What the Mass Effect Team Can Learn from Assassin's Creed IV

After playing through Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the Financial Post has editorialized about the exploration they did on the pirate ship Jackdaw and how BioWare's Mass Effect team could learn from it in order to make space travel in the Normandy a more entertaining experience. I have never actually played an Assassin's Creed game before, so I'll have to take their word for it:

But as I explored the Caribbean Sea at the helm of this grand ship, my mind kept returning to another famous video game transport: Mass Effect's Normandy, a spacecraft that became as important to the sci-fi soap opera's story and as beloved by its fans as many of the series' main characters.

It's likely that Bioware, over the course of three games, managed to make its vessel a slightly more vital piece of the narrative puzzle than Ubisoft did the Jackdaw. The Normandy not only has its own personality via an agreeably jokey AI, it's also home to many of the game's key characters, and the setting for several important interactions and conversations.

However, Ubisoft's team did something that has always proven elusive in Bioware's games: It made the Jackdaw feel like an authentic, functioning vehicle over which we had complete control.

More than that, it's on the Jackdaw's deck that players take in the grandeur and spectacle of the game's immense world. The Jackdaw clearly exists within the game's environment and is the conduit through which we experience many of its most interesting elements.

This is a lesson that the game designers in Bioware's Montreal studio would do well to digest as they work on (and occasionally tease) Mass Effect 4.

Exploring the galaxy has always been one of my favourite parts of the Mass Effect series. The hardcore sci-fi nerd in me adores the way these games let you seek out and learn about new star systems and their planets, explore interstellar phenomena, and engage in deep space activities, such as boarding derelict craft.

The problem, though, is that this exploration feels disconnected from everything else we do, with the work of travel taking place on various star maps over which little ship icons crawl, and travel depicted by loading screens and repetitive Mass Relay cinematics.