How Mass Effect 4 Can Be Great, in 5 Steps
By now, we all know that Mass Effect 4 is inevitable. Whatever we thought of the original trilogy, whatever our feelings about further mining the Mass Effect universe, BioWare is trudging ahead.
Of course, even they must know that the project is a risky one. As it continues to earn money from its most famous franchise, BioWare also must mend fences with the fans. That means Mass Effect 4 will require a careful balance between justifying the existence of the new game, and giving the players what they want. As if to confirm that tension, last week Casey Hudson tweeted a request to the fans for input into the new game. “What would you want to see in it?”, he wondered.
Don’t mind if we do! We’ve been thinking about this question for months, and despite our very public willingness to state the obvious when it comes to how the original trilogy panned out, we are firmly of the opinion that Mass Effect 4 could be good. And why not? The Mass Effect series is important. If anything else, it proved, once and for all, that a video game story is capable of capturing the public imagination with the same passion as some film franchises. It’s a milestone in the penetration of gaming in popular culture, one we’d love to see restored to former glory without delay.
All of which is to say, if we have to have a new game, then please, by all means, let it at least be good. Here’s how we think it could be.
Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken
First and foremost, BioWare has always done one thing really well: make really great RPGs. Their reputation only began to sour as they started to release games aimed self-consciously for broader appeal via an increased emphasis on action at the expense of RPG elements. After the recent unpleasantness, we get that there’s going to be tremendous pressure to mix things up with Mass Effect 4. But if BioWare is serious about making a great game that wins back fan loyalty, it’s important that in tweaking the formula, they don’t just throw the formula out entirely.
At its core then, Mass Effect 4 needs to be first and foremost a BioWare game. That means branching outcomes, a complex, evolving story revealed through exploration and interactions with NPCs, obsessive attention to detail, and a heavy focus on characters, especially the evolution of the player character. And most importantly, it needs to refocus on BioWare’s signature RPG style. The gradual dilution of that style in the years since 2009 has been one of the most frustrating things about being a Mass Effect fan. While the action was improved with each outing, it was at the expense of the thing that made BioWare attractive as an acquisition in the first place.
Mass Effect 4 needs more than a high concept plot, action set pieces and cool cut scenes. It needs real, complex exploration, deep, involved quests, better random encounters, a greater variety of weapons and definitely greater character customization options. The game needs to feel as much like the player’s personal journey as did the best moments of the original trilogy. Release Gears of War in the Mass Effect universe, and whatever goodwill still remains will be vaporized as surely as the hull of the Normandy I.