BioWare’s Mass Effect games are, for all their controversy, remembered as deeply significant milestones in the history of video games. Their scope was staggering at a time when games were only just beginning to match the production values and thrills of a blockbuster movie. With a sophisticated participatory storyline that carried over three games and a wildly entertaining hybrid shooter/RPG playstyle, they redefined what could be done with the medium.
All has been quiet on the Mass Effect front in recent years with the last title in the franchise, Mass Effect: Andromeda, hitting shelves in the spring of 2017. Even longer still since the original trilogy drew to a close back in 2012. Imagine fans of the saga’s excitement then when on November 7th 2020, Mass Effect’s official holiday, BioWare announced two major releases were in the works.
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition & Mass Effect 4 (TBC)
The first of these is Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, coming to PS4, Xbox One and forward compatible to the new PS5 and Series X/S. It’s a compilation of the original three games and as well as all 40 DLC packs, but it is much more than a simple remaster. BioWare set out to bring the games up to modern specifications and graphical fidelity with enhanced shaders, models, effects and textures all in 4k resolution. To do this they had to effectively remake Mass Effect 1, which first debuted in 2007 on the Xbox 360, from scratch. Mass Effect 2 & 3 have also been beautified, but required less significant structural work in order to bring up to modern standards.
Details are scarce on the other planned Mass Effect game, announced by way of a cryptic teaser trailer. While some suggest it may be a sequel to Mass Effect: Andromeda and the most likely candidate remains Mass Effect 4, there is a growing fan theory based on analysis of the trailer that this new game will in some sense collapse the timelines of ME:Andromeda and ME:3 and serve as a sequel to both. All of this remains to be seen however, and we can expect more details to emerge as the game, still in a very early stage of production, begins to take shape.
While fans are naturally excited for the first new iteration in the main Mass Effect series since 2012, some approach the news cautiously given the controversy that surrounded Mass Effect 3. When that game was released, there was an uproar among fans around the three optional endings that concluded the game. Mass Effect up to that point was known and lauded for delivering tailored consequences that affected the way the story unfolded in relation to player’s choices. Fans felt the way Mass Effect 3 ended effectively rendered their choices up to that point meaningless, which led to a widely publicized backlash and numerous petitions for BioWare to rewrite the game.
The ending was controversial among the in-house development team also, with several prominent employees involved in the production of the game making their concerns known ahead of release. Jay Turner, a writer working on the game, said that while he was initially accepting of the ending, after a replay he felt his decisions in-game ultimately only affected the color of the explosions in the final cutscenes.
With criticism growing and FTC complaints being filed against BioWare, they announced the release of some new downloadable content known as the Extended Cut. Designed to specifically address the issues people had with the former ending, the DLC provided new cutscenes, cinematics and dialogues that gave rich context around the final acts of the story as well as more differentiated endings based on player choices throughout the trilogy. This was well received, though some argue the damage had already been done.
Perhaps it is unsurprising then that as a small act of redemption, the remastered version of Mass Effect 3 launching with the Legendary Edition has completely scrapped the original ending in favor of the Extended Cut. It remains to be seen where the tentatively titled Mass Effect 4 will take the series, but one thing is certain that with such a push to revive the franchise, BioWare has big plans for its space-faring saga.