Wednesday, June 6, 2012

ME3 on Wii U

So today you may be aware that EA announced that their title Mass Effect 3 would be released on the Wii U platform. Now, aside from the whole controversy about the ending, this raises one question: Why?

Some BioWare employees have said that Mass Effect 3 itself was an ending, as in that the aim of the game was for the entire game to be an ending to the story of Commander Shepard and the individual stories of the characters players had come to know and love. If this indeed was the whole point of the game, then what purpose is there in releasing an ending to a group of players who have not experienced the rest of the story?

 Shepard... why are we here?

Admittedly, BioWare faced a smaller version of this problem when they released Mass Effect 2 for the PS3. PS3 owners had not experienced the first game, and thus had to rely on an interactive comic to introduce the setting, characters and key plot points of the first game. They still got to experience a raft of new and returning cast members in ME2, which then carried on to ME3. Wii U owners have none of this, and thus have no reason to care about the culmination of the struggles as they reach an emotional crescendo in ME3.

Simply put, ME3 is primarily designed to cater for an invested player. It brings to a head the moral conflicts that have played out through the rest of the series, and relies on the context of those struggles and their effect on the characters that the player knows for their impact. Without that context, these scenes have little meaning to the player. All the cameos, the deaths, the sacrifices, and the decisions have very limited impact because the player does not know the characters. Shepard might, but the player doesn't, and they have been given no reason by the game to care.

 A new player isn't going to care about the Genophage

The harsh truth is that this is a failure of basic storytelling. A player cannot care about a conflict unless they are invested in it, and the key way the player becomes invested a conflict is through characters. A player needs someone to empathise with, and when the conflicts are happening between two other characters (as is the case for virtually all conflicts in ME3), a new player has no real reason to feel empathy for either side because they are jumping in with no backstory. Anyone going straight to the end of a story with no context does not actually care about the story, and herein lies the rub.

The release of ME3 on the Wii U sends a disturbing message of: "We don't care if you haven't experienced the story we've told this far, it doesn't matter." Or even worse, it says: "We don't actually care about the story; the gameplay is fun." Sure, Mass Effect 3 might be a great game (sans ending), but this release appears to be nothing more than an attempt to make money while simultaneously rejecting the value of the writing of the series. This is possibly one of the worst indictments on the series that has been made, as sacrificing the integrity and value of the writing of the series for sales on a new platform is nothing short of appalling.

For shame.

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