It has been little over a week since the ending of another San Diego Comic Con, and whilst there is always a lot to digest from such a prestigious event I think it’s fair to say a lot of gaming fans will be focusing on a lack of news from BioWare, in light of their panel focussed on Mass Effect 4, for lack of another name (“It’s not called Mass Effect 4, dammit!”).
With the panel now available to peruse to your heart’s content on the BioWare Base YouTube channel, it is very easy to get caught up in the scraps of information offered up to the hungry Mass Effect fans out there, and you can’t blame them for doing so. Equally, however, it is noticeable how little Mike Gamble is willing to give away on the panel saddens me as much as the snippets excite me – so much so that a drinking game could be made out of every “I can’t tell you that” answer.
Maybe I was just expecting more but it really is worth questioning what we learnt, subtle hints and apologetic responses aside. The biggest shard of information was definitely the return of the Mako, a ground vehicle used in Mass Effect 1 by the player and shunned to the sidelines for the other two of the trilogy. The Mako itself has undergone a redesign which offers a few interesting points of thought – enabling us to question the timeline and location of this new game. The fact the Mako is a different design and offers different functionalities, mainly a lack of combat technology, combine to hint that the game takes place in a different era of time to the Shepard story – which is later confirmed by Gamble.
As part of the panel the purpose of the Mako in this new game was revealed. “It’s a really agile Mako, it’s much different than the one you’ve seen before. There’s no cannon on it, maybe it can hover, maybe it can jump.” This was followed up by confirmation that “the Mako is meant to be a fast response point to point vehicle, it’s something that you can tear around planets in really quick to get to where you need to go without a whole bunch of fuss.” This indicates a massive change of emphasis with this vehicle, and even hints towards a shift in the style of gameplay on offer. It is promising to hear the developers recognising issues encountered with the previous iteration of the Mako, and hopefully it’ll be as fun to use as Mike Gamble is portraying it.
After several fanboy-ish moments of drooling over the pretty Mako, we’re left to wonder what the described purpose of the Mako means for the overall gameplay of the new game. We can’t expect to resume the galaxy saving mantle of the original trilogy, but the exploration factor and lack of combat kit makes me wonder how different this game will end up being from its predecessors. One thing that doesn’t seem to be changing, however, is the race of the main character. All character art on display in the panel was very much human oriented – although Gamble was edgy about the possibility of other controllable characters.
Without a confirmed timeline or location it’s hard to predict much more about the game from the facts pulled out from this panel. One notable detail learnt from this panel is the developers aim to provide the player with familiar things, although it wasn’t really stated what these would be. It does hint that the player could be returning to planets visited in the original trilogy, or even interacting with alien races with a longer life span than the average Commander Shepard – but it is hard to say this is anything other than speculation, as this information was only earned on the back of a fan asking to see more of Aria T’Loak.
There isn’t much of a conclusion to be drawn about the timeline, but the emphasis on discovering uncharted territory means a lot is left to the imagination thus far. If you add this exploration focus to the brilliant character and world design we know and love from BioWare, it makes for an exciting prospect. In all honesty I think BioWare could do come up with a very generic main plot and make it engaging by utilising links to the original trilogy and building upon their great work of getting a player to develop attachments to characters in their stories. Mike Gamble was very upfront regarding the purpose of the panel – fan service with very little confirmed details – but I would prefer they had kept quiet until they had something more solidified, instead of adding a few scraps of fuel to a very dim fire.