When Casey Hudson quizzed the Twittersphere on what it wanted to see in Mass Effect 4, that was both a) A colossally bad idea, never ask Twitter anything especially if 99% of your followers are entitled nerdlingers, and b) Not exactly illuminating.
Predictably, a whole bunch of people just starting taking pot-shots at Mass Effect 3’s ending, like there was a tremendous point to doing so and they simply had to be heard. Again. For the millionth time. What was slightly more surprising was that nobody really seemed to have any good ideas, or their ideas simply stemmed from their dribbling ME3 rage, ie. “The sooner BioWare moves away from the Catalyst/Reaper mythology that got them into trouble, the better.”
What trouble? It’s a cool story. It just wasn’t ultimately told to established spec. I think the biggest problem here will be the fact that there is no Shepard. As has been so profoundly demonstrated by Halo over the years, gaming’s “shared authorship” is an absolutely gigantic part of its contemporary allure.
I mention Halo specifically because of something 343 Industries guy Josh Holmes recently told me on just this, which basically boiled down to: It’s cool to be able to play a game where my experience is so different to that of my friends that I can relay it to them, blow by blow, like some kind of awesome pub novel.
Y’know, goddamn, we thrashed our way across Tuchanka. Urdnot is the worst guy to be stuck in a transport with. Needs Mentos, makes me feel like that thing with Wrex way back when should’ve gone differently. Had an epic stoush with a Reaper killbot on the way up top, but that was nothing ‘cos you know Mordin? Oh that’s right you don’t, you left him to die on the Collector base.
Right well, he’s there and he’s all about heading on up and dousing this place with the cure for the Genophage. Why? Trembling with guilt. I’ve just been sitting next to Urd-bro for the past twenty minutes. This is the guy who’s gonna be leading the Krogan, and neither is he particularly subtle about his desire to destroy the universe once they can breed out of control again. One Salarian’s night sweats is not a good enough reason to doom the cosmos. So, we lost Mordin, too. Threw my gun away in disgust at myself. “Damn war,” said Garrus. Agreed. To the bar.
Anchoring that individual fiction is, ironically and needfully, a main character shared by all: Shepard here, Master Chief back there. Think about it: How many people hated having to play as Hawke in Dragon Age II? Taken in isolation, Dragon Age II’s storyline is really nuanced and Hawke’s interactions – your interactions – with everyone around him or her run the dynamic gamut from hilarious to interesting to devastating.
But it’s not your Warden. It was like going back to start writing a book again from scratch after hitting 50,000 words. You are attached to your Shep whether you know it or not. Your Shep is you. Not sure about you, other Shep, but by the end of ME3’s things, I wasn’t dead. Buried under a tonne of compressed civilisation, maybe, but still breathing. So don’t ya’ll tell me I’m gone for good, ‘cos I still haven’t finished my model starship collection yet.
To wit: I would not be at all surprised if Shepard returns in ME4, for all these reasons and more. BioWare have told you sexy lies before, y’know.