In the previous blog, I discussed my thoughts on what I'd like to see in Mass Effect 4. I figured now would be the appropriate time to segue into another interest that's actually been talked about for quite some time among Mass Effect fans: a possible Mass Effect MMO. There have been quite a few resistant to the idea, while others have been more than optimistic about the premise. I can't deny that the idea would certainly be enticing. Note: Spoilers are in this blog. 

To begin, I think an MMO based on the Mass Effect universe could be fascinating; I think a time period of several centuries after the end of the third game would be an appropriate timeline, with the galaxy mostly restored or struggling to regain its bearings. The premise would be ripe for conflict, with the rise of mercenary bands and other rogue factions struggling for power, in addition to interplanetary conflicts and possible threats from new civilizations - most likely from another galaxy. This of course introduces a significant problem that any fan of the series would note is considerate: how will Bioware reconcile the final events of Mass Effect 3?

It's obvious that a save file transfer system would be impossible, not to mention mostly irrelevant given the type of game this hypothetical MMO would be, which would require Bioware's writers to canonize the final events, something that would be argued over till kingdom come. I highly doubt Synthesis and Control would be chosen as routes to develop the game's backdrop, so the automatic choice would likely be Destroy, in keeping with the traditionally Renegade theme they've maintained. If this is the case, then Wrex will have died most likely, making Wreav Urdnot Clan leader and de facto ruler of the Krogan race, which will most likely still be suffering from the effects of the Genophage due to the previous events on Tuchanka. The Quarians will hopefully still be alive and acclimatized to their planet Rannoch; the Turian Hierarchy should have recovered from their losses on Palaven - as well as the Asari on Thessia - and the Alliance should also have recouped their losses on Earth. This doesn't even include the other races and societies they operate in that players could possibly choose from in addition to various respective classes and possible plotlines. Yet, how would the game itself operate?

Mass Effect is a notoriously SP series, and only recently began to explore multiplayer with their Galaxy At War component in Mass Effect 3. It probably wouldn't be a console title - though I'd love to see it attempted. Gameplay would not be able to be preserved entirely, but perhaps core elements of it could remain. Players already used to the Mass Effect experience would definitely not feel very comfortable playing with a new system that didn't have anything they could latch onto. I also see the game being character-driven, with multiple factions for each race and others that players could join later on with their respective quest lines; say for instance, an up-and-coming Krogan seeking to oust the current leader of the Krogan clans.

Customization would also be key, with loot -most likely in the form of credits - that players can gain that would be balanced so that players don't become obsessed with hoarding. Actual space exploration components - the last two games had them - would be welcome and obtaining the ability could become an interesting story in itself to enhance the player's sense of immersion. Naturally of course, it would be equally pertinent to offer an experience for those who prefer to play solo. Abandoning archaic class systems and giving players more flexibility in terms of how they sculpt their character would also be appreciated. Perhaps, with respect to  class system, class abilities can be "purchased" through an experience-based point system of some sort as players progress. Bonus points earned - through special missions of course - would allow players to purchase abilities outside of the main class, although at a higher or lower cost depending on the player's proficiency overall - in terms of weaponry, etc. While the number of bonus points a player could earn at a single time would ultimately be limited, perhaps the ability to replace old abilities with new ones using them as player style evolves would diversify their roles while simultaneously encouraging them to think carefully about how they customize their character.

To enhance replay value and longevity, I'd like to see some missions capable of being played multiple times with significant variations and instanced areas to explore that would give players focus without sacrificing too much narrative edge. Adding more one-off events could also help in addition to this to break up the formulaic aspects of the game. Expanding certain hub areas - Illium, Citadel, Omega - would also be desired, considering how rich the Mass Effect universe is. Yet, all these possibilities mean nothing if such an MMO continued to follow the same tired and archaic route that countless MMO's before it did. One of things that would absolutely need to change is the overly common level of grinding that comes with MMO's. Even if there was a decent level cap, going through hell to earn the necessary experience would turn off players before they even had a chance to become acquainted with the more engaging aspects of their gaming experience.  Keeping the player invested in the story as well as the world around them would probably help curtail this. Perks that unlock as players level up would also give them incentive to shoot for that coveted goal, although these would have to be carefully balanced.

Let's see them make the game more interactive and multifaceted in terms of group play. Nowadays, MMO communities don't communicate much outside of forums and having more optional quests that encourage rather than force players into group participation can help foster a lively if competitive - or cooperative - environment. I myself would love to raid a facility as a Blue Suns merc with a few allies assisting me. Having more community-driven content that significantly impacts the game world would also increase the value of the playing experience, such as PvP missions similar to those in Anarchy or Eve Online where players could control various areas. I could imagine players roleplaying as rival mercenary groups in Omega fighting for territory to dominate in thrilling and action-packed missions.

Perhaps different Krogan players could compete with each other to gain leverage over either's clan, which would give the true sense of accomplishment and authenticity Mass Effect's single player campaign is renowned for. Or, players could simply role play as colonists either struggling to survive on a new planet or as envoys looking to stake their claim in the corporate pantheon by finding prospective new resources. Taking a note from their forays with SWTOR as well as the success - and failures - of other MMO's, while giving players more narrative freedom instead of holding their hand throughout the game would give them a gameplay experience driven by its storytelling and strong characters, yet open enough in terms of gameplay to give players the illusion of a sandbox environment. I'm sure there's a ton of additional things other players could imagine, but I think I've covered enough for now.

The Verdict

These are a few of my thoughts on a Mass Effect MMO. Given Bioware's current attention to The Old Republic, as well as the unprecedented amount of time, consideration, and expense it would take to produce, I doubt we'd ever see an MMO based on the Mass Effect IP come into fruition any time soon if at all, especially with the continued loss of subscribers that TOR has experienced. While a relatively successful MMO upon launch, Star Wars TOR also debuted on a flawed engine, a legion of bugs(horrible framerate, texture glitches, and gameplay errors), server problems, and PVP spawning glitches. A latter patch also temporarily ruined the PVP playing experience for numerous players due to how dramatically unbalanced the game's factions already were. To worsen the mood, a sea of bad press and controversy such as claims of users being prevented from unsubscribing led critics to dub it the "TORtanic". But there are greater issues at hand affecting the possibility of a Mass Effect MMO.

The MMO field seems to be changing as the casual market increases and a demand for more free-to-play gaming experiences has fundamentally changed the playing field for new MMO's. Surveys reveal that many gamers - including hardcore audiences - don't want to be tied down to subscriptions or shoehorned into them and/or are interested in exploring content before they purchase it, leading to a greater acceptance of microtransactions in a time where MMO's are thriving and are no longer a niche market. One must ask themselves if Bioware would truly be prepared to meet the demands of fans and consumers alike, given their current track record in their first foray into MMO's so far. Trust would also have to be reestablished between the developers and their fans. However pessimistic I might seem however, one could say that Bioware's experiences with TOR will hopefully give them the necessary skill to do Mass Effect justice if they ever considered developing a new MMO based on its universe. Nonetheless, it's never taboo to dream, especially with the wealth of content available, and I'm certain players will until the series comes to its end.

Do you think an MMO based on the Mass Effect Universe is possible? Why or why not? What would you want to see in a Mass Effect MMO?