Spoiler warning: This article discusses The Witcher and Mass Effect series' plots in detail, including minor and major story beats.
Happy N7 Day, Mass Effect
fans! Though this article is being written before we've seen what BioWare has in store for its annual space-faring celebration, by the time you read it we may very well have a lot more information on next year's huge release, Mass Effect: Andromeda
Just days ago the studio teased something called the Andromeda Initiative
. For many, Andromeda
is hoped to be the next great action RPG, featuring a living world, imbued with dynamic characters and deep history, all encompassed in a gameplay suite that satisfies the series' roots of action and role-playing. If such a winning formula sounds familiar, that's probably because you've played CD Projekt's brilliant 2015 fantasy title, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
. I got to Geralt's swan song later than many, having wrapped up a 90 hour playthrough just a few months ago during the summer. That hour total is the longest I've ever taken to play any game's story mode once over, and I have to commend the Polish studio; I don't know if I ever had a dull moment. As a sci-fi fan first and foremost, my elongated playthrough allowed me to constantly play what-if in regards to Mass Effect
. I love the series, but there are definitely some things The Witcher 3
does better than BioWare's space opera.
With that, and in celebration of the official Mass Effect
pseudo-holiday on our calendars today, here's a few things I hope BioWare takes away from The Witcher 3
and applies to Mass Effect: Andromeda
Sidequests that feel like main quests
One of TW3's best attributes, maybe the one that gained the most notoriety for the game, is its deeply engrossing and creative sidequests. Years of RPGs have primed us to prepare for varied main quests alongside a wealth of sidequests that lacked variety. Fetch quests litter the genre and have become a staple of any game boasting "hours of content". But what good is the content when the side missions are so formulaic? TA staff's resident Mass Effect
fanatic, Marc Hollinshead
said it best:
The Witcher 3 absolutely NAILED it when it came to these. I remember a murder mystery one that I randomly came across, and literally four/five hours later I was neck deep in this amazing story. Mass Effect was always about the main plot (apart from the character driven side bits at least) and when it got to ME3, a ton of the side missions were just delivering random things to other people after overhearing conversations on the Citadel.
Wild Hunt's sidequests were often better than some other full games.
TW3's sidequests are abundant, twisty, multi-layered, and often so well hidden that if you play without a guide it would be nearly impossible to find everything in one go. They subvert expectations almost as frequently as they are added to your quest log. They set the bar high. If Andromeda
can pluck a few lessons from TW3 in this regard, it will already have a huge leg up on its predecessors.
A world worth exploring
To date, Mass Effect
's main missions have been built up as setpieces, and when you aren't in the middle of advancing the plot, you're probably seeking out conversations with others to gain a better view of the world. TW3 does very well to allow players space to breathe. Not everything is about talking to others to decorate the story universe. It confidently allows you to explore the game's massive world, find story in its setting, not just in the words people say. TW3 boasts an expansive open world with varied terrain and it felt like going for a ride on Roach, destination: nowhere, is just as valid as barreling through your quest log. The Mass Effect
trilogy counter-intuitively tells players of the many technological advances of the galactic community, but then quarantines us to hallways and interior hub worlds. Even in the first game, where planet-hopping is much more freeform, the settlements on those planets are often copy/paste jobs of the rest of the galaxy.
Love doesn't just mean getting naked
There's no room for argument; CD Projekt absolutely gives players free rein to no-pants dance with a great number of women. However, where TW3 succeeds is in its nuanced relationship mechanics. Mass Effect
always offered the opportunity to woo some lucky Normandy crew member, but the entire juggling act always felt like its sole purpose was to get to a nervously produced sex scene. Per tradition, on the eve of "the big battle" in each game, Shepard is always visited by whomever he or she had wooed to that point, if he or she had reached an invisible relationship marker with anyone, that is. Then, players are treated to an awkward quickie (okay, fine, montage
) of Shep and a +1 sealing the deal. To get there, though, it always seemed like you had to unflinchingly compliment and flirt with your partner. Is that all love is -- uncompromising agreeableness in exchange for a pre-suicide mission afternoon delight? Is that even love?
"I love you! By which I mean I want to have sex with you."
TW3 is built on a series that pits Geralt in a feisty threesome, tells him to pick one or the other, or neither, and punishes you if you try to have your cake and eat it too. On top of that, you can entertain several other shorter lived relationships, and while they each have their racy cutscene there for those who want it, those story threads develop and conclude in satisfying ways with or without a naked Geralt.
My favorite part about The Witcher 3
's relationship gameplay is actually how I ended up alone by choice. I dutifully rejected Yennefer's advances for all 90 hours -- I'm a Triss kind of guy. But when I reached the point where it was time for Triss to choose between saving her friends or abandoning them to stay with me, I refused to talk her out of getting on that boat. I caught up with her later, but that part of "us" was in the past and remained there forever. It felt fitting for Geralt, with the dangerous life he leads, to live in a sort of loveless solitude, wondering what if... and occasionally booty-calling Keira Metz.
DLC that is robust, rewarding, and worth purchasing
All three games in the Mass Effect
trilogy offered some sort of DLC, though the debut game was released before DLC was the norm and thus didn't carry the moniker -- seems like forever ago. I really liked a lot of what Mass Effect
had to offer in add-ons. "Lair of the Shadow Broker" gave me the chance to rekindle things with Liara, while "Citdel" was a hilariously meta look at the series and a light-hearted, fan servicing sendoff. But these things never feel like more than exactly what they are -- supplementary. For that, they really pale in comparison to what The Witcher 3
offers. First of all, CD Projekt gave players a bounty of free DLC items: new quests, costumes, weaponry -- you know, the kind of stuff basically every other studio charges players to have.
When the developers did get around to their paid story add-ons, they weren't rushed. They didn't get tossed out within the six week window wherein games usually start debuting DLC simply because focus group data dictates that such a schedule is most advantageous to the bottom line of a multi-million dollar business venture like making a AAA game. Instead, they took their time, and only when they were ready did they offer paid DLC that met both the quantity and quality standards held by pretty much anyone. Andromeda
will undoubtedly offer a season pass. When it does, will those add-ons be of the same standard as something like "Blood and Wine"?
Behind every door in The Witcher 3 lies someone's story.
It seems so often season passes are littered with a few things that players might want and a whole bunch of throw-in items to justify the purchase by pointing to how many items it unlocks, but doesn't often ask how many of those items are worth unlocking.
Don't get me wrong, as I can see it seems like I'm coming down hard on BioWare's next massive game. I'm not, really. Mass Effect
is my favorite RPG series of all-time. But if you really love something, you root for it, right? You want to see it improve. Playing The Witcher 3
for 90 hours just showed me what a game like Mass Effect
could improve upon. Maybe they're too much like apples and oranges to even bother comparing, you say, but the similarities are undeniable. They both offer epic action role-playing games, a somewhat pre-conceived protagonist whom players characterize with dialog options, a large cast of characters and love interests, varied locales to explore, and a story that really pulls you in.
The gaming industry is one of copycats and inspirations, so it would be foolish to think Montreal's BioWare hasn't been paying attention to what CD Projekt Red has done with the genre, and there's no detriment to that. If The Witcher 3
set a new bar for open-world action RPGs as many believe they have, then come 2017 when Anromeda
hits stores, we can all be sure BioWare is releasing something aiming to vault over that high bar.