Mass Effect 2: The Bad Parts

A word of warning: this post will contain massive end game spoilers. Please don’t read it if you don’t want to know the ending of the game. You have been warned.

This is the post in which I complain and rant about the stuff that annoyed me in this game. I should probably mention that I don’t hate Mass Effect 2. In fact it is quite the opposite. I love it. I really had a great time playing it and I am definitely going to buy and play Mass Effect 3. I just hope they won’t reboot my Sheppard again… Which brings me to my complaint #1:

The Reboot

The begging of the game is absolutely baffling. You die, your ship gets destroyed and your team splits up. Two years later you are resurrected by a dangerous human supremacist terrorist organization, given a new Normandy that was based on original and your first task is to try to recruit your team back. What the hell?

I really don’t understand the need for such a drastic reboot of the game. I mean, if they wanted Sheppard to end up working for Cerberus in the second game, they could have foreshadowed it in the first, right? It’s not like a different game design studio made the sequel. It was created by the same people! Usually when you see a sequel begin this way is because the original game wrapped up all the lose ends so well, that there is no more story or conflict left. But this is not the case with Mass Effect series. It was penned to be a trilogy from the get-go. The first game had a satisfying conclusion, but not a complete one. The Reapers were still out there being a major threat and the citadel was ruined after the Sovereign attack. The story could have easily picked up right there and then exploring the effects of citadel attack, and the Reaper menace.

There was absolutely no need to fast-forward the story two years into the future. But if they really wanted it, there could have followed a path of easy, gradual transition. Let me give you an example:

After the events of ME1 the Council (or whoever is ruling the galaxy now) decide that Reapers do not exist. They ask Sheppard to either STFU about the Reapers or step down and relinquish his Specter title. He refuses to ignore the threat and since he is a hero of the Citadel he is liable to stir up trouble. In the end he gets stripped of his rank, and honorably discharged with a nice retirement package, with all kinds of benefits and privileges. They also officially deny Sheppard’s claims about Reapers. His team is disbanded and they all go do the stuff we see them doing in Mass Effect 2. Two years later Sheppard is still considered an eccentric war hero with some kooky obsession. No one save a handful of his friends believes in his rants about the threat to the galaxy. That’s when Cerberus approaches him with a proposition he cannot refuse: they give him an unlimited resources, a new ship and highly trained team and ask him to investigate the reaper threat for the good of humanity. How is that? IMHO, it’s much more plausible than the whole resurrection thing.

Honestly, I don’t actually understand why the Cerberus subplot is really needed here. Why couldn’t Sheppard continue working as a Specter? We could easily replace the word “Cerberus” with the words like “Alliance”, or “Council” in most dialogs and the game would not change all that much (save for the few spots that actually deal with Cerberus being evil). I don’t get it. The reboot was just a bad idea. And so were the Collectors.

If killing Sheppard and resurrecting him was designed to explain resetting his skill tree and experience, it was a stupid thing to do. Most of us can deal with such a change quite easily. Oh, sure – we would make jokes about how Sheppard forgot all his training all of a sudden, but it’s not uncommon. Many games do this, and we frankly don’t care. What really scares me is that they will try to pull this off again in Mass Effect 3 when they reset the skill trees again.

The Collectors

In ME1 the main antagonist was a race of robots that worshiped Reapers as their gods. It seemed like a sensible alliance: ancient sentient AI’s working alongside a race of self replicating synthetics that rebelled against their organic masters. ME2 switched things around and the main enemies you face are now Collectors – a race of mysterious insectoids that are somehow connected to the Reaper menace. Later in the game it is revealed that Collectors are actually degenerate Protheans that were enslaved by the Reapers and co-opted to do their bidding very much like Geth were.

Sadly this revelation does not make a shred of sense. For one, Collectors use semi-organic technology. Their ships are all gooey, twisted and covered with cocoons. They look nothing like the traditonal Prothean architecture we have seen in the first game. Why would Reapers make Protheans abandon their old technology and seek to reinvent it from scratch?

Furthermore, early in the game Mordin studies the collectors and decides they are probably a race that was uplifted rather than degenerated. According to Mordin’s theories the Collectors Reapers must have enslaved Collectors just as they reached a cusp of sentience. But instead of allowing them to develop their own culture and philosophy, Reapers bestowed technology upon them and trained them as obedient drones and ruthless warriors, thwarting creativity and independent thinking. The discovery that Collectors are descendants of Protheans – a highly advanced race with sophisticated culture and philosophy – that used to dominate the galaxy seems to invalidate Mordins’ claims.

It’s almost as if the writers changed their mind about what the Collectors back story halfway through the script, but didn’t bother to fix up the earlier dialog options to reflect this shift.

A Human Reaper?

The first game established that the Reapers are sentient machines that hate all organic life. Every few millennia they make a clean sweep of the galaxy, destroying all sentient life. We are never really thought why they do that, but there were some clues left. For example, Reapers don’t actually destroy any organic life that is not sentient. Furthermore, they fully expect organics to crawl back out of the primordial goo, develop space flight technology and find Mass Relays and the Citadel. They essentially herd the organic races in the Mass Relay connected space. Why? I always assumed they assimilate their technology. I guess it works a bit like how Asari use the genetic code of different species to introduce beneficial mutations to their own genome. Reapers use the technology produced by organics to introduce new design variations to their own systems. Then they wipe all sentient life out to maximize entropy – ensuring that next batch of sentients will come up with new interesting technology templates of their own.

ME2 shows us this is not the case. Apparently Reapers use organics to reproduce. What they do is they pick a species at random, then harvest it’s members, put them in some sort of sophisticated blending machines, turn them into orange goo and then use that goo to build a new Reaper. I’m not sure how do you make a space worthy vessel out of organic gloop, but I guess Reapers have some sort of mind blowing technology that we mere mortals cannot understand.

Also, Reapers are apparently built in the shape of the “donor” species that was used as the building material. So the Reaper “larva” you find at the end of ME2 looks like a half finished terminator – complete with the red eye sockets and all. It is suspended over a bottomless pit via 4 glass tubes that pump human flavored milk shake into it’s shoulders. As soon as I saw it, I was like – I bet I will have to drop the damn thing down by shooting at these glass tubes. And guess what? That’s exactly what I had to do.

Furthermore, if Reapers take shape of their goo donors, what species was Sovereign and other Reapers we have seen based on? So far all the reapers save for the larva were shaped like big squids or strange claw like appendages. Did they blend and ingest Cuthullu during their previous incursion? I guess we could assume that their shape is vaguely similar to that small Collector operator bug that sits in the control center… Maybe…

I don’t know about you, but I sort of liked my theory about Reapers evolving by assimilating organic technology way better than this while thing about liquefying humans and using them as ship building materials. It just seems silly.

The End Game Choice

Possibly the worst part of the game is the final choice you are given after defeating the end game boss. You find yourself in control of a Collector base filled to the brim with Reaper technology – including the now-dead Reaper larva, and the machinery that was used to create it. You are given two options: destroy the base, or keep it so that Cerberus scientists can study it. Guess which one is the paragon choice?

First time I played through this ending, I was like “You better believe we are keeping it!” Studying this base and the dead Larva will tell us how Reapers are made. Sovreign was pretty much shot to pieces, but the technology that was salvaged from him was very useful. Now we have a largely intact, larva. It has a big hole in it’s skull, but there are lot’s of undamaged parts there. We can pick it apart and probe it for weak points. Not only that – we could also call up the Citadel Council and be like “What now motherfuckers? You still don’t believe in Reapers? Well, I have this huge ass base that says you are full of shit!”. There is really no reason not to capture this base.

But this is apparently the wrong thing to do. Apparently the Reaper technology is evil, and The Illusive Man starts to drool at the mere thought of how much power it would give to his organization. If you don’t destroy the base, he will gets his sweaty, nicotine stained paws on it and he will use it to terrorize the galaxy. The game ends on a very negative, ominous note. If you continue playing, all the characters will tell you that you fucked up. It’s strange. After seeing this ending, I reloaded my game, and destroyed the base instead – and everyone thought it was the right thing to do.

You know what? It was not. It was the stupid thing to do. The right thing to do – no the logical thing to do would be to it over to the Council so that it could be properly studied. But that option is speciously absent from the equation.

Sniper Nerf

I played the game on mu first play through and as a vanguard on the second, so the heat-clip mechanic didn’t bother me that much. But when I tried playing as a sniper, I quickly started to hate them. In ME1, you could sit back in cover and snipe at your enemies indefinitely. That’s sort of what snipers do. ME2 breaks this mechanic by making all sniper rifles carry very limited number of bullets. After 5-6 shots you usually have to switch to your secondary weapon, and finish off the rest of the enemies at close range while foraging for heat sinks. Which defeats the whole purpose of playing a sniper-centric class to begin with. This mechanic worked great for my soldier though – I used the sniper rifles to pick out high priority targets (rocket launchers, snipers, drop shields on mini-bosses) and then closed the deal with the assault rifle. I was usually able to pick up enough clips from enemy corpses to reload both my weapons. If you like to use a sniper gun as your primary weapon… Well, you can’t so forget about it and re-roll a soldier class.

Conclusion

I really don’t know what happened with this game. The main quest seemed like it was hastily stitched together at the last minute, while drunk, by combining work of two or three separate groups of writers who didn’t really agree on how the story would unfold. Every single part of it was somehow stupid and contrived – from the resurrection, through the collector missions all the way down to the final battle. ME1 had it’s flaws, but at least the main quest was somewhat consistent. It was the strong point of the game while the side quests were boring and repetitive. ME2 is quite the opposite. The main quest sucks. I mean, I have to admit that I was excited to jump the Omega 4 Relay to see the collector base, and see the Collector base. So it is not all bad. The problem is that it has more plot holes than a slice of Swiss cheese after being shot with a shotgun. The side quests however… They are awesome – this is where the game really shines.

I’m going to talk about those parts of the game in my next post.

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4 Responses to Mass Effect 2: The Bad Parts

  1. Stuart Blessman UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Mac OS says:

    Just finished ME2 this weekend, in fact…and thank you very much for pointing out the flaws in what I thought was a cohesive plot. Guess I was wrong, lol. But you make some legitimate points; at times I did feel like I had missed something, especially with the Prometheans. Also, things felt unresolved, such as the whole Ashley Williams thing.

    IF Bioware had been planning ahead, they should have released a late DLC that was the battle that destroyed the Normandy, thus setting up ME2 a little bit better.

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

    @ Stuart Blessman:

    If they were planning ahead, they wouldn’t really need to destroy Normandy at all. They could be like: hey, look – we liked Normandy so much we built a new one that’s even better. We want you to use it for the next mission.

    There is nothing in the new game that could not be explained via a cut scene or two which would be much cheaper to do than a DLC. I really can’t figure out why they wrote this game the way they did. It’s weird.

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  3. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Maybe they made the reboot so you can change your face. Oh and add those bionic implants scars that show how *evil* you are – terminator style. Just because you’re having a negative outlook on things.

    I agree it doesn’t make any kind of sense to reboot the serie that way, unless it’s a badly disguised filler episode. See, ME1 was a strong hit. The situation at the end of ME2 is the same as the end of ME1 : the reapers are coming, you have your team, your ship. It’s hard to claim an episode is not filler if you finish the exact same way you started, so they had to strip everything out of you in the beginning, to make it feel like you’re building up, while you’re just catching up. It wouldn’t surprise me if the 3 part story suddenly became … 6 or 9 parts, with as many filler episodes as people are willing to buy. I doubt Mass Effect will end with the third game.

    I also agree that Collectors were badly explained and didn’t fit, and it doesn’t look like they were given much thought. Yet they don’t exist anymore and their station is lost whatever you choose, either to the space cemetery around the center of the galaxy or to Cerberus. You’ll probably never hear anything of it the coming games, apart from a posible sidequest, email or radio broadcast if you made the non-ridiculous choice. All in all, they could be erased from the Codex and it wouldn’t make a difference. I suppose it works well with the “filler episode” theory.

    The end-game choice doesn’t make sense especially since you’re the sole proprietor of a the only ship capable of reaching said station, so it’s not like you’re in a rush to decide. The Illusive Man can’t take it while you discuss it with the council or with him for some much deserved reward. You can always come back and destroy it later, or salve some of the thousands ships crashed around for more technology.

    I still can’t explain why Cerberus, given their past, decided to spend 2 billions on recreating you, several more on rebuilding your ship, yet more on funding a fully staffed crew with unneeded personnel, again more on developing a working self-sentient non-rebelling AI, while they could have made or bought a couple of nukes, destroyed/disabled the Omega 4 Relay that only leads to the collector homeworld, and be done with it. If these Relays are indestructible, just plant a couple of space mines to greet any ship coming out. If I were an investor I would not be happy at the Illusive Man’s management of my money.

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  4. Karthik UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Fedora Linux says:

    I didn’t mind the reboot, even if there were more sensible ways of doing it; I just assumed it was Bioware’s method of putting you in a rough spot, of owing your life to the wrong people.

    The rest of the plot (the collectors, the end game choice, the total absence of foreshadowing, the final boss) was hogwash, though.

    Zel wrote:

    I still can’t explain why Cerberus, given their past, decided to spend 2 billions on recreating you, several more on rebuilding your ship, yet more on funding a fully staffed crew with unneeded personnel, again more on developing a working self-sentient non-rebelling AI, while they could have made or bought a couple of nukes, destroyed/disabled the Omega 4 Relay that only leads to the collector homeworld, and be done with it. If these Relays are indestructible, just plant a couple of space mines to greet any ship coming out. If I were an investor I would not be happy at the Illusive Man’s management of my money.

    The illusive man always wanted the collector tech, so it wouldn’t make sense for him to seal off the Omega 4 relay. In fact, it’s fair to say the tech was the main reason he invested in Shepard. (He knew the collectors were behind the abductions from the start.)
    That, I suppose, was Cerberus’ angle from the start.

    The collector-prothean link was just plain bizarre, and the human reaper was a true WTF moment. Nothing in ME1 suggested the Reapers were made of organic stuff, and Sovereign expressed undisguised contempt for all organic life.

    Did Bioware plan this thing out at all? The ME plot didn’t even inch forward. The only explanation I can think of is that Bioware wanted to get the team building out of the way now for ME3, focusing primarily on the Reapers. All in all, you’ve got a total of 17 possible team members, an impressive list that includes people in high places, like Liara and Wrex.

    That said, I think ME2 had some foreshadowing for the next game. For one, there’s the dark energy / collapsing stars observation, which I believe will be crucial to defeating the reapers in the next game (catch them in a supernova, maybe). Then there’s the allies and resources you have thus far: the Krogan genophage research if you chose to save it, the Rachni massing under your command (eventually), and the Geth faction also under your sway.

    I just hope now that ME3 isn’t more filler to bide time. Harbinger is coming? I would hope so.

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