The “Mass Effect Approach”: Making 5 New Video Game Franchises The Mass Effect Way


There’s been a lot of talk amongst gamers about how Rocksteady should create a game for like… every single DC hero, with their successful approach to creating the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham series.

And while that’s a hell of a task to demand of a company, it was something that stayed on my mind while playing (and loving) Mass Effect 2. And then I thought, what “franchises” could benefit from a Mass Effect approach to gaming?

Some of these you’ll know, some of these you may not: but all of these are space themed-franchises that could make for incredible games with the same scope and narrative quality of the Mass Effect trilogy.

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The Guardians of the Galaxy

From: Marvel Comics


While this idea could also be applied with similar effect to the X-Men’s “Starjammers” (a group of space pirates and freedom fighters travelling the void of space for adventure), it is the Guardians of the Galaxy that carry far more potential to deliver a fun, gaming experience.

With a revamp from Marvel in recent years, the Guardians of the Galaxy have been the ultimate super team of space heroes. They have only one mission: save the Universe from intergalatic threats to reality. Coming together in the wake of the Annihilation Event, the series gathers together some of Marvel’s most well-known space heroes—like Nova and Warlock—along with some incredibly obscure ones—like Star-Lord, Drax the Destroyer, and (the now infamous) Rocket Raccoon. These heroes are tasked with getting over their egos, their motives, and their pasts, and help fight threats that even the Earth-based superheroes we all know and love—like the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men—don’t know about.

Mass Effect 2’s use of narrative and a loyalty factor would be a vital component for a Guardians game. A large theme in the comics is how weak the team’s trust is. Couple that with leader Starlord’s desperate struggle to keep the team together—no matter what—and there’s some questionable decisions developers could put in the hands of gamers.

In terms of gameplay, Star-Lord (armed with small physical augmentations, two Kree submachine guns, and originally an “element gun” that could make for some cool ammo options in a game) is a perfect Shepard analogue, and players could customize their playstyle of choice with upgrades and armor choice.

With the story, there could be tons of options to make for a really personal, engaging experience. There could be touching emotional elements, like Phyla-Vell (the genetic daughter of the original Captain Marvel) having to face off against the Kree, the kin of her father. Or, depending on when the story starts in continuity, helping Drax defeat Thanos and get over the death of his daughter. Or trying to convince Gamorra to let up on her evil ways and become the heroine she pretends she isn’t.

And how awesome would it be to face off against an army of Super Skrulls? Trying to take on an army of shapeshifters whose powers mimic several of Earth’s mightiest superheroes at a time would be one of the most epic moments in gaming.

Since this is a relatively low-key title (when compared to the Avengers, X-Men, and Spider-Man titles), lightly retconning or stepping around Marvel continuity in the same way the Batman: Arkham series reinvents some characters (or their motivations) would make it easy for developers to build this game into what they want, while still keeping the spirit of their comic counterparts. With big missions or DLC that could revolve around teaming up with mission-specific characters, we could see ourselves helping Beta Ray Bill aiding his people, the Korbinites, against some mystical threat; or helping the original Super Skrull help his race by doing something considered treasonous by his people; or helping Silver Surfer face off against the Heralds of Galactus, only to fight and survive the big purple man himself.

Is your mind blown? Mine is.

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L.E.G.I.O.N.

From: DC Comics

This is a title that many have probably never heard of. And similar to the entry above, the premise could be just as easily applied to (but not as thematically deep as) DC’s more obscure “Omega Men” series. But what makes this series a perfect fit for Mass Effect is that it takes the exact template of Mass Effect 2, but with a more Machiavellian leader.

Imagine Commander Shepard was named Vril Dox, and was a Coluan, a member of a super intelligence species whose technological prowess far exceeds the emotional depth they lack (for any indication of how intense they can be, one needs only look as far as Superman’s major foe, Brainiac). Now imagine he’s been taken prisoner, along with thousands of other alien races, on a prison ship controlled by aliens invading the ENTIRE galaxy. Now imagine he breaks out, gathers together some allies, releases all of those prisoners, gets back to his homeworld with his crew, and overthrows an entire government set up by computer masterminds.

He’s no slouch.

Over the course of the L.E.G.I.O.N. series, he forms an intergalatic police force, makes a world his base of operations after executing a bloody coup, faces his equally intelligent and pragmatic son for control of the group, and faces all kinds of threats from space.

The basics already fall into the Mass Effect template. Vril Dox recruits a motley crew of disparate individuals, from the courageous Captain Comet of Earth, to the wild, usually untameable bounty hunter Lobo. His ability to manipulate situations to fall in his favor is often executed by his ability to say the right things at the right time to the right people (just like Shepard’s Paragon and Renegade speech options). But what makes this a truly intriguing game (and possibly would help make it more than just a Mass Effect clone) is that even as you–the gamer–play Vril Dox, you’re never sure just how much he’s playing you.

Imagine the feeling of being put into intense situations where your decisions decide the fate of the Universe. Now imagine that with such a wildly diverse team, the best tool the developers give you is the ability to listen and read about your potential recruits and then warp their wants into your needs. Having to lie and trick your way out of every discussion you have. To appeal to your teammates to get the mission done, even if it makes them trust your goals but not your ethics. It would be the ultimate confrontation.. Not with the despicable forces of evil, but with your own morality. Do the ends truly justify the means? Are you ready to sacrifice the desires of others? The lives of innocents? Can you go too far for the greater good?

And then imagine that after a mission, Vril Dox reveals—to you, the gamer, through his “Mission Report”—that all of the moral strife you’ve been put through resulted in an ulterior motive. Through you, he’s manipulated not only the members of his team, but you the gamer. After this, you would be compelled to second guess everything you do, but, if designed right, Vril Dox may always be three steps ahead of you, even with a large, branching storyline based on choice. With the philosophy of Mass Effect—hell, of Bioware—being to give the player the power of choice, what better game than L.E.G.I.O.N. to truly push that idea to its limits?

And not to mention that this is DC Comics we’re talking about. Imagine the thrill of taking on the threat of the White Martians; battling a Sun Eater, and having to decide whether to destroy it or let it live (in secret, of course); jumping into the war between the winged Thanagarians (Hawkman’s race) and the Rannians (Adam Strange’s people); aiding Green Lanterns in the War of Light; combating the robotic Manhunters; fighting the dangerous Spider Guild.

Or trying to take down a Kryptonian convict recently escaped from the Phantom Zone.

Yeah. Insane.

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Farscape

A criminally underpraised show, Farscape would carry an element of humor perfectly blended with action and danger to result in some seriously tricky sequences and some seriously comical moments.

The show revolved around John Crichton, a Commander (just like a certain someone else we know) who gets lost in space and ends up far across the galaxy on a sentient starship with a group of recently escaped prison inmates. Finding himself in the middle of dozens of conflicts he knows nothing about, soon he develops several enemies, like the Peacekeeper Captain Crais, who wants revenge for the (accidental) death of his brother at Crichton’s hands, and Scorpius, a Peacekeeper Commander obsessed with learning the secrets hidden (literally) in Crichton’s mind regarding wormhole technology.

What made the show shine was its cast—again, a ragtag band of individuals from various backgrounds. There was D’Argo, the Luxan warrior (think Klingon or Krogan mentality); Zhaan, a Devian (humanoid plant) who was both an empath and a priestess; there was Aeryn Sun, a member of the Peacekeepers (until she inadvertently got pulled into Crais’ revenge against Crichton); Chiana, a Nebari whose dislike of her race’s conformity led her to be a rebel thief and con-artist; Rigel, once Dominar of an empire (now deposed), known for his cowardice, his arrogance, and self-perservation; among a few others who came later on.

The great thing about Farscape is that the missions would be incredibly diverse: many encounters on the show involved invading forces, biological events (they are a bunch of aliens, afterall) and a hell of a lot of deception, making Farscape a great blend of themes and comedy. The structure of the game, in fact, could be one huge loyalty mission, since the crew’s ability to work together happens bit by bit as they get into danger and need to rely on each other to survive.

Bring back the original cast for the voice-acting, and continue where the series left off, and this could be a huge gaming franchise for fans (and fans to be) to jump into and fall in love with. Again.

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The Legion of Superheroes

From: DC Comics

Wait, didn’t we already address a Legion from DC Comics?

Well this is a different Legion, one a whole 1,000 years in the future.

There’s been numerous versions of the Legion of Superheroes (thanks to DC’s love of rebooting their entire continuity every few days), but the one idea uniting each incarnation is the thought of a group of teenangers banding together from worlds all over the universe, each with their own unique powers, and a determination to protect their world with the spirit of their 20th century superhero forefathers. While the Silver Age incarnations (and later 2006 cartoon series) veered toward more campy situations, the Bronze Age and Modern Age of comics brought along a series of really deep, mature storylines that tackled all kinds of situations, from typical comic book tropes involving romance and growing up, to identity and death.

Set over a trilogy of games, the first could start with yet another reinterpretation of the franchise, maybe using the best elements from each. As the games continue, the roster could expand, with some missions involving the recruitment of various well-known Legionnaires, loyalty missions to keep them committed to the Legion cause, and “Paragon/Renegade” options that impact how the Legion interacts with United Planets, the Science Police, and other factions.

A multiplayer element could involve a co-op campaign where you make your own “Lass” or “Lad” based on the various races, with unlockable costume pieces gathered from all of the legionnaires (from every continuity), and—akin to Mass Effect 3’s “Galactic Readiness”—could involve facing a threat of immense proportions together as one.

While LOSH has had trouble finding a core audience over the decades, it does have a dedicated fanbase behind it and enough ideas that would translate well into games, especially using the Mass Effect approach. Trying to figure out which powers make for the best combinations against particular enemies makes deciding your teams before missions an essential component. Add in the trust factor, and even the most well-paired team—as far as powers go—may fall apart at crucial moments. Throw in alternate attires and items from all of Legion history, and maybe a special bonus in Superboy, and this game could appeal to hardcore DC fans and DC noobs alike.

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Firefly

I couldn’t make this list and leave out one of the best space-themed shows, ever, could I?

Often described as “Space Operas-meets-Western”, Firefly is the story of Mal Reynolds, a veteran captain of the “Browncoats”, a resistance who lost to the Alliance in a full-out war for independence and freedom to govern themselves—on their colonies—as they pleased. With this premise in mind, the majority of the show follows Mal years later, barely scraping by, trying to keep himself and his crew alive, often taking on mercenary jobs that fall into serious gray matter.

Notable for its cast of characters and its dialogue (do you expect any less from series creator Joss Whedon?), the franchise really depends heavily on its narrative, and the insurmountable odds the team usually faces. This would make for some great dramatic set pieces that lead Mal to make some very tough decisions… just think of what he has to do in the movie Serenity involving the Reavers… but scattered throughout an entire game.

Following the show’s format, teams for missions would remain small, composed of Mal, his second-in-command and fellow veteran Zoe, and the hilarious mercenary Jayne. Also, as the mission requires, Mal could choose to bring along temporary allies, like the psychic badass River, the ship’s doctor (and River’s brother) Simon, and the ship’s engineer Kaylee. Maybe there can even be the occasional special mission (or DLC pack) involving situations where Mal and his team must ally with Saffron, the Operative, or Jubal Early the bounty hunter.

With Joss Whedon helming the script, any kind of good game development would make this a stellar title. Fans have been clamoring for more Firefly, what better way than through a new gaming franchise?

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Is there any other franchises you can think of that would benefit with the Mass Effect approach?

(This post originally appeared on Infinite Ammo)

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