GSQ4: The Mainstreaming of Mass Effect

Mass Effect 2: The Mainstreaming of Mass Effect
As you may know, GameSpite Quarterly 4 featured a large section on the evolution and state of RPGs. This piece is the natural bookend to Jake’s opener: A look at how RPGs might be finding their way again, possibly, by shaking up genre clichés. I’m pretty happy with how this one turned out, especially since it could have come off as a crotchety rant against genre evolution. Do please enjoy.

23 thoughts on “GSQ4: The Mainstreaming of Mass Effect

  1. I wouldn’t say the Last Remnant is “traditional” or “stagnant”. I can accept “clumsy” and “painful to play” though!

    Sorry for nitpicking.

  2. No, you’re right. I actually meant Infinite Undiscovery but had a brain fart when I wrote this. I like Last Remnant, at least in principe, but I always get its title mixed up with IU for some reason.

  3. I do the same thing all the time. Most recently I’ve mixed up Threads of Fate with Resonance of Fate, and Resonance of Fate with Nier.

  4. I still don’t see why ME2 couldn’t have gone the Deus Ex route instead of almost completely excising the RPG mechanics.

    I can dream about Bioware doing Deus Ex 3…that’d have been nice. They certainly could have done the story, and they can do a tight shooter apparently. But alas, ’twas not to be.

  5. I wrote an article at destructoid (link in the URL for reference) that emphasized your very amazing drywall analogy that would have been a great way to start the article off.

    There is a huge group of arguments in the article about why I didn’t like the game, but my biggest gripe that nobody else seems to mind is the thing that made me the most excited about the series. The achievements or at least the way they handled them.

    Replacing an achievement system that completely documents the exact way you play through the game (and rewards you for it) is pretty amazing with one that rewards you for an outfit change is depressing.

  6. “Ugh, that story sounds completely inane.”

    Compared to what? It’s miles beyond the game industry standard, and better than most action movies I can think of. High art it ain’t, but ME2 offered a decent sci-fi foundation that plays out according to the player’s decisions and actions, which is pretty compelling.

  7. I loved ME1 and ME2 just as much but I think I disagree that ME2 represented a direction shift for the gameplay.

    I think Bioware were always trying to make a shooter, they just did a sucky job of it with ME1 (much as Jade Empire was a sucky beat’em up) and realised a better balance the second time around.

    I would assume that the “Ultimate Mass Effect” as it was initially designed was always closer to ME2 than to ME1. Even though you did a few more classic RPG-type things in the original, you also did a hell of a lot of shooting and for the most part it sucked.

  8. Really enjoyed the article. I couldn’t help but think of how Bioshock was being billed at times as an “RPG Shooter” when really it’s just a very archaic-designed story-based shooter. Don’t get me wrong, some things are amazing in it, but the shooting mechanics are pretty bad.

    Bioshock 2 I think makes it worse, because it actually feels more archaic in ways. Enclosed areas that were devoid of enemies became monster closets, and enemies respawn whereas in Bioshock 1 you could kill every enemy in the game and just run through empty rooms exploring at your leisure, except for maybe one or two you missed. In Bioshock 2 now I could be randomly attacked by some jerk with a machine gun, and it’s annoying as hell.

  9. The vibe that comes across for me from playing through both MEs again recently is that, mechanically, the only things that makes ME2 less RPG-like than the first are how it drops the weapon accuracy skills and cuts back severely on the size of the equipment list. And I suppose you can count the hide-and-regen, but the first game almost had that too. It’s really more the overall presentation and pacing that make it feel like you’re suddenly playing an action game with RPG elements instead of an RPG with action elements. Clearer delineation between combat and non-combat areas, balance shifted way more towards tight self-contained main story missions than map-recycling sidequests. It’s basically a question of “long meandering slow-paced slog” subconsciously becoming a main part of people’s definition of RPG somewhere along the way.

    Similarly, Koudelka, which was very specifically created to give the genre a shakeup feels more like a Resident Evil clone than the straight-up RPG it is mechanically, thanks to the voice work, camera angles, and difficulty. Even with the semi-tactical turn-based grid-movement combat, it still tastes like survival horror when you’re watching someone wander a big old building through cameras stuck in weird corners.

  10. Compared to, like, Star Trek: TNG season five episode “The Inner Light”? It’s true that because you’re involved, any videogame narrative is involving, which is the promise that videogames have always held as a narrative form. But that the “Hollywood Sci-fi Blockbuster” is the greatest expression of that promise the medium can ever hope to achieve?! It turns the stomach!

  11. Noone is saying that except you Patrick. ME2’s narrative works because you play it slowly over 30+ hours, it has time for nuance and character development. If the story was shoehorned into 2 hours, it would lose most of that. And really there are (at least) two trains of thought on narrative in games–those that mimic film (ME2,GTA IV, BioShock), but offer interactivity and those with stories that emerge organically while playing the games (ICO, Shadow of the Collosus, Out of This World, and–to a lesser degree–Braid).

  12. Patrick, you seem to be confusing “plot” with “narrative” here. The plot of ME2 is sci-fi boilerplate. How it’s told is not.

  13. Yeah, good narrative isn’t exactly a binary proposition. I don’t recall anyone claiming that just because ME2 is better than average, it is the best, most perfect, or even ideal approach, and it’s silly to argue against a non-existent position. As Sarcasmorator said, the appeal of ME2’s story isn’t in the premise, it’s in how it plays out — because unlike even the best episode of Star Trek, your decisions shape the story, and you get to see the consequences of your choices. This is even more nuanced if you carry over a save file.

  14. Fantastic article, and it absolutely nailed why I love Mass Effect 2 so much.

    When I first played ME2, I did miss some of the mechanics from ME1, such as expanded inventory and character development systems. After recently replaying the original game, though, I realized that I prefer nearly every change made in the sequel. The combat is more challenging and responsive. The AI for both allies and enemies has been improved drastically. The inventory system has been streamlined and improved (I will gladly take three rifle variants that genuinely handle differently over a hundred pallet-swapped ones that have minimally different stats). And while the ways in which you can level up your Shepard have been reduced, BioWare essentially removed the more vestigial skills (Do I really need to level up the ability to talk?) All of this while improving the dialog and storyline.

    In short, ME1 was one of my favorite games of 2007, and ME2 is my favorite game in this entire console generation.

  15. Or, anyway, more to the point, you have all these new, interesting techniques for telling a story, but is nobody in the industry interested in or capable of telling a story that is any less trashy than this one? It doesn’t seem so (yes, to me, le geek, to me).

  16. I haven’t played the game so I don’t want to be a total asshole about it, but from your synopsis, yeah, it sounds like a bunch of nonsense. But so you know where I’m coming from, I think Avatar, for example, is also trash (Avatar, the Last Airbender: awesome)

  17. Yeah, as a great man once said? That word you keep using, I do not think it means what you think it means. I mean, all mention of quality aside? Bioware in general has this innate dignified wholesome prudishness going on to a degree that when they actively try to go all sleazy/sexy you end up with fully clothed people sitting on a couch talking about the problems they have with their parents with lots of close-ups on their eyes. Trashy doesn’t enter into it.

  18. Obviously I don’t mean trashy like SLUTTY, Googleshng. I mean it as in of low quality. But, anyway, I’m not trying to castigate anybody for their taste in popular entertainment, God knows; I was just expressing myself.

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