Please Don’t Put Commander Shepard In The Next Mass Effect

Please Don’t Put Commander Shepard In The Next Mass Effect

A new piece of merchandise for Mass Effect 4 (Mass Effect 5? Let’s just say ‘the next Mass Effect’) has suggested that Commander Shepard will be returning and I have to say, if that happens I’m flying to BioWare’s offices to kick them all swiftly in the groin. This reveal has been walked back, but not entirely denied. BioWare stops short of saying Shepard won’t be present, instead telling us this specific reveal was a mistake. Commander Shepard’s story has been told already, and with such a rich universe out there for us to explore, it’s frankly embarrassing that Mass Effect cannot move on from one character in a galaxy of millions.

Once bitten and twice shy, it may be that after the relative failure of Andromeda, BioWare wants to retreat to safer ground. The unmitigated disaster of Anthem has also been and gone, while the Legendary Edition (led by Shepard) helped stabilise affairs. It couldn’t possibly be that a relatively inexperienced studio, during a time of transition, was forced to cut content and rush to meet deadlines on an engine they weren’t used to and which didn’t suit the genre. No, it must have been the lack of Shepard.

There are so many stories in the Mass Effect universe. Even staying within the Shepard era, we saw little of the batarians (a DLC sees us potentially blow up a settlement), and virtually nothing of the vorcha, elcor, hanar, or several others. Then there’s the fact there are so many different eras the game could explore. The extinction event of the Reapers is obviously monumental, but if that story has been told, why would we need to go back to it? Why can’t we tell smaller stories at other points in time? Whatever Shep faces next, if they do return, will not be on the scale of the Reapers in any case.

Of course, the idea that it will be set in an entirely different era is impossible, despite the narrative sense it would make. We know Liara is returning, and while she’s just over 100 years into a 1,000 year lifespan, that’s still fairly limiting in the grand history of the galaxy. Even worse, the released artwork so far implies – but by no means confirms – that Tali and Garrus are returning too.

This is not quite as bad as Shepard, as it at least means the story is embarking on a different path, but it’s still an overly indulgent dwelling on characters who already had their perfect arc. In the case of Tali especially, she may have endured a fittingly tragic death in Mass Effect 3, not to mention both could have died in the Suicide Mission of Mass Effect 2. Bringing Shepard back not only forces us to continue with the Destroy ending, it also canonises some of the most important choices in the trilogy, effectively telling players they are wrong.

Andromeda figured this out, among its many flaws, by taking us to another galaxy and telling us a completely fresh story. Not only is it divorced from Shepard, but it’s also divorced from the decisions of the trilogy entirely. I suppose I do not entirely mind if a sequel set well into the future of Mass Effect carries on with one of the endings as a way to shape the edges of the story – the Synergy ending, for example, fundamentally changes the nature of life the way the other endings do not – but having it with Shepard undermines the stories we have already told.

There may, of course, be no real reason to worry about it. The merch description only implied Shepard’s return, and has since been removed, while the next Mass Effect is “in early development”. Games change a lot during development, and even something as huge as Shepard’s return could yet be retooled. Skull & Bones paused its development once to decide whether players should play as the pirate or the boat, so stranger things have happened, but then that’s hardly a success story for the ages.

The Mass Effect trilogy is still one of the best experiences in gaming, but it has already been told. Whatever comes next needs to tell a new tale in a fresh way, and while Shepard used to lead the series with distinction, now they’re holding it back.

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