While expectations are high for Mass Effect 4, there are still a lot of questions surrounding the upcoming title. Some of which, like what Mass Effect 3 ending BioWare will choose to make canon, appear to have been answered. But others remain a mystery and have produced plenty of fan theories. There are some things that fans are very clear on, one of which is the missteps of Mass Effect: Andromeda that they would prefer to see fixed, like the game's lack of new alien races.
After Commander Shepard's epic journey concluded in Mass Effect 3, BioWare needed to take the franchise in a new direction. While opting to switch galaxies and have a number of Milky Way inhabitants travel across space to Andromeda appeared to offer lots of opportunities, the series didn't quite capitalize on them. Introducing a new protagonist with either of the Ryder twins was met with a mixed response, as some liked the Ryders' enthusiasm while others missed the days of Shepard and their unflappable heroism. But other elements were less positive, like the criticism Mass Effect: Andromeda faced due to its lack of new species.
Despite introducing players to a whole new galaxy, only two sentient species were added to the Mass Effect series: the kett and the anagara. Compared to how many species inhabited the Milky Way, this felt woefully sparse. Not only that, but many fan-favorite species like the qurians didn't feature thanks to their Ark being delayed, and its location remained unknown during Mass Effect: Andromeda's narrative. The disappointment fans felt at the apparent emptiness of Andromeda was heightened because the new game could have delivered so much - a whole new system of planets, new societies to get to know, and new aliens to meet.
Mass Effect 4 has a lot of expectations to fulfill, and it will be interesting to see in what direction BioWare takes the new story. While it seems as if the Milky Way and established characters will feature (thanks to a glimpse of what fans assume to be Liara in the trailer), Andromeda is still likely to have its place. Although not much has been shown of the game so far, the trailer featured during The Game Awards 2020 seemed to establish a connection between both the trilogy and Mass Effect: Andromeda. The opening shot deliberately showed both galaxies, and with asari and the fragment of N7 armor, it's clear the Milky Way has a prominent place.
The inclusion of both branches of the Mass Effect franchise is welcomed for some fans who felt Mass Effect: Andromeda still had strong story elements despite its criticisms. How BioWare will go about merging the two galaxies will be interesting, but it seems likely that Mass Effect 4 may take place several hundred years in the future to accommodate the journey the Andromeda Initiative took between galaxies. This way, if the Destroy ending from Mass Effect 3 is made canon, the Milky Way would have had time to repair the Mass Relay network and the various Mass Effect species could integrate once more.
This would also potentially give them time to create more efficient ways to travel between the Milky Way and Andromeda, so the angara would be able to make their own journey across the stars to a brand-new galaxy. Alternatively, some of the game's action could take place in Andromeda and some in the Milky Way, making Mass Effect 4 more expansive than its predecessors. If this is the case, BioWare could make up for the lack of new sentient species in Mass Effect: Andromeda by traveling outside the Heleus Cluster where the Andromeda Initiative first set up base. This would be a sure-fire way of adding even more races to Mass Effect's long list, especially as vast amounts of the Milky Way are already explored whereas Andromeda remains mostly unchartered.
Crafting a unique and complex world requires lots of ingredients, but a tried-and-tested method to flesh out any in-game setting is to have a nuanced society that feels authentic. In the Mass Effect trilogy, it felt as if players were stepping into a universe that had millennia of lore and history, filled with fraught relationships and interspecies interactions. It was fun getting to know the various races, and it helped to make the peril of the galaxy feel all the more real by the time Mass Effect 3 rolled around. While Mass Effect: Andromeda's sparsity enforced its pioneering sensibilities, it also made the galaxy feel a lot less alive or interesting.
It might seem hard for Mass Effect 4 to match the level of threat the Reapers represented, so instead of trying to create a new big bad that puts the entire galaxy at risk, the game could focus on interspecies tensions. With so many races sharing the same space, as well as the potential arrival of the angara in the Milky Way, there would definitely be more than a few things to fight over. By having a galaxy that is so full of diverse creatures and beings, BioWare has many directions that it could take the Mass Effect 4 story.
Mass Effect 4 is in development.