Mass Effect: A Funeral For a Friend

So I was not even halfway done with my ‘I finished Mass Effect Andromeda’ post (Not the final title, I assure you) when Electronic Arts announced that the Mass Effect property was pretty much dead.  Oh they didn’t use those words.  That would be dumb.  No, they said that Mass Effect – the entire franchise – is being put ‘On Hiatus’.  Which in all honesty means that they’re going to stick it on a shelf until there’s nostalgia dollars to be made from it.  Along with this news, we learned that Bioware Montreal was being gutted and the remaining staff would be support developers for other EA titles such as Battlefront or Project Dylan (the currently unnamed Bioware action game that rumors say is EA’s contender to go head-to-head with Activision’s Destiny series and The Division.)  The only development for Mass Effect: Andromeda moving forward will be bug fixes and multiplayer support.

How did we get here?  I mean, it’s not even been 3 months since the game came out.  Now there will be no DLC, no sequel for the cliffhanger ending, and pretty much an end to the entire Mass Effect idea and setting for the foreseeable future.

Well, I’m sure some people have a very good idea of how this happened.  I mean, the internet backlash was hitting this game before we even got to the release date because of the whole 10 hour preview that some people had.  Mixed that with streaming media so everyone could share in the initial reaction and boom! Great recipe for an instant flame war.  And I’m not going to sit here and hold those people solely responsible.  The game had problems at launch.  I’m not going to argue with that.  The animations could be goofy, there were issues with bugs and the inventory system was just screwy.  I mean, most of this didn’t bother me personally.  Nor did it bother a lot of people I knew personally.  But then again, I was raised on RPGs where “Facial Animation” was changing the position of an eyebrow on a 20×20 pixel head.  I remember it being a big deal when “mouths moving when they have lines” was a big advancement.  So maybe I’m a bit more forgiving of some silly animations.  Ultimately, the game was playable.  It was downright fun.  Right from launch.  The patches fixed issues as they rolled out and the fun got even better.  That’s the way I viewed it all at least.

There’s also the issue of the broken fan base over to make the game more open-world.  Right now “Open World” games are kind of a thing and its started to get some backlash against it.  That isn’t Andromeda’s fault, but it did release right as the genre’s popularity has started to decline instead of at its peak.  Really, I don’t think open world was much of a goal for the game as it was the side effect of the questionable overall design choice: An updated Mass Effect 1.  Everything from the open format of upgrading abilities, to the inventory system and ranked equipment (Ranks I-X just like ME1), and the big open worlds to drive around and explore were all pretty much just yanked from Mass Effect 1 and then peppered with some of the sensibilities of ME2 & 3.  Instead of moving forward from ME3’s gameplay, they went back and tried to revive the stuff that the second and third installments tried to push away from.  And for that reason, I imagine there was a lot of push-back from fans.  While there are some in the Bioware fandom that hold on to the classic Mass Effect as the last time the games were “RPGs” (a sentiment I disagree with. I view RPG as more of a choice of how one approaches and interacts with the game rather than a specific set of mechanics that must be followed) most of the folks I’ve spoken to over the years hold Mass Effect 2 as the pinnacle of the trilogy and many of them cite the choices to move away from things like the Mako sequences on worlds or the painful inventory system.  Going back may have made sense to the developers, especially in light of the emphasis on exploration, but I don’t think it was what a lot of fans wanted.

Speaking of the exploration, I am still gathering that there in lies the big disconnect with expectations vs reality.  Andromeda was set up to be a break off of the original Mass Effect trilogy.  The same setting but a different story, hence why it was never labeled – and Bioware heavily emphasized that it was NOT – Mass Effect 4.  Andromeda was about exploration.  Going to a new place never before seen and trying to establish a home.  This wasn’t the tale of a super-soldier trying to save the Galaxy.  This was just a random team of people who volunteered to travel nearly a millennium away from home and try to set up camp in a barely charted galaxy.  So it was a big step down in the important-ness scale.  Just as epic, but more in a scale way instead of a heroic way.  Because face it, Ryder isn’t a hero.  They’re the kid of an ostracized scientist who had greatness thrust upon them compared to Shepard who was a damn legend before the opening title dropped hence why Shepard was being considered for Spectre Status.  Ryder’s job before having the Pathfinder title dropped on their lap was Recon Specialist.  No rank, no record of glory, no nothing.  Andromeda was about new beginnings.  A theme that runs through out the game and is handled really well.  I just don’t think everybody was on board with a new beginning.

It’s one of those tough calls that you have to deal with as an artist in an entertainment industry.  Especially if your a AAA developer or working with a big movie studio.  You can make great art, but even then if no one is buying what your selling then you are just shooting yourself in the foot.  It’s the cruel reality, and not one that I personally like or support.  Electronic Arts supposedly dropped $40 million on Andromeda (That’s half of CD Projekt Red’s budget for The Witcher 3) to a brand new division of Bioware set up in Montreal to try and win back the fans that Bioware HQ in Edmonton put at risk with Mass Effect 3’s ending backlash.  They decided to dive back into the well and play it safe by retreading ground established by Mass Effect 1.  They developed a story that was easy for new comers and series veterans to get into with a brilliantly handled themes of exploring the unknown and establishing a new beginning.  They crafted a story that wrapped up both the ‘new beginning’ as well solved the primary conflict without giving everything away so fans could theorize and have something to look forward to in the future.  It created a villain with an interesting motivation (The Kett) and a mystery to ponder on without concrete answers (The Remnant). It ended the game with solving the issue of finding a home but gave a cliffhanger as to what will come next.

Mass Effect Andromeda was a good game overall.  A good game that stumbled at the starting line and it cost them big.  I honestly worry about Bioware moving forward.  After this, ME3’s ending, and The Old Republic, I imagine EA’s patience may be wearing thin.  Consumers on the other hand have higher expectations of Bioware than ever.  Things could be rough going forward for the Canadian RPG powerhouse.

Breaking News: Stronghold Decoration Liquidation!

From today’s Patch 2.9A notes:

The “Republic Voss Embassy Sign” item from the Gatekeeper’s Pack now grants the correct Decoration. The item is also available from the Binary Star Reputation Vendor for 1 Credit for a limited time.

Go. Go and buy them.  Now. Do it.  Buy 50 of them. GO!

EDIT: They’re gone now folks. Grats to those who got em while they could.  If you want them now, they’re back in the packs.

SWTOR Class Story Summaries Complete!

Good news, everybody!  After I don’t know how long, the Class Story Summaries are finally complete!  Every class, every act, and completely spoiler free.  So now if anyone wants to know what a certain class’ story is like, you have a place you can point them to.

Now of course not all of the spoiler-ific reviews are done yet, but those will come in time.  A lot of them are just classes I want to replay so I can get a better idea of what to say about them.  They’ll come out as I replay through a lot of this stuff, but I really wanted to focus on getting the summaries done as soon as possible so people have that as a reference.

Meanwhile, now that I’ve finished up the summaries, I plan on taking a bit of a break for TOR until Galactic Strongholds releases to scratch the offline single player itch I’ve been having.  Nothing is being abandoned, just being put on the back burner while I relax some. So expect to see some various posts about other games, or some other stuff, and hopefully some more videos.

And thank you all for your support in turning the TOR Summaries into one of the most popular features on this blog.

Look Like Panda, Talk Like People…

Man, oh man. Did you see that Heart of the Swarm trailer? Wasn’t that…  oh.  You don’t want to hear me talk about how Kerrigan is awesome, do you? You want to hear about the fuzzy wuzzies don’t you?  Fiiiine.

So like most folks yesterday, I was frantically trying to keep up with the news flowing out of Blizzcon – to the detriment of my job, naturally (WoW > Job, yes?).  I had been telling people for weeks that ‘Yes, there will be pandas.’ Now, how those pandas manifested was unsure.  You couldn’t just give them to one side.  So they’d have to do something wacky with a neutral race or they would be a NPC faction/enemies.  Honestly, the idea of a bunch of pandaren kung fu masters snatching up members of the Alliance and Horde and dragging them off into the recesses of the dark wilderness would be pretty cool.

However, I had no doubt in my mind – not a smidge – that the next expansion would be the Mists of Pandaria.  My guess from back when the great old one known as the internet unveiled a vision of a copyright being registered was that World of Warcraft was possibly going to start moving away from “Here is your villain, this is the story” and focus more on “Here is this new place, lets see what there is to find here.”  I was however, not expecting the continuing advancement of the Alliance and Horde war consuming the globe.  It makes sense, but it had never occurred to me to push that.

Otherwise, here’s my two silver (my opinion is worth that much! Don’t laugh!) about the rest of the stuff announced, in a convenient bullet point list!

  • Pandaren: They’re big and fuzzy. Here’s hoping the females look good. Can’t be hard. Just copy the Jack Black movie. They did alright with male and female pandas in the second one.  The neutrality thing is neat, and I’m curious about the story leading into making the faction choice.
  • Monk Class: A new tank/melee healer/melee dps class?  Hmm…  No auto attack?  Uses Light and Dark energy to fuel its attacks?  That sounds familiar. HMMM…  Honestly, it’s not shocking with the Pandaren being added that this would come too. There’s some neat ideas behind the class, and I’m interested in how a melee healer would work.  Also, gnomes can be monks. So that’s pretty awesome in my book.
  • Pet Battle System:  It’s Pokémon.  This is not a bad thing.  Pokémon has survived the initial backlash from its surge in popularity and has becoming appealing to a range of people because it is fun to collect and the battle system is fun and requires strategy.  This should be a fun addition to the game.
  • Challenge Mode: You scale down your gear and time trial dungeons for transmog gear and valor points.  Not a bad idea. I foresee lots of complaints about ‘rehashing content’ with this. Could be a fun activity.
  • New Heroics and No Normal Dungeons: Yes, apparently there will be no normal dungeons in Mists.  Apparently that will be made up with endgame questing and dailies.  How exactly you have a ‘heroic version’ of a non-existent normal dungeon is beyond me though.  Also there was some news that Heroic Scarlet Monastery is a new lv 80 heroic and Scholo is lv 90.  I wonder if that’s a typo honestly. Seems odd to add a Wrath level heroic in.
  • PvE Scenarios: A fascinating concept really. Small group events without the need of dedicated roles for VP?  I really like the idea. But they can’t be like dungeons.  You can’t just have 5-6 of them and then say “done”.  Because from what they’re proposing, without a sense of freshness being injected now and then or enough total to avoid excessive repetition, these could more annoying than dungeon grinding.
  • Level 90 Cap: Five levels don’t bother me if there’s stuff to DO at the end.  If all the above pans out, this won’t be a problem for me.
  • More focus on Endgame PvE: They said this about Cata too.  It was supposed to be the trade-off for only having 5 levels.  In turn we got a couple of daily grinds, 5 new heroics post-launch over the course of at least a year, a couple of amusing but short story quest chains, and 2 new post-launch raids.  I’ll be happy if they can deliver, but I’m not holding my breath.

So, I’m sold right?  Put me down for that silly 12 month contract?  Uh… no.  Sorry.  As much as my finger twitched over the renew button on my Battle.Net account page, I am still going to let my subscription lapse in late November.  Why you ask? When so clearly this is a dream come true for the casual, PvE orientated, semi anti-social, achievement hunter like myself?  Because I remember.

I remember Blizzcon of years past.  I remember the ideas proposed for Cataclysm.  That there was only going to be five levels for more focus on endgame content, that there would alternate progression paths through the Path of the Titans, and all the wonderous potential and fun that Archaeology would bring to the game.  Call me jaded and cynical, but Blizzard has earned my interest with all of this but not my trust.  I will withhold giving them any money until I see what actually becomes of all this – the stuff that actually makes it in – when it goes live on the servers.

At best, coming back to WoW for a few months has become a definite possibility when I tire of other games.  Which is more than it was getting before the announcement.

Two Players, A Companion and a Flashpoint?

Boba Fett and Jawa plush dolls

As the release day approaches, and news begins to increasingly leak out the seams that keep this tight-knit madness called the Internet, I keep finding my eyes drifting to Old Republic sites to see what all the hub bub is about.  I must say that, in theory, much of what I’m seeing seems awesome.  Very awesome.  Whether it will continue to hold once the game comes out in December, well…  that remains to be seen.  However, there was bit of news that had my eyes light up with glee:

Companion characters will NOT be allowed in Warzones or Operations, however they will be allowed in Flashpoints so long as the total number of players + companions does not exceed four.

So what you’re saying is that in Flashpoints (dungeons) you can have 4 players, or 3 players and 1 companion, OR 2 players and 2 companions?  I mean, granted, a companion is not a complete substitute for a player, but the fact that it’s an option is amazing!  If I can team up with one friend, we bring our companions and we can do a flashpoint together without trying to flag down some additional PUG members – that’s a selling point right there for me!

I am terribly when it comes to talking to people I don’t know.  I have a Charisma score of at least negative three.  PUGing in WoW is such a nightmare for me that it was damn near impossible for me to just whisper someone I didn’t know in response to them looking for a DPS.  That’s probably what contributed so much to me not doing a lot of dungeons in Burning Crusade (Second would be my complete lack of self-confidence in what people keep telling me is my ‘above average’ skill in the game.) So just having the option to cut down on unnecessary stress is enough to make me squee with delight.