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The next Mass Effect game is definitely a direct sequel to Mass Effect 3, here's why

Mass Effect 4
(Image credit: BioWare)

A Mass Effect teaser trailer dropped at The Game Awards, and it's certainly looking like the next game in the franchise will be Mass Effect 4, a direct continuation of the original trilogy. There's quite a few reasons to believe BioWare's next Mass Effect game will take us back to the Milky Way and follow the crew of the SSV Normandy – though whether Commander Shepard will return is less likely (but not impossible). As we recently reported, BioWare project director Michael Gamble says that the teaser trailer has "much to unpack," and suggested we "Look. And listen closely." 

Doing so provides a wealth of connections to the original trilogy, which had multiple ending options – some of which could easily transition into a sequel. Based on this trailer, however, there may be a canon Mass Effect 3 ending that would lead into the events of Mass Effect 4. Let's break down what we can expect from the next game in the Mass Effect franchise, using info from the third game, the trailer, and the Art of the Mass Effect Trilogy book. 

The ending of Mass Effect 3 

Mass Effect 3

(Image credit: BioWare)

To move forwards we must first look backwards – to the ending of Mass Effect 3. After several years of battling the Reapers (sentient starships seeking to cause a mass extinction at the galactic level), Commander Shepard faces off against the Catalyst, the creator of the Reapers. 

The Catalyst admits defeat to Shepard, but offers her three options for activating the Crucible, a Prothean superweapon designed to stop the Reapers. There are three major fates that hang in the balance: Earth, the Normandy crew, and Shepard. A combination of military strength (the in-game metric for the assets you can accumulate throughout gameplay, including people, armies, fleets, items, and more) and player choice provides several possible endings for all three. 

The three choices are as follows:

  • Destroy: Destroy the Reapers and all synthetic life in the galaxy (this includes EDI, the Geth, and more)
  • Control: Control the Reapers by downloading Shepard into their AI
  • Synthesis:  Synthesize and combine all organic and synthetic life, resulting in a galaxy-wide balance and universal understanding 

The "Synthesis" option is unavailable to anyone with an effective military strength score of less than 2800. If you enter into the final battle with a score below 1750, everybody dies no matter what. If you head into the final battle with a score of over 4000, the "Destroy" option can result in the Earth, Shepard, and the Normandy crew all surviving (though Shepard will only live with a score below 5000 if Captain Anderson survives an earlier cutscene decision).

What does the Mass Effect 4 trailer tell us?

Mass Effect 5

(Image credit: BioWare)

We've been told by Michael Gamble himself to look and listen carefully to the nearly two-minute teaser trailer, and we can glean quite a bit from doing both. The first full minute of audio plays like a Mass Effect lore/history lesson. 

There's a War of the Worlds clip, from when alien invasion was just fiction, then the moon landing, when space travel became reality. At 00:20 we hear what sounds like "Arcturus station, unknown vessel approach," which could represent the First Contact War, when humans and turians warred before the events of Mass Effect. 

We get a Mass Effect Andromeda reference in "Ark 6 is away". In Andromeda, which takes place between Mass Effect 2 and 3, six ships make a perilous journey across a void between galaxies. Only five of them are called "arks," however, as the sixth is the Nexus, Andromeda's version of the Citadel. So, Ark 6 could be referencing the delayed Quarian Ark ship, or it could be talking about Nexus. 

The final piece of the audio timeline is clearly the events of Mass Effect 3 – the unforgettable sound of a Reaper attack blares, and then at 00:50 someone says "we've lost contact." Afterwards, there's some difficult to makeout dialogue, but it certainly sounds like some familiar voices.

Turning to the visuals, which become more telling just as the audio timeline ends, there's a much clearer picture here (pun intended). A figure climbs up a snowy hill, with a dead Reaper in the background – that it's a dead Reaper was confirmed by Gamble on Twitter,  which also confirms the game takes place in the Milky Way galaxy and potentially on Earth (where Shepard's final showdown takes place). That figure picks up a piece of N7 armor, most likely Shepard's, further suggesting this is Earth. 

The camera pans up to reveal that the mysterious figure is definitely Liara T'Soni (I'd recognize those freckles anywhere), with a trio of other figures in the far distance. They certainly look like the silhouettes of a salarian, a human, and a krogan (or a turian), and they're standing by the Mud Skipper spaceship teased in concept art. So, based on chronological audio and the visuals of a dead Reaper and destroyed N7 armor, it's safe to say this is a Mass Effect 4 teaser. But what story will it tell?

The Mass Effect 4 story 

Mass Effect tease

(Image credit: BioWare)

Based on the ending of Mass Effect 3 and this new teaser, it seems like Mass Effect 4 might make the hardest-to-achieve "Destroy" ending canon. It's already clear that the "Destroy" ending is what's portrayed in the trailer, as there's the presence of a dead Reaper and no sign of any green markings on Liara, which would signify the "Synthesis" ending took place. And according to Eurogamer, concept art from the Art of the Mass Effect Trilogy book shows what looks like humanity building their own mass relays – which would need to happen considering Shepard destroys them all when she destroys the Reapers. 

However, I'm taking this one step further: I think Shepard is alive, and therefore I think that the most difficult "Destroy" ending is what's portrayed here (or there's just some clever ret-con at work). The aforementioned ending requires players to have an effective military strength score of over 4000 and results in Shepard destroying the Reapers and saving everyone – including herself. 

BioWare brought Shepard back from the dead before, and although the trailer seems to focus on Liara, it's unlikely they'll choose a well-known member of the Normandy crew to serve as Mass Effect 4's main protagonist. It has to be our Shepard. Unfortunately this all still means EDI and the Geth are probably dead. Sorry. 

Alyssa Mercante

Alyssa Mercante is an editor and features writer at GamesRadar based out of Brooklyn, NY. Prior to entering the industry, she got her Masters's degree in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University with a dissertation focusing on contemporary indie games. She spends most of her time playing competitive shooters and in-depth RPGs and was recently on a PAX Panel about the best bars in video games. In her spare time Alyssa rescues cats, practices her Italian, and plays soccer.