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Rumors are swirling all around about the next entry in the epic RPG series, Mass Effect. They are of course working hard on the next installment, but other than its existence no one really knows much of anything definitive. However, a recent Easter Egg on Twitter has revealed that the next entry could be titled Mass Effect: Contact. For those familiar with the franchise, this would of course indicate a focus on the course of events prior to the original trilogy, events known as the First Contact War, a large-scale conflict that occurred during humanity’s initial rapid expansion throughout the galaxy, chiefly with the turians.
It’s been clearly stated that despite the teaser at the end of Mass Effect 3, Bioware is finished with Shepard’s story. While this may not necessarily confirm a prequel instead of a sequel, the prequel route is much safer in my opinion. For what it’s worth, the Reapers were an incredibly fearsome, galaxy-destroying force that made it their mission to rewrite history every few thousand years. An antagonistic force so large and destructive cannot easily be topped, so it would behoove the next entry to take more personal and scaled-down approach. In order to better understand where this series should go next, let’s take a look at the franchise’s past to understand what has worked best over the years.
The first Mass Effect game, regarded by many as one of the best in the series, found its strengths in delivering a more intimate and tightly focused narrative. The Reapers were little more than a mystery at this time in the saga, so the true enemy to players was Saren – a twisted turian under the effects of Reaper indoctrination. Rather than tell a story of galactic warfare and struggle with living up to its own expectations, the first game was able to find a balance between establishing a brand new universe and giving players something to fight for.
Mass Effect 2 is also often regarded as the strongest entry in the series (by myself, for example) with equal parts epic scale and intimate character development. Never before had I felt so connected to virtual characters in game before, truly feeling the impact of their heroics and sacrifices. From start to finish, Mass Effect 2 is one of the most tightly crafted game narratives, and it’s a much better game because of it. While the overarching struggle in the galaxy is far from lost on your crew , the highlights of the game are what happen outside of combat – something few games do as effectively.
Finally, the conclusion to the Mass Effect trilogy was an experience on a scale like nothing else. The races of the galaxy band together and unify to make a stand against an evil unlike anything before. Rather than fighting amongst themselves regarding petty disputes and interracial biases, everyone sets aside their differences to fight for the future of the galaxy – it’s a poetic message and one that is delivered very effectively. However, because of this, the stage is set for the next entry in the series to never be able to top the scale and scope of the original trilogy. Shepard is a man (or woman) that displays the best attribute of humanity in the Mass Effect universe: hope. Shepard united a galaxy; whatever Bioware does next that story will not be overshadowed.
Instead, the First Contact War presents an opportunity to scale-down the focus and deliver a more tightly crafted and intimate narrative. Instead of fighting a mythical evil such as the Reapers, let’s take a look at the conflict that shaped humanity’s existence in interstellar space. We should see what happened in those initial years of exploration and understand why the turians felt the need to strike back, rather than offer understanding and acceptance. Mass Effect is unique in that, it’s one of the only sci-fi or otherwise fictional universes that does not posit humanity as the shining beacon of leadership and intelligence. In most ways, in fact, humans are less evolved and weaker when compared to other races like the quarians and asari. At the start of the first Mass Effect, for example, the Citadel Council does not have a single human on it, and Shepard becomes the first human Spectre in the entire galaxy. The First Contact War could focus on humanity’s advancements to this point, something we know very little about.
While Mass Effect: Contact would not feature Commander Shepard, that’s actually a good thing. The Mass Effect universe is so rich and diverse; it would be a shame to focus on a single human so often. There is an entire fictional galaxy out there to explore – humanity’s initial contact with extraterrestrial life is the perfect starting point.