With E3 barely two months in the rear-view mirror, and with Anthem’s release date just six months away, BioWare has ramped up the press machine, getting the gaming world ready for its “Our World, My Story” sci-fi action-adventure thriller. While Anthem is highly anticipated, by some with excitement, by others with trepidation, longtime fans of the game developer have certainly not forgotten their favorite and currently dormant franchises Mass Effect and Dragon Age. In their mid-summer update earlier this month, Casey Hudson writes: “we hear loud and clear the interest in BioWare doing more Dragon Age and Mass Effect, so rest assured that we have some teams hidden away working on some secret stuff that I think you’ll really like – we’re just not ready to talk about any of it for a little while…”
The original Mass Effect trilogy is among the most beloved gaming franchises of all time, and in the time since the franchise was put “on ice” in November of last year, fans have worried if we have seen the end of Mass Effect. This month’s announcement may have assuaged these fan’s fears, but ultimately the problems that led to the disaster of Mass Effect: Andromeda have not disappeared. The difficult truth, owed in part to both the greatness and magnitude of the narrative arc of the original trilogy, is that Mass Effect as a franchise is a complete, finished product. It’s time to seal it up and put it away for good.
While the Dragon Age franchise has been left in a good place following Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect has yet to shake the narrative issues that have plagued the series since the conclusion of the original trilogy six years ago. The problems start when considering where the series could possibly go following the events of the narrative arc. The conclusion of Mass Effect 3, hated as it was at first and still only lukewarmly received following the Extended Cut DLC, created a definite cutoff point for the Mass Effect Universe. Yes, even those who classify the endings as nothing more than “the red, green, or blue one” will admit that a continuation of the narrative after that point would have to choose one of those three as the official canonized ending, an eventuality that would never suffice for any Mass Effect fan.
This scenario has put BioWare in a creative bind. Clearly fans of the series want more, and the universe is well developed with an abundance of locations, races, characters, and stories that could support games, novels, comics, TV shows, or even the elusive, successful movie adaptation. The problem is that anything created will suffer from the Doppler Effect.
“There is another physical law that teases me, too: the Doppler Effect. The sound of anything coming at you- a train, say, or the future- has a higher pitch than the sound of the same thing going away…Who wants to compute the speed of history? Like all falling bodies, it constantly accelerates. But I would like to hear your life as you heard it, coming at you, instead of hearing it as I do, a somber sound of expectations reduced, desires blunted, hopes deferred or abandoned, chances lost, defeats accepted, griefs borne.”
― Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
Anything created inside the original Mass Effect trilogy universe will suffer from a narrative Doppler Effect. As much as I would enjoy playing through the First Contact War, or the Rachni War, or the Krogan Rebellions, or even smaller chapters that follow the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula, like playing Garrus as Archangel in Omega, or Grunt as he starts his command of Aralakh Company, or even Javick during the fall of the Protheans, all of them will suffer from the Doppler Effect’s change in pitch of knowing the end from the beginning. How much drama and tension can be created when the outcome of any story is a codex entry away?
Narratively stuck, seven months following the release of Mass Effect 3, and in between major story DLCs Leviathan and Omega, BioWare did the unthinkable: it reached out to fans of the series for ideas regarding its future via a tweet by series lead Casey Hudson. While interactions between developers and fans are common, the idea of inviting fans to come up with plans to steer the direction of a major franchise as massively successful as Mass Effect is nothing short of astonishing. It was clearly indicative of a difficult situation for the creative team – how to keep a popular, financially successful series going beyond a natural and definite ending. What BioWare came up with was 2017’s Mass Effect: Andromeda.
While more than a bit of a leap from established cannon, Mass Effect: Andromeda seemed to be a workable direction for the franchise. A little retconning was necessary to get the idea off the ground, but once the arks set sail for Andromeda, the potential for taking established races, politics, and histories into a brand-new galaxy with room to expand and explore seemed limitlessly unbound to the narrative structure of the original trilogy. However, Andromeda was nothing short of a catastrophe for BioWare. Notwithstanding a massive campaign to fix the problems that plagued the title at launch, or reviews that praised many aspects of the title, nothing was enough to make people forget their first impressions, which spread across the internet like a Reaper invasion. Any hope of Andromeda carrying the future of Mass Effect died with the closure of BioWare Montreal in November 2017 when the series was put on hiatus.
Nine months later, Hudson’s comments, along with other studio announcements, have made it clear that they are not done with Mass Effect yet. And who knows? Maybe the talented teams at BioWare have struck on some new angle that will breathe new life into the once-iced franchise. But ultimately, the Mass Effect trilogy is better off left the way it is now. Fans have been clamoring for a remastered version for some time, and a 4K update, with all the advancements in combat, skill trees, crafting, etc., available to be used or ignored by the player throughout the trilogy is the best way to give fans exactly what they want and deserve. It would be the perfect sendoff to one of the best video game series on the Citadel.