End of Mass Effect
So it is looking more and more like the Mass Effect series is done. Latest word is that Mass Effect: Andromeda will not be getting any single-player DLC. While I do not normally care for DLC – much less story-based DLC – this is not a particularly good sign for the health of the series.
And that’s a damn shame.
Andromeda is not remotely close to being as good as any of the original trilogy titles. But… it’s not bad, either. Animations are still wonky, especially when compared to what came before. At the same time, the actual graphics and alien vistas are phenomenal. Combat too is probably the best it has ever been, in terms of cadence and action. While there are still waist-high barriers around in most areas, it certainly doesn’t feel as forced as it did in prior titles. The side crew can’t hold a candle to the OG team from the Milky Way, but perhaps they could have caught up in the next few games.
The problem seems to have been development run amok. I have seen a lot of people decry those derisive animation memes as the reason for the game’s poor reception, but few people examine why the animations were poor to begin with. Despite being in development for 5 years, the game only really coalesced a year and a half before launch. It boggles my mind that the designers were thinking a No Man’s Sky approach to Mass Effect was ever a good idea, e.g. thousand of procedurally generated random planets. This is a flagship franchise – if you want to screw around with the formula, do it with another property!
To date, I still have not completed the main story in Andromeda. As is custom, I got to a stage in which I felt like the endgame was approaching, so I quickly veered off into sidequest territory. I even completed that stupid sidequest that required 16 mineral readings from every crag of the ass end of the universe. Not because it’s fun, but because I’m cruising around with fun company. I mentioned it elsewhere, but I could listen to Peebee and Drak shoot the shit for hours. And I have.
I will be sad when it is over.
While I am a big believer in finding meaning and purpose in every action one takes, I also hate unfinished stories (Kingkiller Chronicles much?). You can certainly have fun with Andromeda, as I have thus far. But I am weary of encouraging anyone being sucked into an orphaned narrative.
Is Fandom is Broken?
No. The answer to a question in a headline is always no.
I was made aware of the “Fandom is Broken” article from a Twitter push notification, which immediately reminded me that I should really delete the app. Then I read the article. Which starts off with, of all things, a “lesson” from the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle.
“This isn’t really a new thing – way back in 2012 I named Annie Wilkes the Patron Saint of Fandom after the childish, ridiculous uproar over the ending of Mass Effect 3. What I couldn’t have known in 2012 was that the Mass Effect uprising was just a preview of the main event; that tantrum happened under the auspices of being a ‘consumer revolt,’ which would be the same kind of language behind which terrorist hate group GamerGate still hides. And in the years since Mass Effect 3 it seems as if the crazy has been ramping up, and as the wall dividing creators and fans gets ever thinner with each new social media platform the number of voices being raised has grown.
The article gets worse from there, with a meandering diatribe vaguely conflating consumer entitlement with the rise (?) of Twitter death threats to game/movie/etc creators. But by far, the most puzzling element of the article is this part:
The corporatized nature of the stories we consume has led fans – already having a hard time understanding the idea of an artist’s vision – to assume almost total ownership of the stuff they love. And I use that word ownership in a very specific sense – these people see themselves as consumers as much as they see themselves as fans. This is what the “Retake Mass Effect” movement was foreshadowing. They see these stories as products.
Of course these games/movies/books have been products. They have always been products. If there has ever been an inflection point at which “artistic vision” meant anything, it died the moment the creator cared about the people who consumed the art at all. Focus groups? PR departments? Franchise opportunities? All of that calls into question “artistic vision,” decades (if not centuries) before Twitter ever became a thing.
And, really, let me take a moment to say how much of a bullshit weasel-word “artistic vision” is to begin with. It conjures into being a sacrosanct defense that apparently renders the artist immune to criticism or critique. One should not point out the many plotholes of the original Mass Effect 3 ending, because apparently the half-assed nature of it was intended. And how do we know it was intended? Because the artist released it like that. So, ispo facto, that’s the vision. If you think it’s bad or could have been better, you’re entitled!
When Bioware released the expanded endings, however, that apparently isn’t “artistic vision,” so tainted was it by the unruly demands of the unwashed masses. Or maybe Bioware was just embarrassed enough from being called out on their bullshit and decided to finish what they started. Or maybe Bioware was just concerned about future Mass Effect: Andromeda sales.
That there is the rub, of course. Fans are more connected to creators these days not because of the means and mediums, but because the creators make themselves more available. And why do they do that? Because they want that feedback, they want to foster that investment, because they want to stoke the engines of the hype train to ever greater levels. Sometimes that works. Sometimes that doesn’t, as the creators of No Man’s Sky are seeing, as the hype train is late pulling into the station.
In any case, it is regrettable that death threats are being thrown about. Nobody really deserves those, and anyone who sends them should be punished accordingly. But… they are also largely unavoidable these days. If 99.99% of a given, million-strong fandom are perfectly rational people, that still means there are 100 people spewing bile directly into your Inbox. Which is a lot of people! And as long as Twitter continues being a platform basically dedicated to consequence-free instant abuse, I don’t know what the solution is.
I can tell you what isn’t the problem is though. It’s not the fandom.
Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Game: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Recommended price: $25
Metacritic Score: 85
Completion Time: 40-90+ hours
Buy If You Like: Dragon Age, CRPGs, Bioware titles
Dragon Age: Origins felt like a seminal moment in computer gaming when it came out back in 2009. Here was an epic RPG written by Bioware that followed in the Baldur’s Gate style with all the conveniences of modern gaming. The lore was deep for a brand new IP, and turned many of the traditional fantasy tropes on their head (elves are actually slaves in the ghettos instead of immortal elites, etc). While certainly not the first title to do so, Origins also featured quite a few deliciously vexing moral decisions with no good answers. Although it stumbled here and there, the game nevertheless took me on a 100+ hour journey with characters I sorely missed after the ending credits.
Then there was Dragon Age 2. It went okay.
The first dozen or so hours in Dragon Age: Inquisition felt distressingly similar to Dragon Age 2. For example, combat remains more Action than Tactics. In fact, Bioware removed the pseudo-AI programming you could do in the prior two games and replaced it with… not much. The plot begins with a limp handshake via two factions warring that I care nothing about and no inklings that things will get better. In short, I was very, very worried.
Once I finally had a base of operations though… you know that feeling in the Mass Effect series once Shepard reaches the Normandy? Inquisition had that moment for me, and suddenly it felt as if my peripheral vision widened. The fun switch was flipped and stayed on for pretty much the entire ride.
The game feels massive. In fact, one of the big criticisms of Inquisition is that people end up staying in the first map (Hinterlands) doing quests for 15+ hours, long past the point when they could be exploring new lands. And I totally fell into that same trap myself. Honestly, Inquisition could easily have been the first draft of Dragon Age Online. It would not at all have felt out of place to see other Inquisitors running around, killing bears and closing Fade portals. Hell, the game already features a rather needlessly complicated and fiddly crafting system complete with dozens of resources nodes spread across the map.
Combat is much more like Dragon Age 2, as mentioned before, but gone are the magically spawning waves of enemies. As a result, most of the enemies you encounter feel as though they are actually part of the world you inhabit, and thus fighting them feels “real.” It also helps that there aren’t necessarily any prescribed “combat zones” – you could be fighting in the woods with trees blocking projectiles, or attacking up the side of a mountain, or using a boulder for elevation to trigger your Archery talent for bonus damage. Indeed, the sheer amount of verticality in the game is a huge triumph in making the world feel more organic.
In terms of plot, character development, and companion dialog, it is difficult to nail down my feelings on the matter in terms of whether it surpassed prior titles. I ended up playing Inquisition for over 90 hours, largely because I wanted to squeeze every ounce of party banter blood I could from even the stones of irrelevant sidequests. At the same time, most of the excellently written characters were from the first or second games (notable exception: Iron Bull), which feels like… cheating, somehow. Were they particular good in this game, or was I carrying over emotions from prior ones? Tough to say.
What is not at all tough to say is that I very much enjoyed my Inquisition experience overall, and am sad to see it go. I would not rank it amongst my favorites of all time, but Inquisition is the Dragon Age game we deserved after Origins. In short, it has renewed my faith and interest in the series as a whole, and was a joy to play besides. I am ready to follow Bioware into whatever form Dragon Age 4 takes.
Review: Dragon Age 2
Game: Dragon Age 2
Recommended price: $5
Metacritic Score: 82
Completion Time: 45 hours
Buy If You Like: More action-ish RPGs, Humorous party dialog, waves of trash mobs
In light of the impending release of Dragon Age 3, I decided to go ahead and play through the much-maligned Dragon Age 2. Would it be really as bad as everyone says? Well… maybe.
When Dragon Age: Origins came out, it was a love-letter to the Baldur’s Gate generation, featuring tactical and brutal combat, an epic and lore-rich storyline, and plenty of morally questionable scenarios. Dragon Age 2 follows mostly along similar lines, but there are enough breaks from the formula that you start wondering if the devs wanted to make a different game altogether.
Combat in Dragon Age 2 has a much more action game feel, even though it shares many things with the original. The Tactics system is still in place for configuring the AI, for example, and you can still pause the action at any time to issue orders or directly control different party members. Indeed, in the beginning, it felt largely the same as Origins, albeit “quicker.”
The major problem though is that the game throws waves and waves of weak enemies at you, even when it doesn’t make any sense. You could be walking around the slums when BAM! Thirty dudes try to take you out, ten at a time. While superficially more exciting, the challenge in these sort of fights is extremely low; the only times in which my party died were when an enemy spellcaster dropped an AoE spell, which typically will one-shot everyone nearby before you realize what’s going on.
Bioware went a different direction with the plot and overall story structure as well. Instead of fighting another Blight or dealing much with Darkspawn at all, the story follows your character as he/she… well, lives in a city. On one level, it felt pretty novel to experience a former refugee’s rise to prominence, especially given how reasonable the path ends up feeling. I especially liked how each game Act fasts forward time by 3 years – all too often it feels like the average RPG sort of assumes all this character development and world-saving occurs within a week.
On the other hand, the lack of any discernible threat puts a lot of pressure on the incidental stories being interesting… which they are largely not. The underlying plot of Dragon Age 2 is an exploration of the Circle and Templar tension within the Dragon Age setting. While I always thought that bit lore was cool, it isn’t enough to carry a 40+ hour campaign. At one point, the only quest left I could complete was the plot quest to find some Blood Mages who ran away, and all I could ask is: who cares? Those Blood Mages have nothing to do with anything, even in context.
Another major issue I had with the game was the rather outrageously blatant copy & paste job with the environments. Going into a cave? Guess what, it’ll be the same cave you always go into, except maybe certain passages will be blocked off this time. Given how the game takes place in one main location, I can understand reusing assets to an extent. But when every warehouse, every cave, every secret base all have the exact same map even when they have no rational reason to be shaped similarly? Call it what it is: developer laziness and cutting corners.
Overall, the online criticisms of Dragon Age 2 largely hit the mark. It is very clear that DA2 was an experiment, and it is equally clear that even Bioware acknowledged that things did not pan out quite as they had hoped. Although some characters from Dragon Age: Origins make cameo appearances, there isn’t a real reason to encourage that fans of the original game to play this one. It isn’t awful, in isolation, but it’s not compelling enough to deserve the Dragon Age title.
Sometimes I Really Hate Bioware
So hey, there is another sale on Origin right now – pretty much the entire EA catalog (all six games) is reduced by 50% or more. Know what isn’t reduced in price though? Goddamn Mass Effect DLC:
That’s right, you can buy the entire Mass Effect franchise for $15. If you want to get all the canon DLC though, that will be an additional $64. For a 2+ year old game. For DLC that has never been on sale.
At this point I can no longer tell if Bioware is just stupid, or evil, or what. Is the nefarious plan to rope in new players at the $15 price-point and then squeeze the $64 out of the few who become super-enamored with the game? Or is the marketing department asleep at the wheel (or fired) and they just never got around to running the numbers on having a Bioware point sale? Or, you know, migrating from the goddamn ridiculous point system like every other game company?
I suppose the good news is that Casey Hudson, project director for KOTOR and the entire Mass Effect series, left Bioware last week. While I still have some sour grapes (more like sour raisins at this point) over the ME3 ending debacle, the fleshed-out endings went a long way in regaining my trust. I do not idolize content creators as a rule – individual works are the only thing that deserves respect – but this move makes it more likely that Bioware will be left with games I won’t be compelled to play, thereby making it easier to both hate them and not give them money simultaneously.
But seriously, Bioware, put that goddamn Mass Effect DLC on sale and I will buy it.
Slow News Day
Man. If only there was, like, something interesting going on the world of gaming. You know, some tidbit of under-reported MMO news or some noteworthy announcement that happened in the last 24 hours or so. If it could demonstrate my somewhat embarrassing lack of forecasting abilities, that would be great too.
So, yeah, SWTOR going F2P.
Less than 1 million subs now, but totally “well over” 500k, aka the event horizon of the money hole. There is not much else to say that has not been said in a dozen other blogs in your RSS, although I am inclined to point to Green Armadillo’s analysis over at Player Vs Developer for one-stop shopping; I agree with basically everything the dasypodidae said. Especially the confusion as to how a F2P model is supposed to work when the stuff being pay-gated is probably what the vast majority of players don’t care about, e.g. endgame.
My contribution to the discussion, such as it is, will be the following:
In other news, I finished Dead Island over the weekend, and just completed Orcs Must Die 2 mere hours ago, having played the entire Story-mode in co-op. Official reviews of both and others will be forthcoming. Then again… maybe not. The recent Steam Summer Sale haul included the following:
- Crusader Kings 2
- The Walking Dead
- Prince of Persia Complete Pack
- The Longest Journey + Dreamfall
- Arma 2 (aka DayZ)
- 2K Collection (aka Spec Ops: the Line, Civ5, Darkness 2)
- …and a truly embarrassing amount of indie games
I almost pre-purchased Borderlands 2 since it was $40 via Dealzon, before I realized that I am addicted to the thought of getting deals on videogames more than the actual playing thereof. At least, that is the only possible conclusion looking at my (digital) library. I was feeling kinda bummed out at letting the Borderlands 2 deal slip away though – while it was never supposed to be a sort of Day 1 purchase to me, I was definitely looking forward to it sooner rather than later – until my friend said “Steam Winter Sale.” God dammit.
I am looking forward to hitting up SWTOR once it goes F2P though, assuming GW2 plays out as I expect and I don’t do a full relapse with MoP. Throwing down $15 for the box a week or so from now is not asking much, but like I mentioned earlier, it is all about the dealz. And it is hard to argue with “free several months from now” when there is plenty to do in the midterm.
So, About Those Extended Endings
Three months to the day ago, I decided to write a post called What I Want to See from Bioware, vis-a-vis the proposed Extend Cut of Mass Effect 3.
And now I have seen those endings. All four of them.
That is your warning, kiddos. Spoilers dead ahead.
In that prior post, there were a number of things I was looking for from Bioware, in Best Case/Worst Case scenarios. The biggest one was the Normandy scene at the end, which made no goddamn sense whatsoever – it essentially ruined the endings for me all by itself. What I wanted to see in the Extended Cut was:
What I want to see from Bioware:
- Best Case: an explanation of how the crew (EDI and Liara, in my case) got back on-board the Normandy, what the Normandy was doing while I was on the Citadel, if they knew/suspected Shepard was alive or dead, and why they were running away.
- Worst Case: ensure that the crew with you on the final mission don’t show up in the final scene.
Mission accomplished. In a big way.
In the interests of being somewhat objective, the “answer” they gave to where your crew members were at was… a bit hard to swallow. With Harbinger easily knocking out tanks and fighters left and right, it seemed quite out of character for him to let the Normandy land, for people to be evacuated, for there to be time enough for one last tearful goodbye, and then an escape back into orbit. If the Normandy was capable of landing, why not just drop off a bunch of people at the beam itself?
I am willing to entertain the notion that Harbinger would not care about Normandy picking people back up, as long as they were not being moved closer to the beam, although that seems a bit weak.
Outside of that gripe? Smashing success on the other points. I laughed out loud when Hackett said what he did in the screenshot above; partly from the unexpected bluntness, and partly from the beginnings of a catharsis I had been missing for the last three months.
The next section of that prior post was about Indoctrination:
What I want to see from Bioware:
- Best case: Settle the Indoctrination debate once and for all. If Indoctrination is real, include a true final battle scene, potentially followed by the same sort of choices.
- Worst case: Remove the breath scene.
As far as I am concerned, the Indoctrination theory is kaput. It was actually kaput months ago, but the mini-epilogues following each ending serves as final nails. In the scheme of things, Indoctrination was a better ending than what we were originally given, but these new ones supersede the old in a good way.
The breath scene is unfortunately still in the game, but since March I have come to understand that the Destroy ending is actually truly Renegade. Ironically, all those Indoctrination videos had led me to believe that Control was bad and Destroy good, (i.e. the real ending), when that really was not the case. It is true that “nuking the site from orbit is the only way to be sure,” so to speak, but condemning all synthetics to death, including EDI, when other options are available is undeniably Renegade. Control may not seem like the way the Reaper threat should be handled, but a Paragon Shepard would take that chance. The consensus says: these units do have souls.
The final section was general plot holes:
What I want to see from Bioware:
- Best case: Shore up these plot holes via Codex entries, FAQs, or at least acknowledge they exist.
- Worst case: leave everything vague and unsettled.
Many of the points I raised regarding the Citadel were answered by the expanded Catalyst dialog, if a bit weakly. Not the biggest one, though. Why the Reapers did not simply reassert control of the Citadel immediately upon emerging from dark space is probably one of those “Why didn’t the Eagles just fly Frodo to Mount Doom?” questions for the ages.
The Endings Themselves
Talk about night and day compared to the previous ones, eh?
The amusing thing to me, is how my very first extended ending was the new one.
After slogging through the Cerberus base and the London battle and the unskippable post-beam dialog, the very first thing I did when I regained control over Shepard was shoot the Catalyst in the face. His Harbinger-esque “So be it” response took me aback, as did the unexpectedly poignant “Failure” ending. I remembered that time-capsule scene with Liara, and was even touched by the knowledge that though we had failed, the cycle was eventually broken by the next generation of intelligent species. Whom, while still looking suspiciously like asari, nevertheless had the gumption to actually take Reaper threat goddamn seriously. “Was that so hard?” I asked the monitor afterwards.
I played through all three of the other main ones, and was immensely satisfied. It is still Synthesis – aka the Green Cupcake – all the way for me, but I felt that Bioware did an excellent job at handling the Control ending as well. They all felt a bit… Deus Ex. In a good way. I have no idea how they will rationalize additional post-ME3 games in the Mass Effect universe, at least without holding Destroy up as canon, but I suppose we will all jump off that bridge when we come to it.
Months ago, a friend asked me as to whether I would purchase any future ME3 DLC. At the time, I replied “It will depend on how Bioware handles the Extended Cut.” Although I am extraordinarily happier with the series now than I was back in March, I am not sure that I want to revisit Shepard and crew again. Say what you will about the writing or “cheap emotional tricks” or whatever else, but this series truly has affected me in ways few games (or books, or movies) have.
I am thankful for the experience, of course. I just know that the longer I stay in Manse de la Shepard, the less likely I am to enjoy all the other experiences out there. It is hard enough handling regular post-game depression, without also having to question why I am not a better man in real life.
I am only half-way joking.
Mass Effect 3’s Ending DLC Coming Tomorrow
I do not want to sound ungrateful or anything (at least until I see the expository scenes for myself), but… err, Bioware? Telling us on Friday that the ME3 Extended Cut DLC will be out on Tuesday comes across as somewhat guilty. You know, when you were a kid and tried to sneak in the one bad thing you just did into a stream of all the other random things in the hopes that Mom wouldn’t notice.
“AND THEN I PLAYED WITH BOBBY IN THE BACKYARD, AND THEN WE WENT TO THE CREEK, AND I CAUGHT A FROG BUT IT HOPPED AWAY, and I broke Mr. Wilson’s window, AND WE RODE BIKES TO THE PARK BUT IT WAS GETTING DARK SO WE CAME BACK, AND WE PLAYED POGS AND I TOTALLY WON THREE TIMES.”
I haven’t been giving the ending DLC much thought beyond casually musing how, at this point, Bioware could probably get away with not releasing anything¹. It has been more than three months, after all, which is the equivalent of 10 years in the modern news cycle. Mass Effect really isn’t A Thing to me anymore, especially after I sort of capped out of interest in the multiplayer.
Listening to this (low-budget) PR interview though…
Have you ever started dating an ex again? You remember how much fun you had together, how much everything just clicked. And then you also remember how (badly) things ended last time, getting a little steamed all over again with events long since past. The video basically evokes that, to me.
Anyway, the scab is coming off tomorrow, or whenever it is I am able to sit down
and make out with ME3 again. Maybe never. Realistically, as soon as humanly possible.
¹ I don’t actually believe they could get away without addressing the ending. Not because fans “deserve” a better one, but rather because I have no doubt Bioware would like to sell some actual story DLC. I imagine that the market for story DLC to a 3+ month old RPG is likely limited to the very people most pissed off by the ending.
SWTOR Drops an EVE in Size
In other words, SWTOR lost 400,000 subscriptions in the last three months:
Star Wars: The Old Republichas dropped from 1.7 million active subscribers to 1.3 million, publisher Electronic Arts said today in an earnings statement.
That’s a loss of nearly 25% for the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or 400,000 subscribers. […]
Update: In a conference call this afternoon, EA said the decrease was indeed due to “casual and trial players” cycling out of the game.
It is worth noting, of course, that the 1.3 million current subscribers is circa March 31st; things may have stabilized or gotten worse sense then.
Remember the whole brouhaha concerning the free month of game time given to Bioware’s “most valued players?” That took place two weeks into April. So while that may still have been a cynical move to prop up subscription numbers, we can be reasonably certain that the 1.3 million figure is not being finessed by anything (the 1.7 million figure at the beginning of the year had some vague language).
I’m not sure I’m going to follow SWTOR with the same level of attention I give to WoW’s subscription/raiding numbers, but for some future reference, here is an Xfire screenshot:
I personally don’t like using Xfire as a metric – the sample of players here are playing SWTOR for 5.3 hours at a time if I’m reading that right, and I’d assume even happily subbed players play less over time – but there you go. Damning evidence of EAware’s hubris and impending downfall, or signs of a much healthier MMO than most releases have achieved in the last few years. Obviously 400k is nothing to sneeze at, but 1.3 million is much better than analyst predictions of 800k.
Spin that narrative however you please.
And I Approve this Message
Posted by Azuriel
Bioware just announced there is going to be a Mass Effect: Legendary edition:
This is extremely relevant to my interests. I consider Mass Effect to be one of the best RPG series ever made, and yet despite that, I never got around to purchasing any of the critically- (and fan-) acclaimed DLCs. At the time, it was more of a principle thing, but then later morphed into a “why do all of these still cost $70?” and “why are BioWare Points still a thing?” Having a complete package with everything included makes things much simpler, with all the other enhancements being a bonus.
There was also this bit of news:
That the franchise will continue is good to hear. I haven’t really kept up on the news/rumors before this, so I had still been under the 3-year old impression that everything was over. Hard to be optimistic when EA, of all companies, cancels all plans for DLC for a game. Still, it will be extremely interesting to see if they continue the Andromeda thread or do some kind of prequel or what.
So, yeah, pretty exciting. I had to look up who owns BioWare at the moment just to gauge the likelihood that this Legendary Edition hits the Xbox Game Pass. Looks like EA still owns BioWare. Considering that the EA Play membership rolls into the Game Pass starting on November 10th though, it’s highly likely that my /r/patientgamers-ing has paid dividends.
Oh, and it looks like Biden won the election too, so there might still be a world left to game in.
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Tags: Bioware, DLC, Mass Effect, Remaster, Xbox Game Pass