With the release of the teaser trailer for Mass Effect 5, fans are ecstatic at the prospect of returning to this beloved universe and being able to explore all the intricate and mesmerising worlds that Bioware dishes up. It’s no surprise that the fan base is analysing and speculating over every little detail it can. One question fans have is: ‘Who are we going to be playing as?’ Could Shepard be making a triumphant return? Maybe we’ll pick up where we left off with the Ryders in Andromeda? Or maybe, just maybe, could Liara be the playable character in Mass Effect 5?
The trailer shows a now very aged Liara picking up a piece of an N7 helmet as she stands atop a dead reaper, meaning that the destruction ending is most likely to be canon over the control and synthesis endings that took place in Mass Effect 3. But before we dig into why Liara is a leading candidate to be the star of Mass Effect 5, let’s rule out some alternatives – and be warned, spoilers for previous games are ahead.
With Liara being far older in this trailer, it makes the idea of Shepard returning unlikely, as Shepard would be dead at this point, regardless if they managed to survive the events of the destruction ending. There is cryo sleep and other alternatives to this that exist within the Mass Effect universe, something I personally hope Bioware makes use of. I would be over the moon to have Shepard return and kick the ass of whatever evil being is trying to destroy the universe this time round. However, that is a topic for another time, and seems unlikely to happen in Mass Effect 5.
Then you have the Ryder siblings over in Andromeda. I could see them being who we take back control of for the next game, as they would both be alive in the same era as Liara and have unfinished stories to tell. After all, they spent 600 years travelling to the Andromeda universe, meaning Liara would be ageing as they travelled through dark space. If we were playing as one of the Ryder siblings, the game would likely be set in Andromeda, meaning the trailer featuring Liara would be pretty irrelevant as most of the action wouldn’t be taking place in the Milky Way. Factor in the lukewarm reception Mass Effect Andromeda and the Ryder twins received at launch, it’s highly unlikely Bioware would consider this route for the fifth instalment.
That’s where a theory involving Liara being the new player character for Mass Effect 5 comes into play. This is talked about in great detail by ‘MrHulthen’, a YouTuber who makes videos on the Mass Effect series. With Liara being the central figure of the teaser trailer, it’s not hard to see why many would speculate on Liara being the player character for the next instalment in the franchise. Liara’s a character that lives for thousands of years and has links to the Andromeda universe, making her the perfect vessel to bridge the gap between the two universes.
MrHulthen also points out in his video that Liara was always the companion with the biggest storyline that takes place throughout the trilogy, she is also the only companion, besides Ashley, that you have to take with you. Liara is heavily pushed onto players throughout the series, a clear sign that Bioware loves her character and wants you to feel the same way. Liara is the one who recovers Shepard’s body and gives it to Cerberus for the Lazarus Project, and she becomes the Shadow Broker, one of the most powerful beings in the Milky Way. When it comes down to it, Liara is involved in almost every major moment of the series. So, it’s entirely plausible it would create a game where she is the centre of attention. But that does leave the question of customisation and making a unique character for the players to roleplay.
Something that MrHulthen brings up in his video is that if Liara is the main character, does that mean Mass Effect is no longer an RPG? Mass Effect has always had a major focus on player choice and being able to shape Shepard however we see fit with RPG elements, making every person’s playthrough unique to them. Liara is a character with a predetermined background, taking away – or at the very least, limiting – that customisation and RPG element that is integral to the Mass Effect universe.
Because of this, MrHulthen and I both arrive at the same conclusion: it is highly unlikely that Liara would be the playable character for Mass Effect 5. As many elements that make up Mass Effect would be tossed to the sideline, the main being character creation and the building of a character that is unique to each individual, it just doesn’t seem plausible. Roleplay has, and always will be, the central focus of Mass Effect, so it wouldn’t make sense for Bioware to chuck this aside and make Liara the protagonist as many fans are suggesting. I know I wouldn’t be happy having that personal touch taken away from me. I view Shepard or Ryder as an extension of me, and that’s something I wouldn’t be able to do with Liara. As much as I love her character and storyline, I don’t want to lose that enjoyment of becoming and shaping the main character as myself.
This does unfortunately leave us still wondering who the main playable character will be for Mass Effect 5. Hopefully, Bioware will feed all of us hungry fans and reveal more of the game world, what we can expect to see, and who we will be playing as. I personally hope Shepard makes a return – the Mass Effect universe just doesn’t seem whole without them in it. But if the fan theories about Liara are right, we might end up with a Mass Effect that gains a great protagonist but loses those all-important RPG elements.