We don’t know if Mass Effect 5 will star Commander Shepard, but I certainly would like that to be the case. Fans went wild when recently released merchandise for Mass Effect 5 teased the return of Shepard, but BioWare product director Michael Gamble was quick to deem it a “mistake.” However, Gamble didn’t say flat-out that Shepard wasn’t returning, just that the description for the merchandise “was written by the people who run the store and aren’t familiar with the game.”
In a world where you can’t trust when actors outright say they aren’t showing up in movies (looking at you, Andrew Garfield), Gamble avoiding a declarative statement raises even more eyebrows. Shepard could very well return for Mass Effect 5, which I believe will be a direct sequel to Mass Effect 3. Even though BioWare will have to contort its story in myriad, tangled ways in order to bring back the original trilogy’s protagonist – and the return of that protagonist would erase the RPG choices from the first three games – I still kind of want to play as Shepard again.
Bringing back Shepard likely means BioWare would have to make one of the several Mass Effect 3 endings canon, particularly the ‘Destroy’ option, which eradicates all synthetic life in the galaxy including EDI, the Geth, and, of course, the Reapers. This option also kills Shepard – unless the player goes into the final battle with a Total Military Strength (TMS) score of over 3100. In the original trilogy, this number was even higher, but since the Mass Effect Legendary Edition has no online multiplayer (which let you earn points towards your TMS), the required score was lowered to accommodate.
The Destroy ending that results in Shepard living is a tough one to achieve, but making any of these endings canon would eradicate the point of the trilogy in the first place. Mass Effect is an RPG, after all, with decisions following the player through every game, like sparing/killing the Rachni queen in Mass Effect 1, or saving/destroying the Reaper Base in Mass Effect 2. Establishing one of several endings as the “proper” ending will naturally feel like the choices players made over hundreds of hours of gameplay were for naught – and that’s antithetical to the nature of this style of RPG.
The original Mass Effect 3 ending is one of the more controversial moments in gaming history: the community, frustrated with the options available in the original ending, mounted multiple massive campaigns to have BioWare amend it. A “Retake Mass Effect” internet campaign demanded a “better” ending while also raising money for charity, while a player issued a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. There was even a ruling by the UK Advertising Standards Authority about it, and not long after the game’s release, BioWare released DLC to expand upon the ending.
If Mass Effect 5 stars Shepard and/or makes the Destroy ending canon, BioWare will seem like it’s trying to retcon its own controversial ending and ameliorate players’ discontent with how the original trilogy ended. This decision would also run the risk of creating and then exposing giant plot holes, which won’t go over well with an already (let’s be honest) volatile fan base.
Despite all of this, a huge part of me wants Shepard to return. There are precious few video game series that let you take your own, fully-formed character through hundreds of hours of gameplay that includes romance, ethical quandaries, and firefights. Because of this, naturally, players are incredibly fond of the Commander. The choices they’ve made as her have a weight to them and their consequences linger long after the end credits have rolled. For many, part of us lives within our Commander Shepards, and within the sci-fi world we once helped to save.
And for many who attempted to enjoy Andromeda (which is quite a good game), there was something not right about playing a Mass Effect game where you’re not Commander Shepard. It’s hard to see how another game without the Commander can avoid that feeling.
Even Commander Shepard actors Jennifer Hale and Mark Meer want to return for Mass Effect 5 – “I’d jump to come back and do anything in the universe, specialty, obviously more Shepard,” Hale told me in November 2021.
However, Meer touches on something that you can’t deny: the power and scope of the Mass Effect universe, and how much possibility exists within it. “The Mass Effect universe is so fully realized, and so well thought out, and it feels like a living place. I just want to see more stories in that universe,” Meer says in the same interview. “And I’m speaking strictly as a fan, not as a voice actor who’s hoping to get work, but as a fan of the franchise, a fan of the universe. I want to see more stories from all corners, from various points in the established history, stuff that’s only been referenced.”
There are salarians, batarians, asari, elcor, hanar, and so many more aliens who could give us a unique perspective on this fictional world and the events that have taken place in it. We could play as someone during the First Contact War, where humans and turians fought during the human race’s rapid expansion into the stars. Or perhaps Mass Effect 5 could effectively bridge the original trilogy and Andromeda, bringing back the Ryder twins with some of Shepard’s original crewmembers tagging along.
As much as I want more Commander Shepard content, I know that it would be nearly impossible to give us that in Mass Effect 5 without sacrificing so much of what makes the franchise special. Perhaps BioWare can figure out a way to give us some more Shepard (through flashbacks or perhaps as an on-board AI), but ultimately the next game in the series should focus on someone else. It breaks my heart to say it, but Shepard needs to stay dead.
Will see more of Mass Effect 5 at E3 2022 (opens in new tab)? Unclear, but keep an eye on our E3 2022 schedule (opens in new tab) to make sure you don’t miss anything.