Saturday, February 06, 2010

Mass Effect 2: too video gamey (A look at modern design)

So, in the build-up to 4e, some of the most common complaints aimed at the game fell into two categories: either 4e was "video gamey" or it was "a wargame" or it was a "tactical board game" or even just "a board game".

In short, these folks couldn't agree on what it was, but they could agree on what it was NOT: a role-playing game.

In reading threads about Mass Effect 2, I have seen the complaint that it is not a role-playing game crop up with surprising regularity.

Of course, no one can say ME 2 is "video gamey" as an insult, nor could they really call it a board game. Neither of these work because the game is clearly a video game. It comes on a disc in a box and you install it on a PC or play it on a console.

Video game.

But when I look at Mass Effect 2's design decisions, and compare them to 4e, I see a lot of parallels, and both games are getting the same reaction from some fans.

Both games reduced resource management. In older editions of D&D, you had spell slots and abilities with very limited uses. As THE king of resource management, the D&D magic-user required a different skill set and really a different mentality than the other classes, especially at low levels, when unleashing that one Sleep spell you got for the day at just the right moment was as much art as science.

4e drastically reduced resource management and what resource management there was, all classes played the same way. Meaning a Fighter had different skills and played differently in some ways, but the resource management required to play a Fighter was the same as that required to play a mage.

Mass Effect had a lot of similarities. Adepts (the psionic characters of the universe) had to carefully choose when to unleash a devastating psychic ability, else they be caught with nothing but a lowly pistol to defend themselves with at a crucial time.

There was also omni-gel, a critical component for lock-picking, hacking and vehicle repair that you could only get by breaking down unwanted weapons and armor that were constantly cluttering your inventory.

I know there were times in Mass Effect where I agonized over breaking down a weapon early in the game because I needed the omni-gel. Late in the game my inventory was constantly full and I would sometimes spend 30 minutes breaking down items into omni-gel so I could pick up new items.

I was literally drowning in items (and omni-gel) but I kept making more because I had a finite amount of space. And boy, was it a lot of space.

In Mass Effect 2, inventory management is almost completely gone. You occasionally find a new weapon but most of the time you are improving the assault rifles for your entire squad, and this happens automatically.

Omni-gel? Gone. It still exists in the *fiction* (you hear some radio ads for omni-gel in the game) but as a vital resource players were hoarding at low levels, and swimming in at high levels? Totally gone.

Power recharge times were drastically reduced. Your Adept really can, in most cases, rely on just his powers.

And the claim? Not a RPG.

I think what we're seeing is that many players see resource management, even when it's a huge time-sink, even when it's a pain in the ass, as an essential part of RPG design.

And more and more designers are trying to eliminate these time-sinks and allow players to spend more time PLAYING, and less time staring at inventory screens (or sheets of paper).


Desert Rat said...

A very interesting observation.

I haven't played ME2, so I can't make a comment on it, though from what you say, it crosses that fine line from CRPG to FPS.

Mass Effect, as well as Fallout 3, straddled the line between FPS and CRPG pretty closely. It had elements of a shooter/action game, but had enough RPG elements to not quite be an RPS in terms of resource management, power ups, etc.

The Elder Scrolls series approached this line, but never crossed it. I think ME & Fallout 3 straddled it.

It doesn't surprise me a bit that as video games continue to grow into a mainstream leisure activity that most mass appeal video games are going to jettison some of the resource management aspects of CRPGs.

Let's face it, a mainstream audience doesn't want to sink 20+ hours into a video game, only to find out they can't beat the ultimate BBEG because they didn't power up their character properly, whereas an old school gamer like ourselves is more willing to accept that.

Chuck said...

Well- I don't know. I think ME 2 is most definitely a RPG.

First, I felt like my decisions mattered, the choices I made. In fact, I felt like they mattered more than they did in the FIRST ME.

Second, you still have levels, and skills and equipment, they've just streamlined all of them.

For myself, I know that eliminating the inventory was a HUGE win for ME 2.

For example, when starting a new game plus of the first Mass Effect, you're finding better stuff, but your inventory was completely full from your last game.

I would literally spend 30 minutes clicking on an item and converting it to omni-gel, then clicking on the next item, and so forth.

If that's what it takes to play a RPG, call me a shooter fan ;)

Nova Sakigake said...

Conversely, Dragon Age: Origins inventory was usually drowning in mission critical things as well as anything you could pick up off the floor for later sales.

Money is so scarce in that game that I found myself hanging onto weapons and armor that were complete crap in order to sell them later, because you constantly need money to buy special books, or materials to make potions and things to save your life.

DAO is definitely an RPG where everything your character says to another can have game rammifications from the simple things such as getting some free goods, to forming pair-bonding relationships between you and one of your followers.

Classes in DAO were also more RPG geared, as you had to manage your skill trees and attributes carefully to get the best effects at the right levels.

DAO is a video game, but definitely an RPG.I honestly describe it as: Baldur's Gate on steroids.

Chuck said...

That's a good point. I think Dragon Age has a purposely retro design in a lot of ways.

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