Back to the Milky Way?
After Mass Effect: Andromeda’s critical and commercial failure, the future of the franchise looked to be in doubt, and the fact that several reports had claimed at the time that EA had put the series on ice didn’t exactly make fans too hopeful about what lay ahead for the science fiction RPG series. Over the last year or so, however, BioWare have openly talked about the next step forward for Mass Effect, and on multiple times, have confirmed that the game is in early development.
At The Game Awards 2020, BioWare stole the spotlight when they premiered a teaser trailer for the next Mass Effect game. It was a completely unexpected showing, given the fact that the game is still very early in development, and the fact that BioWare had already shown a teaser trailer earlier in the show for Dragon Age 4 (which is also in early development at the time). And as you would expect from a teaser for a game that is so far away from launch (and that doesn’t even have a name yet, apparently), it was more of a formal confirmation of the game’s development than an actual reveal trailer.
But that doesn’t mean that was all it was. This was no mere logo reveal, as has been the case with so many games that are announced years ahead of their intended launch. Though the highlight of this trailer was definitely the words it proclaimed at the end – promising that “Mass Effect will continue” – there was plenty that happened before that in the trailer that may have revealed some crucial details about the plot.
The most noteworthy and interesting thing the trailer is hinting at is the setting and chronological placement of the next Mass Effect – let’s call it Mass Effect 4 for convenience’s sake. After the launch of Mass Effect 3, BioWare were adamant that the game had no canon ending, and it was a position they have stuck with ever since then. Mass Effect: Andromeda cleverly sidestepped the problem of having to declare one of the endings as canon in spite of being set well after Mass Effect 3 by taking its characters to a different galaxy at the end of a journey that they had started before Mass Effect 3 even began.
With Mass Effect 4, however, it seems BioWare have finally picked a canon ending for the trilogy. We see a dead Reaper in the trailer, and the hooded Asari (who we will get to in a bit) can clearly be seen walking on the Reaper’s remains in one scene. In other scenes, we can clearly see destroyed remains of Mass Relays. Based on those two tidbits alone, not only does it seem like BioWare are abandoning the Andromeda storyline in order to return back to the Milky Way galaxy, it it would seem like that have picked Mass Effect 3’s Destroy ending as the canonical one, and the one that the next game will be following from.
In case you aren’t aware (or have forgotten), the Destroy ending sees Shepard destroying all synthetic life in the galaxy in order to stop the Reapers, and this results in the destruction of things such as the Mass Relays and artificial intelligences as well. The Control ending sees Shepard’s personality being imprinted onto an AI that then controls the Reapers as a galactic policing force, while the Synthezise ending sees Shepard making the decision to fuse all organic and synthetic life in the galaxy to bring about proper understanding and peace between the two sides.
If BioWare have indeed gone with the Destroy ending as the canonical one – and the teaser trailer very blatantly hints that they have – it would be an extremely interesting choice. Even though BioWare have never officially declared one of the endings as canon up until now, many have assumed for years that Synthesize is the likeliest one to be canonical. A Mass Effect 4 set in a Milky Way galaxy where all Reapers dead, all synthetic life like AIs and geth are gone, and all Mass Relays have been destroyed would be fascinating. Just as an example, in the absence of Mass Relays, how would interstellar travel – or at least interstellar travel as it has existed in Mass Effect thus far – even be possible?
Interestingly enough, it seems like the Milky Way galaxy isn’t the only thing the Mass Effect franchise is going back to- beloved characters from the original trilogy might be making a comeback as well. One character that definitely is returning (at least based on the teaser trailer) is Asari scientist Liara T’Soni. In the final shots of the trailer, it is revealed that the hooded figure shown throughout the teaser is an Asari, and as anyone who’s played the trilogy would tell you, that Asari is very obviously Liara.
The final thing Liara does in the trailer is something else that might hint at interesting things to come. After climbing up the remains of a dead reaper and navigating around heavy snow, Liara bends down to pick up a piece of what looks like rubble. Once she wipes the snow off of it though, that piece of rubble turns out to be a broken piece of armour with the N7 logo on it. And why is that important? Well, because you immediately associate N7 with Commander Shepard. But more importantly, once Liara sees it, she smiles.
Depending on your choices and actions in Mass Effect 3, a variation in one of its endings strongly suggests that Shepard may actually have survived. So is it possible that Mass Effect 4 sees Liara – and perhaps other members of the Normandy crew – going off to find Shepard and bring him back? While Liara is picking up the piece of the N7 armour, in the background, you can also see some more figures- presumably the people she has travelled to this icy planet with. One of them is clearly a Salarian, while the other is a Turian- could they be Mordin and Garrus? This, to be honest, is just a hopeful guess, and there’s no way to be sure about them as we are about Liara, since we cannot clearly see any of them. But if Liara is coming back, there’s no way Garrus Vakarian isn’t. Mordin is a bit of a question mark, since most (though not all) of the endings to his specific arc in Mass Effect 3 result in his death.
These are all questions and theories that we are unlikely to get the answers and confirmations for any time soon. BioWare says the next Mass Effect is in pre-production, which means it’s at least going to be three or four more years before it launches. With Dragon Age 4 presumably launching before Mass Effect 4, it also seems like the closer we get to the former’s launch, the less BioWare and EA will focus on the latter, especially from a marketing standpoint. So concrete details on the next Mass Effect are a ways off. Even so, even with the brief and tantalizing teaser trailer BioWare have shown, it’s clear that they seem to be headed in a different direction- and there might just be reason to be optimistic about Mass Effect’s future once again.