For as long as it’s been around, Mass Effect has always excelled at storytelling. The original trilogy had its ups and downs towards the end and with some plot threads that weren’t resolved too well, but those were minor blips when compared to all of its other narrative accomplishments. Meanwhile, even a game as deeply flawed as Mass Effect: Andromeda had an excellent story to tell, and while its lack of memorable characters or the shockingly low number of new alien races was disappointing, it used its central premise extremely well to drum up some truly engrossing mysteries.
It’s not surprising, then, that there’s already a whole lot of speculation about what narrative direction Mass Effect 4 – or whatever BioWare chooses to call the next game in the series – is going to take. It goes without saying, of course, that the game is years away, and based on how very little we know about it right now, there’s just so much that’s completely up in the air. But already, we can can some educated guesses based on what little’s been shown and based on what’s happened in past games.
If you’ve been keeping up with Mass Effect news and discussion, you may be aware already of some of the most popular theories about the next game in the series. One of these is that it’s going to take place several centuries after the events of the original trilogy. From the game’s brief yet packed teaser trailer, it’s safe to assume that we’re going to be back in the Milky Way in the next game, and that does raise some interesting questions, especially with BioWare having very strongly hinted that the game is going to tie together the stories for the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy (we did see both galaxies in that teaser trailer as well).
Of course, the only possible way to do that would be with a time skip. Sure, the Andromeda Initiative left our galaxy between the events of Mass Effect 2 and 3, but it didn’t arrive at its destination until six hundred years later. So if Mass Effect 4 is indeed going for a convergence of the two plot lines, it stands to reason that the Milky Way has to catch up, chronologically speaking, which means a time skip is really sort of necessary. And it would, honestly, make a lot of sense for BioWare as well. Not only would it be narratively interesting to see the state of the galaxy such a long time after the original trilogy, it would also help the game get enough distance from what’s happened before that it wouldn’t feel beholden to every single decision made in the trilogy, and give it some creative breathing room.
That said, one decision that it’s going to have to abide by is the ending to Mass Effect 3. For a long time, BioWare has been reluctant to dub any of the game’s endings as the canon ending, and that was something they smartly sidestepped by making Mass Effect: Andromeda a sequel that kicked off before ME3, but then jumped forward several centuries in a completely different galaxy where there was no way to be entirely sure what had happened back home. But Mass Effect 4 is bringing us back to the Milky Way, and is set after the original trilogy, which means it’s going to have to pick a canon ending for Mass Effect 3.
And sure enough, the trailer does seem to strongly suggest that the Destroy ending is the one BioWare has gone with. There are several things that are hinting at that. For starters, we see Liara in the teaser, who looks much older (asari live for hundreds, even thousands of years, so it makes sense that Liara would still be around even after a potential time skip). But beyond that, her physical appearance hasn’t changed drastically. She’s still the organic lifeform she was in the original trilogy, not a fusion of synthetic and organic life, which means we can probably safely rule out the Synthesis ending.
Meanwhile, there was also that dead Reaper in the teaser, and though there’s any number of ways it could have died, it does seem to suggest that the Destroy ending is canon. Which would raise some questions, of course- the Destroy ending does kill all the Reapers, but it, well, destroys all other synthetic life forms in the galaxy as well, which includes all the geth, any and all artificial intelligences (including EDI), and even Shepard, who, of course, is partly synthetic, thanks to the Lazarus Project, which brought him back from the dead in Mass Effect 2. Meanwhile, unlike the Control and Synthesis endings, the Reapers are also not around to help the survivors fix the galaxy, which means crucial intergalactic structures such as the Citadel and the mass relays are either completely destroyed, or at least rendered inoperable.
So what’s going on with all that in Mass Effect 4 following the time skip? Have the mass relays been fixed by now? Has artificial intelligence started rearing its head again? How is space flight and traversal across the galaxy being done if the mass relays aren’t working? It’s possible, then, that the Control ending is canon- but there’s something else in the teaser that suggests that maybe it isn’t.
That something is the piece of N7 armour that Liara picks up, looks at, and smiles. The implication here is very clear- that piece of armour belongs to Shepard, which means Liara might be trying to bring them back in some way, shape, or form. Shepard sacrifices themselves in all of Mass Effect 3’s endings, but with a high enough military strength score, the Destroy ending does have that one scene that suggests that maybe they survived. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that Shepard is still alive in Mass Effect 4 if there is indeed a time skip – Shepard is human, after all, not asari – but perhaps Liara could be looking into other ways of bringing them back. Perhaps as an AI? It’s definitely a possibility.
The one big question that we all have about Mass Effect 4 that is nearly impossible to concretely answer right now is, who’re the primary antagonists going to be? We can at least confidently say that the Reapers aren’t the villains once more- no matter which ending is picked as the canon one, they’re no longer a threat to the galaxy one way or another. So who are the next big bads? Given that the Andromeda galaxy won’t be ignored in Mass Effect 4’s story, it’s possible that the kett and the Scourge have made their way to the Milky Way, though there wasn’t really any indication of that in the teaser. Besides, I think BioWare would want a clean break from that story for this sequel, at least as much as they possibly can without completely ignoring it. Mass Effect 3’s Leviathan DLC revealed that the Leviathans, the creators of the Reapers, are still alive and kicking out there, and clearly, the terrifying race still sees itself as the dominant lifeform of the galaxy- so perhaps they might return to it to reclaim what they feel belongs to them? It would certainly be an interesting threat, that’s for sure.
One way or another, there’s potential for a lot of really interesting narrative stuff in the next Mass Effect. Based on what little BioWare has teased about the game so far, the sequel is opening itself up to some fascinating possibilities that are definitely cause for excitement for series fans. Again, given how far off the game is at this point, we’re probably not going to get any concrete information on what to expect from its story for at least a few years. But if BioWare doesn’t mess this up, Mass Effect 4 could end up doing some truly incredible things with its story.