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Mass Effect 2 Second Opinion

Richard Naik's picture

I am the Very Model of a Scientist Salarian...

Mass Effect 2 Screenshot

HIGH: Agonizing over choices during the endgame.

LOW: Planet scanning.

WTF: ...I've studied species turian, asari, and batarian.

Mass Effect 2 is not Mass Effect 1. This much should be obvious from a mathematical standpoint. Mass Effect 2 is the sequel to Mass Effect 1. Again, math shows us the way. So the question at hand, as it is with all sequels spiritual or otherwise, is this—what does the new iteration bring to the table that its predecessor didn't? Despite my enthusiasm for the original, it had numerous flaws that I hoped would be addressed in Mass Effect 2. And while it did deliver in some areas, it stumbled in others, and led me to believe that the first game is indeed superior. Still, I can safely say that my overall satisfaction with the result of BioWare's experimentation was a bit greater that Brad's. Indeed, most of my dissatisfaction had less to do with what they actually did and more with what they chose to punt on.

First, the positives. Combat in Mass Effect 1, while acceptable, was just that—acceptable. While there was an occasional firefight I got some real enjoyment out of (such as the final boss or the encounter with Benezia), the battles were largely a clusterfucky mishmash of my teammates jumping right out into enemy fire and me constantly thinking "please don't let there be a hidden sniper back there." Weaponry and powers were also a little unbalanced, with pistols and sniper rifles ruling the roost against pretty much everything, and the tech abilities being near useless.  While none of this caused me to throw my mouse down in frustration, I still felt like I was slogging through each fight to get to the next bit of plot advancement.

Fast forward to Mass Effect 2, and gone are virtually all my battle-related qualms. The frenzied fights have been replaced by a Gears of War-like system of moving in short bursts from cover spot to cover spot. Tech abilities have been enhanced to where they are just as helpful as the biotic powers. My teammates now will actually take cover when it is prudent to do so, and I found myself using the squad commands much more than in the first game. Setting my squad up at the front lines and running around the side with my trusty charge+shotgun combo never quite got old, and was much more enjoyable than the confusion that abounded in Mass Effect 1. So while fighting is hardly the focus of the game (nor should it be), it was very much appreciated that a lot of the slack was picked up in this area.

Characterization. In this aspect lies Mass Effect 2's greatest strength, but also the source of its greatest weakness, which I'll get to later. Mass Effect 1's cast was anchored by some great personalities, but drawn back by some others. The also-rans on my ship were a bit of a drag, as taking them with me or interacting with them felt like more of a chore than anything else. I was hoping that Mass Effect 2 would take a cue from Dragon Age: Origins and make an effort to give everyone some time to shine, and in this regard my prayers were answered.

Mass Effect 2 Screenshot

Every character (not counting the über-lame DLC-only character) was a treat to talk to and interact with. Each of them is unique and charming in their own way, and the loyalty missions, the specialized missions concerning a specific character, allowed the spotlight to shine on them all. The dynamics of each character were extremely well done, and it made decisions about who to take with me all the more difficult. Speaking of choices, the level of characterization makes Mass Effect 2's endgame all the more agonizing. I won't spoil anything, but the suspense at the end is palpable, as the fate of the team and the entire crew of the Normandy rests on your decisions. While it did hurt the game in other areas, the focus on the buildup to the endgame was certainly successful.

Now for the bad news. As I said before, Mass Effect 2's characterization is both a blessing and a curse, since while the individual characters are portrayed wonderfully, it is done so at the expense of the overall plot that was so exquisite in Mass Effect 1. The lack of focus in the story can feel very awkward at times, as I often lost sight of the overall goal of Shepard and his shipmates in the face of so much "side" content. And when the game ends, very little has occurred in regards to the plot, leaving a somewhat dissatisfied feeling in its wake.

On top of that, the game fails to take some needed steps forward with its characters as well. One of the things I felt was really missing from Mass Effect 1 was some more interaction among the team I took so much time to build. It was a little disappointing to have all these interesting personalities and only be able to see them in one-on-one interactions with Shepard. Dragon Age handled this superbly, with lots and lots of banter between the team that was almost always wonderful. Unfortunately, this kind of interaction is sorely lacking in Mass Effect 2, and its absence is felt even more due the increased number of party members. There are some very bad instances of this on the loyalty missions, when I would expect a certain team member to chime in with some sort of insight on the situation only to be given dumbfounded silence.

As I said, my disappointment with Mass Effect 2 stems more from what they didn't do rather than what they did. As much as I liked it, the game is awash with missed opportunities to surpass the original and certainly has its share of "wha?" moments. The lack of focus on the main storyline also hurts. Still, once I got over the initial shell-shock of all the changes, I really enjoyed most of my time with the game. The characterization is top-notch and it comes along with a number of welcome technical improvements. The core of what made Mass Effect 1 so good is still there, even if it is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis. Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: The game was obtained via Steam download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 31 hours was spent completing the game once on normal difficulty.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PC  
Developer(s): BioWare  
Publisher: Electronic Arts  
Series: Mass Effect  
Genre(s): Role-Playing   Shooting  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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ME1 was a lumbering giant - ME2 is a lean, mean fighting machine

Evil giant space lobsters and all those other sci-fi tropes which constituted the plot of Mass Effect 1 bored me to no end, so I'm genuinely puzzled by reviews in which the first game is praised on account of its "exquisite" narrative. I was relieved that the sprawling space opera nonsense and disastrously paced story exposition of ME1 was followed up with what I saw as a parsimonious and admirably common-sensical plot structure in the second game (i.e. assemble a team of bad-ass badasses, get to know them well and then go kill some aliens together). Hence, while "lack of focus" seems a fair criticism to make of one game in the ME series, I'd say the primary offender is definitely not the one discussed in this article.

Other than that you make a very valid point about how the party interactions in DA:O were handled much better (and, curiously enough, that's a criticism I don't remember seeing in many other reviews of the game).

I have to half disagree

I have to half disagree about the combat, Gears of War let you have more than 12 ****ing shots on a gun.

I find myself slamming my desk because I'm always out of ammo and my enemies seem to take infinity headshots with the Mantis, even as I progress into three upgrades for it.

I just feel weak and pathetic, ME1's combat wasn't as necessarily rewarding, but this retarded thermal clip thing has nearly ruined the game for me, it puts me in intense situations and the only enjoyment I can get out of it is panicking to find thermal clips to fight back with.

Always frantically searching for these stupid ****ing clips instead of enjoying the game.

So, the combat is rewarding, and I barely have any time to enjoy it for diving toward the red beacon that lets my uber super-weapon of the future fire off twelve insignificant shots while my enemies are gifted with infinity-number of red justice at their disposal.

Here's to hoping ME3 decides not to brutally rape me and yet challenge me more than ME1.

Anonymous wrote: I find

Anonymous wrote:

I find myself slamming my desk because I'm always out of ammo and my enemies seem to take infinity headshots with the Mantis, even as I progress into three upgrades for it.

Hm... what difficulty are you playing on? On normal pretty much every enemy without massive armor or barriers is done after one headshot with the mantis. Hard is... harder but still not that much of a problem. Didn't try insanity so far but if you play insanity you shouldn't complain that the game is too hard ;-)

I'm playing soldier and on later levels I found it very easy to mow down enemies without running out of ammo (had the revenant LMG with all accuracy upgrades). I ran out of ammo for my assault rifle only once during my playthrough, then I simply switched to a secondary weapon.

But I agree that these stupid thermal clips were a huge "WTF?" moment for me after the infinite ammo weapons in the first game.

Responses

@Li-Ion

Same here. I ran out of ammo on occasion, but it was nothing that couldn't be covered by a secondary weapon. The only prolonged shortages I had were with the heavy weapons, and that was understandable, since having them available all the time would've made things a tad unbalanced.

@Demiath

Totally disagree about narrative. The revelations in the last 1/3 or so of ME1 were fantastic, whereas that "whoa" factor really isn't there in ME2.

@Naik: Got it, but don't get it.

Yes, that preference comes across very clearly in the review. Merely restating it doesn't make it more understandable (to me), but I'm certainly well aware that there are players who, for whatever reason, actually enjoyed ME1's seemingly uninspired take on the "ancient race returns to destroy everything" cliché. Maybe they just need to get out less and watch more sci-fi...

Nice review

Hey Richard,

Just finished reading your review, and listening to the podcast about ME2.

You guys are on the money. I would like to add, that as interesting and devoted to recruitment/loyalty missions for side-characters are, they put none of this time with Shepard and his mission. Which is the actual story being told.

If the side characters missions, motivations and involvement were even slightly with the main plot, these characters would have actual use and value. As it turns out, the Dirty Dozen in Space doesn't work. Our goal/target is an unknown: we don't know why we need an assassin, or a violent badass, or whomever. (And we find out at the end, the majority are useless/replaceable.) If the plot was developed so that we learn about our opposing force/goal as we progress, then recruiting these 10+ people would have value.

(Compare this to the ME1 characters who had more motivations on the main goal than all ME2 character combined.)

It would've been nice to see our cybernetic Jesus get emotional/challenged/conflicted over something. We can't still have a talking static head pumped up on Dom and Fenix testosterone, slogging the plot along. This is BioWare, right?

@Stefan

Stefan wrote:

It would've been nice to see our cybernetic Jesus get emotional/challenged/conflicted over something. We can't still have a talking static head pumped up on Dom and Fenix testosterone, slogging the plot along. This is BioWare, right?

I think the emphasis is more on the player being emotionally challenged rather than Shepard himself, but yeah, some of Shepard's reactions to things were really dull, especially with the male Shepard's non-emotive voice. I'm really curious as to why they went with the same actor again after the first game when the female voice did such a better job.

Where were we emotionally challenged?

Richard Naik wrote:

I think the emphasis is more on the player being emotionally challenged rather than Shepard himself, but yeah, some of Shepard's reactions to things were really dull, especially with the male Shepard's non-emotive voice. I'm really curious as to why they went with the same actor again after the first game when the female voice did such a better job.

I'm not sure I understand how the player was emotionally challenged. There were some interesting conversations with Tali and Mordin's loyalty missions that got me emotional and allowed me to voice an opinion (and confused me on the whole P/R system), but not exactly challenged. That current P/R system needs to go the way of a skill.

I understand the need for (a) protagonist to be the everyday man/woman, so that we can relate to him/her, amidst an alien universe. However this implies the protagonist is an actual character, not some static representation of the player. If it were static, this would be a hardcore RPG. But ME2 is a departure from RPG themes, so I thought Shepard would be more developed along classic storytelling lines (e.g. Luke Skywalker.)

Regardless of liking Hale over Meer, if we were emotionally challenged, I didn't exactly have the opportunity to express those emotions through Shepard, if that was the intent. (Compare the crew-speech Shepard gives in ME1 to the two he gives in ME2. Which one was more memorable?)

Mark Meer is everywhere

Oh and if you noticed playing as a male, I'd say almost every other conversation at cities or planets involve hearing Mark Meer (as a Volus, another human, a Solarian, Quarian etc.) I think I counted at least 4 times where Mark Meer is directly talking to Mark Meer. And yeah, non-Shepard Mark Meer is much more emotional.

Can the writer please ask the voice producer to get some emotion out of these scenes?

Emotion

Stefan wrote:

I'm not sure I understand how the player was emotionally challenged. There were some interesting conversations with Tali and Mordin's loyalty missions that got me emotional and allowed me to voice an opinion (and confused me on the whole P/R system), but not exactly challenged. That current P/R system needs to go the way of a skill.

Throughout the game I was having difficulty making certain choices, and any choice I made was expressed through Shepard's actions. I'd call that challenging, as the decision in these instances was always hard for me to make.

I agree on karma points (as I said on the podcast)-they were acceptable once upon a time, but the genre has evolved beyond the need for them.

Stefan wrote:

I understand the need for (a) protagonist to be the everyday man/woman, so that we can relate to him/her, amidst an alien universe. However this implies the protagonist is an actual character, not some static representation of the player. If it were static, this would be a hardcore RPG. But ME2 is a departure from RPG themes, so I thought Shepard would be more developed along classic storytelling lines (e.g. Luke Skywalker.

Usually on my first playthrough in this type of game, I play the character as if it was myself. So hence Shepard is in fact a representation of the player, me. So in this case relating to the character isn't really a problem. I regard ME2 as more of a departure from RPG mechanics (loot, inventory, etc.) rather than themes (characterization, choices, etc.) so I don't think classic storytelling a la Star Wars would work.

Richard Naik

Richard Naik wrote:

Throughout the game I was having difficulty making certain choices, and any choice I made was expressed through Shepard's actions. I'd call that challenging, as the decision in these instances was always hard for me to make.

I agree on karma points (as I said on the podcast)-they were acceptable once upon a time, but the genre has evolved beyond the need for them.

Ah, I think conflicted might be the proper adjective. I wouldn't call "not sure what to choose" as emotionally challenging. Unless there were some really personal options that hit you?

Richard Naik wrote:

Usually on my first playthrough in this type of game, I play the character as if it was myself. So hence Shepard is in fact a representation of the player, me. So in this case relating to the character isn't really a problem. I regard ME2 as more of a departure from RPG mechanics (loot, inventory, etc.) rather than themes (characterization, choices, etc.) so I don't think classic storytelling a la Star Wars would work.

I don't see why not, simply because you're represented by Shepard. If they can develop a side character, why not the protagonist? You choose a backstory and defining military action. Heck, one of them (Sole Survivor) was instigated by Cerberus, which caused the death of your entire squad and left you psychologically scarred. A pity none of that is developed. I think they had those kinds of quests in ME1. Regardless, Shepard keeps on plowing through everyone with his elbow till the end.

Eye of the beholder

Stefan wrote:

Ah, I think conflicted might be the proper adjective. I wouldn't call "not sure what to choose" as emotionally challenging. Unless there were some really personal options that hit you?

Well, the fact that I was conflicted was an emotional state itself, so to me that counts.

Stefan wrote:

I don't see why not, simply because you're represented by Shepard. If they can develop a side character, why not the protagonist?

I guess it boils down to how you see Shepard. Like I said, on my first playthrough I do what comes natural to me, which usually means the "good" options with a bit of ruthless pragmatism thrown in. On any subsequent playthroughs I'm usually going for a specific type of character. So in a nutshell any sort of development on the player character's part is in my mind and not given to me by the game.

finally

Finally, I find a website that knows how to review. How is it this is the only review I've read that realized how much MAIN plot was missing from ME2, and that the lack of plot makes this just another duck and shooter, albeit one with a very good conversation system and good characters? For me, there was one plot development that made me wow with glee, which was finding out who the collectors were. Then, after that no one else in the galaxy cares about it? The whole galaxy is so disconnected from anything you do. You can't even tell Liara about what the collectors are, despite the fact she spent 50 years researching the protheans. ME1 makes the game revolve around you and makes you feel important. ME2 revolves around character side quests, while the illusive man does the main plot for you and Shepard is reduced to the role of errand boy/girl. THANK YOU gamecritics.com for not one, but two honest and good reviews. ME3 better make up for the lack of development.

A wan hope for Mass Effect 3

So when you are five years old and visiting Grandma, maybe it was entertaining to go through her sewing box and stick the loose straight pins into a pin cushion. However, it does not make for an exciting video game. For Mass Effect 3, I hope that Bioware drops the mineral scanning and returns to the Mako with sight control improvements. I visited every single planet on every single star in every single Nebula in Mass Effect 2, but only pin cushioned (probed) enough to "research" (meaning implement) every upgrade and to determine that I was not missing a single "Anomaly Discovered" side adventure. Despite this tedium, which I recorded on a spread sheet, Mordin died in the finale. Why did he die? I bought every upgrade available in the stores except all of the plastic ship models, I even bought the gerbil. I don't know why he died nor was there ever a clue or explanation in the game. I don't mind playing a game and living up to high performance standards as the player, but I expect the same from the makers of the game.

Although the cut scenes were good theater, there was too much of taking the controller out of my hands to watch them. An RPG should be more like the exploration in cross country skiing and less like the pin ball slot of the bob sled. The game should be re-labeled as a third person shooter action adventure, there is very little "Role Playing" left for the player.

Lastly, the writers are fond of threading in science with "dark energy" and "entangled states of matter", yet they flub simple stuff like 360 degrees in a circle. Each of the planet hemispheres you view, correctly shows 18 regions with 18 lines of longitude each with 10 degrees, yet when you go completely around any latitude there are 50 lines of latitude representing 500 degrees. This is irritating on two levels, the lack of attention to science and the 28% longer than necessary scans of each latitude line prolonging the pin cushioning task.

Overall, nice game, but I won't buy version 3 if they stick with the pin cushioning.

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