So, Shepard's story is over and times have moved on for the galaxy. Depending on your actions you might have caused a variety of consequences, good and bad. What will Mass Effect 4 hold for us though? How far in the future should it be set? What about gameplay, exploration, conflict? In this latest blog in the 30 Days of Mass Effect series, I share my hopes - and in some cases, fears - as we pontificate on my interests concerning any future entries to the series. I've avoided spoilers, but I'd advise you to play through the series before you read so that you can grasp some of the concepts I will be discussing better.


To Transfer, or not to Transfer?

Let's begin with the elephant in the room that will be debated ad nauseum, both inside and outside the development room: should the series continue the tradition of save transferring? To what extent should this be done? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

Beginning with the first question, I think it should. Mass Effect is a series that prides itself in creating a gameplay experience in which choice matters and consequences arise that influence your narrative. Including this in the next installment will craft a premise that feels organic to the player and easily allow them to connect with the story effortlessly. Including save transfer will also make the choices of the player throughout the journey of the previous arc seem like they matter. Of course, this introduces a few notable problems.

Mass Effect 3 had over 1000 variables, according to Bioware. Naturally including them all again would be foolish if not nearly impossible, due to how lop-sided the narrative will become. Successfully interweaving them without hindering the gameplay experience is equally difficult. Thus, I feel that if they do decide to include this feature it should and will definitely be limited in aspect, probably to the most essential decisions. Other critical choices Shepard made will be important if save transfers are included and should definitely change the way the narrative progresses on a nearly fundamental level. This however, might also make the game a bit too obtuse for a relatively contained narrative experience.

One solution to the save transfer issue is to automatically create a canon beginning based on one singular decision, with the other pivotal choices being factored in. Although not exactly my desire, I think it would probably be the best decision. This would allow the story to function seamlessly without being subjected to hindrances by gameplay conventions, which leads to the next aspect of this entry.


A More traditional Role-Playing Experience

I'm going to be honest; I love the final iteration of Mass Effect's combat in three, but I strongly feel deep character customization needs to return, with a few new classes and abilities in addition to the ones already available. The branching ability system was an excellent feature, and I can only imagine how deeply this would enrich the gameplay experience with the perfected combat system Bioware has already established. I would like to see the option to play as different races featured in the next entry, with unique perks of their own. This would naturally reintroduce their morality system, and hopefully their dialogue tree which made conversations so engaging in the first place.

I found that while the increased cinematic approach to Mass Effect 3 was excellent in some cases, the lack of a dialogue tree in more personal moments that required player interaction left me wanting and disconnected me from each scene. Keeping a morality system similar to Mass Effect 3's would also be an excellent step toward maintaining an experience that wasn't melodramatic and more authentic to the player. Of course, I'd also like to see the return of the original journal system used for the series. I kept shaking my head in a mix of confusion and pure ire trying to understand why Bioware had dumbed down this extremely useful feature that kept missions from getting cluttered. I hope they also maintain the current weapon customization system they developed in three also; the last thing I'm sure anyone wants to see are an abysmally long list of items.


More intricate sidequests and worlds to explore

Most likely the second largest criticism of Mass Effect 3 was their choice to focus most of the action outside of the main storyline into one central hub, a dramatic change from the multiple hubs the series was known for. This was especially worsened by the abundance of fetch quests and the paltry number of in-depth side missions. Worlds that you couldn't explore outside of those in the main storyline also gave players a perspective some felt was still too focused to properly give them an idea of the grand scale of the Reaper threat.

Now that the Reapers - presumably - will not be the primary focus of Mass Effect 4, players need to be able explore the galaxy again to see how various systems have recovered ever since the events of Mass Effect 3. Hopefully, players will have the chance to visit Thessia and Palaven, as well as see Rannoch. Perhaps even Earth would be desired, as well as the Krogan world of Tuchanka. I would also like to see sidequests with several outcomes to add flexibility and authenticity to the player's narrative experience. More unique missions, similar to the ones players could find in Mass Effect 2, would be a welcome addition that gives the game texture and helps enrich the player's understanding of the universe Bioware is crafting with their AAA series. Also, can we please learn more about the Batarians? They're a fascinating race that has been criminally underdeveloped in spite of the significant role they've played in the lore of Mass Effect.


A reasonable future and new characters


When I refer to a "reasonable" future, I'm not talking about any new developments that might displease me; I'm talking about a sufficient lapse in time that suits the new narrative. It will hopefully be several generations into the future, with perhaps a couple characters from the previous entries as peripheral references to the past. If they go substantially into the future, we might end up meeting Liara as a Matron or a Matriarch. Either way, the galaxy will be dramatically altered; I expect new races to be added to the Council in addition to humans. Perhaps the most important dilemma will be solved, and the spoils of the galaxy's war with the Reapers will usher in another upsurge in technological advancement, bringing the Council races to yet another apex in influence. I expect this sudden increase will bring about new enemies, and open our galaxy to new systems. Possibly new races will present themselves; only time will tell.

On the other hand, one thing is certain; I expect a new troupe of fascinating characters in the story, as well as a few characters of a different race than those we knew. With this will naturally come a new protagonist that I feel should in no way be tied to Shepard. Perhaps the person idolizes "the Shepard", who's a legend all have passed down. Either way, in order for this story to succeed on its own, the past must inform and embellish rather than define.

This brings me to one of the most important aspects of this blog: create a convincing new threat. One of the most defining traits of Mass Effect one and three especially, was that they had powerful and intricate antagonists in addition to its gripping story. Saren, the rogue Spectre, and Sovereign, the puppet master working behind the scenes to usher in the next cycle of extinction; in three, we had a nemesis that soon evolved into an increasingly complex figure that we still have not completely understood. While the second entry in Mass Effect had Harbinger, he was patently one-dimensional and lacked a sense of presence outside of the Collector threat. The new enemies we will face should also be just as enigmatic and in-depth, fascinating and surprising us at every turn. If the next great conflict revolves around what I think it will, a compelling antagonist is key to giving it context and perspective that interests us, but this applies for any new conflict Bioware will introduce to the series.


The Verdict

Concluding, these are just a smidgen of my thoughts concerning my hopes and anticipations for the fourth entry into the Mass Effect franchise. A lot of new possibilities await players, in addition to a wealth of stories and potential conflicts to build from them. Shepard's story may be finished, but I simply see that as an opportunity to build a new legend off of an already incredible franchise. Whether Bioware can strike gold again remains to be seen, but I'm more than hopeful.