Like just about anybody who enjoys RPG’s I was giddy in anticipation for N7 day, the day we would FINALLY get some information about the long awaited Mass Effect: Andromeda. Sitting on my couch wearing my N7 shirt and beanie I patiently waited for Bioware to finally drop some dopamine in my IV to keep me hooked for the next few months and oh, did they! There was a trailer it had a story, it had action, and it had me interested. Of course, it wasn’t the only thing they gave us, they also ever so kindly opened up the website full of a treasure trove of information. However within all the new information came out a piece about the gameplay; they were removing the class system done in previous titles. Uh ok, I’m just gonna go… WHAT? I am going to come right out and say it I think the freeform class design is terrible and only damages games.
I have a very specific problem with the freeform design philosophy: It removes challenge and replayability. The original trilogy was great in no small part to the fact you could experience a battle completely differently because of your class. While yes that will technically be an option for Andromeda as well, however, there is zero doubt in my mind every mission (since you can reset your skills before every mission) will have a “cheese” set up that you will allow you the breeze through that will be found quickly and thus become the go-to method for getting through the game. You should be forced to pick a style that fits you then plan accordingly. The game SHOULD challenge you, the game SHOULD make you think, and the game SHOULD expect you to adapt as a player in non-conventional ways. This freeform style does not do that. Yeah, you get a cool power trip, but that makes the game nearly pointless other than to experience the story.
The class system has existed consistently for a reason. Not only does it focus you as a player, it also challenges developers to make EVERYTHING interesting. Freeform does not do that.
Freeform allows the player complete freedom to throw their weight around and make the experience of combat almost pointless. If you need evidence look at what carried over skill points and free chosen abilities did in ME2 and ME3. If you chose the right ones combat became trivial and the only real challenge you received was when you yourself did something really stupid. It also means developers don’t have to try as hard to give you interesting and meaningful trees instead just giving single route bars that are as fulfilling as a wet fart.
We have seen before games with open skill trees that were less than fulfilling. If you look at titles like EVE and Asheron’s Call which, while both successful in their own right, did not live up to anywhere near the expectation set by developers. This style suffered from the inability for diversity. If they don’t give you too much power, they won’t give you enough to where you are so spread out in your skills you will just be average across the board if not mediocre. This simply creates a meta system that is already in most RPG’s as it stands, the only difference is that you have universal meta instead of class meta thus lower the diversity even more.
The other side of the coin in this situation is creating a power trip that becomes stale and boring. This is found often in a single player RPG and while they offer fun variety in later stages of the game, by the end you have often experienced everything and are no longer challenged.
Freeform design removes the thinking aspect of the game and that is extremely detrimental. A game challenging you is important. It shows a level of respect between the customer and developer. There is a reason for difficulty settings that should not affect gameplay.
Creating power trips damages games; the player should be expected to play smart and be able to deal with situations they are not prepared for. Those expectations are not bad; they are compliments to you as an individual. As a person, you should be able to do those things and developers expecting it of you are not wrong. They should want you to advance not both in how strong you are but how smart you are.
In E-sports, it almost never about which team’s characters can do more damage it is about who can out think who. There is a difference between proper advancement and unrelenting power.
As a soldier in Mass Effect 1 with a Geth rifle, I did excellent however, there were still enemies that were dangerous to me. In Mass Effect 3 I had a challenge taking down biotic field so I brought biotic teammates. By giving freeform what happens is NO enemy is dangerous to you other than overtly special boss tier enemies. If there are three types of enemies on the battlefield I shouldn’t be able to say “ha ha I got it” and beat all of them with ease. Each one should be different and force me to play differently. This isn’t about being Dark Souls-lite this is about properly respecting the player’s ability to think and plan ahead. If I play like an idiot I should be punished, not rewarded because I put points in ALL the skill trees.
Now at the end of the day, I will likely buy Mass Effect Andromeda as I played the original trilogy for thousands of hours and it was a huge part of my life as a gamer. I’m also not saying it won’t be good, I don’t think it will be any less than great, I just care about video games and how the industry develops them. I want us to move forwards not backward. It is easy in today’s market to try and dumb down products to make things so overtly simple that anybody can pick up the title and run through it with ease. This destroys diversity and ingenuity which is NEVER the way forward. Contrast creates meaning and by destroying the things that contrast everything is meaningless.
By Chris Ruskin