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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bioware, sit down. We need to talk.

     There comes a time in any relationship where you have to evaluate the good times and the bad times. You have to sit back and look at the broad scope of that relationship and see if it's at all healthy for both of you to carry on. It's a painful, heart-breaking process that requires objectivity and analysis, and can get you out of a situation that's just hurting you, or reinforce a bond that's stayed strong.

     My first real exposure to Bioware was Knights of the Old Republic. Unlike most sci-fi fans, I've never really been a big fan of Star Wars. My interest in the franchise peaked around Episode 1, but then quickly fell off again, but I've always enjoyed a good Star Wars game. I've even enjoyed a few bad Star Wars games. Knights of the Old Republic was far and away so different from anything I'd played before. I was mostly platformers, first-person shooters, or J-rpgs until I found this game. KOTOR had depth, story, and took the Star Wars franchise in directions I'd never seen it go, and really enjoyed seeing. A few years later, Jade Empire happened. An action-focused RPG set in Dynastic China, it sadly was not as well-received or remembered, but was a great experience nonetheless.

     Then came Mass Effect.

     I have never had such an emotional investment in a series as I have in Mass Effect. Commander Justine Shepard was the first time that my recurring character had a name and a consistent face. I remember slowly winning over Amazing Space Racist Ashley Williams and the first time I heard the smooth, dulcet tones of Garrus Vakkarian, who I would later test out 'reach and flexibility' with. The broad strokes of the game are stories that are easily recapped, but the emotional beats, growing to really care about these fictional characters, that stays with you.

     In Mass Effect 2, I felt the heartache as my ship was blown out of the sky. I felt impatient at Jack's rage and saw past Miranda's outer perfection to the insecurity that underlie everything she said and did. I had a moment with Garrus, and bonded a little more with Tali, who became my little sister when I shouted down the senate of her people in her defense.

     But the cracks were starting to show. Then came Mass Effect 3, and while the character moments still hit you left and right, there were these little... things that you just couldn't describe as anything but lazy. They gave you a hundred different types of weapons to choose from (and even builds where the weapons were superfluous), but you'd still be carrying the Predator pistol and Avenger rifle in the cutscenes. There were more SMGs, but the accuracy on them suffered, and you couldn't help but think "If only they'd hold them correctly, there'd be no reason for all these assault rifles." Apparently, no one in the Mass Effect universe understands the concept of a fore-grip. There was that ending that folded up all the branching differences in the story into what was essentially one result with differing colors. Letting EA keep the game off of Steam, where the other two games were and are still available. There was the multiplayer mode which, while great fun, was saddled with an in-your-face cash shop. Bioware's continued insistence to leave gamepad support out of the PC versions of their games, while still making the interface obviously pad-driven. While these things may have been disappointing, the worst part was Bioware sitting there on high basically saying "if you don't like this, too bad, you just don't get our artistic vision."

     DLC was released, first in the form of an overhaul to the ending and then later with the Citadel DLC which had a) a bonkers storyline and b) tons of content with your squad-mate family, but by then it felt too little, too late. Like bringing flowers when a relationship was falling apart. I think what I'm trying to get at with this painfully overstretched metaphor is that, Bioware, I think I'm breaking up with you. It's kind of scary knowing that there won't be that series there waiting for me with the next installment, even though you're already talking about a new one, but I think it'll be good for me to step out, try new things, play some bad games and good ones. Regret a few Steam purchases.

     Because, in the end, this relationship isn't a good one for me anymore. Shh. Don't look so surprised. To paraphrase one of the critics of ME3, it was always going to end this way.
     Doesn't mean there won't be a drunken hookup with ME4 is on sale for $5. I mean, nobody's perfect.

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