When EA acquired BioWare in 2007, on the eve of its successful franchise launch with the original Mass Effect, I tried my hardest to reserve my criticisms until after they shipped a few more products, and we would start to see just how extensive the inevitable changes to the company would be. With BioWare’s history of crafting superb games, it seemed like I owed it to them to at least wait for the dust to settle before making any judgments.
Three years later in 2010, I found myself generally happy with Mass Effect 2. The story was an interesting continuation of the epic set forth in the original game, and most of the conventions that made the first game fun were carried over successfully. Some things from the original game were shed away however, like the synth-heavy soundtrack from the previous game, and Mass Effect 2 definitely felt like a vision a little less realized (and a little more mainstream) for it. I found some other small changes annoying as well, like the end-of-level summary screens, and the (over) simplification of some of the RPG elements (weapons, armor).
I have no idea that these changes were planned additions by BioWare or the results of EA leaning on the team to try to make their game more appealing to the masses, but either way, they did nothing but dilute what would have otherwise been another grand RPG experience.
This week, it was announced that the upcoming Mass Effect 3 would feature a multiplayer element, and I find myself utterly disappointed. Why? Because this is just another step towards mediocrity for what started out as a really outstanding series of games. Instead of spending time working on improving the story-telling in the game engine, adding more side-quests and expanding, what I find to be, a very interesting universe for the upcoming game, EA / BioWare are squandering their time developing a multiplayer mode that will likely not fit within the canon of the story, or even be something that players want to buy the game for.
It’s almost as if we’ve gone backwards a step. I really thought we’d mostly gotten past the days of executives trying to check off all the boxes, making developers create bolted-on, forgettable multiplayer experiences just so they’d have another item to highlight on the back of the game’s box.
Maybe EA isn’t to blame here; maybe this was BioWare’s decision. Either way, I think it’s a mistake, and is ignorant to all the things that made the series popular to begin with.
Mass Effect is a single player experience. If I buy the third game, it’s going to be because I want to continue that experience. I want to play a game with a carefully crafted world, where story is king, and the game isn’t interrupted by lag, idiots cursing at me over their mics, etc. I’m not going to buy Mass Effect 3 for multiplayer; I’ve got Gears of War, Halo, and Team Fortress 2 for that.
But hey, I could be wrong; Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer could turn out to be just fine. From the outset however, it doesn’t seem like a very fun idea to me.
Ultimately, I really just hope that Mass Effect 3 (the single player role-playing game) doesn’t lose its edge because BioWare had to spend months tacking on a multiplayer component. It would be a real shame to end such a brilliant trilogy on such a sour note.