I’m building a consensus.

It’s hard to be disappointed with Mass Effect 2. There are so many things it does well and so many concerns it addresses from its prequel that calling it an unabashed improvement of the first game, and an innovative entry into the science fiction is easy. Mass Effect 2 is an extraordinary game, that makes bold choices that often pay off.

So while everyone is giddily excited about what Mass Effect does right, and they have every reason to be, I thought I’d take a look at where Mass Effect 2 didn’t do so well.

LACK OF COMPELLING STORY STRUCTURE:

The main bulk of the game is spent flying across the galaxy and recruiting teammates for this suicide mission into the great unknown. At first, I though this was just the first act of the game, with the rest of the story and development opening up once you’ve established your team. This was not the case. It turned out to be the whole meat of the game, with the suicide mission as the climatic finale.

Personally, the recruit teammates and do their loyalty quests felt like a first act story development. That it was the whole game felt kinda disappointed as you’re left with the sense that you’re going through the game without half your allies.

Part of the fun of these party based RPGs is that your ragtag group grows together as a family, as a team as they make their way through difficult scenarios. The shared experiences will cement their loyalty and their teamwork. In ME2, you can complete the game right after you recruit everyone, so if you’re aren’t invested into your teammates, you don’t even need to get to know them before you complete the game. It’s almost as if they are slots to be filled up, ammo to be loaded so your big gun can be fired. This wouldn’t be such a disappointment if Bioware didn’t conceptualise these NPCs so well.

I like Tali. I like Garrus, and Legion,  and Samara and Mordin and Joker and the 2 engineers, and Dr Chakwas and EDI. I like them all.* I want to spend more time with all these people. I want to bring them on missions and listen to them banter. I want to come back from a mission, kick back and chat with these people about their feelings and thoughts on whatever the hell we’re doing. I want to build a sense of camaraderie with these people. It’s a shame that the structure of the game doesn’t really allow me to. It’s two major missions with these people, in which they don’t interact with the mission or you much and then BAM!, the end.

The game wants you to invest in these characters, it’s the only way to really make sure the suicide part of the mission will have any resonance. It why the loyalty missions are so well crafted into exploring a character’s motivation and position within the greater fiction of the mass effect universe. Yet, the loyalty missions are so distinct from the main mission that you really don’t have to play them. In fact, if you don’t, the characters are more likely to die in the final mission. It’s an odd catch 22. If I don’t care enough to invest game time into the loyalty mission, will I care enough when they bite it in the final mission?

I was hoping for an act 2, when the team has been pulled together, when you’re off investigating more collector’s perfidy and Reaper’s presence in the world. More opportunities for intra-team bickering or banter. One of my favourite parts of the game was when Garrus was asking Tali if she missed those conversations in the elevators. I don’t miss the loading times, but I do miss those conversations. Those really helped build a connection with your team, make them seem like real people outside of how they relate to Commander Shepard.

I suppose it’s a testament to the fiction and experience that my main gribe boils down to “I want more” and that it’s possible that they could have had all that act 2 team development planned but no time to actually produce it. Mass Effect 2 was made in 2 years after all, and for the current version we got, that’s an impressive feat.

*Ok, not all. Jacob and Jack can bite it, and Thane was interesting until his story devolved into some “I’m so lonely, I have no friends.” territory. He would have stayed interesting had they explored more of his morality versus his occupation and played his interest into Shepard as a sort of, “I see your will governs what you do. I appreciate that, even if it is not what Drell are meant to do. Will and body are seperate.” Shepard: “Does your will want what your body wants? With me?” Ok that might be a little too unsubtle, but Bioware’s romance options aren’t known for their subtlety.

Lack of Compelling Loot.

Honestly, this did not impact my overall enjoyment of the game by much, other than occasionally wishing that I would find more interesting weapons. As it stands, the weapon variety and effects were interesting, especially combined with the tech and biotic powers. It’s perhaps a holdover from my mindset that an RPGs needs a decent loot system to satisfying the loot whore in us all. ME2 streamlining of weapons and upgrade definitely made the game less of a management hassle than its predecessor and Dragon Age, but it also took away the joy of finding an awesome new weapon and the chance to see it in action. Except the M60 Cain of course. That was awesome, unless your first chance to fire it was in a small crowded room, than it’s slightly less awesome.

Minigames

The mining minigame is strangely compelling. It isn’t fun per se, and I can’t say I enjoyed moving my scanner slowly across the planet, looking for minor spikes in the visual display, but I was compelled to do it. It also doesn’t seem to fit within the fiction of the game. How is it Shepard has the time to run around and probe planets for materials. Can’t she** ask the Illusive man for help? The alliance? Anyone?  Either way, it was a strange edition that didn’t seem to fit the streamline effort of the rest of the game. I suppose it’s a vestigial bit of design from when the game was a more full-fledged RPG, (assuming it was one)

By contrast, the hacking minigames did quite a bit to involve me in the fiction. It isn’t much of a game, but it does look pretty cool and it isn’t tedious enough to mar the flow of the game play. I suppose there are other ways to deal with lock-picking and hacking, but for a game that relies on the forward momentum of the story and shooting, what Mass Effect 2 had was adequate. At the very least, all the minigames were much more interesting that its predecessor and less annoying that checking for a lockpick skill. It behooves me to mention that my favourite hacking/lockpicking minigames are done by Bethesda, though I might alone in that opinion.

**There’s an excellent destructoid article about how playing Mass Effect as a female is a much better experience than playing as a male. I have to agree as I’ve never made it more than 20 minutes playing as a male Shepard. Hale’s excellent voice acting and the quality of the gender neutral writing does it make it seem that it’s more natural that Shepard is female. I can’t imagine half the emotional conversation you have with Garrus, Grunt, or Mordin if you’re male Shep.

Conclusion

If Mass Effect 2 represents the new direction of where RPGs are going, then I hope they find a happy medium between the streamlined momentum of Mass Effect, the exploration of Fallout 3 and the party interaction of Dragon Age. I don’t need a stat heavy game to roleplay my character, nor an immense amount of loot to sift through as I venture into wild unknown missions but I do need the sense of discovery that bound in the fiction and more chances to interact with the world, whether it’s poking around an abandoned vault, or exploring the dialog options of an interesting NPC, or finding a legendary item that’ll lay waste to my enemies.

What I don’t want, is the streamlining of the story and game play and what’s left are just “big” choices and visceral combat.

P.S. Things I do love about Mass Effect 2

– Interesting Unique Sidequests
– The Codex
– Tali
– Joker and Edi’s relationship
– Legion and the reveal of the Geth’s story.
– Mordin singing and his role in the genophage.
– The fact that the Normandy SR2 has toilets.
– That conversation about Newton being the deadliest son of a bitch in the whole galaxy.

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~ by valiumaddict on February 8, 2010.

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