How I Would Script: An Attempt At Saving The Mass Effect Franchise


How I Would Script is a weekly column at The Open Man by Joseph Nardone. In it, our favorite, most handsome Internet Scribbler maps out how he would recreate whatever TV show or movie that is on his mind. Have a suggestion? Hit him on Twitter @JosephNardone.

How I Would Script has gone video game-ish heavy as of late, but never with a full attempt at fixing a franchise. Today, my friends, that changes. We are going to try like all hell to save the Mass Effect series.

It is documented to the point of nausea by now. Bioware failed miserably in its attempt to kickstart a new trilogy in the Mass Effect universe, as Andromeda had more issues than a professional wrestler without a place to bodyslam a human.

Facial animations, iffy storytelling, unwelcoming characters, you name it, Andromeda was the opposite of the cat’s meow. In fact, if the original Mass Effect trilogy were similar to something as great as finding 50 dollars in your couch, Andromeda would be like reaching into your couch only to be poked by a needle filled with heroine in it.

That is unless you’re a huge fan of heroine. If so, please get help.

Anyway, our attempt at restarting this baby in a way that can make Mass Effect both profitable enough for Bioware to keep churning them up, as well as fun enough to consume for people to play, isn’t actually all that inventive.

If we are being brutally honest about it, and save for letting Casey Hudson just overhaul it himself, the only way to save Mass Effect is to fix the issues in the original trilogy.

Yes. Yes. That’s right. The foundation of this idea is to essentially re-release the first three games, but updating the graphics and fixing key plot points that fans have long agreed are trash.

It is a reboot of sorts. The kind that does seem inherently silly considering the franchise is not that old. However, imagine if Bioware came up to us and said, “Listen. We heard your complains. Let’s start completely fresh. We will redo the original trilogy and fix the ending to boot.”

I am pretty sure we would all need to changer our underwear.

We are talking about a complete redo. Not a remaster of the first three. Brand new animations. Some new arcs in storytelling. And, most importantly, a much better ending — one that doesn’t shoehorn the franchise from leaving one galaxy to start anew in another.

This is a bit more complicated than you think. At least the most important part is (the ending).

Except it really, really should.

Our focus will be, as we all believed it to be with the trilogy, on how our decisions during the games alter moments that happen later on, with a true and differing  ending happening for the player.

Obviously, we can’t make a billion different endings. It isn’t realistic to expect Bioware, or any other company, to be able to have so many diverse products. We will touch on that later, though.

Unlike previous How I Would Scripts, this one isn’t about fixing or retooling completely broken franchises or ones run dry of great premises. The original Mass Effect was so good, so rich in nearly everything a gamer would want, our improvements are bland and simple ideas. Graphics are obvious. Some recasting of characters, too. It is that we are attempting to save the franchise by way of making some near perfect even closer to realizing that perfection.

It is with how we build to our new ending, which can then reshape the Mass Effect universe in a way it never needs to leave the galaxy, that will be our — probably futile — attempt at saving this beloved, yet now star-crossed franchise.

Our Lovers Need To Matter More

Monogamy might not make a lot of sense to single folk, but neither does boinking people throughought three games and none of it ever feeling like it truly connected to anything than that specific game.

Depending on how you felt about Ashley Williams in ME-1, who was basically a bigot toward aliens if we are being honest, you either slept with her or Dr. Liara T’Soni, or did the dirty with Kaidan Alenko.

Williams or Alenko, it is worth noting, are key figures in the first game, as one of the two have to kick the bucket. However, it isn’t the one you sleep with. Your lover can survive the first game.

I played through the original ME about a billion times. 90 percent of the time I chose Liara. I found her the most endearing (and least annoying) of my choices. You could have chosen whoever you wanted, but please know that if you chose Williams, I am assuming you voted for Donald Trump.

We aren’t going to run through all your boinking options through all three games. If you’re reading this, you know who was available to make love to and when.

My issue with this isn’t the variety or the options. There were plenty of both. It is that the game never wanted me to be faithful to my first choice. For me, Liara was it. I would have preferred to be hers and hers only through all three games, and yet the ME storytellers never really gave us that choice.

Instead, it pushed you to become a serial lovemaker. You had no true connection to anyone. You were the Wilt Chamberlain of video games.

My fix here would be to both not reward (or punish for that matter) sleeping around and to make your first connection in the Mass Effect universe truly meaningful.

In my humble opinion, it isn’t that we actually need to stay faithful to whoever we chose in the first game, but we need to feel/have that “first lover” aspect to Shepard and {Insert Your First Lover Here} throughout the entire franchise; or until the latter dies.

As it was, as soon as you began playing Mass Effect 2, then worse in 3, it dawned on you that whoever you fell in love with in the original wasn’t going to be all that important.

I don’t know. Call me old fashioned, but I wouldn’t mind our choice of first lover having some impact that has monumental ramifications through the entire trilogy. I’m not talking a head nod here and there or some random throwaway lines. We are talking plot-changing stuff.

Really, since we had three choices in game one, whoever we choose should help create three wholly different story-acrs in the second game. Really, it could be five, as two of the original could have either died or lived in the first.

What we are doing here is not only creating a meaningful relationship that will/should greatly impact the rest of the trilogy, we are setting up Mass Effect 2 to essentially be 5 different games in one JUST AT THE STARTING POINT.

That gives our new ME-1 reason to be replayed at least five teams, and that’s obviously not counting the want to make differing other-game choices in different play throughs.

Streamline Experience/Shepard Is Not An Errand Runner

This isn’t only an issue with Mass Effect, but nearly all “expansive” open-world type games. Here we are, humanity’s only hope to stop total species elimination, and we are constantly tasked to run mother bleeping errands.

Nonsense like this has to stop.

Sure. I get it. It removes hours of filler from each game, but filler without real reward is dumb anyway. Not to mention that it makes zero logical sense for someone like a Spectre — and the guy inevitably a galaxy-known hero — to be trotting about places doing the most mundane things.

I would argue that stuff takes away from the entire experience. Instead of living through Shepard with the sense of urgency his actual hero-status should come with, we constantly hit anticlimactic stops in our storytelling via dumb sidequests.

Do away with them, completely. The random errands can be saved for bonus game material after you beat it or something. It should not be built into the fabric of leveling-up your player, the storytelling, or any other part of a series that is otherwise glorious.

Just allow us to have the entire scope of the game injected right into our junkie veins, Bioware. We will love you for this, I swear it.

Saren Arterius Is Complicated

The Reapers are the true enemy, though I would argue Saren might be the best “boss” in the entire franchise.

There’s a problem with how he was handled, however. While the series would here and there hint at it, Saren was actually not evil. His intentions were good, if not even pure. That complexity should be better explained.

Here is where I, the guy literally trying to tell Bioware how to save the franchise, came to an impasse.

Do I want a standalone prequel game for Saren to be better understood or an all-of-a-sudden two-hour storytelling arc in the original ME?

For me, either is mostly fine, but if I am being honest, I don’t fully love full blown origin stories for bad guys. Either way, since Saren is the evil, but still kinda good, guy that starts our quest off in earnest, he needs a more reaching impact.

Nothing bothers me more than MAJOR characters (good or bad) just becoming Easter Egg fodder for later installments of a franchise.

It is why I would also suggest that Saren has non-villain followers that remain loyal to his ideology after the first game’s conclusion. Camps or guilds, or however you want to explain them, that believed in how Saren wanted to save the galaxy in such a religious way that it does battle against Shepard and company throughout the franchise.

They are like Saren. Not good. Not bad. Complex. They, too, want to save the galaxy. Just not how we want to.

My biggest and most drastic change to the entire Saren arc would be that, because it is gosh slam science-fiction, the Reapers were able to recover his body and “save him.” Saren reappearing at the end of our version of Mass Effect 2 (as a tease heading into 3) would be my giant kicker.

In ME-3, I would actually have him end up being torn over what side he’s actually on. And depending on the many decisions we made throughout the three games in regard to how we’ve handled his followers, he might help us by going on some suicide mission for us or become a key villain toward the end of the third entry.

Call me suspect, but he was our first true villain. Like I mentioned with our first lovers in the series earlier in the column, there’s something about them being the first I just can’t quit.

The Ending

And. Here. We. Go.

Nothing I said before matters as much as this. Not a single bit. Bioware can put some shine on the graphics, update the product all over the place, and even tinker with a mostly already fine dialogue system. If the ending is still trash, we just find ourselves back where we are now — a place in space and time where the ending of the original trilogy being paired with Andromeda has essentially murdered the franchise.

The ending, or really the lead up to the ending, of Mass Effect 2 was god damn perfect. From our entire crew coming for a mission in which numerous characters might die, to it having an emotional impact, is something the trilogy’s finale lacked.

Some of the important stuff from all three games needs to be more of a thing here. It seems simple, because it is, but Bioware ignored that when forcing us to push one of three buttons that essentially did the same thing.

Let’s break some of the simple stuff down in haste.

Whoever is not dead, from ALL THREE GAMES, needs to be present at the very end in some form or fashion. Whether that is with Shepard for the final showdown or with cut-scenes of impact being had during the last hoorah, it does not matter.

Ignoring any, especially after (hopefully having) so many emotional moments with them would be disappointing.

The dead matter, too. From Lee Lenkins being our first ally lost to whoever else perished during our journey, some neat cannon should be hurled in toward the end. Maybe Shepard has a speech in which he recalls our fallen friends, or there’s a flashback vision of them, it is important — for cannon’s sake — to avoid pretending those characters did not play a huge role.

The allies acquired or not should be a huge factor. Did we let that giant cockroach survive (Rachni Wars, baby!) in the first ME? Then that entire species should have our back. If not, maybe those cockroaches somehow aligned with the Reapers and are our last mini-bosses before the final showdown.

This goes for how we handled political interactions with other species. Something that isn’t great in logical form, but can be used because it is fiction, is that some species and their governments might think similarly to Saren — especially if we treated them badly during our voyage.

One example being: If we kept telling the Krogan that the Salarians were correct in unleashing the genophage, not a one of them should be eager to help any species. The opposite can/might be applied to the Salarians if were kept accusing them of being the video game version of Hitler.

As for how the end-end should be:

No buttons. We should have to face one last giant boss and then be forced to make a final decision, or the other way around, but buttons are some of the most anticlimactic storytelling devices I’ve ever come across.

Seriously. Hundreds of hours of playing through three games and all your decisions come down to pushing a mother bleeping button?!

I would prefer it to be slightly more like the time in ME-1 when you had to choose between saving Ashley or Kaiden. Give us multiple choices, with broad-ish ramifications known to the user as s/he selects them, for where our final confrontation happens.

Door one can lead to committing character suicide to save the galaxy (with the fallout being the rest of the characters survive).

Door two can be Shepard taking a diplomatic approach with The Reapers (somehow); agreeing to go with them in exchange for the galaxy’s well-being (maybe they’re really impressed with him they rather study him than wipe out a ton of species).

Door three can be what we think is the “happy ending” but is really one where our character survives, but most — if not all — allies are lost.

Door four can be you fighting The Reapers, with them saying on the way out “we are taking one species with us” and our character being forced to decide what species goes the way of the dinosaur.

And so on. Anything, really, that does not result in buttons or a total closure on this galaxy. This could be the end of The Reapers threat, and we would need to figure out a new one for the fourth game in our franchise, but we spent three games building this universe with our actions and the consequences of those. Let them be lasting for every ME installment.

For my money, no matter how this trilogy is to end, Shepard would be correctly treated as the galaxy’s hero moving on in the franchise. Statues of him built, kids learning about him in history class, etc. As for the character himself, if he dies in your version of the trilogy, he becomes a part of Mass Effect lore and you can meeting some of the original trilogy’s characters who tell you stuff about him.

If he were to live, he becomes a hero who prefers to stay in hiding (maybe even faking his own death), as to be left alone. One of our crucial plot-points in Mass Effect 4 can be finding him for advice (would be a tremendous more-than-just-a-callback moment).