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.