Thursday, June 16, 2011

Things That Should Be In Mass Effect 3, But Probably Won't Be (Part Two)

I love Mass Effect. The third and final installment--with little more than one teaser trailer and one gameplay trailer released so far--already has me grabbed by the wrinklies, and I'm certain it's going to be a truly epic end to a great saga of heroism and hard choices. But there are a few things that I'd really love to see--that I think are very possible for the Bioware team to make--that I'm fairly certain won't make the cut. These are things that should be in Mass Effect 3, but probably won't be:

I want every romanceable character to make a full return.
Why I want it: With the first two Mass Effect games there are a total of nine fully realized romance options for players, based on whether the player character is male or female. The three romantic interests from the first Mass Effect game all had very minor roles in Mass Effect 2, and while it is dramatically engaging to have a loyal Shepard pining for their love from the mission against Saren, it would be an astronomical rip-off if Bioware's developers were to force a similar result on you in the bookend installment of Shepard's story. I've already consigned myself to pick my character's romantic interest in the first two games based on what options are supported in third. So it would be nice if they didn't encourage players like me to shoe-horn a particular romance option by limiting the stable of end-game representation.

Why I won't get it: Mass Effect had a party roster of six, and Mass Effect 2 doubled that with its final roster including DLC characters Zaeed and Kasumi. Assuming twelve approaches the ceiling of what Bioware wants to have in the party roster, I doubt nine of those options will be romantic interests. It would, however, be fun if those who didn't rank high enough on Bioware's priority list to be party members would at least be ever-present crew members on your ship. Following the popular success of such supporting crew as Joker, Yeoman Chambers, and EDI, Mass Effect 3 would do well to make the Normandy a small village of dynamic personalities to contrast the horrors of the War with the Reapers. Of course, there's another option...

I want one-and-a-half butt-loads of potential party members.
Why I want it: As I mentioned above, I want all the romantic interests to return as party members. But that is inaccurate. I want every party member who survived either game to make a return as a potential party member. I mean, I frakkin' kept them alive through one or more suicide missions--they should stick around. This would necessitate a sixteen-person roster. Assuming the new game will have a few new party members, we're looking at a potential roster with twenty names on it. Shiny, that's what I'm talking about. That's quality choice, man. More than enough to ensure that players go through the epic game (and its precursors) again and again to experience quality time with each of the squad members, having a roster of anything more than a dozen should help to deepen the player's feelings of being submerged in a vast struggle where every last resource is being pulled to fight the ultimate threat to all sentient life.

Why I won't get it: Bioware is pretty much guaranteed not to go this route. In an interview in issue 217 of Game Informer, Executive Producer Casey Hudson indicated that at least some of the past party members will have little more than cameos in the third game. Lame. Now, I understand that developing all the dialogue, animations, meshes, skins, and so forth for twenty characters is probably too much for such a story-intensive game, but I don't like the excuse that it's to avoid clutter. It would be totally easy to make some of the characters be mutually exclusive--quarian Tali and geth Legion are always at odds, anyways, so the idea of them refusing to serve alongside the other makes sense. Krogans Wrex and Grunt might refuse to fight alongside each other out of a selfish sense of competitive pride. The developers could also make a time-management dynamic (more on this later) that made it where you'd only have time to recruit a half dozen squad-mates before events come crashing down on your head. I think someone needs to step up and do something along these lines, and Bioware's already pioneered the video game RPG genre enough to show they have the stones to do it.

I want the romance to be more nuanced, and to explore getting completely spurned or rejected.
Why I want it: Character romance has been a big part of Bioware's most recent games, and despite the childish responses for and against their inclusion, it makes for a dynamic story that transcends the average video game experience. But it is still crude and clumsy, and it doesn't have to be so. As it stands, if a character has romantic potential, their overtures are made obvious at some point, and the player receives an equally obvious choice of responses that either progress or forbid the romantic envoy. There's no reason not to flesh this out by making any romance have an element of uncertainty--an easy example is that maybe a crass pickup line gets one character's attention, turns off another, or polite apathy stirs the interest of someone else who likes it when Shepard plays hard to get. This could then lead into the possibility of Shepard pursuing someone romantically, getting rejected or held at arm's length, and still having to put aside the awkwardness for the good of the galaxy and their mission. Lennier from Babylon 5 is a good example of this dynamic--his unrequited infatuation with Delenn made the fourth season's climax feel that much more tense, as his emotions and attachment conflicted with what had to be done. If implemented in Mass Effect 3, I think this would be an awesome way of rejuvenating the romance feature of their games.

Why I won't get it: Admittedly, Jack's romance in Mass Effect 2 makes a pass at being more nuanced than the standard Bioware romance. The idea that bedding her in a sleezy fashion early on will altogether preclude a meaningful romance with her is a good refinement, and it makes the emotional impact of waiting for her to become emotionally accessible feel more noble. But it's still pretty obvious which way things are going with her. Making the relational choices have more nuance, however, moves towards the genre called dating sim. I don't think incorporating more dating sim elements into Mass Effect would be technically hard--it's just a more mysterious, twisting conversation tree, really. It would however, warp the genre quite a bit, and I'm certain Bioware won't mess with their formula that much as they finish up the trilogy. But hopefully it will factor into their next project.

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