The Mass Effect Problem

No, this isn’t about the Mass Effect 3 ending.

I have a friend who just started playing the Mass Effect trilogy, my favorite games of the last console generation.  I’ve played all three games multiple times on the Xbox 360, and earned all the achievements.  I’ve played all the DLC for Mass Effect 1 and 2, and collected their achievements.  As a father of three about to hit 38, this is no small feat – it’s not easy to dedicate so much time to one game.  I do not have the DLC for Mass Effect 3, and that’s the start of the problem.

I didn’t play the DLC for 1 and 2 at release.  Instead I saved them until just before the next game came out and used them as an excuse to play through the prior game again.  DLC is best like chili, get your fill at release then put some in the fridge because when you grab it a few days later it’s still awesome.  Right about now, I really want some Mass Effect 3 Chili DLC.

But things have changed.

The DLC for Mass Effect 3 on Xbox 360 totals $45, which I would normally complain about on twitter but ultimately purchase anyway.  What will happen though in a year or two when the servers for the Xbox 360 go dark?  How much longer can I expect to be able to download DLC for all three games? Microsoft has been aggressive at killing products lately, and the end of Xbox 360 may come sooner (in some skewed Microsoft Marketing logic) to boost sales of the Xbox One.  Even if Microsoft signed a blood pledge that all Xbox 360 features and services would remain operational for the next 5 years, it wouldn’t be wise to invest more in the platform.  I want to keep my 2019 Mass Effect options open.

The obvious answer here is the PC.  Whether supported by the publisher and developers, or by the community I’ve been able to go back and play the vast majority of games I’ve purchased on PC.  All three Mass Effect games have PC editions, so I began a hunt for the “Ultimate Edition”.  I want all Mass Effect content too, not just DLC, but the various pre-order bonuses and cross title promotional content as well.  This doesn’t exist however, and to get the content that does exist requires traversing a maze more complicated than any Bioware puzzle (pro tip: the solution is probably based on Tower of Hanoi).   Think I’m kidding?  Take a look at the wiki or this StackExchange question on completing the Mass Effect Trilogy edition.  Using the wiki, the games on PC are $40 for the Trilogy collection, plus another $105 for missing DLC, and is incomplete.

(You might suggest only getting Mass Effect 3 on the PC, but any fan of the games will tell you this is not an option.  Each game builds upon the choices you made in the prior games, from world changing big decisions to small pointless NPC conversation trees.  Seeing how even a single comment by Shepard can change a character’s story is one of my main reasons for replaying the game).

There is a third option.  It has everything – all DLC, all preorder bonuses, soundtracks, comics, and… well everything.  46.6 Gigabytes of everything.  It’s free too.  Yes, I’m talking about piracy.  But maybe I can put the savings toward this sweet N7 Leather Jacket (I’m a M if anyone is feeling generous).

So here I stand at the end of the Mass Effect trilogy with three choices and all of them suck.  $45 and it lasts a year or two at most, $145 to rebuy most the content, but still come up short, or pirate it all and tell myself a few lies to absolve guilt.  Though Mass Effect is the game I mention, it is not the only game with this problem, and this leads to the bigger issue…

This problem casts a dark shadow over the current generation of consoles.  Do I want to be fooled again?  I can still play my Atari 2600 but there was no online service behind the device granting access to games and content.  Starting with the last generation and going strong in this one, deep ties to online services put an expiration date on your games.  I can’t justify getting a PS4 or Xbox One.  Not unless the system is usable for game development and supports an open publishing model (which neither do).  That’s probably a niche market and not going to sell too many units.  Maybe the games created by this niche would, but that’s speculation for another day.

Is this the end for the console?  Is there a bubble about to pop? I have no idea, but for me, I cannot see how buying a title on a console is a good idea.  Willing to wait and see where the SteamBox thing goes.  That can’t be good news for the console manufactures to read.  Units must sell, so $100 Million game budgets can be justified. If not AAA publishers will have to pull support and… Wii U happens.

Sorry, I don’t have the uplifting ending here you wanted here.  Just like Mass Effect 3, which I still don’t have DLC for…


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