Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is the first big budget blockbuster of the summer and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Watching the movie, I found myself wanting more and more time with each of these characters. I watched the movie while I am still completing my first run through of Mass Effect Andromeda and it struck me that both the game and the movie are trying to provide a very fun space adventure, but Guardians seems to be much more successful. At first blush, it’s hard to see why. Both provide exciting and interesting worlds to visit. Both have interesting villains to face. Both have a lot of action and interesting set pieces. Probably most importantly, both Guardians and Mass Effect Andromeda provide a fun and engaging crew for you to interact with. But why does Guardians feel so fun when Mass Effect can feel like such a drag?
Oddly, both Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Mass Effect Andromeda have one big failure in common: the protagonist. As we noted last week, the one weak point in Guardians is how underwritten Starlord feels. Chris Pratt is still fun, but he’s not given the opportunity to utilize his charisma in this movie. Likewise, the Ryder twins are kind of Nathan Drake-wannabes who stumble their way through leading and romancing their crew. Guardians, however, is still a strong movie despite the missing centerpiece and that’s because Guardians’ secret is the strong supporting cast. In every scene they’re in, Baby Groot is a lot of fun and Rocket gets some great one liners. Drax anchors his scenes with his literal interpretations and extremely dry humor. The characters are fine on their own but the movie divides them into groups for long segments so we can see those relationships develop. Drax and Mantis banter. Groot and Rocket bond. Gamora and Nebula battle. That’s something Mass Effect never does; if Ryder isn’t there, then nothing’s happening.
Watching Guardians of the Galaxy made me realize what Mass Effect needs to do: give us more than one playable character. The game came so close this time to doing so this time by introducing the Ryder twins but then the game immediately locks you into one twin or the other. What if it hadn’t? What if you could play as both twins and build two different characters? Think of how much that would add; you wouldn’t have to see the whole game through the same set of eyes. I tend to make my heroes pretty traditionally moral when I play, but what if I could have one good twin and one bad one? Maybe one twin would be well liked by the crew and the other could be disliked. What if I could build a relationship with one twin and have my other twin speak to the object of my affection about it? Heck what if the twins could compete for the same person? Beyond the twins, what if I could make my own Drax, or Peebee, or even Liam. With enough hours, maybe I could even make an interesting version of Liam.
I guess that’s the direction I’d like to see Mass Effect consider going: letting more of the crew become playable. I think this would take the pressure off making Ryder interesting and would let us see how the crew interact with one another. One of the big pleasures of Mass Effect is listening to the incidental dialogue while exploring the planets you visit. In these scenes, Ryder takes a backseat to the interplay between the crew and it works. Guardians, likewise, seems to trust the strength of its supporting characters enough to remove Starlord for long stretches and trust that we’ll enjoy watching Gamora and Nebula duke it out, or Rocket and Groot smash some pirates, or Drax delicate inform Mantis that she’s hideous. Mass Effect needs to do the same and let us watch the crew members interact in ways that don’t involve Ryder. The crew is interesting ways that don’t involve Ryder and letting us see (and play) those interactions would add tremendous depth (and countless hours) to the game. So I’m hoping we see that in the next Mass Effect title; that……and maybe a dancing Baby Mordin.