By Kyle B. Stiff
BioWare has asked its fans whether or not they would like the next Mass Effect game to take place before or after Shepard’s trilogy. This begs a couple of questions. First, would it really be possible to make a game that takes place after Mass Effect 3? Second, do the writers really not see the “three doors” ending as a quarantine of the Mass Effect future?
But thinking about a possible future-based Mass Effect got me wondering about a crazy idea. What if BioWare has already made something that takes place after the events portrayed in Mass Effect 3? WARNING: CRAZY INSANE BALLS-OUT SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE.
In order to understand the Mass Effect universe (and this stupid idea I’m working on), we have to consider just what a “cycle” is, in terms of the reapers’ unending harvests. The reapers refer to it all the time. Life appears, life develops, civilizations develop, then the reapers come and wipe it out in an orderly manner so that it doesn’t wipe itself out in a disorderly manner. The life cycle of a reaper is such that when a civilization reaches its “apex” and the lifeforms therein prove themselves worthy, their genes are harvested and used to create a new reaper. This new reaper acts as a record of the harvested species and becomes a farmhand for the reaper collective. The reapers work for a few years, then they retreat into dark space and either sleep or meditate or just dick around for around fifty thousand years. Sometimes a reaper will be left behind, most likely to make sure no civilizations get out of hand, to keep an eye out for the leviathans, and to look for possible early-harvest conscripts (like the rachni).
Now let’s get into some bullshit speculation. When you only know about life existing on one planet, it’s not hard to speculate that it could be an accident. “Some lightning hit some water, there was some sludge, I think a hot vent opened up in the ocean – then the organic equivalent of the collected works of Shakespeare kind of wrote itself and was capable of making copies and changing over time, no big deal, makes total sense.” When you start speculating about life on other worlds, especially about life that looks kind of similar (humans, asari, and turians all have two arms, two legs, bilateral symmetry, etc), then you start admitting that there’s got to be a universal law at work. Energy can’t be created or destroyed, bodies attract one another, light moves at a certain speed that doesn’t change… and inorganic matter sometimes turns into organic matter, which in turn develops into self-aware organisms. It’s not that crazy, but it’s something to wrap a head around.
Now, the only reason I went into all that detail is because of this idea that ties together Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Here comes some more speculation.
What if, in the Mass Effect universe, life develops because an imperfect but highly intelligent higher-dimensional creature makes it in order to watch and see what it does? And what if this creature used the universe as his playground, or sandbox, or garden? This creature would of course be intensely interested in watching its creations grow and develop and change. Just imagine being able to make a painting that could take on a life of its own. This hypothetical creature was probably very excited to see his leviathans develop, and watched them build their empire and take over weaker cultures that maybe It hadn’t put as much thought or effort into. Maybe this creature even competed with similar creatures, and they pitted their creatures against one another on a regular basis; perhaps a tournament was held once every trillion years throughout the multiverse, and the winning species was allowed to become a meta-being and sit on the council of higher-dimensional creator-creatures.
But anyway, the leviathans made the reapers. The creator was probably intrigued at first, then alarmed. Here he had a species created by one of his own creations, and while they were impressive and powerful, they were also making it impossible to restock the garden for any decent length of time. It was probably very frustrating to have to start from scratch over and over while the reapers spent most of their time napping between binge-eating sessions.
But the creator-creature wouldn’t just throw a fit and hit the reset button. If it came down to it, he could always just declare the reapers as his representatives in any upcoming competition. The reapers weren’t a weak race, just lopsided. Powerful, but limited in their scope and potential.
So what would a creator do in that instance? He would keep making living things that could compete with the reapers. He would have to tweak and change and work within the limits of his garden universe. And he couldn’t make anything too terribly overpowering because the reapers would just fuck them up in-between cycles. From the reapers’ perspective, once life and culture develop to the point where scientific principles are being used to control matter, then the race in question needs to be harvested, and soon. The yahg certainly aren’t going to be allowed to have 20th century technology and an extra fifty thousand years to see what they can develop. The reapers have all kinds of contingencies for dealing with species that are either ahead of the curve or awkwardly behind the curve and thus reach their apex before or after proper harvest time. In the case of a reaper victory (and let’s be adults here and admit that the reapers won at the end of Mass Effect 3), the yahg were either nuked from orbit or sent an express package of a few thousand thresher maws.
That’s why the creator would have to focus on making a species that was powerful, but not too powerful. Nothing lopsided, nothing imbalanced. Nothing that would destroy itself, and nothing that would unduly alarm the reapers, would be adequate for potentially defeating the reapers. At best, a lopsided species would merely make for good competition for other species to learn from (I’m thinking specifically of the krogan).
So in terms of my current bullshit idea, we have three noteworthy cycles. One in the past, one in the near future, and one in the distant future.
As for the past, we have the protheans. I’m sure the creator was plenty excited about these guys. They developed at a rate that didn’t alarm the reapers, so they weren’t wiped out by the rachni or thresher maws or any other freakish thing that keeps a stranglehold on lifeforms that stand out. But the protheans were pretty badass, too. They were tough enough to force every other species to do what they wanted. They cut through all the red tape that goes hand in hand with negotiations and diplomacy. Individual members gave up their sovereignty to the awesome prothean cultural meta-being, and when the harvest began, they were able to delay the reapers for several centuries.
But they still lost. The creator had to start over again. In the next cycle, which we see in the Mass Effect games, the human species fared better than any other species against the reapers (as far as we know). Humanity did so well, in such a short amount of time, that the reapers took a special interest in them. Humanity had a balance of savagery and ingenuity that made them noteworthy, and were able to balance individual heroism and idea-making with cooperating as a collective cultural meta-being. Instead of steam-rolling over every culture that got in their way, like the protheans, humanity actively solved problems and were able to bring the full weight of the galaxy’s inhabitants against the reapers. The harvest cycle in the Mass Effect era was violent and brought to an end with unusual speed; many reapers were killed and, as a species, they were truly tested. Only the slow, subtle indoctrination of their greatest foe’s greatest champion, Commander Shepard, brought about a profitable end to the harvest.
So once again the creator was forced to start from scratch… but with some new ideas to work with this time. And it would need those ideas, too, as there was now, in all likelihood, a giant organic-metal skeleton of the collective human species riding around inside of a black steel squid jockeying for the position of “leader of the collective” formerly held by Harbinger.
For its new cycle of lifeforms, the creator put most of its effort into something very similar to humanity. Negotiating with other races and gaining their support was humanity’s real claim to fame, so the creator would most likely place the new-humanity in a world hospitable to multiple branches of the human tree. This world would be home to several carefully redesigned branches of the human species… creatures that could learn from one another’s strengths and weaknesses, creatures that could compete with one another in order to remain fit, and creatures that could band together when necessary.
Of course, I’m talking about the world of Dragon Age. In my estimation, Dragon Age takes place many thousands of years after Mass Effect 3. The higher-dimensional creator-creature has remade something close to conventional humans, as well as new-humans that we call elves, dwarves, and qunari.
So what’s with all the magic, then? Aren’t science-fiction and fantasy two completely unrelated realms? Not necessarily. Think about it like this. The asari homeworld, Thessia, has a lot of element zero. Thessia has so much element zero that the asari naturally developed the most powerful biotic abilities of any species in the Mass Effect universe. This gave them an edge over any other species. Even in combat, few things are more dangerous in a one-on-one fight than a lone asari commando. The asari were known for their grace, artistic sensibilities, and long-lasting democratic systems… and their psychopaths, the ardat yakshi, were feared by everyone.
So the creator-creature wanted to combine these functions, and placed multiple instances of new-humanity on a world jam-packed with element zero. And not just enough element zero to give a human the ability to play a video game without holding a controller (we already have that with the Kinect). No, we’re talking about a world filled with so much freaking element zero that it changes the minds of developing organisms to the point where they’re living in a full-on shamanic state of induced hallucination and dreamy schizophrenic potential all the time. We have little tingles in the backs of our minds that we call a sixth sense, but these crazy bastards have raging pineal glands that can pierce through the veil of reality 24-7. Dragons spitting fire, wizards throwing flames from their hands, even fire spewing out of overflowed toilets – nothing is fantastic anymore to these guys. Why, they can take short journeys into dark space, and even other dimensions, which they call the Fade. In short, their shit is way, way the fuck out there.
And that’s exactly why they have to deal with darkspawn. There’s a chance that the reapers are doing more than just napping when they return to dark space. They may have an entire empire that they rule over, an empire of violence and suffering and clockwork order and howling and shrieking. A world inhabited by what we would call demons, disembodied freaks composed entirely of non-matter capable of “possessing” flesh and blood creatures sensitive to that sort of thing. The reapers may have left someone behind after the Mass Effect cycle, just like they did with Sovereign, and they may have seen the new-humanity doing all kinds of insane shit that bent over the laws of physics and plowed it wide open. So, just like they messed with the rachni in order to keep a few species in check, and just like they (I think) made and scattered the thresher maws, they may have seeded this new world with the darkspawn in order to keep the new-humanity in check until the time came for a proper harvest.
And that’s exactly why it’s not completely insane to speculate that the “next” Mass Effect game already exists, and is called Mass Effect 4: Dragon Age: Origins. However, it would be nice to have a game that could act as a segue, and which would most likely begin with a somewhat technologically advanced crew of new-humans, dwarves, elves, and qunari stumbling on a recording of Liara warning the future inhabitants of the species about the reapers, and how Shepard and the others lost the war against them long, long ago…
Hey readers! I’ve got some other Mass Effect stuff available for your perusal. Want some speculation about how the final battle of ME3 should have taken place in Rio de Janiero? Or here’s an outline for a game called Mass Effect 4: Indoctrination Theory. I’ve also got some random Mass Effect speculation and bitching available HERE. If fanfiction is more your thing (and why shouldn’t it be?), then you can check out some stories based on the Destroy, Control, and Synthesis endings.
If you liked this post, you should check out some of my books. I’ve got an epic series called Demonworld, which is equal parts Mad Max and Lord of the Rings (think “science fantasy”), and a much-loved gamebook series called Heavy Metal Thunder which is currently a hyperlinked Kindle book but will be a fancy phone app any day now.