Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Mass Effects to Come

Bioware Montreal is in charge of and actively producing the next Mass Effect game, according to this news release from Yanick R. Roy, studio director in charge of the program.

So good news: more Mass Effect! I am not one of those who have an issue with Bioware, and in fact I've quite enjoyed their offerings for both Dragon Age and Mass Effect over the last several years; these games have collectively been some of the most enjoyable entertainment in RPGs I've experienced, and I find the complaints and general anger against Bioware by some of its fans to be...ah...interesting and rather telling about the nature of today's gaming audience. Let's just say that if you didn't like Mass Effect 3's endings, you might want to avoid most foreign cinema and anything not sanitized through the Summer Movie filter.

Now, I do tend to put more stock in those who cast a scrutinizing eye on how owner EA's bottom line interests impact Bioware's ability to produce a good game. This can have an accidental benefit (the multi-player in Mass Effect 3 rapidly became my favorite co-op gaming online) or disastrous results (Dragon Age II, which was rushed to completion and its repetitive re-use of assets shows). So the question is: will they leave well enough alone with the next Mass Effect? Will EA apply demographics to this next iteration geared toward homogenizing the play experience to the point that the next game suffers for the sake of snagging a few more CoD dollars? Or will they learn from the bombing of Medal of Honor: Warfighter and realize that on-rails Cod-style shooters are starting to fall out of favor at long last?

I'm personally curious to see how exactly they expand the next iteration of the Mass Effect universe. With such a decisive three-way ending for Mass Effect 3 (go check out youtube if you want spoilers) there's only really three options for a new series:

1. It goes back in time and takes place before the end of ME3. Note that Gears of War is doing this for their next game. I call this the, "Milking our art and game assets for all their worth" method, relying on an existing pool of resources to squeeze all you can out of it. Also called the "Ubisoft saturates us with far too many Assassins and their Creeds" method.

2. It takes place immediately after the end (or close enough) to ME3. This has the problem of having to account for whichever ending one got in ME3, and also what was established in the ending sequence (especially the Extended Cut). My guess is they will avoid this entirely, because there is no way that they can keep all of their rabid hand-biting fans happy in this regard; they either rub salt in the old wounds of the countless butt-hurt fans who are angry they didn't get to blow the Reapers up and retire happily, or who simply felt that Bioware's promises about the volume of content options at the end was unsatisfactory...either way these people will be ticked. Likewise, they'll piss everyone off if they try to restrict to one "official" ending because part of the whole point of the Mass Effect franchise has been watching your decisions from one game carry into and affect the next. So most likely they will go with...

3. It's set far in the future, probably in whatever future time we see the (Um, spoilers) grandparent and child walking in the snowy orchard of an alien world, talking about the Shepard's adventures. Now they can leave the events of the game sufficiently vague, expand the universe to the future, and do whatever new story they want. This seems like the most likely arc they will take, but I am still not at all uncertain we won't see option #1 simply because it's hard to ignore the art assets and material available. However, if the next game is aimed at a new console generation, then #3 is much likelier to happen.

There's an unlikely fourth option, that they do a new Shepard adventure, but Bioware is on record as saying Shepard's tale is done. This seems reasonable, even if the ending sequence implies the possibility of further Shepard tales. And --more spoilers-- let me say that the ending I received could easily lead into a "Shepard return" tale. In my ending Shepard merges with the collective consciousness of the Reavers, turning them around and making them friendly. I chose this ending because it struck me as a false premise that machine and biological entities couldn't cohabitate, that the concept of inevitable conflict was created by whatever species first created the Reapers, and propogated this expectation ever since. Likewise, the idea that only a transmigration of organisms into bio-ogranic life wasn't any better solution, implying that only through synthesis could peace be achieved; also a false premise. So I went with the "we're all going to get along" theme, in which Shepard became her literal namesake. Now, Shepard has already survived death, rather impressively; what is to prevent her from regrowing a body and inhabiting it, if the need arose...or build one mechanically? But of course my premise assumes my ending was the "real" one, because it's not clear Shepard lives through any other ending. I'm working on a male Shepard to see, but I'm still on ME1 with him right now.

There's also always that possibility of a Mass Effect MMO. Until they make such an official announcement I'll hold that expectation in reserve. My expectation is that if F2P Star Wars The Old Republic somehow takes off and starts making money hand over fist, then expect the next Mass Effect to be built from the ground up to be a F2P MMO and cash shop adventure. No matter what happens, expect it to have some form of multi-player with a cash shop; my understanding is that Mass Effect 3's cash shop for multi-player stuff has been very profitable, so much so that they have found it worth knocking out the multi-player expansion content for free, because they're making all their money on item sales. Which is crazy, but unfortunately typical of people in general.

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