Not that EA’s gonna do anything about N7 day (I don’t think so anyway), but I guess it’s as good a time as any for me to voice my love/disappointment relationship with the Mass Effect franchise. More specifically, I’m stating my love/disappointment relationship with the second and third game.
I like Mass Effect a lot. I’d say it’s one of my top franchises this console generation just in terms of how much the games kept me engaged. The first Mass Effect is definitely one of the games that kept pullin’ me back the most over the course of this console generation. I think I have more time logged on that game than any other on Steam (something like 140 hours) despite how flawed it is. At the same time, I still can’t figure out if I like Mass Effect 2 more, it being my 2010 game of the year.
Like some other people, my main disappointment is that we never got, gameplay-wise, and actual sequel to the first Mass Effect. Going back to play it, it’s the only game in the series that fully feels like an RPG, even if most of those RPG mechanics by themselves are flimsily pulled off.
I can understand people’s complaints with the unruly Mako, the random planets and other locations to discover all being copy-pasted, and the horrible inventory system. For some reason though, I still immensely enjoyed the experience all those things combined to form. It all came together to give me the feeling I was actually exploring the galaxy, something that really no other RPG I’ve played has done, at least no modern one. A lot of the exploration was even pretty much as good as what you usually get with western RPGs. The various caves and derelict space ships were really just random dungeons in a sci-fi setting. Most importantly, Mass Effect’s sequels should have been refinements on those mechanics. That’s part of why people make sequels.
They could’ve made the Mako control much better than it did in the first game. Instead of Mass Effect 2’s linear shooting gallery locations BioWare could have made denser areas to explore with a new-and-improved Mako (like that game’s Overlord DLC quest) with more unique “dungeons.” Most easily, they could’ve fixed the damn inventory system instead of chucking it altogether.
That’s what really let me know BioWare pretty much gave up on making an RPG with the second and third games. Both of them are basically third person shooters with WRPG storytelling. The thing is, Mass Effect 2 does a really excellent job at that WRPG storytelling if you ask me.
I can’t figure out which among the first two games I like more because the second game made the world feel a lot more interesting and had more engaging characters, even if the main quest was bland (and tiny). I feel like Mass Effect 2 has the most well-written side quests in the series (including the loyalty missions). It was my favorite game that year mostly because I wanted to keep revisiting those stories and characters, despite the fact that it was also a poorly-done action game made by an RPG house that didn’t really know how to make action games.
Strangely enough, I actually think BioWare finally nailed the action game part with Mass Effect 3. That game, with its flimsy quest system and rushed exploration, really did go full action shooter. I honestly think Mass Effect 3 is a pretty good third person shooter with well-designed enemy AI and combat arenas, but that’s kind of all it is. Even the multiplayer maps are recycled from the side quests (or maybe the other way around), but I hear great things about that multiplayer and intend to try it out some day.
But despite the second and third Mass Effect games still being great in their own right, I still get mad when I think of what could have been. Mass Effect could’ve developed into something really special when it comes to RPGs. Instead BioWare figured their fans didn’t want full-blown RPGs anymore. That seems to be the whole trend behind the company these days and I fear the same thing happening to Dragon Age.
Dragon Age: Origins was a pretty good throwback to the days of the Infinity Engine. Dragon Age II tried to be a hack n’ slash with RPG elements, and it looks like Dragon Age: Inquisition is trying to balance the two, but I’m not convinced BioWare can yet.
Okay, the company has gone at length about how the tactical RPG combat system is still in there, but it was there in Dragon Age II as well, just unnecessary. A lot of the Inquisition footage I’ve seen suggests BioWare is still trying to make a hack n’ slash. The problem is, no one has really figured out how to make a game that’s a great hack n’ slash and a great party-based RPG at the same time. A ton of Japanese RPG studios have tried throughout the years. Maybe Namco’s Tales games are the best attempts at the party-based action RPG.
Who knows, maybe if BioWare nails it with Inquisition (it’s got a lot of people optimistic) it can channel some of that knowledge back into Mass Effect. At the very least I wanna see what that franchise looks like on the Frostbite 3 engine.
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