Mass Effect MMO

There’s been a lot of discussion about the possibility of a Mass Effect MMO in the future. It sort of makes sense, BioWare decided not to make a sequel to Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) because they were unhappy working with an established property and they wanted to do their own thing. Mass Effect is basically a 21st century Star Wars. As we all know, BioWare is now making a Star Wars MMO that is due out in a few months and has fueled speculation that BioWare will be making a Mass Effect MMO.

What I Want in a Mass Effect MMO

Mass Effect is an action-shooter-RPG that has a big story, lots of interesting choices and wonderful character development. I certainly want big story, interesting choices and character development in an MMO version but that’s to be expected. Now that the expected things are out of the way, let’s get to the more revolutionary stuff.

Non-Combat Classes

I’m not saying that no one should have a gun. The Mass Effect games are high adventure, action-oriented games. There’s definitely a place for that in an MMO. I’m saying that not everyone in the MMO should be forced to play such a character and should be given the opportunity to explore what it’s like to be a different type of mover and shaker in the galaxy.

The politics in the Mass Effect universe are driven by information brokers. The Shadow Broker. The Illusive Man. Barla Von. Liara T’Soni. These people buy and sell information as a commodity. The information trade is a big business and quite lucrative. They are able to wield tremendous influence without ever confronting someone directly. I want to be able to play a character that never has to engage in combat but still has an interesting, dynamic story that shapes the events of the galaxy. Think of Barla Von, the volus banker in the Presidium. He’s a wealthy, affluent being in the Mass Effect setting and he is able to direct the course of politics to a reasonable degree. Yet he has no combat ability. His character model doesn’t even have a weapon. Barla Von makes his money through his contacts and agents. Much like anyone in a military he answers to a higher authority, even if his higher authority is the Shadow Broker.

Barla Von

I want to be able to play Barla Von. A character whose abilities are related to information gathering and brokering could be really, really interesting. Better yet: make these characters quest givers for the combat classes. How do information brokers get their information? Well, someone has to go get it. They get a tip from an anonymous source (an AI quest giver, much as you see in any MMO, though the quest just shows up on his comm device) suggesting that secrets are to be found at a hidden batarian slaver base. The broker accepts the contract, puts out a call to some mercenaries (other player-characters) and they come to him for the quest. Once they complete it, they return to the information broker who can then turn in his quest, collect his pay and pass along the pay for the mercenaries.

Or perhaps the mission to retrieve information is sensitive and the marks can’t find out that it was stolen. Why not have a stealthy infiltrator/hacker class? Kasumi in Mass Effect 2 is a really interesting character yet I can’t help but feel that she was played off type in that game. She’s the galaxy’s greatest sneak thief and Mass Effect 2 is an action-shooter-RPG. Those two things don’t really mix well, which is why I rarely used her other than in her loyalty mission. A character whose combat skills are minimal but can infiltrate enemy bases (AI or player) to retrieve information would be incredibly cool.

Moving away from the underworld, why not have politicos? Politics is a huge portion of the setting and forms the impetus for many of the actions taken in the games. It would be a unique experience to play a politician moving up the ranks of the diplomatic corps, expanding a network of contacts and playing the game of nations. There are some deep stories to be told there.

Class Stories and Quests That Interact

Allow player-characters to be quest givers. There can be reciprocity between all the classes. The brokers hire mercenaries (both violent and non-violent) to get information. They then sell it to politicians. The politicians, in return, need more information and hire an information broker to find it. Or perhaps the politicians need to take military action and hire a group of player-characters to destroy a pirate base.

This connects players to one another and gives them reason to create alliances and guilds in the game. Reliance on different classes to experience new content would be a unique selling point of the game. This connects the stories of the individual players to one another and would create a sense of community involvement. It thrusts the players into meaningful positions within the Mass Effect universe without having everyone be a gun-toting, biotics wielding mercenary adventurer.

Enormous Challenge

Building this sort of interweaving quest system between combat and non-combat characters is an enormous challenge. For one thing, the developers would have to create a number of different “games” for the different classes. It doesn’t make sense for a politician to have a 5-second cool down on his oratory the way a biotic needs to wait before she can use her warp ability again. Allowing players to function as quest givers to other groups/types of players is not something I’ve heard of before either. Creating this system would be a painstaking process and extremely experimental. It’s never been done before so there is no way to determine whether it would be successful or not.

What do you think?

About PK

PK Sullivan is a game designer and writer living in Chicago.
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