Mass Effect 3: A Gateway Drug?

Late last week a very buggy and unfinished private beta for Mass Effect 3 slipped on to the Xbox marketplace (only to those in the Xbox dashboard preview). The beta was quickly pulled and disabled, but not before a few folks played it and posted the footage online. Some of the footage was quite unpolished – missing textures, jerky animations, poor lip syncing. I did notice that the camera angles are a little more cinematic during conversations, and the combat looks more exciting and impactful. So overall, the final game should be more Mass Effect, only better. Awesome!

But that wasn’t the surprise reveal from the leak. The most interesting thing to me was the mode select. Apparently Mass Effect 3 will offer three modes, presumably for three different gamers: Action Mode, Story Mode and RPG Mode. The demo I watched on YouTube (which has been removed, unfortunately) was played in action mode, a game type for those that prefer challenging combat, but don’t care for all that talking. In action mode, the game answers for you in conversation. That’s right, no conversation wheel. Initially I thought that was bananas, seeing as the first Mass Effect touted the conversation wheel as a revolution in RPGs, but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense.

By minimizing the RPG elements and highlighting the stronger combat, Bioware can attract new people to the game and the genre. Sure, their story will be pre-determined and all their conversations will be on auto-pilot, but it gets them in door. Maybe after their first play through they’ll want to try a different mode; see how things could have turned out if they were in control of the conversations. That sounds like a good idea to me. More players, means more sales, which could mean more games in the Mass Effect universe.

As for the other modes, Story Mode keeps you in control of the conversations, but scales back the combat difficulty, and RPG Mode is basically what Mass Effect 1 and 2 were. It is worth nothing that Bioware said these modes are still being tweaked as the game is still months from release. I know the RPG purists out there scoffed at this news, viewing it as yet another sign of the impending downfall of Bioware and video games as we know them. Me? I’m optimistic. Bioware is a video game company, out to make money. They don’t owe me anything just because I bought some of their older games. I love the direction they're taking, especially as I get older and my time for deep games with steep learning curves diminishes.

Someone in the comments of this story on Kotaku pointed out that System Shock included a similar set up, allowing players to adjust specific parts of the game to suit them. No one seemed upset by that then, but I guess System Shock wasn’t touted as an RPG. I really like this idea though. Only two hours in to Uncharted 3 I bumped the difficulty down to easy. I was dying more than I wanted to on normal, and it was frustrating me. With a month-old baby, my play time is limited. I didn’t want to spend what time I had on retrying the same firefights. I play Uncharted games for the excellent story and mind blowing visuals and set pieces, not the average gunplay. Adjusting the difficulty let me move through the game and get what I wanted out of it. Some people love Mass Effect for the story, but hate the combat, why not make it easier for them to get what they want?

RPG purists should be happy about this news. Maybe after playing Mass Effect 3, new players might want to check out the first two games, and then from there, check out other, more complex RPGs, like The Witcher. Mass Effect 3 could be their RPG gateway drug. This might also entice newcomers to check out Bioware’s new game (don’t even get me started on how people freaked out over a super vague screenshot…the Internet bums me out sometimes). Bioware is seeding the soil with Mass Effect 3, and I hope—for them and for everyone that likes action RPGs—that it yields a bountiful harvest.

17 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by yeah_write

Late last week a very buggy and unfinished private beta for Mass Effect 3 slipped on to the Xbox marketplace (only to those in the Xbox dashboard preview). The beta was quickly pulled and disabled, but not before a few folks played it and posted the footage online. Some of the footage was quite unpolished – missing textures, jerky animations, poor lip syncing. I did notice that the camera angles are a little more cinematic during conversations, and the combat looks more exciting and impactful. So overall, the final game should be more Mass Effect, only better. Awesome!

But that wasn’t the surprise reveal from the leak. The most interesting thing to me was the mode select. Apparently Mass Effect 3 will offer three modes, presumably for three different gamers: Action Mode, Story Mode and RPG Mode. The demo I watched on YouTube (which has been removed, unfortunately) was played in action mode, a game type for those that prefer challenging combat, but don’t care for all that talking. In action mode, the game answers for you in conversation. That’s right, no conversation wheel. Initially I thought that was bananas, seeing as the first Mass Effect touted the conversation wheel as a revolution in RPGs, but the more I thought about it, the more it makes sense.

By minimizing the RPG elements and highlighting the stronger combat, Bioware can attract new people to the game and the genre. Sure, their story will be pre-determined and all their conversations will be on auto-pilot, but it gets them in door. Maybe after their first play through they’ll want to try a different mode; see how things could have turned out if they were in control of the conversations. That sounds like a good idea to me. More players, means more sales, which could mean more games in the Mass Effect universe.

As for the other modes, Story Mode keeps you in control of the conversations, but scales back the combat difficulty, and RPG Mode is basically what Mass Effect 1 and 2 were. It is worth nothing that Bioware said these modes are still being tweaked as the game is still months from release. I know the RPG purists out there scoffed at this news, viewing it as yet another sign of the impending downfall of Bioware and video games as we know them. Me? I’m optimistic. Bioware is a video game company, out to make money. They don’t owe me anything just because I bought some of their older games. I love the direction they're taking, especially as I get older and my time for deep games with steep learning curves diminishes.

Someone in the comments of this story on Kotaku pointed out that System Shock included a similar set up, allowing players to adjust specific parts of the game to suit them. No one seemed upset by that then, but I guess System Shock wasn’t touted as an RPG. I really like this idea though. Only two hours in to Uncharted 3 I bumped the difficulty down to easy. I was dying more than I wanted to on normal, and it was frustrating me. With a month-old baby, my play time is limited. I didn’t want to spend what time I had on retrying the same firefights. I play Uncharted games for the excellent story and mind blowing visuals and set pieces, not the average gunplay. Adjusting the difficulty let me move through the game and get what I wanted out of it. Some people love Mass Effect for the story, but hate the combat, why not make it easier for them to get what they want?

RPG purists should be happy about this news. Maybe after playing Mass Effect 3, new players might want to check out the first two games, and then from there, check out other, more complex RPGs, like The Witcher. Mass Effect 3 could be their RPG gateway drug. This might also entice newcomers to check out Bioware’s new game (don’t even get me started on how people freaked out over a super vague screenshot…the Internet bums me out sometimes). Bioware is seeding the soil with Mass Effect 3, and I hope—for them and for everyone that likes action RPGs—that it yields a bountiful harvest.

Posted by Murdouken

I really do not understand why so many people were angry about Action mode. It's blatantly optional and it clearly allows you to play as you would have done anyway, it just gives people who aren't you another option.

Posted by DEMONOLOGY_24

that was beutifully written. I was going to make a blog on my opinions on these new modes but I think you did a better job then I would have.

Posted by phrosnite

Who cares.... I only hope the leaked story info isn't legit.

Posted by Brendan

I like the idea as well. I'm obviously going to play on RPG, but I wonder how many new people something like this can realistically attract? It seems like something that will become a more advantageous feature in Bioware games down the road, when it's not implemented in the final chapter of a trilogy.

Posted by yeah_write

@DEMONOLOGY_24: Thanks! I think instead of prophesying the downfall of a company, gamers should be cheering on the evolution of our hobby. But then, I'm a glass half full kind of guy.

Posted by yeah_write

@Brendan: I'll play on RPG mode as well, but I might check out the other options on my other runs (I played ME 1 and 2 three times each). They do have the giant number 3 working against them though. Some people might hesitate jumping into the end of a trilogy, even if it is super friendly to newcomers. I'm excited to see what they're working on next, but I have to admit...I'm a tiny bit disappointed it's not Jade Empire 2. Still, good on Bioware for constantly investing in new IP.

Posted by Flappy

This was a good read, TC. I wasn't aware of this news until now, but your stance on the matter sounds totally reasonable.

Posted by Buscemi

I don't think the problem has ever been about Bioware owing anyone anything. It's just a sad thing when what made the company so famous is disappearing more and more for each game. I for one enjoyed Mass Effect 2, but it was a little too little of what made Mass Effect so great.

Posted by probablytuna

I completely agree with OP's view on this.

Posted by jayjonesjunior

@Murdouken said:

I really do not understand why so many people were angry about Action mode. It's blatantly optional and it clearly allows you to play as you would have done anyway, it just gives people who aren't you another option.

people who aren't me should not be playing ME3.

Posted by Nottle

I don't see the point of action mode. I mean I never thought your story choices in mass effect were all that interesting, but why play it just for the combat? The shooting in Mass Effect games are terrible.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

I think people (including me) have more problems with the Action mode. It just seems utterly self-defeating from a design standpoint to say: Some people don't like the act of choosing, so we will make their choices for them in our game about making choices. Story Mode is just easy mode, and whatever, that's fine.

However, I disagree with your "Gateway Drug" concept, because it implies that new people will buy the third installment in a trilogy, then go back to the first two, which I just find baffling from Bioware's marketing perspective. The person who buys Mass Effect because they see "Cool action space game" doesn't care about RPGs and never will, partially because the CRPG as a genre has been practically dead for years and partially because Mass Effect is barely an RPG.

Posted by Rapid

I reason I dislike Action Mode is another sign that gives the impression of how much EA has influenced Bioware. It strikes fear into Bioware fans because of how it may effect the design of future franchises. Interactive Storytelling has always been the hallmark of every successful Bioware game. If you distil their games just down to gameplay and visuals, Bioware would seem just a run of the mill developer. Try to cater to other audience is fine, but is it really worth it to sacrifice its unique quality? 

Posted by cabelhigh

@phrosnite said:

Who cares.... I only hope the leaked story info isn't legit.

Agreed...that stuff just sounds so horrible.

Posted by KevinHubard

This game looks fantastic.

Posted by SethPhotopoulos

I'll just play the RPG mode then and not be an asshole about people wanting to play the other modes. Though I'm guessing most will chose either RPG or Story over Action.

Posted by yeah_write

@SethPhotopoulos: Agreed on the mode of choice. It's a valiant effort on Bioware's part to bring in more people, but it's the end of a trilogy and shooting/gunplay isn't what people come to Mass Effect for. Like Uncharted, most are probably more interested in the story, than the firefights.