I have played a lot of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. CD Projekt RED were not kidding around when they dangled 200+ hours of gameplay before my eyes. I am a feverish completionist when it comes to roleplaying games (RPGs), and I can say without pause that through my adventures in Witcher 3, I was not bored once. The only other RPG franchise that has held my attention continuously for this long was the ‘original’ Mass Effect trilogy.
With that thought, I simply had to write this piece. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been fabulous for gaming. It has perfected the concept The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim proved (that of a sprawling open world), it has shown the industry that deep, people driven story telling still reigns supreme, and it has pitted itself against one of gaming’s most toxic corporate practices—rampant abuse of paid downloadable content (DLC). These traits are all things I hope to see in Mass Effect: Andromeda, the start of a new chapter in the franchise, using DICE’s Frostbite engine.
Considering the comments made about Mass Effect: Andromeda, it looks like the game will also feature at least some form of zone-based open world, in the vein of Bioware’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. So, more so than ever, it should take the lessons provided by CD Projekt RED to heart, and emulate the positives; emotive storytelling, worlds/areas that feel alive, polished dialogue, expressive models, and rich story.
First things first, let’s talk about the music. Mass Effect, if for anything else, is known for its mind-blowing scores. Massive saddo’s like me the world around have welled up hearing Leaving Earth, from Mass Effect 3’s soundtrack. I felt The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt had a great soundtrack, and that’s about the only thing that I don’t agree with from my colleague Jeff’s otherwise stellar review of the game. I have no doubt they will, but it is essential that Mass Effect hit it out of the park with Andromeda’s soundtrack.
Next, it wouldn’t be an epic RPG without sex and sexuality. Witcher 3 has been criticised heavily for its portrayal of sexuality, masculinity, and warfare, most prominently by commentators like Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian, and Jonathan McIntosh. This led to a slate of counter arguments by journalists such as Erik Kain at Forbes, and developers like Adrian Chmielarz at The Astronauts (The Vanishing of Ethan Carter). Personally, I agree with Angela Night, sex is an important, little respected, part of gaming, and it does not pay to be prudish or over-analytic when it comes to it. We all cringe a little at the comedy of two poorly animated figures “doing the nasty”, so to speak, but the sex scene is hardly the point, it is what the scene’s occurrence means for the characters and the story. Sex and romance are integral to the Mass Effect and Witcher franchises, and I think both have done admirably. That said, Wild Hunt, has managed what many games haven’t (including its predecessors) — make sex for the sake of sex exactly that, and make romantic sex less flippant/objective driven. Andromeda just needs to keep the progress alive and further develop how romance and sexuality are explored in the game.
Gameplay and style are critical, even more so in a story driven single player games like Mass Effect and The Witcher. Both games have rich combat and exploration elements, but in Wild Hunt, I was genuinely surprised that I did not find myself bored exploring the beautiful lands of Velen, Skellige, and the impressive metropolis of Novigrad. I wanted to see what was behind every question mark on my map. The side mission/ mini-game of exploring planets and extracting materials or war assets were both a success and failure for the Mass Effect games. The Mako, everyone’s favourite rover for exploration, is returning for Andromeda, but what has not been announced is whether they intend to scrap the grind-y click to mine mini-game from Mass Effect 2 and 3. Mass Effect could learn a fair bit about the joy of exploration from Witcher, but also, it stands to gain from taking inspiration from Wild Hunt’s fantastic and creative boss fights. Current news points to the game maintaining the third-person style and present combat setup, but this does not mean that improvements could not be made, especially to boss fights, which were often lacklustre (bar the suicide mission at the end of Mass Effect 2).
The last point I want to cover in depth is that of DLC. Gaming has a massive issue with DLC, especially pre-order DLC. Jim Sterling puts it perfectly, here. Now, the likelihood is that Bioware will not make the same mistake with Mass Effect: Andromeda as Eidos has made with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Their entire advertising campaign drives pre-order sales off abusing the salivating gullibility of the AAA gaming masses. My hope is that they will follow CD Projekt RED’s approach with The Witcher 3 with free cosmetic and quest DLC drizzled onto the game from launch to add flavour and improve the product, followed by discrete expansions, which are not just hunks of the game carved off to be sold separately. On launch Wild Hunt promised gamers 16 free DLC, including cosmetic upgrades, weapons and two awesome flavour quests, which seamlessly joined the game’s story. In addition to this, CD Projekt RED sold an Expansion pass for 30 additional hours of late-game/or post-game (level 30+) content, between two expansions; Heart of Stone, and Blood and Wine. Mass Effect 2 and 3 had great DLC, which were not abusive, nor were they mandatory for the game to feel complete. I hope that Bioware continue this trend and veer toward the Wild Hunt model, and not the “buy the parts of the game we took out to make more money, for the same price as a new game” model, which is so common these days, or even worse, the Hideo Kojima, “I will sell the prologue to a game over a year early for the price of a full game” model.
To finish I would like to address the elephant in the room. If anyone has played Mass Effect 3, especially before the DLC, they will know of the ending debacle and are probably aware of the controversy that ensued. Whatever way you felt, it is a good thing that with the new series intends to have its setting “far away” and significantly in the future, so that the characters of the original trilogy are distant memories and will not make appearances.
If you feel as strongly as I do about these games, and these issues, I encourage you to get involved. If a game looks like it could have a buggy release due to the developer track record, boycott the pre-order. If it looks like a developer is butchering a franchise you love, sign a petition, a good dev will listen to their consumer’s feedback, though please respect the fact that these people are passionate about their art, and should be afforded some creative trust.
If you are interested in reading more about the debate of sex in games, these are a good place to start.