Criticism of SW and ME Products
Greetings Fellow Terrestrially Bound Sentient Beings!
I have a criticism of my favorite author, Drew Karpyrshyn.
I'm in the midst of reading his novel, Revan, which is the third (I believe) Star Wars Old Republic novel linked to the Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR) MMORPG and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (SWKOTOR) single player RPG from ages ago. I am a huge fan of these games. KOTOR was the first Star Wars game I really felt did the genre justice, and SWTOR is a game I feel almost mimics some of my old tabletop RPG experiences. It helps that the writing for SWTOR is top notch as well. The best part of the game is the personal quest chain hands down.
Drew Karpyrshyn, as far as I've been able to tell, has been one of the main writers for both of these beloved games. He also held a similar position for the Mass Effect (ME) series until, apparently, ME3 which he seems to have left either mid-way through or earlier in its development (I'm unclear on the details). I credit him, either justly or otherwise, with the awesomeness of ME1 and ME2 (and was crushed by ME3's awfulness as a result).
Having pointed this out, I have to say I'm a bit disappointed in a trend I'm starting to see in his work and that of Bioware as a whole.
One of the things that KOTOR, SWTOR, and the ME series all have in common is the team building as part of the plot aspect. In each, as the central character, you assemble a group of specialists and friends to accomplish the mission, whatever that may be. These sidekicks, or companions as they are now called, add volumes to both the plot and personal enjoyment of the story.
This is a well established technique in storytelling of all genres. Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, The Lone Ranger and Tanto, Batman and Robin, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the list goes on and on ad nausium. Without these side characters the work as whole is diminished, both in terms of character depth and ability to relate to the audience. There is, I believe, a deep human instinct to have companionship in difficult ventures that these stories reinforce and validate for us -even if we don't go on adventures very often.
By tapping into this technique, the aforementioned games connect to something deep within the audience's psyche, written both in our natural instincts and in our culture as a whole. I don't think it's a stretch to say that this theme is one of the truly universal ones among the human experience worldwide. I think this is why these games are considered so good by the general public who play them (as evidenced by their reviews and ratings in the marketplace).
Given all of this, it has been both baffling and painful to see all of the hard work the player puts into gathering, equipping, and journeying with one's team diminished in ME3, and now Revan as well.
ME3 does not allow you to journey onward with those beings you gathered to you in ME2. It cuts the list of companions painfully short, and doesn't even supply a good explanation for why these people aren't with you anymore (as did ME2). It pained me that every companion I ran into from ME2 (save one) pretty much told me "bugger off, I'm busy" in ME3. I was really disappointed in that because I was looking forward to continuing the journey with the old crew plus, I hoped, some new editions. By cutting off that connection to history, ME3 divested me of my emotional attachment to many of those characters. The development of the new ones wasn't really there, and as a result I was less connected to ME3 than previous games.
In reading Revan, I'm starting to feel the same way. The old cast I was looking forward to seeing, Bastilla, Mission, etc. is cut painfully short as Revan starts to launch his new mission. In the case of Bastilla, it's quite bizarre since she happens to be Revan's wife at the opening of the book. Drew Karpyrshyn, sadly, also makes use of the old "I knocked her up so she has to stay home" excuse to keep this key character out of the action. I am only about 30% into the book at the time of this blog post, but I already sense a bit "LAME" scream in my head coming on. The fewer old faces I see the less invested in these stories I'm starting to feel.
I really hope that this disturbing trend is not going to continue in the work of Mr. Karpyrshyn and Bioware (but also in gaming and science fiction culture as a whole). I would hate to see what I consider to be the few remaining bastions of good, meaningful storytelling become as hollow as most of the junk that's being produced now. Substance, not flash, is what makes a story good and something people want to come back to again and again. Flash can be great for a one-off experience, but for a story to truly be enduring it has to have depth. It's a lesson that seems neglected in today's pop culture and genre fiction. I point to the later Star Wars movies (I've seen Empire Strikes back about 150 times or so, the later Star Wars films? About 5 times each at the most), ::shudder:: Twilight, and other flash in the pan successes. (Harry Potter, the earlier Star Wars films, and a good chunk of the Star Trek stories are good examples of the opposite).
There is some hope to be had here. The fan reaction to ME3 was not good, and from what I understand Bioware was inundated with unhappy forum posts. Drew Karpyrshyn's twitter posts also recognized the fan reaction to his most recent work. As a fan myself, I hope he takes it to heart and returns to what made him so good in the first place.