Mass Effect 2: First Impression

I recently finished Dragon Age I’m already jumping onto another BioWare game. Yes, I am a fanboi and I will play just about anything that comes out of that development house. I can’t help it. Their games are just that good. They are not perfect mind you, but they are good.

I really complained and nitpicked a lot when I reviewed the original Mass Effect. This does not mean I didn’t like it. To the contrary, I liked it very much despite the numerous jarring flaws that I mentioned in my reviews. I have the same relationship with Mass Effect 2. I love it even though it is flawed in many ways. I will probably rant about all these flaws in the next few posts, but please don’t think I’m trashing the game. I do this out of love.

Mass Effect 2 Cover

In many ways, the new game is an improvement over the old one. For example, do you remember how I said the inventory management in Mass Effect was a train wreck? Well, they fixed that problem quite definitively. Inventory is no longer annoying because it is simply not there. They removed it.

At first I raged at this, but then I realized it’s actually not such a bad thing. They simply got rid of a broken, under-designed feature and routed the game play around it. You can still find new guns and armor upgrades, but the process is much more streamlined and organic now. When you find a weapon upgrade you pick it up and equip it immediately, discarding the old gun – which is what your character would probably do in real life. The new weapons are always designed to be better than the base models they replace so you never actually end up with a gun that sucks. Similarly, instead of carrying 17 different models of heavy armor in your backpack, you collect blueprints that allow you to upgrade your personal armor when you go back to Normandy. The lack of inventory also removed the irrational requirement that each character carries 1 weapon of each kind strapped to their back, even if they are not skilled enough to use it. Now you manage your weapon load-out before a mission, and those characters who for example are not trained to use an assault rifle, can’t be issued one. When you pick up a new weapon upgrade, only those characters that posses the skill to use it are affected. It works much better than the former system.

Inventory is not the only much maligned game element that got axed. They also removed the silly Mako driving sequences. They were repetitive, boring and annoying due to the fact that the random terrain generator seemed to love huge mountains and canyons that were really hard to navigate using the four wheel vehicle. They could have fixed this issue by tweaking their terrain algorithms, but they got read of the headache altogether. Instead of being dropped 50 miles from the mission objective and having to traverse 8 mountain ranges to reach it, you now land right on top of it using a shuttle, which is a vast improvement. They also replaced the generic, super repetitive “land on the planet, kill all Geth and get out” missions with actual quests that involve interesting NPC characters, plot twists and expose you to a lot of new information about the Mass Effect universe, it’s history and the races that inhabit it.

Similarly, Geth are no longer your only enemy. In original Mass Effect all weapons and powers that had diminished or no effect against synthetic enemies were completely useless since 99% of the missions had you fight against the same 5 or 6 Geth models. The sequel has a wide variety of organic and synthetic enemies, forcing you to switch weapon based powers and strategies with each mission. It is a welcome improvement.

Really, it’s almost as if BioWare developers listened to customer feedback, and re-designed their game removing the disliked or controversial features. But I know that this is a silly notion. I mean, it’s not like these companies ever listen to our rants, do they?

All these improvements came at a cost of course. The game was significantly dumbed down compared to it’s predecessor. The skills and abilities were another major causality. Now each character gets 3 special powers (except Shepard who gets few more) that have exactly 4 levels of power. The system is dumb simple, but, very, very intuitive. I remember spending lots of time in Mass Effect 1 agonizing over spending my XP into the right skills, trying to figure out how they worked and why they were needed. And it was not the good kind of agonizing (like in Dragon Age) but the frustrating kind. The original system seemed a bit dumb, and stripped down compared to the RPG games I was used to. It felt simplistic and silly, and yet clunky and awkward at the same time. The new system doesn’t even pretend to be a fully fledged RPG game. It is a neat skill leveling system attached to a great shooter.

That’s really how I view Mass Effect 2 – a Gears of War/Halo like game but with a very, very good story and interactive dialogs. After an awkward first installment, Mass Effect finally got the guts to come out of the closet and say “Fine, I’m not an RPG. I’m an action shooter with RPG elements”. And you know what? It is not a worse game for it. I like it this way. I can’t blame BioWare for trying to make their games appeal to a wider market of FPS enthusiasts, especially since they have retained the best elements that make all of their games so damn good – well written story, great characters, interesting quests and deep dialog trees. Besides, Dragon Age proved that they are not abandoning us RPG nuts and they will keep making classic RPG’s for us. They are simply using Mass Effect to branch out and explore new markets.

Now that I mentioned that I like the story in the game, let me point out that I do have quite a few nitpicks. But we can talk about them later. In the meantime let’s talk about the differences between the two games, and how they affect the game play. Do you like these changes? Do you think the game was dumbed down to much? Or is it just right? Let me know.

Please keep this thread free of spoilers. I will have another thread to discuss the plot and the end game/

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9 Responses to Mass Effect 2: First Impression

  1. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I played Mass Effect 2, didn’t really like it, replayed Mass Effect 1, replayed ME2 and enjoyed it even less (I know, I have too much free time).

    !!WARNING : ranting mode is ON!!

    The new team is bad for one simple reason: everyone acts like humans. Mass Effect 1 suffered from this too, but at least Wrex, Tali and Liara provided good exposition for their respective races, and the plot didn’t entirely revolve around them. I found Legion and Mordin to be the only interesting characters to talk to, everyone else just dumps their family/childhood issues on you.

    The story doesn’t make sense, and doesn’t connect well to the previous game. Why were the Collectors never mentioned ? Why would Sheppard work with Cerberus after what they did in the first game (esp. with the Sole Survivor background) ? Why would a terrorist organization hunted by all known authorities put their logo on your ship just so everyone knows you’re part of them ? The first game’s story wasn’t very complicated, but at least there weren’t such huge gaps in logic.

    The scan system is on a whole different level of boredom than the MAKO parts ever were. I very much enjoyed driving around the planets when I replayed ME1, after spending so much time just dragging a cursor along a sphere while looking at graphs.

    Ammo, or should I say heat sinks. To allow for greater rate of fire supposedly. Very useful with single shot sniper rifles than run out after a couple of bullets fired. I could play ME1 with said rifles from start to finish, it’s impossible in ME2. Forcing me to use weapons I don’t like (pistols…) isn’t my idea of “improvement”.

    The removal of the inventory system threw away a lot of customization options. The lack of loot completely cuts the good old RPG joy of finding or buying a good weapon. In ME2, you find weapons at fixed locations, and they’re always the same. Ammo powers instead of weapon mods just limit the already very low pool of available powers.

    Introducing a global cooldown means you rarely use more than one ability at a time. The worse part is: it’s completely irrelevant, as everything is overshadowed by the guns. You can finish the game without allocating a single skill point. Power building is a good incentive for RPG players. There’s none of that here.

    I could also mention the stupid sexy outfits (like going into the vaccuum half naked with a breather as sole life support), the general lack of money to buy upgrades, the lack of relevant choices and minimal impact of the previous game’s ones, and more, but I think it’s enough… for now ;)

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  2. Aleriel CANADA Google Chrome Windows says:

    I enjoyed ME2, but there were a few aspects of it that just made me go “dear god, why?!”.

    I greeted the removal of the inventory system and the Mako driving with cheers of joy. Unfortunately, replacing the driving with the mind-numbing, horribly slow mining mini-game was hardly a great improvement. It was almost fun until I realized that I’d have to sit there and meticulously move the bullseye over every square of the planet to make sure I don’t miss out on precious resources.

    I’m still trying to figure out why I have to pick weapons loadout before every mission. I had to change things up there exactly twice in an entire playthrough — once to give the krogan his upgraded shotgun, and once to pick a different heavy weapon for Sheppard after I got the achievement for using all 5 to kill someone/something. Since upgrades are so linear and defined, there is never a reason to pick anything other than your current best weapons.

    Other than that, though, I enjoyed the story. I was a little annoyed by the steep paragon/renegade requirements needed to restore someone’s loyalty if you lose it. I was sitting at almost full paragon and still had to take one disloyal person into the final mission with me. Not a big deal, though.

    I enjoyed the story, but I tend to be not very picky about that. Overall, I’m looking forward to ME3.

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    Yes, I thought that the whole reboot at the beginning of the game was incredibly silly.

    I also have no clue what is the deal with making me work for Cerberus. I played the Survivor background in the first game, so as far as I know they are responsible for killing my whole unit. My original Shepard was also an alien sympathizer and a straight paragon. Unfortunately in Mass Effect 2 being Paragon means paying a lip service to the human supremacist agenda – unless in some situations where going against it is the right thing to do. I don’t get it.

    So far the main story is full of plot holes as well, but I can’t really say much until I finish it. So far I have been enjoying most of the recruitment missions and loyalty quests as well as just talking to the characters. The main mission bits here and there just made me roll my eyes.

    I went into the game knowing full well most of the RPG content was ripped out of it. So I’m basically approaching it like a Gears of War type shooter. And as such, it is actually not that bad. I’m entertained.

    Oh, and mining sucks. At least oppinion on Mako sections was split. Some liked it, some hated it. Everyone seems to hate the mining mini game so I’m guessing it is going to be out of Mass Effect 3.

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  4. tash UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    I’m pretty sure I know the answer to the question before I ask it. But in your guys’ opinions, should I play through ME1 before I pick up ME2?
    Will it spoil the story of the first one if I skip straight to it?
    It was always one of those games that looked entertaining, and I think I got maybe an hour or two in to it and never put it back in again.. Not that I didn’t like it, or don’t want to play it, I just can’t push myself to play it very often knowing how long it will take to finish :(

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  5. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Both games aren’t very long by RPG standards, I took about 20 hours to finish each one up with most sidequests, and 10-15 hours if focusing on the main missions.

    I’d say it’s best to start with the first game if you plan on playing both, otherwise the beginning of the second may not make much sense, nor will the overarching threat. If you plan on playing only one of them, pick the one you prefer : more rpg elements (ME1) or better shooter mechanics (ME2). Since both game end approximately with the same situation, you’ll probably be able to skip the other one and go straight to ME3. The main enemies are only mentioned in the sequel and a brand new menace loosely related comes up, so it’s perfectly possible to play through ME2 without prior knowledge of the universe, characters talking about events and a few codex entries can fill in the gaps.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ tash:

    That is an interesting question. ME2 does contain many references to the first game. Also, half the NPC’s you meet in the game are people you met or worked with in the past. Every once in a while some NPC approaches you and thanks you for helping his world in the first game, or something like that. So you will probably miss out on these little things if you don’t play ME1.

    Also, if you played the first game there are all kinds of cool moments – like holly shit, I’m visiting the Krogan home world. Or, OMG, I’m gonna see the Migrant Fleet. It’s probably not as exciting if you haven’t played the first game where you only hear these places mentioned but you can’t visit them.

    I tell you this – if you don’t feel like playing ME1 you can watch it being played. Shamus Young (DM of the Rings, Stolen Pixels fame) is working his way through the game with some friends providing commentary as they play it. Their comments range from hilarious to very insightful – they bring up a lot of good points about the in-game lore in between making geeky jokes. It’s quite fun to follow.

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  7. tash UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    @ Zel:
    Really? I thought ME1 was supposed to be 40-60hrs, but that may be if you do every single thing possible in the game. If they’re each only around 20hrs that doesn’t seem so bad :)

    @ Luke Maciak:
    I think I am going to end up playing through ME1 or at least most of it, for the little things like that in ME2.

    Thanks for the link, I started watching the first two episodes(skipping through some of it) but it does seem pretty entertaining and I might watch it even if I do play through it

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Linux Terminalist says:

    @ tash:

    I don’t actually remember how long ME1 took. I just finished ME2 and the last save is at around 49 hours. That’s with all the side quests.

    ME1 play time probably depends on how much time you spend driving the Mako up and down the hills. It can be a time sink.

    Oh and Spoiler Warning is up to episode 8 right now. I think around the third episode they switch places and give the controls to the other guy, who likes the renegade path. It’s actually interesting to watch because I played as a straight paragon – so they are using some new dialog options I haven’t seen. Also, it is much more hilarious to see Sheppard being a huge jerk for absolutely no reason.

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  9. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Some sidequests are huge time sinks and honestly not worth the effort. In the first game there’s a quest for minerals that requires you search planets with the MAKO for unmapped deposits. I’d recommend you skip it and just go for the marked anomalies.

    In the second game, the mining can go much faster if you don’t hold down the RMB but instead repeatedly click it, and there are far enough minerals to skip all planets below “Rich”. Just remember to scan every planet, even poor and depleted ones, for a few seconds in case there’s an anomaly detected.

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