What Did BioWare Actually Tell Us About The Next Mass Effect?

For a while now, it has been common knowledge that a new Mass Effect game was in development at Bioware Montreal, the studio behind the surprisingly great Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. Aside from the fact the game would not feature Commander Shepard and wouldn’t be a direct continuation of the original trilogy’s story, we didn’t really know anything about it going into E3 2014. Though many were hoping for a proper reveal of the game during EA’s press conference, what we got was a brief documentary style video featuring some ambiguous prototype footage and discussion from the development team. Even though we weren’t able to actually see the game in action and received no real concrete information about it, there were certainly hints and clues about what the next Mass Effect game could entail.

The video opens first and foremost with a mention of story, which has always been the defining aspect of the series. A particularly interesting quote was a developer that said “This isn’t just a story I want to tell, it’s a story to be discovered.” Mass Effect has always been a series with lots of dialogue and exposition, but this statement could be pointing to a more organic means of telling the story. Perhaps the game will give the player a more integral role in not only shaping the outcome of the story, but discovering aspects of it through exploration or environmental investigation. The term “interactive narrative” was also mentioned, so any fears about the next Mass Effect being a multiplayer focused first person shooter or anything crazy like that can certainly be put to rest.

Next, Casey Hudson makes mention of listening to what the fans want out of the series, which is certainly something Bioware has always done with Mass Effect, sometimes even to a fault. He mentions that the game will take the player to new locations and introduce them to new characters. Prior to this reveal, the prevailing theory was that the next game would be a prequel, likely set during the First Contact War. One could argue that Shanxi, the main battleground of the First Contact War, would be considered a new location since we haven’t been there before, but I interpret this statement as the game taking us to places never before mentioned in any Mass Effect game. As such, though inconclusive, I think this statement about new locations likely means this game won’t be set during the First Contact War.

Mass Effect 4 Skyline

In addition, the team made mention of “new regions of space” and “traveling to the other side of the galaxy,” which further discredits the First Contact War theory since that took place in Alliance territory. My first instinct when “new regions of space” were mentioned was that perhaps the game would take place outside the Milky Way, but the follow up of the “other side of the galaxy” pretty much immediately debunks that idea. Even still, it’s made quite clear in Mass Effect lore that only a fraction of the star systems of the Milky Way have been charted by the major Citadel races at the time of trilogy, so there are certainly plenty of opportunities for exploration of star systems within the Milky Way, possibly inhabited by undiscovered intelligent races.

If you’re like me and read every codex entry and planet description, you’re aware that there are many dormant relays scattered across the galaxy. The Citadel races are unwilling to risk activating new relays because of the possibility of stumbling upon undiscovered hostile species, which is how the Rachni Wars began 2000 years before the series began. If this game does in fact take place after the trilogy, part of the effort to rebuild the relay network could include activating dormant relays, which could have been undamaged by the crucible if they were offline when it fired. This is all speculation, but if these dormant relays are being activated for study they would most assuredly open up new regions of space within the Milky Way, regions untouched by the galactic community since at least the time of the Protheans, fifty thousand years ago.

Mass Effect 4 Geysers

As for whether this game actually will take place after the trilogy or will be a prequel, one of the final lines of the video presents very strong evidence for a post-trilogy setting. “Fans will be surprised at just how far we’re going” is the line in question, and that certainly leads me to believe the game will be set after Mass Effect 3, and likely well after. As I said earlier, the prevailing theory has been that the next game will be a prequel, and that would be the predictable route. Any time a successful trilogy ends, a prequel is to be expected as the next installment. We saw this with Halo, which had two prequels after the trilogy ended, and we saw this with Gears of War, God of War, Uncharted, and even films like The Lord of The Rings movies being followed by The Hobbit movies. So, with a prequel seeming like the safe and obvious direction for the next Mass Effect game, them saying “fans will be surprised at just how far we’re going” implies they aren’t doing what everyone expects, and perhaps the next game will be set decades or even centuries after the trilogy, which would be in line with this statement.

The final statement of the video I want to address is, when talking about the fidelity of the visuals on new consoles, one developer said “we’ve never seen these characters this real before.” Now, the obvious implication here is that this game will feature returning characters in addition to new ones. If that is indeed what this is meant to imply, this lends even more credibility to the idea that the game is set after the trilogy, since the only character that could really be featured in a First Contact War setting is David Anderson. Even if the game is set centuries later, characters like Liara, Grunt, and Wrex could certainly still be involved due to the lifespans of their species, and seeing them hundreds of years later could be very interesting. Of course, by “these characters” they could simply mean we’ve never seen Asari or Turians looking this real before, though the use of the word characters makes me lean more towards individuals returning rather than just races.

Mass Effect 4 Planet

That’s pretty much all the speculating I can do based on what was actually spoken in the video since not much of any substance was said and the Mass Effect portion lasted only about 90 seconds. However, there were some brief clips of apparently in-engine footage, and those are worth digging into as well. The first comes at the 36 second mark, showing a fly through shot of a solar system featuring a red and black planet with rings and then shooting over to a smaller blue planet whose orbit is littered with rocks and debris. Next we see a model render of a character in full N7 armor with a gold visor in a red environment. There is some sort of reflection in the visor but it’s hard to tell what it is.

If this footage is indeed in-engine, color me impressed. It had previously been confirmed that, like most EA games, the next Mass Effect would be using the Frostbite engine, so the increase in visual fidelity is certainly to be expected. The space shot shows a very new type of look at space than the typical galaxy map screen we’re used to, which could mean we’ll be traveling between planets in a new way. The human in N7 armor is obviously not Commander Shepard, but it could mean that we will once again be playing as a human with a special forces background. Also of note, David Anderson was part of the first class of N7 recruits in 2157, an honor he received after fighting in the First Contact War. So, though I feel pretty confident that previous observations pretty handily debunked the First Contact War theory, the presence of N7 armor pretty much confirms this game won’t take place during the First Contact War.

Mass Effect 4 N7

The next bit of in-engine footage comes at the 46 second mark, which shows the surface of a rocky planet with a orange-brown sky. It then cuts to what look to be the ruins of city with what appears to be a semi-collapsed highway overpass and a character standing at a work bench or something similar. The first planet looks a lot like many of the uncharted worlds from the first Mass Effect, though with much higher fidelity visuals, which could indicate a return to the open exploration that lent that game its epic scope. The second shot could be the result of the Reaper War, which certainly left a lot of destruction in its wake. If this game is set not long after the Reaper War it could heavily feature a theme of rebuilding. At the 53 second mark we get a look at what appears to be some sort of industrial infrastructure. The ground is white and cracked with steam vents, geysers, and a small puddle of water, with machinery protruding from the planet. Next we see an armored character standing in front of a galaxy map, which seems to imply we’ll once again have command of our ship and be able to travel wherever we desire.

The final bits of prototype footage show some character renders, starting with the human in N7 armor again and then moving on to a fully armored character in heavy armor colored black and orange. It’s hard to tell what race the character is, though it certainly looks human and the armor resembles that of James Vega insofar as it’s much bulkier than the standard human armor. Both shots of these armored character look fantastic, with a huge amount of detail in the models and that distinctive look that Mass Effect armor has. The final shot is of the planet in ruins again, this time with the wind gusting and the character now facing the camera. With a full view of the character, it appears to be an entirely new race. The Mass Effect portion of the video ends with the character giving a roar, perhaps implying this will be a new foe.

Mass Effect 4 Armor

The rest of the video is devoted to talking even more vaguely about the new IP the Edmonton team is working on, which I’m not going to get into. As a huge fan of Mass Effect, the potential for a proper unveiling of the next game in the series was one of the things I was most looking forward to at E3. While it’s certainly disappointing we didn’t get that, at least we got something, and as you can see there are many conclusions to be drawn from what was shown and said. Obviously this is all speculation, and if you disagree with any of my conclusions feel free to share your own. Considering what was shown, it’s likely the new Mass Effect is quite a ways off, but if I had to guess I’d say the two most likely times for us to a get real look at the game are November 7 (or N7 day as Bioware has dubbed it), or, failing that, at E3 2015. For now, we can only wait.

  • Nathan

    I am so glad it is shaping up to be a sequel and not a prequel. As much as I loved the Mass Effect series I don’t think I’d pick up 4 if it were a prequel. I want to know how the trilogy has left its mark on the universe, or at least the galaxy, and not invest a bunch of my time on events leading to the trilogy i have already finished. No prequel! and I am pretty sure the alien roaring at the end of that clip is a Krogan. I was really hoping that BioWare would move away from the soldier-N7 stuff for the sequel, but as long as its a sequel and not a prequel I will be playing ME4. I just hope it takes place years, centuries after the trilogy

  • Che

    In the trilogy, we’ve been to the “other side of the galaxy”. The galaxy map took you all over. You weren’t just confined to the lower 4th section of the milky way. So it could mean that we’ll see other systems w/in the galaxy or we will go outside of it and see another galaxy. I’m hoping for the later, to a degree. We would be experiencing an evolution in space travel. That’s cool!

    • bbats

      What I think they mean by “other side of the galaxy” Is that they are taking you to the unexplored parts of the galaxy; unexplored regions being the other side of the galaxy compared to explored regions of space.

  • Austin Tamutus

    Excellent analysis, grounded in facts. Bioware did however confirm that the alien in the trailer was a krogan. A much prettier and more detailed krogan, but a krogan nonetheless.

  • Sax

    Who thought that the first contact war would be a viable scenario for the next Mass Effect? It would be incredibly limited. Everything that happened there is pretty much set in stone. No place for a big threat or anything.

    I wouldn’t give too much on the concept shots. They just needed some visuals to put into the trailer.

  • Johnny Erasmus

    Excellent Analysis, the shot at 0:53-0:57 appears to be a crashed space ship, if you pause around 0:56 you will see what appears to be SRX (plus probably a 4) written on the structure on the top left corner of the screen. The Normandy also had SR1 to SR3 marked on the ship. Maybe more evidence that the game is set after the trilogy?

  • daratis

    Thanks for this good analysis. I would like to make some addition to it. I think that the blue glowing and spinning rings, in front of the character in the video, are not a galactic map. It’s too different, and we cannot recognize any galactic spiral shape.

    It’s more like the blue glowing thing inside a mass relay don’t you think?
    If it’s true, we could think that the player could enter in a mass relay during the game OR and it’s my favourite hypothesis, the new ship could contain its own micro-mass-relay allowing him to travel in any direction the player wants.

    In the artwork with the gold N7 armour, we can see by transparency a human face behind the glass, can you see it?

    Finally, remember that if you finish the game with paragon-control, Shepard protect the galaxy and reapers repairs (lol) all the mass relays. Your idea with broken relays is nice but denies some of possible endings.
    I wonder how it is possible to make a storyline that could gather all the possible endings of mass effect 3… or maybe with an eeeeeextremely looooong period of time.

    Bonus: did you know that ME3 ending is the same that the 4th book of Foundation by Isaac Asimov ? I read it recently and it’s exactly the same choices!

  • Yukon

    Personally I believe that Bioware has taken this series in the wrong direction, away from the player. This can be seen all the way back in Mass Effect 2, but many overlooked the forced elements because the way cinematics adapted to your choices and actions allowed the player to feel apart of the story instead of just watching it. That level of content sadly was tossed aside in Mass Effect 3 whether this was to attract people who want less talking and “morez gunz play” (which seems likely since it seems the standard mode was only a slightly different version of the all auto dialogue “action mode”) or just an overwhelming amount of incompetence at time management we may never know. What we do know is that despite the auto dialogue, the broken quest tracking system, the 5 minute photoshops of pictures they took off the internet (which seems almost impossible given how they had an Art Department that had enough timer to make a Art of Mass Effect $60 book), the decision to force people playing the story mode to play the microtransaction laden multiplayer despite already having the player play those exact same stages in the single player game (because apparently they were too busy… with apparently something that based on the fact everything was done with such minimal was not apart of this game) and an ending that not only ignored basic story structure but closed out a trilogy with near identical ending that the only noticeable difference was a color change. They to this day insist Mass Effect 3 was their “best effort, I’ve never heard a bigger outright lie. Now in Mass Effect 4 they want to show just how little they care about the franchise by taking everything you’ve done in the previous three games and telling us it will not matter [bleep]. Not that it matters, they did a half [bleep] job last time, and lied about it, until that is directly addressed that will always be an option for them when production is pressed and with the exact same people in charge (Walters, Gamble and Hudson, the same people who directly lied about the project they were supposed to be over seeing) that’s almost a certainty.

    • Frank Flucek

      Mindless rage detected

      • Yukon

        Dismissive, insulting, and so generic a response that it lacks all humanity, Bioware you need better bots.

  • Brandy Clark

    The armor looks gorgeous, as does the concept art. I can’t wait for this game! :)