by Marko Susimetsä
previewed on PC
Dumbing it down for mass audience
For those who have paid attention to the changing style of Bioware’s games in the last decade or so, the change from root RPGs to more action-oriented atmosphere has been relatively clear. This change was most apparent in Dragon Age and its disappointing sequel, but is also evident in the changes between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Basically, the sequel had fewer skills to develop during level-ups and relied more on the gamer’s reflexes than the character’s skills to solve many situations, especially the even tiresomely numerous battles. At the same time, the quests became simplified so that most problems were solved with guns in Mass Effect 2, whereas some diplomacy and higher brain activity were still required in Mass Effect. These developments have disappointed many RPG fans who question whether Bioware is mislabelling its games by still calling them role-playing games.
In Mass Effect 3, this development will unfortunately go one step forward. This time, the less intelligent players will be treated with an Action Mode, where all the decision-making in the dialogue scenes is made automatically and the gamer will only have to worry about fighting. Fortunately, two other modes will also exist: Story Mode and RPG Mode, both of which still let the player choose how they respond in discussions. The former also makes the fights easier for those who only want to experience the story, while the latter will cater to those who want a challenge as well as a deeper RPG experience. However, I must express worry that there even exists a mode where the game makes all the dialogue choices for the player. If all the choices can be automated, does this not infer that the dialogue options are essentially superficial and the decisions that the gamers make have no real meaning to the story?
In the same vein, the combat will be even more shooter-like this time around and the marketing speech seems to actually stress the action part of action RPG. In short Shepard will now be able to move more fluidly around the battlefields by sprinting, rolling and climbing ladders. He will also be able to fire blindly from a cover position and run and gun at the same time. Also instant melee kills have been added to make the game more fun for the adolescent players. These sorts of gamers are also catered by the adolescent looking female variant of Shepard, who does not fit at all together with the professional attitude that we have got to know from the female voice actor in the previous games.
In other areas, there will be positive changes, insofar as RPG elements are concerned. One of these is the more detailed levelling system, allowing for forking skill paths. Another will allow the gamer to customise the weaponry by switching scopes, mods, barrels and ammo types. It remains to be seen how much of a roleplaying touch these additions actually bring and if they can even partially counter-act the dumbing down in the other areas of the experience, but they sound promising enough.
How to make old fans even more worried?
By introducing a multiplayer mode, of course! It is said that the multiplayer will consist of unique missions where up to four players can co-op to take down enemy strongholds. The multiplayer missions will not include the characters from the single-player campaign and you will have to make a new character for it, which allows you to try your hand playing species other than human as well. Each of these species will have unique powers and movement options. These characters can advance to level 20 and the levelling up will include the same branching skill tree as the single-player campaign.
It is still uncertain how badly this multiplayer mode is forced down the throats of those gamers who prefer a single-player experience. All we know is that those who complete the multiplayer missions will have an easier task ahead of themselves in the single-player campaign. If the effect is minor, I can tolerate it, but if this means that the game will be a lot harder for those of us who do not play multiplayer, I can just shake my head and look at the developers with the air of fatherly disappointment.
EA and Bioware are clearly focussed on making as much money as they can out of the last part of the Mass Effect storyline. Not only are there various pre-order extras for those who dare to pre-order a Bioware game these days, but there will undoubtedly be several DLC in the making to milk as much money from the gamers as possible. The pre-order extras include specialised armour and weaponry, which is a clear sign of the action-orientatedness of the third Mass Effect game.
Luckily for us gamers, Bioware will release a demo of Mass Effect 3, so that we can all find out what the series has become. And if we happen to like what we see, there will still be time to pre-order the final game. Since the demo was something that saved many of us from the horrors of Dragon Age 2, I welcome such consideration in Mass Effect 3’s case as well.
The demo will also include a multiplayer mode and if you want early access to it, prepare to give more of your money to EA. At the moment it seems that only the owners of Battlefield 3 will get this early access. A shooter as a necessity to experience the demo of an RPG? Did I tell you yet that I’m rather worried of the direction that Bioware has taken here?
The demo will arrive in January 2012, so we will get the first taste of the final part of the series very soon. Whether we will like it or not, remains to be seen.