Its November 16th, 2007, sort of. The staff at Bioware are faced with a challenge: after making Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, they're not making a sequel to it. Only, they are, totally, but they can't use the name “Star Wars” on it, or anything from Star Wars in it. So Bioware is faced with the conundrum of how to make a game that is an extension of Star Wars, without actually being Star Wars. This is obviously the exact same problem WARS faced, isn't it? Trying to make something out of Star Wars without being Star Wars. Mass Effect and WARS are even more similar in that they both share game mechanics between themselves and their earlier Star Wars iterations, acting as sort of second drafts of the origional. This is the second time wer'e looking at a property other than WARS on this blog, the first one being Battlestar Galactica, but where Battlestar strove to create a competitor to Star Wars in a similar medium, WARS and Mass Effect actually started their life joined with Star Wars before splitting off for one reason or another, which is quite a different thing to talk about. In fact, their choices are so similar we can directly compare how the two chose to create a new universe spun off from the old, and try to figure out who did it better.
Obviously, Bioware did this after WARS was put on hiatus, so WARS in some ways could be called a test run of Mass Effect, but its still the closest comparison we've got.
A huge similarity, and one which might easily go overlooked between the two is that both teams chose to put their new setting in our own future, having their games take place in a realm where Earth was still the place where humans came from, and where all the recognizable traits of our solar system still were easily found. They run into a difference though, in that Mass Effect takes place mainly outside our own solar system, while WARS takes place entirely within it. This leads to a very different sort of scale: Mass Effect actually ends up being closer to Star Wars in that there is a whole galaxy of different worlds. Going around and exploring them, a very Star Trek option, is totally viable, and expands the scope the game immensely.
In WARS however, they are only within our solar system, which both limits them and adds new possibilities. In WARS, there isn't much room for exploration, and there won't be a wide variety of aliens that will be encountered by players, but it does mean that those things that are included get a much deeper level of focus per story. That isn't to say that WARS in the end details those cultures more over the coarse of its whole lifespan than Mass Effect has over it's... A fact we'll return to.
One part of adapting Star Wars into another form, is that the Force from Star Wars has to be dealt with. Here it is especially important because both properties are porting over game mechanics based on the Force, so it can't just be discarded. WARS and Mass Effect require this. The really weird bit is that they go about it basically the same way. Both games chose to have the superpowers be greatly expanded, and to be far less “subtle” then the were in the original version. While the expanded universe of Star Wars certainly has people do plenty of ridiculous things with the Force, the films limit it much more strictly to telepathy, telekinesis, farseeing, enhanced strength/reflexes/speed/perception, and being able to affect people's minds. I'm sure I'm probably missing something for the blog someone will point on in the comments. WARS and Mass Effect both add in much more visual powers, like fire and ice related ones, as well as ones that are more attuned to the nature of the games they are being made for, like probability related powers for WARS, or powers that slow enemies in Mass Effect. This is a huge benefit to both games, as it allows for the games to develop whatever powers will be most beneficial, by removing a lot of the limits on what the powers can do.
In Mass Effect, these powers come from exposure to something called Element Zero, in WARS from radiation from the Mumon Rift. In both, people haven't been able to figure out how to 'make' people magic. Really, they're fairly identical on this count.
Magic Space Element
They both have one. Traginium for WARS, Element Zero for Mass Effect. Both are worked into the setting deeply, and are also fairly nonsensical if you think about them in terms of real science, but that’s okay. The point of having them is to hand wave away other improbable things.
WARS only has two prominent alien species. While there are more in the setting, none are developed to any relevance, or even given names. Mass Effect has a whole plethora of them. For the amount of stuff WARS has, the two are very well developed and well thought out, and they are rather alien. The aliens in Mass Effect are also very well developed, but over a much longer period of time. The WARS aliens are also much more.... Alien. This is a blessing and a curse. For Mass Effect, having the aliens be more human like means that there are plenty of elements ready for people to latch onto about them that they can see in themselves. The aliens personality wise could largely be different cultures of humans, physical traits aside. In WARS, that's basically impossible. The aliens are alien, so much so that explaining their mentality to new fans is complicated and hard. On the one hand, its great, because its really easy to believe that the Quay and Shi are aliens, and aren't from around where we live. They're mindsets are so different, their life goals so totally different from ours, that they really stand out as unique.
The problem with this, is relatability. We're going to see more aliens in future WARS stories, and trying to get into their heads is going to become more difficult. In Mass Effect, you can latch onto the aliens much easier. You can imagine them as your best friends, or imagine dating them. The aliens of WARS are far too different to really do that. Sure, you can try, but your efforts will invariably mean compromising the established nature of what the aliens are. Sure, people might be capable of allying with them, or befriending them to a point, but the divide is so huge it would take true exceptions to cross that divide.
In Mass Effect, Earth is a pretty darn nice place to live. Getting off Earth is what you do to have adventures. In WARS, Earth is an okay place to live but it has that oppressive corporate control bungling things up everywhere. You're not leaving to find adventure, but for freedom.
Some Aliens Come Out of Nowhere and Want to Beat Up Humanity
Okay, yeah, they both have that.
Mass Effect has a huge advantage here, a ridiculously big one. Mass Effect was developed as an exclusive game for Microsoft's Xbox 360 by Bioware, while Decipher made and released WARS all by itself. While having another group lording over you doesn't sound fun, it also means that that group has a vested interest in the success of what you're making. Microsoft would want Mass Effect to be successful, so it could sell more consoles, so they'll show it off at their trade shows and do a lot of work for Bioware in promoting and raising awareness for their game.
The videogaming and tabletop industries are massively different, and in some ways this is apples and oranges: WARS after all was developed by a much smaller team of developers, and had a much smaller cost of creation. However, it also is being made for a much smaller userbase. The number of people who would buy WARS cards, even if the game was a smash hit success, is smaller then the number of people who would buy and play Mass Effect, and while there are people who spend a ton of money on trading cards, the number of them is balanced out by the much larger number who only buy a deck and a few packs every once and a while. So while its not perfect, its still fairly compatible.
In fact, a very good comparison is Magic the Gathering, a game made by Wizards of the Coast, which is looked over by Hasbro. Hasbro wants the game to make them money, so they're willing to help advertise the game, and get it into big public retailers where people have easy access to it, just like Microsoft wants to with Mass Effect. In the end, Decipher is really an underdog here. Its fighting an uphill battle to release WARS and make it successful, this isn't something they're guaranteed to have success with.
Mass Effect clearly was the victor in success. Mass Effect has released a trilogy of acclaimed videogames, some spin off games, its own line of comics, its own line of novels, and even an Anime movie, plus countless other things. WARS never got that chance. This blog is covering basically every aspect of WARS imaginable (remember that I made sure to cover a promotional postcard, because in WARS terms that is actually a significant release) but a similar blog covering Mass effect would be able to be much more picky, and lump together topics that the author had less to say about much more easily, for the simple fact that there is so much more about it out there.
I think the single greatest example of Mass Effect's longer development is that there is a comic book about a fictional movie character from the series, showing us a story that people in the universe would have read. Not only is this massively cool that the developers were allowed this level of freedom in developing random things they wanted to do with the property, but how much more time they were allowed to. The limited time WARS had was largely spent developing the world, and will continue to be like that. Mass Effect was successful, and this gave it opportunities WARS never had.
In the end, the clear winner is Mass Effect, but Mass Effect had a lot of advantages right out the door, what with being developed with a backer and supporter already lined up. Mass Effect also took a much more populist approach, developing a universe that was more easily relateable, as well as with more room for people to make up new random things in it with its vast universe. WARS seems quite a bit more niche in comparison, choosing to have a smaller field of focus in every way so that parts of its setting could be fleshed out in more detail, and the differences between its groups made more relevant and apparent.
WARS in the end chose a path I personally found much more intriguing as a setting, one that leads to a much finer level of analysis, but one that may require a deeper level of obsession to get to that point to begin with. Mass Effect is, right out the door, stunning and engaging, becoming in all sorts of people to play it. It shows that Mass Effect became less niche and more open as the games went on, abandoning the more complex RPG elements of the first game for a simplified system for the second and third. WARS needed something extra to break out into the mainstream, something like a TV show, or movie, or even comics or books. The game was sadly never going to be enough.
Mass Effect is massively successful, and I've greatly loved playing the games, but WARS was always a more intriguing, more daring concept, despite all the massive similarities between the two. I can only hope someday WARS finds the secret Mass Effect did to sticking out in the middle of a storm of mass of effectual media.