Three reasons the Mass Effect 3 demo makes past statements from BioWare a bit more worrisome…
Bioware’s most popular franchise tends to conjure up some divisive opinions on the web. There’s a group of people who think the Mass Effect series is a masterpiece of storytelling, features incredibly strong gameplay, and offers a compelling world to truly immerse yourself in. Others, who also like to throw around the phrase “sell-out,” believe it is a dumbed-down action game with a side RPG elements and unlikable characters. I’m in the former category, and currently on my third playthrough of Mass Effect 2 at time of writing. However, I’ve recently become a little worried that Mass Effect 3 might send me into the latter camp…
Electronic Arts owns BioWare, thus they own Mass Effect and are the primary marketers behind the game. There are hundreds of accusatory comments stating that BioWare has sold out, that EA controls Bioware with an iron grip (despite Bioware’s own dismissal of such claims) and even insinuations that EA is Satan incarnate when Activision is napping.
“I’m detecting trolls, Commander.”
Sure you can chalk that up to internet just being its reactionary self, however, EA has made no qualms about marketing Mass Effect 3 to a wider audience, and according to Joystiq, even delayed ME3 to adjust some of the mechanics for the larger market. Judging by the demo (which I’ll get to, don’t you worry) this is likely in reference to the added multiplayer, which IMO, plays like a slapdash Gears of War 3 Horde knockoff at best. But they’re not wrong: Multiplayer will raise eyebrows from mainstream audiences who wouldn’t normally give hard sci-fi or RPGs a try.
However, there’s also the sentiment that ME3 will “contain more action-adventure,” on CVG.com. Bioware’s David Silverman said: “It’s a natural entry point for new players: giant alien race launches all-out war, you have to rally the forces of the universe to counter and see if you can take them down. That’s pretty clear. You don’t need to be like: ‘Well, what about when I had this love affair?’ It’s like, who cares? It’s all out war!”
Let’s not even get into the way ME3 is gouging players over DLC…
Despite his generalization, the sentiment is still clear: personal relationships don’t matter compared to the threat of war. One of the most vital points of Mass Effect is to interact with the characters in this epic space opera. Silverman seems to state that this doesn’t matter. Or at least implies that character interactions and relationships may take a backseat to run-and-gunning.
A lot of those aforementioned statements would’ve seemed largely innocuous, had I not gotten a chance to see them in action. The single-player demo doesn’t offer anything in the way of consequences. Shephard gets very few chances to actually fucking speak during cutscenes, but they certainly don’t change anything. Hell, you can’t even make a dialogue choice until after your Shephard has said several sentences without your input. He’s supposed to be your character, why is he acting like a typical lunk-headed action-game protagonist?
“Can we talk?” “No, apparently”
And how does the demo compensate for the lack of invested emotions? Rather pathetically, by trying to pull at your heartstrings by killing a kid. Why is the death of one kid important in the possibility of galactic annihilation? Isn’t that kind of sentimentality really more Modern Warfare’s bag?
Gameplay-wise, it plays like a Gears-clone now. Not a bad thing, necessarily: cover feels much more fluid, and hit markers display so you know 100% that you’re making damage. However, it’s also incredibly linear and more focused on EXPLOSIONS! than real gameplay. Biotic and Tech powers seemed completely diminished since I had every type of gun to kick ass with.
FemShep’s run is a different matter, but no less troubling!
Of course this is JUST the demo. It’s not fair to judge the full retail product based on that alone, and BioWare certainly has the right to “streamline” the demo as a showcase for people who find dialog and choice boring (After all, those of us with existing Mass Effect saves are pretty much a guaranteed sell.) But if the demo is 100% reflective of the final product, we have ever right to be worried.
And we’ve arrived at my biggest problem: The decision to make the story about Earth. “Take Earth back!” the tagline reads. Why? Why should I care about Earth? For the past two games, Bioware has shown players that humans are selfish, egotistical, self-righteous, and just as flawed as all of the other species in the galaxy. Yet, humans get special billing in the finale? Yes, the game will funnel players down corridors on different planets, and see them interacting with different species, but it all appears to be in the name of saving Earth, a planet we have not visited, nor have had any reason to care about besides from the fact that, aw shit, Modern Warfare players can relate to that because they live there and I guess we should.
Is this honestly what you take away from Mass Effect?
Sequels are supposed to expand scope, not narrow it. Mass Effect 1: the citadel comes under attack, the galactic council is in dire straits. Mass Effect 2: Human colonies are disappearing, you must find out why. And it was all to have been connected to the larger narrative: Mass Effect 3.
You know who I care about? Tali, and finding a safe place for her race to live peacefully; the complex workings of the Geth collective, as hinted at by Legion. There’s Thane, the warrior-monk whose imminent death had him at a crossroads with his violent life and his desire to see his son excel as a better man(fish). And of course, my all-around Dirty-Harry-Meets-Batman-the-Alien with whom I have carried a remarkable bromance with throughout two epic games, Garrus Motherfucking Vakarian!
C’mon, you mean to tell me you can’t market THIS?!
I care for one human: Miranda Lawson. She becomes a fleshed out character during her loyalty mission in ME2, and her steadfast allegiance to Cerberus makes me wonder how she’ll react to Shephard mowing down waves of them after they’ve been sent to kill him.
Mass Effect 3 has me in a corner. It’s the finale to a franchise that has touched many other gamers and me in a unique way. But has that allowed EA/Bioware to abuse our loyalty, since they know we’ll buy it. Unfortunately, there’s only one way to tell: by buying it, and beating it.
Mass Effect 3 arrives March 6th. Pre-order though Laser Time!
Mass Effect 3 Collector’s Edition
Art by jverretjr