It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post for my own website. What can I say? I’ve been extremely busy with my editorial duties at Karwansaray Publishers and have only recently started to feel like I’m getting a handle on things. I’m planning on rebuilding this website, as well as building a few new ones, in the not-too-distant future, so great things – I hope – are ahead.
But the reason for writing a new blog post is this absolutely asinine article over at PC games website Rock, Paper, Shotgun. It’s written by Alec Meer and has the kind of headline that makes you scratch your head. Without even a hint of irony, Meer declares: ‘I wish Mass Effect was like The Expanse.’ I’m utterly baffled. I simply don’t understand why you would complain, in this instance, about X not being (more) like Y for reasons that I will briefly explain below.
You see, a few weeks ago, Electronic Arts published a new game in the Mass Effect series called Mass Effect: Andromeda. In this role-playing game developed by BioWare, you’re part of a mission that sent a few sleeper ships to the Andromeda Galaxy in a bid to colonize a few ‘Golden Worlds’ and start a new life there. Of course, when you arrive, things turn out far more complicated than had been expected, and the player is thrust into a story that sees him or her battle evil aliens, solve ancient puzzles, found new outposts, and so forth.
The Expanse is a television science-fiction series based on the series of novels by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. The show is set in the future where humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but hasn’t yet ventured beyond the stars. Much of the drama is focused on conflict between different groups of people, with a stark contrast between, for example, Earth on the one hand and the inhabitants of the asteroid belt on the other.
Contrary to The Expanse, the Mass Effect series is very much soft science-fiction. It’s a modern take on the classic space opera genre by way of Star Trek. There are different alien factions – nearly all of the upright, bipedal variety with symmetrical bodies – and you’ll travel around solving problems, collecting stuff, and so forth. It’s a role-playing game, so you’ll gain experience points and level up, assign skill points, make tough decisions in stories, interact with other characters, and so forth.
In short, Mass Effect is nothing like The Expanse. And no, I’m not talking about the difference in medium. I understand that the writer’s suggestion is that Mass Effect: Andromeda should be more like The Expanse. The author, in fact, makes the following point towards the end of his article:
What I’m saying is: I wish Mass Effect Andromeda [sic] spent some meaningful time on the practical and socio-political issues of establishing a new society before it jumped straight to angry rockmen. They’re in a new galaxy, with finite resources, no hope of calling home for help, almost nothing of their new environment understood and a pressure cooker of multi-species relations to deal with. There’s so much drama inherent in that setup already, with no laserguns or spooky monuments required.
I’m not sure which game the author’s been playing, but my copy of Mass Effect: Andromeda does deal with the aspects that he claims are wholly neglected. In fact, the player character (Ryder) spends some time wondering about how things will go in this new galaxy, and there’s plenty of friction between the colonists and between the Milky Way adventurers and the natives. Exploring the ‘new environment’ is even a gameplay element. But to expect this fourth instalment in the series to suddenly play completely different, and to be more in line, as far as tone and plot are concerned, with something as radically different as The Expanse, is ridiculous.
Andromeda is the fourth game in a series that has been fairly well defined as regards setting, tone, and so forth. Why expect a new game in the Mass Effect series to be radically different all of a sudden? It’s like complaining that The Expendables 3 isn’t anything like The Remains of the Day. Both Mass Effect: Andromeda and The Expanse are excellent, though. And there’s room enough in this world for both.