Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mass Effect 2 and Story Arcs

Last week I mentioned that I wanted to write something up about my expectations/fears regarding Mass Effect 2. Having played through three full Bioware games since October (Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, and a second run-through of ME1) it’s hard not to see some of the patterns to Bioware’s game design, some good, some not so much.

The one that really stands out to me is that Bioware has really fallen in love with a specific narrative structure that drops you first into a small pool, then opens up the limits of the game world for you to explore as you choose, and then draws it back in to a very structured finale.

In ME1 it started with the combo of Eden Prime and The Citadel where you learn the basics of the gameplay and characters, become a Spectre, and are then sent out to explore the galaxy, completing four main plot lines in four different areas, before engaging in the finale. In Dragon Age it was the Origin story and Ostagar (and Lothering I suppose) where you learn about the world, become a Gray Warden, and are then released to explore Ferelden –which had four key areas to explore to advance the story- before getting to the Landsmeet and the finale. Knights of the Old Republic also has a similar progression.

So my question is, will Mass Effect 2 continue this trend? On one hand, it does work at providing the illusion of an open world where you can come and go as you please. It is, however, just an illusion, and the more you return to the well game after game, the less illusory this structure becomes.

On the other hand, what I love about Bioware is how focused they are on telling a story with their games and I think there’s an argument to be made that more freedom for the player makes focused storytelling more difficult. Still, it would be interesting to see Bioware attempt a game with a bit more freedom for the player to move and explore. At the very least I’d like to see them create a new illusion for player freedom instead of once again repeating the same formula from their past games.