Theories: What’s Next For the Mass Effect Franchise?
After replaying it the other week, I thought back to some of the things my friends and I noticed the first time we played, with the conclusion and with some things mentioned during the game. So here’s a few theories on where the franchise could possibly go after the conclusion of Mass Effect 3.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Billions of Stars
The Stargazer at the end of Mass Effect 3 points out to his (assumed) grandson that this was just a handful of races against one major conflict. He reminds him that there are billions of stars out there (Rest in Peace, Carl Sagan) each with planets that may have life, and in turn, it’s own story.
No matter what happened in our part of the galaxy, there’s literally an endless supply of stories that could be made about the struggles of the other alien civilizations elsewhere. And these endless stories are fueled by the endless questions we have about the state of the universe in the Mass Effect franchise.
How far was the reach of the Reapers?
How did Shepard’s choice at the end of Mass Effect 3 impact races who knew nothing about the Reaper threat? How have other races evolved by the time of the Stargazer without the threat of the Reapers, especially without the wisdom gained by the races of Citadel?
Will these races spin out of control? Will their morality go unchecked? Will they explore new systems? Will they attack new races?
Will they come to Earth?
And most pressing of all, how have the endings of Mass Effect 3, or the stories and legends of “the Shepard”, impacted the era of the Stargazer? What is the state of the galaxy? What is the state of technology? What is the state of humanity?
This is something minor many may have just brushed off, but there is a point midway into the game explored by EDI regarding dark energy, and how a few different factors could lead to the possibility of parallel universes. This may be just a reference to any number of sci-fi properties or just a random digression made by the scientific ramblings of an A.I., but it also may point to an interesting new direction as well.
The most obvious direction would be an exploration of how other worlds evolved with even the slightest alterations: what if I did kill Wrex? What if I destroyed the Arachni race in the first Mass Effect? What if I saved Ashley instead of Kaiden?
This could provide an interesting metatextual approach to addressing the different Shepards played by each and every Mass Effect gamer who played the trilogy. This would mean that in a game where there is no “right or wrong choice,” where half of the fun and tension (like Heavy Rain) is to see where different decisions take you, there would be an infinite amount of permutations to explore in different universes.
But ultimately that’s what multiple playthroughs and Youtube are for. Why explore a trilogy again that has already been analyzed, dissected, praised, and trashed so many times in a few years? And yet, Bioware has said in previous interviews that they’re not done with this story. So what could this mean? Is it just DLC (which is on its way), or is there something else coming? What conflict could top fighting the Reapers?
What about stopping the Reapers across different realities?
If the existence of parallel universes is true, then we don’t know if Shepard’s decision at the end of Mass Effect 3 affected all time and space. If “your” Shepard survived, or if somehow the Catalyst/Citadel/Mass Relay energy explosion made ripples in reality, somehow evidence of your struggle may “leak” to another Earth in another reality (it would be nice if it was because of Liara’s time capsule).
One way or another, this could lead to gathering a team of specialists from each reality to stop the Reaper threat on ALL realities. Or, going from the somewhat metaphysical ending of Mass Effect 3, perhaps the team’s inevitable quest is to finally meet the creators of the Catalyst, of the Reapers, and perhaps even the creators of the universe itself.
With a next-gen console, and creative “single-player multiplayer” integration mechanics akin to Dark Souls and Dragon’s Dogma, there could be some cool ways to handle the power of choice in a new trilogy. Also, this theme would make it easy to have access to every character at once (no Ashley VS Kaiden) and give Bioware a chance to not only please fans by giving them characters they’re familiar with, but also have an excuse to tweak certain characters and make them different (similar to how Marvel Comics killed Nightcrawler and replaced him with his “Age of Apocalypse” reality counterpart not long ago).
This could ultimately divide fans who have come to love their characters as they are, but giving players choice in who they recruit could at least satisfy the masses. Do you take the crazy and loveable Grunt from your Earth or a bloodthirsty Grunt who killed Wrex and took over the Krogan from another Earth? Do you take Jacob from your Earth or a never-retired Anderson from another Earth? Do you take a Thane who never succumbed to his disease or a Sarren who never succumbed to Sovereign? Do you take Tali with an eastern European accent or Tali with a east New York accent?
The Prometheus Theory: Meeting the Creators
Despite three games, an ending, and an extended ending, there’s still one huge question and conflict at the end of Mass Effect 3: what the hell happened to make the creators of the Catalyst get so desperate? So desperate that they made a “Catalyst” to address the so-called inevitable struggle between creator and created (remember it’s not just man and machine, organics and synthetic, but creator and created). A supposedly super-intelligent Catalyst that came out with one crazy idea: to make peace, the early civilization had to create huge genocidal weapons of mass destruction fueled by the bodies and lifeforce of millions of organics. So desperate that the creators then said “Screw it, let’s go with it”.
Assuming these early scientists were as nuanced as some of the Mass Effect cast, this couldn’t have been the easiest decision for them to make (unless they were insane to begin with). While it could possibly be dreadful for Bioware to follow in the footsteps of Prometheus, it could be interesting to find these answers out if presented in an interesting way.
Whether the story takes place in the past or the future, with Shepard or someone new, in this galaxy or another, the biggest remaining conflict in the game is trying to figure out what the hell happen to drive these guys to such a drastic decision, and whether they had any other plans, like a failsafe weapon of mass destruction if the Reapers were destroyed, or an ultimate quest or challenge for intelligent life to achieve or conquer.
There have been many, many cycles of death and rebirth from what I’ll call the “Reaper solution”. And with it, many of these civilizations have tried their own ways to fight back against the Reapers.
Seeing how close humanity and its allies came to joining the fallen civilizations before it (or actually joining them if you did the Refusal ending), and the types of personalities that rose to prominence because of it (from information brokers like Liara to revolutionists like Wrex, from peacemakers like Shepard to would-be-Gods like the Illusive Man) it’s easy to see how desperation leads to both great wonders and great terrors. Even the Reaper threat is an answer to some long ago horrible war.
Javik, the Prothean character unlockable through the From Ashes DLC, explains to Shepard and Liara that the Protheans weren’t just one intelligent alien race, it was the collection of all of the civilizations under their empire. That means that a lot of those Prothean relics came from a host of different technology, philosophies, personalities, and ambitions. Add to that the possibility that the Protheans also may have found relics from previous civilizations, and there’s possibly thousands of powerful devices and weapons floating out in the galaxy.
All this is to say that there is, somewhere out there, a host of amazing and terrifying technology out there, waiting to be found and deciphered, much like the Prothean beacons. If something like the Crucible and the Citadel exist, what else may be out there, created by the Reaper’s Creators or the civilizations that hoped to defeat them? Worse yet, will they be found by admirable people like Shepard, Anderson, and their allies, or megalomaniacal dictators bent on universal tyranny and oppression?
There were some great arguments for Shepard’s indoctrination. Some really took time to dissect the trilogy, connecting not only arbitrary visual cues or minor plot holes, but overarching theories, ideas, and narrative parallels from each of the three games. But with the Extended Cut, all of the major components of the Indoctrination Theory seemed to have been addressed and almost entirely debunked, although undoubtedly there are still theory purists sticking by their guns.
Admittedly a fan of the theory (not for any kind of hope to explain the original ending like some anti-Indoc proponents say, but because some arguments truly did make a lot of sense), I have to say I’m disappointed there wasn’t some kind of ending made in light of this theory’s strong support (even a tongue-in-cheek version). I also still think it would have made for one hell of an ending to a franchise that already had some stellar writing, something that is less “It was all a dream” and more a twist the likes of M Night Shyamalan’s early works, like the Sixth Sense or Unbreakable.
All that said, this doesn’t mean that the Mass Effect franchise is done with the idea of Indoctrination. The Reapers have proved quite resourceful in finding the right influential beings to carry on their work. This is the superior A.I. of the Catalyst, the technological power of the Reapers, and the lifeforce, personalities and intellect of millions (if not billions) of lifeforms acting in concert to become even more deadlier and precise at misdirecting minds and eradicating the most advanced species of the time.
Who’s to say that one of the billions of surviving scientists, soldiers, and political leaders haven’t been infected by a single idea of the Catalyst? Who’s to say that the entire ending of Mass Effect wasn’t a distraction from a new plan, a plan that–should the Reapers fail–would kick in with a more subtle approach? That perhaps, in the Destroy ending, the Catalyst only told Shepard all Reaper tech would be destroyed, but something remained? That in the Control ending, he thought he was in control, but, like the Illusive Man, he was ultimately still a puppet? That in the Synthesis ending, now everyone was more susceptible to the Reaper’s digital mind-controlling viruses?
And who’s to say that perhaps this time the Catalyst wouldn’t mind waiting centuries, millenia, or more, bidding its time, ready to enslave mankind em masse the easy way? After all, if the Reapers can wait 50,000 years to perform their programming every cycle, what’s another 50,000? 100,000? 500,000?
“One More Story”
There’s something that mildly resonates with my fellow writer Ed Cambro at the end of Mass Effect 3. This entire trilogy, the entire franchise, the hundreds of hours of gameplay, the three tie-in novels (the fourth doesn’t count as far as I’m concerned), all the characters you meet, all the actions you take, it’s all been a story. A story told by an old Stargazer to his grandson (presumably) about a tale, a legend, a myth that happened a long time ago.
Of course this means two things.
The first is an excuse. An excuse for why each of the millions of players who have played (or ever will play) the legend of Mass Effect‘s Shepard will have “different stories.” Different takes on the story. It’s a nice little literary device (whether necessary or not) to explain why we all have different interpretations of the story. Shepards who have different classes, different paramours, different genders, different looks; why the Arachni, the Krogan, the Geth, and the Quarians have been killed or greatly diminished in some tales, while in others they have been perserved; why the universe itself may have been saved by the destruction of the Reapers, control of the Reapers, combining with technology, or the final message of yet another failed resistance.
Eventually–according to the Catalyst, whether he says so explicitly or not–the far future will look about the same no matter what choice you make. If you chose Synthesis, humans progress to a state where technology links humans and synthetics almost seamlessly: an inevitability he claims humans are heading towards anyway, albeit slower. By the time the Stargazer’s future comes, the new Organic-Synthetic races may be a lost race, akin to the Protheans for Shepard’s era.
If you chose Control, the Reapers help repair the damage they made, and then either leave, or build foundations for a brighter future with their advanced technology. Again, by the era of the Stargazer, this may have happened so long ago that it seems too distant to be anything real or substantial for a peaceful, possibly spoiled and pampered race of human beings.
If you chose Destroy, the Catalyst claims future generations will produce synthetics again anyway, which in turn means future generations will get to the same point of the Control and Synthesis options. Each ending is essentially an extension of the others, with the only major difference being the death of the Reapers in the Destroy option. Even the new Refusal Ending will lead a new generation of aliens to the same point Shepard got to, and possibly to his same three choices. The point is that everything you have done is a story that can be warped with any number of variables. It’s a story, and stories change all the time.
The second thing to keep in mind is what else the Stargazer says to his child. Upon request, he has “just one more” story to tell for the night. This may be obvious if you’ve read any Bioware interviews regarding their vague hints about the future of the franchise, but there are more stories to tell. This could mean the story of what happened after Mass Effect 3 (which may explain why the original endings [and partially the Extended Cut] had such a vague explanation, to make for an easier jumping off point in future games).
It could be the story of what happened before in previous attempts to stop the Reapers, perhaps with the Protheans and their empire. While it may be annoying to follow Javik for a whole trilogy, perhaps there exists a rogue faction within the Prothean Empire that fought to end the Protheans reign, and then had to drop that goal to fight against the Reapers.
Perhaps (as much I’d hate this idea) there could even be a retelling of the legend of “The Shepard” with different factors involved.
At the end of the day, this is a reminder, a promise, that there’s more in store, and also reminds gamers to relax from their crazy shenanagans, because this is just a story. And like most stories nowadays, there will be some kind of sequel coming. And it could be anything.
If you have any comments, thoughts or theories, please write below and let me know what you think!
Check out my other Mass Effect article: