Tag Archives: sandbox games

10 Things I’d Love to See in a More Open-World “Mass Effect” Game

It’s kind of old news now, but did you guys see the design document for the next Mass Effect game?


That is one massive bible, and I am so excited to see where BioWare takes the next Mass Effect game now that Commander Shepard’s trilogy has come to a conclusion.

BioWare has always been known for story-driven games with strong character development, but I’m placing a bet that Mass Effect 4 (for lack of a better title) will be open-world. That seems to be the future for gaming: more exploration, more customization, more player choice. And since it’s sharing core systems with the upcoming “multi-region” Dragon Age: Inquisition, it makes sense that Mass Effect 4 will also have open world elements. It might not be entirely open-world, but I like the idea of expansive maps and lots of non-story content à la Knights of the Old Republic.

Already we know of some changes Mass Effect will undergo, besides just moving on to a new story. After fans flooded Mass Effect executive producer Casey Hudson with ideas for the next game, he tweeted to acknowledge one trendy topic: playable alien races. And that leads me to the first thing I’d like to see in the next Mass Effect game, particularly if it’s going to be a more open-world game with some sandbox style gameplay:

1. Origin Stories


The origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins are some of my favorite things in any video game ever. They are little adventures (1 or 2 hours long) that kick off your character’s journey in the video game, with six different origin stories available depending on which character class and race you chose. My first was the human noble origin story. They all lead to the same place: Your character meets Grey Warden Duncan and is asked to join the Grey Wardens to face the upcoming Blight. But having that personal story at the beginning made the rest of the game feel so much more grounded and relevant to your character.

I would love to see that in the next Mass Effect game. It would be an exciting way to kick off the new feature of playable races, and it would help players get a sense of alien cultures. For instance, if I end up playing as a turian, I might spend an hour or two on the turian homeworld of Palaven, getting to know the culture and getting a feel for what my turian character values. It would also be cool to peek into a day in the life of an asari or see what a krogan childhood is like through origin stories.

2. Collectibles


Let’s be honest: Lots of loot is never a bad thing in video games. And collectibles are a big part of open-world games, because they encourage exploration, interaction with NPCs, checking out shops, and undertaking quests in hopes of looting dead bodies for goods. And you know what you can do with all those collectibles and loot? Put them in:

3. A House


Red Dead Redemption, Grand Theft Auto, Elder Scrolls — they all have houses you can go back to if you want to save your game or rest from your adventures. Personally, I dig the Elder Scrolls style best, because you can actually decorate your houses with your loot. Sometimes, I would go on a Skyrim quest specifically because I wanted the reward at the end of it to hang above my in-game bed, and having houses made me want to keep things instead of selling them or replacing them all the time. When I out-leveled a piece of equipment,  I would throw it on a mannequin or sword rack to remember my adventures. (You heard about what happened to my Skyrim puppy, right…?)

In the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3, Shepard gets an apartment from Anderson. The decorating options are pretty disappointing, but the fact that a (slightly) personalized pad has already been introduced in a Mass Effect game is a good sign!

4. Customizable Ships


You know what could be even cooler than a house? A customizable ship. If the game has my character commanding a ship like the Normandy, it would be a dream come true to be able to select which type of ship I want, paint it, and decorate the inside of it. I would also like to be able to hire my staff, but that’s another thing altogether.

In Mass Effect 2 and 3, players were able to personalize their quarters — however slightly — with model ships and small pets like the fish that never seemed to stay alive. A personalized ship in Mass Effect 4 could easily be my character’s permanent home, and it would work well if the story has players jumping around space like the trilogy did. Plus, it’s a subtle way to keep the spirit of the original Mass Effect trilogy alive… because that Normandy was everything.

5. Pets


Everybody loves pets, right? A lot of games I’ve played have included pets, such as the horses you ride in Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim and the dogs of Dragon Age: Origins and Fable II and III. Being able to adopt a pet and keep it at your character’s house or ship would be a fun, personal touch to the next Mass Effect game, and the designers can come up with all kinds of exotic alien creatures for players to adopt. Maybe they can be mabari warhound-ish so I can take my pet into battles with me. Or there could be more of those dog-mechs.

I’ll take any kind of pet except a fish.

6. Games


I’m not talking about the Mass Effect 2 mini-games that have players hacking doors and stuff. Those can be tedious. What I’m talking about are card games like Pazaak or Triple Triad. It’s fun to immerse yourself in the fictional world by playing fictional games that are popular in the fictional cultures you’re exploring. Plus, card games can mean collecting cards — the best kind of collectible! In Mass Effect 4, I’d love to run my character around challenging NPCs to card games, collecting cards everywhere I go, and even earning achieements based on the size or style of my card collection or how much I’ve been playing the card games. And if I can gamble for loot like you do in The Witcher 2, so much the better! (See “Collectibles” above. This is a vicious cycle of loot here, guys.)

7. Sports


Speaking of games within games, I want to know what sports people play in the Mass Effect universe. Characters in Mass Effect 4 could attend sporting events and bet on the results — a simple, realistic diversion that lets players make (or lose) some extra money while learning more about the fictional world. We had that in the run-down Tuchanka of Mass Effect 2, where players could bet on varren fights. But something like Star Wars‘ pod races could be even more exciting… or heavy mech arena battles. Remember the swoop races of Knights of the Old Republic? Maybe our Mass Effect 4 characters could participate in the sports once in a while to earn some extra credits and earn reputations as athletes or racers.

8. Factions to Join


You know all those factions you could join in Skyrim? Mass Effect could absolutely do that, and it would be a fascinating way to explore the vast wold and various cultures that make the Mass Effect universe so detailed and realistic. I might not personally want to join the Blue Suns, but something like that would be awesome. Being able to work your way up in a faction to become one of its more important members would feel rewarding, and some factions could be unique to wahtever race you choose to play as or the planet you call home. (That would also mean more replay value!)

The trick is to make each faction’s quest line mean something to the player character — so I’d like to see more consequences for actions that what we see in Skyrim. For instance, if you join one faction, you can’t join its rival faction too. Except as a spy. That would be cool.

9. Character Missions


Mass Effect 2 was all about the character missions, and I loved them. An interesting way to create more content for an open-world, sandbox style game would be to include quest lines that follow squad members and other important NPCs. Finishing a quest line might be necessary to fulfill a romance with an NPC, for instance — and it would be an awesome way to get to know the character better. I would love to see new missions for characters unlock throughout the game, so you can keep learning more about them as you go. Maybe gaining the trust of certain characters would even unlock more areas to explore, such as little colonies or home worlds typically off-limits to outsiders. There could also be one-off missions when a squad member asks you to join him in a battle on his home planet (rather like Garrus’s recruitment mission in Mass Effect 3), an assassination (for a character like Thane), or even a research project (for a character like Mordin or Tali).

10. Jobs


When I play an open-world game, I tend to specialize in something almost as if it’s my in-game career. Some people got really into blacksmithing in Skyrim; I got really into alchemy. Other people are miners and go look for new mines all over the map. In the next Mass Effect game, I would love to try odd jobes on different planets. The game could even introduce certain jobs you could do over and over again to become an expert, such as researching biotics, building weather domes on remote worlds, constructing colonies, or mining for element zero. It wouldn’t be as tedious as just scanning planets in Mass Effect 2 (worst mini-game ever) if you can actually plant your character’s feet on the ground and feel a part of the world as you perform these duties. The jobs could also have collectibles and achievements attached to them to make them more enticing, and I sort of love the idea of setting up a shop somewhere to sell the weapons or medicines my character makes…

— Ashley


20 Hours In… What I Love About “GTA V” So Far

I might be a little late to the game as everybody goes Pokemon crazy this weekend, but lately I’ve been mildly obsessed with Grand Theft Auto V. I started playing this past weekend and ended up staying up to play into the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep as I wanted to play just one more mission… or take Michael and Franklin out golfing, or go for another drive, or check out that last question mark on the map, or see if Lester has a mission for me…


As a sandbox-style game, GTA V has that addicting quality that other open world games like Skyrim have — something I talked about on my blog about a year ago when I got obsessed with Skyrim for the second time in my life. I don’t normally play GTA games and wasn’t sure if I would fall for it or not, but I’ve ended up loving it, and it’s fast becoming one of my favorite games ever. Here are some of the things I love about it so far…

The Driving Mechanic

Although I haven’t been a big Grand Theft Auto player in the past, one thing I’ve always admired about the series is the driving mechanic. It’s hard to find a good alternative to shooting in video games, but driving is the perfect replacement (or addition, really). Instead of shooting your way through corridors, Grand Theft Auto takes the action adventure approach with the unique focus of driving — an activity that’s dangerous, that you can fail at, that requires skill, that forces you to scan ahead and prepare for obstacles, and that’s truly fun even when you’ve done it over and over again.

GTA V brings that back with great success. Losing the cops is another great feature, as there are several approaches you can take to your getaway: such as finding a sports car and speeding away, making a lot of turns and finding an alley to hide in for a while, or switching cars to kick the cops off your scent. To be honest, I used to be a terrible driver and could barely get through GTA for that reason, but I’m finally getting it down in GTA V — and I can’t believe the amount of fun I missed out on before.

The Dialogue

The amount of dialogue in Grand Theft Auto V is another high point for me. Early in the game’s development, Rockstar vice president Dan Houser said the script was over 1,000 pages long — and surprisingly, I’m not surprised. In addition to the cutscenes’ dialogue, there is also dialogue as two characters driving together and dialogue from the playable character as he performs a task (such as Michael bitching about being too old for this if you make him do the triathalon). When you’re playing one character and call another to hang out, there’s more dialogue (such as Trevor mildly trash-talking Michael when he invites Michael’s son Jimmy to hang out). There’s dialogue about car crashes as you’re driving. There’s dialogue when you switch from one character to another and see what the new guy is up to. There’s dialogue during main quests, side quests, random activities you can participate in like golfing. The game never feels dialogue-heavy — it’s never boring, or bogged down in words, or overly scripted — but the sheer amount of realistic conversation and monologues adds another level of verisimilitude to the experiences you go through in the game. This makes Los Santos feel like a real world, and characters interact in it and with it in ways that feel authentic.

Three Stories

Having three main characters also makes the game more entertaining than it would have been with one. Part of this is because this allows a balance of traits — there’s no single “perfect con man,” and each is allowed to have weaknesses that the others make up for in the team environment. It also gives you three chances to find a story that engages you as a player. I’ve been enjoying the stories to different degrees; had Franklin been the only playable character, I might have found the game less interesting than I currently do being able to spend time with my favorite character Michael.

You can also freely switch from one character to another any time you’re not in the middle of a mission — and sometimes when you are. There’s also more of an RPG feel to a game with three main characters, because it allows me to build my adventure around extra time with my favorite characters, level each the way I want in order to create a dynamic team, and play missions in a slightly different order than other players might. I can max out Michael’s skills as a pilot while others stick with Trevor. I can work more on Franklin’s shooting and leave Michael and Trevor to other skills. Although the stats for each character haven’t made a noticeable difference for me yet, being able to choose how to level each character does give me a little taste of role playing in this action adventure sandbox.

Rockstar Social Club

Rockstar Social Club has made keeping track of your game more fun than ever before, too. You can now go to the website to see how many hours you have put in with each character, stats like cars stolen or time spent on foot, missions completed, deaths — all specific to each of the three main characters so you can see to whom your game time goes. I’m sure not everyone cares about keeping track of these things, but I’ve always loved knowing details of how I spend time on sites like the music tracker last.fm. Rockstar Social Club does this for my GTA V experience, and I love reviewing my progress and knowing that it’s unique to the way I choose to play the game. Plus, you can take in-game snapshots and check them out later, which I love.

GTA Series. . .

Since I’ve been playing and enjoying GTA V so much lately, I have a series of posts about the game lined up for my blog Robo♥beat. I’m about 20 hours into the so far and know I have a long way to go, but I’ll be rolling out the posts as I complete the game this month!

— Ashley

Character Paths in “Skyrim”

Skyrim-0005-WallpaperAs someone who loves story-driven games, I find the only thing that makes them better is being able to create my own character and chart my own path through the tale.

BioWare games excel at this, which is why BioWare is my favorite developer. Their stories take me down a fairly scripted path, but I’m able to navigate certain forks in the road, in the manner of a choose-your-own-adventure. It’s character development, but a very guided kind. For instance, in Mass Effect, the biggest character choice you make is whether to be Paragon or Renegade… or in between. Those are your options. Either way, you’re pretty much going to save the galaxy.

But there’s one game series that keeps me coming back for more, and one game in particular that I just can’t seem to pry myself away from: Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. I started playing it shortly after its release in late 2011 and was hooked for months. I had a female Dunmer who became Archmage at the College of Winterhold, married a kick ass mage named Marcurio, bought a bunch of houses but lazed around mainly in Riften, and eventually got a brave little dog named Vigilance who died on his very first mission with me. Then I left Skyrim for a while. Like, for six months.

When I returned in the fall last year, I made a brand new character with completely different choices. She was a Bosmer. She joined the Stormcloaks and bought the Windhelm house. She married Scouts-Many-Marshes. She restored the lost glory of the Thieves’ Guild in Riften. Mostly, she liked to kick around in the Thieves Guild armor — enchanted all crazy for stats — and the Stormcloak officer headdress, because it looked like this:


I was mildly addicted to Skyrim during that second playthrough. I made as much progress with my second character as I did with my first, in about 1/3 the time — one month as opposed to three. I’ve already talked about this on my blog here, but there is something addictive about sandbox-style games that really reward you for leveling, leveling, leveling… instead of just story progression.

This spring, I started a new playthrough of Skyrim with my very first Khajiit character. I’ll build her a lot like my Bosmer, with archery + sneak + one-handed. I do miss my Dunmer’s two-handed wielding, because there’s nothing sexier than a battleaxe, but I’ve come to embrace being able to sneak through missions without a fuss. And I totally want to marry Derkeethus and get a modded house somewhere.

I’ve complained a bit about Skyrim not having realistic consequences for actions. For instance, you can be BFF’s with Mjoll the Lioness, who hates the Thieves’ Guild, even when you’re in the Thieves’ Guild. She just don’t seem to know about that part of your life. If you have a quest to get started, you can go do dozens of other things, taking months of in-game time, only to have the quest still waiting for you as if no time has passed at all.

But that’s okay sometimes. Skyrim triumphs the sandbox, and for me, the most fun aspect of that is building characters from scratch and seeing where life takes them. Each character is different. I’ve only completed three full quest lines over the course of two playthroughs, and I’ve never finished the main quest line. Skyrim offers so much to do and so many choices that the exploration — including that character exploration and development — never seems to end.

— Ashley