Growing up, I have always been drawn to the storytelling ability of video games. Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic may have been the first game I played that fully immersed me into the idea that video games could be an advanced form of storytelling, one that merges reader/player and protagonist. Years later, their Mass Effect trilogy made that idea into a reality. With Mass Effect: Andromeda, the question becomes: What new directions will the storytelling go?
I wish I could say I was actively excited for Mass Effect: Andromeda, but the truth is I am much more apprehensive. Part of me does not even want the game to come out. The Mass Effect trilogy enjoyed such prestige up until players reached the ending of Mass Effect 3. Since then, controversy has been added to Bioware’s popular series. Even the well-received (and very fun) Citadel DLC could not fully remove the bad taste from certain players’ mouths.
Bioware has released two full games since Mass Effect 3 came out, and neither have been fully successful. Star Wars: the Old Republic pushed the narrative boundaries of MMOs but… was still an MMO for some reason? Yet the real red flag, to me, is Dragon Age: Inquisition. Every gem of superb party member writing was bogged down in a main story that felt uninteresting and half-assed.
More than that, Dragon Age: Inquisition suffered from bloat. At over 100 hours long, there was a moment where I can remember that I stopped caring, stopped exploring, and simply beat the game. This should never happen in a well-designed game with a compelling narrative, no matter what the length. The Witcher 3 proved that this was possible later that same year (over 100 hours of content and I cannot wait to play through it again).
The truth is that, for as much as I have loved the writing of Bioware games, there have been clear areas for improvement (which I have written about in the past). Bioware also makes bizarre gameplay and story decisions that negatively effect their storytelling capabilities (see Mass Effect 2). Flaws in the past happen, and every great company has them, but I am concerned that Bioware has adopted a brand approach to storytelling, one that does not reflect evolution/improvements in the genre.
Basically, my fears (and the prompt for this article) came from this new video from the good people over at Giant Bomb:
It is important to stress that this came from a play-testing of an unfinished game. Still, note the lack of excitement.
Like the Citadel? There’s an equivalent. Love the Normandy? It’s basically back. Enjoyed the mixed species crew? They’ve returned… but not the same aliens. Want to shoot everything in sight, including mechs that are somehow different but identical in basic design to the ones from Mass Effect 3? … Yeah, got those too… there’s even (totally new) ancient alien technology… wow.
The concept of Andromeda appears to be one of extreme exploration. Players captain a crew out deep into unknown space – to an entirely new galaxy. Yet the more things change, the more they appear to be staying the same. It reflects a measured approach, driven not by story idea, but by audience test groups. This isn’t inherently a bad thing but, well, it’s worrying to me.
It’s worrying because the Mass Effect series already had a beginning, a middle, and end. Love them or hate them – each entry was a clear cut piece of a story.Mass Effect: Andromeda should start something new and exciting in its own right. Instead, the gameplay and mechanics make it look like an elaborate, detached epilogue.
But again, not much is known about the main plot, save from what can be gleaned from this trailer:
Again, loving the explorer angle. Bioware has stressed repeatedly that the next player protagonist will not be a Shepherd clone. That said – for an explorer, they sure seem super awesome at fighting… and to be doing a lot of fighting. This could only be the action focus of the trailer but, given the gameplay, I am left wondering if once again game mechanics will undermine narrative.
Make no mistake, for as down as I’m being, I’m really excited for Mass Effect to have a new start. The idea of taking to deep space again is beyond intriguing. Here’s just hoping that Andromeda feels like the start of a new journey and not the Halo 4 of the Mass Effect franchise.