At first glance, the title of this editorial may have you scratching your head in confusion, but if you take a minute to think about it, the Mass Effect and Uncharted franchises have a lot more in common than you may have initially thought. While they find homes in two different genres, both were conceived this generation and are now on their third entries. Additionally, the two are developed by some of the best talent in the industry, as Naughty Dog and BioWare have quickly become two of the most beloved studios in the world.
While Naughty Dog's trilogy capper, Uncharted 3, launched last year, Mass Effect's highly anticipated conclusion is set to launch in just over a week. So why am I comparing the two? Well despite the fact that Mass Effect 3 is an RPG at heart and Uncharted 3 identifies primarily with the platformers, both have had to deal with expectations of epic proportions — expectations that simply can't be met.
Let's take a minute to examine the Uncharted franchise. Nathan Drake's first adventure on the PS3 was received well, but it didn't make the kind of splash many were anticipating. The game suffered from a handful of technical issues and gameplay shortcomings that are admittedly forgivable in first-entry games of this scope… remember the anger-inducing jet ski anyone? In the end, it was a gorgeous game that made enough of an impression to catch the eye of the PlayStation faithful and stir up excitement for the undoubted sequel.
Oh, the memories…
When Uncharted 2 made its mind-blowing debut at E3 2009, it knocked the socks off of just about everyone. There was clearly a substantial amount of improvement over the first game, rendering an experience that appeared wholly unique and fresh. It goes without saying that when the game finally did launch, it won Game of the Year from nearly every gaming outlet. Uncharted 2 was the new benchmark in action-adventure gaming. Notice that I didn't say platforming, which is what the franchise initially focused on before morphing into the high-octane action thrill ride it has become.
Do you see where I am going with this?
When the first Mass Effect launched back in 2007, it faced a reception similar to the original Uncharted. Impressive enough, but nothing to write home about. The first entry — like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune — stuck to its genre's roots, in this case role-playing. It faced quite a bit of criticism for its own share of issues, including clunky menus, poor inventory management, and the chore that was controlling the Mako. At the same time, the game was commended for its revolutionary dialogue system and inclusion of character choice.
The "jet ski" of Mass Effect? I think so…
So what did BioWare do when it came time to develop the sequel? They axed the parts of the game that plagued the original experience and crafted a more action-oriented game with Mass Effect 2. Much like Uncharted 2, the Mass Effect sequel provided gamers with a much more polished and streamlined experience that dipped into the action-adventure genre a bit more. Needless to say, the game was a huge success, reaching critical acclaim in 2010 that rivaled the praise of Uncharted 2 the year prior. At this point, both franchises began identifying more and more with action games while keeping their own identities, which for Uncharted was cinematic platforming, and for Mass Effect was character choice and the dialogue wheel.
I'm sure that most, if not all of you will agree with me that the second installment in the Uncharted franchise was the pinnacle for the series, as the third game certainly improved upon the formula, but failed to provide a big enough leap to merit the same level of praise as Among Thieves. Naughty Dog found their sweet spot with the second game, so why should they have gone and drastically changed the franchise again with the third installment. Unfortunately, gamers were expecting the same monumental step with Drake's Deception and were left feeling a bit disappointed, even though the game was an absolutely stellar experience.
So why should it be any different for Mass Effect 3?
Sorry FemShep, but you're going to need more than a new look
Many will argue that the third Mass Effect will surpass its predecessor simply because it's going to tie up all of the loose ends presented in the first two games and serve up the satisfying conclusion that everyone wants. What they are failing to recognize is the creative power that comes with leaving a game open. The beauty of Mass Effect 2 lied in the fact that you were treated to some resolution from the first game, but were still left hanging in anticipation for something more. What happens when Mass Effect 3 concludes and that's it for your character? Are you really going to be left with the same level of excitement that you had when you concluded Mass Effect 2? Probably not, mainly because you aren't left speculating how your decisions will play out in a future installment. If you really want finality, which Mass Effect 3 promises to deliver, there won't be any room for future speculation.
Like Uncharted 3, Mass Effect 3 will become a victim of its predecessor's success. There was no way that Drake's Deception could live up to the lofty expectations of Uncharted enthusiasts, and likewise we'll probably see the same effect with BioWare's trilogy concluder. Let me make myself clear, I am not saying that Mass Effect 3 will be a bad game, in fact it will probably be up against BioShock Infinite in a fight for Game of the Year, but it doesn't change the fact that the level of anticipation gamers have for the finale will ultimately lead to a less satisfying experience when compared to Mass Effect 2.