BioWare Alienating Fans in Mass Effect 3? Your Thoughts, Please

bioware alienating fans mass effect 3

Forgive the sensationalist headlines folks, but this is something I’ve been seeing more and more of recently. After Mass Effect 2 toned down the series’ RPG mechanics and tuned up the shooting aspect, there’s been a small but vocal minority complaining that BioWare is abandoning its fans in favor of the dudebro Gears of War audience.

While Mass Effect 2 was way less RPG than its predecessor, it still retained the story and dialogue-focused elements that made the first one such a success. My least favorite parts of the original Mass Effect were the clunky hidden dice-roll combat and the obtuse stat and inventory systems. I loved the story and seeing the ways my Shepard could interact with everyone and I considered the RPG aspects to be a necessary concession to way that the game needed be built. I never considered those mechanics to be an integral part of the Mass Effect experience and I was perfectly fine with the changes they made to 2.

Apparently I am alone is this opinion because a recent article I read on FMV Magazine demonstrates how strongly people feel about this. The writer of the article makes the argument that Mass Effect’s gameplay shouldn’t be made to appeal to a wider player-base, that its inherent RPGness are what makes it a great game. If I’m reading the article correctly, the writer believes that Mass Effect can’t have a great story if its gameplay apes that of Gears of War or other third-person shooters.

Wait, what? I’m sure that I’m reading this wrong, because that makes no damn sense to me. Because the game is now a third-person shooter with RPG-lite elements, it will be all explosions and fist-bumping? Making the argument that story has to be sacrificed because the controls are being tuned to deliver a more shootery experience doesn’t click with me.

I could be wrong in my interpretation of the author’s statements, but that’s how it reads to me. What do you guys think? Will Mass Effect 3’s adherence to more twitch-based gameplay ruin the story (somehow)? Can you sacrifice RPG mechanics and still have a character-driven plot?

Source – FMV Magazine

Written by

mitch@gamersushi.com Twitter: @mi7ch Gamertag: Lubeius PSN ID: Lubeius SteamID: Lube182 Origin/EA:Lube182 Currently Playing: Stardew Valley, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Battlefield 4, Tom Clancy Double Feature: Rainbow Six Siege and The Division

21 thoughts on “BioWare Alienating Fans in Mass Effect 3? Your Thoughts, Please”

  1. Story is story. It can be enhanced by gameplay elements, but a good story would still shine through bad mechanics. I think they are being unfair to say so. Games that have had epic stories but less than original gameplay still get praised. I never played the Mass Effect series so I cant speak on its behalf.

  2. I kind of disagree.

    I haven’t played the Mass Effect series, but I absolutely hated what Bioware did to Dragon Age so I kind of understand the outcry.

    You can change the RPG mechanics and still have a character-driven plot, but then it becomes a question of whether or not the player wants to keep playing that type of game.

    For example, I’ve only played the demo for Mass Effect 2, but I was turned off because it felt like it was a 3rd person shooter rather than an rpg. Call me crazy, but that’s not the kind of experience I’m looking for in an rpg. That’s not to say that it can’t still deliver a great story experience, but I just don’t want to play a game where I’m ducking behind cover and shooting at people for 30+ hours.

    So I can understand why some people would be pissed after playing a very rpg heavy Mass Effect 1 and then watch the series be gradually stripped of the things they liked (rpg elements) while the things they tolerated (duck and cover shooting) get emphasized.

  3. @zayven,

    But ME 1 had the same basic mechanices in combat as ME 2, but it felt better and was vastly improved in ME 2. ME 1 was a clunky RPG, with the RPG elements being some of the least enjoyable parts of the game. In ME 2, they removed or streamlined those and the game’s quality improved drastically.

    The demo is a poor example b/c you only see some of the game’s mechanics. You don’t get a sense of the RPG elements that are still in the game, that are now much more enjoyable.

    I get why people are mad about it, no doubt. We all know I’m a huge RPG fan and I still think Mass Effect 2 is fantastic. The problem is people letting their own preconceived expecations and preferences ruin an experience for them. Their loss.

  4. Mass Effect 1 wasn’t RPG heavy, it was a shitty third person shooter that leaned too much on RPG undertones that didn’t fit.

    The gameplay is essentially the same in one and two, but the developers removed the dice-roll combat that dictated whether or not you hit enemies and replaced it with a skill-based system.

    Calling Mass Effect an RPG just because it has levels and skills is a fallacy anyways. There are a ton of games like that these days. Would you call Call of Duty an RPG because of those reasons? Mass Effect is a Role Playing Game in that you play the role of Commander Shepard and not because you assign points to a tree.

    Who knows why BioWare marketed it as an RPG instead of a story-driven third person shooter.

  5. [quote comment=”17297″]Mass Effect 1 wasn’t RPG heavy, it was a shitty third person shooter that leaned too much on RPG undertones that didn’t fit.

    The gameplay is essentially the same in one and two, but the developers removed the dice-roll combat that dictated whether or not you hit enemies and replaced it with a skill-based system.

    Calling Mass Effect an RPG just because it has levels and skills is a fallacy anyways. There are a ton of games like that these days. Would you call Call of Duty an RPG because of those reasons? Mass Effect is a Role Playing Game in that you play the role of Commander Shepard and not because you assign points to a tree.

    Who knows why BioWare marketed it as an RPG instead of a story-driven third person shooter.[/quote]

    B/c Bioware makes RPGs. if you had heard Bioware was making a 3rd person shooter, you might not have been as excited. I know I would have had Dirge of Cerberus running through my head.

  6. I’d love to see the shooter mechanics become more like Uncharted or Gears, because they feel awkward the way they are now, to me.
    And ME2 didn’t make it that much better than the first one, it was just a little bit less awkward. And I did miss the complexity of leveling up and having more stuff to assign to others.

    But all the devs want is a larger audience.

    Yet, making an assumption that gameplay makes or breaks the story is just pure and utter bull excrement. Portal had a basic gameplay mechanic (one “weapon”), yet the story is, if not as diverse as mass effects, deeper.

  7. But the dice-roll combat is an incredibly important distinction.

    There’s a massive conceptual difference between a game that says you hit somebody primarily because your skill in firearms is high and a game that says you hit that same target because the game’s physics engine says you lined it up properly.

    Some people complained about this aspect of Mass Effect because even though it looked like a shooter, it wasn’t totally a shooter under the hood. I remember hearing a story on some podcast about a reviewer who gave it a horrible review because he never realized he was supposed to be putting points into the skills that improved his weapon accuracy.

    I’m not suggesting that anyone here had that problem, but I can see how these elements might have given the game more of a traditional rpg feel even though it was meshed with a 3rd person shooter (again, I’m speculating based upon what I’ve heard from other people). And given the fact that this argument exists, clearly there are people that liked some of the aspects that other players regarded as clunky.

    As far as letting preconceived notions ruin an experience, I’m not sure how to answer that. After eagerly waiting the PS3 release of ME 2, I played the demo multiple times hoping that a switch would go off and it just never did. Same thing with Dragon Age 2. Sure, maybe the demo doesn’t do the game justice, but I’ve also played lots of demos where I’ve known within the first 30 seconds that I have to play the full game.

    I don’t know what else to say, I just didn’t like it. It didn’t feel like an rpg to me based upon my totally arbitrary and personal measure of what makes an rpg. Objectively, however, I do think it is very much an rpg and I regard it as such.

  8. GEHEHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA. That FMV guy is an idiot. Mass Effect 1 was good because it had clunky combat? What? Hehehahahaaaaaaa! Making a game smoother and more accessible does the exact opposite of making it worse.
    Mass Effect 1 was great because of its story. Now that I look back on ME1, I found the infantry combat tedious (ENEMIES ARE EVERYWHERE!) and I absolutely dreaded the Mako missions. On top of that, weapons & armor management was an unnecessary waste-of-time.
    Mass Effect 2 is actually no less of an RPG than ME1. It just removed all the extraneous weapons and armors, so each weapon felt unique and armors were mostly aesthetic things with some nice bonuses. No tedious stat comparisons; ME2 learned that less is more, and deciding between an Assault Rifle or a Battle Rifle is better than deciding between an Assault Rifle with +3 attack or an Assault Rifle with +2 cooldown. Also, with leveling up, instead of getting multiple points per level, you got one point which would noticeably improve one of your stats or skills.
    The only changes from ME1 to ME2 were that the tedium of combat was replaced by more fluid controls and simpler armament, and each level up brought noticeable changes to your character. All the extraneous stuff in the middle was gutted so that each encounter yielded results that really affected your character from mission to mission.
    Apparently some hardcore RPG fan enjoy tedium and sluggish leveling up. I don’t, and that’s why I don’t play D&D much. Pouring hours into a character just to get a couple stat points that just increase a couple numbers in your skills and stats is not my cup of tea because it’s slow and unrewarding character development. Mass Effect 2 wasn’t less RPG, it was just faster RPG. It was more rewarding. It’s not easier or simpleminded, its designed to actually NOT alienate players who’d rather progress the story and noticeably grow their character as they progress.
    I loved Mass Effect 2 because I didn’t have to bother with a whole bunch of awkward inventory screens, leveling up felt rewarding, and combat was more streamlined and responsive. The combat was better in terms of action and RPG elements, therefore I could progress through the game smoothly and enjoy the story.
    I never played any of the Dragon Ages, but I can understand why people didn’t like the changes from Origins to DA2. In a melee RPG, there’s more opportunity for complex skills and many different weapons. In a shooter, too many extraneous weapons or complicated stats (like when you’re deciding between percents and decimals of statistics) spills over into the combat and makes it sluggish. At the end of the day, it won’t matter if you can kill an enemy with one less SMG round. You want to have noticeable changes between weapons, armors, and skills. Yes, shooters are faster-paced, but it doesn’t make the RPG elements and character customization decisions any less significant.

  9. @zayven,

    I wasn’t referring to you with the preconceived notions. I’m talking about people who decided before ME 2 (and now ME 3) were released that it had been “dumbed down”.

    And you are right, some people preferred the dice roll aspect and some people hated it. Something has to give and I would rather have it not be there. Fallout: New Vegas did the same thing, as opposed to Fallout 3 and there wasn’t as much of an outcry.

    Like I said, I understand why those people are upset, but ME 2 was vastly better than ME 1. They may disagree and that’s their right.

    And the differences made between ME 1 and ME 2 and DA: O and DA 2 are like night and day. ME 2 is the same game, smoother, better.

    DA 2 is an entirely different beast.

  10. (Sorry for double post, I forgot to write this little bit.)

    @ Mitch [quote comment=”17297″]Calling Mass Effect an RPG just because it has levels and skills is a fallacy anyways. There are a ton of games like that these days. Would you call Call of Duty an RPG because of those reasons? Mass Effect is a Role Playing Game in that you play the role of Commander Shepard and not because you assign points to a tree.[/quote]

    No, an RPG means your improving your character, not just by story progression (that’s character development on the story side), but also with improving stats and skills and inventory that carry over from mission to mission (that’s character development on the gameplay side). Mass Effect is an RPG because you’re gaining experience, leveling up abilities, and making decisions in the story. Call of Duty is also very much an RPG because you select your weapons, equipment, and perks, and in Black Ops, you earn CoD Points with which to buy and customize your weapons the way you want.
    No, CoD doesn’t involve rolling dice or turn-based combat or magic spells. But it does involve inventory management, ability selection, and persistent character development. Multiplayer doesn’t have a story, but it has RPG elements.
    The setting of a game does not dictate its genre. An RPG can be in space, ancient times, or modern day. Just because you shoot things doesn’t make it any less of an RPG. The elements are in there; you’re noticeably customizing your soldier, your silent protagonist, so that when he fights in combat, he has different weapons, “spells” (equipment, grenades, and killstreaks), and inherent abilities (perks).
    Mass Effect, for as much shooting as there will be, will still be an RPG as long as you make decisions about leveling up, choosing weapons before a mission, and, more so than CoD, influencing the story with dialogue.
    Now, the campaign in CoD is NOT an RPG because you have no control over which weapons you have at the start of the mission, your character’s abilities and perks, or the flow of the story. But that’s not because it’s a first-person shooter; CoD’s campaign is a non-RPG FPS. You assume the role of a character, but that’s just the story, not the gameplay.

    The story and setting NEVER influence the gameplay genre. You can have an FPS in space. That game can let you decide between weapons and perks and how you level up, and therefore becomes an RPG. Yes, that means that a lot of games have RPG elements. That’s why RPG is such a broad term, but never loses its meaning. Giving the player control over how they customize their character is the main thing in an RPG, and it makes for fun progression through a game.
    Just because you “take control of a character” is the story side of the game, and that doesn’t influence its gameplay genre. If what you said is the case, Call of Duty’s campaign is an RPG because you assume the role of Soap or whoever. That’s not what makes a game an RPG or not.

  11. @ Anthony,

    Yeah, at the end of the day, all signs point to ME 1 being a clunky mess from a mechanics standpoint. Bioware clearly tried to bolt their tried and true D&D stat mechanics to a 3rd person shooter and it was less than successful.

    Bethesda did the same thing with Elder Scrolls. Morrowind’s melee combat was a tedious click-fest. Your shield skill, for example, was totally automated and blocked attacks based upon a randomized dice roll. Oblivion integrated an actual physics system that gave you FAR greater control over combat. I don’t recall anyone complaining too much about those changes at the time (complaints about Oblivion, yes, but not about that aspect).

  12. I interpreted it the same way as you Mitch.
    It read like an angry fanboy rant and the author seemed to making a big deal out of seemingly minor details (“But it is also shaping up to be more and more like a conventional Gears of War clone, with BioWare’s trademark RPG elements apparently sidelined in favour of all-out action.” Mass Effect 2 was apparently this but the author liked it. The only new types of action elements appear to be a roll-mechanic and an on-rails section against a Reaper. Explain what the problem is please) and fears problems occurring which are based on pure brain farts. Did you see the bit about fans liking ME1 because it WASN’T like Gears? It’s a fucking cover-based-Sci-Fi -3PS! With aliens! And Guns! And a fleshed out universe! They linked in more ways than one! Dice rolls don’t play a huge part of gameplay in shooters at the end of the day (I haven’t played ME1, I’m assuming it works like most others).
    Also, they’re adding weapon customisation again. Cleary they’re adding back some of the RPG elements back .
    Also, story is generally independent of gameplay. Just because CoD is a solid FPS doesn’t mean that’s why it’s story is bad. Play Half Life 2 and Bioshock if you need convincing.

  13. I’m with Sean; a good story is a good story and it should shine through. I also haven’t played the ME series, but I think this is just a good case of “you can’t please everyone”. I feel like you have to be very careful with your expectations of a sequel. If the game had stayed totally the same, many people would have complained about the same problems the first one had and called the developers lazy, and when they change something to hopefully make certain aspects “better” (whether EVERY gamer realizes it or not) they get accused of betraying the “real” fans.

    It’s like my point about Deus Ex: HR with the glowing effect. The first game had a similar effect on all usable objects, but everyone seems to forget that and complain. It’s impossible to make decisions EVERYONE is going to like, especially hardcore fans, who often have unfair and unreachable expectations of sequels to their most beloved games.

    Now if they made Mass Effect: Planet CrazyCarts 3D with 4 player split screen and unlockable Super Mario Bros. characters, I could understand people being sour.

  14. As overused as the phrase has become on the Internet, it is appropriate here – Haters gonna hate. As good a story as Mass Effect 1 had, when compared to part 2, the shooting mechanics, inventory system etc were only average at best. The first time I played it through I sometimes got frustrated with it but I stuck with it because the story was good enough that i wanted the payoff at the end. With ME2, I never felt any of that frustration.

    Some say ME2 was “dumbed down” to fit a wider audience. Others say it was streamlined to create a better experience. My question is why these two options have to be mutually exclusive? Why is it not possible to create a better game BECAUSE of the fact that it is better and more widely received? ME2 is a better game from a technical perspective, the mechanics work better, the combat is smoother, you don’t have to break down 150 weapons into omnigel because you forgot to clear out your inventory after the last mission. But there will always be some that prefer all that, and nothing anyone can say will change their minds. And that’s OK. Opinion is all about personal preference.

    In short, Bioware is a company. It needs to make money to stay in business. Mass Effect 2 was much more successful than part 1. It made them more money. In the end, what sells is what gets made, and no company can ever please everyone. Some people will always be annoyed by what Bioware does, but there is no reason to let a minority claim that your game will be terrible simply because you are following the same pattern as last time.

    PS I wonder how much this has to do with Bioware, and how much this has to do with EA being “the evil overlord that ruined all these great studios when they got bought out.” Because I see that opinion floated around a lot too

  15. If it was never meant to be a third-person-shooter first and an RPG second, then why did they ditch the dice-roll combat in the second one? It seems to me like they always wanted to make Mass Effect more of a twitch-based game but they had to resort to using a system they were familiar with in order to finish the game. I could be way off, but if they wanted it to be an RPG in everything, including combat, wouldn’t they have gone that way in ME2 and 3?

    @Cossack In my personal opinion, the use of the term RPG is way too strict in the video game industry. “RPGs are this, and that is what makes them that way, and if any game has this then it’s an RPG too.”

    Maybe I’m being too literal in my interpretation of the acronym, but leveling your character is simply a means to an end. The Role-playing part means (to me) that there is player choice, divergent paths. The increasing in stats and abilities is simply there so that the game can continue to get challenging as it progresses.

    Sure, you take on a “role” when you play Modern Warfare or Assassin’s Creed or whatever, but you’re not making your own interpretation of the story. There’s already something there and there’s no player agency other than skill.

  16. ME1 was amazing when I was playing it, the combat was fun, the leveling was deep, and the story and choices were interesting. It never felt like the menus were complicated (which was a popular complaint), and I thought the MAKO sections were great fun. I played through ME1 about 6 times (only a couple of those were 100%).

    When playing ME2, the combat was really polished and exciting, the leveling was majorly streamlined (which was quite disappointing), and there was still the interesting story, and the fun speech mechanic. For me, ME2’s environments felt very streamlined (like everything else), the environments were very congested and narrow (comparing the citadel in ME2 to the citadel in ME1 is a great example), I felt like I could explore more in ME1 than in ME2. At first, in ME2, I really missed the “complex” inventory screen, and the items management, because there was NONE (the armor in your quarters doesn’t count. To-date, I’ve only played through ME2 once, and on that playthrough, I was very close to 100%.

    Odd thing is, if I had to pick which one I like more, it would be ME2, even though the completely removed one of my favorite parts and made everything a little too straightforward for my liking, the gameplay and story in ME2 is simply much better. I enjoy both games very much.

    And the ME1 elevators are better than the ME2 loading screens. 🙂

    The guy writing the article is just giving his opinion (no matter how wrong it truly is). I don’t agree with it, it simply doesn’t make sense, he is just an RPG Purist who doesn’t like popular things.

    I will play ME3, hell, I’m really excited for it, and I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it.

  17. I originally wrote a lot of stuff about the meaning of player agency and whether or not it really matters in a video game in which your “choices” are really just the sum of predetermined possibilities mapped out by the developer, but even I thought it sounded like a bunch of pretentious nonsense so I just deleted it. I think that developers like Bioware and Bethesda do as good a job of replicating aspects of the pen and paper rpg experience as they possibly can given the limitations of the technology.

    I would disagree about leveling being a means to an end, though. In pen and paper rpgs, there’s a long running joke that there are people who are role players and people who are “roll” players. Statistical crunch is just a part of rpg DNA as far as many people are concerned. I’ve known people that don’t put any thought into their D&D characters beyond the numbers on the character sheet, so for some people it’s not just about playing a role, it’s playing to roll.

  18. @ Mitch: I was saying that taking control of a character is NOT what makes it an RPG. It’s the decisions in gameplay & story that make it an RPG. When I say that CoD’s multiplayer is an RPG, I mean that its gameplay has RPG elements. If you want to decide which game is an RPG and which just has “RPG elements”, then I’d say the line is drawn at the player being able to influence story decisions; for example, being able to decide to help this faction or another. In that case, Pokemon and Final Fantasy would not be RPGs, it would be Strategy games with RPG elements. Diablo and Baldur’s Gate would not be RPGs, they’d be Hack-n-Slash games with RPG elements.
    Since games like Mass Effect and Fallout have RPG elements in their shooter gameplay, character customization, and story progression, they’d be RPGs with Shooter elements.
    This is all just semantics and definitions, and I’m still thinking about whether or not that definition of RPG and RPG elements is best.
    To your original argument, Mass Effect 2 is very much an RPG at its core no matter how streamlined the combat and inventory is. I suppose it’s less complex, but the complexity in Mass Effect 1 felt very obtuse and unnecessary.

    Oh, and maybe I forgot the original issue. No, the simplified gameplay doesn’t make the story worse. In Mass Effect, the combat & inventory is largely separated from the story. Combat is really a side-effect of the story, and the only gameplay aspects that directly influence story are the Intimidation and Charm stats.

  19. But the ability to alter the story elements of a game is a relatively new feature in rpgs (especially on consoles) so how can we say that it’s the lone determining factor of whether or not something is an rpg?

    For me, this is like the old line about obscenity: I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.

    As for the notion of “rpg elements,” I regard the term as little more than marketing copy. It’s just a fancy term publishers can slap on the back of the box as a quick way of saying that a game has obvious levels and stats. The term is ridiculous because almost EVERY video game has “rpg elements.” The bedrock video game concepts of health, armor, and attack power are ripped directly from D&D in the first place. Some games just wear their influence on their sleeves more than others.

  20. I don’t think I’m reading the same article that everyone else is. Either that or I’m not taking as extreme an approach as some of you seem to be (cossack, especially). The author uses the term “dumb down” only once in the article (twice if you count the caption) and puts it in quotes. This means he is not taking that stance himself, rather alluding to numerous fans’ rants about how BioWare is dumbing their games down (and he agrees with these rants about DA2, though not ME2).

    The author does appear to be worried about the direction ME3 seems to be taking, which is okay for anyone to do, but he is also careful to admit that the game is not out yet, and therefore he can’t know. He acknowledges the changes made between ME1 and 2, but praises the “balance” of RPG and shooter mechanics in ME2 game as “just about right”, and therefore can’t be saying that BioWare is giving up story elements.

    I could be wrong about this, but I just don’t see where the author says that story will be sacrificed in lieu of more a GoW-like third person shooter experience. (For the record, I am not a fan of GoW, but love both ME1 and 2). I’ll say that his rant is kind of pointless, but not really incendiary.

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