Mass Effect 2: Struggling to Understand

Mass Effect 2:

The wreck of the Normandy in Mass Effecf 2The two game franchises I’ve seen most hyped in recent times are Portal and Mass Effect. Amazingly, Portal pretty much lived up to its insane hype. Mass Effect… not so much.

ME2 is not a bad game; I’ll say that out of the gate. I will be harsh to it in this blog, but that doesn’t reflect my full feelings. It’s a solid six or seven out of ten — okay, not great.

But I am left struggling to understand what people love so much about this game. And I think I do, but at the same time, I don’t.

Saving the best for last:

Investigating the Collectors in Mass Effect 2The main problem with ME2 is that it is incredibly slow in getting started. It takes an eternity to get your squad together, and for the most part, I found this part of the game very dull. I honestly can’t remember a single recruitment mission that I enjoyed.

For that matter, I can’t remember many recruitment missions period. They all kind of fade into a blur; there was the one where I fought mercs, the one where I fought mercs, and also the one where I fought mercs.

The loyalty missions were a bit better, though still repetitive. Amazing how everyone in my crew got betrayed by someone they love. But some, namely Mordin’s and Tali’s, were actually quite engaging and ethically weighty, despite their predictability.

Still, the entire grind of recruitment and then loyalty missions ultimately felt very much like busywork — and a lot of it at that.

The Citadel in Mass Effect 2However, once I got all those done and had my whole crew ready, I started enjoying the game a lot more. I’d describe it as a quantum leap forward in entertainment value. I spent hours chatting with the crew on all manner of subjects. I particularly enjoyed my conversations with Mordin and Thane — dear God, those guys are awesome.

And then we launched our epic assault on the Collectors, and I had to make heart-breaking decisions over who would live and who would die. Although I resent the unpredictability of which of my decisions would lead to people dying, it was on the whole an enjoyable experience.

But here’s the problem: that part after the game got going, where things were actually interesting? It was about 10% of the total time I spent playing ME2 — I did the math. The rest was just building the crew, doing side missions, and grinding for resources. If all the busywork had been cut out of this game, it would have been as long as the original Portal.

The Normandy crash site in Mass Effect 2Ultimately, it’s the same problem suffered by Diablo, World of Warcraft, and frankly any RPG I’ve ever played outside the Dungeon Siege franchise: it’s a huge amount of grinding and time-sinks for brief, if stellar, rewards.

What could have been:

So I sort of understand what people love about this game. A lot of the characters are very interesting and memorable once you finally get far enough to properly interact with them, and the main plot — while not especially original — was plenty exciting.

But yet, those good parts were a pretty small part of the game, so I don’t understand why it’s viewed as such a masterpiece. It could have been, but the execution was badly botched.

The Collector ship attacking a colony in Mass Effect 2It saddens me greatly because I can easily see how it could have been worthy of the hype if it had just been executed a little better.

Recruitment missions and loyalty missions should not have been separate things, and there ought to have been more variety to them so it’s not always “kill mercs to recruit them, then help them deal with the friend/family member who betrayed them.”

It also would have helped a lot if the loyalty/recruitment missions had been connected to the main plot. The game would have had a much greater sense of purpose if everyone on the crew had lost someone to or suffered as a result of the Collectors, or the Reapers.

Maybe the Cerberus experiments on Jack could have been a response to the Reaper threat. Maybe Miranda’s father could have created her to fight the Reapers — now there would have been a twist; she escaped him only to end up serving the purpose he originally intended for her. Maybe Jacob’s father could have been shot down in a Collector raid.

Inside the Collector ship in Mass Effect 2With the rest of the game streamlined, the Collector arc could have been expanded and given the attention it deserved. It ended up feeling like an afterthought, almost. So little of the game was devoted to actually fighting them.

Make those changes, fill a few of the more obvious plot holes, and add an option to know if a character has new conversation options without actually going to talk to them, and suddenly you have a game that would be worthy of all the hype.

But unfortunately, what we’re stuck with ends up being a very average game. There are tantalizing flashes of brilliance, but they feel lost amidst hours of slaughtering mercs and scanning planet after planet cause I could never find one with any frickin’ element zero. There was the potential for so much more.

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2 thoughts on “Mass Effect 2: Struggling to Understand

  1. I tend to agree. This was Sidequest: The Game. Even the main story was actually a sidequest to the larger Reaper plot. This was intended as a more character-focused game. But the problem is the character focus often ended up being done in fits and starts, rather than being a more consistent thing. How frigging long did Garrus spend on his calibrations? That’s sloppy. Also, for a game that’s supposed to be about building a team, how about making it feel like we’re building a TEAM? It felt more like gathering 12 random badasses who don’t want anything to do with each other, and who don’t talk to each other. Having banter on missions would’ve improved things a lot. Even better if there was banter on the ship. Have Miranda and Mordin chatting, or Jack trying to mess with Samara, or Tali telling Jacob that she doesn’t trust him and to shove his politeness up his Cerberus ass. And include the crew – Chakwas giving Thane a physical to check on his Kepral’s Syndrome, or Kelly trying to get to know more about Grunt. It didn’t have to be a constant thing, just once in a while, move one person to where one other person is.

    And some of the recruitment and/or Loyalty missions definitely should’ve been related to the Collector storyline. Mordin’s recruitment was, and you COULD argue that Grunt’s recruitment was. Other than that, none of them had anything to do with anything. Make the Collectors a more omnipresent threat, rather than being, effectively, end-of-chapter bosses you beat to get to the next ground of character missions involving YET ANOTHER army of mercs.

    2 is actually my least favourite game in the series. I still enjoy it. I just like the other two more.

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