Mass Effect Sequel Feature - 17/01/2008

When Mass Effect arrived on Xbox 360, it didn't quite meet the expectations that the previous BioWare games had heaped upon their first next-gen counterpart. The RPG and adventure elements are lovely, it's just the issue that there aren't enough of them. So what can BioWare do to make the next game in the confirmed trilogy a bigger hit?

To find out what we thought of Mass Effect, check out our review over here.

It's pretty much common knowledge now that the action sections in the game weren't up to the standards of other contemporary games, and without redesigning the engine, there's not a lot that can be done to correct that. Breaking up the long action sequences with more dialogue and side-quests would be a welcome move, and tweaking the controls and friendly AI (so that they actually take cover when under fire for example) is something that would certainly improve the playing experience. In short bursts, with fewer enemies and more exploration, the action sections could be up there to rival the best - but the design needs to be sorted out.

Some parts of Mass Effect had no statistics or RPG elements at all, i.e. the action, whereas others are over-burdened with it. The weapon-upgrade screen needs to be greatly simplified, but a weapon customisation option, to change colours, attachments etc. (that you can actually see affect it in combat) would be great. There definitely needs to be something more personal about the combat. Oblivion, while it use a fairly scrappy combat engine, gives you a real sense of achievement and pride when you see your character come through a scrap. Mass Effect on the other hand makes combat tedious for the majority of the time, with little difference between each encounter and only one way to approach it once the guns come out.

Combat starts to get a little bit repetitive at present, but more human enemies and non-lethal encounters on planets would be great in Mass Effect 2

Co-operative play would be amazing, and I think we'd all accept a step down in graphics to make it happen. As you always have friendly AI with you while on a planet or quest, it wouldn't be too hard to fit into the story. Imagine using the Normandy (the ship you take command of in the game) to romp around the galaxy with a friend - there's also MMO potential, but that's something BioWare are said to be working on with another game.

Hopefully they'll have optimised the graphics a bit better to avoid the long loading times and pop-in textures. Most will agree that the Citadel was the most visually impressive and vibrant place you visit in Mass Effect, and, without ruining the story, hopefully they'll allow you to revisit it, and all the familiar but underused characters inhabiting it, in the sequel. If they let you find out what happened to them, who survived the galaxy-threatening encounter and basically give all the wonderful species a lot more screen-time, it'll be a much better adventure as a result.

Being able to take an extra team-member with you, rather than just the two, would represent a much more realistic squad system too. Hopefully they'll make more commands available to order your team around, being able to be resuscitated Kane and Lynch style for example.

The character design is truly inspired, and you really feel like there's a galaxy of such species out there. Hopefully we'll get the chance to get to know them better in ME2.

Whether a new team of characters would be gathered for Mass Effect 2 is unknown, but due to the length of the first game you were forced to either focus your attention on two or three, or not get to know any of them. This needs to be improved. Being able to choose between certain species and characters, denying some access to your squad, and employing others, maybe even being able to hire mercenaries to follow you in battle, but not as part of your active squad.

One of the most enjoyable things in the KOTOR games were the mini-games that were available. Mass Effect just has the pretty lacklustre gambling in the Citadel, and decryption mini-games, nothing up to the standard of the card games or sublime pod-racing in KOTOR 2. The driving sections were decent in Mass Effect, but the Mako's controls were verging on awful. A simple Warthog style control system that most games have adopted now would do the job in the sequel.

Finally, there should be a real game-defining choice in the game. It seems likely that BioWare will do as they did in KOTOR 2, and ask you various questions at the start of the sequel (or use game save data) to discover how you'd played the original and the decisions you made in the game. Being able to continue at the same rank, unless of course we're not playing as Shepard, would be a great feature. Being able to decide whether to fight for good or evil, to betray the humans for power (hinted at towards the end of the original) for example, is something that would also enhance the great story from the original further.

Will the same love interests continue in the sequel, or will Shepard be sleeping around like we all aimed at in ME1.

The big question, will we continue as Shepard, with the same Council, Ambassadors and characters, as the ending of Mass Effect suggests, or create a new character in new environments and an all-new story. It's a tough one, but as said above, it seems like an essentiality that they let you continue at the same rank, with the same appearance and the same equipment if you will be playing as Shepard again - that would make it a real trilogy, rather than just a collection of three games.

Could the sequel be a content download? With the amount of voice-acting it seems unlikely, but the adapted Unreal engine is in place, which would have taken up most of BioWare's development time, so we'll certainly be in store for a much longer game, something which is vital if the developers hope to avoid the shortcomings of the original. At least a 30-hour main quest, or a shorter main quest and actually engaging side quests. The other issue is when will it be released? It seems a similar situation to Gears of War, where a sequel in 2008, unless firmly in the winter season, would be too much too soon. Having been left unfulfilled from Mass Effect though, I would personally love a download or sequel to increase the length of the story, as the original's side quests just aren't interesting enough to make me play through again.

We'll have to wait and see...stay browsed to for all the news as it surfaces.

- Mike Hazleton


Microsoft GS.
Xbox 360