So Mass Effect 1 spawned a sequel. Which I guess shouldn't have come as a surprise. Mass Effect 1 was a breath of fresh air at the time of release. A game that combined some of the best element's of Bioware's past games in terms of being a rollplaying game while freeing the player from the traditional cool down based action that governed everything, from advanced skill abilites to basic attacks. Okay cooldowns are still there but the free shooting over the shoulder shooter action struck a cord. Though this alone was not responsible for the game being well received. From the movie-esque interactive cut scenes to the customisation to what was then a free to roam people carrier with a gun turret, this game had something for everyone.
That said, ME1 was not by any stretch of the imagination perfect. It's got arguably the most imagination and ambition but as a consequence those lofty ideals meant that certain aspects of the game didn't receive the polish later editions showed. Move onto Mass Effect 2 and immediately you see a marked transition in play. While ME1 had cover shooting ME2 took that aspect of the original game and married it to Gear's of War's cover system that, at the time, was a far better than the cover system in ME1. In fact, ME2's entire presentation was a marked improvement over ME1. Graphical polish aside, fat like inventory management was cut out entirely and replaced with research upgrades that immediately got rid of the need to wade through tonnes of items you picked up looking to see if anything better is there. The planet scanning mechanic however, was somewhat unengaging but still, it showed Bioware was looking at ME2 to be a more refined, tightly focused game. The emphasis this time being on squad actions rather than exploring.
Now, cutting exploration out of ME2 was probably a good call. It left the game to focus on what many consider to be core game play. But what many fail to consider is that while removing things like the Mako was good for ME2 it was at the end of the day bad for the series. If there was something for everyone in ME1 then ME2 tries to compensate for what it lost by adding something new, resulting in things people enjoyed being masked by the new gameplay elements that made up the game. And if this decision to cut content that appeared in ME1 had stopped at ME2 I wouldn't be writing this post.
Before I move onto the problem with Mass Effect 3 though let's talk about that elephant in the room with assertion that Bioware cut the Mako. Now I don't mean to say that the Mako was the only thing that was cut. I'm simply using it as an example of alternative game play that expanded the game beyond simple run and shoot mechanics. The Hammerhead though, while a good replacement for the Mako if you put aside some questionable controls, doesn't match the Mako. Not in terms of handling or effectiveness. My core problem with the Hammerhead is by the end of the ME2 the Hammerhead doesn't take an active part in the story. The Mako was in ME1, a tool to explore terrain and move distances quickly compared to being on foot. But by the games end it's a plot device that allows the player to reach the Citadel. In ME1 a tank for the player's soldier is narratively necessary and provides the writer's with a different form of drama to throw at the players. The hammerhead is a tool to traverse terrain in a way that the Mako can not..... Buuut it's not nessary to the game. It is after all an addon. An optional extra. Something that you can choose to ignore and to me that's an opportunity lost to tell a story using every aspect of the player character's inventory. If the writer's give the player a tank, then it's likely that a tank will be necessary to overcome certain obstacles that the writer's can place before the player after all whereas the Hammerhead is..... not narratively necessary in a game that is famed for it's narrative.
But all that doesn't matter in ME3 that followed ME2's now established trend of cutting content from ME1 in order to deliver what many probably thought of as core gameplay. Gone are any personal vehicles for the commander. Now instead of a tank you have a muscle bound lunk head with a heart of gold and muscles of steel. Yes, in a war with the Reaper's the commander's arsenal is stripped of anything that packs a punch. And it doesn't stop there. Hacking, that was a staple part of ME1 and 2, that allowed the player to do something with their time while the next map was loaded while also giving them a challenge to overcome in order to earn cash for upgrades and bonus lore is also gone. Instead, ME3 just hands it over to you. Putting out like a bunny in the mating season. Gone is the potential for player's to affect story as we could do in ME2 when recruiting Arc-angel where a series of hacks could affect how the waves of enemies coming at you would play out. Instead the player simply stares at a graphic spinning around. A shorter time spent opening the door, but not nearly as engaging, or story affecting.
I could go on but ultimately the point is becoming clear. While ME1 wrote the bible on what future ME games should aspire to be, ME2 hit the mark in some aspects. Veered off course on others, but ultimately brought something new to the franchise. But when ME3 came about the gameplay had been stripped of so many Mass Effect gameplay elements that made previous Mass Effect titles different from other over the shoulder shooter's, that it was indistinguishable in terms of gameplay from similar games. For Mass Effect 4 I can only hope Bioware realise that being the same as similar shooter's is beneath the level of imagination, and ambition that Bioware have proven they have, but lately, shown they have forgotten, that is necessary to produce games that deserve to have the name Bioware on the box.