The Mass Effect universe teems with everything from giant, subterranean worms who feed on solar radiation to space jellyfish capable of communicating with one another via barely perceptible alterations in color. There are gentle giants who have learned to move slowly because of how dangerous it is to fall on their homeworld, and ancient aliens who can read an inanimate object’s apparently existent mind simply by touching it.
With all of this in mind, it’s easy to believe that people have always been keen to explore this universe in more detail. What I mean by this is, it’s one thing to knock about from planet to planet as a super soldier tasked with saving the entire galaxy. But what about going to the back alley shitholes in nightlife districts less loud than Omega? What about visiting the volus’ homeworld of Irune in order to see them spit blue saliva at each other in the flesh? Look, we’ve had four Mass Effect games to date and I still haven’t seen a krogan ryncol party – what gives?
As it turns out, there’s a character from another space story who would absolutely do all of the above: Star Wars’ Han Solo. Apparently, there was almost a Mass Effect spin-off game inspired by him.
“We explored a game concept back in 2008, a bit after the shipping of [the first] ME, where you were playing a Han Solo type of character in a Star Control-inspired game in the Mass Effect universe,” Dorian Kieken tells me. “The game was intended to expand the Mass Effect universe and be done in parallel [with] the trilogy.”
Kieken worked as a development director at BioWare during production of the Mass Effect series. He was BioWare Montreal’s fifth ever employee, and was responsible for teams that worked on level design and cinematics, as well as driving the bulk of Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer effort.
“I like the idea of exploring a ‘grayer’ character, akin to a smuggler/pirate type in the ME universe,” Kieken explains. “It also allows you to see the world from a different point of view than the one of the chosen super- soldier. It’s a bit like exploring the Star Wars universe without being a Jedi, or the Warhammer 40k universe without being a Space Marine.
“I think having ‘grayer’ types of characters, defined as not being aligned with the universe’s good or bad guys, and also not attached to any major factions like pirates, allows you a large breath of exploration that you don’t have when you are the savior of the galaxy. Think of the story freedom you have in TV series like the Mandalorian or Firefly thanks to mercenaries or smuggler character archetypes.”
Interestingly enough, other Mass Effect writers also told me about wanting to explore a more morally ambiguous character, with several of them referring to Elite Dangerous as a model they’d like to adapt for the Mass Effect universe. Ultimately, though, the Han Solo idea – which was dropped between the development of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 – was just too much to commit to at the time.
“We all needed to focus on Mass Effect 2, which was the right call at the time,” Kieken explains. “I think the concept was really strong, though, and I would definitely like to see a game like that one day.”
Kieken also mentions a separate space exploration system that was in development seven years later. Despite being designed for Andromeda, it never made the final cut.
“I remember playing a pretty good prototype of space exploration back in 2015,” Kieken says. “You would basically pilot your ship from planet to planet.
“I wasn’t in the company anymore when that decision [to cut it] was made, but I’m not surprised. Not because it was not fun. It was. But it would have likely required a lot of effort to make work, and so, keeping it would have cost other parts of the game.
“We tried to do too much with Andromeda, from large explorable planets with a ground vehicle to space exploration with tons of planets. Something had to eventually give.”
So, there you have it – a Mass Effect Han Solo game that never was, and details of a playable piloting prototype that was cut out of necessity during the development of Andromeda. As another dev pointed out to me in a separate interview, BioWare was given much less time to work on Andromeda than the other Mass Effect games, meaning it had a narrower window for implementing ambitious mechanics like manual space exploration.
However, as Kieken says, he’d really like to see a game like Han-Solo-Star-Control-but-Mass-Effect some day. Maybe its existence on the cutting floor will end up being a blessing in disguise if we get it in future with a fully pilotable ship.
Next: Mass Effect 3 Could Have Had A Completely Different Ending
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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