At this point in popular culture, the concept of a spin-off has become common knowledge. A character or world created in a work of film, television, or print is seen as not only capable of providing significance to the original piece it appeared in, but also able to justify a project devoted exclusively to itself. The results can vary greatly depending on how right the creative minds were (we’re looking at you, Joey, and your Friends) but the same phenomenon hasn’t been seen to the same extent in the world of gaming. Sure, sidekicks have gotten their own titles, but rarely are they pitched and marketed to the same degree as their flagship games.
What seems to be popping up in its place is the creation of entire game worlds that offer an infinite number of story possibilities. Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Dragon Age 2 are two franchises that have taken a different approach. BioWare, the team behind the world of Dragon Age 2, also possesses another property of a world larger than any one narrative. That of course, is Mass Effect.
Mass Effect, and its sequel Mass Effect 2 take place in a future where mankind has come into contact with a vast intergalactic community of different alien species, putting the player into the boots of a human soldier tasked with saving not only our own civilization, but those of our new allies.
The narratives vary, and player choices determine how much of the societies are seen. But the Mass Effect universe is the star of the franchise, a fully-realized array of alien systems and space stations, infused with technology that can allow players to bend space and time to defeat their opponents. A universe like this has more potential than any one game could ever tap, or even a single genre. Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 are unmistakably formed around a third-person shooter foundation, with RPG elements similar to other BioWare franchises and including mini-games and moral choices added to increase the depth of gameplay.
The science fiction that BioWare has crafted can become so much more, if the world (read: universe) of Mass Effect is allowed to star in other future titles. BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk has already gone on record that the franchise will continue after Mass Effect 3, and EA has similarly expressed the same optimism for the future of the Mass Effect property. We’ve already summed up everything we know about ME 3, but now we’re looking even further into the future.
We’ve put together a few titles that we would love to see in the Mass Effect universe, from slight tweaks to the formula to entirely new projects. Have a look, and join us in hoping that these dreams may one day come true:
Mass Effect: Cerberus
The pro-human military group known as Cerberus has had an interesting history intertwined with the adventures of Commander Shepard, beginning as a monstrous and heartless terrorist group that conducted experiments on humans and aliens alike. They were pure evil in the first Mass Effect and Shepard shut down several of the group’s projects in his (or her depending on the player) travels, and eventually learned that they were responsible for the loss of Shepard’s unit in one of the character’s origin stories. In Mass Effect 2, BioWare showed players the other side of the coin, where a terrorist group committed to the survival of humanity can prove to be mankind’s only hope.
While other alien races ignored the Reaper threat in Mass Effect 2, only the group’s shadowy leader, The Illusive Man, did what was necessary to protect human settlers, recruiting Shepard in the process. ME2 showed how a morally ambiguous ‘cabal’ could at times prove a necessity, but we want a game that goes the distance: give players the chance to fight for the bad guys.
Mass Effect prides itself on its moral decisions, but a large number of the choices that make up the Renegade/Paragon morality system of the series are a little on-the-nose. Giving the player a choice between ‘hearing what a character has to say’ and ‘eliminating their entire race’ may seem like a tough call, but players really only have to choose between being an evil monster – and have some content rendered inaccessible as a result – or being the good guy. There’s no doubt many players chose to turn to the dark side, – and BioWare could tell you exactly how many – but the story isn’t built to allow that shift to be as important as it could be.
A Mass Effect: Cerberus game would be built around shaping the player into a freedom fighter, willing to do horrible things for the greater good. If the player gave up their own morals for the good of mankind, then their dark actions would progress the story naturally. If the player instead chose to deny the narrative and character they were presented with, the story would be far more difficult, potentially leading to their death.
The Mass Effect series of novels paints Cerberus operatives as unrivaled in brutality and efficient killing, and a single cell can take down high value targets with incredible ease. Planning is just as important as execution, with agents often left to decide the best way of achieving a task. Adding stealth weaponry and hand-to-hand combat to Mass Effect‘s already-honed mechanics, as well as adopting a strategic approach to missions would offer a unique experience in the franchise, and place the player into an entirely new role.
Mass Effect may have given players the opportunity to follow their own moral compass, but provide a game that will incentivize morally questionable behavior, and you have a perfect companion to Commander Shepard’s epic.
Mass Effect: Origins
Fans of Dragon Age: Origins were seriously disappointed when they learned that the robust character creation system that allowed players to choose their own race, specializations, and backstory would be removed from Dragon Age 2 in favor of a system similar to that of Mass Effect. Since Mass Effect fans didn’t know any better, the customization of classes given to the human Spectre Shepard seemed like standard fare for an RPG. But now we have to think: how different would a Mass Effect game be if other races were made available.
Put the player into the role of a proud Turian, called upon to defend his planet and heirarchy from an outside invader, possibly even the humans in the First Contact War between the two species. Maybe even set the game further into the future of the universe, when the Quarians take arms against the Geth to reclaim their lost planet. Since the stories of the universe are so inter-connected, the decisions Shepard made regarding the Geth in Mass Effect 2 could even be imported to alter the storyline, creating a bridge between one character’s story and the next.
The choices for developers here are limitless, and every idea would offer a completely new and exciting experience. Now that fans are well aware of how the humans fit into the galactic picture, creating a game that puts those same players in control of a Krogan, tasked with maintaining order among the rival clans and conquering your opponents would make every game feel even more integral to the overall world.
Dragon Age: Origins gave players the opportunity to take control of any character in the protagonist’s party, but Mass Effect only allows orders to be given. The fact that we have never been given the opportunity to see the world through any other species just makes the idea that much more irresistible. If the developers really wanted to blow fans away, then give us a game that makes a playthrough with every species possible.
We aren’t talking about a simple re-skinning or change in voice actor, but a creation element on par with that of Origins. It seems an obvious idea to let eventually allow players to choose between a Turian, Quarian, Krogan, even a Salarian or Batarian role in saving the galaxy from catastrophe. Origins not only proved that it could be done, but that BioWare was capable of coming up with a great story to accompany it.
Who better to bring the same scope and replayability to the various races and societies of the Mass Effect universe?
Continue reading for our ideas on the multiplayer potential of the Mass Effect franchise…