Convergence of Mass Effect’s Single & Multiplayer Worlds

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so wrong on my first impressions of a game.  A half-dozen hours into Mass Effect: Andromeda, I made a post on this forum expressing my disappointment with the game, mostly echoing much of the other knee-jerk responses to the game when it first released. But I decided to stick with it for a while, accepting the departure from the original trilogy, and allowing myself to get drawn into the new world.

I’m glad I did.

Clemency for Mass Effect: Andromeda

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Image: Mass Effect Andromeda Art

While some criticism of the game is warranted (bugs, facial animations, clunky UI), I discovered that ME: A also has a rich and detailed world, with excellent voice acting, and a story that improves as the game progresses (with some expected dips in narrative quality along the way).  The combat has evolved over time with Mass Effect, but it seems to be humming nicely in the Frostbite engine.  There is always room for improvement on things like the cover system and camera angles colliding with the environment in close quarters, but generally it’s a lot of fun to play.

This late in the game’s release I’m not writing this piece to give any sort of review or overview of the story, but rather to suggest that I think EA and Bioware may be sitting on a potential goldmine of opportunity if they are willing to explore the potential crossover of a single player and multiplayer world in future development. Bioware has always teased us with elements of synergy between SP and MP, and I think with the Andromeda franchise they have reached a point where it may be time for them to look at something even more bold going forward.

Single Player: Evolved

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Wanna play a game?

Whether single player purists (and I have counted myself as one on many occasions) care to admit it, some of the most enduring games on the current console generation are ones which incorporate tenets of the MMO framework, or at least an element of “shared world” experience. GTA, Destiny, ESO, and The Division have all gone down this road with varying degrees of success.  I have played all four extensively, and I believe EA and Bioware should be next in line to develop a game which attempts to bridge a single player and multiplayer experience in similar ways.

I have no desire to see an end to the Mass Effect single player story.  Bioware has created some of the best-written video games in history, and to see them abandon this side of their work would be a tremendous loss to the industry. However, as Rockstar showed us with GTA 5, there is room for a massive, entertaining story set in a richly detailed world, where the environmental assets can also be used to create a robust multiplayer world.

When I look at the major planets that Bioware created for Andromeda, all I see is potential for them to serve as a template where dozens of locations could be added in the form of dungeon-style instances where four-player (or more) groups could explore and quest together, without interfering with the single player story.

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Image: The Legend, Giant Dad

Obviously, there are hard choices for developers when it comes to the overall framework.  GTA separated the SP and MP worlds, allowing players to focus on one or the other, or both, depending on their mood and preferences.  This certainly allows devs to sidestep many balance issues that Elder Scrolls Online and The Division ran into time and again.  But on the other hand, some players do enjoy using SP builds to compete with others (something the Dark Souls community here can identify with).  Based on what I’ve seen in Andromeda, I’m inclined to suggest that the two be separated in a way similar to Ryder’s experience being separate from, but tied to, the Apex side of the game.

The current MP setup has a lot of upside as well.  I played with a friend recently who hasn’t had much time to invest in his play time, yet we could both dive in for a few quick matches with new characters and not worry about who is farther ahead in the story.  Certainly, a more expansive MP would cause changes in this regard, so some thought would need to be put into how you might accommodate players with varying degrees of progress.  But at least we’ve reached a point in game development where you have many other projects out there whose successes and failures might serve as a good model on which you can build.

The Future & Beyond

I’ve been playing video games for many more decades than I care to admit around people my age, and I’ve seen just about every trend come and go, sometimes sticking around and becoming almost archetypical.  I rarely felt drawn to MMO games, and was only introduced to those basic elements with the console games I mentioned earlier.  And while single player content is paramount to my purchase decision, I can tell you that, as a consumer of games, blending the two in a way I outlined makes me exponentially more likely to buy them, simply because it adds so much longevity and replay to the title.

I played ESO to death, but rarely put it in my console anymore, yet I keep my copy because I know the day will come when I will get a sudden urge to dive back in again.  The goal of any game developer should be to create a world so immersive that, while we players may put it aside at times, the urge to revisit is never far away.

Visit the Mass Effect: Andromeda Wiki!

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Chris Graham is a longtime video game junkie from the wilds of Eastern Canada. While he is now a fully certified “old dude gamer”, in his youth during the early eighties he spent embarrassing sums of money on quarter-munchers in some of the skeezy local arcades. He even ventured into disco roller skating rinks from time to time, since they carried upscale titles, but always swore to his friends that he was only there for the games, since, y’know, disco sucks! When he picked up his first console, the classic Atari 2600, he used a VCR to record game clips and study patterns in order to clear tough levels.A former mobile DJ, as well as writing teacher and tutor, Chris has spent nearly 25 years crafting literary short fiction for periodicals and university journals. He became interested in writing about games and the game industry after immersing himself in social game communities. He’s written reviews and gameplay guides for both Xbox and Playstation games. His interests run the gamut, from shooters to sports and racing genres, although he spends the bulk of his time with RPGs.

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