Like some of you, I've been following this Mass Effect 3 s***storm a little bit, and doing some reflecting on what I've been learning, whether it's drastically cut corners or the more egregious on disc DLC (the phrasing itself a quandary for simpler folk like myself), to the shabby treatment and half-hearted shrugs many face from BioWare/EA as the company attempts damage control for a product they must have at one time not long ago figured would be a slam-dunk for just about everyone. It's absolutely amazing the level of outrage and vitriol being thrown at BioWare/EA, and even more amazing is just how much of this ire is totally justified, even if a tad overblown.
At this point I'd like to very briefly point out that I TOLD YOU SO. Yes, I'm gloating, and no, it doesn't thrill me to do this, but I feel it's worth mentioning that the instant I learned BioWare was now a functioning extremity of EA, their biggest and best IPs would be getting the cash cow treatment. Exploiting excited or dedicated fans is not a newfangled idea, so while some of you appear as shocked by this as those that for some reason were shocked that Duke Nukem Forever didn't live up to it's hype, there were people like myself that fully expected a lot of what we see happening now. I won't lie, I never imagined they'd take things as far as they have already, but looking back for a moment on Mass Effect 2 it stands to reason that things were going to get worse simply because they already were.
Mass Effect 2 was actually a pretty good game. It didn't nearly thrill me the way the first game in the series had, despite it's massive flaws and shudder inducing Mako play, but in itself it promised a sleeker and faster adventure. It delivered what it set out to do, but at the expense of what made the first game so uniquely what it was. Lots of sacrifices were made, those ever important choices made in the first game were consequently relegated to boring emails with thinly veiled references to the previous game's missions or characters. We also lost the Mako, which wasn't really a bad thing, but we got nothing in return (before you shout Firewalker, let me assure you I'm making a point and I'll get to that when I do), a planet scanning mini-game became part of the filler and it was just god awful, masked loading screens via long elevator rides were "improved" by simply removing them altogether and replacing them with very obvious loading screens, and then there was the massive culling of inventory items, armor, weapons; the game really was reduced to a third-person shooter with measly skill trees. Even experience and leveling were so castrated they literally required no forethought at all, since unlike the first game you earned nothing for your kills. It was a big step away from role-playing games and toward shooters, and palpably so.
A lot of things that make a role-playing game a fun genre is exploration. Though not exactly great with Mass Effect, at least it was there and could have been improved, but like with many of that games flaws, exploration was cut out of Mass Effect 2. There was next to no room to explore anything, which in a sequel for a role-playing game that made planetary exploration a feature is downright criminal, if you'll pardon my hyperbole. What exploration was there was miniscule, and that would be including the mind-numbing planet scanning mini-game.
Worse still was the aforementioned "cash cow treatment". You want exploration? The Firewalker and Overlord pack offered a bit more room to explore, a tiny bit mind you, but still more than the rest of the game, and those were only available via DLC. Which brings me to why I felt like offering my thoughts on this matter.
EA bought Mass Effect when it bought BioWare, and they were not about to let something that big get away with being underexploited, both the IP and the fans were at this point screwed. Let's examine the numbers here:
That means you get a fraction more of the game for the price of the game, and much of this should have been included in the first place. Alternate costumes? Pretty sure that where EA charges a premium for such things, most other companies just include them, like many games before, for well over a decade, long before popularized "micro-transactions" meant I would be missing something as basic as a re-texture unless I paid more on top of the full price of an already expensive game. To put this further into perspective, to get the complete Mass Effect 2 experience (setting aside how many times you'd have to actually buy the game to get all of the preorder bonuses from different retailers), you would pay at least $120 (more if tax applied). Comparatively, the price of the Xbox 360 at the time of the release of the final piece of DLC was $149. So for the record the "entire" game cost nearly as much as the console. Don't whine to me about how these aren't part of the entire game, they are, because they are a part of the game's experience, and this was a precedent set when Rockstar announced LA Noire Complete Edition which included DLC, and on disc DLC proved that you were being locked out of what you paid for unless you paid more for it.
Setting aside whatever I feel about Mass Effect 3, we saw the foreshadowing of what that game would become when we were presented with Mass Effect 2. Everything I've mentioned earlier, the missing exploration, the missing inventory, the skeletal weapons and armor choices, the distancing from role-playing in favor of action; things were dropped, corners were cut, and the experience changed dramatically. This is no more a game than it is a placeholder for money-squeezing DLC.
Think it's gotten any better? Mass Effect 3 saw day 1 DLC, and it was on disc. In fact some users have managed to find a way to unlock a lot of what's on the disc THEY PAID FOR, including the character you get for paying extra otherwise, and it took nothing more than changing a line of text on an installed file (PC users, obviously).
So the trilogy is over, and to hear most users tell about it, it ended with a whimper. Critics and users appear very divided on how Mass Effect 3 turned out. I suppose that regardless of what I or others tell you, this will be a purely subjective matter. For my part, I wish they'd have done better, but I'm not really surprised by how this all turned out considering EA's history. I was a fan once of the Ultima series by a long forgotten company called Origin Systems. EA bought Origin, dissolved what was left of it, and year later recycled the name into an online store/DRM platform, their answer to Valve's Steam service. Ultima? That ended in much the same way Mass Effect did; a twisted figure of it's former self, because action games were more popular at that time, they turned a once deeply narrative driven game into a really bad action-platforming game.
I've been watching how HD remakes have been popping up, and some are actually pretty darned good deals, while others are shameful cash-grabs. A great example of the latter would be the Silent Hill HD Collection and the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. Some really great opportunities missed with what come off as more or less lazy ports than full fledged high definition updates. In fact if some reviews are to be believed these updates are actually somewhat inferior in some cases, having made some questionable choices regarding their voice talent and visual updates.
More bothersome to me, however, are the missing pieces to these collections. Again, I'll use my previous examples here. With a Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, one would assume including the game that started it all (the Solid... um, saga?) would be a no-brainer, but instead we get a PSP game port. We've already seen what an updated Metal Gear Solid would look like, so moving it to HD would have made this one of the must have collections available. Silent Hill, on the other hand, is much more devastating. This "collection" features a paltry two games from the series, and while I don't imagine many of you would have particularly loved seeing the fourth game return (would have been nice though) the absence of the first game is a glaring and off-putting omission. An updated version of the one that started it all, with all it's scares, ambiance, and surprising depth brought to life in glorious HD! Who wouldn't have wanted this? That could almost be a worthy remake on it's own!
It's baffling to me why publishers feel the need to get our hopes up and leave us flat with these releases, when nearly everyone literally shares the exact same ideas as to which as of yet unreleased remakes and collections would shine most for us. I've already described two, and it's pretty clear to us all how these could have been made into more than just cheap cash-grabs. I was never a fan of this sort of thing, however, unless they really made an effort to give us something that truly deserves a double dip. I fell for this when I picked up the weak God of War Collection, which really wasn't impressive at all. The game looks awful, almost nothing was really updated, and from a company that made the gorgeous God of War 3 this was a truly disappointing experience.
A few suggestions I'd like to throw out there; Dark Cloud HD Collection (or for that matter Dark Cloud 3), Onimusha HD Collection, Tenchu HD Collection, A DreamCast collection that isn't made of mostly forgettable titles, Kings Field HD Collection, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic HD collection, Mark of the Kri/Rise of the Kasai HD collection. I could do this all night.
Since they pretty much dropped backward compatibility, better collections would be fairly welcome. In some cases seeing games improved drastically in their visual and audio content to be relived or enjoyed by new players would be a pretty smart move, as many titles past were both original and just plain fun, from a bygone age predating streamlining for mass appeal, "better with Kinect", and DLC.
Really though, I just don't get how publishers that want to get money from people like myself manage to just keep missing the ball on something so simple it needs no explanation. Give us what we want, and we'd be happy to support you with our money.