Those of us who have been around for awhile in the gaming fold probably remember a time when a game getting a sequel was more the exception than the rule. Publishers and developers at one point *shock* concentrated on the game they were creating, rather than planning ahead for the inevitable downloadable content, and the series of spin-offs and sequels sure to come sometimes only months down the line. Would any of you have imagined how many sports Mario would eventually show his expertise in when you were controlling him on the NES?
Recently though the trend has been to plan out full trilogies without even testing the property out in the marketplace. Some titles took it even father such as Xenosaga's originally planned 6
installments, but trilogies seem to be the standard. Last holiday 2 big releases, Assassin's Creed and Mass Effect both came onto the scene with huge aspirations to become long-running series, and serve as a bench-mark for both the wrong and right way to map out a franchise. This is one instance though, where neither game gets it all right.
If only the characters were as believable as these environments we'd have one helluva game.
If you want to begin a franchise, you need to impress people from a technical standpoint, and in the regard Assassin's Creed is a perfect showcase. The beautifully crafted world suffers from very little slowdown, and everything streams fairly quickly. The load times are explained away in a much better fashion then Mass Effect's constant elevators. Rarely is an slowdown present. when one plays even a small amount of Mass Effect, the product feels like it was rushed out the door without even basic testing. Backgrounds pop-in, animations are constantly skipping around haphazardly, especially compared so Assassin's Creed. Everything in Assassin's Creed from on the programming end is much better able to suspend a player's disbelief.
You might want to consider it a problem when this random guy from Mass Effect has more personality than your entire game's cast.
To really hook people into a franchise though, you need both interesting, believable characters, and a world to match, and Mass Effect has it in Spades. Shepard is a truly fleshed out character, no matter how you choose to develop him/her. The voice acting is top notch, creating a lively world full of colorful characters. Most importantly, the world you take part in feels real. Even the most minor characters are given back stories, and planets you may not even visit are given descriptions and bullet-points, the perfect universe with which to develop further games and flesh things out. With Assassin's Creed, we are given a huge world, but not much to do, and very little story to flesh things out. Voice acting makes you wonder how the in-game characters could even stomach speaking with each other, particularly the player's role. The world in Assassin's Creed just fails to feel alive the way Mass Effect's does.
You made a game whose main allure is the beautiful looking world, and then made a spin-off for what system? The DS! Who green lit this!
Where the games truly differ most though, is how they intend to expand that universe. Bioware plans to use various downloadable content to expand the experience, while Ubisoft is more content to flesh things out via additional titles, like the recently released Assassin's Creed on the DS. Bioware's method will allow anyone with an internet connection to instantly expand their universe, while Ubisoft's method makes it necessary for interested players to purchase an entirely different set of hardware to continue the expansion of the world created. Given the apparent length of the DS title (said to be in the 3 hour range) Mass Effect's DLC also seems the much better value, given it's promised 1 1/2 hours of content for an additional $5 sum. The method used in Mass Effect seems better poised to keep players interested in the series right up until the next installment, with a constant stream of bite-sized content continuing to flesh out the world until Mass Effect 2 hits. That said, being able to take Altair with you on-the-go, and the ability to hook interest from players on all the consoles is a winning step for Assassin's Creed. Will PS3 players want to play Mass Effect 2 after missing the first one?
Mass Effect seems to get it right with regard to creating a background for the franchise, while Assassin's Creed has created a much better engine, meaning it will be much easier for them to pump more content into a sequel without worrying about going back to the drawing board with their code. Both games take a unique approach to bridging the gaps between their main games, and neither one seems to have the perfect combination. The developer who manages to mesh all these points into one game will have a truly epic franchise on their hands. Maybe we were better off though when games weren't planned as a franchise, but instead had to rely just on their own merits. That, and having Jade attached doesn't seem to hurt.