Most nerds *ahem* people like me have their favourite science fiction setting. Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, the list is endless. My favorite? Mass Effect, and with the next game being worked on at Bioware Montreal, it’s time to talk about what they need to do to make the fourth installment in the franchise the best of the bunch.
Despite Mass Effect 3’s wretched conclusion there was never a doubt that the franchise would get another game. It makes money, is still beloved and has a huge universe with endless possibilities. There are any number of big or small scale stories that Bioware could tell in this grand and expansive universe they’ve created. Of course news on the latest Mass Effect game and its possible storyline has been light at best. All we really know is that there seems to be a greater focus on exploration. And now, there are Krogans with horns roaring at the sky because… reasons?
The recipe to success for Mass Effect 4 will be different for everyone. For some people, the list will begin and end with “more naked blue chicks”. As a longtime fan of the franchise I’ve got 5 keys that I believe to be the most crucial to the ME universe seeing continued success. Make sure to let us know your thoughts on what ME needs to do right down in the comments section below.
1: Be Mass Effect
Understandably this comes across as a rather generic statement I admit, but as far as I’m aware, people didn’t put hundreds of hours into replaying Mass Effect for the combat, action or shiny graphics alone. People went there for the world, the atmosphere and the characters. In turn, Mass Effect 3’s features of the “action” gameplay pre-set, the connect the dots linear plotline, and RPG elements that still felt lackluster compared to the original game, didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Trying to outdo the competition is fine but we don’t want to play Gears of War or Halo when going to Mass Effect. I’m all for the ME games having a visceral combat system, but if that comes at the cost of having an expansive game world, then that’s where I object. Exploration, vehicles, skill trees; these were all things that needed to be improved, not thrown away and replaced with more cover based shooting.
2: Better Writing and Quests
Just to be clear I am mostly referring to the dialogue options and side-missions, and also mostly speaking of ME3 in this case. Neither Mass Effect 1 or 2 were perfect in these regards, but the dialogue was excellent and the conversation system attached to that dialogue was also handled well. The dialogue in Mass Effect 3’s auto conversations were some of the best in the series, however, the dialogue system took a massive step backward. Because of time constraints, budget or lack of resources, Bioware decided to make most of Shepard’s dialogue come down to just two options, the nice response or the asshole response. Even worse, more often than not, the reaction and dialogue that followed remained the same no matter what option you selected. This made replaying the game become somewhat of a chore and far less exciting. Taking this all one step further was the fact that Shepard’s answers were often expressed in a tone completely opposite of what would be expected making everything come off rather awkward.
Dialogue aside Mass Effect 3 also suffered from rushed side quests. They often involved Shepard eavesdropping on a conversation, flying all the way across the galaxy to scan a planet and then going back to the two people – still having the same conversation – and giving them the quest item. The ME universe is meant to be a living and breathing one. Constantly running into ridiculous situations like this really kills the game’s sense of place.
None of this happened as frequently as it might in other games but it is still an area I want to see improved in the new game, especially since previous entries made these systems work just fine.
3: More Teammate & NPC Conversation
This builds off of the previous point to some extent. While the frequency of auto-conversations in Mass Effect 3 may have been annoying, they did improve one area, and that’s how they made the characters in those conversations behave and sound. Unlike the previous games, Mass Effect 3’s characters didn’t just stand in one place waiting to be spoken to at all times. Whether it was Joker and Garrus exchanging jokes about each other’s race, Javik getting annoyed by an intoxicated Tali or Wrex teasing Shepard about their relationship with Liara, it helped bring these characters to life. That they existed outside of Shepard’s bubble.
However, ever since Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware has been moving further and further away from being able to talk to NPC’s whenever you wish. In all the Mass Effect games you couldn’t talk to your teammates directly except when you were on the Normandy, and even then, there weren’t a whole lot of conversation options. One of the best ways for the player to become involved and interested in the world they inhabit, is to talk to someone from that world. When an RPG doesn’t allow this, it needlessly puts up a barrier between the player, the world and the people in it.
4: Find A Cure For the ‘One-Button-To-Rule-Them-All’ Syndrome
Do you want to talk to someone? Open a door? Hack a door? Use a computer? Pick up an item? Interact with an object in the environment? Jump over a chasm? Run? Roll? Run into cover? Snap into cover? Roll into cover? Roll out of cover? Snap out of cover? Vault over cover? Revive a fallen teammate? Tap to stay alive longer before bleeding out? Well then maybe you shouldn’t attach all of these to one button!
Also, Shepard’s new found mobility issues were a lot more noticeable on PC than on consoles, where the movement and shooting felt more clunky and heavy, not helped by the lack of options in the menus. Differences in the way the game plays and feels should be a lot less noticeable next time around between platforms.
5: Avoid Another “Galaxy Is At Risk” Plot Line
This is the biggest point and something that many other people have acknowledged. Mass Effect 3’s plot was about facing the greatest threat in the galaxy and stopping it. The Reapers threatened all life capable of space travel. So in terms of stakes, you can’t really put them any higher than that. The next game doesn’t need to be about one person locked away in a tiny portion of the galaxy but at the same time it can’t replace the Reapers. If the writers come up with another villain and tell us “they’re even worse!” that demotes the power of the Reapers and all of our actions in the previous games.
Mass Effect 3 already did enough damage to both of those things in its ending, we don’t need to make it worse than it already is. This new game is supposed to be exactly that, NEW… not a retread. If Bioware understands this, takes chances, makes some changes and has a focused vision for what this new game should be, it could bring the franchise back to life once again.