Kevin Trehan

Technology | Games | Design

BioWare Missed a Huge Character Development Opportunity

March 16, 2017 Kevin Trehan 0 Comments

Mass Effect: Andromeda is set to release very soon and the hype has been building up dramatically over the past few weeks. BioWare has been known for their excellent world building and character development. I got a chance to play the pre-release version of Andromeda for a couple hours and I think BioWare ruined an incredible relationship opportunity right at the beginning of the game.

**WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the first two hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda**

The crew of Ark Hyperion are nearing the end of their 600-year journey to Habitat 7, one of the “Golden Worlds” discovered in the Heleus Cluster of the Andromeda Galaxy. As key personnel are being awoken from cryostasis and undergoing routine medical checks, the ark runs into a large cloud of unstable dark matter that is surrounding the planet set to become New Earth. Habitat 7 doesn’t appear to be as lush and welcoming as it should have been.

A survey team decides to go down to the planet to see what’s wrong. The group includes either Scott Ryder or his sister Sara Ryder (depending on which gender you pick at the beginning), their father Alec Ryder (the designated Pathfinder of Ark Hyperion), and a handful of others. I picked male Ryder, so I’ll refer to the player character as “he” throughout this post.

Towards the end of surveying Habitat 7, as the team is waiting to be picked up, there’s an explosion that forces Alec and Scott Ryder off a ledge. Scott’s visor on his helmet shatters from the fall which exposes him to the low-oxygen atmosphere. As Scott nearly suffocates, Alec heroically sacrifices himself by giving Scott his own helmet. Scott, already on the verge of blacking out, learns after waking up back on the Ark that his father died and passed on the title of Pathfinder to him.

The relationship between Ryder and his father are the huge missed opportunity I alluded to at the beginning.

The death of Alec Ryder was devoid of any emotional distress. Scott Ryder himself mentioned that he never really knew his father. It’s possible that Alec was off on Pathfinder training missions for most of Scott and Sara’s lives, but I don’t think this justifies his early death. It feels meaningless and the shock value is very low.

Part of creating a strong connection with a fictional character is the ability to interact with them for a relatively long amount of time. The simple idea that Alec is our player character’s father isn’t enough to become emotionally invested in his life. He has a total screen time of roughly 20-30 minutes before he’s killed off. It feels disingenuous to his value as a character. I know BioWare wants to put the player into the role of the Pathfinder as quickly as possible, but I also think that is a huge mistake. Rather than giving time to build up the responsibilities of being a Pathfinder, the game throws you into the position of the hero without providing some sense of accomplishment or duty. Sadly, most games do this.

BioWare has shown proficiency in the past when it comes to the relationships between characters. Whether they are crew members of your ship or a party of warriors and mages, each character, even those that aren’t companions, has a detailed backstory and a rich personality. Throughout the course of their games, you as the player build emotional connections to the fictional characters you meet; they feel like real people that you actually care about or have animosity towards. BioWare has also pushed those connections even further when it comes to the romantic relationships you can build in their games.

However, family relationships aren’t something that BioWare has done very often and they had the perfect chance to do just that with Alec Ryder.

I’m sure there will be strong development between the Ryder siblings. I’m still early in the game and Scott’s sister hasn’t awoken from crystasis yet, so I can’t really comment on that relationship until later.

Here’s how I propose Mass Effect: Andromeda should have played out (based on my limited knowledge and experience with the game so far): Let the player character ride in the passenger seat for a while. The starting mission puts an emphasis on Alec being the leader of the survey team, but I think that should have continued for a while. Teach the player the importance of being a Pathfinder through the actions of Alec. Use this time to let Alec and Scott build a strong relationship with each other. Since they didn’t spend much time together before the Arks left the Milky Way, these missions would allow a strong father-son bond to form. Or, it could lead to a point of contention between the two if there are disagreements on how things are handled. Either the player gets along with Alec or they grow further apart, all through BioWare’s clever use of decision-based dialogue.

Alec’s death should be faced further into the game. With more time together, Alec’s death would have much greater impact on the player. Even if the player’s decisions led to both characters having trouble getting along, the death would be more meaningful. At this point, the player can either decide to continue doing things the way Alec did and perpetuate his legacy or they can choose to do things differently because they disagreed with their father’s methods and choices.

Again, I can’t stress enough that I’ve only experienced the first couple hours of Andromeda. I’m only commenting on my observations of how Alec’s death was handled and why I think that BioWare missed a great opportunity for strong storytelling.

Mass Effect: Andromeda has big shoes to fill considering the status the original trilogy holds. The stories BioWare tells are, in my opinion, the most important aspects of their games. I hope Andromeda will be seen many years from now as a game worthy of praise and critical acclaim.

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