I think I’ve found my core issue with Mass Effect, its the underlying design decision of an open world. Rowan Kaiser hits a few of those notes. It’s the main reason I stopped playing Inquisition after 4 hours, even though I have over 200 hours logged into DA:Origins.
My appreciation for BioWare relates to contained stories, and the interactions between them. They play like chapters of a book, with focused direction. What ME4 gives me is a directionless world with bits and pieces that don’t fit into a larger story. It gives me a home base (with loading screens), and more missions on more planets than I actually care to bother with. I just completed a bunch of missions on the Nexus, only to get an email, head to Eos, then have to go back to the Nexus. Really?
The quests themselves have a decent set of lore to back them up, but they are poorly executed. Ooh, I get to fill up medit kits around the map. Or get to decode another glyph for Peebee and kill 5 remnant robots. Both requiring that I cross large swaths of empty land to get there. It’s the order in which I acquire these bits that annoys me, just a lack of focus. It feels like busywork, rather than actually accomplishing something. I’m the damn Pathfinder, supposed to lead us to greater worlds. Why am I stocking boxes with bandaids?
I really liked the rescue mission on Voeld. Contained, logical, pressure. Interesting characters and developments. Even the follow up that had the audio logs for exaltation was neat. But then that ended with “PAUSED: discover more Kett data”. Ugh. Why?
Now, I love me some open world games. Where you can do pretty much what you want, when you want. But in each of those, there are 2 pieces. The story has minimal bearing on it, or the game supports emergent gameplay. Shadow of Mordor, Horizon, Skyrim, Fallout, Far Cry… they work in that setting. Then there are games where the open world is just a mess of icons – pretty much any Ubisoft game in the past 5 years.
ME4 feels like a game that is less than the sum of its parts. There are certain items that are really quite impressive. The art, the companion personalities, the basic lore. That works and makes me want to be invested. The execution is annoying, moreso because I know that BioWare used to do such a good job at it. A seriously good job.
I have a feeling that DLC for ME4 is going to be solid, exactly because it will be focused on a given story, and ignore the rest of the open world.