How Mass Effect 4 Can Be Great, in 5 Steps
Don’t Learn The Wrong Lesson From Mass Effect 3
We’re not here to dredge up the discussion of the controversy, but this has to be said: The problems with the Mass Effect 3 endings are mostly to do with things that didn’t make a lot of sense, or appeared to contradict core promises BioWare made about how the series would turn out. By no means were fans angry that Hudson and Walters tried to wrap things up in an insane, classic science fictional way. That’s why it’s critically important that BioWare doesn’t look at the reaction to Mass Effect 3 and think the that the lesson is “You can’t do edgy, experimental stuff because the fans will whine.”
Take chances. Take BIG chances, in fact, and feel free to make Mass Effect 4 as weird as possible. Ancient civilizations? Why not? A planet-sized space station called Unicron? Sure, Ok. Perhaps even a Human-Asari-Krogan centipede? Sky’s the limit! Indulge every whim you’ve ever had during a lifetime of reading acid-soaked sci-fi written in the ’60s and ’70s. All you need to do in order to avoid another backlash is to be very careful in what you promise, and make absolutely certain you deliver it1.
And that means…
Don’t Be Afraid To Innovate
Mass Effect doesn’t need to be treated like holy writ. When we say Mass Effect 4 should be a Mass Effect game, we don’t mean it should slavishly follow the example of the original trilogy. A return to the series is a great opportunity to ditch things that aren’t working, fiddle with things that could be improved, and experiment in ways that provide a satisfying gaming experience without sacrificing core aspects.
For example, the series has always suffered from side missions that feel somewhat half-baked. In Mass Effect, these missions at least had cool premises, but they tended to involve traveling to a planet, exploring yet another identical alien terrain, then engaging in identical battles set within identical bases. By Mass Effect 2, side missions had a bit more variety (we love the one with a racist bartender poisoning human patrons), but they were largely based on whatever world you happened to be on. Unfortunately, with Mass Effect 3, side missions were largely turned into pointless fetch quests, particularly galling when you realized that those missions which actually let you travel to complete them were the worst offenders.
Take a page from Rockstar Games. Regarding the side missions in GTA V, they’ve said “It’s better to have one really good mini game than five half-assed ones that aren’t fun.” If any franchise can benefit from that, it’s Mass Effect. In fact, we believe the series is particularly well-suited to an L.A. Noire-style investigation system, a possibility touched on in The Leviathan DLC. Give players the ability to build evidence, come to their own conclusions, and take action based on those conclusions, and side missions suddenly provide a personal experience that no longer wastes the player’s time.
But BioWare doesn’t need to just copy Rockstar. Instead, they should approach the game as an opportunity to fix one of the biggest problems in the series, the fact that solutions, particularly in side missions, were handed to you simply because you touched or highlighted the correct object. Instead, give the player places to explore and discover, and most definitely make it challenging. Mainly, if you’re going to provide the player with something to do, make sure it feels like there’s a real payoff at the end of it, not just the sensation you’ve finished a homework assignment.
1) Also, seriously, try making sense too.