Like fish in an enthusiastic aquarium, fans are gobbling up the small flakes of information on Dragon Age 4 showing up on the surface of the internet. While most things remain, understandably, under metaphorical lock and key, one of these claims disrupted the community more than others. According to Daily Sun Knoxville, one of the most integral playable characters in DA4 would be none other than the templar Cullen. It’s important to note that Daily Sun Knoxville may not be an entirely reputable source—I mean, if this was a typical leak, it’s weird that no other news outlets appear to have the same information, especially big gaming outlets like Polygon or Kotaku. The legitimacy of the rumor aside, it did spark a discussion worth having within the community. From where I stand, it only makes sense that Cullen found his way from minor NPC to party member over the course of the four games. However, like many other fans, I find the emphasis on Cullen to be worrisome, especially given the narrative’s unsympathetic treatment of the fantastical minorities in Inquisition.
As someone who isn’t very religious and who’s had very few positive interactions with religion, I always get a little bit worried when it takes a significant role in the media I consume. That same worry filled me in Mass Effect: Andromeda when I began speaking with one of my crewmates, namely the science officer aboard the Tempest, Dr. Suvi Anwar. As I continued interacting with her, I was pleased to find that her character wasn’t limited to being “the religious one”, and that she found joy in the fact that she and my Ryder both had differing opinions on spirituality and the prevalence of religion—a mindset that is often sadly lacking in real life. I left my first Andromeda experience feeling like Bioware really stepped up the nuance in their conversations concerning religion and spirituality, but as the game’s plot twists ruminated in my mind, I came to the conclusion that Bioware and their stories still have a huge problem with avoiding exploring and accepting other religions outside of the Christianity “norm”.
Spoilers for Mass Effect: Andromeda and Dragon Age: Inquisition beneath the cut.
I’ve played quite a few video games in my day, often coming back to the really good ones repeatedly over the years. But only a select few have crossed over into “I set my Steam profile to private so my friends don’t know how much I play this game” territory. Of all those titles, perhaps the most enduring are the Bioware Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games from 2003/2004.
There’s something about KOTOR that gives it a staying power very few story-driven games, even the truly great ones, have ever achieved. The two games combine a massive narrative depth with a mature treatment of the Star Wars universe that sets a gold standard for the franchise, at least in the realm of gaming. They have proved so enduring in their popularity, in fact, that KOTOR was re-released for mobile and KOTOR II was recently patched (after over a decade) to support modern PCs, add Steam Workshop support, fix bugs, and officially support the Restored Content Mod. For those who are not familiar, KOTOR II was rushed to make a physical release date, and as a result, a great deal of content was cut. Rather than removing it, however, the devs left it there for modders to find. Over the years, that resulted in a near complete restoration of that content. The game has remained popular enough to justify a complex, years-long project involving dozens of coders and artists, and it has continued to sell well enough to justify an updated Steam release with official support for that mod.
Falling thousands of years before the events of the Star Wars prequels, KOTOR showed us a universe where the galaxy is plunged into massive and bloody conflict with the Mandalorian Wars and then almost immediately into the universally disastrous Jedi Civil War, in which Jedi are not trusted, are hated by many, and are ultimately hunted to near extinction. It’s dark and chock full of moral ambiguity and some of the best Star Wars content out there. While these games are technically no longer canon, the general framework and many of the characters from this period, KOTOR games included, did “make the cut.”
The KOTOR franchise also serves as a clear spiritual predecessor to the best of both the Mass Effect franchise and Fallout: New Vegas. Many of the same people worked on many of those titles, and there are themes that almost seemed to carry over directly. While far from perfect, these games dealt with complex racial, ethical, and sexuality/gender identity issues in ways that were often groundbreaking, if occasionally facepalm worthy.
After what feels like 600 actual years, I’ve finally reached the end of the newest installment in the Mass Effect series, Mass Effect: Andromeda. The previous trilogy left us with Commander Shepard defeating the harbingers of an oncoming galaxy-wide purging of intelligent life and everyone looking forward to a very bright future. But in Andromeda, that life, those problems, and their resolution are all thousands of light-years away and several hundred regular years in the past. Playing as Ryder alongside my fellow space frontierspeople, I found that exploring humanity’s and all the Milky Way races’ newest home was a journey that often left me feeling conflicted, especially because Bioware never seemed to fully grasp the implications of Ryder’s and the Andromeda Initiative’s actions or feel brave enough to go beyond the hackneyed sci-fi plots of yore. To get it out of the way, yes: the graphics are janky at times and some of the voice acting feels like the actors/actresses had no direction for the context of their lines, but these factors alone do not a bad game make. And I wouldn’t say that Andromeda is even bad; honestly. Andromeda’s problems are due to its undeserved high opinion of itself, and by taking on too much, the game doesn’t give its audience enough of anything.
Like many fanbases, the Bioware fanbase/playerbase is a trash fire at any given time. Said fanbase didn’t even let Mass Effect: Andromeda get off the ground before lambasting it for various graphical inadequacies and stilted line delivery. However, while there do exist some graphical glitches, weird bugs, and a disappointing character creator, ME: A is not that bad. Since I’m not even halfway through the game yet (no spoilers!) this isn’t going to be a full review, but rather a look at a troubling reaction by Mass Effect’s audience. After already being labeled as “SJW propaganda” by people who loathe anything that looks like a diverse cast, it’s absolutely no surprise that there’s such negativity surrounding a woman in charge; even less surprising when that woman is Black. While there’s absolutely fault on the fanbase for the unfair treatment surrounding her, in what I’ve seen and experienced I can only come up with one conclusion: Bioware set up Sloane Kelly to fail.
Spoilers beneath the cut.
With E3 coming up in less than a month, I figured I should maybe start thinking of things the various developers might be showing off, just so I can avoid as much disappointment as possible. Although Nintendo has already gracefully declined to show up this year (well, there goes the fun) and I have my doubts that Bethesda is going to show up with anything worthwhile after blowing their load last year, there still sure are some games that are coming out. So, to remind myself what I’m doing here (“at” E3), I’ve been keeping tabs on one of the games that I’ve been in love with for a long time:
No Man’s Sky Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Geek culture likes to consider itself pretty progressive. In general that’s a fair assessment: people who feel different or ostracized tend to sympathize with each other, and in this regard geeks and marginalized groups have something in common. In spite of this, however, problems and prejudices that exist in society on the whole do tend to endure in some form even amongst geeks, and biphobia is one such problem.
Biphobia is a constant struggle for bisexual people of any gender in ways that are superficially different, but which stem from one underlying idea: society’s obsession with wieners. Let me explain. In popular opinion, women who are bisexual are assumed to be straight and using their sexuality as a performance to gain male attention. Men who are bisexual are assumed to be gay but afraid to properly come out of the closet. Either way, the presumed be-all end-all is thirst for the mighty D, and geek culture is often guilty of this assumption as well.
Before my hiatus, I managed to play the latest and last DLC from Dragon Age: Inquisition (which is more like saying I sat in front of my computer reloading the downloads until I could purchase it on the day it released). “Trespasser” was advertised not only as answering one of the bigger questions that the ending of the main game lef, but also finally showing the player some of the political, and otherwise, ramifications of their inquisition. Was “Trespasser” everything the player-base was wishing for? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s exactly what I was wishing for.
This is one of the last lines uttered by the Inquisitor at the end of Bioware’s newest DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition, “The Descent”. Where last time’s DLC took us to the high cliffs of the Frostback Mountains, this time the Inquisitor and crew head deep, deep underground to Orzammar’s Deep Roads—the place where all the darkspawn hang out and where Grey Wardens go to die, if you remember from the first game. After playing through the I-don’t-know-how-long DLC (probably around four hours if you’re sticking to story missions) I, too, have more questions than answers, least of all being “why doesn’t Bioware know how to make good DLC anymore?”
Spoilers for the entire DLC under the cut.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, and after years of thinking of how to write it I still have no conclusive plan but to jump in and finally do it. Now, my enjoyment of the Mass Effect series isn’t a new or surprising thing, and not really having ever jumped on the Star Trek/Star Wars bandwagon, the series could very well have been my first serious venture into the sci-fi genre. However, as this blog has discussed before, sci-fi is full of some pretty shitty tropes, and Mass Effect isn’t as much of as an exception as one would hope. I think where this is clearest is concerning matters of the asari—one of the main alien races in the game, and the one that presents as wholly female. As a culture, the asari are complex and compelling; however, a lot of their biology and presentation leave me wondering if Bioware didn’t know what to do with them outside of a very narrow label.