This was originally planned as a much longer article, but life really interfered with me this week. So, this is going to be a condensed version because I still wanted to get something out on Friday. I may still do a longer and better article at a later date, because I’m a Mass Effect fanboy, and I can talk about this subject pretty much forever.
Last year, the much anticipated sequel to the Mass Effect Trilogy, Mass Effect: Andromeda, was released. It was… not on par with the original series. If you’re reading this, chances are you already know what a disaster the backlash to the game ended up becoming for BioWare and EA, but let’s still have a brief recap. The game was released unfinished, full of bugs and terrible facial animations. That was just for starters. The stories that got leaked behind the scenes painted an even bleaker picture. Missed timelines, scrapped work, inexperienced people put where they really shouldn’t have been, just about everything that could go wrong did. The backlash was enormous, and eventually got so bad that EA officially shelved the series, effectively putting it on ice. Even the bug filled mess that was Assassin’s Creed: Unity couldn’t shelve that series, it just took a year off. Andromeda’s DLC was cancelled, leaving several plot lines unfinished. I can’t think of a game in recent memory where something like that happened. Mass Effect fans had to resign ourselves to hoping the series gets a sequel or reboot in a decade or so, but last week we got our first sign of hope in a year. In an interview with Eurogamer, Mike Gamble, producer for Mass Effect and the upcoming Anthem, said that Mass Effect “isn’t dead.” While BioWare is mostly focused on Anthem right now, and to an extent Dragon Age 4 (that WILL be getting its own article at some point), he confirmed that BioWare will get back to it at some point. So, what does BioWare need to do to “fix” Mass Effect? I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that, but I’m going to try.
Instead of going over everything Andromeda did wrong, which would probably double the size of this article, I’m going to go over what it got right.
The combat: The one thing Andromeda did better than the original trilogy was the combat. It was much tighter than the previous games, and the ability to swap out builds and class traits allowed you to build your own play style. I personally tended to swap back and forth between a sniper build, and a soldier/tech combo.
Loyalty missions. The best missions of the game were the loyalty missions with your squad members. This was brought back from Mass Effect 2, but whereas in 2 it was one mission that ensured your crew’s loyalty, if you made the right decisions. Here, it was a series of mission spreads over the course of the game. It made the friendships with your squad feel like they were built overtime.
The Squad. This was admittedly a mixed bag, with some excellent characters, and a couple whose names I honestly can’t remember. The three standouts, imo, were human biotic and your second in command (and possible love interest) Cora Harper, Asari adventurer Peebee, and an old Krogan mercenary named Nakmor Drack. Drack and Cora were my usual squad.
Romance. Again, this is a mixed bag, and I can only really comment on two, Male Ryder/Cora and Male Ryder/PB. If nothing else there were plenty of sexual orientations for however you wanted to play. As for my own experience, Ryder and Cora is one of the best romances BioWare has ever done, and their...uh… “love scene,” is THE best scene I’ve ever seen BioWare do. And despite all the frame rate issues and glitches, the Ryder/Cora scene is the one scene in the game that looks genuinely fantastic. Because if you’re going to blow the budget on one scene, it may as well be the sex scene.
So, what comes next for our favorite space opera? Well, here’s a few suggestions.
Go back to the Milky Way Galaxy. After the polarizing reception of Andromeda, I think it would be best to take the series back to the Milky Way. Our galaxy had more interesting aliens, more interesting politics, more interesting everything. Although, that does leave us with the following predicament. Depending on which ending of Mass Effect 3 that the player chose, the galaxy can be inexplicably changed in a way that can’t really be ignored; organic and artificial life may be merged, or all artificial life may be wiped out. Either way, it’s a massive change, and not something that can just be ignored. There are two ways around this that I can see. One, set the game at least a hundred years in the future, see how the galaxy has changed since the Reaper War. Two, and this would be my choice if I was the writer, pick an ending. Do some retconning if you have too; it’s not without precedent. Movies have ignored previous sequels, and there’s no reason a game can’t do the same. Quite frankly, given how controversial the endings were, I think this would earn BioWare a lot of goodwill. It would also allow them to rectify/change anything needed. Yeah, it’s a bit of a cheat, but the ending of Mass Effect 3 painted the future of the series into a bit of a corner.
Go smaller. This goes against conventional wisdom, and I think that’s why it needs to go this way. Most of the time, sequels get bigger, but where do you go after a war with Space Cthulhu? Andromeda tried to go bigger, and I think that hurt it. Dragon Age II received mixed reviews, but I think one thing it got right was the scale. Dragon Age: Origins had the player character face a world ending threat. In DA2, you play a refugee trying to keep your friends and family alive as the political situation crumbles around you. A lot of people didn’t like this, but I think it made the game more intimate. By making the scale smaller, the stakes felt more personal. I think this game should follow the player character, and their crew, as the Milky Way attempts to rebuild in the aftermath of the Reaper War. Make the scale more intimate, I think this would really allow BioWare to refocus Mass Effect onto the right track.
Go back to the trilogy designs. This is probably more of a nitpick than anything else, but I really, really hated the look of the omni-tool in Andromeda. It just looked like a big ugly block. Please, for the love of the home fleet, go back to the original omni-tool design.
Keep what works. The combat in Andromeda was really good but continue to fine tune it. The omni-blade had a habit of not lining up with the target, fix that. I’d bring back classes, but I’d add the option to multiclass. Keep with the loyalty missions spread out as a quest line rather than a single quest.
Put a more experienced team on it. Mass Effect is a AAA franchise and deserves to be treated as such. I’m not saying have no lesser experienced folks working on it, but a more experienced group should be the lead on the project.
Those are my thoughts on how to put Mass Effect back on track. Feel free to take it or leave. But if you’re going to take it, BioWare, please hire me.