Now I don’t need to say that Mass Effect is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, franchise of our time. In fact it’s arguably the greatest franchise of all time. Now before you click away because you feel that I’m some fanatic, wait and hear me out. I’m not saying that Mass Effect is the best connected set of games ever made. And I’m not saying that any 1 of the titles is the best game ever made. What I’m saying is that the Mass Effect franchise as a whole meets a number of criteria that make it a power house franchise among its peers. For the purposes of time, I’ll sum it up quickly.
A great franchise is not just a long running series of games. In fact, a great franchise is either short or consists of a number of different stories that compose a number of smaller franchises under one larger, but well organized umbrella. Good franchises show improvements with each consecutive title, but at the same time do not stray too far from the formula. They are well written and take only as much time as needed to tell a powerful story. There is as little superfluous content as possible, barring DLC and the DLC does not affect the core story in any noticeable way. Good franchises have strong character development both for the main protagonists and other supporting roles on both sides of the conflict. Good franchises are managed well with a focus on consumer desires, not dollars. And lastly great franchises know when to quit. This is a very vague summary, but it will do for now.
I love the Mass Effect franchise because while it does have its flaws, it was managed extremely well, focused on the audience’s desires and made changes accordingly, improved with each latter title, had strong writing and character development, had a choice/karma system that had real consequences and followed you throughout the franchise, introduced an innovative multiplayer system and kept it alive for free for a long time, ended the main protagonist’s story appropriately, and maintained its integrity by promising that even if there are more Mass Effect games in the future, they will absolutely not focus on Commander Shepard (the main protagonist of the original 3 titles).
It’s the franchise’s quality as a franchise that makes it one of the best. Not the plot, the length, the gameplay, or any other specific in game content. It’s the whole package and how it’s developed over time that makes it special.
There are plenty of longer franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, or Halo. And there are a number of arguably better standalone games than any one game in the Mass Effect series. But I believe that Mass Effect is one of the best examples of how to do it overall.
As I said before, it does have its flaws. The excessive amount of at cost DLC and the horrible ending of the third game are fine examples of that. But overall I do believe that, at least in recent times, it’s been a much better franchise than many of the others. Final Fantasy has all but lost its quality. God of War finished on a low note. Right now there’s a lot of mediocrity and mismanagement in the gaming industry. I’m not saying that there are no other good franchises right now, but one must admit that quality and respect for consumers and even one’s own work are not the shining characteristics of the current gaming industry.
All that being said, Bioware has announced that a new game in the Mass Effect universe is in the works. One of the things that I really like is Bioware’s reluctance to even refer to it as “Mass Effect 4.” This is because it is not the same story. Commander Shepard is dead and this is not a continuation of the Reaper arc (if you don’t know what I’m talking about then shut off everything right now, go buy all 3 games and don’t do anything else until you’ve finished them). This is a new game with a different protagonist and a new conflict. The only thing that remains the same is the universe that the story takes place in.
That’s just the way it should be. I don’t want to see anything about Shepard in the next game except a memorial and possibly some recurring characters from the first 3 games depending on the timeline. So what I wanted to do for this post is just give some very general ideas about what I do and don’t want to see in the next and possibly future titles of the franchise. Please note that while some of these ideas are completely original, a number of them have been put forth en masse by the gaming community.
There’s only a couple very specific things I want to see noticeably different with the next game. I love the presence of a romance system, but honestly I don’t think it was pronounced enough. I didn’t even realize you could have romances until I had already beaten the first game and started the second one for the second time. The system just isn’t that obvious. You have to force it out of the characters in a way that just didn’t flow naturally with the conversation. I would like to see something closer to the romance system in Dragon Age 2. It’s very obvious when characters are giving you the option to flirt with them and you can also deflect them.
I don’t want to be unsure if I can create a romance with a certain character or not and have to spend tons of time going through pointless conversation just to figure out whether it’s an option. Granted, that is a very realistic depiction of building a relationship in many situations. Miranda didn’t even wink at me the whole game.
My biggest issue with the current protagonist development trends in the gaming industry is that it’s almost always a 30-something white male. Now, I don’t have any problem with 30-something white males, but am I really supposed to believe that anyone else can’t save the world? Or in this case the galaxy which has a bunch of different, much more advanced races to boot? We need to move away from all this human narcissism in gaming.
When I played the Mass Effect games I didn’t even use humans in my party. They’re boring and common and I can use them in any other game. Here is where aliens that are awesome are everywhere and can actually accomplish things. I want to be one of those. Don’t force me to be human. That’s boring and played out. Let me be Krogan, Turian, Drell, or even Prothean. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the humans were the least used characters in the multiplayer until the special ones were introduced later. Why? Because people are tired of people. After 3 games of being a human, albeit the most badass human ever, it’s time for a change. I have 2 proposals for what I would like to see as far as protagonist in the next Mass Effect.
Proposal 1 – Dragon Age Origins
Allow the player to create his own character just like you can in the other games, but let us pick race and background as well. Run it as an RPG like in Dragon Age Origins where the start of the game differs slightly for each character depending on their race, social status, class, and early life experiences. Eventually the paths can all meet at a specific point in the story, such as the Grey Wardens joining ritual, and then the game can continue on from there into the main crux of the story. There see. An easy way to allow the player to be whatever type of character he/she wants to be including 30-something white male without limiting players or doing too much extra writing and design. And the best part is, Bioware made Dragon Age Origins so they already have experience doing that sort of thing. No reason we can’t all be who we want to be.
Proposal 2 – Sonic Adventure 1
Honestly this is my preferred idea of the 2, but with today’s costs and corner cutting in the industry, I know that it is the least likely scenario. For those of you who haven’t played Sonic Adventure 1, it’s a 3D open world Sonic the Hedgehog game and was originally released for the Sega Dreamcast in 1998. It’s an amazing game, but one of the most amazing and relevant parts of the game is the protagonist(s). You don’t just play as Sonic the Hedgehog. You actually get to play as 6 different characters (Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Amy, E-102 Gamma, and Bigs) all with their own plot lines in one large, interconnected story. Now, in that game you are limited to only using characters after they’ve been unlocked through progressing in the plot with currently available characters.
What I would love to see in “Mass Effect 4″ is a game where you don’t create your character, but you choose from a list of characters each from a different race and each with their own completely different, but relevant story. I don’t know what the new enemy/problem is and I don’t presume to know what it should be. I will say that it had better not be Reapers or anything similar. But what I do know is that the game should be similar to the first 3 games in that you have a large cast of characters that all interact with each other at multiple points. How cool would it be to be able to play through a story from the points of view of 6 or more different characters with different points of view, offshoots, and ideas? Depending on the timeline, you could even use a few from the original 3 games such as Wrex/Grunt, Samara, or even EDI. If written properly, a game that huge would be something to behold.
While I still think that Assassin’s Creed currently holds the trophy for most innovative multiplayer, I believe that Mass Effect 3 had the best overall multiplayer system. All unlockables were free but could be acquired faster through real world currency so the noobs would feel better. A large amount of free DLC over time. Customizable appearance, skills, and weapons. A decent number of levels with weather options. A well-made team based system that was still competitive. A really nice, but simple rewards system that was introduced later than initial release to reinvigorate the game. Multiple difficulty settings that were all challenging and yet noticeably different.
The multiplayer was just excellent. It may not be my favorite multiplayer game, but I have clocked more hours on that than any other online multiplayer because of how entertaining and well-made it was. And the online community for the multiplayer was awesome as well and a big part of that was the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer website that went with the game. Honestly, I don’t want to see too much changed in the multiplayer. I subscribe to the theory that if it ain’t broken, you don’t need to fix it. Now I’m not saying that it can’t be improved and I’m not saying that I want it to go the way of COD where tons of games get released that are exactly the same. But what I am saying is that at its core, the Mass Effect multiplayer system doesn’t need to be changed any time soon. It merely needs to be sharpened for a new generation of games in the franchise.
I would like to see all maps have fully customizable weather. If I want snow in the desert then that should be my choice. I would like to see the addition of PVP team matches of up to 8 players total as an extra game mode, but not at the expense of the current wave system. If given the choice for only 1, I’d stick with the old system. Because later DLC introduced a number of new types of classes and characters that sort of threw out the original limitations of each race, I’d like the ability to create fully customizable characters where I can pick the race, class, skills, strengths, and quite possibly weaknesses, but only if weaknesses are a mandatory setting in player creation. I would like a much more in depth and larger weapons modification system. And finally I would love a create your own match mode. That’s becoming the new thing and I think the gaming community could create some real beauties in a Mass Effect multiplayer scenario.
And events. The community event thing has become huge in multiplayer and the ones in Mass Effect 3 were excellent. But admittedly a bit unfair at times. But honestly a straight rehash of the original Mass Effect 3 multiplayer would still be better than what a lot of games running multiplayer currently have.
Now I have not really asked for much here. All of it has been done before and a lot of it has actually been done by Bioware. I truly loved the Mass Effect series and I am looking forward to the next game, but it is with great fear that I wait for this next tile because I don’t want to see a franchise of such high quality go the way of many of the other franchises today – selling out and building too many titles, yearly releases, and an over-abundance of DLC. Whether these ideas are used or not I hope, no I pray, that the Mass Effect name remains one of integrity.