Mar 312011

I just finished Mass Effect 2 about 20 minutes ago. I’m now reinstalling ME1 so I can start the series over again as a renegade this time. Consider what I’ve said previously about my attitude toward replaying games and that should give you a good idea about how much I enjoyed it.

But in case I need to spell it out, I really really enjoyed it.

I will proceed to talk about it a bit, so if you have any fear of spoilers for Mass Effect, turn back now. I’ll be going into details and stuff, so seriously, don’t read if you don’t want to know. (This probably means you, Mike.)

As expected, it was a wholly satisfying experience importing my Shepard from the first game, and I’m so glad I took the time to make that happen, even as it added months and months to to my time before I could play ME2. Those choices were reflected in so many ways and on so many scales, from choosing to let the Council die and sexin’ up Liara, to hearing the news bulletin about the Alenko Foundation and coming across the woman and her brother-in-law discussing what to buy for the son I convinced them to allow to be born naturally. These little touches were absolutely everywhere … almost perhaps too much sometimes. This big galaxy is a damned small place. But there’s no denying you have the feeling that you’ve shaped this world around you, and I can’t wait to see it continue and in ME3.

The writing I’ve mentioned a few times now, and it was just flat out awesome. It took me a little bit to get into ME2, it felt so different from the first game and I missed my guys, but once I did it was even better than the first. There are some truly moving moments in there, not to mention genuine humour. I love how even your character feels like she’s grown and changed over the course of time, while still allowing all the choices to be yours. That’s no small feat. I was really anticipating ME2 from ME1, but BioWare has raised the bar to all new heights. I’m pretty cheap sometimes when it comes to buying games, but I can tell you that as things stand right now I will be buying ME3 on release day and will do nothing else until I’ve finished it.

Which leads me next to something that always disappoints me: the total lack of external acknowledgement of a female Shepard. BioWare’s got Mass Effect merch and promotional materials and all that stuff, but not a single bit of it has a female Shepard featured. I can’t even watch the opening cinematics without being pulled right out of it by wondering who the hell this bald dude is wearing my armour. I know that the odds of a female Shepard looking like mine are pretty slim, but the same holds for the male version, and they still use something. It’s not a huge deal and a pretty big testament to the strength of the writing that I’m so wholly invested in my character that for me she is the only possible incarnation of Shepard, but it’s still disappointing.

Speaking of disappointing, this was probably the part that let me down the most in Mass Effect 2: the lack of squad interactions, particularly in the loyalty missions. BioWare did a wonderful job creating some fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable characters for the game, but when it came to those characters interacting with each other, it seems they all but forgot about that part. There were moments, of course, a few brief cut-scenes: Jack vs. Miranda and Tali vs. Legion being the most notable of course. But for as many characters as we had, and as charged as some of those relationships should have been, there just wasn’t anything.

The inter-squad moments were among my favourites in ME1. I would actually think about, plan for, and anticipate elevator rides in the Citadel, just in the hopes that the two guys I brought with me would chat. I’ll say that again: I looked forward to rides in the elevator, just for the possibility that my squadmates would say something. So when I had these character-intensive missions, I picked my third party member very carefully. For example, I made sure to bring Mordin and Grunt along on each other’s missions (the fact that they were both on Tuchanka just a happy coincidence). But … nothing. I was particularly in disbelief that here’s Mordin talking openly, not just about the genophage but his role in modifying and reintroducing it, and here’s Grunt just standing there, stretching, oblivious.

BioWare put so much effort into creating these characters, to giving them such defined and vibrant personalities, that I just couldn’t help but latch on and anticipate each moment where we could learn something new. For all that work they did, it was such a pity to see that when it came to dealing with each other, the characters existed for the most part each in their own self-contained bubble.

Or hell, the world at large! I mean guys, I took Zaeed with me on every single Blue Suns mission hoping to get at least a one-liner. Nothing. I sincerely hope that ME3 can maintain this level of character development, but work harder to make everybody less pasted into the world at large.

All of this said, these really were minor issues. A bump here and there taking me out of the story and the experience, but just for a moment, then I was right back in it. Even the gameplay and battle issues I initially had all melted away after the first few hours, leaving me to suspect it was less a problem with the changes and more a kneejerk “It’s different!” reaction. And a lot of changes were so very much for the better. Hacking and Bypass versus Simon Says? Yes please. Even planet scanning, which I heard so much bitching about, didn’t bother me much. I tinkered around with it and mined while it was new and still interesting, and aside from a few minor detours, that initial payload plus whatever I found on missions easily saw me through to the end of the game. (And thank the gods I didn’t feel the need to be completionist about the mining, else I’d probably still be at it.)

Finally I did want to take a second to comment on the DLC – Overlord and Shadow Broker, at any rate; I’ve yet to purchase the new one that released this week. I bought both of those around Christmas time when XBL was having some awesome sales, so these two campaigns were seamlessly integrated for me. Plus I bought them so long ago I had no idea what was on-disc and what was DLC. Usually it was only when I was more than an hour in and saying to myself, “MAN this is a long mission!” But both were extremely well-written. Shadow Broker especially, filled with very different methods of play, and some genuinely hilarious moments. Like I mentioned above, my romantic interest in ME1 was Liara so I’m not sure if the dialogue is different if you two aren’t involved, but particularly the taxi driving bits and the endless waves while she hacks into the Shadow Broker’s ship were just great. And the exchange when you come across the asari movie playing at the hotel. Priceless.

So after about 100 hours total, I await Mass Effect 3. Katherine Shepard, Infiltrator, has sacrificed the Council to take down Sovereign, told the Illusive Man to go fuck himself and blown up the Collector’s base, saved countless people through only the power of her blue upper-left-hand words, and stayed true to her sweetie Liara. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.

  • Ross

    I love this series so much.

    Personally, I play relentlessly Paragon, so in my personal ME universe, Adenydd Shepard saved the council, blew up the collector base while saving every member of her crew, and stayed loyal to Liara. And convinced lots of bad guys to go straight.

    I can’t bring myself to play Renegade. However, if you don’t mind spoilers for Renegade choices, this is amusing: “Mass Effect 2 Shepard is a Bitch”

    On the topic of planet scanning — one of the patches they released after the game came out made the scanner move a LOT faster. Imagine scanning taking a whole lot longer, and you might see why those of us who played the game before the patch were bitching about it so much :)

    I dug back through my LJ posts, and this is the review of ME2 that I posted after finishing it:

    • Jet Wolf

      I’m pretty hardcore Paragon myself, which was sort of the funny thing when I was playing the first one – I thought the right thing to do WAS to say “Sod the Council!” I was a bit surprised to find out, probably not so much. Then when I had to replay it, since I wanted the same scenario, I had to do it again. And now I’m replaying as Renegade I can’t see me SAVING them, so I think the Council are just destined to die in my universe. Sucks to be you guys!

      I also managed to not get anyone killed in my suicide run. I was so happy. Talk about a stressful hour!

      I’m really interested in watching that vid, but I’m starting back in ME1 all bad this time, so I don’t want to spoil myself. Also playing a male this time around though, so that’ll be fun! Think I still offer up Alenko as sacrifice though. Man he irritated me. :P

      Overall, just a great time. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and can’t wait for ME3.

      Off to read your old review now …

      • Ross

        Re: romance in ME1… yeah, it irked me a little that Ashley isn’t an available romance option if you play a female Shepard. I played through the first game as a guy, after finishing it the first time as a girl, and I found the Ashley romance significantly more interesting than the Liara one. (Alenko is not an option; if the game had let me, I would have left him behind after the first mission.)

        But my “main” Shepard is female, so I romanced Liara. On the plus side, she gets a lot more interesting in ME2. Since I played the game when it came out, and didn’t have the “Lair of the Shadow Broker” DLC, I was initially worried about Liara; she seemed stuck on a destructive path and I couldn’t get her out of it. But now she’s… I’m going to say “better,” although the exact description of her situation is complex :)