Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t need to exist, but now that it does Bioware is at a crossroads.
This past Thursday was N7 Day, a community day celebrating the Mass Effect series. It’s never been a place for major announcements, but it’s the one day a year where everyone involved in the games industry, whether you’re a fan, developer, or part of the media, shares their memories of Bioware’s science fiction saga.
Mass Effect’s in a weird place right now. After the less than stellar reception to Andromeda and the subsequent cancellation of its planned DLC, Bioware has put the franchise on ice for the time being. At the moment the studio is working on salvaging Anthem, a game that is currently being sold at a sixth of its starting price, and in relatively early stages of developing a new Dragon Age game projected to launch sometime around 2022. So if a new Mass Effect is coming (which Bioware is adamant it is), it’s at minimum five or six years away.
Because crowd sourcing the future of Mass Effect has historically worked out very well for Bioware (it has not. Works cited: Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut, the altered ending to the trilogy that pandered to the most tiresome of CinemaSins style criticism), for this N7 Day, Bioware Project Director Michael Gamble tweeted out asking fans where they wanted the Mass Effect franchise to go. Since then he’s been sent thousands of responses.
Where do you want Mass Effect to go in the future? #N7Day
— Michael Gamble (@GambleMike) November 7, 2019
If there’s a path the Mass Effect universe could follow, someone has undoubtedly suggested it. Some ideas were interesting, like a prequel to the original trilogy that focused on galactic society before the cataclysmic Reaper War. Others were incredibly implausible, like a game bringing back the original trilogy’s hero Commander Shepard as a protagonist. Then there were some that were tone-deaf and disrespectful, like establishing a canonical ending to the original trilogy, a series entirely defined by player choice, to contrive a new story set after Shepard’s journey.
While large swaths of the Mass Effect fandom look to concoct a means for Bioware to return to a story it succinctly wrapped up seven years ago, the more obvious answer, and one that several people suggested, is that the studio should probably just finish the story it has yet to complete.
Mass Effect: Andromeda is a flawed game, but among its laundry list of issues its character writing and establishing itself as an origin story for a new group of heroes was not one of them. By the end of Andromeda, Pathfinder Ryder has established a new home for humanity in the Heleus Cluster, but there are more than enough loose ends left to sustain a sequel, if not a complete trilogy. Ryder’s mother, who was presumed dead at the outset of the game, is awaiting a cure for her terminal illness in cryostasis, the Quarian Ark carrying several species and cultures we haven’t seen find a place in the Andromeda galaxy is still traveling through dark space, and to top it all off, the threat of the exaltation by the big bad Kett has not been stomped out. One of the final shots of the game is a brooding Primus, who is finally unveiled as the “true” villain of the entire game, planning her next attack on the Angara and the Andromeda Initiative as they celebrate a perceived victory.
These cliffhangers don’t even account for Ryder’s crew, who are each set up with their own arcs and leaving you to wonder what’s next for them. How is Cora going to assert herself after years of feeling beholden to the cultures and ideals of others? What will Jaal do with the knowledge that he and his entire species were created by the Jardaan, a mysterious alien race that seems to have been cultivating the Heleus Cluster as a kind of experiment? Is Gil, my Ryder’s baby daddy, going to finally get his act together and be responsible once he’s a father?
What’s most frustrating about this situation is that Mass Effect didn’t need a fourth game. It was originally pitched as a trilogy where your character and choices would carry over from one game to the other, and by the end the story was complete and its hero’s journey was seen through. But whether it was just possible monetary gains or Bioware genuinely wanting to explore this universe further, we have this game, we have these characters, and if we can’t at least count on this story to reach its conclusion, what’s the point of another Mass Effect game?
I didn’t want to get invested in a new crew, which is why I had no desire to go back to the Mass Effect universe after I destroyed the Reapers. But much to my chagrin, I am now. Mass Effect: Andromeda was willed into the world by people who weren’t willing to just let a story end, and now that there’s a story that hasn’t wrapped up, we should channel all that same energy into getting to that finale Andromeda was clearly leading up to. Because closure on an already existing story seems more sensible than Bioware harnessing some pandering nonsense to give some people’s choices legitimacy over others, or bothering Shepard out of retirement (or, you know, death).