Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson has taken to Twitter
in order to ask fans a very important question about the future of the franchise. Should Mass Effect 4 be a sequel or a prequel? It's a biggie for sure, but what do I think?
Firstly, there are positives and negatives to both options. Lets discuss the sequel option first shall we? One of my favourite things about the Mass Effect trilogy was the depth of the lore, all of which was available in game through the excellent codex system. Because of this we already know, or at least have access to, the virtual history of the Mass Effect Universe. What we know nothing of are the events that take place after the final(?) Reaper cycle, apart from that one day Buzz Aldrin will stand on a very cold looking planet and recount a tale of 'The Shepard'.
I actually loved the ending of Mass Effect 3, although I believe the whole game should be considered as one gigantic finale. The Reapers solution for saving intelligent organic life by killing it all off is classic machine logic. Why struggle to save these fleshy creatures that insist on killing each other day in day out, when you could just kill them all now and give the less developed life forms the chance to flourish? It provided closure on the Reaper storyline and set up the Universe for a very interesting future. This is the first time that a society has no longer been constrained by the cycle, how are they going to get on left to their own devices?
In my mind, a sequel should take place either directly after the events of Mass Effect 3 and chronicle the rebuilding of the galactic society, or thousands of years later when Shepard's exploits have passed into legend. Either setting provides great scope for exploring new ground that hasn't been covered before in any form. The glaring problem with any sequel, though, is that it would have to address the enormous differences between various players endings. In my game, for example, I cured the genophage, saved both the Geth and the Quarians, and chose to control the Reapers. This means that not only are all the original races alive and well, but Reapers can be added to the list of allies as well. In stark contrast, another player may have chosen not to cure the genophage, killed the Quarians, and destroyed the Reapers, consequently wiping out the Geth and all other artificial life. That leaves their Universe missing two whole races and another on the brink of extinction. Accounting for this dichotomy in a satisfying way would be monumentally difficult, and I'm not even bringing the synthesis ending into consideration here.
With these problems in mind maybe a prequel would make more sense after all? As I've previously mentioned, the history of the Mass Effect Universe has already been detailed in quite a thorough manner. Or has it? Well, yes and no. The history of Shepard's cycle has indeed been covered pretty exhaustively, and we know a fair amount about the fate of the Protheans. What we don't know is what happened in the previous cycles, we don't even know how many there were. Hundreds? Thousands?
Unfortunately the Catalyst tells us that the races of Shepard's cycle put up the best resistance, and of course in most scenarios they end up winning, so any fight against the Reapers will end with inevitable defeat. That wouldn't necessarily make for a terrible story, but I can picture myself now, shouting everything we learned from the original trilogy at the TV while my prequel characters remain in blissful ignorance of their inescapable doom.
Of course, Bioware could easily tell a prequel story that didn't feature Reapers at all. Instead we could follow an entirely new race's early years of space travel, perhaps kicking off with their discovery of Mass Relays and The Citadel. Seeing familiar locations from a new perspective would be fascinating, not to mention the possibilities for referencing the future. This would allow Bioware the freedom to tell an entirely new story while retaining the fantastic Universe they've put so much work into. As an added bonus, it would be very difficult for them to 'Lucas' their prequel game, as we know literally nothing about these earlier cycles. Also, Dinosaur Earth anyone?
So then, to prequel or not to prequel? If I was forced to pick, I'd have to go for the distant sequel option, giving the devs a better chance of resolving the various endings of ME 3. But in all honesty I'd much rather see something entirely new from Bioware, or failing that, a new Jade Empire game. Seriously, Mass Effect is my favourite series of this console generation, and while I'd love to see new stories set in that Universe eventually, I want a nice long break. Give it maybe 5 years, then come back with something really special. Since this isn't happening, I just hope that Bioware take their time and deliver something truly exceptional.