drive back the expansionist empire.

      In desperation, the Cerberus traitors (who have been exposed and driven away by now) hand over the plans for powerful true AI to the expansionist race, who immediately lose control of it and are devastated by their own technology. The fighting suddenly halts as the enemy fleet first dissolves into chaos and then vanishes. Scouts sent out from the advanced civilization find nothing but dead planets scoured of technology.

      Amidst the rubble, you find information that the Cerberus traitors concealed indicating that they discovered WHERE you are–not in a distant galaxy as you initially believed, but millions of years in the past.

      Then the scouts get a message from the advanced civilization. Their homeworld is under attack. Something came though the mass relay, a massive ship unlike anything anyone has ever seen. The message cuts out abruptly, but not before the speaker pointed the video pickup at the sky, where you see a massive shadow raining down death and destruction . . . the first Reaper.

      1. This would have the added benefit that it would explain some of the absolute crazy bullshit pseudo-mythology about Cerberus AND the Reapers and why humans are “special” . . . AND where the Mass Effect relays came from . . . and it’d be a total mindscrew a la Jade Empire if you did it right.

        And then at the end you tease a sequel that shows “modern day” (for the Mass Effect Universe, so like 2200) Earth . . . giving no explanation and no details whatsoever. The game is about chasing down Cerberus through time and destroying them once and for all, creating a new timeline where there IS no Reaper menace, and at the very end it cuts to Shepard with the Star Child recapitulating the “choice” from ME3 and Shepard is like “isn’t that all a bit much?” and the Star Child is all “it was the only way”.

        1. But, basically, whatever else happens, I do think that ME4 very much needs to involve the words “total mindscrew”.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Key question: were these time-travelling Cerberus agents a rogue cell, or proof of TIM’s sheer genius?

            1. They were proof that TIM was just a moron following million year old instructions given him by the Reapers. The reason why the Reapers were showing up to destroy advanced civilizations periodically was because they were afraid of competition from other machine intelligences that were developed by smart races.

              The whole “synthetics go crazy” mythology is basically Reaper indoctrination aimed at preventing anyone from using the full potential of machine intelliegence to defeat the Reapers, who are actually quite crude and limited (about what you’d expect from some Cerberus goons manufacturing AI). They can zombify people and control their actions, but they aren’t creative or imaginative so they’re stuck with what they know.

              1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                This whole idea might contradict Leviathan? I mean, I’d have to reread the specifics of that DLC and you could probably somehow bend these two stories to fit each other but in my honest opinion the last thing the series needs is an overall retcon with, and introduction of, time travel. Time travel is very hard to do right and I think unless the story is from the very beginning designed with it not just in mind but as a central, crucial plot point then the writers should Stay The Bus Away, but it might be just me because bad trime travel stories really annoy me.

                Also, at the risk of repeating myself, I would not trust the current team of Bioware writers to do time travel under any circumstances at this point.

                1. I wouldn’t trust them to do a Mass Effect story at this point, but from my perspective the series crashed and burned immediately after the first game, so to get ME to play a hypothetical ME4 game it’d have to be a HUGE departure and MAGNIFICENT, taking MAJOR risks and demolishing vast amounts of idiotic setting cruft.

                  1. Also I’m of the opinion that the “right way” to do a time travel story is basically Back to the Future or Avengers: Endgame . . . wave cheerfully at the science as you go zooming by at 88 mph and tell a fun story.

        2. Philadelphus says:

          Where in Time Is Carmen Cerberusgo?

    2. Christopher says:

      I’ve heard the words “Garrus Vakarian Citadel Detective” thrown around and I could probably get into it.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        If that’s not already the name of at least two fanfics, I’ll eat this computer.

      2. GoStu says:

        The problem I have in this idea is the writing principle that “if this isn’t the most exciting part of your character’s life, why aren’t you writing about that?”. It’s certainly not an unbreakable rule, but it’d be weird to me if suddenly Garrus had all this exciting backstory that he *never* brought up in his travels with Shepard.

        If Telltale Games was still a company that idea sounds perfect for their scope: a sort of episodic, dialogue-heavy investigation and detective storyline. As-is, a “TRIPLE EH” studio like BioWare would probably struggle to calve off a smaller team and reduced budget to suit… which makes a pretty good argument to keep a sort of skunkworks thing around like Shamus advocated for once. When you’re only AAA, you just *can’t* pursue small fry like that, no matter how good the return on minor investment might be.

    3. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      A game about First Contact War would be very constrained in a lot of ways. We can’t have any other race than humans in our team, humanity had no biotic users until a few years after the war, the war is very short and limited to one planet basically, etc. Shooter, or Tactical game about it could work, not RPG.
      So, I think better to set prequel in post FCW time, but before attack on Elysium. Actually, I have an idea, it could be focused on Cerberus rise and degradation to the state that we saw in ME1. Like, Cerberus starts as black ops branch of the System Alliance intelligence with a goal to protect humanity, push forward expansion and exploration, but things get rough, everything go off the rails and organization slowly turns into rogue cell.
      Little constrains on exploration and actions – check, moral choices – check, tie-ins to main trilogy story – check. Also prequel, like that, would be free from all garbage introduced in ME2-3, but still would have references to things from ME2-3, that people like. With a decent writing and interesting characters it could work as ME game.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        I mean, it would obviously have to be scaled back from the multiplanet, space operaish (I’m using the term extremely loosely) scope of the old ME but I think you’re overestimating the issue, you can easily do an RPG set in one city not to mention a planet. To be fair I don’t remember how exactly the 1st Contact War is described in the existing lore, I seem to remember the idea being that it was more of a skirmish than actual war? But maybe you could drag it out a little bit, play into exploring things like humans not just encountering a first non-human civilization but encountering it in a hostile manner.

        Again, not really that hot on the idea myself since I have mixed feelings about prequels and I don’t care much for war stories but I’ve seen people talk about it as something desirable so thought I’d mention the idea since I don’t think it came up.

        1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

          If I remember lore correctly, turians occupied Shanxi with relatively small force, later humans drive them out with superior numbers, and in the end Citadel officials negotiated peace, before it turned into full-scale war. There’s an option to center hypothetical game on occupation and resistance, but modern BioWare wouldn’t be able to make this story interesting and good, I think.
          As much as I’d love to see new ME game with more restrained scope, in my opinion setting it in one city, or on one terrestrial planet would be a mistake. There was an idea somewhere here, about Mass Effect: Vakarian: Nights of Citadel: Mass Effect Detective Story ™, which, I think, could be set exclusively on Citadel and could be great, but it also lands more into AA side-entries bucket. And franchise need a solid AAA main entry to be resurrected.

  22. Mr. Wolf says:

    Personally, I’d like to go back to the status quo ante Mass Effect 1. It’s a problem with a lot of games, films, books, etc. that you’re introduced to this fantastic and interesting world with hundreds of potential stories to explore, just to have some huge universe-shattering event come along and change everything before you get the chance.

    Let’s face it, no matter which way a sequel goes, we will never be able to explore the universe as presented in ME1. It will always be a universe post-reapers, and no culture can survive that sort of disaster without changing drastically.

  23. Mersadeon says:

    Honestly, I don’t even want a ME4. Take the atmosphere from ME1 and make a new game in a new world, so that it doesn’t get burdened by ME3’s problems.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I mean, yes. If you ask me Andromeda should not have been a ME game but they were still trying to tap into whatever rep the franchise had on the one hand (“it’s gonna be like the GOOD Mass Effect”), and on the other they could cut some production time if not literally reusing the old assets at least reapplying the old designs. I’m operating on the assumptions that we’re doing a sort of intellectual exercise here, like the way Bob frames it as advice even though I don’t think any of us actually think either Bioware or EA are following this series with bated breaths and taking notes.

      Plus to repeat what Shamus said above I don’t think Bioware knows how to tell a good story at this point. Obviously a case of varying mileage and even between those people who’ll agree that they’ve been doing a pretty crappy job of it for a while now it’s going to be divisive to what extent this makes the overall game experience bad but personally I don’t care much about them anymore.

    2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      I don’t think that anybody can replicate ME1 atmosphere without it being derivative. ME1 heavily borrows from other sci-fi itself, but these were more like subtle warm references, than straight plagiarism. Pulling this off second time would be impossible.

  24. Dreadjaws says:

    I still think the best way to go would be to retcon the whole of Mass Effect 3 by revealing the entire thing was a feverish dream Shepard was having while drunk on Krogan ale. I’m positive at least 85% of the playerbase will have no problem accepting it.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      If they really wanted to suck it up to fandom they’d embrace the indoctrination theory, there are still people who have internalized it so deeply in their attempts to convince themselves Bioware can do no wrong they’ll almost literally fight you about it IRL.

      1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

        They won’t. In all interviews Bioware staff were very proud with their ME3 endings, talking about it like it was a writing masterpiece. And indoctrination theory is just a part of Denial-Anger-Bargaining stages, even if ME3 was a fever dream, it won’t fix Arrival and ME2, ME3 other shortcomings.

        1. Sleeping Dragon says:

          True, but they did also do a limited rewrite of said ending (which doesn’t fix the core problems with it but still), and also did provide some of the things people were asking for in the Citadel DLC so you know, not proud enough to completely stick by it when pressured, not to say that people making the new game would not necessarily be the people responsible for the third game. And for the record I detest the indoctrination theory myself, just saying it would get traction with a bunch of people and would get people talking about the games again, and supposedly there is no such thing as bad publicity so…)

  25. jurgenaut says:

    I know everyone hates the synthesis ending – including me. But let’s mine it for potential, shall we?
    The good parts of it – all of the species are alive – including the reapers.

    What do these hybrid electronic/bio implants do exactly? Hive mind? Suppression of free will?
    What if parts of the human populace were located too far from exploding mass relays, so they were unaffected. Will the reapers annihilate them? Will the synthesised populace be whipped into participating in a reaping?

    Will the evergreen races suppress and reap all future meatbag civilizations and all non biologic AI? What if somehow a child is born without these implants?

    On that subject, what if some hybrids are more equal than others? The closer to 50/50 you are, the more valued you are in society.

    Those are interesting questions with drama potential, you just have to look at the synthesis ending as a dystopia rather than a utopia. Utopias are boring – see “the culture” series of books, where everything of interest happens on the outskirts of the utopia.

    Bob had a youtube movie about uncomfort. Don’t look past it. Stop and explore.

    1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      Does it have any potential? The whole conception of synthesis is so vague and nonsensical, that it’s hard to expand it in any direction.
      It’s shallow idea, presented as a genius. Writer came up with two opposite conclusions to the story – destroy and control, and then he slapped together “ideal” “happy” ending, which turn every living thing, including plants into galaxy-size hippie borg collective. Where would you go from there?
      There’s no reasonable explanation how it works. If it’s not affecting everyone, what was the point? How would you measure degree to which person considered organic or synthetic? There’s endless question and no answers.
      Also I’ll object, that utopias are boring. It’s sci-fi, not cyberpunk, where your idea fits better. ME 1 had that vibe of optimistic future, where despite all the problems, humanity integrating into galaxy society and reaching new horizons. Going with dystopian cyberpunk-ish future, after defeating great cosmic threat and setting peace between everyone doesn’t fit with genre and setting.

      Oh, by the way, did anyone remember ME2 Overlord DLC? Synthesis didn’t go well there.

  26. Redrock says:

    One thing I’do in ME4 is make you play as an AI. That way you can have the player choose between a number of cyborg bodies of various species without changing the entity inside that much, reducing the amount of writing. You can still have different reactions to your character, but don’t have to write a ton of different species-specific dialogue options for the player. You could be, for example, a long-lost AI from before the Crucible, exploring a post-Synthesis world. Could be a decent way to explore the inevitability (or lack thereof) of the organic-synthetic conflict and, quite possibly, retroactively make the whole notion a bit less silly than it was in ME3.

  27. Mako says:

    But the second and third games were still reviewed well and enjoyable for most of their runtime

    YMMV. The third game is a frustrating, contrived, overblown, ham-fisted, tonally inept piece of garbage almost all the way through.

    1. SidheKnight says:

      The Quarian/Geth and the Genophage story arcs were concluded pretty sucessfully IMO. Those were the highlights of that game. Otherwise, the main story of ME has been imbecilic nonsense since ME2. That game had great characters and side-stories, and ME3 had the aforementioned story arcs (and the Citadel DLC). But other than that.. not much.

      To this day, I weep for the wasted potential of the Mass Effect franchise. Not even a sequel can save it (at least, not in the Milky Way), since the ending(s) of ME3 pretty much barred any posibility of that happening, especially if they don’t want to go the Deus Ex route and “pick a canon”.

      Even if they pick one of the three endings as the canon (or make up a fourth one).. was the genophage cured in ME4? Have the Quarians and the Geth made peace with each other? Have the Quarians wiped out the Geth, or viceversa?
      Are the Rachni out there in the galaxy? Or did Shepard kill their queen in ME1 or ME3?

      A sequel to Andromeda is the only possibility IMO, but the first game got so much hate (a lot of it deserved) that I’m not sure gamers will give the Andromeda setting another chance. And in the odd chance they did, I don’t trust the creative capabilities of modern day Bioware.

  28. Tytos says:

    I’ve always had the greatest respect for Bob Case, ever since his ME3 ending video came out many moons ago. However, I don’t really think that the ME story is salvageable at this point. What made the Reapers work as an antagonist in the first game was their inscrutability; they were basically Lovecraftian AIs from the void between galaxies. Compelling stuff. After the first game, that inscrutability got stripped away and the Reapers were diminished. That process was concomitant with the shift in tone from “talky and techy” SF to action SF. Ultimately, the story we ended up with in ME3 was tonally (just compare their respective title screens) and thematically (“You cannot even grasp the nature of our existence.” vs. the utter moronity that was the ‘Human-Reaper’) completely different from what we started with in ME. Trying to wrench it back without hacking off large portions of the existing story is a fool’s errand.

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