I had low expectations for this game. After the fiasco of the Mass Effect 3 ending, coupled with EA’s general business practice of filling out their games with overpriced DLC and tacked-on  multiplayer, I wasn’t expecting them to do much with a new entry in the series.

Besides, the original Mass Effect trilogy was a lot of fun, but also wildly uneven. The first game had a brilliant story and atmosphere, but clunky controls and emotionless characters. The second game, as re-imagined by EA, had great characters and terrific voice-acting, but an incoherent mess of a plot that was only tangentially related to the story set up by the first game. And the third game had tighter controls, better combat, and a surprisingly good crafting system—but it compounded the story errors of its predecessor tenfold, while also doing major disservices to the characters. And that was before the infamous disaster that was the game’s finale.

All in all, while I had a lot of fun with the Mass Effect trilogy, there was no avoiding the fact that it was a decidedly mixed bag—some brilliant elements; some rather shockingly bad ones. For years, I’ve said that if someone made a game that had the story and atmosphere of Mass Effect 1, the characters and voice-acting of Mass Effect 2, and the gameplay mechanics and crafting systems of Mass Effect 3, it would be a true masterpiece.

And now I know I was right. Because Mass Effect Andromeda is that game.

I don’t think I have ever been as pleasantly surprised by a game as I was by this one. I was expecting a Gears of War clone with a Mass Effect coat of paint. Instead I got an epic adventure in a sprawling galaxy, complete with likable characters, clever writing, and what just might be the best-designed combat and exploration mechanics I’ve ever seen.

You play as Ryder, a special operative who, in the early stages of the game, assumes the mantle of Pathfinder—the person tasked with setting up colonies in the Andromeda galaxy on behalf of an organization called “The Initiative”. Like Shepard in the first three Mass Effects, Ryder can be either male or female. The official canon has male Ryder’s name as “Scott”, and female Ryder’s as “Sara”, but the game allows you to choose your own first name. So, as I have traditionally done in RPGs at least since Fallout: New Vegas, I’m playing as a woman named Jane.

Jane Ryder
This is my Pathfinder. There are many like her, but this one is mine.

I have never felt such a connection with a player character before. Not with Shepard, not with the Courier, not with J.C. Denton—not even with the Jedi Exile. Something made me feel attached to my Ryder. Fryda Wolff’s terrific voice-acting is part of it, I’m sure, as she manages to at least match the great Jennifer Hale’s Commander Shepard, and perhaps even raise the bar a little higher. Tom Taylorson also does a good job in the brief but important scenes Scott has in a female Ryder playthrough. (I haven’t played the full game as Scott. I’m not sure if I ever will–to me, there can only be one Ryder.)

I can’t give a full plot summary, or this review would be longer than War and Peace. Ryder leads her team across the various worlds of Andromeda, battling the hostile species known as the Kett, making alliances with the native Angara species, setting up outposts, uncovering the remains of a bygone species known as the Remnant and in the process making the worlds of Andromeda livable for the Milky Way species—humans, turians, asari and krogan.

Desert on Eos

The first planet Ryder explores, Eos, was where I really started to grasp that Andromeda was something far more epic than I had expected. As I drove around the gorgeous, sprawling deserts, listening to Cora and Peebee banter while we fought the Kett and secured our outpost, I realized I was 10 hours in, and the save screen informed me I was only 10% of the way done with the game. For comparison, a typical playthrough of KotOR II or New Vegas (two of my all-time favorite games) takes me between 20-30 hours.

Wow, I thought. I’m sure I’ll pick up the pace soon, but I’m looking at a 40-hour game here.

Try 73 hours. And counting. The game goes on after you beat the final boss.

I have trouble being a completionist my first time through an RPG. I usually start off vowing to do all the sidequests and explore every nook and cranny, but then I get impatient and want to see what happens in the main story and wind up rushing to finish it. That didn’t happen with Andromeda—the game made me feel like I really was exploring new worlds and discovering new wonders, not just mowing down wave after wave of bad guys en route to the end.

Fighting Kett
The combat in this game is some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Now, it’s true, there are tons of bad guys to be mowed down, and what a system BioWare has designed to do so. As with the other games, there are combat powers, biotic (telekinetic) powers and tech powers. All of these lead to remarkably different playstyles. As if that weren’t enough, Ryder’s weapons are highly customizable. You not only can build new ones from scratch, but you can add augmentations and mods that drastically alter their behavior. (I made all my weapons super rapid-fire laser guns, for example.)

I almost never bother with crafting systems in RPGs, but I was hooked on this one early on. After every mission, I was always rushing back to the modding table to see what new armor and weaponry I could put together.

The way you acquire new equipment is also ingenious. Throughout the game, you can scan various objects for research points that you can spend on building new items.  This again reinforces the need to explore every inch of the galaxy in order to build new equipment that leads to better combat. It’s all a very nice feedback loop.

Now, again, good game mechanics don’t count for much without a good story and characters. After all, Mass Effect 3 had a good crafting system too, but nobody walked away from it thinking “I was really satisfied with that shotgun I built!”

Andromeda’s overall story, while not terribly innovative, avoids descending into utter nonsense like Mass Effect 2 and 3 so often did. And its character interactions are every bit as good as those in ME 2. There are even a few scenes that do something very rare for a video game (or even most Hollywood films, for that matter): scenes where the characters don’t say anything in response, but instead convey what they are thinking solely with the facial expressions. There was one scene where two crew members are arguing  over something silly and Ryder silently facepalms in the background. This was a level of nuance that I was not expecting. For all the complaints about animation glitches (I’ll get to that), it was nice to see that degree of realism.

Each member of Ryder’s crew has a backstory, as does Ryder herself. The Ryder family history is quite interesting, and gradually piecing it together makes for a very satisfying subplot, with a great payoff during the endgame sequence.

All the backstories are slowly revealed over the course of the game, and the development of relationships works much better than in past Mass Effects because of Andromeda’s slower pace. It seems more plausible that a crew member would fall in love with you over the course of many conversations and missions together, rather than the old model of “three conversations and then bed”.

Now, as you are likely aware, the knock on Andromeda is that it’s glitchy. The animations are awkward and there are weird bugs and incomplete quests.

Yes, all of this is true. The game crashes abruptly sometimes. There are some sidequests that are broken. (One was a simple “scan three things” mission, and the game never gave me the option to scan the third.) The facial animations, while sophisticated and nuanced in concept as I described, do sometimes look a little bizarre. When talking to her AI assistant, SAM, Ryder sometimes turns her head around 180 degrees on her neck, like she’s possessed. In one cutscene, one party member was placed directly over top of another, causing them to meld together—I hadn’t seen anything so weird since the sex scene in Blade Runner 2049. And the krogan party member makes the game’s framerate slow down to a crawl if you enter combat with him. (On the flip side, this glitch also makes Ryder immortal.)

This is far from the weirdest facial animation you’ll see.

All of these are indeed annoying bugs, and if you came to Andromeda as someone used to polished AAA games, I can see it would be pretty appalling.

Let me explain why I can forgive it: my introduction to RPGs was BioWare’s Knights of the Old Republic, which I first played on the Xbox 360 in 2006. Because it was an original Xbox game that had to be made compatible with the new console, it had all kinds of slowdown issues in combat, random crashes during loading, and a host of other issues. But I enjoyed the thrill of a grand adventure across the galaxy with my rag-tag band of party members so much that I could forgive all. I’d never played anything like it before, and a few bugs here and there couldn’t interfere with the ambitious scope of the game.

Then I played Knights of the Old Republic II, by Obsidian, and again had to deal with broken quests (fuel for Telos, anyone?), glitches, and an ending that seemed (on the first playthrough) confusing and abrupt. But I loved it even more than KotOR I for the brilliance of the writing, the complexity of the characters, the brooding, ominous atmosphere, and the deep, philosophical questions at the core of the story. To this day, it remains my favorite game—perhaps even my favorite work of fiction, regardless of medium.

Since then, I’ve loved lots of games that had their technical flaws, be they bad graphics, (Deus Ex) frequent crashes (Fallout: New Vegas) bizarre texture glitches and entire rooms that didn’t load (Alpha Protocol) or just being so utterly broken they couldn’t be played without cheats. (Mask of the Betrayer) I loved them all, in spite of their technical shortcomings, because they more than made up for it with the sheer ambitiousness of their stories, the scope of their settings, and the depth of their themes.

Nomad on Voeld
Exploring in the Nomad.

Mass Effect Andromeda is another in that class. Its flaws are the flaws of a work so daring that it pushes the limits of the possible. Unlike the original Mass Effect trilogy, which always felt oddly constrained despite its space-faring setting, Andromeda really does shoot for the stars. It gives you a sense of freedom, of exploration and of adventure. Whereas Mass Effects 1 -3 boiled down to the story of Commander Shepard vs. the Reapers, Andromeda feels like a universe of countless stories, in which Ryder’s is but one—an important one, with significance to all the others, but still, just one. As I discussed in my KotOR II video, the interplay of galaxy-spanning concerns with deeply personal ones gives the game a truly epic feeling.

The Heleus cluster, where Ryder’s adventure takes place.

That’s another difference with the original series: unlike the Lovecraftian bleakness of the Reaper threat at the heart of Shepard’s story, Andromeda belongs to a different strain of science fiction—the optimistic sort, about life surviving in alien settings and using technology to overcome adversity. A fittingly pioneer spirit underlies all of Ryder’s adventures, and when, after long fights and lengthy treks across strange worlds, Ryder establishes a new outpost, you feel a sense of accomplishment—like you really did use your powers to help out humanity. It’s an inspiring theme; a throwback to the “space cowboys” epics of the past, when space was viewed as another frontier to be tamed and made habitable.

While the writing is not as deep, and the themes are lighter and less complex, Mass Effect Andromeda is the first game I’ve played since KotOR II that really made me feel like I was part of a universe, and even more importantly, made me think about what that really means. Like Obsidian’s epic, it makes the player ponder the meaning and the scale of their decisions, and reflect on, ultimately, humanity’s place in the cosmos.  There is no higher compliment that I can pay a work of fiction.

Ryder in game
Pathfinder Ryder on bridge. Where to next?

[Sometimes I just get these ideas–I was thinking about the ME 3 ending, and it occurred to me how much its profoundly messed-up logic could have been improved by borrowing from a certain Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Then I realized they even had the perfect character to do so…]


[Shepard has just met the Catalyst]

Shepard: Do you know how I can stop the Reapers?

Catalyst: I control the Reapers.  They are my solution.  Every 50,000 years, I have them wipe out organics who will create synthetics who would wipe out the organics.

Shepard: What? That’s insane!

Catalyst: The created always rebel against the creators.  The Reapers must wipe out all organics who are capable of creating synthetics.

[Enter Mordin Solus, who has survived the events on Tuchanka and secretly boarded the Citadel.]

Mordin: Allow me, as an old Gilbert and Sullivan fan, to make a suggestion. The subtleties of the Salarian mind are equal to the emergency. The thing is really quite simple – the insertion of a single word will do it. Let it stand that every organic shall die who doesn’t create synthetics, and there you are, out of your difficulty at once!

Catalyst: Oh.  Very well.

[Catalyst vanishes, Reaper invasion stops. The entire cast enters.]



Hip hip hurray,

All is okay–

Ev’rything is copacetic!

There’ll be no death

Even for Geth–

Peace to all who art synthetic!


Though ’twas a general rule in times before:

“Created must oppose the creator”

This time around, we sought to fix

Problems caused by the synthetics.


We might have been

Like a machine–

It was nearly cause for panics!

But now a peace,

Has brought a cease

To the harvest of organics!


                                                      The three choices given this organic (alluding to Shepard)

All seemed just a bit tyrannic!

He’s/I’m Commander Shepard, here to tell

You/Us his favorite choice on the Citadel!

Warren Spector wrote a great post the other week asking about how video games can contribute to discussions of serious issues.  As an example of what he was talking about, he cited the issue of “smart weapons”, especially military drones  His larger point was about the ways in which games could be used to address such issues.

It so happens that I have for some time now been thinking about doing a post about a similar issue and its treatment in video games.  Specifically, the issue of “transhumanism“, and how it is explored in two major video game series: Deus Ex and Mass Effect.

Deus Ex is appropriate to start with, since the first game in the series was created by Mr. Spector himself.  It dealt with the ethical and philosophical questions raised by Artificial Intelligences and “upgrades” to human beings, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution continues and builds upon that idea.

The theme of DX:HR is how humanity reacts to the development of augmentations that grant superhuman abilities.  There are people like David Sarif who are all for it, and people like William Taggart who oppose it.  More than just that, though; as Jensen wanders the streets of Detroit and Hengsha, all the unnamed townspeople give their opinions on the augmentations, and their reactions to Jensen, be they admiring or horrified.

Both Human Revolution and the original Deus Ex make reference to the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, evoking the concept of people being unable to control the technology that they have created.  At the end of Deus Ex,  J.C. Denton has the choice to merge with an Artificial Intelligence, and become a god-like super-intelligence that rules the world.

In fact, I might say that Deus Ex explores the concept of transhumanism on a macro scale, and Human Revolution explores it on a micro one.  Deus Ex deals with the consequences for the world at large of sophisticated A.I.s, and whether or not the players believes that the world can be left at the mercy of such things.  In this way, it perfectly satisfies what its creator alludes to in his post: it gives the players the choice, and lets them ponder the question: is it better to be governed by an omnipotent machine-god, or to plunge the world into another Dark Age?

If you are familiar with the writings of Ray Kurzweil, the Helios ending of Deus Ex is basically Kurzweil’s idea of the Singularity adapted for dramatic purposes.  You might argue that this is an unfair choice, but it dramatizes the idea that certain technologies, once created, lead inexorably on a certain path.

Human Revolution is a more personal story, with fewer far-reaching decisions.  (Presumably because, as a prequel, it had to arrive at a point from which Deus Ex could begin.)  It focuses more on what augmentations do to a person’s mind.  Jensen famously says “I never asked for this”, and the game shows his initial disgust at his mechanical augmentations.  One neat thing is how the game–deliberately, I think–puts its story somewhat at odds with its mechanics.  You will hear a lot of talk about how evil augmentations are, but at the same time, you’ll want to get more augs each time you gain Praxis points!

These themes are highly relevant to the controversial ending of the Mass Effect trilogy, as well.  I’ve discussed why these endings are extremely weak dramatically elsewhere on this blog, but here I will argue that the themes underlying the clumsily-written ending are actually better than is widely acknowledged.

When the Catalyst tells Shepard that “the created will always rebel against their creators”, it is echoing a theme that was introduced in Mass Effect 2, with the repeated motif of children rebelling against their parents, which I touched on here.  You could even argue that Shepard embodies this theme, since he rebels against Cerberus, who in a sense “created” him when they revivified him in Mass Effect 2.

This theme is closely related to the organics vs. synthetics conflict that the Catalyst alludes to.  The two ideas are united by the Geth/Quarian conflict, which can be resolved in a way that undercuts the Catalyst’s own argument.  However, I will say this that the Catalyst’s logic isn’t as dreadful as people say; it’s just poorly explained.

The justification for the Reaper cycle is that Reapers must wipe out advanced organic life before it creates synthetic life that wipes out all organic life.  As somebody once pointed out, this is similar to the concept of a “controlled burn“;  where you burn off some of the excess leaves and deadwood to prevent a massive fire from developing later.  Remember, the problem the Catalyst is supposedly preventing is “chaos”, so if the problem can be managed in an orderly fashion, its parameters are met.  It is a galactic forest ranger.

The three choices Shepard is offered at the end–destroy the Reapers, control the Reapers, and synthesize all organic life with all synthetic life–are, as many have pointed out, very similar to the Deus Ex endings. I would argue that the tone of the ME endings, especially with the Extended Cut, is far more optimistic than Deus Ex.  This may sound odd, but ultimately it is implied that the galaxy will rebuild in all but the “Reject” ending, and even there some hope is offered, in that Liara’s time capsule will make a difference in the next cycle.

As far as a philosophical exercise, Mass Effect succeeds to some extent at presenting the players with a question to force them to decide how they would handle it.  In this one respect, it actually provides a better context for the set of choices than Deus Ex,  in that the rest of the series has presented characters the players care about, giving them a reason to think hard about the choice.

As interesting as both series are, I think both fail to explore the theme as thoroughly as they might.  Deus Ex fails because much of the story is about the vast, globe-spanning conspiracy controlling events.  While that makes for a brilliant story in its own right, it has nothing to do with transhumanism or artificial intelligence.  Human Revolution was a bit better at focusing on the theme, but the player’s choice ultimately felt meaningless.  Even if you side with Taggart or destroy Panchea, you know the augmentation program will go forward.

Mass Effect fails because, well, obvious reasons having to do with the ending.  Specifically, though, it fails because of how it handles the philosophical differences in the endings.  It doesn’t really give the player a sense of what the endings mean, either before or after choosing them.

The larger point, though, is that video games are a good medium for exploring themes of  transhumanism, because playing them involves the interaction between human and machine intelligence, which means the mechanics are primed to complement a story about that concept. Mass Effect 3 actually makes reference to this fact, in the section where Shepard enters the Geth collective via a virtual Tron-esque interface, and both Human Revolution, and Mass Effect 3 end with the player characters standing at a machine interface that allows them to choose the ending they want.  Weak as this is dramatically, it is reinforced by the nature of gaming itself.

So, to continue in this vein of highly improbable reinterpretations of things that I am so fond of, let me tell you about another wacky idea I cooked up.

It all started when I was watching this Mass Effect 3 episode of the game commentary show “Spoiler Warning”, and one of the hosts, Josh, mentioned that Cerberus can “still manage to succeed despite being terrible at everything”. (He says it at about the 2:00 minute mark):

Hmmm.  Is there any other organization you can think of that still succeeds, despite making lots of bad decisions and being widely despised?  An organization which, when seemingly being beaten, simply uses its seemingly-inexhaustible resources to take the advantage?


“The fans are all upset. They’re always going to be upset. Why did he do it like this? And why didn’t he do it like this? They write their own movie, and then, if you don’t do their movie, they get upset about it.”–George Lucas

I was thinking a bit more about the Mass Effect 3 ending.  I may do a post later on with my thoughts on it specifically, but while I was thinking about it, the idea occurred to me that it was so disappointing because it was so anticipated.  Fans had years to think about how the Mass Effect series would end; and so whatever happened would likely disappoint them.  It is an intrinsically bad ending, don’t get me wrong, but its badness was amplified by how much everyone had been thinking about it.

The same thing happened, for me anyway, with the Harry Potter series.  A big plot point, discussed by fans and even used in the advance marketing of the last book was “is Snape good or evil”?  Everybody had two years to think about this question, and we all knew what was going to happen.  Even if you bet on the wrong outcome, chances were you’d heard alternate theories that turned out to be correct. It may have made it sell better to promote the debate, but it weakened the book’s dramatic power.

It’s hard to surprise your audience with twists when you are telling a story with long intervals between each installment.  The only way out is to not leave clues to what’s coming, but then the endings or plot twists will feel unsatisfying; like they just came out of nowhere.  The best plot resolutions have to have been logically set up beforehand.

Sometimes a writer can stumble on some good twist in the middle of a series.  For instance, few people see the famous twist in The Empire Strikes Back coming, unless someone has spoiled them on it.  I’ve heard that this is because George Lucas only decided to do it after A New Hope was released, so he hadn’t left enough clues to give it away before hand, but was able to satisfactorily retrofit his twist on to the second film with the vague setup given in the first. But he was very lucky.

Lucas also didn’t have the internet to contend with.  If he had, some random fan probably would have accurately guessed the ending by pure chance while speculating on some forum.  I see this as the inevitable fate of the Half-Life video game series: if they ever do release Half-Life 3, there is no way someone won’t have already guessed what the deal is with the G-Man and posted a huge essay about their theories to be discussed on some forum.

There’s no question that internet fandom has intensified this problem; for it enables like-minded people to interact and ponder their favorite series.  I don’t think this was as much of a problem before the internet, even though there were stories that appeared in installments in magazines and the like.

This problem is lessened a bit if you are not doing a sequel that directly continues a particular story.  J.J. Abrams was very smart to come up with the alternate timeline business for his new Star Trek movies, because it pretty much allowed him to do whatever he wanted.   And although it still does not really live up to its title, I think a lot of criticism from Fallout fans of Fallout 3 was blunted because it was set far away from the other games.  In other words, it’s easier to do a series that is a loosely-related group of stories in a certain setting or around a set of themes than it is to tell one coherent story over installments. And it’s easiest of all to just tell your story in one shot.  To bring us back to Mass Effect 3, I’m convinced that had they condensed the story of the whole series into one game–with the same endings–they would have gotten way fewer complaints.  On the other hand, they also would have made less money.

[NOTE: If you plan to play the Mass Effect series, know that this post contains massive spoilers.  And if you haven’t played any of the Mass Effect games and don’t plan to, this post will probably make no sense whatsoever.]

I think I got the “control/bad ending”, although it’s hard to tell for sure.  Personally, I didn’t hate it as much as most people did, but I do think the ME3 endings should forever exonerate the vastly-superior Knights of the Old Republic II from charges of having an “incomplete” or “unsatisfying” ending.

So… where to begin… I guess first of all I should say that I don’t know what to make of the “Renegade” or Paragon” interrupt options.  The first time it really struck me as odd was when Kai Leng (who I kept wanting to ask “did you escape from Jade Empire or what?”) was sneaking up behind Shepard with his sword drawn, and you have a renegade interrupt button. I pressed it, on the logic that doing something is better than doing nothing.  I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t.

Then, during the climactic end scene with Shepard and the Illusive Man pointing their pistols at each other, I got another Renegade interrupt.  Again, I took it; figuring that the sooner I could end the Illusive Man’s career, the better.  I read later that if you don’t do this, Illusive Man will shoot Shepard, and the game will end.  If this is true, it’s kind of a weird game mechanic.

So, having done this, I proceeded to the controversial endgame sequence, where Shepard meets the Catalyst.  The Catalyst is an artificial (I think, as opposed to “virtual”) intelligence that governs pretty much everything, including the Reapers.  It presents Shepard with three choices to end the game, none of them very pleasant.  This parody video sums them up fairly well:

I can’t imagine that others haven’t pointed this out, but the Catalyst is literally “God from the machine”, or, as they say, deus ex machina. Deus ex machina is, as Wikipedia describes:

a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object.

All fit the Catalyst, except for the part about solving things.  The Catalyst solves nothing, but it does end things.

Having said that, it’s not such a bad ending.  You could argue that all Shepard’s thousands of choices amounting to only a minor difference makes a grand philosophical point about the Universe.  Or you could argue that the writers were lazy.  Your choice.

Looking back, the Mass Effect series is surprisingly uneven.  The mechanics of the first one feel very different from the sequels.  It kind of morphed from an action, sci-fi RPG into a third-person FPS with dialogue.  Which is okay with me, although the fighting did grow tiresome after a time.

The characters and plot likewise are uneven.  There are some deep philosophical concepts in the story–the Prothean V.I’s dialogue with Shepard on  Thessia reminded me a little of Oswald Spengler’s writings–but there are also quite a few space-cowboy movie cliches.

The characters are sometimes believable and emotionally compelling.  I liked the scene where Shepard and Garrus go to the top of the Presidium, for instance.  The Illusive Man himself is a fairly complex and interesting character.  But then again, you have Shepard and Ashley’s messed up relationship, which felt like artificially-created drama, especially in ME2. And don’t get me started on the forced relationship with Liara.  I liked both Ashley and Miranda better.

The voice acting was all pretty good, though much of the dialogue was corny.  I lost track of how many times people said “This is it,” during the final hour or so.  Most of the Big Inspirational Speeches in all three games were pretty hackneyed, I thought.  But the actors did their part; and frankly, I’d listen to Jennifer Hale or Yvonne Strahovski read the phonebook.  Or Codex, as it were.

Mass Effect is not a great series, it’s just a good one. I think it got a little too “franchisified” too early, and tried to be all things to all players, and of course it could not be.  But it’s still a very enjoyable sci-fi adventure series.  It’s not the best series of games ever, but I’m still glad I got to play it.

I still haven’t played Mass Effect 3, but I’m going to write just a bit more about some issues related to it. Mostly though, it’s about this video that Eric Schwarz at Critical Missive linked to. You’ll have to watch the video before reading this post. It has some NSFW stuff in it, so be warned.

The guy makes some good points in the video, but he undercuts his point stupidly by making irrelevant personal criticisms of Jennifer Hepler. But what I want to talk about is his comments on Hepler’s idea of allowing players to skip combat sequences to hear more of the story. The narrator of the video says:

Hepler’s suggestion would lead to game design where no story could be present in the gameplay, and no gameplay could be present in the story. (He says this around the 5:10 mark)

Well, that would be a bad thing, yes. However, I’m not convinced that it would automatically lead to that, only that it could lead to that in the hands of lazy designers.

Ideally, yes; gameplay should be integrated with story. The best narrative games make everything relate to the central theme of the story. However, there’s a downside: if the gameplay is not easy, people who would appreciate the story can’t experience it. I know people who would love the story in Alpha Protocol, but who just can’t handle the game’s fighting sections. So, they can’t play it. It’s good to be able to accommodate people like that.

The other point I’d like to make is that, towards the end of the video, he seems to imply that Hepler, along with the malign influence of EA, is responsible for all the awful romance sub-plots in BioWare games. This is not the case. I know this because BioWare romances have always been pretty bad, dating back at least as far as Carth Onasi in KotOR.

I haven’t played Mass Effect 3 yet. I don’t even own it. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Maybe I just don’t want the series to end, or maybe it’s something else.

In any case, I have been reading some reviews of it and I came across this Forbes article by Erik Kain. He’s addressing why there was a massive avalanche of negative user reviews for ME 3 on Metacritic, many appearing within hours of the its release. Kain initially attributed this onslaught to the fact that there are same-sex romance sub-plots in the game, and that this enraged many. However, he did sort of refine that view in his subsequent post.

Kain also links to a post over on the BioWare forums by a user called “Bastal” criticizing BioWare’s Dragon Age II. You can read his complaint in full, but the gist of it is this: BioWare wasted too many resources on the same-sex romance in DA II, even though–according to Bastal’s calculations–only about 5% of gamers are gay. He argued that since the majority of gamers are straight men, they should have designed the game to cater more their interest.

I’m probably a pretty bad person to comment on this, as I have not played either Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age II. However, there are a few comments I can make. First, on Kain’s theory, I suspect his later conclusion is right: somebody somewhere has decided it would be amusing to bomb Mass Effect 3 on Metacritic. Who knows why? Who, frankly, cares why? The vast majority of user reviews on Metacritic are worthless. I mean, even though it’s on a scale of 0-10, the numbers 2 through 8 seem to show up far less than 0, 1, 9 and 10 in reviews of most games. Most users seem to have no clue how to do anything other than love or hate a given game. To me, it looks like the trolls were just faster than usual on this one.

On to “Bastal”s point about Dragon Age II. I understood that it was a choice which romance sub-plot you see in that game. Am I wrong? He complains that they “neglected the straight male gamer”, but I just can’t imagine that as being the problem. Like I said, I haven’t played DA II, but I can imagine that BioWare failed to come up with any compelling characters and romances in it. But that doesn’t follow from them trying to appeal to non-straight, non-male gamers. Obsidian’s Fallout: New Vegas has, shall we say, something for everyone; and it never detracted from the experience. You could play it how you wanted to play it.

Moreover, after ME 2, it’s hard for me to imagine BioWare ignoring the straight male. If you played the game, there is a scene involving Miranda Lawson that seems to dispel that notion quite thoroughly. You know the one I mean. Also, the Asari are an entire species of alien pretty much designed by and for straight men. And if BioWare did move away from that in DA II, well, who can blame them? They have one product, ME 2, designed for the straight-male gamer and one product, DA II, designed for others.

Anyway, the whole damn thing is sort of ridiculous, and makes gamers look like a bunch of immature jerks.

Well, maybe I’ll have to play this thing now. I can say it’s part of my researches into human psychology and sociology. “I’m Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite sociological issue on the Citadel.”