This Dumb Industry: Mass Effect Andromeda

By Shamus
on Jun 7, 2016
Filed under:
Column

So my Mass Effect series has ended. In the final entry I wanted to look at where BioWare and the Mass Effect series are headed, but it didn’t seem appropriate to conclude a retrospective with so much speculation. So let’s have that conversation now.

The ending to Mass Effect 3 blew up the entire setting. Whether you liked it or not, it made it impossible for any author to continue from that point. Shepard’s final choice completely changed life in the galaxy. The story is vague about how it all turned out and what exactly the different endings mean, and there’s no way you can stick another game in the aftermath of the Reaper invasion without nailing down some specifics. Doing that would mean making clear many things that were – for good or for ill – deliberately left vague.

Yup. This galaxy is totaled. Write it off and build a new one.

Yup. This galaxy is totaled. Write it off and build a new one.

So making a direct sequel would mean building the next game atop a vague branching ending that many hated and was riddled with confusing contradictions. That’s no way to begin a new story. What’s interesting here is that this is the opposite of what I’d expect from a company being turned into another EA sequel mill:


Mass Effect 1 left some hooks for the future writers to use for their story.

Mass Effect 2 ignored, retconned, or destroyed those features to tell a different story. Then they ended Mass Effect 2 at a dead-end that didn’t give them anything to work with in Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect 2: The Arrival DLC painted the writer into an even smaller corner, because the Mass Effect 3 writer couldn’t contradict those events but they also couldn’t incorporate them into the plot.

Mass Effect 3 ended in a way that walls off any possibility of a sequel in the same galaxy.

Mass Effect 1 seems to be the only game written as though someone realized they were going to need to write a sequel. Which is strange, since Mass Effect 1 is the only game written before BioWare became part of EA. The moment when endless sequels became inevitable is the same moment when they lost the ability to plan for them.

In this ending, the mass effect relay system blew up in such a way that the shockwave would reprogram all of the evil AI to be Commander Shepard so they could begin rebuilding the mass effect relays.

In this ending, the mass effect relay system blew up in such a way that the shockwave would reprogram all of the evil AI to be Commander Shepard so they could begin rebuilding the mass effect relays.

This is sad, but the silver lining is that it shows where EA does and doesn’t interfere. By comparing the behavior of BioWare with other EA subsidiaries, we can see what kinds of things the EA leadership is willing to impose on their developers. If several studios all decide to do X after joining EA, then it’s very plausible that X is something EA wants, not the developer. For example:

Forced multiplayer. Sorry, not forced. I meant “optional”. In the same way that the Windows 10 upgrade is optional. Take a single-player experience and find some way to passive-aggressively drag those people online. Maybe EA does this because the big tentpole shooters are all multiplayer-based and EA doesn’t understand the pronounced compartmentalization of their consumer base in terms of gaming habits and culture. Or maybe they just want us to log in so they can harvest demographic info. (Which might actually help fix the first problem.) It’s impossible to say, but adding multiplayer onto a fundamentally single-player experience (see also: SimCity) is something EA seems fond of.

DLC. EA just loves their DLC. Mass Effect 1 had Bring Down the Sky DLC. So maybe BioWare was already experimenting with DLC when EA bought them, and what we’re seeing now is just the continuation of that trend. But maybe this is something imposed – or simply strongly incentivized – by the EA leadership. It’s impossible to know for sure, but it is consistent with what the EA leadership is doing elsewhere.

But what about content and story? Not so much. As long as sales are good, EA is going to want another game called Mass Effect. But the current state of the Mass Effect galaxy is now hidden behind the event horizon of a branching mystery ending. Which means they need to move the story to another galaxy, leaving behind the locations and characters for which the series is known. The Mass Effect 3 ending is the last thing an EA executive would want.

This is – in a perverse kind of way – very encouraging. It means that even though I didn’t like the ending to Mass Effect 3, it was still the creative decision of a small number of people. It means BioWare is still free to make their own creative decisions, which means they can correct for their mistakes in the future. EA itself is incredibly slow to change direction, but – as the recent Hitman game showed – individual developers can make abrupt changes in creative direction if they feel the need to do so.

Drat. Now we`ll never get to meet Blasto.

Drat. Now we`ll never get to meet Blasto.

In any case, actually think moving the story to a new galaxy is a good thing at this point. Well, the ideal thing would be a total clean-slate universe, but this industry seems to have it totally backwards with regard to what series gets wiped clean and which ones accumulate lore clutter and convoluted continuity snarls as they chug along, directionless. But that’s a column for another time. In any case, I think distancing themselves from the original Mass Effect 1 material is a good thing.

Yes, I loved Mass Effect 1, but the later writers didn’t. Or at least, the parts they built on seemed to be totally unrelated to the stuff I was interested in. Their attempts at grafting their own story onto an extant work resulted in something neither one of us enjoyed. If the Mass Effect 3 writer wanted to write bombastic action schlock, then I’d prefer to see their vision on their own terms. I’d like to see it based in a setting built for that sort of story, rather than trying to have action schlock while paying confused lip-service to the nerds who wanted to roam around deep space to find the secret to defeat Space Cthulhu. Action Schlock is not a bad thing. I enjoy a good schlock now and again. I just don’t want action schlock in my details-first sci fi, for the same reason I don’t want gumdrops on my hamburger.

Moving to a new galaxy and into the future will give the writers a lot of freedom to dump what they don’t like and build up what they do. It gives them room to make a thematic and tonal shift, like the difference between Alien and Aliens: Both are good, but have wildly different personalities.

The next game will be Mass Effect: Andromeda, and this Reddit thread is supposedly everything we know about it so far. Here’s the E3 trailer, which has country music and no characters except for a faceless dude with a gun:


Link (YouTube)

Mass Effect: Andromeda is being styled as a “space western”. That doesn’t match the tone and flavor of any of the previous games, and indicates that even after three games, this is still a franchise in search of an identity.

The “space western” thing is an interesting angle, because that’s how the original Star Trek was pitched by Roddenberry to studio execs who were unfamiliar with science fiction: You’ve got an unexplored frontier, and our heroes visit a new location each week and solve some kind of problem. It’s not a bad idea for a science fiction world. It won’t really feel like Mass Effect, but since we’re telling a new story with new characters in a new location, the most important thing is that the new story stay true to itself.

Unfortunately…

Mass Effect: Andromeda lead writer confirms he has left BioWare. Even if Andromeda is good – and we have no way of knowing at this point – I don’t think BioWare has learned the most important lesson of the Mass Effect 3 controversy. Or it may be that they have learned the lesson but are, in a company culture sense, incapable of doing anything about it.

The first installment is now an orphan. They have a new world built around ideas devised by someone who no longer works there. This doesn’t mean the new series is doomed, but it does mean it’s already exhibiting the problems that killed the original trilogy. It’s entirely possible that we’ll end up with a strong first installment, followed by a confused follow-up that doesn’t know what to do with the building blocks of the original.

Then again, maybe this time each installment will stand on its own, like BioWare does with Dragon Age. That would certainly ease the pain of changing writers. Still, this isn’t the best way to inaugurate a new setting.

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From the Archives:

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Maybe EA does this because the big tentpole shooters are all multiplayer-based and EA doesn’t understand the pronounced compartmentalization of their consumer base in terms of gaming habits and culture. Or maybe they just want us to log in so they can harvest demographic info. (Which might actually help fix the first problem.)

    Or maybe they are just fucking idiots:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKl44iumDqg

    • CrypticSmoke says:

      This guy gets it!
      (Both Jim, and you.)

    • Tizzy says:

      Game execs have NO incentive to innovate. If they preside over the release of same-y blah titles that struggle to find an audience, it’s all “oh well, this is a competitive industry. We’re doing our best. ”

      But if they make a bold move for originality and fail, it’s their ass on the line.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        They definitely do have incentive to innovate.Doing the same shit over and over again does keep your profits steady,but it does not increase them.And if you arent increasing your market,and along it your profits,you are not running a successful company.

        Look at ea sports.If they had zero incentive for innovation,the company can close all other branches and just churn out sportsball games and keep a steady cash flow for quite a long time.Yet we see them constantly trying to grab the handheld market,the casual market,the multiplayer market,…Its not because they care for people who buy those games,its because a good company is not just coasting by.

        And this is precisely why their execs are idiots.They try to expand by doing the safe thing.So their successes have been mostly marginal,while their failures have been epic(worst company for two years in a row).

        • Tizzy says:

          I get your point, but put yourself in the shoes of the execs. What do they care how successful the company is? So long as it is performing on par with their peers, they are guaranteed a steady paycheck. Why would they jeopardize that and take risks?

          And that’s precisely why they try to “expand by doing safe things” as you put it. They don’t want to look like they’re doing nothing, but so long as they’re keeping up with the Joneses, they are fine.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            Do you have any industry experience, or even a secondhand source to substantiate these claims about how executives work, or are you just making it up as you go?

            • Tizzy says:

              making it up as i go. but it’s not rocket science, just basic human behavior. and i dont mean to suggest that every exec is like this, just that this unfortunate behavior is incentivized by purely mechanical reasons. and this is all i was saying: put yourself in their shoes, innovation looks risky for little reward.

              how exec actually act given this set of constraints, i couldnt say. i dont inhabit their rarefied world…

              • ehlijen says:

                You may not be accounting for the fact that those humans most likely found on top of any given totem pole, ie the ones who end up making decisions, are the ones most prone to ambition.

                Coasting along isn’t likely to get you far past middle management because others who aspire to more will cut you off. And the ambition won’t then necessarily go away just because they got as far as they could.

                • Syal says:

                  The hours alone will weed out unambitious people in top-level jobs like that.

                • Tizzy says:

                  Let’s not confuse personal ambition and ambition for the company, or the industry, or the medium.

                  If coasting is what appears safest, then this is what an exec with personal ambitions will do. All you need is to not look like you’re coasting too much. Hell, you can probably even BS yourself that you’re not coasting, just keeping with the trends.

                  Is such coasting that attractive to game execs? We can only guess, but we know that the industry is both very competitive and quite unpredictable, with many AAA games being either big winners or big losers. I don’t see this kind of climate encouraging risk-taking.

    • Retsam says:

      I don’t really want to sit down and watch a 15 minute Jimquisition video (not a super fan of his schtick)… but that title is ironic or hyperbolic, right? Please tell me his entire analysis of an whole class of people of diverse backgrounds (admittedly, not that diverse) is not simply that they’re all mentally impaired?

      • It’s based almost entirely on observed behavior, such as Infinite Warfare basically getting a free pass from Activision while the actual players pretty much trashed it on YT, while Battlefield 1 very nearly didn’t exist because some idiot at EA didn’t think that gamers as a whole didn’t know about WWII or the Vietnam War, much less WW1.

        Based on the video he put out today, though, it seems that a lot of people who answer to those same execs apparently thought it needed to be said by someone.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well yes,him calling them idiots is hyperbolic.The crux of it is:Too many market researchers say stuff like “no one would buy that” without doing any actual research,leading to them passing over stuff like the harry potter franchise,life is strange,battlefield 1,etc.

  2. Christopher says:

    I was really hoping for Cowboy Bebop when they said “space western”, but I don’t get the impression that’s what they meant.

    Still, there are rumors going around(from some survey) that they are basing Andromeda on Dragon Age Inquisition’s model. Makes sense to me, considering how you expand your territory, set up camps and delegate people to do missions for you from the war table. That would match a “frontier” sort of feeling. I’m not opposed to that being applied to different planets at all.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Cowboy Bebop or Firefly would be good. The video shown here, though, looks more like Badass Space Marines: The Game: The Sequel. I don’t know how you’d really reconcile a cowboy theming, with a high-tech setting like they’re showing us. Cowboys lived and died by their skill, cunning, and tenacity. Super-armor, and super-guns that do most of the work for the wielder don’t seem to me, to fit the style of “western”. Plus, you can see cowboys’ faces; Super armor hides that. :)

      • guy says:

        Tell that to Jim Raynor.

      • Grudgeal says:

        Space Westerns were always more about the lack of centralised authority and infrastructure than it was tech level to me. Now arguably, as the technology increases so does centralised oversight and the lack of a ‘frontier’ for the space cowboys to work on, but if Andromeda is set in a colony frontier in space it’s possible to reconcile that with a space-western aesthetic even with the presence of power armour. Starcraft managed that.

    • With a main character voiced by Steve Blum? :D

  3. Ingvar says:

    On a somewhat unrelated note, I was amused to see Shamus listed as an option on the Hugo ballot (in the “Best Fanwriter” category).

    • Grudgeal says:

      Wait what? First Aaron Williams ends up on the best webcomic list and now Shamus is on best fanwriter? Did that Puppy controversy from last year scare away almost everyone but me from voting or something?

      • Ceeceel says:

        Shamus is on the puppy slate this year.

      • guy says:

        The puppy slate picked people associated with the Escapist completely at random this year.

        • Grudgeal says:

          Ah.

          That’s… Discouraging.

          • Richard H. says:

            In particular, they appear to have thrown several “were going to nominated anyway” and “we don’t actually like them but want to see what happens” people on the slate as somewhere between a smokescreen and an experiment. I haven’t looked at the exact timing, but it is plausible that being informed of this is what prompted the “remember, no politics here” post.

            That said, since I haven’t bought a membership and therefore can’t vote, I wish him all the best in performance in the category.

        • Yep, afaik Shamus and J. Grey Carter were the only ones, but it does seem out of nowhere.

        • GloatingSwine says:

          Probably not entirely random.

          One of the chief movers of the Puppy slate is one Vox Day. Heavily involved in a certain movement which found a home on the Escapist forums.

          • Mike S. says:

            I think it’s important to specify “Rabid Puppies” here. The Sad Puppies’ taste largely isn’t mine, but they responded to the slate complaints of last year by opening up their nominations and pointedly avoiding a slate as such.

            (With the result that, rather than getting credit for playing fair, they’ve been largely forgotten and/or been conflated with the other Puppy group, which has different leadership and a rather different agenda.)

  4. Daemian Lucifer says:

    It won’t really feel like Mass Effect

    I dont know,firefly could be merged with the original mass effect.In theory,of course.I doubt these guys can actually pull it off.

  5. ehlijen says:

    I think ME1 had some western elements to it:

    You do visit new locations in each branch of the main quest, each with their own problems.
    The geth seem to have the run of the space lanes, with law enforcement or military only responding in response to major attacks. The geth are a band of outlaws, or possible movie native americans.
    Most planets you visit are mostly unpopulated, filled with empty land, and the buildings you find are very similar in style (identical even, but I think even with more assets, they might have wanted to invoke the ‘generic frontier town’ from western movies).
    Spectres are essentially Rangers/travelling sheriff’s. They should be unnecessary in a setting with established galactic law, unless those laws can’t be enforced reliably, as in westerns.
    The whole idea of there being space ‘outside council space’ where the humans settle (eden prime) is very clearly a western element.

    Given that space is supposed to have been colonised by sapient species for thousands of years, I find the use of such ‘frontier’ elements very odd on a story theme level, but the game made it work for the most part.
    I don’t think making Andremoda more of a western in space is that unsupported by the series.
    Or it might be EA telling Bioware to ‘make it more like Fallout New Vegas’ because the western bits are what made that good, right? (Only half serious, that game is a long time ago by now.)

    • Lachlan the Mad says:

      To be fair, the original game does justify the relatively small size and limited exploration of its universe, given the whole thing with the Rachni Wars and how they made the Council species edgy about popping new Mass Relays open.

  6. Ninety-Three says:

    It means that even though I didn’t like the ending to Mass Effect 3, it was still the creative decision of a small number of people. It means BioWare is still free to make their own creative decisions

    The thing I’m afraid of is that Bioware was free to make their own creative decisions. EA surely hates the ME3 ending, and if I was the corporate overlord of writers who did something I hated that badly, I would step in and make sure it never happened again.

  7. Jokerman says:

    “The Arrival DLC painted the writer into an even smaller corner”

    As did the Shadow Broker DLC, they took one of the most interesting sub plots from ME1 and made it impossible to give it any weight, you have the shadow broker on your ship and they do NOTHING with it, but how could they? Same problem with Arrival,

    • ehlijen says:

      At least the shadow broker wasn’t integral to the main plot of the game. Useful, but not integral. If nothing else, they could have (possibly should have) delegated Liara to minor supporting character status in ME3 at best, leaving her shadow broker status, if achieved, as a war asset. It would have made more sense than dragging the brains behind the galaxy’s most stability inducing spy network into every firefight.

    • guy says:

      Except she’s still the Shadow Broker even if you didn’t do the DLC, so it being DLC has nothing to do with them not doing anything with it.

      • Jokerman says:

        She is? I don’t remember it even being mentioned in my main playthrough. But yeah if so… that’s awful.

        • Richard says:

          IIRC, it was more or less:
          *Liara pops out of vent and shoot some dudes*
          “Oh hai Liara”
          “Hai, I’m the shadow broker now”
          “That’s nice, let’s go shoot some doods.”

          • Basically if you didn’t play the DLC, it happened anyway, but if you did play it, you got to meet yet another race of alien that had never been mentioned anywhere in the Codex.

            That being said, the best part was finding out that even TIM will bang an asari. XD

            • Coming_Second says:

              I didn’t know what to make of Timmy’s SB file. It was like every problem the character had concentrated into a small vital statistics page. This guy is so awesome, he bangs asari porno stars in between being amazing at space football and being the head of a super sekrit extremist terrorist group, somehow! If I was willing to give ME2’s writers credit I’d take it as a heavy wink that Timothy’s information had been doctored somehow, or the SB had been hoodwinked into believing it was someone else. Unfortunately their credit ran dry where Cerberus were concerned well before I got to that part, so I have to assume that it was just another incredibly embarrassing and unjustifiable attempt to make the writer’s awful pet character look really cool, at least if you’re 13 years old.

              • Ninety-Three says:

                The most baffling part of it was that it spent three times more words describing the specific tailoring of the suit than it spent describing the fact that the suit was bulletproof. It made no sense coming from the Shadow Broker, it read like it was written (not just planted information, outright written) by TIM himself. Who else cares about the thread count of his damn suit? It makes a lot more sense when you stop looking for in-universe explanations and grant that the writer was a giant TIM fanboy.

          • Jokerman says:

            Ha, sounds about right.

  8. Matthew Lockhart says:

    Will it be a revisionist space western, an old fashioned space western, or a “we just cobbled together a bunch of western tropes from across that extremely broad genre with no thought on how they might fit together” space western?

  9. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I think part of EA’s multiplayer drive came from the desire to kill the used games market, both because it let them require used game buyers to pay $10 to access multiplayer and because of the perception that new game buyers would keep the game around longer because they would keep coming back to multiplayer.

    As for Mass Effect: Andromeda-

    Whatever. I’m not Bioware’s target market for their games anymore at all, and I don’t think there’s really anything left of the old Bioware design aesthetic to temp me to put up with their (many) failings nowadays. I just wish that we weren’t down to CD Projekt and Bethesda as the only AAA studios making RPGs anymore.

  10. Ninety-Three says:

    Re: Multiplayer: Wasn’t it EA that said a few years ago “From now on all our games will have a multiplayer component?” Sadly I can’t remember the exact quote, but I know there a fuss when some big company made that statement a while back.

  11. Ninety-Three says:

    This doesn’t mean the new series is doomed, but it does mean it’s already exhibiting the problems that killed the original trilogy.

    What happened to “Playing ‘Who Killed Mass Effect’ is a fool’s errand”? Stating unequivocally that X killed Mass Effect is a pretty big shift. After all, we don’t know what was said in the writer’s room.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Who isnt the same as what.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        “The switch from Drew Karpyshyn to Mac Walters” is as much a “who” as a “what”.

        What happened to Mass Effect? Why did the story change so radically?

        Four months ago, these are the questions Shamus dismissed as a fool’s errand, not only unanswerable but irrelevant. I’m curious about what’s changed.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          It was irrelevant because Mass Effect 3 was done and finished. We have the game that we have. Andromeda is not, and since we’re still in the position of speculating about how it will turn out the lead writer leaving the company is relevant information. It’s not like Shamus ruled out changing lead writers as a possibility of what killed Mass Effect 3, he was just saying that questions of what went on in the writer’s room were a distraction from criticizing the finished product.

        • Mokap says:

          It’s not that Mac ruined Mass Effect – the fact that the writer changed half way through was the problem. It could’ve been any other writer and it wouldn’t be different.

        • Felblood says:

          If you actually grasped the thesis of the article you are attempting to cite, you would realize that it was mainly a huge disclaimer around the way he intended to use the phrase “The Writer” throughout this series. Acknowledging that “the writer” was actually a team of people and it’s not really important which members were at fault, so long as we recognize what mistakes were made, so we can talk about how to avoid them.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            If you actually grasped the thesis of this entire series, as stated in the very first article, one third of it is:

            The failure of the Mass Effect story can’t be blamed on any single individual or decision.

            Shamus even goes on to use the shift in lead writers as an example. His point wasn’t just that we shouldn’t blame particular writers, it was that Mass Effect’s failings were many and varied.

            In a year, Shamus has jumped from “Can’t be blamed on any single decision” to “a new world built around ideas devised by someone who no longer works there … killed the original trilogy” without establishing causation.

            • Syal says:

              The “many and varied” can be lumped together as “lack of cohesion”. There could be a few different reasons for the lead writer to be leaving, and it could be the fault of anyone, everyone, or no one. But all of the possibilities suggest there will be a lack of cohesion in future installments.

        • Shamus says:

          * Saying “changing writers is bad” is VERY tonally different than saying “Bob took over for Ann and now everything sucks”. It was very important to me to keep the retrospective from becoming personal.
          * Speculation is a distraction when criticizing a completed work, but pretty much unavoidable when talking about an upcoming one.
          * This is exactly the reason I put all this stuff into this column instead of making it part of the Mass Effect series.

    • shpelley says:

      “That helped contribute to the killing of Mass Effect” is probably more in-line with what he means, but writing everything he does with qualifiers creates “gutless” writing that sounds weak. At least that’s what I find.

      • Ninety-Three says:

        When Shamus, by his own admission, can’t know what happened to Mass Effect, trying to state what killed Mass Effect is weak.

        • Phill says:

          The entire 50 episode Mass Effect series is a statement of *what* Shamus thinks killed Mass Effect. And there is one core problem: the detailed universe that ME1 was building up was thrown away without any regard to the themes and ideas it was established, and the sequels had a different tone.

          The “fools errand” is trying to assign the blame to one person or a small group of people: these few are the ones who broke the series. It was a combination of the whole group of people working on the game, having different ideas about what sort of game they were making, different ideas of what a good story to tell was, different ideas about what mattered, what was fundamental to the series. Even the programmers possibly. If the designer / writer wants to do X, programmer says that can’t be done for technical reasons, they negotiate until they find something that is possibly and acceptable to the writer, and hey presto, another small part of the game has become detached from the overarching concept of ME1. It is a death by a thousand cuts because the one person with the motivation to keep everything glued to his original intentions isn’t working on it.

          So there isn’t one person to blame, but there (possibly) is one underling cause: the original writer was no longer in control of the project.

          And now the original writer isn’t involved in Andromeda either, so it might well fall into the same ‘accidental design by committee’ that was the underlying cause of the ME2/3 problems. But that’s not the fault of one person, even if it is one cause.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            but there (possibly) is one underling cause

            Past Shamus disagrees.

            I’ve got three main points I want to make in this series:

            2) The failure of the Mass Effect story can’t be blamed on any single individual or decision.

            Lots of people like to point out how Drew Karpyshyn was the lead writer of the first game, he shared writing credit with Mac Walters on Mass Effect 2, and then Karpyshyn departed the company, leaving Walters to handle the third installment on his own. This provides a tidy narrative: “Karpyshyn made it good, and then Walters came along and ruined everything!” I admit it’s tempting to jump this conclusion, simply because it offers a perceptible reason for the changes we see in the story.

            But I don’t think it fits. There are sketchy bits in the first game and brilliant bits in the third, and the actual downfall of the story is a complex, multi-faceted problem

            • Bloodsquirrel says:

              Saying that “no one decision” ruined Mass Effect 3 does not mean that any one decision you can name didn’t help, or that it might not have similar effects on future games.

              You’re casting Shamus’ statements into absolutism, which strips them of their context and original point. The point was that Mass Effect 3 had a lot of problems, and that trying to fit them all into a simple narrative about being caused by one thing was oversimplifying it. Shamus didn’t want to fill his retrospective with a lot of potentially false authoritative statements about what happened in a writer’s room that he was never in. You’re trying to twist this to mean that contributing factors can never be identified, ever, and there are no lessons to be learned or warning signs to be wary of.

              • Ninety-Three says:

                You are arguing against points I am not making. Phill said that there was (possibly) one cause, and I cited Shamus saying that there was no single cause.

                Shamus’s statement today that a shift in writers killed Mass Effect is pretty damn absolutist, and I’m here disagreeing with it.

                • Bloodsquirrel says:

                  I’m not seeing anything nearly that absolutist in this column. Remember how Shamus’ Experienced Points columns used to be full of disclaimers about how “this or that is more nuanced than I can full cover at this moment”?

                  This is why- because of people trying to reduce the 1/3 of the column that discusses the potential problems with changing lead writers to “Losing the lead writer of ME1 ruined the series.”

                • Shamus says:

                  Absolutist? You were calling it weak a few posts ago. So which is it, am I being too absolute or am I doing too much weaseling out?

                  You’re pretty much arguing that I shouldn’t be speculating on the new series because I refused to speculate on the old one. I really don’t understand what you’re upset about.

                  • Ninety-Three says:

                    It’s weakly justified for how absolutist it is. If I said “The ammo mechanic killed the original series”, that’d be quite a leap, a bold statement in need of justification, even if we all agreed that ammo is important and Mass Effect 2 had some bad ideas about how ammo spawning should work.

                    To restate what I said below (this “each post spawns subthreads” thing can make things awkward), I don’t care about Andromeda, I’m objecting to your sudden change of stance on the old series.

                    Upset is maybe too strong a word, people are allowed to change their opinions, and I’d almost expect your opinion to shift somewhat after writing an entire novel on the subject. But it’s strange to see you change direction and start making unprovable claims (“X killed Mass Effect”) without even acknowledging the shift.

                    • Shamus says:

                      As far as I can tell, our problem comes from this line:

                      They have a new world built around ideas devised by someone who no longer works there. This doesn’t mean the new series is doomed, but it does mean it’s already exhibiting the problems that killed the original trilogy.

                      This is ambiguously worded. The first sentence is talking about one thing, the second about many things. I was saying “this is one of the problems”, but I suppose you’re reading it as “this one thing is the cause of all the problems”.

                      I suppose a less sloppy phrasing would be:

                      This doesn’t mean the new series is doomed, but it does mean it’s already exhibiting one of the problems that killed the original trilogy.

                      MichaelGC also seems to have noticed this discrepancy elsewhere in the thread.

                    • Ninety-Three says:

                      Yeah, since you had never labeled anything else as a “problem that killed Mass Effect”, I took it to mean that “problems that killed the original trilogy” just referred back to “A new world devised by someone who no longer works there”.

                      Whee, internet misunderstandings.

                • MichaelGC says:

                  He doesn’t say that, though. Just whilst we’re analysin’: he talks of a ‘most important lesson’, implying there are others, and of a: “new world built around ideas devised by someone who no longer works there.” This latter – an out-of-date new world – is described as one of the (plural): “problems which killed the original trilogy.”

                  It’s also not a new departure – he makes the same point here in the finale of the ME series: Pick a lead writer and stick with them. (second to last section, so near the bottom. Helpfully bolded as if important, though! :D)

                • Blackbird71 says:

                  You’re claiming things that were never said. Shamus never said there was no single cause, as you quoted, he said no single individual or decision that could be blamed for the failure. That is not the same thing as there being a primary cause or condition that contributed to or resulted in the failure.

                  If a single individual or decision could be blamed, then either that individual or decision would have to be shown as being directly responsible for the cause or condition that brought about the failure. However, what Shamus has postulated is that while there is a fail condition, there were multiple contributing factors that created that condition, and as such tying the blame to a single individual or decision would be futile.

                  If the new ME game has reached a similar condition as caused the failure of the first series, but has done so through a different path of individuals and decisions, that does not negate the fact that it has reached the same condition and therefore the same cause as the original failure.

            • Shamus says:

              It’s true that this one decision can’t be blamed for everything bad that happened to Mass Effect, however, this does not mean it was a good decision.

              I’m not saying that Andromeda is doomed to be as bad as the original. I am saying that one of the concerning things about Mass Effect has continued in Andromeda.

              • Ninety-Three says:

                I didn’t say it was a good decision. I’m disagreeing that the shift in writers, as you put it, “killed the original trilogy”. There’s quite a causal leap between “Mass Effect did this bad thing” and “This is why Mass Effect died”.

                • Shamus says:

                  Well then I’m not sure why you’re making a big deal about it here and not at the end of Mass Effect, since I dedicated an entire section to “Writers are not interchangeable”.

                  I stand by that. They’re not. It’s not the ONLY thing that killed Mass Effect, but it certainly didn’t help.

                  • Ninety-Three says:

                    I wasn’t objecting there because you kept it limited in scope. “Writers have a particular voice, they aren’t interchangeable” is a reasonable claim, and I agree. We can’t know for sure, but that probably made Mass Effect worse. But lots of things made Mass Effect worse, “The shift in writers killed Mass Effect” is a much bigger claim.

    • Matt K says:

      The issue isn’t who’s writing (as mentioned) but the fact that changing leas writers mid-stream is an issue as it can lead to the work done under the first writer having a very different tone from what was done later and generally games will just ship with both (instead of scrapping all that work) which can easily lead to inconsistent tone throughout the game.

  12. Darren says:

    EA goes through phases. Sometimes they’re really good about letting developers do what they want, which got us a number of weird Lord of the Rings licensed games. The Third Age had a dull, fan-fictiony plot, but it experimented with the Final Fantasy formula in pretty radical ways (no shops!?) and had references to Tolkien material that EA didn’t actually have a license for (like a First Age dwarven dragon mask), while the Battle for Middle Earth franchise started off with an almost avant garde title.

    But when EA is bad, it’s really bad. I think my favorite is the ad campaign for Dragon Age: Origins. The game was all but done, so they weren’t going to overhaul it. But you could almost feel a mix of disdain and panic as the marketing team worked with it. Marilyn Manson songs? Copious gore? A dragon made of blood for a logo? None of that stuff fit the franchise, and I think it’s only another shift in EA’s philosophy that saw that edgelord attitude reigned in for Inquisition.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      The dragon logos are the only part of that that I think should be 100% supported. Let’s put badass dragon logos on EVERY game.

      Candy Crush Saga (Dragon made out of spikes and flame)

    • GloatingSwine says:

      Dragon Age was clearly patterned after the then-yet-to-rise in anything but print grimdark fantasy genre (everyone who already knew about them basically heard of Grey Wardens and thought “so, Witchers then”), so a blood and guts trailer and logo are very much in keeping with the theme.

      Marylin Manson maybe less so, but the rest of it, yeah. It’s supposed to be all blood and mud and grimness.

      • Drew C says:

        More like the Night’s Watch but yeah…

        • GloatingSwine says:

          I was thinking more of the undergoing mutations and near poisoning that leaves you with special abilities but kills almost everyone who tries it.

          That’s basically nicked straight from the Witcher series.

          (Remember that the first game used the Aurora engine, licensed from Bioware, so they were probably familiar with it before it gained much popularity, as the books hadn’t been translated then).

    • Grudgeal says:

      Considering the music they picked for that ad, I’m almost wondering if marketing weren’t taking the piss. I mean, “This is the New S***”? That’s like advertising for London with “London Calling”. Or New Jersey with “Born to Run”.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      The DA:O marketing nearly killed any interest I had in the game, but not for the reasons you list. I hated the “Sacred Ashes” trailer for portraying the Warden and his companions as a bunch of overconfident glowery badasses who charged fifty darkspawn without hesitation, broke out wire-fu moves while doing so, and then turned around and charged a dragon, again without showing the slightest bit of fear or uncertainty. The game was on sale a few weeks later so I picked it up anyway and found it delivered practically the opposite of what was promised in that trailer, for which I’m grateful.

  13. Shoeboxjeddy says:

    Mass Effect 3 multiplayer is the poster child for “any seemingly bad idea can TOTALLY work with the right implementation.” EA has since sort of iterated this in the Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare series, but I’m about equally excited to see what they cook up for Andromeda MP as I am for the campaign.

    • IFS says:

      I’m probably more excited for Andromeda’s MP than I am for the campaign, though the campaign could pleasantly surprise me. ME3’s single player campaign was a dumpster fire, but the multiplayer was very fun and kept myself and friends occupied for many hours.

      • somebodys_kid says:

        Oh man I wish there were more people playing ME3 multiplayer. I can’t pull off a Silver match on my own.

        • Khizan says:

          Silver is pretty easy. Go Krogan Vanguard, tank all the way up, and charge+melee people with a shotgun+omniblade.

          It’s easiest to do this if you fight the Geth, cause they don’t have any sync kills.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Apparently PC is the only place with matches still going really. If EA ever makes the ME Trilogy backwards compatible on Xb1, I’d expect to see some life come back into it.

          • Enjolras says:

            I regularly (as in, ~5 nights a week) play ME3MP on Xbox and have no trouble finding matches. It’s still a very active multiplayer game. And I still see completely new people joining, which is incredible given how old the game is at this point.

  14. Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

    At least Mass Effect kind of felt like it was taking place in the same galaxy.

    In Dragon Age, after they left Fereldan, I liked the series less and less. Kirkwall and Orlais just don’t have the same charm. I wonder if that was part of why so many people stayed in the Hinterlands longer than they should in Inquisition. It was the most like Origins.

    Both ME3 and DAI felt like fanfiction* with high production values (even if DA still had Gaider on it). I’m definitely not buying Andromeda at launch for this reason.

    *Well written by fanfiction standards but still fanfic.

    • Fade2Gray says:

      Shamus comparing ME: Andromeda’s prospects favorably to Dragon Age’s tonal dissonance from one game to the next made me hurt inside….

      • Matt K says:

        My understanding is Shamus was mentioning how with DA, each game is a story unto itself with an ending that concludes the game’s story (although I’ve not played the games so I have no idea how true this is) and as such, tonal issues are not as much an issue as with a multi-game series telling a singular story (that goes through multiple lead writers for games in the series).

        And I agree that if you’re going to be switching out main writers during production of a multi-game series then making each game a stand alone series (which then can tie into each other) isn’t a bad idea.

        • Joe Informatico says:

          It’s like how both The Odyssey and The Aeneid function as sequels to The Iliad, and they’re both set up by events in The Iliad, but you can enjoy them as their own stories even if you haven’t read the others. They also have different protagonists like the Dragon Age games, even if some of the same supporting characters appear in multiple installments.

    • Volvagia says:

      I’ve seen some VERY good stuff come out of fanfiction, though. I LOVED Something Grim this Way Comes (a fusion of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy) so much (and realized that, because both franchises are under the Time-Warner umbrella, it could actually be made) I went “what the heck, I’ll script a version of this thing out.” I loved working on it so much I’ve actually started work on how this impacts Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s not exactly easy (mostly because, in this version, Harry’s pretty much been the best friend of a supervillain for years), but it’s SO worth it.

      • Matt K says:

        Thanks for that, as a Billy and Mandy fan (and a fan of HP), I’m definitely going to check that one out.

        Heck I loved the actual episode that was a mashup with God Emperor of Dune. That was kind of nuts for a kids show.

      • Volvagia says:

        Forgot to specifically say this, but the other thing that makes it difficult is the idea of “stacked change” (where each subsequent entry will push the source material further from the original with each passing entry), so I actually have to watch with an eye to “wait, could this happen”? (the first 15 minutes of that third movie I’m going back over? Entirely thrown out.)

      • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

        I mean yeah.

        I was always parcel to “The Unity Saga” by SF Debris which is a massive crossover of TNG/DS9/VOY era Star Trek and Return of the Jedi/Expanded Universe era Star Wars. Seriously, that guy knows his stuff.

        Though he does ship Luke and Seven in a way that can’t help but feel fanfic.

        • Cinebeast says:

          SF Debris writes fanfic? I can’t actually tell if you’re joking or not.

          *Googles*

          Holy crap. It’s 250 chapters long. Thanks for mentioning it.

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            Yeah, I kind of stall out in the second half for reasons that will probably become clear once you get there but its kind of sort of six books and each book is worth a read so it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to finish.

    • For my money, the main problem with Dragon Age: Inquisition was that they didn’t bother much with introducing the areas. The Hinterlands had a nice cinematic intro, a couple of main tasks for you to do that led naturally into a number of side tasks, and you had to go through it to get to Redcliffe so you needed to explore at least a bit. It was very well done.

      Most of the rest of the areas didn’t have any of that, except for Crestwood which was, to my mind, the best area in the game. It was a pity, because once you started digging into any area most of them were pretty neat. But they had nothing to suck you into them.

      In Origins, when you went to a new place STUFF WAS HAPPENING and it sucked you right in. Inquisition gave you a lot more stuff to do, but it was just kind of, “eh, you can if you want to”. That and there were far too many largely-pointless scavenger hunts.

      I think Bethesda and Bioware are both struggling with the same problem, which is “how do we attach a story to an open or semi-open game?” Bioware can do the story parts reasonably well, it’s just attaching them to gameplay with freedom and options that they have trouble with. Bethesda knows how to make the gameplay work, they just can’t figure out how to write a story that works for it.

      Bioware has a particular problem in that anything they don’t pretty much force you to do is generally extremely lackluster, because they don’t want to “punish” you for NOT doing it, but that also means that there’s no reason to do it. They keep wanting to have it both ways and it’s not working. They need to commit. Either they’re going to direct you to do absolutely everything, or they need to tighten down on their padding.

      Also, the dang writers need to stop having the protagonist pick up minor quests by rephrasing what the NPC JUST SAID in the form of a question. If I have to listen to one more “man these bandits are a problem” followed by “you’re having problems with bandits?” Imma slap a bitch.

      • For the next game, I want them to have the first little intro quest literally start out like that: “These bandits are a serious problem!” and give the option to say “Bandit problem, huh?” and have the NPC reply by saying “Nah I love having all my shit stolen and getting shot full of arrows every time I venture outside! Bugger off you dumb shit!” and then if you deal with the bandits and come back they’re like “sorry I yelled at you but Andraste’s pants do you ask stupid questions” and then they NEVER GIVE YOU THE OPTION TO SAY SOMETHING THAT INANE EVER AGAIN.

        • Either that, or they do let you be inane, but the delivery keeps getting more and more and more ridiculous or sarcastic and the NPC’s start anticipating your lines with “shut it, you” and “think you’re so bleedin’ funny”.

          Fourth tone option: jackass

          • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

            There’s always “Tell me more about.”

            I guess its nice that they’re letting us choose whether we want the exposition but it gets them off the hook for trying to make it interesting.

        • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

          That sounds like a something you’d encounter in one of their older games. Even Baldur’s Gate had that kind of riffing. I miss the attitude.

          • I think they want to give you the opportunity to do some kind of consistent character, and lines like that tend to be “out of the blue” exceptions that don’t fit well into the Generic Hero characterization.

            And doing a game-wide Jackass characterization would probably be too expensive for the value.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I felt the opposite. I liked Fereldan, but it was yet another fantasy version of Ye Olde Englande in the Ages of Mud and Dung. Kirkwall I appreciate what they were going for–a City of Adventure instead of questing across a continent–but like most things in DA2, it was an interesting idea hobbled by poor implementation and a lack of polish. Orlais felt more interesting, at least in the city–clearly based on France of the ancien regime but distinct as well. It was kind of stretching things for Orlais to have as many different climates and terrains as it did, however.

      • I just finally got around to playing the Jaws of Hakkon DLC this week and HOLY HECK, if the rest of the game had been designed as well as that DLC . . .

        I think some of the issues with the main game can simply be traced back to the limitations imposed by the 360 and the PS3–they dropped those for the DLC and all 3 of them (Hakkon, Descent, Tresspasser) are AMAZING.

  15. SAeN says:

    Yeah yeah, but where is my Telltale C-Sec game?

  16. Vermander says:

    I actually love the concept of “Space Westerns.” I like the idea of characters who live “on the frontier” on their own and mostly cut off from law and civilization. I’d love to play a game in the Mass Effect universe with a more personal story, where you’re a scruffy freelancer who doesn’t answer to the Council or the Alliance. Instead of completing some mission you’re out to make your fortune or settle some personal vendetta.

    I actually prefer science fiction protagonists who aren’t brilliant scientists, engineers or academics. Making money or building a home is a more relatable motive for me than “the quest for knowledge.”

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      I actually prefer science fiction protagonists who aren’t brilliant scientists, engineers or academics.

      Like prometheus?

      Sorry,that was a terrible joke.Just like prometheus.

      Ill stop now.

      • Vermander says:

        Well I guess incompetent or grossly irresponsible scientists with no self preservation instincts still probably count.

        The original Alien actually had characters who came across as rough necks or blue collar workers in over their heads though.

  17. Vermander says:

    I’m sad you won’t be writing about the Citadel DLC, though I understand why. To me that was the “real” ending of the Mass Effect trilogy and basically everything I wanted in a Bioware game (namely hanging out with my awesome space friends for a few hours).

  18. Tizzy says:

    DLC is a logical evolution in the way games are consumed. Devs spend a lot more time on their products after launch than they used to, and DLC can be thought of as continued support for the game. Not anything I would blame a developer or publisher for.

    That being said, day 1 DLC can go die in a fire, of course.

    • guy says:

      Having DLC for the main plot of a continuing franchise is pretty corrosive to the storytelling, though, because lots of people just won’t buy and play all the DLC in between the game releases and then either the plot thread gets dropped or the game just proceeds on the assumption that everyone has played the DLC.

      • Chris says:

        This actually used to be really common when it was called an expansion pack. Brood War, for example, is Starcraft canon. When everything shifted to DLC, it just became 1/10th the content for 1/3rd the price.

        • Bloodsquirrel says:

          Of course, a lot of the games that had expansion packs also didn’t have releases every 1-2 years.

          Really, expansion packs were almost what would be called a sequel now. Back then, technology was expected to change a lot more, and RPG Guy 2 would be expected to change a lot from RPG Guy 1. If they didn’t change very much, and just added a few items and more content, it was an expansion pack.

          Now we don’t expect them to write a new engine and develop new mechanics for every game, so what would have been an expansion pack would be a sequel now. Case in point: Throne of Baal was, for modern purposes, Baldur’s Gate III.

          • Tizzy says:

            What saddens me most is that DLC should be a slam dunk. You only make it if the original game is successful, and basically it rewards your initial investment in the game. Development costs are presumably lower (per hour of entertainment produced) yet you can charge a comparable price because customers feel they get the right amount of bang for their buck. It gives fans more of what they like and makes them feel valued. And if you’re not as invested in the game, or simply if the base game is fulfilling enough, you get to save your time and money. Sounds like a win-win, no?

            I don’t see why instead, you’d have to go and mutilate a complete game to carve out DLC…

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Free day 1 dlc can work though.If they are mostly cosmetic stuff.

      Wht bioware definitely can be scolded for is putting story integral parts in a dlcs.Arrival and javik are amongst the scummiest pieces of dlc ever.

      • Trix2000 says:

        Arrival I can agree with, but I’m hesitant to worry so much about Javik. Had he been done properly, I could see it being a bigger problem, but… he was practically sidelined in the greater scheme of the game, and his race has almost no impact on events or how they deal with things. He’s nearly irrelevant to the narrative proper (which he shouldn’t have been).

        So I don’t really worry too much about the fact that he was DLC… I worry about the fact that they took a potentially interesting development (ie: finding a living Prothean) and did almost nothing with it. Less scummy and more incompetent, I think.

        But Arrival really should have either been in ME2 by default or not at all. The only positive I can give that is that it didn’t manage to break my experience the first time I played ME3 (as I had not played Arrival then)… but it was more than a little weird missing that information.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          He’s nearly irrelevant to the narrative proper (which he shouldn’t have been).

          Thats the whole point.His mere presence shouldve been huge.But it wasnt,so it could accommodate the fact that not everyone will see him.Protheans were one of the main narrative threads in me1,and their perversion was the narrative driving force of me2.So this gutted inclusion in me3 is a scummy destruction of the narrative just to have another dlc.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            I am inclined to believe that the Javik DLC wasn’t a scummy attempt at monetization (“Hey kids, wanna buy a Prothean?”) but rather some content that got cut due to time or production reasons and pushed out to DLC, because they might as well do something with it. I’ve got nothing concrete, but a Prothean played a significant role in the leaked story, and unlike all the other DLC companions, he has a ton of lines interacting with other squadmates, which means either they suddenly raised their standards on DLC squaddies, or he was originally a full squadmate and they already had those lines written.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Plenty of stuff gets cut from the final product for various reasons.And if you want to show it off/make some money off of it,you sell it as a blooper,or concept art,or as a humorous part outside the main game(citadel DLC).You dont just cram it randomly in the main story.

  19. Trix2000 says:

    …Now I’m a little curious if you got that reddit link from my post before, or from somewhere else. :P

    I’m ultimately hopeful that they’re taking some steps to avoid major pitfalls in the new game – a result, I think, from just how massive and noticeable the backlash was to the ending of ME3 (and to a lesser extent, the series as a whole). I can’t help but think all of that has to be in the back of people’s minds, even the ones towards the top who’d otherwise not consider the details much (I’d think it would be hard not to be troubled when large portions of your audience have such a clear negative opinion of your flagship title). It was just too large and noticeable to ignore, I think.

    And the recent “trend” in which certain AAA publishers seem to be picking back up again, delivering titles the way we might actually want them to (see Doom, Witcher 3, apparently the new Hitman, and potentially others I’m forgetting)… I can’t help but wonder if indeed significant portions of the industry have been shaken up and are realizing things. Maybe the gigantic rise of indies (despite their saturation) that can sort-of compete on the level of AA and AAA games caught people’s attention more than we realize.

    It’s all speculation, of course, and I’m still a hopeless optimist in that I want to believe ME:A will be pretty good. But the realist in me won’t be buying it day 1 regardless, as I still want to reserve my judgment for the actual game.

  20. Dreadjaws says:

    You know, we actually got to meet Blasto in the “Citadel” DLC for Mass Effect 3. As long as Havik is in your party, that is. So yeah, you need to buy two DLCs in order to get a bit further with a background joke. To be fair, Citadel is a lot of fun, and it’s the best thing from the entire game. The fact that it’s sold separately tells a lot.

    Man, if there’s something I really like about the Extended Cut is that it eliminated that crappy “Buy our DLC!” message from the ending.

  21. grampy_bone says:

    They should do a timeskip. Far enough in the future that they can freely write new stuff, but still maintain some concepts from the original. Like how Klingons were all bad guys in Star Trek: TOS and then in the first episode of TNG there is a Klingon on the bridge and it’s no big deal.

    Basically Andromeda should have a Geth crewmember that everyone treats like a normal dude.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      So they should push the game 50000 years into the future and make it all about the cycles?

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Well that trailer really wants you to know that the N7 special forces are still around.

      My theory? It will be about 50-100 years after ME3. Humans have reverse engineered some Reaper tech from all the dead Reapers on Earth (or possibly from the synthesis option), and this includes intergalactic travel.

      • Mike S. says:

        I’d bet that they’ll have left the Milky Way before the ending choices were made. (Though it could be a generation ship or post-settlement situation that has the PC born en route or in Andromeda.)

    • Kestrellius says:

      Do a fourteen-year timeskip.

      Shepard wakes up after having been interred in cryosleep in the Crucible for fourteen years. He finds himself aboard a retrofitted Sovereign-class Reaper captained by Anderson, who now hates him for wrecking the galaxy with the Crucible. Miranda is there, wearing an eyepatch. She’s still the same age due to something called the “curse of the Reapers”, which is mentioned once and never explained. She, Anderson, and the rest of the crew refuse to explain what’s going on, but beg him to not shoot anyone from behind cover, no matter what.

      Shepard wants to find out what happened to EDI, since he picked Synthesis in order to save her, but everyone tells him she’s dead. The ship comes under attack from the Normandy, apparently piloted by EDI. Anderson now belongs to Hades, an organization dedicated to wiping out the remains of the Alliance. Shepard boards the Normandy, which takes him to the Citadel. He tries to talk to EDI, but she seems to be just a VI.

      On the ruined, nearly-deserted Citadel, Shepard meets the Catalyst, and they dance ineptly together apropos of nothing. The Alliance is now being run by the Illusive Man, who is back from the dead and wearing a visor for no reason. Shepard spends most of his time in his room, saying “I should go” over and over again with a dazed expression.

      TIM orders Shepard and the Catalyst to get to the heart of the Citadel, where there’s a backup Crucible that they can use to repair the galaxy in some unspecified way. They fight their way through the Citadel, which is now full of conveniently-placed chest high walls and populated with 238 Blue Suns mercenaries, all of whom Shepard and the Catalyst shoot in the face while the Normandy provides aerospace support.

      When they get to the core, the retrofitted Reaper shows up and Miranda attacks them to stop them from activating the Crucible, but doesn’t bother explaining why that would be a problem. The Catalyst notices that it’s not the right Crucible just as Shepard activates it by shooting it from behind cover. Also, he also claims to have become Harbinger, but commits suicide.

      As the Crucible charges up, Sovereign inexplicably reconstitutes himself and begins wreaking havoc, but Shepard destroys him with a Renegade interrupt. The Crucible fires, extra-super-destroying the galaxy, again, and EDI, Miranda, and Shepard walk into the sunset in the ruins of Earth.

      The hilarious thing is that this still makes more sense than 3.33. At least Shepard fired the Crucible on purpose, so it makes a bit more sense for people to blame him even if everybody else was involved too.

    • Taellosse says:

      There is no amount of time that could both wipe away the the vast disparities between the 3 endings (despite their visual similarity during the game itself) while still being even remotely recognizable as the same setting.

      If the player chose Destroy, the Reapers, Geth, and any other AIs are dead, as are the mass relays. Millions of soldiers from the Council races are trapped, with their combined fleets, in Sol System while the rest of the galaxy is in disarray. Best case scenario, they’re able to somehow rebuild the relay network and restore order. This is actually the ending that would result in a future most similar to the setting we already know.

      If the player chose Control, not only are the Reapers not dead, they’re now running the show, guiding (or dominating, depending on what sort of Shepard the player had) the Council races. There are thousands of Reapers, they’re going to be ubiquitous indefinitely, and their knowledge of technology is going to utterly change the course of the galaxy going forward.

      If the player chose Synthesis, everything is utterly wonky. There is now no meaningful distinction between “organic” and “synthetic” (somehow). Again, the Reapers are still around, as are the Geth and other synthetics, but the other races are also synthetic now, resulting in changes to individuals and cultures that are impossible to predict without a clearer definition of what this combination means for everyone involved. To be sure, the galaxy will be nothing like it was before.

      In fact, the further forward in time one goes from these disparate conclusions, the more different they’d necessarily become, as the repercussions of each path have time to reverberate. Which is why they did what they did with this new series – by setting it in a new galaxy (and presumably by having the protagonist and most of their allies be something like contingency colonists launched during the Reaper invasion, knowing nothing about how ME3 turns out, and being completely cut off in time and space from what happens in the Milky Way after they depart) they can sidestep the impossible task of reconciling the color-coded endings of ME3 into a single future (or discarding 2 of them in favor of a single “official canon” and pissing off 2/3 of the existing fanbase even more).

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Ooooor it could lampshaded:

        Red ending: “At the end of the Reaper war the activation of the Crucible destroyed all AI and shut down the relay network. We have since reactivated the relays and are recovering from the damage.”

        Blue ending: “At the end of the Reaper war the activation of the Crucible reprogrammed the Reapers and shut down the relay network. They helped us in reactivating the relays and recovering from the damage but then they and all the other AIs just disappeared. We think they left the galaxy but some believe they’re hiding in some uninhabitable area so as not to interfere with the development of organics.”

        Green ending: “We’re not sure what happened at the end of the Reaper war. Activating the crucible shut down the relay network and gave us all this strange connection to the AIs but after helping us reactivate the relay and recovering from the damage they just disappeared. We think they left the galaxy but some believe they’re hiding in some uninhabitable area so as not to interfere with the development of organics.”

        Is it a horrible way to handle the previous games? Yes it is. Does it allow for milking further sequels out of the setting? Yes it does.

        • Taellosse says:

          Well, at a minimum they’d have to give every character in the game 2 skins – one normal and one with glowy techno-lines all over the place, since that was the visible effect of the “synthesis” option.

          That also contradicts the aftermath voiceover provided with the Extended Cut for both Control and Synthesis, as I recall. The clear implication was that the reformed Reapers hung around indefinitely. But yes, I suppose they could’ve done something shitty like that. I’m frankly glad they seem not to be. By setting it in a different galaxy, the suggestion is clearly that they want to dodge around the ME3 ending altogether.

          • Sleeping Dragon says:

            I think they could probably lampshade that too, claim that the effect was only visible temporarily, or only in the vicinity of organics/synthetics whichever was the counterpart… at this point I have a really low opinion on how much continuity they’d be willing to sacrifice…

            Still it’s all speculation if we’re getting a clean slate that’s probably for the best.

  22. Brandon says:

    EA itself is incredibly slow to change direction, but – as the recent Hitman game showed – individual developers can make abrupt changes in creative direction if they feel the need to do so.

    Well, Hitman is Square / Enix, which has its own set of problems, which are still rooted in being large and dedicated to the AAA space, but perhaps at least different enough from EA that I’d want an example of a turnaround from within the EA sphere of influence to be sure an EA subsidiary could really pull it off.

  23. MadTinkerer says:

    “It’s impossible to say, but adding multiplayer onto a fundamentally single-player experience (see also: SimCity) is something EA seems fond of.”

    Impossible?

    Dead Space 3.

    Dragon Age 3.

    PLANTS VS. ZOMBIES THE FAST-PACED MULTIPLAYER SHOOTERS 1 AND 2 BECAUSE THAT MAKES ANY SENSE AT ALL.

    At least none of it’s on Steam, so I can just ignore all of it.

    “the nerds who wanted to roam around deep space to find the secret to defeat Space Cthulhu.”

    Wait, I just had an idea. Instead of giving you a color-coded choice at the end of the game, what if they gave you the choice of three possible major leads at the beginning, you find out the consequences of each, and the final part is completing one of the possible objectives? That is to say, the results would be almost exactly the same in the end, but Shepard and the supporting cast all understand what the choice is before Shepard makes it? Would the color-coded choices have been better if they actually were the subject of the main story? Would the choice have been better if Shepard chose which machine to build? Would the color-coded choices have been better if each one was the result of learning a nerdy secret in a different part of the galaxy?

    Just a thought.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      PLANTS VS. ZOMBIES THE FAST-PACED MULTIPLAYER SHOOTERS 1 AND 2 BECAUSE THAT MAKES ANY SENSE AT ALL.

      That one is a spinoff,so its ok.

      Also,people say that those two are decent games,so despite the absurdity it turned out ok in this case.

      • MadTinkerer says:

        The problem is not that sometimes it works out and you get games that people genuinely enjoy. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t enjoy the Garden Warfare games. The problem is all the times they drive good game franchises into the ground because salesmen think they’re qualified to make design decisions.

        Is there a PvZ 3? I genuinely don’t know. PvZ 2 is a microtransaction-infected Origin exclusive so it already “doesn’t exist”. I would like to play a new PvZ game. But regardless, Garden Warfare is not the solution to the PvZ2 problem.

        I’ll always have original PvZ and the spiffy updated Game of the Year edition. But EA will never let Laura Shigihara make another official PvZ music video again because they’ve got their heads too far up their asses, and even if she wanted to, that game would be a microtransaction-infected Origin exclusive.

        So, no, the fact that they’re spinoffs is not OK. It’s not nearly the thing that angers me the most, and I don’t really mind the existence of the Garden Warfare games by themselves, but the way the franchise is treated is not OK.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      PvZ Garden Warfare spin-off series was fine because they ALSO made a straight sequel with the original mechanics.

      Also as Daemian pointed out, they were rather creative with it and by all accounts, it’s a really fun time, something like Splatoon in the uncrowded space of “family friendly shooter.”

      • MadTinkerer says:

        “a straight sequel with the original mechanics.”

        If only that sequel actually existed. Because it very much doesn’t.

        To be 100% clear: I’m not saying either of the Garden Warfare games are bad on their own. In fact, I’d sooner play one of them than PvZ2. The problem is that the theme-ing is so ridiculously wrong. “Fast paced” just does not normally apply to plants or zombies. Plants and Zombies were chosen as the themes for Plants vs. Zombies because one is still and the other is slow. Garden Warfare exists because a committee was tasked with turning an existing franchise into something more mainstream and ignoring whether any decision made any sense at all for the fictional world itself.

        EDIT: How about… Smugglers vs. Jedi: the new Star Wars game! Because both Smugglers and Jedi are major character types in Star Wars, they must be on equal footing in our new multiplayer game! That makes the same amount of sense as Garden Warfare.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          This is off the main topic by this point, but what’s the beef with PvZ 2 besides “free to play” or mobile game or other such complaints?

          And I think you’re raging on EA for no good reason with PvZ GW. Popcap develops their IP among already established genres and tries to outperform with personality and polish from there. PvZ entered the over crowded tower defense genre and stood out based on accessibility and humor. GW took that same stance (accessibility and humor) and applied it to another crowded genre: team shooters.

          The smugglers vs Jedi example is extremely silly when you consider:
          1) ME3 multiplayer is the design doc for PvZ GW basically, and it was pretty great. So “sci fi team shooter” as an example of a silly concept is way off.
          2) There’s both two MMOs where Smugglers fight Jedi/Sith out there and also there’s a long standing shooter series where that ends up happening.

  24. Taellosse says:

    Then again, maybe this time each installment will stand on its own, like BioWare does with Dragon Age. That would certainly ease the pain of changing writers.

    Ironically, up to this point, Dragon Age has been the Bioware-EA series that has maintained a consistent lead writer throughout it’s life to date, while Mass Effect has been the one that kept changing. That is no longer true going forward, of course, since David Gaider recently left Bioware, so the next DA game will be helmed by someone else as well, but he was the driving force behind everything Dragon Age, narratively speaking, from Origins right through Inquisition. Which serves to demonstrate how complex a AAA RPG actually is, since there’s so much variation across that series, despite the consistent authorship.

  25. Christopher says:

    I just have to wonder why they keep losing writers.

    • Taellosse says:

      Well, Drew Karpyshyn didn’t leave Bioware when he was moved off of Mass Effect – at least not right away. He was transferred to assist on Star Wars: The Old Repubic. He left sometime soon after that game launched, I believe, but he left the game industry altogether when he did, not just Bioware – he’d also been writing novels (mostly Star Wars Expanded Universe stuff at that point), and decided to focus more on that. And I don’t know how long he’d been there exactly, but I know he’d been the writer for Knights of the Old Republic, and that means he goes back to at least 2001.

      Mac Walters, who took over as Lead Writer for ME after Karpyshyn, is actually still at Bioware. In fact, he’s now been promoted to Creative Director since Casey Hudson left last year.

      David Gaider, who recently left (previously was Lead Writer for the Dragon Age series) had been with Bioware since 1999. Similar to Karpyshyn, 16 years is a long time to work for one company, and it’s not that odd to move to a new employer after that kind of time. Not to mention he got a significant title boost in the departure, since he’s Creative Director for an entire studio now (although Beamdog is doubtless a much smaller operation than Bioware).

  26. Phantos says:

    Is anyone else uncomfortable by that reddit thread, specifically the part about how the game is about taking land from dangerous “indigenous” life forms?

    That’s uh… that’s not a cool idea for a video game.

    That’s like: “How about a WWII shooter where you play as the Nazis?”

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      There are NUMEROUS WW2 shooters where you play the Nazis. Even a few campaigns. I think the tone of this one will end up far different from “die gross bug people, your land is ours!” BUT such a game COULD be interesting as long as they never cast your people as heroic for doing so.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        I’m more into strategy games and I can say that WW2 strategies where you can play as Nazis are (probably) even more numerous.

        There’s a lot of ways this could be handled… non-horribly. I doubt Bioware/EA has it in them to make a really smart subversive game on the colonialism theme so my bets would be on some variation on tried tropes like “we learn to get along with this sentient race”, “we learn that this race is sentient”, “we band together against some common threat” or, probably most likely as it offers easy antagonists, “the protagonist bands the good colonists to help the locals against the bad colonists/army/corporation and live together in peace”… probably incredibly patronizing but I’m pretty sure it won’t be as bad as “come my proud human brethren, let us make civilization by killing these savages and taking their land!”

  27. Locke says:

    The second Mass Effect trilogy is going to start out as a dumb, schlocky fun and then get taken over by a team of introspective details-first sci-fi writers who wrench the series into a completely different direction and botch the tone by constantly trying to pay lip service to its roots.

  28. George Monet says:

    I come from the future’s past to warn you that Mass Effect Andromeda’s story is even more stupid than Mass Effect 3’s and events only happen because everyone is constantly wearing an idiot hat. The protagonist’s father dies two hours into the game because he decided to explore a clearly dangerous planet that was of no use to anyone despite the fact that it was surrounded by an evil cloud of solid dark matter that broke the ship and which no one could explain or had ever seen before. And it just so happens that all of your shuttles just happen to crash land near an ancient alien terraforming device no one knew was there. How convenient! Oh and your mission is to terraform dead planets even though no one knew that all of the planets had terraforming devices on them. So you were tasked with a mission that the person tasking you with the mission should expect is impossible but turns out to be possible because of an extreme contrivance that no one knew about. The protagonist is also a door mat who just makes a couple of remarks but has no actual power and can’t tell people to do anything and can’t call idiots idiots. And now you don’t even get to punch reporter’s in the face anymore.

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