Mass Effect 2 is widely regarded as the best game in the Mass Effect trilogy - it's also the game that required the least overtime, according to BioWare devs in an interview with TheGamer.
"Mass Effect 2 was the most well received of the Mass Effect games," says the game's development director Dorian Kieken. "But did you know it was also the one with the least overtime, as well as the closest to initial budget and deadline?" Considering the controversy around crunch culture and AAA games like The Last of Us 2 and Cyberpunk 2077, this reveal is certainly an interesting one that will only raise more questions about crunch and the kind of output it generates.
For example, CD Projekt Red initially promised that employees wouldn't crunch to make Cyberpunk 2077 and that devs chose to work six-day weeks instead of delaying the game again, only to admit post-launch that it fell well short of that goal. Cyberpunk 2077 launched with a buffet of bugs and was ultimately mired in controversy - opposingly, The Last of Us 2 was reportedly created with a fair bit of crunch, but is widely considered an impressive feat for Naughty Dog.
Kieken isn't directly referencing any game in the interview, but the cultural knowledge around crunch is impossible to ignore. “For me, it's a great reminder that you don't have to kill your teams or throw crazy budgets to have fantastic results," he points out. "It's about having a focused vision and making the right choices during development. A great example of that was the decision to remove inventory management early on in Mass Effect 2, which allowed us to focus a lot more on the minute-to-minute core gameplay.”
While former BioWare employee Jonathan Cooper pointed out on Twitter that there were "varying levels of crunch on ME2 per team", the game required far less crunch than both the original Mass Effect title and Mass Effect 3.
According to Kieken, Mass Effect 1 "was really bad from a crunch point of view, particularly the last year. We lost quite a few folks because of that. Mass Effect 3 might have not been as balanced as Mass Effect 2 in its development, but it still had an overall good work/life balance." That balance led to the best game in the trilogy, and one of the most beloved games of all time. And while Cooper reminds us that "sequels are much easier", it's hard to ignore the facts: Mass Effect 2 is a fantastic triple AAA game, and it was created by a team largely enjoying an even-keeled work/life balance.