If there’s one thing Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard has earned, it’s some goddamned rest.
Over the past 24 hours, flavor text for a promotional product, as spotted by a YouTuber, sent fans into a tizzy of speculation that the galactic hero would be returning in some sort of new adventure. But the fan-favorite role-playing series’ project director quickly put the rumors to rest, to which I can only say: Good. Bringing Shepard back is an abjectly terrible idea.
Though the main Mass Effect trilogy culminated in 2012—and its follow-up, Mass Effect: Andromeda, came out to middling reception five years later—BioWare’s seminal series of bang-an-extraterrestrial RPGs is in the midst of a resurgence. The developer teased the “next Mass Effect” at the 2020 Game Awards. Though details are slim, it purports to connect the threads between Andromeda and the core trilogy. That announcement was followed by last year’s Mass Effect Legendary Edition, a 4K-resprayed compilation of the original trilogy, plus like 99.99% of its DLC, which resurfaced its operatic narrative in cultural consciousness.
And if there’s one thing our collective replays drove home—Ah, sorry, one sec…
Spoilers follow for Mass Effect 3, 10 years old as of this year.
Ahem. As I was saying, if there’s one thing our collective replays drove home, it’s that Commander Shepard’s story comes to a definitive end. For many, that means Shepard meets perhaps the most definitive end: death.
Most of Mass Effect 3’s story focuses on Commander Shepard’s last-ditch effort to defeat the encroaching army of Reapers, a collective of sentient machines who roam the galaxy every 50,000 years and eliminate all traces of moderately intelligent life. At the end of Mass Effect 3, though there are various endings, you’re given a series of broad choices as to how you defeat the threat.
One choice allowed you to destroy all synthetic life in the galaxy, including the Reapers. Another allowed you to subsume them under your control. A third, available only if you did enough side-questing, gave you the option to fuse all synthetic and organic life. (Post-release DLC infamously added a fourth potential ending, which allowed you to simply blow up the Catalyst, condemning the galaxy to death.) All are available in Legendary Edition, and all show Commander Shepard making that ultimate sacrifice (y’know, death). But if you manage to get to a maximum “military readiness” score—meaning you basically did all of the side-questing, and the collect-a-thons—you’d see a cutscene of Shepard taking in a single breath.
Since-deleted text for an N7 Day poster sold on BioWare’s store suggested that the hard-to-achieve, 3.4-second long cinematic was canon. (N7 Day is BioWare’s annual fan celebration of the Mass Effect series.) As pointed out in a recent video by MrHulthen, a YouTuber who specializes in covering Mass Effect, the flavor text initially read: “While Shepard and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces, fans are left wondering what’s next.”
That text was revised—see if you can spot the difference—to “The threat of the Reapers might have been ended, but at great cost including Earth itself. While the survivors are left to pick up the pieces, fans are left wondering what’s next.” And currently, the poster’s product page doesn’t contain any reference to plot details regarding Mass Effect.
Representatives for EA, which publishes Mass Effect, did not respond to a request for comment. Mike Gamble, Mass Effect’s project director, said on Twitter that the original text mentioning Shepard’s survival was put out in error. But if it’s even the barest indication of what the next Mass Effect is about, the potential ramifications are flummoxing, to say the least.
I mean, if Commander Shepard truly makes a comeback, does that mean time travel is in play? After all, if this new game is meant to connect to Andromeda, which takes place six centuries after the events of the main trilogy, the narrative would need to do something to bridge the gap in time. Or, oh, maybe there’s a multiverse thing going on, though I certainly hope not; we’re already at peak cultural multiverse fatigue, and I can’t imagine such sentiment subsiding by the time the next Mass Effect comes out. (The next game does not have a name or a release date.)
Given that we know next to nothing about the plot of the next game at this point, I suppose it’s impossible to rule out the laziest of all worlds: that Shepard actually survived getting disintegrated in an incandescent flash of heavenly blue light, or disintegrated in an incandescent flash of heavenly red light, or disintegrated in an incandescent flash of heavenly green light, or, uh, trampled by an ageless species of intergalactic machines who are strong enough to level cities.
But all speculation is, ultimately, beside the point. The return of Commander Shepard would likely come as a disappointment to fans—it would essentially do away with the entire thrust of the original trilogy, whose appeal was predicated on making tough choices at key narrative moments, of living with the consequences, and seeing the ramifications all the way through to the finale. That finale was pretty damn definitive. Fans have had a decade to let it gestate. There’s no reason to rewrite that history.
Plus, c’mon, if there’s any supposedly dead character who should make a comeback, it’s not the good commander (who, again, has seriously earned some peace and quiet 10 times over). It’s Thane.