Recently, the Executive Producer of the Mass Effect series of games, Casey Hudson, asked Twitter what they’d want to see in a brand new game in the Mass Effect universe. With all the controversy surrounding the ending of the final game of the Shepard trilogy, ways to recapture the essence of the series were already on my mind, so I set fingers to keyboard in an attempt to figure out how a new game could get back to the roots of the series. Here are five ideas I came up with:
1. Mass Effect: Gaiden
Tell the story of Shepard from the outside. Allow the player to assume the role of another character during the events of ME1-3, observing the effects of all the different choices that an imported Shepard makes from another perspective. It’s a great opportunity to clean up story arcs, expand on details, and even build towards a world sans Shepard without abandoning her (Femshep brofist) completely.
2. Two players: one short and one Hanar.
Similar to DA:O, give us an opportunity to experience the galaxy from the short stature of a Volus or the coldly detached worldview of an Asari. Incorporate different “starting stories” to expand on the rich lore you’ve already established to finally let us understand why Garrus is always calibrating calibrating calibrating (it’s got to be a Turian thing right?) Imagine an opportunity to see the events of ME3, all the political moves and deliberations, from the direct perspective of a Quarian who has to come to terms with the Geth rather than just a human trying to make peace.
3. Back in Blue
The first two Mass Effect games seemed to be dominated by the colors used for their menus. ME1, with its seemingly endless universe, wide open planets, and neverending sense of the smallness of humanity, was perfectly blue. It was cold and harsh, difficult to connect with but ultimately calming. ME2 was the literal opposite: orange. It was bombastic and explosive, the perspective rushing in to keep the player focused on what was immediately in front of them: the reaper threat. It was warm and exciting, with a greater focus on personal stories that got the blood rushing instead of the ethereal doom of the first game.
A new game in the series should return to that sense of awe that drew us all in with the first game. Revitalize the idea that the galaxy is a massive and lonely place, mostly out to get you without the help of your friends. There’s a reason why we all love Garrus, Liara, and Tali more than all the other characters: they were there for us back when the darkness of space was palpable.
4. Ditch the binary moral system
One of the most interesting things about Mass Effect has always been the sense of “doing what it takes” to ensure survival. The destruction of Virmire, the threat of the Geth, the genophage and the Krogan, all of these massive plot points revolve around having the guts and moral fortitude to make tough decisions under duress. In many cases, the game tasks the player with making these choices, which is awesome.
Until you realize that the world of Mass Effect is one of moral absolutes. Paragon is good, Renegade is evil. The vagaries of the wide open universe fall apart when such a basic way of viewing the world is applied to them. If you eliminate the Geth you’re a bad guy, plain and simple. The game’s systems TELL you so.
Consider the moral imperatives of The Walking Dead, where differing voices either agree or disagree with what you do, regardless of what it is. There’s no right or wrong, there’s just risky and safe. Let players discover something about their own code while playing instead of telling them about it as they go.
5. There’s more than one way to skin a Krogan
Without Shepard there are a lot more opportunities to expand the gameplay mechanics of the series beyond third person shooting. Let us play a Drell assassin who sticks to the shadows and unleashes brutal sneak attacks, or a Salarin who relies on drones and robots to fight his battles. Not only does it allow for significantly greater replayability, but it also expands on the already successful multiplayer by giving people even more options.