Monday, March 19, 2012

Amassing An Effective Experience

One of my favourite video game franchises is the sci-fi role-playing epic, Mass Effect, by Canadian developer BioWare. I've been excited about it since before I even got my Xbox, as evidenced by a blog post that is over five years old!

So when the third game was released at the start of March, I couldn't wait to finish the story I started way back on December 9th, 2007. There was so much to look forward to. I had brought Ryan Shepard and his crew through many adventures across the galaxy, saving it from certain doom twice! And now, I was going to end the threat once and for all. No longer was I content to simply "hold the line", but my team and I would wipe their smug alien grins off the face of the cosmos.

The first thing that went wrong was when I tried to import my Shepard from my previous games. An error told me that the facial code was not recognised. Instead of the character I have had for five years, I was given something that looked like he'd been dropped as a child. Repeatedly. After checking online and confirming it as a known bug, I tried to recreate Ryan in Mass Effect 3. But he didn't look right. No matter what I did, it wasn't Ryan.

Figuring that a patch was on the way, I decided to start the campaign anyway, as I couldn't wait to experience the thrilling tale. I would play for a day or two, clock up a few short hours and then restart when the patch went live.

Two weeks later and no patch. I haven't even touched the single player since the Thursday after release, some twelve days ago at it stands. I'm having to avoid half the websites I normally read due to spoilers, and I can't even discuss anything about the game with friends, leaving me out of a lot of excited conversations that I've enjoyed from playing other games in parallel in the past.

But I'm not angry. And here's why.

When Bioware finally confirmed all the rumours that were circulating about the possibility of including multiplayer in the third Mass Effect, I was... less than enthusiastic. I didn't see the need for any extraneous flash added to my deep and engaging story. When they elaborated and told us it was going to be a co-operative experience, I was a little more interested, as I'm a huge fan of the Gears of War series Horde Mode.

With no single player experience to enjoy, I jumped into the multiplayer to try it out. And got hooked.

I've been playing it exclusively since Thursday, at times with my friends in Ireland, and at other times with my Canadian friends. I'm currently ranked 8th in Ireland on the leaderboards, which amuses me greatly! The game is fantastic fun, engaging, thrilling and hilarious. Every session is different, depending on the class and race I play, as well as the team I'm with, and even the build I choose this time to try out. I love the idea that there are only 20 Levels to gain before you get the choice to reset to 1 in exchange for a bonus to the single player experience, as it encourages players to try out new builds, new ideas and new mixes, knowing that if they don't like it, they can throw it out and try again quickly.

Experience and credits earned are entirely shared evenly, regardless of how much or how little you killed during the session. Everyone gets the same amount. There is a medal and points system that ranks the team on the final score screen, but it's only for bragging rights within that one game. It doesn't get remembered once you exit that screen. The entire experience is built around rewarding co-operative play and not punishing players for not being as good at killing as other team members.

Credits earned through completing challenges can be spent in the ingame store to buy random booster packs containing cards that award items, abilities and more. The random element makes opening every pack a thrill, and finding that rare weapon or much sought-after character a huge joy, much more than if it was just a straight up "Earn this much to buy this weapon".

So when my friends and I played a few games this evening and discovered that none of our experience or credits had been counted for the last three games, we were a little more than disgusted. This is just another problem to add to the growing list of issues we've been having with the game. Game crashing freezes, enemies getting stuck in mid-air, invulnerable to damage, an infuriating choice by the developers to map Take Cover and Revive Teammate to the same button, and now lost experience and credits all sour the fun we've been having.

It is impossible that no-one at BioWare was aware of the character import bug prior to launch. To assume such would be to assume that no-one on the team, or in their testing department tried to import their character over, and that's madness. It's one of the core mechanics and selling points of the series! Since the game's launch, BioWare are saying that a patch is on the way.

But here's the rub: In response to other issues related to the game, franchise executive producer and director Casey Hudson said "When we finish a game, we finish it many months before it actually hits the shelves..." So in those "many months", we are lead to believe that they didn't notice anything wrong, thinking they had a functional game on their hands. In those "many months", nobody thought to polish the game up and at least have a day-one patch ready at launch, as other games have done, fixing the worst of the issues.

Or maybe they knew they didn't have to. They knew it was going to be one of the biggest games of the year, selling millions of copies globally. It was already a success before it even went on sale. Why bother fixing something people have already paid for? Now I'm being really cynical, but I don't think I'm being entirely untruthful.

And that's just not how you should treat your fans.


Jp Corkery said...

The more I think about it, the more I think they're probably fixing the bug if they can but not in any hurry, as they already have our money. Of course, this bug is the first thing players would see and word of mouth might have hurt their sales. After all, their own stats say 80% of players customised their Shepard.

But then this is the same team that threw a weird ending together (that the majority of the audience found unsatisfying), perhaps figuring that it's a 30 hour game at least and by the time anyone saw the ending, they'd have all the sales they were ever going to get.

While I wouldn't do it myself, I'm not surprised someone has filed an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission that Bioware did not deliver what they promised.

It's really strange to see such a blockbuster game be so good and so bad at the same time. :(

Lynn said...

Hey Denis. Bioware have been busy. They've been making the hilariously short From Ashes DLC. And probably another one to sell in a couple of weeks, though it should be free, IMHO.