Thoughts on Mass Effect: Andromeda as an Open World Game

Image by Flickr user Beautiful Games (CC)
Image by Flickr user Beautiful Games (CC)

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?

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Pam says:

    I’m so tired of open world games 😦

    Making Dragon Age Inquisition open world is something I consider a mistake. It added a bunch of filler junk, which actually took away from the experience for me. I hope it’s handled better with Mass Effect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Agreed. If they go the open world route, then hopefully the overall experience won’t be sacrificed in the name of grandeur. Sometimes smaller is better.

      Like

  2. Hatm0nster says:

    I wouldn’t want a true “open world” experience either. However, I would actually love to be able to explore the galaxy as I please in addition to having the traditional contained missions/environments of the previous Mass Effect trilogy. Honestly, if they just expanded on the sort of exploration we got in ME1 (by expand I mean overhaul so that it’s varied and meaningful), then that would be more than enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Ah, good point there. Yeah, if the notion of exploring planets as in ME1 was made more meaningful, if you were given the chance to truly explore and discover rather than hit a couple of map points, then I could certainly live with that. (Of course, then they’d really have to make the Mako a lot less janky, haha.) I could see that as a suitable compromise between a traditional ME game and an open world game.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hatm0nster says:

        The Mako had its issue for sure, though I’ve always that the controls only really failed when having to take it into combat. Basic driving was fine I thought.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. cary says:

        Ah, yes. In combat it’s pretty terrible. But I guess I’m a bad driver generally as just getting it to a simple destination is no easy task. Maybe I just have a knack for getting it stuck, haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hatm0nster says:

        You’re definitely not alone on that Cary. The Mako controls have been a constant complaint for most fans ever since the game was released in 2007.

        I’ve never had much of an issue with them outside of combat, but I guess that’s ’cause I figured out a secret to it. It becomes much more easy to control if you just hold forward and “steer” it with the camera.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. cary says:

        Aha! I will have to give that tip a try. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dina Farmer says:

    Well BioWare will pretend it is open world just like they pretended that Dragon Age: Inquisition is open world and then go back and say “Oppes we bite off more than we can chew and we can’t make it open world. It will certainly be more open than previous games. I imagine they will actually let players explore more planets and they might be so boring fetch quests. However, open as in say Witcher 3? No way they’d never do that. I could be eating my words later but we’ll see..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I’ve not yet played the Witcher 3, but I’m dying to; and I’m really interested to see how it handles the open world concept. (It does quite well, or so I’ve read.) The thing about galactic exploration is that it would totally make sense in terms of taking Mass Effect to the next level, but it could absolutely veer on the boring/terrible side of things if done wrong. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. angryscholar says:

    Good points all. I think, in terms of the mechanical end of gameplay, they showed that an online option can work with the co-op stuff in ME3. I found that pretty fun, since I’m not a competitive gamer.

    Of course, the story stuff is harder to pull off in an open-world game. There are two major exceptions to this that I can think of offhand, though: Red Dead Redemption and the Batman: Arkham games (of which I only played the first two). Both incorporated massive explorable worlds and excellent, compelling storylines. Whether a similar model could work in a multiplayer environment is a tough question. It might be possible to have ME’s signature misson-based gameplay and still maintain an open world. Missions could be instanced, as in current MMOs.

    But if it’s truly massively multiplayer, I think you’re right: some of the narrative has to be sacrificed to accommodate the other players. What this ultimately means is that you don’t get to be -the- hero anymore; instead you’re only -a- hero (or A villain, I guess).

    Maybe you could start a “campaign world” alone and have it only be open to other players whom you designate–sort of like instancing the whole game. Then it wouldn’t be “massively” multiplayer, but still could function in a way that’s similar to current MMOs. Members of your group could log in at their convenience and what they do in the world would be persistent. That obviously has downsides too, but it might be a way to preserve some of that feeling of importance that the ME games gave us when we were playing as Shepard.

    The only way to really get a strong narrative experience in a massively multiplayer game, I think, is to roleplay, which is obviously something that the majority of gamers aren’t interested in. But instancing story missions, or even the entire campaign, might be a way to hold onto some of those narrative elements that you talk about.

    (If anybody at BioWare happens to read this, I work cheap. You could pretty much give me a cardboard box in your break room and toss me a ramen packet every now and then.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Hopefully Bioware is taking notes! 🙂

      I’m very unfamiliar with the general mechanics of MMOs, but I like what you say about “instancing” missions. It sounds like a way to keep things compelling for the player(s), and it would also keep the story moving forward. Like you say, some of the narrative would have to be sacrificed, but the experience would remain grounded in the game rather than consist of filler.

      Red Dead Redemption and the recent Batman games are, indeed, great examples of games that utilize well the open world concept and manage to keep the players invested. The worlds there are fantastic to play in, to explore. Sure there are extraneous achievement-based things to do, but all the primary and secondary quests lend themselves to the protagonists’ stories in some way. The games feel very rich and fulfilling without being unhappily bloated.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    Since first publishing this post on Mass Effect: Andromeda over on United We Game, there hasn’t been much in the way of new news about it. Could it be that Bioware is waiting until E3 next month to offer up some more reveals? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see. Till then, here are my own scintillating (haha) thoughts on what could be and shouldn’t be in the new Mass Effect adventure.

    Like

  6. I agree with you so much!! It’s nice to hear this. I’m not against open world, but it just doesn’t work well for this kind of storytelling, in my opinion.

    Really, when it comes to story-based RPGs, The Witcher 3 is the only one that has really nailed the open world experience for me, because Geralt is central the whole time. I agree with you that the “you” can become a little lost in open world games, and those side quests/fetch quests get so tedious.

    It’s a big reason Inquisition is not my favorite Dragon Age game, so I do hope they handle things better with Mass Effect Andromeda!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I’ve heard that a lot about The Witcher 3 — that it masterfully combines a great story with an enjoyable, open-world environment. (We have the game, and I’d like to play it someday, but it’s almost like I need to take a “vacation” to play it!)

      Agreed that whatever Bioware does with Mass Effect: Andromeda, I really just hope that they do it well. (And yes, better than Inquisition, which was just too much of a slog. Such a disservice to the wonderful characters they created/recreated.) While I do think it should be a linear, mission-based game through and through, if they make it an open-world game that stands out from the rest, then I can get behind that.

      Liked by 1 person

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