Mass Effect 2 was like one of the season finales for LOST. What I mean by that is that parts of it are brilliant, thought provoking, and just downright cool, but it’s hard to make an assessment of the game as a whole. There’s a galaxy’s worth of stuff going on in this game, some of which I love, and some of which is “meh” for now, but that might change depending on how they handle ME3.
There are so many things I want to say about ME2, but for now I’ll focus on game play. Some of the other topics I want to discuss include Sexism/ Feminism, Ethical Dilemmas, Questions of Identity, God and Faith, Space and Place: the settings of ME2, Music and Mood, and Done to death Sci-fi cliches. Be forewarned, I still haven’t decided what my stance is on all of these topics, so I’m probably going to sound kind of ambivalent, but I’m o.k with that.
Fire-Fights: Game play wise, I hesitate to say that ME2 is hands down superior to ME1. Yes, fighting is harder, faster, and consequently more intense, but I also had less options when it came to customizing my character, and that ultimately affects the way I play and the way I feel about how I play. I was much more invested in my ME1 Shepard simply because I had more influence in designing his abilities. When my Vanguard Shepard biotically lifted a Geth Armature, leaving it helpless against the clusterf%$# of bullets my squad-mates unleashed, I felt like I could take credit for the satisfaction provided by that in-game moment. After all, I allocated the points, I sacrificed powering up other abilities, I guessed what those different percentages might mean, and the fruits of my labor where reaped every time I dismembered a helpless Geth armature, hanging in mid-air like a ripe, metallic apple; I owned the game play thanks to the stronger RPG elements in ME1.
Another reason these epic moments occur less frequently, or less powerfully, in ME2 is that biotic powers got nerfed. They’re still cool, but they don’t work on enemies with shields or armor (I think), and biotic characters only have access to a few predetermined ones. It also seems as if my NPCs were less prone to use them in ME2, which I’m sure some people liked, but I loved that my ME1 squad unleashed everything they had as frequently as they could; it made for cooler game play, and once again, I personally allocated my squad’s points, and my choices weren’t as limited, so I was the architect of all these cool battles.
All the points I’ve made so far are easily refutable. For one, the power-evolution mechanic in ME2 does allow for more varied character abilities in the end-game, and I liked power-evolution, but I preferred the variety of ME1. Another point someone could make is that biotics were over-powered in ME1, and that the new adjustments make game play more demanding in regards to skill and strategy. Still others might say that they would rather not bother with RPG elements, and that ME2 improved game play simply because it looks and handles much better (which it does,) but man, even if it only seems this way, I truly felt like I had more control of my ME1 characters. I was more invested in the game, and the return on my investments were epic battles that I could take credit for.
I feel like both arguments are there to be made, but I personally had more fun fighting in ME1.
One obvious improvement in ME2, IMO, is that the micro-management of equipment has been streamlined. In ME1, I really spent a lot of time checking my equipment, choosing upgrades, and comparing and contrasting the efficiency of weapons and armor; it was kind of fun, but I was always picking up new items, ammo, and upgrades, so I ended up going through my inventory way too frequently, and many times this disrupted the flow of game play.ME2 prevents this by removing the ability to check your inventory during game play. Part of me misses having 15 different sniper rifles to choose from, but another part of me knows that I’m just going to end up using the strongest one anyway, so I might as well just have the game choose for me.
Missing the MAKO: I would have been the first to criticize how repetitive and easily identifiable the formula for missions was in ME1. You land on a planet, ride around on the Mako, kill some baddies until the road becomes too narrow for vehicles. Then you proceed to kick ass on foot. This happened in Therum, Feros, Noveria, Vermire, and Ilos. Essentially, there were two games: a shooting game and a driving game. Variations of the two made up every mission of the game. It was fun, but the transparency of the formula broke immersion from time to time, which is something all designers can and should avoid.
However, ME2 doesn’t improve this by adding more varied game play mechanics. Instead, they took away my Mako, and what did I get in return?…..
SCANNING PLANETS (aka: F-U, gamer. sincerely, Bioware).
Whose terrible idea was this ? this is so not fun, but most gamers are compelled (indoctrinated) by the game into scanning planets to gather minerals, which in turn allows us to pay for upgrades.
Sure, I could not scan planets, but am I really going to pass up improved armor plating, Quarian shields, and Turian cannons? Not to mention all the personnel upgrades. No, there’s no way I’ll go into the suicide mission without these upgrades. Did you see what the Collectors did to my ship last time? There’s no way I’ll let that happen again.
There really isn’t much of a choice; players have to scan/probe planets for resources, and that sucks floppy donkey dick (pardon my French). I distinctly remember sitting in front of my TV, using my free time to “play” this game, but I wasn’t having fun at all. I might as well have been mowing the lawn, or grooming a dog. I don’t play videogames to simulate doing chores, Bioware. I play to have fun, so next time you’re considering a game mechanic that’s so palpably tedious, remind yourselves that the goal is to have people enjoy your games, not to make me use foul language.
An alternative way to gather resources would have been some sort of bad-ass rail-shooter. Maybe Joker could drive the Normandy while Shepard takes control of the cannons, and we could chase down Batarian pirates, and then take their space booty, or something fun. Almost anything would have been better than scanning/probing.
I know I’m being very critical, but don’t get me wrong. This game rocked; I just wanted to outline some simple design choices that would have changed game play for the better if they were executed differently.