It’s recently come to light that Mass Effect: Andromeda might be an open world game, one with a “seamless, open world galaxy,” as the headlines state. Seeing has how I’m currently knee-deep in the vivacious world of the original Mass Effect trilogy (on ME2 now, and loving it more than before), I couldn’t help but wonder what the games would have been like if they had been open world games, a la GTA IV and V instead of the mission-based games that they are. Does the gaming landscape need an open world Mass Effect game? Would it be good for the series? Are we talking, like, No Man’s Sky meets Dragon Age: Inquisition or something else? And what would that mean for players? Would it have to be connected to the Internet to play? How…? Why…?
Alas, too many questions. And I don’t have any answers. (Neither does anyone else, even despite further leaks of possible gameplay footage.) When I first heard about Mass Effect: Andromeda last year, I somehow got it into my head that it was going to be an MMO. That effectively wiped it off my interest list. (I know, I know. Sorry to be such a curmudgeon, but for me, Mass Effect is first and most effectively a lone wolf experience.) That notion eventually dissipated as I learned more and more about the title. Not that there’s been much to learn until recently, but what I had learned leaned towards Andromeda being a big, stylish game that would markedly depart from the original series. Okay, so I’d miss Commander Shepard, but I became okay with the change.
Then along comes this “open world” news, and all can think of is that we’re going to end up with a Mass Effect game in the style of Grand Theft Auto V. And that’s where things get wishy-washy for me. Because as much as I love the idea of exploring a “seamless, open world galaxy,” I’m less sure about how that would work in practice.
The Mass Effect games tend to get labeled as both RPGs and shooters, with, in my mind, the first game leaning more towards being an RPG and the second and third games leaning more towards being shooters. This mix of genres leads to some very compelling gameplay that’s become Bioware’s signature – in-depth missions to follow, optional sidequests that further add to the story, interesting teammates with whom to interact (or ignore), and a contained looting system that favors treasure-hunting over hoarding. The players are given tremendous agency in formulating not only the lives of their Commander Shepards, but also the environments in which they live. The seemingly random people one encounters throughout the games matter (some matter more than others, obviously), their lives are interwoven together so well with Shepard’s life that the games feel continuous and contiguous. The mission-based platform of play still allows players freedom in the paths they choose without the discomfit of bloating.
Quest-bloat, or filling up games with meaningless, dull, and ineffective side quest, is my biggest issue with open world games. Because there’s a huge world to explore, developers fill games with random nonsense, which, undoubtedly, is sometimes highly enjoyable when one needs a break, in order to make players get out and be in the world that they worked so hard to create. Unfortunately, this is often done at the expense of the heart and soul of the game: the story. Because by the time you’ve sought out your thirtieth miscellaneous piece-of-whatever for that now-forgotten guy you met two hours ago, who cares about the story? You’re too busy fetching…oh, excuse me…exploring the vast and beautiful wilderness of said game to notice the giant plot holes between “main missions.”
In the Mass Effect games, particularly Mass Effect 2, I like that I’m able to work on discreet missions that have definite beginnings and ends. I like that in between those I can tackle a few side assignments, which result in filling in or extending plot points, or filling up my necessary credit reserves. I like that I can take time to consult and converse with teammates in meaningful ways. And I like that even the most rote of chores, such as scanning planets for elements, are made necessary (at least a little bit) for achieving upgrades – those for you, your teammates, and your ship. In Mass Effect, you matter. And I don’t mean you as Commander Shepard, savoir of the galaxy, I mean you, the player. You are what keep the world of Mass Effect alive, and that’s what distinguishes the game, the series from its counterparts.
And that’s why I worry a bit about an open world Mass Effect game. Because while that scenario might open up an incredible experience for the players, it wouldn’t necessarily put them at the core of the game. You, the player, might not matter, might not be as central to the game as the game itself. And it’d be a shame to see Mass Effect lose its heart, to favor quantity over quality, and to become just another space-based game with ships and guns and bland NPCs. That’s not the Mass Effect I know and love.
But what do you think? Are you in favor or against an open world Mass Effect game? What do you hope to see in Mass Effect: Andromeda?