I got lucky last week. I stumbled upon Cash converters with a Mass Effect Andromeda (for Xbox One) for $2, even as I had the PS4 edition, replaying it for $2 was just too nice to pass up. There was another reason to not get it for any more than that. I was hugely disappointed with the game. The makers were holding a huge pastry in front of us, only to offer a mere outdated carrot in the end. Still, the graphics were nice, the game remains flawed on several levels and the goals are for the most too linear.
It was at that moment that my mind redesigned the game again (I did that exercise after I finished the PS4 edition). And I wondered about the one question that needed answering. What if I created Mass Effect Andromeda 2 (MEA2), whilst upgrading the first game from a 72% game to a 91% game or better, would you replay it?
In this stage the game would be 3 discs with the first game (mostly), the second disc would be the Nexus and the third disc would be the second game called Mass Effect Andromeda: Debellatio.
First off, the first game would end up being twice the size, the entire memory segments part would be on the Hyperion alone, the Hyperion would be roughly 20 times the current version, whilst the playable part of the Nexus is 10 times larger and the view makes it 200 times the size. The missions of the first game would remain (there would be more of them) and the story would be amped up to give a larger storyline to the Kett, the scourge as well as the Angara. The question is: Would you seriously consider playing it again?
I believe that this could work. The game would be massive on the consoles (200GB), yet the stage created would give close to 200 hours of gameplay. The original touched on great topics and then let them simmer, which was a waste on a few levels. Still, there is really good material to work with and if the maps are enlarged by well over 50% it becomes more of an exploration. We could also fix the flaws in the first version by making the second tier (after the vault is restarted) a lot more challenging and rewarding. The mining part required upgrades, so that there is a direct link in building the nexus and completing it linking it to the resources found and mined. These are all elements that add to the game and add requirements to the need of exploration.
Lastly, the arks, all 4 (with an optional 5th) will be found by the end of the second game, making it part of the main storyline and not some DLC. Consider these elements and ask yourself, would you buy a game at $160 that offers all that? I believe it would, especially when the multiplayer part is upgraded to a Mass Effect 3 level. It could be a new wave of multiplayer hungry admirers, it will of course come with the guarantee that I get to cut off the head of any EA executive that messes with that concept or forces the buying of loot boxes, the Mass Effect 3 formula was utterly perfect, so let’s not ever mess with that again.
It took a mere hour to consider the steps that could get this game from 71% to 91%, and I get it, there are budgets to consider. The question becomes what does an EA executive see as the difference of a budget toward a 70% game versus the one delivering a 90%+ game? I wonder if they can really set a number to that. Consider that the first version was staged by a budget of C$100 million, which included marketing and research costs, whilst I designed in my mind improvements over a mere cappuccino. There is a benefit of having been a part of gaming since 1985, and I believe that I know what pushes a decent game to a great game. If the EA/BioWare executives make that claim, I wonder why they failed the first time, whilst they had 3 examples in front of them and they owned the IP of it.
Even as Forbes gave us in 2017 ‘EA Is Now Singing Mass Effect Andromeda’s Praises As A Revenue Driver‘, yes it is true, but the bulk of all these were people who had played the previous games and hoped for a glimmer of greatness. And a revenue driver sounds nice, but if it cannot be repeated it becomes lost IP, and who ever won a war by losing its IP?
The important part was that the combat part did not suck, it was a good combat system and that is at the core of the success that was and the greatness it could be. There is also a business case to be made, as Anthem is seen as a failure by more and more, we need to recognise that EA desperately needs a win, one that will allow them to be regarded as an AAA developer. The news ‘BioWare Loses Lead Producers for Both Dragon Age 4 and Anthem‘ that got out two weeks ago supports the placement that Bioware (EA as well) are no longer the high end developers they used to be. It is about business and profit at the expense of gaming, a disastrous formula well beyond twice over. I would go as far as stating that until these two players do not learn that lesson, they have lost their ability as an actual game maker.
The fact that there are options for both EA and Bioware is merely a stroke of luck on their part, hugely due to the previous designers who did do an excellent job, even now, one generation later Mass Effect 2 is still seen as one of the best games ever to grace the Xbox 360, moreover, the Xbox One has only produced games that equalled it, optionally with the exception of Assassins Creed Origin, a game that did break all the records.
And even now when we realise that a few months ago we got ‘EA ‘learned a lot’ from Anthem but doesn’t apologize‘ gives us the larger stage, we don’t need their apology, we need them to make an actual game (if they still can, and sport games do not count).
Yet the premise remains, what if the first MEA is added to the second and upgraded, would you pay for it, and would you play it? I personally believe it to be the case, especially when you realise the amount of times the first two games were played to be a nice and a naughty Shepard, optionally 4 times if you wanted to do it all for the ‘he’ as well as the ‘she’ version of the game. The groundwork was decent, but too largely unfinished and the amount of stages where the game failed on a few levels was just mind boggling, Mass Effect 3 had a few of these issues, but not as much, and they were less irritating I might add.
All gamers (including me) we yearn for the high of really good gaming and we want that feeling again and again. It is not just the sound of the achievement; the feeling of getting to the end of the game; and not to forget the entire journey to get to the end. We will go through great lengths to get that feeling again and again, hence the power of the Franchise, even after 5 partial failures, AC Origin made up for that and for the most we feel really happy that we got to that point. Ubisoft has seen this personally, EA might say that they learned, but it is still unlikely that they actually did. For the most EA became a pool of business graduates and there is nothing against that group, yet the business is gaming and not spreadsheets. You might want to keep it for your numbers, yet profit is no valid KPI of joy, the KPI of joy is excellence, it always was joy, Elder Scrolls, Ultima, Fallout, Dark Souls, Witcher, and God of War, not to forget the latest new RPG franchise Horizon Zero Dawn. They all know that excellence is what keeps you in profit, EA (optionally Bioware) forgot about that part and now they are bleeding, the amount of damage cannot be seen, it can only be seen in how they survive and whilst they think that profit and margins are the most important, these two players will miss the ball again and again. This is such a shame because before 2016 the Mass Effect franchise was a great achievement, the question becomes are the makers ready to fight for greatness?
Gamers care for that and even as we realise that others are vying for our attention and our allegiance, they now see that the time of options like Anthem is transient at best, the fact that gamers are willing to pay full price for a well-made remaster of the original three, even now after 10 years is the part that matters. You either rely on old games for a little while or you up the ante. It is at Ubisoft where we see that optionally become reality, even now, as far as we can tell, they went all out on Watchdogs 3: Legion and so far all the response is raving, and the fan club of those wanting to play it in the first hour is still growing non-stop, even after its initial view several months ago. Watchdogs had a speckled past, but they upped their game in the second game and it seems that now, in the third game they up it all in a very different and very novel way, the path a gamer did not see coming, the most enticing drug of all, the surprise path, EA and Bioware should learn from that.
It is important to learn and important to up the game because serious games do that and they are up against a larger community of games, games that will include Cyberpunk 2077, God of War 5, an optional Horizon Zero Dawn 2, Watchdogs 3, all games that have (seemingly) upped gaming and both EA and Bioware will be up against it. If they are to be considered an AAA developer they have to equal and surpass that opposition, a lesson that business graduates often did not learn, it might mirror the US stupidity in the Middle East, it is based on the American standard of ‘Money talks, Bullshit walks‘ it is there that the middle east policy failure shows it for what it is. It is the same in gaming, you need to flaunt it, but to do that, you have got to have it, there is no other way and business graduates are too often of the path: ‘Fake it till you make it‘, it merely keeps you afloat in an ocean of gamers, all well versed swimmers mind you.
I have seen excellence in gaming since 1984, I can recognise it almost instantly and it is not linked to micro transactions. I saw the excellence of Elite on a CBM64 in 1985, is still lives today as Elite Dangerous, 30 years later it creates a large following of over 4 million gamers, not a bad result. There were more games and there are even games that are successes and I missed them, I cannot be everywhere. Yet I have never failed to spot good games and I have seen the path to improve bad games several times. I believe that the Mass Effect Andromeda franchise could be resurrected as a great game; I wonder how far Bioware and EA are willing to go to make that happen.