Alright, let’s get it out of the way right now: this article is based on four new Mass Effect screenshots that were recently revealed online, and is — despite being heavily researched — pure speculation. It is not designed to boil gamer piss. I just like Mass Effect and want to play around with what the newly unveiled concept art could imply. Cheers.
I have been a huge Mass Effect fan since I binged the first two games (twice) about a month prior to the launch of Mass Effect 3. Contrary to what seems to be the view of a demographic that is bang smack in the middle of a Venn diagram with the entire population of the world, I didn’t dislike Mass Effect 3’s ending. A bit meh, but not something I’d direct intense vitriol towards. I felt it offered a pretty solid amount of closure.
I was much more passionate about the Mass Effect: Andromeda discourse that transpired five years later. I felt as if I’d somehow ended up at the wrong party once again, because I genuinely loved Andromeda. The Remnant vaults were pretty repetitive, and some of the characters didn’t resonate with me as much as Garrus, Tali, or Wrex did — granted, they only had one game’s worth of development. But ultimately, Andromeda offered me what felt like an authentic Mass Effect experience. The world design was gorgeous, and the atmosphere and mood imbued in the luscious forests of Havarl or the unforgiving wastes of New Tuchanka were evocative in a way that felt true to the tone of the original trilogy. The “ooooh, the Kett and Angarans are the same!” twist was a bit predictable, but I think people would have been kinder towards it if not for the whole facial animations debacle.
Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Mass Effect’s future was pretty unclear after Andromeda. The Quarian Ark DLC was canceled and released as a book instead. Fans who had been Mass Effect diehards for a decade dismissed BioWare’s change in direction and demanded a return to the Milky Way. To this day, the Mass Effect subreddit still sees multiple posts on a daily basis about how Shepard didn’t die and BioWare should just make a game where we play space pirates like Guardians of the Galaxy (which is about as un-Mass Effect as you can get — ironic that these people are the “true fans”).
As it stands, it seems as if these fans could finally get their wish. Sort of. The new Mass Effect concept art almost certainly points to Andromeda first and foremost. The Remnant tech is particularly revelatory (although lots of people are saying it’s Prothean and Javik is going to be a crew member again and yay we’re back in the Milky Way with no Andromeda anymore — sorry to burst your bubble, but that seems a bit bollocksy to me).
Regardless of how we interpret the other screenshots, this is unmistakably Remnant tech. It almost feels like a deliberate attempt to confirm the very likely chance that BioWare obviously isn’t going to just ditch a trilogy after pumping an immense amount of resources into its first instalment. People often talk about how the Quarian Ark DLC was canned because the reception to Andromeda was so bad. or note that BioWare reevaluated its principles in its rush to get Anthem out. Both of these things are true, in a sense. However, I think it’s also worth remembering that regardless of how strong the DLC could have been, Andromeda had been compromised.
It’s obvious, but it hazards mentioning anyway. A banging sequel would be far more capable of restoring faith in the property than an expansion that offered significantly less playtime and was tacked onto the back of a base game a lot of people had already rendered utterly irredeemable. These same people cried out for the Milky Way, while probably forgetting that the point of Andromeda was to… connect with the Milky Way. I’m just spitballing here, but I’d assume it was supposed to be a third-game-in-the-trilogy thing, where Milky Way help needed to be enlisted in order to beat the new Big Bad or something like that.
The main conceit of this is that if Andromeda makes contact with the Milky Way, one of the endings from Mass Effect 3 needs to be made canon, which goes against the idea of being able to determine your own personal Mass Effect story. Or so it would seem.
Andromeda takes place in 2819, a whopping 633 years after the events of Mass Effect 3. However, the Andromeda Initiative left the Milky Way in 2185, in between the events of the second and third games. I am sorry for suggesting this if it hurts your own headcanon, but that renders Destroy and Synthesis pretty much null and void — Destroy would have killed the AI allowing the Nexus to function, while Synthesis would have triggered a noticeable change in the people on board. That leaves us with Control and Refuse.
Control is an interesting one. By taking Reaper tech and reappropriating it, it’s possible that people from the Milky Way could reach Andromeda in a significantly shorter amount of time than the original Initiative. The options here are limitless, really — Control didn’t last forever, the Milky Way heard the Quarian Ark’s distress signal, a new threat arose off the back of the Reapers. It doesn’t matter, because writing a reason is the easy part — people want the Milky Way, and a lot of people would probably accept any reason they were given to revisit it. I think the fact the Quarian Ark is in trouble in the first place is an intentional way of reintegrating the Milky Way as an essential part of the story.
Refuse offers us the reverse option — going back to the Milky Way. This implies that the Reapers harvested all of the species deemed too far along in this cycle — humans, Asari, Turians, and so on. The Yahg, however, are pre-spaceflight and have only just managed to build their first spaceship by the end of Mass Effect 3. As a result, it’s likely that they could now be a dominant force 633 years into the next cycle. Whether they are benevolent or malevolent in this hypothetical scenario is unclear, but Refuse also offers us a Milky Way that could genuinely make sense in which the Reaper war is only beginning. The Jardaan’s terraforming tech seems suspiciously convenient for a situation like this…
That’s not to say the other two endings are completely redundant. I’m sure the talented folks at BioWare could put together some kind of logical way to integrate them into a future that makes sense. I’m just poking holes in them for the purpose of this piece, which is discussing how Andromeda and the Milky Way might be connected in the next Mass Effect game. Obviously, the screenshot depicting what appears to be a new Mass Relay serves that hypothesis. It looks oddly Cerberus-y…
That’s before even mentioning that the featured image at the top of this article quite clearly depicts Thane, Mordin, and an Angaran. Now, if you’ve played Mass Effect 3 you’ll know that the chances of either Thane or Mordin making it to Andromeda are, well… zero. But that coat and distinct posture are completely indicative of the fact that it’s Thane’s Mass Effect 2 portrait. Mordin is even more damning — he’s even missing the correct bit of his left ear.
These are probably just placeholders, but the idea that Drell and Angarans are in the same place means that the Quarian Ark has been saved or that the Milky Way and Andromeda have converged somehow. I also want to point out that the character on the left also seems to appear in the picture below.
The character is fairly nondescript aside from his broadness. I do think it’s worth at least entertaining the idea that he resembles the Stargazer from the end of Mass Effect 3. The male Stargazer — who appears if you choose Destroy, Control, or Synthesis — specifically states that the details of Shepard’s choice have been lost to time. As a result, Andromeda could run with a non-canonized Mass Effect 3 ending by simply going, “Listen, over 600 years have passed, we don’t know what Shepard did.” He also says he has time for “one more story,” which implies that an Andromeda/Milky Way crossover may have been in the works for a very long time.
Meanwhile, the female stargazer, added as part of the extended cut, shows up if you choose Refuse — she says that people know about Shepard’s choice because of Liara’s archives, and her existence proves that the Reapers didn’t harvest every sentient being in the Milky Way. My guess is that these Stargazers are the key to integrating the Mass Effect trilogy and Mass Effect: Andromeda. I also think there’s a clever intent to releasing the Mass Effect remasters now, restoring faith in the franchise before announcing Andromeda 2, but with added Milky Way flair. The simple fact that a distress call is sent to the Milky Way in Andromeda and never answered means that there needs to be some significance to the original trilogy’s setting — I don’t think BioWare is the type of studio to fall victim to Chekhov’s gun.
There’s also the simple option that BioWare could do what The Witcher 3 did and have you insert your choices from previous games in order to determine the world state now. Again, so much time has passed that there could easily be a way to make every choice eventually end up at the same point. Maybe the Reapers are just derelict and destroyed now, rendering all three endings pretty much the same: Synthesis didn’t last, Control was ephemeral, Destroy was the end. It’s also worth noting that Andromeda is largely unexplored and for everything you do as Pathfinder, the other Ryder is off doing their own thing, potentially with their own crew. We literally only explored the Heleus cluster, which is pretty small in the grand scheme of things. Who’s to say you don’t start Andromeda 2 as the character you didn’t pick in the first game? Who’s to say that Vetra, Peebee, and Drack are going to be Tempest members for a second time? Each game in the original trilogy had a different crew — it’s not unreasonable to assume that Mass Effect 5 could follow suit.
What really puts the nail in the coffin, for me, is this quote from Mike Gamble, the project director for Mass Effect 5:
“There’s an incredible universe of history to draw from, and many more stories for us to tell,” Gamble said in Bioware: Stories And Secrets From 25 Years Of Game Development. “We’re focusing on creating something truly for the fans.”
I think with the vitriol directed at Andromeda and the sheer indifference felt towards Anthem, BioWare needs to do “something truly for the fans.” I don’t imagine it will bring Shepard back, because that would be ridiculous — plus he only lives if you choose Destroy and have over 4,000 EMS. I do believe a return to the Milky Way is viable, though, and I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive from Andromeda 2, as illustrated by the ways around making a specific ending canon mentioned above. People have been debating over whether BioWare is going to risk another Andromeda game or play it safe and head back to the Milky Way — I think it’s important to remember the super obvious option that involves both galaxies and was always going to be the end of the Andromeda trilogy anyway.
The best part? Wrex is probably as old and grumpy as Nakmor Drack now. I’d say he’s absolutely fed up with Grunt after 633 years of playing, “Who can say Shepard the most amount of times?”
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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