Labeling the next Mass Effect title as a numbered series entry is a "disservice" because it implies the title is a sequel or prequel to Commander Shepard's story, according to posts from the developer on the company's forums.
Bioware community manager Chris Priestly wrote that calling the game Mass Effect 4 "seems to cause a lot of confusion here," because the story of Commander Shepard is definitively over.
"We have already said that the Commander Shepard trilogy is over and that the next game will not feature him/her," he wrote. "That is the only detail you have on the game. I see people saying 'well, they'll have to pick a canon ending.' No, because the game does not have to come after. Or before. Or off to the side. Or with characters you know. Or yaddayaddayadda."
BioWare Montreal studio director Yanick Roy added to Priestly's comments, and hinted that the next game could possibly take place after the events of Shepard's trilogy. He noted that despite not being a direct sequel, it doesn't necessarily mean player choices from the first three games will not be taken into account. He also said the game would use the franchise's existing races, history and lore.
"Thinking of the next Mass Effect game as Mass Effect 4 would imply a certain linearity, a straight evolution of the gameplay and story of the first three games," he wrote. "That doesn't mean that events of the first three games and the choices you made won't get recognized, but they likely won't be what this new story will focus on."
Roy compared making a new Mass Effect storyline to making two games about different groups of soldiers in World War I and II.
"You likely would have to recognize how the events of the first war influenced the ones of the second, but you would not necessarily think of it as a sequel," he added. "Again, the analogy is not great, but what I'm trying to say is that the ME universe is so rich that we are not limited to a single track when coming up with a new story."
The next Mass Effect title is currently in development at BioWare's Edmonton studio.