So this is later than sorority girl a month after coming home from Cancun, but due to work kicking my ass up and down 5th avenue in midtown Manhattan this week I’ve not had the time to sit down for some quality time with any games, and I knew Mass Effect 2 was going to be one of those games that I wouldn’t fully enjoy if I didn’t have a good long stretch to sit down in front of and veg out before while absently eating Pringles. So after most of a Saturday devoted to saving the galaxy in as surly an anti-social way as possible. So while I wait for my eyes to re-assemble themselves into something more closely resembling spheres and for my body to overcome the toxic shock I tried to induce up on it by eating dried potato crisps for three straight meals, here are some quick and dirty thoughts on Mass Effect 2:
*Remember how I was saying in last week’s Wallet Abuse Wednesday that there’s a pattern all post-Knights of the Old Republic Bioware games follow? Well, ME2 nicely breaks that pattern by removing all the preliminary bullshit and throws you right into the “gather your party” stage that everyone enjoys anyway. Sure there’s an introductory sequence where you’re re-introduced to the controls and the game world and given some vague idea of what you’re doing, but it lasts maybe an hour at the most before you’re sent out to fend for yourself.
*speaking of stripping away extraneous bullshit, Bioware has managed to create a WRPG with no loot. Well, I mean, I assume there’s no loot– I’m eight hours in and I’ve not seen a single weapon or armor drop, and all the upgrades come in the form of blueprints that are automatically downloaded to your ship’s database and applied to all your weapons at once. The nearest thing the game has to loot are caches of credits and rare metals scattered through levels which you use to make new weapons and buy upgrades. I must say, it all feels rather liberating, as if there’s one thing Bioware has never been good it, its inventory management and easily the worst part of Mass Effect 1 was dealing with the storm of useless junk that would pour in from hacked wallsafes and dead Krogan warlords. However, it does feel odd to play a RPG where the only loot drops are ammo clips, which bring us to–
*Basically, this is an 80+ hour game of Gears of War. You would be hard pressed to find any vestige of turn-based WRPG combat in ME2– You can pause the game to swap weapons an access your special abilities, but you can map most of these to controller buttons and use them on the fly anyway. Outside of hit points I’m not even sure if this game has any stats.
*In light of all this, I’m not even quite sure if ME2 qualifies as an RPG. I’m not saying this is a bad thing– the combat parts of ME2 are fun, the galaxy exploration parts are good, and the NPC interaction is as excellent as it ever is in a Bioware game. But if you define RPGs by combat or stats or loot… well, then ME2 isn’t an RPG. If you instead define an RPG by all the other stuff WRPGs bring to the table– exploration, NPC interaction, decisions made by your character and a metric fuckton of sidequests, then it’s very much a traditional WRPG.
*This game is seriously pretty. It’s gorgeous. There’s still some texture pop in during dialog sequences, but it’s been exorcised from combat and some vistas the game presents are reminiscent of Josh Harris’ sci-fi book covers. It’s stunning, and very un-Bioware like.
*Mass Effect games could greatly benefit from at least one more party member slot. I’ve only uncovered 3 extra party members aside from the 2 you start of with and already I’m fairly sure I have the party I want to keep with me through the rest of this playthrough. For that matter, Mass Effect 2 really needed to keep Dragon Age: Origin’s party member system where you had four party members and could switch between all members at will. We could have had the first ever example of a Gears of War-style co-op shooter fully accessible by a single player.
*As we saw in Dragon Age: Origins, Bioware’s new EA-mandated advertisement campaign did nothing for Mass Effect 2. Is ME2 dudebro? Mabye a little, but no dudebro is going to sit through 80 hours of a single player, dialog-heavy game. If MAss Effect 2’s barrage of TV ads during the NFL playoffs turned you off the game, don’t worry. All the stuff you loved from ME1 is there, with all the crap you hated stripped out.
*Tycho from Penny Arcade tried to compare the change in Mass Effect 2 to the changes in Dues Ex to Dues Ex 2, but its not really comparable– Deus Ex was a classic that just needed a few tweaks, most of them graphical. The one thing it didn’t need was modernization as it was already the most modern attempt at a WRPG made up to that point. What Dues Ex 2 did instead was strip the game down to it’s FPS core, simplify what was there until it could fit onto an XBox 1 gamepad, and then shipped it out the door. ME2 takes all the stuff no one really liked from Mass Effect 1– Inventory management, MAKO driving missions, Ashley/Kaiden, and throws them out the door, leaving behind a streamlined, modern action WRPG that manages to merge the very best parts of its component genres without insulting fans of either– which is the exact opposite of what Deus Ex 2 did.
Closing thought: Between the two games, w now have something over 100 combined hours of Mass Effect content– that’s a rather conservative estimate that doesn’t take into account multiple good/evil playthroughs and sidequests– point is, Mass Effect is now a bona-fide sci-fi franchise, with more combined content than the entire run of Firefly + Serenity, or all official Star Wars movies, or even the entire run of Battlestar Galatcia. So my question is, how much further does ME need to go before it can spawn a fandom? Between the two games it has a fully realized universe– the only problem I can see that keeps ME from being as legitimate as any given sci-fi franchise short of Trek is that there’s no official narrative. And Mass Effect has the added benefit of still being current. There will assuredly be a third Mass Effect game, and likely even a Mass Effect movie at some point. Mass Effect may well be the most relevant sci-fi currently available.