Thoughts on a potential Mass Effect television series

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers present for the Mass Effect trilogy.

Have you heard the latest rumour? Amazon is apparently very close to securing a deal to make a television series based on the Mass Effect video game franchise. I thought it could be fun to discuss this rumour – given that it seems to be close to being officially confirmed – as well as the merits of big-budget television shows in general.

Many film adaptations of video game properties have proven to be disappointing. There are a number of reasons why that’s the case, and it varies from project to project, but one thing absolutely worth considering is the fundamental, irreconcilable difference between how long the average film lasts and how long the average video game lasts.

1993’s Super Mario Bros. is an… interesting film.

Many video games – especially those with strong stories, like the Mass Effect series has – can require many, many hours of playtime. Despite what I said a moment ago, there really isn’t such a thing as an “average” video game length; it can vary from a couple of hours all the way to dozens or even more than a hundred. But most video games that have seen disappointing film adaptations in recent years have been these kinds of long, story-driven titles – and condensing a whole video game’s worth of story into a two-hour film is difficult to get right.

This is also the problem a lot of novel adaptations face, so much so that “the book was better than the film” has become an overused cliché! Even adaptations that have been widely praised overall – like the Harry Potter series, for instance – had to make significant story cuts to squeeze an entire book’s worth of plot into a standard cinematic runtime. Exceptions exist, of course, and the Lord of the Rings films from a few years ago are an example. But in that case, the extended editions of the films are widely considered to be superior to the shorter theatrical cuts, and the extended edition of the trilogy clocks in at well over eleven hours long.

The Lord of the Rings films are an exception to the rule!

What I’m trying to say is that a story like Mass Effect will be far better served by a television series adaptation than it would’ve been by a film adaptation. If it’s true that this is the route Amazon wants to go down, I’ll be very interested to see what will become of the project in the months and years ahead.

In the aftermath of big serialised shows like Lost and Game of Thrones, audiences have become used to story arcs that run across multiple seasons, something that would be a perfect fit for a long story like the one seen in the Mass Effect games. Even just the original story of Mass Effect 1 could itself be two seasons’ worth of television without feeling padded or bloated, so there’s potential in this project to really bring the Mass Effect galaxy to life.

Saren, the main villain of Mass Effect 1.

Amazon is still a relative newcomer to the television series game, but the company has already got an impressive track record. Shows like The Man in the High Castle and Jack Ryan were great, The Wheel of Time, which debuted just last week, is off to a fabulous start, and the company also picked up The Expanse following its cancellation, putting out two amazing seasons of the show so far. Amazon has also played host to Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks, giving Prime Video a solid lineup in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. And we haven’t even mentioned the upcoming Lord of the Rings series!

Projects like The Lord of the Rings have demonstrated Amazon’s willingness to spend vast sums of money on their television shows, and if they do pursue a Mass Effect series, I would hope they’d be willing to invest there too. One of the great things about the Mass Effect galaxy is how “alien-feeling” some of its non-human races are. Races like the volus, hanar, and krogan were able to be created for the video game series because the animators weren’t limited by the need to use human actors – and recreating those races for the small screen will be a challenge.

Bringing a hanar to the screen in a live-action series will be a challenge!

I don’t like to speak ill of Star Trek, but in that respect I think Mass Effect actually gives the franchise a run for its money! Many alien races in Star Trek – and other live-action sci-fi shows and films too – are naturally limited by using human actors. There have been some very different-looking aliens, of course, but the majority of the main cast are humanoid, something that’s also true of Star Wars. Mass Effect shook that up with races like the krogan being part of the player’s crew from the very first game, and I’d be curious to see how well that would work in a live-action production.

The story of the Mass Effect trilogy, with Commander Shepard on a quest to save the galaxy from the Reapers, would be absolutely fascinating to see retold as a television show! It would definitely need multiple seasons to do justice to such a long story (my playthrough earlier in the year of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition clocked in at almost 80 hours) but I think it could be done exceptionally well.

I recently replayed the Mass Effect trilogy.

Some fans have expressed concern about retelling the story of the Mass Effect trilogy. Not only would doing so mean recasting characters that fans have come to know and love, but it would also mean setting in stone a number of key decisions which form the core of the games’ role-playing and branching storylines.

On the first point, I think that we’ve seen so many franchises recast key characters over the years that I’m not particularly worried. In Star Trek we’ve had characters like Spock go through three iterations at this point, and while many fans have a favourite portrayal, I don’t think anyone disagrees that all three versions of the character work as intended in their various stories. Just like many actors have played roles like Hamlet or Richard III over the years, there’s room for more than one actor to play Commander Shepard. Heck, the original Mass Effect games already have two Commander Shepards – a male and female version of the character!

There are already different Commander Shepards…

On the second point, the Mass Effect galaxy absolutely feels like a vast setting in which different stories could be told. The story of the Reaper War is exciting and I think would make for engrossing television, but equally a Mass Effect television show could tell an original story in the same setting. Amazon is doing precisely this with its Lord of the Rings adaptation – the new show won’t be a retelling of the books nor a remake of the films, but a prequel set millennia earlier.

There’s huge potential in a Mass Effect television series, and there are many different ways to jump into the setting and tell stories. It wouldn’t have to be a straight adaptation of the video games and Commander Shepard’s story, because there are so many other stories out there in the Mass Effect galaxy. But at the same time, why not? The Reaper War is one of the best sci-fi stories I’ve seen in many years, and even though its rushed and imperfect final act did put a downer on things, that’s something that a television series could actually fix. An adaptation doesn’t have to be a like-for-like copy, so there’s scope to go back into the story and fix things that didn’t go to plan in the original games.

So watch this space! The rumour mill suggests that an announcement may be imminent, and while I don’t have “sources” of my own, I’m picking up this story from a number of different outlets – some of which are more reliable than others! For my two cents, I think a series like Mass Effect would work far better as a television series than a film, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. If and when we get any major news be sure to check back as I may have more to say.

The Mass Effect series is the copyright of Electronic Arts and BioWare. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.