New Mass Effect Game Merch Listing Implies the Return of Shepard and I’m Gonna Be Sick [UPDATE]

The messaging around the next game continues to imply a fixed future.

The next game in the Mass Effect series continues to be an enigma and a never-ending nightmare to me, a long-time fan who has loved the series largely for its aspirations in player agency and choice. Which, to be clear, weren’t perfect, as the original trilogy made a handful of concessions that didn’t pan out as well as most people hoped, but I still appreciated that it was shooting for things most video games don’t. But BioWare’s merchandise store may have accidentally revealed new information about the next game in the series, and further hinted that the fifth Mass Effect game may be making decisions about what choices it will consider canonical. And I hope that’s not true.

The store listing in question is for the teaser poster BioWare revealed last November for N7 Day, which led the Mass Effect fanbase on a (frankly groan-worthy) wave of a theory crafting about how the Geth, a race of synthetics that can be wiped out in Mass Effect 3, depending on player choice, could possibly return in a future game that takes place after the third. But we don’t have to retread that, what we’re here to talk about is the store description for the poster itself. Or at least, the one it had when it first went live. YouTuber MrHulthen did manage to screencap it and read it on a video (though, Fanbyte does not endorse calling the game Mass Effect 4, because Mass Effect: Andromeda exists and BioWare has said nothing that implies this game will be a numbered entry), but the first version of the store listing mentioned trilogy protagonist Commander Shepard twice, implying they would be alive to possibly play a role in the new game.

“Shepard’s final quest may have ended the threat of the Reapers but at great cost including Earth itself. While Shepard and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces, fans are wondering what’s next.”

The implications here are: the fight to save Earth in Mass Effect 3 was apparently unsuccessful (which was never once hinted at in any of the high-resource endings of the game after the Extended Cut further clarified the final events), and that Shepard is among survivors picking up the pieces. Shepard is only alive in one of Mass Effect 3’s endings. This would mean that Shepard would have to have chosen to destroy all of synthetic life at the end of the trilogy, further pointing to the possibility that BioWare is choosing to canonize a conclusion to the original games that has been my worst-case scenario for the series for a decade at this point. But all that being said, these mentions of Commander Shepard have since been removed from the listing, which now reads as follows:

“The threat of the Reapers might have been ended, but at great cost including Earth itself. While the survivors are left to pick up the pieces, fans are left wondering what’s next.”

This is weird, right? Why would an officially licensed product listing dive into those kinds of specifics, which go beyond anything BioWare’s even said since announcing the next Mass Effect in 2020, to begin with? The listing has some other weird embellishments as well, such as saying the ship seen in the poster “resembles the Normandy” (which it doesn’t), but even that makes me wonder if that’s supposed to be some decked out version of Shepard’s old ship, or if it’s a copy writer getting fancy with the upsell.

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We’ve reached out to the BioWare Gear Store for comment on the situation, and will update the story if we hear back. But as I’ve said multiple times since the reveal of this game, if BioWare has to trample over the Mass Effect series’ own legacy of player choice to make more of these games, the series can stay dead, for all I care. There was already a story ready and waiting for a conclusion. We didn’t need to go back to the Milky Way.

Update: Michael Gamble, a project director at BioWare working on the next game in the Mass Effect series, has clarified on Twitter the store description was written by BioWare Gear Store employees who “aren’t familiar with the game.”

This means the fifth Mass Effect game once again goes back behind the curtain, but Gamble stopped short of denying that original store listing. So the questions surrounding this game continue. Until next time, I will continue to be in emotional anguish.