Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Mass Effect series.
It’s been eight-and-a-half years since Mass Effect 3 was released, rounding out the original trilogy of Mass Effect games. Since then, the franchise has put out a single new title – Mass Effect: Andromeda – which was underwhelming to say the least. For the last six months or more, rumours have been floating around of an impending Mass Effect remaster, and while I was disappointed not to hear any official mention of it at June’s EA Play event, the rumours haven’t subsided. Is something going on with the Mass Effect series?
I have absolutely no idea. But that doesn’t make it any less fun to speculate and fantasise!
After Andromeda’s weak launch led to mediocre reviews, memes, and poor sales, EA put the franchise “on hiatus” and Bioware moved on, focusing on the ultimately unsuccessful Anthem. To many of us that sounded ominous – especially given EA’s history of shutting down game studios and killing brands – but if it’s true that a remaster really is in the works, I have a wishlist of things I’d like to see included.
For the record, because I know people like to get excited: I have no idea if a Mass Effect remaster is even being worked on, let alone if any of these ideas or concepts will be included. This is a wishlist from a fan, not “insider information”. If anyone tells you they know something for sure about an unannounced or unreleased project, take it with a grain of salt. With that caveat out of the way, let’s look at my wishlist, which is in no particular order.
Number 1: Delay the project if necessary.
This may seem like an odd one – why talk about a delay to a game that hasn’t even been announced? Well there are two reasons: Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda. Bioware’s two most recent titles launched before they were properly finished and polished, resulting in lacklustre sales, mediocre review scores, and online mockery. I’ve said it before, but the memes hurt Mass Effect: Andromeda’s sales far more than review scores. It’s a shame, because the most egregious visual bugs and glitches were fixed in a patch within days, but by then it was too late – the damage had been done.
Andomeda’s development was difficult, and the final build of the game was – at least according to reports – put together in mere months, despite the game having been in development for five years. The reason why I’m saying to EA and Bioware that one of the things I want from any potential Mass Effect remaster is a delay, if necessary, is because I want them to learn from that mistake. The “release now, fix later” concept doesn’t work, and if the game launches to mockery, memes, and mediocrity as Andromeda did, there’ll be no salvaging it – or the franchise, quite frankly.
Number 2: 4K resolution and 60 frames-per-second.
The whole point of remastering a game is to improve its graphics and the way it looks using newer and better technology than was available to the original development team. But the second and third Mass Effect titles in particular still look decent today, and as I keep saying, graphical improvements get smaller and smaller with each new generation.
One thing that has improved in the last few years, however, is the frame rate games can run at. 30fps was commonplace in the Xbox 360 era, when Mass Effect debuted, but now we have 60fps as standard, and on higher-end machines we can push frame rates way further. The bare minimum for a big-budget game in 2020 is 4K resolution at 60fps. If the Mass Effect remaster can’t manage that, a lot of people will wonder what the point of it is.
Number 3: Rework Mass Effect 1 to use Mass Effect 2 and 3′s gameplay.
Mass Effect 2 offered massive gameplay improvements over its predecessor. Gunplay was faster and more fluid, the complicated inventory system was streamlined, and many more quality-of-life improvements made the second game way better than the first. If a Mass Effect remaster is going back to the drawing board to rebuild the games from the ground up, it would be a great opportunity to update the first game to be in line with the second and third.
Aside from making the first game more enjoyable to play, this would also standardise the remastered trilogy, making it an easier experience to go from one game to the next, especially for new players. Mass Effect 2 and 3 don’t really need much improving from a gameplay point of view, but the first title could do with an update.
Number 4: Include all three games – plus all of their DLC – in one package.
No special editions. No deluxe editions. No console exclusive characters or missions. No paid DLC for a thirteen-year-old game. All of the content for all three games should be available in one package. While I’d prefer to see the full trilogy released all at once, one possible option is to follow the trail blazed by Halo: The Master Chief Collection on PC and release the first game, then the second, then the third. But regardless, one price should get players all three games plus all of the DLC.
The Mass Effect series has been poor in this regard. Both Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 had day-one DLC – which is industry slang for cut content that they could sell separately for more money. Some of the expansions were great, but others added what felt like content that should have been part of the main game, or felt like small additions for the asking price – like adding a single character. Javik, the series’ first Prothean character, was only available as DLC – despite the fact that he played a pivotal role in Mass Effect 3. It’s a good opportunity for the series to put all of that behind it and release the entire story in one package.
Number 5: If the game needs microtransactions, save them for multiplayer.
Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect: Andromeda had multiplayer modes. I only knew about Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer because failure to participate had an impact on your “war score” or “galactic readiness” during the single-player campaign, which was incredibly annoying. But both games enjoyed moderate success with their multiplayer modes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if EA crams multiplayer in to a Mass Effect remaster too.
If there is a multiplayer mode, this is the place to dump DLC and microtransactions, not in the already-complete single-player story. As someone who doesn’t play a lot of multiplayer, having DLC and microtransactions here will have no impact on my enjoyment of the campaign. If EA has to include in-game monetisation, the least they could do is keep it away from the story.
Number 6: Tweak Mass Effect 3 to at least pay lip service to more player choices.
I’m not asking for Mass Effect 3′s ending to be fundamentally rewritten; that will never happen. What I think could be done to massively improve the final third of that game is to add in some more cut-scenes, animations, and lines of dialogue recognising the choices players made across all three titles. One of the most disappointing things about Mass Effect 3 for me was that during the climactic final act, many accomplishments from earlier in the game and in the series went completely unacknowledged.
To give an example I’ve used before: if players followed a specific path across all three titles, it’s possible to save both the Geth and Quarian species when it looks like it would only be possible to save one or the other. Having both powerful fleets instead of just one feels like it should have a huge impact on the war against the Reapers… but it didn’t. A few extra “war score points” and two words of dialogue confirming that both fleets had arrived for the final battle was literally all you got for all that effort, and it just felt so hollow and disappointing. That was almost worse than the actual pick-a-colour ending.
Bringing back a few of the voice actors to record a few extra lines, creating some new animations to represent different combinations of fleets, soldiers, and survivors, and overall just tweaking and adjusting the final portion of Mass Effect 3 would go a long way to negating this issue, and if the game is being massively overhauled anyway, why not put in the extra effort? Fans may still be disappointed in the ultimate finale, but if the journey there were improved, it would be a better experience as a whole.
Number 7: Set the stage for a potential Mass Effect 4?
I don’t know if this is really something I want – hence the question mark. But I can only assume that a Mass Effect remaster would be seen by EA and Bioware as a stepping stone to a potential new entry in the franchise, and after the disappointment of Andromeda, surely the only way that could happen would be a fourth mainline entry in the series.
Andromeda’s fundamental problem, beyond the animations and glitches and bland characters, was that it felt like an overblown side-quest. The entire game felt like the B-plot of a better story, and I think that feeling would have persisted regardless of how well-built it might have been. So how could a fourth Mass Effect game work? That’s a huge question, because the ending of Mass Effect 3 was simultaneously so final yet so transformative.
An idea I’ve been kicking around for a while is this: in the aftermath of the Reapers being defeated, a past race that had survived a Reaper harvest re-emerges or returns to the galaxy, looking to reclaim what they see as “theirs”. Shepard comes out of retirement, perhaps fifteen or twenty years after the end of Mass Effect 3 (which would allow time for the galaxy to have rebuilt). The new enemy would be tough and would be just as much an existential threat as the Reapers had been – keeping the stakes high and avoiding the sense of the new fight being anticlimactic.
But that’s just one fan concept, and there are myriad ideas for how a fourth mainline game could work. However it may happen, the Mass Effect remaster will have to set the stage for a potential fourth game – perhaps by adding an epilogue.
As we’ve recently seen with The Last of Us Part II, some stories don’t need sequels, and when a decision is made to make one anyway, what results can be disappointing to fans. There’s definitely an argument to be made that the Mass Effect trilogy was so special and unique that a sequel is unnecessary – or even unwanted.
Number 8: More customisation options and a better character creator.
For a game that released in 2007, Mass Effect’s character creator was okay. But even by the time Mass Effect 2 and 3 were released, the limitations of the original game’s character creator were apparent. Games today can offer so much more in terms of building a unique face for a player character – from hairstyles to tattoos to beards and so much more. The Mass Effect trilogy is jam-packed with cut-scenes which show off Shepard, so making him or her look good is important! The default faces are fine, but a roleplaying game needs some degree of customisation, and the outdated character creator definitely needs an overhaul.
And while we’re at it, let’s have more cosmetic options for armour and weapons. The first game was noticeably lacking in this department, but the second and third titles did have pretty solid armour and weapon customisation. I’d like to see this expanded with a variety of cosmetic options for customising Shepard’s appearance and outfits, including his uniform when not in armour as well as individual weapons. While it may be tempting to turn this feature into a microtransaction marketplace, as mentioned above let’s try to keep that just for multiplayer!
So that’s it. A few things I’d like to see from a potential – but still unconfirmed – Mass Effect remaster.
Fans of Star Trek: Picard who haven’t played through this fun sci-fi game series will note some similarities in the broad strokes of the plot: an ancient race left behind a beacon, warning of the dangers of a race of synthetics who will come to wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy. Sounds familiar, right? While Star Trek: Picard took a very different approach to this story outline, the similarity in premise is something I thought at the time was noteworthy – I even referred to the unnamed faction of super-synths in that show as the “Mass Effect Reapers”.
Is it the right time for a Mass Effect remaster? That’s a good question. The stink of Andromeda is still pretty fresh for a lot of gamers, and the trilogy only ended in 2012. I could absolutely entertain the argument that it’s something best saved for five or ten years’ time rather than something the gaming world needs in 2020 – but I’m not the one making those decisions! If there is a remaster this year or next, I have no doubt I’ll take a look to see what it has to offer. I’ll be curious to stack up a remastered version of Mass Effect 2 or Mass Effect 3 against the original to see how much better it could really look. As I’ve said before, in a lot of ways I’d be happy with a game that has Mass Effect 2′s visual effects even if it were released today, so any remaster will have to go above and beyond to wow me with the way it looks.
Still, I’ll take any excuse to revisit a beloved series. In December I put Mass Effect 3′s ending on my list of entertainment disappointments of the decade, and I stand by that. It was a let-down then. But time is a great healer! Although I’ve replayed the trilogy several times I haven’t touched it in five or six years, so it will definitely be nice to jump back in – assuming the rumours are true and there really is a remaster in the works!
I hope you’ll check back soon for more sci-fi and gaming articles!
The Mass Effect series – including all titles discussed above, as well as potential new titles – is the copyright of Electronic Arts and Bioware. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.