BioWare Announces That Mass Effect 4 Is Fresh, Beautiful, and Now Playable

Electronic Arts ' BioWare studio recently announced that its upcoming Mass Effect game, tentatively titled Mass Effect 4 , was already in a playable state. BioWare Edmonton and Montreal general manager Aaryn Flynn commented on the project briefly on Twitter , stating that it was "Ambitious. Beautiful. Fresh but recognizable. And fun."

For those who aren't familiar with BioWare's massively popular franchise, Mass Effect is a critically acclaimed sci-fi role-playing series that has had a polarizing effect on gamers.

The original trilogy allowed gamers to custom build a character known as Commander Shepard (whose gender, first name, and origin story could be modified), who gathered allies across the galaxy to battle the Borg-like synthetic race of world-destroying Reapers.


Mass Effect 1. Source: Hdwpapers.com

What made the Mass Effect trilogy such a personal experience for many gamers was that the choices players made in each game carried over to the next one -- characters who died in the first game would not return in subsequent games, and universe-altering decisions made in the first game could reverberate through the rest of the trilogy. Therefore, each player had a slightly different experience throughout the trilogy, which lasted well over 100 hours from start to finish.

However, EA and BioWare were harshly criticized for Mass Effect 3 -- a game that not only felt rushed, but ended the trilogy on a sour, nihilistic note -- destroying most of the universe that had been painstakingly developed over the course of the three games. The backlash was so great that BioWare issued an apology to fans and ultimately patched the game's finale with a longer, although equally gloomy, ending via DLC (downloadable content).

Not much is known about Mass Effect 4 at the moment -- except that it runs on the Frostbite 2 Engine, similar to BioWare's other major upcoming title, Dragon Age: Inquisition. However, the very existence of Mass Effect 4 has plenty of gamers wondering if EA and BioWare can redeem the franchise after the Mass Effect 3 debacle.

What made Bioware great
To understand how Mass Effect evolved, we need to take a look back at BioWare's history, before and after its acquisition by EA in 2007.

BioWare was founded in 1995. It rose to fame with fantasy games like Baldur's Gate (1998) and Neverwinter Nights (2002), but it didn't achieve mainstream recognition until Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003), a seminal sci-fi role-playing game that would set the standard for the "BioWare RPG" over the next decade.

Knights of the Old Republic. Source: Staubick.wordpress.com

Knights of the Old Republic, which was published by LucasArts and initially released for the original Xbox, took three years to develop. The game, which took place 4,000 years before the events of the Star Wars films, allowed the player to play the role of a Jedi.

What made Knights truly unique was its decisions -- good acts would turn your Jedi toward the Light Side, while evil ones would lead you toward the Dark Side. Based on your actions, your characters' appearance and powers would change accordingly. In addition, the outcome of the story changed considerably based on moral decisions made throughout the game.

BioWare's subsequent games, such as Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect, were all built upon those mechanics introduced in Knights of the Old Republic.

The first Mass Effect, released in 2007 and published by Microsoft , was the perfect evolution of Knights of the Old Republic. It used the same shoot and pause system as Knights, but added more modern combat mechanics such as taking cover.

Mass Effect, in many ways, represented the perfect Star Wars game without the Star Wars characters. It was also the last game that BioWare would develop before being taken over by EA.

How EA changed Bioware

To understand the impact that EA's acquisition had on BioWare, let's first take a look at the three Mass Effect games.

 

Platforms

Year released

Total unit sales (all platforms worldwide)

Mass Effect

Windows, Xbox 360

2007

3.4 million

Mass Effect 2

Windows, PS3, Xbox 360

2010

4.6 million

Mass Effect 3

Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U

2012

4.9 million

Source: Vgchartz.com, as of 12/7/2013

Considering that sales numbers keep rising, and EA is spreading Mass Effect to more platforms with every sequel, the arrival of Mass Effect 4 was inevitable.

EA's involvement, starting with Mass Effect 2, considerably altered the original game. The original Mass Effect had some more "hardcore" elements, which were eliminated in Mass Effect 2 and 3. For example, player customization and inventory options were simplified dramatically and the combat system was vastly improved.

Mass Effect 2. Source: BioWare.

The graphical enhancements in Mass Effect 2 were also extremely impressive. With EA's budget, BioWare started hiring more recognizable actors, such as Martin Sheen and Yvonne Strahovski, to give the game a truly impressive, Hollywood blockbuster feel.

With all of those enhancements, however, came a lot of DLCs -- downloadable content that gamers pay extra for. Let's take a look at the number of DLCs that each Mass Effect game asked players to purchase.

 

Number of DLCs

Total combined cost (retail)

Mass Effect

2

$5-$6

Mass Effect 2

15

$41-$45

Mass Effect 3

9

$58

Note: Free DLCs were included in the final count. Source: masseffect.wikia.com

In other words, to enjoy the "full" Mass Effect 2 or 3 experience as EA envisioned it, players had to pay double the price of the original game.

Some of the DLCs, such as Mass Effect 2's Lair of the Shadow Broker, was high-quality content, while others, such as Mass Effect 3's From Ashes, simply appeared to be deleted content from the original game.

To many gamers, constantly adding on paid chapters started to ruin the franchise. No longer was Shepard's adventure decided by the choices made in the game, but it was defined by the number of additional DLC purchases made throughout the course of the trilogy.

Will Mass Effect 4 be a sequel, a prequel, or neither?

The original Mass Effect trilogy suffered from the same problem as Hollywood film trilogies -- it started off with a promising, self-contained story, followed it up with a flashier second chapter that ended on a cliffhanger, and concluded with a messy third act that completely tarnished memories of the original.

The big problem with introducing Mass Effect 4 now is that the story -- and the known universe -- came to an abrupt end at the conclusion of the third game. Any story that happens now will have to take place prior to the original trilogy or possibly thousands of years in the future.

However, the universe that BioWare created with the original trilogy, now expanded with comic books and novels, is as rich as (if not richer than) the Star Wars universe. If done right, Mass Effect 4 could very well be worth the wait.

What do you think, dear readers? Will BioWare take its time and impress us with Mass Effect 4, or is it destined to become a bloated mess that reminds us just how much EA has changed BioWare?

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The article BioWare Announces That Mass Effect 4 Is Fresh, Beautiful, and Now Playable originally appeared on Fool.com.

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