BioWare's final installment in the Mass Effect Commander Shepard trilogy is set for release in just over a month. Despite the fact that very few gamers have even gone hands-on with a demo, much less the final build of Mass Effect 3, plenty of franchise fans are already stressed out at the prospect that this could be BioWare's last installment in the series.
However, even though the developer maintains that Mass Effect 3 will mark the end of the Commander Shepard storyline, the game's Associate Producer, Mike Gamble, asserts that BioWare still envisions plenty of stories worth telling in the game's universe - possibly in the form of prequels, sequels, or even spin-offs.
Speaking with OXM, Gamble asserted that, even though nothing has been announced and Shepard as well as his full crew aren't likely to return for future Mass Effect games, that doesn't mean that the developer is simply going to abandon the beloved property.
"We have so much to draw from. We haven't made a decision about whether we'll do anything in the future, but if we were to do something, we just have a lot of information to choose from."
As for what players might expect from any future Mass Effect titles, Gamble seemed to indicate that the developer isn't just going to carry the story forward from Mass Effect 3 - they're open to the possibility of exploring any number of points on the ME canon timeline (hopefully without using the flawed Mass Effect:Deception novel as a guide). Could we see a Mass Effect prequel or a spin-off game that occurs simultaneously to the Shepard saga? It sounds like anything is possible at this point.
"Without going down any specific path, you can think of many, many different areas throughout the IP, throughout the history, where there are large wars to be won, battles to be had, and a lot of development to be done around where these races came from, how they came about."
"If you boot up Mass Effect 3 and look through the codices you'll see we have tonnes and tonnes of backstory. Obviously, for Mass Effect 3 it's Shepard's story and this is where Shepard's story finishes, but the future is wide open for what we can possibly do."
That said, just because Gamble seems to be indicating that the series might double-back and explore pre-Sherpard story beats, that doesn't mean that the decisions gamers make in Mass Effect 3 will simply culminate in one enormous dead end. Speaking with Gamerzines, Gamble hinted that players might want to hang on to their Mass Effect 3 saves - even if Mass Effect 4 is far from a sure thing:
"It wouldn't be a bad idea (to keep your ME3 saves). Obviously I can't say anything, but it wouldn't be a bad idea..."
Of course, just because Gamble hints that Mass Effect 3 saves could be utilized for further titles down the road, gamers shouldn't assume that means we'll eventually see an actual Mass Effect 4 title either - as the developer could, using prior save data, offer some interesting prequel interactions that, retroactively, set-up the player's Mass Effect 1-3 choices. For example, after finding save data for the side mission "The Fan," a Mass Effect prequel could open an interaction with young Conrad Verner to set the stage for his obsession with Spectres - an obsession that ultimately leads to his interactions with Shepard in Mass Effect.
Mass Effect 3 releases March 6, 2012 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further updates.