I’m Convinced the New Mass Effect Teaser Tells Us Nothing of Substance

Is it a sequel to Andromeda and ME3? Is it going to canonize an ending? Who can say?

In a short one minute and 44 seconds, the teaser for the next Mass Effect game hit on nearly every fear I had about the future of my favorite series. But the more I watch it, the more I’m trying to be optimistic that things aren’t as they seem. Because despite it seeming to imply that developer Bioware might be going against over a decade of preserving choices for all of the series, there’s a lot of seemingly conflicting information to sort through.

Last night at the 2020 Game Awards, Bioware surprised the show with a short cinematic meant to tease the future of the Mass Effect universe. It began with a shot of space, specifically showing both the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxies. As the camera zooms into the Milky Way, we pass by some stars and eventually by a Mass Relay, all culminating to a final scene on a snowy planet. A cloaked figure picks something out of the snow, which is revealed to be a piece of an N7 helmet. The camera reveals it’s Liara T’Soni, a beloved member of the Normandy crew in the original Mass Effect trilogy. She looks over to what seems to be her crew and smiles, followed by the text:

Mass Effect will continue.

The words are fairly blatant, but the actual content of the trailer seems somewhat ambiguous. There’s a lot to unpack here. Walk with me as I try and figure out how I should feel.

To start out, let me frame my thoughts for you. The original trilogy is my favorite game series of all time. I took the main character’s name as my pen name for a reason. Following the conclusion of Mass Effect 3, I was entirely content with leaving the series behind. Satisfied with the way things ended (shocker, I know), I didn’t need to come back to this universe or Commander Shepard again. However, when Mass Effect: Andromeda came out in 2017, I hesitantly returned and found a game I became pretty invested in, despite its various technical and structural troubles. However, when Bioware basically abandoned the game after its middling reception, I feared I’d never see that story concluded

Fast forward to this past N7 Day, when Bioware announced the Mass Effect trilogy would be coming to modern systems with Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, a remaster of Commander Shepard’s story for a new generation. Along with that announcement, there was a single piece of concept art shown for the next game in the series, which we now know was of the crew and shuttle Liara smiles in the direction of at the end of the teaser Bioware just released. The knowledge that a new Mass Effect was coming sparked discussion of what future Bioware might have planned, and it went into some questionable places.

More Mass Effect:

At the time, I wrote about how Mass Effect as a franchise has taken great care over the past 13 years to not step on the toes of any one player’s version of its universe. From smaller specifics like Shepard’s gender, to huge, galaxy defining moments like whether or not the player allowed a sterility plague to continue haunting an entire species, Mass Effect preserved player’s choices by existing outside the scope of them in external media, and by creating a spin-off in Mass Effect: Andromeda that migrated to a completely different galaxy to avoid reckoning with the realities of what the player had done.

But a conversation that had sparked thanks to the Legendary Edition announcement was specifically surrounding the ending of the trilogy, which left the galaxy in three very distinct states. There was, and has been for a fair amount of time, a notion surrounding the series that Bioware should canonize an ending to the trilogy and just keep making games that followed. As I wrote previously, this doesn’t line up with the philosophy of the series, but there are people who don’t really seem to care if it means they’ll get more Mass Effect.

So here we are, with a hint to what the future of Mass Effect looks like, and not only is it going back to the Milky Way, but it’s seemingly set after Mass Effect 3’s ending. This trailer is ultimately fairly vague, but there are things we can discern from what little is here.

Liara’s presence, despite it being the biggest reveal, is actually less telling than it might seem on the surface. As it turns out, Liara is one of the sole constants of Mass Effect, in that she can’t die unless you get one of the “bad” endings which puts squadmates you bring to Mass Effect 3’s final mission on the chopping block. She even had an audio cameo in Andromeda because she literally could not be dead in the spaces her appearance filled. So her being there doesn’t tell us anything about this game, or if it’s going to canonize an ending to the trilogy.

However, the N7 helmet, a piece of armor that has become so synonymous with the character of Commander Shepard it can represent them without showing a face, has greater implications that point to Bioware having chosen to pick an ending. Shepard can only survive in the Destroy ending, one that requires the player to commit genocide to end the threat of the Reapers that have plagued the galaxy for millenia. Considering the likelihood of Liara casually finding a piece of one of these helmets seems unlikely, the implication of this moment seems to be that she’s looking for Shepard, who can only die on the galactic hub called the Citadel, not on some snowy planet Liara would have to hike to. I’m a person who chose the Destroy option, this immediately throws up red flags for other players, ones who chose to either control the Reapers or merge all of the galaxy’s synthetic and organic life through Synthesis. Because now there may be a game that tells them their decision was “wrong,” and no longer the one the series would acknowledge moving forward.

But even that notion gets messy, because Project Director Mike Gamble has confirmed that a Reaper appears in the background of the trailer, which is mutually exclusive with the survival of Commander Shepard.

But the trailer is much more than the instant we see Liara happen upon a piece of what appears to be Shepard’s helmet. And despite having just shown the thing off less than 24 hours ago, Bioware employees are already hinting at what it all means on social media. Gamble has been particularly chatty. 

First off, he’s made multiple references to the possibility that this upcoming game will still involve the Andromeda galaxy. Maybe there will be shifting perspectives? Attempts to make contact between both galaxies? Or perhaps that this crew Liara is with might be heading to Andromeda themselves? Whatever the case, he said that the teaser’s references to Andromeda were intentional, both in showing the galaxy before zooming into Liara’s discovery, as well as in sound clips that reference moments in the little spin-off that could.

When a fan specifically mentioned negative feelings toward the franchise after the studio abandoned Andromeda, Gamble said fans of that game and its characters will likely have something awaiting them in this future game.

There’s probably more audio to be scrubbed through, but the best I can tell is that the transmissions the trailer has overlaying the whole thing sound like key moments from the history of the entirety of Bioware’s science fiction universe. There’s references to human’s first contact with the galactic community, the Andromeda Initiative, and of course, the Reaper War. While the primary focus is Liara, the trailer itself seems very much aware that it’s playing with a history here, one that spans two galaxies.

Liara’s inclusion doesn’t necessarily mean traveling back in time to before the 600 years it took humanity to reach the Andromeda galaxy, either, as she is an Asari, and that alien race is able to live to be several centuries old. So if there’s some kind of dueling story here between Andromeda and the Milky Way, she’s probably one of the only characters from the original trilogy who could conceivably show up. There does appear to be a Krogan on Liara’s crew, however. Maybe Grunt could also make an appearance?

But there’s still that damn N7 helmet…

Ultimately, by the time I’d finished scrubbing over the whole thing, I was less fearful that I wouldn’t get to see the cast of Andromeda again, but I am extremely concerned that Bioware appears to be planning to undermine an entire franchise’s values for…what? To placate a group of people who think Mass Effect should only be about Commander Shepard? Or is just unwilling to let go of characters whose story was neatly wrapped up almost a decade ago?

Despite the implication that this means there will be some return to Shepard, I am still speculating at this point. But I do find the tease troubling if this isn’t the case. Bioware clearly made this trailer with an awareness of what it was doing, so I don’t think putting Shepard’s iconic helmet in there is something it does lightly. It could be a fakeout, or it could not even be referencing Shepard at all and it was used in a more conceptual way.

Even so, the fact that this does imply there will be contact with the Andromeda galaxy means this game likely definitively takes place at least 600 years removed from the original trilogy. So why include the N7 helmet at all? Is it truly not meant to represent Shepard in some way? Could Liara just have happened upon an N7 helmet because it was an iconic piece of this universe for Bioware to put into a teaser, and her smile doesn’t represent a discovery, but instead a reflection on an old friend who died hundreds of years ago, whether by old age or by sacrificing themselves for the greater good? Will the game let us choose which ending was picked and it will be as simple as swapping dialogue about what happened and having the occasional Reaper in the background of a scene? Is there actually anything that we can accurately glean from this bundle of seemingly conflicting information?

Ultimately, the only way this entire thing makes sense is if that helmet isn’t Shepard’s. Which is a possibility, but then there’s that Reaper in the background that implies a Control or Synthesis ending might be canon. So I don’t think that helps.

Whatever it is, we won’t know anymore about this game for years to come, as Bioware has been upfront that it’s in the early stages of development. But as I watch the rest of my Mass Effect-loving friends be excited, I can’t feel anything other than caution. For some more casual fans, the idea of canonizing an ending to the trilogy is meaningless. It’s been so long that people who haven’t spent years with the series still in their hearts don’t care one way or another. Even I would be mostly unfazed by a canonized Destroy ending with Shepard alive, because that’s the ending I picked eight years ago. But just because something doesn’t affect me specifically doesn’t change that this would fundamentally alter the way people relate to the Mass Effect series in a way that can’t be reconciled.

I’ve seen the notion that some fans are just excited for more Mass Effect, and the means isn’t really an issue, and in a lot of cases, I would feel the same way. But I don’t want to be content with something existing in a universe I’ve enjoyed before when I can hold it to a higher standard. And if it’s going to cut its own stories and values off at the knees, I’m not happy it’s returning at all. I was content with the series ending eight years ago, but now that it hasn’t I’m constantly wondering if the next trailer reveals that something about my Shepard’s journey is no longer represented in the universe at large.

I want to be excited for another Mass Effect again, but I’m fearful the series might be about to make a galaxy-altering decision. I just really, really hope I’m wrong.

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Kenneth Shepard

Kenneth is a Georgia-based writer who still periodically cries about the Mass Effect trilogy years after it concluded.

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