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...
Mass Effect: Team Citadel
For those of you who haven't kept an eye on sales of the two biggest console multiplayer titles this year, Call of Duty: Black Ops and Halo: Reach, it's safe to say that the words "record-breaking" definitely apply. Assassin's Creed's first entry into online competition led to their best sales numbers to date, so it's clear that multiplayer is hot right now.
Some might say that the pause-and-select method of choosing attacks in Mass Effect would make a multiplayer game impossible, but that problem could easily be solved with a little tweaking. Map weapons, biotics, and technological attacks to different keys and buttons, and suddenly a singleplayer RPG becomes a breeding ground for some incredible multiplayer action. The series has already refined itself as a very competent shooter, and the ammo types, weapon variations and cover mechanics could make the transition to social gaming an interesting one.
Anyone who has played a Mass Effect title knows that combat is all about management. Weapons overheat, different ammunition can be used against different enemies, and knowing when to advance and retreat can make or break an engagement. Take into account that all that must be done while keeping an eye on health, shields, and biotic and technological cool-downs times, and the straightforward shooter becomes a serious mental exercise.
Mass Effect started the series with an expansive leveling system that allowed players to not only choose their type of fighter, but focus their progression on a handful of skills. While Mass Effect 2 largely removed the necessity of that system, it did introduce new biotic attacks, allowing the player to dominate certain areas of the battlefield at will. Having to decide which strategy would work best against an enemy able to warp across an entire map is just one example of the depth that a multiplayer Mass Effect title could offer.
The successes and failures inherent in betting your own life against an opponent is what keeps players coming back, and utilizing a character's strengths to perfection is one of the most satisfying feelings in gaming. We won't try to say that Mass Effect's range of fighter classes and combat mechanics could rival a legend like Team Fortress, but we would definitely be willing to give it a shot.
With a foundation so strong, it's really no surprise that BioWare has been hiring multiplayer developers for the Mass Effect franchise. If you really think about it, an exclusively-multiplayer game would only take advantage of the franchise's refined combat and squad behavior. Not just a competitively multiplayer title, since there are real possibilities for a squad-based story.
With the foundations of strong narratives so clearly established, how much time would be required to adapt Mass Effect's mechanics into a game specifically designed to be played co-op? Giving other players the ability to fight and upgrade their characters as they see fit would only encourage co-op by removing the sense that the other player would simply be helping the protagonist level up. There's no reason that the same mechanics couldn't be applied to other characters in the party, and it really is about time that a console RPG introduced story elements to co-op in a meaningful way.
To take advantage of the game's various systems as well as the story, you would need a game that devotes itself entirely to bringing the Mass Effect universe to life.
World of Mass Effect
No genre has exploded in recent years more than that of massively-multiplayer online role-playing games. The term 'MMO' has become synonymous with World of Warcraft since Blizzard changed the way the PC community viewed online play. Even five years after its release, the game's latest expansion managed to smash sales records while also delivering a completely new story and environment overhaul. It's good to see a team that works as hard as Blizzard does receive as much praise and support as they do, but that doesn't mean they can be the only game in town.
We love dreaming about possible MMOs here at Game Rant, whether they're based around comic books, incredibly successful RPG franchises, or even military shooters. It's fun to daydream, but it doesn't take much imagination to see the potential for an MMO set in the galaxy of Mass Effect. From the Citadel to Omega, from Feros to Noveria, the worlds and alien societies of the franchise are painstakingly designed to emphasize that these places are firmly based in reality.
But after hours spent working your way through crowds of NPCs on various markets and space stations, it dawns on nearly every gamer just how different a place these worlds would be if other players could populate them as well. The nightclubs of Omega seem perfectly designed to allow players to socialize, and the wards of the Citadel are the perfect area to barter for goods. The world is so big, and traversing the various star systems is done so often, that it doesn't seem like the move to an MMO would be a difficult one.
When considering just how many ways that a player's version of Commander Shepard can be shaped, it's no surprise that no two characters will turn out the same. From gender, physical appearance, upgraded skills, and the range of character classes available at the start, just getting to interact with other players to see the choices they had made seems a worthwhile experience. Add in the ability to select your character from all the alien species featured in the Mass Effect universe, and the variations are limitless.
BioWare is already thinking about MMOs, as the studio is still hard at work on The Old Republic. The game doesn't come out until next year (hopefully) but connections between the games have already begun to form. Mass Effect made use of a fully-voiced dialogue system to engage players in their cinematic adventure, and the result was so satisfactory that it has been adopted by both TOR and Dragon Age 2. The various uses of different crew members with differing strengths is a common idea to Mass Effect fans, and the concept is being expanded upon for use in TOR as well.
With an MMO taking so many cues and features from a console shooter, we have to ask the question: could Mass Effect be the game that makes a console MMO feasible? The game already has most of the trademarks of an RPG, from looting, armor customization, quests, morally ambiguous choices, as well as your very own ship to upgrade as you see fit. The best of the Mass Effect franchise rivals many of the greatest RPGs, and given BioWare's dedication to perfecting the MMO, any future Mass Effect property would be intensively refined.
While the current story may be seen by its developers as a singleplayer story above all else, those who play the game might have some surprising ideas. If you offered fans of the series a new game that would allow them to take their own version of Commander Shepard online to interact with other characters on missions and challenges, it's a safe bet that most would jump at the chance.
The game has already been embraced by the Xbox 360 fans, with Mass Effect 2 selling over two million copies in its first week. So with a fanbase of millions, and the franchise set to launch on the PS3 in January, the potential for a successful experience online is strong. Millions of fans love this game for its much-applauded story, writing, and mechanics, Mass Effect seems to be the ideal property to give WoW a run for its money.
Given just how much influence the series has had on shaping The Old Republic into a top-quality product, chances are good that these thoughts have already crossed the minds of those at BioWare. For now, we can hold our breath and hope that an overwhelmingly successful third installment next year could be the last push that BioWare needs.
Those are the best four ideas that we could come up with, but with a universe as rich and diverse as that of Mass Effect, it might be more accurate to say that these were only the first four. We can take comfort in the knowledge that both BioWare and EA seem to be well aware of just how special a franchise Mass Effect really is, and the fact that they've only improved the series over time is a good sign.
We'd be happy to see any of these games announced, or any other game for that matter, as long as it meant a chance to see just how much more of the universe those at BioWare were willing to show us. What ideas do you have for the future of the series? We know that Mass Effect 3 won't be the end, but as for Mass Effect 4, that's anybody's guess.
Mass Effect 2 will be available for the PS3 on January 18, 2011. Mass Effect 3 will be released on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC sometime in November of 2011.
Header image edited from art by Exullium.