BioWare tries to balance the BioWare way with the attraction of new fans with Mass Effect 2

Cool guys don’t look at explosions

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a conundrum. As many of you know, Mass Effect 2 comes out on January 26. It’s the first big game of the year. There’s only one problem: I’m having a heck of a hard time getting excited about it. What’s wrong with me, because clearly something is?

At CES last week, I spoke to BioWare‘s Casey Hudson, who’s the game’s project director. He was the project director for Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Needless to say, he’s overseen some pretty big games. Good games, as a matter of fact. Me? I make Netherweave Bags all day in WoW.

My initial question touched on the so-called controversy involving BioWare and JRPGs. It seems someone at BioWare had recently made an off-hand remark about the lack of evolution in JRPGs in the past few years. Now, this wasn’t an official BioWare position, obviously (and as I was politely reminded), but rather one man’s opinion. Regardless, let it be known: BioWare respects the JRPG, it just has its own way of telling a story. The BioWare way, if you will.

After that incredibly awkward opening, we moved onto a subject which is something that I’ve seen discussed in various message boards: whether or not Mass Effect 2 will move far away from the traditional BioWare model in order to attract a new audience. (You can almost hear every single person on NeoGAF lamenting, “Oh, but we liked Game before it became too mainstream, now we hate it.”) You know, perhaps transforming the game from a space opera into little more than GTA or Call of Duty with a dialogue wheel.

To that, Hudson responded by saying it’s all about balance. Does BioWare want to open its games up to new audiences? Sure, but at the same time, there very much is a BioWare-style game, and these games have done pretty well so far. While perhaps a little less dramatic than “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” BioWare, Hudson said, absolutely realizes that it has a knack for a certain type of game. It just so happens that more than a few people out there enjoy that type of game. So please don’t think that Mass Effect 2 is going to mutate into Resident Evil in Space or anything. It’s not.

Come to think of it, Resident Evil in Space… isn’t that Dead Space?

But back to my original premise: why can’t I get excited for Mass Effect 2? Or, more generally, why can’t I “get into” BioWare games? (Someone should answer that with, “You’re doing it wrong!”) I never thought I’d like Fallout 3, but after forcing myself to play it, yeah, I ended up liking it quite a great deal.

I suspect the issue is, BioWare games have such a fantastic reputation, that I expect to start a new game and immediately be all, “THIS IS INCREDIBLE.” Luckily, I bought Mass Effect during the big Steam sale over the holidays, so I’ve committed myself to take at least one night off from WoW to give them game a game. (I probably should have mentioned earlier, if for no reason other than to maintain a sensible paragraph structure, that my previous BioWare experience consists of less than one hour of Kotor, less than one hour of Jade Empire, and occasionally watching my brother play Dragon Age.)

Make no mistake that after talking to Mr. Hudson at CES (and reading more and more about Mass Effect 2 since then), I’ll be playing the game come January 26. This, of course, provided there’s no last-minute unlocking shenanigans on Steam like the kind that marred the release of Modern Warfare 2.