The Next Mass Effect And What A Tale Of Two Galaxies Could Mean
During The Game Awards, a Mass Effect trailer was shown that seemed to say a lot and very little at the same time. A lot of keen-eyed fans have offered their own theories, so I wanted to contribute my own - including how Andromeda and the Trilogy could collide. As someone that has over 30 playthroughs of the original trilogy, 7 playthroughs of Andromeda (despite its flaws), and has read all of the comics and novels several times over, I wanted to put some of that experience to good use with a good 'ol fashioned deep dive. So here we go!
As a disclaimer, a disclaimer I put on any piece I write about Dragon Age or Mass Effect: I'm incredibly transparent with my love for this game. Does that mean I can't be critical of it or the studio culture around the BioWare name? Absolutely not, that's my job (and is evident by my previous critiques of Andromeda and Dragon Age 2 in the past, despite my personal enjoyment), but I like to be honest by letting readers know that I do have a personal connection to these stories for 100% transparency.
Moving on, let's break the trailer seen at the top of the article down.
In the opening sequence of the trailer (at which point we didn't even know this was tied to Mass Effect), we see the two galaxies that have dominated this franchise's lore: the Milky Way, which is seen in the front, and Andromeda, which is seen in the background. While many didn't seem to enjoy Andromeda due to its very different flavor and a wide variety of launch issues (faces were tired, you know the drill), others did relish in the younger and much dorkier Ryder tale. Much like the Geth weren't the true enemy in the first game of the trilogy, the Kett weren't the true enemy in Andromeda, a complexity that held so much potential for the expected sequel. Then launch happened and DLC plans were canceled, effectively killing any hope that the Quarians would make it safely and we'd get a resolution to the major epiphany revealed at Andromeda's end. That hope was killed until now, because the parallels seen in the beginning of the trailer paired with the implications of the ending scene could mean a crossover of epic proportions.
The trailer then continues into the Milky Way that begins a journey through time itself with a voice from the Apollo 11 moon landing saying "Eagle, Houston. You're a go for landing, over." Being a journey, the trailer continues through time into an area where a cylindric structure can be seen. Some have speculated that it could be remnants of the Collector Base that was shot to hell in Mass Effect 2 (which I don't think so given the next sequence of events), while others think that this could be a structural graveyard seen in the wake of Reaper destruction from cycles past. It could also be the remnants of the battle with the Quarians on their way to Andromeda, which will be explored a little further down. Regardless, it is connected to the Omega Nebula, which has its own connection via a Mass Relay within the Mass Effect world.
The next sequence seen is what makes me think it's not the Collector Base because the next shot directly references the First Contact War when humanity stumbled upon the Mass Relays and joined the wider galaxy only to jump into a vicious war against Turians that begun in 2157. This connection was fairly clear-cut with the voice that says "Arcturus Station, unknown vessel approaching, we need first contact protocols." For those that may not know, Arcturus is the headquarters for humanity's System Alliance that was established in 2156, a military and political power structure that is heavily prevalent in the trilogy and associated printed media.
In Andromeda, fans were shocked to see that most races were represented in the move between galaxies, but some were missing. The Hanar, Elcor, Drell, and Quarians were the most notable, with the ending of the fourth Mass Effect game revealing that the Quarians' ark never made it safely, revealing an ominous distress call that was later explored through a spin-off novel (not DLC, as was reportedly planned). The trailer's sequence continues, saying "Ark 6 is away, godspeed," which is the Quarian ark Keelah Si'yah. The above broken cylindric structure could be related to the failed ark arrival, which could be the loophole needed with the time sequence given the passage of time that it takes to make it from the Milky Way to Andromeda (roughly 600 years). The reason that I think this could be related to the previous trailer sequence is that the ark launched from the Hephaestus Station, which is connected to the Omega Nebula within the Caleston Rift.
During this next sequence is where I got chills because this is the first time we hear the Reaper's war call once more, the haunting boom that plagued the trilogy's third entry. As the video progresses into an abundant amount of wreckage within a broken Mass Relay, a distress call can be heard - only to be cut off by the Reaper's telltale sound - saying "Got to take down the dreadnought. Going critical. Abandon ship!"
This wreckage was the reality for millions of lives. With every fleet desperately trying to beat back Reaper forces, a force so far advanced it seemed hopeless, countless lives were lost. Many battles were seemingly for nothing, and entire races were completely obliterated in previous cycles. We learned quite a bit about how other cycles worked with the "harvest" thanks to Mass Effect 3's inclusion of the last surviving Prothean: Javik.
This hopelessness carried into the next sequence where a voice can be heard saying "Is anyone receiving this? We've lost contact." This part could take place at any time during Mass Effect 3 because many stations were lost with Mass Relay manipulation and Reaper obstruction, but if all contact was lost it's possible that this could be a post-ME3 moment when all of the Mass Relays were destroyed after Shepard's sacrifice. While the Control and Synthesis endings did eventually repair that damage, all endings resulted in that initial destruction. After the initial blast and Mass Relays shut down, the entire Milky Way was thrust into its own Dark Age pre-technologically-driven travel.
The trailer isn't done yet, the next step takes us into territory that I think could be easily dismissed as nothing, but keen-eyed fans know that BioWare is the king of hiding some of its most important details in plain sight. "Humanity is all that we have left" can be heard with a hybrid mashup of voices. Broken communication continues but it sounds like "the reason" can be heard at the very end. What that portends to is anyone's guess, but when looking at what happens next, it could be a much bigger clue than we realize.
The video continues with the ship that we saw during N7 day with concept art make its landing on a planet rife with ice set with a tone of bleakness (it's not the earth, several moons can be seen). It's there that we see a shrouded figure make their way up an incline - a figure later revealed to be Liara (we're getting there, be patient). Many think this is a mountain, which definitely looks to be that way but to me? To me, I think this could be a derelict Reaper that she's scaling. A big reason for that is the previous frame directly references the Reaper's destruction and since this is a journey through time, the connection that the Reapers were once where this ship lands is definitely there. The fact that she bends down to pick up an N7 helmet, possibly Shepard's helmet, really lends to my thinking this is a fallen Reaper given the nature of the Commander's own fall (we're ignoring the breath of life seen at the end with the patched in the extended cut, you can @ me on Twitter if you want to know why, I have a very specific reason for doing so).
Edit to this: BioWare's own Mike Gamble confirmed that it was a fallen Reaper Liara was climbing. Two points to Griffindor!
Up until this point, we don't know who the shrouded figure is, but eventually, she looks up and towards the horizon and it's there that we can clearly see it is an Asari. The freckles, face shape, and that little smirk is obviously Liara (though some outlets reported that it was a Quarian in their initial coverage, I'm going to go ahead and chalk that up to them being rushed to get the news out during the Awards, which was a rapid-fire of new announcements that it was quite hard to keep up). That's Liara. Don't believe me? I confirmed it with two BioWare devs; that's Liara.
The trailer then ends with her looking off into the distance where the ship that landed can be seen with the shapes of three figures in the background (would you look at that, the same number of companions you can bring with you into battle during the games!). One is obviously a Krogan with the far left being a Salarian. The middle person looks like a human, but could also easily be a Drell. My gut says human and since this is an opinion piece, I'm going to be frank and say that's where I'm personally leaning.
But wait, does this mean Shepard is coming back?
Obviously, I can't eschew anything officially because we all saw the same trailer, but I'm going to say no for a few reasons. The first being that Shepard was always canonically meant to be a trilogy. They were meant to be the martyr. Unless Miranda was back with another go at the Lazarus Project, I think it's best to start re-saying those goodbyes once more if that's what you're hoping for.
The second reason is that it takes centuries to make it from the Milky Way to Andromeda. So how does that explain Liara? Easy! Asari have incredibly long lifespans. In the third game, Liara was just over 100 years old, which is basically considered a teenager in Asari culture. Asari can live to be over one thousand, so a 600-year jump wouldn't be an entire life cycle for her. The fact that her face can be seen with fine lines of a more mature Matriarch, the years lend themselves to my theory that we're going back to Andromeda but it will be more integrated with the trilogy than previously planned.
TLDR: Andromeda hasn't abandoned the trilogy and the trilogy still has long-standing consequences to future life that we have yet to experience. I think the next step in the Mass Effect franchise will obviously take place hundreds of years post-ME3. I also think that this will make the Destroy ending canon, the ending that was highly sought after and incentivized throughout the progression of the third game. Since there is no evidence that Liara has been synthesized with that ending and there aren't any living Reapers seen, it looks like the Destroy ending will be paramount for the future of the games. Could Mass Effect pull a Dragon Age Keep where you can input your own choices of games past to dictate how the premise is set up for the new adventure? Absolutely a possibility, but that's not something we'll learn about until we are much closer to launch.
At the end of the day, I'm excited. I touched on this with my previous piece talking about possible expansions of the Mass Effect universe, but there are so many unexplored stories left to tell. From the First Contact War to everything that happened in between the Trilogy and Andromeda, the narrative grounds are beyond fertile.
If you're interested in learning more about the lore beyond the games, I can't recommend the books and comics enough. Even the movie Paragon's Lost, which dives into what happened to Vega pre-Shepard, offers unique perspectives into the games. From the moments in between the first Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, to how Liara got ahold of Shepard's body to begin with; there is so much more to explore out there and every bit of it offers small pieces to a much larger puzzle that is the future of Mass Effect.