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[MEA Spoilers][Spoilers All] Pacing and Roleplayability

So I beat ME:A and decided to replay ME1. Not necessarily the whole trilogy--I really just wanted to focus on the first game and do a little side-by-side, the Good/Bad/Ugly between new and old. I had the sense that ME1 was a much better game overall, but I couldn't put my finger on why until I went back. I mused for a while on it, and realized MEA's problems could be alleviated (at least a little) without starting over.
It comes down to two things.
Or focus, to put it another way.
Mass Effect 1 seems kind of weird on a meta level when it comes to the pacing. You know you're supposed to be chasing Saren, trying to find the Conduit and figure out what it is. The player can deduce pretty quickly that Therum, Feros, Noveria, and Virmire are the important bits since they get their own journal section and they pop up on the galaxy map. The frequent comment is that the sidequests seem out of place when you, the player, know you've just got to bumrush those planets to win (especially on subsequent replays).
The same is true in MEA. You're given Hunting the Archon as the priority assignment and if you stick to the main questline you can pretty easily rush it.
Yet there is a key difference. In character, if you are roleplaying Shepard, you don't know that the big 4 are actually the important planets. They're mentioned to you by Anderson and Udina as starting points, but the Alliance and the Council explicitly make clear multiple times that YOU are the Spectre, the one in charge. You get to conduct this investigation as you see fit. They only offer advice and small leads.
Really, if you look at it, you don't have much to go on.
Therum -- Benezia's daughter is there. Could give some clues to her motivation, might know something about Saren, or she might be one of Saren's agents worth taking out.
Noveria -- Geth sightings. Sounds like half the sidequests you pick up.
Feros -- The colony dropped out of contact. Sounds like the other half of sidequests!
Virmire -- A Council special forces team tried to send a message. Important, but about as vague as the stuff Hackett sends you.
In character, many of the geth base sidequests or colony disappearance things sound like they could have similar leads for your investigation. If you're roleplaying, you have a reason to not bumrush the big planets. You can investigate other leads and quest chains as they come and it feels natural.
Furthermore, the main quest is well-made (if formulaic), and it gets the most weight out of anything else. Even those sidequests totally unrelated to the Conduit (Cerberus) do not take up the same amount of time or get the same dedication put into them. We feel sad about Kahoku but we are way more emotionally invested in and affected by the main quest. We spend a huge chunk of time building up the Protheans, Saren, the Reapers; the payoff when we resolve the mysteries and beat the bad guys is that much more cathartic (not even talking about thematic or literary value--if you could call it literary).
Contrast with ME:A.
In character, we're told that Meridian can fix all our shit. So why go for viability on the other planets first? Shouldn't we just go get Meridian? Especially if this Archon guy is gonna get there and nuke everything. The vaults, the outposts, they seem really unimportant when we have a "FIX ALL" button floating out there. Our course of action is too clear, even before we find out about Meridian.
But even disregarding that, the game is disjointed. Each planet has a lot of work put into it, with an individual world equaling or surpassing the main quest in terms of player involvement/giving a shit. While this is cool (though the writing quality is a bit poor), it takes away our concern as a metagaming player from the main quest. It means I, the player, don't give that much of a fuck about beating the Archon because he didn't really feel like a big part of what I'd been doing. He was basically irrelevant if I actually explore all the Heleus content, and I knew very little about him because the game was busy being focused on other things. No buildup = no payoff.
I've touched a little on this already, but now in depth!
You can play a role of your choosing in Mass Effect 1. You can start out with a few basic archetypes and fill in the blanks for your Commander Shepard. The game gives you lots of opportunity to confront the world and share your character's opinion on it. You can have your character change their opinions on things at any moment, act in any way. Even though the Paragon/Renegade system was restrictive, the 3-10ish options you had in any given conversation gave you some room to build a unique person.
And as I mentioned, the narrative is built in a way that works in-universe. The whole plot is a bit tame (AN ANCIENT EVIL AWAKENS, OH NO!) but it is simply a framing device for you to explore the development of characters and the meaning beyond those changes. It isn't broken, so it isn't jarring.
In Mass Effect Andromeda, we have little roleplaying capacity. Our character backgrounds are defined already. The conversation options range from stupid to samey, and half the time it's out of your control anyways. Many times, the quest conclusions lack player agency and you get shafted with binary options--and there isn't even a way to express how you feel over those binary options.
The stories don't help either. Oftentimes, quests make no goddamn sense. Take, for example, the Salarian Ark traitor. We found some dust after breaking into a dude's apartment... that lead us to a very precise navpoint on Elaaden? Then we find out this is the REAL STG agent and the other guy was just fucking with us... when he could've just sent us the info anonymously and killed the agent. Then when you conclude the quest, you either have him send you the data or arrest him. And you don't get to verify that he sent it, he just walks away. And you can't betray him and gun him down afterwards. You can't define your character either way.
Then the main quest. The character feels the need to go beat the Archon and find Meridian but there's all this cool shit that the player wants to do elsewhere. I straight-up skipped Kadara because it made no sense for me to stay there. What do any of these fuckholes have to offer except insults? I can't even shoot them! And yet SAM is obviously trying to throw plothooks at me ("go work with Reyes... because!") despite the fact that we have more pressing concerns.
Oh, and the pressing concerns of the Nexus falling apart aren't really addressed that well, or we don't see their effects. A minor point in comparison to ME1 since it can suffer the same fault.
This whole lack of roleplayability leads to a lack of replayability as one becomes bored with the same trite crap. I get nothing out of replaying the game. I can replay ME1 in a number of ways--as a bleeding-heart idealist war hero born to a well-off military family, who hardens as he experiences tough choices; as a space-racist who eventually comes to care for his alien friends who save his life; as a dilly-dallying fence sitter who finally has to commit, get over her past and get shit done.
But Ryder is Ryder. Bioware half-asses the conversations and tries to sell it as an RPG, but despite the fun of hucking people around with biotics, MEA is worse than ME1 in these major regards.
submitted by ShiftyEyesMcGe to masseffect [link] [comments]

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