I just finished Mass Effect 2 and, though I might call it Bioware's best game ever, its ending was bittersweet. On the one hand, it was a thrilling action RPG with the most interesting cast of characters in any Western RPG I can think of. On the other, I was expected to dedicate only a little of my attention on these fascinating side-stories, and be mostly concerned with the act of (wait for it!) saving the galaxy. Whooptidoo. As I made my heroic thrusts into the stars, I found that my various thrustees were far less interesting than an odd little Salarian in my medical bay, a party NPC named Mordin.
Mordin has some specific back-story to him, and without getting into spoilers, helping him tie up some loose ends, and talking to him about the implications of his history, was the best part of the whole game. It was a big let-down to finish that up, and return to hunting, *sigh*, the magical (sorry, technological) hoojiwatzit that can save all Milky Way-going life. Despite being smaller in scale, his story was infinitely more engaging, intellectually and emotionally. It had multifaceted characters with complex motivations, a moral quandry that was genuinely quandry-y, and more than enough justification for set piece action moments. I wanted to play a 30-hour RPG about THAT story, even though the stakes were much smaller and the through-line potentially lacking in easy moral inertia.
The philic need to make every game have the (country/world/galaxy/universe/multiverse) hang in the balance is getting genuinely tiresome. It's not only because the expansion from the local to the grand is so easy to see coming ("It turns out this plot is much bigger than we could have imagined!") but because it severely limits the places the story can go, and robs it of any moral complexity, whatsoever.
I guess I'm just burnt out on sweeping, epic trilogies and grand adventures. I think it would be more than possible for any of the few dozen super-talented developers to make an accessible game with a less conventional conflict than universe-threatening evil. Often these sorts of issues are blamed on the market, and the need to "play it safe," but I don't see anything dangerous about changing, not the content of the adventure, but the context, especially in an RPG that is ostensibly about clearing your own moral path. I think the slavvering, change-resisting neanderthal known as the "average consumer" is a near-total straw man.
Anyone else feel that way?